Make your teachers more effective…..this WORKS!

I’ve been thinking a bit more about this ‘work-life’ balance thing.  The more and more that @UKEdChat re-tweets my previous posts about this topic, the more I reflect on how I can continue to improve this aspect of my life as well as that of my colleagues.

I continue to worry about the amount of hours that teachers put in every day.  The marking, the planning, the additional paperwork that comes with assessment and everything else that is required.  Therefore, I’m always thinking of ways to continue to ‘work smarter, not harder.’  This is always a recurrent theme in our school.

What has become overwhelmingly obvious is the fact that quite a bit of what we do and what has become ‘expected’ are things that schools have developed over time in response to Ofsted.  As my staff know, we don’t do anything for Ofsted…..what we do is for the children.  If children are at the heart of everything we do and at the heart of the decisions we make we can’t go far wrong.

We have had many discussions over the past few months regarding these things…..but with the release of the Commission Report, assessment has taken front seat.  When we were looking through books the other week, we were asking ourselves what the ‘purpose’ was for all the comments that teachers take so long to write in their pupil’s books.  Is it helping the children?  Are they reading and ‘understanding’ them?  Do they really take any note?

I can hear you thinking – well you give them time in the lesson to respond – you build in feedback time, etc.  Yes….we already do all of this.  But, we are thinking even about those comments such as, “Well done, you have used excellent sentence openers.”  Yes, all children need building up and these comments do have their place, but surely there must be a better way to do this that has the same desired impact on the child.  Think of the time it takes to write even just that sentence in ‘every’ book.  Teachers have come to believe that ‘every’ piece of work must be acknowledged in some way.  Is this necessary?  What is the purpose of this?  This is why we are rewriting our marking policy – to ensure that it has ‘purpose’ and that children always know how to improve their work.

These are just simple things, but when they are all added together, give teachers more time for other things that will greatly impact their pupils.

It was heartening to hear the deputy speaking about our policy of leaving by 4:15 at least twice a week.  He explained that even though some weeks, teachers weren’t able to keep to it, the fact that it was ‘allowed’ gave them reassurance that it was okay to walk out of school with nothing in their hands.  That it was expected for them to have ‘time off.’ That they were required to think about their life outside of the school gates.

I would much rather have teachers who come into school giving 120% to their pupils every day, rather than spending hours in the evening writing a plan on a school template or doing other unnecessary paperwork and rolling into school still groggy from a lack of sleep.

We all need time away – time to spend with our families, time to refresh and reflect.  This is what helps us to improve……thinking time.  Without it, we run out of energy, we fizzle and burn out and everyone notices.

Even more important, is that the leaders in school set the example for others to follow.  It isn’t about seeing who the longest to stay at school is……looking at our watches when a colleague walks out of the door at 4:00.

As long as children are learning, engaged, children are safe and things are being accomplished, what difference does it make when your teachers walk out the doors?  In fact, I guarantee, that if you set this precedence in your school, everyone will reap the benefits…….TRUST your teachers to get the job done.

Create a culture of excellence, allow everyone to be passionate about their roles.  If they have the time outside of work to enjoy ‘life,’ they will deliver the results you are looking for……..


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Pupil Voice……..Getting our children to really change practice and policy……

We have been working on our assessment policy.  Alongside this is our marking and feedback policy that clearly forms a large part of this.  We have been having many interesting debates and conversations around this.  However,  we have been going forwards and backwards with how we ‘mark’ work in class.  We keep asking ourselves what the purpose of marking is – ‘why’ we mark in the way that we do.

We know that verbal feedback and observation can often be the most effective and useful form of assessment.  However, when we last did our book scrutiny, we found it difficult to unpick what really helped children to improve their work in regards to teacher/peer/self assessment/marking.

Children in our school are used to using their ‘purple polishing pens’ to show where they have improved their work based on feedback (either self/peer/teacher), but how do we know the ‘impact’ of this?  Let’s take the English books for example. It can be difficult to ascertain the real ‘progress’ that is taking place day by day just by examining the marking and feedback in response.  The only real measure is in talking to the children and seeing if they can actually explain how they would improve their work and ‘how’ they know that.

The other day, I walked into a classroom to be asked by the teacher to go and speak to a pair of children who had come up with their own form of assessment.  In this particular class they had been focusing on effective feedback and really thinking about what would help them to constantly make progress and improve their writing skills.  The pictures below show you what they came up with.  It is a system that might look familiar – but the thing is….these children had never used a system like it before.  They had created this themselves because they thought it would help them to pinpoint specific things from the success criteria that they felt they needed to improve.  So, with the use of small tab post-its – they chose the criteria (using different colours) and then began using those same colours to highlight their work to get them to think about how to improve on these specific things.  Absolutely awesome! But I was kicking myself!

Again, here is the evidence that children know how they learn and can improve better than anyone. They hold the answers!  While we were in the staff room debating about what worked best, the children already knew!  When asked the right questions, children usually can come up with better processes and procedures than a team of adults ever could.  This is why pupil voice is so vital and central to all that we do as a school.

Children need to be consulted about the majority of the school policies and practices that feed into a school.  After all, they are the ones who are mostly affected by them in the first place.

We all talk about ‘pupil voice.’  However, why hadn’t we approached our pupils about the most effective marking and feedback?  Why hadn’t they been consulted first on what worked best?  We asked them all the questions about how the marking and feedback helped them, what was most useful, how to improve, how they knew how to improve……but we never asked them to develop their own assessment system that they thought would be most effective.  We only had them give opinions on things we already had in place.

So, go back to the very beginning and  set your pupils the following task…

If you could develop your own assessment/marking/feedback policy to use in our school – what would it look like?  What would be most effective?  How would this system ensure continual improvement?  Would it be different for KS1 and KS2?

Let me know the results…….

Assessment 2 Assessment

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What I Wish I Knew Then……The School Development Plan…..

I was just thinking about a conversation I had with another headteacher about a year ago.  She said that it took her many years before her school finally began to take the shape that she was working towards. It was heartening to hear that, knowing full well that many changes had taken place in our school, but yet there was still so far to go.

I’m updating our SEF at the moment and thinking over how much has changed in these past two years.  I’m really enjoying reflecting on last year’s development plan, the things we have implemented, our development plan for this year and still how much more we have to do!  Our work is never complete!  Saying that, coming into my third year, the school is starting to look much more like the ‘visionary’ school we were imagining during my first few weeks in post.

As most headteachers probably do in their first term of a new post, I held many sessions with all stakeholders to imagine the school we wanted in four years time.  At the time it seemed so far away and now it is just over a year away!

It has become much more apparent to me that as things change (internal and external changes) our goalposts move and the development plan must adapt accordingly.  Our overall ‘vision’ and ‘aims’ still remain the same but the little steps that we thought might get us there, can often look very different as the year unfolds.  I have actually come to think that if the original development plan looks exactly the same way at the end of the year and hasn’t had things added or completely disregarded (after trial and error perhaps) then it isn’t the truly ‘developing’ and ‘live’ document it should be.  In a time where classroom research is paramount to ascertaining outstanding practice – trial and error will be a vital component.    Therefore, there must always be flexibility.

Take assessment for example.  We all knew that we would have to develop a new system to adapt to ‘a level free world,’ but I never expected our conversations and debates to take us on this extraordinary and exciting journey into truly creating a school that thinks about the ‘purpose’ of everything we do.  Never did we think we would have the opportunity to reshape assessment and feedback in such a transformative way.  The outcomes from this work we have been doing in school were in no way ‘expected’ when I developed this year’s plan.  But, this doesn’t mean we don’t do them……it means we adapt our plan accordingly.

So, this is something that I wish someone had told me before I stepped into this role.  During my first year I felt as though our plan was rigid and we had to tick each action off one by one.  Throughout the year, I was constantly reassessing where we were going but never feeling as though I was allowed to change or adapt this ‘key’ document.  Further, no one mentioned how difficult it was to create a development plan for a school that you hadn’t yet been a ‘part’ of – you can’t write an ‘exemplar’ plan and expect it to fit any school you walk into.  As a result of this, I didn’t draft a plan until after my first full term (December) of being headteacher.  Everyone kept telling me to make sure I had a development plan in place – but having not actually seen the school in action, watching the team, talking to the pupils – I felt completely ill-equipped to do this.  To put an action plan in place to improve the school during my first term seemed completely fabricated and false.

Now, looking back, I know I did the right thing for our school, for the children, for the staff and for the parents.  Knowing that our SDP is a constantly evolving, reflective and ‘live’ document, I am confident that we will always seek out best practice because we ‘change’ and ‘adapt’ based on our research and reflections.  When things don’t work, we try something else………we do what is ‘right’ for our children based on practice……not because it is written down on a ‘plan.’

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Reflection is even more important when change is a factor…………

Reflection is so important in our role as educators……It is too easy to think that there are so many other things to do, or that you are too tired…or (enter anything else here!) and yes that is usually true.  The thing that I need to constantly remind myself is that by not carving out time for reflection I am actually doing myself a disservice.

How is it that during my first year of headship I made time for reflection almost daily?  Now, into my third year, finding time seems more difficult than ever.  It doesn’t make sense.  So, I’m going to test a theory out.  My theory is that because I made time to reflect and think about things – I therefore actually gave myself more time because I was able to clearly prioritise and was giving more focused thought to the bigger issues while gaining a clearer perspective.  We’ll see if my theory proves correct……

So, I’m thinking about ‘change’ again.  In education, change is a constant.  Usually, fear and doubt settle in when change is afoot, but at the moment our school seems to be thriving with it.  We have all been discussing our assessment system – us alongside every other school around at the moment.  We have been talking about marking and tracking and what the purpose of all of it is.  The conversations we have been having have been revolving around what we do and the reasons behind them.   Why do we do what we do?

We have molded ourselves into an Ofsted culture.  We think that for marking to be ‘good’ we have to have masses of green ink on our children’s pages to prove to the headteacher/management/Ofsted that we are doing our jobs.  But what does this really do?  We then talk about how ensuring children respond to feedback helps them to understand their mistakes, reinforce their learning or challenge them to go that next step.  But does it?  We have to ask ourselves if what we are doing is actually helping our children to progress.  Does it have an impact on their learning?  Does it really make a difference?  Who is it for?

Alongside this we have talked about assessment.  I have held off on purchasing a whole school tracking system.  It seems every school around us has bought into a different scheme. During head’s meetings I have been sitting there rather tense, thinking perhaps I should have joined the bandwagon and just found a system and worked with it.  Then I read the  Commission on Assessment without Levels.  The deputy read it too. We discussed it in the staff meetings and realised that what we were doing was right.  We were doing what fit with our school…..with our children… can that ever be the wrong thing?  So at the moment we are still working it out.  We are trialing different things and finding something that works for all of us, but mainly for our children.  This is the reason anything should be developed in the first place, for the benefit of the children.

Further, I sent the deputy on a ‘Learning Without Limits’ day at Wroxham this past week.  I would have loved to attend, but thought it would be better for someone else to go with a different viewpoint.  They came back full of ideas and inspiration.  This transition we are in is exciting and thrilling.  I finally feel as though we can do what we know is right.  It is a chance for us to start fresh with a new approach – an approach truly centred on every individual child.  Yes, it is change again – we all complain of change……but this is such a fantastic opportunity to do things with results and reasons…..with a purpose.

The conversations that we are all having around school are rich and vibrant…..this change has created excitement and a renewed vision around what we do in our classrooms.

We are finally going to be able to do everything with a ‘purpose.’  Assessment will actually mean something tangible and relevant… will always help us to improve what we do…..not just be comprised of percentages and numbers that don’t ever tell the whole story…..

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Raising the bar and empowering learners…….

As summer has come, things have slowed down….not in my head, however!  All I have been thinking about is school….what we are doing next year, how far we have come, what is next, etc, etc…..the script never stops!  But it is always exciting….I’m always keen for the next challenge……

I’m currently reading ‘Creating Learning without Limits,’ a real insight into the Wroxham School under the leadership of Dame Alison Peacock.  It is amazing.  Everything that I have read so far is exactly what I have been trying to achieve at my own school.  Allowing children to reach their true potential without ever putting a ‘limit’ on their learning, or ever having that conversation about how a child ‘could never achieve a level x….’  I’m sure we have all been in these schools.  These conversations make ‘us’ the problem..who are we to put or suggest a ‘cap’ on a child’s learning in school?  Let’s raise everyone’s expectations!  Or perhaps even having ‘expectations’ is the issue?

It is inspiring reading this research.  The systems that have been put in place at the school undeniably put ‘the child first.’  I always say that if we always genuinely put children at the heart of every decision we make, we cannot go far wrong.  But, at the Wroxham…..they are ensuring that every child is given a voice.  Children themselves are at the heart of the decision making.  So powerful!

I’m quickly picking up ideas that we can begin implementing in September.  We have the foundations firmly in place and a strong team raring to go and always seeking to improve.  I’m excited to finish reading about the journey that the school has taken……to see a school like this in action seems necessary for all school leaders.

It’s clearly about getting rid of any preconceptions… children a voice and an understanding of what they can do to improve……and engaging the whole school community in the process of learning, evaluating and perpetually moving forwards……

….off to continue reading!

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How do you deal with change…..Are you like A or B?

Sometimes there is just so much going on in my head that when I sit down to write I just don’t know where to start!

I wrote about reflection the other day and this is how I find time for mine….I write.

As a new headteacher last year, I thought that my first year would see the most change.  I was in a new setting, we had a new curriculum to prepare for, and the list went on and on. However, I have quickly realised that change comes no matter what.  Change is happening around us all the time and sometimes at quite an alarming rate.  Therefore, we need to always be able to deal with change no matter how much it impacts us.

Change happens……there is nothing we can do to stop it.  There will always be government change – the external changes that we have to cope with.  Then there may be staff changes, teachers or teaching assistants who move on.  Change not only happens at work but it happens at home.  The grocery store seems to flummox us when they change the isle that certain foods are on!  Change happens……every day.

The only way we can cope with change is to find ways to deal with it.  We can either be the type of person (let’s call them A) who allows change to make them stumble and lose confidence or we can be the type of person (let’s all them B) who greets change with an open mind, sometimes questioning it or sometimes hardly even noticing it has happened.

If you are A, then change will drag you down.  You will become that person in the staff room who only grumbles and gripes rather than person B who takes change for what it is.  They learn to work with it, they find the ways the change can actually benefit them and they use the change to promote a different way of thinking.

So are you like A or like B?

One of the questions I always ask during interviews is about a candidates adaptability and flexibility.  In school, one of your key strengths must be adaptability.  How often has anything gone to plan?  Adaptability is what makes an outstanding practitioner.  If you can’t ‘adapt’ for your classroom and your pupils, then you will never tailor the learning to their specific needs.

So, I ask you again.  Are you like A or like B?

If you are A…..and we all know people that are like A…..what can you do to change your attitude and way of thinking?

We all know A and we all know B.  But, we all want to be like B.

So the next time change happens……take time to think before you ‘react.’

People will want to sit next to you in the staff room……..

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Why reflection matters as a leader……

Today I was reminded of the importance of reflection…..

I’ve not been very good at this lately.  I have been consumed by everything happening at school, the every day details that are constantly hurled our way.  And today I have realised that if I am not careful I will lose my ‘clear’ perspective.  A time for daily reflection and quiet thought on the issues of the day always make one a better leader.  For me, it ensures that I think through my decisions and don’t act on impulse but with clarity and careful consideration.

Of course all my decisions are carefully weighed up, however, having that time to re-focus and consider the ‘bigger’ picture always helps to balance things, helps to clarify reasoning, and helps to allow time to think through every small detail.  It is often these details that make all the difference and can turn good decisions into even better and more ‘impact’ driven decisions.

Reflection makes for a more purposeful leader; one with a clear vision and direction.

So, taking that fifteen minutes every day, to close out the sounds around you and to just think…….and write, or draw, or sip tea, or tap your pencil…..whatever it is that you do that helps you to come back to the realisation that everything is going to be all right, that there is nothing that can be thrown at you that is too much to handle……..

These are your thoughts as you are re-focusing.  This is getting back your clarity……..your perspective.  You finally have a moment to see the ‘big’ picture.

This is necessary as leader….necessary to make the right decisions for everyone involved.

An effective leader builds in time for reflection.

How will you make time for this today?

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