leadership, NPQSL

Early lessons

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Labelled for reuse under CC licence

 

This time last week, I was getting myself ready for my first “proper” day as Deputy Head.  I’ve worked in my school since 2000, when I started as an NQT.  In 2009, I took some time out to have my first child, and again in 2013,  but since then, I realised that I was ready to move into Leadership.  I had been looking around for a vacancy, but just couldn’t find the school to move to.  I was over the moon when the opportunity to become Acting Deputy Head in my own school: new opportunities and responsibilities but without having to find my feet and carve a niche in the school.  However, staying in my school is not without its own difficulties.  These are the lessons I have learned in just one week:

 

Coming out of the classroom is strange

I’m still teaching 2 days a week, but this means that I’m no longer the main class teacher.  Taking a back seat, not having PPA with the team and letting go of the planning and day to day running of the year group takes a real effort.  I’m a natural control freak and letting go of the reins is hard!

There’s a lot of walking involved

Just getting part way down the to do list involves talking to lots of different people in various parts of the school.  It’s not a massive school, but my step count must have been huge on Friday. Stupidly, I wore some glamorous heels as I wasn’t in the classroom.  The green shoes will not be making another appearance in school!

The already full email inbox suddenly becomes even fuller

Everyone copies you in on everything.  Those emails that people aren’t sure who to send them to come your way.   Many don’t involve any action, lots do.  But they all need reading.  And deleting.

You find yourself with things to do that you don’t remember saying you will do

Reading minutes of meetings is vital – my name appeared a few times against actions I don’t remember signing up to.  Nevertheless, they got done!

Things can’t always be done straight away

Many of the jobs on the list involve talking to others (hence the aching feet), but of course, most of the time, they are teaching.  I’m not going to be someone who wanders in to ask random questions during lessons, but it is infuriating when you reach a point where you can’t get on with anything.  I guess that’s a perfect time for a walkabout.

Being visible takes some getting used to

I desperately want to be a visible part of the Key Stage – I want to know what is going on in the classrooms, to see the children’s work and for them to come to me to show me things they are proud of (I have a stash of special personalised smelly stickers waiting!).  I want to wander round the playground and chat to children and know the names of those I don’t teach.  But wandering into classrooms is hard – being on the receiving end, I know I have wondered whether I was being checked up on or if it was just a friendly visit. I don’t want anyone to feel that way – I want them to know that the random visits are friendly.

There is a fine line…

…between being visible and “swanning around”.  I know that staff in my school appreciate a visible presence, but  I would hate to think that anyone thought I was strutting around the school because of my new role.  I suppose this is the time when a clean break would have been easier – I would be there as Deputy Head and nothing else.  However, I know the kind of leader I want to be: hands on, involved and accessible, and so it will take time to become this.

I think I’m going to like it

One week in, early days, but so far, life is good.

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CPD, leadership, NPQSL, Workload

More.

typoramaI have been meaning to write this post for a while, but it seems, for the last couple of weeks, there has always been Something Else To Do.  I have a feeling that Something Else To Do is going to be a very familiar feeling in the year ahead, as I have accepted the next big challenge.  I am about to join the SLT of my school as Acting Deputy Headteacher.

In a time where many teachers are leaving the profession because of the strains put on us, the unfair demands on children and the ever increasing workload, part of me feels that I am crazy to be taking it on. But the problem is that, for some time, I have been wanting More.  For a while, I wasn’t entirely sure what More was, but I knew I wanted it.  I love teaching: I’ve been doing it for 16 years now, and while no two days are ever the same, I need new challenges.  I became SENCo and completed the NASENCo award.  Then I became Assessment Leader, with all the challenges that came with that role.  Those challenges continue, and I have loved getting my teeth into them, but still that concept of More kept niggling away at me.

A couple of years ago, I enquired about the possibility of undertaking my NPQSL, and whether it would be worthwhile. At that point, I wasn’t entirely sure whether Deputy Headship was the route I wanted to go down, but it would give me More: new challenges and stretching my brain in a different way.  I was told it wasn’t necessary, that if I decided to apply for Deputy Headships, my application would speak for itself. I had a new baby (my second), and so took the advice to just carry on as I was.  Last year, I had the opportunity to speak at Pedagoo London about my experiences as an Assessment Leader, and, whilst it terrified me, I vowed at that time to do more to take myself out of my comfort zone.

As the last school year came to an end, More reared its head again and I asked once more about the NPQSL.  This time, I was given the go ahead, and so I enrolled.  I’ve loved it – I’ve learned a huge amount: my competencies aren’t all up to top standard yet, but I’m well on the way. I’ve enjoyed the additional reading and taking my findings back into school.  Yes, as I promised myself, it took me out of my comfort zone initially, but most importantly, I worked out what More actually was.

More meant responsibility, involvement , knowledge and understanding. More meant learning how others work and finding ways to support them. More meant having the chance to make an already great school even better by researching, reading and acting upon what I found. More meant joining an SLT as a Deputy Head.

Maybe, in time, I may find I have more More than I bargained for. I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure I’ll cope – I know that, even though I’m organised, I will have to be more so.  I will perhaps have to learn the magic word “No” – something I’ve not been great at saying until recently.  I might even find that Deputy Headship isn’t for me (although I think it is!).  I have the support of a great SLT who I know well, and colleagues whom I have worked with for many years and consider great friends.  Of course, that could be my downfall – I started in the school all those years ago as an NQT and have grown and honed my craft there.  To me, I’m Mrs E, the soon-to-be Deputy Head, but for many there, there is still a hint of Miss E, the 21 year old who got caught standing on a table putting up a display when potential candidates were being shown around.  Or Miss E, the NQT who got mistaken for a Y6 child in assembly and told to sit down.  Or Miss E, the founder of the End of Year BBQ who… well, the least said about the beginnings of that tradition online, the better!

For me, taking the next step is the right thing to do. If all the great teachers leave the classroom, then what hope do the children have? And what hope do the teachers left behind have of surviving? Schools need great teachers and great leaders: people who will stand up for the needs of the children and for the needs of the teachers.  I’m not proclaiming  for a moment that I am A Great Leader, but I know that I am going to do everything in my power to be the best leader I can.

The next big challenge is one that I cannot wait to get started with. Wish me luck… I may well need it!

leadership, NPQSL

#NPQSL classroom observations

Teachers are fragile creatures. We spend our days being judged: by OFSTED, by our SLT through our appraisals, by our colleagues, by the children we spend our days with, and by their parents.  We don’t like to hear the outcomes of these judgements, because how often do we really share good news?  Just listen in the staffroom: how many teachers sit in there and celebrate the amazing lesson they just taught? You don’t hear it.  You hear us talking about how the children didn’t get it, or how they were half asleep, or how we will have to teach the lesson again tomorrow to make sure they all understand.  We are hopeless at celebrating what we do well.  But we are all professionals with something to offer, a success to celebrate and an idea to share.  Our classroom doors should be open – we should be allowed to wander in to other people’s lessons to see what’s going on, so we look at their displays, see how they are teaching a particular subject, get ideas for how they organise their classroom.

Perhaps if our doors were open, we would be better at professional dialogue. As it is, we aren’t great at talking.  Yes, the words come out and we listen to what each other are saying, but do we listen?  How many times have we sat in a staff meeting, listening to someone talking about a resource or a strategy or an idea that they want us to take back to class?  We listen, we nod, we take the handout, and then we put it in a folder and forget about it.  We should share the ideas, and then have the opportunity to see it in practice in different situations.  I raised the idea recently at a Phase Meeting about peer observations.  It was met with mixed feelings – my colleagues loved the idea of going into other classrooms, but not necessarily the idea of being observed themselves.  But why should colleagues be threatening?  Formative observations are an opportunity for discussions: the outcome can surely only be improved teaching and learning, following the sharing of ideas and reflection on performance.

Appraisals and summative observations don’t necessarily provide this opportunity for discussion, as there isn’t the equality of status between appraiser and appraise: one is there to make a judgement on the other. Summative observations have a rigid agenda, and often don’t allow for such creative discussion to follow.  Familiarity with formative observations can only lead to more productive summative observations too: if you are used to people being in your classroom, then the observation is less of a “big deal” – the teachers, teaching assistants and children get used to others being in the room and so don’t feel the need to put on a performance.

As someone new to carrying out appraisals, less formal observations would be a great opportunity to develop my skills of coaching. While, in my first round of observations, I didn’t have “bad news” to deliver, there were points for development that needed sharing. This sums up exactly how I felt!

observation feedback
Taken from LSSW’s Improving Quality of Teaching module

 

The opportunity to have professional discussions around lessons in an informal situation would make the formal feedback far less threatening, and we could come up with strategies for improvement together rather than skirting the issues or providing excuses for the children. I love, too, the idea of starting a conversation around a particular point rather than just sharing what was seen.

subjective objectiveProbably, for most reading this, this image is completely obvious.  But it wasn’t to me – no-one ever teaches you how to observe or how to feed back findings.  My next observations will be different, and hopefully more productive.

While I have scheduled appraisal observations to carry out next month, I am not going to let the idea of peer observations drop – my quest for open doors and accessible classrooms will continue. I will get teachers celebrating what they do well; I will get us talking about how we, and our colleagues, have succeeded with our children, I will get the children talking about their teachers and their learning, and I will get us to see each other in action.  And perhaps, as a result of this, we will become a little more confident in our abilities and recognise what an amazing job we all do.

leadership, NPQSL, Observations

#NPQSL focussing my attention

Today, I’m spending my day reading about “Improving the Quality of Teaching” across a school a part of my NPQSL course. It doesn’t sound like the most fun way to spend a day, but, an hour and 20 minutes in, and I’m actually hooked.  As part of my reflections, I was asked to consider these questions:

Capture
Taken from LSSW’s Improving Quality of Teaching module

 

I’m not going to share my responses here, but rather my sudden awareness of how visible we are in school. I’m a Middle Leader, not part of the Senior Leadership Team, so I’m certainly less visible than others,  but my role means that I now have a more visible presence than I have done previously.  Question 4 was really interesting:  “In terms of others’ perceptions of you as a leader, what kinds of things form the main focus for your attention?”  In my head, I know what I focus on, but is this what others see?  My head is always a jumble of new ideas and developments that I want to try out in my classroom.  Inevitably, if these ideas are a success, I want to share them, but does this meant that I flit from one thing to another, trying this and that and talking about another “next big thing” in a staff meeting?  Is it infectious enthusiasm, or just downright annoying?  Much of what I have read today talks of leaders having to “walk the walk”, of practising what they preach, under the scrutiny of others who are watching to make sure that words and actions are in agreement.  By jumping from one thing to another, can I do this? Can I make sure that I am staying on top of everything before introducing something new? Perhaps I need to slow down on the pet projects and focus on one thing at a time.

In so many ways, the internet, social media platforms and courses such as NPQSL are an absolute asset to education. In times where professional development and courses are barely available, we have to find our own ways of progressing our careers and developing our skills.  But a non-stop source of support , advice and ideas can be such a bad thing too – there is a world of creativity and inventiveness available to us at all times: my Facebook and Twitter feeds are constantly me showing me another  “next big thing” to take into my classroom.  As an aspiring Senior Leader, I will have to rein in my enthusiasm a little – focus on one thing at time, embed one idea before moving on to the next one.  Perhaps then, if asked what others’ perceptions of my focus are, I might have some idea what the answer would be.

NPQSL, Observations

#NPQSL Passion

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Image labelled for reuse under a CC search.

 

Capture your passion for teaching in 3 to 4 sentences. A very tough challenge, but here goes:

 

Even in the darkest times in a classroom, there are always tiny glimmers of light. Breakthrough moments, when every single child is focussed, engaged and loving school, fill you with pride and renewed enthusiasm.  Looking at the children, and knowing there is always something you can do, no matter how small, to make a difference in their lives. Remembering that is key: you can’t always solve their problems or take away what goes on in their lives outside of school, but for the 6 hours they spend in school, we can do something they will always remember.

What would your 4 sentences be?

NPQSL, Observations, Workload

We all stand together.

I have been meaning to write this post for some time now, but – teachers, you may find this hard to believe – I just haven’t had ten minutes spare to sit down and do it. So, here it is.

Life in schools at the moment is pretty crap. In the 16 years I have been teaching, morale has never been so low.  I don’t mean in my school in particular, I mean nationally.  I have friends who are teachers, I have many Twitter associates who are teachers, and no one is happy.  I could use my time to write a long, ranting post about how crap teaching is, but I’m not going to.  There are three reasons for this:

1). I am armed with my opinions, not all the facts, and so I would never write a post full of half-correct ideas;

2). Ranting isn’t my style, and

3). Why would I waste my rare few spare minutes of peace and quiet getting myself all riled up and angry, putting me in a bad mood for the rest of the day?

I thank those amazing educators and bloggers out there who do have all the facts: they are the people you should turn to if you want to find out why we are all miserable.

Instead, I want to spend my time trying to be positive, because that is what I do.

Yesterday, I spent a few minutes completing a survey set up by Emma Kell, looking at teacher wellbeing. One of her questions asked why I had gone into teaching.  So far, she has surveyed almost 1000 teachers.  I’d like to bet that not many of them chose “because it suits my lifestyle” or “for the holidays”.  I’d like to think that the majority chose “to make a difference in society” or “I like spending time with young people” as their answer.  In these trying, frustrating, exhausting, infuriating times, that is what we have to remember.  We are in this job for the young people we teach.  Yes, the government may be failing them, yes, our education system is in complete turmoil at the moment, but we have to remember those children we are there to teach.  As part of my NPQSL course, I have been reading a lot about creating a positive culture.  Positivity is infectious, and it is necessary to help children to succeed.  Equally, negativity is infectious too.  The children pick up on it.  The negativity that so many teachers are feeling at the moment is completely understandable, but we can’t allow it to permeate our teaching and our classrooms.  We need to make the best of what is a dire situation, in order to help our children to succeed – whether that be academically, socially or just to help them to be good people.  Yes, we have to teach boring lessons about modal verbs and identifying the past progressive and using fronted adverbials, but we can at least try to make school fun by teaching with a smile, even if inside we are crying about the subject material. The children we are teaching will be shaped by the education they receive – on paper, that may not be the education we want to give them, so we have to do all that we can to ensure they enjoy their time in school – we need to still make sure we give them the educational visits and the fun days and the amazing experiences that they remember for far longer than their standardised score and the random letters that are assigned to show their English and Maths ability.

We need to give each other a break. We are all in this up to our necks together.  No-one really knows where they stand in school at the moment – it seems every day, another new and crazy, work-creating change is being introduced.  Yes, we’re fed up with it.  Yes, we are constantly on the back foot as we never know what’s going to happen next.  And yes, we need to have a point of blame for all of this; someone to direct our anger and frustrations at.  But we need to stop and think about whom we are directing this anger at.  I know a fair few Headteachers, and I know that none of them woke up one morning and thought: “ I know. What I’ll do is: I’ll get rid of the curriculum that everyone is familiar with.  I’ll scrap the assessments they all know.  I’ll invent some crazy assessment system that no-one really gets, and I’ll make it up as I go along, but I won’t tell anyone what I’m doing.  I’ll take away all the fun lessons and fill the timetables with loads more writing and maths.  I’ll give them some stupid grammar stuff to memorise, and, while I’m at it, I’ll change the names of stuff like calling “Data Handling” “Statistics”, we’ll change “SPaG” to “GPS” and change subject names like “ICT” to “Computing”.  That’ll be a laugh.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not what happened.  The Headteachers don’t like what’s going on any more than we do, yet they’re the ones who have had to enforce the changes, knowing it would make their staff unhappy.  They are feeling the pressure too – even more than we are, as the buck stops with them.

These are trying times, and not everyone will come out of the other side still working in education. That is guaranteed.  But, while we are there, we have to do the only things we can do: stay positive, through all of the $*”! that gets thrown at us, talk to each other, be open and honest if it all gets too much, and support each other.  I have a suspicious feeling things may get considerably worse before they get better, so we need to help each other get to get through this.

Some frogs from my youth put it beautifully, so I’ll leave the final word with them…

“We all stand together…” – Turn the volume up and sing along – how can you not feel just a tiny bit happier after that?

frog
The Frog Chorus by Paul McCartney
NPQSL

#NPQSL – Personal Drive

typoramaSo, at the end of my first module, what have I learned? A lot about myself, actually.  My blogs often reflect upon events in my classroom or in the school in general, and upon how I respond to or feel about them, but rarely do I have the opportunity to consider my strengths and weaknesses.

When I completed my self-evaluation, I felt that “Delivering Continuous Improvement” was an area for development, due to my relatively new position as a Middle Leader.  However, on reflection, I feel I do already do this.

This journey began last year with the trial of my assessment system, where I began to train staff in my own year group.  I shared my expectations for improvement with them, and also with the parents.  This continued on a bigger scale at the start of this year, as our system was rolled out across the school.  My personal drive meant that I wanted the system to work from the outset across the school, which is why I decided to trial it myself, rather than introducing it to staff before I had fully worked out what I was going to do.  Since this time a year ago, I have devised action plans for myself and for the SDP which have been regularly updated and amended, changing the system to meet the needs of individual staff.  I have taken on board suggestions from others, adapting to ensure that the gains in performance from the staff and the children are immediately obvious.  On a bigger scale than last year, I have ensured that parents have been kept informed of the changes through leading part of a curriculum meeting, and have shared my vision and my plans for how to achieve it with the Governing Body.

Already this year, I have challenged my own performance by adapting my planning to better suit the Band Progression Sheets, and am beginning to challenge the performance of others.  I will have further opportunity to challenge colleagues as I begin to undertake appraisals, and have scheduled monitoring book looks to ensure all staff are using the Band Progression Sheets correctly.

Perhaps the greatest risk I have taken as part of this project has been to go against what the majority of local schools have been doing with regard to assessment.  To gain local insight and support, I formed a support network for schools in the area to get together and devise an assessment system.   However, I did not like the way that some of these schools were assessing, and so decided to look further afield.  A blog post led me to The White Horse Federation, who allowed me to trial their Band Progression Sheets within my school.  While still being true to their format and vision, I have made some minor changes to the way in which we have used them.  I still feel that we are very much “out on a limb” locally with our assessment system, as no-one else is using anything like it, but I remain convinced that this risk has definitely paid off.  I also feel anxious that there are elements of the system that we have yet to perfect, but I have the drive to dedicate my own time and energy to make changes to further improve performance.