Monthly Archives: October 2015

Half term reflections

I am sat in a beautiful square in Dubrovnik nearing the end of my seven day holiday.  I always tell those in my department and new starters that this half term is the most important holiday to get away.  With two long terms either side and the nights drawing in coupled with poor weather, terms 1 and 2 can be hard.  Having also lost my summer to an operation, getting away was even more important.

Term  1 was the hardest term yet and in my head it should have been the easiest.  Having started at the academy 2.5 years ago when the GCSE results were 44% I honestly thought when the results came in this year at 63% that the hardest part was over.  Yet In their wisdom, the government decided to change the English curriculum all in one go.  All the hard work, all the graft to improve outcomes had come into fruition with fantastic results but the foundations I had created to stabilise the department had now been ripped away and I found myself back at square one with three new curriculums to plan.  We had a few months to prepare for this – nowhere near long enough and so, collectively, as an English body, it has been an upward struggle.  For me the most poignant moment of this struggle is when I woke up at 3am one morning to plan and found to my astonishment that four other English teachers were up having not gone to bed.  A system close to crisis point and me close to breaking point.

Breaking point is an unusual place to me.  I’m positive.  I graft – I’m definitely not afraid of graft having taken two inadequate faculties to good outcomes but there is a part of me that is exhausted at having to start all over again and this term, my positivity left me.  I hated this because I don’t operate from a negative place and so I began to resent what I felt the profession was turning me into.  How could I love something and hate it in equal measure at the same time?  Thoughts of Italy have flooded my mind, returning to the place where my heart is and where it was possible, every day to experience the elusive work life balance that we can only talk of in England.  Yet despite my own personal misery, I feel compelled to see the job through, for better or worse etc etc.

So what has going on holiday allowed me to do about this situation I find myself in?

  1. Have a break.  Having lost the summer to an operation, I didn’t relax so going into term 1 I hadn’t rested and resting is important for both the body and the mind.  It allows a clarity of mind and a rejuvenation to feel energised to tackle whatever comes your way.
  2. I say this often but I really don’t take good care of myself.  During term time I don’t eat breakfast, I eat crappy food and sleep for about 6 hours.  It’s amazing how differently you can feel when you do all of the above.
  3. I don’t read enough.  I always tell myself I must read more and I never do.  From Monday I am back to travelling by bus because my partner in driving crime has left so I will have more time to read.  This is a great feeder for the mind.
  4. I did this crazy thing when I got my money from exam marking – I booked up every single Saturday until the end of November.  Now this has both a positive and negative side.  Positively I have seen great shows – Memphis, Priscilla; been to the Tate; learnt and networked at Researched and TLT15; visited my parents and more.  The downside is that this means there is no down time because Sunday becomes work day and so resting doesn’t happen.  I now to need to think of booking something every fortnight instead in order to get the balance back and rest more often.

And then school, what can I do about school?

  1. I have some great, wonderfully positive people in the department.  Instead of worrying about those who are less positive, I need to focus my energy on those who are keen and enthusiastic and genuinely want to make a difference.  As HOF, we can spend too much time on the drainers which ultimately means we become drained which is not healthy for our state of mind and our own well-being.
  2. Let go.  For the past two years I have done the KS4 planning.  I’ve done it – not as a directive – the department haven’t had to follow it but because it’s been there, they have and is has led to complacency and laziness.  And, this year, with everything changed, I can’t keep planning for everyone.  It isn’t sustainable. Yet  I tried to take a step back last term and the week I did, nearly everyone was in tears unable to cope.  However, I know that if we are to develop, the stabilisers need to come off and I need  to stand my ground and people need to do their own planning which means I can’t freely share mine.  This is going to be a challenge because my first instinct is always to want to help people. Some people’s planning is not yet strong and so I have to breathe and accept that this is the case and train and work with staff to improve everything one step at a time.
  3. Think of myself more.  I am a selfless HOF.  I put everyone and their wives before myself.  There is one member of staff I have invested heavily in – time, care, support only to have her hand in her notice a week ago.  I feel let down but it is a great lesson for me to learn because you can’t keep everyone happy all of the time no matter how hard you try and accepting this, considering the amount of time I invest in staff versus the amount of time I invest in myself, is quite the challenge but will, ultimately, make me a better HOF.  I need to ensure I keep myself happy too.
  4. Find my positivity again.  Learn to love my job again.  I have 4/5 great classes.  I have some really positive people in my team.  I have a very supportive SLT.  I just NEED to believe I can get through this government induced nightmare and come out the other side stronger.
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TLT15 takeaways

Another brilliant CPD experience yesterday.  I could go on about how fantastic the Twitter community is as I’ve been up since 4am thinking about it.  However, instead here are four takeaways from four different sessions

Session 1 – leadership – @jillberry 

I am at a challenging stage of my leadership.  For two years, after inheriting an inadequate faculty with GCSE outcomes of 44% and taking this to 63% across those two years, the stabilisers have been on.  Now, it is time for the stabilisers to come off and this has been quite a challenging situation to face up to this term, especially with all our curriculum changes.  It has led to a very difficult term and emotionally I have been tested.  Jill encouraged us to think about great middle leadership and this really helped me to begin to frame and re-focus on what I need to prioritise over the coming months as piece by piece the stabilisers totally come away and how I can ensure I stay strong in what will be a challenging year in terms of leadership for me.

Session 2 – questioning – Sarah Findlater

A great session recapping lots of great questioning techniques.  For me, the takeaway is in using Blooms taxonomy to frame questions.  I remember seeing a Teach Firster reflect on this but haven’t yet incorporated into my planning.  In using Blooms, I can ensure a level of differentiation through my questioning and it really helps to frame my lesson planning better.  I have started to use it this morning as I have been planning.  Within the session, we planned questions on adjectives.  Using Blooms it might look something like this:

  • Identify the adjective in the following passage.
  • Explain what an adjective is.
  • Construct three adjectives to describe the house.
  • Analyse how the adjectives in this passage reveal the character to be unkind.
  • Now design adjectives to show elements of the character that isn’t kind.
  • Evaluate your choice of adjectives, assessing how they contribute to the description of the character.

electric educator

Session 3 – reading @jofacer 

Wonderful session on reading.  I love that Jo promotes reading for all as this is something I do in my classroom and I, too, am dreadful at the voices but will always give it a go!  For me there are two takeaways that I am going to incorporate into my planning from next term: 1) Pre-planning the questions that accompany the reading of a text.  I don’t do this enough and instead pose questions during reading which means, I guess, that the quality of my questioning is varied.  By giving questions consideration beforehand I can ensure the questions are of a better quality, especially when coupled with the above.  This made me feel very excited for the teaching of 19th century fiction next term!  2) DEAR – we are bringing DEAR back from next term.  Previously, I have let students read their own choice of book.  I think next term I am going to choose texts with two core purposes: 1) To introduce them to fantastic literature and harness a greater interest in reading by offering teasers etc.  2) To develop knowledge 🙂

Session 4 – vocabulary Caroline Spalding

Another fantastic session on vocabulary.  I really struggle with vocabulary and I don’t think I have done enough to stretch my students’ vocabulary especially as most of my classes are C/D borderline etc etc so much of my focus has been on understanding.  My takeaway is that I need to give much more thought ahead of a unit to the vocabulary I want students to be exposed too.  Already this morning, when thinking about a film review unit I am teaching next term, I am looking at exemplar texts to magpie key vocabulary that the students can use.  I then need to consider the ways in which I introduce this to students.  We have great vocabulary books but I would like to develop this to ensure the vocab is constantly being revisited and students are clear on the words they are learning.

Special mentions have to go to Stephen Lockyer and Chris Waugh who both gave inspiring talks at the beginning and the end of the day.  Also, catching up with so many fantastic Twitter people was invigorating and inspiring.

I had a superb day and cannot wait to see how what I have learned improves my practice and that of my departments.