China > curiosity, culture and challenge

China – a visit thanks to Access China UK and the Nottingham Confucius Institute and Nottingham City Council

An amazing experience, which would have been incredible and fantastic but was made even moreso or as we teacher’s say “EBI” ( even better if) for the fact I went with 9 great Nottingham City colleagues and we had a wonderful Chinese guide and interpreter,  all of whom added the value to make it totally amazing.

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Feifei our interpreter at the Ningbo library

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The Ningbo 10 (ignore the man on the right he wasn’t with us!)

 

 

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You cannot go up the Pearl of Shanghai and look over the biggest City in the world (population 24 million) and not think – this is where the future of the world will be centred and so we need a plan, not a Brexit neither an educational plan but a proper plan.

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China is a long way away – 5750 miles to be precise or exactly 24 hours from me leaving a hotel in Shanghai to arriving at my front door in Nottingham. But it’s also a long distance away culturally and we so enjoyed discovering just touching upon something of its culture.

It’s a country of the highest population 1.4 billion –roughly 24 times the population of the UK and yet the 4th biggest by area which means a lot and I mean a lot of tower block apartments offices and hotels. Shanghai is the biggest City in the world. (24.2 million). We travelled to Ningbo about 4 hours away, including crossing a bridge of 16km to Ningbo, a City the size of London. It’s busy on the roads but those on cycles, motorcycles or even walking seem to just move at random and hey the cars stop and we saw no accidents. Green spaces are precious.

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Red amber green >GO GO GO

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Bicycle check, mobile check, helmet -what? Few cares in the world, hoping everyone else will stop.

We enjoyed wonderful cuisine – not like westernised Chinese food. We ate like royalty with exquisite food brought out for us, vegetable dishes, meat, noodles, all kinds of tastes, flavours and textures but not too much rice, rice comes at the end and you are not really expected to eat it. Oh and we used chopsticks all the time. Meals were very sociable, no distractions and plenty of conversations, and no rush, no TV, little wifi. That’s less cultural and more….common sense.

 

 

We were very well looked after by our guides, interpreters and hosts, who took us to the most interesting of places from tourist spots, to restaurants and of course to ensuring we travelled to time. In China one is never late. They could not have been more helpful, supportive, informative and generous, as were the hotels we stayed in and all the colleagues we met. And there was a thing – I asked one teacher what she hoped for her pupils “to give them every opportunity to learn”. QED the commonality of the vocation.

The culture is well documented but we were shown honour, respect, admiration and treated with huge kindness and generosity by our hosts. I was delighted to be part of a team that did exactly the same for one another on the trip especially when ‘stuff’ happened and they looked out to encourage, share and support even though we hardly knew each other beforehand. Representing different sectors the conversations gave us all further insight and arguably the best of CPD (one early years, two Primary heads one Primary adviser, four middle leaders from Secondary, one partnership lead and me from the LA). Such enthusiasm to ensure “this works” for our children.

 

To be a tourist and see the bund and river at Shanghai as well as to go up to the 263m Pearl of Shanghai were something but also wandering the tourist shops and trying to bargain was fun. A privilege to visit the oldest library in China (Ningbo) founded in 1561 and be welcomed as honoured guests was special. More special for us educators as we value our school library or local library and we value lifelong learning. Nevertheless our visit enabled us to consider just how ignorant we were of Chinese history and culture and the potential in the Far East.

 

What did we miss ? – very little, we had tea, it tasted different but we were ‘tasting’ China. We did not have access to facebook, twitter or google and we had withdrawal but we chatted and we asked questions and discussed education and other matters and we enjoyed the company, well until we hit wifi in a hotel then we caught up on messages via a message/chat system called wechat. We missed traffic jams, we missed litter, we did actually miss a few hours of sleep somewhere along the way. You know something else? We didn’t miss pupils, even English pupils, at that even Nottingham City pupils because we stopped at a service station in this vast country and met 10 pupils from one of our local primary schools – having an incredible time – though perhaps a little tired ( much like us) they were full of the experience.

And so to education and some things I have learned and of course I may be wrong that the whole system looks like this but here are my ponderings :

• Families really value education. Politicians value education. Children value their education. Teachers are highly respected (highest in the world according to this survey). This is a deeply cultural matter and about ethos, respect for schools, for teachers and for learning. We met teachers (sure a small sample but the message overwhelms) full of enthusiasm and diligence, we saw little disruption, and amongst pupils a willingness to work hard and and try your best. There is the extreme high pressures involved in the Gaokao exam but setting that to one side the atmosphere in schools was overwhelmingly positive

Proper resource follows the commitment – beautiful buildings; pride in showing us round. I saw huge sportshall ( possibly 4 full size basketball courts and on the floor above about 30 ping pong tables ( I even played the Principal). Their lecture theatre seated 500. We did not hear any complaint about lack of funding – of course that may be for other reasons, However the conversations reflected on their pride in schools and I was glad to be with a group of Nottingham heads and teachers also proud of their schools. Pay not be better ( not sure really about buying power etc) but most of us would trade a bit for having a culture and pride and a community which hugely respect teachers given consideration and of course good behaviours. [Although my own view is that a vast majority of parents do respect us in the UK – just some politicians and the press don’t always and look where they sit in terms of trust and respect.]

 

• Teachers teach large groups of 40, and whilst they had nice staff areas to work in, with space to share and discuss, to plan they too felt pressures. It maybe around (only) 3 hours a day at the front but they have no technicians or TAs or other adults in classes. Oh and those evenings when pupils are back in school for several hours studying and doing homework, guess who supervises. Heads and teachers take pride in pupils and in their learning. We heard about two schools at the Bureau sharing speeches and we shared about our two, and common features – pride in the opportunities we offer, in the children’s achievements and the aims and ethos in every school and that included to help our children be global citizens. I asked how the head got his children to work hard – “I don’t have to do anything” he said. Just think what all that means for attendance, punctuality behaviour, background disruption, offering opportunities…..

 

• I loved the creativity I saw, in particular pride in traditions, but also in creating new traditions. IMG_2883We saw some amazing artwork, incredible calligraphy, beautiful ceramics, others saw sport and music to an amazing standard. We met artists in residence and I was invited to play a computer at a board game, a computer that literally picked up pieces in response to my move and you guessed it – the programme and the hardware created by ….a pupil from scratch.

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a CRT – a what?

 

I also had a discussion with a Chemistry teacher – he had created something but our interpreter didn’t know the words, we had a small hand held device that translated and he said it was a ‘CRT’ and I said ‘oh a Cathode Ray Tube’ and we whooped! I mentioned Thomson, electrons, Crookes and we needed no interpreter –  science can be such a powerful language in itself but check out these facilities:

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• Willingness to stay and learn and take every opportunity including boarding, yes boarding for the weekdays because half an hour journey home was “too far”. Long days without TV, without Facebook, without mobile devices and perhaps without immediate family because, they all believe in the benefits from social activity and learning. So we saw some pupils who did more hours of homework in a two days than some of our pupils would do in school in a day. Of course there are concerns about resilience and pressure too.

Hospitality and generosity – we took gifts with us for our school and Bureau colleagues and received many back but sometimes individual  pupils wanted to give us something they had done, some  clearly stayed up to make gifts for their visitors.

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MrMcNeill with a beautiful painting made especially for him

I was privileged to pass as one of my gifts the music of Sheku Kanneh Mason ( an ex pupil at my old school) who also kindly wrote me a personal message for the schools which I had translated – that went down really well. ( thank you Sheku). But oh, we had fun – trying out our mandarin, working out currency, bartering, wondering where we were heading when taken by taxi to a school, getting trapped in hotel door (me trying to metaphorically to “open doors”) – looking out for each other and smiling our way through.

 

 

 

• Education bureau officials welcomed our vision for future work with them, they are interested in what we are doing and especially how we measure impact. How we know our City wide plans and also our school plans are being effective, as well as our regulator (ofsted) view. They are keen to foster further links Ningbo > Nottingham and Nottingham > Ningbo. we have lots of ideas from championing exchanges and learning mandarin through to just a better basic understanding of China and our own Chinese community. To be honest they struggled to understand how our system works if it means a local area does not have any control of schools. Welcome to my world!

It is quite an amazement that across the world they are interesting in learning from us.

 

 

 

IMG_3356My colleagues are now busy working out how to manage exchanges, to plan visits with children and to welcome children here to Nottingham. We are looking at how we can work together across the distances and cultures but with an internet and with colleagues here and our own traditions – Nottingham has a University campus in Ningbo which we visited and so there is much to consider and challenge and much remains to be curious about. For me I am committing to try and open more doors with friends in Ningbo – and not these doors.

Happy New School Year – new beginnings

In a way it doesn’t matter if it’s a NEW week or a NEW term or a NEW year – or all three in one!

Schools start the new term with INSET and those slightly odd first days of admin and assemblies, but they will nevertheless ring out with their ‘year group assemblies’ and classrooms and numbers of teachers saying “It’s a new start“.

HP mark bkIt is so good we can give a fresh new clean start, some children really need this, probably some adults need it too. There is something special about the first page of the new book, the new uniform, the new shoes. Almost all the new year 7 will have had  a photograph taken at home before they came to school in their new uniform at their new school. Its a new world as well as a new beginning.’

Even staff love their clean, new mark book, new planner and new diary. I wonder when do they become those old tattered friends filled with details of lives? Whilst I appreciate what ICT can do for us, opening a new ‘Word document’ just does not have the same effect. As for my new exercise book – does writing on any page get better than that crisp new page at the front after writing “your name and subject”? In my career two pupils when asked to do this have actually written ‘your name’ and one pupil wrote ‘Fred Bloggs‘ after I actually said don’t write your name’ but write your name for example Fred Bloggs – hey ho I’m such a poor communicator.

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Of course it isn’t really a brand new start, unless you are Y7 or a brand new shiny teacher, but it is a new year. It is a chance to start afresh, staff have had a break, and the rhythm of school brings us full circle with a new intake and the school year has rewound to the start once again. I worked outside of education a short while and talking with friends it does not happen so clearly elsewhere, people holiday at different times and the ‘new’ does not happen. I know that some blog readers will not be believers but there is an echo of the church calendar. When a church gathers on a Sunday it’s the first day of the week, and some time is spent reflecting on the last week, seeking forgiveness before looking to the new opportunities in the week ahead. There is no doubt we need to reflect in school. My first teacher planners which I genuinely treasure are hand written with the left column my plan and the right hand column my reflection. A reminder how I sat with my ‘old’ planner to see what had gone well and what had gone badly, to do more of the former and none of the latter. Following the story of my lessons I can see (and still recall) sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t BUT it was vital in that important aspect: ‘ how can I improve?’

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A new journey starts here

Back to the new term, new opportunities, new ideas to try and and meanwhile forget the rotten, bad bits of the past, to an extent putting that behind us. This is also a time when we tend to think a little about what is really important to us as we begin a new year, you probably heard some of it in the head’s ‘Welcome Back‘ speech. Pupils often need a new start, and not always at the start of the new school year, a little bridge back into their school community and a new opportunity, probably not too many if the action plans don’t work but forgiveness might be important for some. They too will embrace the challenge of the new year, maybe the new school for Y7 or the new Y10 curriculum they had a say in choosing for themselves, or a very big shiny new Y12 confidently or with a big dose of trepidation starting those A levels ( hey it’s a big jump this new year). Fear and joy, it is just so exciting, well and scarey. Pupils need support and bags of encouragement – some secretly want to take part in the school play this year, learn a new instrument, take up a new sport, or even make new friends or just make amends. Parent and teachers can help them – or hinder them.

contemplationI always found the first full ‘normal’ week back quite hard, I’m not sure what the next class would bring into the room, I got a bit sick of the sound of my voice, the holiday had no bells and now they ring the lesson start and end. Nevertheless it is the start, it’s the beginning of an exciting new journey. Welcome back to the new term and being in the challenges and opportunities of teaching and learning.

And some questions for you to think about in the nouvou world:

Q1 When we and our pupils are so busy how do we find time to reflect?

Q2 I made my Y12 write themselves a letter about how their revision and Y 12 mock exams went immediately after they were over in the summer. We then opened them this week and reflected. What activities do you use to help pupils (and staff) reflect, in the busy routines?

Q3 Is there a limit to how many times can we give a new beginning before we say that really is enough?


and a bit more thinking about the mundus novus in Church schools:

Genesis 1:1     In the beginning …

2 Corinthians 5:17:    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Hebrews 8:13     By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Ephesians 4:24    and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Amazing farewell

Amazing farewell send off from Trinity 2017. I don’t normally do the ‘remember this’ stuff but this is very special to me and involved about 1000 pupils, 100 staff, 40 support staff and secretive, large scale rehearsals for about a month – I had no idea. It was simply the best and deserves the full 7 minute version- skip through if you wish, join in with a singalong too, I did.
I still really miss that job, I miss the pupils and their families and of course my amazing colleagues after 28 years at the school, their energy, their commitment, their genuine love of children and their high skill and passion for their subject and the farewell flashdance epitomises the lot.
I consider myself to be most fortunate to be working in education in a really interesting, fascinating job for Nottingham City, where I am trying to make a difference.
If today I am just nostalgic and pining a little, you’ll understand but thank you.
If you wish to read my final words to the staff reflecting on 36 years a teacher , its called Making the world (or at least your bit of it) better

 

Why be an Education Director?

A question in the mindset of Mrs Merton.

What first attracted you to the role of Education Director (part time) in Nottingham, after all the City now “runs” very few schools?

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Not so long ago this role would have been one of the biggest in education in Nottingham running secondary, primary and special schools, responsible for everything from admissions to outcomes and most stuff in between for about 41,000 children. As the ‘new world’ of academisation has emerged resources have passed from the local authority to the new trusts except for some statutory services. As the landscape no longer looks the same, the role of a City Education Director needs to change and I’m not sure anyone in any LA has worked out how, but we are well on the journey in Nottingham. Much of that is thanks to the pioneering work of Pat and Sarah Fielding and their excellent work in many areas pre-eminently with our City Primaries and with safeguarding. So how does it appear picking up the reigns?

 

For me, there is still a rather wonderful, overwhelming desire by everyone I meet in the City linked with education, they want to improve the lives of young people. Whether I speak to people at the City LA : SEND colleagues, those working out how best to help refugee and asylum seekers with EAL issues, those working with the very special, children in care, they have massive professional and personal commitment to their roles. When I have spoken to headteachers, teachers and CEO’s of Trusts or governors, they always begin by talking about children, young people, families they are working with and only rarely and then usually a moan about systems and structures. Hang it I even found the same in my meetings with Ofsted inspectors, with the RSC and other ‘officials’ – what can we do to improve things – though of course some of the latter are stuck with their systems. There are actually good starting points from organisations like EEF, who are also keen to help Nottingham. I think we are also fortunate with our local and national politicians who are supportive, understanding and yet not afraid to challenge us all.

imageAs a chemistry teacher who has loved the job in the classroom, and on corridors, who was challenged and supported in school leadership roles I loved working with young people and…still do. At the heart for all of us is working with children to help them learn from all their opportunities and that is my hope, to bring something of that perspective to the role. Working in partnership and in collaboration.

pareto_principle_improveA key energy for us in the City is so-called school improvement, frankly I don’t really like the title and as a headteacher refused to have a SIP (school improvement plan). I wanted a “school development plan”. Schools are full of people trying to do their very best, and we can’t keep asking for more and more. Schools might be able to genuinely improve some parts of their work and service but they face almost constant and considerable change. As a teacher I might work to understand how assessment works for my GCSE students, how best to help them learn science, to achieve and how to motivate them and excite them – but then…aha, the content changes (probably not too much) and the assessment changes (probably a lot) and the way me and my school are made accountable for their progress changes. imageThen my next class have different needs, a child coping with bereavement, one struggling with domestic violence, one with mental health pressures, one just lost in the world and a fair few just confused by my explanations. In classrooms, in staffrooms and in head’s offices alongside governor meetings there are always discussions happening to see how to help the children learn. As well as staff having to manage the wider changes in technology, in policy, in society and in the world around us. For me improvement and progress are part of the school day, routines, habits not goals.  It’s not about forever improvement it’s about having the best job in the world and feeling you are doing a great job for young people because that’s why you came into the role, and we need to support each other and make it a sustainable rewarding job.

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So knowing classrooms reasonably well, understanding a good bit about leadership from long experience and something of the local educational world from most of my working life spent in Nottingham, you know what? I think I might be able to help make a difference working alongside you.

 

Sometimes it does feel impossible, even just in secondary our 17 schools are in 9 very different multi academy trusts, complex communities. We have great Universities, we have a revitalised FE sector wanting to help but they are big organisations. We have agencies like Futures and a voluntary sector, often with great ideas but struggling to get engagement as they see it. It feels impossible when data shows a disappointment, maybe a dip in achievement or progress or a bump in attendance. However, whoever I have spoken to, they are willing to roll their sleeves up look at the problem and try to find a solution. ( heck, we chemists are good at that too) …and the starting point – what can we do to improve this situation and improve things for those children. So I hope to bring partners together and improve the landscape, to eventually proved some agreed strategic direction, and to work with the Education Improvement Board to do just that….Improve Education.

 

imageNottingham is the 4th poorest City in England, we have some long-standing historical deprivations and some major lack of aspiration but you know what, we have a workforce and a commitment from the professions second to none, and a personal effort from so many showing time and time again a willingness to go the extra mile. We have some great young people, and large numbers who buck trends. At Trinity, I often spoke to the staff, children and parents about hope – ‘there is always hope’. It’s my hope to help make partnership work, have high levels of collaboration, to share good ideas that genuinely work, and to try and find solutions to complex problems in order to bring hope to the children in Nottingham and pride to their families, friends, teachers and themselves.

 

Here’s hoping you will be able to find some  time and energy to commit to working with us on the project!

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Make the world – or your bit of it – a better place.

This is a version of a farewell evening celebration with colleagues, ex colleagues, support staff, and ex students, perhaps 200+. It was a wonderful occasion thanks to my amazing colleagues, fantastic students and supportive parents, there is no attempt to capture the atmosphere at the National College on Friday just my musings shared with an audience used to my storytelling.

I did my training in Oxford in 1980 to 81 before the majority of you were born, starting teaching in Witney, Oh hang on, no in 1981 I got married and could never have survived without the huge patience of my wife! Wood Green was a rural comp a great school to learn how to teach with wonderful colleagues. Secondary modern teachers who could and did teach really well, I learned the craft. My most telling moment at the end of Y1 invited to the options meeting when lists came out with those who chose our subjects – remember no national curriculum so anyone could do anything – we just had a few rules like ‘you should all do a science’. I picked up the chemistry list and was looking over it. Sat next to me the PE teacher who was hoping to introduce CSE PE. He was huffing and tutting and the deputy boomed “hey Tony what’s the matter?” He was shaking his head….”well I’ve got a right bunch here look Richard Smith, he’s useless he can’t even swim”. I thought to myself gosh I would not like a chemist who say couldn’t write well,or manipulate apparatus and the deputy boomed out. “Tony hey Tony You’re a bloody PE teacher, teach him to bloody swim. ***Colleagues now and again forget Ofsted SLT and heads and ‘bloody teach them’.

Back in 1981. I wanted to teach and inspire children with Chemistry, and science and I saw education helping people escape the black and white dull world of car factories and dead end jobs, maybe even failry dead end existences, where I had grown up. ( …”have life abundantly”)Escape into a bright new colourful world of opportunity, learning, culture, and moral purpose- sorry but I was the idealist “make the world a better place” All very grand.

When I moved to Nottingham I got a shock I arrived in 1985 to find the children were all a year older than I was used to. My Y9 were as streetwise as the Y10 in rural Oxfordshire. I learnt a lesson ***TRY and keep pupils young, help them enjoy childhood as far as you can, allow them to be excited and curious by discovering the world not by inhabiting their pre-adult dream or what is in fact a nightmare. I also met City kids and parents,  having harsh words with Angus, who no one seemed to  control, a colleague asked about my day, I related the story , it had been fine save this bad behaviour. My colleague asked what I was doing now… a class and then a club…”No John you go home, his Dad is …well he lives nearby, he’ll be here soon, you just go home, the last row resulted in 2 staff with broken noses.

I didn’t like the 80’s industrial action meant no one around before or after school or  lunch and no after school events. No chance to talk about my subject my pupils, their learning. Schools became black and white and not what I wanted. It was my lowest point and a time ready to leave the profession.

I looked to one last go at teaching as GCSE came in but felt a need to move school because the head wouldn’t let me teach my preferred GCSE syllabus. The one I felt would be best for our children “will it get us better results Mr Dexter?” How on earth would I know, we didn’t even know at that point know what grades would be used, we had a draft spec not proper ones – sounds familiar! So eventually I came to Trinity moving from County to City in 1989 with one small baby and another on the way Hannah – heck where have those years gone? They are both Drs now.

Bernard Bonner, the headteacher, told me I would be trusted, I could decide what to teach, and how to teach; that I would deliver or I would be sacked. He told me how wonderful the school was – others will recall it wasn’t quite so. We visited a feeder school St Augustine’s to speak to Y6 and one parent turned up, many Catholic families sent their children to non RC schools because…well they were better. In my first y12 lesson after 3 simple questions half the class (3) burst into tears please can you stop asking such hard questions! Literally and metaphorically OMg. They were great years in the 90’s working with other fantastic staff and making science work in the school, lots of innovation and fantastic science colleagues, and helping build a better experience for children more widely.  Introducing Salters’ Chemistry bought me and the pupils wonderful opportunities and results and a chance to travel to Canada and Sweden and to write a book. I wrote a chemistry book for the less able, that’s an old fashioned word ‘less able’.  So when we came to choose new textbooks for the double awards, I got a deal for the head of science, he came back to me I’ve ordered 120 of the texts for the ‘most able’ a copy each and a set for school. And I’ve ordered 10 of yours John they don’t take them home and it’s small classes – that earned me 30p x 10 = £3.00 ( less tax) and a five sides of paperwork about pecuniary interests. I am deeply grateful to those science colleagues who have always looked out for me and put up with my busyness and never moaned about having me in the dept – well not to me anyway!

I have really enjoyed my jobs over those 36.25 years- I’ve taught 7250 days less the 4 I’ve been off sick, so very fortunate with my health. I think that’s about 26,000 lessons plus  a few covers and for my fist 10 years a hell of a lot of parading up and down invigilating. A good few assemblies BUT as head of sixth form they were recycled, well evolved every 2 years, though some moved from using acetate to PowerPoint. I’ve worked with about 300 teachers and loved working with all of them …except 2. And I think I’ve taught just over 5000 pupils, well I say taught we’ve all shared the same space for a few hours – I think great lessons are still a mystery, magical, planned but brought to life. My favourite days were in the sixth form and grateful to those who were tutors with me and deputies. Sixth formers who need a good kick and a good love to get them through.

I came to Trinity and we had less than 1p per pupil per lesson to spend on chemicals; no worksheets copied, a few bandas for very special lessons but a very colourless world in  text and  a few simple diagrams in textbooks. Not much data, just my mark book, and lesson plans. I knew my classes inside out – much like colleagues do now. When I started Trinity had 2 telephones, 2 secretaries a somewhat absent lab tech but great teachers, and a great ethos which many staff, parents and pupils have bought into, experienced and have helped develop. It has been important to me and others to understand that ethos, to work at it, to help children and parents to see it – a moral purpose and a Catholic Christian faith.  I have no doubt those purposes are safe as I leave –Trinity should always help children to aim high, work hard, persevere, participate collaborate, and challenge. It will carry on , I hope we’ve embedded it very deep.

I’ve spoken enough to the staff so I don’t need to pass on any advice it’s been ignored enough already  🙂 but *** please use your teacher instinct your classroom nouse to deliver great lessons. ***Do not allow paperwork and data to get you down. Get a grip – better to know Johnny boy struggles with “this”, and will react well to “the other” and can learn this bit, than to know he is level 8.4.3 and to get to 8.4.4 he needs to cross his t’s, oh but hang on he’s slipped back by forgetting to dot the i, oh right back to FFT he’s now 8.3.4 and heck we must get it written on his progress sheet in purple. Where’s my purple pen? Sometimes educational policy feels mad!

  • I have some proud moments – winning an RSC medal and a nominated for a Salters award were good but the best bit was Bernard Bonner speaking to the press – “I’m amazed John won those, I’ve no idea how he did it.”
  • I am proud of the badges we won from external visitors – Ofsteds, HMI, Diocesan peeps though we have never greatly trumpted them, and  I am most proud of the letters and emails and conversations with parents and pupils over the years., and in recent days. We do the job to help children and families not to impress Ofsted – that’s why over 600 families want a  year 7 place this year.
  • I’ve been proud of the schools achievements for music and sport – sixth form county cup winners was a highlight, Sheku at the Barbican was an incredible moment but I’m just as proud of the child who, when the whole of Y9 play in concert to Y7 and Y8, I asked if he was excited to play and he said “sort of, I’m a bit scared”…go on I said…”well Sir can you remind me what those different black dots mean” then he played his part lifting the standard. I’m glad some of my sixthformers got to decent Universities, sad for those who ended up at Cambridge ( speaks a St Catz man) but just as delighted to hear of them being happy with family life, with voluntary work and especially wanting to send their children to Trinity even when they didn’t necessarily have a good experience themselves etc. Twitter brought to melots of ex chemists including one, now a director at CAFOD, email brought me an ex student winning East Midland entrepreneur of the year – he told me I run it like Trinity – I recently appointed a bloke who didn’t interview well but he’s been transformed because we gave him a job and believed in him.

 

I’ve been in leadership a long time 20 years sometimes thrust upon me because I wanted things to be done a bit better but maybe never quite managed that as colleagues will testify.  Many years with experienced wise and very passionate, sometimes too passionate colleagues, hilarious moments, difficult moments, Thank you for all of them. The heads job can be taxing – whenever a leader comes in and the sentence starts “I need to tell you about…” I take a deep breath – great leaders that they are, they nearly always also bring a solution along with a problem but not always and I have often thought —-how do I solve this if those clever, sensible experienced people can’t. Trinity has experienced, wise, hard working leaders, I’m sure staff get frustrated with us at times but we too have the heart for Trinity and a heart for the job you all do. I have to thank each of the 6 of them for tireless work, great personal support and a friendship which of the many aspects I will miss when I leave will be the most difficult for me. Between us 140 years at Trinity

Tuesday was Y7 parents evening two Y7 were awaiting their parents, one said to me “I think I know all the teachers names Sir”, and the other butted in “I think I know your first name Sir its John”….just a small reminder what a big big thing it is finding the teachers name. Then the first said “well that’s obvious it’s printed on the wall there by those photos. Why are those photos there Sir?” Me”well they are the school leaders” “what do they do ( such a good question!) me “they tend to go grey early and earn the most money…and  we try and run the school. Oh I see just like a family then, grandparents, parents…. How perceptive!

 

All of you have had different roles in the Trinity family- I hope you enjoy or enjoyed your time in the family, I hope you will keep in touch and most of all I hope you younger staff will keep that family atmosphere and the high ambition and in time pick up the baton. WE have created something special and I am very proud to have worked so long at Trinity and to have changed lives usually for the better and sometimes in the most unlikely of young people. That’s why I started in in 1980 and now in 2017 I might finish with QED > what we set out to do. “make the world a better place”.

I’ll add a few photos  later

Here is the Link to a few comments on fb

Friday Period 6 – 10,000 hours or 25 Years -> Greatness?

25thannWe said farewells at the end of term just a few, six colleagues we waved goodbye to BUT we also celebrated three reaching a grand milestone – 25 years. Three highly respected colleagues who just completed 25 years at one school, ours, Trinity.

 

So 25 years ago what was happening – well lots: Labour hated its leader, one Neil Kinnock and the Tories were on a “back to basics” campaign with Mr Major. More important PC world opened its first shop and Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web. So schools themselves look very different today but in a way they don’t – we had great teachers then and we need them now and the tools of the trade might change but the craft and trade do not.

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Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the WWW

When teachers join any school , experienced or not they are still new and these three join five other colleagues who have also completed their 25 years -thats 8 of us nearly 10% staff. It is a very special achievement and I’m delighted that our governors understand that and reward those colleagues for their commitment. It is not exactly equivalent to a testimonial for a loyal footballer but it is a recognition.

It did make me Unknownthink about Matthew Syed’s book ‘Bounce’ which has been all the  rage in schools, and incidentally well worth a read  – I actually met a headteacher who bought it for the whole of his Y11, then moaned that the girls performance improved but the boys didn’t and then apparently Ofsted had a go at one of their ‘gaps’ getting bigger. Thankfully whether true or anecdotal we are in new Ofsted framework. But back to Syed who seems to say put in 10,000 hours hard work and you get to be really good.  Some have pushed that idea for learners maybe coupled with a bit of growth mindset and Dweck. However it got me thinking about teachers – 25 years must be well over 10,000 hours, nearer 18,000  of teaching in same place and I think he is right these teachers have become experts, really good, both at teaching and at teaching in our school and in leading. People who stay a course like that make the school effective these are the characters in my school who have helped understand the ethos, mission and moral purpose and yet also help create the ethos and therefore also help to sustain the ethos. These are the people colleagues turn to when somebody comes as a new teacher ( well and also old teachers and even older headteachers) and when they wonder ” Is that what happens here? Do they really do that?” for better or worse the answer is known.  The colleagues around say yes that is what we do, it is delivered by an incredible level of consistency. They are without doubt respected by pupils, parents and colleagues. These are the colleagues who have  helped establish traditions, activities which over many years we have evolved and some we changed if they’ve not been effective, some we’ve dropped if they’ve been ineffective. We’ve redone ideas and modified them and we have a rich seam of curricular and  extra curricular whole school activities.  We like new and young teachers, don’t get me wrong, we like their passion, enthusiasm, ideas and approaches and we like to learn and try things out but we also have a bit of an instinct as to what works and what doesn’t. As a church school that includes our whole school events like Masses or liturgies but it includes sports days and swimming galas, music concerts etc it includes prize-giving and it includes a discussion such as ‘should  we run prizegiving this way or that way’. What do we stand for, and how do we live that out? Reliability, longevity, tradition, stability, consistency …outcomes – I think that’s what we get.

Our school has done well in outcomes and it is an outstanding school, it’s also very popular with parents and I could not help thinking the contribution of longstanding wisdom is pretty critical.  High turnover at the top of other organisations including the DfE is what we often see across educational landscapes maybe the lack of longevity brings a lack of stability and contributes to an occasional lack of depth or a frequent lack of understanding and frustrations, maybe even a lack of progress, the fact that the standards are not as high as they should be. My other favourite book Collin’s ‘Good to great’ would lead to a similar conclusion. In my early days (80’s) of teaching you wouldn’t expect any responsibility point or pay increases until a couple of years worth of Y11 exam results were under your belt – prove yourself at the sharp end.gd to g8

Fast turnover might make a business more efficient and it might make a company run better but whether it actually gives better outcomes I don’t know,  but one thing I do know is that these long lasting teachers  hold something very special in their hands because it’s from their hearts, possibly their souls. They have invested a huge amount of time and their life  in the school. It might be why our retainment remains pretty high? We always say to young teachers that rules for discipline are important and they must be applied consistently and clearly, when you’ve got people at school for such a long time, the consistency  is probably second to none. However it is also about accountability for me – whilst I’ve written elsewhere about accountability to governors, to the diocese, to OFSTED, to parents and pupils, there is a greater daily accountability which is to those respected colleagues. As well as being accountable to them for day to day decisions, we have to make the decisions together and these are the supportive conscientious peers, if they make a criticism it is a genuine criticism, it has to be heard because they have given so much of their time energy and yes their life to the work of the school. I just wonder if anybody out there really understands the huge effect of stability and longevity. Our leadership team has now completed 133 years at the school 77 of them in leadership.  I can’t help thinking if something of the success of the school is not down to the fact of the commitments and longevity of those people. I do hope it continues and I do hope stability that we enjoy is something that others can consider in their organisations. Oh and PS we bid farewell to an unsung hero in our office, a secretary retiring – after 27 years with us.

imageTwo years ago I came to teach a lower ability Y10 class, never taught any of them before and as I called the first register I had taught an older sibling or parent of 21 of the 26. When I set them their first homework everyone handed it in save one boy lets call him Ryan –

“Your homework wasn’t done Ryan” Ruan’s shoulders shrug.

“Why not?” said I, “should I ring your older sister?”

“No Sir please not Rebecca”

“Ok your older brother”

“No No. He’ll be very cross ”

“Ok I’ll call on your Mum on my way home. Ryan:”

“Sir ……can I give it you at break”

Gosh the job just got a little easier.


For those in a church school

2 Samuel 14:20 Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God—he knows everything that happens in the land.”

Proverbs 4:6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.


Some Questions

Q1 What is the right balance in schools of new ideas and older wisdom?

Q2  Is it possible to avoid complacency in the search for constancy?

Q3 What is your experience of the wisdom of elders?

Q4 A qestion raised after a twitter conversation with Jon Thompson @poachermullen  just how will the profession adapt as it ages and as teachers have to work longer? How do we ensure those wise experienced staff remain enthusiastic and able to do the job? How do we plan for that? Looking after each other? How? Secondments during the career? What do you think?

Saturday period 4 – #Learningfirst conference @beyondlevels

So thought it might be appropriate for a small reflection on the rather excellent #learnfirst conference that I have been to today. There photo-1421749810611-438cc492b581were a couple of profound moments the second one was when was when Mick Walker (he the wise owl of QCA and curriculum) reminded us that the average age of teachers in the profession is 42. Though great to see so many today well under that age today. Hence his point that very few of them have taught without there being a national curriculum and an assessment system. They are ‘ after or during levels’ teachers  not ‘life before levels’ teachers. So for a very experienced (ie old teacher) like me who started teaching in 1981 we were reminded of the more creative ( frankly happier) days before the NC when it was up to us to choose what to teach ( how to teach) and what to assess although in secondary schools we still had to prep for O Level or CSE etc. A second moment came from a tweet from a  valued colleague who tweeted me in the middle of the afternoon “I hope you get time in the next few weeks to separate the lessons from the hollow truisms” it was a very important tweet and I think it’s a good reminder that some of the things we hear as teachers we know very well are true and in the twitter tweacher sphere can sound and probably are a bit trite especially to those not with you on a conference.

But there was inside that bubble a little key to a profound truth mentioned by Sean Harford and John Tomsett a reminder of what we came in the job to do and well worth us reminding those of us who are leaders why we still love the classroom. Shedding a light into the heart and soul of teaching, compared to “understanding employment law and cutting budgets”. But also a reminder to step back into the shoes of the teacher in the classroom. I did find myself feeling fairly optimistic in the morning because a number of comments and sessions just reminded us of the true purposes of being in a school and I think that was heartening mainly because so much of what I read and bother about even pick up from the odd conferences I go to, are focused on imposed “Stuff” appraisal, Safeguarding changes, OFSTED inspection frameworks, governance changes and yes budgets and employment law. I always try and talk with teachers and children every session every day to remind myself of our moral purpose. But hey ho  such is the nature of being a school leader there are a lot of sideline issues, so I was glad to just clarify my head space and start to think again about issues like the differences between marking, feedback tracking and progress. I am as committed as anyone to ensuring we minimise overload but t’s worth a fresh visit to the topic from a big vista not just the finer details, as we do need a system but no system should overburden classroom teachers. However teachers will need to record something after all. JT gave another great story to say he likes to ‘break the rules’ and that’s OK because he is the head and I am totally with him, as leaders we need to be able to say to a parent or even a child ‘we do have data but let me tell you a bigger story’. it is really bad that we ever let education get to become well this child is 4.3.2.1b – actually we didn’t but it sure let like that.  SH also made me think again about KS3 something I have done since publication of the Ofsted “wasted years” as to how we use KS3, and with every dept wanting more time for their KS4 we do need to look carefully. But Sean reminded us that there is no assessment at KS3 and thus KS3 should be more of an amazing curriculum adventure and not just the build up to KS4 I think that was a very helpful. I want our pupils to be inspired by passionate teachers in those three years between year 7 and year 10 and although I appreciate Shaw’s comments I do think we would need to start getting things prepared for KS4 because there’s just not enough time.image2

 

 

 

The final summary of this seemed to be that we should spend more time collaborating (agree) that we have to think how to engage those people that were unable to get to the conference ( agree – twitter is only a small world still for teachers, influential, growing arguably committed (Saturday conference!)) but we need to spread the story. Also that we should look to see if College of teachers would spur us all in the right direction ( again is the COT an issue dominated by twitter teachers?)

imageMost important I think to say that assessment has  got to put children first and children’s learning and if we get that bit of assessment right then it doesn’t matter on systems. That assessment helps us in classrooms and in pastoral work to show our children what to do next and as Mary Myatt reminded us to set high challenges. However at the other end of the school someone like me is going to have to be answerable to governors and to inspectors and perhaps others and then there is appraisal….So it’s worth just thinking what sort of system you set up in order to deliver those requirements. At least in school we can make our internal assessments suit our children and even if SATs or GCSE still feel like they are designed as something for measuring schools or measuring teachers we can grab back some control.

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I think it was very good to see so many governor colleagues there to hear the same messages and help us as school leaders to think about what information they need but also for them to see that some of the information we used to produce is unnecessary. I gave in and bought Marie Myatt’s book ‘High challenge low threat” and will resist the temptation to pass it on before I have read it thoroughly.  I love Mary’s commentaries and look forward to reading that and we’ll see if it makes any difference in our school. PS no reflection on Mary but I still have so much to read, dare I buy another without having applied all the ideas from the stack on my shelf?


As Mick Walker concluded,  we need to face up to the fact that assessment isn’t a bad thing it has to happen, we have to see where children are and help them move on and when they can’t we need our creative minds and pedagogy, and we have to do a bit more formally at certain punctuated times in the year. The purpose should not be lost to help pupils as they make progress and therefore more important than assessment is what marking we do and what feedback we give but actually it doesn’t have to be onerous long written comments or elaborate : blue penguin 3.6, in red or purple pen kind of stuff. We do assessment all the time back in the lesson when we noticed a child not really listening that’s really assessment isn’t it and we challenge them and got them back on task to help make progress. It’s just we don’t record all that and put it in a spreadsheet and email  for the head of department or the head teacher or the governors  who then pour over it and comments come back down the chain but make no difference to learning.

As a teacher born of the 80’s and a trad kind of person it’s all a bit back to basics: spend time preparing, teaching, assessing and helping pupils learning by interventions from that assessing – record what you have to but use that to drive your planning, and in the middle talk to colleagues to find creative solution cause talking teaching and learning with colleagues is one of the best bits of the job.

no teacher ever

 

 

 

Few thanks

Dame Alison Peacock for organising and inspiring

Prof Sam Twisleton for letting us into Sheffield Hallam

Teresa Roche who sent me a ticket when I nearly missed out

All the speakers and those who prepped stuff and the loads of enthusiastic teachers and Ed people who continue to remind me the Ed future might actually be safe.

oh and twitter people, some of whom came to life!

Oh and two of  my favourite quotes

Ros Wilson – What you doing? Why you doing it? What will you do with it? If the answer is you don’t know -don’t do it.

Mary Myatt – “The word assess comes from the Latin assidere, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner.” 

 

 

7YBA Languages teacher

By Natalie Campbell @ncampbell250

I remember my first languages lesson Monsieur Lewis spoke no English to us whatsoever and we sat wide-eyed and puzzled as to whether this man was indeed French and if we would ever understand what he needed us to do. We followed his waving arms and tried intently to please the French man stood before us. In fact it wasn’t until we passed the staff room later that week and heard him speaking to another teacher that we found out that he was in fact English and le mystère was gone. If it hadn’t been for his gestures and his, what I now know to be routine classroom French, we would have been quite lost his classes at first. This amazing chameleon-like ability to become a different person inspired me. The next year I met Monsieur Clarke and Señor Williams and their passion for language and the culture with the logic mixed in by the grammar was another thing I found really interesting about studying languages.

 

So off I went to la universidad, having studied two languages at A-level, thinking that a business degree would be a good thing to put my with Spanish degree in order to get me an excellent job in the business world. Teaching was something that just happened to me. I had always enjoyed making up silly sentences and had played schools with my sister and friends so becoming a teacher rather than travelling the world as an interpreter became my chosen path.

During my teacher training I remember being surprised that not all children enjoyed learning languages as much as I had. It was a humbling experience and a real time for me to learn how to share my passion for languages with students and how to encourage them to give it a try even when they found it defied all logic and was rather confusing to remember that un ratón was a mouse and not a rat or that accents go both ways in French and can look like hats and tails too!

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In an inspector pleasing world much emphasis was always placed on gaining as many ticks on a clipboard as possible. I was always keen to make those ticks work for mis estudiantes and so would listen with great interest as the latest great idea was shared with staff. I would be the first to volunteer for any new training that came along. As with all things in education new ideas came and new ideas got passed up when the next big thing came to town.

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During my teacher training I learnt how to make fun little games for an overhead projector I could get thirty children to squeak like mice, chant like robots and learn key vocabulary whilst performing interesting vocal exercises. Then the next big thing came along and we moved to PowerPoint. The same games could be played but needed to be thought carefully through in advance as you had less flexibility than before. Then came the zooming presentation and it is grâce à Prezi that I am in my current job, but that’s a story for another day.

I am incredibly blessed at my current school. For the children, joining in with their language learning it is definitely more valued than before. However, the “everybody speaks English” excuse still surfaces and it is my challenge to keep them going and make them feel inspired.  The most effective way is to give them oportunidades to see languages work in the real world. Going to a market on a recent trip to Seville I saw the light in a student’s eyes as he actually managed to haggle down the price in Spanish and he was very proud indeed of his purchase.

spanish flag

La créativité for me is key. It keeps me interested and engages my students. A job that offers you the chance to be on a desert island one lesson and working in a chemist’s shop the next is great fun. Looking at poetry through the eyes of a linguist not only unravels the poet’s intentions but the complexity of their words on a grammatical plain adding a further dimension to the poem. I love setting up cafes and writing comic strips as well as singing songs that can get stuck in your head for days.

 

GCSEs and A-levels have changed since I trained and I am watching intently the changes that the new GCSE and A-level will bring our way en Septembre. My colleagues and I will take these changes in our stride and plan opportunities to prepare our younger students for any extra challenges it may bring their way. I am optimistic that my students will be able to rise to the challenge and follow other students who have gone on to read languages at Oxford, study Spanish with Business like me or even spend a year working abroad before their degree begins.

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So YBA Languages Teacher?

 

My reasons are as follows:

  1. Only 5% of the world speaks English as a first language.
  2. Only 25% of the world speaks any English at all.
  3. Languages open doors to amazing opportunities and better trade which our industries need.
  4. You learn more about the world when you experience it. A language makes that possible by breaking down barriers that shouting slowly in English at a person can build up. (Most of us have tried to pay a bill abroad this way I’m sure!)
  5. It keeps our minds nimble and helps us learn more about our own grammar. Did you ever really think about the different past tenses in English until you had to learn them in other languages?
  6. Creativity is so much fun and when you get past the zooming presentations and other tricks to keep students engaged there are so many opportunities to be creative that language teaching can offer you on a daily basis.
  7. You get to share what you love about languages with the future game shapers of the world and influence their path.

Monday period 4 – Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

This is blog to put storytelling back into the heart of outstanding work in school. However you wrap it up much of an attention grabbing, motivating, challenging moment is – a story.IMG_0640

I can see it being a challenge in Maths but beyond that storytelling should be at the heart of great lessons, great assemblies and purposeful conversations with pupils and parents. If I am honest it’s what I will miss most when I eventually retire – telling a story and engaging learners to start their journey of Education. In fact for some may even evoke memories ( hopefully good ones) of storytelling times.

And a big thank you for a tweet from Gareth Williams (@gwill72)
“Pratchett, Stewart and Cohen suggested our genus should be Pan Narrans, the Storytelling Ape

 

Why?reading

  • Stories hook pupils
  • Stores fascinate pupils
  • Stories stimulate curiosity
  • Stories grab attention
  • Stories motivate
  • Stories allow the teacher to light up the classroom

Stories underline challenging learning, introduce it, develop it, help with recall and stories can be short and brief and pointed, they generate curiosity

In the classroom
time for learning is precious, literally every minute is important so as a teacher you need to justify the storytelling. I think there are plenty of reasons (above) but a few minutes of a well told anecdote and gripping story grab attention, fascinate, drive up curiosity and frankly are at the heart of learning. I do apologise a little as I think my subject (Chemistry) has the very best stories! In fact since 1992 I have taught my lessons by stories. Those are highlighted separately but as part of my plenary, part of my conclusions or as the meaty part of the lesson are *stories* to help understand, build knowledge, motivate and synthesise. I want to say a very daring thing – we sort of know what makes a bad lesson turn out bad, we know what needs doing to turn the learning around from inadequate to satisfactory ( hey I know Ofsted use RI but this isn’t ofsted speak this is classroom speak). What I am not sure about is making good lessons become outstanding but I reckon decent storytelling sits at the heart. Not only grabbing attention, but hooks to help recall of knowledge and also to challenge pupils – if X really thought that back in the 21st Century – who is doing that now. If Y discovered that, then so might I. If this solved a problem of drug development, then I might be able to do that. To me it adds a moral purpose too.

Chlorine-LAnecdote > Chlorine- saved incalculable numbers of lives by purification of water; ridding us of cholera and other diseases but misused in WW1 cost many lives too. We have got a story worth telling and with some Wilfrid Owen poetry brings us to a position where pupils listen all the more carefully to my lesson on Chlorine “it’s properties and reactions” – and remember it and may even challenge them into their future career directions, or choices.

Assemblies
I guess this is more obviously where a good story tells the message. Elsewhere I have written of the disproportionate effort necessary for good assemblies but at their heart is brilliant storytelling

Here are two examples:

1 During the Football World Cup I saw an interview with Gary Linekar saying he practiced penalty taking 50 -60 times after yes after everyone completed training. So while others tired and exhausted went for their showers, he stayed out maybe on his own, and the secret = practice = hard work. Check the stats on his penalty taking too! Wow I thought we can help children understand greatness cannot be achieved overnight but needs hard work and with hard work -who knows?FullSizeRender

2 I once read of a Uruguayan rugby team who were lost in the Andes and had to consider eating the flesh of the dead to survive.  “Alive” is a great story full of drama and tears, with a continuous unfolding of the. Story from the 70’s to date. This became the basis for one of my very favourite post 16 assemblies ” when is it right to do something which is wrong?”

Pupils
As a long serving teachers, SLT ( and many others)  have all seen pupils “turn it round”. Pupils that are a bit like the pupil sat in front of you: yes the upset pupil, the bullied pupil, the bullying pupil, the “I’m not sure any more about A Levels” pupil. The poorly attending pupil, the one with special needs not being addressed, the one with stuff happening at home. So have a story to uplift, to bring hope, to challenge and to help. It’s not the main discourse with the pupil that’s much deeper but the view that there was someone like you who….got through, made good, turned it around, found an answer….might just be important to this pupil.

Parents
The same is true of discussions with parents. This is more challenging but knowing your parents and their story it might help to have an anecdote and a story to hand. I try never to conclude a fixed term exclusion meeting without sparing a separate word for the parents. I don’t try and engineer a story but I do need to help them – I might need to challenge them, to tell them a home truth, to put something up to date before them and a story might help.

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Cover
I’ve never been much good at cover lessons. I feel bad for the children that their teacher is missing and so I always try and teach them, especially as a senior leader I think it is really my duty and only rarely with other stuff pressing down have I said “sit down, shut up and do this work so that I can get on”. Of course I try and do the tasks set by any absent staff where that has been left, but peppering with stories can really help bring a lesson to life which might otherwise be dull.

Personal Stories? Maybe
Can we share personal anecdotes, stories from our own lives or families? Well I guess this is controversial and its up to colleagues to be comfortable but the occasional story can help with engagement. I have told of stuff that has happened relevant to the lesson.Perhaps mostly about incidents in my own journey with Chemistry – where I inadvertently made a few crystals of explosive Nitrogen Triodide, or where I met a Nobel winner and nearly embarrassed myself.image 2(3)

So here are some headings I drive around my brain finding for Chemistry Stories and watch for a post with some of these in more detail.

  • Origins of chemistry
  • History of chemistry
  • The story of an element
  • Characters  in chemistry
  • The obviously famous chemists
  • The less well known chemists
  • The bad chemists
  • The controversial chemists
  • Preset frontier chemists 
  • Events in chemistry
  • Discoveries in chemistry
  • Inventions in chemistry
  • New products from chemistry
  • Changed ideas in chemistry
  • Prize winning chemists
  • Daft chemists

Some Questions

Q1 If you are a teacher does your subject have great stories? And do those stories bring a magical enchantment to your pupils in your lessons?

Q2 If you are not a teacher, do you remember lessons, or school or teachers and is any of that memory from stories or anecdotes ?

If you work in a church school

Proverbs 1:6.  –for understanding proverbs and parables (stories) the sayings and riddles of the wise

Matthew 13:13     This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘ though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Genesis 39:17 Then she told him this story

 

Great Teacher to successful Middle Leader

Teacher journey mindI have blogged elsewhere about why staff should consider being middle leaders this post is more about the move from great teacher to middle leader. Heads of department, heads of year, i/c of gifted and talented, SENCO, ITT coordinator – a host of roles and most are at the heart of the success (or otherwise) of a school. Successful middle leaders can become successful senior leaders and headteachers – and we need them because in so many aspects they run the school.

First of all I recognise not all great teachers want to be middle leaders – there is an important place for the great teacher who wants to try and stay just that “great”, who enjoys the work of the classroom teacher and should be valued at that -full stop. However schools do need middle leaders, and I want to encourage staff to consider those roles.

Early steps:

Know the job.
imageWork out from the job description what is expected but also talk to others about the role. Start with the head, heads should be willing to set out clearly what they hope from your appointment. Listen and take note and return often to discuss progress. This might be easier with a line manager or SLT but get yourself a mentor, a critical friend, a coach – these may sound like similar roles but they aren’t – they may be performed by the same person but these are all for quiet discussions over coffee or over lunch or after school. They allow you to tell your bothers, concerns, hopes but then to go home challenged and reassured and hopefully uplifted. Gather together the metaphorical tools for the job.

Know your people.
imageExactly who are you responsible for and to? This might be easier for a head of year (tutors) but my view is that all roles are fairly grey. For example as a head of year you are responsible for a year group but that involves tutors and clearly involves parents. You don’t need to announce your arrival, but think over with senior staff/heads how to introduce yourself. For the start, now much more important, learn about people ( staff parents, pupils) and the work they do with you. We have some great middle leaders, in my school, for example our ITT coordinator but at the heart is the ability to connect with key players in the team – the deputy who supports, the head of subject who embraces, champions and understands ITT. There will always be ‘problem people’ those who don’t respond, those who aren’t keen but in the early days don’t worry about them as much as those who will support you and encourage you and expect greatly of you.

Communicationimage
You don’t need posters, or video footage, staff will know via the usual channels and the last thing we all need is a meeting with you, but think about the most effective ways to communicate – email, presentations, notes on the school platform, letters etc My view in your early days is to talk to people. Never use “all staff” email, if you need a message to everyone talk to others or SLT how they do that effectively. They key word is effectively. Communication is vital in schools but often those who didn’t empty their pigeon holes don’t read their email – so don’t worry about them as much as those who do read, listen and act. Once you have them on board others will pick up and those who miss probably miss other stuff and that’s a job for SLT or headteachers to deal with, not you. Remember your aim is to ease everyone’s workload by your role, not to increase it.

Priorities.
e devicesTeaching is a never ending job. You will always have areas to develop, aspects frustrating you and ideas you never seem to get sorted. Stop worrying. You’ve been appointed because people believe in you. Just get on with the tasks and pick the tasks at the core of the job and do them to the very best and highest standards. Don’t duck any important issues and get the important routines up and running. It isn’t a bad place to start with the present systems and use them to deliver the role. Your reflective journal will be vital to help here – nothing better than a note that “this would be better done if …..everyone had the dates in advance” – so get that on the school calendar for next year.

Keep a reflective diary
picjumbo.com_HNCK3576I am very keen on this! Reflections help us to improve and help us note issues which need changing and yet so often we become “socialised to” – by which I mean early on in a job staff often wonder why does the school do stuff like that? And after a short while we become socialised and just say Oh OK let’s carry on in that routine. A reflective journal helps halt that and bring effective change. I once mentored a new SLT member and made him email me a paragraph every week. He was reluctant bu in the end it be an=me an effective and hugely humour out journal which saw much change and saw much “stay the same” on that reflective analysis.

Put on your imprint.
sparklerYou do need to make your imprint preferably within the first year. Don’t look for a hugely better way of doing things, jobs are just like schools, quite complex, but early on understand the role as we said and now make your imprint. Make it in simple ways, and make it simple – for example, a brief email at the end of term to colleagues thanking them; postcards home to pupils who succeeded, or maybe some celebration and invite SLT or the head – maybe a story for the school website. A short slot at INSET – trumpet our success or better use other colleagues to do so – especially if you have a colleague who has piloted your ideas with you, get them to share that effectively.

Feedback
I try and ask a question after a term and after a year in the job. “How is it going?” My bottom line would be – “no disasters and the role understood and being developed.” My top line would be ” pupils and staff are very pleased with the way this person is working because…” I would start with the views of those closest to the role eg the geography staff about the new Head of Geography or a sample of Y11 pupils and Y11 tutors for the new Head of Y11. BUT I am not expecting the finished article. Jobs take about 3 years to be fully understood assimilated and done routinely well and effectively. Are we on track?

Learn from others
You have a coach, or you found one, you have some line managers or SLT you are answerable to, but you need a ‘friend’. Dig out a colleague who you can confer in, and who you can let off steam to, and who can advise you from their experience. So if your middle leader role is head of year, find another head of year, you are a new head of dept, find another relatively new one. Ask them how they learnt, ask what CPD went well, what CPD they had, what else they wished they knew about. Don’t jump at the opportunity for the first course on middle leadership – best place to learn the initial stuff is….in school. However schools can be bad at telling you what is around the corner and may be just assume you know – for example “check exam entries” we all know that is coming but what does it really mean – ask this colleague or else ask the exams officer but seek…. done once it will be fine second time around and you’ll probably develop new aspects in year three. Hence my 3 years to get to be great.

Two warnings:

1) You are paid most of your salary for being a professional classroom teacher. You do have responsibilities (new ones) and they may well hijack you during the school day. However never lose sight of the day job: planning lessons delivering lessons, marking work, feedback and assessment. Just keep a vital perspective – if you have a team of staff relying on your prep or decision get that done first, then prep your lessons. Just don’t neglect classroom duties

2) I think there is a considerable difference between internal promotions and external ones. In the former case you already know the people around to help you, the potentially awkward ones and the children, you should be aware of your community. So your day to day work as above is relatively straightforward. However if you are moving school it’s pretty well back to square one. Learning a new set of systems, learning and contributing to a new ethos, learning about a lot of children, understanding a different community. However you should be able to bring your great teaching into operation so the big part of your role is, well should be OK. Nevertheless there will be expectations and you need to quickly find a colleague who will work alongside you, sharing with you in the role, helping you learn the new systems that operate. I have seen a few staff struggle badly when moving school, perfectly competent and sometimes outstanding classroom practitioners but the new school is just that: a new school, and needs time to understand the role, the people and policies. If you have a new colleague joining your school -look out for them, help them, and in due time they will be as good as those who appointed them thought but if you expect them up to speed in week one think again.