Monday, 1 May 2017

There Is Hope... #NAHTConf 2017

Last year, I joined a new union for teachers with leadership responsibilities, NAHT Edge.  I quickly applied to be on their Advisory Council: a group of members who meet regularly to discuss the direction the union should be taking.  Unbeknown to those of us who joined the council, such a position would earn us an invite to represent middle leaders among the head teachers at the annual NAHT Conference.  This year's conference was in Telford on the early May bank holiday weekend and I've very recently returned full of positivity for the future of our profession.  

What has caused such a surge in positive thinking at such a difficult time in education?  
During the weekend, there were various different events and opportunities for head teachers and us as the Edge advisory council.  I will outline these below with the thoughts I took away from each one.  The whole weekend had an aura of solution-driven thinking.  There has been so much moaning and whining in education recently that it's a surprise anyone is feeling positive.  Rather than complaining about what is wrong, these 400+ head teachers and the NAHT staff debated, recommended and discussed some clear solutions to the current biggest issues.  NAHT have set out their 5 priorities for the coming General Election which you can see in the image (click to enlarge). Personally, I feel they are spot on and cover exactly what politicians and educators should be discussing. 

Primary Assessment Workshop
It is clear that head teachers care about children and head teachers care about teachers.  It is also clear that head teachers are potentially more angry than teachers about the state of assessment and accountability in primary schools.  The NAHT policy team were keen to get the views of head teachers to inform their next steps in the fight to improve accountability in schools.  When asked to vote on whether best fit judgement should be used for the year 2017-18 for writing even though it is late notice, every hand went up together in agreement that it should. Each point of the assessment consultation was reviewed and discussed in detail.  The union has already seen victories in the area of primary assessment and this meeting will have solidified their next agenda. 

The government need to move on from their obsession with data...until they refuse to take data as absolute proof of achievement in schools, assessment for accountability doesn't work - Nick Brook

Speech by Dame Alison Peacock
One head teacher commented after Alison's speech that it was far more inspiring than Justine Greening's would have been, had she honoured her commitment to turn up.  Alison spoke with passion and determination about the Chartered College of Teaching, of which she is CEO.  Her vision is ambitious to say the least but if it works, as she suggested, the countries of the world will look to us for best practice in education rather than the UK looking elsewhere.  She made us laugh and cry, and she left me with no doubt of her passion to making the CCT work.  It was also a pleasure to meet her before her speech, having followed her on Twitter for ages.

NAHT Edge Advisory Council Meeting
During our first face-to-face meeting (normally we use the power of technology!), we discussed many of the issues which had been mentioned during the conference.  One issue we spent a lot of time discussing was the proposal of a four and a half day week.  I arrived at the meeting thinking it was a possibility but by the time we'd finished, it was clear that it would be no more than making a point and inconveniencing parents - much like a strike day.  It wouldn't actually save money in the long run and could endanger the lives of children.  We knew ahead of this meeting that we would be part of a select group who would be allowed to discuss current issues with Amanda Spielman, HMCI at OfSTED.  We discussed the questions we would like to ask and what we were hoping from that meeting.  

Private Q&A with Amanda Spielman
Amanda Spielman was supposed to be presenting to all the delegates at the conference but, due to the purdah rules in the lead up to the election, she was unable to.  The same rules prevent me from sharing what was discussed but there are two things you should know.  Firstly, all of our questions were answered in a short speech Amanda gave before the Q&A time.  She is well aware of what is important to teachers and head teachers.  Secondly, OfSTED is in very safe hands. I'm looking forward to seeing Amanda's vision play out in the coming years and I am hopeful that it will make a positive difference to those who work in education.  She stayed for the gala dinner (which was great fun and raised a huge amount of money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association) and we got to chat further and take an opportunity for a photo,

Speech by Jeremy Corbyn
I am sure you've seen the news coverage of Jeremy Corbyn's speech at the conference.  If not, you can watch some of it here.  There are simply two comments I'd like to make about this. Firstly, if he can get the opportunity to do what he plans to do, our education system will improve for pupils and for teachers.  Secondly, I believe him. 

Closing speech by Russell Hobby
Russell has worked tirelessly for the NAHT over 7 years and this was his final conference as he steps down from his role at the end of the school year.  Russell recapped, with humour and warmth, the many victories in education during his time as General Secretary.  He promised to hide away in a cave planning the demise of the fronted adverbial after he leaves NAHT.  Like Jeremy Corbyn - his support act, he joked! - he got a well-deserved standing ovation. 

So, after an amazing weekend, I am inspired for the next term and beyond to ensure that we continue to do the best for our children while reading, responding to and fighting for educational policies.  The team at NAHT were so welcoming to the Edge Advisory Council and it was a pleasure to spend the weekend together mixing among school leaders who are all passionate to make lasting changes which will improve the life chances of the children in our country.  

For the first time in a long time, I have hope for our profession.  And, as Barack Obama says about hope, we must "keep reaching, keep working and keep fighting."

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Recommend A Series (KS2)

Recently, my student teacher asked me to send her some of the series I recommend to children when they ask what they should try for their next independent book.  A series of books is powerful because it can hook a child in and encourage them to get lost in a group of characters or a particular setting.  These are the ones I recommend to children in my class, organised by estimated reading age - it's all guess work and very 'ish' so please don't get hung up on the year groups.  All these series have proved popular with different readers in my Y4 classes in the last few years and the school has often had to buy the rest of the books in the series when we've previously only had one or two random ones.   I accept, not all of them are the highest of quality writing and there are plenty missing (leave a comment to say which ones) and obviously lots of fantastic stand-alone books which don't get a mention here.  These are just the series I recommend to Y4 kids and which they recommend to each other!  I love hearing them say, "You can read the next one after me," and knowing that they are enjoying reading. 

Approx Y3 reading age:
Daisy series by Kes Gray
Harry Hammer series by Davy Ocean and Aaron Blecha
Jack Stalwart series by Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Sophie series by Dick King Smith

Approx Y4 reading age:
Ottoline series by Chris Riddell
Sniff series by Ian Whybrow
Hank Zipzer series by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler (YES! Happy Days!)
Warrior Heroes series by Benjamin Hulme-Cross
Time Hunters series by Chris Blake
Football Academy series by Tom Palmer
I Was There series by various authors

Approx Y5 reading age:
The Roman Mysteries series (Books 1-10) by Caroline Lawrence
The My Story series by various authors. 
Muddle Earth series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
Barnaby Grimes series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling

Approx Y6 reading age:
The Edge Chronicles by (yes, it's them again!) Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
P.K.Pinkerton series by Caroline Lawrence
The 39 Clues series by various authors (including Rick Riordan and David Baldacci)
Percy Jackson series (and other books) by Rick Riordan

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

6 Must-Read Education Books

The "Keep" Shelf

In preparing to pack for moving house, I have recently had a cull of my education bookshelf.  The criteria for "Keep" was very simply two questions.
1) Have I looked at this book since moving to this house? (4 years ago, the summer after my NQT year)
2) Have I used an idea or the suggestions in this book in my classroom?
This left the "Cull" pile unfortunately filled with books from the University reading lists from my BA(Hons) and my husband's PGCE.

The "Cull" Pile
The educational book market is saturated with texts claiming to make a difference in the classroom and there are far more than just these six on my "Keep" shelf.  However, those mentioned below are the ones I flick through time and again to remind myself of strategies, refresh my thinking and reignite my passion.  Generally, they are not deep, philosophical or theoretical books - they are simply about enhancing teaching in the classroom.  If you are a teacher, particularly in a primary school, I'd highly recommend them all and I've tried to give a bit of information about why in this post.

Click on a title to open in a new window on Amazon.  

After a busy NQT year in a one-form entry school, this book helped to spark something new for my second year of teaching.  Since then, I've referred to this book often, having saved so many sections of it in my Kindle Snippets (a great tool, by the way!).  One of the biggest strategies which I transferred to my classroom was giving learning a real-life purpose as much as possible and moving away from contrived, fake scenarios.  I wrote a little about this on the blog post you can find by clicking here

This book is jam-packed full of ideas which can help teachers work smarter rather than harder.  The "Lazy" in the title isn't about reducing the effectiveness of teachers.  Instead, the ideas in this book are acutely focused on learning and suggests quicker, easier and more efficient ways of reaching the same goal: progress for our pupils.  

Without fail, this is my go-to behaviour guide for the classroom.  Every summer, after perusing my new class list, I turn to this book - certain chapters and sections - to refill my bank of behaviour management strategies.  This is simply a must-read for anyone in the classroom.  

Mindset by Carol Dweck
After hearing about Growth Mindset during my training and again when I started at a new school, I decided to delve deeper and read what the woman who named it actually has to say about it herself.  There are lots of rumours and myths floating around about Growth Mindset but this book contains none of those.  The chapter especially written for teachers is particularly good.  If you're beginning to think about Growth Mindset in your classroom, there are plenty of blogs out there about Growth Mindset (including mine) but I'd recommend you start with Carol Dweck and her words. 

Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov, Coleen Driggs and Erica Woolway
After moving away from Guided Reading and towards whole-class lessons (read about that here), this book, along with Nick Hart's blog, has inspired some new strategies for teaching reading.  There are strategies which can be chosen, tweaked and easily slotted into normal practice.  Doug and his team speak a huge amount of sense about text selection and their suggestions link well with Dweck's research into Growth Mindset. 

Making Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby
Finally, I must mention this book which has been a real focus for the last year, both for my school team and personally.  Written by two secondary teachers, it helps to bring class teaching away from the fads of recent years and towards simple, plain, great teaching.  Hardly a lesson is planned without me considering the six principles suggested in this book.  Keep an eye out later in 2017 because there are subject specific books coming out following the same principles for secondary teachers as well as a primary version, which a colleague and I have been working on recently.

I'd be really interested to hear about what would be your top edu-related reads.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Perspective #Nurture1617


Last year, I wrote about how we were moving, literally and metaphorically, from an odd to an even year.  Given the world news from 2016, it couldn't be further from the even, plain-sailing year I was hoping for.  Similarly, my personal year hasn't been the easy, trouble-free year I was expecting as cancer reared it's ugly head in the form of a serious diagnosis in my very small family in January.

Needless to say, that news made this year difficult.  Family has always been important but this year it became highlighted further as we gathered around to provide the best physical and emotional support possible.  Around us, friends and colleagues lent a helping hand and a listening ear when needed, and my husband was wonderful in his support.

Many of the actions I had put in place to improve my mental health came further into play as I tried to cope with helping during the unfolding diagnosis, treatment and care.  Running the Race for Life to raise money for appropriate research gave me a positive focus, as well as getting me out and about pounding the pavements to keep fit; again supported by amazing colleagues and friends. The treatment went as expected and, thanks to a brilliant NHS team and lots of prayer, the visible cancer mass and cells are now gone.  

Also, it goes without saying that this year has provided further perspective to life and work.  Many friends who are teachers and parents have often said to me that, when they had children of their own they took a different view of teaching.  They no longer did everything possible to be a better-than-best teacher; they simple did what they needed to in order to get the job done.  It would be fair to say that the journey my family have taken this year has given me a similar perspective.  Rather than living to work, I'm working to live. 

This year, hasn't all been doom and gloom, though!  Here are six highlights from 2016 - three teaching related and three non-teaching related:
  • Joining forces with Twinkl to deliver a Facebook Live video about Marking and Feedback - this was such a buzz and has been watched over 10,000 times on various platforms. You can watch it here.
  • Discovering this blog about teaching by Mr Nick Hart.
  • Bumping into a pupil from my class in the streets of Sydney, Australia over the summer holidays. 
  • Going to the 10th Birthday performance of my favourite musical, Wicked and having a magical backstage tour of the show. 
  • Discovering that Tesco now sell frozen avocado halves
  • Netball Super Saturday launch of the 2016 Superleague season.  My netball club have gone from strength to strength this year and I know 2017 will be a bigger year for us. 
I've enjoyed another great year teaching and learning in the classroom.  Incredible memories have been made in and out of the classroom and, despite all the challenges, I think I love teaching more than ever before as 2016 draws to a close.  


Here are seven things I'm looking forward to in 2017: 
  • Moving House - this is now definitely happening, hopefully in January!  
  • TeachMeet Sussex - we have two events planned in this school year.  Thursday 2nd March in Rustington and Thursday 9th June in Horsham.  Visit the website to find our more information and sign up to come along.  
  • Reconsidering Reading - I've written lots about my school's move from Guided Reading to whole-class reading lessons.  This year, we are tweaking how we teach reading (again).  I can't wait to try out the first set of new lessons and see if we can help children further love and understand the books they read.  
  • Publication of Making Every Primary Lesson Count - I always imagined that if I wrote a book, it would be a thrilling murder mystery story similar to those I read regularly.  This year, I was honoured to be asked to co-write this book about primary teaching with a colleague. It's been a big learning curve but a great experience. I can't wait to hold a copy of it! For now, it is available to pre-order on the Crown House website!
  • Y4 Production - Without a doubt, putting on a production with 90 children is my favourite time of the year.  However, I am (literally) always ill.  This year, I aim to get through the Spring Term without one day off sick.  Wish me luck! 
  • Treasured Family Holidays - We have a couple of family holidays planned to make memories and share important time together.  
  • NAHT Edge Advisory Council - Recently, I've joined the advisory council for my union, NAHT Edge.  It's a union specifically for middle leaders.  I'm looking forward to our first virtual meeting and seeing what we can achieve together. 
You can read all my previous nurture blog posts here.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Feedback: Principles and Strategies to be Effective and Fast (VIDEO)

Recently, Twinkl asked me to do a Livestream video on their Facebook page.  I chose to speak about Feedback and Marking as I feel these areas are quite misunderstood in primary schools and I've learned a lot about them since qualifying.  These misunderstandings lead to a huge workload which doesn't have a great impact on children's learning.  In the livestream, I shared principles and strategies for ensuring feedback is effective and fast.

You can watch the video below. Apologies for the slightly out-of-sync audio.  You can watch the original video on the Twinkl Key Stage 2 Facebook Group (request to join and one of the Twinkl staff will accept you).

I am doing a similar livestream about whole-class reading in the same group on Thursday 26th January at 8pm so make sure you request to join the group before to watch live. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

From Prearranged to Unannounced Observations

My school has recently changed how it organises performance management observations and I love it.

Previously, we had two hour-long observations throughout the year.  We were told well in advance when they would be and there was often some negotiation about the time of them if they fell on something we'd rather not be observed in.  Originally, these lessons were graded but, as OfSTED stopped doing that, so did our SLT.   It all sounds reasonable and fair...doesn't it? 

However, it wasn't.

It wasn't reasonable for teachers to spend longer planning that one lesson than all the others combined in the week.  It wasn't fair for (some) teachers - me included - to get worked up, stressed and sometimes ill with the pressure of that hour.  It wasn't fair for the SLT to see those teachers who can keep their cool perform beautifully and tick all the well-known observation boxes while others were struggling to hold it together.  But, most of all, the snapshot of learning which the SLT were observing was far from a reasonable picture of what happens in every lesson.  In fact, it was a complete farce.  

This year, it was announced that observations would take place every half term.  They would be completely unannounced and would be undertaken by any member of the SLT.  We were given a four or five week window in which we could be dropped in on and we soon realised that this was going to be in a random, unpredictable order.  Six observations a year with no warning or extra preparation time.  It all sounds very stressful and unfair...doesn't it?

However, it isn't.

It isn't stressful as there's nothing to get stressed about.  There is no time we are aiming for.  There is no over-planning to do; neither are there extra resources to make.  We just continue to do what we do everyday - we teach and the kids learn.  And, providing that is good enough, there shouldn't be any problems.  As word spread around the school during the first round of observations, there was a slight air of anticipation.  For me, that was nothing in comparison to the nerves, worry and sleepless nights I've had prior to some prearranged observations before.  It's far from being unfair because our SLT are seeing teachers in their normal lessons.  No one is doing anything fancy to show off, no one is at an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how they cope and the feedback we receive is much more useful in our everyday teaching.

Understandably, not everyone is as positive about the new arrangements.  If you've always done well in observations, suddenly being watched unannounced must be a bit daunting.  However, as a teacher who has always struggled with the 'show off' nature of prearranged observations and the pressure to 'perform', this new system suits me perfectly.  Also, as a middle leader, I feel drop-in observations mean the SLT have a much clearer picture of what is happening in classrooms everyday and can really tailor where we are heading as a school from a truer starting point.

I previously wrote about grading observations - read that post here

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Running A Primary School Council

For the last few years I have been the staff representative on our KS2 School Council.  It has been expertly run by our Deputy Head, Sue, and I always refer people to her on Twitter when they are interested in starting one in their school or changing how theirs works.  Having watched and learned how to ensure the School Council is effective in its purpose, I've included in this post how Sue has run ours for many years.  

Who is involved?
After short speeches, every class elects two representatives by a secret vote at the beginning of the year.  These same two children come to every meeting throughout the academic year.  Also present are representatives from the SLT, teachers, teaching assistants, governors and parent/teacher association.  Pupils reps are identified by a School Council badge and their photos are displayed in our main corridor.  There are two School Councils; one for each Key Stage.  We are a large 3-form entry primary school so this makes it easier to manage.  In smaller schools, a School Council could included representatives from every class instead. 

How often and how long are meetings? 
The school council meets approximately once a month.  For most adult representatives, this isn't a problem.  For me, it means I need to be covered for the hour-long meetings.  This cover comes from our headteacher, assistant head or SENCo.  We meet in the hall and tables are set out in a square with representatives sat in year groups along each side of the square.  

What happens in meetings? 
Each meeting has an agenda, created by Sue, and is chaired by a different pair of Year 6 representatives each term.  These children are given a short script to help them run the meeting smoothly.  For each item, the Year 6 pupils announce what will be discussed, share some information and then go around the tables to hear pupils' suggestions, ideas or opinions.  We often have votes to make important decisions.

At the end of each meeting, there is always time for "Any Other Business".  Favourite topics for this section are toilets, break-time snacks and, currently, Pokemon cards however we have had some very useful and important suggestions made when the floor is opened up.  After all, this is the point of a School Council; to give children the chance to be heard and learn more about what happens in school.  
School Councillors vote each year on our school charities, suggest and organise fundraisers and communicate such information with their classes.  They were the first to view our newly built wing of the school and often find out exciting or important school news before their peers.  The teacher rep (me!), takes the minutes of the meeting so that there is a record of what was said and decided. 

What happens after meetings? 
The minutes from the meeting are shared with all members of staff at the school.  Also, the Year 6 leading reps take a copy of the minutes to every class for the reps to put in their School Council folder.  Each pair of class reps is given time in the classroom to share with their peers what was discussed in the School Council meeting.  Sometimes, they must collect ideas from the class to share at the next meeting or have a vote to share the results.  This is also the opportunity for their classmates to raise any other business which they want raised with the School Council.  Some children have specific jobs to do after the meeting; for example, speaking to the premises officer or receptionist about a problem.

Below you can see an example of the minutes which shows the matters for discussion in one of our recent meetings.  If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below or to tweet myself or Sue.  

Click to enlarge