Monthly Archives: June 2010

Attitudes, beliefs and taking penalties

At assembly today I tackled the World Cup. I thought I should exercise my demons, face the naked truth that we’re not as good as we think we are. But furthermore I realised that when players do reach a level of great skill and technical ability something else sets them apart. Their attitudes and beliefs define them and make them who they are.

I asked our children in Y5 and 6 “what do you think goes through our players’ minds when they walk up to take a penalty, as they have done before against Germany?” The children responded with a range of answers (showing an uncanny understanding of sports psychology I thought!)
“They’re nervous”
“They’re thinking oh no I might miss”
“They’re worried that the goalie might save it and they’ll look stupid”
I then asked them what they thought went through a German player’s mind before he took a penalty.
“He thinks, I’m going to score”
“I can be a hero”
“This is easy”
I explained to the children that we can achieve so much with the right attitude and belief. I told them the future is theirs, they just have to belief in themselves and show the right attitude.

Has the last few weeks given me anything I can use in school? Did I feel better about the World Cup? Maybe, a bit!


Giraffes and Rickrolling-TMBpool2

Last night saw the second teachmeet Blackpool courtesy of some stirling work once again from @mr_jim and @tomsale. 140 people turned up for an evening of great presentations from a host of educators from across the country.

As 4.30 approached, the hall at Hawes Side swelled to near capacity. Late comers were relegated to extra seating down the sides as local teachers and the twitter community mingled with a group of European visitors from Lithuania, Romania, Denmark, France and many other countries.

Prof Stephen Heppell kicked off the proceedings as @eyebeams ensured the event was streamed over the net for those who couldn’t make it in person.

We were then inspired, informed, illuminated and entertained by a range of practitioners, teachers and consultants who selflessly got up to share great ideas and innovations.

The beauty of teachmeet is that these ideas are proven in the classroom. They’re presented warts and all, presenters share the problems and benefits as they encountered them. This isn’t about selling you an idea, it is simply about saying ‘this worked for me, you might want to give it a go. You never know.’

The evening was punctuated with a fantastic spread of butties and cakes which I battled my inner demons to leave alone till 6pm! Some people must have been very polite about their portions as the initial order for 120 delegates easily covered a greater number. Following a ‘networking and eating’ break we got back on with some fantastic presentations.

It would be wrong in some ways to single out individual ones but I think everyone would agree that finding out all about Giraffe Class and their tweets from @joga5 was great! Finding out all about Colin and rickrolling from @ZoeRoss19 was unexpected! And @HGJohn’s blogging the world cup was a brilliant, topical idea well worth sharing. I didn’t realise just how much you could do with PowerPoint until @bevevans22 showed us and some fantastic examples of blogging with young children from @jacksloan blew me away. Staff from Hawes Side left full of requests for Purple Mash following @simonhaughton’s presentation and great ideas for voicethread and coveritlive from @primarypete_ and @DeputyMitchell respectively only served to further convince staff of their ease of use and obvious benefits.

All in all a fantastic, inspirational evening that cannot have failed to have left all who attended full of enthusiasm and desperate to try out new ideas back in class.

If you leave teachmeet with one new idea, then it’s worth it. Last night proved the unconference format has a massive impact on practitioners (both those who attend and those who watch online) and huge potential to develop even further, to the benefit of all who care passionately about education.

Think Time and The Three Minute Culture

We live in a world of increasing pace and change.

The media worry that if something exciting isn’t happening every few minutes, people will get bored, switch channels, find something else to do. Developing interest, concentrating and mulling things over seem to be discouraged in today’s society. It’s as if there isn’t the time to dwell on things, to think, to form ideas and develop opinions.

In the classroom this can have a damaging effect as children grow up in an increaingly restless climate. As we try and encourage thinking, questioning and deeper learning, we are obviously out of step with society.   Children can become easily bored and increasingly,  pressure is put on teachers to up the pace, move on quickly, keep the children stimulated lest they switch off from their learning etc…

I remember watching ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ on TV a few years ago – to get through to the hot seat, contestants had to answer a relatively simple question (e.g. put a certain set of dates on order) in the quickest time.   We would sit at home wondering how on earth these questions could be answered incorrectly.   The reason of course is that in rushing them to get the answer down simple mistakes were made.   The brain isn’t allowed to properly engage hence the forced errors.

Now I’m not suggesting there isn’t a need to quickly work out the change in your hand when shopping, or to react speedily when in certain situations.   But I think there is a need to really allow children in school to develop the ability to concentrate, to recognise that learning isn’t all about mirroring a media culture that worries about losing its audience if it dwells too long on one thing.   Children need to be exposed to real, authentic learning environments and they need to have the opportunity to engage in deep learning.  Maybe developing such skills will enable them to question the very culture that currently relies on their obsession to exist.

An Inspector Calls – The Ofsted Experience

The Phone Call
Friday May 7th and after worrying about it daily since the beginning of the academic year, we get the call we’re to be inspected the following week. I was sitting in a meeting with a local university planning our next training day when the secretary walked in and told me of the call. When Ofsted call you quickly make yourself available and that’s what I did!

The first call is with the agents, who inform you of the fact that you are to be inspected and who your lead inspector will be. Frantic note taking is the norm at this point, even though an email minutes later confirms the details just given verbally. The second call, from the lead inspector comes pretty quickly after that. No matter how well you think you’ve prepared there is always that thought that you’ll be caught out. That the inspection will be a negative process that will destroy all your efforts. It’s hard to shake your feelings of doubt and see the experience as something positive at this stage!

Following that first phone call, comes an impromptu staff meeting to inform everyone, to reassure, support and advise staff. Then phone calls to governors, letters to parents and meetings with key people. It’s all done very quickly and everyone wants to know when school is open over the weekend, how late can they work, what to do about this, will they want to see that? Some people panic, some worry, some take it all in their stride and some see it as a chance to shine. It’s hard to second guess people’s reactions and subsequent responses.

Inevitably the weekend in school is very busy as we try to ensure the place is seen in its best possible light.

Meeting the team

Tuesday morning, the team arrived and we made sure we were there to greet them at the door. We provided them with an office space and took them down to meet the staff. The lead inspector attempted to put everyone at ease and most people certainly would have felt better about the inspection following his reassuring words. An all too quick tour of the school followed – one which allowed me very little time to talk about things as we went around the building. Before we knew it we were into class observations. The team left their office en masse, clipboards at the ready.

The Inspectionday 1

Following the first day of the inspection I couldn’t have felt lower. The UK’s school inspectorate can make you feel like this. Having been through many inspections I can honestly say this one hit me hard. The inspection process is now something that is done with you, rather than to you – this is what I was told and indeed I was party to a number of evaluations and conversations that have hitherto been held privately. Did this make the process easier? Better? More open? Possibly, in some ways, but ultimately the experience is about a range of judgements based on very shaky criteria and open to interpretation. Some teams are generous, some are more stringent.

Staff must have felt the decidedly miserable atmosphere around the place as we left on that first evening. I found it difficult to see any aspect of the experience as positive and can hardly say I was relishing another day of Ofsted.

The Inspection – day 2

We arrived for day 2 determined the team would see us at our best, witness some of the fantastic things going on around school and leave with an accurate picture of the school. It isn’t easy to do this as it relies on everyone pulling out all the stops, all technology working etc… The day went much better than the previous one and we all felt we’d had a much better experience. Meetings with staff, governors and pupils all seemed to go well and we began to feel a bit better about things. In the afternoon the inspectors met to decide on their judgements. As we sat listening to them deliberate over grades it was obvious there was a range of opinions based on the different experiences and observations of the team. The lead inspector made the final decision on all the judgements and much as I disagreed on a few of them, it was pretty obvious they weren’t going to change.


The team left us after reporting back to our leadership team and chair of governors. As always at these times there are mixed feelings – delight that certain things have been recognised, disappointment that other things have been missed, reassurance that your self evaluation has identified the same areas as the inspection team, relief that the experience is over!

I had been told by colleagues that this round of inspections had been their most positive. I have to say so much still seems to depend on the team you get. People will tell you that report is nearly all written before the team set foot in school anyway, based on your SEF, Raise online data and your previous inspection and there is definitely more than a hint of truth to this. It was pleasing to see common sense once again prevail regarding safeguarding – no one measured fence heights or tried to sneak in the building to catch us out over security.

I recognise the need for accountability in our schools – it’s the price we pay for the autonomy we enjoy, but I’m yet to be convinced there isn’t a better, fairer way to do this. I started writing this post as a real time journal during the inspection – it’s taken me this long to be able to put it together as the experience absolutely floored me. It’s not a helpful place to be. We have reviewed our action plan, taken on board the inspection team’s advice and celebrated their report but would I want to go through the experience again? Has it helped the school recognise anything we weren’t already aware of? Will it ultimately benefit the school community in any way? I have to say my answer is no.

The Risk Taking Classroom

I chatted with our teaching and learning group recently about the qualities of an effective learner. We were talking specifically about the need to be a risk taker. As teachers and leaders we work hard to ensure that classrooms are safe, secure environments where children are allowed to take risks, indeed they are encouraged. I asked the group if they felt this was the case and they confirmed that staff certainly encouraged them to ask questions, share ideas and make points. They said the big problem in class wasn’t the support of staff but the derision from their peers.

The big obstacle to a risk taking classroom is the reaction it provokes in others. Children will be reluctant to ask questions and share ideas if they believe it will prompt negative reaction. So what, I asked the children, can we do about it? We talked about the need for classes to establish ground rules such as:

1. Respect others opinions and be sensitive to feelings
2. Be supportive and encouraging
3. Ensure any feedback is constructive
4. Be honest and objective

If something like this can be agreed at the beginning of the year and reviewed regularly it will foster a greater sense of confidence in learners, enabling them to take risks and make mistakes, comfortable in the knowledge that such actions are the route to effective learning.

Let’s Stick Together – The Importance of Networks

Schools can’t work in isolation.   Collaboration is more important today than ever.   As the role of our local authorities diminishes even further we need to ensure we don’t lose the advice, support and expertise that many of us have received from them over the years.

Many of us belong to a range of formal and informal networks, this has helped us share innovations, ideas, practice and much more.   Most importantly, belonging to a supportive network means you are not alone.   If you are concerned, worried or bewildered by anything that greets you at school it’s great to find others feel the same way – it’s not just you!   If you’re battling with the latest central directive or struggling to implement the latest strategy it’s encouraging to find your peers are in the same boat – or have been and found a way out.

Networks mean schools can help each other, support each other and learn from each other.   At Hawes Side we are involved in numerous networks, some (The Kaizen Network, The Palatine Pyramid) created by a bunch of heads in direct response to our mutual interests and needs.   These two networks have enabled us to realise a number of ambitions and continue to do so as we forge ahead with the development of new initiatives across our schools.

The Comenius Network is a British Council funded project that has enabled us to link with schools in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Finland and Italy.   The professional and cultural development fostered by this network has been fantastic and continues to benefit staff and children across all our schools.   Our Narrowing the Gap project involves a number of schools in the North West and is focussed on 21st Century Schools.  The children take a lead in this network arranging visits to each others schools, giving tours and talking about learning and how the learning experience differs in each setting.   A conference is planned next month for the children and staff involved to share their findings.

One of the most important networks we are involved with is the SSAT.   The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is a national charity, a non unionised, non political network that provides support, expertise and advice that goes beyond that of smaller networks.   SSAT is a global gateway for schools with the ability to signpost support, offer bespoke training and match up schools with partners from around the corner or across the world, depending on your needs.   The primary arm of SSAT is the Family of Schools, like the other networks we’re involved in the FOS is hugely beneficial to us.   Like the other networks, you get out of it what you put in.   The more committed and involved you become – the more you benefit.   Our involvement in all our networks is active, there’s no point in passive involvement, for us it is about challenging each other, supporting each other and, ultimately progressing and developing together.   In today’s uncertain and increasingly difficult educational climate the importance of networks can’t be underestimated – let’s stick together!