Today was the fifth Blackpool Education Conference. This annual event held at the town’s famous Winter Gardens brings together staff from all schools across the region. For many, this first Monday of the second half of the autumn term is the first confirmed inset on the school calendar. It is an opportunity for teachers, support staff, governors and other interested parties to network, share ideas and hear inspirational, relevant and respected speakers. Today’s conference was opened by Gervase Phinn, former teacher and inspector, author, poet, radio and TV celebrity, and all round educational raconteur. Gervase remains passionate about the importance of teaching and the need to let children flourish and succeed. He warned of the dangers of rusty cynicism stating children are too precious to be tarnished by such an approach. Gervase delivers his message with humour but hidden beneath an apparently light exterior there are solid, age old beliefs about the difference a good teacher can make. Gervase and Mick Waters both champion teachers and it is refreshing to hear them both thank the profession, as Mick says, something politicians and society find much harder to do. Mick Waters followed Gervase as the second key note of the day. His central tenet is that learning should be irresistible, the curriculum broad and education an engaging and exciting experience that enables us to develop soft skills such as confidence, sensitivity and responsibility alongside core reading, writing and maths skills. Mick’s work with the QCA as Director of Curriculum left him in no doubt that learning should be treasured and valued and a school’s curriculum shaped to fit children’s lives. Both Mick and Gervase see learning through the eyes of children. They both encourage us to do the same rather than allowing politicians and Ofsted to dictate a narrow educational diet, driven by crude data and exam results.
On Monday 24th February, we have another joint training day with partner schools in the Kaizen network. This is an informal partnership of primary schools who believe in the Kaizen philosophy of small steps to continuous improvement. We have worked together for a number of years now and when planning our five Inset days, we always keep one free for a joint event. In previous years we have worked with the likes of @TimRylands, @ZoeRoss19 and Damien Hughes to name but a few of the inspirational contributors, but this year the day is being run in its entirety by practitioners from our schools.
The morning will begin with Gina (@mrsdonaldson) and staff from St Silas sharing their work on cooperative learning, the next two sessions will focus on iPads in the classroom and proven strategies one school has adopted to improve writing. The afternoon is running as a speed learning event with staff choosing five 15 minute presentations to attend. The range of subjects covered has been planned to ensure there is something for everyone. It also gives those staff presenting, an opportunity to share their learning with supportive peers in an encouraging environment. Ideal for any first time speakers.
The Kaizen Inset days are an important professional development event in all our schools’ diaries. They give us the chance to work together, to share ideas and learn from each other. This form of school to school support enables us to respond to each others’ needs in an immediate and bespoke way. Staff form supportive relationships and school visits around specific areas of mutual interest are encouraged by Headteachers keen to develop the network for the common good. This year’s event yet again, promises to be a great day for all involved.
Technology continues to change many aspects of our lives and in school it is no different Each new cohort of four year olds enters Foundation Stage more familiar with technology than their slightly older peers. Picking up a tablet, a handheld device or sitting at a computer holds no fear for them. They don’t look for the instructions before testing its capabilities, their approach to learning with technology is not a linear model more of an exploration fired by an inquisitive mind. Using technology with young children presents educators with a great opportunity to develop basic skills. A natural curiosity for learning can be further enhanced with an iPad or similar device. Our reception children tend to use iPads as a social tool – they huddle in small groups to share, discuss and debate whichever app they might be using. Such dialogue would seldom develop unassisted without technology to provide the stimulus.
@glynnlee and I have often discussed the power of blogging with primary children and, as Lee stated, if you replace the word ‘blogging’ with the word ‘writing’ it can give you some indication of the difference the use of technology can have on learning. In the early years class blogs are mainly used to provide a window on the children’s learning for parents and families, but the junior classes tend to give more ownership to the children who use it as a vehicle for their writing. Children enjoy blogging, it looks good, its appearance can be changed, it can be shared, has a potentially wide readership and is easily edited. Regular contributions to a class blog also gives children their own digital portfolio. Using technology to support writing in such a way is a positive application of the tools many children are increasingly familiar with out of school from an early age.
Making use of green screen technology is also a great way to develop basic skills. Children respond readily to scripting, filming and re drafting and are often blissfully unaware that these steps are supporting them in their writing, speaking and listening. The chance to write auto cues for their friends to speak often raises the bar in terms of their expectations and listening carefully before re drafting is also a key skill that needs to be successfully employed to improve results. Using the green screen gives children a strong stimulus for a whole range of basic skills. If you suddenly have the chance to film your historical report about the beheading of Anne Boleyn from in front of the tower, it might just inspire you to greater achievements, to think more carefully about what you are writing. If you are creating a micro tutorial on how to convert fractions into percentages, you will need to ensure you fully understand the process before sharing your learning with others. You could argue that such approaches would work without technology but the opportunity for children to watch themselves, to share their learning, to get feedback from beyond the class makes the use of technology an attractive way of developing and enhancing their learning. Embracing technology in the primary classroom can provide practitioners with exciting ways of developing basic skills, many children already enter school familiar with a range of devices, we need to ensure we build on their early interest and curiosity to the benefit of their future learning.
It is a sad fact that for many primary teachers their educational world seldom extends beyond the four walls of their classroom. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day pressures in the high stakes arena and the opportunity to get out, to observe, to share, to collaborate and to reflect is often sacrificed for the potential short term gains of being permanently in the class. The problem with this is that long term development is hindered. One of the simplest, most effective ways to improve practice is to enable staff to get out of their own classroom and into those of their peers. This is easily managed in one school and only slightly more difficult to organise amongst several. We often overlook this most valuable resource in favour of more expensive professional development in the form of courses, conferences and training but class to class and school to school links can be hugely beneficial.
While visiting one of our partner schools in Beijing I witnessed such a refreshing approach. I asked our colleagues what the additional teachers in the lesson were doing – Were they trainee teachers? Was a peer observation in progress? Apparently it is routine in the school for a teacher to ask in the staffroom if a colleague wouldn’t mind watching them teach – perhaps they are trying something new and want feedback, it may be that they have concerns overs something else in the lesson and they want a second opinion. The process was one of complete openness and support and something I was keen to emulate on my return to school.
Staff meeting are often run from classrooms now as this is another opportunity to staff to get into their peers’ learning environment, to ask them questions, offer ideas and advice, compare and contrast. Our next round of peer observations has been an opportunity to match up the strengths of one member of staff with areas of development for another. This isn’t a perfect match as you can imagine but gives peer observations a stronger focus and a strategic edge. This pattern of getting staff into the classrooms of their peers with complimentary strengths is being extended to our partner schools after half term giving teachers the opportunity to see others wrestle with similar issues in their own school and beyond. It also provides staff with the chance to see someone who has strengths in an area they might be developing. Seeing someone ‘walk the talk’ is so much more powerful than hearing someone talk about what they do on a course, it has credibility with staff and enables them to build a strong professional partnership with fellow practitioners. Allowing staff to get out of the classroom to build such partnerships can only help what goes on in the classroom
Tonight was our staff surgery meeting for this half term. At these meetings we share technology and how it is working in class. This evenings session focused on iPads in the classroom, we re located to 6S where Mr Smith took us through how he is using the iPad to support and enhance learning. We have iPads and apple TV in every class so staff are always keen to look at which apps their peers are getting the most out of. The iPads are used to ever increasing effect and the apps Barry shared with us tonight are the ones he and the children in his class are currently getting a lot from. The list of favourites changes regularly but below are the ones he shared tonight:
Socrative.com- Barry challenged us all with a quick quiz, he then showed us how easy it is to create quizzes which can be used to support learning and assessment across the curriculum. Results are then saved in google drive. Socrative can be used to creat polls, quick quizzes, to monitor progress, assess learning and much more.
Google drive- all pupils in Y6 have google accounts so google drive is well used across the year group. In the words of Mr Smith, google drive acts like a giant pen drive in hyperspace! Children access their work via google drive both in class and at home, on any device. As children bring their smart phones, iPods and other mobile devices into school they can immediately get to their online work and save it back to google drive where Barry can then open it, mark it and share it as needed.
Explain Everything – this app is well used to share the children’s learning, it is a great tool to address misconceptions, create mini tutorials for key concepts and to present ideas and information. This screen casting app acts as a mini whiteboard. Pupils regularly use it to make tutorials to support learning, they then play these back to class and these screen casts then build up a bank of short videos to support in key areas for use in class. Show Me is another great app for this, once created the Show Me can then be added to class blogs for further sharing.
Book creator is another popular app used by children to make interactive books to support learning. The children have used this app to create their autobiographies adding images and film to the text they have written. The results look professional and inspire the children to achieve some great work. That fact the you can then save to iBooks is great for children as they can then see their own books alongside famous authors on the iBooks shelf!
Other tools worth a quick mention are listed below (we ran out of time as always!)
Puffin – this is popular with the apple users as it enables flash content to be played.
Wordpress – all make good use of this to enable quick posts to be added to class blogs.
Simple mind- pupils like using this as it enables them to create mind maps which can then be projected onto the class whiteboard via Apple TV
Kahn Academy- this is being used to support children who are having difficulties with key concepts. They can simply search and watch the short tutorials available through the Kahn Academy.
Google translate – used a lot in some classes where children have joined school from other countries with no English language skills. Google translate has been used to great effect recently with a little girl who arrived in school from Hungary with no English. She and her classmates have been able to communicate easily and the need for a mobile device to go everywhere around school with them is becoming less and less necessary as her English increases.
Within regular phase meetings staff share their app of the week and these are then shared across the school. If you have any that are proving popular with your staff and pupils at the moment, it would be great to hear from you.
There are a range of different ways of sharing good practice. One of the most interesting approaches I have seen recently is Speed Learning.
I attended my first speed learning event a couple of years ago. It was organised by Claire Lowe (@clairelowe2) and Kirstie Andrew-Power from the SSAT. They had gathered a group of practitioners together to share their learning experiences in short presentations at a local high school one evening. The twilight session began with an introductory key note by a guest Headteacher and quickly moved into the speed learning presentations. Each presentation took place at a table and delegates moved round the room every 10 minutes hearing up to six different presentations. The opportunity to hear from a range of practitioners close up and personal was well received. Those presenting were able to share ideas from their ipads, laptops and other devices rather than relying on large screens to project their work. This gave the short presentations a more intimate feel and an energetic buzz filled the hall as attendees heard from the likes 0f @ianaddison and other teachers in the area talking about a range of tech and non tech initiatives that were proving successful in their own schools. Some gave out information and shared examples of learning using the table top presentation idea to good effect. Following the presentations a closing keynote rounded off the event and looked to the future of such continuing professional development opportunities.
The speed learning model is a great way for practitioners to share ideas and innovations. It requires careful organisation and timing, a number of willing presenters and an audience. Such an event can reap dividends as staff return to school armed with a number of tried and tested approaches, peer support and new contacts helping to foster a sustainable and vibrant form of sharing and staff development. The model is particularly successful where a numeber of schools in close proximity agree to sacrificing a staff meeting or two for the common cause with one hosting the event.
SSAT are supporting a series of Speed Learning events up and down the UK over the summer term, if you haven’t managed to get to one yet you might like to check where your closest one is by following the link below. http://www.ssatuk.co.uk/ssat/speed-learning-2/
St Silas in Liverpool and Hawes Side in Blackpool are hosting two North West speed learning events on 12th and 13th June respectively. Contact @mrsdonaldson82 and @smichael920 on twitter for further information.
- School level models of CPD – a changing landscape (smichael920.wordpress.com)
- Professional development for teachers: how can we take it to the next level? (guardian.co.uk)
The way schools approach professional developed has changed dramatically over the last few years. The rise of teachmeets and similar models has seen a shift away from the content driven courses run by consultants and advisors of the past. Many now prefer the engagement and active involvement of peer led training as opposed to the passive learning model that is the diet of many traditional courses. The kind of course that generally takes staff away from their day to day practice to tell them how they can do their job better. The problem for many with such delivery is that it can lack credibility, practitioners like to hear from those who are walking the talk, who understand the day to day pressures and recognise the difficulties that can be encountered. Practitioner led training is popular as it not only gives its audience a ‘warts and all’ account of tried and tested approaches, but it also gives those presenting it an opportunity to develop professionally themselves.
A number of practitioner led approaches at cluster and network level can be replicated to good effect in individual schools. Below are a few approaches that work well both with groups of schools and within single organisations:
Staffroom teachmeet – this sharing good practice model is a great way to get staff up and talking about what they are doing in class that is proving successful. It promotes conversation around teaching and learning and a quick five minutes in front of peers doesn’t necessarily worry people in the way a longer slot in front of a larger audience might.
Learning walks – many staff rarely get into their peers classrooms and giving a couple of staff meetings over to learning walks means they will be able to spend time learning from each other, getting ideas, discussing how the learning environment can support learners and informally planning future developments. We spend an awful lot of time moving around school to meetings, classes, assemblies etc… so it is nice to actually slow down and make the walk around school purposeful in itself. A meeting on the move!
Moving the meetings -asking staff to host a staff meeting in their classroom is a good way of encouraging them to talk about learning and the learning environment in more detail. It is also a way of sharing the leading role and developing leadership skills in others. Having staff meetings in different classrooms can effortlessly put teaching and learning high on the agenda. It is amazing how much dialogue around practice can grow out of a simple question about a classroom display.
Staff Surgery – I have posted about this approach on this blog before but simply put, we make use of this model to support staff in developing their use of technology. Each term we have a staff meeting where everyone brings along a device (or we use the IT suite) and we share what is working well, what people are doing with their blogs, what they are struggling with or have heard about. It is a real collegiate environment and has become a recognised opportunity in school to develop collective and individual use of technology to support learning. Recently phase meetings have also introduced an ‘app of the week’ where staff will share an app they have been using in class on their iPads.
With a range of external directives and initiatives competing for space and time on an already crowded staff meeting agenda, taking a step away to develop such sharing is hugely valued and seen by many as the best way to approach school level cpd.
- Professional development for teachers: how can we take it to the next level? (guardian.co.uk)
- TeachMeets: An underground revolution! (teachertoolkit.me)
- Are teaching research projects the ultimate form of professional development? (guardian.co.uk)
- Teachmeet Bolton 3 – CPD 2.0 (simonhaughton.co.uk)
I visited a partner school a while ago and as I walked through the Foundation Stage I looked over at a group of children on the class computers. The teacher laughed as he explained to me that when the children had started school in September they went immediately to the computers, picked up the mouse and pointed it at the screen! Their pre school experiences with gaming platforms clearly dictating their understanding of how to approach this new experience. I recently recounted this story to a friend who explained that his three year old had stood in front of their television, put his hand in the air and attempted to ‘pinch’ to control its content as he was already comfortably doing with his iPad!
These two incidents illustrate the stark difference in experiences with technology for our youngsters and older generations. They also highlight the need for us as educators to understand the out of school experiences of children in order to bridge the formal and informal learning gap. For many pupils their out of school experiences with technology and their inquisitive, exploratory approach to each new device only serve to widen the learning gap. Celebrating their skills and developing understanding in school provides us with an opportunity to build on their out of school interests, benefiting their learning and sense of achievement.
In the last few weeks I have been sharing some of the children’s out of school hobbies with their peers in assemblies. Lucy from Y5 has her own business out of school which she advertises on her website http://www.yummycupcakes.webeden.co.uk/
Adam, Josh, William and Regan make their own animations and upload these onto their website http://theanimators1.weebly.com/animation-page.html Such enterprise and innovation are celebrated, supported and where possible, these out school interests encouraged within the school setting. We plan on ordering staff cakes from Lucy!
Our older children now bring their own devices into school to use as learning tools where appropriate. The technology they so often hold in their hand while out of school has such potential in the classroom that it makes sense to embrace it and explore its learning potential. The challenge is for us as educators to find ways to blur the children’s formal and informal learning, to bridge the gap between in school and out of school experiences in order to support their development, and where appropriate using the tools they are becoming increasingly accustomed to.
I have blogged before about our Kaizen network of schools, a small group of primaries who share common beliefs about education and learning. We began to work together about six years ago to improve the learning experiences of our pupils, we weren’t funded by any external agency and followed no external agenda but grew ourselves from the ground up, following our own instincts about what our schools needed. Within our network we agreed from the outset that as Headteachers we were privileged to be able meet and work together on areas of common interest. We support each other and challenge each other benefitting from such collaboration. We share common Inset days which provide all staff with the chance to meet up with peers in partner schools and work together on mutual areas of interest. The sharing of costs and resources has enabled us to move all our schools forward through a collegiate and supportive model of sustainable and relevant professional development. Recent shared Inset with the likes of Tim Rylands, Zoe Ross, Lane Clarke and others has been extremely well received by staff who are then able to build on what they’ve seen through school visits and joint working within the network.
This year we are once again taking advantage of ‘uncommon’ Inset days. This is when we put a working day aside for all our staff to get into partner schools to spend time in someone else’s class, working together, observing, taking in new ideas and approaches, and sharing good practice. Each school chooses a day when all the others are in full operational mode (not straight after a half term) and organises staff to visit one of the network, in small groups, to be let loose to spend the day being part of a different environment. These visits are followed up back at school with discussions and actions, further targeted visits and future projects. We have find these uncommon Insets to be invaluable. It is reported by McKinsey, that to improve teachers need to see best practice in an authentic setting, our approach gives staff the opportunity to do just that.
On Monday we are taking a group of pupils to visit one of our partner schools, Robin Hood in Birmingham. The visit will go beyond pupils meeting their peers, being given a tour of the school and discussing teaching and learning. On this visit the children will be donning the uniform of Robin Hood and spending the day as a pupil. This small scale piece of ethnographic research is intended to give our teaching and learning group a real understanding of how different schools operate. Following the visit, the children will present their findings on how our schools are similar, how we differ in our approaches and what we can learn from each other. A reciprocal visit is planned for later in the year and ongoing online collaboration via class blogs will aid communication.
Over the years, our teaching and learning groups have enjoyed looking at a range of approaches to classroom practice, the use of effective questioning and the work of educators such Guy Claxton, Chris Quigley and Dylan Wiliam. They have visited partner schools, made videos, led assemblies, given presentations, collaborated on projects and even organised a teaching and learning conference. The groups have furthered their own understanding of teaching and learning and regularly share their findings to support developments in pedagogy across our schools.
Through our networked approach to teaching and learning we have facilitated opportunities for staff to visit partner schools and experience the day to day practice in a colleague’s class. This is always hugely appreciated and staff benefit from such an open and collaborative relationship. This will be the first time we have undertaken such a venture with pupils, the outcomes are eagerly awaited.
- Sharing our learning (smichael920.wordpress.com)