The rapids of change…

I’ve been thinking for some time about change. Transition comes up a lot at this time of year and these thoughts are linked in some way to the article I wrote for UKEd Magazine this month on that very subject. There, the focus was on finding a way to make change effective for those involved in education. It started to make me think about how we deal with change in our every day lives. These are my reflections…

Change has played an important part in my life as it does for many of us, whether you relish it, hate it or simply deal with it. Change can have an impact on us. Who we are, how we deal with things and what we become. Somehow, no matter how much you try to elude it’s grasp, it will, sooner or later find you. It’s how we deal with it, I’ve learnt, that matters.

Change isn’t all bad. My mum has a saying that’s old beyond her years: ‘..life can change on a sixpence..’. I used to roll my eyes at her but now, as I grow older I realise how true those words are, even if I still can’t grasp the imagery.

When you hit a bad patch in life, it can be difficult to think straight. The mind, I think, can be all levels of ‘wiggly’ and before you know it, ‘wiggly’ becomes your norm. Life is funny. It deals out the most unexpected of things: one day you’re smiling beyond belief, the next you’re blown away by at how quickly things have turned upside down. It’s never predictable, never plain sailing, never-and I repeat never- what you think it will be.

Happy times are easy. We share the good times; shares the successes and we laugh and congratulate ourselves on how wonderful life is. The hard times are different. People change. Jobs change. Situations change. Things go wrong; mistakes are made. It’s these changes that leave lasting marks on who we are.

It’s a forever flowing river, is life.

There’s the part where you start the venture out into the water, full of excitement. This part can be mildly hazardous. We are quick to jump in, quick to wade forward- quick to fall down an unforeseen hole and go under. It’s only ever short lived this ‘dip’. At the time it happens we are merely at the start of the our river. We pick ourselves back up and keep wading. Somehow it’s part of the thrill.

It’s the rapids that cause problems. As we become confident, we begin to wade faster, take bigger risks- jump the odd dead tree which floats towards us and we think we are doing well. It’s only when the rapids hit us that we realise we still have much to learn. Fast and furious, cold and callous, the rapids are fierce. They throw you around, bash you on the rocks and drag you under. It doesn’t matter how furiously you kick, the current of life can sometimes be too strong. It can feel like you are going under.

The rapids are there to test your strength; to remind you that life isn’t always how you want it to be; to give you a sharp wake up call and make sure you are aware that not everything is controllable. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sailboat or a yacht you’re sitting in, it will rock.

A very much loved friend of mine often talks of being graceful like a swan on the surface whilst kicking furiously underneath. It’s a great analogy. We’ve all been there with that ‘just keep swimming’ face. We do our best to convince ourselves we can swim our way through. We try but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes we can’t go it alone and I think this is, above all things, what I’ve come to realise.

Change is isolating. It’s something that effects everyone and yet we often seek to cope with it alone when we don’t necessarily have to. Everyone is going through it to a certain degree. It’s the times when it’s most difficult that it’s important to stop and look around you. We all have our own boats to row and we all hit our own rapids. If you look however, you will find that there are those who are prepared to swing out a life line. Those who maybe recognise the difficulties being faced and who can offer an extra oar for support, or maybe even a tow for a short while. They genuinely care about your well being and who you are, no matter how far away you row from them.

I have come to realise that without these people around you, change can often become overwhelming. These people are like anchors around you. They ground you and remind you of who you are and where you have come from. They see the good in you and they remind you, even when the light changes that it can still be seen from the end of the tunnel. They will happily celebrate successes with you, but more importantly, they will help guide and steer you through the rapids because to them, you are worth it.

I used to be afraid of change. I hated it. I felt literally sea-sick at the thought of what was to come and I would avoid it at all costs. Over the years I have come to realise that it cannot be avoided and I, like many others, have hit rapids. I would even go so far as to say that I have fallen out of my boat and gone overboard but this is how I came to learn who was beside me and for those anchors I will always be grateful.

Some changes are easily dealt with. Some less so. Even the changes that take time or feel like the hardest ones can often bring us the most growth as people. Through them we learn to steer our boats more wisely. As a result of them, we learn to remember that it is always important to keep one eye on the future ahead and what it is we are rowing towards. What made us step into our boat in the first place. If we can keep our eye on what lies ahead, and find the determination to ‘just keep swimming’, then we will be OK. Our metaphorical floating anchors, or those who love us, will stay along side us for the journey. It’s when we realise that we are not alone, that change doesn’t seem so bad after all.

With change comes challenge; with challenge comes chances; with chance comes hope…

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The Power of a Retweet

 Last week I caught myself stood in the middle of the corridor smiling. My class’ work was up, on display and looking amazing.

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I love it when there is a chance to see the outcome of the hard work put in by the children. It’s a reminder of all that they can achieve – for them as opposed to me because I never doubt their potential. It’s also a great way of inspiring others: other children who want to achieve in the same way and adults who can see see and feel the positive effect of celebrating the learning. It’s a winner.. 

This particular day I found myself looking at a display that is familiar to me, but not to my current class or school. That’s the beauty of idea sharing. You see something that you like; it sparks your interest and then the best part happens – you tweak it and make it your own; a new idea is born. I’ve been in Year 5 this year and I clapped my hands because it’s a year group I am fond of. I decided to drag out some of the old ideas I’ve used in the past, tweak them, update them, add some sparkle to them in light of what I’ve learnt so far on my journey and hey presto – there it all was on display…

I’m a huge fan of the Literacy Shed and I’ve used it this year as I have every year. The outcomes I have had are so positive that I am going to blog about them separately or else I will sidetrack. This display was linked to the children using The Piano as their stimulus for writing. I wanted it to be special. I wanted there to be a sense of this being their best writing so far and I wanted it to give a loud, clear message: We (that’s both myself and the little team I teach) are hugely proud of what they have achieved. It did that.  

But here’s the thing… 

It made me smile so much I wanted it to be something that everyone saw. I was so proud of it, and them, that I decided to tweet a photo of it. That was all I did. A thanks to The Literacy Shed for being an amazing resource and… Tweet… 

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The response I received literally shocked me. It was hugely positive. In total the tweet had 34 retweets and 94 likes. Bonkers. Or is it? In this current climate, often we forget to look at what is the very reason of why we do this job – it’s because we want to have an impact on learning. We want to make a difference. I refuse to mention in this blog what has got so many of us educators down this week because instead I want to focus on the successes that happen every single day. The successes that are visible and worth every single minute that we give. The successes that are the children and their learning.  

I casually mentioned to my children the next day that I had tweeted the display of their work. Instantly their eyes lit up – they love it when I show the world what is happening in our little learning den. When I tweeted the picture of our Spitfire and especially when they became published authors – they were ecstatic. They still talk every day about those that have worked with them and taken the time to invest in them – they appreciate it as do I because it has really meant something to us; it has made a difference to their outlook: they know there is a big wide world out there where they can achieve and work hard to succeed. For them, it truly acknowledges their hard work and effort. For me it means the world.

I am all about giving children a purpose to their learning but I also know that to celebrate it is equally important. They work hard. They try and give their best all the time. Acts like this, openly tell them that it is all worthwhile. The smiles and claps and cheers that went around the room when I was able to tell them that in total the tweet had had over 10,000 impressions was amazing.

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A genuine magical learning moment of success.

All they have done since is ask when will we be finished with out next project so that we can show everyone? When can they repeat the things they have loved to experience again? There are things they have experienced this year that I know they (and I) will never forget. They have been memorable and magical. They are loving learning and sharing their achievements to the point where they want more.

For me, this is truly what it is all about. Instilling a love of learning and wanting to work hard to have a sense of achievement. 

I wanted to say thank you to you all for the retweets. Thank you to you for making my class feel truly special and for telling them that their hard work is appreciated and valued. That they are important enough to invest time and effort into. You make a difference to me and us, every single day.. 

SATs Sunday

It’s that day. The Sunday before the SATs. SATs Sunday.

It’s an odd feeling for a Year 6 teacher. We know that we do not need these 4 days of watching our much loved children be put under strict time pressure to perform to prove both their own knowledge (and let’s be honest- our own professional abilities). As dedicated educators, we know that we have challenged their thinking, taught them as many skills as we can, made them more aware of what they can do every single day than the tests will ever show, and yet, here we are, faced with the cold harsh reality that, like it not, tomorrow we begin another round of the SATs.

I find myself sitting on the fence when it comes to the subject of tests.

In my previous life as a solicitor, sitting on the fence was what you had to do. You’d fight your corner, spot the weakness in the other sides argument, negotiate your way through the issues but at all times, from the fence. Never supposedly emotional or attached to those you were working for; never fully (some would say) committed to the actual argument- just to winning it and getting your own way – doing your job. As a teacher, it’s the opposite. We are emotional about those we ‘work for’ i.e. the children and, for most of us, it is more than just a job. We share a passion for making a difference, sparking and encouraging aspirations. The fence as it were is a hard place to balance in teaching but when it comes to tests, I find myself attempting to. It is important to measure the impact of the education being delivered; it is important to ensure that the best quality education is being delivered; it is important to know without doubt that the children are actually learning. Is it though necessary to do it in this way?

Do I believe that the SATs are a true measure of what a Year 6 child is capable of? No. Do I believe that that they should feel any of the pressure that the SATS bring? No. Do I believe that they are a future indication of how successful that child will be as an adult? Absolutely not. They are however for the time being a fact of life. Like it or not our children are going into a world where the next 10 years are all about tests and exams and qualifications. They are faced with many hurdles which demand hard work, determination, passion and a hunger to succeed. We know this. Most of us have jumped the hurdles successfully. I myself tripped over a couple and didn’t quite make them as well as I wanted but I always understood that in order to have the opportunities I wanted, I had to put in something of myself. I had to work hard to get what I wanted and I have always known that my own sense of achievement is maximised when it has not come easily.

At what point then is it right to start this life lesson in children? Do we wait until they are approaching their GCSEs and then say, ‘Oh by the way, here are a few tests and your future depends on them so we know you have never had to cope with this pressure before but make sure you ace them…’ Is there an argument to say that by introducing this new life experience to our year 6’s, we put them on the first step towards understanding that the educational journey is one of ups and downs. That sometimes in life you have to go through things you don’t like, go through experiences that are hard, face them, do your best and come out the other side knowing that there are worst things in life that could go wrong.

At Primary Rocks, there was talk (as part of the debate) of bringing in SATs style tests for every year in Primary, making them the ‘norm’ and part of every year experience. I can understand why this would be suggested but for me that is not what the first steps of education are about. For me they are about striking a balance between delivering high quality education which includes the beginning of learning life skills being taught with instilling an overriding passion for learning and an ambition to be the best you can be. It’s about finding the key to the door of opportunities and experiences and knowing that through hard work, perseverance, determination and always above all resilience, being able to work towards achieving what you want overcoming the hurdles as they face you. Tests exist in life and we cannot kid ourselves otherwise but they must, I think, be balanced with a sense of perspective.

I feel the sense of what is coming. I feel the burden of these hurdles and I know that this year, above any others they are slightly more precarious as a result of the changes they sit within. I know as well as all the others who have any kind of involvement with this system the hard work and effort that has been put in to equip the children to deal with them and cope with them and face what is coming but that burden is mine to bear. Not the children who have to sit them. I know many adults who would not be able to achieve the national average score (whatever that is going to be) tomorrow if they had to do the SATs. I have spoken repeatedly to the children about tests being a fact of life and something which we do not shy away from. All I can ask is that, as with every other aspects of their educational journey they do their best. The burden is ours to shoulder, not theirs. One day soon in the future it will be theirs and this will be soon enough.

For me the SATS are a learning experience for teachers and children, I do not treat them as the elephant in the room but instead acknowledge and deal with them head on. When we openly speak of our fear, we take away its power. When we bravely face our fear head on, we take away its enormity. When we feel the fear and do it anyway, we achieve and when we achieve what we want in life, we find one of the many strands of happiness that are there for us. I know which children will feel panic. I know which children will feel fear in the morning. I have been there myself. It is not one of life’s more enjoyable experiences, but from it we grow stronger and we learn more about ourselves. We find resilience and strength in the most unexpected places and from this we learn that we are stronger than we think.

I wanted to send this thought out to all the Year 6 teachers today who are feeling that burden of which I talk. You are not alone. You have done your best in the circumstances you have been given. You are able to shoulder the burden without it being felt by the children and you will. It is not their stress and worry to carry. Nurture those who look wide eyed and anxious. Reassurance is powerful. It gives light at the end of a test tunnel. Know in your hearts that sometimes in life we can only do our best. You have. They will.

This year’s SATs rollercoaster will be an experience we will all remember well but it will not stop it being there again next year. Perspective. Confidence. Calm. I intend tomorrow to have breakfast with my Year 6’s and make sure they know that this is just another day where hard work is necessary and part of their learning journey but in equal measure to their well being, happiness and laughter. The next few days ahead are an experience which is part of life. From it we grow. I look down from the fence knowing that they exist, a hurdle to be jumped. Our ability in this profession to overcome hurdles, no matter what their height is second to none. We lead by example and we teach our children to follow in our footsteps. We hold the future in our hands. Let’s make sure this week they know how special they are and that no matter what, they know that tests are important but only one aspect of their lives and journeys. Everything in life is a journey – let’s get on the roller coaster and enjoy the ride!

Helping Hands & Magical Moments…

A little while ago Nina Jackson @musicmind made me something: Helping Hands (see the image below).

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This special gift was made to my class but I wanted to do more than just put it on the wall.

When I began to look at it myself, I saw the thought that had gone into making this image and the care in putting together the values which sit within it. As a result I decided to use it as a stimulus for some ‘quality thinking time’ with my little team.

As a way of saying thank you to Nina for her time and care towards both myself and my class, I have decided to share what happened. It was nothing short of thought provoking and moving given that my class are all 9 or 10 years old. They left me with  much to think about. I asked them to contribute towards this blog and have a voice. Their voice is powerful; it is innocent and yet insightful and I am proud to say that I teach them. With every part of me, daily, I give them my all. They are bright and delightful and a pleasure to educate. If they ever remember me as fondly as I remember them, I will know I have done my job well this year. They deserve the best education can give them and I know their futures are bright and full of life. 

Call it PHSE…Call it P4C…Call it what you will…For me this was one of the best 40 minutes I have ever had with a group of children. It was without a shadow of a doubt, quality thinking time which enabled us all, myself included to reflect, challenge, think an above all grow.

I asked the class to look at the image and tell me what they saw. Their response? A set of values. The discussion developed from them being a set of values that could be used in the classroom, to the school and then it was suggested that in fact we could apply them to our own lives in the outside world; values that would set us in good stead for life.

I asked the children then which did they think was the most important of these values? Was it listening? Saying thank you? Having a good set of jokes at the ready? I received many replies of which I thought were thoughtful such as, ‘If you don’t look after yourself, you cannot possibly help any one else properly,’ and ‘It is always important to listen to those around you or else you will not fully know what they are trying to say or how they are feeling.’

The response that stopped me was from a child that has wisdom beyond their years. They said, ‘I think that they are all as important as each other. You cannot have one work on it’s own without the others being in place.’ I asked (as I do with my teacher head on) why they thought this – could they justify their thinking?

Knowing my class as I do, I knew that a justification would follow. In varying degrees I have taught my children to have a reason for saying what they are saying; not to be afraid to speak their thoughts and work out why they feel the way they do. It is still a work in progress as I think with us all this only fully comes as we get older but it makes for interesting discussion in a Year 5 classroom. The justification was that part of these values were generally good things to do – things we do that come together such as smiling when we are helping others; listening when we are helping those in trouble or making them laugh if they are sad.

They said that ‘struggling’ was a word that could be used to describe more than just being stuck with your work. It could easily describe a person who was having a bad time in the playground or with their friends. Honestly? They blew me away. Their discussion progressed to talking about how new situations create anxiety and upset and how those that move to new schools and new areas need extra help and care because they will struggle with all the change they have to deal with. My class had 2 new additional children this year and as I reflected upon what they were saying, I reminded them of how they had looked after their new classmates in the way they spoke of. I was also reminded by one of them that I myself had been new to the school and area this year. I had one of those moments where I saw for the first time that my little team had looked after me as one of their own. They had accepted me into their team and made me feel welcome. They had, from the first day, made me feel accepted amongst them. It was a special moment.

As a result of our discussions and reflections, as a class we decided that we wanted to have a ‘Magic Moment Jar’. Our ‘Magic Moments’ would include learning experiences, outdoor trips, light bulb moments and things that we were especially proud of and remembered warmly. The class set about making a note of their thoughts on the values and what they wanted to include in the said magical jar. Below are some of their quotes…

‘I think if someone in your class is struggling you should be a ‘helping hand’ buddy to them,’

‘Being a ‘Helping Hand Buddy’ links all of the values together,’

‘These could be the start of friendship which is the most important thing,’

‘Look after yourself and others,’

‘The values are equal to each other. They are all important and they work together,’

‘Every value works towards helping others,’

‘The values link us to other people,’

‘They can help to make a new person feel safe,’

‘Have a good set of jokes ready for those dark, rainy days.’

I have to say that as a result of this experience I was humbled. Children see things as they are. They say things are they are. Like us adults they make mistakes and find themselves in troubled waters, paddling for dear life to stay afloat but what hit me that afternoon was this: they are resilient. They are thoughtful and far more understanding of life than we sometimes give them credit for. ‘Have a good set of jokes ready for those dark, rainy days,’ is, if you stop to consider it, wise advice. Simplistic perhaps, but I think wise.

They give me something to think about every day and without fail they bring me a smile. For this I will always treasure my time with them when I was new and and often lost in change.

My Magic Moment for the jar was this session of thought and learning. Quality time spent learning about them and myself. Truly magical and for this Nina, I will always be grateful to you. Your Helping Hands helped more than you will ever know…

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Away from the Classroom

Here it is – for all of you educators out there who do the most amazing job in the world – there are many variations to teaching but all our roles share something: what we give is truly special. We give of ourselves because we are driven to make a difference. We understand the importance of education and no matter what current change we face, we strive to give those we teach the best education we can.

A profession I am proud to be part of. Feel free to sing along…

This is for you!

Away from the Classroom 

Away from the classroom, not a child in their chair,
The tir-ed class teachers laid down in despair.
The stars in the bright sky, looked down where they lay,
The tir-ed class teachers asleep from the fray.

The alarm clock is resting, the teachers awake,
But the thoughts are all happy of the difference they make.
Christmas wrapping is flowing, the teachers all smile,
Through the good and the bad times, their efforts worth while.

We love you tir-ed teachers, and we want you to stay,
Share your passion for learning, show the kids, lead the way.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
Have a break, be amazing, for this is my prayer.

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My ‘tip-top’ ICT wins for Autumn

 

I’ve embarked on an adventure this year. I have had the opportunity to use tech in the classroom. Having spent the first few years of my career focusing on my teaching, I felt ready for the challenge and able to take on something additional into my toolkit: tech. I was keen to see how it could improve the learning.

At my previous school, Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist had run an inset on using ICT in the classroom. As a beginner, it proved to be very useful. Mark has also been involved in embedding the use of ICT at the new school. It has given me continuity in relation to my professional development. His training and support has enabled me to take risks and try out new ideas. He has had a big impact in our school: encouraging the use of tech effectively; putting pedagogy first. 

I have always been keen to be the best teacher I can be. I am not afraid to make mistakes. I learn from them. Watching the teachers try out new ideas and share their successes has been great. For me personally, my use of ICT so far has been thoroughly enjoyable. The children’s engagement has increased; their behaviour for learning has improved and above all, their learning itself has been rapid.

At the end of a term I find myself reflecting on both my successes and my fails. The impact of the simple tools I have used has been visible which is why I thought I would share with you my top ICT wins of autumn term. 

Behaviour for learning

I wanted to start out in a way that I felt manageable. I am confident in the classroom and behaviour management is one of my strengths. I decided that before embarking on the use of tech, we would, as a class, agree some ground rules.

Our ground rules are basic but they work. We have all bought into them. When others speak, we listen; when we stop to discuss learning, we put the tools on standby; when we learn something new, we share it; when we achieve something amazing, we celebrate it; when we are finished, we give feedback and consider how we can improve. We have set up an ICT and Computing working wall where we share new tips and tricks. The children add to it. We are all learning from it!

Developing Life Skills

Developing life skills has been key for me so far this term with my Year 5’s and the use of tech has enabled me to focus on these, going beyond the realms of the curriculum. Listening, discussing, collaborating, risk taking and being resilient: all key skills. We are on a learning journey that I am so far very proud of  – and this is only the beginning!

ICT Winners 

In addition to being an engagement tool, I wanted to be able to use Apps that really developed the learning. I wanted them to be effective.

The Notes App has proved to be incredibly simple but hugely versatile. The children have worked individually and in groups to use the App, inserting images, copying and pasting text, drafting their own notes on particular areas of learning. Easy to use, they have been able to focus on their learning. The App can do so much more than this and I intend to develop the use of it in the Spring term but as a starting point, it worked.

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The quick and easy key to gaining access to the world of digital learning is QR Reader. Creating a QR Code turned out to be simple and I am finding that I am using it more and more in the classroom as a quick way in to accessing the tech. The children only needed to be shown once! It’s a tool that quickly bridges the gap between the classroom and the digital world. After using it initially to link the children to a Padlet wall, one of my team introduced the use of it to access the daily spelling rules – brilliant!

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My initial use of Padlet was basic and, if I am honest, boring. Despite being pleased that I had managed to set up a digital working wall where the children could add their thoughts and ideas, it was not until I realised its full potential that the fun really began. Through personalising the Padlet wall, adding relevant images, adding instructions and learning questions to the wall, I was able to really focus their learning. Our first attempt was hit and miss. We made this part of our learning and shared our wins for its use the next time around. The children loved adding their Battle of Britain research to our digital working wall via Padlet. 

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I have seen Kahoot used a lot this last few months. It’s a winner. Not an App but a website Link here which is great for assessment for learning and challenging thinking. It promotes healthy competition and the children are not only able to answer a pre-prepared quiz but also, able to develop their own as part of their learning. The classroom is always filled with shrieks of delight when you say the word Kahoot, but not because it is an ‘easy’ activity, in fact quite the opposite – it is because it is easy to use but promotes challenge. The children love a challenge!

Shadow Puppet proved to be great. Pulling together all of their learning, the children produced a video. They chose images and took photos, uploading them into the App, recording their voice overs and adding music. They were also able to add text to explain their learning even further. The day I used Shadow Puppet, the children were so engrossed in their projects, they did not move when I said it was lunch time! Priceless!

The biggest win for me was inviting parents in to see what we had been learning. We decided to use the tech to showcase our work but with a twist: we wanted the parents to learn ‘how’. There was this magical moment where the children were teaching their parents how to use the tech through sharing their learning. Educational gold.

My journey using tech in the classroom has just begun but it’s been a positive one. It doesn’t always work the first time around and like everything in life, we learn from our mistakes. We are growing in confidence and we have a new thirst for learning which not only covers the curriculum content, but developing those useful real life skills – what better enhancement can there be? I can’t wait to add some more to my toolkit!

Collaboration Creates Magic

I experienced educational magic this weekend through joining #appsharelive hosted and organised by Mark Anderson @ICTEvangelist. It made me buzz for want of a better word, and feel alive in the world of education that I love so much. I have said for some while that there is no better CPD than that which is sought out by the individual as a result of wanting to learn and improve their practice. A genuine wish to learn and develop is one that has potential and, through Twitter this year, I have been able to begin to do this; connecting with so many fantastic educators, developing my practice.

So #appsharelive. What was it all about? An hour where the learning comes alive. Educators from across the world, demonstrating and sharing their know-how and experience of successful ways in which tech can be used to enhance learning – and that, was where the beauty of the session could be found. It was not an hour of showcasing the latest gadgets, or an hour of who could impress who the most. It was an hour spent with individuals who know their pedagogy. Individuals who put the learning at the heart of what they do and then use the tech they have mastered in simple ways to enhance and engage the students they teach, having an impact on the learning.

Richard Wells @EduWells
Richard Wells @EduWells

From the moment the hour started, so did my own learning. Armed at the ready with my iPad, I watched each 5 minute presentation with huge interest. Each person presenting reveals the App they want to share and they then go on to demonstrate how they have used it in an educational setting. What I particularly like is that there is no hard and fast rule to the sharing – the ideas are suggestive and therefore enable you to relate them back to your own current teaching situation and how those ideas might help your own teaching and learning.

Through watching the App in use and listening to the feedback advice, I was able to think about how it might enhance the learning in my own classroom.

Richard Wells @EduWells shared his experience with App Floors, combining tech with non-tech in the classroom successfully. Limor haray @lime_su shared  Quiver’s creativity in action through demonstrating an exploding volcano. Joe Dale @joedale shared the use of the podcasting App, Opinion. Each of these presentations brought new strings to the bow of a teacher.

Quiver by Limor
Quiver by Limor

There were in addition to this, particular presentations which will, without a doubt, have an immediate impact on my teaching.

Watching Rachel Smith @lancslassrach use Paper53 for example was hugely enlightening. As a fan of this particular App myself, I have not yet used it in the classroom – only for my own personal doodling. Rachel was able to show how she had been successful with it in an MFL context but her ideas were easily transferrable into the primary setting for me. Straight away I could see how it would be useful for those children who have English as a second language, to facilitate their understanding in the classroom. In a primary setting this has far reaching possibilities and the ideas were simple, easy to use and effective.

Paper53
Paper53

Nina Jackson @musicmind shared an App I have not yet used or seen before: Flipink. she demonstrated how the App was extremely versatile and could be used in many different ways. Through just a change of background for example, I was able to see how I could benefit those that I teach currently with special needs. My mind started immediately to wander into the forthcoming Math’s lessons I have planned and explore the realms of learning which I might not have known before.

Flipink
Flipink

Watching Dominic Trayner @ataleunfolds demonstrate the use of the App DoInk Green Screen proved incredibly useful as I am currently using the Tale Unfolds scheme. Filming using a green screen is new to me as a teacher and so this enabled me to watch, listen and learn.

Using DoInk
Using DoInk

With my iPad at the ready, I was able to interact with Mark Anderson when he demonstrated the App, Ping Pong. This brought home to me the usefulness of the App as an assessment tool. Simple to use in any subject in Primary teaching. Mark also went on to demonstrate Explain Everything. This is an App which I am interested in developing my own use of. It is flexible and versatile and what can be created from it, is outstanding. I know the children in my class will love it when I introduce it to them next term as part of our new topic. The learning that can be achieve from its use is simply immense.

Explain Everything
Explain Everything with @ICTEvangelist

Joining #appsharelive felt a lot like being at a teachmeet. Five minutes with each presenter resulted in ideas and strategies and wins for the classroom on many levels. All of the presentations were useful and insightful. Being able to watch and learn from those who have already begun their journey using new technology is hugely useful and added to that, knowing that the presentations would be available on YouTube to play back at my own leisure meant that I could enjoy the sessions without fear of missing something. Those involved are always open to further discussion after the event on Twitter which is a particular win for me as I do like to ask questions as I learn!

As a teacher, my own practice is always developing. I am keen to learn and try out new strategies and find the ways that mean the learning in the classroom is at its very best. I am willing to take risks and see where it leads. #appsharelive meant that I could do this easily. It was not about the tech alone, but how it can enhance the learning and make it as effective as possible and that is why it was such a success.

Every so often there’s a magical moment in teaching. We all know it and it usually happens when we are on our own in the classroom. We talk about it afterwards but we usually experience it on our own. I call it magic. Most teachers will understand the moment of which I talk about. It gives me the shivers. It’s like the air is filled with learning electricity and all who have embarked upon the adventure in the room, feel it. What I have learnt is that there are two types of this magic: the one that happens in the classroom as a result of the teaching and learning going on, the other as a result of the CPD and collaboration. Sharing brings ideas together and turns the into dynamite. It gives them the possibility to evolve and develop into something which initially could not have been imagined. Collaboration creates magic.

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Don’t Worry, it’s only Parent’s Evening…

It is the start of the academic year and if you are anything like me then not only are you excited about the prospects that the new year brings, but you are probably chasing your tail a little bit, spinning all of those plates. 

I often feel at this time of year, time flies past so quickly and before you know it, Bonfire Night’s gone past, the X Factor finals are looming and adverts for Easter Eggs are intermingled with all of the Christmas adverts on TV.

Something I find really helpful at this time of year is to get my act together in readiness for some of those things that can sometimes catch you off guard, such as parent’s evenings. Sure, you’ll have all your marking in place but parent’s evening are something special. With a little bit of planning and preparation now, you can make the experience a breeze and something to look forward to, even if you are an NQT and it’s your first one.

Here are my top ten tips to get ahead of the Parent’s Evening wave:

1. Set yourself up a folder with dividers for each child. Have a think about what you want to talk about or show to parents and add to the folder as you go along. There is nothing worse than not being able to remember something until after the event. Get ahead of the game and have it in front of you!

2. Have your data ready and make sure that you can read it at a glance. Whether that is in paper or electronic format, make sure that it is accessible and that you have familiarised yourself with it prior to the event. Having to stumble for figures when under pressure makes it look as though you do not know your stuff; we know that’s not true – right?

3. Use your camera and get busy printing out evidence of your children engaged in their learning. Parents love to see their children’s work in books but what makes it even more special is to see their children actually working. The moments we take for granted every day in the classroom are priceless to parents. The classroom is a place where they rarely get to see their child in action. Invite them to experience it by having it out to show them!

3. Think about displays. One of the most moving experiences I had as a teacher at parents evening was when a parent sat down in front of me crying. When I asked what was wrong she told me that she had never seen her child’s work on display before. Battling with Dyslexia, her child’s work had not ever been considered ‘good enough’ for display by previous teachers. Having put work up in the classroom by every child, it gave a very loud and clear message: your child matters.

4. Set your children’s work or books out on display outside the classroom so that parents waiting for their appointment can pass the time looking at the learning prior to meeting with you. Don’t expect them to be able to concentrate on what you are saying whilst trying to look through their child’s work. All this will do is double the length of your appointment. Not a good move!

5. Stick to your timings! Pre-warn parents that you only have ten minutes and prioritise what you want to say. If need be, set your timer to 9 minutes to make sure you have a minute in hand at the end of the conversation.

6. Own the conversation, it is your classroom after all. However be mindful of the fact that whilst your time is pressured, theirs is too. They wasn’t to know how their child is progressing and have a chance to discuss that openly but in a timely way. Facilitate this by having a list of prepared questions or points that need to be covered.

7. Make sure you give parents the opportunity to ask questions. Us educators, like it or not, do talk jargon. To parent civvies it will not always be clear what you are saying. Be prepared to explain in parent-friendly language, what is happening with their children’s progress and what they can do to help, to work with you. In this way you break down the barriers that exist between you and start to build that home-school learning partnership.

8. Involve the children. They play as big a role in their learning as you do. Ask them for their thoughts on their year so far and be honest with them. Speak positively to them but at the same time, don’t shy away from identifying areas where they can help themselves to improve. Inclusion is an empowering thing and there is nothing worse than being spoken about as though you are not in the room. Watch the difference in the meeting as it takes on a whole new dimension!

9. Do not wait until parents evening to drop bomb shells on parents. Despite leading busy lives, most of them are more than happy to be involved in their child’s education. If you are having problems, or you  have identified an issue that needs some attention. deal with it head on. A ten minute appointment at parent’s evening is not the time or place to address a major issue and parents will thank you for acting promptly for the benefit of their child. Your parents evening appointment will then become a catch up to review the situation with the initial ground work being laid already and a relationship between you all beginning to blossom. A far more positive experience for everyone involved.

10. Parent’s Evening is a long day. Make sure you keep water on you and above all make sure you eat! We all know those back to back appointments can be killers after a day of teaching – remember to look after yourself – you have school tomorrow!

Make it part of your job every day to get to know your students. Not just what they can and can’t do at Maths, but what they like outside of the classroom. Talk to them. They are individuals just like us and there is nothing better than being able to show a parent that you know their child well enough to be able to talk about what makes them tic. ask little Johnny about the results of his football matches. Mum and Dad will love the fact that you have shown an interest and are able to finish off your ten minutes with a positive comment that shows you know their son! Above all, start and end your meeting on a positive note. We are, after all, in this together for the benefit of the children. It is about working together and staying together to achieve the best outcome for the child. Both parents and the children will respond to you if you treat them with positive regard.

A Bluffer’s Guide to School Leadership

As I start my first SLT role, I’ve been reflecting upon some of the leadership teams I’ve worked under and have come up with my ‘Bluffer’s Guide to School Leadership’. This post reflects the things I’ve learned that some school leaders do and things that I won’t be doing in my new role. I hope you enjoy this, my first post on my brand new blog. 


Leadership is one of those jobs where, when you’re not a member of the ‘team’ you wonder why and how some of them actually made it on to that team. On a bad day it can often feel as though ‘they’ (and yes we rarely talk about them as though they are on the same team as ‘us’) are weak, ineffective, have the emotional intelligence of a Nazi warlord and spend all their days in their offices with the door closed. Sound familiar?

Please don’t misunderstand me, the good days do exist. I for one have worked with and for some fantastic leaders. I have a huge amount of respect for those that have taught me so much through being consistent, positive and clear in their vision. Those that I can only hope one day to emulate and follow in their footsteps.

Please note that this article is a tongue-in-cheek reflection of a number of different experiences, all true, that I have experienced during my years in the teaching profession.

 Welcome to the Bluffer’s Guide To School Leadership

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Your office

Go to ‘notonthehighstreet.com’ and buy yourself lots of ‘thank you teacher’ gifts and leave them strategically across your office. Additionally, speak to one of your non-teacher friends and ask them to photoshop your face on to an image of someone collecting a ‘teacher of the year award’. Print the photo and put it in a frame in your office. If anyone asks, just say you keep the award at home for safe-keeping.

Have a decent size box of tissues on your desk to give the impression that 1) you’re a caring leader – but 2) more importantly and subconsciously the staff know that if need be, you will make them cry.

Leadership books

Get on Twitter and search for edu book clubs. Find the books that others have read and recommend. Save yourself a fortune by not buying the books but simply reading their reviews and the back covers of the books on Amazon. The ‘Look Inside’ feature is a winner. Then in meetings subtly drop in quotes from their blog posts and bits from the summary on the dust cover. This should successfully make you seem knowledgeable and help to sustain that persona that you love to maintain. Win.

Maintaining your persona

Buy a Castelli or Moleskine notebook. Carry it with your SLT only iPad everywhere. Take photos when walking through classrooms and then nod approvingly/disapprovingly as you see fit. Enter random classrooms with a ‘just passing through’ catchphrase saying ‘carry on’ with a quick flick of the hand as you steam through the room. Before you leave the room, talk to the child nearest the door – have a conversation about football whilst glancing through their book (maybe take another photo) and then leave the classroom without saying anything to the classroom teacher. This should help keep the buggers on their toes.

CPD budget

Spend a significant amount of the budget on coffee for your office. The Nespresso brand is particularly nice. Make sure you make a quick brew just before break time just to fill the hallway with the aroma of your exclusive and expensive coffee. Stand in the hallway with you mug whilst looking smug and going ‘mmmmmmmm’ as colleagues skulk past hoping not to catch your watchful gaze.

Leadership furniture

To keep up the appearance, spend some money on decent leather chairs for your office whilst telling colleagues it’s because ‘we are a professional school and we have professional meetings in our offices’. This is bound to be very popular with your classroom teachers who get to use the same chairs as the children (particularly popular in the primary classroom).

You might also like to consider turning the PPA room into an ‘executive meeting space’ so that you can commandeer it 24/7 so that teachers have no space to complete their planning, preparation or assessment. Additionally why not catch teachers on their PPA time and ask them to tidy up the room or wash up the cups to get the room ready for the meeting.

Staff dress

Implement a staff dress code and then randomly pick on colleagues as they walk past you in the corridor asking them to do up their ties, whilst enjoying the comfort of your own cheap Matalan suit.

Staffroom

Make good use of the staff room whiteboard to leave messages for colleagues stating there will be an impromptu work scrutiny at random with little or no warning for top / middle / bottom students. If you really want to throw your weight around, make that a 3.45pm deadline for the books. Priceless.

Posture and duty

Practice your best leadership posture and make sure that you use it at all times when walking the corridors. Remember – you can slouch and put your feet up on your desk when you are back in the office but when out and about at least make it look as though you know how a leader walks and stands.

Make sure you regularly do gate duty at the beginning and end of school day and then tick that off as being a ‘visible leader’ knowing that you really do walk the walk. Why not try and get the end of day gate duty on a Friday so that you’re one step closer to your car when everyone else has left the school site.

Don’t learn all the names of the children in school – just pick a handful and talk to them every week so that when needed you can call on them in assembly or in the corridor to make it look as though you know all your children well. Additionally, when on duty, put the fear of God in to all children by shouting, “You child, in the (insert colour of school uniform here) blazer/sweatshirt! Come here!!”


Have you got any Bluffer’s Guide leadership tips you’d like to share? This piece was inspired by the brilliant ‘Think before you teach’ by Martin Illingworth. His introduction to the book about the ‘No-brainer Academy’ chain was inspired and thus inspired this. Thank you Martin.