Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Newly Qualified Teachers, welcome to the best job in the world.

The internet is full of useful top tips for those embarking on their teaching career. From setting up your room to managing workload to what to wear.  This post isn't really that type of advice, but it might become something that is of more practical use in some ways.

What you do is a lot louder than what you say.  Sounds simple doesn't it?  It isn't though, as what we do and what we say are so different, so often.  Language and behaviour are fascinatingly linked and separated in ways that I would love to have time to study.  Day to day, we don't even really think about the way we use language, so much is habitual.

My daughter was almost two when she met her stepfather for the first time.  Typically for a girl from my family she talked early and hasn't stopped since.  I remember one occasion where Andy and I were chatting and she was just about two.  In conversation I answered a question from him about doing something with 'oh, we'll see.'  She leaned over to him and, in a stage whisper, said 'Andy, when mummy says we'll see like that she means no!'

She heard the words 'we'll see' she knew what those words meant, but because any time I ever uttered them the thing she had requested didn't happen she translated that meaning into 'no.'  Children do that very quickly from very young, the words you use matter far less than the behaviours they see.

My husband and I sometimes engage in a bit of sarcastic banter.  Both children, in their own way, occasionally try to copy this.  It tends to go wrong for them as they are not mature enough to understand and it just comes across as rudeness.  But how can we chastise them for that if it's what they are seeing modelled?

These behaviours I describe in relation to my children and us are things I have also seen going on in classrooms.  Time buying tactics like 'we'll see, maybe after play, I'll try and sort that out for next week.'  Banter between adults in the classroom that children are trying to get involved in and then are baffled when they are told their version is rude.  Pet phrases we use like 'I mean it' that leave the child  thinking 'so didn't you mean it the last time you told me that?' Adults unwittingly giving confusing messages when their words don't match up with their actions.

Nobody's perfect.  You will get tired, children will wear you down a bit at times, you won't always phrase things the best way.  When you are tired though, or ill, or something's going on at home keep words few and concentrate on actions and behaviours.  Calm breeds calm.  Looking like you know what you are doing is a big plus, even if you feel there's still a lot to figure out.  The best teachers know there's always a heck of a lot to figure out and it's only possible to do a certain amount at a time.  Those teachers become the best leaders.  We have chosen a job that's impossible to finish and yet that never stops us trying!

Actions and demeanour are more effective than words when managing behaviour. I've always found managing the behaviour of young people much easier if I think about mine first so here are a few tips.  Mostly from my vast vault of personal hindsight!

Prepare.  When you have more energy do extra and keep plans, resources and ideas in that bank.  You can draw on that when you are tired, busy or both. When the mood takes you, dive in and do some work.  Even if it's only half an hour.  I'm supposed to be doing the washing up right now but that will neither stimulate my brain or help me in the new term.  It can wait.

Those mornings when you get up and you are really not feeling it wear something colourful, smile at yourself in the mirror and play that role all day.  I once taught a girl who was like a barometer in sussing how I was feeling.  If I was having an off day she would make it her personal mission to wind me up with comments like 'did you know your hair was all sticking out at the back miss?' and 'that's a brave choice of colour, that skirt.'  Every time I dealt with it strictly and calmly.  Coping phrases are useful 'I assume you've finished that task I've set you then? Let's have a look' for example.  My goodness I felt like throwing that child out of the class but I never did.  I stood outside for ten seconds myself on the odd occasion!  It wasn't that she didn't like me though.  She was just pushing because that's what she did with adults, at school and home.  I didn't understand that until a couple of years later when I was pregnant with my daughter but hadn't told anyone.  She came up to me in the playground one day when I was on duty and said 'I've guessed you're pregnant miss.  I hope you don't feel too rough.  If you want some water I'll go and get you some.'  If I'd screamed at her on the many. many occasions I had felt like it two years before I don't supposed that kindness would have been offered.

When you have those moments of hindsight and wished you'd done things differently.  Don't beat yourself up.  We all do it.  I don't don a halo every day, there have been occasions I have shouted and regretted it.  Don't be afraid to tell children you got something wrong.  Especially if you have been inadvertently unfair.  Point out though that you did what you thought was the right thing at the time.  An analogy is often useful there, like football refs and video replays.

Ask people for help.  Most times people will if they can.  Especially on twitter.  I try and stay out of the arguments as I don't find they give me much positive energy.  It's useful to work out who is a radiator and who is a drain, in the staffroom and on twitter, and surround yourself with the radiators as much as you can.  Also when it comes to social networking consider that humour written down doesn't always look so funny as it sounds in the pub.

Remember that most things you read in the media about the teaching profession are hugely exaggerated snippets of something a politician has said.  They are more often than not entirely out of context.  Try not to let the media and resulting fuss online undermine the joy of doing the job.

If you disagree with a leadership decision or feel unhappy about something talk to a trusted friend first, preferably outside of school, to clarify how you feel.  Then, if you really need to say how you feel make an appointment for a chat with one of SLT.  Don't get involved in corner conversations.  They are always noticed and it's best to be your own spokesperson rather than someone else's.  If you chirp up in a meeting others may use that as an opportunity for their own agenda.

Finally, don't miss the opportunities there are every day to laugh in school.  Children are hilarious!  Teachers are too, we are about as close to stand up comedians as it gets!  Laughter gets us through the tough times and keeps us enjoying the best job in the world.

The first few years in this job are arduous.  There's no getting around it.  You are learning your craft and building stamina.  You also often don't see the difference you have made to a child until a few years later.  There's very little immediate gratification.  But there are moments of joy that are unrivalled and when you experience one it makes every bit of the slog worth it.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Children's values

It's been the way for a while to have a 'value statement'

For a time schools were supposed to have great big long mission statements. Akin to the Star Wars thing rolling away into the stars. 

Our National Headship qualification taught us the identikit vision statement and how to construct such a thing. 

Some people learned the vision statements. Some recited them. Some were set to music. It was the same time that we wallpapered layered targets to the walls & made kids recite & sing those too. 


Anyway my kids' school has this great thing about making learning irresistible. There's a value wheel too but it belongs to them. I won't explain it as well as the head: 

The reason this came to mind today was that I was talking to my daughter, who is about to go into year 6.  She was doing Kent Test practice (I hate myself & my socialist values are going to murder me in my sleep!) 

My daughter is the actual pass master at engaging me in conversation to avoid work. We were talking about football. (This is a sure winner in work avoidance as many a yr 5 or 6 class will concur!) 

We ended up talking about boys & girls. Girls are nasty to each other sometimes (she knows that she just lived through year 5!)  That's hard but boys do it through football.  She didn't get it & I explained how boys leave other boys out sometimes. Say nasty things about how other boys play. I wrote what she said next down so I didn't forget. 

She said 'Not at our school! Everyone gets to play and they include everyone. The last week of term the boys let ***** take the penalty & they made sure he scored!' 

She was talking about a boy that cries easily, loves deeply & feels keenly. He is valued by his class, included and loved. He is appreciated for his boundless enthusiasm. He is achieving his potential He isn't left out of football ever. This is the work of some extremely talented adults! 

Those talented adults work within an excellent value framework which a great school leader & his pupils constructed. I hope Graham is still kicking his heels, drinking a glass of red & listening to live folk music, because he is making learning irresistible :) 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Scraping knees & climbing trees

A short end of term blog about fun.

A few of years ago at our school residential visit I made a worrying discovery. On the obstacle course our children clearly lacked basic skills that all children should have. They couldn't even give a mate a bunk up when climbing! 

Obviously the school plan has run as usual (standards, leadership etc) however I had an alternative school plan. Get these kids out, running, playing & building snowmen. 

We don't have a school field as we are too small but there's a huge village field and it is full of climeable trees. The first time I took children up there to climb them I thought our secretary was going to pop! But what about the risk assessment?! She's lovely & was just worried about me getting sued. I said 'I've done a risk assessment.  Risk-child falling out of tree, action-tell child to be careful & not fall out of tree!' If they fall out we deal with whatever happens. We can't live our lives, and these children's lives, too afraid to do anything because we're too scared of being sued. They don't get to play out like they used to. 

We always converge at the field at the end of the school year for an informal picnic & game of rounders.  It's not a school event really has just evolved into something our school family do. It's lovely.  This year unfortunately one of our mums pulled a tendon playing rounders. One of our TAs and a friend of hers went with her to A&E.  I text our TA to ask how things were going. She updated me & then text 'please don't ban rounders at the field!' I text back that of course I wouldn't.  It's a lovely end to our year as a school family. 

I'm not wholesale criticising suing.  If you can't work because of an injury you need the money.  Having attempted to access personal payments (the replacement for disability benefit) when Husband was very ill there often isn't another option. 

What I am trying to say though is none of that should stop our children learning how to live their lives to the fullest.  

Children should run, if they run sometimes they fall. It's ok. When you fall you get back up, have a cry because grazes really hurt, then get over it. This is a life lesson. Your heart will take more grazes than your knees do. 

Children should climb trees. Being close to that which gives us oxygen is healthy and they love climbing.  It's natural to climb.  There's a healthy fear of falling but we shouldn't promote an unhealthy fear of falling. 

As I left the village field a tree shouted 'Have a lovely summer Mrs Moore' was full of our children.  Alternative school plan monitoring right there! 

Monday, 14 July 2014

There goes my hero

This time last year was diagnosis day for husband.  Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

6 months of intensive week long chemotherapy. EPOCH chemo, cutting edge stuff. The amazing NHS did us so proud. 

Then home. Cleaning the house down to medical standard when he came home & getting him through the few short weeks before the next hit. 

Then 2 months of radiotherapy. Which he worked through. Having his radiotherapy at 8 in the morning and going straight to school. 

Because he loves his job as a teacher & leader & it kept him feeling alive. The photo at the bottom is him on World Book day when he had just finished radiotherapy. 

There goes my hero.  Utterly inspired by the way he fought it off & survived. By the way he had a laugh, stayed my bestest friend even when really ill and got back to teaching as soon as he was allowed to. 

Thanks to all of you lovely people for being there for us xx 

Friday, 11 July 2014

Gemma Laura Wilks

I still haven't written about her. I haven't been able to. It's been almost a year. So here goes. 

A year ago tonight Gemma and I were on the phone very excited about meeting up at the Amanda Palmer gig at Koko in Camden.  She was seriously on the up.  I had never heard her so positive.  Doing several courses, volunteering for Mind. She had even written to her MP about lack of mental health crisis care.  She was surrounded by lovely positive friends and was full of mischief. That's how we ended up missing one another at the gig. 

We were planning to meet but she was with a great big gang of folk & so was I. If all of our paths had converged it would've been great but they didn't. That was fine. We chatted on the phone that night & the next day after the gig to share how much we'd loved it. She had her request for Delilah played as usual. Life was great. 

I first met Gemma not even a year before.  Myself and a friend had managed to get in on an exclusive Amanda Palmer gig at the NME office.  I had pictured a grungy location but no, the super slick Blue Fin building not far from The Globe & The Golden Hinde. 

We were VERY excited Martin and I as we arrived. We literally frolicked our way to the entrance.  Then one of those magical things happened.  As we walked in we saw a man dressed as a Highwayman and gravitated toward him. Gemma and Josh kinda did the same and it ended up that we were a band of six. Gemma, Josh, Phil, Robin, Martin and me. We got talking so naturally. Then we all got mistaken for a band called The Concept.  A truly brilliant moment when the NME lass came over to ask if we were 'The Concept' Robin (@Raliel) answered 'if I were to be a concept I'd be non linear time' needless to say she was lost!  

To this day I see this video as feeding that misconception! I'm sure we all have a band in us somewhere! 

We were meant to meet. Robin knows Amanda and Neil Gaiman and has done art work for their projects. Gemma had made her a marmite hair clip. Josh had his uke to be signed. I had a picture of AFP my 8 yr old had drawn. 

It was a fabulous mini gig. This is my fave vid that Martin took on his phone. We really giggled at the idea of NME folk coming back to their knived desks! You can see a few of us & hear us laughing

Then we all went to the pub.  Such a great afternoon. My brother in law came down and Robin got him a gig ticket for AFP's gig that evening.  

After that Gemma and I became friends. We spoke from time to time, text too but mostly direct messaged on social network sites. She helped me through some tough times. We had laughs and serious conversations. She told me her story. I told her mine. We planned for her to visit in the summer holidays. 

The day after Gemma and I spoke on the phone last July my husband had a call from our GP to say his CT scan showed he probably had cancer.  The world fell apart.  I didn't have chance to message anyone or call anyone. He was straight in for a biopsy.  Just after he had been taken down to theatre for biopsy I found out that Gemma had died.  

Her funeral was an amazing celebration of her life.  Amanda Palmer sent a personal video.  Her mum and dad are incredible people and are so inspiring and brave. Here's a vid of photos I made & it has the one of us all in the pub :) 

It isn't fair.  Her heart stopped working and now so many hearts are breaking with sadness. I miss her messages but that's nothing compared to her mum and dad, her gran, her lovely friends who don't get to see her face every day. 

She changed how I think. She made my life better and me mentally better for my husband and my kids. And didn't we turn out to need it! I never got to thank her.  I'm really lucky that through Gemma I got to know her mum Carrie & I know she'll be a friend always.  

Here's her usual request for the last time & a photo of Gemma me & Martin. Gemma Laura Wilks you were a beautiful, fabulous, inspiring human being. You make me hope there's something else out there so I get to see you again. I'm so very glad we met. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Professional Obituary

If I get the convoluted sack someday because of bad results here is what I'll remember. Hopefully I won't get the sack by the way. I keep lots of notes & evidence about how we support all of our pupils. But they are all at least 10% of any cohort's results in my school. Some pupils in my school represent 17% and now the league table reports on 5 pupils in a cohort.  Presumably statisticians are giving themselves hernias with laughter about that. 

Anyway, back to the point. If the march toward everyone having to attain age expected continues and the worst happens here's what I'll remember.

Today, in a placement meeting for two children who have just been taken into care, I received one of the best compliments I have ever been paid.

We had the foster carer's previous child for three years before the child was moved to permanent placement. Very experienced wise foster carer.  We have a parent that was turned around for the better by this person. She said 'The social worker and virtual school link said we'd have to approach the local school and that might be difficult. They explained that schools often try & avoid now because of negative impact on results. I told them you would never do that Lynne. I said 'Lynne would never let a child down like that.' 

If I ever have to go to my professional grave as Headteacher that will be my obituary. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Governance and learning from a wise Mountain..

I have just heard about the death of one of our ex governors.  A thoroughly excellent man called Arthur Mountain.  He was on the governing body when I was appointed and remained for two years before finishing to enjoy his retirement, having giving many years of service to us, his local school.  He attended our school as a child, his attendance is documented in our log book and on our walls in the old photographs.

Arthur's contribution was always that of measured common sense.  He possessed that skill, which I often wish I had, of using few words in a very measured way.  However, he said with those few words far more than most of us do with many.  When I started to think about Arthur and his contribution to our school this afternoon one particular conversation stuck in my mind.  We had bought and had fitted a new water fountain on the infant playground.  Since installation it had done nothing but leak and cause problems.  We had spent a good deal of time discussing it at one particular governing body meeting.  Arthur listened to it all and then very politely interjected. 'We seem to be spending a lot of time discussing this.  Why don't you go back to having a trough in the playground like we used to when I was at school? Then we can get back to talking about what the children are learning!'

Thinking about that conversation led me to think about governance generally and the shift there has been over the past few years.  Governors have been perceived to go from (at best) well meaning, intelligent advocates of the school to trustees tasked with ensuring the successful development of the organisation.  I say perceived because actually governance always should have been the latter, and for folk like Arthur that's exactly what it meant to be a governor.  Yes, the focus from the inspection schedule on governance and accountability has certainly shifted and that has led to a raft of potential complications.

Some governing bodies have felt pressurised and devalued by the constant message they should be doing more to be strategic and challenging.  Some Heads have felt pressurised by the idea of their own leadership judgement being affected by the performance of a group of well meaning volunteers.  Sadly, politicised situations have occurred where hard working, dedicated governing bodies have been at odds with government plans.  They have ended up feeling that they have let the school down somehow.  Some governing bodies, having been rated good or outstanding, have become too much of a challenging force and not enough of a supporting body.  The balance is crucial and hard to achieve.  Getting the balance right takes constant work on relationships.  As with anything that involves constant work on relationships it can get really exhausting.  But it's worth it.

I recently did a piece of work with one of our governors on looking at gaps between pupil premium children and others.  She is a data manager in another school and I have to say her skill with data is more advanced than mine.  I had to work really hard on not feeling threatened.  Anyone who has encountered 'the fraud police' will know the feeling.  That is, an imaginary body of people that are going to rock up and discover that I actually have no idea what I'm doing and expose me!  Of course they don't exist and I do know what I'm doing for the most part!  However that feeling is not uncommon to most reflective professionals.  I worked on how I felt though and admitted outright that she has a far better understanding of excel and data management than I do.  So, she helped me.  We laughed about my mistakes, she showed me easier ways and did work for me at times freeing me up to do other things.  I was then in a position where I had useful data that teachers understood and that changed their mindset about how we come up with initiatives to help vulnerable pupils.  Our teaching staff are a very valuable asset and always approach this type of work pro-actively.  The work also relied heavily on the work of the Education Endowment Foundation.  I also have evidence of the impact governance is having on improvements for our most vulnerable pupils.

In order to have governors that are able to effect positive school development we must be reflective and proactive as leaders.  Even when we feel a bit threatened, especially when we feel a bit threatened!  I am in no way naive enough to ignore the fact that there are occasional governors who do not have a positive agenda.  There are mechanisms to help though, as unpleasant as it is.  I can thoroughly recommend the National Governors Association for help and advice.  The NAHT are also an excellent source of support and don't be afraid to ask colleagues,  Twitter is a hugely valuable resource for that type of support.

Sometimes the best thing about my job is not having 'a boss' I'm the one who gets to set the direction of my work.  However, often that's the worst part of my job.  Of course I have a boss but who that is from day to day is a tricky one.  Is it my Chair? Not quite, but she does have delegated responsibility for being my boss. Delegated from our LA, delegated from the DfE.   Is Gove my boss?  Better stop bad mouthing him on Twitter then! I don't have anyone to pass the buck to though.  It stops with me, which is a pressure, a responsibility and a huge privilege.  Let's not forget what 'the buck' is here.  Children's futures.

Back to Arthur Mountain.  His agenda was to listen, to support, to challenge.  His purpose was that we concentrate on the children's learning.  That we work together, that we don't waste time on fodder, of which there is so very much.  When he retired from governance his letter said something along the lines of 'having seen all the changes coming to governance it seems like a wise time to leave and let someone more modern take it on' how wrong he was about that but I am glad that he spent the last five years of his life relaxing and enjoying life.  He certainly deserved to.  May he rest in peace.  Myself and Worth Primary School owe him a debt of gratitude for all he did for us.