Sunday, 28 December 2014


My reflection on this year is going to be short, for me, and based on something I've learned about myself.  In the hope it might just help someone else. 

I've read some fabulous Nurture posts and am, as ever, heartened by how many of us love our job. I found many resonated with the deep love and slight sense of being overwhelmed that I feel about our profession.  The other fabulous thing that comes through so many is the joy and laughter that we get to experience with students and colleagues. What a privilege it is to experience the joy and the pain. It's no booth with a telephone and PC. 

I'll call my reflection 'the sponge.' As caring professionals you may just recognise the concepts. 

I used to be a standard car washing sponge. I threw myself at the job and all of the human stuff. I sponged up all of the pools of emotion &  the bits of grit where I dropped on the gravel and I kept on sponging. Rather than taking time to refresh & wring out I'd keep plunging myself back into that bucket. The water got murkier as term went on and invariably a week before the holidays I'd feel ill. I'd limp through the last week heavily and then spend a week or so wrung out. 

A couple of years ago I learned that I couldn't go on doing that as I'd become so poorly my doctor was worried. So I streamlined myself into a bath sponge. I'd make sure I didn't try & mop up too much, especially for others.  I gave myself time, recognised what needed sponging & what didn't and was as kind to myself as I could be. 

This past year I've noticed something though. I get a lot out of being the sponge. I want to sponge things up for others. I like to feel needed, it makes me feel like I'm somewhere doing something.  Making things less hard, less sad. I like to do that in my personal life and at work. I want to help as well and to make a difference.  The difference last year though was that I had someone very close to me ill and my friend died. I'm close to her mum and she's become a good friend.  I am close enough to both of them for them to be really honest about how help from others feels, knowing I wouldn't be hurt. 

By the way at least if you are a sponge your help is offered.  When things get really bad there is often no one there. Even close friends can find it impossible to be around because of how the circumstances make them feel.  That's important to interject at this point! 

This year I realised I need to think a bit more before I offer help. Not about me but about the other person.  As in plan to be helpful rather than just sponge. 

I've learned that helping is listening quietly, or just being there.  Not loads of advice about what to do. A cheery word or a laugh, a funny memory.  Not a deluge of how sad and unfair life can be. Empathy is helpful, but not if it only reminds me of a story about myself!  If it's something I've never been through I have learned that 'I can't imagine' is a lot more helpful than 'I understand.'

Very unhelpful phrases include 'you need to' 'what are you going to do about' 'it'll feel better in time' and 'other people that have been through this say'

It is also untrue that a positive attitude heals an unwell mind or body.  Reassurance that it's normal and ok not to feel ok when things are terrible is much more helpful than assurances that attempts to look on the bright side will make things better.  

This year I'm going to be a bumper pack of makeup sponges. Helping to even the surface, wipe up errors and improve the general outlook as much as I can.  Throwing away the used up sponge & whipping a fresh one out of the bag as needed. 

Sponging up loads and then wringing yourself out isn't healthy or helpful for you or anyone else.  I hope the lessons I learned this year about what is helpful help others too.  I also hope I continue to learn in 2015.  

Thank you to my main 2 sources, I'm sure you know who you are!  Also thank you all of you that are around for me. Always appreciated. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Comparing stars to candles, different children same school.

The year before last I became a parent governor at my kids' school. I love it as it's such a fab school and being part of working for their success is a real privilege. I also get to squirrel all of their ideas that are really brilliant for our school and use their capacity when we don't have much left as a small school. The Head, Graham Chisnell (@chizkent) is an admired colleague and for me the bonus is that he started as a head of a small village school. So he gets it. Always been on my go to list of colleagues. Feel fortunate to regard him as a friend. 

When I became a governor and we talked at my first meeting about my term of office and when it would end I quipped 'oooh you'll have my son by then, you may decide to re consider!'  I don't want to compare my two children,  I know Graham and his staff don't intend to so why did I say that?

I find my son's behaviour harder to manage than my daughter's.  I'm not saying my sons behaviour is worse, it's just harder for my natural default, and for my mum's who looked after him pre school.  

If my daughter misbehaves she does it in a very compliant way.  She mastered subtlety years ago, knows exactly what to say and rarely gets caught. She is also bright, loves school and works hard.  She has been awarded the position of head girl this year in year 6 which I know she had hoped for since year 4. She deserves it. She works hard, she has a good heart. She's not perfect, she is subtle.

My son also has a good heart but he is not the poster boy for subtle! He is big for his age, loud and has all of those qualities (purpose, courage, bravery) as does daughter that really help as an adult but can hinder in the context of school. Where, as he wailed on Monday, you have to do what the adults say all the time!  He needs to learn to conform a bit more and he's with the best adults to teach him to do so. 

Yesterday daughter won the spelling bee. Proud. Today son indecently exposed himself at register time & thought he was pretty funny. Embarrassed.  That's parenting I suppose! They are both loving their learning. I regularly wrestle daughter's book off her at half past 9 when she should be asleep. I'm sitting on the stairs now listening to son clapping out syllables in names which I know they've been doing in class this week. If he's choosing to do that in bed when he could be playing with his Batman people then learning must be irresistible. 

I have to stop comparing them as it's like comparing stars to candles. There is a light to both and that's enough to concentrate on.  I know the staff will be able to bring the best out in both.  The fact that my mum took me into another room when I picked son up tonight & giggled when she told me what he did today shows how well it was handled by the teacher.  Of course we're all putting on our serious face to him but it's normal & she didn't make my mum worry. I need to book her for some tuition, I make my mum worry all the time! 

I've always said I'll spend my life trying to get daughter to shout louder & son to shout quieter. Good to know Warden House are right there doing the same. 

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 couple 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' it was full of our children.  Alternative school plan monitoring right there! 

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.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Reflections on dealing with parents

Dealing with parents is one of the most significant and challenging parts of my job.  So it should be.  I am in charge of what happens to their children every day.  They trust me with those most precious to them every day.  I can be nothing but honoured that they have chosen to trust me and my school.  This blog post is a reflection on some times I've got it wrong, some top tips that have helped me and how you get away from taking it personally, whilst learning and changing what you need to.

Back in 2004 I had just been promoted to Deputy Head of a challenging school.  I was 28.  I knew pretty much nothing, so little that I didn't even know that I didn't know.  The head was out and I had been put in charge for the day.  A phone call came from a father of one of our challenging pupils who was very angry about his son having been chastised the previous day.  I asked the secretary to deal with it in the hope it would get put on hold as the head was out.  I bottled it.  The secretary tried her best to negotiate calm but it ended with him saying he was on the way down to school to thump the head.  She said that the head was out and Mrs Taylor (that was my name then) was in charge.  'Well I'll thump her then!' was the reply.  Ten minutes later he was stomping down the path to the entrance.  I looked out of the window and thought 'well, this will go one of two ways!'  The next thing I did was really stupid.  I was sure I could calm him down and took him into the office.  It worked out ok, he didn't thump me.  I should have spoken to him myself on the phone I let it go too far.  My avoidance of the tough conversation and delegation to the secretary of that created a situation where I got away without being thumped by the skin of my teeth.

Two years later I was Deputy Head in a different, just as challenging school.  I had made a CP referral that led to children being taken into care immediately.  Which was the right decision. I had managed the whole thing as the head was out. There's a theme here eh?! The single mum was distraught and jumpy and said she wished she had a cigarette.  I took her out the back and gave her one of mine and had one with her.  Whatever she had done my human heart couldn't leave her floundering as she lost everything.  I knew it was wrong and fessed up to my head the next day.  She said I had compromised my safety and integrity and she was right.  This volatile parent could have thumped me and it gave the wrong message about us as a school.

Three years later and I was head of the village primary school where I still work.  A member of my teaching staff had spoken to a child about her writing.  The nature of that was absolutely reflective of our ethos of challenge and expectation. The parent complained by email.  I bottled it and answered the email.  Error.  This is a face to face conversation always.  Email always sounds wrong.  It's difficult to sound like you care about the child over email when you are also trying to defend a member of staff.  It's too difficult to manage that balancing act by email.  The child left the school shortly afterwards.  I knew I'd got it wrong and that this parent, who had been through quite a lot already, felt disappointed in me.  That was a tough pill to take but I needed to take it.  It was important to give a clear message that I supported what the member of staff had done and would condone that happening again.  However through the medium of email I had come across officious, disingenuous and given the impression that my member of staff was more important than her only child.  Of course not to her.

I recognised at that point that I had some learning to do so I went on a brilliant course that was run by Southern Educational Leadership Trust.  It was on handling that type of challenging interaction.  It covered parent and staff interaction.  It's no exaggeration that it changed my life!  I am a great believer in recognising your skill gaps and there are some things need to be taught to you.

Here are my top tips:

Never respond in writing- talk, if possible face to face.
Don't talk first, it's their child.  Let them say everything they need to.
Know the children, show you do and say that you care.  It's the most disarming thing you can do.
Don't leap to the defensive position, say you will need to go away and fact find and meet again.
Don't leap to the deference either, 'I'm sorry you feel like that' is very different to 'I'm sorry.'

Two years later a parent came to see me with some concerns about behaviour in the playground.  I listened properly, I acted on the concerns.  The way we worked together improved things and my acceptance that she had a good point improved the school. I felt happy that it had been resolved. A week or so later she had booked to see me again.  The night before was sleepless, I was convinced I'd messed up somehow.  It turned out that she had come to see me to tell me about her cancer diagnosis. She is an inspiring lady and has beaten cancer, she's cycling from Lands End to John O Groats in summer for Cancer Research. If you can spare a few pounds please do.

I'm running with her to train for the London Marathon and feel very lucky to consider her one of my friends.  We also now train with the parent who I mentioned earlier in this blog that I emailed.  It has been a privilege to be able to at least begin to put right what I got wrong and make that acquaintance again.

The notion that we are all human and mess up sits less easily when we are in charge of the futures of a lot of small humans.  They only get the one chance at school and the adults mistakes are costly.  That doesn't mean we don't make them of course, it just means we have to try to find ways to make less.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

'What do the good kids get?' A short blog post on rewarding those that love learning.

It's true to say that a large proportion of teacher time can end up spent devising systems and planning strategies and approaches for children who find it difficult to engage with learning and behave well.  For whatever reason, where we recognise that there is a barrier for a child between them and learning we throw our hearts and souls into reducing it as much as we can.  Even removing it, if we can.  We have that as our core purpose and hold the belief that good systems for reducing barriers to learning benefit all children.  We may also feel that those that don't have barriers there are the privileged.  That to love learning and be unhindered in that love is reward in itself.

From time to time though throughout my career I have encountered the 'but what about the good kids?' question.  It's perfectly valid for staff to feel that those children who make a sustained effort to work hard and behave well all of the time deserve reward. At times I have myself worried that the lion's share of my energy and time is spent on children, and parents, who don't behave toward me or my staff in a respectful way.  It can even make our thinking as teachers and leaders disproportionate.  The feeling that there is a huge problem with disrespect around school when actually the quiet majority are just that, quiet. The loud minority are very loud, but a minority nonetheless.

At my last school, a large primary in a deprived area where I was Deputy Head, we had the 'but what about the good kids?' chat at SLT. We decided to reward them with a gold certificate every term.  This was for every child that hadn't lost a single minute of golden time.  At the end of the year, if they had all of their certificates they got a golden medal.  A couple of slightly unexpected things happened.  Some expected things did too, like the desolate faces of the children who knew very well they would never get one but we'd already reconciled that in our minds with the rewards they regularly got.  The unexpected bit was though that the really good kids started to have golden time taken away after we introduced this for things like talking.  It was like staff were watching them harder.  Having never had to cope with that before they were devastated.  It was like we weren't satisfied with trying to deal with the children who found it hard to behave, now we'd made it harder for the children that found it easy! The other thing that happened was really good kids arguing decisions about removal of golden time when they thought it was unfair, which of course then got them into more trouble!  We introduced the medal idea for valid reasons and we all believed it was right, but looking back perhaps not, or maybe it was the linking to golden time, who knows.  The Head there is amazing and has taken the school from bottom end of satisfactory to top end of good in really challenging circumstances so I'm sure it got tweaked but I just include it as an example of where extrinsic reward can go as awry for the well behaved as it can for the poorly behaved.

My daughter is year 5 and she is a good girl.  She works hard, loves learning and I'm told she's a pleasure to teach.  As I tucked her into bed last night she said 'Oh mum, Mr Grant came to find me at lunchtime to tell me he'd marked my assessments and I got a 5C.  He was really proud of me.' She was made up, glowing with pride.  Mr Grant is a fabulous teacher, he has a strict but caring manner.  He's humorous and she likes him very much, he doesn't bandy compliments around unless they are very well deserved.  The fact that he'd taken the time to come and find her at lunchtime, the fact that he was proud of her. To her that made every bit of work she had put in worth it.

My husband is teaching a bit of the time again now.  In the year 3 class he has sometimes there's a girl he calls Dave, don't ask me why -apparently her mum doesn't mind!  He has a bit of jokey banter with Dave, she's a quiet girl who always gets on and works hard.  But she needs to know her learning is noticed and appreciated.  Last year in his year 6 class he had a very quiet lad called Stratton.  A very clever boy but needed bringing out of himself a bit.  My husband put him  in charge of the assembly music and they had a bit of quiet daily banter about it.  I visited one day and at the end of assembly as Stratton walked to the line after putting the music away he jokingly shook his fist and said 'Moore!' My husband did the same gesture and said 'Stratton!' The lad had a little laugh to himself.  Anyone who has heard David Didau speak about stuck strategies may remember 'ask Chloe.'  This was in a class he had that constantly fussed.  If the fuss was beneath his contempt as teacher he would refer them to Chloe, a sensible hard working lass who would then put them straight.  Which she loved.

Great teachers like Mr Grant, David Didau, and my husband get how to reward the good kids.  They capitalize on their love of learning, allow them to explore humour and praise them so that they grow a bit.   They also show that they have taken time to be proud of achievements.  A positive word at lunchtime or a quick phone call home can mean as much if not more than a certificate or medal.  The value in loving learning is reinforced and the love of learning continues.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The last chance saloon

If I describe this kid you can probably think of one of them  I can think of at least ten over the course of my career.  My memory isn't as good as it used to be either.

In the infants was seen by staff as a loveable rogue.  Name was often preceded with 'ohhhh...' and accompanied by a smiley roll of the eyes or hair ruffling when child had misbehaved. Is a good kid and wants to do well but does daft things and behaves like the class clown and ALWAYS gets caught.  Does one of the best hang dog expressions ever observed but will go and do the same thing all over again ten minutes later and still gets caught.  Seems to be able to 'grade' teachers and support staff with almost Ofsted style precision as to how able they are to manage behaviour.  The moment it's a person who is less than a great behaviour manager is onto them and does ridiculous, disrespectful things.  Everyone cares very much for all pupils but for this child there's a bit of a collective 'soft spot.' I could go on but I'm sure you have a few names in mind already!

As a profession we term this type of behaviour as 'low level disruption.'  The theory is that the better teacher you become the lower level it gets.  But is that true?

I put a child on lunch time report today in the same way as I've seen it done well by secondary colleagues.  The incident that led to it was minor in some ways, rolling around on the floor in the lunch room to make everyone else laugh and rile the lunchtime supervisor.  But it was the background that bothered me.  There have been too many 'last chance' conversations.  Every one of those last chance conversations has led to an effort the next day and then the day after another 'last chance' conversation. What subtle message am I giving there as the head? To the child and the staff being disrespected.  To the child 'It's your last chance before punishment but it isn't if you look sorry and be good for half an hour tomorrow on the playground at lunchtime.' To the staff 'this kid can basically treat you as they choose as long as they say sorry, whether or not they mean it.'

The child and I had gotten into this kind of odd routine where I had started to unwittingly condone behaviour that was actually quite disrespectful for all sorts of complex reasons that I hadn't really thought about.

I'll come back to my previous 'is that true?' Yesterday I was on duty at lunchtime.  I caught the same child throwing food.  Because it wasn't how it'd looked at first, the child looked sorry and some others had done it I did the whole 'I'm a bit disappointed' thing.  I caught same child later doing a forward roll on the playground which they know is banned.  I pointed and said 'No! that's ridiculous!' Because I'm an experienced behaviour manager and I catch this kid sooner it stops and doesn't escalate but I have been unwittingly feeding the problem.  I am dulling the 'low level behaviours' for me but amplifying them for others.  I'm the head, that can't happen.  I've been mulling that over since yesterday. These infinite last chances have to stop. 

When I got called over to the rolling around the floor thing today I magpied from Vic Goddard and just said  'My office.' Child got up and went immediately.  I went to chat to his teachers (they are a job share, both outstanding and my SLT) so we could come up with a shared idea of action.  I'm really glad I did that first it gave me some great things to say to the child.  I started with how much we care and then explained why the child was sitting in my office.  I kept it simple, the rolling around on the floor.  I then said it's good to say sorry but the behaviours then need to change and this is an example of how they haven't. I said that we can all teach the right choices and help to change the bad choices but there's only one person who can make better ones and that is you.  Then came the game changer (always sport as a reference point for me!)  For many carefully chosen reasons within this job share one teacher is perceived as stricter. It's actually genius but it's another whole blog! I'll call the 'strict' teacher Mrs A for the purposes of the following:

Me: do you know what Mrs A has just said to me about you?
Child: no
Me: she said that you are good in your essence, do you know what that means?
Child; no
Me: she thinks you are a really good kid and she doesn't want anyone to think any different and she's scared that if they do teachers at your secondary school might think you're a bad kid when you're not.

At that point the child began to sob.  It's the first time I've ever seen what I would call genuine remorse from the child that has the best remorseful expression I've seen in my entire career.

We have a year and a half to tackle this now before this child arrives in secondary school and tackle it we will.  No more of this hair ruffling as it won't help.  I couldn't help but think of Miss Uren in Education Yorkshire when she was dealing with Bobby-Jo.  He needed that barking at he got over his lateness and his genuine tears showed it hit home.  I obviously couldn't begin to comment on his primary experience but I can imagine myself saying 'ohhhh Bobby-Jo' or a stern 'no, stop that' then the same 'no, stop that' ten minutes later.  I know as a primary head in a context where there are some high level disruptions but few low level ones that I am tuning some of those lower level ones out and that's not fair on anyone, especially the child. The last chance saloon does no one any favours when it comes to behaviour management.