22 things I say to myself during the school term.

Self talk:the act or practice of talking to oneself, either aloud or silently and mentally.

There is no doubt that the emotional highs and lows of teaching are like that of a rollercoaster. It may be crazy but I self talk to stay sane, passionate and in the profession. Here are some of the little weird things I say to myself.

  1. What really is more important? That lesson objective or that you cared, nurtured and made someone feel important today?
  2. Are you lighting flames or filling buckets?
  3. Work smarter, not harder.
  4. Make a to do list.
  5. Consistently good is better than occasionally outstanding.
  6. Mark now! Don’t leave it till tomorrow.
  7. Are they really going to learn from this marking? Will they respond to it? Have you left it too long?
  8. This is not about how you teach. It is about how they learn.
  9. How will you capture their curiosity? Hook them in?
  10. Fail to plan, plan to fail.
  11. Before you plan- Assess. Build on from where they’re at.
  12. Getting observed? Feeling nervous? You’ve go this. Time to perform.
  13. Stop. Listen. Watch.
  14. Never jump to conclusions. First ask- What is going on? What happened?
  15. Own your emotions.
  16. Never let a child’s behaviour effect your ability to be the calm, stable role model in the room. Don’t do what you feel, do what is right.
  17. You are a professional.
  18. Laugh- but never at someone else’s expense.
  19. Be in the moment.
  20. A little sure progress in each lesson is the goal?
  21. People. We work with people.
  22. This job is not your whole life. Go home now.

 

Disclaimer: A thought doesn’t mean I practise this consistently. I’m definitely in the ‘work in progress’ club.

 

 

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22 things I say to myself during the school term.

Six lessons learnt in six weeks.

I am finally beginning to find my feet again after taking the leap into classroom teaching, six weeks ago. Having been warned of the workload, the stress and the accountability over and over again I was worried I would be drowning myself in a pool of wine, regret and sorrow. I would be lying if I said there hasn’t been tears (or many glasses of wine) but I’m finally not missing home, I’m engaged and I am learning not just observing this alternate system.

Lessons learnt so far:

Relax, have confidence in your style and give yourself time to adapt.

Since I have been over here I have probably stepped in and out of countless classrooms and schools prancing in with my established teaching/ classroom management style. However, I really didn’t expect how much my confidence would be shaken returning to classroom teaching in a small, well controlled school. I didn’t know how to act. I felt lost. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I tried to adapt exactly and copy what everyone else was doing but found myself unhappy, struggling to control my class and overwhelmed parroting other’s styles badly. You can’t artificially engineer adaptation. Adaptation is simply the result of a changed environment and sometimes we need to give ourselves a little time to let that change happen in us. I had to go back to my roots. I read the good old articles I knew would keep me on track for my behaviour management  and teaching styles (see links above).

Baby steps: Just a little progress in each lesson is better than attempting to take big leaps in learning.

It was the second inset day and we were staring at assessment checklists. ‘To be successful each student needs to achieve 85% of the checklist by the end of the year.’ I was planning off the well resourced council plans, with the outcomes clear in my mind and had planned excellent lessons on paper. However in practise, for these kids, it was all too hard. The leaps from where they were at were just too big. Blank faces. Frustrating teaching. Unsuccessful learning. Instead of asking ‘Where do they need to be?’ when planning I needed to ask ‘Where are they right now and what is just, the next step for them?’ The DP graciously gave me feedback : ‘Scaffold more by providing kids with a checklist style steps to success. Try and use visual aids/hand on materials as much as you can with your lowers and middles. You have a whole year to get them there. If we take big leaps they will have gaps.’ Upon reflection I asked myself, ‘What have I been doing? I know all of this. Why did I try and do something else. Why did I let myself change in hope of gaining 85% for each student. Of course that wouldn’t have worked.’ Hopefully I can do a bit of a better job for them. (ps. thats why observations and reflections  are so good- when done graciously). Work from the students’ abilities first planning small steps towards the outcomes.

Differentiation is messy and follows really knowing our students.

I find differentiation so so so hard. I have probably had one lesson so far where I think I hit the mark in terms of differentiation. You really need to analyse where the students are at. Baby steps. Looking for more help on this from my colleagues, so I’ll record what I learn in the near future. I will be implementing more pre-assessments and trying to engage in more Nrich low threshold, high ceiling tasks, work on making really effective steps to success checklists to make the learning accessible and think of more concrete ways of representing the one concept to the strugglers. Concrete, pictorial and then abstract.

Having teacher’s aids in this classroom during core subjects is the oil in the machine of differentiation.

My TA fell down the stairs and hurt her ankle so I didn’t have her for the first 4 weeks. But having her back and working with a group has been so good. You really get a picture of where the kids are at when you work with a individual group and that is made possible with an extra adult in the room. We might not have the funding in Australia but I will be eagerly asking parents to come in and help in the classroom with me for the sake of differentiation.

Play with words

Jump start: Grammar by Pie Corbett. Just buy the book. Grammar can be authentic, embedded and fun. I have always thought English is a teaching area that is not a strong point for me, in planning and practise. I can just feel myself developing, especially with all the help from the literacy coordinator. She doesn’t know this but if I could be as good as her at her age I would feel pretty accomplished.

If I have the choice, never apply for a job at a one class per grade school again.

I am a verbal processor so the opportunity to plan with others not only reduces the workload but enables me to be the best I can be. I have really taken for granted my past grade partners in the way we were able to support each other, answer each others questions and remind each other of all the little bits and pieces we need to remember. Luckily the staff are wonderful and so so helpful but I am almost certain I am still doing a whole lot of things wrong.

Six lessons learnt in six weeks.

John Hattie and the treasure box of research

It was a Monday morning. I had spent all weekend preparing for the observation and interview I had just stepped out of. I had got the job but the interview had totally stumped me. Encouragingly, the head teacher had tried to prompt me. ” Progress, visible learning…John Hattie.. You know the Australian”. I felt like a deer in headlights but smiled and said some sort of semi-reasonable answer so we could move on but it left me thinking “Who the heck is John Hattie and why on earth don’t I know him?” My only recollection was “Hattie and the fox” which I am sure was not what he was talking about.

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I took a sabbatical from work in Sydney to try and explore what makes the difference in education by planting myself in a different educational institution but on my own shores, John Hattie was combining 15 years of research, ranking the influences of what made the difference in education, having the interviews with Finish educators and presenting what the successful methods were. All through a movement called Visible Learning.

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Visible learning at first sounds like more jargon- but if you can get past the home page and Hattie’s confrontational style a treasure box can be found. Their promise to answer ‘What works best for learning?’ doesn’t disappoint. Some things we do already but the reinforcement that, yes our research says the same is a well needed encouragement. In other elements, I know I am very much at the start of this journey trialling the visible learning methods and I know a lot of my own mindsets need adjusting.

John Hattie and the treasure box of research

Life without lesson observation grades

How do you develop good reflection, teaching effectiveness and the right amount of ambition in your staff? How do you develop this without breeding a culture of unhealthy competitiveness, pride and where people put their career progression before their students. We need to be good teachers, not just be seen to be good teachers. This school might have hit the mark.

Class Teaching

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In April 2014 we stopped grading lesson observations.  This post looks at why we did it (and why every school should) and what we’ve noticed since.

Why we stopped grading lesson observations

  • Judging a teacher on a 30 minute snapshot of their work is ridiculous.  It ignores the other hundreds of hours they spend in the classroom (and out of it) that makes a huge contribution to the outcomes that their students achieve.  Would you call Pele a poor footballer because of this miss, or acknowledge his greatness based on the 1281 goals he scored in 1363 games?
  • If we are serious about being a ‘growth mindset’ school, how can it be right to label our teachers in this way?  Instead, why don’t we focus on useful, formative feedback?  By grading teachers, we are suggesting that only ‘requires improvement’ or inadequate’ teachers need to get better, which again is not…

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Life without lesson observation grades

What should be the DNA of our education systems?

What do you think our world will look like in 2050? What skills, attitudes and understandings will be valued? How can educators prepare our students for our future world?

Here, Sir Ken Robinson reveals some of the current problems in education and proposes why he thinks they are happening.

There is so much innovation and creativity in the field of education, solving these problems already. What have you seen? What great examples of ‘education for our future world’ have you observed?

What should be the DNA of our education systems?

Why I will change how I mark work

Marking in the past has been something that was monotonous, time consuming and  purposeless. Of course I believed in assessment for learning. I believed in the importance of good feedback and giving students specific goals. And yes, I did this verbally and after assessment tasks I would write notes to parents if there was something specific a student needed to work on. However, when it came to those reading group sheets or those day to day tasks, I could not see the point. Time after time, I would see my countless comments of encouragement and instruction ignored. The same mistakes repeated. Until eventually the comment became a tick, to quite literally just tick the boxes.

I had first heard of the green pen feedback idea whilst observing a teacher in Australia who had taught in the UK.  Whilst teaching in London schools, I have seen a range of different marking methods and policies. One thing all these schools have in common is:

Marking is important and they expect the kids to respond to their specific feedback.

Each lesson has a clear learning intention. In the younger years this takes place in the form of a sticky label (sometimes) in child friendly language with a few dot points on what they are looking for in particular. When the class teacher is discussing this with the class it may be referred to as the WALT and WILF of the lesson or the learning intention and success criteriaIn the older years, students often write the learning intention at the top of the page religiously as they would the date. 

Some schools adopt the pink for positive, green for growth approach. It was exciting to see the students lapping up the ‘next steps’ green feedback I had given them the day before. They were given an opportunity to take ownership of their learning because they had been trained to do so by their teachers year after year and given the time to in the lesson. The had the opportunity to improve. Other schools might use the phrases “What went well…Even better if…”.This is good differentiated learning without all the fuss.

Teachers are selective in their marking and creative in their planning too. If they think its not beneficial to mark they might do the activity on whiteboards instead. They are purposeful and the students are given time to act on the feedback they have been given. Teacher’s  keep each other accountable and participate in whole school book scrutiny.

It may be important to note that UK teachers are well supported with teaching assistants who are well trained and seen as professionals in their own right (but more on this at another time).

However, even with extra TA time, creating learning intentions for every lesson and marking to that criteria, whilst also giving differentiated feedback and tasks for students to act upon, increases the workload. The extra pressure is evident in teacher turnover and morale (more on this later too). So should we care? Does it actually make a difference in education?

Phil Beadle seems to believe so, stating in his book ‘How to Teach’ that marking “is the most important thing you do as a teacher”. Other bloggers (Chris Hildrew and Mark Miller) do too, and provide us with a great spring board to look at where to go with marking and feedback. The real gold nuggets however exist in Sue Swaffield‘s work from the faculty of education at the University of Cambridge.

So there are quite a few things that I’ll be doing differently now and there is still so much more to learn and observe in this area. What good practices have you observed in the areas of assessment, marking and feedback?

Why I will change how I mark work

The average child and the mean teacher

Two poems. Unrelated. That I have crossed paths with in the last couple of days. The first challenged me. The second, delightfully made me giggle with each little phrase.

THE AVERAGE CHILD

Mike Buscemi

I don’t cause teachers trouble; My grades have been okay. I listen in my classes. I’m in school every day. My teachers think I’m average; My parents think so too. I wish I didn’t know that, though; There’s lots I’d like to do. I’d like to build a rocket; I read a book on how. Or start a stamp collection… But no use trying now.
’ Cause, since I found I’m average, 
I’m smart enough you see.To know there’s nothing special, 
I should expect of me. I’m part of that majority, That hump part of the bell, Who spends his life unnoticed, In an average kind of hell.

MY TEACHER WASN’T HALF AS NICE AS YOURS

Roald Dahl

 My teacher wasn’t half as nice as yours seems to be.
 His name was Mister Unsworth and he taught us history.
 And when you didn’t know a date he’d get you by the ear, 
And start to twist while you sat there quite paralysed with fear.
 He’d twist and twist and twist your ear and twist it more and more.
 Until at last the ear came off and landed on the floor.
 Our class was full of one-eared boys. I’m certain there were eight.
 Who’d had them twisted off because they didn’t know a date.
 So let us now praise teachers who today are all so fine, 
And yours in particular is totally divine.

The average child and the mean teacher