Monthly Archives: January 2015

The best CPD we can afford ourselves is the chance to visit other schools.

Professional development opportunities, as in courses run by external bodies, have become fewer and fewer, as a result of ever-shrinking CPD budgets. This means that teaching staff have had less opportunities to attend courses that will help them develop their practice. As a Head of Faculty, if such opportunities arise, then I have tried to get one of the team out before taking the opportunity myself. This means that since joining my academy, a year and a half ago, I haven’t been out to develop myself as a teacher or a leader and, in terms of moral, this is a hit that has had an impact on my wellbeing and moral as a member of staff.

After all, I am a feeder. I feed off positivity and energy. Sometimes, in my professional working week this can be lacking. During certain dark periods this can also be lacking. To avoid, total slips into depression, I have tried to combat this with things that inspire and motivate me. I remember for three to four years, in December, I would always attend the TES resources show so that I could participate in a seminar led by the Independent Thinking Company who would pick my miserable self up and spit out the most energetic, enthusiastic practitioner anyone could meet. Attending this seminar was enough to feed me and keep me going for the remainder of that long, long term – so much so that it became a necessity. Yet opportunities like this have all but dwindled and it is noticeable in terms of staff morale and well being.

Having not been out of school for a year and a half, this week I have had the opportunity to visit two different schools on two different days to share practice, listen, learn and network to enhance what we do at the academy I work in.

Below is a reflection on the days themselves and the impact this has had on me as teacher and as a leader.

Day 1
I loved visiting school A, so much so that upon my return to my own school, I became incredibly emotional.

The school was running its second INSET day on the new curriculum. The opening speech by a member of the SLT was captivating and it was immediately clear that the school, as a whole, had done a lot of thinking about life without levels. This was then developed during a literacy focused session which gave me the opportunity to see the model applied to my own curriculum area which excited me even more. I then joined the department for some of their meeting before attending a session on Accelerated Reader with some members of the school and an HMI. I was inspired by how they had developed AR and the exemplary practice that was going on and the benefits that this had already reaped for them. After lunch I re-joined the faculty and observed members of the department, working together, to create the long term plan for the new KS5 specifications.

Impact on me:
1) New curriculum planning needs to begin now. I emulated their meeting with the new KS4 specifications the following day and the team worked brilliantly together to create the first draft of our long term plan.
2) The school shared with me their brilliant 7 year curriculum overview and I am excited that my SLE is going to come over and work with my 2ic on the re-draft of our KS3 curriculum. I am excited by the mastery curriculum I have been developing and cannot wait to see my SLE and my 2ic continue to develop this over the course of the next few months, alleviating this pressure off of me.
3) Accelerated Reader – I came away feeling inspired by the package and on Wednesday was able to meet with our new Literacy Co-Ordinator to discuss some of the brilliant things I had seen which he has already started to address.

Day 2:
I attended School B with my Vice Principal.

The day started by meeting the Head and Associate Headteacher who led an engaging meeting about various different aspects of our work. We then conducted a learning walk of the school which was incredibly calm and the buildings were incredibly spacious. After break, I went and observed a year 10 lesson with one of the heads of faculty and was so impressed with the students’ work and their supportive nature towards each other. We then met to discuss curriculum structures which I found fascinating as I believe that the school’s curriculum model was inspiring which energised me once again. I then met with a staff member to discuss Accelerated Reader and we talked through the diagnostics and early literacy tests which proved to be another useful tool.

Impact on me:
1) Establishing a whole school culture is critical. The school had the most wonderful displays that documented everything that the students had participated in. Everything. This revealed what a busy and vibrant school it is. In addition, the core values that they hold dear are everywhere and transmitted through everything that they do.
2) The curriculum model is exceptional and a lot of careful thought and planning has gone into it. I want us to consider our interventions and literacy approach much more carefully, ready for September.
3) Accelerated Reader – enhanced the ideas I have for the programme we will run and some targeted interventions we will introduce through tutor / library lesson which I am really excited about.
4) Confidence of our students – which requires slightly more thought.

I have been overwhelmed by everything I have seen this week and enthused by other teacher’s / leader’s passion. It has brought me out of what has been a tough, and at times, somewhat emotionally challenging year and a half and re-energised me. With the support of my SLT and my SLE, who is my new guardian angel, embedding lots of great stuff – in terms of curriculum and regular practice is going to be incredibly exciting.

However, what I have loved most about the two schools I have seen, is that neither have been in a rush to get things right. This has helped me immensely this week. Currently, too much of what I have done has been in the present, the day to day, reactionary (because of what I have needed to get done) and as a result, often without enough consideration. Therefore, the pledge I have made to myself (and seen come to fruition this week) is that besides year 11 gaining solid results and ensuring the other year groups are on track, not one new thing is going to be introduced. Instead, my efforts, time and focus is going to be on researching, creating and developing a mastery curriculum and policies and practice that will support this, ready for September 2015. I am slowing everything down even more to ensure that what we do, is done right and it is done well. I am also going to do this with the help of my SLE and some incredibly enthusiastic and passionate teachers who I have had the pleasure of networking with over the past few weeks and who I am fortunate enough to have in my team.

So, what have I learnt this week? That the best CPD you can offer yourself is to get into other schools, network with our departments, listen to everything that they have to say to you, soak it up and take one small step at a time to ensure that what you do is right for you, and more importantly, right for the students in your care.

A wonderful and fabulous week.


What I have learnt from our learning observations

This week I have been the observed and the observer for our new Learning Observation process. Our Teaching and learning team have invented a new process that, rather than having the teacher as the central focus of the observation, places the student at the heart of the observed lesson.

The premise is the criterion which requires teachers to take account of the needs of all students so whilst for the purposes of this observation we are asked to identify two students for the observer to focus on, we are, actually working on developing our thoughts about how we ensure students within sub-groups make the progress that we are expecting them to make.

Prior to the observation we are asked to select the two students – AMA, SEN, FSM etc etc – that we want our observer to focus on in the lesson. Because I was being observed with my top set, I decided to focus on the AMA sub-group. Conscious that I lack experience, and potentially confidence, in targeting level 7 students I thought this was a fantastic choice of class for my head-teacher to come and observe me with. I went through the AMA data and chose two students for very different reasons. Student A, registered AMA had a target grade of a level 7A but in the last reading assessment had attained a 5A and, therefore, was significantly under-achieving. Student B, also registered AMA also had a target grade of a level 7A but attained a level 6A in the last reading assessment and, therefore, was considered on target. I wanted my observer to see if there was any difference in terms of how the students applied themselves in the lesson, their level of understanding and their output.

For each of the four Ofsted strands: Learning and Progress, Teaching, Assessment for learning and Behaviour we are asked to consider, as we are planning, what our expectations for those students are in terms of what we expect their outcomes to be. So when I was considering Student A, I felt producing a paragraph of analysis at a level 6 would be a solid outcome, despite his target being a level 7. Whereas, in contrast I felt that Student B’s outcome would be a paragraph that was more reflective of a level 7. Furthermore, in considering Behaviour, I felt that Student A would appear less focused and would be more easily distracted than Student B who would remain focused throughout but less likely to offer responses. I found this process incredibly useful as it really made me consider how well I felt I knew or understood the students in the class. Considering their needs in that detail made me think more about how I could accommodate them through the range of tasks and activities which did ensure a range of differentiation strategies were used.

Once the students have been identified and the lesson planned, the premise is that you have time with your observer to discuss the lesson and the students you have chosen, exploring the rationale behind both.
And then you, or the students, are observed. The lesson itself in terms of an observation didn’t feel very different. I taught, the kids learnt and the observer, observed.

However, it was the discussion that followed that was of a very different ilk. Rather than focusing on what I was doing in the classroom, we discussed student expectation and outcome. We explored differentiation, progress and mastery, perhaps not with regard to what was seen and my own professional development but with the faculty in mind and so ideas and actions in terms of tackling such areas at a department level were discussed. This was empowering because rather than the conversation being focused on what I had or hadn’t done, the discussion centred around where the students were and why, where we could take them (as a faculty) and how this might be achievable which felt a much more productive use of time.

In addition, it was a really useful process for my observer as he articulated that, as a result of the observation, he had an enhanced awareness of the increasingly complexity with regard to the mastery of English in comparison to maths which, as a subject, is far less subjective. His level of empathy for the work I had been doing and still need to do had also developed but through the discussion we were able to think of ideas, strategies and actions to continue our movement forward.

I also found that I was not as irritated about not receiving a grade as I thought I might have been. I felt so energised by the discussion around teaching and learning that for the most part, I even forgot that grading had once been part of the process.

Then it was my time to do the observing. I met with the teacher in question and went through the lesson plan, the choice of students and the expected outcomes, ready for the observation the next day.
The observation process was really interesting. My mind-set had completely changed. Rather than focusing on the teacher, I put myself into the space of the child and continually found myself asking – was what they were doing benefitting them? Were they showing a development in a particular key skill? Was it engaging? My responses to those questions had to come from the child state which enabled me to view the lesson from a completely different perspective. And then these responses led me to the ultimate question – something we have been discussing for a long time – Does a great lesson from the teacher perspective make a great lesson from the student perspective? And the answer is no. But we knew this already, right?

This is, for me, what the new learning observation process has reinforced. For the past 5 years we have been jumping through hoops in order to achieve the elusive ‘Outstanding’. Modelling, differentiation, questioning, feedback, progress all have previously had to be evident within the lesson to ensure that outstanding grade. It has become a tick box of skills to demonstrate. Yet, 1) we know this is a false economy – we don’t perform like circus chimps every lesson – it would be impossible and 2) This is to the detriment of our students. In trying to hit all of the above criteria in an observed lesson out of a desire to be the outstanding teacher, we are losing sight of the main task at hand – the needs of the students and their learning process. Learning is not as fast paced as a 50 minute lesson and although one can demonstrate progress, it is, in fact, superficial at the least. I watched students attempt the tasks they were given but I also saw them not complete the activities because they weren’t given enough time to complete the task or enough time to develop the skill.

So where does this leave us? Slow down the learning but don’t make rapid progress? Make rapid progress but to the detriment of our students’ deeper learning?

For me, I am clear on where we need to be heading. It has made our direction even clearer and I am excited by the creative KS4 long term plan that will come from this. I am excited that we are going to slow down the learning at KS4 (and KS3) and that we are going to approach the curriculum delivery differently. I feel enthused, energised and motivated about designing this new curriculum with the knowledge that the students will be at the core. Not to say they weren’t before but this time a new approach will ensure that deeper, longer lasting learning will take place.And it is all thanks to our new learning observation. @Academictrust @kristianstill thank you 

Working with our SLE

Approaching the build up to the arrival of the SLE, a schizophrenic type of personality started to emerge. One minute I was approaching his visit like an Ofsted inspection and the next going for the ‘warts and all’ approach. When he arrived in the building a sense of gentle nervousness crept up on me and waiting for him felt as though I was going into a grilling from Ofsted.

However, he was incredibly personable and likeable. We spent the morning talking about the structure of the faculty at which point he looked at me and said ‘you have a lot on your plate.’ When someone recognises that you have too much to do they become immediately likeable so he had me from that moment and I knew that he was going to be someone I could work with.

We then talked about the quality of teaching and learning within the faculty and completed a learning walk, which I felt was fairly representative of where we are as a faculty.

After break, he met with my two Key Stage Co-ordinators and talked to them before returning to me in the afternoon to talk through areas of data and assessment procedures. He loved the way we assess and moderate and said that the process was really impressive which again was really pleasing.

I then left him to write his report and feed back to my Head teacher.

My head teacher then came to see me and gave me brief feedback about what had reported to him. I was delighted that our SLE had thought I was ‘incredible’ – again recognising the work that had been undertaken and acknowledging the transformation the department has gone through.

And then the report was sent. Our SLE identified the following:

‘The atmosphere in the classes was calm and many people were focused on their learning’
‘Behaviour was excellent’
‘Books had been marked with leading questions to encourage discourse between pupils and teacher. FOD quite rightly pointed this out as a strength and improvement within the department.’
‘Each class had a context folder which held class data and other helpful information, such as schemes of work and assessment targets.’
‘Overviews of the year were clear ensuring all members of the team have no problems understanding where they should be in the calendar, and check point assessments were also explicit.’
‘FOD showed how she tracks the pupils in the different year groups. She is also using 4 matrix to understand progression and attainment. This was a real strength of the department, FOD was aware of where the pupils were and her monitoring was of a high standard.’
‘The department has designed a clear, colour-coded marking policy designed to be pupil communicative as well as to save time marking. There is a discourse between the pupil and the teacher and time is allocated to correct / improve work.’
‘FOD is a passionate and capable HOF who has an exact vision of where should like her department to go. She is hardworking and open to new ideas, reflective and eager to improve. She has the skills to move the department on.’

I felt really pleased with the above comments and the recognition of a number of things we have been really focused on improving. Also, within the report came our areas to focus on:

1. Engaging and inspiring lessons with the use of ICT to further enhance this
2. Confident moderation of work
3. KS3
4. KS5
5. Ownership vs. workload.

As a result of our SLE’s visit, a number of things have already occurred.
1. I have reduced both co-ordinator’s timetables to give them more hours to complete their work. With the introduction of a new member of staff, this has been possible.
2. Careful tracking of leadership meetings.
3. The Literacy Co-ordinator position has been advertised and from next week, someone else will have responsibility for this so I can focus on the faculty.
4. I am going to my SLE’s school for the day to work with his team 🙂

I am really excited about the support and the commitment from the SLE. I am someone who presents it as it is, flaws and all and I think this means we can really work positively together to continue the improvement journey. It is lovely to have someone I can turn to – i.e. I have a top set year 9 who I need to get level 7s from but I am a confident level 5/6 teacher and have often shied away from the top end. It was lovely just to be able to email him and ask him for exemplar level 7 work to help me gain more confidence at the higher end.

I would recommend working with an SLE to anyone – an extra voice – someone who is well versed in your subject area and also has a greater experience is a lovely, fresh experience and one that I fully embrace.

The Chimp Paradox

Work places can be volatile places. As HOF you are responsible for dealing with multiple personalities and it is your job to ensure that from within that a cohesive bond is formed. You can be pushed and pulled from side to side and pillar to post. Demands are made, pleas are made. People moan at you. People moan about you. People laugh with you. The hours are long – you can be the first to arrive and the last to leave. It is tiring. But your passion drives you.

Yes, the workplace is an emotional place to find yourself in. Our job, as leaders, is try to remain constant. Not something that is always easy to do.

Yet The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters explains how you can detach yourself from your emotions so that you make better decisions for yourself and the people around you. It all boils down to controlling your chimp.

Your chimp is your emotive self. It is the part of the brain which controls you and it can cause havoc. The trick is to tame your chimp and calm your chimp down with your human. Now this sounds a little odd ball but it does in fact work.

This week, I had a brief chimp moment. It wasn’t anything serious but an emotional reaction in me was sparked. Instead of emotively responding, I was able to use my human to calm my chimp down and put him back in his cage.

Although walking into the head’s office to discuss the matter and telling him I was in the process of calming my chimp probably helped alleviate some of the emotion as he stared at me in utter bewilderment!

The process of actually referring to your emotive self as the chimp makes calming the chimp down somewhat more tangible. One evening someone did something which sent me into a rage. I was so angry, I cried and cried. No matter what I did I couldn’t stop my emotive reaction. Now I know, if the same thing were to happen and I were to compartmentalise the emotion as the chimp, I would have a much better success rate at calming myself down.

Similarly, the book uses other powerful mind management tools to help you understand other people. For example, one character personality type is described as Snow White. As I was reading the description of Snow White, I had to put the book down because I couldn’t stop laughing as I realised I knew / have worked with a couple of Snow Whites. Prior to reading this book, I would emotively react to Snow White. I could see what they were doing and I would be frustrated by it. However, my lack of understanding at this personality type meant I didn’t compartmentalise the character and dealt with situations arising from Snow White less effectively than I could have. Now I know the makings of a Snow White, I can deal with any future Snow Whites I may meet.

The book also tells you how to deal with your Gremlins. Gremlins are destructive behaviours that have the ability to be fixed (unlike your Goblins which are embedded within the hard drive of your brain). One common Gremlin is the guilt factor, something every teacher suffers from. A simple suggestion in the book is that the guilty Gremlin who uses the word ‘should’ to describe the multiple activities they have to undertake needs to replace this word with ‘could’. ‘I should mark those twenty assignments’ or ‘I could mark those twenty assignments.’ Again, I used this strategy last week and the difference in feeling compelled to do something out of guilt was gone. Saying ‘I could’ meant that I was alleviating myself of the pressure to do it out of a sense of guilt and if I felt like it, I knew I would get it done anyway. If I didn’t the pressure had been removed.

Another brilliant technique I learnt from the book is the art of the difficult conversation. I am not very good at having difficult conversations and I shy away from them. In my role, however, it is becoming more and more important that I hold people to account and, as a result, difficult conversations arise. The book suggests that one way in which you can do this is by following a set structure of articulating the facts before articulating how what you are addressing makes you feel and therefore, implicitly why something needs to change / be modified. This is such a simple strategy but it really does work. I put this in to place twice during the first week back whereby I had to address sub-standard work and it worked beautifully!

The book suggests the support of your troop is vital to a good mindset. This is the troop you choose for yourself. I definitely feel that this one is in the bag as this year I have started attending pub Friday and this is where I am surrounded by really positive, happy people who make me feel really happy  A troop of happiness is definitely important.

Many other topics are touched upon and many other strategies suggested. The book is simple to read and has workable ideas and suggestions to try out and put into practice. It has really helped me deal with some, already, emotive situations and I have been a lot calmer and happier as a result.

A fantastic book!

My 2015 pledge #teacher5aday


1.  I am going to make more of an effort to see my family. This means seeing them more than 3 times a year.  I am going to aim to go home every other month for the weekend.

2. I am going to re-connect with old friends and work on developing friendships.  I will say ‘yes’ more than I do ‘no’ to invitations.  I will invite friends over to dinner and spend more of my time dedicated to them.


1. I have already started a diet.  I am going to lose a minimum of 2 stone.  This has been easier than I thought using ‘My Fitness Pal’ which even messages me when I forget to upload.

2. I have bought the Davina 7 minute work out.  I will do this every day.  7 minutes is not a huge amount of time and it will make me feel better…and I love Davina.

3. I will go for a run twice a week.  This is the minimum.  I live opposite a big grassy area and at 5 am in the morning no one will see my fat booty running so I can do this!

Take notice

1. I will walk more enabling me to take notice of the world around me.

2. I will continue to travel.  I love travelling.  I love going to new places, learning about new cultures.  Vienna is booked for February and I will book either Dubrovnik or Krakow for October.

3. I will scrap book all of my holidays present.  I have been meaning to do this for years and haven’t done it.  Looking back through all the amazing memories created on holiday will bring so much joy.

4. I will travel every other weekend.  As in, have a day out somewhere.  In Italy I used to do this every weekend.  It was brilliant.  There are so many places I am yet to see and things I am yet to do.  First stop, the Gothic exhibition at the British Library in January.

Keep Learning.

1. I will sit my GCSE in Italian in the summer of 2016.  Realistically, I know I can’t do it this year because of huge commitments at work but I will aim for 2016.  Anyone who knows me, knows I love Italy, having lived there for two years and I will go back there every couple of years for the rest of my life.  If I don’t marry and settle down, I will retire there.

2. I will do something creative.  Again I can’t commit to an evening class because of work but I will take other opportunities when they arise.  I am a creative person – art, music…and need to re-address this in 2015.


1. I have a colleague I want to help.  I want her to find some inner peace and happiness and I want to help her with this.  I am not sure how but I am going to be there for her.

2. Every month I am going to do one random act of kindness.

I am excited for 2015.