As Teaching and Learning Assistant Co-ordinator at my school I am tasked with taking over the SGP program our school. Sharing Good Practice is obviously a process that happens naturally in all good teaching, but we’ve set time aside to allow teachers to talk to each other about an area of their teaching that they’d like to improve and focus on. I love this idea, as it has so many benefits: a few quiet moments in the school day to reflect, a renewed focus that can be based around an area of teaching, a specific class or even an individual student, and it’s really re-energising and inspiring talking to teachers from outside my department that I don’t always get a chance to chat to. I hope that the teachers involved feel that sharing good practice is a little re-boot to their motivation, something we all need from time to time.
The way it works in our school is that we meet three times in a cycle and teachers are emailed a personal target beforehand that is based on observation feedback and whole-school focuses. Meeting one is for sharing and planning. Meeting two is for reflection and sharing evidence and the third meeting is back in departments to spread good ideas within the department so that they make it into the shared schemes of work and don’t fade away into the recesses of our busy minds. We use forms like the one below to record the process
I like to think of the whole process using the comparison of the butterfly effect: the idea that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause an earthquake on the other side of the world. Or, in other words, we are looking for small changes in our practice that make a big impact on our students. When we have so many demands on our time and attention, I know that feeling as a teacher of being pulled in a million different directions.
Last week my school had a ‘celebration INSET day’ to reflect on our rapid rise from Special Measures to Outstanding and the key part of the whole day, (even counting the bounteous barbecue and fruity punch!) was the inspirational talk by Sir John Jones. A three times head teacher and genuine educational enthusiast, Sir John reduced many of our teachers to an embarrassing state of happy tears. I’ve titled this post, ‘They will forget most of what we made them think but they will always remember what we made them feel,” and quote from the talk. I will remember the pride and awe that I felt to be a part of this wonderful profession, but I also hope to remember some of the nuggets of wisdom Sir John Jones left us. Here are some of the lessons I interpreted from the talk:
APPRECIATE THIS AMAZING POSITION WE ARE IN TO CREATE CHANGE
So many of the Educational blogs I read and discussions I have had with teachers over the years dwell on the downfalls of being a teacher today. He commented on the stress and work we wade through and the manic ‘teacher walk’ we develop just to be able to fit in a hasty toilet break at lunchtime. Teaching IS difficult. But it is also very rewarding and worthwhile. Sir John told the story of a man who had attended one of his talks where the audience were encouraged to track down a teacher that had changed their lives and thank them. The man searched for this teacher for 6 months before getting his contact details and reluctantly emailing him, saying that he knew the teacher wouldn’t remember him, but he wanted to thank him for inspiring him as a young person. He received an email back saying that of course he remembered him. A few days passed, and the man received a second email, this time from the teacher’s wife showing her appreciation for making the last few days of her husband’s life filled with happy memories of his time teaching and changing lives. We are in an amazing position as teachers.
YOU ARE THE BEST IN THE WORLD AT YOUR JOB: SO YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING
This was a quote from a conference at a cutting edge organisation where the staff were at the top of their game. The audience’s reaction to this statement showed that they were the best: they nodded in agreement. I hope that I never feel that I have ‘cracked it’. There is always a better way to do what I am doing.
BE A DOUBLE-LOOP LEARNER
The idea is that we complete an action and get results. When the results aren’t what we were hoping for, we often are tempted to go back to the action (in this diagram this is labelled as goals, values and strategies), then repeat the action again. This is when we try a but harder with what we were already doing and hope that we’ll get a different result. Sir John described this as ‘the definition of insanity’! He said the really courageous way to make changes is the go back to our underlying assumptions and rethink the problem from the beginning.
I’m hoping that I will remember both what Sir John Jones made me realise again about my role as an educator, as well as how he made me feel about this privileged professional.
There are certain books I turn to time and time again to give me ideas and inspiration for my teaching, and teaching and learning sessions, particularly in the run-up to observations. Here are my top teaching books:
Pimp Your Lesson by Isabella Wallace
A fun, easy to read book looking at all aspects of lesson planning and how to get across all the fantastic things you’re already doing.
The Perfect Ofsted Lesson by Jackie Beere
A clear guide to what the inspectors are looking for in your lessons, wit lots of practical advice grounded in the grading criteria.
All books by Ron Clark!
Ron Clarke is the teacher depicted by Matthew Perry in the fab feel-good movie ‘The Ron Clark Story’. He uses stories from his on experience to discuss a back to basics approach to teaching young people real life lessons.
Teacher’s Toolkit by Paul Ginnis
A must on every new teacher’s list. No theory, just a hue collection of teaching strategies and ideas.
Getting Things Done by David Allen
Not specifically for teachers – just for all very busy people!
A little shameless self-promotion! I have a short e-book available on Amazon for £1.53 which explores ways of making the most of your Secondary classroom space. Setting up the classroom at the start of a new academic year is for me, one of the most exciting and encouraging ways to get ready for the term ahead. Nothing makes a bigger and more immediate visual impact and says more about the type of teacher you are and what the students who enter your domain can expect.
In this short book I explore the importance of the classroom as a learning and motivational tool, and offer a plethora of funky ideas that you can use and adapt to create your own impressive personalised space!
Some reviews on the book:
“I liked how the author was able to draw on her own practical experience and also build on all the best of what she has seen over the years in her teaching career. I can see teachers everywhere being pleasantly surprised at the reaction of their students as they enter the classroom eagerly to see how it is going to look today. The students will feel valued – “she actually went to all this trouble for us?” The teacher will hopefully gain brownie points too in that student interest and enthusiasm for subjects and topics will grow. Without being over the top the author encourages readers to take a fresh new look at classroom environments for secondary schools and her enthusiasm is catching!”
“An insightful booklet on the art of teaching. There are plenty of good ideas here, practical stuff that plays well in the classroom. I particularly liked the class museum section. There is a method to the madness.”
In our job, we come across students with all kinds of difficulties, and while we have training on how to deal with special educational needs, sometimes we have to educate ourselves!
Doctor Graham Williamson is a speech consultant and language therapist and has a great blog on all things related to speech. Like I aim to do with this blog, his website contains articles written in plain English which give a clear snapshot of how to understand and deal with issues including communication assessment information, which are really useful for teachers, parents and carers. Check out his site here:
As teachers, shouldn’t we be communication experts too?
After a recent OFSTED, there’s been a whole-school focus on directed differentiation. Many of us use differentiation activities where students get a choice of tasks or where there is an optional extension task or supportive resource to help students who are struggling. Much to our horror, the inspectors seemed to be looking for heaps of evidence in their observations of teachers naming students specifically and asking them to do particular tasks during the lesson.
This makes me a little uncomfortable.
I believe there is definitely an argument for challenging our students to do work which we know is within their capability through directed differentiation, however I cringe inwardly at the idea of students who are already in ability sets being labelled as being at the top, or bottom of the class. I’m leading a research and development group at my school which aims to look into this issue. For now, here are some tips on thing you can do to differentiate, although for my part, I may sick to the more subtle options until my mind is changed!
Here are some things you are probably already doing in your classroom, which can be highlighted on the lesson plan as differentiation:
Seating plan – placing students where they can focus best
Setting flexible tasks that allow for creativity
Providing examples / modelling
Including examples in your explanations that are relevant and interesting to your students
Paired work for peer support
Choosing students to answer specific questions
Differentiated learning objectives and success criteria
Use of challenging word banks
Whole-class feedback and consolidation of learning
Use of a range of learning styles
Self and peer assessment
Personalised formative feedback
Recap previous learning
I like to have a little toolbox of ideas for games and little activities that can be incorporated into lessons to wake the sleepyheads up. Here are some of my favourites that have been tried and tested.
1. Snowball: students write 3 key words from a topic onto a piece of paper, then scrunch it up, and (on the teacher’s say-so) chuck across the classroom! They then pick up a snowball, un-scrunch, and the game continues until they’ve run out of ideas. One student is then selected to read out their snowball.
2. Who Am I? Ask one brave student to come up to the front. Write the name of a key person or concept on a sticky note and stick it to the student’s forehead. The volunteer then asks the class questions about who or what they are, and the class can only answer with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The student who guesses using the least amount of questions wins!
3. The Rule in the Room. One student is asked to leave the classroom, while the rest of the class comes up with a rule that they all will adhere to when they return. The student must guess what that rule is, e.g. ‘touch something blue at all times’. This one’s just for a bit of fun!
4. Smurf! Again, a bit of fun, I play it at the start of lessons on verbs. One student leaves the room while the class decides on a verb or verbal phrase which will be kept a secret and only referred to as ‘smurfing’. Whne the student returns, he or she asked questions to find out what smurfing is. E.g. smurfing might be ‘changing a lightbulb’. They may ask questions such as ‘Do I smurf on a daily basis? Do both men and women smurf? Etc. Hilarity ensues!