Category Archives: Other thoughts

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:

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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 🙂

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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!

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?

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.

Term Time Holidays

It seems in recent years that around the Easter holiday, stakeholders in children’s education in the UK get in a fuss about…holidays. Specifically, the cost of a family to try and get away to sun-soaked destinations for a week or so to bond, de-stress and build wonderful memories as a family. Of course, the default stance in the UK is that children should not be taken out of school for holidays during term time. The official rules read as such:

Holidays in term time

You have to get permission from the head teacher if you want to take your child out of school during term time.

You can only do this if:

  • you make an application to the head teacher in advance (as a parent the child normally lives with)
  • there are exceptional circumstances

It’s up to the head teacher how many days your child can be away from school if leave is granted.

You can be fined for taking your child on holiday during term time without the school’s permission.

Now, it is clearly stated here that children should not be taken out of term time but there are exceptions, as there quite rightly should be. The issue comes when people interpret these rules in different ways. Recently, this has come to a head with a recent court ruling against a family who took their children out of term time. Now, before I dig into this a little deeper, I’m not sure why this has caused such uproar amongst parents. The guidelines are pretty clear, the sanction explicitly stated (down to the actual amount) and it’s pretty much common knowledge anyway. As a parent myself, I know that I usually would not be allowed to take my children out of school. However, because it has been enforced, everyone is now questioning this rigorous stance (everyone will probably have forgotten about it in a month).

Over the day or two afterwards, I heard all sorts over the radio about this news. I struggle to find any sympathy for the parents I heard, not because I didn’t agree, but because their reasons for why they should be able to take their children out during term time were confusing at the very best. I’ll list a few here:

What some parents say

“It is just not fair for parents”
Right okay. So…therefore we should inhibit your child’s learning and have them miss hours of progress they could make in their education? Is that fair on them? I relate to this – I don’t think it is fair that I can’t take my children on holidays for prices that other people would be able to pay, or could even afford! However, the stakes of what they will be missing make this a difficult argument.

“Fine doesn’t matter”
This is sadly true and probably why we don’t hear about this rule much. Any parents who are fined for taking their child out of school receive a fine for £60 (if it is paid within 21 days). If the government really want to enforce this law and make attendance in schools increase, the sanction needs to be a larger penalty then what they are gaining. A quick bit of research by The Guardian stated:

“The results are predictable but no less frustrating for parents: every single holiday cost more in August with the average holiday costing £905 more than in July and £1,310 more than in June while in one case the price of a holiday jumped by 126% between June and August, a £1,903 difference.”

So a 60 quid fine starts to look a little more tempting…

“If my child is on track for where they need to be why can’t they miss some days?”
This one made my blood boil. The nerve of this parent to say that the rules shouldn’t apply because their child is (in Maths and English) achieving what they should in school. This is dangerous talk. I am careful to say that they are not saying their child is doing better than others (although if the recent KS2 SATs results say anything, which is debateable, then it’s only a very minute majority that are achieving what they should). However we are opening very dodgy ground here – what about children with SEN? The issues with this mentality go on…and if parents are going to state their rights are being taken away because they can’t take their child out during term time, then how much more are schools in control in their child needs a certain teacher assessment from their teacher! No – bad idea!

So – as this is quite a divisive topic I took to Twitter (in a most reliable method) to see if I could uncover any opinions. Not much response but:

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This was quite interesting. Three main messages are here for me:

  • Almost an identical percentage of parents and teachers felt that children should be allowed a certain amount of time during term out of school.
  • A higher proportion of teachers felt that children should not be allowed to take time out of school
  • A proportion of parents (although very low) felt they should be allowed to take their child out of school for any amount of time, whilst no teacher did

Interestingly, there is one thing that unites all sides of the debate in this – they are all seeking the best for the children. So to explore all stakeholders I want to briefly look out how each of them are indeed aiming for getting the best for the most important benefactor in all of this – the child.

Teachers (and Governors)
There will be some teachers who are worried for their data – particularly Year 2 and 6 teachers – when children are taken out of school during term time. I’m one of them, I just had a child taken out for 3 weeks before Easter claiming exceptional circumstances. I worry for them in the SATs. However, hopefully, I’m sure most teachers want every child in every day because it is in their job role to help all children make as much progress as possible and help them achieve all they are expected to.

The poll I ran on Twitter tells an interesting story though – that not all teachers believe what is best for the child is to keep them in school. 32% did, but the majority felt that they should be allowed a certain amount of time. Also, the 4% who selected other basically said they should be allowed but for very understandable reasons in close discussion with the Headteacher, so I see that as 68% say children should be able to be taken out (but some feel with a good reason). So does that mean that the best thing for the child is not necessarily keeping them in school through the whole term? Or perhaps to enable the child to live a whole, complete life, some teachers recognise the need to allow children to be out of term time when occasion allows?

Parents
In this wide-ranging debate, I know that parents also want what’s best for their children. Most, if not all, recognise the value of their child’s education and want to work with the school to help their child achieve their attention. A lot of parents also want to be able to provide memorable experiences for their child but a number find it difficult to provide these at the costs that are found in the school holidays. I know my family will struggle. The question is this – is it not the parent’s right to take their child out of school? This is a very difficult question. If the parent has agreed to the relevant home-school agreement so the school can educate their child – don’t they agree then that they will endeavour to ensure their child attends school as much as possible? Then the schools agrees to take them on their role? I will not attempt to make a decision here but this question suddenly becomes very complicated///

Government
Of course, the government wants the best for the children – I’m sure. They want all children to be in school all the time so that they make the most progress and become assets to the society they live in. As such, they have cracked down on guidelines to keep all learners in school during term time. I suppose that this group would be less aware or sympathetic to parents who want to take children out during term time but the question they have to consider would have to be this: How they keep attendance at a high whilst being flexible for families?

Holiday Companies
I suspect this group have less care for children’s learning but are devoted to providing life-changing memories. Now, it would be very easy for me to accuse holiday companies for being the ‘enemy’ here for taking advantage of young families, knowing full well they have to pay out for half-term dates. However, I am trying to be diplomatic here – perhaps they bump prices up because their services cost them more during this time due to high demand in the destinations they send customers to? Maybe. I hope so. Surely they don’t just do this to make more profit? If so, then I think instead of looking at cracking down on families, the government need to look to the root of the problem.

Being a teacher myself – this also means I will not be able to take my growing family on decent holidays at a decent price. But no one is worried about us teachers taking time off for our families to have more affordable breaks away…

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?

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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.

 

Boosters… Must Be Spring! by @Mroberts90Matt

The nights are getting shorter, the weather is getting milder (kind of) and the half terms are getting shorter! Although, Year 6 teachers know what this means.

“Oh, there you are [insert Year 6 teacher name], I believe you have 55% of your children working at expected in Maths. What are you planning on doing to improve this?”

“Well [insert Head name] I was thinking about trying my hardest in every Maths session and increasing the amount of Maths sessions in these children’s school weeks.”

“Oh great! Thanks [insert Year 6 teacher name]…anything else?”

“Err…no. Is there anything else you think I could do?”

“Wellllll…..I was just wondering if you could think of anything else, maybe extra opportunities outside of school time?”

“…”

The thing is about boosters, in all the schools I know (I know there may be some that will do this), sessions based on the premise of ‘boosting’ children’s attainment are found uniquely in Year 6 (in Primary Education) and maybe Year 2 (sadly). Yes I know there are ‘Maths Clubs’ and ‘Book Clubs’ and ‘Reading Breakfast Clubs’ but I am talking about the groups that are formed for the sole purpose of raising children’s attainment to increase percentages of children at the expected level.

Why is this? I know the answer is fairly obvious but surely, if children are ‘boosted’ at other points in their school life, there will be less need for such a grand boosting in Year 6.

Of course, I am not suggesting that all teachers should be expected to hold boosting sessions outside of school hours. To do so would be unacceptable and beyond the job description of teacher’s employment. However, if Year 6 teachers continue this acceptance (as I have) of holding booster classes a half term or two before the SATs, will other teachers eventually be made to feel obligated to ‘boost’ their children to raise attainment in their cohorts?

This is dangerous ground.

Having said this – the above dialogue is fabricated. Whilst I’m sure it does happen (Year 6 teachers being encouraged to hold booster sessions) this did not happen to me or my Year partner this year. We voluntarily offered to hold a 50min session each week…why??

I will give two reasons why:

1 – Support the school

I love the school I work at. I think it is such a vibrant place and it is continuing to get even better. As such, I feel a certain level of duty, or loyalty, to it. After all, it is the place that gave me my first teaching post, trusted me to teach in Year 6 straight away (one of my personal goals) and have literally provided for me to embark on the leadership path I want to take. Therefore, I want to produce the best results from this Year 6 cohort that I can to provide protection and evidence for when external eyes come looking and to develop the school’s reputation as one of the best.

2 – Support the child

This is the major reason. Ironically, the results of the tests that my Year 6 cohort sit will not have a direct impact on their pathway in life. However, this test to the child is of vital importance. Whether this sense of importance has been imposed by parents, teachers, the government or the child themselves is irrelevant. Whilst a few will not mind what result they get, two years of giving results one-by-one to my previous classes show the majority really care. I remember vividly in my 2014-15 class giving a Maths result to one of the children. She achieved a Level 3 but I know she was capable of a Level 4. She was gutted. I find myself not wanting this to be a regular occurrence. Therefore, I boost.

As Year 6 practitioners, if we have chosen to support and boost our children outside of school hours then this is admirable. However, we must make this choice carefully, in order to avoid creating a culture of expectation, rather than voluntary.

 

Leadership/Management – A Continuum or Separate Skills by @Mroberts90Matt

1

So – a quick one this week. I am intent on keeping up a weekly post but am now starting to flag with the depth of them.

Posted above I have pasted a model which was shared at a recent discussion on my NPQML course. It is a clear model which puts the relationship between leadership and management on a continuum. We were asked to reflect on our current roles and responsibilities in our setting and what we thought the majority of our time was spent on. The further to the left we place a cross and we are spending more of our time on management tasks than leadership tasks. The further to the right, then vice versa!

The question I have is this – can leadership and management be placed on a continuum? It quickly became apparent that we cannot view a leader being only focused on leadership skills or only on management skills. A leader who has leadership skills but no management has great ideas but cannot put them into action. A leader who has management skills but no leadership traits runs a very tight ship but that ship will have no direction and therefore no progress.

Thus, if we place leadership and management on a continuum, it suggests to me that these traits are a case of “either/or” rather than separate skills which a leader should select behaviours from in the right scenarios. Of course, some could argue that this continuum model does not indicate that leadership and management are skills that we choose “either/or” but it just analyses where a leader spends most of their time.

I don’t have a better solution but I feel that this can cause some confusion – particularly if used an a course which introduces new leaders to the debate of leadership and management. What happens from this is a group of new leaders who feel that a leader who spends some time on management tasks is not as an effective leader than one who spends all their time on leadership tasks. Although some would argue this is the case.

Well, hopefully you can make some sense out of that jumble of thoughts!

Educational Idealism @Mroberts90Matt

Recently, as has been commented on, EduTwitter seems to have been rocked with graceless mud-slinging and overloaded accusations from both sides of the debate. The Michaela Academy has caused massive verbal rants, cruel insults (from both sides) and elongated Twitter conversations. Seriously, I actually spent 20 minutes reading through one of them, captivated at how…pointless…the debate was and then realised I had wasted 20 minutes of my life.
(By the way, I say pointless not because there was nothing to be debated – rather that hundreds of tweets were casted and nothing really changed, just a negative tone on my Twitter feed).

Despite this raging issue, which as I write this still is ongoing, there are issues in education which everyone seems to agree with. So why is everyone using their efforts to engage in discussions which are having no impact other than to cause divide and paint others in the negative light. It is clear that those within Michaela feel there has been a hate campaign and that others feel that their methods go against their personal views. I have my views, yet I am not going to comment on who and which side I am in agreement with – there’s enough practitioners doing that very well.

I want to focus on those issues which have popped up alongside the Michaela debate that are either ongoing or that are changing. Unfortunately, it seems that these issues that everyone agrees with are more difficult to overcome or never seem to have an easy answer. I call these ‘Educational Ideals’ because we all know that there must be a better way – it just seems that right now there isn’t a clear way forward. However, if all educators unite their efforts to these, then positive change will happen. I will list a few examples here:

  1. Ending the SATs Anxiety

Here I am not calling for an end to SATs. They are necessary. I personally feel that we can  keep schools accountable by measuring the progress of pupils. However it is the way that these tests and results are used that are the issue. High-stakes testing is causing a strain on schools, staff and children and this negative source will have an impact. We can agree that the anxiety caused by SATs is unsustainable – what can teachers do to raise their voices and end this anxiety?

2. Reducing the Ofsted Workload

Here I am not calling for an end to Ofsted. They are necessary. I personally feel that we can keep schools accountable by ensuring there is a good level standard of teaching and learning going on in schools and they are maintaining educational excellence with outstanding leadership. However it is the way that these inspections and visits are conducted and prepared for that is the issue. High-stakes monitoring is causing a strain on schools and staff and this negative source will have an impact. We can agree that the fear caused by Ofsted inspections is unsustainable – what can teachers do to raise their voices and end this fear?

Fortunately teachers have been heard on this matter. Ofsted, however this has been done, have heard the outcries and they are starting to make more proactive steps to try and reduce the workload created by their visits. Ofsted produced a document a couple of years ago which outlined myths which unfortunately a number of schools still haven’t taken into consideration: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-inspection-handbook-from-september-2015/ofsted-inspections-mythbusting

As recently as the 18th January, Sean Harford posted a blog outlining again some myths about safeguarding in Ofsted inspections to try and make expectations clear and consistent. https://educationinspection.blog.gov.uk/2017/01/18/keeping-children-safe-in-education-and-ofsteds-role/

Of course some schools may be reluctant to listen to these assurances by Ofsted themselves in case they receive an inspector who still expects something that has been debunked. That’s when we can refer to these documents from Ofsted. We must spread this to all schools so all staff can be relieved of unnecessary burdens.

3. Ending the Marking Madness

Here I am not calling for an end to marking (…or do I mean feedback – that’s a whole other debate). It is necessary. I personally feel that we must  keep children aware of their learning by feeding back effectively on the learning they have recorded. However it is the way that this marking is monitored and in what format it is expected that is the problem. High-volume marking (in amount and expectation) is causing a strain on schools and staff and this negative source will have an impact on well-being if not managed. We can agree that the fatigue caused by marking is unsustainable – what can teachers do to raise their voices and end this fatigue?

Again, this is something which has had a recent development! Ofsted – in the updated myth-busting document mentioned earlier – have made it clear that they have no specific expectation on the quantity of marking. They state:
“Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.

Perfect news right? The days of complex colour coding and dialogue between teacher and pupil written endlessly in books are gone right? Ofsted have done their part and made it clear what they do and don’t expect – but again, not all schools will know/take this on board for fear they will be inspected by an inspector that will expect it. As such, their marking policy may not be reducing teacher’s workloads. And because of the statement highlighted in bold (Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy) whether you like it or not – if your school has a ridiculous marking policy, you will be expected by Ofsted to mark ridiculously!

So what is the answer? If your school is still implementing ineffective, workload-inducing marking policies then speak out. Say something to the SLT, show the Ofsted document and present a new strategy that will still fit in Ofsted guidelines but reduce workload.

Use our Teacher Voice

As educationalists we can make these ideals happen – but instead of throwing comments and causing divides, we must raise our voices on what really matters. Positive change is happening – let’s shout about it so ALL hear this and prevent any negative changes in the future.