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Showing posts from 2015

I've got to be strategic but what on Earth does that mean? Attendance as a case study

I've been a senior leader for seven terms now and I have to admit that I thought I wasn't that good at it.  I lost a little confidence and this in turn made me start listening to those voices on the internet that I've always ignored.  I begun to think that they may have a point: that teaching is a rubbish profession and that there is no real way through.  That SLT and Ofsted and the Secretary of State are the enemy. Then I remembered that they are wrong.  I remembered that I have no idea why some of these commentators are actually still in schools.

I didn't think I was any good because I forgot about my lack of patience.  Change takes time. Strategic change takes time.  The areas that I lead in are doing brilliantly. The school is continuing to improve well; the Science department banked the best results ever and is well above national averages in every way possible.  Pupil Premium students are doing better than they ever have as a group and the gap between our young …

Keeping it simple: a cycle that makes leadership better.

I'm quite a simple person at heart, anything too complicated and I just get distracted.  As an outdoor instructor, we stuck to a basic patters: plan, do, review. This simple system worked well in the high stakes world of mountains: get it wrong and people can get seriously injured or die.  Of course, there are many subtleties and tweaks, but improvement, leadership ad teaching are very simple at the core.

I may be completely missing the point (highly probable) but, after a run in the rain, here's what I think:



The beauty of this cycle is that it operates at any scale, from the individual lessons, through long term plans to whole school leadership of teaching and learning.
Big Plan
This is what needs doing.  There should be clear aspirations that are shared and form the basis of evaluation.  It's the most crucial stage and can take a long time to do.  It's also important to note that a Big Plan can operate at different timescales and range from micro to macro. Some exam…

Teaching IS CPD

Ever since being part of the 21st Century Learning Alliance Fellowship back in 2010, I've been inspired by Sir Tim Brighouse's words around teachers talking to teaching.  Low cost, high impact. This has led me to develop the concept of campfire culture and start getting together TeachMeet Solutions.  At the moment, I'm completing my CPD log to retain the Chartered Geographer (Teacher) status that I enjoy from the Royal Geographical Society.  The process has made me reflect on the nature of teaching CPD, and to many I'm sure this post will be a continuation of 'David states to bleeding obvious.'

The analogy of a campfire can be extended to CPD.  Courses and big conferences and large TeachMeets have their place, but they can provide far too much fuel.  I always leave with a mind full of ideas, but only ever implement a few. I've got many notebooks that are filled with analogue scrawls and ideas that have never been realised.  Too much fuel added at the wrong…

I don't care how you teach, as long as students make progress.

As a school leader I've had the privilege to visit many, many classrooms.  I learn something during most visits, whether my stay be five minutes or longer.  As a teacher and school leader, I've looked at loads of outcomes and progress data over the years and used these to start and inform conversations about teaching and learning.  I've also been lucky enough to visit and teach in classrooms other than in the UK.  Based on this rather flimsy experience of successfully increasing attainment and progress at different scales continually over my career, I've come to the following conclusions:
The core purpose of education is to ensure that every young person makes more progress than they ever expected through developing their skills, broadening their knowledge and deepening their understanding. However, if we are to succeed in this goal, the purpose of education has to be much broader and contextualised to each individual institution's context.  There's no point in…

Talking to yourself really helps

As an ultra marathon runner, I'm used to speaking to myself.  Self talk is really important in teaching and leadership.  Quite often, I wish that I was less observant so that student with their coat on wasn't visible to me etc. However, I’ve seen too many leaders look the other way. Here are some techniques I use based on no research whatsoever, just what I do.

1. How should I react?



The first bit of self-talk concerns what to do about something.  Everything that happens can be classified into the two areas above.  I save myself energy by focusing on the stuff that I can change including having a strong routine at the start of the lesson, whether my running daps are well fitting.  I can't do anything about the weather outside, I can just make the decision of what equipment to wear. Unlike the weather outside, I can influence the climate in school. I see Government interventions and Ofsted as the weather (don't like the current raft of initiatives? Ignore them for a year …

We don't care how teachers mark and give feedback, but books need to be marked by teachers.

After reading a few posts about feedback lately, I thought I'd revisit and share my own views on this important matter.  From the outset I'd state that we:

1. Don't care how teachers mark and provide feedback, as long as it is happening.
2. Know that marking and acknowledging work is a key driver to raising expectations.

If it were up to me, all teachers would do is mark, plan, teach and repeat.

Effective feedback is vital to moving young people on, and is part of my dream model of learning:


So, marking and feedback is important but it is for middle leaders to decide how best that is done so that it is appropriate to the subject and fit for purpose.  Marking and feedback includes assessment for and of learning, opportunities for which need to be carefully crafted and planned if they are to have the desired effect.  However, as a senior leader in school (with feedback on my brief) it is not for me to micro-manage the situation.  Teachers need to be professional enough to u…

Fieldwork in geography: responding to the 2016 GCSE Geography spec

I'm certain that very few people have failed to notice that GCSEs are changing.  In terms of Geography, the biggest challenge that many face is the changes to fieldwork. During the Year of Fieldwork, we see the most distinctive part of the subject reduce from 25% to 15% and from Controlled Assessment to and examination paper.

Many will not be sorry to see Controlled Assessment go in terms of workload. Although I can understand this, I see it as a great loss to our ability to explore high quality geography: the fieldwork enquiry is what geographers do.  The fear around an exam paper is that students can be drilled to pass them, and I hope that Ofqual try to ensure that this doesn't happen.

Having said this, there are positives:

Students will need a deeper understanding of fieldwork and therefore do more of it.The inclusion of two contrasting environments and a signed statement of fieldwork completed provides powerful leverage for more fieldwork.Geography's position in Prog…

Teachers talking about teaching: creating a research culture in school

Every since hearing Sir Tim Brighouse talk whilst I was a 21st Century Learning Alliance Fellow (read the report from 2010), I've seen the importance of teachers talking to teachers about teaching. I prefer to think of this as a campfire situation because, as an outdoor instructor, we used to evaluate the day around the stove with a brew in hand.

Coupled with this, whilst the value of educational research is not in question, it is quite often inaccessible to teachers.  The studies can be vague or too focused on a small scale development.  the buzzwords (growth mindset, GRIT, metacognition) are easy to use, but the underlying practice can be difficult to unpick.

This is why we created research bursars with the twin aim or translating research into practice within our own context whilst championing the process of action research and engagement with academic literature.

First, I would encourage you to read through what our 2014_15 team developed:



The selection process was straight f…

Leadership musings - line managing an academic department

There is a lot to do as an Assistant Headteacher, and one of the duties is to line manage academic departments. This is one of the best aspects of the role as it's about building people and teams. I'm really pleased that the Science team that I have worked with over the past two years celebrated record results in 2015, meaning that more of our young people achieved better than they thought possible - a fact that can help confirm their post-16 choices or open new avenues. Indeed, a third of our school's top grades came from the department.What makes this even more of a celebration is that this was set within the context of not only a disapointing set of results the previous year, but a year of turbulance after some not-so-favourable visits and staff restructuring due to increasing employment costs. We had staff sickness, turnover, a lack of funds (well, none) and a whole host of other events. In a nutshell, the team are bloody ace, especially as the young peopple were …

I’m 37 years old and still have to pinch myself to ensure my job is real. Advice for the new year.

This post is an attempt to offer some advice to those who have chosen teaching as a career, mainly because I’m trying to procrastinate a little further. But first a story.  This week I took my son to Beddgelert in Snowdonia National Park, the home of a Welsh legend that I learnt about when a pupil at school.  Gelert was medieval Prince Llewellyn's hound.  One day, when the Prince was off hunting, the prince’s dwelling was attacked by a big, hungry wolf.  Gelert fought the creature off.  However, when Llewellyn returned to a blood soaked dog, he assumed that Gelert had attacked and eaten his baby son.  In a rage,  the prince slaughtered Gelert. Once the life had been drained from the dog, the prince heard a baby cry, and found his son untouched.  Gelert had fought off the wolf, whose blood soaked the hounds coat.  The grave can be visited at the village Beddgelert (meaning Gelert’s Grave) and the area is looked after by the National Trust (there’s also a fantastic ice cream shop…).…

Bridging the chasm–collaboration in schools with real people #blimage

Rachel Jones tagged me in this #blimage post with the image below (source).  You can see the growing list of posts here. The challenge is to write about an image, linking it to education.There are many ways in which I can interpret this image and link it to education, many of which focus on the paper and all linked to collaboration– which I’m assuming is blank:The paper is a Scheme of Work or Development Plan.Planning is vital – teaching really isn’t something which can be made up as you go along.  This can lead to jumping on bandwagons or using the latest resource or tool out of context – remember it’s not about lessons but sequences of learning.  Often, I speak to teachers who plan is isolation.  I would say that this is impossible.  Not only will the resultant work be limited to one educational perspective and be biased toward one set of tools and ideas, it’s just bloody hard work.  Creativity is best set free in a collaborative environments.  Of course, this may mean trying to wor…

My dream model of learning.

In many, many ways educators stand on the shoulders of the giants that go before us.  In this post, it’s the many sources of inspiration out there, especially the Staffrm crowd who fed into the feedback.  You see, I only ever hold my ideas lightly, but I’ll still fight you for them…. It’s struck me over the past year that the online community is not wholly healthy for education.  To me, it represents a healthy dose of state the obvious (dressing old ideas up with new language and buzz words) blended with utter pointless arguments.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good argument, but there are many offline colleagues that provide endless inspiration and challenge.  I include myself in this.It’s been a brutal year, one characterised by redundancies and a drop in outcomes with all of the pressure that generates.  What’s important  is that we dust off and continue to face the storm.  This post comes about as the result of countless runs and a certain colleagues always asking me what I’d do wi…

Recognising the ledger of our daily work

'I Guess we all like to be recognised not for one piece of fireworks, but for the ledger of our daily work.' Neil Armstrong Have been meaning to respond to @leahmoo  's story about end of year gifts for some time now (that phrase always reminds me of Agent Smith).  In a nutshell, I don't do gifts for either students or staff at the end of term. It would be impossible for students - there are over a thousand of them. However, I do believe that recognising and thanking staff is important. To me, this links with this year's obsession with wellbeing. I'm also always aware of perception - I'm SLT so therefore should be able to afford gifts or if I give gifts, does that set a precedent and expectation that others do the same? Also, I'm not in the habit of thanking people for being mediocre. Now before I'm accused of being a grumpy member of SLT, here are a few things I try to do throughout the year. 1. As a Head of Department I used to arrange a collecti…