I love teaching I really do. It’s the reason I gave up my role as a Vice Principal this academic year, because I missed being in the classroom. Missed the rush delivering lesson after lesson. I might sound mad but I’m telling the truth. But I think we can all relate to how exhausting it can be.
I recently watched Elizabeth Gilberts Ted talk ‘Your elusive creative genius’ for the 10th time over the last couple of years. What I love about this talk is she argues that there is enormous pressure on artists to be geniuses. She describes how after the success of her first book she was frightened that nothing she wrote would live up to that ever again. She promotes a different perspective. That rather than ‘being’ a genius, artists ‘have’ genius within them. That they separate themselves from that genius in a healthy way. Ask for it to show up but don’t tie their identity to it.
Yes I am comparing teachers to artists, because in all my years of watching these magicians at work I really do believe holding the attention of 30 individuals and transferring knowledge is an art form. But when we become the job we have a problem. You see as teachers we believe we ARE the job not that we DO the job. I’ve heard people say it over and over again, teaching is a vocation, but I think this comes at a terrible price, one where our self esteem hangs by a thread on people’s perception of us.
But what if rather than being an excellent teacher we all believed that we hold excellence inside of us. That we must nurture it. And embrace that it comes in volumes. In a 6 or 7 period day it may come loudly in P3 and then go for a short rest in Period 4. Do you think we’d be kinder to ourselves in that way?
So how will you nurture your genius this week? With a hot chocolate on the way home one evening? By going easy on yourself if you don’t stick to the lesson plan? By taking the time to have lunch sat down. Whatever it is, recognise that it resides in you.
4 years old was when I asked my teacher for a ‘kenchi’ (scissors) at nursery unable to think of what the English word was. I ran home at the end of the school day to ask my older brother and cried with embrassment.
6, is how old I was when I moved to a school in a predominantly white neighbourhood and realised I was different.
12, was the first time I heard someone hurl racist abuse at my mum and dad and watched them put their head down and walk away quickly to avoid confrontation.
14, is when I scribbled on the back of my history book, ‘where are all the women and brown people?’ I don’t think anyone ever saw it.
16, is how old I was when a man shouted in my face saying, that he didn’t want to be served by a p**i in the jewellery store I was working in.
18, is when I realised my background gave me a significant handicap in the degree I had chosen and I had to do something about it.
20, is how old I was when I watched a mainstream British movie that had a cast that looked like me and my family.
28, was the first time I saw a successful Indian woman in academia and was able to begin to imagine what my life could look like.
29, is when I started seeing my ethnicity as my superpower. My background and culture gave me a unique understanding of the world around me and I was grateful for that.
30, when I realised that without knowing it I was setting an example for young Indian girls in the schools I was teaching.
This month on our podcast, School Meets World, Karl C Pupe talk about Race, Representation and Inclusion. So as you can imagine it got me thinking about the role these things have played in my life.
Honestly speaking for much of my younger life I just wanted to be white and for life to be smoother. But now in my 30s I believe my ethnicity and background of having immigrant parents who settled in the UK, is my superpower. It’s this background that made me make the most of my education because my mum didn’t get to step foot in a school because of her gender. It’s this background that has permanently planted a little voice in my head every time I doubt myself that says ‘Come on Roma you’re parents came here with nothing and built a life for themselves you can publish a podcast/write a book’ or whatever other task I am talking myself out of! It’s the quiet knowledge of knowing everything I do needs to move the needle forward for anyone who comes after me, whether that be my nieces, students or anyone else for that matter.
I didn’t understand the value of representation until I met a woman who was a complete Powerhouse and my manager in a job I was doing to tie me over until I started my PGCE. Looking back she was the first strong Indian woman I had seen absolutely smash expectations in her job and have a great family life. She helped me visualise a future I didn’t even know I was looking for. It’s funny because at the time I didn’t realise it and it’s only in hindsight that I see she had broadened my parameters. And that’s what representation does. It broadens the way people see themselves, what their future could look like.
In this episode we talk about the value of representation in school and what we need to do in order to be more inclusive and allow our staff to feel more comfortable to speak up and feel counted. We have the privilege of being joined by Adrian McLean who eloquently demonstrates that if we want our young people to feel counted, confident and heard we have to start with our staff. He encourages us to check our biases be self reflective and honest. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you take some time to reflect and I hope you carry forward its message in the new academic year.
You can find our Podcast on Apple podcasts and Spotify or here
Twenty or so years ago a university education would have guaranteed you a well paid job. People with degrees were rare and so having a degree level qualification to your name would make you stand out at the very least and get your foot in through the door.
Fast forward to 2021 and the landscape is very different.
A paper by Universities UK titled ‘Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education’ published in 2018 shows the growing number of University students since 2009 (see chart below).
I do not think it is a bad thing that these numbers are growing, some of this is down to the great work put in by universities to reach out to a broader audience of students and encourage them to attend university where they may not have traditionally considered it. Young people who are the first in their families to go to university. I myself, was one of these people.
Yet, with more recent figures claiming that half of all 18 year olds go to university and as the scarcity of people walking around with degrees is reduces, it begs the question, is it worth it? Considering that they may not make you stand out any more it is a valid question. Add to that the growing costs of tuition fees, housing etc.. and alternatives to university being pushed by the government, are students better off opting for alternatives?
I find myself having this discussion with my A Level students each year. May of them come in with a mindset that University degrees are more valuable than an apprenticeship and it’s only when we dig deeper that they see the value in apprenticeships rather than dated ideas about them.
So is it worth going to university?
There are a number of ways we can answer the question.
One is to look at the earning potential of degree courses, if students are completing a degree, what they will gain out of it financially.
The government published a a fascinating paper on this in November 2018 called ‘The impact of undergraduate degrees on early-career earnings.’ In it they highlight:
“Not all degrees are the same, and subject choice appears to be a very important determinant of returns. For men, studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually result in lower earnings on average at age 29 than people with similar background characteristics who did not go to HE at all. By contrast, studying medicine or economics appears to increase earnings by more than 20%. For women, there are no subjects that have negative average returns, and studying economics or medicine increases their age 29 earnings by around 60%.”
I would encourage anyone interested in this area to read the whole paper, particularly to highlight the difference in pre HE characteristics e.g. higher attainment and background which also has an impact on earnings.
In December 2019 FE news published the highest and lowest earning degrees in the UK 5 years after graduating.
The highest earning degrees were:
Lowest earning degrees were:
I think the above also raises questions about how we value different career choices in our society and in our markets. But should we base going to university on its financial benefits alone? Personally I don’t think so.
We know our young people don’t just complete degrees for earning potential. Many pursue subjects that they have a passion for or that lead them to careers they aspire to be in. Unfortunately, there is no data to show this (unless you are looking for satisfaction results by institution rather than degree level).
With a growing emphasis on degree level apprenticeships and the new T Levels however we do need to question whether students would be getting an equally valuable experience out of these rather than a degree. Again with many of them being so new data is hard to find to answer this question.
The Incomes Data Research Centre published some interesting research about the starting hourly rate of degrees vs apprenticeships in July 2019 and compared it to National Minimum Wage. Their findings are summarised below:
However, they did note:
“Despite the attractive pay on offer for apprentices, the study has found that graduates are more likely than apprentices to complete their training in full, possibly due to the development opportunities and status offered by such programmes, suggesting that recruits to graduate programmes perhaps have greater longevity with the same employer. Whether this changes as the number of degree-apprentices increases remains to be seen.”
So the conclusion?
This isn’t an easy question to answer. Higher education is about more than just earning potential (although that is important for our young people) and much of the softer data doesn’t exist. Whether students pick degrees or apprentices depends on how well they understand themselves and those around them understand them and can advise them.
I’m pleased to say I have seen some of my phenomenal students go to the most prestigious universities, others be the first ones to complete university degrees in their families and yet others complete apprenticeships at companies such as Rolls Royce, Google and KPMG. Each one chose their path based on what they felt was important to them in terms of style of learning, exposure to industry, lifestyle, location and many more factors. I was privileged to help them navigate through these complex questions. I was surprised how many came in with their parents with negative connotations towards apprenticeships and a preference for degrees and changed their minds once they recognised what alternatives to traditional degrees could offer.
Although I can’t offer a single response to the question I can for certain say that the conversation around this needs to continue with our young people and their parents for them to make the right decisions for themselves.
The panic is starting, I can hear it in the twitter sphere and in clubhouse rooms. The impact of lockdown on student learning and what we need to do to correct it. When what we need is more of what we said we would always do.
The need is too great. To come up with a fancy strategy to overcome a challenge. But the thing is the challenges were always great in teaching. It’s why we joined the profession. To work against the odds and give our students the best possible foundations for their springboard into life. The world has changed, that doesn’t mean that your teaching radically has to.
What I believe our students need when we get back are two key things
Focus on learning in the classroom – through a few strategies that you already know about
Don’t panic let’s just focus on good teaching practice.
The principles of good teaching still apply. We need routine, variation, spacing and interleaving. Let’s look at what these might look like when we return.
Routine: There’s no doubt about it our young people will come back having stuck to their normal routines at varying levels, they’ll need us to redraw the lines, explicitly reteach what is and isn’t acceptable, what we will and will not tolerate. What a strong classroom culture looks and feels like and their role in making that a reality as quickly as possible. The key here is to be explicit in our reteaching of routines.
Variation: Just like you, our students have spent a lot of time in front of a screen staring at information you may have presented. Perhaps you got fancy with breakouts and let them discuss things in small groups. But what they really crave is variety and nows the time to try it. Team work, getting them to build on each others’ answers, group discussions to really explore their thoughts with someone other than their cat! How can you switch things up so you don’t rely on a computer screen for your lessons when you get back?
Spacing: It’ll be tempting to reteach and test quickly, but learning requires forgetting. And not just forgetting once. So when planning recall don’t just recall what the students have learnt during the lockdown period but go further back like you normally would to last year and when they were in the classroom.
Interleaving:Yes it’s tempting to revisit what students have learnt at home however as stated above learning requires forgetting. There’s no reason you can’t move forward with the curriculum and put aside small chunks of time each week to revisit previous topics. Even better link them to what the students are learning now and going forward. We learn in stories and the more hooks you can provide to what they know the easier it is for them to remember new information.
None of this is rocket science. None of this is new. You can do this. You have done this. But we need to be brave and stick to what we know works and keep things simple in a time when it will be tempting to recreate the wheel.
joined Clubhouse the new online social platform which focuses on audio.
Essentially it allows you to go into ‘rooms’ hosted by others members to
discuss various topics. One such room asked the question ‘Do our schools
prepare our children for success?’ and that stopped me in my tracks is that the
bar now? Are we being held solely responsible for the future successes of young
people? And what do we mean by success? This then led me to ask the question ‘What
are schools for?’ Much like the age old debate about the role of the state we
find boundaries shifting.
It takes a village – but that village has got a lot
You may have
heard the saying it takes a village to raise a child and that was all fine and
well when we lived in tight knit communities where people shared childcare. But
now in 2021 the majority of care is given by schools and immediate family. Over
time more and more is added to the curriculum to often teach children many of
the things they may have learnt in communities, through mentors, peers and role
The question is ‘Have
we spread ourselves too thin?’ And whilst the government cannot control homes is
it over inflating the responsibilities placed on schools because it can? And
does that set us up for a fall?
Do we even know what the role of schools is anymore?
attempted to answer this question in 2015 when addressing the Education Reform
Summit. He argued that the purpose was, well broken down into 3 purposes.
Namely these are:
Economic – to
ensure our young people have the skills and knowledge to succeed in a demanding
economy through an effective and rigorous curriculum. In his speech he focused
on Maths and literacy in particular.
Culture – Here he makes the sensible argument that we need to teach young people
the basic tenets of the curriculum for them to engage in culture – for instance
grasping the language to enjoy poetry and set free our imagination. But then
things get a bit fuzzy as he quotes Matthew Arnold
and making ‘all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light’ before
talking about how much the arts have been invested in and the need to break
down class barriers.
Preparation for adult life – here he talks about character
education and draws on case studies from the KIPP schools in the USA who no
doubt do incredible work.
To summarise he
argues that schools have ‘Three
purposes – empowering young people to succeed in the economy, participate in
culture, and leave school prepared for adult life’ – and argues that these have
consistently guided the programme of reform by the government.
Let’s take each one of these in turn:
Economic – this is probably the one where most
school staff feel most comfortable so I’m not going to discuss it in any great
length because this is not a blog post about the curriculum. But at a basic
level we all agree that a rigorous curriculum that allows our students to participate
in the economy and be positive citizens in it, is something we can all get
Culture – What worries me here is that he
seems fine with the assumption that a solid education will allow students to
break class barriers. We all know that education can play a huge part but it is
not the only factor. For instance I can try and break down class barriers as
much as I like by educating students but if mass unemployment is still the norm
for parents these class barriers will remain because the economic conditions of
many of these young people will not allow them to prosper. Also if we have such
a commitment to the arts why are they not core elements of Progress 8 like
science English and maths?
Preparation for adult life –
There is now very clear evidence that schools can make a
significant contribution to their pupils’ achievement by finding opportunities
to instil key character traits, including persistence, grit, optimism and
I have no doubt
the above is true. But I also have no doubt that the home and the character
showcased by parents and role models at home play a huge part in students
future opportunities. And we can teach these in school but what students need
is the ability to practice them in the real world.
Far too often I
read reports about the skills young people lack to make them employable. Quite often
the feedback is from middle ages business owners harking on about how the youth of today don’t
have what it takes to be employed and they have forgotten what they were like
as kids. Its natural, I’m sure you’ve heard your parents say how much better
life was 50 or so years ago, yet none of us want to go back there. I have a
friend that lives in Yorkshire and was, probably foolishly discussing Brexit
with an elderly lady in her 80’s. She like many other people voted for Brexit
because she wanted to go back to the good old days. When asked when this was
she said the early 80’s. ‘You sure?’ asked my friend, ‘you wanna go back to the
miners strikes when we experienced mass unemployment and families struggled to
feed their young?’ She then proceeded to hit him with her handbag and told him
to stop being so clever. The point I’m trying to make is it is a story as old
as time that older generations think that youths of the time are less capable
then they were. My experience shows me something completely different. I see
young people able to navigate comples social relationships, online and offline,
caring about the planet, open minded. What these kids lack is experience in the
workplace to put these abilities to use and a chance. Let me ask you would you
hire yourself at 16? Or even 18? I asked my husband this question two days ago
and his honest response was ‘I don’t think I would have hired me at 22.’ My
husband who often manages placement students in their second year of university
has to teach them how to write emails, not because schools haven’t taught them
how to construct emails but because knowledge without context doesn’t work.
They have to know how to address different people in their organisation and
that happens in the workplace not in school.
My worry is each
time one of these reports come out, education ministers start cracking the whip
promising to make qualifications harder, kids more ready for work through a
corrected PSHE curriculum. I’m not saying we shouldn’t promote character in the
curriculum. I’m saying it can’t sink in with the adjoining help of the
So given the
above can schools ever fulfil their purpose particularly if the onus is placed
on them wholly? My answer is no. We’ve all become too accustomed to pointing
the finger at schools rather than acting like a village with schools, parents,
local business and the government acting together to form an empowering tribe for
our young people.
Teachers have 12 (or more) weeks of holidays a year
Lets start with this one as it’s the reason I’m most often told I’m lucky to be working in education. So say you work in an office, you’re entitled to about 4 weeks right? Most teachers, and certainly if they are senior leaders, would give their right arm to be able to have 4 weeks off. How could that be you may ask? Here’s the break down. I appreciate that on the surface it can look like we have 12 weeks off a year (5 summer, 2 Christmas – one of which most people would get if they were not in retail. 3 one week half term breaks, 2 weeks for Easter). We had 8 bank holidays entitled to all so let’s take off a week and a half with that taking us down to 9.5 weeks. Most teachers also work for at least half a day each weekend. If a teacher is teaching full time the chances are they will be teaching 22 out of 25 periods. Most schools will want some sort of assessment done every two weeks these range between quick tests and longer exam papers. Many secondary school teachers will have between 11 – 17 groups so you can imagine that 3 hours isn’t going to cover the marking required, thus the weekend. Many primary teachers are swamped with lesson preparation too. Lets assume out of 52 Saturdays a teacher works 14 thats 2 weeks taken right there so we are down to 7.5. Then there is the revision sessions over Easter, the trial exam marking over Christmas, the planning of new specs to meet new curriculum requirements and the general updating of resources over summer and I’d say we can whittle it down to 4 weeks like everyone else. (Most would argue it’s lower, certainly for senior leaders who plan for the forthcoming year it can be). Now here’s the thing, it could be 5 it could be 6 or 3. but there are not many professions that require you to be around 30 people all the time. Yes ALL the time. Whereas most professions will enjoy a lunch, or coffee break teaching staff very rarely do get those moments of quiet, they’re usually on duty, helping kids with things they didn’t understand etc..so the break, for their sanity is much needed. Having an off day, as my husband highlighted in any other profession he can hide behind the screen and just take 15 minutes to gather his thoughts, not in teaching you don’t. We need the down time.
Teachers do not work 9am-3pm
This one really amazes me, because it’s often said by people who drop their children off to school at 7.30am and want them to do after school club till 5pm. Who do they think is watching their children?
Your child is different at school then they are at home
You know that one friend that you always have fun and get into trouble with? Yeah your child has one of them too and the chances are they are that kid for someone else. That’s ok. We are not expecting them to be perfect. But what we are expecting is when we call to say they have stepped out of line you believe us rather than saying ‘My little Jimmy would never do/say that.’ Because little Jimmy did, believe me.
School is not 5 hours of listening to a teacher speaking at your child
This ones in response to parents complaining that we cannot provide round the clock live lessons. When students are at school they are not spoken at from the front for every moment of the lesson. Quite often we have to give them the opportunity to apply what they have learnt or at least what we have been talking to them about and they do that in silence through some independent work. It’s important that they get the same at home during lockdown.
Schools did not close during COVID and teachers have not had a holiday
The children of key workers were still coming in, teachers were changing all of their lessons to make them adequate for online provision. Navigating online assessment methods, cheering up tutees who miss school and their friends as well as trying to teach their own children.
Children have a great imagination
This is in response to twitter feedback. Apparently, they’re too busy playing video games? Having played a fair few they require a lot of imagination too! The problem is they can’t often articulate their imagination or think no one will care.
We cannot tell you 4 years before your child’s GCSE’s what they will get
Sorry, we’d love that kind of certainty, erm actually we wouldn’t, I’d hate to be judged on my actions and performance from four years ago wouldn’t you? Yeah think that through. I’ll happily talk to you about effort and participation. But I cannot guarantee a grade years in advance. Even in Year 10 I’ve seen so many turn things around, but it all comes down to participation and effort. So if you want to help ask your child what questions they asked during the day, when seated at the dinner table, not how they did in a test.
Teenagers are not stroppy and clueless
Honestly they are the funniest, most caring, sensitive and bright young people I’ve ever seen. Most of them are just trying to figure life out (aren’t we all!) Seriously, these kids are going to change the world and they’ll likely do a better job than the abysmal one we have. And ok sometimes they are stroppy and clueless but aren’t we all?!
Exams are easier than they used to be
Another confusing one, because this is often said by the same people who can’t help their kids with their primary school work. I’m not sure I could to be honest! I’ve seen the primary curriculum and I teach the kids when they start with us in year 7 and they are amazing! Having planned, replanned and replanned again GCSE and A Level curriculums over the years I can tell you they are getting tougher, the content more intense and the requirements for them to think outside the box and apply their own thinking greater.
What’s the point of all of this?
I’m not asking for sympathy, a pat on the back or a national monument erected in my honour (although that would be pretty cool) and I’m sure no other teacher is either. But a little bit of respect when we are spoken of would be really nice.
*Please note a lot of my references refer to secondary provision. My primary colleagues are often working with fewer resources which means longer hours and are absolute champs. However, I can only speak from my perspective.
Ok so none of us have trained in it but here we are, with a third lockdown, teaching from home for the second time.
The below are some thoughts on what I’ve learnt whilst teaching online in some of the areas that teachers tend to find most challenging, such as managing the chat! I’ve also included a link to a PP that I shared with all staff at our school should it be helpful for anyone leading CPD.
Before the lesson
The lobby – If you’re using Microsoft Teams or Zoom you can ensure students enter a lobby before they can enter the lesson. Switch this functionality on as it can be an easy way for you to do the register.
Permissions – depending on the system you use you can easily set the permissions so you are the only presenter so the only one with rights to mute/unmute, present etc.. to avoid kids pulling pranks on each other.
Recall – Make sure you have some recall questions which will help you deal with students who enter the online lesson at different times
Your slides – If using slides be explicit about which bits you want them to write down and when they should just be listening. You might do this through using a colour for text they must get down. I just tend to put ‘Write’ in the heading so they always know. Remember students don’t have the non verbal cues they are used to in a physical lesson so are less clear about what you want them to do.
At the start of the lesson
Set the ground rules – ‘You must only use the chat when I ask you a question and ask you to use it and/or when I say your name and ask you to input your answer.’ Students will want to socialise, this is normal and you build this in every now and again but you decide when.
Make behaviour expectations clear – ‘I’m expecting you all to be focused, I know this is new but we can do it’
Tell them what they need – ‘You should have a pen and paper to hand.’ Again those non verbal cues are not there so they can’t see others get their books and pens out so they may not have them to hand (you know the ones who are always the last ones to get their books out!)
What’s the journey? – Tell them where you expect to get to by the end of the leson – ‘Today we need to cover three key things…’ this then gives you a reference point throughout the lesson (‘right we’ve covered A and B you’re doing great now let’s look at C). This helps your lesson have a sense of pace.
Tell them you’re happy to see them! Even if it’s online. They may not see you for much of the lesson if you’re sharing slides so those non verbal cues that make them feel welcome are not there. So start the lesson telling them how happy you are to be able to virtually teach them (even if you’re not!;))
During the Lesson
Cold call – earlier this year we moved away from hands up to cold calling and are implementing this in our online lessons too. It ensures all students are listening and they can respond in the chat or by unmuting their mics.
Explicit instruction – are you being clear about what they should be doing during the lesson? Telling them when they should be listening and when they should be writing is critical.
Change things up – I tend to switch to video, showing my face when I want to explain something to them to break up the slides.
It’s ok to expect periods of silence – Is it just me that gets weirded out by the silence online? I know I’ve just asked them to write but it’s strange when I can’t see them do it.
Use the opportunity for live modelling – they can watch you type up sample answers and then discuss them.
At the end of the lesson
Summarise key learning points from the lesson so they can see how far they have come on the journey you identified at the start.
Run a true or false quiz – Just like the kids, we don’t have physical cues either. We can’t spot the kid with the confused face or glazed over eyes so build in some check points. (it can be something like 3 questions and asking them to put a T or F in the chat). This can help you check understanding.
Managing the chat
This is where most of my teachers get a bit flustered – kids making comments during lessons, nothing wrong but they can be distracting when you’re trying to present at the same time. Here’s some of the ways we are managing that:
Cold call – means only one child is responding at any one time
Polls – a clearer and quicker way of gauging understanding
True or false/Yes or No Qs – Requiring students to put a simple T/F/Y/N in the chat area
Being clear at the start of every lesson they are for work related comments only
Finally, go easy on yourself. You are modelling that learning can be challenging and that is ok. We won’t always get it right, but we strive to keep getting better and isn’t that all we want from our kids. So why are we hard on ourselves to get it perfect?
If you’d like, I’ve shared the slides I have gone through with staff in a staff briefing here. Please feel free to download and adapt.
It’s New Year’s Eve and needless to say many people are reflecting on their previous year. It has given us a lot to think about. Maybe you are setting goals for the forthcoming year or maybe you just don’t do that. Either way reflection is on a lot of people’s minds.
I’ve been stressing the importance of being reflective practitioners a lot in school over the past two years and to stop it becoming a new buzz word or just something people say to appease me I’ve learnt a lot on my journey to embedding the practice. We have by no way got it spot on, but we are evolving and seeing it more as part of our role as professionals to consistently self evaluate. Below are some of the things we have tried:
Build in time – Time is the most sought after and precious thing you can give a teacher. If you are expecting staff to self reflect, you have to build in the time. Here’s some examples of how we did it.None of them are perfect but we’re giving them a go!
Build it into the 1265 – We reduced the number of twilights we have each year but extended the time to build in reflection and action time. For instance asking staff to record part of their lesson, reflect, cover the topic of the twilight session and then replan a lesson whilst they are with us using what we have discuused.
Building in time through conversations – Any lesson visit or observation feedback (we don’t really tend to do these) must must must build in time for the teacher to reflect on the lesson. The number of times I have seen members of staff in a rush to give feedback. You wouldn’t just give a monologue of knowledge in your lessons and then call it learnig would you?
Building in faculty time – I honestly think this is the best time to reflect, with peers who teach a similar subject. Often teachers will share lessons and conversations on how they have worked with different groups and why, and ow they an e amended are golden.
Using lesson study – We have been using lesson study for 4 years now and I would say it’s finally at the stage where we are happy and confident with the process (despite covid). If you want lesson study to be effective it has to be self reflective, again this is built into our school meetings timetable.
Use line management – Each year our staff go through the teaching standards with their line manager and what they would like to focus on as an area of development, this is then built in with lesson study and discussed regularly.
There is a lot in a name and it has to mean something – This year we switched faculty reviews to self-evaluation cycles.
Practically this meant we expected Heads of Departments and Faculties to take ownership, to reflect on what they felt their departments were doing well and where they needed more collaboration, guidance or to see how other schools do things. As a leadership team we would then help them, this would also mean asking other schools for help or moderation. We also discuss the development of every member of staff and lesson study. All book looks are done with departments, so all feedback is transparent.
Creating a safe space – None of this works if you don’t have trust and safety
Maslow said it years ago, our primary need is to feel safe. Creating a safe space often involves some key tenets, some of the ones I tend to use are:
Praise – praise your staff every opportunity you get. Don’t forget the quiet ones who often get overlooked but actually keep the school moving forward. In fact if you can encourage staff to praise and thank each other! We started something called I heard a Wispa this year where staff thank each other in the weekly bulletin and the recipient gets a Wispa bar in their pigeon hole.
Honesty – Whether it’s bad or good, difficult to deliver or not, speak the truth with kindness.
Show your truth – I make mistakes all the time, everyone does, on Inset day this year I shared a story of the most horrific lesson observation I ever had, I cannot tell you how many people came up to me afterwards laughing and sharing some of their fears/stories. This isn’t about listing your faults so you come across as incompetent, it’s about using your examples carefully to build trust. I used the example to emphasise the value of self evaluation and value of lesson visits as opposed to observations, because no one should be judged on a random 15 minutes (especially not after a wet lunchtime! Speaking from experience here ;))
Showing everyone what is looks like
This has probably been the biggest game changer for me this year. It has been lovely to have some wonderful people join our T&L group and they agreed to be filmed for 5 minutes and then self reflect on their lesson in staff briefings. This has been wonderful and sparked conversations between staff about activities, sharing resources, sharing when things haven’t worked, asking each other for advice. And that’s what self reflection is isn’t it? Knowing that none of us have all the answers but teaching is just one possibility after the next and being flexible enough to try things that are beyond our comfort zone.
Self reflection doesn’t happen by accident. If you are goal setting today or tomorrow the chances are you’ll get yourself some paper or your laptop, make a brew and find somewhere quiet to do it. So in order to help our staff become self reflective practitioners we must create the right conditions too.
I’m sitting here writing this whilst willing for the end of the term, because like many in the education profession I feel like this has been a never ending term. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that our summer was taken up planning for reopening, working on the 19th version of that darn risk assessment and wondering how staff and students were going to acclimatise to this new way of teaching in learning. No a full term in I’m reflecting back and thinking, I should have had more faith.
Key things I would tell myself if I could go back in time to when I was preparing for school to reopen post lockdown:
Staff will take things in their stride. Yes some will complain and they have every right to, but on the whole everyone wants to do the right thing by the students, therefore they will take change in their stride.
People will amaze you. Trust me.
Kids are flexible and they adapt fast. Just be clear about what you want from them and hold them to it.
Repetition is key. Your problem won’t be that students and staff won’t follow the rules. Your problem will be the number of changes you are trying to implement. So repetition is key here. When you think you have repeated instructions until you are blue in the face, repeat them again. People are not rude or malicious, they are tired and overwhelmed and they don’t mind you giving them direction.
When we talk about what kids missed we are talking about more than education. We are talking about social affirmation from friends. The ability to communicate effectively. We are going to have to address all of this.
Students are desperate to get back to school. I knew this as I drove around the city delivering home learning packs, but it really became apparent to me once the students had all returned. Over this term the dread that they may be sent home for two weeks has kept them extra cautious and following rules.
There will be things you will want to keep from this new way of working. Staggered breaks. Tutor times in year blocks. Online parents evenings. Online tools as a whole. Closing the building for deep cleaning which means staff have to go home earlier. Online open days. Online meetings. There is so much we have learnt from our new routines that we will definitely be keeping some after this is all over.
Your community will be stronger. Parents will see how hard everyone is working and rally around you if you are transparent and clear with them. Of course some won’t, but the majority will, keep perspective.
You will need hand cream. I don’t need to explain the impact of copious amounts of anti bacterial gel do I?
Invest in layers. Your classrooms will be permanently cold. Your office will be permanently cold. In fact cold will become your new state of being. Layer up.
You’ll be surprised how much students remember. They know more than you think although they may struggle to articulate it.
Don’t fill gaps tell a story. Linked to the above. Most students will have accessed some learning and remember things than you think, they just haven’t had to recall them and articulate them so help them fill any gaps and articulate their thoughts by telling the curriculum story built into your curriculum.
Questioning skills will go through the roof. Your staff will want to know what the kids know, how they have reached conclusions, what they remember and questioning will go through the roof. Some will need help to take it deeper but they will be eager.
There is a lot of talk about Motivation amongst students and the level of motivation our students have post isolation. Peps McCrea’s new book also covers it and quite frankly it couldn’t have come at a better time!
Motivation is something our Trust and thus our schools looked at as part of of Inset Days this year. We were aware that students would likely return with mixed levels of motivation, some would no doubt return with a new found enthusiasm for school having been at home for so long but it was likely many would be nervous and all would be out of a routine. Luckily our journey of looking at Motivation was kicked off by Caroline Spalding last year who presented at our INSET, and was magnificent.
Below are some of the decisions we debated with, and made, in order to work on building our students’ motivation. Much of these are based on the 5 levers Peps McCrea and Caroline Spalding discuss in their talk with the AMbition Institute here when talking about ‘levers’:
Routine is everything – Sam Strickland talks about routine a lot and I agree with him. This is all I looked for in the first 4 weeks both for student safety and mental health, were teachers establishing routines and expecting them from our students? Were staff and students building rapport with one another again? How could we facilitate this? Were our kids and teacher happy and safe? As suggested by Maslows hierarchy of needs safety forms the foundation of motivation.
Happy students are inspired and motivated by happy teachers – Sometimes we forget happy motivated students are inspired by happy motivated teachers. I am in awe of our staff, who have managed to keep upbeat even though they are running between lessons and acclimatising to a new way of work. It is every senior leaders job to get anything that stops this from happening out of their way. Whilst you’re at it tell them how much you are inspired by them regularly too!
No immediate testing upon return – I understand it is tempting to try and find out as soon as possible what our students picked up and didn’t through their online learning or home learning packs over lockdown/isolation but lots of tough testing is no way to welcome the students back and settle them into school life. Also what’s the point of the testing? Is it just to find out what they know in which case there are plenty of alternatives and some are listed below. If it’s to see how they write what they know, well the chances are if your students are isolating they haven’t seen as much modelling as we would like or been in routines, so you are better off waiting a little while before that happens.
Retrieval – every single lesson. This doesn’t have to be a test it can be a simple ‘Gimme 5’ or ‘When I say X what comes to mind’ kind of activity. Reward students for what they know and remember. Make them feel empowered. Then get challenging them.
Balanced reassurance – Some of our students may come back to school after isolation with an ‘it’s all gone down the drain’ mindset, feeling things are out of their control and they’ll never get to where they need to be. We have made a conscious effort of telling our students that as long as they take care of the effort teaching staff will take care of the content and exam practice. It’s a deal we have made with them. And we keep reminding them of it.
Praise success and effort – Whether it’s with achievement points, stars, emails home we’ve made an added effort to praise effort as part of our deal with students (see above). The old saying, ‘catch em doing good’ isn’t a throwaway comment.
The rhythm of the curriculum and particularly assessment – We’ve ensured our assessment includes lots of light touch/low stakes testing as well as more rigorous assessment, alternating students between things they can be successful at easily and then struggle. If you want to know more about this David Didau explores this in his book ‘Making Kids Celeverer’ and here in his blog
Classroom modelling – this has taken centre this year. Essentially we follow the ‘I do, We do, You do’ method. The teacher models first, then a class attempt or group attempt is put together and showcased before students are asked to complete any assessment questions themselves. Another reason why we shouldn’t be rushing to complete assessments post isolation so that this method can be embedded.
Think about those who have a history of underperforming – how are you going to make any quiz/assessment accessible to them to get them to taste success. Can you link it to an action or an effort they have made to motivate them to make more.
Have we absolutely nailed it? Of course not and I would say we are embedding many of these practices with a backdrop of COVID uncertainty and groups going home to isolate. But our students have proved to be resilient and appreciative of the efforts that are being made day in day out by our staff. There is a heap of things that we are trying to wrestle with, such as hybrid learning but at the centre of all of this is the question ‘Can we take our students on this journey with us’ and the ways to do that has to be at the centre of all of our minds.