2014 has been an extremely busy year both professionally and personally. I have taken on more responsibility and challenge at school as part of an extended leadership team, focusing on teaching and learning. Me and my wife are expecting our first child in April 2015, which means things are changing (in a good way!). It has been almost two years since I set up this blog and it has enabled me to reflect much more deeply on my own learning in teaching and leadership.
Here’s a few things (in no particular order) I have learnt / achieved in 2014.
1. Never underestimate the power of positive relationships in school. I learnt very quickly in my new leadership position the power of listening to concerns and more importantly acting upon them. The minute you don’t, trust is lost and it’s incredibly difficult to ever get it back. Some advice from Stephen Covey that I have been able to practice (a lot!) is “Seek first to understand before being understood.”
2. Prioritise the main thing. What one thing could you do more of that will have the biggest effect in school? This was a question posed by the Principal at one of our SLT meetings. Quite often the urgent takes the place of the important. there’s always an email that needs replying to or some marking to be done, but in my leadership whats the one thing that would make a bigger difference across the school? Getting into classrooms. The last 2 weeks of term I managed to walk classrooms every other day for about 45 minutes. This enabled me to talk to students about their learning, talk to staff, champion great practice and give live feedback with no grades. In discussion with other members of SLT I believe we have learnt more about the typicality of teaching then planned learning walks or observations.
3. TeachMeet #NeverStopLearning. In hindsight it was probably a bit ambitious trying to get teachers to attend an evening event the day before term 1 came to end, but that did not deter just over 100 teachers making the effort. The event was a great success with David Didau providing a very thought provoking keynote. There were some excellent workshops from Nina Jackson, Lucy Crehan, Crista Hazell, Zofia Higlet, Amber Bracey, Alex Heath, Chris Baker and Rory Gallagher. The evening was wrapped up in style with a plenary from Mark Anderson. These evenings are always inspirational to the people that attend and give people an opportunity to look outward from their school to seek new ideas.
4. Time. Since starting my new leadership position i have found the most useful resource I can offer colleagues is time. Whether it’s a colleague unloading after a bad day or seeking support in a lesson or just a chat. No matter how busy I am I will always offer time and enthusiasm for my colleagues.
5. Reading. I’ve read a number of teaching and leadership books this year (see my reading list). Continually building my knowledge and exploring new ideas is something I hope to continue to do for the rest of my life. It’s something I genuinely enjoy and thrive on. I want to be continuously challenged – it’s something that help keeps me to keep pushing the limits of my own capability.
6. Colleagues. I am fortunate enough to work with some remarkable colleagues that inspire and challenge me on a daily basis. Seeing colleagues thrive in school and enabling them to pursue ideas and try things out has been one of the most pleasing aspects of my work in 2014. I had the absolute pleasure of working with a fairly large cohort of NQTs these past two terms and it has been one of the highlights of my career so far watching them grow and develop, meeting challenges head on and coming up with creative solutions. A real inspiration.
7. Students. They are truly wonderful (each in their own way). Whenever I am involved in strategic decisions I always try to come back to the students and how it will help improve their outcomes. Keeping the main thing the main thing. Everything thing I do in school is focused around the students. One of my main duties in my leadership role is organising CPD for teachers, a role I don’t take lightly and one that I will work tirelessly to ensure teachers value CPD and feel suitably challenged by it. Great CPD enables teachers to thrive which helps children to succeed.
8. Running. I managed to complete my first 100km race in 2014 in addition to several other ultra marathons and marathons. This is not something that happened over night and is the accumulation of a few years of training, patiently building up the distance. Running is now part of my life. It clears my mind and puts things into perspective.
9. NPQML. I successfully completed the NPQML course in 2014 which opened up a number of doors. My project aimed to raise the profile of effective, challenging CPD across the school to help drive up student outcomes. As a result of my project I was able to work with a team of great teachers to organise to run a number of CPD sessions, INSET workshops and deliver a teachmeet in March (the second quickly followed in October). As a result of my project I was given the opportunity to deliver my first keynote speech at a National Education Trust event at a school in Bracknall sharing a bill with Roy Blatchford and Lucy Crehen. I was able to (briefly) discuss my project with Sir Michael Wilshaw after being observed by him during a visit to my school. I was asked back to speak to a new cohort of teachers starting the NPQML course which i really enjoyed – it’s always inspiring speaking to teachers who have a genuine desire to have a positive influence whole school.
Next steps (in no particular order) – what does 2015 have in store?
1. Increase leadership capacity. The best way to learn is to do. In 2015 I hope to take on further line management responsibilities as this will give me an opportunity to work with more teachers and help them thrive whilst learning from them at the same time. I see accountability as helping colleagues to achieve their goals. This may lead to some difficult conversations but if it’ll help more individuals thrive then its a conversation worth having.
2. Secure an Assistant Principal post. About 18 months ago I decided that I wanted to become a headteacher and my next step is to secure an Assistant Principal post – a challenge I am ready for. I have learnt so much in the last 4 months working alongside a remarkable leadership team. I’ve finally had the opportunity to put into practice a lot of what I have read. I’m learning everyday from every meeting, conversation, call out duty, break/lunch duty, lesson observation, NQT session and I want to pursue leadership to the highest level so that I can help as many students and staff as possible. I feel a real allegiance to public service and I want to dedicate my career to it.
3. Reading. Continue to read as much as possible in order to develop my ideas around effective teaching & learning whilst also developing my ideas around leadership. The more I read the more I question. The more I question the closer I get to understanding. Some books currently in a pile waiting to be read include: ‘Formative assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam, ‘Visible learning for teachers’ by John Hattie, ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and ‘Leading change’ by John P Kotter.
4. Keep my moral purpose at the centre of decision making. This is really important to me and something that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind. As I progress in my career I am exposed to more of the day to day activities that make a school run which could start to cloud ones vision. Yes these processes are important but never forget why you do what you do. Schools are a people place that thrive on great relationships – students, staff, parents/carers and the wider community.
5. Make my business getting into classrooms. As part of my leadership role I want to help develop an ‘open door culture’ which doesn’t currently exist in my school. In order to do this I need to re-prioritise my work. It’s far to easy to get sucked into your office and a never-ending flow of emails. As part of a leadership team that is truly seeking to help teachers thrive and students achieve the best thing we can do is be more of a present around the school and get into classrooms, build more trust with teachers so that it’s completely normal for SLT to be in and out of classrooms supporting and learning.
6. Running. With a baby on the way and a demanding job I have to be realistic. I want to keep running on a weekly basis and i’m hoping to compete in a 50km in February, but I expect ultra running will take a back seat in 2015 until iI can afford the time to train properly for it. 2016 will hopefully see a return to the 100km distance and my first attempt at a 100 mile race.
7. Family matters. I look forward to wrestle with the work/life balance monster in 2015 and I hope to tip the balance in my favour by working smarter. I am lucky to have an amazing wife and a remarkable family and I need to ensure I make the most of both. This is a non-negotiable.
8. #NeverStopLearning. This is the phrase I have adopted to promote continual professional development although I apply it to all aspects of my life. I don’t want to ever settle for OK. I am devoted to meaningful work that produces remarkable outcomes. To achieve this I need to continue to listen, learn and grow.
Finally, a big thank you to all the people I have interacted with via Twitter (and in real life!). The discussions that I have been involved in and observed have broadened my thinking and made me question things more. The number of thought provoking blogs currently circulating is phenomenal and I wish I had more time in the day to read them all! It was these posts that initially inspired me to start a blog. 2 years on, 36 blog posts later and over 28,000 views has not only empowered me to reflect to a deeper level but it has also enabled me to encourage more teachers to get involved, get connected and deepen their understanding.
Here’s to a great year in 2015 | Keep making a difference.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Seth Godin – Linchpins.
I recently submitted my evidence for the NPQML qualification and thought it may be useful to share my experience. The qualification is a middle leaders qualification which looks at the challenges of being a middle leader from a variety of perspectives.
The qualification requires participants to undertake a school based project. I was already involved in a number of whole school projects so decided to use something that I was already doing and felt passionately about. My project looked at creating more opportunities for staff to engage with effective, meaningful CPD across the school. For me I don’t see this as work but as something I really enjoy doing – finding innovative and creative ways to engage staff with CPD with intent of improving experiences for students beyond just those that I teach. This is my art.
My project had a clear trajectory.
- Assemble a group of great teachers.
- Plan and deliver a 50 minute CPD marketplace session.
- Plan and deliver a school INSET day (each member of the team would deliver a workshop).
- Plan and deliver a TeachMeet.
I collected evidence as I went along with some of the highlights below:
The one key element that made the project worthwhile were the people. The group of teachers I managed to get together and work with were (and still are) truly remarkable people – doing everything in their power to help young people. It was a real inspiration for me to work with this group and made me want to work even harder and take on more challenges. The people I met at the away days during the course were also a great source of inspiration and challenge. One of the best parts of the course was meeting people outside of my school and talking about teaching, learning and the challenges of middle leadership. Teachers talking about teaching.
My advice to people interested in enrolling on the course – find something you are truly passionate about that will make a positive change and then make it happen. If you can’t get on the course do it anyway. Don’t do the course for the sake of getting a certificate – do it because you want to make a difference. Find you art and make it happen.
In my last post on leading whole school CPD for teaching staff I described my plan for the year and my thinking behind it. Now that the first term is over it seems like a good time to reflect on how the schools vision for genuinely continual, personalised CPD is taking shape.
At my school CPD sessions are scheduled every other Wednesday afternoon throughout the whole year. During term 1 these sessions were given over to departments. This has been really popular with staff and has enabled departments to recap and embed expectations whilst sharing great practice. In preparation for this department heads were asked to submit a plan for the sessions (brief summary of what would be covered in each session). This was really useful for me as I was able to see at a glance what departments were working on and also start to connect the dots across the school – linking up departments that were focusing on similar things.
Outside of the Wednesday afternoon sessions being run in departments I now had term 1 to set up and embed optional CPD activities for staff, something that had not happened before in school. Before I outline some of the optional activities, first let me explain my thinking behind this approach.
In John Kotter’s book ‘Accelerate’ he puts forward an idea of how great organisations stay creative and innovative as they grow in size. When most start up companies begin they don’t tend to have a hierarchical structure, instead they work in small groups that collaborate and innovate with flow. This is in essence one of the driving forces behind successful start up companies – their ability to work in a way that is free from hierarchical structures which encourages and enables innovation and creativity. Ironically as these companies grow into large organisations they tend to develop a more structured hierarchy and lose the spark of creativity they once had when they were a small start up. Kotter argues that the truly great organisations run what he calls a dual-operating system – they have a structural hierarchy to ensure organisational accountability but they also deliberately create opportunities for groups of people to get together and collaborate outside of this structure.
This is what I wanted to create with optional CPD activities – opportunities for people (regardless of job role) to get together and collaborate on things they are interested in. Making these groups optional means you get the right people on the bus at the beginning which increases the chances of success. Success is teachers talking about teaching. Success is collaborating in meaningful ways which empowers people to take action and improve because they feel passionately about doing so.
With Kotter’s dual operating system in mind I went about setting up a few optional CPD activities over the course of the first term…
15 minute forums.
Over the course of the first term we have held three 15 minute forums on Friday lunch times. Each session is lead by a member of teaching staff and attendance is completely optional. These sessions serve as a great opportunity for colleagues to share ideas and discuss them in more detail. The worry is always ‘will anyone turn up?!’ Thankfully numbers have been good with sessions ranging from 15-20 colleagues in attendance. Sessions this term have included:
- Positive relationships with staff and students.
- Effective mind-mapping techniques for revision.
- Learning dialogue.
What has been really pleasing is that the sessions are not necessarily about someone giving you a ‘silver bullet’ on how to do something. The theme that has evolved is that staff bring something they are working on, explain their thinking and any impact it has before others from the group share their experiences or thoughts on how a strategy could be improved or implemented more widely.
Another relatively easy activity to set up. I choose the book ‘The hidden lives of learners’ by Graham Nuthall to start of with (after the first cycle I will be asking staff to submit book options and then vote on a range of books). I sent an email out to all staff advertising the activity and set a limit of 10 places. Within a couple of days the places were filled, books were given out and the ball was rolling. Towards the end of term 2 we will meet to discuss the book and present back to the staff body during a morning teacher briefing on what we found out.
‘Bright spot’ learning walks.
No grades no forms. The purpose of these learning walks is to find great practice, those bright spots that exist somewhere in every school. I conducted one in our Science department recently where I managed to take pictures of several great resources and bits of student work. These then go into a presentation which can be used for a teacher briefing. During the teacher briefing you display the images and ask colleagues to explain more about the context of what was going on in the lesson and how the resource / strategy helped. Longer term I would like to create more of an ‘open door’ culture across the school and involve staff in searching out the bright spots for themselves.
I’m not sure if it was over-ambitious and just stupid to organise a TeachMeet for the penultimate evening of an 8 week term, but I did and it offered another opportunity for staff to get involved. Just over 100 heroic teachers from different schools (across multiple phases) showed up for an evening of having their thinking challenged whilst also being inspired and thanked for their hard work. The theme of the evening was about understanding what works rather than just being bombarded with 1000s of ‘quick wins.’ TeachMeets are a great opportunity for expanding your thinking, developing ideas and networking with great people outside of your immediate day to day surroundings. Last weeks event was brilliantly captured by David Vignolli (a visual artist from London).
Now that these activities have been set up it’s my role to ensure they continue (for as long as they are useful to people). My hope is that these additional activities provide staff with opportunities to engage and develop in ways which suit them. The one size fits all approach to CPD is dead. To make great teaching a typicality across a school, staff must be given meaningful opportunities to develop and feel supported in doing so. Investing effectively in staff will ultimately lead to better experiences for the students which is what all of this is about after all – the students.
A few weeks ago I read an article on the BBC website written by Mike Henson entitled – ‘Inside the cult of Saracens.’ The article explores how the English rugby team Saracens has built a culture of togetherness that has enabled the team to perform better on the pitch. If you haven’t read the article please spend five minutes reading now!
After reading the article one section struck me as an excellent vision statement for what successful schools do. If you replaced ‘Saracens’ with the name of your school you have an extremely powerful statement of intent…
From reading the above statement you would never be in any doubt of the WHY behind Saracens. They know WHAT they do and HOW to go about doing it. What gives them an edge over their opponents is an extremely clear sense of WHY they do what they do. It’s this clear purpose that binds great teams together. This theory comes from Simon Sinek and is summed up in the TED talk below.
How clear is your sense of WHY you do what you do?
How clearly articulated (and frequently) is your schools WHY communicated?
Talent isn’t born. It’s made.
In Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code’ he travels the world to seek out groups of very successful people and in an attempt to discover why they are so successful. Through his observations of multiple different groups from musicians to football players he noticed one recurring trend – deep practice. In fact he has created an equation that summarises the elements needed to make progress and succeed at something. It looks like this…
Ignition or primal cues relates to the motivation a person has to be successful in the first place. As a teacher I believe it’s part of my job to talk to students about what motivates them to succeed. Some students are able to easily articulate this. whereas some will need some help finding the reason why they need to be successful. Either way I need to support the students I teach in understanding their ignition to succeed.
Continual deep practice is about increasing the amount of myelin in the brain*. Have a look at this great interactive guide to Myelin on Daniel Coyle’s website. Myelin is…
Myelin is a lipid and protein sheath-like material that forms an insulating cover that surrounds and protects nerve fibres.
The general idea is that the more myelin you have insulating your nerve fibres, the faster impulses (or information) can travel between nerve cells. Some scientists believe that myelin can be increased with regular deliberate practice. It’s similar to bandwidth in the speed of an internet connection. The more bandwidth you have the faster the transfer of data. The more practice you put in, the more the myelin wraps around the nerve fibre increasing the bandwidth (the diagram below shows this in a bit more detail). It’s worth noting that this works both ways and needs to be maintained with regular practice.
Daniel Coyle uses the example of Brazilian soccer players to explain deep practice in action. From an early age they play a game called Futsal and they continue to play it into their teenage years. Futsal is played on smaller court with a smaller ball which means that players will touch the ball more often than playing 11 a side on a full size pitch. This is deep practice. It’s quality controlled by a master coach (someone with expert knowledge of the game / subject) who intervenes with striking impact to ensure learning is meaningful. The video below examines more examples of where deep practice has produced successful outcomes.
How does this apply to revision?
If we want students to be successful in exams then they need to practice – sounds simple enough, but is not entirely true. If we want students to be successful they have to fine tune their practice so that it is deep, deliberate and regular in order to build up a thicker insulation of myelin. What follows are few strategies that I am currently trialling to achieve this.
1) Regular self assessment with input from the teacher.
It’s important to let students assess their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to a topic to revise. Teachers are the master coaches described in ‘The Talent Code.’ We have to know our students well and track their learning and use this information to intervene with self assessments so that students know what they are actually good at and areas that they need to improve. The key to good revision (I believe) is to focus more time on the weaker areas (being deliberate) rather than spending lots of time revisiting knowledge/skills that a student is already competent in. Below is an example of a self-assessment I have used with students. The black ‘X’ represents the student response. The green Y’s represent my response based upon prior testing and my knowledge of the students competencies through questioning and classwork. If I have agreed with the students response I have not added an additional symbol.
The grid provides a clarity. Students get validation for what they think they already know or an opportunity to discuss area for improvements. It also helps students to focus in on the weaker areas and thus provides a starting point for revision.
2) Chunking information.
Once students have self assessed their strengths and weaknesses and they have been agreed, they can then begin revising required knowledge. In order to not overload the students working memory I have created a resource that chunks the information down in smaller sub-topics (see the list on the self reflection diagram above). Each sub topic has a series of questions that students answer in an open book environment. Example answers to these sections are released to students once they have attempted to answer them. They also have access to past paper exam questions and answers. Students are free to work through this revision pack using the self assessment as a rudder to guide them towards topics that will require more attention.
3) Regular rigorous multiple choice tests.
The ‘chunked’ revision materials are sync with a multiple choice test. I have created the tests using Joe Kirby’s brilliant posts on designing rigorous multiple choice tests (Post 1 | Post 2). I’ve attempted to increase rigor by adding more incorrect answers that are based on common student misconceptions.
The tests can be taken multiple times and using a platform like Edmodo means the tests are also tracked and scored without the teacher lifting a finger. Edmodo also allows students to go back through the test and see where they dropped marks.
A key element here is frequency and over a 6 week revision period it’s important to space the timing of these multiple choice tests to aid retention. As Joe points out in his most recent post on curriculum design,
Repeated retrieval improves long term retention: frequent quizzing prevents forgetting.
4) Regular ‘Walking – Talking’ mock exams.
One new strategy that has been trialled at my school this year has been ‘walking-talking’ mocks in all subjects. For those not familiar here’s how they work. The students revise for a mock as normal. When the mock exam takes place the teacher walks them through the first question and then gives students an appropriate amount of time (depending on the number of marks available usually) to complete the question and then get some instant feedback on how well they did. It’s hard to judge the real impact of doing this exercise but it certainly helps students feel more comfortable in exam conditions. I know I have been guilty in the past of running a mock exam in ‘exam conditions’, students tend to score poorly on it, get feedback but didn’t get an opportunity to re-draft answers (my fault) and the whole scenario was demotivating and not very productive. A walking-talking mock provide students to feel success in an exam environment. This new found motivation can then be used to drive revision sessions. As the year goes the strategy is to get students to sit 3-4 mock exams and by the end of the process provide them with less and less support as their confidence grows.
This post is by no means a ‘you should run revision sessions like this’ post. It’s a reflection on some of the ideas that have inspired my thoughts around how to do revision better. It is very much a work in progress and feedback is very much welcome!
I often tell my students to not be upset with the results they didn’t get from the work they didn’t do. I feel the same and care deeply about their results. When my students walk into the their exam I want to make sure I’ve done everything within my power to ensure they succeed.
Myelin – by Daniel Coyle
How to grow a super athlete – by Dainel Coyle
The myelin in all of us – by David Shenk
Why use multiple choice tests – by Joe Kirby
How to design multiple-choice questions – by Joe Kirby
Research on multiple-choice questions – by Daisy Christodoulou
Walking, talking mocks: are mock exams the way forward? – by Martin Jones
Hardwiring learning and effort = success – by Domini Choudhury
*I am not a scientist. For more information on myelin please see this interactive guide or even better still, read Daniel Coyle’s book ‘The Talent Code.
“We don’t need to spend much time on that, we all know the moral purpose.” The moral purpose of schools is obvious isn’t it?
Last week during an NPQML session we were tasked to articulate our school’s moral purpose and describe the last time we’d heard it. A few heads turned. People began to think. It wasn’t as straightforward as first thought. Something came to light in the discussions that followed. Is the moral purpose of your school to do everything in your power to provide the best possible education and outcomes for the young people in your care? Or is the moral purpose of your school to be an ‘outstanding’ or ‘great’ school? Are these two things one in the same? The latter could end up focusing more heavily on the WHAT and HOW rather than focusing on the WHY.
School’s can be very complex places to manage and lead with so many variables to contend with. The best schools (I think) seek to simplify processes and procedures to ensure time is not needlessly taken away from teaching and learning. But what role does the moral purpose play in making strategic and tactical decisions? It should be part of the DNA of these decisions and well articulated to all staff consistently on a regular basis.
Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden circle’ model sums it up quite nicely for me. The WHY (cause, purpose, belief) should be the driving the force behind WHAT you do as a school and HOW you do it.
What is your school’s purpose, cause or belief? Here’s my attempt at articulating a moral purpose for schools –
We believe that every student has the opportunity to succeed given the right school environment. As a school its our purpose to ensure teachers can teach so that students can learn. We aim to grow amazing young people with great outcomes that unlocking better futures.
How often should we revisit and articulate our moral purpose? The more complex it becomes the less impact it will have, which is why I really like KIPP’s tagline – ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ The moral purpose should be at the heart of everything we do in schools and should not be skipped over because it is ‘obvious.’ Schools are extremely busy places and we need make an effort from time to time to ensure the moral purpose remains at the heart of what we do.
At this extremely busy and intensely pressured time of year for teachers, its worth taking a bit of time out to revisit WHY you do what you do. Every interaction you have with young people in school is an opportunity to positively influence and inspire. That’s why we signed up.
Keep making a difference.
Inspired by Zoe Elder’s post – ‘Why we continue to accept the challenge’ and Mark Anderson’s post ‘Be happy,’ here is a quick post with the start of a new term in mind.
2013 was a remarkable year. 2014 will be better. It’s time to shift gears.
Four tips to help you make this year even better:
1. Keep exploring.
2. Connect with others.
3. Share your discoveries.
4. Deepen your understanding.
Remember, you’re only human but you make an incredible difference.