Tag Archives: teachers

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!

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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:

12

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…

Eradicating Maths Anxiety by @Mroberts90Matt

I recently came across this post bringing up an issue in Mathematics which has an impact on learning across the nation, for adults and children:

http://ukedchat.com/2015/08/31/maths-anxiety-by-mathscraftgame/

The natural reaction to anxiety in Maths is avoidance. Even in members of teaching staff there are some who feel they are ‘no good’ at Maths and therefore they avoid all possible interaction with the subject. Of course, when children are then raised by these parents with anxiety about Maths, this attitude can be passed on.

The biggest challenge we face as teachers in Mathematics is encouraging those children who experienced doubt or anxiety to engage fully – otherwise these children may fall further and further behind. As such it is vital for all Maths practitioners to identify what can cause anxiety in Maths and how they can support learners to either avoid this anxiety or guide them through it. And is anxiety even a bad thing?

1. Parental Influence

Children receive the strongest influence in their early development by experiences in the home. They are moulded and taught there first. Parents teach (actively and passively) behaviours and preferences to their children. This can be magnify feelings about Maths. If parents convey negative messages about Maths (or indeed any other subject), that is more likely to rub off onto the child. Of course, this is not guaranteed but it can be a factor. If a parent also experiences maths anxiety, they are likely to avoid it and therefore not support their child as much.

As teachers and schools, we can support parents and therefore children through this. We can provide experiences for parents where they can begin to understand the way that maths is taught to their children and how they can support their child in simple ways. Events such as subject workshops, Curriculum Meetings and Parents Evenings are vital moments where change can happen in the children’s home. With the support from home, children can then begin to feel supported in all areas of their life and feel less anxiety about maths.

2. Ethos of the Classroom

As a teacher, I still have a lot to learn. I am only in my third year of teaching and I recognise I still need to develop in a number of areas. Something which I feel strongly about though is developing the correct ethos in the classroom. Whilst there are times for high-stakes learning, children need to feel secure in making mistakes. If they make mistakes, these are big steps in their learning journey. For any subject, it is vital for children to feel they can take ownership of their learning without worrying about feeling they will be looked down on (by their peers or staff) for making a mistake.

I think about my ability in Art. If I were to go to an Art workshop today then I would certainly feel anxiety. A scene involving stick men is beyond me. However, I know that if i were placed in a scenario that I would not be belittled or looked down on for my ‘weakness’ then I would be more likely to have a go with the task that I was given.

3. A strict diet of problem solving

This may seem like an odd strategy for tackling anxiety – placing children in situations early on where there may be an increased likelihood of anxiety. However, if children are trained to take on problem solving challenges more, rather than comfortable pages of rote calculations, then they will develop their problem solving toolbox more for later on.

The average score in the 2016 KS2 SATs Arithmetic paper was in the mid 30’s out of 40 (around 80% score) and the average scores on the Reasoning Papers (Paper 2 and 3) were 7 and 10 out of 35 (around 20-30% score). This is telling. Children are not being exposed to enough problem solving challenges. As such, it’s hardly a surprise that children experience anxiety when faced with mathematical challenges.

 

It is no secret that a controlled level of anxiety in the classroom can push children out of their comfort zone and encourage greater learning steps. However, there will be a fine balance for teachers to strike which will mean children feel secure enough in their learning to take risks but also push their learning further.

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.

SAT in the SATs (Mock ones anyway) by @Mroberts90Matt

Last week we carried out a couple of practice SATs assessments in our school in order to give the children a chance to get used to the process, protocols and procedures of those oh so very important tests they would be taking on in the coming weeks. As we prepared to start the time, I looked out across the hall filled with those 10-11 year olds. Every single pair of eyes was transfixed on me or one of the other two adults at the front of the sea of students. I could not help but think…”Why are these children being forced to sit in such stringent conditions?”

There were many of those eyes that looked nervous. What have they got to be nervous about? The answer, for me, is clear. There is an undoubted amount of pressure on these children. Pressure from themselves because they honestly want to do the best that they can. Pressure from their parents to reach their potential. Pressure from the teacher to achieve their best because they do care for the child’s future and because they want to be seen as having made an impact. Pressure from the school to achieve results which show they are a ‘good’ school…and so on.

Is there not another way? I’m sure many others had deliberated about ways to get an accurate, national snapshot of children’s attainment. I’m sure those others felt as uncomfortable as I did when I looked out over that collection of nervous faces…

And yet we are set for another 5 years of a Conservative Government. What will this mean for assessment? With discussions over resits in Year 7 for those children who fall behind and previous discussions on Times Table Assessments and a Year 2 SPAG Test to name a couple, it does not sound like the assessment culture will be easing up any time soon. The question now is – what do we as educators do to work with the situation? How can we motivate the children we teach to in the face of looming formal assessments? It must be possible – what are your thoughts? As a Year 6 NQT Teacher, any advice is very welcome!

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To Those Who Support by @Mroberts90Matt

Well, I am sat in the Children’s Ward at my local hospital writing this – and what a roller coaster week it’s been. After committing to write more consistently on this blog and begin the final couple of weeks of my first term as an NQT with my mentor off sick until after Christmas – life struck.

My KS2 Department had gotten fully into a Pupil Progress Meeting looking at delightful data (and that wasn’t fully sarcastic – things are looking good) on the Thursday late afternoon when the Assistant Head’s phone rang and it was for me. It was my wife…Now my wife has only rung the school directly to speak to me once and that was to inform me she had been taken into hospital to have an emergency scan on our unborn daughter, so this was not promising. We had previously take E (my daughter) to the Walk-in Centre the previous night with what seemed to be a bad cold. Turns out she had progressively gotten worse that day to the point she had to be rushed into Hospital in a speeding ambulance! Needless to say, I was told to leave the Departmental by my Assistant Head and Head – it made things easier that, being in Year 6, I had already had 4 meetings on data for my Year Group previous to this meeting where, for Years 3-5, it was only the first one!

Fast-forward 5 days and ironically more sleep than usual, it looks like E will finally be able to come home at some point tomorrow, or by the latest Thursday, all being well. Why do I share this? Whilst I know I have avid readers of my educational blog (not), it is not my intention to regularly update whoever reads this with my life story (my wife does enough of that on her blog)! Neither is it an attempt by me to release all the tension I’ve been feeling for the past few days to poor souls who will take the time to read.

No, this, as mentioned before, is an educational blog and whilst, since starting my NQT Year, it has had a significant drop in posts, I felt it necessary to force myself back on after this torrid week to do one thing – thank my school leadership and colleagues. My school is currently in a state of shift and so as an NQT I have felt I need to be there – not just to help my Year 6 class achieve what I know they can achieve – but to help the school have a great year in it’s progress as well. I was ill one day last week (E must have caught it off all of us as we were ill previously) and subsequently have had to take Friday last week (which was an INSET fortunately) and Monday-Weds this week off.

Now, some of you may be saying ‘That’s no time at all!’ or ‘Your leadership would have to be monsters to be unhappy with you taking that time off with your daughter!’. I, however, do not like letting anyone down. The past 5 days have felt like an eternity (which I guess is not surprising given the circumstances) so all I could think about, in terms of work was, the need to get supply cover, kids not having consistency…all the things the school would have to deal with me not being there. And yet, have I been made to feel at all bad? Have the Heads at any stage asked me when I think the earliest I’ll be in is? If anything, when I said I WILL be in on Thursday they said “Well, we really appreciate that but we will make sure nearer the time – you focus on your family.”

I am sure that some school leaders would have grumbled. I am sure that some leaders would (and I’m applying this to all leaders outside of education too) make some comment, maybe inadvertently, which showed the extra problems this sudden leave of absence would cost. But not mine. They have been a support all the way through. And this has allowed me to do one thing – focus on supporting my wonderful wife, my tremendous toddler and my bright, beautiful baby girl. Today – she smiled for the first time since she became ill last Weds really – and a tear came to my eye. I had been there pretty much every step of the way – from the fraught first moments in the emergency room when her blood oxygen dropped to 70%, to the heartbreak when she had to have almost a dozen tubes strapped to her face, nose and body, to the clear lethargy she had to endure for most of the week, to the hunger she clearly felt despite not being able to feed and then finally, to that bright, cheerful smile. I was there – thank to those who supported me to allow me to leave my work for a little while and focus solely on my loved ones.

If my school had complained, would I be returning a happy employee who would do anything to support the school? No. But I will be…

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Academic Journal Access by @Mroberts90Matt

Context

Twitter is a wonderful resource! Yesterday as I was perusing the 140-character-or-less tidbits by leading educational professionals, I came across a link to a petition on Change.org. Not one to miss out on a petition I had a look. This petition is calling for all teachers to be able to access major research ejournals for free. Now, all teachers love free stuff – probably replace ‘teachers’ with ‘humans’ there – so this would be great! However there is more to consider here. There are important points as to why teachers should be given free access to major research journals in education.IMG_7485Points for free access to research journals

1. Teachers are Researchers

One of the most productive methods of questioning and improving my practice after actual school based training was the reading of academic research journals. This may sound crazy but it’s true. As I was able to read the fine work of leading professionals and consider the impact it could have on my practice, I started to find myself making more informed decisions based on evidence. I no longer thought that what sounded pleasant to do in University sessions was what I should do – instead I would take those thoughts and check them against what others had researched.

This  should be the practice of all teachers – researching the best practice so we reduce the trial and error stages in our classrooms. This point is beginning to have a larger impact in education, with news in June that a school appointed a Head of Research. Now, of course, my point is not that teachers are incompetent researchers, far from it. However, as teachers we are well aware of the need for continuing professional development and being able to research leading educational evidence should play a role in that.

2. Encouraging teachers to participate in educational research

Recently I was given the opportunity to write for the August edition of UKEDMag. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and feel it gave me more confidence to contribute in more areas and develop my practice more. Now, I am aware that this is not educational research. However, my willingness has been bourne from the study of these academic journals and wanted to contribute like these fine professionals have. Whilst I would say I’m not competent enough to contribute in that way yet, there are many teachers who I’m sure would have a lot to offer to educational research. Being able to read these academic research articles for free would be one way to encourage these teachers to include their voice.

3.  Sharing Practice!

The current Teacher Voice Weekly Poll is about CPD and what the most effective method of CPD is. At this moment (although it is close), the most voted for method is observing good practice from others. Despite this, as a working teacher we often don’t leave our own classrooms to observe others. Fortunately, Twitter, blogging and conferences allow some level of observing other’s practices to happen. However, more needs to be happening. Reading the practice and research from academic ejournals could be another way to give teachers power to observe good practice and influence their own.

I’m sure many of you will be able to contribute other reasons as to why teachers should be enabled to receive free access to academic research journals on education. As an NQT, I have had free access to these journals the past 4 years and it astounds me that not all teaching professionals have free access to these. If we are truly serious about wanting teachers to have more evidence-based practice, then having this access will support them in conducting effective research in their own classrooms, just as we would improve teaching by observing examples of good teaching.

You can find the link to this petition here. Please take a minute to sign and have your voice heard in this!61706536_a5038d23ee“If we truly want our teachers to be at the forefront of evidence-based research and to drive improvement in teaching and learning through research-informed practice in global education, it is imperative they can take part fully in educational research and debate.”

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/34120957@N04/5914150081/”>Alex E. Proimos</a> via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Photo Credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/81752595@N00/61706536/”>ruurmo</a&gt; via <a href=”http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;