Ten things to look forward to in the Spring Term

Christmas may be over and the New Year welcomed in. Long, warm summer days may feel a distant prospect, but don’t despair, there’s plenty to look forward to at the start of the Spring term in 2017. Here’s my top ten list:

  1. Christmas isn’t over until 6th January (twelfth night) – and this year that’s a Friday! I’ll be keeping my decorations up till then!
  2. If that isn’t enough for you, Orthodox Christmas Day this year is on Saturday 7th January.
  3. You may have just exchanged cards or greetings with friends or family you don’t see much. You could take up the opportunity of the new year to reconnect with them. Why not arrange to meet up?
  4. If you’re like me, you may have received books as Christmas presents and can look forward to reading them. I really enjoy just a few minutes of reading for pleasure at the end of each day. Why not get together with some colleagues and start a book swap in the staff room? This is just one of many ways to achieve workable wellbeing.
  5. On our return to work both pupils and colleagues will arrive with their presents from Santa. Why not exploit the entertainment value here and  play ‘Spot the new jumper/tie/shoes’, etc? (I don’t know why this is, but there seems to be an invariant rule that whenever I wear any thing new it gets noticed, but only the third time I wear it). With pupils you can use pencil cases or stationary to monitor trends in popular culture – which comes out on top, Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts?
  6. You may have to set off for work in the dark to start with, but from now on the days will be getting longer. Getting outside in daylight each day will help beat the winter blues. Even if the sky is overcast, that natural sunlight will do you good.
  7. While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the little signs that spring is on it’s way and take notice of small changes – already you may see some leaves of bulbs poking through the soil, or some buds on trees or shrubs swelling before they blossom.
  8. The start of a new year is an ideal time to commit to your own wellbeing. Why not take a look at the #Teacher5aday from @MartynReah for some ideas? You can join in with teachers all over the country. I was slow to catch on to this but found it really helpful over the past year.
  9. It’s not all cold wet misery in winter – there are plenty of feasts, festivals and holy days. Here are some dates in 2017: Burns’ Night – 25 Jan, Chinese New Year – 28 Jan, Valentine’s Day – 14 Feb, Shrove Tuesday – 28 Feb, St David’s Day – 1 Mar, both Holi and Purim are on 12 Mar, St Patrick’s Day – 17 Mar, Mothering Sunday (and the start of British Summer Time) – 26 Mar.
  10. The best thing about teaching in 2017, and every other year, is knowing that what we do makes a real positive difference to the children in our classes. For some of them, the holidays can be difficult and, although they might not always show it, they’ll have been be looking forward to the new term. Make it a good one.

So, what are you looking forward to this Spring? Have I missed any key dates from this list? Why not share with a comment? 

Happy New Year!

Dear Santa… An education wish list

Dear Santa,

I know this is your busiest time of year, but amidst running your workshop, feeding your reindeer, checking your list (twice), and delivering all those toys, would you be kind enough to have a look at my school wish list? These are just suggestions; I certainly don’t expect everything, but some progress on one or two would be really helpful.

Invisible goal posts. Many children respond well to sporting analogies and I’d like a way to help explain how the new GCSE grades work. We could play a match where we know that there are goalposts, but aren’t allowed to know exactly where they are. Players can take shots at the end of the field and then, after the final whistle has blown, we can reveal where the goalposts were (adjusting them to allow only a few player’s attempts to count) and only then reveal the final score.

A new Progress 8 coefficient. I know I had one of these last year, so it isn’t very old, but it just doesn’t seem to be working properly. What I’d really like is a progress measure that measures progress and doesn’t get caught up in whether a school has got enough pupils doing particular qualifications.

A bucket. To be honest I’m not sure how I feel about buckets. I know they can be useful – you probably have one hanging off the back of your sleigh to clear up after the reindeer -and it seems that in English schools nowadays, everyone has to have their buckets full. The trouble is, I can’t seem to find the bucket I want. It’s called the ‘Really useful qualifications that help individual students fulfil their career aspirations, progress in life and become productive, responsible citizens within an egalitarian compassionate society’. If you could help with the search for this, that would be fantastic.

An understanding of the delegated SEND budget. My role at school is now focussed on inclusion and I have tried to understand how this funding works, but however hard I think about it, it doesn’t seem to make sense. The bible has been of some help: Jesus apparently fed 5000 people with a few loaves and fishes. This seems to equate closely to the funding model, but even in this example there is no explanation of what to do when more people turn up, undergo a lengthy assessment process, have their needs identified in an EHC Plan, and then schools receives additional funding of… well, nothing. 

A ticket to Shanghai. I’ve been hearing a lot about how well pupils do in Shanghai, particularly in maths, so I’d like to take a trip there. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring back some useful things: some resources and teaching methods yes, but also generous non contact time, a millennia-old appreciation of the value of learning, consistently high parental engagement, and an ingrained universal cultural respect for the status of the teaching profession, which also make up the full package.

Mousetrap. You know, the board game with lots of plastic bits that my mum said would only get lost. Not educational maybe but I put it on my Christmas list each Year through the 1970s. Thought I’d give it another go.

Thanks Santa, I’ll leave a mince pie, a nip of single malt, and a carrot for Rudolf by the fireplace as usual.
What’s on your list to Santa?

Picture credit: www.freepik.com

 

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. 

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.

No More Mobiles – Six Weeks in

At the start of September, I wrote my post No more mobiles about why we took the decision to ban mobile phones from school. There were several reasons, the foremost being the level of distraction they created. That original post generated quite a bit of interest, as did this follow up after the first week. Here’s the view from six weeks in.

Testing the boundary 

It probably won’t surprise teachers that after a smooth first week with only a handful of students using their phones, a few more decided to test the boundary in the second and third weeks, with a few more phones in evidence and a couple of arguments. The peak was only 24 phones in a week, though. I don’t think four or five a day is that bad, and once it became clear that the new rule was here to stay, that quickly dropped back to a few a week. We also had a couple of disgruntled parents, but they also complied with the policy when it was explained to them (one not to happy that his daughter’s plea that he must come in immediately to get her phone was not exactly the case!)



The Art of Conversation

As we approach the half term holiday, the main impact of the ban is as it appeared in the first week – students are spending much more time talking to each other face to face. At break and lunchtime, our cafeteria, social spaces and playgrounds are full of groups of children, chatting, smiling and laughing. The phones do come out again at the end of the school day, but they don’t seem to be missed in school.
As we thought, we have made some concessions for individuals who are, for example Young Carers or use apps to assist because English is an additional language. Our policy has also identified a few pupils with several phones – four confiscated from one, three of which parents didn’t know about!  Clearly a concern and that is being followed up.

Hopefully we have set the pattern for the year ahead. We are now planning specific ways in which pupils can use mobile devices purposefully, perhaps on Bring Your Own Device Days. As always, your comments are very welcome.

Fantastic Four: A fourth year of inspirational education quotes

I collect inspirational education quotes. I use these for ‘quote of the week’ on our staffroom notice board. This is the fourth year of quotes – 38 are listed in each collection, enough for one for each week of the school year. You can read the collections from previous years here:

Quote of the week – inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week 2 – more inspiration for Monday mornings

Quote of the week – a third year of inspiration

As with the previous collections, I have done my best to ensure that each of the quotes below is accurate and attributed correctly. My apologies if I have made any mistakes – please let me know of any errors and I will rectify them. I hope you find these quotes as inspirational as I have.

  1. Your attitude is as important as your aptitude. Tanya Accone
  2. Music is an element that should be part and parcel is of every child’s life via the education system. Victoria Wood
  3. There is no system in the world, or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. Sir Ken Robinson
  4. Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement. Matt Biondi
  5. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammad Ali
  6. If you want the best out of life you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. Heimir Hallgrímsson
  7. Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. John D. Rockefeller 
  8. Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Dylan Wiliam
  9. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why. Bernard Baruch
  10. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. Isaac Asimov 
  11. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. C.S.Lewis
  12. I wasn’t one of those kids destined to be a champion. It was a slow, steady slog. Sir Chris Hoy
  13. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Beverly Sills 
  14. Amateurs call it genius, masters cal lit practice. Thierry Henry
  15. You’ll never see a video game advertised as being easy. Kids who don’t like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. It’s because it’s boring. Seymour Papert
  16. You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. Seymour Papert
  17. In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow
  18. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work. Usain Bolt
  19. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Dr. Wayne Dyer 
  20. Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust
  21. Success… Is the result of continual preparation, hard work and learning from failure. Geraint Thomas
  22. True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but the refusal to acquire it. Karl Popper
  23. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. Joseph Addison
  24. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. Albert Bandura
  25. Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. Pope Francis
  26. Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Carol Dweck
  27. The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matter every day. Todd Whittaker
  28. A prudent question is one half of wisdom. Sir Francis Bacon
  29. Ask at the end of each & every day: “What Went Right Today?” Angela Maiers 
  30. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi
  31. Education is transformational, the force that erases arbitrary divisions of race and class and culture and unlocks every person’s God-given potential. Condoleezza Rice 
  32. The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Thomas Kuhn
  33. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Henry David Thoreau (via @AbdulRazaq_DPH)
  34. I find the quietest times of my life speak the loudest. Regina Dugan
  35. If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children. Confucius
  36. By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. Edwin Elliot
  37. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first and the rest will follow. Michael Morpurgo via @Booktrust
  38. A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence. Jim Watkins

I hope you find these useful. Comments are always welcome and Ibalways appreciate hearing about words of wisdom that inspire you.

Tackling behaviour to improve learning – a rocky road but we’re getting there

Last year I wrote a post called ‘Progress on behaviour – Haven’t I seen this graph somewhere before’ about work I had been leading on improving the behaviour of pupil premium students for whom we had identified poor behaviour as the main inhibitor to learning. That became my most read post by quite a long margin. The main point I made was that any improvements we achieved were not through a straightforward upward path, but through a messy reality including plateaus and setbacks, with any progress emerging only through perseverance. Here, I’ll discuss what impact our work on behaviour has had on the progress in learning of the children involved.

In my original post I identified three different ‘response types’ among the students involved:

  1. Pupils who reacted quickly to interventions and made rapid improvements in behaviour.
  2. Pupils who took longer to react and/or had more frequent setbacks, so made more gradual progress, with improvement taking longer.
  3. Pupils who did not seem to respond to interventions and whose behaviour did not improve, or even deteriorated.


Impact of Behaviour shift on learning

Not surprisingly, any consequent improvement in academic progress followed the same pattern, with the group of pupils who achieved the most rapid turn-around in their behaviour also making the greatest progress. 

The graph shows the correlation between shift in behaviour (measured using our school conduct points system) and GCSE value-added (through a simple comparison of prediction and end of year results, using old money A*=8, A=7, etc) for Key Stage 4 students. For year 11 the end results were actual exam results, for year 10 they were end of year assessments.


There is a statistically significant positive correlation between improved behaviour and value added (Pearson’s r=0.715 exceeding the critical value of 0.400 for p<0.05, N=18). 

Now, I know this isn’t exactly headline news: improving behaviour leads to a better chance of academic success. I do think it’s important. The rocky road of ups and downs that I described in my original post ultimately led to real positive gains for most of the students involved. Remember, they were those with the worst behaviour at the start of the year. This shows us that when the going is tough, and when there are setbacks, it really is worth persevering with these students. 

Broadly, the three student response types resulted in these outcomes:

  1. Rapid improvements in behaviour led to students generally achieving(and sometimes exceeding) their predicted grades.
  2. Students who made more gradual improvement picked up their performance but still had a slightly negative VA. Often other factors had a significant impact, including poor attendance, or the impact of events outside school.
  3. Students who did not improve their behaviour had markedly negative VA. this was often characterised by erratic attendance, lack of cooperation with the basics of the school code of conduct and, sometimes, difficulty in engaging parents.

Certainly for group 2, we have taken the view that earlier identification would have helped secure faster improvements in behaviour and better academic outcomes. We drew up our new student groups last term, so we were ready to proceed right from the start of the new school year in September. For the same reason, we’re also making sure we tackle attendance issues much more quickly. The toughest challenge is those students in group 3. We’re working so that our pastoral and inclusion teams are communicating more closely to respond to behaviours that may result from special educational needs, and use behaviours to identify unmet needs. We are also responding to the fact that the group of pupil premium students generally responded more gradually than their peers by making sure that, as a whole school, we our applying our ‘Pupil Premium First’ policy consistently.

My next job is to analyse the progress of the groups we set up because poor attendance was the main inhibitor to learning. As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have.