Monthly Archives: October 2014

Reflections on term 1

This feels like my first term as HOF.

Successes

1. Our students.  Every day our students.  They are brilliant.  My highlight was walking into school after two sick days and being met with a student shouting across the canteen ‘Miss, you are back – are you feeling alright?  We have missed you so much.’  I love them and will continue until we have the best for them.

2. New team members who have settled in.  Partnerships and friendships are forming.  We only have one member of the original English team so it is a new team and, therefore, watching people grow closer and closer is a joy.  Watching the team enthuse each other on a weekly basis inspires me.   I am hoping that over the course of the next year the team will stabilise and the bonds will strengthen further.

2. Teaching and Learning has improved within the faculty and is now more good than requiring improvement.   This is such a success to be celebrated.

3. We have some cracking KS3 units coming into play.  If we get it right this year, then we won’t need to make many changes next year to KS3.  This includes my unit on The Wizard of Oz which I have loved and the students have totally engaged with.

4. Collaborative planning – we now meet, on a voluntary basis, on a Monday after school to collaborative plan and it has been a roaring success.  We have a great unit, the staff engage with each other about teaching and learning and there is a lot of laughter.  A definite highlight of my week.

5. People coming into their own.  A member of my faculty has done some amazing work on spelling and he inspires and motivates me to make things better and better.  He doesn’t get paid for this extra work, he does it because he is enthusiastic and passionate about what he does – he radiates.

6. Dialogues about marking.  The marking of assessments wasn’t great when I joined the school.  NOw there are constant dialogues about assessment.

7. The faculty area.  When I joined it was white.  Now it is full of colour and an engaging area to be in (although not finished!)  Alongside this, our vision is up and we are starting to think, feel our vision.

8. There is a greater focus on literacy across the school.  Key vocabulary is on display.  Literacy mats are used.  Science are doing some brilliant work.

9. Going over to Wellington College and meeting with Tom, who I adore.

10. Going to TLT14.  I love Twitter.  Twitter motivates me and keeps me chugging along.  The network is so supportive and having the opportunity to see others from twitter is just lovely.  The ‘Don’t Change the Lightbulbs’ book launch was also fabulous.

11. My line manager.  Most of the time I keep my spirits up.  But it is hard and I have cried on him on several occasions this term.  He keeps me together and supports me endlessly.  I couldn’t do what I do, without him.

12.  Pub Friday!

Next term:

1. Nail year 11 to the cross and get that coursework in.  Have high expectations for them and strive to meet our target.

2. Support the faculty in planning good units of work.  There is much discussion about lesson by lesson schemes of work.  I believe in them when you are establishing a department from scratch and feel they are needed until the point where everyone in your team is good or outstanding.  I was so relieved to hear another HOF, in a similar situation to me, agree with me this week about that.  People are not chained to them but they are there for people to use.

3.  Introduce new marking approach to ensure all students respond to feedback in their books but that students do more of the work than teachers.

4. Continue to learn to lead.  I am learning on the job.  I get it right.  I get it wrong.  I need to trust myself more.  I need to hold others to account more.  I need to keep my head above water as we steer into interesting times once again in Jan.  I need to continue to set the foundations. I need to focus on year 11 once more.  I need to always learn and strive to get better and better.

5. Reading levels.

6. My own reading which has been pushed aside this past term.

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Leadership – Step 1: Developing a vision

So I became the leader of my very own department about 18 months ago.  One of the first things any Middle Management book advises you to do as a leader is establish a vision – a vision that everyone buys into.

Rather than establish my vision, at one of the first meetings I led, we, as a team, sat round and discussed what our vision for the English department was.  Working in pairs, the team came up with the ideas they wished to convey through a vision.  Popping these phrases onto the board, we drafted and drafted until we came up with the following:

We challenge students to be the best that they can be, inspiring a curiosity and passion for our language.  Our students will be equipped with the tools to understand, to question and to communicate effectively for a brighter future. 

Working together, we will change students’ lives.

A vision everyone in the team was happy with.  This was back in July 2013. And then we had the year that was.  And our vision got slightly lost in the business of dealing with staff shortages and a year group with very little Controlled Assessment.

  Having got through the year, in July, I went to the brilliant Festival of Education and saw Tom Sherrington speak.  During his presentation he used the following image:

tree

The message I took from  the talk was about the importance of ensuring the foundations were in place before other things were trialled and tested.  I felt this encapsulated our position as a faculty perfectly and it reminded me of the vision we had initially created.  It brought the vision back to the forefront whilst reminding me that we are, this year, at the roots stage.  We are at the start of our journey (sorry to be clichéd), setting the foundations in place and firmly embedding what works in order to help us move forward.  We are still working towards the vision we had in mind back in July 13.

  The session energised me – not only did I have the vision to go back to but I knew I had a visual that summed up the faculty’s position perfectly.  Now was the time to start embedding the vision into our everyday work.

  So where are we now?  We are beginning to voice the vision on a more regular basis – initially ensuring that all paperwork has the tree on it and our vision attached.  I have used the email signature to add the vision we have for English to the bottom of all emails and then, finally, today, the vision went up outside the entrance to English for all to see:

B0uG3tJIEAAqAdY

Sticking the vision on the wall means that it is impossible for all those who pass through the English corridor to miss it.  Every day staff, students, parents and visitors will be reminded of our core purpose and when we are feeling tired and it is starting to get tough, all we need to do is to remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing.

Over the next few years, we will need to work as a team to live and breath the values that are encapsulated in our vision and ensure that we guide our students to be the best they can.  This is just the beginning 🙂

The power of positive collaboration

In July we designed a new KS3 curriculum that saw our year 7 pupils move into mixed ability groupings. The decision was made, in fact, after speaking to many people on Twitter about how beneficial mixed ability teaching was.  I have to admit, I haven’t always been a fan.  In my first school when I took over the shared running of the faculty, KS3 was unsatisfactory and the outcomes for the National Curriculum Tests were low.  We taught in mixed ability groupings.  As the person in charge of KS3, I decided to re-organise and set the groups for the period of preparation leading up to the NCTs.  The outcomes soared to 80% for L5+ and for the first time, in the six years I had been at the school, we hit our L6 target.  Since then my brain has firmly planted this idea in my head that setting is good and mixed ability is bad- for outcomes, at least.  In addition, I wasn’t sure if the staff could cope with the level of differentiation that would be needed in order to cater for students of all abilities.  However, one thing I am learning as a leader is that you need to take risks and be open to experimentation so mixed ability it was.

And then within the first week of term, the Head did a learning walk with our Head of SEN and the feedback was less than positive. There had been no evidence of differentiation in any of the classes he had visited.  Not teaching year 7 myself, I felt we had a mini crisis on our hands.  The start of term had been a little bumpy and the faculty were working flat out – how was I to share the news that what they were doing wasn’t good enough and we needed more to ensure all students could access the curriculum?

It was suggested to me that, perhaps, we should buy in schemes of work.  Emotively, my first response was sadness – we had spent so long prior to the summer coming up with a creative and more individualised curriculum which, for a number of reasons it turned out, we weren’t quite ready for.  However, as I sat toying with the idea of ‘buying in schemes of work’ it made me feel more and more uncomfortable.  How were the staff going to develop, if what they needed to develop was to be given to them? No, buying in schemes of work was not the answer.

Instead I opted for introducing collaborative planning and a weekly – voluntary – year 7 collaboration meeting.  I emailed all year 7 staff and told them that once a week on a Monday after school I would dedicate my time to planning for year 7 with a focus on the next scheme of learning on writing to inform.  I made it clear that there was no obligation to attend but if they fancied it then they were welcome to join me and we could, perhaps, pool ideas together.  A third of staff responded positively and we met the following Monday to begin the unit.

That first hour, as every hour has been since, was so utterly inspiring for me.  As a team we were talking, sharing and discussing our ideas.  We were exploring different approaches and inventing a range of different activities to use within the unit.  People were engaging with each other and, as is so often the case now, talking properly because a dedicated amount of time had been given to it.  There was also lots of laughter, lots and lots of laughter.

But for me as a leader, I was also seeing the added layer of development I needed.  Not only was I able, as I am every week now, to model the make-up of a good scheme of learning but I was also able to push the teachers to think about how to differentiate for the range of needs within their class, more carefully.  The immediacy of being able to challenge staff in terms of their thinking meant that they intrinsically became more aware about catering for those needs in any one lesson. At the start of this collaborative planning, my questioning would be more along the lines of ‘So we could try this with our level 4s and this with our level 5s’ which meant that my questions were more rhetorical but over the weeks this has now moved to ‘How could we challenge here?  How could we support there?’ and staff are now much more equipped to provide me with a response.

And then there is the growth of this group.  On the first week we met, one of the team had made it clear that they wouldn’t be coming because they didn’t have time.  I was saddened by this and couldn’t help thinking that whilst they would benefit from the planning what would their contribution be?  In addition, I felt sad knowing they would miss out on working with others in the department in a positive forum.  Yet, after the first week – seeing the laughter, the discussion and dialogue and a product come to life on week 2, that same member of staff had made the decision to attend.  Collaboration is infectious.  It spreads joy and when people see that joy being spread and a tangible product at the end, the buy in becomes greater and greater and greater.  So much so that the member of staff has now asked if we can collaborate on our year 8 unit J

So four weeks later and we actually have the first three weeks of the unit written.  It is written, fully resourced and differentiated.  We have been successful in planning a new unit and I have tackled the area of differentiation so that if the Head and Head of SEN were to pop in again, I am confident that they would see the differentiation required.  And all of this has been achieved on one hour per week.

The cherry on the cake came at our Friday morning briefing.  When I asked the team to share one positive from their term at our Friday briefing 2/3 of them fed back that the collaborative planning had been their highlight.  It seems that one little decision has managed to make a lot of people very happy J

photo 1photo 2photo 3

Leadership reflections this week

1) How lucky I am to have the line manager I have.  It is very, very unusual to have someone line manage you who just knows you.  My line manager knows me.  He knows when I am on form and he knows when I am not.  He knows when I am pissed off, upset, happy, frustrated, energised but, more importantly, he knows how to handle me at any point.  This means when I am pissed off, he lets me vent; when I am upset, he is my shoulder to cry on and when I am energised, he questions me and pushes me that little bit harder to get that little bit more.  He is there for me 24/7 and we constantly speak on the phone addressing things that crop up during the week or actions we need to consider putting into place.  We have a great working relationship – one minute we can be laughing together, the next shouting at one another but we work so well together because we have this unbelievable passion for our profession and for the school we work in.  Being a HOF can be quite a lonely experience – pressure from SLT above and demands from your team down below with both veering from support to criticism.  Balancing this is hard but it becomes easier when you have a good line manager who can sort you out.

2) Everything is moving in the right direction.  I am an impatient person.  I want everything now.  I want my department to be good now.  And yet, I forget, the words I uttered at interview – ‘it will take 5 years’.  My line manager had to remind me of those words this week when I was in floods of tears, desperately frustrated and feeling like I was going nowhere.  It is important to reflect (I always do) but sometimes I don’t reflect far back enough.  Only two other people will know what it was like to walk into my school building a year and a half ago and, only those two, therefore will really know how many steps we have actually taken forward, although my line manager has been with us every step of the way.  I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about how far we have come since April 13.  The area has been transformed, the team is full, the beginnings of solid systems are in place, students’ work is being more accurately marked, weekly dialogues about teaching and learning take place and, most importantly, the relationships with students are there so we are getting more and more from them.  So whilst we still have some way to go and, at times, that can feel overwhelming, it is important to stand still sometimes and see just how far we have come.  And that is when the smile comes back on to my face.

3) Directing.  The hardest part of a job is directing others to do theirs.  It is something a number of us have been discussing this week.  There is a tension between assuming others will use their intuition to fulfil their job roles and guiding others to do the job they are paid to do.  Too often, I have naively assumed that people will know and understand their job and simply do it, and too rarely, I have guided staff to do what they need to do.  No-one, prior to joining the academy, has ever really guided me and this is why I think my role as guide has been less forthcoming.  I have always relied on my intuition.  If I have not known something, I have sought answers from others, from the internet, from the Twitter community.  However, not everyone works like this and, therefore, I know I need to start to guide people more to ensure I get what I need from them.  This is what takes time – careful thinking, planning and delegating to ensure what is important is prioritised but, in the long run, I know it will become a more effective way of doing things.

4) The importance of team.  The English Faculty have laughed this week.  It has been a tough week but we have laughed.  Our Monday night, optional planning group expanded by one this week and the energy and enthusiasm that was brought was a joy.  Seeing people working together, sharing ideas, producing resources and laughing was one of my highlights.  The teachers within my faculty are a real joy to work with and the longer the team stay, the closer we are getting and the more supportive a network it is becoming.  I love working with my team and am eternally grateful for the hard work they are putting in.

Outside of my team, the team we have at school is one of the most supportive I have every worked in.  Not a week goes by without the Head or any member of the leadership team asking me how I am doing.  Not a request goes unnoticed for guidance, advice or support.  Not a week goes by where someone doesn’t sit down with me and talk through the worries I am having or the concerns I may have.  I love the fact that I feel I can be as honest with the people I work with as I feel I need to be – both when there are positives to share and frustrations to vent.

The other team is the Pub Friday team.  Last year I closed myself off to everything.  I was too busy sorting out other people’s messes.  This year I was badgered into coming.  A colleague insisted on waiting behind until I was ready to go but go I was.  It is the time, once a week, where I get to talk to colleagues from other faculties – we offload the week over a glass of wine or two and share many laughs.   I am so sad that I didn’t afford myself that time last year but am so happy that it is now a regular part of my week.  I live for Pub Friday 🙂

Marking and feedback CPD – Part 1 – exercise books.

Every Thursday we offer what we call ‘CPD on toast’ a short burst of CPD aimed at developing area of professional development. A couple of weeks ago I presented a session on Marking and Feedback.

Paul made an interesting choice in choosing me. Firstly, because I wouldn’t consider myself as a strong practitioner when it comes to marking. As an English teacher, marking seems to be a never ending battle and one that I never quite feel that I am winning. In addition to that, marking is not something I particularly enjoy. Did I say that out aloud? Yes, I know it is the most important thing we do and it informs our planning and sometimes there are real moments of joy – this week in point when I received the most fantastic piece of A level coursework – yet reading 60 essays on George and Lennie is enough to send even the most alert of people into some sort of comma. Yet present I did.

When considering a presentation for staff there are two things that immediately spring to mind for me: 1) Is it practical? Not in the sense that everyone gets up and starts pretending they are trees but CPD isn’t about lecturing. It isn’t about telling people you know what is best. It is about offering quick, practical strategies that staff can take away and implement immediately to help them with their day to day practice. 2) What had I learnt from the lovely Twitter community that I could pass on?

With this in mind, I set to work. Any marking presentation for me has to start with our literacy marking approach. After all, I am currently the Literacy Co-Ordinator. As like most schools, it is a standard approach using codes to highlight the literacy errors that students have made.

Literacy poster

There are many schools of thought with regard to spellings and I outlined my practice to my colleagues.

lit marking 2

Back in the day it started simply by identifying that a spelling mistake had been made.

lit marking 3

Then step two encouraged students to copy the words out three times.

lit marking 4

My current practice is to highlight the incorrect spelling for them by giving them the correct version. (Shock! Horror! I know this isn’t very independent!). I then ask students to copy the word out three times before contextualising the word within a sentence. For me, this is classic responding to feedback – you have spelt a word wrong – now let’s practice spelling the word and then you have a go at putting it into a sentence. Clear, visible progress being made.

I do a similar thing with punctuation. I identify where a punctuation error has been made, ask them to re-insert the punctuation into the piece of writing (clearly responding to feedback) and then ask them to construct further sentences that will use the piece of punctuation they have not yet demonstrated in action. This means, again, that they are having to do something with the feedback and are practising the skill in order to improve.

apostrophes

So what do we do beyond literacy marking?

Most schools now use a WWW and EBI or a two stars and a wish approach. This is something we have adopted as a summative response to work and target setting for the future.

two stars and a wish

My example above is not a shining example of a target (or the targets I usually write) because, I would also usually have an activity directly underneath – e.g. Write a sentence that summarises the use of the adverb ‘painfully’ in this extract. This enables students to consider their target and respond in order to develop their level of analysis.

To develop this further, we have started to use questions in our feedback. These are particularly useful in filling gaps of knowledge or extending students’ thinking when developing skills in responding to texts.

questions

This is a great technique. It is quick for the teacher but challenges the student to extend their thinking. However, like all good thing the students need training to respond to the questions and monitoring to ensure the quality of response is good enough.

Similarly, if we are looking to make our students more independent in their own analysis of their work then the green and pink system works a treat. I first came across this in my old school but was reminded of this strategy by Sian Carter. We use this technique constantly in exam practices but less so with the exercise book which will now become a greater focus. Whilst marking the exercise book, you highlight a really excellent piece of work in green and a piece of work you feel could be improved in pink. Yet it is the student who explains why those two pieces have been highlighted in those two particular colours. They must identify the strengths of the piece of work highlighted in green and the weaknesses of the piece highlighted in pink. This means they have to really consider the merits of their own work. Examples below of my highlighting.

sian

green

pink

Verbal feedback stampers are a god send and really quick way to give feedback and make students more independent in the process of identifying why feedback has given and how it might benefit them. We are encouraging teachers when they are walking around the classroom and offering feedback to place a stamp in the students’ book. Once the feedback has been given, the student themselves can record what feedback was given, why it was given and how it will help them / has helped them improve their work. As the current Literacy Co-Ordinator, I also wanted to ensure TAs have verbal feedback stampers as they provide feedback to our students continuously.

verbal feedback stampers

I then collated other examples of effective marking in order to have students respond to feedback from Twitter:

  • Students identify the two stars and a wish for their work. Teacher identifies their agreement.
  • Students highlight where they have used the success criteria and annotate in the margin
  • Students select pieces of work they absolutely want marked and why
  • The use of codes
  • The use of stampers

This was the first part of my presentation – marking and feedback in exercise books and quick 10 minutes to share strategies that staff could take away and implement the next day.  For me, marking will always be a work in progress but some of the strategies above have made marking a little bit quicker and a little more productive / helpful from the students’ perspective.

And with all this in mind, I have managed to avoid marking for another twenty minutes and must now return to the 538 pieces I need to mark by tomorrow 😉

The full CPD programme is below.

Marking and feedback INSET