Big moves to get you ready for the next step in your career

Recently I asked Twitter for help once again (seriously it’s the gift that keeps giving!) I’ve been reading a book by Brendan Burchard called High Performance Habits. The section on Performance and Productivity caught my eye, as I imagine it would most people’s in education with the scarcity of time and an ever growing to do list. In it he discusses Productive Quality Output and focusing on the actions that will have the biggest impact. In fact, he asks the reader to focus on 5 areas in which they want to make moves to grow.

So when it came to deciding my 5 I asked for help, on twitter and of course it delivered. As a Vice Principal I often cover all bases, pastoral administrative, T&L it doesn’t matter if it needs to get done it needs to get done.  But at the same time I can feel lost due to lack of focus. It serves me well but also stops me from developing a deep knowledge of areas I know I need to develop in. I work with a Head who is my direct opposite, as a result we can end up focusing on tasks that come to us naturally. I handle all things people, he handles timetables and finance. As someone who came into teaching late and worked in the commercial sector I’m not shy of handling budgets but school budgets seem to be a different beast.

So, I reached out to the Heads on twitter for their advice on the 5 things they did to prep them for headship to help me get a little focus next year. Below is a list of their feedback and also my own thoughts of how I might go about this.

Thank you to the wonderful Mark Chatley, David Ellison, Alienwife, Dr Heery, Raphael Moss, Baritonedeaf, Simmscoaching, EducatingNotts, Jack Newton, Teacher Paul, Community Head, Steve Palmer, Richard Preece and Reynolds3Simon for their feedback and guidance.

VALUES

This was overwhelmingly the common thread in most of the answers. Decide what values you want your leadership to be based on. At first I thought I had to pick three from a large list but truth be told I only operate from my values and express them without even knowing. Mine are:

Integrity – I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I would not do or have a go at, I ensure I speak the truth and if I don’t know something I confess pretty quickly.

Growth– The thing I love about education the most is it is a great big adventure, the environment is always changing (ain’t that the truth at the moment!) new challenges are presenting themselves and we learn more about ourselves every minute. Adventure to me means fun and I embrace it with enthusiasm. To me school from any angle is about growth. Growing knowledge, skills, opportunities, community, this value just resonates with me.

Contribution – To me this means giving the best of yourself at every given moment. It’s what I expect from myself, my staff and students. I’m also not great in meetings with people who can only see the problems, although I’m working on being more patient.

What are you values? To answer this think about the values you operate from every day. It was good to ask myself this question and think about it during a long walk.

How does this translate to a school and the development to Headship? I believe if you use your values as an anchor you’ll make decisions in line with them and as a result be an authentic leader. You’re probably already doing it.

School budgets

Apparently, you can never have enough budget experience! I know I need to get myself into budget meetings. As part of a MAT many of the decisions are made centrally but this is something I’ll be asking to be part of as soon as we return. On another note @secretHT1 published a great blog as an intro to school budgets which you can find here.

Network

Another great peace of advice. I recently spoke to some great colleagues about the problems with echo chambers, particularly if you are in a large Trust. It is healthy to hear different views and purposely speak (or tweet) with people who may not agree with you. Raphael mentioned the NPQH in particular as an opportunity to look beyond your school or Trust. I recently spoke to a colleague who suggested that all those on the NPQH do their second project on a Trust school (luckily he is not in my cohort ;)). Although well-meaning I think this is really dangerous and one way in which schools/Trust can become too inward facing. Other places to network are on Twitter (thoroughly recommend joining the #teacher5oclockclub if you can get up early enough #TinyVoiceTuesdayUnites and #FFBWednesday to name a few). Actively seek opinions. A few years ago I also made an active decision to read outside of education and outside of the UK to give myself some perspective.

My next steps are to work with the wonderful Network of people I have found on Twitter to discuss, debate and share as much as I can. Oh, and make sure I do my NPQH project outside of the Trust!

The theory here is to make sure you understand as many different school settings as you can so when you are a Head things don’t take you by surprise or you have different perspectives on tackling a problem.

Get coached/learn from Heads

This took a few different forms. Some people swore by coaching others said they had great Heads who modelled good Leadership for them or bad ones who showed them what not to become. I think all of the above are useful. Taking the time to reflect is critical. I’ve naturally always done a SWOT analysis of a school when I have left trying to be as objective as possible about the school to help me decipher what has and hasn’t worked I suppose to one day get clearer about the school I would like to run. Simms Coaching also recommended listening to podcasts to learn from as many different ideas as possible.

Know your own strengths and weaknesses

Thanks to Mark Chatley for this one! I’ve been thinking about this during lockdown. I’ve taken the Curriculum route into leadership but this year have immersed myself into Pastoral side also. When I joined my current school as VP for T&L and curriculum we had four months until the other VP joined who led on Pastoral and Behavior so I took the opportunity to throw myself into that role before he arrived. It was difficult but it taught me a lot and got me interested in developing school culture.

It’s important to be clear with your Manager or Head about your weaknesses and ask to be developed in those areas. Ask to buddy someone if you have to. I know for myself I haven’t touched timetabling yet and have bought this up so I know it’s coming my way.

Get out there!

I can remember the wise words of a mentor I had during a middle leaders course I completed 5 years ago. She was the Head of a Primary and she said “The biggest problem Headteachers have is not enough people putting their hand up to take care of stuff they need to get done. Do that and you’ll go far.” That advice has never failed me. Although I would recommend you only take it on if you think you can do it or at least give it a proper effort rather than overwhelm yourself.

But after all is said and done it is the advice of David Ellison that I’m left with.

You can never be ready enough so at some point you’ve just gotta dive in! Good luck!

I’d love to hear what steps you have taken to develop to the next step in your career. Let me know.

Transition – We do what we can do and we keep doing that

Transition is on everyone’s mind as we creep towards the end of the academic year without knowing what it will look like. Whether this be for those starting Primary school, Secondary or indeed A Level. Below I’ve focused on transition from Year 6 into Year 7.

Many of the decision around transition, I believe, just can’t be made just yet (you’ll see what I mean towards the end of this blog), until we have more clarity around what return to school will look like. However I think using the blog from Ben Brown @EdRoundtables to make sure that the key areas he describes are at the forefront of your mind is beneficial. I’ve certainly used it to organize my thoughts below.

The ideas below are just decisions we as a Secondary school have decided to make. I don’t believe there are right or wrong answers to the questions transition in these times poses, so please take from it what you please and ignore the rest.

The need to ensure that our children feel comfortable in their new environment is so important to ensure they have a happy start to their educational journey with us. Below are just a few things we have done to ensure this happens despite the current circumstances, but this is an ever evolving process and I’m blown away with the attitude of our transition managers who are being incredibly creative in solving this problem.

Communication with new students and parents at home

Welcome evening – we have taken this online using Teams, recording the Head, Head of Year 7, transition manager and other key personnel such as SENCO and PP lead to talk about the provision and support available and how excited we are about having them at our school.

Mini tour of our site – when we had our Open day some of our buildings were under construction and are just being finished off as we speak. Thanks to the lovely site managers we managed to do a video tour of these new buildings which were recorded on an Iphone and edited using iMovie so students could get a feel for the site as it has changed somewhat. We’ve also used this opportunity to reinforce our values mentioning them throughout the video.

In addition to the above we have also considered, depending on government guidelines, offering tours to students with Special Education Needs who really struggle with change. This would be on a 121 basis but we’re conscious that they have extra challenges when it comes to changing school.

Weekly emails and tutor videos – Our Year 7 tutors have been great about recording at home a short video to talk about why they love being at the school and how they can’t wait to meet their tutees. A different tutor video is released every week to parents so they get to know staff.

Transition booklet – the above is accompanied with a transition booklet which gives our future students quizzes and questions for which they must collect answers from the videos to complete the booklet. For instance, what book does Mr Harrison like to read every year? etc.. This ensures students and parents watch the videos and engage. We have also left spaces in the booklet for students to include information about themselves that their tutors can read when they arrive.

Using social media – Weekly questions such as Word of the Week and Maths brainteasers are put out on our twitter account to engage students. It’s been nice to see that some parents of our future year 7s have started a twitter account to take part with their child!

Forms – such as registration and friendship forms have been taken online in order to collect key data and put into our school systems. There is every chance we will need to print and get the parents to check this when schools return to whatever our new ‘normal’ will look like.

Communication with schools

Groupings – Our primaries have been wonderful in relaying information and have helped us decide tutor groupings and highlighted to us any areas of concern or additional need.  Year 6 teachers have been incredible in being available on zoom to discuss transition and also preparation for secondary school.

Key knowledge and skills gaps. Currently plans for testing are not being looked at. The focus has been on material that our Year 6 teachers think is critical and what the plan of action will be if they cannot deliver it. This has probably been the most challenging aspect of transition and a challenge I think that can only be dealt with by establishing good relationships with the primaries. Obviously, this will be easier if your Year 7 cohort comes from a smaller group of primaries than larger however, I think the insight from whichever primaries you can work with will be invaluable.

  • What do they wish they had time to cover with the kids which they might not get to now?
  • Why is it important?
  • What difference does it make to the kids?

I will illustrate this with an example: In the preparation for the SATS Year 6 students do a lot of work on literacy, for example Inference. We know in secondary school Inference is important in history when looking at evidence and English, not to mention many other subjects. So, we need to build in time in secondary to cover this to make sure our students can access the secondary curriculum.

Uniform

At the moment the line is you can order online and exchange if the fit isn’t right when the students start. At SLT we have discussed the need to relax expectations/sanctions around uniform. This is not ideal especially as we want the students to have clarity around expectations but I don’t think this is a decision we will make till the end.

The start of the year

The calendar has been a nightmare! Do we plan the usual one day for Year 7s to be in as the only year group? Can we afford to have the Year 10s out any longer and should they be in from day 1? Again, another decision we will leave for as long as possible or until we have more clarity about schools returning.

I hope the above is useful. I hope it makes you realise none of us have all the answers. I hope it makes you feel part of a community of professionals who are trying their best for our children.

Work Life Balance, Thinking Time and Lessons Learnt from Lockdown

As I sit here waiting for Boris Johnsons announcement on Sunday night I take a moment to reflect on what Lockdown has taught me. I mean it may all be over tomorrow, unlikely but the possibility is there that the PM will spring it on us that we are all due to go back into schools and well, just cope. This isn’t a blog about the announcement, its merits and drawback. This is a blog about what lockdown has taught me as a senior leader.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked my way up to VP my life is always divided into three and very rarely do they get an equal share. The three parts are:

Teaching and learning – whether that be me teaching, observing other teachers, having discussions about curriculum or organising and delivering CPD.

Business, behaviour and admin – The school calendar, on call, phone calls, meetings about business issues or logistics

Personal development and Family – My own development and time with family and friends

I’m not proud of it but the last one probably gets the least attention when I’m half way through a term and I think many people will agree.

But this time in lockdown has taught me so many things. I can certainly say it hasn’t been a period of slowing down but certainly given me many more periods of reflection.

These are things I have learnt and hope to take forward when we do return to ‘normal’ whatever that may look like.

Work

I produce better work when I have had time to mull it over. Therefore, I must build time to throw ideas around in my head. During lockdown this has been somewhat easier as I am not being dragged to the next ‘emergency’ which often finds itself not being an ‘emergency.’ I’ve actually blocked out time before a meeting to think about how I feel about the area for discussion or built in time to do something else before I write a paper. And the end result of all of this? I am producing better work. How do I apply this when I get back? A quick walk around the site? Moving myself to an empty classroom to work things out in my head? Locking myself in the loos? I don’t know, but I know I have to build it in.

I love people. I didn’t know I was a hugger until this point but I miss a hug. I love people, they fascinate me, my staff my students. I hate to admit it but I have probably had more face to face time with people than I would at school. I have had in depth, hilarious and fascinating conversations with all of my middle leaders, some of them one and a half hours long as we discuss our dreams for education and the school. When this is over I have vowed to spend more time in the staff room or in departments because that’s where the beating heart of our school is. This may sound obvious but ask anyone one in SLT and they’ll tell you this doesn’t always happen.

I have to get braver at pushing back on deadlines. I have had to do this a lot more as on some days I can have Zoom meetings back to back therefore expecting me to produce something in between them is impossible therefore, I have to block out time for writing and be proactive in deciding when work will be completed and sent. Many of the times I’ve found deadlines can be moved. If you produce good work people will be amenable to waiting 24 hours for it. This became really clear as I was reading Brendan Burchards’ High Performance Habits. In it he encourages people to control their time by really testing if deadlines are deadline.

I need to block my time out first. As people have been booking in meetings online a lot more I have started blocking out things I want to do in my diary on a Sunday. It might be a walk, thinking time or just time to read an article. This means when someone tries to schedule time with me they can see I’m busy and can work around those times. I even block out time for a cup of tea in the garden right now to get away from the screen. In the future this might be blocks of time for a chat with a colleague to get a different perspective or a walk around site.

Home/Personal

I’m a nicer person when I’m not reactive! My husband’s noticed it, my niece has noticed it. When I’m setting my week up and not just producing to meet other people’s deadlines and have built in some down time, I’m a better person! No surprises there. But it’s made me think more about transition times when I change from one activity to another. When I drive home do I take that time to wind down or make work calls? The former would be better. When I go into a meeting do I carry the thoughts and stress of the previous activity or take a few minutes to think positively about the meeting I’m going into? This might sound a bit woo woo but I think entering situations with a fresher mind can only be a good thing right?

I can use the phone well. I hate using the phone. I don’t have long conversations with friends and I’d rather just meet face to face. But the lockdown has forced me to use the phone well. Face time quizzes and chats have become the new norm and are great. I’m going to prefer face to face chats when I can have them but face time won’t be such a bad alternative if not.

Obligations. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they have highlighted this one. How much of the stuff do we do out of obligation and because we don’t want to say no. Whether it’s fear of missing out or looking like a bad person it’s easy for things to creep into our diary due to this. Be on guard. I’ve certainly listed a few things I’m going to be doing less of.

I think the single most important thing has been thinking space. This period has given me thinking space and I’ve learnt that at work that can’t happen by accident, it has to be built into my week. It may be at the end of each day but I have to give myself some time to be, feel what I’m feeling and process.

So there you have it a few ponderings about work and life and lessons learnt from lockdown. Will I be able to stick with them all when life returns back to it’s chaotic madness in school? Of course not, but at least I’ll know its possible and there is a better way of working and living. So maybe I’ll try a little harder to have a work life balance.

What does success look like for a teacher who wants to remain in the classroom?

In our profession what does success for a teacher look like? I’m talking about career progression. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I joined leadership to be honest. To be really honest I’ve been thinking about it every time I’ve had a bad day in leadership. Every time I have felt too removed from the classroom and too overwhelmed by the constant barrage of problems those in SLT face.

During my PGCE year we were asked this question and the 7 of us round the table with our seminar leader agreed that short term success was being an excellent practitioner and long term success was headship. 8 years on and 3 have left the profession, 1 has become a middle leader, 1 has tried to avoid leadership altogether, one has moved abroad to teach in an international school and 2 of us are in leadership and our ideas of professional success have changed dramatically.

For many years professional success has meant teachers develop through the following stages (they may skip one or two levels depending on the size of the school):

This very rigid structure doesn’t leave much room for the professional who wants to remain in the classroom and doesn’t want to join SLT or become a manager. It assumes that all teachers will eventually be managers. Experience has taught me that is not the case. Either because teachers don’t want to go into management and occasionally because the best teachers don’t always make great managers. On occasion I have seen how trying to develop teachers into managers make them nothing short of miserable.  

As we see growth in the number of Academy Trusts we are seeing more positions develop for those who want to remain steeped in their subject, for instance becoming Directors. However this is often the case for core subject areas such as English and Maths. Some choose to specialise in a particular skill such as data but again positions are limited and require the member of staff to upskill in a completely different area than teaching which is where many of the most passionate teachers want to remain.

So how do we offer them a sense of development? Particularly for those teachers who want to be exceptional in the classroom and do not want additional responsibility that takes them away from the reason they joined the profession in the first place? How do we reward and create a sense of achievement and progression for our most valuable members of staff without taking them out of the classroom?

Of course I posed this questions to the great teaching community on Twitter and was amazed by the discussion it prompted. I heard of great examples of schools getting creative, listening to teacher passions and looking at how these can be developed. Some are offering Lead practitioner status, development in Lego therapy, teaching those with autism or dyspraxia and getting involved in teacher development. However, there was overwhelming feedback that this is something that needs to be looked at or explored further in schools, as the traditional route highlighted above still seems to be the norm and the expectation in many schools.

I wonder whether we should be moving towards a system like that of the universities where subject specialists are employed as Readers, senior teachers etc.. shown below. I know this is somewhat reflected in where they are on the pay scale however do we recognise it in their title?

An exploration of alternative jobs would need exploration of really clear expectations. For instance what would the expectations of a Reader in History look like? How much research would they be expected to engage in? Would they be expected to network beyond the school/trust. Would they be asked to research within the school/trust into teaching methods for that subject? Would the school expect them publish either on a school/trust blog or in publications such as Impact? How much time will they be allowed to do this?

And therein lies the rub. If we want to create more opportunities for teachers to develop in the classroom we have to be clear about what the expectations are of them and be willing to give them time to complete them. Time means money and schools are already struggling in many cases to manage budgets that are tight. I have no doubt that a role such as the above would add value to a school, bring a sense of pride to a department and the teacher carrying it out. Recognise a professional who loves being in the classroom. They could then upskill others with their findings. But it requires schools to get creative with their budgets.

I do believe it can be done. Many a time I have joined a school where staff have fallen into their TLR role as requested by a member of leadership many years ago but have now lost their way with no clear targets or sense of direction. I think they could be reinvigorated with clear research roles or areas of development to help the most vulnerable. In order for this to work and for us to ensure that teachers who want to remain in the classroom feel a sense of achievement, we must collaborate with them to create a new journey through their profession that doesn’t always lead to Senior Leadership. Exactly how we do this will depend on finance, timetabling and the conversations with the individual teachers. But if we want to champion our most valuable assets I think it must be explored.

Teaching and Learning in schools when lockdown is over

As someone who oversees Teaching and Learning at work, I have been thinking a lot about what to do once kids return back to school. I can’t wait to have them back and miss my pupils dearly, but also know that school closure during this time of year will pose a series of challenges. I know it’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end but rumours of schools opening up again are popping up in the media and it’s something that requires thought.

Next week I will be holding a Microsoft Teams meeting with my wonderful Middle Leaders (again, who I miss very much!) about how we get ready for those challenges.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I may suggest, I’ve read blogs, asked the wonderful folks on twitter and looked for inspiration. The realisation I have come to is although the situation is unique we don’t actually need to do anything new. I’m a big advocate for embedding things well rather than jumping from one strategy to the other so here’s the advice I’ll be providing my Middle Leaders next week

Challenges per year groups:

We need to accept to that the challenges per year group will vary. For example, depending on when we reopen, Year 6s orthe new Year 7s for Secondary schools will not have been prepped for their SATs. This final push often makes students more confident with reading comprehension and Maths. As a secondary Vice Principal I will be reaching out to the Primary schools in our area to see what we can do to make this transition smoother as it will impact subjects such as Maths and English but also History where we ask students to make inferences and arguments.

For year 10 the challenge will be covering the content in time for the GCSE. The kindest thing the exam boards could do is allow students to pick option questions in the final exam paper, so if they have not covered a topic at the end of year 10 because of the closure they can focus on the others, but I’ve not heard any whispers of this happening therefore we may just need to plough through the content as quick as possible.

Teachers need to ensure they are familiar with these nuances and the challenges to each year group so that where possible they can address these issues. On that note, we need to recognise that all students will be out of school routines, so this will be a big push for us when we get back.

Its’ not all bad

I’m also not a big one for doom and gloom. Yes we will face challenges and yes the chances are that those from the most deprived homes will have a very different experience from others. However, we have to recognise that it will be a mixed picture. Yes kids will have been out of a routine and engaged to different levels with home learning materials but they are also likely to be rested, have possibly watched a documentary on TV that can be explored, read beyond the syllabus, gone for walks and we have to make the most of that and explore it. Many of our children will be excited about learning with staff again and crave routine and structure (even if they don’t admit it) so a return to school will be exciting for them. Again we have to make the most of that.

Lots of low stakes testing

Kids will be nervous, we know they have an acute understanding of how they are performing compared to their peers and what I don’t want is for the kids to come back to a barrage of tests. We know a child who has had limited access to home learning will be nervous returning to the classroom. I have asked my teachers to be mindful of language when completing low stakes testing. For example, rather than saying ‘let’s see what you’ve learnt’, saying ‘seeing as we haven’t done as much online learning before let’s see what the resources taught you and then we can fill in the gaps’ or ‘lets see what you thought of the resources and what I need to add to them to make things stick by doing a quick question round.’ This takes the pressure off and opens the classroom up for exploring where the gaps in knowledge have occurred.

If you’re anything like me I can get into a rut where I like certain activities and do them repeatedly. In the Middle Leaders session next week me and the HODs will be exploring different ways of completing low stakes testing such as Do it now tasks, Connect 3 (where students have to get across a noughts and crosses style grid by answering three Qs with varying levels of difficulty), Quizzes and others to ensure students don’t come back to a diet of 10 Multiple Choice tests every lesson.

Keep using the tech

I’m not sure about you but we have not used the technology we are currently using during lock down so rigorously. I will be urging staff to continue doing so in order to fill gaps in knowledge. This may be by uploading materials to enhance knowledge based on needs identified in class or by setting the quizzes online as homework to then pitch lessons appropriately. On the plus side even the most tech nervous of my teachers are now embracing the systems we have set up so students can expect consistency in approach (like I said silver lining and all that!)

Teach to the top

We must continue to be aspirational for our young people. I really believe this. I honestly believe our children are resilient and will thrive at the other end of this with the right attitude and support. In this paper Hattie argues that school closures will have a relatively minimal impact, but the real impact will come from home resources.  As teachers we know this.

To me this requires teaching to the top and ensuring we have careful scaffolding for our children. What do I mean by teaching to the top? Ensuring students have the same stimulus but adapting the way they may approach it. Some of the strategies we already use in school but will become ever more important are:

Posing a big question at the start of the lesson that helps tie some disparate parts of the content together. A challenging question that you keep coming back to and which students feel they have chipped away at together throughout it.

Best of three (particularly for year 10 if we need to get through content swiftly but want to develop deep understanding). This is where three sample answers to a big question are given to students (grade 9/5/3 for example) and depending on their confidence with the topic they are asked to discuss the pros and cons of one of them and then as a group compare the answers.

Role reversal asking students to explain elements of the content being covered to quickly understand their level of comprehension through a series of follow up questions.

The two things that tie all of these strategies are cold calling and strong knowledge organisers. These help us gauge where students are at in their learning. I think these will be incredibly powerful tools when we return.

You will notice none of these techniques are new or revolutionary, none of them require me to retrain staff, but I think they need to be done incredibly well and need focus when our students return. I believe that the work teachers do day in day out with students is incredible and that we must continue to do these well rather than adopt a range of new strategies out of fear.

The School we return to

The school we return to will be different post COVID-19 and it’s up to all of us to ensure it’s for the better.

Isolation has given me some rare opportunities to stare out of the window and wonder. Wonder what school will be like when we return. Wonder what I want to return back to. How will COVID-19 impact the culture of the school? And what culture do we need to adopt in order to nurture our students going forward.

When googling ‘school culture’ I was quite surprised to see that a lot of the definitions related it to the culture among staff, rather than students. Having worked at 5 schools I can honestly say not in a single one did the student and staff culture not mirror each other exactly. Test it yourself, what is your school culture? Is it only demonstrated by your staff or also by your students?

One of the definitions I loved most is by Anthony Muhammed where he defines school culture as ‘the environment needed to cultivate the characteristics necessary for student growth and learning.’ I would add to this to include not only student growth but staff too.

I recently tweeted (@secretVP ) asking people to share their thoughts about school culture. It’s beautiful so see the steps heads have taken to develop a strong and positive school culture. The beauty of the twitter community came to the fore as colleagues recommended peoples blogs or even schools where they had witnessed a wonderful culture.* Yet, however positive the cultural norm at our schools we will return back to a slightly different landscape and one we have not faced before. So here are the key tenants of the school I want to return back and build.

Being kind and showing value

I hope with every core of my being that we all come out of this experience as more kind.

Being kind means that we value the other, and to me that is golden. Being kind means we take responsibility for our behavior because at every stage we have the option to be anything less than kind. Showing kindness means showing power. A kind act in the right place changes the course of actions to come.

What does this look like in practice when we get back to school?

For staff

I hope every senior leader in the country takes the time to commend their staff and how they have embraced the challenge of COVID-19. I know in our school we found ourselves changing from a face to face institution to one entirely online within three days. This is no small feat and it certainly isn’t possible without staff buy in.

I can’t wait to get back and tell staff how incredibly proud I am to be part of a staff body that has embraced change when it mattered the most, that have adapted in difficult circumstances. That have shown kindness towards each other covering each other on the face to face rota system when we needed to get things done.

This is why I find it both shocking and embarrassing when I hear stories of leaders asking their staff to fill in time sheets or all staff to come into school so numbers of teacher outweigh that of students because I believe kindness will get you so much further ahead than the desire to control will. It’s how we show our staff we value them. At the school I am currently at we have operated a completely voluntary system of face to face provision and not one person has let us down.

And here’s the thing about kindness, you don’t get to do it part time. You don’t get to be kind to a few, show them how valuable they are and call yourself kind. I’ve seen many leaders have favourites over the years and I’m sure I have subconsciously had some myself. But being kind is not an opt in opt out choice and I hope when we get back we reach out to the quieter ones, even the disengaged.

One of my favorite activities at school has become the Fuddle. Every Friday before a half term we now have a fuddle. Food has been a big part of my life. My mother is an incredible cook and to share food is to say I want to sit with you and talk about what’s on your mind because I value you. Further, staff show how much they value each other by cooking for each other. It also gives us an excuse to eat cupcakes for breakfast 😉 I hope to be having a lot more of those soon.

Every teaching member of staff I know is short on time. To give your time is the greatest gift in education. And I hope as our staff return, with stories of what they have experienced during this lockdown, we take the time to be kind, to listen and to show how much they mean to us.

For our students

This is going to be incredibly important. Many people have already spoken about the need to support students who may have lost someone during this time or experienced trauma whilst away from school.

On a more subtle level we know that students’ access and engagement to online resources will vary. We know some will have engaged more than others. We know some will have grasped more than others. And as teaching professionals not only is it important to show kindness to those students who will undoubtedly be left behind but also foster a climate of kindness in our classrooms so that we can support those struggling. I know that many of my higher ability students can sometimes be quite impatient with those who are struggling to grasp a concept and although I need to make sure I am planning for them when we return I also need to ensure they are kind to their peers.

How do we show our children kindness and that they are valued when they return? I hope that we take a moment not to ask our kids how much they got done but how they were kind to those who needed it. Whether it be by face timing their grandparents because they couldn’t visit, babysitting siblings, baking cakes etc..

Resilience

When we get back we will be in unchartered territory and will need resilience to get us through. We have all shown resilience in bucket loads recently but I think this is something that will be tested once again when we get back to school. We will find ourselves in a situation where we are in front of children who have not been in a school routine for possibly 4 months. This is not only likely to test the resilience of teachers but also our students.

For the teachers, getting students back into school habits is likely to be a challenge, we will need to be resilient as we figure out ways to ensure that all of our kids, with various levels of engagement with home learning are on the same page. We will need to be resilient as we battle with the challenges of teaching the national curriculum on what is less time in the classroom.

I breath a sigh of relief that I have built a culture of honesty in middle leaders meetings over the past year, where we not only share our successes but our failures and ask each other for help, because middle leaders will need to be collaborative in their approach to bridge the learning gap and resilient as they figure out their approach to each year group.

Students too will be required to be resilient. How do we build the resilience of the child who knows they haven’t been able to access the work at home, either because they just didn’t get it without you there, were babysitting siblings or any other reason? I have spent the past year trying to get rid of the fear my students feel when it comes to any form of testing and I know that a big part of our return will need to be lots of low stakes testing to see how much they remember, know etc… I know this work will need to continue as we move forward.

Reestablishing routines is another challenge staff will face. Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) speaks extensively about this and building in quick wins to motivate students to want to follow those routines. This links to the social ties we have built with our students and how they will need to be reestablished once we return. The trust we built with those difficult to reach students will be tested or need to be reestablished.

Some students will have been resilient in ways we can’t imagine and we will be expecting more of that in the classroom. Therefore, we need to take the time to think about how we will celebrate their first day/lesson back? What will we want to reiterate, establish and celebrate? I can’t wait to tell them how much I have missed them and how I can’t wait to get back on the journey of exploring history with them.

Honesty and open mindedness

A common saying I use with my students is ‘Let’s reach for the stars at the very worse we might hit the ceiling.’ I want my students to know they are limitless. But the other part of the coin is being exceptionally brave and honest about where they currently are.

For staff this means admitting that we are facing new circumstances, not one of us has all the answers but collectively we will have suggestions we can test. What we can’t do is get tied down to any of these ideas at the risk of seeing what works.

Honesty to admit when we are stuck, losing some students or just plain tired and the open mindedness to try something different will be paramount in our ability to adapt to the new landscape we return to. Senior Leaders should encourage it, model it and nurture it.

With students I intend to get inquisitive and try and take the pressure off. Rather than say ‘I wonder how much you learnt’ I will be asking them to let me know how effective the online resources were at teaching them X and checking that. Taking the pressure off of them and allowing them to be honest about how much they do or do not know/remember. Again, the wonderful Caroline Spalding talks about the effectiveness of self-testing here to remove embarrassment and give students a quick review of how they are doing so they can move forward.

Needless to say there will be a whole host of other skills teachers will soon be asked to pull on but we only have to look online at twitter for a few seconds to the level of commitment this group of wonderful individuals has demonstrated over the past few weeks and there is no doubt they are up for the challenge.

*a particular shout out to Chris Foley @HT_StMonicas and Mark Chatley @MrMChatley

The 10% Braver Multiplier Effect

Just over a year ago I went to my first WomenEd Unconference. I was nervous, I knew no one in the community and I didn’t quite know what I was doing there, going for, or looking for. I met a wonderful community of women and men who were just interested in the female perspective. But the one message that stood out above all else was the call to all attending or viewing online to be 10% Braver.

I carried that message home with me and rather than looking at all the things I wanted to do, I took the decision to spend some time thinking about where I had not been showing up. I have climbed up the career ladder in education fairly quickly so to speak, and deep down I know I thought I didn’t deserve to be there, in the Leadership meetings, presenting at Board level, none of it. Deep down I believed I hadn’t earned the stripes so therefore didn’t speak up in an authentic way, scared to be found out or busted. Not immediately, but eventually I worked on myself to ensure I did show up to work as my authentic self this meant I wouldn’t tolerate the bullying that sometimes went on in leadership meetings no matter how subtle, that I would entertain alternative points of view even if they were ridiculed because to entertain them, that was what mattered. To weigh up the credibility of ideas not natural to us is what makes us rational humans. I had frank conversations with my managers about what I needed and what I felt was missing to take the school to a better place.

Eventually I left my place of work and was brave enough to apply for a promotion at a new school as a Vice Principal and got it. But this isn’t about my successes through being brave but what it has allowed me to pass on. Because by showing up, whole, flaws and all, I have allowed others to do the same including, and I believe most importantly, my students.

This is why I thought it was important to tell them I was going for a VP interview before I did, no matter what the outcome. That one act meant I had a Year 13 student knock on my door with the usual prologue that women use before they dare ‘I know this is stupid but….’ She was entertaining the idea of applying for an apprenticeship at Google something she thought was completely out of her reach. I encouraged her to go ahead anyway. Do it anyway. Dream it anyway. I’m am pleased to say she is in London right now as a Google Apprentice.

One of my favourite acts of courage by my class was with a Year 13 group as we approached their final exams. I asked them all to be honest and share a concept /model or word they didn’t still didn’t understand. As a result, one of my students said he had heard the term ‘Vice Versa’ throughout his education but had never known what the teachers meant. I’m proud to say that we all whooped for his bravery and I explained it to him. This led to other brave acts in the classroom. Quiet students making goodbye speeches at the end of the year in our final lesson. Students pushing to have their work shared with and critiqued by others in class.

Being braver (and reading a lot of books, thank you Brene Brown and Chase Jarvis!) has allowed me to encourage others to be brave too. Writing a blog has allowed me to encourage students with particular interests to start their own YouTube channels and not hide their light. Prepping for my book has allowed me to encourage my niece to pursue her dream as a writer.

I am by no means insinuating that I deserve any credit for the brave acts of the lovely young people I work with. What I am saying is courage breeds courage. Whether we want to accept the mantel or not, we are role models for our students. Our brave selves give them the courage to shine in all their glory also.

And the more whole and gutsy women and men we have, the better I say.

Curriculum Design 2 (Mary Myatt)

When I say Mary Myatts book ‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to coherence’ made me fall in love with curriculum design, I am making an understatement. As Tom Sherrington says in the forward ‘Mary Myatt knows how to hook you in and get you thinking.’ The chapters are concise and straight to the point and it’s probably the only book in which I have paid as much attention to the footnotes (in which she provides a wealth of resources) as I did to the main words in the chapters of the book.

Areas of the book that particularly stood out for me and influenced the way we shape our curriculum at the Secondary school I am currently at are:

Curriculum coherence – which along with Summer Turners book ‘Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design’ (mentioned in the previous blog) sparked interesting Leadership conversations about the curriculum model we were offering as a whole school. In this chapter, Mary stresses how we are ‘pattern seeking individuals’ and therefore the curriculum needs to tell a story. Each one of our middle leaders has spent a considerable amount of time identifying this story, its key themes and threads that run throughout it and are trying to communicate it to the students. What has surprised me, certainly in history which I teach, is how quickly students from year 7 – 11 have caught onto this, understanding what they need to learn now and how it will connect to what they learn in the future.

Cognitive science – Linked to the above Mary highlights ‘curriculum is content structured as narrative over time.’ This had a huge impact on myself and the middle leaders I have worked with. How do we communicate this narrative to students? It has been interesting to see what teachers are doing. Some have it on their first slide. Others have a big sign on their board saying ‘Why are we learning this?’ which reminds them to start each lesson with a conversation about how the lesson fits into the whole to help chunk information. With it, has come the realisation that this is not something you ‘do’ but something we ‘we will do always.’

Chapters on Curriculum products and Beautiful Work place the emphasis firmly on what the student is doing which is often surprisingly forgotten when middle leaders have their heads down in planning. This shaped our observation forms in which we write not only to look at what the teacher does but what students do. Interestingly, this was particularly helpful when working with teachers who give their all in the lesson but often end up ‘carrying’ it, to help these staff shift some of that responsibility onto the students.

As a Vice principal the section on Leadership has provided with me no end of food for thought about how I structure CPD and give all staff time to understand the finer nuances of their curriculum, as well as how we go about communicating this curriculum journey to department members and students. You are a leader if you find yourself in the front of the classroom so I suggest everyone read this.

Sections on Etymology, Speaking and Writing – have influenced our Knowledge Organisers which we are using this time in lock down to redesign with curriculum journeys in mind. This has also influenced out Literacy programme and our quick low stakes tests which emphasise language.

I could go on forever, this book has nuggets of cold scattered throughout it which are communicated simply but beautifully. Some of the above may seem obvious now as we are bombarded with information about curriculum design but two years ago when I was stepping into a new role it was the simplicity with which curriculum design was explained and how it linked to every aspect to the school, which attracted me to this book. I would thoroughly urge everyone in education to read it so they can see the curriculum for the critical, wonderful, backbone it provides to schools.

Curriculum Design 1 (Summer Turner)

At the start of this year I took on the role of Vice Principal for a large secondary school. A key priority for the school, which had had several changes in middle leadership, was to help middle leaders develop their curriculum plans, understand them and be able to communicate them with others and their own staff as well as communicating the student journey to students.

Two key books played a phenomenal role in this. Mary Myatt’s (@MaryMyatt) book ‘The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence’ which made me fall in love with curriculum design by carefully explaining its merits and the thought process that needed to go behind each element of planning. Summer Turner’s (@ragazza_inglese) ‘Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design’ really highlighted the challenging questions I and the leadership team I was joining needed to tackle in order to ensure that curriculum design was being conducted in a coherent way. I will focus on the latter book in this post.

Here is how I used some of their Summer’s within the school this year:

Summer Turner’s Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design:

If you’re new to curriculum design (and even if you’re not) Summer breaks down everything! Lots of definitions, explanations and lots of clarity of terms we may confuse.

Getting clear about whole school Curriculum Intent

The Self – Assessment in Chapter 2 was brilliant to use with the Leadership team. Not only did it give us some crucial questions to discuss but was a quick way of me learning about the new school I had just joined and also the thinking of the leadership team around curriculum. We had some brilliant, open and honest discussions about the purpose of our curriculum and our ambitions for our students. I honestly believe if this hadn’t happened we would not be singing off the same hymn sheet as we do now when line managing middle leaders.

Some of the questions were really challenging for example:

Should you teach to the test if it means pupils will perform well in exams?

These questions made us question our moral purpose and what we were in education for.

The self-assessment also asks you to assess yourself and your confidence in areas. Which meant we could help each other in area where we felt less confident. Not confident with how assessment data is used? Let another member of the leadership team explain it to you.

Learning from others

The book also introduced me to some great twitter handles to follow and brilliant tweeters!

As well as social media, Summer also makes numerous book recommendations which I will get through one day! Combined these ideas from other thinkers and institutions allowed me to challenge our own ideas in school to have deeper discussions around curriculum.

Sequencing

Summer’s questions around sequencing led to some hot debates. Questions such as:

  • Whether we sequence year by year and if not how do we accommodate students who join us at different times.
  • How much we want to invest in making connections across subjects, how we do this and whether this is a longer term plan.
  • How we would communicate cognitive science and knowledge acquisition and memory to all staff so it would influence their teaching practice and when we would do this.

All of the above were considered but not necessarily given equal weight in the first year. I had to remember that a few well executed changes and initiatives are better that a heap of poorly communicated ones.

Taking this approach with middle leaders

Once leadership was clear about the above questions we started to discuss these questions with middle leaders. Explaining how we had agreed on our whole school curriculum intent and ensuring that we were open to middle leaders opinions and ready to adapt where necessary.

In my next post I will post about what we shared in middle leaders meetings and he discussions we had as well as our curriculum template.

It would be great to hear how other curriculum leaders have led curriculum design in there schools. Curriculum design is an ever changing beast. It is something that we must and should, adapt, tweak and amend year after year to meet the needs of our students so I think the more ideas the better!

Thank you to Summer Turner for the support she has provided our school in doing this.

Modelling

Read any of the work into Cognitive Learning and the importance of Modelling will become apparent. But what do we mean by modelling?

Im’ writing this post as a result of a Faculty CPD session on which we focused on Modelling.

Read any of the work into Cognitive Learning and the importance of Modelling will become apparent. But what do we mean by modelling? It is a term that can be used in several contexts. We can, and do, model behaviour as teachers, we model attitudes but we also need to ensure we are clearly modelling thinking processes and literacy.

Some teachers argue they model by showing sample answers. There is also research to suggest that sample answers too perfect can scare or disengage students and critically I believe, miss the magic of modelling which is the thinking process. As David Didau puts it “Sometimes it’s enough for students just to see a model but an essential part of the teaching sequence for writing is the process of modelling: talking through the decisions a writer makes at the point of writing.”

So how do we Model? This was the focus of the session.

Using the ‘Making every Lesson Count’ series. We broke modelling down into a series of smaller tasks.

1.Select what you want to model in detail and its purpose: Are you modelling the answer to an exam question? Perhaps just a clear introduction or conclusion. The process of a tackling a problem (such as the scientific method). Get clear about what you want students to get out of it.

2.Plan to model your thinking. This means talking out loud to your students about your thinking process. When you look at a question which words do you unpick first? Which bits are difficult to unravel? (I think this is important because students need to see even you as an expert classify some things as challenging, and then take them head on). How many times have you heard the words ‘I don’t know how to start’ as a child sits there with a blank bit of paper 10 mins into a question being set? So we need to show them how to start.

3.Think through your evidence/support. Once you have decided your main argument(s) what could students use that they have learnt that will support it? How have you selected the evidence you will use? Why did you pick some over others? How have you picked your main arguments? You may choose to include some class participation here. But if you do what is important is that you are completely transparent why you go with some suggestions and not others. The students need to see you (or in this case hear you) make those choices.

4.Get writing: At this stage you can either go for it with the class and write the whole thing out or you can write the key parts of your answer and get them fill in the rest. Depending on where your students are in their writing journey.

5.Flaunt it. Share the answers. Obviously you will share yours if you are writing on the board but if students are creating their own versions then get them to read it out, share it with the person sitting next to them.

6.Steal. This is the bit where you ask students to steal what they like from others. I always say to students the difference between a grade 4 and a grade 9 is often the Grade 4 students knows what they think and can get it down on paper. A grade 9 student knows what they think and what others think so can effectively articulate different perspectives. This means to hit those higher grades students and myself have to create a safe space for each other to share thoughts in.

Now I’m sure for many of you this may be something that you do day in and day out but what I see and do over and over again is often miss step 2. I think this is easy to do when you have taught how to tackle an exam question over and over again and jump straight into it. But the students need to hear the cognitive process behind it. So we will all be practicing this, this afternoon.

I went to see the wonderful Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) at ResearchEd last year and her talk on modelling was excellent at considering how all the things students are trying to process at any one time. So I can’t finish this blog without highlighting the importance of giving time to modelling. Many times I have wanted to do a question but come away with just an introduction and a debate with what evidence to use. This is a good thing because rushing through modelling means students often have too much to process and can end up more confused.

So 7. Ask yourself what you want students to do at each stage. Listen? Write? Have you built in enough time for them to focus on one thing at a time? This ensures the students don’t walk away with a written answer that they have copied but not grasped the process.