Monthly Archives: January 2010

Stepping up to the Plate-teaching for the 21st Century

SSAT 4th National Primary Conference

The most successful and well attended Primary Conference hosted by the Trust began with a great session from Prof Yong Zhao. He talked about the need for the curriculum to move from content based to talent based. About how a content based curriculum is focussed on standardisation to help everyone achieve the same. An outcomes focussed model with the goal being to ‘fix deficiencies’. This model was compared to a talent based curriculum whose goal would be to personalise and find strengths. A process based model. Prof Zhao spoke passionately about the two major factors affecting the curriculum in the 21st Century: globalisation and technology and this focus on technology led nicely into the next presentation.

John Davitt led the delegates in a fun, inspirational session on the use of technology to support learning. He captured everyone’s attention immediately talking about a range of tools that can be employed to make learning more exciting and relevant. John used the phrase ‘illegal learning’ to describe the learning that goes on out of school ‘without a license’ without SATs, assessment etc. He posed the question:
‘Do we live in a world where shopping is more important than learning?’

Neil Hopkin gave a précis of the Cambridge Review and how it should act as a catalyst for curriculum change. His presentation offered differing views of the profession, differing views of how we should tackle poor quality practice and how we should embrace technology to support learning in the 21st Century. Neil finished his session with a passionate and heartfelt message for us all to take back to base about teaching:
‘If you’re not up for it, get out. You’re messing it up for the children. ‘

The breakout workshops offered a range of themes but I chose to further familiarise myself with John’s work. He led a hands on session that made great use of his iPhone app RAG (Random Event Generator)

After lunch I went to hear Tom Barratt talking about games based learning, ‘light touch CPD’ via Twitter and using Web2.0 to connect classrooms (google docs and voicethread were two examples) Tom’s presentation was a fantastic opportunity to hear some great examples from a classroom practitioner who uses techology to support learning but not to lead it. His creative approach blurs the distinction between school and home learning providing children with a platform from which they can grow as independent life long learners. Tom’s presentation will be available in full through his website.

Towards the end of the day two important speakers left us with food for thought. Baroness Sue Campbell talked about the importance of sport and exercise and how this can help learning and behaviour and Professor Barry Carpenter’s presentation on children with complex needs gave some real insights into both raising and educating such childen.

A hugely successful conference that left delegates inspired and challenged. The day began with Prof Zhao sharing sone quotes about education and one that sticks in the mind is from George Bernard Shaw:

‘The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.’

It is down to us to ensure this isn’t the case for today’s learners.

Important links:
http://www.newtools.org
@johndavitt
http://edte.ch
@tombarrett


The Educators’ Friend – CPD via Twitter

CPD is changing and the change is being driven by Twitter. Tweeting is a quick way of gaining ideas and advice from colleagues across the globe. You have a question? Ask it on Twitter and get a range of answers. Want some ideas on a new topic you’re trying out?Ask on Twitter. Someone, somewhere will have tried something similar.

Twitter has opened up conversations, furthered professional dialogue and engaged practitioners worldwide. It has lifted the profession from the classroom, the school and the district to a global platform where cpd is relevant, personal, immediate and succintly stated.

Beyond Twitter but through it, PLNs have developed, teachmeets have grown and a range of other forums that allow for extended CPD. 140 character is sometimes not enough! Personal Learning Networks allow you to further conversations that can start on Twitter, to ask for advice and help. To pick others’ brains and share their thoughts and ideas. I have recently seen the Educators PLN provide such support and provoke great dialogue and discussion on a range of areas of education that are relevant across the globe thanks to the sustained efforts of @tomwhitby @shellterrell and many others.

It is the freedom to dip in and out of conversation, to chose what is relevant and join in where and when you like that makes the Educators PLN and others like it so powerful. I also benefit hugely from my peers across the world who help me, encourage me and support me both through Twitter and Educators PLN.

Teachmeet grew out of people’s desire to share technology to support learning. Two minute and seven minute presentations allow ‘enthusiastic lurkers’ and fellow presenters to gain so much CPD in one evening that you would be hard pressed not to allow it to impact positively back at base!

‘TeachMeet grew from a meeting of minds around some French food in Edinburgh, during the Spring of 2005’ (source: edublogs). Since that initial meeting where @ewanmcintosh and a group of online friends brought educational opportunity and dialogue into a new, more relevant and accessible format, teachmeets can be found occurring across the world providing teachers with personal, effective and exciting CPD.

Teachmeets also sorts the wheat from the chaff. Teachers aren’t directed to attend, the sessions fall outside the school day on many occasions, meaning you’re getting a bunch of truly committed practitioners, prepared to give up a fair chunk of their own time to develop their learning and their practice without being directed to.

All of the above represents how CPD is changing, a change brought about by Twitter. The future is exciting, the possibilities for teachers CPD seemingly endless. Let’s hope this move to ‘for teachers, by teachers’ sees a shift towards more autonomy in the profession as a whole. A move away from centralised prescription towards trusting teachers as the skilled, committed professionals they are- CPD doesn’t have to come from government, or local authorities. It can and should come from the professional’s personal needs. Great teachers go beyond what they’re asked to do because for them, teaching isn’t a job. It’s more important than that.

Some ‘sources of TeachMeet’ links: http://is.gd/6SV7X
http://is.gd/6SUiE ;
http://is.gd/6SVvq ;
http://is.gd/6SVWt
With much gratitude to @ssutherland


Specialists – teaching the subject or the child?

The Cambridge Primary Review, the first comprehensive report on primary education since Plowden in 1967 challenges a lot of the prevailing assumptions about what schools should be delivering.

The report makes a number of recommendations. One that was discussed today was the use of specialist teachers in primary schools.

On the one hand we all want our children to have the very best learning experience possible, from the right people. On the other, a central tenet of primary school is  pastoral support and a more holistic education than other sectors are able to provide, do we lose this by adopting a more specialist approach where children will have a number of teachers?   If we adopt specialist teaching does it mean those vital relationships and understandings of individual children and their needs will be harder to achieve.   How would the use of a range of specialist teachers impact on consistency across the school?

Many teachers in primary will tell you they chose this route as they wanted to teach the whole curriculum to children, that they want to see children’s development in it’s entirety. There’s an often used expression that secondary school teachers teach subjects and primary school teachers teach the child! The report suggests in this day and age we should consider who is best to deliver the most effective learning experience to children. It states that in the past it has always been the case, particularly in music and PE, that somebody might be better placed to deliver these subjects and that schools should look to exploit such specialists.   Since the introduction of PPA time, any schools have looked at these two areas as an opportunity to try a different approach, using coaches and musicians to provide the statutory cover for staff.

Ultimately the review asks us to question assumptions and challenge ourselves as school leaders to review our staffing structures to ensure children have the best learning experiences possible. Our we accessing all expertise in school? Sometimes a simple survey of staff strengths and specialisms can unearth a bed of untapped talent. I have found this recently with languages.

As @andrewme tweeted recently, its about a balance of the two: retaining the pastoral support while embracing the expertise of those best suited to deliver key curriculum areas.   The Cambridge Review asks us to look at our own practice and ask ourselves questions.   A great vehicle for change both at school level and (hopefully) and nationally.


Raising Aspirations – Y6 visit Lancaster University

On Friday 8th January, Y6 spent a day a Lancaster University to learn all about campus life.

It was a great visit and gave the children a real insight into what it is like to spend a few years at university. We were met on arrival by a group of students who double as learning ambassadors. They took the children into a lecture theatre for some warm up activities.
The children had some great guesses as to the courses the ambassadors were taking (ranging from cookery to building) and when they told them, the children were non the wiser ‘what’s sociology? What’s business studies etc? The children then had to guess where the ambassadors were from based on a simple sentence or two from each (Sophie who liked pizza was not from Italy and Leanne who lived where people called you duck, was not from Turkey!)

We then broke into smaller groups and went into seminar rooms to learn a bit more about this level of education. The children found out all about lectures, seminars, professors, halls of residence, freshers weeks, graduation and lots more.

Whilst in the library one of the children noticed a student at one of the computers on facebook. ‘Shouldn’t he be studying Mr Shepherd? I don’t think they should be in here updating their facebook!’

The tour of the campus gave the children an idea of how huge the site is. ‘Is it bigger than Blackpool?’ Someone asked me. ‘It’s like a town- it’s got everything, and the cinema is only a pound!’

The children couldn’t get over the size of the campus with its shops, offices, restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, launderettes, cinemas, clubs and library (the size of a large department store!) They found out about all sorts of courses you could take, trips and field study opportunities and sports facilities that are being built for the future.

One of the ambassadors was kind enough to let us all see her flat in the halls of residence. She had a bedsit style room- very smart, and a shared kitchen. One the the children thought it was like big brother! The rooms were like hotel rooms and had really fast internet connection. All the children thought it looked like a great place to live.

The visit was something we have been keen to introduce to our Y6 programme for some time. We wanted our children to experience something they can aspire to. Something many of their parents didn’t experience and something that for many was beyond their wildest dreams.

They realised that university is an attainable goal, that it offers a range of exciting opportunities and that it isn’t just the domain of the rich and highly intelligent. One of our pupils said he had always thought university was for really clever people who came from wealthy families. He said after the visit that he realised that it was ‘for normal people, like me!’

The visit was about showing the children what is possible if they work hard. It was also an opportunity to debunk the myths surrounding university. Many don’t visit colleges till they are about to apply, or even after in some cases. We wanted our children to have the chance now, to give them something to think about and a future to aspire to.

It was a great visit and a real insight into what it is like to spend a few years at university. We were met on arrival by a group of students who double as learning ambassadors. They took the children into a lecture theatre for some warm up activities. The children had some great guesses as to the courses the ambassadors were taking (ranging from cookery to building) and when they told them the children were non the wiser ‘what’s sociology? What’s business studies etc? The children then had to guess where the ambassadors were from based on a simple sentence or two from each (Sophie who liked pizza was not from Italy and Leanne who lived where people called you duck, was not from Turkey!)

We then broke into smaller groups and went into seminar rooms to learn a bit more about this level of education. The children found out all about lectures, seminars, professors, halls of residence, freshers weeks and lots more.

Whilst in the library one of the children noticed a student at one of the computers on facebook. ‘Shouldn’t he be studying Mr Shepherd? I don’t think they should be in here updating their facebook!’

The tour of the campus gave us all an idea of how huge the site is. ‘Is it bigger than Blackpool?’ Someone asked me. ‘It’s like a town- it’s got everything, and the cinema is only a pound!’

The campus has shops, offices, restaurants, bars, cafes, hairdressers, launderettes, cinemas, clubs and a library the size of a large department store! We found out about all sorts of courses you could do, trips and field study opportunities and sports facilities that are being built for the future.

One of the ambassadors was kind enough to let us all see her flat in the halls of residence. She had a bedsit style room- very smart, and a shared kitchen. One the the children thought it was like big brother. The rooms were like hotel rooms and had really fast internet connection. All the children thought it looked like a great place to live.

The visit was something we have been keen to introduce to our Y6 programme for some time. We wanted our children to experience something they can aspire to. Something many of their parents didn’t experience and something that for many was beyond their wildest dreams.

They realised that university is an attainable goal, that it offers a range of exciting opportunities and that it isn’t just the domain of the rich and highly intelligent. One of our pupils said he had always thought university was for really clever people who came from wealthy families. He said after the visit that he realised that it was ‘for normal people, like me!’

The visit was about showing the children what is possible if they work hard. It was also an opportunity to debunk the myths surrounding university. Many don’t visit colleges till they are about to apply, or even after in some cases. We wanted our children to have the chance visit now, to give them something to think about and a future to aspire to.

Below are the results of a questionnaire the children took both at the beginning and end of the visit, the results are quite revealing!

Hawes Side Primary School   Campus Visit to Lancaster University, Friday 8th January 2010

Pre & Post Questionnaire

“What does the word University mean to you?”

Pre Post
Learn/Learning (x31) Fun (x23)
Work/Working (x18) Education (x22)
Fun (x14) Learning (x12)
Education (x13) Exciting (x9)
Jobs/Get a good job (x6) Work (x8)
Big/Large/Huge place (x4) Cool (x7)
Coursework (x4) Shops/Shopping (x6)
Studying (x4) Hard work (x5)
World (x3) Life (x4)
Exciting/Excitement (x3) Big/Huge/Massive (x4)
Further Education (x2) Good (x4)
Thinking (x2) Friendship/Making friends (x4)
Big School (x2) Study/Studying (x4)
Experience (x2) Jobs/Very good jobs (x3)
Life/Live (x2) Friendly (x3)
Lecture (x2) Campus (x3)
Hard/Hard work (x2) Graduate (x2)
Meeting new people (x2) Expensive (x2)
Lunch (x2) Room (x2)
Children (x2) Socialising (x2)
GCSE’s (x2) Freedom (x2)
Sleeping (x2) World (x2)
Help you Lecture
Smart Future
Intelligence Fancy
Good SAT’s papers Trust
Living with people Training
Practice Homely
Training Joyful
Big kids New
Exercise Dorms
School Dancing
Great Modern
Challenges Hard to describe
Teaching Good lessons
Future Happy
Pre (Continued) Post (Continued)
Knowing what to do in your job Fantastic
Classes Knowledgeable
A world of learning Intelligence
World Fun learning
Universal Achieving good learning
Enjoy Housemates
Good Education Entertaining
Cool Relaxed
Exams
Active Staff
20 & over
Dormitories
Learning place
Parties
Painting
Get degrees


Moral Purpose and Accompanying Dilemas

Why did we choose to teach? What made us want to enter the profession? Some say their school days were great, or they had inspirational teachers. Some say they want to change the system and do things differently. Are the reasons we chose this career as strong now as they were when we entered the profession?

I’ve been toying with these questions recently. Every now and then something happens to test our moral purpose, to make us take a stance for what we believe. I give you a couple of my own examples:

The tuck shop saga

In my first headship I was faced with a dilema over the very popular and pretty lucrative tuck shop. You see the problem was it sold absolute rubbish to the children. Unhealthy and probably downright harmful, cheap excuses for crisps, sweets and sugary drinks. Parents didn’t seem to mind, pupils loved it and it paid for a lot of school stationary so some staff thought it a good thing. As head do you:

A) Run with things as they are? Everyone’s happy and the tuck shop serves a purpose.

B) Shut it down? It is obviously completely unhealthy and not doing the kids any good

Despite protests from most quarters, and ongoing requests from the children to keep it we closed it down and re launched it as a less successful but healthier fruit tuck shop.

Early Doors

School had traditionally opened to children at 9.00am but many arrived earlier. Staff would make their way to their classes about 8.50 with a warm drink while looking out on children and parents freezing in the cold. We opening the doors at 8.50 was suggested it was met with hostility from staff who valued this time and felt parents should not turn up till 9.00am. Changing the routine was going to cause a lot of ill feeling for little apparent gain. The children played outside, they would lose this social time and parents would just drop off and not have the chance to speak and socialise with other parents and children as they had in the past. Do you:

A) Keep the status quo? A lot of people were happy and those who weren’t accepted it anyway.

B) Allow children and parents to come in from 8.50? Then no one has to hang around on a cold playground, shivering, waiting for doors to be opened.

Opening up 10 minutes earlier meant we could stagger children coming in which made the start of the day less chaotic. Children came in and got themselves settled in for a prompt start. Music played, they could read or attempt a short morning challenge to get them going.

Both these changes took some time to ‘bed in’ but eventually became part of the culture of the school. Both could have been left as no one expected any changes. However, the changes were right, morally. There have been many other times when I know my own beliefs and morals have been tested in this way. It happens regularly, more than we know. If we were to film ourselves for a few weeks, watch our interactions, the decisions we make, the way we address others, it would help us see our values and beliefs in action.

Education is driven by moral purpose, sometimes we have to be brave and stick our neck out for what we know is right. Our moral purpose was there on the day we entered the profession. We just need to remind ourselves of it now and again.


Snow Hey Ho!

Isn’t it funny how a bit of snow can cause such panic!

Today we closed school early due to a minor weather change – we got some snow. This doesn’t happen a lot in Blackpool, UK so it was a bit of a novelty for staff, parents and children.

Making the decision to close however is a tricky one. Firstly you have to consider the H&S side of things, were the paths and playgrounds going to be too slippy? Were the roads going to present a problem for staff and parents?   Would everyone be able to get home etc..?

We checked all was good, staff arrived safely (although one was delayed due to a bump ahead) parents dropped off excited children and all seemed to be as expected. We cancelled playtimes due to icy ground underfoot on the yards but each class went out onto the field to enjoy the snow.

At this stage we had no thought of closing school as most of the initial hurdles had been cleared. A further downfall caused us to re assess the situation but once again, we felt it was going to be best to stay open until 3.30 as normal.

Towards the end of the morning one or two members of staff started to ask about getting home and what our plan was – the plan was to stay open, obviously! However some people had a fair distance to travel and there was obvious concern over getting home. We decided it might be prudent to release these people before conditions got too bad. We felt we could cover their teaching commitments internally. Parents by this time were ringing in ever increasing numbers – some insisting they would like to come and collect their children asap as other schools locally were closing and their siblings would be going home. Older brothers and sisters from neighbouring high schools began to turn up after their schools had closed and more staff began to voice concerns.

It then became clear that a majority were in favour of early closure (probably the vast majority in terms of children!) We sent a text message to all parents and informed local radio that we would close at 1.30 although some staff would remain at school until 3.30.

How did parents view this? Most recognised it was probably the best thing to do given the unpredictability of the weather and the lack of gritting on the roads. Some I’m sure would have been inconvenienced and found it difficult to get to school or arrange pick up.

What have we learnt? Well I think we have a more up to date database of contact numbers now! We know that a bit a snow can cause major panic – particularly if you haven’t had any for a few years. We know children love snow and memories of today will last a long, long time and we also know that some staff worry about how they are going to get home almost as soon as they arrive at school!