Friday, 19 June 2015

An Essex Boy in Yorkshire [NRocks 2015 - Part 1]

Northern Rocks was many things for me. It was CPD, it was reflection, it was a chance to network, and a time to socialise with friends. I've already written a short post about how great it was to be part of Staffrm on tour and the SLTCamp reunion! Read it <here>

This blog focuses more on the CPD, including some vital reflection. It's probably got an RE and pastoral leadership slant.

Martin Robinson says in Trivium 21c, “Schools need... a culture that is at once traditionalist and progressive”. I was reminded of this as I arrived and was told, "this is pretty left of middle and progressive" (I would probably have known, had I had time to study the programme in advance!). I didn't know if this troubled me or not, as I often find myself drifting towards the traditional and right of centre as I hit 10 years in the job. I become obsessed with students learning stuff, and writing essays, and reading. However I am also a Head of Year and I know that actually to facilitate that, you sometimes need to step outside of the traditional approach to 'make things work' in a specific context.

The opening debate featured discussion on the Ebacc, teacher retention and government rhetoric adn testing. A few things, and reflections, that stick out in my mind:
  • There is not enough pressure promoting the importance of arts: government, parents, universities, students themselves... are the arts actually important? (I believe yes, so why are we not doing anything?)
  • School leaders are not currently doing enough to protect the arts, they can be rebels!
  • Why are there so few teachers willing to run extra curricular activities than enrich the lives of students, sharing their own passions and interests? (Workload is the simple, and probably correct answer)
  • In an increasing 'evidence based' culture, can we evidence the arts and the effects of arts education?
  • Should a basic curriculum not include art, drama, gardening, cooking, sport, outside learning... and documenting this would include lots of opportunities for reading, writing and maths? Personally despite the noble content, I'm not sure I could cope with such a curriculum!
  • Teacher recruitment is linked to the economy and as the economy does up, teachers go down... the labour market is what it is. I can't help feel, government rhetoric doesn't really help though!
  • Teachers are made of tough stuff, if you couldn't cope with Gove, you'll never cope with Y9! Totally agree with this from Laura McInerney.
  • The fragmentation of training routes is confusing and not helpful to graduates. Most teachers couldn't tell someone who wanted to become a teacher how to become a teacher, let along the 'best' way!
  • What do teachers want more of, time or money? (Or both?)
  • Andy Knill made a very valid point of valuing teachers aged over 50.
  • Marking... became a key theme of the day. Triple impact marking got an absolute slating time and time again as not the best use of teachers time. An example was cited of teachers spending lots of time taking photos of practical lessons to keep them as evidence. For who?
  • School leaders are key to workload and need to be clear on what Ofsted want (and don't want) and ensure it is communicated to staff. 
Stephen Tierney 

"We are going to collaboratively plan what we want to teach, teach it as well as we possibly can and then find out what worked and what didn’t.  It’s our new master plan." 

I had been keen to hear Stephen speak as he produce's a lot of really useful resources that he shares via Twitter and his blog (<here> and <here>).

He started off challenging us all to picture great teaching. I admit that it is not a clear vision that I have made explicit to myself, like many, and this is perhaps a worry when you are leading, observing, supporting and challenging. He is Stephen's vision:

He asked some pertinent questions about planning... always ask why you are doing something in a lesson? "Where is the learning?" He reminded us about the best ways to assess and how that should be our start point and work back. Architects ask, "How do we want to live?" rather than "How do you want the concrete poured into the foundations?" Plan learning and cut out the nonsense... are you simply tacking in some resource you found? If you don't know why it is there, take it out.

Stephen also reminded us about the authority leaders have: you dictate how people spend their time in school, what classes they teach, what meetings they attend (reminding me of the Billy Bragg line, "no power without accountability" - and how schools need self-reflection over the 'workload crisis'). He also said that for too long in his career, meetings had too many apologies... if you are simply relaying information, surely there is a better way to do things rather than replicating meetings down a chain of command? he suggested that meetings should be focused on talking about your subject and how to teach it better.

As a leader, you do not want someone doing a great job, and someone doing a useless job, when had you planned it together, they would have both been doing a good job. Learning and teaching is complex and should usually be a team-based decision making process. Too often we use teams for simple decisions and discussions, wasting expertise.

A real interesting piece of information share was that the majority of students get to the right place, by the wrong route... raising lots of questions about post-level assessments, trajectories and flight paths:

Stephen then concluded asking about how well we know 'our people'. Do we know our team / staff's interests, skills and needs? He explained how his schools use a GoogleForm to pair staff up for coaching and mentoring. He also said it is a really high priority to do all that he can to keep good staff, and develop them, as they are what really make the good school.

We were left with some questions as leaders:
  • How will you seek to build quality into every child’s learning experience?
  • How will you use assessment to support teaching & learning?
  • How will you develop teachers (and keep on developing them) to be the best they can be?
For me, the most powerful thing that came from listening to Stephen is that he has really considered the vision that he wants for his students, staff and schools. There appears a great coherence and lots of joined up thinking... observations, planning, appraisal, CPD, teaching... all are part of this. 

I strongly urge you to have a read of Stephen's presentation in full <here>

Hywel Roberts

It is always pleasing when someone who works as education consultant reminds the audience that there are no magic beans! Sadly for too long there have been those who have tried to sell a solution to a school that will solve all things... thankfully Hywel is different, and in many ways more than that! 

He session was slightly controversially named, "Lessons Worth Behaving For", which promoted one or two sat at home on Twitter to make the assumption that Hywel was saying there are also some lessons NOT worth behaving for. This was not the case at all. 

Hywel explained that we have to take some responsibility in setting the tone for our classrooms; we know how kids behave in certain areas and spaces and need to be proactive in our approach. He then went on to talk about hooks... and how staff need a set of experience and skills up their sleeve. It did worry me that we were getting into the 'relevant and engaging' discussion; whereby too many teachers have a potentially dangerous idea of that this. 

However Hywel looked at some ideas to do with studying the Egyptians and then went on to explain how teachers need to be the 'Sherpas of the curriculum' creating deliberate engagement by being organised, meeting and greeting students, welcoming them to the classroom with warmth and intimacy. 

There was some important discussion about survival. I think he is right to say, particularly in secondary, we get obsessed with coverage and travel through the specification for GCSEs. He made a reference to Jaws and the 3 characters who had 3 different views: "We've always done it like this", "We need to do things differently" and "Can we just get it done?".... Too often, we are the goats on the roof simply trying to survive:

(and the goat on the left is doing a learning walk!)

The final thought was this, we need to make children obsessive about their learning, They may leave saying, "Please can we do it again?"... or for a Y9 they may say, "It was alright."!

Overall, a really entertaining session that did make me keep thinking about relevance and engagement, despite quite a few nods to primary teaching, this was well-worth attending.

Follow Hywel on Twitter <here>

Part 2 to come!

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