What I Know Now…Always Start With The Children…

As with all things in school, after careful evaluation and assessment of where we are now, our Assessment for Learning policy has adapted yet again.  Last year was a year of incredible change.  I think this goes for the majority of schools.  Life after levels, meant for many, rethinking systems, policies and overhauling the whole understanding of teaching for learning.

Some schools jumped into purchasing tracking systems that seemed to offer everything, but really offered levels in disguise.   Without levels, everything changed.  Suddenly progress became even more heightened than it already was and ‘proving’ progress became central to assessment.  Many schools bought into packages of suites of ‘progress’ tests, standardised tests, and the list goes on and on, just to ‘prove’ the progress of their pupils. I wouldn’t be honest, if I didn’t say how tempting all of this was, especially as we had no other assessment system in place.  I completely understand why schools did this, especially with the external pressures that schools face on a continual basis.

Thanks to the #LearningFirst movement led by Dame Alison Peacock, with strong voices like Jamie Pembroke leading arguments regarding assessment, we decided to be brave.  Instead of jumping into anything, we reflected, we thought, we evaluated, we debated, and we questioned everything that we did in school.  This literally has meant turning everything inside out, starting with the children (which is always the way to do it!) and focusing on teaching for learning.

Since I started as headteacher, our focus has been on our ‘Purple Learners’, inspired by Diana Pardoe author of Towards Successful Learning.  Crucial to this is teaching children how to be independent learners.  As much of the research states, teaching children to understand how they can be the most effective learners, how to be independent while giving them the tools and strategies necessary to achieve success, actually raises pupil achievement.  In fact, it is suggested, that pupils who are keenly aware of how to be the most effective learners, actually do better in tests (Claxton et al, 2011, Lucas et al, 2013, Hattie, 2012, Pardoe, 2009, 2005).

So, subject leaders set to work on creating a curriculum based assessment (no different to most) that teachers were asked to plan and assess from.  As part of this, all formal (external) testing was removed, to ensure that teachers were assessing on a day to day basis – assessing what the children knew and where they needed to move next.  Inherent was ensuring that assessment reflected Sadler’s (1989) model , that children know where they are now, where they are aiming to get to, and crucially how to close the gap between the two (cited in Black and Wiliam).

I didn’t realise what a massive shift in teaching and learning this was going to be and I often questioned our approach.  All year, I never had the ‘data’ that I normally would have had in previous years…loads of data, whose validity could be called into question, and most often was based on an end of term summative test.

In place of this, pupil progress meetings were set up every six weeks, with follow ups often happening every three weeks on focus children, those who were not on track, or those who were not making the progress that teachers thought they should be making.

To cut a very long story short, these pupil discussions were crucial in understanding what was going on in the classrooms.   As we were doing them so often, they took a lot of time, and it was clear that teachers were still getting used to a completely new way of planning, assessing and understanding of learning.  We were all on a very steep learning curve.  But everyone persisted.  The governors continued to have faith…the support from everyone was phenomenal – working together as a team is crucial to the success of anything in school.

At the end of the year, considering we did not base any assessments throughout the year on summative testing or standardised scores, every writing and reading book for every year group was moderated in trios.  This was time consuming, but again vital to the process.

Many other processes were involved, but I could go on and on…so, moving onto this year.  Again, we have reflected on the process, evaluated what went well and how things might need to change.  This is what we have learnt.

Everything must start with the pupils.

My aim is to interview every child across the school.  Not my normal pupil discussions that I do regularly anyways, but deep conversations about learning and the progress that they think they are making.  Mirroring what we are doing in our maths lessons, I’m asking the children to ‘prove’ their learning and their progress to me.

Why did we never do this before?  So simple…and I’m sure there are other schools out there doing exactly the same thing.

I have only just completed these conversations in year 6.  But I can tell you, personally, along with all of the children, I have learnt so much.  Talking to the pupils teaches you about everything that takes place in the classroom on a day to day basis.  By talking to every child and asking the same questions, quickly identifies areas of outstanding practice and possible next steps.  I have been able to clearly identify children and the progress they have made.  They have talked me through every book, their maths, science, history, geography, handwriting and even their free writing books.  The children’s excitement is evident in the way they tried to teach me, such as when explaining the way the heart worked, or how diagramming grammar helped them to understand different word types.  The enthusiasm, the energy, the passion…it was evident.  This is what learning is all about.

It has been time consuming, but every minute has been so worth it.  Already I can tell this will have a massive, positive impact.

So now…I will be able to come to our termly pupil progress meetings with such rich and actionable information.  Further, sharing this information with teachers, I can already see, will have so much more impact than the usual one-off observation.  When it comes from the children, we always take things to heart.  We always want to do better for every child in our classrooms.

This is what matters.

I can’t wait to see what new things are gleaned, when every child is asked to ‘prove’ their learning to me.

#LearningFirst

I will keep you updated….

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My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016…

Every year I have begun writing something new for our year 6 Leaver’s Service.  What I write usually has a theme that runs through it which has been prevalent throughout the year during our collective worship sessions.  Key this year has been the idea of being extraordinary.  So here are my final words this year for our class of 2016…..

My Leaving Words for the Class of 2016

Some say to be extraordinary you need to achieve the impossible.

But what is this – this impossible?

For us, there are no limits,

All ceilings can be broken through; success is what you make of it,

Obstacles only slow us down, so what is this impossible you speak of?

To be extraordinary….

You need to be unique,

Standing apart from the crowd

A diamond amongst the unpolished jewels.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be brave,

Unafraid when challenge stirs,

Poised and ready to speak out for those with no voice.

To be extraordinary…

You need to be a leader

Honesty and integrity at the heart

Even marching alone, when you know,

it is the right thing to do.

Always be honest…

Doing the right thing…

Even when it is the most difficult….

Trust that God will show you the way..

This is extraordinary…

This is you…

To be extraordinary

You need to leave your mark on the world….

 

So I ask you,

What will your mark be?

Will you be extraordinary?

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When will schools learn?

There was a very interesting discussion and debate on the teaching and learning culture in schools and how it impacts on staff morale and wellbeing on @ukedchat tonight.

Discussion came up about how schools expect so much of teachers, but put the pressure on by focusing on attainment and the things that Ofsted require rather than focusing on the things that the children in each school context actually need.  It was clear that those partaking in the discussion were very much in favour of the latter and challenging the ‘status quo’ that Ofsted bring.  Yet, why is it that the feeling from so many is that schools are sapping dry our dynamic teachers and forcing them to abide by ‘standards’ set by external bodies?  When will schools learn?

Continuing my reading tonight in, “The Learning Powered School” I came across the section called, “Learning versus performance cultures” (Claxton,Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  This was perfectly timed.  They ascertain that, “Several recent research papers have found, paradoxically, that pupils do better on their tests when they and their teachers focus on learning rather than on performance and achievement” (Claxton, Chambers,Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011).  What a massive claim.

So, the research suggests that if schools focus on learning, achievement and attainment will end up being higher.  What are we doing then?

Why are schools still allowing Ofsted to control every movement and every policy, whereby adversely affecting the outcomes for all?  Surely, if we focus on the learning and ensuring our pupils remain at the heart of our decisions, everything else will fall into place.  Clearly, there are things that Ofsted require to be in place which schools should adhere to – the sensible things.  However, it should not permeate the culture of schools and narrow their focus so much that it impacts on the wellbeing of all involved.

Leaders need to be braver in their stance.  They need to be sure that any policy and practice being implemented is what is right for their children – they then need to be ready to fight for that stance.  I’ll say it again, if children are truly at the heart of policy and practice, you can’t go far wrong.

Claxton, et al, continue to cite other research that proves where teaching children to ‘learn’ will have more impact on achievement then always focusing only on the ‘end result’ (SATS scores may be the case).

The moral then?  “Building students’ confidence in their own capacity to learn turns out (not surprisingly) to boost their examination performance.  On the other hand, several studies have found that narrow pressure for results – ‘achievement pressure’ in the jargon of the trade-is not an effective way of raising results” (Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 37, 2011). This research took place before  2011 – why are schools still overwhelmingly focused on attainment at the ‘end’?  What will it take for everyone to listen and learn?

Schools need to begin looking at the wider and ‘long-term’ picture…creating children ready to conquer the world that awaits them…giving them the skills to be confident learners when they leave our gates…to become life-long learners, resilient, brave and ready to learn from their mistakes.

 

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The “joy of the struggle”……

“So when parents say – as they often do- ‘I just want my child to be happy’, here is one of the best pieces of advice.  Help them, and get their schools to help them, to discover what it is that they would love to be great at.  Help them discover the ‘joy of the struggle’: the happiness that comes from being rapt in the process, and the quiet pride that comes from making progress on something that matters.  And help them to understand and develop the craft of worthwhile learning – how to make best use of imagination, reasoning, concentration, collaboration, and so on. That is what BLP aims to do”

(Claxton, Chambers, Powell, Lucas, p. 26, 2011).

Today I finally watched ‘School Swap – The Class Divide’.  It is a question I have often pondered,- what differences there are between the state and private sector (besides the money) and the impact on the learners.

No matter what school or context we are in, the quote above is so very apt.  Children must become confident in themselves as learners.  They must be given the tools and strategies to succeed in an ever-changing world, where success is defined not by the society we are in, but by them as individuals.  If we as schools can provide them with a ‘toolkit’ for success (so to say), then we can help prepare them for the setbacks, challenges and obstacles that will surely come their way.  They need to be equipped to bounce-back stronger, more resilient, focused and purposeful to persevere and try again.  The moment they give up, is the moment that we, as schools, need to think what more we could have instilled in them to want to endure and be fortitudinous.

I love the idea of the ‘joy of the struggle’.  How often have we seen our pupils suddenly light up with the realisation that they have finally conquered a skill they had been working on for what ‘seemed like ages’?  The discussion that can be had with pupils after this happens is even more enlightening.  They do explain the ‘process’ as challenging, yes, but exciting.  Exhilaration is apparent in this process-the concentration that is applied to keep trying, to keep practicing and then to  finally get it right.  It is the excitement of the challenge and  ‘error making’ that we need to embed in our children – allowing them the confidence and safety to make mistakes and then to learn from them, apply them and try it all again.

I think we sometimes don’t let this ‘struggle’ go on for long enough…we often give answers away too easily.

Correct answers and praise that come with little effort may hinder our children’s future ‘learning’ more than we know or understand.

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Teaching children ‘how’ to learn….

I have begun reading, “The Learning Powered School” by Guy Claxton, Maryl Chambers, Graham Powell and Bill Lucas.  As you can probably tell, I’m doing a lot of reading and researching around ‘learning’.

Learning is central and core to everything that we do as a school – but yet, are we actually teaching children ‘how’ to learn?  Our aim is to create children who become ‘life long’ learners, ready for the transition to secondary school (from primary) and to become confident, resilient, tenacious 21st century citizens who make a positive contribution to society.  We should be teaching children ‘how to learn’, how to be independent, how to seek out knowledge and find answers to their questions.  Not only that, but we should be ingraining in our pupils the desire to succeed, reaching goals that they set themselves and knowing how and what to do to achieve the steps to attain these targets.  We should teach them how to make mistakes with resilience, fortitude and ‘bounce-back-ability’, how hard work, practice and effort pays off and that failure only comes when we stop trying.  These values have to become a part of the fabric of the school, part of the language, the environment, the structure and processes that everyone takes part in.

After reading chapter 1 of ‘The Learning Powered School’ it seems that what we have begun establishing in our school, resonates closely with what this book and its research is about.

At the start they establish that, “students who are more confident of their own learning ability learn faster and learn better.  They concentrate more, think harder and find learning more enjoyable” (p. 2, 2011).  Further, mirroring the vision for our pupils at school, “Schools need to be educating for life-long learning.  Pupils need to have learnt to be tenacious and resourceful, imaginative and logical, self-disciplined and self aware, collaborative and inquisitive” (p. 2, 2011).

They explain that there are ‘5 Core Beliefs’ about ‘Building Learning Power’.  Preparing children for the tests of life, building up a spirit of resourcefulness and resilience within pupils, building up their confidence to succeed and navigate in an ever-changing world, that intelligence is changeable and not fixed and finally that Building Learning Power will be challenging, achievable and essential (p. 2-3, 2011).

Again, much like what Hattie says about learning, it seems very common sense.  So why aren’t all schools on board?  We need to forget (or at least not make it ‘the’ priority) about attainment and league tables, but focus on the children and their learning.  But herein likes the problem…for this to happen, schools need to be brave and go against the status quo.  If ‘learning’  is at the centre of everything, we can’t go far wrong; everything else will fall into place.

Surely, teaching children how to ‘learn’, helping instill key learning traits and equipping them with an understanding of what effective learning looks like, will be key to successful schools?

How do you ‘teach’ children how to learn in your school?

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#LoveTeaching…Why I’m Here and Why I’ll Stay…

I’m responding today to the #LoveTeaching theme.  How I came to be in teaching and why I love it…

Teaching wasn’t what I had imagined when I was in high school.  I thought I was going to be the next Jane Goodall, or I was going to go and live with some remote Tanzanian tribe and be a journalist/anthropologist.  Yes, that was what I wanted to do.

I went to University on a writing scholarship and had been asked to be a part of their volleyball squad (in those days, volleyball took up most of my spare time).  Quickly, volleyball fell off the schedule as I realised that professional volleyball wasn’t where I was going to make it, so I focused on Anthropology, Sociology and Writing.  Half way through my degree I moved to England.  While I was finishing my degree over here, I began looking for a job.  I ended up in a small headteacher’s office, explaining why I would be a good candidate to be a teaching assistant in an EBD school for boys.  A week later, I began my new role.Screen Shot 02-13-16 at 11.28 PM

It was this school, or rather the pupils and staff within in it, that fueled my desire to get into teaching.  I worked with boys between about 7 and 14.  They were tough, challenging and didn’t want to let anyone in.  To be honest, not much teaching ever went on as the boys were more intent on causing as much trouble as possible, but it was when you had those ‘breakthroughs’, when interest was sparked, that still to this day make my hair stand on end.  Realising that I could and was making an impact on some of these boys began my journey into teaching.

While there, after completing my undergraduate dissertation on ‘Rewards and Sanctions in an EBD School: A Case Study’, I began my PGCE.

My first teaching job was in a small school where I had to teach years 3 , 4, 5 and 6 in one classroom.  Talk about differentiation!  I was expected to do daily lesson plans for every subject and I was differentiating almost twelve ways in every lesson.  Looking back, I’m not quite sure how I kept it up, but it was definitely what gave me a solid grounding of teaching and learning. Back then, I realised that planning ‘lessons’ wasn’t the way to go, planning the ‘learning’ based on what children did and didn’t know was how to keep progress moving for every child.  From here I was accepted onto Fast Track Teaching…I knew from the beginning that I wanted to become a headteacher.

I moved through a few schools and leadership positions, completing both Leadership Pathways and the NPQH and eventually becoming a facilitator for the Middle Leadership Programme for the NCSL.

Finally, I ended up here in headship.  I love teaching, but being able to promote change for an entire school is incredible.  I have learnt so much along my journey, both what to do and what not to do.  I’m still learning every day, but every day, no matter what obstacles are in my way, I truly enjoy every moment.  Fortitude is what gets me through…that and a smile.

People always ask how I am ‘always’ smiling…the truth?  I absolutely am in love with what I do.

Why will I stay in education?  For those smiles that I receive every day from both the children and the staff..the moments when a child’s eyes light up when after making lots of mistakes, finally get it right…learning alongside everyone about what we can do to improve…teaching character through values like resilience, tenacity, grit, bounce-back-ability…and seeing them being used.  Watching teachers try something new and getting it right…being inspired and motivated every day…My list could go on and on…

What I would say to a new teacher or someone thinking of going into teaching?

This will be the most challenging job you could choose…don’t do it if you have any doubts about it, it is hard, you will live and breathe it…but if you decide to teach, it is the best job in the world.  It can be the most fulfilling and rewarding job as well…you decide.  You must put in 110% every day that you are in front of the kids…you will become the best actor and refine every theatrical strategy you have ever been taught…but every child will look up to you and learn from you, you will be their main role model, therefore you must think about every move you make and every word that you use.  You will be more influential than you realise.  But to continue to love your job and remain passionate about teaching, it is vital that you maintain a work-life balance.  This is key.  If you enjoy ‘life’ away from school and ensure you give yourself time to reflect and refresh, you will be a ‘great’ teacher.  Don’t let others determine what your work-life balance will look like, only you can control it.  Don’t be afraid to challenge the ‘status quo’ – be brave and always put learning at the centre of everything you do.     If you take care of your health and wellbeing – you will be more effective.  You will make a difference to every life you touch…

#ShineOn! #BeExtraordinary! #BeALeaderNotAFollower

 

 

 

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Are you an ‘extraordinary’ leader?

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Having read a few @staffrm blogs and various Tweets today, it has reminded me of the importance of being ‘true to oneself’.  Often, we find ourselves in situations where our persona changes, or we alter our personality to fit the circumstances.  You all know exactly what I mean.

I have learnt many lessons, that being genuinely YOU will bring you greater joy than if you hadn’t let who you ‘are’ shine through.  In fact, if you are trying to fit in by not allowing your true ‘self’ to shine through, then your happiness will suffer.  Also, you can only keep up an ‘act’ for so long before the cracks begin appearing.  If you aren’t accepted for who YOU are, then either the people you are with, or the place you are in, isn’t right for ‘you’.

As a leader, the fact that you are ‘unique’ and ‘different’ makes you stand apart from the rest.  Most leaders have dominant character traits that make them ‘extraordinary’.  Great leaders don’t hold back – their true, genuine self is what makes them influential and inspirational.

This term our theme at school has been about being ‘extraordinary’.  This means being ‘extraordinary’ learners, friends, and leaders.  It has made me think about how I have demonstrated being ‘extraordinary’.

Are you an ‘extraordinary’ leader?  Do you compromise your ‘personality’ or your ‘character’ to be that leader?

Be You…..’Extra’ordinary…and #ShineOn!

 

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