Reflections and a pledge – #Teacher5aday

This year I jumped on the Teacher5aday bandwagon with some posts about workload, time-saving techniques, things I’m going to stop, change and introduce, and why happiness starts now.

As the year draws to a close, it seems that it’s an apt time for reflection on the year’s successes and things to look forward to in 2017 (that and I have a sneaky feeling I said to Martyn Reah I’d blog… and that was sometime last term – sorry!). Here’s some reflections and a pledge for next year.

New school and new roles

2016 saw me start a new role as an intervention coordinator at a new school, followed by a lead teacher for Y6-8 English. So far, I’m loving the new challenges of teaching a primary group and am looking forward to working even more closely with primary colleagues next year. It’s also making me even more determined to create engaging KS3 material that builds on the excellent work that children do in primary so they can fly and succeed. KS3 has been something I’ve posted about a lot (challenge, engagement,  driving questions for progress, early intervention and why knowledge is empowering) and I’m looking forward to developing my own knowledge of the primary curriculum to support progress at KS3.

WomenEd

As somebody with nowhere near as much experience as others in WomenEd, deciding to be a regional leader was a daunting decision and a year ago I blogged about what WomenEd meant to me.  Through an Unconference, residential and amazing network of talented women, I’ve been challenged (personally and professionally) to be 10% braver and supported in a way that has been instrumental in helping me achieve my new posts and refine my long term goals.  So many times this year I’ve felt grateful for the wonderful ladies who have been there to chat, give advice and bounce ideas off. Working with WomenEd has given me more clarity of personal ambition and goal than anything else since qualifying as a teacher.  Sometimes it can seem that Twitter and maybe education in general becomes a ‘who can shout loudest/work the longest hours’ competition and WomenEd isn’t about that. The message of collaboration and community is something I think education needs more of. WomenEd has reinforced my idea that it is possible to get places by building others up, not through competitive one-up-man(or woman!)-ship. Moving into 2017, I can’t wait to build on some of the connections we’ve made in the North East and work towards developing our amazing network further.

Looking ahead to 2017. A pledge… kind of.

I’m not one for making resolutions just because it’s January. There’s something about making grand pronouncements that’ll be broken by February that seems sort of pointless to me. My aim for 2017 is to keep plugging away slowly on my goals, complete my thesis (justkeepwriting!) and make time for myself, my hobbies and to recharge.

choices

And finally…

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Stop. Change. Introduce. Day 5 #Teacher5aday

Question: With the new curriculum changes & increased accountability measures what will you stop doing, change, or introduce for your own well-being?

Amy Jeetley has posed this question in a post for today’s #Teacher5adayslowchat.

Stop – Marking work that’s littered with silly mistakes or incomplete.

I dread to think how much marking time is taken up by staff up and down the country writing ‘remember your capital letters’, ‘underline your date and title’ etc. That’s a lot of effort reminding pupils to do things they’ve been taught at primary. Those are also the books that take the longest to mark and for little impact because, let’s be honest, pupils KNOW they should use capital letters for names and a beautifully written reminder is probably just white noise. For this reason (unless there’s a real reason which needs addressing in another way e.g. SEN, literacy) the work is getting sent back to be proof read/completed to a decent standard/getting done again* before I’ll mark it.

(* delete as appropriate)

I’m also just taking time to embed habits that I’ve already talked about here.

Change -The way I set homework.

This week I read a suggestion on Twitter of pupils writing the homework title at the top of a page and then leaving two pages before starting the lesson work. I’m going to trial that next year to reduce the amount of time I spend flicking through books checking homework.

Introduce – One evening a week set aside specifically for university study: that can’t be swallowed up by a school work to-do list

Obviously, it takes up a significant proportion of my non-work time, but I quite like the idea of leaving work at 3:30 on a set day, sitting in a coffee shop indulging some reading for an hour before going home and getting a solid few hours writing done.

Critical conversations in educational leadership

On 26th April I was lucky enough to share a platform and discussion space with teachers, researchers and academics discussing some critical issues and conversations in educational leadership at a BELMAS/BERA event at Newcastle University.

Within half and hour it was clear that the concept of ‘critical conversations’ can be interpreted in a range of ways but largely came back to the idea of narratives. There are leadership stories to be told and issues to be raised and discussed. As researchers our challenge is to explore how to best capture these stories.

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‘Whatever it takes’ Some reflections on intervention

ProgressI used to believe that’whatever it takes‘ was a sign of commitment and high expectations. I don’t any more. ‘Whatever it takes‘ risks increasing teacher workload for limited gain,  allows students to abdicate responsibility for their own learning and can promote a culture of low expectations.

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On workload. #Teacher5adayslowchat

It’s important to discuss workload and well-being. It’s also important that it’s discussed in an open and positive way that doesn’t become endless complaining and blaming. This is where I think #Teacher5aday has got it right and their slowchat (#Teacher5adayslowchat) is worth a look to hear how teachers, leaders and schools are working together for happy healthy staff. And it starts now.

One thing that came up this morning was that some people don’t know how to manage their workload or have work-life balance. This surprised me – and partially worried me. Managing time and work is an essential part of most jobs and it’s clear that for some teachers this balance has gone significantly off. Think back to university – most people didn’t work 60+ hours a week on the grounds of ‘there’s always more books to read‘.

Earlier in the chat I suggested that there are (at least) two sets of responsibilities for well-being:

  1. Leaders have a responsibility for promoting realistic expectations, creating effective and manageable policies and having an overall handle on their workforce.
  2. Teachers have a responsibility for prioritising their own well-being, managing their workload and supporting colleagues to do the same.

Now I’m not suggesting that one teacher can take on an entire toxic environment (and it’s clear from speaking to teachers online that they do, sadly, exist). But I hope this (less than original) blog is a starting point for reclaiming balance little steps at a time.

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Introducing the workload matrix – lots of versions available online

This matrix is a quick way of taking a to-do list and drawing up a set of realistic and manageable priorities.

In an ideal world, you want to be working mainly in the green section: where your work is important but there’s no sense of urgency. It’s unrealistic to work in the green section all the time e.g. an incident occurs and it requires an immediate response (straight in the red box), but if work is always urgent and important then that leads to rising stress levels.

I like to combine three other thinking prompts with the matrix:

  • Will the added effort have a significant impact on student progress?
  • Will my managing of this task push another colleague into the red zone?
  • Do have I have time to complete this optional request to a good enough standard? (If not, the answer is no.)

I’ve already shared some time-saving tips that I’ve collected off a lot of great teachers. So this post will focus on using the matrix to reflect and balance work choices.

1. Data entry/reports etc – important and dates/deadlines are given in advance. Generally should be in the green box, but the reality is that completing them often ends up in the red.

2. Lesson planningvery important, shouldn’t be urgent (green). Now consider what’s being planned. Is it an intricate activity that takes 4 times as long as an alternative? If so, is it needed? Plan lessons to get the maximum impact for the time invested. Try to avoid blue-box planning as a routine expectation (e.g. card-sorts, things that can’t be re-used).

3. Creating lesson resources – not urgent and important (green) but spending hours adding animations and making sparkly Powerpoints is probably more of a blue task. Time spent there is time not being used on things which are genuinely green tasks.

4. Differentiation – Again, important but not urgent. But do you really need 3 single use resources (see #2 lesson resources)? Could you use questioning to differentiate? Could you refine your planning so the lesson is like a ladder with in-built differentiation?

5. Scheme of work writing – I think great schemes are highly important for managing workload. Try to keep that in the green box. Don’t be finishing it off a matter of days before people are meant to be teaching it. When that happens, you’re pushing a colleague into the red box.

6. Emails – delete, respond, deal with later. Think before you send (don’t be the person who sends a whole staff email because little Tom in Y7 has lots his coat – again). Emails can be in almost any of those boxes, depending on how it’s used.

7. Marking and feedbackgreen box task. But, how much of your marking is having impact? Are you spending time doing marking tasks that look great but have little impact? Is so, you’re in the blue box.

8. Displays – Aside from being on the list of things teachers shouldn’t have to do, we often end up doing them. Displays are one of my favourite blue box tasks, and by favourite I mean I love doing them, but they really aren’t that urgent and in the grand scheme of things not that important (especially if you’re like me and do new ones each term).

9. Photocopying – It links to lesson resources. Spend a week logging everything you photocopy. Then think about the time creating the sheets. Then the time printing. Then the time copying. Point taken. Do students really need a table copying for them and gluing in – or could they just use a ruler!? Do students really need the question printing and gluing in – or could they quickly copy it off the board. Think before you print.

10. Revision sessions – What’s the impact? How does it link to lesson? Are the students getting the most out of each lesson – if the answer is no, why run more revision sessions? A well-planned structured session can work well but how many teachers are unable to get on with other tasks because they’re teaching 3-5 additional lessons a week after school? Could you create a self-study pack with colleagues and take it in turns to ‘host’ independent supervised study? Students can ask questions from staff but the focus is shifted back to the students.

It’s not a perfect solution, but since discovering the matrix in my pre-teaching career I’ve found it a useful way of compartmentalising work and drawing up cut-off points for different tasks.

 

Pass it on: top time-saving tips

work-life-balanceI’m a big fan of the #teacher5aday hashtags and discussion of work-life balance on Twitter that I’m always talking about things I’ve seen online or great little ‘tweaks’ that make life just that little bit easier. I’m going to attempt to recap some the great advice I’ve been given for work-life balance (both in person and online). Whilst I’d love to take credit for some of these ideas, they’re just a mix of things I’ve thought about and things I’ve picked up along the way.

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Rethinking differentiation: getting the most out of questions

“Inspectors reported concerns about Key Stage 3 in one in five of the routine inspections analysed, particularly in relation to the slow progress made in English and mathematics and the lack of challenge for the most able pupils.” (Ofsted, KS3 ‘The Wasted Years’, 2015)

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Credit: Betanews.com

When I trained, the common approach to differentiation was to teach to the middle, stretch the top and support the bottom. The (anecdotal) result? Lots of time-consuming creation of single-use resources, extension tasks that lack rigour or provide ‘more of the same’ or support pathways that remove the complex thinking – and that’s before you have to cater for the range of learning styles in your class! As a trainee teacher in an era when teachers were told ‘Ofsted want progress every 10/15/20 minutes’, it felt like there was a perverse incentive to make the visible learning as easy as possible to show.There were weeks where I’d spend hours making different worksheets for different tables, parallel tasks and card sorts that I’d tell myself I’d use again (but inevitably wouldn’t).

Then I was given the piece of advice that changed my approach to differentiation (and workload): a resource should never take you longer to make than the students to use.

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What WomenEd means to me

WomenEd_LogoRectanglePurpleFollowing our inaugural YamJam, our WomenEd ideas session started me thinking about what WomenEd means to me. The advantage of such a self-supporting movement, led by a fabulous steering group, is that it’s an open house, a place for sharing ideas, collaboration and personal reflection.

For me, I see WomenEd as a sustainable grass-roots movement that nurtures female leadership and promotes opportunities for women to shape the educational climate of the country. Whilst self-deprecatingly suggesting that this may be ‘a tad ambitious’, it hit me that perhaps that such qualification is the very reason WomenEd is needed.

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Reclaiming KS3: Engagement

In this series of blogposts I’m exploring ways that KS3 can be reclaimed rather than being viewed as a second priority behind KS4/5. To go further, what I’m suggesting is that if schools want to ensure maximum progress gains at KS4, then targeted investment in KS3 is essential.

The three ways that this can be achieved are:

  • Challenge (Read the post here)
  • Engagement
  • Early intervention

Engagement

employee-engagement-survey-staff-surveyThere’s been a lot of discussion about the nature of engagement and relevance in the eduTwittersphere in recent months and it’s clear that these concepts raise a range of issues to be explored.

Sometimes I find that engagement is often tied up in discussions of relevance and self-esteem and many other concepts that shift the focus of learning away from the student and on to the teacher. When engagement becomes synonymous with ‘entertaining’ and ‘fun’, there’s an implication that if there’s an issue with achievement or student behaviour, it can be explained away as ‘the child only behaved that way because they found the lesson boring’. This approach fundamentally undermines teaching staff and excuses poor behaviour. It gives students an opt out and acts as a stick to hit teaching staff with – hardly conducive to developing a high performing team. Positive behaviour for learning should be non-negotiable, regardless how entertaining students find the lesson. In this post, I’ll be exploring why challenge can help foster engagement and how through praise we can promote engagement within an academic environment.

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Reclaiming KS3: Challenge

ProgressThere’s been a lot of focus on KS3 and the role it plays in achievement at KS4. Sometimes I wonder if due to pressures in the upper school, KS3 risks becoming the neglected sibling of KS4/5. It shouldn’t be. If KS3 is purposeful, challenging and engaging, the chances of having the progress gaps to be filled in KS4 will be drastically reduced. In short, the key to success at KS4 is strong KS3 provision.

 

The keys to success at KS3 are:

  • Challenge
  • Engagement
  • Early intervention

This post will focus on the first area: challenge.

Continue reading “Reclaiming KS3: Challenge”