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.
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The 2012 Ofsted criteria for an outstanding lesson states that “Pupils demonstrate excellent concentration and are rarely off-task,” and this should start right from the moment that the first student enters the room, which is why ‘bell work’ is s great idea. In ‘The Perfect Ofsted Lesson’, by Jackie Beere – a great little book that can be downloaded cheaply onto your Kindle, or bought in paperback – Beere points out that “students should expect to start work as soon as they come into the classroom without you directing them… it neatly shows how you are completely and effortlessly in control.” I would also add, that it is said that independent, student-led or group work should make up around 80% of your lesson – a tough ask – and so you might as well start right from the word ‘go’.
Quirky bell activities that are designed purely to wake the students up and get the little grey cells working can be fun and useful, however, in lessons where you are being observed, I do believe that every part of the lesson should be linked to prior learning and / or the learning intentions.
Here are some suggestions of bell work I’ve collected from ‘The perfect Ofsted Lesson’, and my reading in general.
- Thunks: Ian Gilbert’s ‘Little Book of Thunks‘ offers a goldmine of beguiling questions with no right or wrong answer. Some examples are: Does a goldfish know it is your pet? If you always got what you wished for, would you always be happy? Which is heavier: an inflated or deflated balloon? What has the most freedom – an ant or a school child?
- Work for, party with, or send to the jungle? Set pairs a discussion task where they say what they would do with the following and why, e.g. Prince William, John Terry, Russell brand
- A Curiosity: for example, a box where students have to guess what’s inside. I did this with a year 8 class studying war poetry. I brought in an antique hairbrush set in its original box, which was presented to a woman for her 21st birthday just before WW1
Here are some ideas from ‘Pimp Your Lesson’:
- The Beach Ball Trick: throw a beach ball around and ask each student who catches it to recap something from the last lesson / name one key piece of German vocab learned last lesson, etc.
- Secret Mission: disguise pair or group activities by putting them in envelopes and presenting them as ‘secret missions’. You can also show differentiation by tailoring tasks according to ability
- The Rule in the Room: while one pupil waits outside the classroom, the remaining students are given a rule which will govern their behaviour. On re-entering the room, the student must ask random questions and try to guess the rule in the room, e.g. English: participants must use alliteration in their speech, Science: students use a word that can be associated with digestion, etc.
- Mind the Gap: use mini whiteboards and read something to the class referring to prior learning. Miss out a key word and have students write the word on their mini whiteboards and hold them up
- Bumps: this retro party game can be adapted so that students must identify examples of a particular concept as they listen to you read a text
Another sneaky way of getting that tick in the Ofsted criteria box is to incorporate ICT. Remember, however, that ICT should only be used to enhance learning, not distract from it. “Resources, including new technology make a marked contribution to the quality of learning”
- Blockbusters: on the teachers direct website, you can create your own interactive blockbuster quiz before the lesson
- Create a random-o-meter with thunks on (see above) using a power point presentation set on slide show setting with the time reduced to 0 seconds
Starters and bell activities are opportunities to be creative and wander off the beaten path of the curriculum for one delicious moment. Enjoy it!