02 Jun

Online CPD to tackle Climate Change

I have written about the usefulness and scope of MOOCs before – although their use as specific teacher CPD has always been a bit tenuous. The United Nations has had an excellent online repository of courses connected to Climate Change and Climate Literacy for some time, (UNCCLearn). Now for the first time, these are open to teachers with the aim to have accredited Climate Change teachers in every area. A partnership with Harwood Education, and sponsored by YPO you can find out more here. These courses are incredibly accessible – like all good online offerings they are put forward in several different ways (Video, PowerPoint, PDF etc) – and, upon the completion of five key courses you will receive an official accreditation.

Here are the courses on offer:

  • Introduction to Climate Change Science (no certificate)
  • Children and Climate Change (certificate)
  • Cities and Climate Change (certificate)
  • Human Health and Climate Change (certificate)
  • Gender and Environment (certificate)
  • International Legal Regime (certificate)

Certificates are awarded from the UN CC:Learn website when the person takes and passes the quiz with a score of 70% or above. There is a quiz for each certificate course AND…there is a 3-Attempt limit per person. 

People who want to learn the information that comes from the United Nations’ experts from over  190 countries have two main choices: 1) just accessing and studying the course material without taking the quizzes/earning certification and 2) accessing, studying and taking the quizzes/earning certification for fully funded/free of charge CPD (Continued Professional Development) credit.

Explainer Video

Of course, the issue of teacher subject knowledge, particularly in Primary is a thorny one. Teachers tend to be a bit ‘jack of all trades’ – for schools keeping on top of changing curricula or an ever-growing issue such as Climate Change is a challenge. This is why free online offerings, backed by prestigious institutions and with teacher-specific accreditation is a trend to encourage. Climate Change is, of course, the ultimate challenge for our future and the information, ideas and concepts presented are something we should all be aware of. As schools move towards taking responsibility for their own sustainability or eco-awareness knowledgeable teachers will be at the forefront of this.

As a bit of a disclaimer, I myself completed this course and found it incredibly interesting and very useful. I thoroughly recommend it.

19 Feb

Teacher Resilience – what’s changed?

I was really surprised last week to read that over half of teachers, who trained when I did, would not be in the profession anymore. (From the Teachers Pay and Conditions report 2018-2019).   https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-teachers-pay-and-conditions I don’t know why I was so shocked – truth is that these messages about teacher recruitment and retention have been in the news for a long time. Like anything though it took a framing of it through my own experience to really see the challenge this could pose. 

Then I saw the article in The Independent regarding the intention of teachers to stay in the classroom https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/teachers-recruitment-shortages-mental-health-nqts-trainees-workload-a8779966.html   – over half of teachers do not plan to stay in the classroom due to mental health issues. And, aside from the catch-all headline, (Mental Health issues could mean such a wide variety of things that it is almost meaningless), it made me think about Teacher resilience, and a few of my experiences once I became a Head Teacher. 

Google ‘teacher resilience’ and you get a mixture of ideas, advice and scare stories. There are books and self-help manuals designed to empower teachers, to offer advice such as ‘look after yourself’ and ‘tell empowering stories’ in order to help build a teacher’s resilience. They explain how meditation and mindfulness have supported teachers as well as pupils. They offer how to solve the problem, but I was wondering how we got here in the first place, and is it new?

I have just finished reading the excellent ‘The Coddling of the American Mind: How bad ideas and good intentions are setting up a generation for failure.’ By Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff and it got me thinking about teacher resilience. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36556202-the-coddling-of-the-american-mind

We are all complicit in creating a very complicated, high stakes environment in our schools. Schools are obviously agents of control; they have to offer safe places and they have to ensure discipline in both the pupils and staff. Decisions made in school literally have life changing effects and with this comes accountability and a sense of responsibility. The opportunity for teachers to build their own resilience is obviously limited, and is mapped out by the resilience and strength of character that they bring with them. But this has always been the case and teachers have always navigated a moral pathway which means tough decisions, tough thinking and challenging the educational management at times. Consequences of ‘bad’ decisions have always been the debate of much soul searching in the profession. So has anything changed? Are teachers changing?

Here are three key ideas that I think are having a bearing on current teachers,  both new and experienced:

  1. increased scrutiny in social media

This is the comparison trap – the idea that schools, teachers and headteachers are constantly compared and often criticised in public with no thought that this may be taken personally. Traditional media has always enjoyed a good school story, but now with stories shared so rapidly and with unfettered public comments these can be exceptionally brutal, and, crucially, taken as personal criticism. Headteachers especially fall into this as the school as often pictured as an extension of themselves. It also means that trainee teachers and new teachers are told what works and can be ‘jumped on’ for trying something new- or very often not trying enough. As social media is very often the support network for many in the first place this ca be particularly jarring, especially as you cannot be as honest as you would like due to privacy concerns. There can be mantra of teacher as a martyr or the constant comparison of hours worked. This can lead to an echo chamber of positivity which probably does not compare to your current experience. 

  1. less risk taking when training

Haidt and Lukianoff speak of the chance for our youth to ‘dose themselves in fear’ – obviously I do not mean that teachers literally risk safety. But the increased in school-based training, with one or two school bases (or one MAT) which are often similar in policy and setting reduce the ‘experimentation’ or risk that teachers would take and see. When your training is reduced to policies and ideas that the school has already tried, tested and insist upon your chance to try your own ideas and take part in something new is reduced and so is your time to make mistakes and to reflect on these. After all a trainee teacher should be encouraged to try out ideas that may not work and so experience both the consequences of this and the support prior to their own teacher post. 

  1. prescriptive teaching materials 

Haidt and Lukianoff speak of the allowing children to solve their own problems – to experience ‘play’ without an adult around. Again, in some respects, this can be applied to the early experiences of teaching. There can be an over reliance of senior leaders ‘handing down’ planning, teaching sequences and even scripts to teachers. Whilst they have a use in the classroom, particularly as time savers or if you are teaching an area that is not your expertise, they can lower the challenge threshold for teachers and lead to unrealistic expectations of what every lesson should look like. Or, they can come to believe that what they are doing is not of a high enough standard and so doubt their own ability. To some extent this is also linked to comparing yourself and to risk-taking, particularly in primary where some schools have a very prescriptive ‘non-negotiables’ and others leave it to the teachers to fine tune the details.  There are policies of course, such as a behaviour policy across the school, which are very useful and necessary but teaching materials which do not take into account the personality of the teacher or the context of the class can cause more problems than they solve. 

The answer to these problems are not easy of course, they require some relaxing of expectations for our new teachers and, to some extent, a dose of realism in the classroom. We need to recognise that our job is just that, that teaching is not always perfect and that teachers will make mistakes. Trainees should be encouraged to experiment with teaching sequences and resources, and to have fun with it. Not every lesson needs to be a singing and dancing extravaganza. We need a recognition that just because it has worked somewhere does not mean it will work for you and, crucially, that’s okay. 

22 Jan

New Ofsted Framework – a small school perspective.

I want to start this by stating that I think the proposed framework is incredibly positive and the emphasis on workload and evidence base has the chance to really make a difference for many teachers. Many will be warmed by the focus on a wider curriculum and the related insistence that an inspection should not cause an increase in workload.

There is some of it that does give me a cause for concern however. The biggest of this is the ’on-site’ preparation. This is where the school would be notified by 10AM the previous day of the inspection, but the inspectors would be on site for a half-day preparation on the day they call. The list of items they cover during this prep time is very similar to the current phone call, (school development plan, maps, staff list etc) with a few differences – wifi, single central register. And of course they expect to be able to speak to school leaders – and they will need space to do this. This is immediately problematic. There really is no small school in the land that will have random space, and spare staff, to be able to do this at such short notice. In a school where the headteacher is teaching and where there may be no business manager working (they may not even check the answer machine until lunchtime!) this is going to really make people anxious. It means for those expecting Ofsted there will always need to be ‘a plan’ in place just in case – a cost incurred and extra work already taking place. And, they haven’t even begun the ‘formal’ part of the inspection yet. This seems to be a step backward in a time where we look to using technology to save time and resources. The email / secure portal for sharing documents seems to work fine and the use of phones means that if the headteacher is off-site they can still get pertinent information.

On the other hand some of this proposed framework could, potentially, benefit the small school. The emphasis on a triangulation of evidence – ‘ connect lesson observation to other evidence: discussions with curriculum leaders, teachers and pupils, and work scrutiny’ could work very well in an environment for one leader is directly responsible for many elements of accountability. The chance to have a conversation, talking through how impact can be seen and how decisions are taken could be very beneficial.

Likewise for the focus on curriculum-level work scrutiny and on not taking a random sample of work. In a school where the curriculum is planned across 2, or even 4, years a holistic approach to the evidence in books and the ‘long view’ could work with a small school and give school leaders the chance to demonstrate impact over time. Of course small schools will need to put a bit of time into the long view themselves – including thinking about evidence, how long they keep curriculum evidence for and how they ensure their curriculum is incremental across different year groups. Schools will need a strong stomach not to start evidencing every little detail in ever subject, and Ofsted will need to take some responsibility and ensure they do not give the impression that this is needed.

The proof of any of these changes will be in the first crop of inspections that take place. And some will demand greater changes: I think they should cut out a one-word grade altogether (and much has been written on this topic) as well as ensure that they observe all schools and ‘outstanding’ schools are not exempt. But for a step toward recognising that they have been responsible for many of the workload-inducing practice over the years this Ofsted framework is a good start.

13 Jan

Why we ALL need to improve recruitment and retention.

A new education secretary era begins – and the advent of a new education secretary alllows us to take stock of where we are and, more importantly, where we want to be.

Recruitment and retention is a huge issue right now.

One that impacts on education at all levels, and crucially, one that threatens to get worse as we won’t feel the full lack of trainees for a couple of years. Many open letters have been written, conversations had and suggestions put forward – pay raises, less holiday, workload ‘promises’.

We now need to take some of the responsibility for this crisis –  Local Authorities and MATs and the culture that we have all created – whilst the argument that it is (or was) OFSTED driven still hangs around there is much that schools can do now to help turn the tide. We need to act braver, take responsibility for our own work choices and trust each other. As professionals.

Perpetuating Our Own Myths

Ofsted released their own ‘myths‘ documents and subsequent updates a couple of years ago now. They are attempting to ensure that they are not unduly adding to workload, or to the stress on teachers. This has seen some effectiveness – leadership teams in schools seem to be taking this on – rumbles throughout the system suggest that marking expectations, for example, are being reduced. ‘Wellbeing’ – possibly a fair bit of hype with this, but at least a conversation is taking place.

Trust is the key concept here.

For schools to effectively tackle workload leaders of all types need to stop double and triple checking everything done and intervene only when there is need. Schools where planning is handed in before teaching and in some places after once it is evaluated. Schools where marking is checked weekly, where book scrutiny demand a minimum amount of writing each week, where assessment data is decimalised and expected every half term.

Don’t get me wrong – we need standards and we need to strive for our pupils but we also need realism. We need to encourage open conversation so that teachers feel they can query school systems, can make suggestions and, most importantly, ask for help. This kind of culture comes from the top. Cutting staff meetings, reducing marking expectations, demanding data less frequently are all side effects of this culture, but they don’t necessarily create it. To create this culture you need to announce it – you need to actually tell teachers they are trusted. Book scrutiny, lesson observations, pupil interviews – whatever forms part of your strategic calendar all need to take place in an open manner – with teaching staff involved, not just closed door senior teams. Teachers need to be part of the system, not just be recipients of judgments.

What can change tomorrow:

– your next ‘judgement forming’ action needs to be open and shared with staff. Why are you doing it? What do you want to see? What are the criteria.. etc. Etc.

– senior staff: try just taking the class for a lesson or series of lessons, best way to learn about standards, expectations, behaviour routines etc.

– if there is an issue, and you are looking to rapidly improve standards give staff mentors that they can talk to. Don’t just give a list of things to improve and then a ‘we’ll be back in two weeks’. Give the reasons why changes will impact standards.

– regularly review policies such as your marking and teaching and learning with teaching staff. Try to get honest impact assessments – what does it mean for pupils? What does it mean for staff time? Etc. Etc. Does consistency mean consistency or does it  mean a couple of staff members working all hours and some staf members only  doing what they know will be looked at? Be honest!

– not use performance management to set data targets for class teachers. Data is, after all, a school wide product.

– don’t demand assessment data half termly. No need at all.

Again, all of these things rely on trust – and until we as a profession can honestly, and openly, talk about colleagues with a sense of professional trust rather than bickering and distrust.

20 Aug

How I teach writing…

A few steps into how writing is taught in my classroom….

 

Context

I usually teacher upper KS2 – but I have taught all KS1 and KS2 – and adhere to these ideas. At my school the pupils have targets – written marking by the teacher is minimal but feedback is expected in class with children acting on it as we go. Peer marking and self evaluation is also trained in to the children, using Even Better If and What Went Well. Obviously at Key Stage 1 this process needs to be modelled by the adult.

I rarely teach writing as a standalone. It is part of a purpose, linked to work we’ve done, a book we’re reading or an experiment we are doing. In short, every bit of writing we do in the classroom has a context, and a purpose, and is a learning opportunity.

Nuts and bolts

Grammar rules, spelling support and punctuation is also taught standalone, across the whole school, for 20mins a day. But writing sessions need to pull this learning in. Individuals have their focus for their own writing,  but we may have a class focus for new grammar or spelling rules as well. Displays make use of this – as well as key examples during reading.

Task Planning (them and me!)

I encourage planning – but by the end of Key Stage 2 I don’t really care how they do it. We model different ways of planning – e.g. Story board (pictures), story mountain or just good old fashioned boxes, but, to be honest I don’t care as long as they have an idea where it will end. Instead I will limit something via the task. For example when we were writing a biography we limited ourselves to the same template and to two or three choices (from topic work). No time wasted on ‘researching’ their favourite footballer. When we looked at diary entries we all did the same piece based on August from ‘Wonder’ – then we all knew where we started and where we were finishing. I rarely ask them to just ‘write’ – though I will sometimes give them a choice of the character to write a diary entry from.

IMG_0171

Success criteria?

When teaching I rarely give success criteria up front, instead as we get started I will give them something linked to the genre (or context)  and remind them of any grammar focus, especially if new. However I always stop them say, fifteen minutes in, and ask them to think any criteria the want to work on. They make a note of this at the bottom of their page. Note that for children who may find this difficult this will be modelled a part of a group, and if need be give a group success criteria.

Modelling

I’m a huge believer that the children cannot write it if they haven’t read it. Often as we write I will also write the task and stop and share. Often I will do this on the whiteboard as a ‘guided write’ to get thing started. Then I will pause the board, get them going and continue myself. When we stop in ten minutes or so to look at success criteria I will share mine, and they will share theirs. This works very well for younger children who can use my modelling as springboard. I also love working from poems and books. Sharing good writing, and not so good writing. Asking them to reflect on stories by writing diaries, school reports, letters etc.

Examples:

IMG_0094

Using ‘The Wall’  – Y5/Y6

We have been reading this book – and the children had found some of the ideas and concepts quite challenging. As such we spent some time focusing on vocabulary and themes – exploring the choices made by adults and how they could appear to children. To do this we did some ‘short writing’  snippets of conversations that the characters had with one another (focus on speech punctuation, and on formality) in the lessons before. Some of which were on our wall to remind us. We then built up to a write where we chose Liev (a kind of bad guy) and wrote two letters. One to a ‘higher up’ – e.g. An old army boss or his current chief and another letter to a friend. Both letters had to explain his motives and we discussed which letter would be more honest. With this activity the letter writing layout was reinforced, but also the diferrent language and grammatical feature a more formal letter would have.

Postcard to a Pirate (Y1/Y2)

A whole assortment of Pirate works went into this – including the reading of various picture books and previous work on the characters. Then we decided to write a postcard to a pirate. Simple really. We thought about what a postcard is, discussed language we would use and then wrote it in our books first. I modelled mine, and then those less confident continued from where I left off. A taught editing session (with year two the same principle applied  we read our work and looked for finger spaces, capital letters, and any words that didn’t seem right)  – then the copied it up.

Key points – to finish with! 

1. Context is everything – especially with the more tricky vocabulary. Make your  literacy lessons worthwhile. Don’t waste time  – if you want them to write biographies link it with their topic, scientific writing can be done in literacy etc. If you want pictures of a character do that in art.

2. Expectations need to be high. You know your children – so high but not unobtainable; if you want them to spot missing capital letters then you need to pull them up on it. I had a chart once (only needed it for a week) where every missed capital letter was a minute they owed me. Y6. It worked. Word walls and misspelled words regularly shared.

3. Work ethic – a school wide issue I know – but they need to get used to focusing on their work. They need to produce a minimum. I don’t always stop ten minutes in, but when I do I use it to reinforce not just the grammar and punctuation expectations but how much I expect to get done.  I give them a specific five mins where they can look at someone else’s work and get ideas – they edit and correct in a different colour so I can see how they apply their learning and we use books with space at the bottom for comments. Silence is the norm when they actually write.

4. Key questions – plan some of these if need be. Questions which interrogate the text and which they can ask themselves. Even with the pirate task above thinking of ideas such as why they are writing a postcard, are they friendly, or boasting? (Etc)

5.Editing is an important skill and needs to be taught and modelled. Edit your work to show them them the process and, with younger children, give them an aim to editing. E.g. Just sentences, or just capital letters. You want them, by the end of Y5 to be drafting and then editing a piece – google docs is brilliant for this is you can model as they type!

 

 

 

 

30 Jul

Clear walls = Clear mind!

 

This Tweet: 

This reminded me of an ongoing conversation that I have with teachers. Not just about tidying classrooms (don’t get me started on cables!) – but about their walls. It always seems to me massively counter-intuitive to suggest that classroom walls should be covered in stuff. Over the years I have argued with many head teachers who were convinced that every spare space of wall should be covered in, well, something vaguely connected to learning.  Lists of things to have; topics to be covered and how it should be set out.

This year when I planned my classroom I asked the children what they wanted on the walls – what they liked, what they used and, importantly, what they remembered with their eyes closed. Their current classroom is pretty typical – lots of grammar and punctuation hints (Y6) – topic ‘best’, maths working wall etc etc.

In a nutshell they could remember very little of their classroom wall when they were not in it! They felt proud of their work being up – and they wanted more of it. They found the vocabulary useful but could only really tell me ‘two or three words’ – and they really did not notice or remember any of the posters / extra displays (friendship reminders, class rules etc)




Those children who are coming to my classroom last year requested three key things.

Firstly they wanted their own space – in the school library we have a ‘proud of’ space for each Y6 – and they really, really liked this. I use it as a kind of ‘blog’ area.

They wanted words up that they can’t spell. Tricky this, as every child will find different words helpful, but they told me they can manage to keep it updated… Y6 also wanted grammar… same reason I guess.

Finally they liked the ‘polished’ displays… and we’re proud of their work on them, and they wanted to keep those. Interestingly,  not everyone, but enough to warrant me mentioning it!

Everything else… they were not bothered.

For me, I need a working wall, they might not remember it afterwarss, but somewhere to display the process we are working through is very useful during lessons and it certainly helps me organise my planning.

And finally, a special mention for the interactive display screen which they loved!

IMG_0232