Recently I was asked to do something by one of my senior colleagues. It was an unusual task. One that involved me speaking to a range of contacts outside of school and then communicating with my colleague about what had happened.
However, I found myself deeply frustrated afterwards, because I knew neither the purpose, nor the outcome of the task.
It’s possible that I will find out in time, but it is also possible that I will never know.
Reflecting on this, I wonder how many times I put my students in this position. I may give them an activity, made up of a sequence of instructions. They then do the activity. I thank them for doing the activity. I may even praise them or give them stickers. Is this good teaching?
It makes me realise I need to ensure my learners are always engaged with the purpose of an activity and have time to reflect on the significance of the outcome.
You can make really efficient data processes within school that don’t actually do anything.
Some senior leaders would laugh if you came into one of our pupil progress meetings. We hold them three times each year. In each meeting the headteacher, deputy and teacher come together to talk about each child’s progress in reading, writing and maths.
Much of the discussion arises from numbers on a sheet, but it is focused on the barriers each child faces and how, as a team, we might overcome those barriers. Sometimes that might involve a conversation between a senior leader and a parent; sometimes bringing in external professionals; sometimes the tweaking of some classroom practice.
I get the impression that at some schools, senior leaders are so concerned about the ‘big picture’ of what the data shows them, that they forget about the details. But the details are called children. And a school where children are just numbers on a sheet of paper is no school at all.
I have to admit, sometimes I can get a little task focused when I’m creating my latest uber-sheet: in this one, I tell myself, the data process will be so efficient it will hardly detract from our time at all.
It’s important to remember, that each number crunched, each set averaged, is just another tool to help teachers with their job: teaching.
I’m speaking at WeTweeted at BETT this Thursday – it would be great to have you there to contribute your thoughts on data too.
I am pleased to announce a new category on my blog: Banjo.
And I know thousands of people will be delighted to hear that I received a banjo for Christmas. I am intending to dedicate at least one post a week to my progress on learning the banjo. I know if you’ve read some of my education posts you might be thinking that I’m about to use a banjo as some kind of metaphor for the state of education in the UK. But no. It’s just a banjo. And I’m learning to play it.
So as I already play guitar, you may argue it’s a bit of a cheat to be learning the banjo: it’s already a stringed instrument, I’m hardly learning it from scratch.
Fair comment. But a banjo is a different beast. It has 5 strings rather than 6, and one of them is bizarrely high-pitched. In the book I’m learning from, I don’t even know what it’s for yet, and I’ve been practising for 2 weeks. And while I can strum a guitar competently, I’m hardly finger-pickin’ good; from what I’ve seen a banjo requires a large amount of finger-pickin’.
So the book I have introduced me to the banjo, got me to tune it (for which I downloaded the Android App PitchLab onto my phone) and then got me learning to play ‘G’.
Strumming a banjo is really quite a different job from strumming a guitar. I soon learned that the standard song for banjos is in 3/4, rather than 4/4 (4/4 is all a bit too pop). And I soon learned that the standard strum begins with a pluck of a single string, rather than strumming all of them. Pick first, strum later. Whereas with guitar it’s more strum first, pick later. Here’s me trying to strum ‘Clementine’ last night (as in ‘Oh my darling…’).
Tomorrow, I am looking forward to bringing my banjo into my school. I haven’t done show and tell for about 35 years, so it’s going to be fun to stand in front of the assembly, show the children how far I’ve got in two weeks and get them to challenge me to learn more. I might even challenge them to see what they will learn this year.
I’m no expert at leadership, and so I read @oldandrewuk’s post, How to be a Bad SMT, with a wry smile and a deep sense of sadness. Firstly – it caricature’s the very worst extremes of leadership in our schools; secondly many teachers experience much of what the blogger says on a daily basis.
My counter-list isn’t as comprehensive as the post which inspired this one. That’s more down to my lack of experience in leadership than the ease we Brits we find in being critical.
How to improve teaching and learning
Judge teaching based on the teacher standards, not on Ofsted criteria – this implies an emphasis on the long-term: on lessons sequences over one-off lessons; on consistency over flashiness; on substance over style.
Release staff to teach to their strengths rather than to conform to one single style – the strength of our education system is in the individuality and autonomy of teachers.
Never use the word ‘delivery’. While the postal service is incredibly valued, teachers aren’t posties. Don’t dumb down teaching with the word ‘delivery’.
Take the Teacher Standards statement “demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship” seriously – this means allowing teachers to research good and outstanding teaching for themselves, rather than reducing it to a checklist.
Allow teachers to take part in non-judgemental peer review. This may involve self-sacrifice as you may have to cover lessons yourself to allow teachers to collaborate with each other.
Don’t call yourself SMT: call yourself SLT. It might seem to be mere semantics, but if you call yourself ‘management’ than you will only ever focus on doing things right; whereas if you call yourself leadership you focus on doing the right things. Even better, leadership teams may even learn to do the right things right.
How to improve behaviour
Make sure transitions are your top priority. Be high profile at any point that children are moving into classrooms, or from one classroom to another.
Allow teachers to contribute to the shared behaviour policy. Be aware that adjustments may need to be made depending on the age of the children – sanctions for 3 year olds may not always apply to 16 year olds.
Take your responsibilities set in the behaviour policy seriously – don’t shy away from speaking to parents or reinforcing sanctions that teachers have enacted.
Be prepared to shout occasionally. It’s not ideal, but if you don’t, your teachers will have to, and that’s worse.
Respect the teachers who want to sort out the behaviour within their own classrooms, but offer support even if they don’t want to.
Exclude when all other sanctions have run out – a clear, consistent message helps teachers, children and parents alike.
How to improve morale
Be consistent in relationships, especially with middle leaders, who are still learning a new set of skills and will make a whole load of mistakes.
Be self sacrificial – do an extra cover for in your department at least once a half-term.
Take the lion’s share of assemblies and playground duties.
Listen to staff. When they suggest that a new initiative might be too much, consider what they say and remember that the main thing is your teachers’ teaching. If the initiative won’t help, don’t introduce it. Even better release staff to design and introduce the initiatives that they want to happen.
Don’t go straight to your office each morning, but spend some time in your colleague’s classrooms first. Follow up at the end of the day if teachers are having a tough time.
Apologise when you’ve made a mistake, or even if you’ve been a bit grumpy.
Now I’m not saying I’m God’s gift to leadership. I can honestly say that I have made at least three of the mistakes that are on oldandrewuk’s list in the last six weeks. But neither is the list above pie in the sky – I have done every one of them in the last 6 week’s also.