CPD, leadership, NPQSL, Workload


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!

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?

The Frog Chorus by Paul McCartney
Assessment, Observations, Workload

Do less, but better


Just over a year ago, I took a bold step into the world of twitter and blogging.  Whilst most of my forays have just been the random musings that the strap line of my blog promises, one or two have shown me the power that social media can have.
Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a pleading blog as an assessment leader in crisis, floundering in the newly “created” world of assessment without levels.  From that blog, I received words of wisdom from many good people.  Crucially though,  Michael Tidd put me in touch with some wonderful people at the White Horse Federation in Swindon, who helped me on my way with my assessment journey. 
Fast forward a short while, and a trial system was in place, and then rolled out across the whole school in September.  There have been times when I have felt quite smug about the fact that, as a school, we more or less know what we are doing.  However,  for the most part, I have still had one or two niggling doubts about what we do, especially when we have made changes mid-year or even mid-term.
No secret was ever made of the fact that this system was developing as we went along – staff, children, parents and governors have all been kept informed of what we are doing.  However, I have always known that the system wasn’t completely perfect for us.  Not least because it was designed by the White Horse Federation to suit their needs, and we were/are using it alongside a few minimal functions of Target Tracker (purely for the purposes of looking at groups of children, as it links to SIMS).  I am eternally grateful for the support the WHF have given, and continue to give, and I know that they too have made changes to the system as time has gone on.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend the Assessment Without Levels conference at Cheltenham Racecourse, where some wonderful speakers provided me with a huge amount of food for thought.   Not least Jamie Pembroke and Michael Tidd (who, I am not ashamed to admit, I was very excited to finally get to meet at last!), whose key message was: do less, but better.  Jamie has always been a firm (and vocal!) believer in not using assessment systems if they don’t work for you.  He is, of course, completely right, but the only way to find something that completely fits your assessment system is to build it yourself. I don’t want to spend more money and time learning about a different system that still doesn’t quite fit our needs.  But sadly, my web/app designing skills don’t quite meet the desired level (I was excited a couple of years ago when I managed to get an Excel spreadsheet to change colour depending on the numbers put in!). If I’m honest,  our needs for a tracking system are going to change anyway.  I’m not completely sure how yet; when listening to Michael and Mary Myatt yesterday, I knew exactly what we were going to do and how.   24 hours on, and that clarity has faded a little, but I still have ideas.
As a school, we assess too much.  I knew that from the outset, but I thought it better to do too much and cut back, rather than not enough and add to people’s workload later on.  I know we aren’t in the business of popularity contests,  but taking away work rather than adding more is always going to score brownie points! Staff have got to grips with the way we are planning and assessing, and they are doing it well.  The children know what they can do and where they need to go next.  The parents  (hopefully) know where to look to find out how their child is getting on and what they can do to help.  I’m not going to change any of that, just streamline the record keeping somehow.  
I’m not back to square one, nowhere near it, because this year, I have a very sound starting point, thanks to the WHF.  And, a year on, I have the confidence in my ability to develop this, something that I lacked massively last year.  I also have the confidence to talk to Ofsted about what we do: my favourite phrase of yesterday was “I’m sorry, we don’t do that here.  What would you like to know?”  I can’t wait to try that one out when our inevitable HMI visitor comes knocking on the door.
So, for the time being, we carry on doing the bloody good job that were are doing  already . But conversations will be had, plans will be made, and hopefully,  in the not too distant future, we will be doing less,  and even better.

Observations, Workload

Our most valued asset

typoramaMost weeks, I read the Guardian’s Secret Teacher article. But last week, I missed it.  And I’m quite glad.  Today’s piece, written by a Secret TA rather than a teacher, was a response to last week’s article, defending the value of and need for Teaching Assistants.  Today’s article made me angry – not in what he or she was saying to defend the role, but that the need for defence had arisen.

This year, I am in the very fortunate position to have a full time TA for my class. I have never had this luxury before – TAs have always had to be shared across the year group.  I honestly do not know how I could function without her.

I’m a good teacher. I know that – I’m really good at what I do.  But my classroom would not be the place it is if I were on my own.  This year, it is difficult to meet the needs of many of my children, whether they be personal, social or academic.  We are working harder than we have ever done before – both of us.  My TA works just as hard as I do.  She is on the door in the morning to speak to parents if they have any concerns.  She takes children out of assembly to work through things they weren’t sure of from the previous day.  Guidance about who and what usually consists of some names on a post-it note and an objective shouted over my shoulder as I make my way to assembly.  She uses her own skill and knowledge to plan activities on the spot to help these children.  When lessons begin, again, children and tasks are thrust upon her with little time to contemplate what is being asked of her.  Yet she just gets on with it, whilst still managing to seek out those children who need help engaging with the lesson or making the right behavioural choices.  Whereas before, she would have been a part of the whole class discussion, now she is expected to lead discussions and teach groups herself from the start of the lesson.  She’s had little support in this, but once again, she just does it. At the end of the lesson, there’s an expectation that she marks the work of the children she’s focussed on, and make judgements about assessments – she does as much for the children during lessons as I do as the class teacher.  When playtime comes, she has to deal with the inevitable fall outs that happen on a daily basis; she mops up their tears and talks through problems so that I can teach the next lesson.

During the afternoons, she works with individuals on intervention programmes such as Dancing Bears, Better Reading Partners and uses Precision Teaching. All of which she plans herself.  And once those are done, she begins the unrelenting task of Focussed Marking Feedback – more one-to-one sessions where areas for development are identified by the children and are worked on with the TAs – more on the spot planning.

And on top of all this, she’s always on hand for last minute photocopying, sticking of plasters, little “chats” with those who need some TLC, dealing with bumps, checking the children are using the toilets appropriately, getting phone calls home for poorly children, finding missing PE kit… the list goes on.

As teachers, I know that all of us in my school are exhausted: demands on us have never been so high because so many changes have taken place. We have never, ever had to work so hard.  But nor have the TAs.  Their timetables have never been so full, nor so varied, and the expectation of independence and creativity in planning has never been so great.  Already, one week in to the term, I’m on my knees, but I know I would be crawling even more slowly without my TA. I also know that many other teachers feel exactly the same way about the people they work with.

We have a school full to overflowing with books, with materials, with technology. But without a shadow of a doubt, our greatest and most valuable resources are our Teaching Assistants.

CPD, NPQSL, Workload

Reflections on #NPQSL

typoramaIt’s been a while since my first Face to Face session for my NPQSL, and I have been meaning to blog about how the day went. Having had a few weeks to distance myself from the day and my first task to undertake has given me plenty of food for thought.

Approaching the day itself, I was very apprehensive of what was to come (read my blog here). I felt under prepared, inadequate and lacking relevant experience.  Not like me at all.  Reading the introductions of the other participants was very daunting.  I’m not sure what I was expecting everyone to be like, but whatever it was, they weren’t!  Everyone was very down to earth; many were as apprehensive as I was.  We were a very mixed bunch of people: primary, secondary, special schools, alternative provision, EYFS providers, private schools.  You name it, we had representatives there.  The huge variety led to lots of very interesting conversations.  I even found that I had much to contribute from my own experience.  Already, I have my little group of “train buddies” with whom I travelled, and the conversations about the day continued well into our journey home.  I learned even more about life in different settings from them than I had done during the day.

We had a multitude of pre-course tasks to do, all of which I had diligently completed. However, this didn’t mean I had the right paperwork for the day (interestingly, nor did anyone else!), so I did feel a bit like a naughty school girl trying to read over people’s shoulders!  A laptop is a definite necessity for next time, so I can download all of the random documents we suddenly need to have with us!  Despite the lack of documentation, I really enjoyed the activities.  I had seen the outline for the day and was feeling very daunted by the analysis, the mingling and working with different people, the presentations, but the group was so friendly and the atmosphere so unthreatening that I felt completely at ease.  The day flew by as we worked through session after session – although it was exhausting!  Had it not been for my train companions, I’m sure I would have nodded off on the 2 hour trip home.

At times, the workload did seem a little overwhelming, and I am sure it will continue to be so, especially once we start the online modules, but I can see the value in much of it. The task ahead of our next session was to analyse our RAISEonline data and find strengths and weaknesses (I’m sure there will be a blog on this to follow very soon!), which is a vital skill for any member of an SLT, and  especially for me currently as Assessment Leader.  Much of the work required for our assessed project can fit around my existing role, but just being recorded in more detail and with more thought to its impact: that can’t be a bad thing.  As a result of our discussions about the competencies on which we are assessed, I am already beginning to change my leadership style.  I am beginning to hold others to account by not doing everything for them – a huge challenge for me!

I am only a fraction of the way along this NPQSL path, but I can see that I am going to enjoy it.

Family, Observations, Workload

The curse of being a teacher…

Image created using Typorama
Image created using Typorama

It’s the summer holidays. Now, before you all scream and shout at me, let me explain.

All I want from a summer holiday is time to switch off, relax, spend time with my family and recharge my batteries.

Don’t we all?

Some of my friends are brilliant at it. I’m not, and it drives me mad. That’s the curse for me: the inability to stop and forget.

I am HOPELESS at switching off. I spend half of the holidays getting cross with myself for thinking about plans and lessons, classroom displays and resources. As the weeks go on, I get better at forgetting. For example, in the first week, I spent a few hours in school and two evenings planning. This past week, I have thought about doing some planning a lot, but not actually done any. That’s progress for me. But the problem is, I have still thought about work. Even on my non-working days, I have managed to order resources, read the Assessment Commission’s leaked report, email it to people who are sensible enough to not log into their school emails for a few weeks, book a school trip, book an animal roadshow and enquire about drama groups coming into school. All of this is while I’m not working.

I am absolutely rubbish at forgetting about work. That hasn’t come from pressure from above, or a lack of organisation during the term, but just my own stupid control-freak tendencies and need to get things sorted. It doesn’t make me a better teacher – in fact, it probably goes some way to make me a worse one as I haven’t had the proper break I deserve. When strangers (and even some people who know me well) bring up the old “oh, you teachers are only in it for the holidays” debate, I don’t get sucked into it any more. I don’t tell them about the hours in school tidying and putting up displays, or planning and sorting my class out. I nod and agree: the summer holidays are amazing, and a definite bonus of the job, but they aren’t as school-free for me as they should be. At the start of the holidays, I wrote my #Summer10 list of things I wanted to achieve over the 6 weeks.  I think it was a great idea for me, as it made me stop and think about how I would use my time.  I didn’t want to get to the end of another summer break with a list of “I wish…” .  Instead, I’ve been busy ticking off all of the fantastic things I have done with my family – and there are still more to come.

Linked to #ukedchat conversation
Linked to #ukedchat conversation

I think I have always been like this, but I don’t think Smart Phones and Twitter have done me any favours. I love Twitter: I think it is an amazing resource, but it can take over. It’s too easy to catch up on a publication or get involved in a debate, to share a resource or idea or to ask for help from your PLN. I’m clearly not alone in my addiction – the #ukedchat question last week revealed a huge amount of teachers sharing their “bad” points about Twitter were that it was time consuming, addictive and took over theie lives (incidentally, it did reveal an enormous amounts of positive reasons too!!).In the good old days of having to get a computer out and switch it on, doing something for school was just a bit more of an effort, less convenient, so therefore less likely to happen.

So, I’m making a stand. From tomorrow morning, I won’t have a laptop, just my iPhone for the next 10 days. It’s going off. No Twitter, no Facebook, no blogs or stat checks, no Google searches. Just the very occasional text to let people know we are all still alive. That’s it. I’m not sure I have been so disconnected for a very, very, long time.

I’m looking forward to it already. But not as much as MNQTH is. He might actually get his wife back for a few days.

Observations, Workload

An age old dilemma…

Image from Pixabay under CC0 License
Image from Pixabay under CC0 License

Is it just me who has this dilemma?

To work, or to not work?

Summer holidays are for spending time with the family. Of course they are. That’s the main priority. I’ve made sure of that with my #summer10 list. But there is always the big stack of stuff that needs doing for school: tying up loose ends from last year, planning for next year, getting your head around a new class, INSET preparation… the list just seems to go on.

But when is the right time to do it? At the beginning of the holidays, I am always keen to get on and do it (no, I’m not being saracastic!), but equally, I’m ready for a break. This year, I have spent 2 evenings working (I’ve had a week off so far), which set the cogs whirring about everything else that needs to be done. I want to get on and do it, but equally, I begrudge doing it a little too. The problem is, I find, that if I do my planning at the start of the holidays, 2 issues arise. 1). By the time I go back to school, I’ve forgotten what I’ve planned, and 2). I always find more to do which then spreads further into the holiday.

So the obvious answer is to leave it to the end of the holidays, right? But then, it hangs over you for the whole 6 weeks. Who wants to spend the last few nights of their holiday working when they could be chilling out, drinking wine and making the most of the last few “lie-ins” (which aren’t what they used to be when you have two young children!)?

I pride myself on having got my term time work/life balance to a mostly manageable state (see my Guardian article here), but I’m not sure I’ve ever really cracked the summer holiday workload.

So, a week in, what’s the answer? To work, or not to work? That, still, is the question.