A Gift From Above

I know that Twitter is occasionally like the online staffroom – that safe haven where teachers and staff can (quite rightly) get things off their chest. And I know that what staff quite often want to get off their chest is the latest initiative that is causing their workload to resemble the never-ending story –except that at the end of term you won’t be flying atop a massive flying rodent with a moustache. Occasionally, the staff room is also the place to (whisper it) BITCH about senior leaders.

It is this element of the staffroom/Twitter comparison that I find the most uncomfortable. Not just because I am pathetically needy and want everyone in the real and virtual work to think that I’m great. Nor because it is necessarily untrue.

No, I find it most uncomfortable because

  1. Nothing I say about the virtues of my leadership or the fantastic Heads I know will stop others from thinking ‘Yeah but what do you know, you’re a Head…you probably wouldn’t know a successful lesson if it kicked you in the Ed Balls*: you’re too busy chasing the Ofsted golden ticket of outstanding like some deranged OmpaLumpa in a suit: you disgust me.’
  2. Nothing I say will make those depressed, deflated or damaged teachers feel better.
  3. Nothing I say will improve YOUR SLTs.

So what’s a Head to do?

Well, all I will say is this:

If you truly see absolutely no value in the people who are leading your school then you should leave. I know, I know: that’s not fair; it’s not you who should have to leave it’s them. But face it, if you’re in a situation where their exit looks unlikely then why put yourself through it? Please don’t say ‘for the sake of the children’. Again, I know that sounds mean and callous but the damage being done to them by poor leadership is greater than the good they have with you for one year. If you want to feel valued as a teacher you must work in a place where you feel valued and where that sense of worth is reflected back onto the SLT. It is the strategic direction of the school that impacts most heavily on the achievement and future achievement of children. I truly believe this.

As a teacher I worked in a school where the thought of me ‘not’ being there for the children sickened me. They were disadvantaged, didn’t see the point in school and were deemed so unlikely to succeed it would break your heart. It was a privilege to teach them and to see them succeed. But when the leadership of the school began to crumble I could see that no matter what I did, no matter what magic I achieved in the classroom: it wouldn’t have a lasting impact. Except maybe in years to come some of them might think back and say that they quite enjoyed my lessons but that isn’t good enough.

So I left. Did I run away? Did I let those children down? Maybe. But not as much as those getting paid a lot more than me let them down. I saw a window of opportunity where I could have a greater impact on more children for a sustained period of time and I took it. And I’ve never looked back-partly because it was too painful.

Ok, let’s cheer things up.

If you really don’t want to leave then try this: Even though I’m a wonderful leader to the point where I’m probably written into most staff members’ last will and testament, I do think that ensuring a school’s leadership team are effective, strategic, good at their job and nice to people is pretty darn important.

So to achieve this in my current school my SLT are at this very moment creating a code of conduct for SLT. I am very happy to share its current daft with you fine people. It is a draft based on discussions we have had about taking the school forward and represents what we want to say about ourselves and hopefully what others will say about us.

You will see that the draft is in two colours: the black writing is the official document and the red writing is the official document but in plain English. I call this version the ‘idiot’s guide to SLT’ and we’re using it to make sure that everyone in SLT gets it…because you can’t be too sure!

SLT Code of Conduct idiot’s guide

So, read it, tell me what you think.  If you like it why not photocopy it and leave it in the Head’s office or under their windscreen wipers or use it as their screensaver. All I know is that I’m proud to be a school leader. I think I’m good at it. I think I can unify and lead a load of people in a direction that could help children achieve. But I also respect the job too much to risk it being ruined by some of the behaviours described on Twitter in recent months so I won’t let it happen and here is how I intend to start.

*I appreciate Ed Balls is a rather old education reference but I could hardly have used Tristram Hunt could I…that would be rude.

Secret Teacher: I’m always watching!


So this week’s Guardian secret teacher hates lesson observations: oh well. So do I when they’re going badly.  But the secret teacher seems to hate them on principle or at least hates them because they think that I have so few principles when it comes to observing lessons: convinced that I spend my time only looking for Ofsted particulars so I can copy and paste sentences from the Ofsted inspection handbook as I write my SEF.

So, I will try and put you at ease with my thoughts and processes for observing lessons as I try to explain a few things from my end. My first big concern about your highly negative perception of lesson observations is that you feel a single ‘bad performance’ may result in you going on capability measures. From my perspective this shows me that:

1.       Your SLT are actually insane if that is the way they run the school-if they’re judging ‘teaching & learning’ as required improvement then by the same criteria I hope they’re judging themselves as inadequate because Ofsted will! OR:

2.       You haven’t been listening and that ‘bad performance’ is actually indicative of your on-going underperformance in general. OR:

3.       You have no idea about how observations work.

An observation is only part of a lengthy process that looks at the overall effectiveness of your teaching. For example:

So your lesson (‘performance’) was good: big whoop! You haven’t marked you books for bloody ages, your plans are the same from last year and those pupils we identified earlier on as being your target group have made next to no progress since September. Still pleased with the lesson judgement? So you can pull a lesson out of the bag when required but that’s not really good enough is it?

Luckily, this also works in reverse. Your lesson was crap – seriously, on all levels it was awful! It was really boring, I could see you were nervous, you went on for AGES so let’s just forget it: however progress is pretty consistent in your class, your marking is spot on and I can see that you have already adapted tomorrow’s lesson to make up for the lesson today. We’ve all had terrible lessons (and not just during observations) but other indicators suggest that all that hard work you do is paying off.

Now if the latter happened I would naturally go through with you why the lesson missed the mark and I would explore some key issues. I will even give you some suggestions on how to improve your teaching because, I do know quite a lot about teaching believe it or not. These ideas may be around the specific area of the lesson or they may be more general teaching strategies that you could apply in other situations, and like it or not they would be primarily based upon supporting rates of progress.  We would have to agree on another time for me to come and see you and that would give you a chance to put some of these ideas into action.

What else did The Secret Teacher not like:

  1. being told to do group work
  2. keeping teacher talk to no more than 5 minutes
  3. demonstrating progress every ten minutes.

On the surface, I agree with you on issue one-the beauty/frustration of teaching is that it requires variation in delivery: what is effective in one lesson does not translate to another. I personally couldn’t care less about individual or group work but I do want to see the pupils working.

Keeping teacher talk down to 5 minutes is a cute trick and one to try. I have often fed back to teachers with the concept of: ‘What if you only had 5 minutes to get that concept across…could you do it?’ Most of the time this is because the teacher spent too long explaining – no, actually, they spent a quality 8 minutes explaining but then went over and over again until every child and me wanted to shout ‘We get it, please can we do some work on our own now?’ by then there was fifteen minutes left and guess what: at the end of the lesson it was impossible to see in the books if anyone had ‘got it’.

Teachers can ‘go on’ for loads of different reasons (nerves, need to be in control, fear of behaviour issues, they were up all night making a costume for their input and they’re going to get value for money out of it, they’ve taken the idea of ‘judging teaching’ too literally and think I am only watching them) but sometimes a truly great teacher can get things across in the shortest amount of time…then spends the lesson supporting/challenging individuals and groups of pupils.

Demonstrate progress every ten minutes: well this does seem a little contrived but there are enough ways out there for a teacher to gauge progress within a lesson for this to happen more than once. The biggest lag factor affecting progress within lessons is for pupils to be engaged in stuff they can actually already do. Get around the class and if they’re not sufficiently challenged move them on. There are times when pupils need to consolidate and if it’s boring: tough. My only advice is that if your observation is booked two weeks in advance or if Ofsted are coming tomorrow: do yourself a favour and keep that consolidation lesson in your pocket until a later date. If you haven’t droned on for half the lesson, I will have enough time to work my way around the class and I will soon learn how well the pupils in your class are learning and we’ll talk about them during the feedback. (That could be why you went on, hoping I would leave before I got the chance…but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.)

Finally, the secret teacher wants to be trusted to do their job. Well, believe it or not but I want you to be the best teacher in the world too and formally observing you is one way I can help that come true (if it isn’t already). There are set times for observations because I’m busy doing loads of other things and there are more of you than me so give me a chance to see you all. However, every time I come into your class I’m observing; every time I stand by your door and listen for three minutes I am informing myself about the quality of your teaching; every time I flick through your books when you’re on break duty I am checking that you are doing your job consistently. If that sounds creepy or highly untrusting: sorry but in my job, I have to be sure. Because if I keep hearing you shouting at your class, if your books are not marked consistently, if the atmosphere in your room is not positive then I need to know as soon as possible so I can help you sort it out. I trust you to support me in helping you and now you can trust me and get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s observation knowing whole heartedly what I’m looking for.

For the original article please follow the link: http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/aug/10/secret-teacher-lesson-observations-playing-the-system


Seizing Success Conference – Day three

Image(Sorry for any grammatical errors but I’m writing this on a phone)

Despite my best efforts and Birmingham’s extensive number of shops, I failed to purchase a pair of trousers. This is unbelievable; it’s not as if I have specialist tastes. I found one pair I liked (it had nice blue turn-ups) but when I picked them up I realised they were in fact a pair of shorts and I didn’t fancy attending our final evening meal with my knees bare. So it was back to the suit trousers.

Anyway, day three signalled the beginning of the end with a talk by Ben Page; Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI. An hour of statistics flew by where we discovered that people’s perceptions of ‘truths’ were influenced more by the media and their age as opposed to statistical fact. Most interesting was how even when gathering opinions to create statistics, the language of questioning was highly important. For example:

You are told that you have a life threatening illness. There is an operation you can have. The Doctor tells you a statistic that may help you make an informed decision: Half the people are told that:

In the last two years, out of all patients that had the operation, 75% of them continued to live for another 5 years.

The other half are told:

In the last two years, out of all patients that had the operation, 25% of them died within the next 5 years.

Despite the ‘Maths’ being identical, more people chose the operation when presented with the 1st statistic.

Very interesting, although those of us that have ever been presented with a Raise Online pack where there are significant amount of BLUE will have a firm understanding of the power of language when reporting statistics (‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ I believe the quote goes).

Next up was Pasi Sahlberg, a school improvement activist from Helsinki who was talking to us about the Finnish model of educational reform. He was a measured and quiet speaker whose messages rang out loud and clear. The talk focussed on the pitfalls of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) that is sweeping its way across the UK and many other countries; that focusses on Competition, Standardisation, Test Based Accountability and Choice. The ‘Finnish Way’ changes these to Collaboration, Creativity, Trust Based Responsibility and Equity.

One point Pasi Sahlberg made really clear was that Finland didn’t set out its goals to be ‘the number one education system in the world’ but to create an educational system that reflected the needs of its children. Now as it happened, in doing this, they have pretty much got the number one education system in the world BUT by proxy as opposed to target. He also talked about the level of professionalism and talent needed in order to become a teacher. He presented a statistic that Ben Page would have been proud of on the number of student teacher applicants compared to the number of accepted places and graduates. I haven’t got the figures but think of a bar chart with one massively tall bar on the left and a really tiny small one on the right and you get the basic idea. It’s tough to become a teacher in Finland and no fast tracked system would ever cut the mustard.

The highlight was possibly Pasi’s offer to Gove to come and visit Helsinki for three days in order to see the principles and practice of their education system-not to copy but to observe and see how anti-GERM it is. Around the conference hall you couldn’t quite distinguish between the noise of applause and the noise of hands in pockets trying to find enough loose change to pay for the plane ticket. Seriously Mr. Gove, that’s a very kind and generous offer from Pasi, you would be silly not to take him up on it.

Next up was Chris Holmes, a Paralympic swimmer, owner of NINE Olympic gold medals and Director of 2012 Paralympic Integration. This was a truly wonderful, inspiring, moving and at many times hilarious speech. He talked about breaking through the barrier of blindness to fulfil his dreams of becoming an Olympian and the journey of helping to create and broadcast to the world the greatest Olympic and Paralympic games the world has ever seen.

I can’t even try and convey on how many levels Chris’s speech inspired the room. What resonated was the repeated notion of not focusing on what the end result would be: instead focus on the tiny improvement you have to put in place today. Combine that self-determination with a complete trust in the team around you and the end goal will soon be in sight and ready for winning.

Finally we had Jim Lawless who holds the record for the deepest free dive in the UK and also trained to be jockey in one year-despite being too old, too fat and never having ridden a horse before. It was a master class in ‘motivational speaking’ and I don’t mean that as a back handed compliment. He was very funny and made some poignant points on the notion of tackling your inner demon or ‘taming your tiger’ in order to achieve your goals.

My final thought that I took away from Jim’s talk was the idea of your life being a book and only you are holding the pen. (Now at this point, I would normally roll my eyes, vomit and ask for my money back) but to be fair to Jim he put it across very well (well he is paid for this so you would hope so). If your life was a book, it would only have a certain number of pages before it ends, so what are you going to do on each page to make sure that when you reach the end it was all worth it? Again, this mirrors the idea of the little steps that you need to do in order to win big. Plus he did get the whole room standing up, squatting pretending to ride a race horse which is something Charlie Taylor might want to work into his routine next year.

And that was in. Jane Creasy said goodbye, I picked up my packed lunch, went around the exhibition room one more time to see if there were any more free pens, sweets, bags I could take home and off I went.

As my first ever conference I thoroughly enjoyed it and as it went on and I saw more and more and more people talk on a variety of different things, the more clear and focussed the overall lessons became.

And all of that in one pair of trousers!