We know what we are talking about, so we should talk about it

Firstly let me make it clear that, rather than reading my version, you’d be better turning to

Looking back maybe it was obvious. I used to say I only got into teaching because I wasn’t brave enough to try being a stand up comic. I always like to lay out my classroom with space at the front for me to pace, to strut and to perform. I was never so good at standing off to one side. So, whereas I wouldn’t like to call myself a sage, I know I love to be on the stage. And I know I could teach children and explain to them things they didn’t already know in a way that (I hope) was often relevant and always done with enthusiasm for my subject.

Yet when I joined twitter I got dazzled by the lights. I couldn’t stop clicking on links written by teachers who had just implemented a newly developed idea that was flipping excellent. Innovators flying solo and above the rest of us with embellishments and gizmos to take the drab out of learning and engage those oh so disinterested pupils. Discussion and decision-making games to make children that distracted they were tricked into learning.  At the same time for various reasons, some that are documented on this blog and some not yet, I began to lose belief in my own ability to teach effectively. This double slap combination left me grasping at every suggestion I read. Surely the bold world of twitter, blogs and the world wide web could save me and my sagging, flailing career.

But all these ideas led to was a distant ideal I could never replicate in my classroom and an unshakable feeling I was failing. The harder I worked at mimicking these hero teachers the worse I felt about my job. After all, if I was putting all that effort in and still my pupils weren’t really learning or often even that interested,  I must surely be a poor teacher. I was working harder and harder, introducing new formats and plans every week for little if any gain. I was drowning under technique and forgetting my subject.

I can’t say there was some road to Damascus moment that saved me. I had already slowly realised how much easier it was to rely on myself as the expert and not some mysterious ever-mutating teaching strategy before I found the two books listed above. But when I read Daisy Christodoulou defending and promoting direct instruction and Jess Lund write about “no nonsense, no burn out” it wasn’t just me and a few others at my own school. What we were thinking, others were thinking and championing. Such a relief!

And so now I am confident enough again to tell my pupils stuff, to explain things to them, to introduce them to facts, to talk to all of them – from the front. I still rely on other resources too of course: youtube is my good friend and so is the text book (radical, eh?) Then I set them some work to support that learning and check to ensure they have understood it. I make sure these first pieces come with support so that they can gain confidence and then finally once they have that knowledge secured, I introduce some more challenging decision-making tasks. Maybe then, from time to time, I might plan in a game or a gimmick as well:)

How I became good at my job….. 

Go on, indulge me for a minute, allow me to show off just briefly: I am a good teacher, I have been practicing it for nearly a quarter of a century so I should be by now. I am not good enough for the headteacher unannounced to make a beeline to my room with an important visitor, but I know what I am doing. So allow me to pass on something I think I’ve done rather well in my career….

When my own children were of primary school age, the finishing times of my own secondary school dovetailed beautifully with theirs so that I could pick them up three times a week. Admittedly on one of those days I had to ensure a) I parked right by the school exit and b) leave my last lesson of the day as the bell rang and overtake my pupils down the steps. But I there and on time for my own children when they finished their school day.  It the bit I liked best was the 10 minute walk home, asking them about their day, talking about whatever was in their minds that afternoon before they forgot it all. I f I hadn’t been present to ask I would never have known about their day and that of course made all the rush and planning worthwhile. Of course I still had the same amount of work to do and many afternoons I would really be just ignoring my own children as I marked books and they played or watched the telly, but I was making a statement to myself about where my priorities should be. I was refusing to let the job push further into my own life. I was drawing a line.

I was frequently restless for a new job in those years. My nose was in the TES website and newspaper every Friday. But I never moved either on or up. At sometime in each application process, maybe as late as the drive to the school for the interview, the thought of the extra commute and the wasted time I would be spending in the car made me realise I wouldn’t accept the job even if I was offered it. I would be giving up so much I could never claim back.  So I stayed put; working five minutes drive from my own front door and my children’s primary school gate beat all career temptations hands down.

Now most managers find this attitude both  a mystery and a disappointment. After all, they have climbed up the greasy pole, so they normally make the mistake of assuming that everyone should want to as well. If you choose not to chase promotion, you have to be patient with senior leaders who only slowly realise that you are not what they hoped you would be. Instead they will prefer to talk to, to swap ideas with, those teachers eager to implement a whole school strategy that will feather their own CV. Once they perceive you as just a teacher and not an aspiring leader you lose your lustre. The length of time you spend at a school isn’t seen often enough as a source of experience to be utilised. It’s as though you are seat blocking in the staff room like an elderly patient bed blocks in a ward.

But that’s easy to deal with. I don’t worry about that. I am a happier person, both in personal and my professional life. I know my children are getting a better father from the choices I have made and I my pupils are getting a better teacher. I don’t want anyone to think that any of this has been some sort of selfless sacrifice; that I have laid down my own ambition for my three children. Most definitely not. Everything – for me, my family, my children and my pupils has benefited. And as I said I am even good at my job.

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You are doing a fantastic job

It’s strange to say but I loved being reminded of school this Christmas Day. At the end of term a wrapped book-shaped present was placed in my pigeon hole. I didn’t open it then and there and so I waited till the 25th. Then, amongst all the family gifts and Cava and child excitement, I unwrapped it. The book was a really thoughtful gift.

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I have started teaching mindfulness to Year 10s in September and this fits right in with that. But it was the card that came with it that made me melt.

img_0034It is so rare as a teacher that you receive such a meaningful thank you from parents or from anyone else. But what I really liked is that this student is not one of those to demonstrate how she is feeling. So without the card I would have had no idea she was profiting from the lessons and implementing what I had been teaching.

Now if this has happened to one my pupils then it has almost certainly happened to others too. But more than that, it must have happened to many of yours too. Which is something you teachers shouldn’t forget. YOU’RE DOING A FANTASTIC JOB -EVEN IF NO ONE HAS SAID THANK YOU FOR IT.

Would you dare to watch the TV in the last lessons of term?

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Since we are now telling all pupils how important attending as many schooldays as you can, it would seem hypocritical to spend a day or two in the last week of term watching DVD’s and colouring in. Also if your headteacher happens to be predisposed to dropping in just to see how things are going on the last Wednesday of term you may not have considered slipping in a DVD and pressing play. But then again, you are screamingly tired and can’t even get order out in the right words.

Well fear not! Here is a plan that means you can educate, engage, play a DVD (well BBC iplayer) AND tick some boxes toward achieving your whole school literacy policy.

Next week I will be re-using an old plan that always worked well with Key Stage 3 classes. Thanks go to Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice ) for her original idea of the 100 word challenge which this is all based upon.

I use the following resources:

  1. BBC iplayer and the Planet Earth 2 series, though a box set of planet Earth (1?) works just as well
  2. One pen and one exercise book per pupil

Here’s how it goes:

  1. I ask the class to write down 6-8 words that come to mind when they think of “deserts” or whatever the title of the episode is that they are to watch. They have to draw a line under those words.
  2. Then I tell them we are going to watch a DVD on this topic for about 30 minutes and afterwards they are going to produce a piece of descriptive writing on the landscapes they have seen and what happens there. (I emphasise landscapes because as a geography teacher, this works better than the animals they would go for without any guidance, but you could choose any other facet of the programme). I say they should write down some words and ideas for this during the DVD, but not many as actually watching and listening is more important than taking lots of notes.
  3. I stop the video with about 20 minutes to go of the lesson (ours last for an hour) and tell them to complete their piece of descriptive writing. The only two rules they have to follow are:
  • It must not exceed 100 words (I am strict on this)
  • They cannot use any of their original 6-8 words they wrote down at the start of the lesson

As this is the last lesson of the term chances for peer and self assessment are not available, but I know this idea could be extended further to allow for more redrafting and improving of their work.

But as a stand alone end of term lesson that both challenges my pupils to learn and think and is also a bit different, this has so far worked very well.

and it has David Attenborough in it – so you cant go wrong

The Coasting Teacher Myth

I should be wise enough not to let my anger rise just because of a mere education blog… I should be..

But this by apparently ‘The most influential  blog on education in the UK’ scratched a tender spot and I have to reply.

How the hell do you coast when you are faced with 30 children whom you have to teach and lead and cajole and re-teach and help and support and scold and listen to? At what time during the lesson are you coasting? Or are you coasting when are marking till late in the evening? Maybe you are taking it easy at the very moment you awake and your first thought of the day is “I haven’t photocopied those resources for lesson 1?” Maybe you are relaxing during the 3 hour “5 minutes an appointment” parents evening you had that started 10 minutes after a full teaching day?

Luckily there is a list in the article showing you how to spot a coasting teacher. Like a David Attenborough documentary we are shown all the characteristics that make up this mythical species. I think I know what these terms mean and so i have rephrased them

 

How to spot a coasting teacher?

  1. They move with all the energy of a stone trough – They are so genuinely full on exhausted you should be grateful they haven’t phoned in sick
  2. They are happy not to fulfill their potential – They are desperately trying to maintain some sort of work life which taking another responsibility with no extra time would destroy
  3. They feel under attack by any new initiative – You should think through your latest management issue and whether the improvement in learning it creates actually balances out the extra work it creates
  4. They see progress as a threat – Define progress
  5. They toe the line but reluctantly – They haven’t the confidence that their head teacher and leadership team will see any questioning of new ideas as anything other than subordination
  6. They have a closed-door policy – Your observation policy is threatening not supportive. Sort it out
  7. They spread negativity like Japanese knot-weed – Because they lack the confidence to speak to you (see 5) they talk to other teachers about changes to their work day. Its what people do in the staff room.
  8. They say ‘full circle’, ‘when I qualified we …’ and ‘mark my words’ – They have built up years of experience in the classroom (maybe more than the leadership team) you should value this.
  9. They pride themselves on being dinosaurs. They know that how things were done ‘back then’ still has some relevance and you shouldn’t throw all past knowledge out for the latest fad some new assistant head teacher has just introduced to the school at the least training day.
  10. They have a sour face. WHICH IS CAUSED AS YOU DONT APPRECIATE HOW HARD THEY ARE WORKING AND HOW WELL THEY ARE DOING THEIR JOB DESPITE ALL THE CONSTANT CHANGES AND SCRUTINY YOU APPLY TO THEIR DAILY WORKING LIFE

 

Sorry for the red font and the block capitals. but sometimes their symbolism is apt

Finally, I have written this myself and not paid someone else to write my own posts for me on my own blog 😉

Putting #TLT16 into Practice

You know what CPD can be like: if you’re lucky you get a bit of inspiration. A cracking new way of getting them to learn. One you haven’t thought of before. You scribble your ideas furiously onto the hotel logo headed paper, unwrap a wannabe fox’s glacier mint and treat yourself to some sparkling water from the middle of your round table. You stretch back and wonder how much the course leader gets paid. This nugget you will change your teaching forever.

24 hours later and you are battling with year 8. Who has and who hasn’t done their homework? Is that a forged note in her planner Mary is showing you? What did the head of year say about Kyle’s home life? Should you challenge him on his lack of effort? The bell goes and you remember you are on duty. That nugget will just have to wait till next week before you implement it.

Then next week comes and….  you can fill in the rest. The cheap headed note paper ends up getting buried further and further down on your desk and is eventually binned in July with only a snip of your regret going with it into the recycling.

Except I bring good news.

I have just used an idea I heard at #TLT16. Not a life-altering 360º change or anything. Just one small, simple rather obvious thing that I have used and watched have effect. I have a year 9 tutor group. They are lovely. They behave well most of the time and are a happy cheerful and polite bunch. i am proud of them. However they have been getting louder and louder when i take the register and i keep having to stop and ask them to be quiet and it wasn’t having any effect until ….

Lindsay Skinner was talking in the closing keynote about language and words teachers use or don’t use. She said that we shouldn’t say “Please be quiet” but the slightly more forceful “Be quiet”. I do exactly that and now they are quiet all the way through (nearly). I haven’t changed the tone of my voice , nor am I shouting. I have just dropped the “please” from my statement and it is so much more effective

20+ years of teaching and I am still taking advice on something as basic as taking the register. Just shows you good simple CPD can work. As John Tomsett said in the first keynote “Avoid using shiny new ideas that you don’t understand. Instead embed and improve what you do already.”

My original post on #TLT16 can be found here

#TLT16

Have applied 3 times but never got to a TLT event before. I loved it. As a result i am relaunching this old unattended and unused blog. I wanted to write something quickly before I even got onto the weekend marking, so things were fresh and as yet untainted by time pressures and skepticism. Below is a write up of my notes from yesterday. I have included any ideas I think I could actually employ in my teaching and their learning. I am following John Tomsett’s excellent advice from the opening keynote of not trying out ideas I liked the idea of but didn’t understand. I’ve been teaching more than long enough to have my own good ideas and practice.

John Tomsett (@Johntomsett ) – Keynote

  • Avoid using shiny new ideas that I don’t understand instead embed and improve what I do already
  • Use metacognition when going over mock exams and with a visualiser write down what I am thinking when I read the questions in the paper
  • Remember most pupils don’t use a pen outside of school so train them in writing a lot in 90-120 minutes
  • This slide of his on achievement is excellent ach

Andy Tharby (@atharby ) – Questioning

  • Get into a routine of using mini quizzes and questions as lesson starters to revisit last lesson, last fortnight, last half term’s work
  • Sequence these questions (and all questions) carefully to fit in with new GCSE spec demands on knowledge and skills
  • Include ‘crackerjack’ questions that cover more than one topic
  • Can I design a subject question template for GCSE topics like his one for English?template

John Tomsett – (@Johntomsett ) Assessment and progress

  • Concentrate more on dragging them all to the highest understanding than differentiating in lessons
  • Don’t talk about high, mid and low ability/ attainers instead say high mid and low starters
  • Overarching principles of assessment photo ……Assessment must improve learning (do all our KS3 topic assessments do this?)
  • Progress is relative… hard work and changing rates of development can have different effects. This shows how lower started pupil can pass higher starter. bell-curve

Stephen Lockyer (@MrLockyer ) – Challenge and Differentiation

  • Get pupils to self regulate their work. They should learn to how they could improve. (Maybe get them to argue with each other whose work is the best and why)
  • Convince pupils they are doing really well maybe working above their target level
  • I like the idea of every major piece having an audience, but in geography who is that audience?
  • Keep an excellent example of the end of topic piece of work to show next year’s pupils. My colleague is thinking of doing this via photos on a blog so it all also works as an online “praise website”
  • Get pupils who have understood to help explain to pupils who are still trying (geography expert photo?)
  • Beat the drum – publicise high achievements as much as possible (be unBritish)

Lindsay Skinner (@lindsayjskinner )- Keynote

  • One of the key peaks of attention in lesson is about 5 minutes in. So maybe start with one of Tharby’s quizzes and then 5 mins in hit them with a key introduction
  • Slow speech down when either it is a key part of the lesson or when you are dealing with a particularly tricky piece of bad behaviour
  • Leaving words out increases informality – consider that when giving instructions (and maybe adding one or two in when telling off)
  • Using anecdotes in class may help pupils see the teacher as a human being and treat them as such.