Reverse Calendar for Advent

I wrote this post at the start of Advent 2016, then followed it up with an update when the project finished at the end of term.

This is a seasonal post for Advent. I want to share the work of a couple of my colleagues at St Gregory’s, Fran Walsh and Grant Price. They’ve put together a great a fantastic programme for tutor groups during Advent. It’s easily adaptable should others want to use the idea.

For several years we’ve raised money for the Oxford Food Bank in the run-up to Christmas, linked to a ‘Follow the Star’ activity where pupils follow clues to find the location of a star within the school, picking up instructions to complete a task. This has proved popular but feedback this year was that KS4 students wanted a change. 

Fran and Grant have worked to produce ‘reverse’ Advent calendars – instead of getting something out of them each day, you put something in. This originated (we think) with an idea posted on www.muminthemadhouse.com as a seasonal activity. KS3 tutor groups will be making a Jesse tree, building it up each day in Advent. They will continue to collect for the food bank, as in previous years. Each tutor group has one of these sheets. Pupils commit to bringing in one of the items so that as a group they collect them all.

KS4 students will be focussing on work being carried out by CAFOD to help those most in need, especially refugees. They will be collecting teenage items for a local charity, Stepping Stones. They work with vulnerable and homeless people and have requested particular help in collecting care products for teenagers, so the reverse calendar includes these.


Fran introduced students to this on Friday 25th November, in preparation for the start of Advent this Sunday and the launch of the activity on Monday. The initial response of students has been really heartening and full of generosity:

“But Miss, you can’t have pasta without pasta sauce. I’m gonna bring both!”

“What do you mean by ‘bag of rice’? My parents only buy 10kg bags, can I bring one of those in?”

“What sort of sweets should we bring? Probably best to get gummy, we don’t want an old person to break their first teeth.”

“We don’t just want to get the cheap brands because we want people to feel special.”

“I live right next to Sainsbury’s; I don’t mind bringing more in.” (Other supermarkets are available) 

I hope you’ll agree that this looks like an excellent start to our focus on giving this Advent. Please feel free to pick up on any of these ideas. It would also be great to learn about what other schools are doing for Advent and Christmas.
Update – 19th December 2016

The project went extremely well with students and staff all pulling together to collect items for both charities. The idea really caught the imagination of the wider community: several families decided to put together a whole box themselves and the appeal received coverage in the local press including this Oxford Mail article

The happy end result this generosity was that we collected far more than we had originally anticipated. In fact we had to make two runs to the Oxford Food Bank to get everything there! It was truly heartening to see the way that students took a lead in demonstrating a practical response to our school value of compassion. We’re pleased to have been able to support two charities whose work is needed more than ever. 

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Hi-Vis SLT

In a discussion session on our school improvement plan, several colleagues commented that they would like senior leaders to be more visible around the school. It became clear that there were some different perspectives of the role of SLT.

Our SLT has a support rota during the day so somebody is on duty during each lesson. We generally choose an area of the school to visit, popping in to classes. Part of our reward system is ‘spot awards’  – giving out awards on the spot to pupils nominated by their teachers. They get a couple of achievement points and a mention in the newsletter that week. Of course, while out and about we may encounter pupils who need some encouragement to engage/re-engage with their learning or who need to work elsewhere, so everyone else in their class can get on with their learning! 

I have to say it’s something I enjoy – not dealing with naughty people so much but having the chance to visit lessons (always a privilege) and reward students who are working well. It became apparent in the discussion that a few colleagues rather saw this as a primary role of SLT members. My job does entail a bit more than that (but if anyone wants pay me a deputy head salary just to walk round and pop into lessons, please do let me know) and while colleagues wanting school leaders to visit them more is a good thing, I was concerned about a perception of lack of visibility. 

Clearly we can’t be everywhere at once, but perhaps we were missing areas, or colleagues, out. I decided to introduce a simple tick sheet to check which classes we were visiting. Before the start of each weekly SLT meeting we check off where we have visited. After the first couple of weeks we could see that there were some areas missed out: we weren’t visiting each other much,  or making it frequently to the top floor of one building, or to the furthest part of the campus – the sports hall. We’d also missed out a couple of other colleagues. We are now using this checklist to make sure we see everyone at least once every fortnight. Hopefully everyone will feel supported, and with a couple more extra flights of stairs to climb, I might even lose a couple of pounds.

As for all my posts, I welcome constructive comments. I’d also like to hear how SLT in other schools support colleagues throughout the teaching day.