Thursday, 30 October 2014

Personal professional development and personal learning networks - @SLTcamp

I started my twitter journey around 18 months ago. Taking the leap to follow people was the first step and I was so lucky to come across a tweet in August 2013 about @SLTcamp. I had really enjoyed taking part in the weekly #sltchat and thought it would be really good PPD to spend an entire weekend with twitter SLT. So I signed up.

After driving for 3 hours the scariest part was arriving in the dark to a youth hostel with no phone signal. I also had never met any of the people who had signed up. I had looked up participants' profiles on twitter in the hope that I would then recognise people when I arrived. I shouldn't have had any worries. As soon as I arrived a fellow camper said I was in the right place and that the teachmeet would be starting in a while, once food and people were ready. Some people had even flown in for the weekend. We were all expecting a great weekend.

Everyone had arrived expecting to participate in healthy discussion and "Chatham House" rules were in place, providing a safe environment for sharing and debating issues and solutions. The Friday evening teachmeet sparked lots of post-presentation chats and many campers stayed up for long discussions and building networks. Evening entertainment, helped break any ice that was hanging around and set the tone for the entire weekend. PPD in a fun environment. Where else can you go to spend an entire weekend building personal learning networks and focussing on your own PPD? @SLTcamp was that opportunity.

I learnt so much from my time with sparky SLT campers that I have signed up again for @SLTcamp 2014. I'm even prepared to drive for over 4 hours this year just to have my PLN and PPD top up for the academic year. As a veteran my expectations are high. I know that if I get as much out of it as I did last year, I will leave with a book full of notes and take another year to implement things that I have learnt.

If you have not signed up for SLT camp 2014 then do read some of last year's blogs. If you are a long standing Headteacher, aspirant senior leader, senior middle leader or even an established member of SLT then the weekend will have something for you. Who knows what "golden nuggets" will end up being shared this year?

Bring your own device (BYOD)

I was tasked with innovation as part of my leadership role in 2013/14 and improving learning experience in 2014/15. My first port of call was to read lots of teacher blogs. Thankfully having made lots of notes @sltcamp in November 2013 I was able to read around pioneering teaching technology in schools.

From Easter 2013 to the end of August, I read, read, read. I knew the success of launching BYOD lay in my trailing and reflecting on how to make best use of the technology. With no student Wi-Fi I asked to teach Year 9 German in an IT room with flipped learning as my pedagogical tool. Attempting to use Edmodo to get students and parents engaged in learning at home to enable practice at school. Student feedback was good and in June 2014 the entire school were enrolled and staff trained. In preparation for BYOD all students signed the newly updated Digital Citizenship agreements and had an assembly on how to use e-learning sensibly.

During summer 2014 I downloaded as many apps to my phone and tablets. Making the most of the long summer break I was able to see which apps worked well on android and apple devices. Day 1 in September staff and students were welcomed back to a Wi-Fi network. Year 7, of course had to be signed up to the agreements and then we were good to go.

In just 38 days at school the amount of use our student Wi-Fi is experiencing is on the increase across all curriculum areas. Without specific training pioneering staff have had the flexibility to trial what works in their areas. ICT Guru certificates have been handed out in our Teaching and Learning briefings and nano-presentations have shared ideas across staff.

Students in my class have used phones, mini ipads and android tablets too. The knack I have found is being flexible and making sure that there is a back up plan. Maths have found QR codes linked to explanation videos on their own Youtube channel allows for students to get "help" as many times as they need it explaining, as well as clear differentiation. Tutors have used the Edmodo app for literacy whole group story writing challenges. MFL colleagues are using it for memorisation techniques using Tellagami, visioprompt, Yakitt kids and early evidence suggests it is helping increase confidence in speaking techniques. Science staff are enjoying padlet, socrative and wordwall to gain quick starter and plenary data to help find out what students have remembered or need additional input for in the following lessons.

After many years I have also moved to an electronic markbook. Having visited Bett 2014 I decided there was a much more powerful way to mark. I use idoceo and it has been a great way to share data, seating plans etc with shared groups. Even staff who only have 1 lesson a fortnight are as up to date with the day to day marking for homework and tests as they can be. I hope my next shared group is with a colleague with an e-markbook.

All of this has been achieved via personal professional development, one CPD course and lots of perseverance. The first set of staff CPD on BYOD begins on Monday. With three tiers for opting in green for using teaching apps, amber for using student apps and red for using teacher/student apps in the same lesson.

BYOD is simply another pedagogical tool, however it is interesting to hear student responses to a non-digital lesson as they begin to get used to using apps to aid learning. I like the ability to use ICT without having to book an ICT room and sharing information immediately via an app reduces delays in learning and feedback. It would be interesting to compare BYOD with 1:1, however the early signs are that BYOD is enhancing the learning experiences without rolling out an expensive 1:1 programme.

A class set of ipads are due to arrive next term. This will be the test to see if we need to consider pushing the parameters of e-learning even further.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Magic moments

Every new school year is like waiting for the chance to open Christmas presents. Most teachers will organise seating plans with good intentions. Boy/ girl seating to help close gender gap achievement, ability tables to aid differentiation or even targeted positioning to improve behaviour. Yet data can only go so far. Will the seating plan work? Only when you meet the class and see the class chemistry will the magic begin to happen.

It may mean amending seating plans regularly. 

Other magic moments I am looking forward too. Results day. Again, just like Christmas. Will the envelope contain the present students and staff want? 

We know it can't be Christmas every day, however I would argue that being a teacher there are magic moments every day. Every lesson the learning objective and outcomes may seem impossible for some students. The magic comes when students realise they understand the task or even when they take a risk answering a question. The smile of relief is magic and can be used to harness confidence for the next lesson.

Magic moments are the best part of my normal teaching day.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Teachers have such long holidays

I am a third generation teacher and knew from an early age - holidays weren't for sitting relaxing. I remember helping to unpack classroom materials in August and delivering them to different classrooms. This was so staff arrived in the last few days of the holidays to find poster paper and glue sticks ready for the new academic year. I even spent 4 summer holiday weeks post A levels cleaning the new build school and helping stuff envelopes for 1st September mailing to parents. Many people think teachers make the most of a long holiday, the reality is there is so much to do for a smooth start to September.

Living with a teacher.

My knowledge of life as a teacher came from having both parents as teachers. I was used to doing my homework while they wrote reports/marked books/made classroom displays. I knew the amount of evenings I spent with a babysitter due to parents being at concerts, plays, governor meetings and parents' evenings. This knowledge prepared me for the pace of working life as a teacher. Arrive in school 90 mins before school begins to deliver materials to the different teaching rooms I'm in, attend briefing and get last minute information to students and staff. Realise at 2:30pm that the headache might be due to no drink since breakfast. Arrive home at 20:30 after parents' evening and plan lessons for the next day.

Enjoying school holidays

So 5 weeks and 1 day of summer holidays! On call for school trip and summer school, emergency contact for site staff too. Two weeks into holidays and still picking up work emails which need following up. Reading up on new OFSTED guidance and latest educational publications.  A level results day and  GCSE results days are busy with students to congratulate and commiserate. Then staff room displays, classroom displays, new web classrooms to be filled with resources. For teachers new to the world of teaching I can see why they feel overwhelmed with working hours.

Bag ladies of Europe

I can understand why the perception is that teachers have truly long holidays. The truth is, time flies by. There is time to reflect on what worked last year and make sure to build on it with new classes. My PGCE tutor said teachers were the bag ladies of Europe, picking up leaflets everywhere they went on holidays to use in their lessons.

From bag ladies to magpies

So 15 years later there are fewer leaflets collected on holidays and more ideas from the virtual world squirrelled away. So many ideas get collected it takes time to decide what works in each context.

Work life balance

While on holidays it is possible to start thinking about school less. However I would argue that many teachers are mentally logging ideas for September.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Time to reflect, find new ideas and plan ahead is refreshing. 

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

When questioning gets questioned!

I have been planning 1st September training day for a few weeks now. The theme is questioning classroom questioning and engagement techniques.

As a school we have loosely followed Blooms and revised Blooms for the past decade. Has it been successful in creating classrooms full of deep learning?  Yes, where staff have planned it into lessons, or skilfully adapt questions depending on student learning.

So I took time in term 6 to research and trial different options, before launching with staff on Term 1. Having used PLTS roles successfully over the years, I thought I'd try de Bono thinking hats. Not a great fit for me, it could be the years of using Blooms.

I then moved onto Solo. We aren't using levels as of tomorrow and this seemed to provide a framework for class tasks. As an MFL specialist it was easy to apply. I also managed to plan a 30 minute practical training session, I could run for staff with a humanities style lesson.

Twitter disaster.

Then I read @LearningSpy's blog that solo may not be the way to go. 

Staff choice

1st INSET plans: 3 sessions with different engagement foci, such as e-learning, students leading learning and student roles in lessons. Each session will have a questioning technique to underpin it. Then it will be down to staff choice.

It will be interesting to see if Blooms wins the day. I, however will stick to SOLO and  let's see how many hat posters there will be.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Building student engagement and confidence

Do you struggle with a class of higher ability students, who just won't put their hands up in class. They are happy to write, but will take the easy option of saying they don't know if you ask a question? Are they worried about being embarrassed or even too afraid to take any risks in answering questions?

Teaching group issue.

I have been teaching a group of Gifted MFL students this year, who have taken their GCSE German in one academic year. As a group they are great at reading and writing. Their controlled assessment grades in reading and writing were up to 2 grades higher than their speaking and listening grades. I had tried no hands up, lollipop sticks, specific role cards, group work, think, pair, share and was in need of inspiration. Once they sat their GCSE German they immediately flipped to learning French - as they need to take it next year. How was I going to hand them onto their teacher for French with equal skills and confidence?


As has been the case throughout the past 12 months, twitter came to the rescue. PedagooSW was launched and I signed up for the day. I was so pleased to see a session which appeared to be the answer to my problems. Kagan strategies run by Crista Hazell (Head of MFL).

Strategies for students to learn from each other, collaborate, communicate and be confident

The 4 strategies explained were introduced in Crista's school to get rid of the fear factor, they are embarrassment free, less pressure for students and there is no room for passengers in the classroom.

Inside, outside circle - students are provided with questions in the inner circle and the outer circle answer the questions, then immediate peer feedback and swap roles. Then move to new partners. All students must participate and they get feedback to act upon straight away.

Talking chips - buy a box of poker chips. Give a certain amount to each student, which they spend when they contribute to the lesson. It enables quiet students to contribute. In MFL you can differentiate by colour - blue (answer in English), white (answer in French). Penalty (red) chips can be given if students have not spent all their chips and next lesson they are given extra chips.

2 stay, 2 stray - groups of 4 work on an activity and then 2 can go and steal answers from other tables, the remaining 2 have to talk to other stealers about the responses they have. Again risk free as they are sharing information before the teacher asks for answers.

Round Robin - In pairs students have to provide rapid, multiple answers to their peers. A great starter, plenary or progress point. Again all students have to participate and it is a safe risk free environment to build confidence.

Did it work?

PedagooSW was on the Saturday. I was so enthused, and had just been told my formal lesson observation this term would be with this group, I decided I had to try all 4 techniques. Monday after school I headed straight to Argos, as they were having a sale on 200 Poker Chips. The next day I introduced Talking chips to the class - they didn't like it as it meant they had to participate, but the first question I asked that lesson saw a class of hands up! Amazing. The next lesson I ran talking chips and inside/outside circle - they were beginning to get the hang of participating. It was a boiling hot day, so went to the hall (right by my room) to take the activity out of the classroom. In two lessons students who used to shyly put their hands up / or didn't participate at all were trying to get my attention to use their chips.

On the third talking chips lesson 7 girls had not used their chips, so I asked them to stay behind and explained that they would have extra chips the next lesson. (Formal observation!) I set up at lunch time and made sure that the girls had the correct amount of chips. When they arrived they knew what was expected. My Head of MFL had heard me talking about PedagooSW and the Kagan stratagies I had been trying. The lesson had students participating and whether they had confidence in speaking or not, they had the appearance of speaking with confidence. Over time they are improving each lesson.


I cannot say that the class are raving about the techniques but they are speaking increasingly in French. The lesson observation could not have gone better and I will be using these tips with my groups next year. In fact I am now looking into learning more about Kagan stratagies. My Head of MFL is keen to try them too. As I'm on SLT I will run CPD sessions next year but I also know that our open door lessons will help cascade the information in Term 1 too.

Massive thank you to Crista for her session at PedagooSW and @ictevangelist for organising the day.
The impact of teachers training teachers in massive.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Bouncing back

The term resilience is currently in vogue in educational establishments in the UK. Teenagers mental health issues are rising and there is a distinct inability to use inner grit or resilience to deal with academic failure. So I was delighted to find a teaching school locally that was running an entire day on this with Tanya Byron and Phil Beadle presenting. Luckily I was able to complete a staff training form linking this to the current issues must able students (my remit) are experiencing. So I was on the course.

Phil Beadle launched the day and did not disappoint. Bouncebackability was my lasting new term. Stress and failure is not bad for us as long as we can learn to control it. Having a fear of snakes I must thank Phil for warning the audience at a key point. It was a case of freeze, flight or fight. I chose to freeze and not watch the pictures. Good choice. Apparently this lack of resilience to stress by teenagers is due to their animalistic response. It closes their options down. If they were used to risk taking they would be more positive and be able to have a creative menu if responses to situations. I refer you to the snakes, I could only freeze and try to keep breathing.
Now according to Phil if I were a defeatist I would create actions which would be self fulfilling. If I fail in teaching a good lesson or I get a bad exam grade then I will maintain that type of approach.
However the optimist will view failure and stress in another way - blame themselves as they are the only part of the situation they can change! So year 9 last lesson on a Friday. I can be self defeatist, the lesson will go badly and I fulfil the prophecy. Or change my demeanour, attitude and create a positive learning environment they will engage with. :)
To translate this optimism to students does require realistic optimism to ensure resilience. My golden nugget from the keynote was: to deal with fear and build resilience- deal with what you know, not what you imagine. What people don't know worries them and then they cannot be resilient.

I will admit an hour on meta-cognition was a challenge. Phil was on top form recognising that we were having to find meta-cognitive managing strategy not to walk out. What about students? Do we need to scaffold and give them ways to build their own meta-cognition? I'm going to try the handy meta-cognition planning tool in September with my new Year 10. Start the linear course with a plan for building resilience into planning, activities and homework. The golden nugget from this session was: students need to over learn so that there is automaticity. Having experienced years of MFL speaking exams this is an area where automaticity is lacking. So there is my learning objective for y10&11.

A well earned lunch break (reflection time) then Tanya Byron. I recently ran an assembly where I spoke about how the students were being labelled as generation zombie. Tanya started her talk with the idea of captivity. We are raising a generation of kids in captivity. No more free range, risk taking kids. Captivity is breeding dependency. As a result kids cannot manage risk or failure.
Mirroring Phil's talk Tanya outlined Carol Dweck's work on teen angst. There are image maintainers. The students who plod along too afraid to push harder to gain higher grades incase they fail. If we continue to push they will have an animalistic response and shut down. Like me with Phil's snake images.
So how do we get past this angst and develop resilience. Help students understand the physical response to stress. Neuroplasticity key times during schooling at early years and puberty. This is the prime time to ensure there are chances to fail in a safe environment. This is the chance to desensitise the student by making them do what worries them. If not then they won't build resilience.

IQ is only 25% of success. EQ will power through. By building healthy, cognitive, socially, capable, creative and intelligent kids - society will have a resilient generation. 

I certainly had a lot to consider after 2 keynote talks and 2 workshops. Now to write this year's development plan to ensure resilience has a key role. Not forgetting my own bouncebackability.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Romance and reality. Two sides of the educational coin

In a school where 40% of the senior leadership changed this year and half the team will be new within a 12 month window, it is not surprising that there has been a high rate of resignations. The negatives of this are a loss of expertise and the ethos built up over time in a school is held by staff. The ethos can quickly change. Fragile in the face of change, needing protection and care. Only if the community feels the ethos is still wanted.

The other side of the coin comes from predicting the next 12 months. Having interviewed new colleagues joining us and interviewing the new TLR restructured post holders, there is a rose-tinted vision of what the future holds. It is uplifting to see their enthusiasm, untainted by any reality.

If new colleagues and new TLR holders arrive with the romance, isn't it morally important for SLT to foster and build this amongst all colleagues? Indeed a bridging programme for 2 sectors of staff would be useful. Through buddy coaching and personalised CPD opportunities it must be possible to keep the romantic vision of teaching and leadership alive. A school wide CPD programme is important for key levers, however time is needed for reflection. Mindfulness is the new ideology for students but staff would benefit too.

That spark of romance also needs to stand up to the daily rigours of learning walks, drop ins, SLT wandering and formal progress meetings. Will there be support to build on aspirations or will there be a dip like Year 7 students often experience? 

I have used twitter as a personal version of CPD. Outward looking and taking the opportunity to go to @Sltcamp helped network with leaders who cling on to the romantic vision of teaching, despite the daily rigours of reality. Inspite of an OFSTED visit in term 4 I look forward to the next 12 months to address issues all of us agreed upon.

The challenge is to hold onto the vision!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Emotion in leadership

I signed up to BELMAS this year and have dipped into the journals from time to time. One article from the March issue caught my eye this evening.
Emotion in leadership
The article looks at how emotion impacts on leadership. I was interested to read about the idea of emotion being a taboo subject and was interested in how Yamamoto et al discuss this. Karpinski's study of a keen female assistant principal and her unremarkable male principal stressed ability and expectation over emotion. Emotion was not taken into consideration in the learning journey to effective leadership resulting in a lack of trust in the leadership partnership.
I understood the discussion of expected and even prescribed emotional displays. The true conflict for any leader must be when they do not agree with the expected emotional response and have to act pleased, annoyed or truly happy with decisions taken by others. Indeed the act of suppressing feelings to sustain the outward show of expected emotion can be truly draining. I wonder at what point leaders then either become very good at pretending or indeed convince themselves they do believe for that authentic emotional response.
Again I agreed with the idea of EI positively affecting teachers' job satisfaction. Middle and senior leaders EI in sync with a school is pivotal to staff well-being. If leaders and teachers are forcing the accepted emotional response the working environment becomes untenable for colleagues.
As Yamamoto et al discuss the need for leaders to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, how then can leaders wear a mask of accepted emotional response? This surely is a juxtaposition as not every decision will be agreed with in a school?
It is only while reading this article that I start to understand how the emotion of the leader affects the emotions of the staff and this in turn affects the emotional well being of students. Interesting how the article suggests that secondary school principles have given little thought to the role of emotions. Indeed Yamamoto et al point to leaders who ignore or downplay emotions as leading to organisational problems. 
Is this why there has been an increase in senior leader roles looking at staff training and well-being? In secondaries yet not in primaries?
The notion of culturally accepted silence must be a toxic situation? If inner dialogue is in conflict with external emotions leadership is not harnessing staff confidence in their decisions. In an atmosphere of fear, where emotions are seen as a weakness leaders are not entering into dialogue with staff who may have a logical response to a situation yet are afraid to show their response due to the organisation's expected emotional response.
I have had the pleasure to experience transformational leaders during my career. Their emotional intelligence ensured that they truly inspired and motivated. Even when some of their ideas maybe should have been challenged. As a leader I would like to harness what I have learnt from them.
At times reflecting on poor decisions, embracing feedback and accepting you don't have the answers, will aid trust within a school. Having no EI will neither foster trust, nor build a team.
There is a need for leaders to willingly acknowledge that decisions made in schools emotionally impact on staff and students.
Scant regard for emotions will lead to a toxic environment. Accepting that there is a need for give and take makes for that transformational place of work with can do people.
Having reflected on my current environment and leaders around me. I conclude with the decision that embracing emotion will make me an authentic leader, masking emotion will lead to inner conflict. To ensure motivation, staff need to know their emotions are important.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Flipped learning

Being tasked with leading innovation in teaching techniques across the curriculum this year, I spent a lot of my time during the summer holidays researching the latest trends in teaching. I came across a whole new pedagogical vocabulary and it seemed like I would have to trial some new methodologies throughout the year.

My top tip so far has been +Edmodo as it has enabled me to flip learning for 1/3 of lessons with my Year 9 group. Teaching German in an ICT suite once a fortnight was always going to be a challenge and I decided that students needed to be able to work independently, collaboratively with me facilitating as any good ICT teacher would run an ICT lesson.

Thanks to +Sarah Findlater and fellow colleagues @sltcamp talking about how google docs could be used for collaboration and teacher comments I thought I would partner both together. The bad news was we had a school challenge consultant coming to do a faculty learning walk, particularly to look at student engagement and independence in the very lesson I was trialling the whole thing.

It was with trepidation that I set up the entire lesson via Edmodo. The class was split into pairs and sent the link to different documents they were going to construct together, with my comments to help them edit level 5 upwards. Students did not know who their partner was until they started to log on and type the document together. They also had a powerpoint of grammar uploaded to the class page on Edmodo incase they had forgotten key grammar from the previous lessons.

At the same time I was analysing the quiz starter on how students had done on their tenses recognition homework. Thanks to Edmodo marking the quiz straight away I was able to call students up for individual support. Then quickly take a look at the co-construction of texts pairs were working on.

I had no idea what the consultant was going to think about this as I was purely trialling an innovation with the hope that student would learn independently. The feedback was great - in fact he suggested that it should be rolled out across the MFL faculty and then across the school.

So in 7 days time I will be training up my pioneering digital leading teachers on how they can use this style of flipped classroom to drive up independent skills and attainment. My students have also invited their parents to be part of the experience and they get to track their work as well. I'll get parental feedback at Year 9 parents' evening. Hopefully after my trepidation in the beginning parents will be as delighted with the "facebook for German" experience their children are having. Then it will be almost time for a whole school launch.

The power of twitter in improving my teaching skills for the 21st Century continues to amaze me and I am grateful for the collegiate approach of all tweachers who are willing to share their successes and failures.