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.

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

 

Monday period 3 – Qualified Teachers – What exactly do we mean by qualified?

There has been much discussion about qualified teachers and unqualified teachers in schools. Let me start off by saying I am qualified I have a degree in chemistry from a reasonable RG University (at the start of the river Thames)  and I could probably be a Masters but I never paid my £15. I have a PGCE and I did my NPQH. So I am I qualified I think.

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So does that mean I’m a good chemist? I hope so or at least I was.

Am I a good teacher? I’d like to think so.

Am I a good  headteacher?Well that remains to be seen.

  • There is a distinction between a qualification and the practice and ongoing CPD or training so I was glad to do my PGCE before I got started as a full-time teacher. However it didn’t prepare me for every eventuality. By the time I finished my first year I knew that I could survive in a classroom, I could manage behaviour and yes I could teach pupils some things if not most, but some parts of my subject I could not teach very well. In my second year I taught some things again and inevitably they were a bit better but it was in my third year where I really thought I could do with doing my PGCE again. There were some aspects of Chemistry and some children I just couldn’t manage to teach.

graduation-caps-in-airI hadn’t taught these topics or children successfully  in the first year or the second or third time and I faced up to “I really don’t think the class are going to be able to get this topic and I don’t know what to do about it” – and there was no internet, blogs or twitter.

During my NPQH I quite enjoyed the reading and research it was good to revisit and understand some proper educational research however during the whole of my time I didn’t meet a practising secondary headteacher ( save my own) only a lot of aspiring headteachers. There were aspects of headship I was worried about such as the competency regulations or managing budgets weren’t really touched upon but more than that. I was looking for some inspiration some passionate headteacher who would tell me that the job was better than the job that I was doing, a job which I thoroughly enjoyed .image

Well we aren’t strictly qualified for many things we have to do in school:

  • I have had to do pastoral work in areas that I’m a little uncertain about and whilst quite experienced now (=old) so I have seen most things but in my early days I worried about some of the sessions I had to lead on relationships/news and sone questions were bounced away.
  • Sometimes I had to cover lessons in fact I think I probably covered every subject I’m not really qualified for every subject so some of those cover lessons were not very good. My favourite cover lesson was an English lesson, I went in and the work set was carry on reading the novel. the pupils duly took out copies oftake a copy of the Wolves of Willoughby Chase. imageI sat down to do some marking I looked up all the class was staring at me, what was the matter. One boy said we don’t really read the book on our own. My next suggestion was to read around the class. “Why don’t we start with you Robert you can start reading.” Nothing happened. “OK ” I say so I started reading a little bit of the book with a view to asking them to carry time in due course – “No! Sir, you have to do all the accents.” This polite young teacher “Oh shut up and read quietly!”
  • Sometimes I’ve taught other subjects which for me includes Biology – I have no qualification in Biology. At my school (all boys ) we didn’t do O-Level Biology! Ok so I’ve read it up but it’s just not the same, I’ve no idea how important basics are in fact unsure what basics are. I’m a little better at Physics but when we had a shortage of ICT staff and I taught that I was literally two lessons ahead of my Y8 class. I have an ability to kill interest in any other subject – compared to what I genuinely feel I can do in Chemistry. It’s now 2015 and a long long time since I did my PGCE, so I do hope and so do my pupils- that I have moved on since 1981, after all I only had chalk, blackboard, and a delightful banda machine and a few textbooks – no IWB No internet, mind no data, no microchemistry and little contact with other teachers.image 2(3)
  • Sometimes I’ve spotted a gap in my lessons of a pupil’s literacy knowledge or maths skills; maybe these are not done in the other subjects  or maybe they are done badly maybe not understood or more likely finding it difficult to apply the ideas in a different room with a different teacher. I’m not a qualified mathematician but I sure can teach the Maths my way to help my Chemists. ( Something very important in the new world where we have 20% Maths in Chemistry BOO)
  • Most of my career I’ve been a “head a sixth form” and over some 20 years and many a time I’ve said to myself I think I’ve seen every scrape a post16 person gets into, then just before I finish that sentence a situation will present itself which I’ve probably never had to cope with . No qualifications help but experience, some little wisdom and a good instinct is what we rely on.

So it is more than just qualifications, but dont get me wrong  I’m a headteacher and I want qualified people – those with a subject they love and a passion for young people.

My best teachers were my Mum and Dad they had no formal qualifications and at home we had very few books or resources, I have blogged elsewhere about going to the library weekly with my Dad. So my parents fostered curiosity, integrity, discipline, character, diligence. They set high aims and ambitions – I wish I knew how. They seemed to produce a son interested in Chemistry and Science yet they had no scientific background at all. How? Well I suspect that was about partnership my parents and their attitudes and my teachers with their “expertise”. My classes at school all had 32 boys in – the same 32 every day every year but at home it was just me and Mum and Dad and their questions and interest in me. That made them very special teachers – we can all learn from people like that.

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

Mr Dexter at the RSC EIC 50th. School chemistry over 50 years

Questions

Q1 As it is obviour we cannot be prepared for every eventuality in a school, do we rely too much on “qualifications” ?

Q2 Are qualifications overrated? The most highly qualified person might not be the best teacher, let alone be able to communicate with the pupil who finds the subject very challenging.

Q3 Design the qualifications necessary for the job? – or get proper investment in CPD?

For those in a Church school

Daniel 1:3,4: Then the king ordered his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.

Hebrews 5:12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!

Proverbs 5:13 I would not obey my teachers or turn my ear to my instructors.

 

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.