Category Archives: reflection

#Nurture 15/16

‘Twas the night before term starts, and all through the land,

Every teacher was stirring, wondering if they had planned;

Good enough lessons to teach the next term, 

With knowledge a’plenty so children could learn….

It would take me all night, probably all week, to finish that as I am no poet so I shall leave it there! I’ve been trying to get this post done for days now, reviewing the year and sifting things through. It’s often painful doing this, dredging up memories you’ve tried to bury.  2015 wasn’t the best of years in many ways, and it’s hard entering 2016 with the shadow of dad’s illness prognosis over us. But 2016 might be the year of miracles! Anyway, the slideshow of pictures reflect some of the moments that left a mark on me in 2015. 

2015 Highlights:

Family :)
Family 🙂
My family. Who continue to amaze me every day. Watching the way that my devoted mum cares for dad every day with total patience and love, and how he never complains and just worries about others. How my sister gives up so much of her time to make things for others, or decorate 26 Christmas trees at different houses to bring cheer! How my brother doesn’t complain when he’s making the hundredth tip run to clear my house, or helping me move house, or spending hours on Skype to bridge the gap to Ukraine. How my brother-in-law is giving up countless hours to renovate my house, despite having no spare time whatsoever as he’s always doing things for others. How all the extended family (I have many, many uncles, aunts, cousins!) have rallied around to support and to visit with dad, including a very emotional family carol sing-a-long with four generations all present. I am blessed and love them all.

Awesome friends
Awesome friends
Old and new friends. Laura, Becky and Jo are always there for me and constantly support in good times and bad. They constantly impress me with their professionalism as well, and I’m super proud of each of them in their work as well as being such good friends, mothers, and soon-to-be mothers 😉 We don’t see enough of each other, and I shall miss being close geographically and seeing the littlies grow up…but I can always travel! It only takes minutes to have each other in hysterics.

Great times with O’Donnell family again this year. The Cairngorms trip was a blast and I’m always impressed by how smart and hilarious the younger O’Donnells are!  I think I’ve heard more about Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Lego mechanics and robotics than I could remember 🙂 You are all awesome. 

When I moved to Basingstoke this year I was apprehensive about the new folk I would be living with, yet they have all turned out to be (in the words of ‘Spud’) ‘super human beings’! Ben, thank you for always making me smile and for cooking the most outrageously amazing meals to spoil us (also sorry about the ice-skating). Philippa, thank you for being beautiful inside and out and such a good listener. Nerea, thanks for putting up with our tea-towel fights, Christmas obsession, and general madness! Richard, thank you for the midnight chats about anything under the sun (sorry for boring you). I hope to see you all soon.

New house back in Kent!
New house back in Kent!
New house! I’ve finally made it back from Hampshire to Kent! After spending ages trying to find a job and a house at the same time it seemed impossible, and then a house turned up on the same street as my parents! It’s quite the renovation project but does have a roof again now at least! Moving was traumatic, leaving broken dreams and heartbreak as well as close friends, but now I’m close to those who need me most.

New job! I’d decided to try for Assistant Head Teacher some months back when I was looking to relocate, but didn’t think I’d get one. I’ve loved being a Head of Geography, and being in the classroom feels natural and I know I am good at it. But I was beginning to feel like I needed another challenge, and to put my knowledge of turning places around to good use. Despite wanting to be back in Kent, I’ve never been someone to do a job for the sake of it and I wasn’t prepared to just apply to any old school. I wanted to feel like I would be in the right place, so I have been picky about where to look. Then when I did apply I assumed it would be just ‘an experience’ and was thrilled to just get an interview, wanting then only to not embarrass myself on the day. It was the hardest thing I have done professionally, and by some miracle I got the job! I really felt an affinity on the day, that this school is on a journey with some really needy children needing support. And I loved that my new Head wants to make this the best school in the world, not just ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and he wants it because the children deserve it. But I will admit, I am petrified at the thought of starting tomorrow. I haven’t felt clueless for a long time and this uncertainty is scary! I wrote a piece on UKEdchat about my thoughts, so feel free to read this here . I just want to make a difference, and give children a good foundation in life. Just hope I have the tools to do this.

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Working with amazing team at Eggar’s
Eggar’s itself. What an experience working here. I worked with some truly amazing people. The Hums team were just great. Super supportive and so professional, always seeking to do the absolute best for children. Each member brought something great to the table, whether it was Louise’s chirpiness (I’ll miss being greeted as well as you did!), Claire’s meticulous organisation, Linda’s ineffable charm (who cannot smile around you?!), Emily’s creativity and enthusiasm (though with a bizarre obsession with satsumas), Cathy’s calm presence and support for others, Anne’s amazing baking (!) and support for yr11s, Cath’s steadfastness and constant support for all children (best Head of Year I’ve known), and Gill’s enthusiasm, laugh and patience. Even though we were sometimes accused of being ‘overly questioning’ this was always because these queries were always rooted in ‘how will this benefit children’ and had this core purpose. It was our job as teachers and middle leaders to question, and to ensure we did the best possible for our learners. I would always hope that middle leaders do this, and that staff feel free to talk to me as a member of SLT – after all, we as teachers are all learners and we don’t always get it right. 

The Geography ladies helped me to see the department transform from a place that children loathed and disrespected, to somewhere that children enjoyed and felt challenged in and made progress. From being blue on Raise to green. From poor achievement to better (still not perfect!). From being inadequate to good. From being unknown to being recognised by other professionals outside school as somewhere to come and learn. Anne with her support of trainees and organisation, and Gill with her ideas and willingness to try new things. I may have only been there 15months, but we did some good work. Results day was emotional! Those year 11s who had to learn an entire course and controlled assessment in nine months, and yet still beat national average! Student feedback before and after was so positive, and I loved hearing from them and their parents.We also introduced previously unknown fieldwork, including overseas and a fantastic Iceland excursion. And we had fun with Skype in the classroom that saw one year 7 boy who had never spoken aloud in class suddenly speak voluntarily to a scientist in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in front of his whole class.

Oh and introducing the Eggar’s Experience was great, trying to encourage a ‘have a go’ culture and attitude with students and extra-curricular opportunities. I also hope the ‘This Girl Can’ efforts introduced by my excellent colleague Cathy take off. I could say so much about Cathy, who held me together on more than one occasion and is the most selfless, down-to-earth, thoughtful and professional person I know. I don’t know how many lunchtimes she gave up for students needing someone to talk to, or for colleagues, but she is the unseen glue and I hope she knows how truly valued she is by those that matter most.

Students are awesome
Students are awesome
Students past and present. When I left Eggar’s I was blown away by the generosity of students (and staff of course), but I was reduced to tears by the comments in cards by them and by their parents. To be told you have raised a child’s confidence as they prepare for their finals and that they finally feel able means more to me than a piece of paper with their mark on. To be able to give a lad his first ever C grade on two mock exams when his FFTd is an E. To have parents saying thank you for helping. To know kids want to pursue their learning at college or university. That is why I teach – for those spine tingly moments that say yep, I did some good today. 

I also attended my first student funeral last year, for Elliot. He was the student who changed me most as a teacher, and it is with thoughts of him that I go to my new school knowing that there will be so many more Elliot-like children who need TLC, need their teachers to support them, and need us pushing to get those grades more than they would ever admit.

Getting certified!
Getting Chartered!
Professional bits and bobs. I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at various events last year including BETT and the GA conference, as well as the work with the Prince’s Teaching Institute until September. I was sad to stop with this work, but to be honest was a little disappointed with the upper leadership that did not seem to want to recognise the necessary changes or embrace alternatives.Hey ho.

The GA conference was one of the highlights of my year, especially the first ever GA Teachmeet that had me reduced to tears of laughter with the inimitable Paul Berry’s session. I can only hope that when I am close to retirement like he, that whatever job I am doing I do it with the same level of love and enthusiasm and dare-I-say passion as he seems to. Wonderful man. We also had our last ever TMPompey which was great, even with me knocking myself out before the start. I shall miss working with David Rogers in future and am sad the once dream-team is ended, but grateful to have had some great opportunities in the past. I shall also miss being near to Rachel Jones for her amazing work and joining in her mad antics, as well as her support as a great friend. I am genuinely so impressed with how she juggles everything and has some of the happiest and most confident children I have met which is testament to her and to her new family. 

Taking part in the RGS Explore weekend was also amazing, working with other great professionals and hearing about incredible expeditions current and planned. I hope to be more involved with the RGS in future in the education capacity, and was thoroughly chuffed to receive my Chartered Geographer status this year as a Christmas present 🙂

I was published in a few magazine bits this year, including a revision guide and finally finished the GCSE textbook! What a mission! I never realised what hard work it is, all the research and then trying to put it into something work-able. Being somebody a little bit perfectionist it is hard to know what to do when it is your first go! But hopefully all is well, and will be on sale in March so if you fancy a new Geog textbook please try it!

So 2016?

I don’t know what the future holds, and I am apprehensive about much of it. I’m not making any resolutions other than to be as good a daughter/sibling, friend, and teacher / leader that I can be. I will be running more this year, including a half marathon which will be near to home which is good. I will try to blog about my journey in SLT and other random musings more, as I’ve not been consistent with this. I have a house to finish and a life to build as well though, so perhaps this blog will include a bit more about life beyond school by this time next year who knows!

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Women in education leadership…I may be naive

From my Staffrm post.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, anywhere. Not out of a lack of interest as I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing what others have shared online. But I’m trying to collect and rebuild myself a little and needed a step back.

I’ve followed most of the #WomenEd posts and discussions, and before I start please don’t think I’m against the movement in any sense or attempting to be disparaging or puerile, but I have to admit to finding a thought keep popping in to my head all the time. That thought: maybe women don’t actually want to be headteachers. I may be being naive. I see the statistics shared, and can see that the proportion of female heads is distinctive and could automatically raise alarms for people wanting to know the reason why. But I also think sometimes we might overthink, and be looking for a sinister cause or barrier that might not actually exist. I would certainly never want someone to hire me because I ticked a box as being female and they needed to fill a quota. I’ve known that happen.

Now I’m not disputing that there will be cases where women across the world have had a door shut, faced discrimination, been steered a certain way, and have felt hindered. But I also think that there may well just be a case for saying that maybe there are fewer women in headteachership because they are happy to stay in other positions. After all, there’s no denying that the psyche and makeup of men and women is different. Same as within each gender there is plenty of difference. These ultimately influence our decisions, our passions, our drives. And maybe, just maybe, more women actually want to remain in the classroom than men. Maybe more women don’t want to lose that face-to-face contact, the relationship building, the daily spine-tingly moments, the feeling of having personally been responsible for a deep change in a child or for their progress. Maybe we want to retain that feeling of closeness to a child that means you get goosebumps knowing that you, yes you, made a child’s day when you gave them the first positive feedback they’ve ever had. Maybe we just want to be up close and personal to the reason we are in teaching: to make a difference. Because at the end of the day, when you move up the ladder that is something that gets sacrificed. I’ve known plenty of SLT who on a regular basis regret the move (especially if they moved up the ladder rapidly) because they miss the buzz of being at the chalkface, they hate having absolutely no time to be creative, they feel burdened by constant data analysis and administration, they don’t get to know children as well, they feel isolated from their colleagues and from students. I’ve had headteachers say to me that being a middle leader is the best job in the school – after all, we are the powerhouses who drive everything through. And I say all this based on having a mum who was a headteacher, a sister who is the personnel manager for an international organisation, friends who are business leaders, and on myself who thinks ‘you know what, you’d miss this’.

I went to an all girls’ school where we were berated if we had the audacity to suggest that our future might include marriage and children since we were told we ‘should be career focused’. Ironically my future doesn’t include the former, and I don’t lack ambition but ambition doesn’t have to mean we keep making every step until a pinnacle…after all then the next step is actually downhill! There’s nothing wrong with ambition meaning being the best darn teacher and leader you can be, at whatever level. This situation is not unique to teaching, there is low representation of women in senior roles across every industry…but is this because they’re held back, or just because they are happier in other roles? I’m not talking about the pay gap by the way, that’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned: if you do the same role, have the same responsibility, and have the same qualifications then you should get the same money. Perhaps I am naive, having not experienced being held back, but I actually trust that whatever rung of the ladder I go to next I will be judged as worthy or not based purely on me. Will I ever want to be a head? I don’t think so, I know what I’d miss. Does this make me held back, stereotyped, weak, or unambitious? No way. It makes me, me. My choice. For me, that’s what WomenEd should be about – celebrating and empowering choice.

‘I am not a leader’ (or Yes you are! Every ONE of us in education is)

Post taken from my Staffrm story in response to the Leadership Artefacts thread. Well worth visiting.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has read the #ldrartefacts thread on Staffrm with interest, and also someone that’s thought ‘I’m not quite there yet, so I don’t have anything to contribute’. After all, I’m ‘just’ a middle leader, not SLT, so does that count? I had been inspired by some accounts, and also thought ‘hang on, that’s what I do!’ when reading them but kept putting off getting involved in the thread as not feeling competent to. Well that was until someone said to me ‘you’re not a leader’…and that caused a reaction. I wanted to slap him (not for the first time!) and my immediate response was indignation…which is of course what he’d wanted. See although I believe I am good at my job, I don’t like to shout about it or pretend I am anything better than others, so tend to shy away from getting involved in social media / public face leadership discussions as if feeling unqualified.

You’re not a leader‘ kept ringing in my head. Grinding away. How patronising I thought! But then, I don’t have any major evidence of whole school impact or long-term change in my own right I suppose? I mean, I lead a department that is gradually transforming and kids have actually learnt something, found high expectations, feel challenged – so there’s a whole culture change there right? I lead whole school numeracy but that’s only been this year so can I really claim much? At my last school I was HoD for a year following from a bit of a high maintenance bloke who I’d helped transform the dept…but he’d take credit for that of course 😉 So can I really say I’m part of this leadership group?

Answer: definitely yes.

You see I’ve been an education leader for a 7 years. How? I’ve led in my classroom. Or on the astro turf. Or in the corridors. Or on school trips. I’ve taken a claim to my physical space, laid groundwork for the mental and emotional space of that learning environment, and every day fought battles with myself or with others to just be the best I could be and ensure that kids got a good experience and were led to be the best they could be.

Every single one of us from day 1 of PGCE stepping in front of your first class and taking tentative steps is a leader. We lead by example. We lead by our body language, the words we choose to use, whether we give ‘the evil teacher stare’ or give a smile, we lead by holding doors open for students and modelling good manners, we lead by the way we encourage them, how we don’t let them give up, when we motivate or praise them, when it is time to sanction them or hold them to account. Aren’t these the traits that ‘real’ leaders portray, whether in education or business? Does it make any difference whether we are leading a class of infants and teenagers or leading thirty sales assistants? It’s the same principles.

After leaving university I fell into a job in fashion retail almost by accident. It led to me becoming a deputy manager within three months and then successively becoming store manager to two large stores, and setting up a national flagship. The stores I ran were filled with staff of all ages and experiences. Some were keen trainees, others were jaded and resigned with a ‘this is the only job I can get’ mentality. Some felt overlooked by previous managers. Some felt they’d not had their potential realised. Some kicked off and didn’t like change. Some didn’t appreciate being given targets and boundaries and expectations (it’s shocking that I wouldn’t let them swing on the fixtures in the loft and steal from the till really). Does this sound familiar in a school context? My wise sister once said to me ‘children are just like adults, only with shorter trousers’ and it’s true. Leading children and leading adults have massive parallels. It’s always a joke at Inset isn’t it how much like naughty kids the teachers suddenly become? And none of us like being treated like a homogenous group and given the same diet of CPD or being made to feel hard done by or overlooked. Same feelings, similar baggage, similar needs.

Day 1 in my classroom as an NQT I started leading. With 19 classes I was effectively leading 490 ish children on a weekly basis. But even just with my tutor group of 26 from that first day I was a leader. Even before I got into any other roles. Being just a tutor is a profound leadership opportunity. I set up my classroom with a photograph of my dog or favourite places on the tutor board and built relationships with those tutees based on their pets & places and from the first meeting I was leading them. In retail my decisions affected a team of 27 and a turnover of over £2.6million a year. Now my decisions affect the Hums team, our students of about 850, and a budget of just a tiny fraction. But those decisions and the leadership we each give day in day out will affect those students potentially for the rest of their lives. Even if they only learn to be polite to each other! I have been doing performance management and leading teams for 11 years now in retail or in school, and I use those retail skills all the time. Same issues, same leadership traits.

And one day, when I am SLT, it will still be the same principles that make me lead: motivate, cajole, inspire, hold to account, recognise, empathise, humour, train, develop, trust, etc.

So my actual leadership artefacts?

1) A quote on the wall: ‘just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly‘. I refer to this with kids or adults often. Something unattractive or seemingly at its end can become something beautiful and a new beginning.

2) Postcards/cards: to give as thank you notes, messages of support, pick me ups. Do them unexpectedly and sneak them onto someone’s desk (or into a student book to find later) so it doesn’t make a big show of it and allows the recipient to just have a surprise.

3) The open door: mentioned by many others but still true. My door is open whenever I am in there and I’m happy for anyone to come anytime. I encourage an open door policy in the department so we will wander in and out and see each other and speak to students. No need to have secrets: we are all on the same team! And the open door extends to meeting minutes and data tracking too using Google Docs. Everyone can see how well or how poorly my classes (and others) are doing or what we are working on so there is transparency. I think this is important.

At the end of the day, we are not chained to a title and we don’t only have an influence when we plan to and have prepared for it – we lead from the first moment we walk through the door. That is both humbling and worrying! It can be the smallest thing that sticks in someone’s mind, so let’s lead in a way that can change the world 🙂

Leadership is not a title.

Thank you to the lovely Staffrm folks for your response to this story. I hope you don’t mind me copying them here.

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Saying goodbye…how one student changed me as a teacher

imageI’ll be honest, I’m writing this with tears in my eyes and often falling. I’m torn between feeling the need to write, and wondering if it is somehow inappropriate. I hope you’ll bear with me.

This morning a former student of mine named Elliott died from cancer. He was just 19. I taught him for four years and first met him when he was in Year 8 and I was starting my NQT year. He was in the bottom set. All boys. A sink group some say. They were difficult. Obviously I was new so would say that anyway, but there were some real characters known across the school. Elliott wasn’t one of those. He wasn’t a ‘naughty boy’. He faced massive challenges. His mum had suddenly died the year before. No dad either. He suffered from Neurofibromatosis and as a result was only partially sighted, had difficulties with writing and comprehension, and wasn’t always too steady on his feet. But…he always had a go. I don’t believe I ever heard him complain. He took life as it was, and just got on. Didn’t ask for special treatment or expect it.

Elliott changed me as a teacher, and probably didn’t ever realise quite how much. It was November of my NQT year and I was really struggling with this class. One day I remember blurting out something like ‘why won’t you all just give me a chance, I’m trying to help’ and his response will stay with me forever: ‘what’s the point of us getting to know you Miss, you’ll only leave us like everyone else does’. It cut me to the core. The sense of abandonment that a lot of the kids had. Either physical abandonment of people leaving (including a high turnover of staff I guess!) or perhaps apathetic abandonment – of teachers assuming these kids would never amount to anything anyway and so not pushing them or trying their best. It changed me. Made me realise I wanted to work where I was really needed. Wanted to give kids a chance. Wanted to not give up on them.

By February I had the class onside. They realised I wasn’t going anywhere. We had fun. We shared. I learned lots about their experiences too. We had good discussions. They weren’t angels but we made progress and they did well. They respected me and we had each other’s backs – they knew I would support them, and equally they supported me. I remember one time when a new lad joined the class who was quite violent. We got off to a bad start when he took offence at me asking him to not damage another child’s book and when he stormed out of the room he pushed me into the filing cabinets. The reaction of the rest of the boys was protectiveness of me, and Elliott stood there saying ‘you better apologise to Miss, she’s our Miss, and you’ll have to answer to us otherwise’! This from a lad with tumours growing in his fragile body bless him! (Obviously I did talk to them about threatening language but you get what I mean!)

One lad changed my attitude to teaching and my way of dealing with situations. I look for reasons more, try to find solutions (not excuses), I don’t give up straight away on what looks hopeless. He wasn’t a naughty lad, but he had an influence on them. The toughest kids respected him. And seeing the comments on the news and Facebook in memory of him today shows that he made a difference to a lot of people. One comment really tugged at me where Elliott had said he wished he had had a talent. Heartbreaking. He did. His talent was being Elliott, a brave young man who didn’t complain and just had a go despite everything. Can’t ask for a better talent than that. Thank you.

“The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, the steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.” (Graeme Fife)

Happy birthday to me! (Or ‘On being grateful’)

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In case the title is too subtle, today is my birthday. 33 (gulp) years ago I came into the world, and the process nearly killed myself and my poor mum more than once. In a very traumatic labour I ended up without oxygen for quite some time and my parents were told I would have suffered trauma to my brain and highly unlikely I would develop ‘normally’. Mum was given the ultimatum of ‘get her out or you both die’ and then had me whisked away before she could even see me or hear any reassuring cries. I was in the baby special unit for a while and when my brother (age 7) first saw me all swaddled up, tubed, and in furry mittens for warmth his plea to dad was ‘I think it’s best we don’t worry mummy right now, but the baby has paws’.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks impossible, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And just because someone who is a specialist and highly qualified tells you something doesn’t mean they will be right. Mum defied the odds getting us to both survive, and somehow I turned out ok (I know Rogers and Lockyer will contest this :p ). My family says I was born and survived for a reason, and I look forward to finding that reason one day.

Ten years ago today I accepted a wedding proposal. It was romantic, the ring was the right amount of sparkly and pink, the right words were said. But it was the wrong decision.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks beautiful or because words are what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s good. Take education: we may rant and rave that policies are unattractive and not what we want to hear, but does it really matter? We can change things to suit ourselves. No policy will ever sound good to everyone after all. They’re not beautifully crafted or wonderful words – that bit is down to us to make happen. And just because something was a bad decision doesn’t mean good can’t come from it – I wouldn’t have become a teacher if I hadn’t made that poor decision, wouldn’t have been trained by amazing people, and wouldn’t have met my best friends.image

So what about today? Today involved: pancakes, wine, awesome food, leopard print gifts (lol!), glass making flame-off, a fab personalised map, and furry cuddles.

Today I am grateful for the amazing family and friends I have. Who put up with me, excuse me being busy during term times, come to my aid when needed, help with sorting classrooms and kids books, talk through decisions with me and allow me to rant and vent, and who always encourage me. I saw almost all the people I love most throughout today and I just want to say thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am or doing what I do if it wasn’t for all of you. I hope I do the same for you all in some way at some time too. I don’t need much, and don’t expect presents, I am just grateful for time and lovely words.

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Message to my younger self…or what I wish I’d known

Jo_Darren_youngAnother part of the #28daysofwriting Staffrm challenge.

I’m sure we all have plenty of things we wish we had known when we are younger. And how much of the time do we then try and force (not always helpfully) that information on the students in our care? “You’ll regret this…. when you’re older”, or “when I was your age….”, or “I wish someone had said this to me when I was your age….”, etc. After all, what is the perk of getting older if it means we can’t pass on such wisdom as ‘don’t run with pointy objects’ to the next generation?!

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The first image was from a family climbing trip when I ‘earned’ my first climbing boots, and the second image from a friends’ teenage trip to Cornwall. Such innocent times. All that mattered was being outdoors, friends and family, pets, and food. So maybe things haven’t changed that much… 😉

So, what would I have told myself in my youth? 

1) Relax. I went to an all girls’ grammar school. I was fortunate and had teachers I (mostly) liked but we were always under pressure to achieve and exceed. It was frowned upon to say that your ambition was to have a family, and you were schooled from day one to be career minded and ambitious. I didn’t really want that, I wanted simple things. We weren’t encouraged to spend time learning useful things like cooking as it was considered ‘sooooo anti-feminist’. You were seen as failing if you dropped a mark at any point, and guilt tripped for letting the team down. I didn’t learn to relax, and didn’t feel I had time to do other pursuits.

2) Learn a musical instrument. I always fancied the clarinet but we couldn’t really afford it and I wasn’t disciplined enough to teach myself. I did learn to play the piano, ish, but struggled with reading music as left it too late really. It’s a shame as I love music, and love singing, and my whole family are so musical.

3) Don’t fall so hard and fast. Don’t marry the first guy that asks 😉 Mum always said ‘more hast, less speed’ and she’s always right grrr.

4) Maintain a foreign language. I loved learning French and Spanish, but they fade so quick. Why is it that random Latin verbs still stick in my head but useful phrases in languages that still exist do not?!

5) Grow a thicker skin sooner. Risks are fun and exciting. You don’t have to laugh and pretend it’s all ok, admitting weaknesses is not itself a sign of weakness. People who admit they need help aren’t necessarily helpless.

One thing I do know. My teenage self would have laughed hysterically to find I’m a teacher. Who’s laughing now eh?! 😉

Performance Management – hammer down or enjoy the process?

Picture1We are mid-way through the academic year. Wahoooooooo! I’ll just pause a moment and let you check your calendars, synchronise watches, create a countdown (as if you haven’t already :-p), panic slightly about Year 11 time, and generally just breathe it in. (Please don’t gloat if you are in an independent school and only have about 10 weeks left before your 3 months holiday :-p

Today was my mid-way performance management review with my line manager. I’m always slightly apprehensive about such things because it’s difficult to know how others perceive both you as a person and your professional attributes and abilities. My line manager is very professional, thorough, and provided me with a lovely glowing review which I hadn’t expected (of course I’m dead easy to manage, perfect at my job, tick every box and therefore there was no other choice than to be so glowing…I jest).

Although I do feel competent (most days), and can be feisty about ‘doing the right thing’, I do crave that reassurance. Not in a ‘there there’ cotton wool kind of way. I also like to know how else to improve as this job is never a done deal (blessing or curse?). But as much as I enjoy freedom and it being assumed that I’m ‘transforming’ the department (with help from a great team of course but a work in progress) I do still have that little girl inside that needs to hear from someone else. I’m more of a carrot than stick person I suppose. Yet despite liking to hear positives, I also find it quite hard to accept. I tend to turn the compliment into a joke, or suggest something more needing to be done. Is this a teacher thing generally? I come across educators pretty often who are actually shy, praise-resistant, lacking confidence – and they (like me) maintain a professional facade the rest of the time, putting on our ‘game face’. I’ve often said that teaching is acting. In normal life (is there such a thing?) I don’t like making all the decisions, or being bossy, or having a plan. Our personas at school are maybe quite different to at home.

Anyway, this post wasn’t for self-congratulation but reflection about the process. We had PM twilight today and an activity akin to speed dating with pairs sharing targets, progress and ‘proud moments’ from their PM year so far. It wasn’t to be an embarrassment, but to be an honest reflection and mutual encouragement. It’s great to hear what others are doing! To see what collective aims we all have and how we fit into that whole school jigsaw. Performance management can, and should, be a celebration. Sure we are always going to have new targets, and the bar will keep rising, and we can always improve, but part of that process is celebrating what is going well. After all, isn’t that what we do with students? WWW/EBI? I remember one GCSE results day when Geog results had risen and I was feeling cheered but having a senior colleague immediately say ‘yes it’s ok, but it’s not where it should be’. Granted that was true, and we couldn’t be complacent, but there is a time to just enjoy the moment before stepping into the fray again. We needed to take some time to celebrate the progress so far, rather than immediately moving on to the next thing. It would be demoralising otherwise.

So take time, make PM positive.

5 Daily Essentials via staffrm.io

Over on staffrm there’s been a trend developing on ‘5 daily essentials’. The essentials that get us through the working day.

It sounds a bit like something from an advert doesn’t it? Reminded me of the old shampoo adverts and ‘what essentials do you take into the shower’. Anyway the topic made me think about what makes something essential. In normal life my essentials are the living breathing people (and animals 😉 of course) I love and whom I wish were around me more. I’m geographically separated from the most important people in my life and they are my essentials. And chocolate of course. And cake. And mountains and places to explore. Mmmm. I digress.

So what is essential in my classroom / school-bag?

1. Water. I drink a LOT of water in school. I’ve not yet grown up enough to drink tea or coffee, although mocha is making an appearance now. But at school it’s all about the water. Whatever our teaching style we spend a lot of time speaking, projecting, chatting. And we do (I hope) use the old grey matter quite a bit. The job is stressful. It’s busy. There are lots of minute or not so minute decisions to make every day, often with little warning and little time to consider. We may not get outside, have dry stale (and most likely child-germ filled) recycled air pumped round all day and plenty of kids sneezing. I notice immediately if I’m dehydrated. And as soon as I gulp that water down it’s like feeling a sponge in my brain get a shower. Plus I like to think I’m role modelling to students that water is important.

2. iPad. Other brands are available. I have the iPad mini for convenience. In a pink case, oh yeah. I use during meetings to flag up / record / make notes. I like Google Docs for sharing SoWs / booking resources / recording minutes with the team, OneDrive for sharing resources with kids (use Dropbox for staff), and Evernote for making notes – especially CPD. We have ‘ERIC’ (Everyone Reading In Class) time every afternoon and I’ll sit there with my tutor happily reading away (sometimes it’s the only time I get to!) from iBooks then chatting to the kids about their books. Then on the way home I’ve got in the habit of plugging in an Audible audiobook to unwind with. Currently Ludlum’s ‘The Icarus Agenda’.

3. Box of treats. Edible. For rewards or for cheering up the team. Amazing what a few sweets or chocolates can do for morale. This does need replenishing quite often!

4. Remote clicker. Maybe not essential but I do love it. Love the freedom it brings for me or anyone in my room to ‘step away from the desk’. It means I can be anywhere in the room, subtly intervening or helping out, or just sitting upon the lockers on the side referring to something out the window (I like to perch, I’m not an ‘centre stage’ person and don’t like standing out). Plus kids love it when they get to have a go.

5. Something on the wall to remind me why I do the job. Like this:

I could also add in there about shoes which I’m sure many would agree with. The sensible ones amongst you would think about comfort, durability, posture, reducing back stress, etc. I usually prioritise style. But then I’m a girl who used to be a retail manager. And I have a lot of shoes. But it’s actually something of a nice conversation starter with kids. So perhaps I could claim some sort of pedagogical slant….what do you think Rachel Orr? 😉

‘Manglish’ – or putting the Maths & English in

This was written as part of the Staffrm #28daysofwriting and since I’ve been spending time writing posts on there every day it seems to make sense to add over them here! So here it is.

BeBo getting his reading on
BeBo getting his reading on

I remember at a previous school a few years ago when summer GCSE results dropped to floor level…and all eyes turned to the poor Maths department. Suddenly it was ‘them vs us’, they were the ones who had ‘let the school down’. Spotlight scrutiny was placed on them whilst others wandered round feeling slightly smug or perhaps a little self-righteous that ‘it wasn’t me’. My best friends were in that department, and I knew just how hard they were slogging to get kids to make progress. There were many contributing factors but largely they simply didn’t have the support needed: they needed the rest of the school to be a team. The following year results went up, but now others moaned about losing their curriculum time in order to increase Maths lessons. Then the next year it was English’s turn to have a drop. Different circumstances in some ways, but similar responses. The general vibe was still ‘how could they let this happen’ – as if the rest of us could have done better.

Schools still act in silos. Islands of separate identities with internalised strengths and weaknesses that keep themselves worlds apart. It’s all well and good having whole school numeracy and literacy policies, but until it becomes the everyday language of every teacher and until every one of us accepts responsibility for English and Maths results then really we are still just paying lip service. I say this as someone who has a love of literacy, and who is Numeracy coordinator (don’t ask how that happened, I have no idea). Teachers in my current school do have a good team ethos, and at last INSET we chose various training sessions to develop our own literacy or numeracy as it is important to keep ourselves up to speed not just in our own subject areas. But the key thing is consistency. Consistently using the right language (ideally same as in ‘official’ Maths and English classes), consistently making explicit to learners that ‘now we’re developing your literacy skills’, consistently using the same techniques (as a geographer it’s frustrating finding that Maths and Science use different methods for the same graph!), and consistently embedding Maths and English exercises within our curriculum – whatever subject.

I bought Lisa Jane Ashes ‘Manglish’ book today (admittedly when I first saw the title I thought it was a translation dictionary of ‘man English’ but let’s be honest, could such a thing really exist 😉 ?). I’ve only flicked through briefly so far but it’s the simple statement she asks us to ask ourselves that resonated: asking ‘where is the Maths (or English) in that?’ for any activity. We should do this every lesson! I’ve been observing my team this week and seen some great literacy and numeracy activities, but each time it needed to be made explicit to learners that ‘here comes the maths part’. Why are we shy about saying we are doing something normally found in another subject? Are we afraid children will accuse us of poaching lessons?! Isn’t it about time we showed learners that we, as professionals, can teach ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in our lessons? Time to raise the bar, to accept responsibility. At the end of the day: Manglish matters.

End of 2014 thoughts #nurture1415

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

So, the end of 2014 already? Well that went quickly! I don’t seem to be able to find my end of year post from last year, nor my start of year post this year, which is odd! But I can imagine the sorts of things I would have written. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions so I would have just written that I was hopeful for a positive year with a healthier family and that I would do a good job at work. I’m a simple enough girl, and have simple dreams. I know what I want to become, I just don’t know how to get there.

I’ve enjoyed reading the #nurture1415 posts that others have written. It’s inspiring to see the wonderful things that have happened in personal or professional lives, and challenging seeing the aspirations for 2015. One of my best friends gave me an empty jam jar last year at New Year (I know what you’re thinking, she wasn’t being cheap!). In fact we all had one in our group. The jar came with a challenge: to fill it with memories of things that made us laugh, smile, made us proud during 2014 which we would then all look back on at New Year in 2015. This friend has subsequently had a horrible year herself, and yet she still has things to put in that jar and I’m so proud of the way she has dealt with everything. I’ve loved sitting back and listening to my friends chatting when we get together, and hearing of their accomplishments – we’re getting so grown up nowadays and every one is making a difference in their own school and in their families. I’m so blessed to be part of this group of friends who have each other’s backs no matter what, and to have been born into an epic family who would do anything for each other.

So, what has 2014 involved?

I’m not following a particular format, sorry about that, but I’m a bit rebellious I suppose 😉 2014 had plenty of challenges, and saw the loss of loved ones too, but these are some of my highlights (in no particular order).

Running. Lol, did not think I’d be writing that! A year ago I decided to start running regularly. I’d been challenged / inspired by seeing the likes of David Rogers or Dai Barnes or other Twitter runners with their regular updates. I’d loved running as a child/teenager but only ever sprint distance. I still remember trying to keep up with my brother and him pulling me along when he would go running (I was very popular at my all girls secondary school when they realised my bro was the local runner ha!). I’d toyed with running on and off a few times over the years and have always been fit-ish and loved walking, but I didn’t think I had the mentality for anything long distance or the self-discipline and willpower to do more. Having been put down by my ex-husband for a few years it took me accidentally seeing one particular photo to finally drive me to take running seriously in order to get fitter, to de-stress, and to do something for me. I’d love to say I never looked back but I’ll admit I still struggle with it sometimes, and don’t go as far as I should but 2015 will see that improve. I started in January only being able to run for 3 minutes then walk a minute, then 3 minutes, then walk. This built up and then in June I completed my first ever race – a 10km Trailblazer race in Kent to raise money for MNDA. My cousin had died from this awful disease the year before, and I remember when I was part way round (on a stupidly hot day) thinking ‘I can’t do this’. Two things got me to the end: one was having loved ones at the finish line waiting for me (naughty stubborn dad that he is had to be held back by my sister from coming with me I think!), and the other was knowing that one year before my cousin Mark had been having his final journey and had fought the worst fight you can imagine. It humbled me and put my feet to the floor. In July I then completed the 10mile Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research in honour of my dad (who is battling it heroically), and my Uncle Peter who had passed on earlier in the year. Reading everyone’s stories on their backs as we ran was inspiring, and the atmosphere with a minute’s silence was beautiful. I’ve carried on running throughout the year but injury and illness did stop one final race this year…so next year for more 🙂

Exploring the world. I love travelling. Always have. Probably why I’m a teacher really – so I can have holidays to go away in! This year I’ve been spoiled by the lovely people at Discover the World really. I took part in their first Teacher Tour Guide training cohort to become an Iceland tour leader for schools. This meant I got to spend a week in Iceland with some other great teachers in one of my favourite countries. I never get bored here and can’t wait to be involved with this more, and to go back with my school next Easter. I also spent 8 days in the Azores exploring the islands which was really interesting. Next time I’ll pack a better waterproof but it meant I got to climb my highest peak so far (Mount Pico) and make new friends. I also took a friend to ‘claim back’ Snowdonia as we both needed some excitement – which involved Europe’s fastest / longest zipwire and a giant layered trampoline suspended inside a quarry in the pitch black! Not to mention driving my Cupra into the most hilarious position up a mountain and then getting it back out…the less said about her navigational skills the better.Then the summer saw a ‘siblings and friends’ trip to the Cairngorms. Somewhere I had never been, but fell in love with. We had the most stunning weather, climbed beautiful mountains, played in rivers, went on silly rollercoasters, petted animals, played games, ate amazing food (thanks to my brother-in-law) and my brother and I will never be the same after freefall jumping off from some telegraph poles..brrr. While we were here we also took part in the MNDA Ice Bucket Challenge in memory of our cousin. We wanted to do it properly, so as a family stepped into a freezing cold mountain river, had bin barrels of ice thrown at us, and then threw ourselves into the river and floated downstream. It was great, for a good cause, and in the words of Mark himself – ‘not too shabby’.

Family & Friends. Where would I be without them? I certainly wouldn’t be the same person. Everyone I know has shaped me and moulded me. I was asking my mum this week whether I have become more cynical, and in 2015 I hope to get back more of my ‘pink and fluffy’ mentality. My family and friends are the rock I cling to and lean on. Mum inspires me every day as I’ve seen her passion for teaching, her selfless acts for others, her steadfast resilience, and her compassion. Dad inspires me with his grit, with how gracefully and patiently he fights (terminal) cancer and yet still only worries about others and not himself. Rachel inspires me with her ‘never say no’ attitude, with how generous she is for others, and her creativity (we are all also ever so slightly under the thumb but secretly love this). Jamie inspires me with his intelligence and patience, with how willing he is to put himself out for others, and I am grateful to have him as a brother in law. Darren inspires me with his exploring ways, his desire to help others, and how he always manages to know when someone is about to fall down the stairs in order to be there to catch them (literally). My extended family are also great, and we can’t wait to have Anuta join us back in the country too. And there’s always the faithful hound, BeBo, my lovely Border Collie. I’ve already mentioned my friends, but again I am very fortunate here. To have friends that are supportive but who also challenge me, and who push me to be better. Seeing their kids growing up is amazing as well, and I’m so happy for all those who had new little arrivals this year. I’m starting to feel old here when I realise that every one of my close friends is some combination (or all) of ‘partnered up’, with kids, with mortgages, with proper jobs, being published, winning awards….it’s great to see.

Professional stuff. This blog is a professional reflection blog really after all. I’m not big on self-promotion and feel pretty daft when I write things down, but there have been some cool professional moments this year. The big one is changing job really. I loved my time at Priory with the team, and all the changes that we put in place, and loved leading the department that I was proud of belonging to but it was time for something new. When I told the students I was leaving I was really touched with their disappointed responses, and had some lovely messages from them including an ‘Ode to a Geography Teacher’ poem that I will keep always. I’m proud of what we achieved there, and had some beautiful ‘spine tingly’ moments like children being on BBC News, or presenting at TeachMeets, or winning awards themselves, or some great results. Leaving one place after six years, and being promoted in a new school to oversee Hums and whole school Numeracy, has been pretty daunting. The long autumn term is now behind us, and it’s been a roller-coaster. It’s starting to feel more like home, and I do work with some lovely people. But I miss being part of the ‘A Team’ that once was as well. I think my new school has found me a bit more than they expected, but then they did hire me to ‘stir things up’ so it shouldn’t really be a surprise. I’m having to be thicker skinned than in the past, and fighting battles I didn’t expect. I’m excited about the future with introducing more fieldwork (Iceland 2015 here we come, expeditions, KS3 weekend fun, etc.), breaking the rules on BYOD and being a leading area in the use of tech (sorry in advance), changing mindsets (awful phrase), and seeing kids make the progress they deserve. Listening in on the parents’ evenings so far has been both uplifting and heartbreaking – uplifting to hear parent after parent, child after child saying ‘we like Geography now’ or ‘we’re learning so much now’, heartbreaking that for some this is coming at the end of the school career and is maybe too little too late. I don’t like injustice, and don’t like children getting a raw deal, so in 2015 we need to really nail this and turn the tide back.

I’ve been honoured to be asked to take part in leading different conferences this year, stepping out of the shadows a bit more perhaps. I’ve shared stories and ideas at TLAB, a Discover the World climate change conference, the RGS Expedition weekend, various TeachMeets and other things. It was lovely picking up the department’s GA ‘Centre of Excellence’ Quality Mark award for the team past and present, and was chuffed and surprised to have a few nominations for blog awards and things myself this year which was humbling. I spent the year working with the Prince’s Teaching Institute as a Lead Teacher which was very interesting and rewarding, and I look forward to the 2014_15 cohort too. I was very happy to be part of the Google Teacher Academy in October to become Google Certified and hope that in future Microsoft Partners in Learning might like me involved again here. And I’ve started co-writing a GCSE Geography textbook for the new specifications which is exciting, scary, tiring…you take your pick! Somehow it has been ten years since I graduated, and my life looks nothing like I thought it would back then but I seem to have fallen into a job that I love and that I’m good at so goes to show that long term plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be 😉

So thoughts for 2015?

A lot has been written about resolutions, targets, ambitions, aspirations. There’s the #workloadchallenge or #wellbeing trend going around at the mo. I do need to challenge myself to improve my work-life balance, but I don’t want to do a half job either. The New Year’s Honours List had plenty of people named in there for ‘services to education’, and wouldn’t that be something exciting one day in the distant future eh? I just want to be on some child’s list for ‘having made a difference’. Simples. 

When you think about 2014, and look into the trends for the year, it’s quite interesting to see. Google has these topics in the Top searches globally: Ebola, Love, ALS/MND, Fracking, WW1 Anniversary. The biggest twitter trends have included #bringbackourgirls, #umbrellarevolution, #BlackLivesMatter, #RealLove,  and of course #Ebola. We are wired to be political, and it’s interesting how the biggest trends have been about love, saving lives, making a difference. As a teacher I hope to inspire children to ask questions, make good relationships, make a difference. I found the Google trend summary video quite uplifting:

And the Twitter Moments are also great to investigate: https://2014.twitter.com/moments when you have time. In the #yearoftheselfie what have been your best moments?

So I’ll just stick in some photos of the year that saw me start drinking ‘proper coffee’, run a race, explore new places, and enjoy the simple things in life of friends, family and walking the dog. Next year I hope to spend more time with those I love, and to be happy. I would like at this time next year to be able to look back on a job well done, and that I’ve made a difference in my school. I want to be a good friend, and maybe inspire others with what I do. I’m going to complete at least 5 races, and run 600miles in 2015. I’m going to see my dad kick cancer’s backside some more, and see my family healthy and happy. Ideally this will also include a wedding or two 😉 I’m looking forward to speaking at Bett and the GA conference, to writing the textbook and maybe something else, to working with the PTI some more, helping with TeachMeet Pompey and the first TeachMeet at the GA conference, leading my school’s first Iceland trip and revamping the department. And who knows what else!

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