Category Archives: Learning Journal

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

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom by @Mroberts90Matt

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom

Since beginning teaching in 2014, I have always considered myself to be a fairly positive teacher. I definitely feel that working with children, helping them to understand the reason behind choices in the classroom and empowering them to take responsibility for their actions. Then the last academic year happened and I was confronted with the most challenging class I had encountered…

At first I felt I had guided the more challenging members in my class to make good choices. Things were positive, and then low-level disruption crept in more and more. Positive mentoring and feedback followed and no change. As such, I began to take action in a more negative manner. Sanctions and discipline in line with the school behaviour management system followed. However, the problem that began was not issuing sanctions – they are an important part of any school behaviour management system – but rather in my mentality.

The Trap

As days turned into weeks of dealing with consistent incidents outside my classroom and then some appearing in my classroom, I subconsciously began to take a more negative stance. My thinking behind this was to supress any poor behaviour that could take place. External influences such as the upcoming SATs, imminent Ofsted inspection and the most responsibility I had taken on thus far (leading the middle leadership team, PE and Sport Coordinator, Maths Lead Team and completing an NPQML whole school project) meant that I felt less and less patience for the children that I was ultimately working myself to the bone so that they could make progress in their education. I was developing a class that responded instantly to threat of sanction for short-term engagement rather than a class who were creating a love for learning and who responded because they wanted to do well.

Of course, I did not want this. However, the day-to-day flow of teaching and pressure in many areas created this environment and mindset.

The Escape

As things were developing in this negative culture, I found myself following the thread of #PrimaryRocksLive and the first keynote speaker was @pivotalpaul (or Paul Dix in the non-virtual world). I wasn’t there in person however the EduTwitterverse exploded with quotes from his comments. One thing in particular stood out to me – we should not praise poor behaviour. Obvious right? However, he made this point which was very poignant for me at the time – why do teachers insist on writing the names of the children who make the wrong choices on the board? Why not write the children’s names on who make the right choices? Reading this was almost like a revelation. I had fallen into the practice of routinely writing names on the board in an attempt to visualise to the children the wrong choices they were making – but ultimately all that was doing was giving them promotion to their actions.

Another major factor on this path back to positivity was a twilight given by @ArtOfBrillAndyW (Andy Whitaker – The Art of Being Brilliant). This motivational speaker really eneergised and enthused the staff with positivity and the mindset that we can aim to be our top 2% and ways to overcome challenges to that positive outlook. When we can maintain that positive outlook that positivity will leak into our teaching into our classroom, into the children we teach.

The Change

So, what did I do? From the following Monday the usual space where I wrote perpetrators’ names was changed to our #BestSeatsintheHouse space (inspired by Ant and Dec’s SNT and @chrisdyson and the wonderful work at Parklands Primary School, Leeds). I moved away from jumping straight to negative reinforcement to try and subdue behaviour problems but tried to overload the class with a better mindset. Did it work completely? No. No matter how much of a positive approach you take in teaching it would be foolish to expect there to be no behaviour problems. However, slowly but surely things started to improve.

 

After this reflection I have learnt very important lessons:

Positivity trumps negativity – every time

If anyone can come and prove to me that a negative, suppressing approach to behaviour has a better impact on a child’s ability to consider their own behaviour then I would readily receive it. However, I am yet to find a circumstance where that is the case.

What you promote in the classroom is what you’ll receive

If you consistently are on the lookout for poor behaviour and that is the commentary in your teaching (e.g. I am looking to see who needs to receive (insert sanction), whoever is talking will…, make sure you are not making the wrong choice) then that will probably be what you find. If you consistently promote good choices (e.g. proximinal praise, I am noticing a lot of good choices being made… and do on) then that will be found more often. Again, nothing is fool proof but it certainly has an impact.

 Positive and promotional approaches must be in place early on to be effective

I found that as we approached the end of the school year whilst I had certainly turned things around in my classroom, things were probably not as positive as they could have been. And this leads to the most difficult lesson – positivity must be persistent. Even in the cold, dark, wet months of November to February. Carry optimistic approaches from October through to March and things will be more positive. It will be difficult to maintain but well worth it!

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Classroom Displays by @Mroberts90Matt

September is in full flow. Classes are back and teachers are already getting stuck into helping the children in their class make great progress. Summer seems so far away, particularly as the mornings and afternoons have begun to get darker very swiftly.

As swiftly as the autumn has swept in, the crazy summer on EduTwitter seems to have dissipated. I seemed to have missed the full extent but there was allsorts – insults, jibes, ‘discussions’ between primary and secondary colleagues, the everlasting trad/prog debate and even uproar over a classroom view. But now term has begun all seems to have settled back into a quiet swing of excellent classroom ideas, wellbeing advice and professional support.

One topic that surfaced every now and again was the debate on classroom displays. The debate was this: what is an acceptable amount of time to be spending on classroom displays?

I love a good-looking display as much as the next person. I do see their value. However, if I could avoid doing any task in my classroom, keeping maintained, up-to-date and engaging classroom displays would be it! The task that I would shirk first. Forget marking, risk assessment filling…anything! As such, these debates intrigued me. Some teachers put the opinion forward that spending a large amount of time on classroom displays is a waste of time. Others would argue that if this how teachers want to spend their spare time then what’s the problem? Others then argue back that we can’t fight the battle against an increasing workload when some put more hours into a task like classroom displays than is necessary. If they do it then what’s the problem with asking others to do it?

As I reflected on this I wondered if there was a difference on the time spent on this area of preparing the learning environment between primary and secondary teachers. Twitter polls are not the be all and end all of teacher opinion, but an interesting pattern did emerge:

1

2

As can be seen in the above polls, there are some interesting comparisons.

A similar proportion of primary and secondary teachers do not spend 4 days or more on classroom displays.

There is a much wider spread of responses within the primary sector.

70% of secondary teachers spend a day or less on displays compared to 44% of primary teachers.

There will be a number of reasons for this:

  • I imagine a huge reason is that secondary teachers do not have a set class or generally a set classroom (please correct me if I am wrong secondary colleagues).
  • As primary colleagues, we teach younger children. Therefore, maybe some feel younger children may need more vibrant displays perhaps?

If anyone has any others thoughts on this difference would love to hear them!

Ironically on the same day that I posted this poll, an article Jamie Thom in the Guardian online addressed some thoughts I had been considering. The article can be read here: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2017/sep/01/how-to-be-a-minimalist-teacher?CMP=share_btn_tw

Have a look – it covers a lot of thoughts I had. Happy October 🙂

Reflections on #nomoreboysandgirls by @Mroberts90Matt

Everyone will have heard of this documentary recently, and if you haven’t then go and watch it…now. On BBC iPlayer. I’ll wait…

Now that you have seen it, this was an excellent, thought-provoking two-part documentary about gender stereotypes and how these stereotypes are formed. Before watching this programme I was very much aware about how we can influence the gender views of the rising generation. However, I assumed there was some element of nature as well as nurture behind the preferences and that these influences created the strengths and characteristics of the gender. In this article I will not attempt to provide a summary of the documentary as I would not do it justice in my humble writing. However, if you seriously have not seen it, it is well worth a watch.

What I will do is pick out some of the reflections I had watching this enlightening documentary as an intrigued teacher, a curious observer and a riveted parent.

1 The need to be more reflective

One thing that hit me straight away was the way in which teacher-extraordinaire, Graham Andre (@grahamandre), allowed a crew of BBC television cameras into his classroom and watch him as he taught. Now, I know many professional teachers who shudder at the thought of having their headteacher who wonders around the school often into their lesson for 20 minutes occasionally. The thought that Mr Andre had a national television programme recorded in his classroom l leaves me in awe as my classroom is barely presentable at the best of times. However, not only the facades of the classroom were on display for the nation to witness, but Mr Andre himself in action.

However, as always on social media, there was criticism – particularly around Mr Andre’s use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘mate’. Now, I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised by these terms being used in the classroom – just not what I do. Despite this, the harsh words used online were unwarranted. I then thought over this further…it takes an incredible practitioner to have the confidence to allow television cameras into their classroom and teach for all to see. I had to applaud Mr Andre and his brilliant class.

This got me to thinking – teachers are often monitored by others and receive feedback from them. However, one technique that has been aired is the recording of one’s self whilst teaching and then looking back over the footage to self-evaluate teaching styles. I had this done during my teacher training in my final placement on request of my University Tutor who was doing research into it. I found it very informative and useful. Possibly could be something I will look into this year. Graham Andre was extremely reflective and willing to adjust practice from the feedback given to him and this is the mark of a reflective practitioner.

2 The (unrecognised) power of parents

The power and influence of parents cannot be overestimated. As teachers, we know this. We despair when children are not given the focus of daily reading or times table practice at home and rejoice when an engaged parent arrives at your door, willing to listen to any advie to help their child progress in their learning. However, this reflection came as the concerned parent of a 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. As I sat and watched this documentary I started to analyse the influence I have on my own children. Whilst I feel we do ok, there is a recognition that I have an immense responsibility as a father to help my children develop in a world where they feel anything is possible is they put there mind to it.

This is not simply wishful, idealistic thinking but helping them realise that they can aim for whatever they wish to do and I have to be careful not to stunt any potential growth in any area. Not easy in a world where, as shown by the documentary, retail, the media and other influences are becoming ever more skewed towards gender stereotypes for children – ironically when we are aiming for a more equality view towards gender amongst adults.

I am hoping many more parents watched this and recognised the power and influence which they have.

3 Schools do not hold ultimate responsibility…

Here my thoughts switched back to me as a teacher. My thought was ‘What can I do in my classroom?’ What shone through in the documentary was that schools cannot do this alone. I can stand before the children and promote gender-equal views and challenge any stereotypes the children may have, however there are a number of other influences besides the teacher and school. Friends play a huge part and home life have a massive stake in the opinions and views.

As such this is where schools have to be proactive and reach out to parents and communities. In the documentary, the Head of Lanesend Primary School commented on how they will intend to continue the initiative to avoid gender stereotypes. What I would be interested to find out is how they involve parents in the drive…

4 …BUT schools do hold some power

Schools have power. They can take the initiative to make a difference. As was shown in the documentary, not only does breaking down the walls of ‘gender skewing’ give children the belief that they can achieve any goal (gender is not a barrier) but also there were other benefits. Most stark were the reduction of poor behaviour in boys (by over 50%) and a higher self esteem amongst the girls. Schools must therefore be focused on doing everything in their power to assist in challenging gender stereotypes. Yes, they are not the only stakeholders that need to act on this. However, they can get the ball rolling.

It was great to hear that Mr Andre had presented the experiment to the Institute of Education – hopefully there will be something that comes along in the pipeline. However, as professionals I had this question:

What can YOU do now?

I cannot influence multiple schools and local authorities to have a focused effort to challenge gender stereotypes. Maybe you reading this can (please do so)! However, I can begin where I have influence, in the walls of my classroom. It will not be easy, the first challenge is recognising the habits or tendencies I may have that reinforce gender stereotypes but then, once recognised, I can change that. I would encourage you to do the same!

Academic Year Resolutions by @Mroberts90Matt

The start of a brand new academic year! I am honestly very excited. After an NQT year, RQT year and then a year developing my leadership with an NPQML qualification, I am ready to take on a new role as Maths Coordinator in our 2/3 form entry primary school. As I have done each year – I hope to begin the year with some resolutions to keep me focused, driven and moving towards objectives which I hope to achieve through the year. As always, I have looked back on the goals I have set in the past, have built on them and added a couple of new ones.

1. Keep my home-work life balanced

This goal first appeared in my NQT Resolutions and it then was recorded as my first RQT resolution also and it may well be the first on my list every year in my career. My family are the most important thing to me. I will certainly not be trading them for a successful career in teaching – I would change jobs before that happened. Obviously it can be done but it will require time management and careful a selection of priorities. I look around at some of the staff in my school who have families of their own and wonder how they can manage to do what they do! Now, at this stage in my career I have an incredible, supportive and interested wife as well as a 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter – so it is busy times in the Roberts household! Our son is moving into Year 1 this year so it is becoming even more busy! Yet, as long as I keep this goal foremost in mind I know it will be fine – it has certainly been becoming easier to spend more time with my family and I intend to continue the trend.

2. Complete my NPQML with an excellent result

Last year I began an NPQML qualification which I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do. I was able to lead a school improvement project which seems to have had a positive impact on the teaching of Maths in school. This really has been, and will continue to be, an excellent learning experience. I have until November to complete the writing up and tidying up of the assignment and as I do, I’m noticing just how much I’ve learnt. So, I want to try and complete this qualification with a great result.

3. Create an impact on times tables learning in the school

As mentioned, I have an exciting new role in my school as the Maths Coordinator in the school. I’ll have the opportunity to work with an incredible team to continue the progress we’ve made in the school. One area that I think will need development as the government begins to implement further assessment is times tables learning. We need to create a new, exciting way for the children in our school to latch onto times table learning. We’ve invested in @TTRockStars which is an engaging programme which can provide regular, consistent practice for all in school with a drive to gain in mastery and speed of the times tables. I’m anxious for this to take hold so this will be a goal for me.

4. Set school up as part of a Maths Hub

One piece of advice we were given as a school maths leadership last year was to join a local Maths Hub. This would provide an opportunity for the school to network further as well as provide a way for the school to demonstrate excellent practice. This may be a straightforward goal but it’s one which I think will develop the school and take it to the next level in it’s Maths progression.

5. Push for more staff sports opportunities

A few events were set up during the year last academic year (Rounders, Dodgeball) and they were great opportunities for staff wellbeing and relationship building. I’m not sure of many other schools that engage in this, and those that do I’m sure are warm, welcoming places to work. I want to try and encourage the staff to take part in one event a half-term. This teaching business can be tough. In the Summer 2 term there was a lot of monitoring and important actions in the school that happened and everyone worked really hard. We planned a Rounders event towards the end and it was a great release for all those involved.

There you have it  – some straightforward goals focused on new opportunities that I have. Hoping you have a wonderful new journey this academic year.

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!