Archive for CPD

Today I spent the morning at another school. I learnt so much just watching experienced teachers and left on such a high! It will be by mission for the rest of this year to visit another school in my NQT time at least every second week.

I watched a year 4 maths lesson and it was great to see how choice could be offered within a fairly structured lesson. By giving them options (two in this case), this passed responsibility back to children for what they were doing, as it was their choice. More incentive to achieve. I have an observed lesson on Tuesday and would love to try it, but think it is something the children will need some experience at before being able to make good choices independently.

I then went into a the classroom of a totally inspirational teacher. A teacher I’d met at a TeachMeet recently. Just the way she interacted with her students was brilliant. I enjoyed being in her lesson! She used the Wii and a safari game to inspire and provide stimulus for a literacy lesson on diary writing. I liked the way she gave the ownership of writing the success criteria to the students via post-it notes. I also liked her mental starter for literacy to improve a sentence – done in the back of the literacy books. Children in the class were engaged and all worked silently and independently to complete the task. The plenary had children identifing WOW sentences in their own work and were offered the opportunity to self assess against SC before handing in.

Even the small things such as seeing how teachers organise their files, discussing projects, plans and lessons that worked and excited the children. I walked away with two great ideas for reading passports and some guided reading cues! And they were just cherries on the icing of having observed some inspired practice.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my job! But sometimes I don’t quite get the point of why we are doing everything we are supposed to do.

Most schemes, plans, other stuff I find – are all about achieving an objective by expending knowledge. I am new, I struggle constantly, but I try my hardest every day to put every learning objective into a context that has relevance to the children I teach. Even if it is giving my own adult perspective of how I’ve used whatever we happen to be learning about.  In my view, stuff needs a point. No point – children switch off!

So that got me thinking.

I am obviously new to life as a teacher, but not education. My past life includes managing the design department of a large educational publisher and running my own businesses (forays into gaming and IT). In other words the real world – a lot of which, as grown ups we know, is tough and much, much more than just what you know! This resonates with me when I am thinking of what, as a teacher I am preparing my pupils for.

When I employed staff, graduates, or otherwise what was I looking for? Almost over and above the skills for the job I wanted self confidence, good communication skills, intuitiveness, the ability to work as part of a team, solve problems and at times, to think outside the box. Whilst crystal balls are hard to come by, it was also very useful if they would stay abreast of changes in the industry.

If these are the people I once wanted to employ – shouldn’t these be the people I now want to help create?

What would I like my pupils and my own children to emerge from formal education with? A lot of the above but add in resilience, an ability to self regulate, goal set, know what achievement feels like and a knowledge of how to transfer skills  – research, teamwork, collaboration are done in most industries! I can create a game without ever ‘meeting’ another person working on the project, I can create a fully illustrated picture book in exactly the same way. I get my CDP online via live streaming and twitter. Our world, means we now communicate in different ways, surely this is also what we need to teach our children to do. Not just rely on a terms ICT lessons on sending emails and their early experiences of face book and other social media doing it for us.

So it comes back to – what is the point of what I am doing…

And then @xannov tweeted this.

  • I often read tweets from teachers on here, and wonder what an amzing learning experience children would get  if we worked in the same school … We’d all be trying new tech and encouraging children to try (and sometimes fail) new stuff and learn from it.

The combination of my own personal feeling that education has to be far more than crashing through a curriculum to tick boxes as well as my frustrations with my current position and their unwillingness to embrace modern technology resonated strongly in that tweet from @xannov yesterday.

What a dream it would be to work with so many enthusiastic individuals, who seem to be constantly striving to find the balance between engaging learners in ways that both make the most of opportunities here now, and give children skills for lifelong learning in this future we can’t comprehend. Selfishly – I want to be the best teacher I can be, so why not learn alongside people I aspire to be like. Unselfishly – we need to teach children to use the tools of their world to become successful citizens.

So when the discussion between @xannov and @chrismayoh and I developed further into using technology for pupil to pupil learning – I got excited because it felt like that might be the hook on which I could hang my original quandary…. how to create learning that has a point – as well as gives children valuable skillsets for their future.

I continued to mull how this pupil to pupil learning might look and read @xannov’s blog post on pupil to pupil learning with interest. I can see the huge value in sharing learning and of a pupil meet where children are given a platform to share their own classes successes and learning with peers from around the country/world. But I can also sense the fidgety bottoms of my less engaged pupils at having to listen for 30 minutes even if it was on an ipad!

What I could really see was 21st century children using tech to work collaboratively and then celebrating their combined successes with other children. Children’s own version of viral marketing!

My vision of pupil to pupil learning looked more like innovative project design for a global enterprise. One where roles and parts are done in different places, where collaboration is required from all for the outcome to be successful, where there may be one objective but many possible routes to meet it. Or where there was no overall objective, but opportunities to add even more value to an existing collaboration are seized when they arise?

Why can’t a lesson or a unit be treated like this? Why couldn’t with good streaming (restrictions noted) two classes in different places share one input, then work independently to create possible solutions and then collaborate to meet one end.

Why can’t children communicate thoughts and progress via blogs and skype?

Why can’t children’s artwork from one place be used and embedded into online e-books and written about by students in another year group in another school? Why can’t draft poems be uploaded, phrases magpied by another children, edited, improved and shared in recorded presentations of these merged ideas?

Why can’t we take the Mantle of the Expert principle and go virtual?

My early experience of such possibilities were when my class used one of @deputymitchell’s Year 6s students writing as part of a literacy unit we were doing. In many ways despite the success, I can’t help but feeling we all just brushed the tip of an amazing possibility that may have magnified the learning even further. What if Binyameen had written the opening of another story that the children in my class had continued (we were only focussing on the build up and climax)? What if … we had given him some of our stories to check and edit? What if … he had fancied continuing one through to its resolution and ending? What if … another class looking at manipulating imaging software had decided to create some images for the emerging story. What if … the list becomes endless.

I accept that this couldn’t happen for all of the curriculum, and the pressures we face as teachers mean that in many ways it may just add more! But the possibility I sensed last night felt as if, even if we did it once in a year –  we could give children a early experience and a glimpse of the world that we are preparing them for. It would help to maximise all the amazing tools online and give tech a point in its own right

I think the Epic Citadell Challenge is moving learning in that direction. There are probably others that I don’t know of. I am very interested to know of any collaborative learning projects.

So, as for setting up a new school, putting the best in the business all in one place – great idea! But why not think outside the box and allow pupils to experience this super school virtually? Rather than being a lone school held up as a shining example, we become innovative teachers that lead by example and guide others in the best interest of all children.

Be yourself. As hard as it is not to become a clone of the teacher with whom you are on practice with you need to steal the good things, ditch the bad and find yourself in the middle!

Have confidence. You were chosen for the course for a reason! Looking and listening to many experienced teachers can be disheartening and overwhelming, as you feel there is so much still to learn. There is… but best done in small steps!

Take risks but be able to substantiate them. The first time I used Myst and moved the tables around (aka Tim Rylands) the teacher with whom I was teaching said she had been teaching 17 years and her room was designed so everyone could always see the IWB and stomped around for the rest of the morning. But the buzz from 30 excited children and the subsequent writing results were worth being able to explain that it was done that way for a reason.

Don’t reinvent the wheel! Been there done it – spent hours planning a 10min mental oral starter or a weekend on a 60minute observed lesson. The best I ever taught took the bones of someone elses planning and tweaked it.

Blogging creates global citizens. Look at lots of examples and decide which bits suit you before you create your own.

Love Wallwisher. Children do to.

Create a twitter PLN – its scary at first. I thought I had nothing to contribute, especially with so many far more experienced teachers around. But people are so helpful. When the going gets tough there is always someone out there to offer an encouraging word or another idea to try. Would never have thought I would have found a HT in the far reaches of Scotland who is fast becoming the most amazing online virtual mentor! (no pressure Fiona – HUGE thank you!!) …. all via blogging and twitter!

Remember to thank for the info, help and RTs! Politeness online seems to account for a lot.

Nothing will ever feel ‘right’ until you get your own class but if you dish out bags of enthusiasm children will generally come along for the ride.

Admit mistakes. Children love it when they realise you are learning too! Couple with very firm fairness and I’ve found they don’t take advantage.

I always remind myself – and one of the best things about this profession… is that every day is different – and everyday is a new day. Children are amazingly forgiving. Reflect, learn, adapt and move on! No time for festering!

For all we live in the 21st century and a world of fast moving tech –  READ real books too! Nothing captures a child’s imagination than a well written, well read book. Use picture books ALL the way up through primary education – no matter what anyone says about them being babyish past Year 3. Its bollocks!

Read Alan McLeans “Motivating every Learner” most inspiring book I’ve read in the last 18 months. Teachers Toolkit a close second for dipping in and out of.

Have patience. None of us could run confidently before we could walk!


A quick post to reflect on surviving my first term.

It was certainly a roller coaster – one that currently feels like it has been slowed by ploughing through haze of disorganisation, not to mention a paper mountain!

The GTP route certainly prepared me for classroom life. Having observed different teachers settling classes in last year and being practically aware of various pitfalls it didn’t feel that strange to have my own class. In fact it was a relief.

I am my reflective self’s worst enemy. I am constantly reviewing, mentally improving and changing things. It does mean my mind rarely switches off. I know this affects my work life balance I think to the detriment of my own children. I need to address this.

My archilles heels are my maths teaching (I can do things my own kooky way, but have realised I really struggle to explain them clearly and logically) and the not-always-internal battle of wanting to teach with instinct rather than the constraints of “we’ve always done it that way”. Another blog post on the latter coming soon.

So I may have had my knuckles rapped for my classroom being bright and vibrant and my displays being different from the other Y4 classroom. I know I have been in trouble for having a class blog and for inspiring parents to want to come in and be more involved. I know I haven’t taught any outstanding lessons, have a long way to go to complete a lesson with a perfect plenary and to complete a day having fitted everything in without letting my children out slightly late – but I have formed relationships with all of the children in my class. I could tell you one thing each of them is genuinely good at and one thing that they could manageably aspire to achieve this year. I have watched 4 children who made little or no progress last year open and blossom in 7 weeks – this totally inspires me. The power of being able to make a difference and the realisation of the responsibility of this is mind-blowing.

My highlights have been –

  • My Greenhouse display (children made flowers with their own wishes for this year on petals, then parents and I added a leaf each to their flowers, each with a wish) As I put them up on the display some of the messages made me cry. It inspired me to do the best I can for each of those children this year. Will post a photo soon.
  • Maths Activity time – planning the extra, differentiated activities takes time and would be far easier not to do. But children love the 10mins hands on time, it gives me a good opportunity for assessment and I hope by the end of the year their basic skills will have improved.
  • Setting up house groups – having four mixed ability groups has made it easy to change tasks to suit working collaboratively where possible. Children are learning to take roles and work well within these groups. I see these as vitally important life skills worth nurturing this year.
  • My hands on habitats lesson.
  • Learning logs – this deserves and will get its own blog post. The flip side to this success is that because the other class doesn’t do them, I have to keep them ‘secret’ and can’t share them with parents at parents evening.
  • The children in my class starting to log on, comment and start to feel a sense of ownership of their class blog as well as their growing sense of that they are part of a global community.
  • A guided reading session with my more able pupil using a short story I found on the internet. Reading and discussing it together was like unlocking doors to creative wonder.
  • Finding time to read, relax and laugh with my class – I have not been the ‘don’t smile til Christmas’ type of teacher. I believe I am firm and fair but I am human and we certainly feel like an “us” rather than a “me and them” type of classroom. That to me, and my instinct, feels like a pretty good foundation on which to continue building this year.

So as half term creeps on towards me, I have a mountain of marking to complete, next terms planning to sort, a classroom to tidy (I really did walk out tonight at 6 and leave a mess behind), I hope that I find some time to slow down a bit without getting sick!

Not quite sure which theme park my roller coaster belongs to. Mostly it seems to have been steady undulations, tiredness and a sense of overwhelming lack of knowledge forming the dips, with the odd high from a child’s comment, piece of work or the marking actually done before I’ve left for the day.

I’m pretty exhausted, my mouth is full of ulcers, I rarely work less than 15 hours a day, I don’t think I’ve finished a cup of tea since the beginning of September and my posterior definitely hasn’t placed itself on a seat in the staffroom… is this the point where the but comes in with a glowing positive statement about how I love the job anyway and I wouldn’t change a thing?

The rollercoaster appears to have shifted theme parks.  The primary gradients aren’t caused by emotions of the NQT life – those I can deal with, but it is the uncontrollable speed of the learning (or lack of) ride that my class and I seem to be on that is distressing me at the moment.

I am discovering the pitfalls of Abacus and team teaching amongst other things. I’ve realised I need to compromise. I have lowered my expectations of myself, and what I can achieve but I am reluctant to lower my expectations of the children. Therein lies my biggest issue.

There never seems to be enough time! We lurch from one lesson to another, constantly building up a pile of unfinished work. I always feel one step behind my team teacher. The standards of presentation and quality are an added issue – but there is no time planned in to spend a lesson teaching and practicing the expectations. There doesn’t seem time to breathe, let alone stop and smell some enjoyment. We haven’t found time to read our class book or do any sharing for a week. I feel like I am losing a grip on all the things I love and want to share about learning, reading, thinking, exploring and instead am chasing a curriculum that isn’t taking into account that we are human, let alone individuals.

As soon as the lightbulbs of understanding just start to flicker, we move on. Half my class didn’t understand division after 2 days, but I was told we need to move on, we will visit it again for 2 more days later in the year. A third of my class don’t know their number bonds to 10 – so how can we securely start to understand number pairs to 100 or 1000? Why can’t I slow down (or even better – get off!) and find some creative ways to secure the basics before tackling more complex concepts. I’m a visual hands on learner, but find the Abacus process very dry. Even the books are hard for many children to access. Why can’t we spend one lesson a week making something that will aid our learning?  I have incorporated 10 minutes most afternoon for maths activities which are mostly hands on. They are great when we do them, but I haven’t had the time to set them up properly in a ‘tumbleboard’ fashion.

I was gutted this week to be moved on from a literacy unit after reading, talking, acting and drawing – to a point that I felt we could write, only to be told that we needed to move onto another unit so we could ‘time’ our first of the month assessment writing correctly!

Our topic is dry – I’m bored with it. The children have written three comparisons and watched a dull video. I want to draw a line and start again. Lets go back to picture books – why can’t I try Made in China as a starting point. Lets all pack a bag and pretend we are going to China (we’ll need to research to know what sort of things to bring!), lets follow the paper butterflies journey, lets document our findings in a travel scrapbook. We can work out how much money we will need, different groups can go and explore different attractions then we’ll ‘meet’ to discuss, we can share a celebration meal. I know I am capable of more but I’m not enjoying the shackles I find myself bound with at the moment. Frustration abounds.

It’s a game. Not just the learning game in class, but a game in the corridors as well. I’m struggling with the time, the desire to be creative, but not stand on toes, the balance between enthusing children, trying new things and getting the basics right in a traditional manner. I want to be accountable to my children and their learning, not always to the policies of ‘we’ve always done it that way’.

And I really want to learn how to help children learn – not how to ‘teach’. Another post.

I wonder at what point ones brain just spontaneously combusts?

I guess I will end with the message I got from a parent this week – and cling onto some thread that I must be doing something right, even though it feels like I’ve hardly started on the things I want to do.

“Don’t know what you’ve done but A came home last night, picked up a pencil and wrote an A4 sheet …… We were amazed. He has done more in the last couple of weeks than all of last year. Thank you.”

I was glad to read somewhere online this week that a good teacher never stops learning. I’ve learnt so much in the last 7 days, it feels more like being in training than being on holiday. At least in teacher terms – I’m ‘normal’!

Whilst I may not have been actively creating blog posts (several drafts have been started online – and many more developing in my head!) I have been immersing myself in a whole new technological way of learning and communicating.

I would not classify myself amongst the ICT illiterate, 20 years of working in graphic design/educational publishing and communicating with authors/illustrators/publishers and printers as well as family all over the world has enabled me to see the benefits of web-based communication. But transferred into the context of classroom education, my knowledge and practice is pretty much limited to websites and IWBs.

Today I read Terry Freedmans 10 Ways to Evaluate a Blog with interest, but whilst appreciating his point of view, couldn’t help thinking that some blogs are meant to be personal, and that in many ways this doesn’t make them any less successful – for authors or readers. As successful teachers are reflective (one of the clear points raised in the recent discussion about teacher skills on #edchat as an example), then a blog provides a perfect opportunity to reflect , not just personally but to learn from others personal reflections. Maybe taking that pov is a woman thing!

The CPD aspect of setting up my blog been totally unexpected – and I know I have not even touched the tip of the iceberg yet. Through following some links on others blogs, and tentatively taking the plunge into twitter world, I have read articles, tips and blogs I would never have found through search engines and have watched the community help its members through answering queries and offering support. Watching live ‘chats’ about educational issues has been insightful. For those that haven’t tried it – check out #ukedchat/#edchat / #elemchat as starters. When I can get my issues with hashtags sorted, I will be participating.

My personal experience of the power of this supportive, enthusiastic online world has manifested themselves in 2 ways this week.

After 2 frustrating days with no server, internet, printer connections at school, I got a response to one of my moaning “tweets” and @mikemcsharry drove 70 miles to come to our school and spent hours and hours trying to sort out the problems. As in business I hope I can return the good turn through recommendation, networking or paid contracts.

The second was my remote experience of a TeachMeet (#tmbev). TeachMeets (for the few that don’t know) are teachers getting together to various locations to present ideas and current practice to each other. I like the idea, but couldn’t attend, but it was still streamed live over the internet! So I sat glued to the screen for the afternoon and was as high as a kite afterwards from feeling I’d learnt so much in such an engaging way – all without leaving the house! Best INSET I’d experienced so far! Colleagues have so much to teach us, both NQTs such as myself, but reading more experienced teachers enthusiasm about day on twitter and the process on the web, I can see how it benefits all.  I can only imagine how fantastic it will be to actually attend a TeachMeet.

However I’ve learnt despite my growing enthusiasm, I have to be mindful of several things;

  1. Partaking in the community can take over your life! I could sit and learn and watch the twitter feed and read all the linked information all day! But a balance has to be found!
  2. Not to take it personally that people you follow with interest don’t follow you back! I’m only a week old in ‘twitter/blog’ terms, like real life, relationships, PLNs (personal learning networks) and subsequently professional relationships will take time to build.
  3. That the complete overload of information I have been asking my brain to accept and process can also have a detrimental effect on my confidence. There feels SO much to learn and take on board in order to be as successful as one wants to be that at times it has felt easier to pour a glass of wine and bury my head in the proverbial sand a while longer. I need to remember to believe in myself and my individuality – I can’t be a clone of all the experienced teachers I come across, I can only be me.

So despite hesitations and with limited experience to date I can immediately see the benefits, both of the instant community full of knowledge and expertise that you can tap into and the supportive way in which it reacts to its own.  So I have been waxing lyrical to colleagues and those I trained with.

But back to Terry Freedman, and what first prompted me to sit and write this post today… Maybe when I’ve got the hang of a few of these wonderful online opportunities, have got into a regular pattern with my personal blog and feel settled into my role as a teacher, I may just have the confidence to combine my graphics/publishing experience with findings from some of my academic work and take the courage to write something more valuable and ‘sticky’.

So thank you to all of you who have tweeted, responded and supported in the last week or so. I look forward to enjoying more of your expertise and company in the future.