Monday, 24 September 2012

The What, How and Why of it all

We are hypocrites, most of us. We don't mean to be, but we are.

Bold words, I know, but I am not attacking us with venom or unreal expectations.

This line of thought started when I went on a child protection course as part of my new role I am SDP (senior designated person) for safeguarding. It's not a role I relish, but it is vital. I realised over the day that there is an awful lot of that I am ignorant of. That got me thinking of conversations I've had with people about pedagogical practice. I've said things like, "How did you hear about the child-led learning? Was it based on anyone's work?" To which the response it, in an often patronising tone. 
"You know a lot about things, don't you?"

No, I really, really don't. 

The worry for me is we, as teachers, follow government guidelines because we have to. We teach because we want to. We don't always learn why we do things because we haven't got time to.

I recently watched a video about leadership, through iTunesU. It talked about the three zones of marketing and how the conception was backwards. People were looking at things the wrong way round. This was called, The what, how & why. This model can be applied to us as teachers and educators.

The most common zone is 'What'. 

It's the first zone most people focus on. What are we doing today? What is our learning objective? What is 3 x 5? Etc. what is a safe zone to sit in, because when people ask you about 'what', you are able to give an answer. 

The next is 'How'. 
How comes next because it's the process of delivery for the 'What' section. How do I translate my paper plans into practice? How did you know 3 x 5 was 15? The 'How' part is our stock in trade, the bit we do, for the most part, pretty well.

The least investigated, is the 'Why'. 
Bizarrely, this is the area we are most interested in the children using. Why did you think you did well? Can you explain why 3 x 5 was 15? Why did you hit him with your shoe? All these questions can, and probably mostly, have the answer of "I don't know". 

In terms of pedagogy, I don't know enough to spout whether this has been said before. Like the title suggests, I'm a hypocrite. I think it's better to know what you are and want to change than to not know what you do and seek to preach.

In terms of change, What am I asking for? Do I want to know the theoretical underpinnings of each individual style of teaching, perhaps for the teachers to include reference to which practitioner has influenced the plenary for Tuesday's lesson on word problems? No, I don't. I want them to hone their craft by having access to people who have had great ideas. People who, when we describe what they do, we get giddy and want to try it ourselves.

I want them to focus more on 'Why' they are doing something and less on the mechanics of what and how. I want them to feel free enough, trusted enough and confident enough to take a tangent and understand the potential for learning is everywhere. 

I will be using this model for appraisals, lesson observations and general discussions, starting, always, with a 'Why'.

How about, "That was a great lesson. Why did you choose that particular approach? How can you adapt it next time to better suit the needs of your boys? What do you feel went well?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Effective Behaviour Management starts with consistency.

Every classroom I've been in has rules. Some are phrased as a positive statement "we are good listeners", others are more clear cut, "Don't rock on your chair". Teachers view these are the backbone of the classroom. Their proverbial rod of iron, so to speak. In one class I went into, they had a full display board of rules. 15 of them. In my opinion that's way too many.

As an NQT my main focus was to be a good teacher by ensuring my teaching happened. I needed rules that allow me to teach the lessons I'd planned. Nothing  unusual about that. But the interesting thing was, one year, I didn't put up my class rules display (I had 7 rules on my display and I think it's probably lurking on TES resources or primary resources or somewhere) and the strangest thing happened... The class did as I expected them to do without the big list of things they had to do.

Instead, I invested in them. I created private spaces in class that they owned, that I wouldn't go in unless I asked them. These were nothing more than a tray with their name on, but the simple act of explicitly making it private meant there was significantly more value attached to it than a normal tray would  have. The other staff also respected these spaces and as a result, they had ownership (physically) of the classroom and also the beginnings of respecting a shared space.

So what has this got to do with rules? Lots actually. It prompted me to look at the need for rules. Why did I no longer need to refer to a definitive list of rules? What had changed? What was I doing that was different? The answer was nothing had changed. I have always set my stall out and stuck to my word. 

It is actually the act of being consistent in your approach, coupled with clear expectations that ensures good behaviour management. I know this all seems common sense and it's nothing new to those of us in the job, but here are my tips for effective classroom management.

1. Be consistent: if you say you don't accept that type of behaviour, there had to be a consequence for the offender's actions. Don't move from your position, but also, don't put yourself in untenable situations. Similarly, praise will be valued, not when it is lavished upon them, but when it is hard earned. Praise the small things, they are more important. The big things will follow, I promise.

2. Care: obvious, right? But vitally important. If you care, they care back; it's human nature. 

3. Embody the values that you want them to value. If you ask them to say please and thank you, do it too. To everyone, without exception. They will copy you.

4. Create a class identity. Don't say 'my' class, say 'our' class. Talk openly about the classroom being their space as well. Perhaps create a class parody of a popular song, or a poem that includes them in it.

5. Value their work. Display it. Get parents in to see it. Photocopy it and send it home. 

6. Don't tell them lies. Even when you want to. 

These are some of the things I do. I now have two rules in my classroom. Always try your best & be honest in all things.

That applies to everyone, teachers and pupils alike.

Friday, 29 June 2012

It depends where you start....

When I was fourteen, I went to Ireland with my dad. We stayed at one guest house and, while walking up a few flights of stairs to the room by the owner, he gestured left saying, "The breakfast room's there." A few more flights of stairs later and I couldn't remember which floor the breakfast room was on, so I asked him to tell me. He looked at me, thought for a moment and said, "Well, I guess it depends where you start." I never thought about this as a educational point before, but it's a thinking one. As educators we are stuck in a rigid system where numbers, levels and data indicate position, both within class and league tables, yet that can inhibit thinking. His approach to answering my question was to remove what we naturally perceive to be the obvious absolute: the building is rigid & therefore we must move around the building. He put me as the rigid element and moved the building to fit my requirement. To him, the problem wasn't confined by the framework within which I had posed it, based on my accepted view of the world, he manipulated his response based on a different set of parameters, ones which I am only just beginning to understand. That got me thinking about the new draft curriculum. It mentions the word practice a lot. An awful lot, to be honest. So much so that I started to think about changing my approach to teaching and it didn't seem to fit at all. Then I remembered Kilkenny man. So, I would suggest we do practise things. But not quite the way the lord Gove intended. when practising a skill or setting a task, ensure the viewpoint is changed from time to time. Make the children uncomfortable by removing things that are familiar. Then practise figuring out why things are the way they are. Thinking skills are integral to empowering independent and lifelong learning and underpin successful, employable and engaging adults. It is though experience that we improve.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Leaders of Learning

Today, a group of Year 9 students from Hodgson Academy, came in to run a 90 minute session with my Year 5 class. They were self-penned "Leaders of Learning". I like that. A lot of schools, mine included, have digital leaders or similar, but in a way, it restricts the good work they can do to one educational avenue - digital/technological based stuff. I think I'm going to steal the Leaders of Learning thing. I like the multi faceted nature of the title, implying that their role is to be a broad and informed tier of leaders - much like schools are trying to implement with management structures. Why not make use of children's abilities in a much more efficient way? I think digital leaders just expanded for me.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Thank You, Mr Maloney, for helping my child to fail.

From the title, I expect you think this post is all negative. That's logical, based on the failure element of it, but it's wrong. This was a magic moment that happened with a parent the other day.

Her child - a bright girl - has done really well with me this year but, as I keep saying, I've not really done that much, it was all her own efforts. Her mother responded by saying something really interesting, in my opinon, which is paraphrased below:

Every year we've been told how well she's doing, how she's brilliant at everything and is top of the class. You've told us how she's all of those things, but also how she can move forward and what we can do and why we should. You've put her in positions where she'll fail, where she can't rely on her academic intelligence and watched her struggle and then explained why it's okay to feel that frustration and how to overcome it. Thank you, Mr Maloney, for helping my child to fail.

This comment came off the back of a lot of work about the importance of coping strategies for higher ability children, but all children in general. The root of this was started by a quote which I was introduced to by Dawn Hallybone, a teacher in London.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett

That's up on my door and I make the meaning of that quote tangible in every activity I do. I purposely plan opportunities for failure as it is not the great demon that children historically are told they should avoid, but a companion on their learning journey towards a successful and invigorating future.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Being a Political Football

I wanted this to be eloquent. I wanted this post to whizz through the ether and bounce onto Michael Gove's desk and for him to smile at the clever turns of phrase and rhetoric. I haven't got the bloody energy. You'll have to make do with this:

I am lucky that I am in a career that I love. That statement is one that many, many thousands of people cannot say. It is, unfortunately, increasingly difficult to believe it anymore. Teaching isn't about just, well, teaching. In the last two weeks I have cleaned cuts, dealt with arguments, healed broken hearts, acted as judge and jury, cajoled, supported, fed (yes, fed), parented, reassured, inspired and taught.

The main problem is that my profession is viewed as a political football. This is historic, I know, and I should state I knew this was the case before training to become a teacher. But most recently, the analogy of a football is defunct.

Teaching is not a political football. It is the tennis ball in the longest and most frenetic rally the world has ever seen. The problem is that I do not believe that either player gives two sh^%s about the ball, they are simply trying to out-maneuver each other by pelting it. I wonder if they have any idea about how the ball feels. I'll tell you how I feel. I feel tired. Tired of having to defend myself when I haven't done anything wrong. Tired of feeling guilty about going to sleep at 1am after marking for 3 hours once my planning was re-written based on the events of that day. Tired of getting to work at 7am, so that I can complete paperwork for awards so that the school doesn't get told it isn't doing its job.

So                  tired                          of                           it                          all.

I know we are in a recession. I know there are cuts to be made. I accept that my pension is going to be pilfered, my working life extended to the point just before I atrophy but I am FED UP TO THE BACK TEETH of not being able to spend enough time teaching.

Sir Michael Winshaw's supportive statement towards teachers & stress was a low point for me. It must have been ever so hard to be a head when you had no national curriculum to follow, not health & safety edits, SEFs, SIPs and the rest. I bet going to all those meetings with external agencies was hard to manage - or figuring out how to fit all the additional requirements of an overcrowded curriculum into a school day, differentiating for the needs of the different groups within schools and not forgetting ensuring all the work you do is transparent and accessible for all stakeholders. Oh, hold on. Sir Michael, you are supposed to be on our side and your comments make it harder for us all; thanks.

I then read a post that summed up perfectly what I was thinking (and what I'm trying to say) Mark Clarkson wrote this blog post. I know exactly what he means and I completely agreed with Doug Belshaw's comments on his blog post reply (hence why I'm not adding to it here).

I love my job, but the more political games that are played with it, the harder it is to do it properly. They talk a lot about reforming, reshaping and re-energising the curriculum but they are using the wrong tools for the job. They're trying to bake a cake with a sledgehammer. In the Guardian, one politician talked about the model for teaching in Japan and how we could learn from it. The one thing we need to take from there is that teachers are afforded respect and are trusted to do the job.

I am not going to sit here and lament our workload. All jobs require hard work - if you want to be the best at what you do, you work your backside off.  But please don't tell me I get '15 weeks paid holiday' and I need to 'get a grip' until you've done a year in my job at the level and pace that I maintain and at the standards expect from myself.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

TeachMeet Lancs 20th March

So, another TeachMeet has been and gone in the blink of an eye. This one was particularly good for a few reasons:
1. There were teachers there from both primary & secondary education.
2. There were new presenters
3. It reinforced a lot of common ground that we all have.

Oh, the presentations were pretty good too.

Ben Gristlewood @mr_g_ict kicked off proceedings talking about how he uses Twitter to engage his Year 12 pupils. It was a real insight into tackling the misnomer of social media in secondary schools and it'll be interesting to see how it develops over the next few months too. His blog is

Next up we had Jasmine Renold @JRenold who talked about how using Google Docs - specifically Google Forms had eased workload at her school tremendously and how it had helped to develop better relationships with parents.

After that, David Mitchell @deputymitchell took to the stage to talk about his favourite two web tools. 1 was an app that lets him post work quickly to the Well Done Blog, the other was AudioBoo. Both were really useful and you could see the furtive scribbling across the room.

Then came me. I waffled on for a bit about how the cultural shift at a school is important when creating and updating a curriculum. The talk involved harnessing the skills of the pupils and using their enthusiasm to drive the curriculum.

I then did a quick talk on using and how fantastic it is at developing writers and sharing good work.

After that, John Sutton @hgjohn spoke about some of the fabulous things that blogging can do to impact on children's learning. He spoke about projects he's been involved in and intimated that there are more in the pipeline - watch this space or simply check it out here: He even roped @cherise_duxbury to talk about the Live Writers blog - well done Cherise, for standing up without preparing!

After that we had an off the cuff presentation by Chris Cox on a web curation tool. It looks seriously cool so am going to be giving that a go for sure!

Thank you to everyone who attended and presented at this TeachMeet. I'm looking forward to seeing you all again in April at TeachMeet Bolton!

A big thank you to Nigel Kirkham @nigelkirkham and his team for the use of Woodlands Conference Centre & BrainPOP UK, Vital & Espresso for sponsoring.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

100WCGU Week 33

Thank you for your lovely comments on the last piece of writing. It's been one of those weeks, as I've only just got round to publishing them now - sorry!

This week, Julia has given us a picture prompt.

Here goes.

Red Rum - Favourite of the masses, Master of the grasses.
03/05/65 to 18/10/95

Red Rum, originally owned by Noel Le Mare but bought by his trainer Ginger McCain, lived life to the full, overcoming obstacles in the way Dan Dare would do.  He fell just once in over a hundred races. 

His training routine, masterminded by McCain, led him to victory at the Grand National in 1973, then 1974 - becoming the first horse since Reynoldstown back in 1934. He came second twice more and, at the ripe old age of 12, won by a masterly 25 lengths.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

100WCGU week 32

...Take a Leap of Faith...

Close your eyes.
Heighten your senses and FEEL things around you.

Shuffle forwards and curl your toes around the edges.

That's it.

Relax. Everything is fine. You're fine. You've got this. 

It's okay.

There's no rush. 
You have to come to it in your own time.

Remember everything you were told and just go with what feels right. I know you can do it.

Close your eyes.
Heighten your senses and FEEL things around you.

Take a leap of faith...

Open your wings and 

S              O                  A                    R

little bird of mine.