Monday, 27 February 2012

Mirror mirror on the wall....

I have always been rather afflicted with my own reflection.  I can hear husband laughing at this first sentence when he reads it! I don't actually mean the one in the mirror every morning.  Having said that there are mornings, after sleepless nights with children or school worries, that I could probably turn faint hearted individuals to stone!  I mean self evaluation, reflection, appraisal.  Deciding which bits of you are rubbish and what to do about them, and even harder which bits are fabulous and ought to be shouted about.

This comes to mind for two reasons, the fact that I am working on school self evaluation this evening and the reception class fairytale topic.  Our youngest are immersed in fairytales at the moment.  There is a large pair of giant's legs dangling from a beanstalk on the ceiling. This is literally terrifying if I pop in at the weekend and forget they are there whilst unlocking!  It's ok, no giants were harmed in the making of this learning environment! It's actually a pair of AHT's son's tracksuit trousers stuffed with newspaper with wellies on the end.  As well as the beanstalk there are gingerbread men, woodcutters happy woodland creatures and best of all a huge 'mirror mirror' on the wall. 

I find writing reflectively quite hard, one of the reasons I started this blog.  With it being a small school I always seem to be too busy doing the work to write about it.  I am not naturally a folder keeper and am stunningly bad at filing.  AHT has steadfastly trained me into some systems she put into place while I was on maternity leave. I have to say they have been lifechanging.  This sounds a grand statement but no longer do I waste hours looking for important documents in folders labelled 'stuff...2009,  stuff 2010' etc.  So although I don't find reflection itself hard, I am naturally almost too reflective, I do find making it useful, showing impact and making a paper trail very hard indeed.

We have spent several years in education completing a huge self evaluation document with seven sections that wrote the script for any impending inspection.  When that disappeared I decided to combine self evaluation with the school plan.  The idea being that I reflect, decide what to do next and then plan to do it.  Sounds simple doesn't it....

The trouble is, I have a tendency like many teachers to focus too much on the items on my to do list that are not ticked.  That alongside the constant barrage of media charging us with the responsibility to 'improve, attain more, aim higher' can make positive reflection hard.  As school leaders our 'mirror mirror' has a tendency to give messages that douse our positivity, sometimes even filling us with dread.

Reception class are so positive about themselves within their play and their learning.  Two of them arrived at my office door with a slightly singed gingerbread man a couple of weeks ago and were so proud that they had made it for me themselves.  They often happily tell me as I walk past them what their fairytale character has done that is fantastic in the game they are playing  'I'm the woodcutter Mrs Moore and I just saved EVERYONE!' 'I'm Cinderella and I'm going to the ball to dance and have a lovely time.' It's not just enjoyment, they believe in the magic.  The fairy godmother can make everything ok and those who are good will prevail.  In some ways the naivity of childhood but maybe we lose a little too much of that in the very profession that should keep some of it.

I suppose the point is that we need in this profession to believe in good and to take time to be proud.  To feel really happy with what we achieved, even if it is a little singed around the edges.  To admit sometimes that, like the woodcutter, we saved the day.  What we want to do next will then build on what we feel proud of, which is a solid foundation for future success.

Being proud of what we have done well isn't complacency it's positive reflection.  Alongside challenging next steps and honest evaluation will lead to improvements and excellence.  Hey, maybe we will even have some fun! 

Monday, 20 February 2012

Welcome to Term 4, pick up your flippers at the door...

Our new teacher started today.  It is fantastic to welcome her into the school family and I can already see how well she is going to fit in.  Given that she is my first teacher appointment in four years in the job I have decided that her induction needs to be a priority.  She represents a third of the teaching staff and I'm also really aware that we tend to just rely on one another to do things.  Well, that's all very well if you know it's to be done!  I have managed the part where we attract someone fantastic, now I need to make sure she is welcome, included and (most of all) happy.  Happy, invigorated teachers make for exciting learning experiences and happy achieving children after all.

She is joining quite some team.  A brilliant AHT who can construct just about anything out of card and polystyrene, among her many skills.  A job share partnership that fulfill the promise of the Beatles song in the days they work between them.  And a team of support staff that literally lift us to heights that we couldn't imagine.  Never has the term support staff been so well used.  Years of work has ensured that everyone knows the difference they make to learning.  We're not perfect, of course, but if Carling made staff teams...

The induction to our village school began in a way that I hadn't quite envisaged.  However, reflecting on my day, quite appropriately.  As we unlocked bright and early this morning it transpired that part of her classroom floor was under several inches of water.  My brilliant secretary and I did what we usually do in such situations.  Panic wildly for several seconds before consulting the list of plumbers.  We then spent a few minutes balancing their average speed of response to a call out with how much we like to see them.  All of this was an education to our new teacher and probably not entirely as PC as it ought to be!  Anyway we decided on speed of response due to the quickly developing water feature.  As relaxing as the sound of running water is, her classroom is the furthest from the comfort facilities. 

Ken from across the road was with us within five minutes.  His wife ousted him from the shower as soon as she got the call!  The first assembly of term was then spent on a combination of school values and 'oooh what's Ken the plumber doing now?!' We have assembly in that room due to our lack of hall on site.  An hour, a nice cuppa and some top work from Ken completely solved the problem.  Burst pipes in the water heater as it turned out. 

The time spent in loving our neighbours pays off always.  Local meetings and groups are often on evenings and weekends but effort made for them means they love us too.  To the point where their morning shower and cuppa means less than helping us.  That is invaluable with no caretaker and a tight budget.

Our new addition to the team will have to be content with a view of the duck pond from her window rather than her own personal water feature!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


I had a great chat with one of our TAs last week.  It was the snowy day and we had all gone up to the village field to make snowmen and throw snowballs, the kids came too.  She is doing a foundation degree and aspires to be a teacher.  'What do you think about what creativity is?' She said as we sat down after school.  When I related this tale to my husband that evening he expressed surprise that we were not still sitting there with me talking and her having glazed over several hours before!  Anyway, it turns out they are 'doing' creativity at uni at the moment and she has been hearing a lot from other students about 'off the shelf' creative curriculums.  The sort that became popular after the excellence and enjoyment document and cost megabucks to buy in.  She said that it had occured to her that buying in a scheme to follow isn't all that creative.  I congratulated her on that insight and then reminded her of some of the games the children had played in the snow at the field that day.

A group of year 5 and 6 children had built two snow forts to hurl snowballs from.  But then they had made thrones, crowned a king and queen of each and the game had gone up a level.  The back stories for the dynasty of the snow kingdom could have inspired a Sky 1 drama!  I then reminded her that several years ago, when those children were in her class, they had done a fabulous creative project on castles. Part of that had involved them role playing outside.  She immediately remembered how much she had enjoyed playing with them and developing their language.  I explained that this was the hook onto which they then hung learning, and even better than that they will have those skills forever.

Ken Robinson gives a fantastic talk on creativity in which he talks about the aesthetic aspects of the arts. He then goes on to say that children need aesthetics, rather than the anaesthetic of calming medication or an overprescriptive curriculum.  We all hang memories and learning onto music, art, drama and above all fun. 

My favourite creative moment in the snow that day was a year 6 boy who was walking across a fresh, untouched patch of snow hitting it with a stick.  When asked what he was doing he replied 'I'm making dinosaur footprints Mrs Moore, if you looked down from a helicopter later you would think there had been a velociraptor here.' Now, that's creativity!

As ever though, our AHT cut through my eulogy on creativity with brilliant simplicity.  'All you have to do is work out what the kids need to do, find out what they love, put the two together and use your noddle!' Amen to that!