Sleeping Dad Blues
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A blues that came to me this morning after a terribly disrupted night with a poorly child. Messed up the guitar solo a bit. Whoops.


Also, I got in a bit of a mess with formatting this audio file. Posterous doesn’t seem to like .aifc files. The .mov file above will play in Posterous, but is technically a video with no images. The audio only file is here:


It’s weird (from a technical point of view) that movie files are easier to deal with than audio files…

“The Trendy Word is ‘Scaffold'”

“The Trendy Word is ‘Scaffold'”


I blogged a couple of days ago about a mistake an Ofsted inspector had made during a headteacher’s briefing meeting.


It might be somewhat predictable, that as a teacher who’s been through 5 Ofsted inspections, I should seem to enjoy pointing out when an inspector makes a mistake. I’ve had enough of my own shortcomings identified during inspection that it might look like merely petty revenge…


Here’s another mistake anyway.


Part way through the briefing, the inspector, talking about the inadequacies of some aspect of teaching that she had seen somewhere, came up with the quote that makes the title of this post.


“The trendy word is scaffold.” She even raised her eyebrows as if it was some kind of new-fangled educational fad.


Wasn’t it Bruner who first related the word ‘scaffolding’ to teaching sometime in the 1950s? He was working on Vygotsky’s idea of the Zone of Proximal Development and came up with the concept that teachers could put structures in place to support learning. And isn’t that what teaching is? Teachers either fix the steps the students most go through to learn something, or they negotiate the steps with the students and guide them through those steps. Two ways if scaffolding – rigid and negotiated.


So, teachers scaffold learning. Some prefer the rigid approach, others negotiate the learning targets, and some mix it up. I’m not convinced that any one approach to scaffolding learning is better than any others, nor have I met any teachers who don’t scaffold their lessons in some shape or form.


I have seen some people get confused between lesson resources and scaffolding. Maybe this is what the inspector was getting at. For example I’ve seen writing frames given out to support a particular style of writing and been referred to as ‘scaffolding’. But that’s not trendy, it’s just wrong – Bruner referred to scaffolding as the interaction between the student and the teacher, not the handing out of some photocopied worksheet – photocopiers had barely hit the mass market by the time Bruner was doing his work anyway.


Maybe Bruner should be pleased that scaffolding is finally trendy. And maybe Ofsted will be raising their collective eyebrows at the work of others academics – a sly laugh at Piaget or a muffled cough at Vygotsky. Don’t worry though, these new fads won’t fool Ofsted.

“Leadership is like Clint Eastwood in Easy Rider”

This was a quote that got my attention today at a briefing about the new Ofsted framework. The presenter, who was quoting someone else, went on to show Eastwood dressed as a cowboy looking all stern and pointing six-shooters. “Leadership is like all guns blazing…”


That’s not exactly my image of leadership, but more importantly it’s not my memory of Easy Riser, in which I distinctly remember Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper riding around on motorbikes trying to come to terms with hallucinogens, 60s America and rednecks who didn’t like men with long hair.


There was a third character in the film, and for a moment I wondered if that was Clint Eastwood, but a quick Google search reminded me that was Jack Nicholson.


There was no Clint Eastwood in Easy Rider.


I hope that’s not what the quoter meant – “Leadership is being absent, or mistaken for someone else.”


Or maybe something more complicated was intended – some kind of character juxtaposition. I have to admit I can never get away from Clint’s “Dirty Harry” character. So joining Fonda and Hopper (and for a short while Nicholson) on their ultimately doomed journey rides Eastwood, magnums in hand, demanding “Do you think you’re lucky, punk?” of every hostile situation they face. Try as I might it’s still not a helpful image of leadership…


Maybe the film that had been intended was actually ‘Pale Rider’, in which Clint Eastwood plays a ‘mysterious preacher’ who saves a town. Again, mystery and preaching aren’t the first things that I would associate with good leadership.


So I came to a conclusion that it was just a mistake, too obscure to get at what was being meant.


But then maybe leadership is all of the above – it’s an amazing journey with extreme highs and terrible lows where you do meet some people who are actually out to get you. Sometimes you have to go in all guns blazing, and sometimes you have to be almost absent to allow others to develop their own leadership skills. You have to be able to preach – to share your vision – and to show the strength to be able to defend your team. And maybe a sense of mystery helps too.


It’s amazing where an Ofsted briefing can take you…

The problem with work-life balance…

The problem with work-life balance…


…is that it presumes that work is the opposite to life. That there’s work and than everything else. I know there are jobs that are just that – a job that you only do for money and you can’t wait to leave. But teaching isn’t one of those.


Teaching has everything to do with real life. Teachers don’t only learn from the past and educate for the present, but they are the social engineers of the future. Teaching is part of life, so believing in a work-life balance is detrimental to your teaching.


A much more helpful phrase is work-leisure balance. Some kinds of teachers, known as perfectionists, put so much into their work that they forget about he leisure. I’ve heard teaching compared with air traffic control in terms of the number of interactions you can ave per hour. But there’s no immediate life or death in teaching – only preparedness for the future – you can always teach a bit better, do a bit more, prepare that little bit extra… Perfectionists are great for their children 90% of the time, but they run the risk of burning out and becoming disconnected from their leisure time. It is this leisure time that will keep their teaching relevant and meaningful for their students.


I prefer ‘life-blend’ as my phrase to use instead of ‘work-life balance’. It reminds me that sometimes there are really intense times when I have to work every hour God sends, and at other times I need to spend time with my family, friends or just chilling.


I’ve also found that Doug Belshaw’s #Uppingyourgame has helped get this blend right. Google it.

Good for the fractions learning; bad for the coffee mug


Sometimes children hear the word 'fractions' and they turn off.

I saw it on Wednesday when I started my lesson on comparing and ordering fractions. I had barely uttered the words when I saw a few heads drop. A few children joined in when I asked them what they knew about fractions – one knew the word 'third'; someone else knew 'part'; yet another one knew they have something to do with division. But quite a few heads with dropped.

So while the keen had their hands up, and others were looking to avoid eye contact, I slid an empty coffee mug into an empty plastic bag. Then, for security, whilst the conversation continued, I placed the first plastic bag into a second one.

Then I smacked it against the wall. Really hard.

All the children looked – some jumped.

I proceeded to pull pieces out of the bag and estimate how much of the mug each piece had been, from the large chunks (1/3 or 1/5) to the tiny chips that were only 1/1000 or maybe even smaller.

The children were engaged and by the end of the lesson all of them had made some progress about ordering and comparing fractions. Even the special needs group children who, according to their data, struggle to order numbers 1-100.

As a bonus, we even specified that the bottom of the fraction was called the denominator and the top number the numerator – I love it when children learn proper maths words, although it was amusing to hear one child call the top number the nominator and the bottom number the dominator.

So, if you're stuck with teaching fractions – break something. At least you'll stop the heads from dropping…

School Development Planning on Google Spreadsheets

sdp plan.mp4
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So, I’ve shared the excellence of Google Docs with my colleagues.


And I’ve collaborated in lessons with the children I teach.


But today came the big test – could I share Google Docs with my fellow senior leaders?


The day started normally, with big sheets of paper, post-its and lost of discussion as we tried to hone our school development ideas into a coherent document. But then came the test – would they get collaborating altogether on the same document? And would they mind that it was a spreadsheet?


The answer was yes. The video shows some of the first few minutes (speeded up) of us working together on the same spreadsheet. It’s worked. So far. Hooray!
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