Monday, 30 December 2013

#Nurture 1314

Nurture 1314 is  proving a popular venture amongst teacher tweeters and bloggers this holiday. I took part in last years project and my full thoughts can be found here:

Below is the summary of my aims for 2013- not all educational- and outcomes. I promise not to mark against my learning objectives! 

Thirteen for '13

1. Twitter: You don't have to be on Twitter to get the best of out being a teacher- but it helps!! Twitter exchanges with other teachers have been awesome, and in some cases ORRsome! To meet 40 or more other tweachers at #SLTcamp was a highlight of the year and an experience which has supercharged my desire to bring initiative to the whole school environment. 

2. Michael Gove:. Still there! Possibly only for another 18 months though.

3. Wine: France and Turkey sold amazing value wine! Are you listening Tesco? 

4. 20 books: If I include books I read for school I met this target. Must try harder!

5. My writing: As yet not published but I have had positive responses to my writing blog and a promise to have a play based on my sitcom script performed at the local theatre! WOW!!

6. Football silverware: Andy and Steve- you will appreciate that supporting our clubs is a calling, an endeavour, a labour of love- and very occasional success. Thank heavens I'm not a Palace fan!

7. Untruthful people: Let's just say that they have to be lucky every day!

8. Cooking a new recipe at least twice a month and share it with my Twitter friends: Done! And beyond! See below!

9. Greater financial sense: What is it with teenagers?

10. My garden: enough courgettes to put my wife off them for years!Tomatoes hit by cold weather in early part of year. Disappointing harvest!

11. Common sense  in education:  The feckless Twigg is history. Hunt writes good History! Only time will tell! Foot out of mouth will be a good start!

12. DV: Sadly as teachers we have to see the signs of this. The suffering that Nigella Lawson has had to put up with, including the smear campaign since she was brutally and publicly assaulted, can only however expose what some men are like!

13. Being in a happier place: People who know me will know that my wife was brutally cut down from her Headship- without so much as an OFSTED call- just the victim of one year of  results- after a few months of thinking she would never work again, she has now worked in three schools in senior positions. And after many years of trying and almost giving up hope I secured a DHT position in a school I wanted to work in, with a Head I am very happy to work with and  which offers the challenges that make this job worthwhile! 

Fourteen for '14

Begins with the professional, ends with the personal. 

1. Twitter: really is the most amazing tool for connecting people. Teachers in particular. I have had better CPD through Twitter (not just SLT Camp) than I have for years. The notion of Teach Meets doesn't yet exist in my LEA, but I hope to lead this initiative this coming year.

2. The Death of Ego: See also Twitter/SLT Camp. It was one of the requirements of SLT Camp to leave ego at home. Didn't that work so well? Teachers often work in an environment where they feel constantly under pressure and criticised. Look at any staff and it is a mix of NQTs, young single people, those with more life experience and some with their own children. Just like any workplace. The best team, and there is no 'I'in team, works with everyone playing to their strengths and those strengths add to a collective whole. There is no room for the whingers, complainers and the 'me-me-me' brigade. Recognise your own weaknesses, act and build on them and be part of a team that put children first,children second, but never last!

3. The New Curriculum: Despite what we may feel about Mr Gove the new curriculum can be shaped to deliver what we consider to be good learning. English and Maths seems fairly set in stone, nut as for the rest of it, if we don't like the content we can shape it to what is good for the children and their futures. No teacher dares scupper the future of any child. The New National Curriculum is a challenge, but an exciting one in the right hands.

4. Levels: Levels won't be used by the Government to assess end of Key Stage progress. We have had years of levels and are used to them as teachers, and most schools seem used to APS and the implications for target setting. What is actually stopping us using this as a progress measure?  Schools still using the old QCA tests will all know there is no consistency between the levels from one test to the next. Strong and rigorous (and I don't use 'rigour' ironically) teacher assessment is required to answer that old perennial favourite question from parents 'How is she doing?'.  Deciles will determine relative standing on a national scale,and the first use of it for primary schools will be in 2016, but that will work with up to 600,000 children. With a cohort of 30-60 the use of deciles will be virtually meaningless because applied to a whole school lifetime experience of a child, we know that there will be a group who will always be in the first decile, and one who will always be in the last. What impact will that have on self-esteem. I attended a conference recently at which the question about level replacement was answered by the representative from the DfE with a resounding 'I don't know!'

5. Developing Leadership: I have found the transition to my new role relatively smooth because I realised that I had actually been doing much that is required of me for a few years already. Being a really good leader is something I wish to develop. There are plenty of examples of what is not good leadership. I'm certainly not going to employ any of those strategies. Leadership should be by example, and founded in the realities of life in the classroom,not divorced from day-to-day practice. Good leaders drive from the pack, not from behind it. Listening is a skill, not a gesture. I'm not a checklist and clipboard person. I would rather get my hands dirty! And I hate cliches. 

6. Reading: I have barely been near an educational text since my research experience. Time to reverse that trend. SLT camp provided me with a start to my reading list. Any more suggestions would be welcome

7. OFSTED: Love it or hate it, there is no getting away from it and I know I can't because some time between January and July they will be here. Is OFSTED a bad thing? Ignore the horror stories for a minute. The organisation per se has made schools more self evaluative, reflective and aware of the meed to be responsible for their own development. In four inspections I have only encountered one inspector with  negative attitudes. 

8. Surely we should be united against the common enemy: Not the obvious one or two! Not the Judean Peoples' Front! It is complacency, arrogance and a belief that ones own ideas are right at the expense of those of all others that can undermine our professional standing. There isn't one way of teaching well and some methods work better for some people than others. 

9. Making a difference:Quite simply, that is what I want to make in my new role. Not change for change's sake. Enough said.

10. Proactive not reactive: Ok that is a cliche! One which I may have used in my interview, but from experience. However no school can run successfully by simply reacting to day to day events. Of course there is no way of predicting some of the random happenings, but anticipation of where problems might arise, through sound management and awareness of what is happening, is strategic and avoids dramas becoming crises. 

11. Work Life Balance: Mythical? The Holy Grail of teachers? I know of teachers who have been told that they couldn't have one! Well we need one, all of us, because quite simply which child, and which parent, wants a teacher who is an automaton with no life experience to draw upon? Children want to know your football team (and to rib you when they lose) whether you watch  EastEnders and if you can salsa. Thanks again to SLT camp for that one! Without a work-life balance a teacher will be stilted and unproductive. I fully intend to take  and make time for myself each day and each week. 

12. Reading and Writing: Not work related this time! However if the children perceive us as readers, then they will see it as less of a chore. Christmas again produced a small pile of reading material for me. At least 20 pages a day will be my target. Also I am going to add to my creative writing blog as was mentioned above. If my work does make it to the stage, even as an amateur production, it will bring enormous satisfaction. And hopefully no lawsuits!

13. Cooking: See work-life balance. For me this is not just a survival essential, but a hobby and a way of bringing people together. Twitter again has enabled me to build this aspect of my interests, and it is a great channel to share pictures and recipes.

14. Family and Friends: Finally if you don't have a work-life balance, you don't have these! Value your time with both, because you never know when you will truly need them. For the cynical, and they probably won't be reading this, Twitter does lead to real friendships.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Musings and Ramblings: Reflections on the first #SLTcamp

Imagine if you will for a minute the stereotypical images of teacher  INSET and CPD, be it a staff meeting, training day, local or national conference.

Someone droning on endlessly, loving the sound of their own voice. One who constantly interrupts and berates the course leader. The naughty group in the corner! Then there's the eye rollers, the yawners, the doodlers and the sniggerers! 

'It won't work in my classroom!' 

'I've done it my way for twenty years and I'm not changing now' 

'More work for us from the top!'

I am not one for stereotypes, but all these have been familiar as the quality and quantity of CPD has been impacted by cutbacks, lack of time and the delivery of often generic and stale material. 

Which is why, in response to a single tweet in August, I signed up for the inaugural SLTcamp.

The pre-camp emails suggested a quite open and general agenda, and as I drove into the pitch black of the Surrey countryside, losing phone signal and missing the turning twice, I wasn't entirely sure of what I might come away from the weekend with.

A week on from the experience, I can say that SLTcamp represented the best CPD I have ever been part of. For the past week my mind has been abuzz with the potential to employ the ideas and feedback generated by forty or so very different, diverse and dedicated professionals. Quick fixes; simple solutions to pressing problems; longer term strategic thinking. All were generated in a chilly village hall and over lunch and dinner. 

Already this week I have ordered a roll of 'Magic Whiteboard', arranged the beginnings of staff meetings to be like a 'Teach Meet', set up a 'risk factor' analysis for vulnerable children, and introduced the now world famous 'Wobbly Wallet', a quite marvellous and simple idea, which had the primary group in stitches, thanks to the wonderfully effervescent @debtex. 

Indeed, I have also taken inspiration from the salsa session that rounded off the Saturday evening! I am no dancer! Ask the wife! However there was no hiding place, so I faced and overcame my initial reticence, and used this in assembly, where I raised with the children the notion of facing a difficult learning experience, and the acquisition of new skills. I taught a few children some simple steps, and then to their horror asked them to dance together! To be fair to them I demonstrated too, thanks to one of our Teaching Assistants who gamely agreed to be my partner. One of the Year 6 children grabbed a table tennis bat and chalked a 10 on it too! 

I challenge my fellow campers to follow suit!

Not a moment of the weekend was wasted. It was a tremendous opportunity to catch up with people I have chatted with on Twitter for a while, particularly @Andyphilipday to bemoan our respective football teams lack of recent silverware. The interaction between Primary and Secondary colleagues, so rarely experienced, was a real eye opener to shared difficulties, experiences and successes. I will be returning to the bank of ideas I came back with for a very long time to come. 

One of the few requirements of the weekend was 'No Egos!', and this was firmly adhered to, which was incredibly refreshing. Of course there was a lot of character on show, as there always is in a group of that size, but the mix and balance of the participants was perfect. I left with new friends, new contacts and recharged enthusiasm.

Thanks once again to Sarah and Stephen for all their marvellous preparation and resilience in organising the weekend. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Purpose of Education: Making a Difference

Twenty years ago I began my teaching my first primary school class. This was some years later than I might have anticipated. My original intention, to teach History at secondary school, was scuppered when my finance for my MA fell through and I had to work for a living. Finding myself in the misogynist's haven and creative abyss that was the insurance industry in the City of London, and being neither a 'barrow boy', the owner of an old school tie nor a serial philanderer, realised my calling lay elsewhere.

I never wanted to be an insurance broker, I wanted to be a ....

I wanted to be a ...

Twenty years on, I haven't looked back. However many teachers do not last the course, and education is not a profession they remain in for a range of reasons: pressure of OFSTED, management or behaviour management; the demands upon their time; greater financial reward elsewhere.

Which brings me to the topic of September's Blogsync: The Purpose of Education.

Simply put, I believe the Purpose of Education to be to make a difference in the lives of those we work with, the children. 

By difference I do not mean getting a struggling child to level 4, or to Grade C at GCSE, though of course those are hugely important to the student. Nor do I mean coaxing a child to perform in just the right way at the very moment the inspector enters the room. If any of  my former pupils achieve fame and fortune, they aren't going to appear on 'The One Show' recalling revision sessions or SATS papers. No! They will remember setting the classroom up as if we had been burgled overnight, class assemblies presented as a mythical journey or as an episode of Doctor Who, memorable trips and humorous moments. 

Think of the films that celebrate teaching. Goodbye Mr Chips, To Sir With Love, Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, The History Boys. All have teachers that inspire, engross and impact the lives of the students they encounter. The students all achieve, but with that extra special ingredient- engagement, the achievement really means something. Engagement is something that OFSTED look for, and it is explicitly stated in the revised Framework, but engagement is that key element, that secret to unlocking the potential within each child.

Coincidentally I sat my A-levels in the same year as the film was set.

One of the hardest things for boys to learn is that a teacher is human. One of the hardest things for a teacher to learn is not to try and tell them.”

 The History Boys

“We don't read and write poetry because its cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is full of passion.” 
Dead Poets Society

Education has the power to make a difference in the lives of our young people. Engaging them in powerful and effective ways can convince them that their learning has a vital place in their future. There have been suggestions that white working class boys in particular are disengaged from learning ( and my own experience would bear this out:

 'He'll be alright! He don't need no qualifications to get by!'

'Bloody teachers, think you know it all don'tcha!'

'My mum says I don't have to do what I'm told in school and if you say otherwise she's coming down here to sort you out!'

I remember all these from my very first year, very typical of parents who were in an anti-school and anti-authority culture in the 1970s and 1980s, perhaps trapped in a cycle of generational unemployment. 

Well these days 'He won't be alright'; in the 1970s school leavers could turn up on a building site build a wall and be a bricklayer by lunchtime, now they can't get beyond the gates without certificates. We need to go beyond simply insisting upon attendance, attention and homework completion; we have to give these meaning and purpose. There is no right or wrong way to do that, but the armoury of intellectual and persuasive weapons at our disposal can enable us as educators to empower the youngsters in our charge with the skills for the future and to step forth with aspirations.  

I think of the teachers who engaged me: Mrs Dalrymple and Mr McCann at primary school; Chris and Pauline Collier who lit the flame of my love of History; John Wohlers, who scared us all to death but got the whole class grade A or B at O-level Maths, Janet Lawley, who never taught me but whose very presence oozed her love of learning and her vision. These names don't go away, but those who didn't inspire are hard to recall. 

Few of us can hope to be 'Legends', or 'ledge' in the children's parlance, but at least we can hope to be remembered for a few years. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

New Horizons

After being in my first teaching post for twenty years (I won't explain, its a long story) here I am two weeks into Deputy Headship and I'm loving every minute of it.

Twenty summers spent planning, preparing, compiling reports and trying to grab some family time! This year I was determined to completely recharge my batteries, particularly with working late most of the final half term at my previous school, finalising as much as possible for those taking on my old responsibilities. I read several good books, experimented with a few new recipes and ingredients in the kitchen and was able to appreciate the weather, made all the better by success in The Ashes!

At assembly on my final day I joked that twenty years beforehand, I had arrived dark haired, happy and full of great ideas, and that I was leaving with two out of those three still intact. The gene pool is to blame for the first on this list!

I didn't divorce myself entirely from education over the break. Twitter provides wonderful opportunities for free CPD for the teaching community, and serves as an excellent platform for sharing of the best practice and current development. The most useful links for me came from Heather Leatt (@Heatherleatt) with the highlighted changes to the OFSTED framework and . Extremely useful to have this 'heads up' before the year began. 

I am very much looking forward to attending SLT Camp (@SLTcamp) in November, with the chance to meet some of my fellow tweachers, and to share inspiration and innovation. Many thanks to Sarah Findlater (@MsFindlater) and Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer) for organising this.  With CPD offered by some LEAs a little thin on the ground and of sometimes questionable value, what an opportunity this is to encounter like minds, and to interact with secondary colleagues too. So glad I don't have to pack my wellies and sleeping bag.

Two weeks into term, and unsurprisingly I'm very busy already. There are plenty of challenges ahead, but I knew that, and it is one of the reasons I took on the position. One challenge to myself is to develop my educational blogging further. Let's see if I keep that one up!

Lest we forget, the reason we are in this business is to make a difference to children, and the responses they give our professional lifeblood. I took my first whole school assembly this week; the importance of creating a good first impression was my theme. I showed a picture of George Clooney. 

'Does anybody know who this is?' 

'Is it you Mr Cowley?'

I'll take that one! The gene pool has its uses sometimes!

George is often stopped and asked if he is the new Deputy Head