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.

Saturday period 3 – Creating a silk purse from a pig’s ear of curriculum change

The old story goes of the man who asks the way to Liverpool and the bystander says, ‘if you want to get to Liverpool mate I wouldn’t start here.’It’s how I feel about curriculum design or lack of it, with the changes to A Levels. BTecs and GCSEs. At the last major revision of A Level in 2000 at least stuff hanged for everyone at the same time, but this time we have the proverbial ‘pig’s ear’. Some ALevels have changed and their AS count for less and need doing at the end of two years even if done after one. But hey shiny new Year 12 students it’s not all your subjects. So schools and colleges grapple with – shall we just do three now, shall we forget the AS for all, for some etc. Meanwhile some subjects have changed at GCSE, well two to be precise Maths and English who will see new grading of 9 to 1.Yes but reporting for the present y10 comes soon – we need to explain that carefully to pupils and to parents, oh and we aren’t really sure what really will happen to the grades. ( Check out the Ofqual postcards -they help)

INSET and training back in 1999 allowed all staff to look at their subjects, advise SLT, think about the best way ahead for the students and discuss together the best way to make decisions. So as I stare at this pig’s ear not of my making I am looking to create a silk purse from this. The big structural stuff is out of our hands but there are still important decisions to make about which courses for the best

Simplistic_Refined_11. Don’t pick for grades. We don’t know about the grades but we do know ofqual take charge.  Boards subjects apparently achieving higher numbers of A and A* isn’t “easier” it’s about the profile of those taking the subject with that board. At A Level the highest number of A* and A are from Maths – it doesn’t mean Maths is easy or your heads of sixth form recommend everyone does Maths as it’s the best way to get an A.

2 Look at content. Carefully examine the content, does it suit your pupils, does it suit your teachers. How does it compare to past content. My guess in most subjects is that its much the same – Science subjects especially but there are twists – do you like them. In Chemistry if we have a chunk of nanotechnology do we welcome that or not? In some subjects this may not be the case so do you welcome the content or gasp in horror. Think about delivering content by all your teachers and across all the abilities.

Autumnal fruits

Autumnal fruits

3 Look at assessment. It’s not the standard of specimen papers etc it’s the style, the type of questions. The assessment model should test the content but look carefully and think about your pupils. All the pupils the brightest and the weakest who will be studying. In the end, assessment models deliver the fruits, or not.

 

 

 

4 Look forward and backwards. How does this course prepare your pupils for what they do next. if this is KS4 how does it prepare well for Btec or A Level and then beyond into the worlds of work and further study. downloadLook back at your KS3 courses. Of course these may yet need a tweak but if you love the content and outcomes of your KS3 then how well does this dovetail. This is a bit more pig’s ear than silk purse at the moment as you are changing GCSE but not KS3 -however the decisions you make at KS4 will stay for several years and no one likes a change of spec-worth a careful think. To some extent the definitions of KS3 4 and 5 are artificial – think like that to help you decide. AND don’t forget the added complexities of post 16 funding as some BTec are weighted in different ways. [Paul Hanks @The_Data_Adonis is worth following at the least and worth contacting for advice on funding issues post 16 too.]


imageimage5 Resources
. It would be naive to ignore your bank of resources or the resources on offer from the Boards. I guess this means a default starter being the spec you study now. However your job is to teach, help the pupils  learn and a massive desire to inspire. Do those results or your creative juices excite you – do they make you want to teach this tomorrow?

6 People You probably aren’t making this decision on your own , you have to bring other staff in your dept along with you. So check the dept view, check the other networks you are in; maybe professional groups like the ASE or local networks or teaching alliances. Also think about using twitter; you can create a list and add those other ‘history teachers’ to it and get chatting. Perhaps you attend teachmeets and ask trusted people what they are choosing and why. Remember it’s your call so don’t decide because someone with 2400 followers says so, just pick a few brains and move from the foggy grey to a black and white conclusion.

Patron Saint of lost causes - St Jude

Patron Saint of lost causes – St Jude

Finally then jot down your reasons. Get ready to share with the dept with SLT, the Headteacher and possibly governors. You need two or three reasons why you chose them and two or three why rejecting the others. In fact not just for the dept for your conscience and for the pupils to be rocked and rolled.

In the end whatever “others” do to us as teachers, we must use the tools we have to do the very best for the children and young people we teach, and do you know what? We usually do.

part 4 – from good teaching to great teaching



image
I am deliberately avoiding calling this “Good to Outstanding”. Ofsted can do what they wish but I want to see great teaching and learning and do very often. We teachers always try and produce good lessons and positive learning but we have bad days, pupils have bad days; whole school stuff disrupts, SLT disrupt! However we can consider moving from good to great with a sustainable manageable approach, bringing inspiration, inspiration, inspiration – that get’s pupils learning by definition! Here are my top ten:

 

1 Great teachers know their subject inside out

Not only do they have good knowledge of their specifications, they have a wide grasp of their subject. They understand it very well, they can apply ideas and synthesise them. This is not about pedagogy (yet) it’s about wisdom in the subject. It’s about keeping up to date, reading, identifying interesting stuff in the news or other media. It’s about maintaining a network of contacts to follow the latest developments. It might even be about visiting places of interest like museums or going to lectures, of picking up podcasts. It might even mean rereading text books. Always try to find time to read and expose yourself to new stuff in your subject.

 

imagesCA5QXQ852 Knowing the tough topics and lessons

It takes time to suss out what pupils find hard and of course it varies by ability and age but this is the next critical aspect to make a sustainable difference. What topics pupils find hard and challenging ; what skills they need that prove difficult to develop. Its about knowing the best introductions to topics, the best conclusions, the most effective assessments ( formal or informal) that help build confidence and show the teacher what needs to be done next. Our big duty as teachers of KS4 and KS5 exams is to ensure our pupils know what they have to do to achieve a given grade and then teach them to those standards. Be absolutely clear what they must do to get that A* or that E whatever is appropriate. Phrases like “they need to work harder” or “just understand more” are probably correct but of little value to the pupil who is willing and works hard. However knowing what they need to know and do, we work backwards to build that into the day to day week by week lesson plans. I’m not keen on lots of past papers and exam practice I’m very keen on my students understanding my subject. This is a big challenge when we all face new specs but hang it we all face that – so look out for blogs, read exam boards support stuff and  well much won’t change – if pupils find equilibrium difficult now in the GCSE spec, they probably will next year with the new spec.
3 Maintain enthusiasm, humour and jazz

imagePupils love a teacher who knows their stuff, they enjoy the relevant anecdote or story telling and they like a touch of humour. (Great teachers do not grow old they just lose their class) They like to try and distract you and …you know it. You have taught for a good while now, so you know what works, what goes down well and you should milk it for all it’s worth. Hone and refine the skills – you should feel like the conductor of the orchestra.

4 Know your pupils inside out

G0414677Some of the older pupils you taught when younger or came across in your football team or orchestra, maybe even had a run in as a head of year. You might well have taught an older sibling. So you understand the dynamics of the family and you know how they are likely to respond and for those you don’t know so well, you know your school community better. You also know how to handle the reactions. If you have to call home about homework there are after all only a few responses from parents: “thank you for telling us/so what/we don’t have any issues from other staff it must be you”. So you know what to say in response, you know who else to mention on the SLT if necessary. Exploit this to raise standards, to flush out more work and better quality work. All that investment in the craft of the classroom over recent years should after all bear fruit. It really isnt a blank canvas. You should know the G&T the SEND and more-so you should know what works and what doesn’t, so take it in your stride.

5 Systems

You know all ISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006of the school systems such as those for behaviour management and discipline those for reporting problems and those for reporting achievements and awards and merits etc. You know when reports are due and mocks or tests come along BUT by now you should be able to work a system which suits you and your subject. No whole school assessment system can suit every subject, so where do you need to branch out? When do you need your own mock, when do you need an extra assessment. You also know the rhythm of school and seasons, for example it’s not a good idea to leave a really difficult 3 week topic to mid winter; you know when illness is at its worst and can sort out work around it. You have a sense of the need for a really really outstanding lesson to lift spirits ( yours and theirs). You know what to do about ill pupils, about those who get stuck ( see me after the lesson? – not really going to work is it; what does work?). So within this class this group add a layer of your own systems to supplement the schools

6 Confidence and Resilience image

You can be confident in the classroom, a confident teacher, a confident behaviour manager, a confident leader. Ooze that confidence to your pupils and ooze it so much that your pupils pick it up. They need more confidence and resilience, make sure you pass that on to. How? Well by inspiring their progress and pointing out how far they have come -as much as the distance they still have to go. Help develop them as independent learners; it wont be easy and it definitely wont be less work but it will likely be a greater impact on their state of mind. Tell them -this topic is tricky and tell them when they’ve got it and of course when they have not got it. They need to go into your exam full knowing a) this subject is tricky b) I have to work hard but I have worked hard and c) I have been well prepared and can perform. It’s no different to the big football game or England vs Australia for the world cup ….oh hang on.

Then there is resilience, the ability to cope with stuff thrown at you and designed to throw you. You cope quite well with that, have a think how you do so, think what wisdom has brought you to the point of coping better now than the last time you faced that issue. You need to bottle this, not least for yourself ( see end of post) but also to start to work out how to pass this on to those pupils who need to develop it all too.

7 Activities and resources

You have plenty now, as above you know what works and what is still weak. Look ahead if that Powerpoint didn’t work last year it needs a tweak. That lesson which was rather boring and lost the pupils, does it need something extra. SOmetimes though, be frank the topic is boring the lesson can be boring and this bit of learning is boring that’s how it is but you should know this now.You alos know the subtle bits, you know sometimes that some content isn’t covered so well and needed more time but it’s now time for revision. OK you are the wise professional balance the time carefully for the pupils. When they say ” have we finished the spec yet?” reply confidently “not quite yet but we will and more importantly how do you feel your understanding of the spec is going?”

image

 

8 Talk, converse, chat, discuss…..

I have taught for 34 years but I still love chatting Chemistry to my colleagues. Still asking what I might do to improve. Still observing an NQT or a student and thinking that is clever. Still talking about classes. I recently had a Y13 who were very quiet and so I spent much time with a colleague discussing what we might try to do, even discussed them with other subject staff. Talk to SENCO, talk to HoYr talk to parents and most important talk to the pupils. Check you spend as much time talking children and subjects as you do moaning about me (the head/SLT) or the government or the weather. However do have a moan. we all need that.

9 Data, pupils or surprises

imageYou must know by now there is a lot of data for you. FFT (new)  Sims, prior knowledge and especially exam board performance data on question level etc etc Use it but not without care or discrimination.  Your own analysis of previous pupils performance tells you a lot – do they do better on exams or coursework; this bit of this unit is really challenging. When you check how your pupils performed on Q3 of paper 1 last year that was to inform you as to what to do this year – the same or different. Yes maximise those marginal gains. Data should show no surprises. I had a conversation the other day ” We were disappointed not to get more A*”. Should some pupils have got A*? Did they get A* in other subjects? Were their various targets A*? If the answer was their prior performance  predicted no A*, like everyone be the optimist and sure “aim high” we all need that. However stop beating yourself up, be realistic, be of sober judgment, sure aspire, we heads love all that but the job needs to be sustainable and enjoyable as well as all the inflicted pressures – try not to add to that yourself or on your colleagues. However more important then being level 5b or blue ladder 6 or smiley face yellow is “you know this, understand that can do the other and NOW to improve you need to do this….” Knowing pupils not knowing data is critical. Data should avoid surprises – I had no idea she was that good/bad/struggling etc

10 Inspire, Reward and Challenge……and honesty

You teach a great subject, yes? You teach generally great pupils yes? You know how the classroom heart beats yes? Good, good, now capitalise on all that inspire them, praise them and when they slip challenge them or when they get it challenge them even further. Oh and you make a few mistakes, the odd idea doesn’t work – you are big enough now to admit it, share it and sort it, not under the table but on the table.

other responsibilities

My last point isn’t advice but challenge. My guess is you also have responsibilities three

1 Family – don’t neglect your rightful duties to families not just children but parents and grandparents too and friends who need you. It’s a challenge

2 Other responsibilities in school . After 4/5 years you might well have other responsibilities: pastoral as a heads of year or academic as a subject lead or other jobs like student mentor etc etc. You need to fulfil these duties swiftly, clearly and deftly but the key difference you make is as a classroom teacher and that is in the day to day in the classroom.

3 Yourself. I’ve seen too many people who end up burnt out, or cynical or the poorer in the job. It’s never simple to say why but make sure you look after yourself. Personally this is the one I find hardest. Getting to the gym, taking enough time off, reading for pleasure etc etc check out the #teacher5aday and enjoyreading what others are thinking about and doing and check yourself. Why not get a critical friend to help you? My previous head often emailed me at 10pm saying get off that **** computer and talk to the family.

imageAND be uplifted to be a GREAT teacher isnt even rocket science you can do it and be the great teacher you can be.

 

 

 

part 3 – from NQT to RQT

This is a bit new, even to me, the term RQT presumably a “Recently Qualified Teacher ( as opposed to retired, or rare, reformed, regular, revolutionary , and hopefully not yet a regretfully ..this could go on.

So with a full year (or maybe two) under the belt, what now?

1 Improve your teaching

You should be confident by now that you can sort out basic issues with learners. Like behaviour and background disruption. these are never going to go away but the mistakes of PGCE/training and even the odd error of judgment last year are put behind. By all means read, research, listen and then try new things but the basics of classroom craft should be learnt. Now ask yourself ” is there a better way to teach X or Y”. Relentlessly try to improve your teaching.

2 Improve the lot of learnerspareto_principle_improve

You have many resources, you might have a Y11 class following  their Y10 time with you and therefore new content but a majority will have been taught once. Get those reflective planners at the ready and where you put *** Must improve this if I ever do it again then…improve it. Oh you didn’t do that annotation, shame! Still revisit and re-edit and talk to experienced staff. You have tried one activity in the classroom to help learners on this unit/topic, so what else might work? Really work out what works in your classroom for different groups: SEND Gand T, PP, EAL after all you know the acronyms and know the children so sort out even better learning experiences for them. You are the true professional now…nearly.

Oh and another important matter, you have taught some of these youngsters before. You know their family a bit but you know them well, you know what they find hard or easy; a richer information than any data number – so really rock and roll in pushing their learning. It will not be easier, if anything it’s harder but it’s much much more effective teaching.

3 Keep even better records

Plan, annotate, add resourceIMG_2499s and spend a bit of time searching for new ones. Talk more with staff and pick their brains. think and plan ahead, ask around, join twitter or the TES forums and networks, get to a teachmeet. Hey throw that weight around and move from good to great!

 

 

4 Share

You felt like you were the end of the queue, and you were but you aint no more, so share your idesparkleras of what worked too. Do that in department meetings, tutor team meetings and mostly just in conversations in the staffroom. build some self confidence as a teacher professional in helping others. I had a great RQT colleague a few years ago and she showed me some new resources and ideas….yep teach the old dogs in school, new tricks.

5 Volunteer

You might have a label RQT but most pupils think you are a wise, experienced and knowledgeable member of staff. SO get stuck into some new things this year, take on a bit of responsibility that you are genuinely interested in. it could be extra curricular, sport drama music. It could be within the dept, there is plenty to do: use of data, work with EAL or SEND pupils. help with the planning of a new GCSE or a new  A Level. It might be within the pastoral work? are their seeds of your first promotion in getting to know much more about…..x, then get on with it.

6 Stimulation

The last two years had pressure now it’s you as an autonomous teacher ploughing ahead in the fields to plant in the minds of enthusiasm sat before you. What challenges do you need for yourself? Which classes have had a bit of a raw deal from you? tackle them. Check out the teacher standards, identify your weakest three areas and sort them.

7 TransparencyimageAll of us feel there were things we just about got away with, what were yours and what do you need to do about them? Did you not prepare for a parents evening but fortunately they were mainly pleasant. Did you let a pupil off but they didn’t bring any extra issues? Did the head ask for something and you forgot but heck so did she? What things must you do better?

8 Challengechallenge

Teachers can be professionally socialised by their schools. You have probably been in the same school for a this year and NQT year. There were things surprised you – the Y7 data collection came very early, you wondered why but obviously kept your mouth shut last year. Maybe you jot down a few questions like this to help improve the school. Share with an experienced colleague or even the SLT link you know best. Dont be afraid for a asking a sensible challenging question. there may be a good sensible answer but you might just have asked a really good one.

8 Keep talking

talk-clipart-RTAk5EqTLThe PGCE or training courses (remember them) have structures to support and help and encourage you. So too, NQT year BUT now you have made it to RQT and they all disappear. No more meetings about you it all becomes informal ( save number 9 below). So please keep talking to those you have found helpful or found as critical friends.

 

 

9 Performance Management

You now come under the appraisal umbrella. Chat to others about how it works, read the school documents. Do not see it as a threat, just find out what others do, prepare for you first meeting with an appraiser, who will hopefully know you well. Maybe look at what I said in 6 above and ask for some extra training in an area, or try and spend a lesson observing someone to fit the direction of travel you have set. Oh you haven’t set a direction? Shame cos in the rough and tumble of teaching if you don’t choose, the winds will blow you around.
storm

part 2 – from Teacher trainee to NQT*

untitledL PlatesCongratulations and welcome to the profession. You’ve chosen a great job and hopefully you already know a good bit about your new school. There is a clue in the initials about this journey “new”.

First the Good news

You passed your PGCE, schools direct, teach first training with flying colours but you are not quite the finished article, in fact even after 36 years I never felt I was the finished article, this is teaching and learning and we never ever get there! However you do now know how a classroom works, you have been observed and met required standards. In fact you might feel you survived – no one rioted, discipline wasn’t as bad an issue as you thought it might be and deep down you did experience the sheer delight of pupils learning in your classroom. You have had interviews and got a job and now you get paid too.

Now the challengeL Plates

1 Responsibilities

Last year another teacher taught a class, and you “borrowed” them for a term or less. now you have them for a whole year or if Y10/Y12 maybe two years. You are responsible for their progress, achievement, and to an extent their behaviour and ambitions. You have to report stuff to your head of dept, to a head of year and to parents…….oh and also to …….pupils.

2. You are the star not the extradownload

Sometime last year, you were an ” extra pair of hands” for example with a tutor group. You are now in charge and……on your own, at least in the classroom, but certainly not in the school. So start acting like the Star not the extra.

3 Welcome to Houston – Systems

Your mentor or class teachISS_Flight_Control_Room_2006er helped out with questions that you had or issues that arose. Now you have to find them in other ways. There should still be a mentor and there should be a senior leader in charge of NQTs. Speak to them often. There should be a programme of support, get along, take notes listen, learn act. However systems can be complicated and schools have a habit of socialising them such that experienced teachers just seem to “know” what to do. So don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions, however you might need to put aside time to get to grips with say ICT systems for management information, for reporting, for taking registers. Just ask, ask, ask. Pay attention at all those sessions on child protection, health and safety, data protection dealing with…. the school knows what it is doing training you, make sure you learn.

4 Basics of preparation and practice

Teacher plannerDuring teaching placement you had time in school to prepare lessons and maybe try out the odd activity such as a practical. You will wonder how to fit that in but preparation is the key. You do have a few lessons from last year under your belt but these are different children – your children and now you have more classes and (see above) more responsibility. As quickly as possible find out where dept resources, schemes of work etc reside, how to access them and work with experienced teachers on planning. As for practicing those activities, well that’s after school now methinks. Remember this will get easier but take a deep breath just now.

5 Marking and feedback – you just knew they would be here

Oh for the luxury of teaching practice with maybe 1 set of workbooks to mark each evening, now it seimageems non stop. You must work out a sustainable way for marking and feeding back. Guess what, that is just like the rest of us, so again ask, ask, ask. Don’t think you can spend 4/5 mins on every book for every class. BUT do not get behind, if you letting it slip, talk to your mentor. What is the school policy, mark every week, what do they mean by mark, and what are they marking? A lot of judgment rests on the quality of what is in a pupil’s book – mentors will look, other assessors, in due time Ofsted but perhaps more importantly parents and children. You can have a big impact here. Personally I am not a  scary kind of teacher but I get good behaviour in part by what I put in books, odd comments about the written work but odd comments about behaviour, contribution: ” well done today Ash, loved your answers, keep it up – though I think the homework could have had more detail” and reinforce that verbally. Just occasionally you are sat at home, finished prep for tomorrow and a bit overwhelmed with marking – then stop, get to bed and turn into school refreshed and be on top of classes, far better than everything marked but you tearful by lunch through lack of sleep.

6 Background disruption – please No

If your classes experience this, which some almost certainly will do, then do not despair, but please please please do not ignore. You are not rubbish but you need to tackle the pupils and the situations. Discuss strategies, get ideas and maybe watch the group with more experienced staff and tease out what they do and therefore what you need to learn. You are after all an NQT and the ‘new’ gives it away you have stuff to learn.

7. Workload

I do sometime say to our NQT pace yourself through the day. Maybe get a class to read silently for a while, maybe have a very straightforward activity. As a Chemist I wanted every lesson to be fairly spectacular and soon learned I would probably not be surviving the year. You can’t do a lesson like you prepared for your PGCE tutor to watch for every lesson. So learn to pace yourself but get a great lesson in every few days to ensure you remind yourself what a great job it is and that you can do it.

8. Extra curricular

I thin0913-23k these activities are vital ( see this post) but you are an NQT with lots of years ahead of you and so only do what you can manage. At one interview I was asked by the chair of governors if I would help on a ski trip and an overseas trip. I really wanted the job and as this next sentence came out my mouth I thought I was kissing good-bye to the job but I said: “It seems to me the school needs  lessons well prepared, classes well taught, work marked and pupils prepared for public exams, and the labs tidied up to be interesting learning environments; as we have just had a baby I can’t see me getting away for skiing but once the day-to-day is sorted of course I will do my bit.” In all honesty I got up ready tp  leave but I did get the job and the deputy said that was exactly right for the school. Do something , maybe the odd bus or dinner duty, show willing, maybe something you really wanted to do as you were thinking of teaching like playing your flute in the orchestra but just dip your toes in. No one will thank you for taking the football team but not marking books or forgetting to order equipment until late.

9 Other wonderful people in a school

I’ve mentioned staff but now learn to love the support staff, people who photocopy for you, caretakers, ICT wizards, office staff who will always try to help, if appropriate lab technicians too. They will have seen a lot of new teachers like you, and whilst not necessarily knowing how you are doing they do know the pitfalls and if you can pass the time of day with them, appreciate them you will get lots of support just where you need it.


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10 Rhythm

Schools have their own diary or calendar and it brings a rhythm to the school. of course this is based around holidays ( half terms, start of year etc) , seasons (winter/exams) and then parents’ evenings and reporting. You need to try to watch out for this. Many an NQT overlooked or wasn’t told that “next week we need the assessment data completing, so hope you have done the test”. You haven’t or there is a work audit due and the work you needed to do for that will hijack  something else you had planned. Try to read beyond the dates and look over each year group and identify when the pressure points will be and work with others to minimise those pressures

11 Standards

I’ve never been sure about the “don’t smile until Christmas” malarkey but you must set out from the word go your expectations. You must keep to rules, you must in a sense do as the “collective wisdom “ suggests – otherwise there is trouble around the corner. So set high expectations of behaviour, of work ethic in your classroom, of standards of work, of standards of dress – including your own. Pupils actually like all that and will conform, they like to know where the lines are but they will try and cross them – someone will definitely not do homework so what will you do, exactly what will you do when that happens? You may not know but please don;’t say “Someone not doing homework, well that really was a massive surprise!”

12 Feedback and Self confidence

Get lots, the more the merrier. before you plan tomorrow reflect on today. My NQT notes I reread for this post and I discovered my plans were more brief than my reflections and I remember what a great resource that proved in my second and third year – ah yes, that didn’t quite work; ah no, that practical didn’t really illustrate the learning objective etc. However the most valuable is that from staff observing you AND you finding some time to observe them. These aspects should steadily build your confidence and help you grow into the role and you will see next year looks possible and manageable and you know what you can do better. You will make it through and be even better next year.

New teachers bring bags of enthusiasm and new ideas and new ways of doing things, we really love people like you – if you can learn some of the traditions in your school to get the best out of children and marry the two you will be just fine – but exhausted.

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There is a lot of advice on blogs and in the TES and if on twitter via @Ukedchat animaged #NQTChat . The TES supplement  “new teachers” published September 18th is a good read too. Meanwhile make sure you join a teacher union they often have lots of very useful stuff for NQTs.  Here is a good article from the Guardian too.

Some blogs

From @theheadsoffice 

and @lisa7pettifer

and @teachaholicblog

Some books|

Making every lesson count: six principles to support great teaching and learning by  Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby

Classroom behaviour: a practical guide to effective teaching,behaviour management and colleague support by Bill Rogers

Teaching in UK Secondary Schools – a PGCE, School Direct and NQT Starter Guide for that Long Road Ahead  by Hari Indran

Teaching in UK Secondary Schools: Being Organised from September through till Christmas: by Hari Indran

There  is a very good guide from the NUT

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7YBA Teacher in Nottingham (Set 7YBA Tn)

I wrote this post because it seems to be getting more and more difficult to get teachers and School Leaders and other staff who work in schools. It is difficult especially in City areas and in Coastal ones. So I had a think aboutRobin-Hood-Statue what there is to like about a career working in Education in Nottingham:

 

 

You can also check out this website which has some brilliant links and advertises posts in local schools. If you still need persuading please check this video with local secondary and Primary teachers AND Nottingham University Vice Chancellor Professor Sir David Greenaway.

 

1.It’s a great City There are good shopping facilities – including a John Lewis , House of Fraser and a huge number of independent shops in two large City Centre areas, the Victoria Centre and the Broadmarsh centre. People travel for miles to visit the shopping centres.

Victoria Centre shopping

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Newstead Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

There are great sporting links, two football teams with history, Nottingham Forest and Notts County but also the Panthers Ice Hockey team and the International Cricket ground at Trent bridge. Not to mention Holme Pierrepont the home of many watersports. There are Cultural and Arts Centres, two theatres, the Nottingham Contemporary arts centre. Like most Cities we have many historical links, not least with the oldest public house, underground caves, even a mansion we call Nottingham Castle, Byron’s home at Newstead Abbey etc. The City centre is a thriving place but we have places to escape to such as Clumber Park and Sherwood Forest and you might even see batman at Wollaton Hall, or at the least hit a festival there. I wont mention the clubs and bars though! If you can get out further afield we are on the edge of the Derbyshire Dales and  National Park as well as Chatsworth house to the West or by going South into North Leicestershire countryside. There are many villages and market towns around the County and it’s not far to the likes of Lincoln and York.

Mind we do know how to party, come along to Goose Fair in October and try it out – should be there next year, its been here for over 600, can’t see it stopping yet
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2. Transport and housing. Nottingham is in a great spot in the UK being so central. Easy to get to the main M1 ( 3 major routs out of the City) or to the A1. The train station has recently had a massive upgrade and trains to London take about 1hr 45 minutes. The bus system locally is very good and we have a very efficient tram system too. East Midlands Airport is about 30 minutes drive away. Oh and a canal and a big river with cruise boats and rowing clubs. Housing is also available and reasonably priced because of the large student population.

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Trent Bridge

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Tram in Market Square




 

 

 

3 We are actually very good at Education. Most young people know about the high reputation, in fact the world class reputation of the two Universities at Nottingham and Nottingham Trent. These organisations also host Education Departments and the National College for Teaching and Learning is based on the Jubilee Campus. So this is where many prospective teachers start their careers as PGCE Students but remember this also gives great opportunities to ongoing CPD for teachers and other Career opportunities. There are also significant teaching school and teaching school alliances.( Like the LEAD Urban alliance and Transform). They are fairly new but they are all working on programmes to attract young people to work in schools and then support them whatever stage of career, from NQT, RQT, Middle Leaders, SLE’s etc You might benefit from a programme but in due course be contributing to the programmes. Then there are large FE Colleges, with more opportunities to move career into working with the post school sector. Check out NCN, and Castle College.

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4. Schools Despite what you might think, or read or have heard, Nottingham schools are pretty good, some are outstanding, some are good and others are getting to good. Check their web sites and if you are thinking of a job here then go and visit.The staff are very committed to improving the lives of local children and working in a City or Urban environment isn’t without its challenges and rewards. There are 16 different types of Secondary schools mostly academies, some sponsored some are MATs. There are 6 special schools and these have a considerable reputation for their work for SEND children. There are 7 Independent schools some are small and the two main City schools are the boys and girls high schools (although the boys goes mixed this September). there are about 80 Primary schools. Within each of those schools is a massive amount of wisdom and experience. In my school for example the leadership team have worked at the school over 120 years between them and longer if we add in time spent in City schools. Nearly all the City secondaries and many of the primaries are in very new buildings as they were part of the labour governments BSF programme (Building schools for the future). the City Council has always had a big commitment to Education and whilst not really controlling academies, they have a target to have every child in a good or outstanding school. they also work hard with the local business community to ensure jobs and apprenticeships and a clear progression route after school.

5. Progression. Hey we do this well, for teachers and for pupils. We have a very low NEET ( not in Education Employment or Training) figures in the UK. So something is working well, and there is commitment to helping young people follow their dreams into jobs, apprenticeships, or further their education. We laso have a lot of clver and successful initiatives to help widen participation locally from Nottingham University and NTU which involves our pupils but also families. We also see the journey being made by many professionals in our schools, so we might have someone volunteer for a project as an older pupils who goes off to University and then returns and does some teaching assistant work, and eventually get a formal training as a TA or maybe as a teacher. Once bitten by the “working in Nottingham City schools” bug it can be hard to escape.

6 Other services There are other agencies linked to schools of course and in Nottingham they work closely together, again teachers can move their careers into these other areas. this includes social services, children’s’ services, the local NHS. Also Nottingham Futures ( careers service)  and their initiatives such as  Aspire. Then there are organisations which pop up in any City to help with Outdoor Education, to help with Music and Sport as well as Duke of Edinburgh, Youth Parliament and so on. So our children get lots and lots of opportunities. There are also many community links, these can work very well in City areas but be less obvious than in rural ones. Local Churches and mosques and other religious groups support education. The voluntary sector is huge and not only do they support schools they also offer opportunities for our young people to serve in their work helping in everything from foodbanks, to the homeless.

7. Great Pupils and great teachers and support staff. Almost all schools say they have great pupils and the City has many many. Of course in a City area there can be issues of bad behaviour and low aspiration and that makes the job a challenge but it is often a minority and therefore the majority can be encouraged, can be motivated and can be taught successfully and will get qualifications. in fact just the sort of result you hope for as you contemplate a career in education. But these pupils need you, they need keen enthusiastic teachers. In fact you will also be working with some great teachers, school leaders and educationalists. There are many many fantastic support staff too, who are also committed to the local community and the City. All those in senior positions are passionate about schools and young people – come and join us and commit yourself to working with us, we’ll support you and you won’t regret it,

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Even ol “big head” would love to see you working in Nottingham

Famous Locals:

  • Robin Hood – entrepeneur, thief, potential film star
  • William Booth – founder of the Salvation Army
  • Jesse Boot – founder of the Pharmaceutical Co Boots;
  • Brian Clough – football manager;
  • Sir Peter Mansfield – Nobel Prizewinner and inventor of the MRI Scanner
  • Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean – Ice dancers – oh yes we have a great ice rink!
  • Sir Frank Bowden – Raleigh bicycles
  • John Player – cigarettes
  • D H Lawrence – literature
  • Lord Byron –  literature
  • Alan Sillitoe – novelist
  • Sir Paul Smith – fashion
  • Dr Stewart Adams – discoverer and inventor of Ibuprofen ( Brufen, Nurofen)
  • Frederick Gibson Garton WHO? – inventor of Brown Sauce HP
  • Edgar Hooley WHO – inventor of tarmac
  • John Peake Knight WHO? – inventor of the traffic light ( gas powered!)
  • Harold Larwood – bodyline test series 1932 -33
  • Thomas Hawksley – civil engineer famed for ensuring safe water supplies in the 19th C
  • Albert Ball – First World War pilot and winner of VIctoria Cross
  • Stella Rimmington first female head of MI5
  • Samuel Fox – Quaker abolitionist and founder of Nottingham Building Society
  • Doug Scott – mountaineer
  • Ken Clark; Ed Balls; Geoff Hoon – recent political figures
  • Oh and Harold Shipman!
  • COULD it be you on here?

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Period 2 – A Conference? Really? What use is that?

imageSo, what is so good about conferences. When you have a stack of work to do and a family and heck there is all that stuff on work life balance, why oh why attend a conference in London Thought I might try to justify this to myself as I return home from ASCL 2015 or #ascl2015 as we tweeters say!

1) Networking – well with so many people this felt fairly tricky. However by nature you meet people, at meal times, over coffee and in sessions. I like to somehow benchmark my own thinking on topics. So as an example when I was at a session on Ofsted, did I know:

  • “most” of what we were hearing?
  • do I understand and comprehend it any better?
  • what does it mean to me and my school or staff or pupils?
  • am I clearer what we have to do next?

That is less easy when the sessions come thick and fast. So in the informal conversations with the colleagues i just looked out; are their worries mine, are my concerns and therefore my energies pointing the right way?

2) Inspiration. I do love conferences when a speaker you havent heard about shows up and blows you away. The session by Dr Vicky Phillips was like this. Forget about taking notes, forget about nuance and what it might mean for the work we do, just be reminded exactly why you came into the job. BE inspired again to go back and make a difference to children’s lives.  This session did that for me. Then there was the inner chimp. I’ve come across this at a bit of a distance but the talk from Professor Steve Peters was just so uplifting, funny, clever, and made the points so well. This made me want to consider what that all might mean for my school and me and children and so on but it also cheered my spirit. It reminded me what great people there are out there – and if I am honest, it’s probably another book to buy an not read through a lack of you know what.

3) Focus. As a relatively new head but quite a long-in-the-tooth school leader I still struggle to ensure that someone has the big vision, when you are busy with the needs of children, teachers, support staff, and…… ( I really don’t want to make a list starting with Ofsted, Governors because it reminds me of all the responsibilities) So having read the ASCL documents on their ideas which I tend to read over on a Friday evening with a nodding head ( Oh OK yes and a glass of wine). So to hear two ASCL people bring the whole thing to life and begin to capture their vision and therefore hone my own gave me a focus. staring at the slogan “Trust to transform”. It also helped me reflect a little and therefore adjust my own thinking and vision. Actually I think I could have called those sessions ” more inspiration but with a massive dose of common sense”

image4) Confirmation. This may not be the right word but the session by Sir Michael Barber was good-humoured, and insightful and gave hints of life in the midst of government. It is so refreshing when you learn something knew – Well I never knew that about Anthony Blunt! But it was also clever it showed ASCL how it might actually help government and how leaders might influence very positively. It showed their ideas in the blueprint are doable, in fact he said Congratulations to ASCL ( his words n ot mine) on the work they were doing. But there were nuances which also rang true for example his points about “getting routines right” in government apply to us in schools. Much of our work day-to-day isn’t clever or smart it is routine, it is a system working. Schools are complex organisations and so routines we have such as those concerning communications need to be dependable, reliable and proven to work and not changed every five minutes. You can find a copy of “Leading the Way:Blueprint for a Self-Improving System” here.

5) Political. Any conference with three political party leaders in Education speaking just prior to a General Election must be political. we heard from Hunt for Labour, Laws for Liberal Democrats and Morgan for Conservatives ( Morgan of course being SoS for Education). I missed one but I am not sure I missed much. They tell their audiences stuff which felt to me in my cynical way electioneering so my parody ” we love teachers, we love schools we love heads and we appreciate what you do” I think every politician I have hard at such a conference says ‘we have the best generation of……’ Proof of pudding and all that though – are they listening to us? Nicky Morgan made an important point at the start of her speech along the lines that everyone you meet has a view about education ( probably because they have been through it or are in it) and no two people seem to agree. WHilst that is true I still think some of the people in the room today know a great deal about Education rather than because I once went to school I am an expert” we all have lots of views on lots of matters – try a google search for Clarkson! It did cross my mind there was a lot of very expensive people in the room and most are highly professional and deserve ( collectively if not individually) to be heard, listened to carefully and consulted. It would be naive to think those of us who work day by day year by year with children do not want the very best for them. I will judge this after the election, when we will see if the concerns expressed over these few days on serious matters like school budgets are answered in the black and white and not the vagaries of politicspeak ” there is no silver bullet etc”

6) Practicality. I guess we school leaders are practical people so a round of sessions on performance management, Ofsted, the new A Level and many others hands over sound advice and ideas. Once agin they allow a leader to think where they stand in the discussions and maybe adjust priorities or resources. I have thought a few times that a revolutionary reaction to many of the policy changes isnt helpful, in fact even my favoured evolutionary change may not be right ( albeit better or less worse than revolutionary). However a conference gives chance to have a think again.

7) The crowd and me. Well there were a lot of people in most of the meetings 800 -1200, they applauded stuff I applauded and when they laughed or muttered so did I. I have to think if that means I followed the crowd but I suppose It offers reassurance in the complex world I often feel I inhabit. I went with a colleague this year and this allowed lots of conversation about our school, and I really enjoyed that opportunity. Some supportive conversations, some challenging ones, much agreement with direction, some definite confirmation and some ‘Oh hang on’ moments. Also the definite start of a plan for this, a shelve the ideas on that. A chance to visit the exhibition together and pick up information on relevent topics and aspects of school improvement or on stuff you just hadn’t thought of in the daily hurly burly.

I don’t think organisers can plan to promise to deliver any of these outcomes and the infamous feedback sheets or these days feedback on the app probably don’t cover some matters here. So this school leader just says thank you for all that organising, inspiring, confirming, challenging and supporting – kind of glad you are there, no actually I’m very glad and gladerrer I was able to join you.

imageQuestions

Q1 What did you gain most from this conference if you were there?

Q2 Why do you go to such Conferences?

Q3 What is the best bit of going to conferences?

You can read the speeches and catch up on presentations here.

Going up and down - with various stops on the way!

Goig up, going down with various stops in between! Hmmmm

Nice hotel but soent a lot of time waiting for or in, one of these 🙂

Friday period 3 – Secondary schools – trust, thank and love your Primaries

As a new head I have been reminded of that infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote. Slightly misquoting him: “There are aspects about being a headteacher which I think I know about: teaching, learning, assessment, results, data, behaviour, systems, child protection etc Then there are some aspects I know I do not know so much about, for me these include primary transition, special needs, curriculum planning, budgets and HR. Then of course I have found things I never knew I was supposed to know about like counterterrorism, energy status, injections. Fortunately I have really good people around me helping me, as well as my own mentor. I decided to include in my first term a visit to the primaries associated with our school and meet the children and staff without being a nuisance. I already knew my primary head colleagues in our Trust were good people from previous meetings with them but what a privilege to see them in action in their own schools. It was also special for me to find many ex-students now teaching or being TA’s in those schools. Wonderful to see young people who we had helped through the sixth form with progress into HE and UCAS decisions and A Level stress who got into their chosen courses and now were proving to be great primary staff.

When I was a head of sixth form it was obvious to me that we benefited post 16 from all the work staff (including me!) had put into the pupils in KS3 and KS4 – not just their learning but also their attitude and behaviours. Why had I never thought about that in the same manner when considering our primaries. So here are some reasons why I love our primaries:

1.Managing Change. imageThere may be different sorts of change in Primary schools but they are still having to work hard on stuff like ‘life without levels’, like SEND. Whilst I know they don’t get so much PP time I had overlooked staff are not necessarily part of big teams for support, help and sharing. They may do so with other schools but it is still time consuming and like us they are all committed to delivery in the classroom. This means it can feel lonely managing change – but they get on with it!

2.The bread and butter work imageThe basic are no different, teaching, learning, behaviour, attendance, etc The pressures might be a little different (Ok so no difficult teenagers) but I had forgotten the issues as my own children are now grown up and they have to cope with the usual ups and downs of life but meeting issues of ill parents, or bereavement perhaps for the first time. I’ve not written much about our buildings, just to say we lost our bsf and have had very little capital investment but done our best to look after the site even with a road in between. However these might fade to be less significant compared to some of the issues with little people and their facilities. So often I was reminded of my favourite quote from a colleague. Better to be a good school in poor buildings than be a ……

3. Know your children. In our primaries the heads seem to know all the children, the children so look up to them and are so pleased when the head notices their progress which they do often.Well hang on I have the same aim, I try to ask pupils how they are getting on but looking again at my intro I have people to help me with budgets, HR, cover. They have help and they might be smaller but I was still impressed they keep such a high priority on the learning going on. They are also fairly expert in everything – I’m quite good at science and reasonable at maths and ICT and a few other areas but a bit clueless on others like Art ( despite my efforts) – back in the KS2 arena they seem to know everything. I was reminded just how great are great primary teachers.

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4.The work. I saw so many enthusiastic children and teachers and all working really hard, I was literally blown away by what I saw going on and by what was in the books and indeed the marking and feedback. My previous admiration of the primary teacher moved up a few notches. I met some Year 0 children searching for photos on the computer, copying and pasting, I started by being impressed and then was a bit scared about what they will be like by age 11 when we get to see them in a secondary.

image5. The ethos. If reader you have seen my blog about Chinese heads visit they kept asking me how we got the school ethos over to the children, a question I continue to think about and wrestle with answering. Well here was something to help my thinking – it starts in Primary. This might be because we are faith schools in a RC MAT and so the ethos of an RC school is fairly clearly defined, we have priests who work with us all, we even share our chaplains. Whether it’s that or something else I can see just how much we benefit from the way our primaries are bringing up their children.

So here I am bowing down to the empire of the Primary sector, the Kings and Queens and the foot soldiers and saying thank you for all you do. It confirmed for me the best reasons about academisation was working even more closely together with the primaries to serve our community. A community where the little people I met asked me if I knew their older brother or sister at “your school” – some I did but some I didn’t; a confession none of those heroic heads would be ignorant about. A community where many of the primary staff went to our secondary or have children at our secondary or worship in our parish communities. I so thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your world, thanks for all you do, keep it up. You have helped me with my vision, I hope we can continue to work together over transition and in the future I suspect we might find ourselves working even more closely together. In every sense we really are in this together!

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Here is a challenge- work with a feeder primary organise teacher visits maybe half a day – see their job; planning, teaching, marking, assessing, feedback see how little people tick. Then swop, and let them see you. Have some time discussing with each other what you find out about the job. I bet it leads to school improvement – bet!

Questions

Q1 What ways can we help each other without any patronising or unnecessary attitudes?

Q2 What ways might we improve transition, especially with the issues around admissions?

Q3 Closer ways to work together for primaries and secondaries in the future?

For those in Church schools

Ephesians 6:2-4 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth”. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God and honour the emperor.

Acts 24:3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude.

Ephesians 4:16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

 

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.

Tuesday period 6 – “How was school today John?”

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This is my Mother who sadly passed away in March 2016 having just turned 96. I am very proud of her, and although she was a little more frail in her final days, she was as sharp and good humoured as I can ever remember. I spoke to her every day, and our conversation had a reliability about it. She always asked me ‘how was school today?” it’s a question I have heard from aged about 5 to 18, and it re emerged as I started my PGCE back in the 1980’s. It’s a genuine question about me, about the day, about the children I teach and the colleagues I work with. In some ways it epitomises my Mum and perhaps a good parent. It didn’t end there, at tea time, oh No. Any spellings or vocab was tested to destruction, my books were looked at, not checked just read with a genuine interest, delight and conversation. Of course as a very little person I was read to, and listened to with glee, with enthusiasm and with endless patience. She did of course have to tell me off occasionally but I’m sure for every harsh word were a hundred of encouragement and hope. She was the eternal optimist and there was always bags of encouragement to me and my friends: ‘never mind pick yourself up, there is always hope’ there spoke a survivor of the Coventry Blitz.

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As a young teacher I was a little scared about parents’ evenings, I had all my facts and wondered what I might be asked. I soon found and continue to find most parents want to know the same things wrapped up in many a question, it boils down to: how their child is progressing, how well they are doing ( just compared to where I think they should be) if their child is trying and what they as a parent can do to help – I need my Mum there to tell them! Over many years of such evenings and other meetings with parents I think this is what most conversations distil out at. Of course for some they really do want to know “what they can do” with something of an air of despair – perhaps about behaviour, or effort or attitude. Then there are a few who just want to have a go at the school, if not me personally but very few.image

Once I had got over my fears of meeting parents I moved into the rather arrogant place of wanting to tell some parents just what to do! I still hear some teachers say ” wait until I see the parents of ‘ ‘ and I’ll certainly let them know what their child is like and what discipline is necessary. I rarely hear this from teachers who have their own children. Once I got one of my own to bring up I understood how tricky, how tiring and yet rewarding and challenging is the whole parenting thing.
I have a little theory that many children behave better at school than they do at home and we might work on the assumption that the smaller indiscretions or bad habits in school, the more that will be on show at home. This means parents, often without the backup of a big organisation ( no tutor to refer to, no head of year, no SLT, no green referral system no access to sims) their tasks are even more difficult.

imageI am a strong believer in the vital link between pupil, parent and teacher. I am also keen on the support of the wider community, it’s one of the best bits of working in a faith school. However it just isn’t easy bringing up children, even now with my two grown up I keep thinking I’m glad not to be doing that bit again, especially in this generation ’twas ever thus’. However schools must work closely with parents, we must communicate sensibly with them. We have lots of data and lots of jargon – some of it we find confusing. Think of the word ‘target’ we might wrestle with ‘predicted’, ‘actual’, ‘FFT’ (which one again oh D) in school I do hope staff are clear but we need to keep it simple for parents. This goes against some of my other blogs where I argue a complex organisation like a school should not be summed up in a word or a number. Our reporting must be simple BUT not just data never ever just numbers – ‘oh she is secure level 3′ perish the day. I think it’s why parents get fairly incensed when they sense teachers use phrases from a bank of sentences on reports. I think they understand it must be difficult writing 30 or 60 reports etc but they really want to know we care, that we know their child and we can show that to them in an annual report and at a parents’ evening or if we bump into them

I realise there is another post here about dealing with awkward parents (awkward in being unsupportive and awkward in being helicopter parents) but I’m considering the majority, those who want to see their children do well and genuinely trust the school. They really want their child to succeed, discover their interests for themselves turn from children into young adults. They probably know there will be a few bumps in the journey, they will probably take their child’s view more often than we would like ( it’s our job to help show them there are 2 sides). It’s also worth reminding ourselves how intimidating school can be for some parents, especially if the school has had to have ‘a word’ with them about behaviour – already scared to come up to the school, they now expect an evening of ear bashing and don’t come.image

Key to me is the relationships built up with parents from the year 6 welcome evening to Year 11 or Year 13. Formal stuff like parents evenings, letters, emails, web stories, local media stories, imageand informal at the school show, or on the touch-line for sport or after the concert. In fact I think it even goes beyond Y11 (Y13) beyond that. We should ‘keep in touch’ not formally but as opportunity arises, a kind of ‘once a X school parent and pupil, always a part of the community’

imageEx pupils and parents are the future parents and grandparents, maybe the future teachers, or support staff, or governors, or political leaders. That’s why community is important, and ethos and expectations. Year 6 welcome gets easier when a majority “know” what a school stands for, and expects of their children and of them. They might want help too on bringing their children up – help with e-safety on substance abuse, on bullying etc. A headteacher visit from Brazil recently told me he had school part 1 and school part 2 where parents went to school in the evening for basic skills ; literacy, numeracy, IT etc I know we are beyond that but the school commitment to parents was a vital part of the role.

Our recent visitors from China wanted to know how we communicated our ethos into our children and I found it difficult to explain – we just do! In thinking of an answer I realised again the importance of considering the parents and carers and remembering they too have bothers, concerns and stuff happening in their lives. I’m not saying we compromise behaviour because of what happens at home but we need to consider it, support, help and educate.

Parents please engage, schools can help, pupils can grow in confidence. Last words to my Mum “How was school today John?”

I first wrote this on a Friday in February 2015 and sadly on Saturday night/Sunday morning my Mum fell in her flat and broke her hip. We spent most of the day being wonderfully looked after by the NHS – thank you Queens Medical Centre. After an ambulance ride, A and E, assessment and onto a ward, they decided to get her a new hip ASAP. So by Monday lunchtime she was with the surgeon and by the evening she had a new hip and was sitting up in bed chatting away, drinking tea and guess what? Yep she straight asked me “how was school today?” 🙂

Some questions to consider

Q1 Do young staff need specific training in speaking with parents’?

Q2 What do the most effective schools do to engage parents who are scared of school, hate school or are not so interested in their child’s education?

Q3 Do parent teachers make better teachers?


 

If you work in a church school:

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Colossians 3:20  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Exodus 20:12  Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Proverbs 6:20 keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

 

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.