Michaela is phenomenal.
To be honest, I’ve always been supportive so the book launch on Saturday and my visit on Thursday was simply about taking the opportunity to learn more so that I can continue to grow and develop my faculty area.
I arrived on Thursday, feeling incredibly nervous. After signing in, the lovely Katie Ashford came over to chat with me. One thing that struck me on Saturday, which was reinforced on Thursday, was just how lovely and friendly all the staff are. Nothing was too much trouble and all were willing to openly chat and talk through the methodology behind the practice, as well as the practice itself and it was great to have an initial quick chat with Katie.
Reception informed me I would be meeting with Katharine before going on a tour. I was going to meet the scariest head teacher in England! At this point, my nerves trebled. Katherine is inspirational. A week before the Michaela book launch, Katharine had written a blog on how important it was for leaders to put their staff before the students – a happy, healthy staff, after all, will perform better in the classroom, positively impacting on the students. This was so aligned with what I’d been promoting over the last term that she instantly became my new heroine. Then on the Saturday, her passionate talk about social justice made me cry! In front of us all stood the most incredibly compassionate leader who not only promoted the wellbeing of her staff but the importance of ensuring all pupils, regardless of background, achieve and that we, as staff, empower them to believe they can be anyone they want to be and achieve anything they put their mind to. I have to admit I was terrified to meet with her on a one-on-one basis but she was lovely and warm and most importantly, talked sense. In an increasingly frustrating educational world, this was so unbelievably refreshing. Over the past few weeks she has really inspired me as a female leader. She has reconnected me with my values and the belief I have in myself to stay true to who I am and to continue to act with my heart by prioritising the wellbeing of my staff and the students in my care so that all are healthy to perform at their best. I cannot speak highly enough of Katharine and the respect I have for her.
After my chat with Katharine, I was shown around the school by two of the most wonderfully polite and respectful pupils. They exuded confidence and spoke articulately about different aspects of the school, sharing lots of information from how the library was organised to the self-quizzing / assessing process. They were extremely knowledgeable, discussing with me their favourite composers and artists. One of the students told me how Michaela had transformed him from an unruly pupil in primary to the kind human being he felt he was now. In describing his transformation, he stated he felt he had won a ‘golden ticket’ and in wandering the school and speaking with them both, I couldn’t help but agree with him.
In touring the school, the thing I was most struck by was how purposeful the school felt. It was absolutely silent. Reception when I walked in was silent, the corridors were silent, the classrooms were silent and the staffroom was silent. This was a place of learning and everyone was focused and engaged with just that.
After my tour, it was time for lunch. I have never seen anything like family lunch. I had to hold back my tears. I got to the lunch room a few minutes early, as advised by Katherine and watched as pupils began to fill the room, reciting a poem, led by the wonderful Jo Facer. To see the room fill with just under 200 students all reciting the same poem was captivating (especially as I am an English teacher). Pupils sit in groups made up of pupils from different year groups. This gives all pupils in the school the opportunity to sit and get to know lots of other pupils in the school. Each pupil is assigned a position and this correlates with a job to fulfil over lunch. This is a slick operation and before I even realised, I had been served my lunch and water. Once lunch had been served, Mike Taylor offered the topic for discussion – attendance. With teachers sharing the same tables as pupils, this was a lovely opportunity to spend time talking with the pupils (diverting from the topic occasionally). After lunch, it was time for appreciation. Pupils were encouraged to think of someone they might want to show appreciation to and when asked, nearly all of the pupils raised their hands. In fact, the two pupils sat directly next to me asked me my name as they wanted to offer an appreciation to me. I can’t tell you how lovely this was. And then after lunch we made our way out to the playground. The most striking thing here was that on filing out, I was met by the other half of the school in the corridors and hallway lined up ready to enter the dining hall in absolute silence. It was an incredible sight.
Playground duty gave me a further opportunity to talk with staff, especially the lovely Olivia Dyer and the pupils. Many of the pupils played sport and table tennis whilst some sat and self-quizzed. I sat with some wonderful young ladies who told me about their studies and I listened in awe as they listed the literature they had read in class. They were full of joy and there was much laughter as we discussed everything from literature to aspirations to imaginary family trees.
After lunch, I gate-crashed Joe Kirby’s lesson. What a wonder! Watching Joe give feedback to the class was a sight to behold. Michaela don’t mark and yet not having marked the essays in the way in which many of us are accustomed to, I have never seen such personalised and detailed feedback. The pupils’ essays were phenomenal – the range of vocabulary, the structure, the content, the knowledge – they were incredible pieces of work and I was in awe, once more. I promised myself that I would continue pushing my own expectations of our pupils to ensure that they too could feel the same level of confidence to produce work of a similar standard.
And then I saw the lovely Jo Facer. She was also giving feedback to her year 7 class. Again, without having marked every single word with a WWW and EBI, Jo gave personalised and detailed feedback to the pupils. I particularly enjoyed the spellings and vocabulary at the start which I thought was done brilliantly and replicated with my class (different spellings!) the next day.
In both lessons, there was laughter and joy. Pupils demonstrated remarkable knowledge and so many contributed and were eager to contribute throughout. Pupils proudly shared their work. When incorrect answers were given, they accepted their errors with humility. The pace was fast and yet all pupils kept up. Their level of independence was a sight to behold as Jo encouraged them to check their work and self-assess it.
A question I’ve been asked so many times since my visit to Michaela is what can you actually learn from Michaela? There are many sceptics who think that what happens at Michaela is because a) they have been able to establish their expectations from the start and b) (some would argue) they have a selective intake.
However, I’m inclined to disagree. On Friday, I replicated a Michaela lesson with a low ability year 7 group – a group which contains a range of pupils including one boy with extreme autism who regularly calls out. I copied Jo’s approach on spelling. The pupils then finished some work off from the previous lesson. And then I gave them a comprehension which we green penned afterwards – again magpied from Michaela. They worked in silence. I haven’t seen them as focused as they were on Friday in a long, long time. So can it be replicated? Absolutely it can.
As I’ve said on Twitter, the best teachers and leaders have open hearts and open minds so that they can learn from others. I learnt so much on Thursday and my practice as both teacher and leader will improve as a result. This is because I am, unashamedly (sorry Michaela!) going to magpie so much.
Already in place
- Knowledge organisers – my faculty started creating these three weeks ago but the original idea I believe came from Joe Kirby
- Tutor time reading – I started reading Frankenstein with my year 7s on Monday
- This week, prior to visit but post book launch, my students have started to learn and recite ‘All the world’s a stage’ by William Shakespeare. I am so proud of them and the sheer joy in sharing the poem together in that way has been wonderful.
Going to introduce / develop
- Self-assessing. Students, in my faculty, will be given a self-assessment book and each night of the week, one of the five departments within the faculty area will set self-assessing homework.
- Subject knowledge. I need to improve mine and think we need to have an enhanced subject knowledge throughout. Wider reading and collaborating more can support this.
- Vocabulary development. Magpied Michaela’s approach.
- Booklets. Lots of school use booklets and I’ve created a few as has @FKRitson. For January, I am going to continue creating booklets for my classes. I will not be using my projector, unless I want to show a short clip. Interestingly, I have already planned a booklet to use for the next two weeks since Thursday. It took me about four hours and it is the most focused and knowledge based piece of work I have produced in months.
- Whole class marking and the much more personalised feedback sharing excellent examples of students’ work more frequently.
- Green pen. Loved this. Such a simple idea but so brilliant.
- Three warnings and a lunchtime. When imposing a warning, explaining why the warning has been given especially if their actions have a detrimental effect on others. Michaela reminded me of ensuring that this was explicit.
- Insist students make eye contact with me when they enter my classroom – a number of my students lack confidence and these basics will really help them develop that confidence.. Using the language of respect constantly by ensuring students address me as Miss and say please and thank you always. This is not to say my students aren’t respectful – they are but again explicitly reinforcing respect and kindness is something I am going to do more often.
- No calling out. Hands up only.
- Expand the tutor programme so all students in year 7 are reading the same book during tutor time.
- Year 10 and year 11 to begin learning the anthology poems off by heart.
- Produced and now need to implement – appreciation postcards once a week with my tutor group (checked) and then distributed by me
Things I would love to introduce
- I loved the fact that students at Michaela register in the morning and the afternoon. In the morning, they leave their coats and bags in their form room and each student has a plastic wallet type thing in which they carry all their books and equipment. LOVE this!
- Family lunch – this was so unbelievably powerful.
I am sure there is more but two days on, I am still trying to distill everything.
A huge thank you to Jo Facer for organising my visit and to Katherine for letting me visit.