Category Archives: Learning Journal

A space for me to reflect on found on in the class – take a look by all means!

Verdict on Whole Class Guided Reading by @Mroberts90Matt

So, just over 4 months ago, I set on a new journey in Guided Reading – Whole Class Guided Reading. I shared my initial thoughts back then on what I considered the pros and cons of this, and other approaches I had experiences that can be seen here. As I have gone along with this approach, I have noticed a few things which have really added to this method:

1. Keep the Groups but Keep them Mixed

At the start, I reflected a lot on what would be best. Should I completely disband Guided Reading groups? If not, do I keep them differentiated to be able to focus certain levels of questions or mix them up? As I continued I decided to keep the previous groups we had for Guided Reading which were differentiated – mainly so that the groups didn’t feel a complete change. In hindsight however I think that was the wrong choice. I think it is important to keep GR groups so that you can focus discussion and questioning in a smaller group setting but making them mixed ability is the way forward. This enables support for the lower attainers by accessing higher levels of questioning and discussion with their peers. Also, those with a greater depth of understanding can develop this through explanation and discussion of their thoughts with their peers as they coach them.

2. Vary the Activities

So when we were presented with the idea of Whole Class Guided Reading, I was given the idea that a lot of the Whole Class model could focus on discussing questions focusing on different strands in Reading (such as prediction, summary and comparison) and children should be able to model answers. As such, this was pretty much all I did. It was great to start with and it definitely had an impact – however, it did become stale after a couple of weeks. So I began to realise that Whole Class Guided Reading should be seen as engaging as any other session (duh – I know right) and whilst a lot of the engagement should come from a stellar text (we used Wonder – the kids LOVED it) you do need to put in some variety of activities. I probably won’t make it every other session – but maybe once a week or so throw in something to make the text come even more alive. Some examples can be found in this document (which I didn’t create) List of Possible Whole Class GR Activities

Some others are below:

In the back of your books, write three open questions you would like to ask any of August’s guides (Charlotte, Julian and Jack) about their first impressions of August.1

3. Go with the Flow

I think Whole Class Guided Reading has such a potential to unlock thoughts and imagination across the class. However, as we have gone through discussion and drawn ideas from all the class, a number of answers have been given that have taken things in a different direction. We have gone into in-depth comparisons between August/Summer and Beauty and the Beast, we have also delved into the genetics behind colour-blindness (one of my party tricks) as a result of the discussions going in their flow. One thing that I would take away for Whole Class Guided Reading is be ready for the discussion to take a different direction – I find it exhilarating and the children find it engaging when the discussion is at a high-level but has evolved over questions and thoughts from the children…and because it is ‘Whole-Class’, these ideas can come from anyone about the same text.

Back in February I said I would not change my effective, well-planned carousel – Guided Reading, I had it cracked. However, I am of the opinion that I will not be changing my Whole Class Guided Reading – unless something else comes along that looks better/is forced upon me but hey – that’s teaching!

 

Getting staff to lead by @Mroberts90Matt

Recently I read a tweet from someone (I wish I had taken a snapshot or retweeted or something but I didn’t) which posed the question: “As a leader, should you encourage your best teachers to lead more or keep them performing at their absolute best for the school you are in?” I have paraphrased the question but the meaning behind it matches what they asked. I’m sure they were asking to develop discussion.

First of all I guess that this question is dependant on the teacher’s desires to lead. I mean, I’m sure there are many teachers who are brilliant at their job but who want stay in the classroom doing what they do best, teaching. I remember reading another tweet which I found ironic but very true: teaching is one of those few professions where the better you get at the job, the less you do it. When I think of our SLT this certainly is true. They are strong, model practitioners but their responsibility on the SLT requires them to be out of the classroom more than other teaching staff. As such – a responsibility leading standards through the wider school may not be a goal for all.

However, whilst not a non-negotiable as such, subject leadership is expected of most teaching staff. In this role, all teaching staff are given an opportunity to develop skills in leadership. They take responsibility of this subject and how it can develop at the school. Subject leadership can see the curriculum transform at a school, or slip slowly into mediocrity. The question is – how can subject leadership develop the knowledge and skills of the leader themselves?

1. Glimpsing the Bigger Picture

As a member of staff are given the role of playing a wider part in school development, they start to see how vital their subject is to the vibrant life in a school. They also recognise the planning, preparation and impact their direct leadership has on the children in the school through their subject. Subject leaders are required to evidence progress in their subject and as they do, they begin to recognise the importance of information and data from around the school. This understanding will then support an appreciation for effective, necessary educational change later on.

2. Enhancing Own Practice

As a subject leader, there begins to be a recognition of the need to improve own practice. An effective leader recognises the impact of their practice on those around. They need to model excellence in teaching and learning, at least in the subject area they lead. As they do this, they can begin to recognise areas they can develop in other subject areas and as such, use their experience as a leader to improve their own practice. This experience could be likened to the leader being encouraged to raise the bar on their practice so they can influence others to do the same and see an impact in their subject area.

3. Develop Self-Awareness and Confidence

Without experience in leading a subject area, it can be difficult for practitioners to develop skills and expertise in a way that brings their practice into a spotlight. I know that as I was offered the opportunity to lead PE and Sport in my school, I was horrified at the thought. I had never planned and taught a PE lesson independently never mind led the subject across a 2-3 form entry school! However, after research, observations and practice, I have developed in my confidence in delivering this subject in my own practice. Whilst this has improved my PE teaching, it has done much more! I feel much more confident in my ability to take on further challenges in my professional life as I have seen the successes of my leadership. This is the potential power of getting staff to lead – the opportunity to improve self-confidence and the recognition that they have the professional ability to influence positive change in their own practice and those around them.

So, in conclusion, it is vital that teachers are given the chance to lead. Yes it is necessary to ensure excellence in all areas of the curriculum (one cannot do it alone) but there are more, impressive outcomes from empowering staff to lead the curriculum in a school. They become more aware of the bigger picture in the school, they enhance their own practice in general and recognise the power they have as a practitioner.

Teamship

Recently I have been lent a book by Alastair Campbell called ‘Winners’. It basically breaks down different winners in history and the characteristics that they have. That’s a very simplified version of what this great book covers. Of course, different winners have different styles but it identifies winning strategies which can be applied to a number of different contexts, including in education.

He refers to Teamship and how if leaders can build a team goal or vision which all team members are dedicated to, no matter their role, then there will be success. One example he gave was a pit stop crew. A race can be won or lost in the pit stop. If the pit stop crew lose a fraction of a second in changing a tyre or making a slight modification, then it can throw the entire race for the team. As such, a clear structure and set roles are vital in this team. They have a clear objective – complete your task in the quickest time possible – win the race. The same could be said in a school team. No matter the roles or responsibilities of each team member, if they have the same vision (maybe provide the best education experience possible) and fulfil their roles for that common goal then that team can succeed.
Out of interest, I googled the quickest ever recorded pit stop that Alastair Campbell made reference to. 1.9 seconds! You have to watch extremely carefully to see that they actually do something to the car! Watch it here:

Alastair Campbell also makes reference to another experience which I had heard before but is excellent on this topic. It is also debated whether this story is true or not but it teaches a valuable lesson. Reportedly, John F Kennedy visited NASA on a regular basis during the race to the moon. They were working against other countries to be the first to do so. The intensity of this race was highly pressurised. During one trip he came across a cleaner, and asked him what his job at NASA was. The cleaner replied “My Job is to put a man on the moon, Sir.”

We can learn a lot from this response. Clearly this man was not literally engineering a rocket ship to take a man to the moon. However, he had caught the vision. He knew he was art of a great organisation that had this significant goal. He knew he was part of the organisation. He knew he had an important job – to make the working environment in this organisation clean so the people working there could complete their roles efficiently and comfortably. Teamship is about recognising the goal and get the team there.

Cleaner in NASA

The Power of Positivity

Thought I would share my article published in a recent UKEDMagazine – enjoy and hope at least one person feels motivated!

In 2014, an eager primary education student was introduced to a brand new world. I was finishing my last year of Initial Teacher Training and I was encouraged to join Twitter to engage with other professionals. What I was welcomed with was a vast horizon of conscientious, inspirational and outstanding practitioners. Unfortunately, I slipped off the radar around the start of my RQT Year due to workload demands but have been back since January 2017.

However, something is different. The mood had changed. There has been a lot of negativity and contention on Twitter. The topics have been wide ranging from philosophies, to phases in education to specific approaches in areas of teaching and learning. Debate is to be expected; personal insults and questioning other professional’s morals is shocking. I want to move away from this mentality – surely we are challenged enough in our day-to-day school lives? How can we expect to draw more teachers into participating with other teachers on Twitter when they arrive they see poor professionalism between a few? The golden question to ask is this – would I say that to a fellow teacher at school?

Face to Face

Positive working relationships in school have, at times, saved my teaching career. In my NQT Year I would often find myself floating in to my KS2 leader’s classroom – not necessarily because I wanted support but just to talk about what had been going on and any advice about any general things that were on my mind. They were so welcoming and those moments where I could reflect (without really realising I was reflecting) made such a difference to me as a teacher. The power of positivity is such a tangible force. Recently I have noticed that when I make the effort to exude positivity, those days tend to go better. Of course this has to come from the top-down: a calm, reassuring Head means a patient, unpressured SLT which means empowered, composed teachers. As well as this, composed teachers tend to lead to more unruffled children.

Of course, not every teacher will emanate positivity. That’s highly unlikely, maybe impossible. The temptation here will be to join in. It’s interesting how two different people can have two very different viewpoints on the same events. I work in such an incredible, forward-thinking school – and yet there are some who still manage to drain the warmth of positive energy. The challenge in this situation will be to continue being sanguine whilst trying to spread the optimism.

Face to Screen (or, Face to Many Faces)

As mentioned, due to the wonders of modern technology, online forums such as Twitter enable a wider audience to absorb other teachers’ positivity. This proved especially important to me in a specific experience.

I was in my NQT Year as a Year 6 teacher and had taken part in a Writing Moderation Meeting cross-school. To save on detail, it did not go well – not necessarily due to poor planning on my part but a couple of issues arose. I went home that evening, my confidence crumpled and tossed in the corner. What came before that day was a series of soul-crushing events, which were now culminating towards the KS2 SATs. As time went on I found myself going through the motions of a class teacher. A week or so later, I found myself on Twitter and found the #NQTchat, something I hadn’t encountered before. I decided to stick around and half an hour later I was enthused! I couldn’t wait to get back into the classroom and shake things up a little. What happened? The power of positivity. I was met with a wall of irresistibly passionate teachers…and it was infectious.

What makes positivity a challenge?

Surely, as we have the best job in the world, being positive should be something that comes natural to all teachers? However, this is not easy. As I was preparing this article, I went into school specifically with a target to stay positive. I went into school excited to begin. However, I found the copying for my lessons that day hadn’t been done. No bother! Then, there was no colour ink in the colour printer. Never mind! After that, I realised someone had taken my guillotine from my classroom and not brought it back. Ok…it’s alright! But I started to see how easily positivity can slip away from a teacher’s clambering grasp as they strive to provide the best education for their eager learners. The trial then is to defy the odds, break the cycle of negativity and realise that you are changing lives.

Positivity Pledge

For any that are struggling to find happiness or comfort in their role as a teacher now, don’t give up. The teaching profession will miss your influence. Hundreds of children will have different lives, they will miss out without your brilliance to greet them each school day. Times will be tough, demands will be great on you – however, there are parents, teachers and children that stand to await you and your positivity. Don’t get drawn into negative arguments on Twitter, don’t think that no one cares about you, many around you want you to succeed. This is why we teach – to make a difference to young people’s lives, and we get to be the one that makes that huge difference every single school day.

After reading this, I do hope that if you feel in any way inspired about the wonderful you have as a teacher – please spread the positivity to at least one other person you work with. You never know the impact on someone’s career you could have – I have had many career-saving influences!

What Makes Effective CPD by @Mrobert90Matt

I am so appreciative of the senior leadership of my school. They have given me the opportunity to undertake a course of study on a NPQML course. Recently I began a Leading and Developing Staff module where I have been questioning my practice around how to support those I have responsibility for so they can develop in their roles.

One focus in particular was the use of CPD and how is it made more effective. I have been teaching for 2 years and, like many of you, I have seen world-class inspiration and extremely uncomfortable lectures. It may seem obvious to state but the better the CPD a teaching team has then teaching and learning will improve. In fact Stoll, Harris and Handscomb (2012) affirmed “It seems obvious to state that great professional development is fundamental to great pedagogy.”

However, great CPD does not just entertain, engage or keep a teaching staff busy on other things. The whole purpose of continuous professional development must be to enact change. In the few trainings I have delivered one of the main things I try to do is leave an action or a challenge for the participants because otherwise, what would the point be? Bubb & Earley, (2007:4) identify how key getting staff to take on questioning and changing of practice when they said “…an ongoing process encompassing all formal and informal learning experiences that enable all staff in schools, individually and with others, to think about what they are doing, enhance their knowledge and skills and improve ways of working so that pupil learning and wellbeing are enhanced as a result… creating opportunities for adult learning, ultimately for the purpose of enhancing the quality of education in the classroom.” So, effective professional development must encourage staff to enhance knowledge and skills which will then have an impact on all areas in the classroom.

In order to ensure I am able to provide effective continuous professional development, I have researched into key characteristics of effective professional development and here is a list which may be useful:

1. Effective professional development starts with the end in mind
I have found this is most effective for a whole school. When the staff meeting dates and agendas are set terms in advance, it allows school leaders to strategically plan for the optimal times for each CPD session. The best CPD strategic planning takes busy times in the year to account (such as Parents Evenings, report deadline, assessment deadlines etc) and plans the more urgent or potentially powerful objectives away from those times. Planning with the end in mind.

2. Effective professional development challenges thinking as part of changing practice.
As mentioned before, this has to be present in my opinion. If the process of challenging thinking is not present, then the teacher’s may have well just marked there never-ending piles of books in that time. Whilst it is partly the teacher’s responsibility to take on the challenge to open their minds and accept the challenge to change, the provider of the CPD must be enticing and engaging enough to persuade the teachers (those open to challenging their practice and those not so open) to challenge their own thinking.

3. Effective professional development is based on the assessment of individual and school needs.
The most effective CPD is based on school development points. This is made even more effective as the staff are involved in at least knowing what those development points are because they then know it is something of importance for the development of the school.

4. Effective professional development involves connecting work-based learning and external expertise.
I had to learn what this was initially. Simply, work-based learning is defined as opportunities to learn in-school, by shadowing, interning or taking small-scale project leadership. Therefore, effective CPD uses both in-school training and external speakers and expertise. This blend of effective relationship and knowledge building between staff and from the best experts creates a vibrant, exciting professional development timetable. I think the best CPD on its own are chances staff have to share ideas and things that have worked well but that does not mean school’s should not invest in expertise – but preferably from deliverers who are not out of touch from the rigour and demands of today’s classroom teachers.

5. Effective professional learning opportunities are varied, rich and sustainable.
As teachers we are expected to make learning varied, rich and sustainable in our classrooms. We are scrutinised, supported and expected as part of our job role to enthuse our learner To do this, and then go on a Tuesday afternoon to a CPD session planned by the strategic leaders of our school that does and is the opposite I can imagine seems demoralising, time-wasting and hypocritical. Fortunately I am not in a school like that – I look forward to our CPD sessions and that is because the opportunities are rich. One week we have a hands-on Computing input by our passionate Computing lead, then a paradigm-shifting session on Whole Class Guided Reading by our English Lead and then a serious but equally important session on Safeguarding lead by the Head. All of this is shared on our school website to the staff, parents and even pupils so all know that we are engaged in valuable and varied CPD.

6. Effective professional development uses action research and enquiry as key tools.
In presenting CPD, it is important to include research. This gives the focus of the professional development more authority and is therefore more likely to have an impact on the teacher’s practice. As an example, when I was planning my project for my NPQML, I located a Case Study which confirmed that in at least 6 other educational settings, the initiative I wanted to implement had an impact. When I was able to share this with the SLT and later the teaching staff, I felt more confident that this would work and they seemed to take even more notice, being influenced by the research behind the approach which they could then see a model on how to apply.
 

7. Effective professional development is strongly enhanced through collaborative learning and joint practice development.
#PrimaryRocks – nuff said! Perfect embodiment of this point.

8. Effective professional development is enhanced by creating professional learning communities within and between schools.
Whilst I have my views on schools becoming multi-trust academies, there is a massive benefit that cannot be ignored. Schools within an academy trust are even more likely to share good practice because they have a vested interest in the academy chain. Yes this should happen within the Local Authority system but from what I’ve seen, in a world where pressure is being ever placed on individual schools to perform, this causes most schools to withdraw in to focus on pushing their performance higher, with little time remaining to share excellent practice.

9. Effective professional development requires leadership to create the necessary conditions.
This is key. Without a visionary leadership, devoted to the development of their staff, then quality CPD will not be high on the agenda in a busy school. I could be wrong in saying this but the leadership in a school should have staff as the priority, not the children. The reason I suggest this thought is that once the staff are well-provided for by the leadership in the school, the staff then make the children their absolute prority and as they are the ones leading the front line in quality teaching and learning, this will be pivotal.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with this list or would you question something? Would you add anything?

Spending Sport Premium by @Mroberts90Matt

Once again, a recent discussion on #PrimaryRocks has inspired me to write this post! There was a #PrimaryRocks focused on PE and the question came up about the best way to spend Sport Premium. Now, Twitter is great for CPD and making connections but there was no way I could put into 140 characters, or even a handful of 140 characters, how to effectively spend Sport Premium. However, it is vital that this topic is communicated effectively as a lot of resources are put into PE Lead’s hands.

Each school in the UK (actually, I don’t know if it’s both Primary and Secondary, I presume both) receive an allotted amount of money solely for the purpose on developing a ‘legacy’ of PE and Sport. It’s an important word that – legacy – not ‘just providing the minimum within the curriculum’. A legacy of sport. This funding is initially provided from the London Olympic 2012 Legacy and as such, it should be used in a way to push school level sport beyond where it is now.

The problem is, unless they are part of a local sports partnership, many PE and Sports coordinators are not given direction on how to spend this valuable pot of resources. Interestingly, when asked what was the main barrier to the progress of PE in school, I did not notice a single #PrimaryRocker say that a lack of resources was an issue whereas if you asked, say, Science coordinators or Computing coordinators that same question – they may well point to a lack of resources or funding as a key issue. On top of this, the sugar tax is now going to double the provision for the Sport Premium funding from next academic year. Whether schools will actually get ‘double’ their amount or just an increase is not known yet (and probably will not be known until after 8 June) but one thing is clear: Sport Premium is still a priority. With schools being expected (by Ofsted) to publish their Sport Premium spending and the impact of it, it is even more important than ever to know how to effectively spend this money.

Outcomes
I feel a need to clarify why I feel qualified to share how we spent our Sport Premium in my first year as a PE Coordinator. I realised that this was a major problem for a number of PE Coordinators, both on Twitter and a couple of PE coordinators in local schools near me feel the same.

The year before I was appointed PE Coordinator, my school were just about achieving Bronze in the School Games Mark (a national award for school PE and Sport) and had only one or two members of staff leading extra-curricular clubs. Most classes were holding one hour of PE (led by the school coach – who is incredible) and not really any intra-school competitions excluding a Sports Day.

After a year of Sport Premium spending in the following manner (or philosophy), we led the school to Gold in the School Games Mark and we were named ‘School of the Year’ for Sport in the Local Authority by our Sports Partnership. Now, of course many other things were to do with this: a wonderfully engaging staff, a lot of children with enthusiastic potential, great location in Old Trafford, Manchester, an inspiring Head and willing SLT and so on. Also, not all the things I will list by be possible in your particular school, which is why I break this down into ‘stages’ or ‘principles’ which if followed will have an impact on school PE and Sport in your school.
Also, I will not lay out detail in spending or my actual school, but all suggestions listed came to just under the amount of the Sport Premium.

Stage 1 – Energise, Enthuse and Educate Staff
Any attempt to make a school-wide shift in ethos towards PE and Sport must be backed by the staff. If they are not engaged, one person will not achieve a lot. Even if that person is dedicated, they will eventually be swamped by the demands to make inspirational, effective change alone in the wide world of Sport.

As such, the first chunk of our Sport Premium was allocated to engage the staff. We purchased a package from our local authority sports provider which did a number of things. First it provided a year’s free membership to the gym for each contracted member of staff. There was a tangible excitement about this instantly. Staff were signing up and taking up the great offer. They were opening up to the idea of sport and PE.

Along with the free gym, staff were given a 2 hour curriculum slot. This was not to be a long term replacement. Each Year Group (from Year 1-6) would get this slot for one half term only and when their class was taken, the class teacher would be expected to observe. Giving staff professional development in PE is important but often the issues are 1. Time and 2. Tailoring to each staff members needs (e.g. one staff member may be uncertain about teaching Gymnastics whereas the other is less confident at teaching a certain sport). As such, I gave staff the opportunity to let me know what area of the PE Curriculum they were less happy teaching as they did not have the sufficient knowledge and I had the external agency would deliver this. Quality control was important and so I closely monitored the satisfaction of this with the teachers involved to begin with. Everything went well and the teachers expressed they found it useful.

Something else that was done which I think is quite unique that we used our Sport Premium for was the purchase of special kits for competitions. Also, the SLT and any staff who would be happy to run a club received their own, monogrammed version of the school sports kit.

As the mentioned expenditures developed, something very interesting happened. The year before there had been only one staff member providing extra-curricular sport activity (the PE specialist). Since the implementation of this Stage 1, there have been a total of over 11 different members of staff who have led at least a half term’s worth of extra-curricular clubs, and the most recent ones only just started this half term so it is still ongoing. The spirit of sport has caught hold in the staff’s hearts. This has been partly down to the wise way our Head began spending the Sport Premium but also through his enthusiasm for sport and PE also.

Stage 2 – Provide and Participate in Wider Opportunities

The groundwork had been laid. Sport began to spread through every year group. The vital focus of Stage 2 was to provide chances for children in our school to see the bigger picture – to look outside the walls of our own school. We had to provide opportunities to compete with other schools.

The easiest way to do this was to buy into our local School Sports Partnership. This was an indispensable use of our Sport Premium. They provided CPD for myself as the PE Coordinator, keeping me up to date on any changes in PE leadership but also making more CPD available for staff in our school. Along with this, they organised, led and promoted a vast variety of sporting competitions. All we had to do was come along. We have seen great success in applying to compete with other schools. However, being part of this partnership does not stop there. Our school has also been privileged to hold a CPD event and a multi-skills festival for other schools in the area. Due to our working partnership with the organisation, we also had a visit from Sue Smith (ex-England International Football Player) as well as presenting to VIPs at the Greater Manchester Games. This has provided a great sense of sporting pride in the school and again, engaged more children in taking part in healthy activities.

Stage 3 – Provide world-class Club Links

Once we laid these foundations in the school and with other schools, we used the remaining batch of Sport Premium funding to make partnerships with a number of external clubs. Some required cost but in the first year we made links with Manchester United, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Sale Sharks, a local Table Tennis club, Trafford Leisure and others. Being in Manchester we are fortunate to have these clubs with world-class facilities which we have been fortunate enough to utilise. However, making these links can be done anywhere. Doing this will bring in professional coaching additional to the PE curriculum and clubs your school are offering, other events such as Roadshows and Open Days at the grounds themselves and chances to be involved in actual sporting events at the club.

Two examples: a selection of our children (our School Sports Organising Crew – SSOC – who also received their own special kits by the way) were invited to watch numerous football matches at Manchester United. Amazingly so, some of our children were also invited to be the guard of honour at the England vs Pakistan Test match at the LCCC ground in July last year (as well as our staff being invited to watch the match afterwards). These and more examples have again promoted the importance and excitement of sport.

How you implement these three stages will be different for the different locations of schools. However, following this pattern of stages has provided a great culture of sport and enthusiasm around physical activity to the point where we are seeing even more improvement in all areas.

How have you spent your Sport Premium? Have there been lasting benefits? Please do share!

Let’s Talk about Workload by @Mroberts90Matt

The workload issue is not going anywhere, anytime soon. In a time where edu-Twitter is cycling with debates around all sorts of philosophies and facets of education, one thing rings throughout most of the profession – there is one elephant that looms largest and that is the unsustainable amount of workload in the teaching profession. Wellbeing is becoming increasingly higher on the agenda for the best leadership teams and it is a concern for even some outside of the profession. A number of parents have commented on how they are aware of how hard I and other teachers work for their children and they really appreciate it.

This issue has risen again in a recent report detailing how many young teachers are planning their way out of the profession. A recent survey from the NUT suggest that 45% of young, recently-qualified teachers plan to leave the profession in the next five years. I remember watching a report about a month ago on the same topic and the DfE’s response was to say they are working on recruiting more quality candidates into the profession. Whilst that is important, surely more focus needs to be put on making the profession more attractive? What is the point in recruiting more teachers if more then leave the other way?

There does not seem to be a clear-cut answer coming over the near horizon – but we have each other! Twitter, blogs, bottom-up CPD are providing a real way forward for teachers to look outside their school setting and recognise the strength around them. I am a much more positive practitioner because of the interactions. So, I want to take this brief opportunity to share some tips and ideas to beat the workload woes. I may not be the perfect teacher but I feel I do have some ideas on how teachers can take those small short-cuts that don’t impact on their teaching and learning (and sometimes enhance them). However, don’t just listen to me – dozens of other excellent professionals have spoken out against this workload crisis. I am very grateful for their contributions and I hope to include as many as possible. Hopefully this will help someone out there free some time for themselves. Please share this valuable list!

Before I even embark on this list – one very important point to remember is that whilst there are a number of tasks for teachers to do and it is a high-demand profession, workload is in our control mainly. Often we are the ones who place too much on ourselves. @bekblayton and @thatboycanteach put it very well when they reminded us all that we must remember that overcoming workload woes is not a pipe dream – it is possible. We need to adjust bad time management and prioritisation habits to help us do it!

1. Learn to Magpie and do it effectively
This was my first thought – massive amounts of time can be lost with teachers getting that resource exactly  perfect, with a nice border and then laminating that piece for the display. Just get the content challenging and correct, get it copied then done! Move on!
@Mrs_D_H – accept that good enough is good enough
@blondebonce – also says to not laminate 😉
@mccaffery81 – Shared a great idea which a typical example of needing to magpie from other professionals – phonicstracker.com – look into it, use it!

2. Find your Marking Mojo
@MisterMahon – Self and peer assess – it identifies misconceptions just as effectively, if not more so
@kvnmcl – Do NOT take marking home
@MrCartwright26 – Get some marking done in the lesson whilst supporting children
@primary_newbie – also says to mark in class – making use of self and peer assessment
@Wolvespps – Uses a marking code when marking. Assigns a number for each target in writing then has children write them – I do exactly the same for comments in all subjects

@hbudders – Agrees once again with marking in the lesson and give instant feedback, along with @emmaholts
@kat_luc01 – Warns against marking criteria not involved in the focus of the lesson. Extra areas of focus in marking can eat into precious time
@redgierob – Don’t be conned into marking every piece of work!

3. Plan for Pupils, not Procedure
@JoHale3 – plan daily, you should not have to plan the whole week if you do not know how they will do!
@HeyMissPrice – do not plan every lesson, do what is necessary
@RobertsNiomi – reduce weekly planning to a sheet of A4

4. Learn to do the jobs that need doing…and little else
@thomasandrews88 – do what needs to be done for tomorrow, then stop
@dave_foley_1990 – do the stuff you are asked to do, don’t do more than you need to
@bekblayton – set a finish time and when you reach it STOP!
@MrWalkerKPPS – look into instant displays – washing lines, working walls are as effective

5. Go with your gut!
@NorthDevonTeach – self-reflect but do not do so too much, will increase workload
@MrsR451 – Ask the question – will this help learning? If not then don’t do it – if it is required then do it minimally!

6. Plan Time Carefully
@challis_luce8 – Get work done on Friday so you have Monday prepared already
@mrsmacwilson – Plan at least one day a week to go home earlier with no marking
@mr_k3ys – Work smarter (not harder) – set time limit and challenge self to stick to it
@Mr_Beetroot – Used a work logging app (he suggested WorkLog) for 2 weeks, analysed what he lost a lot of time doing, then cut that down.

Special mention from @HeyMissPrice! After having read these suggestions, you will notice that many of them require understanding and acceptance from a caring SLT. If an SLT insist on convoluted systems of marking, require lesson plans handed in often and certain jobs doing that are really not required (particularly being stated that “it’s for Ofsted) then @HeyMissPrice says be brave and ask why those things are necessarily done that way if it’s impact on teaching and learning is minimal.

Please do take a look at the great suggestions – as you see, they all seem to fall under 6 categories. These are the areas that teachers can lose a lot of time accomplishing tasks but that they can have control over how much time these jobs take. The suggestions above are key – share them and add any of your own to help alleviate the stress and workload on fellow teachers.

Priorities in Initial Teacher Training by @Mroberts90Matt

#PrimaryRocks is awesome! In a recent chat this question came up:

Now, having only qualified 2 1/2 ish years ago, I still have a number of fresh memories of my initial teacher training. I can honestly say I really enjoyed my teacher training – every part of it. The intriguing lectures, the enlightening discussions and the exhilarating teaching placements. Honestly, if I could be paid to do it more then I would. Sadly my time came to an end and I became an NQT officially in September 2014.

However, despite how much I loved it, there are areas that ITT can improve – like everywhere else. In the #PrimaryRocks discussion, we were asked if we were to be in charge of ITT, what would we prioritise out of these three: subject knowledge, learning theory or behaviour management? The discussion was very divisive and quite different from some questions which generate similar responses.. I was interested to look into this a bit further and so asked once and for all – what did teachers actually think?

1

These are the results. I added the 4th category. The reason being that I remember very clearly in my ITT having a number of sessions where we questioned practice regarding a number of areas, including working with children who have SEN, inclusion and working in EYFS.

Behaviour Management – 53%
So, behaviour management came out on top with half the votes. I think this surprised a few people but for me personally it was not. I wrote a previous post on this a couple of years ago. In my ITT (and yes, I know that not all ITT providers will be the same) I will let you guess how many sessions or discussion opportunities we had for developing our management of behaviour………no lower……………ok not that low though – we had 1. In 4 years of teacher training, one session focused on behaviour management. Ok, next question, what was discussed in this session? We were told that we would learn what we needed to about behaviour management in our teaching placements and we only needed to do one thing to ensure behaviour was not an issue in our classrooms – teach in an engaging manner. Now, I’m all for teaching and engaging the learners – it is an important part of learning to be engaging in your teaching (although maybe not the most important factor). However, being engaging will not prevent behaviour issues in a classroom. It just won’t. If anyone really believes that then I question the classes they have taught. I know that may be bold but I think it is ludicrous to think that not ONE child will ever engage in low-level disruption if you are engaging all the time. As such, we were not instructed effectively about how to deal with behaviour management. I’ll give you one more question (in this surprisingly engaging post so far) – what do you think was the main worry about before we started our first teaching placement? One guess… 😉

This is why if I were to vote, I would also go with Behaviour Management – not that I think it’s necessarily the MOST important facet of teaching (although it has to be very high if not the most important), but I think it is the area that needs developing the most for how important it is.

Subject Knowledge – 26%
Subject knowledge came next with just over a quarter of the vote. This was a surprising one for me personally, I did not think this option would be selected as much as any other and I’ll explain why in a moment.

What is important to recognise first is why subject knowledge is important. Playing Devil’s Advocate somewhat, I challenged a suggestion made by someone else. They said that they could talk rubbish in front of their class but as long as the behaviour management was spot on, that wouldn’t matter (as long as the rubbish was corrected). However, what is more damaging – teaching consistent incorrect knowledge with a perfectly behaved class or teaching exact, probing subject knowledge with some low-level disruption? I think we have to be careful not to underestimate the importance of exact subject knowledge. Misconceptions can creep in easily if not checked.

However, I was personally surprised by the percentage that subject knowledge received for three reasons:

  • All qualifies teachers (currently) have to complete an Entrance exam which proves their subject knowledge is effective to a point (yes admittedly this is only in English and Maths and does not ensure perfect subject knowledge)
  • Subject knowledge can be garnered far more easily independently than effective behaviour management or critically analysing and questioning practice can be done alone
  • An ITT provider cannot possibly impart all subject knowledge required for every phase and year group in Primary education – remember that there will be future teachers from Nursery/Reception all the way up to Year 5/6, not all the necessary subject knowledge can be covered

Learning Theory – 11% and Questioning Practice – 10%
Why was this lower than subject knowledge? Shouldn’t the ability to convey learning and information in a variety of effective ways be more important than just knowing that knowledge. You could argue either way.

And I am honestly very surprised that questioning practice only received 10% of the vote. As teachers we should be questioning practice all the time. We have to consistently be questioning what we do and how to improve. No matter how good we have been told our standards are, we must be looking for ways to improve. We had a unit in my ITT about questioning practice and I found this very useful – it helped me become a much more reflective practitioner. I would not put it as the most important area to prioritise in ITT but I feel it is certainly an important part of being a good teacher.

What about you? What would you prioritise in ITT if you had that decision to make?

Bennett’s Behaviour Brilliance (and #PrimaryRocksLive) by @Mroberts90Matt

On Friday, a new publication was made available on the DfE website. These new publications always tend to be published on a Friday and so sit in my ‘I’ll get to it when I can’ pile. However, I had been anticipating this particular one for a little while and it has a lot of excellent infographs produced by Oliver Caviglioli (@olivercavigliol) . As such I determined that I would read this particular offering by Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) over the weekend as soon as I could. I had also been considering changing the paradigm of behaviour management in my classroom since #PrimaryRocksLive and hearing the input from Paul Dix (@pivotalpaul) . More on that later.

I could not even begin to attempt to capture the whole of this comprehensive report in one blog and I would not do it justice. To read the excellent report (and I strongly suggest you do) then follow this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/behaviour-in-schools

I will attempt to highlight some key messages and thoughts and enhance this with my own evidence and ideas:

1. The Way we Do Things Around Here
Early on, Bennett states – “The key task for a school leader is to create a culture – usefully defined as ‘the way we do things around here’ – that is understood and subscribed to by the whole school community.” This is a vital part of making behaviour excellent in any school. The challenge here is that this is very dependent on the school leadership. If the school leadership do not set an example of how we expect things to be, always, then it will become more challenging for staff to enforce this in the classroom.

I have experienced this in both extremes. Fortuntaely I currently work at a school where there is very much an ethos of “this is our way, and we all will follow this way”. What this does is not only instil a feeling working together to make behaviour work around the school but as teachers we become empowered to drive home these principles in the classroom. We remind children “this is not what we expect at our school” and suddenly they recognise this ethos will be expected by all. Of course some will naturally not conform, but the vast majority will, and this is the first step to ensuring excellent behaviour across a school.

2. Behaviour Focus must come from higher than Heads

Despite the importance of the previous point, it is important to note that Bennett states that actually, the way behaviour will improve across the country is for the focus and resources to come from higher than Headteachers. He says his suggestions “…are designed to stimulate change and improvement in the field of school leadership for behaviour.” The Department for Education must make certain changes and provisions to make the biggest impact – which will have an impact on recruitment and retention (which in themselves are main focuses right now for the DfE).
The suggestions to the DfE can be found in the report on page 9-10 and are well worth a look and hopefully, as they commissioned the report, they will act on the advice.

3. Behaviour must be a priority for all

There are many pressures in education. Teachers, school leaders and other stakeholders in children’s education will all have different priorities. For some it’s developing the whole child. For others it is imparting as much knowledge as possible. Whatever an educator’s core value and goal, behaviour from those involved in the classroom will have an impact. Thus, research and effort into how to develop better behaviour in the classroom is important, necessary even.
“Whatever one believes the aim of education to be, all of these are best realised in schools where good behaviour is the norm, and antisocial, selfish, or self-destructive behaviour is minimised.”
All schools can take note of this. How do they address behaviour? Is there a robust, clear behaviour policy. Is there a valuable induction for new members of staff (not just teaching staff) so all understand “how we do things around here”? Who holds whole-school responsibility for behaviour, is there a Behaviour Lead? Is it necessary to have one person given the responsibility to plan and consider behaviour?

4. Is expecting good behaviour oppressive?

Fairly recently, I got caught into a brief discussion on Twitter. It happened when there was that uproar over (guess who…) the Michaela Academy deciding to recruit a ‘detention director’. Now, I felt that this was unusual but as was pointed out – if this is how they ensure behaviour is kept excellent then so what? Some tried to argue that this clearly shows Michaela have behaviour issues in school. However, as Bennett points out, the best schools address behaviour and make plans to act on it when behaviour is very good so the fact they wanted to recruit a ‘detention director’ is no indicator of poor behaviour.

Going back to the discussion I got pulled into – there was one line in the job description someone pulled out, about expecting obedience in school. Someone had an issue with this and I asked “When would you not expect obedience in a school?” Of course I got all sorts of answers (including, when a member of staff asks a child to join them in a quiet stock room and when a member of staff says they cannot go to the toilet despite the fact they are desperate) but of course we are talking about obedience to school rules here. Some teachers seem to feel that saying we expect obedience to all rules is oppressive but, to be openly frank here, this is why we have behaviour problems in school. Expecting good behaviour is not oppressive, it is surely standard in any school.

5. Behaviour thrives in complacency

Behaviour strategies are easy to implement, they are harder to maintain. I have seen this in the microcosm of my own classroom. I am only teaching in my third year but I have seen how if a behaviour management strategy is not kept relentlessly on top of, then it’s impact decreases dramatically. Think then how slippage can happen across a school. Another things I have noticed is how the effectiveness of some behaviour strategies decay naturally over time so keeping children on their toes is sometimes necessary.
Below if a diagram showing just *a few* elements of how behaviour can deteriorate in a school which can be found in Bennett’s report:

Behaviour Barriers(page 60 for the original image)

Thus, Bennett suggests all school leaders should take an audit on behaviour. Whilst self-auditing is a start, Bennett suggests the audit will be most effective when done cross-schools. If leaders look at all this practice-changing information and say, as Bennett suggested ‘they already do that…’ then they will miss out on improving the already-good behaviour system they have. The work has to be done when things are going well or not.

So now what?

Well, for me I knew I had to change. I was unfortunate to not go to #PrimaryRocksLive but I followed on the hashtag for quite a while and it was clear that Paul Dix’s presentation on behaviour was a shining highlight.

For me, the concept of faming good behaviour rather than shaming poor behaviour rung true. I and, from the reaction I read, many other practitioners do not fame good behaviour enough. So I took this on board, and magpied an excellent assembly idea from the influential Chris Dyson (@chrisdysonHT) who took the ‘Best Seats in the House’ concept from Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. Simply, the children win the ‘best seats’ through behaviour above and beyond what we expect. I applied this to my own classroom:

This has already evolved since Monday and now the children love it – the children chosen from the previous day get to do their learning in the best seats, they get a little reward (of a chocolatey nature) and they get to leave the class first for break, lunch and end of day. Most importantly, they are announced in the class and their behaviour is famed.

If a child wins it one day then shows above and beyond behaviour to win it the next day? So what?? They win it two days in a row. That blew some of my kid’s minds! How is that fair? I had questions – and I asked one back “Was their behaviour above and beyond yesterday again?” They have quickly learned only above and beyond will earn the exciting reward! Try it out and improve on what I’ve done – I’m sure there are better ways.

 

Influencing Others by @Mroberts90Matt

As part of my NPQML, may main task is to evidence that I have developed my leadership against certain ‘competencies’ of effective leadership. I was asked to share a 360 Diagnostic Review of my perceived leadership with leaders in my school context. One of my areas to focus on was ‘Influencing Others’.

Fast-forward several months and I have presented the main staff meeting to the majority of the staff about my initiative that I want to implement about Talk4Maths. Many steps have followed before – research, presenting to SLT, forming a team, trialling the Talk4Maths amongst other things. This was a massive learning experience for me. I’m sure some that read this will be very used to presenting about educational matters but this was my first time to try and influence others to act on what I was going on about in front of them. These are some of the things that I have learnt about trying to influence educational change:

1. Clear knowledge and understanding

One thing I recognised straight away was the need to know what I was talking about. I had become so convinced that the Talk4Maths strategy had an impact on children’s learning and would particularly be useful for our 80% of EAL learners in our school. However, it was important to demonstrate this certainty with a backing of theory and research which proved that. Not only that, but I had to convey this in a way that would make sense. I am very good at rushing through concepts because I am aware of them (a habit I had to curtail in my classroom practice in my teacher training).

2. Build a rapport

In our school we have had many speakers and consultants come and go and there is one thing that rings true from the best ones – they related to the listeners. I could have easily given a crystal-clear, knowledgeable presentation, faultless in knowledge and understanding but lost the audience. If I did not try to relate to the listeners then I would quickly be glazed over and the valuable learning I was trying to present would be wasted. It can be done very simply. For example, when I presented the training, we had not had a functioning colour printer for a few days – something that was becoming a running joke between the staff (it had to be a joke, otherwise we would be very annoyed). So, at a point in the training I gave a handout but of course the beautiful colour had been lost. I made a quick comment, they chuckled and we continued. Now, not the best joke but it showed a moment of togetherness, of ‘isn’t this silly right?’ which would have endeared…well maybe only one or two. This was not the only example but one that comes to mind.

3. Interactivity

I hate nothing more than a presentation where I sit and am talked at. We would condemn teachers that do this to children, so why would leaders in education who should be modelling excellent teaching and learning find it acceptable. Okay – the whole ‘teacher talk’ is different to staff CPD than it is in the classroom. ‘Teacher talk’ is required in staff CPD and teachers, as professionals, should be expected to listen and take in information attentively, no matter how little interaction there is. However, again the most memorable CPD I’ve had includes interactive activities, preferably demonstrating the concept or information we are trying to get to grips with.

As with most of my blog posts, there are probably more things that I’ve missed on my non-exhaustive list of things that help us influence others but I’d love to hear more from you!