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

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.

The search for James

I have told myself many lies as teacher and Vice Principal but none of them is as regular or benign as making a cup of tea during the school day, knowing full well it will never be consumed. I continue to boil the kettle regardless.

The dreaded crackling begins. ‘Hello on call’ I grab the walkie talkie like a surgeon being called into life-saving surgery. ‘Go ahead’ I say.’ James Burton* is missing from curriculum support. He has stormed out after kicking some bins and swearing at the LSA’s.’ The possibilities run through my head. Could he be kicking in a bin somewhere else in school? I mentally make a note of all bins around the school site. James has quite a knack for pranks. Could he be sitting in a bin? Ready to jump out and give one of us a heart attack as we approach him? Another possibility I make a mental note of. Could he be off site quite possibly causing a danger to others more than himself with his old ‘pull my finger joke’ and farts on demand? I visit Curriculum Support where he was last seen and the staff quickly point towards the direction in which he left. On passing his friend James Seager I enquire where he went and am told he headed towards the music rooms. Likely, I think to myself, he’s probably written a bloody musical about his escape and is going to perform it to the school as the bell goes at the end of the day. I pop my head into classrooms where I hear loud noises thinking he may be doing his usual monologue whilst standing on a chair but no luck there either. I look at my watch, nearly home time and over 14,000 steps covered. I think about entering the London Marathon again, there is no way I am not fitter now than when I last ran and was in sales, driving hundreds of miles in my car every day. The search for Wally continues.

Eventually I give up. Defeated, I decide to walk to reception and call his mum to say we can’t find him and ask her to come into school. Hopefully he will appear in time to be taken home. As I approach reception I thank James Seager for his help in finding his friend although I have been unable to locate him, at that point I hear his mum stomp in and scream at the top of her lungs ‘You’ve found my boy!’ I look at the ladies who notified me of a missing James Burton in the first place. It seems they got the wrong James. I make eye on contact with the other James, the one who I should have been searching for. We glare at each other. ‘Yes we did’ I say smiling at his mum. ‘Yes she did’ he repeats. I go to make another cup of tea. It seems we are all little liars in the end.  

2nd March 2020

Monday

All staff have been asked to complete a half hour online course on the use of the internet and email. Apparently, this is due to a virus that an ITT recently opened and was then sent to all staff in the Trust. I dutifully sit at my desk I am already a day over the deadline and this is no time for a philosophical debate about the madness of this all. Only, I can’t log in. I send the IT Director who has commissioned this unusual form of punishment upon us all, an email explaining I can’t log on to the course on the internal system. He asks if I am using my usual log in details. I reply I am and that I know they are correct as they are the same as the  ones used to log into my email, which he can see I am managing to use successfully. He explains to me that information such as this must be kept confidential to avoid hacking. I explain having not completed my training he can expect such mistakes from me in the future. I await a reply….

Tuesday

My husband snores into the early hours of the morning and after I weigh up the pros and cons of murdering him with my pillow I decide to just get out of bed and start the day by tackling my email. To be frank I feel like quite the superior being, having tackled my inbox before I even enter school at 7.15am. People are staring at me and I can only imagine that my organisation skills this morning are oozing such power that everyone can see the powerhouse I am. At 8am I enter the bathroom and am shocked by how much I have aged overnight! Grey hair appear at the top of my head and I rub at them to check if it really is my own reflection I am seeing. Some investigative minutes later I realise that I have not had a reverse Benajmin Button moment but in tiredness have sprayed my hair with deodorant rather than dry shampoo.

Wednesday

Question. What is the experience of someone who has tourrettes and a stutter? I too was stumped by this question when asked by a student at the end of lunch at the bottom of the humanities stairs.

Thursday

Aha! IT Director has got back to me suggesting I change my password for the system on which previously mentioned training is run. I am struggling to do this without being able to log in at which point he frustratingly exclaims that I should contact their help desk directly. He reminds me that the course must be completed by the end of the day or Armageddon will occur and all my emails could be deleted if I accidentally click on a virus. I reply to his email explaining that I can’t imagine anything more delightful followed by a screenshot showing that his own security systems have denied me access to the helpdesk he would like me to access.

It is World Book Day and I have no end of Wollies and Wanda’s roaming my corridors. Lady Macbeth walks towards me and her intentions are definitely sinister. She asks if she can miss a CPD session to attend a doctors appointment she could not book at any other time. I do the usual and remind her that dates for CPD are shared at the beginning of the year and she is expected to attend them but if she really can’t go at any other time then she should go and catch up with me later regarding the session. She smiles politely but I can feel her scowling at me through her eyes. I imagine she’ll offer me tea from a poisoned chalice in the near future.

Friday

Eyes down I look at a small hand with a choco crispie cake and then up at a spotty face smiling. Student X is offering me a chocolate rice crispie cake he made earlier in Food Tech. Usually I would wolf down such offerings but having spotted the state of Student Xs hands I’m certain that the coronavirus is not currently the biggest threat to our school. I find a tissue in my pocket, smile politely and wrap the cake putting it in my pocket reassuring the student that I will enjoy it with my cup of tea later. I cannot walk to a bin fast enough the ticking time bomb that is melting chocolate potentially seeping all over my coat.