Thursday 30 June 2016

Colour of my dreams-Peter Dixon

Colour of My Dreams

I'm a really rotten reader
the worst in all the class,
the sort of rotten reader
that makes you want to laugh.

I'm last in all the readin' tests,
my score's not on the page
and when I read to teacher
she gets in such a rage.

She says I cannot form my words
she says I can't build up
and that I don't know phonics
and don't know a c-a-t from k-u-p.

They say that I'm dyslexic
(that's a word they've just found out)
... but when I get some plasticine
I know what that's about.

I make these scary monsters
I draw these secret lands
and get my hair all sticky
and paint on all me hands.

I make these super models,
I build these smashing towers
that reach up to the ceiling
and take me hours and hours.

I paint these lovely pictures
in thick green drippy paint
that gets all on the carpet
and makes the cleaners faint.

I build great magic forests
weave bushes out of string
and paint pink panderellos
and birds that really sing.

I play my world of real believe
I play it every day
and teachers stand and watch me
but don't know what to say.

They give me diagnostic tests,
they try out reading schemes,
but none of them will ever know
the colour of my dreams.

- Peter Dixon

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Research based practice

Research in the classroom – becoming a more learning rich organisation.

I wrote an 8 minute presentation for the inaugural Deal Teach Meet which took place this evening. I chose this topic because I aimed for us to become a research literate organisation this school year and gave everyone a research budget.  However I neither taught myself nor our staff how to actually become research literate or even where to start.  It wasn't a total disaster, there has been reading, sharing and good practice visiting.  However I would quite like to do it better next year.  So I asked some advice from those that know research.  The headlines are:

1. Think about why we would research

2. Find out some principles that underpin what research is (how)

3. If you decide you have researched x thoroughly & want to go for it, decide what you are not going to do any more (y) and be really sure that x is of more value to your children than y.

4. Decide whether you want to be research informed, a researcher or a research lead.  All are valid. 

4. Use resources that are free and available ie academia edu and the education endowment fund toolkit. 

5. Get out to teach meets & research events, get into Twitter & share.  As the title of this evening's teach meet suggests it is good to share.  Most folk on Twitter will help if they can for free as they believe so passionately in what they do. 

Links from my presentation -

@tombennett71 @hgaldinoshea founders of @researchED1

Research Ed is well worth a look and the events are brilliant.  The next is in York on July 9th.  There is usually a London one in Sept.


Why research? one point of view on why research is valuable.


The principles that underpin research -Daniel Willingham – cognitive Scientist & professor at Harvard.  Science of learning principles. you have to sign up to access it.  You can read research there and submit papers also should you wish to.  @drmattoleary @geogphil submit papers there -worth following on twitter also. the education charity that set up the Education endowment fund toolkit.  Unfortunately the media cast a shadow over this resource when it first came out with the 'Research suggests all TAs are a waste of money' headline.  This was a vast pity as it put a lot of teachers off what is actually a very valuable free research resource. 

You can also apply for grants from the foundation for your own research 



Already mentioned research edTeachmeets are also a good source of ideas & research @teachertoolkit organises TM London, it’s worth getting out a bit further if you can


Canterbury Christchurch University research centre for children, families and communities is a good local source of knowledge and research

Sunday 19 June 2016

A few words from Tobin

This was written by a colleague, he is also a small school headteacher.  He is an inspiring head and his faith and love are inspiring too.  In my worst moments Tobin is on my list of people to call.  In the worst moments of humanity he relentlessly sees the best of us all.  Here is what he wrote...

'This week has been difficult in many ways - murders in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox, not to mention countless other pieces of news that cause fear and panic. I preached a sermon on the subject this morning, and share it with you are one possible response to the fear that we all often feel:
Luke 8: 37 – Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

In 1933, in the midst of a global recession, with millions of working-age men begging for work on the streets, a physically very frail man, afflicted by the after-effects of polio and wearing heavy metal leg braces to enable him to stand, addressed the people of the United States of America and stated that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. 
 In many ways Franklin Roosevelt’s words sound trite – and they probably sounded trite to some even then, when hope was so desperately needed and in such short supply – but are they really so trite, or might they be a message that we can carry within us as we move forward into uncertain times – which is, incidentally, what every generation before us has always done. 
Jesus was asked to leave the country of the Gerasenes because the people feared that power that he showed in healing the demoniac. They were frightened of someone who made a man better. This fear came from the fact that they had never seen anything like this before – and there is nothing more frightening to many people than the unknown, however good it may be. 
I have always maintained that most negative behaviour in children is caused by fear: fear of failure; fear of not fitting in; fear of how they will make their way in the world; and, most especially, fear of the huge responsibility placed on the shoulders of many of them to have complete control over what they do and how they act – because their parents have been unable or unwilling to provide them with a structured life where they do not have to be in control. As we start to work with these most bruised of children, the fear, and thus the behaviour gets worse, because they can see us taking away the iron control that they have exerted for so long, and they are terrified about what might replace it. When they learn that the control is benevolent, and that they will still be able to make safe decisions, the fear subsides, and so does the behaviour. It is hard work, but an essentially simple and straightforward task if carried out with consistency and love, and it is one that we, as adults, signally fail to employ in our own lives, as witnessed by the acts of fear by which our television screens and newspapers are dominated. 
On Wednesday this week, I sat down with one of the children and his mum, and told him, as gently and as carefully as I could that he has autism. He is seven years old and has begun to be very unhappy and distressed because he knows that he is in some ways different from other children, and he is frightened that he will end up with no friends. At the end of our talk, where I had explained that different did not mean better or worse, but just different, he said that he felt less frightened because he knew that next time he felt different he would remember that this was because he had autism, and that it was therefore ok. He didn’t need to fear his fear any more.
On Thursday a frightened man killed Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament doing her duty by holding her regular surgery in her constituency. From the little that has been revealed so far, it would appear that this man was frightened about immigration, about Britain becoming a different nation from the one he thought it was, and about people of a different religion or a different colour of skin. The fact that there has never been an ethnically pure British genetic identity – even the Celts were immigrants – and the fact that Britain has always been a melting pot of different creeds, colours and nationalities - seemed to have gone unnoticed by this man – his fear overwhelmed him, and in turn came to overwhelm the life of a caring, innocent, committed public servant, who also was a wife and a mother of two small children.
Last weekend in Orlando in the United States, a man walked into a gay club and murdered forty-nine people. It later transpired that, far from being his first visit to such a venue, he had been many times before as a customer, and one may therefore conclude that, as a Muslim with fundamentalist tendencies, he was plagued by fear of himself – fear that his sexuality set him outside the norms of his religion, or of society at as a whole. He couldn’t handle his fear, and so he transferred it to others, and it cost them, and him, their lives. 
So what can we do? Do we follow the line that says we must batten down every hatch, shun, deport or kill everyone who looks different, who prays differently, or who loves in a different way? We must, of course, ensure that dangerous people are kept away from those they would harm – I am not advocating no prisons, no justice and no rule of law – but if we only have these, then the problem will never go away, and we must therefore look back into scripture and find out what our faith tells us that we must do. 
In the first Letter of John, we are told this: ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.’ 
Although there are always consequences for every action, our response at school is not to focus on the need to punish but on the need to cast out fear though love. Once the children know that they are unconditionally loved, even when they do what they should not do, and that this love is strong enough for them face the consequences when they have done wrong – but with consequences given with love, and then welcomed back to the fold with love, they learn that they have no need to fear, and then there is no need to behave in such a negative way. 
The same is true for everyone. Jesus knew this, John knew this, we, if we only read our Bibles and then lived out the teaching we found there, would also know it, and then the world would know it, as we shared it with everyone we met. 
As she stood with her parents the sister of Jo Cox said ‘We want to say a most sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has expressed their love and affection for Jo and sent their thoughts and sympathy to us.’ The words were heartfelt and right – they focussed not on the fear that one man’s paranoia and sense of persecution could cause to an entire nation – but the love that her sister had given, and continues to receive. It was not fear that made the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, never keen to stand shoulder to shoulder, do exactly that this week – it was love – for a talented young woman who made a difference to the people whom she served – and for democracy – which for all is sham and dodgy dealing is still the most Christian of all forms of government. 
We cannot fight fear with fear – for then everyone is frightened. 

So is it perhaps time to try love?'

Friday 25 March 2016


Chillis are silly
Because they are not
They sound like they're chilly
But really they're hot 

Sunday 31 January 2016

On creating a culture

The Daughter and I were out of the house before seven this morning to travel to a regional gymnastics competition.  She is, and has been for six years, part of a local acro gymnastics club. We are a small town, the club train in our local leisure centre.  At each one of their three training sessions a week coaches and gymnasts get out equipment and put it away.  Yet in no way does this small club from our small town have small ambitions.  They compete and hold their own against bigger clubs, with elite facilities and far more money. 

The ethos of the club is excellent.  I never see a gymnast admonished for slipping up, sometimes I see that from coaches of other 'elite' clubs at competitions and I always think it's such a pity. If a gymnast does make a mistake they beat themselves up enough. If it happens to an East Kent Acro gymnast the first thing you see when the gymnast leaves the floor is a handful of their club colleagues rushing to make sure they are ok and dry the inevitable tears.  

As well as that supportive ethos there is also discipline.  Like a school that has a supportively strict attitude toward correct uniform the club has a high expectation when it comes to correct kit.  Right down to their black socks.  There is a club competition leotard & a club track suit.  It makes them look dedicated and professional.  Therefore they stand taller.  

Competing against clubs of such a high standard can lead to feelings of disappointment sometimes.  My daughter has an 'in it to win it' approach to any kind of competitive sporting occasion!  I encourage that but don't want her to get too down if I know she is the 2nd division competing against the premiership. 

But then, there's always the FA cup isn't there?

My daughter took up gymnastics aged 6.  She had spent the previous two years horse riding-until one bit her.  That was a deal breaker for her!  So gymnastics it was.  Before gymnastics she used to regularly fall over thin air.  I have seen gymnastics transform her into a young lady with more grace and poise than I could ever dream of. 

When it comes to gymnastics she is 10% talent and 90% hard graft.  She learned early on that sometimes natural gymnasts come in and go ahead of her in the squad.  That's how competitive sport is.  She's a West Ham fan, she gets it! But she has continued to give it 100% effort.  Her coaches awarded her 'Coaches gymnast 2015' at the club award evening at Christmas in recognition of the work she puts in.  She has also started coaching recently and loves everything about it.  

I'm a huge fan of local club level sport.  I loved being part of the rowing squad for Deal rowing club when I was younger.  It teaches young people such a range of qualities and skills.  The work that goes into competition, the preparation for competition, the thrill of the day.  The euphoria when it's your day.  The digging deep and starting again when it isn't. 

This year's competitive gymnastics season didn't get off to the best start for daughter and her partner, they scored and placed quite low.  They worked hard with their coach and in the next big competition a couple of months later their score had improved to only around a point below the medal places.  They were encouraged and continued to work their socks off in preparation for today's competition. 

Yesterday they had a mini competition within their own club.  My mother in law took daughter.  She came back totally disillusioned having come seventh out of eight pairs.  She and mother in law had a really good chat about being resilient.  Last night she did all her prep-warm bath, stretch, early night, got up extra early to stretch this morning-and off we went. 

Before their round she and her partner stretched, warmed up, practised and I also noticed them just standing by the mat talking through their routine.  

They came in from their routine visibly proud of themselves.  

What was also wonderful at that point was the praise from their coaches and fellow club gymnasts.  She sat next to me and was visibly pleased-and then asked me if I thought they had placed! I said if they hadn't they wouldn't be far off and I thought that their score had improved. 

Presentation time came.  My daughter had got muddled about which category she was in, so when the medals were announced we both thought she hadn't placed. I glanced over to her, knowing how disappointed she would be, and felt nothing but pride to see her congratulating two fellow EKA gymnasts on their medal with genuine happiness on her face.  The category she and her partner were in (but didn't realise they were) was then announced.  When she and her partner's names were announced for a medal I really wish I had been videoing her as I don't think I have ever seen a child look more surprised, overwhelmed and then ecstatic inside of five seconds!  Here they are on the podium, mine's the one with a grin a mile wide. She's still wearing it! 

East Kent Acro did amazingly well in the medals today, against a very high standard.  I couldn't be prouder of the club spirit, discipline, support and pride in one another.  Kelly and her team of coaches have set a fabulous culture.  It's a real privilege to be a part of the club.  Some schools have a lot they could learn from the culture of EKA.

Daughter is at her dad's tonight so I text her all the photos and asked if she would like me to make a video of them and if so which song. She text back asking for the following.  So honest about how she is hard on herself.  I have something to learn from that. 

One more in the club track suit. 

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Ghosts and learning from the past

At five to nine on the morning before I began this blog post, several months ago, the fire alarm went off at school.  A tricky situation to manage as there were children on the playground, children in the loo, staff on the gate, staff in the loo, parents dropping children off and every other shade of first thing in the morning school life one can imagine. 

Nobody could work out why the alarm had gone off.  Office manager & I did a thorough search of the building whilst the children waited outside.  We're a very small village school so we don't have a caretaker. There was no fire, heat or smoke and we couldn't find any evidence of anything wrong so, following a phone call to the fire safety company we use, we made the decision to allow everyone in. The day started, if a little late. 

Lunchtime came and our cleaner, Sally, arrived as she is also lunch server.  We talked about the fire alarm, she had tested them all as usual that morning, it being Monday. She cleans from 6.30-8.30am every morning. I have to drop my own children off at 8am so it's best to have someone on site early and I stay late, most usually arriving at about 8.20am just before she leaves. In our small school every member of teaching staff has keys and is able to lock up, unlock and work the burglar alarm.  In small schools the work of the team extends to every aspect of school life, right down to responsibility for opening up and locking up the building.  Something staff in large schools don't have to think about. 

At the end of lunch that day our cleaner & I started chatting as we cleared up from lunch and she told me about her ghost sightings.  She has only been doing early cleaning for a year so it's quite a new thing.  The previous cleaner retired a year ago and did 3.30-5.30pm  so the school was never disturbed before about 8am. Sally jokingly suggested perhaps the school ghost had set off the fire alarm!  

Early in the morning Sally has seen a glimpse of a school mistress several times in the Early Years room, particularly in winter. On a couple of occasions she has heard a cheery 'good morning' from there whilst she cleaned another room. On looking to see which of us was in so early she found no one there.  Our Early Years room used to be the school hall. Where the fire was lit for warmth in the early days, the school was established in 1857.  Back then the school mistress lived on site in a two storey house where our mobile classroom is now. The school would have been her life and home, not only her work.  Lighting the fire and sorting out the milk just a couple of her many early morning jobs to ensure the care of her pupils. The school is in a small rural village, many pupils would have been up from very early on local farms helping with preparing the daily work of the farm. In the winter months I'm sure that being greeted with that nice warm fire as they came in was very much appreciated by the children. Just as now, ensuring they were cared for, warm, safe and happy. Conditions for learning. 

When I was first Headteacher, almost 8 years ago, the husband of a previous Headteacher, sadly deceased, used to come and visit on the first day of the summer holidays. He came each year to wax his wife's commemorative bench. That happened for the first three years of my headship before he also sadly died.  I looked forward to that day each year as he was so full of stories and so wise.  He had also been Headteacher of a small school.  They had both been Heads during the 1960s.  Some of my favourite chats were about the inspection system.  In his and his wife's days as Headteacher there was a rather different checklist.  He was once told off by Her Majesty's Inspectorate because the hall clock read the wrong time.  'Standards and accuracy should be maintained' he was sternly told.  He also gave me some very wise advice from his and his wife's times as Headteacher.  'Always look after the people Lynne, that's what the job is really about.' 

Later that day it occurred to a member of staff as we were chatting that the laminator might have set off the fire alarm that morning. As the laminator was right under the heat sensor I suspect so! My favourite Occam's Razor. That which is most likely is most often the truth. That is not to say I don't believe in ghosts, I just don't think they conduct fire drills for me! 

I think our school thrives on the shades of our rich history and those who led it in the past. There is a hugely positive feel to our school. In the face of change and budget cuts we have a 'face it' feel. A sense that we have come through hard times before and will do so again. Perhaps I have a stoical 19th century school mistress at my shoulder to help me face the hard times that come my way as a leader.  To help me prioritise conditions for learning and concentrate on who our school is for, our children.  Our people.  

Sunday 29 March 2015

'Good' to the tune of 'Love changes everything'

Good, good changes everything 
No one slates your Raiseonline 
Good, good changes everything
far less planning, that's just fine 

Good, means space to innovate 
Less constricted, far less fear
Good means you can keep your job 
Fear of sacking, not so near

Good, is such a world away 
From such pressure, constant pain
Good, like when the clocks go forward
No more dark days, no more rain

Good means that it isn't true 
That our vision is just crazy 
Good means that it isn't true 
That our teachers are just lazy 

Good. It is to be enjoyed
Isn't easy, takes some steel.
Good, the chance to have some space 
Lead your school just as you feel.