“Just leave” – why leaving a school isn’t that easy

Standard

There have been times when I’ve seen Tweets about poor practice in a school and people have said in response “Just leave” or “Not all schools are like that” or “Not all SLT are like that”.

The “Just leave” seems such an obvious thing to say but it really isn’t that simple.

Some of us invest not just our career in a school but become heavily attached to its successes and failures. We’ve spent hours and hours working hard to try and make it successful. We defend it in public when the media does otherwise. We have an emotional attachment that means “just leaving” isn’t an option.

I personally have felt a moral responsibility to not “Just leave” a school. I know I have a lot to offer and can teach pretty well. Why would I abandon the students just because things may be a bit uncomfortable? Surely, I have a role to play in ensuring the school progresses instead of always struggling?

Surely, this is what the Government mean when they are talking about keeping good teachers in challenging schools? Aren’t we letting down the school if we leave and go to another school that might not need teachers and leaders in the same way?

But sometimes we need to resign to the fact that without significant change, of which we as individuals cannot enforce, nothing will get better. Some people are quite happy to “keep their heads down” and carry on without getting too involved in the stresses of challenging circumstances. They ride the storm, over and over. It pays the mortgage.

I personally couldn’t, so there was only one thing left to do…

Just leave.

Advertisements

Why Twitter isn’t representative of teaching but Secret Teacher isn’t either

Standard

I often think that Twitter is not a true reflection of all teachers who work in all types of school. I’ve never seen any tweets saying ‘Today I had a chair thrown at me by a year 9’ or ‘I broke up a fight with two year 11 boys’.

Instead I see ‘Look at the fantastic work my year 7 group did today’ or ‘Congrats to our football team for winning their game’.

Whilst there are debates, maybe arguments and some nastiness amongst individuals on Twitter,  the realities of all schools are not represented. Where are those teachers who are going through hell?

Of course there are huge issues with people telling the truth about their school, especially if their Twitter account is identified directly to them. I’m not arguing that people should put themselves, the school and/or the children at risk by posting tweets with potentially problematic issues however I’m concerned about how those that are having tough times in school share those experiences, and possibly ask for advice.

Twitter can be a helpful, caring, sharing community but it has boundaries on what people ‘can’ ask about. Should it also be a place where people with serious difficulties can share? Or maybe those on Twitter haven’t experienced this kind of school & can’t empathise or offer advice? Is it really only partially representative of the teaching community?

This is why I get frustrated when people criticise The Guardian’s ‘Secret Teacher’ for seeming to always be negative and painting an unbalanced image of teaching. These people forget that whilst Twitter is generally  full of positivity there are colleagues around the country that are having a nightmare;a truly challenging and potentially damaging time.

Where is their voice? Where can they ‘safely’ say what is happening to them? Just because it isn’t all sparkly & may make people question the profession once in a while, should we stop it and pretend it doesn’t exist?

Secret teacher is one way of giving these teachers in challenging circumstances a voice.

So whilst neither provides a balanced view, at least both give a voice to teachers in their current situation. I’m worried there are many teachers out there struggling, who can’t take advantage of the Twitter community and the catharsis of blogging due to fear of judgement or worse.

Separating formative & summative assessment – Avoiding the pitfalls of levels

Standard

Having had a quick chat with Michael Tidd on Twitter about assessment systems and reading his most recent blog on my favourite topic ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’ of assessing without levels, I’m now thinking about changing slightly my dept. assessment system by dividing formative and summative assessment.

We were running two separate assessments. One using a 9 element system that focussed mainly on the skills of using knowledge, mainly in their writing. We hadn’t got round to doing recording this but I had trialled a very laborious system on SIMs.

We were then trialling using multiple choice quizzes at the start/middle/end of a topic. We were going to use this formatively in finding out what they know and filling gaps etc but also was going to record the 3 results on the SIMS tracker.

Somehow we were going to use both of these to decide if a student is making progress.

I’m now thinking that the 9 element system will be used summatively only. Progression can be seen throughout their work but does not need to be centrally recorded. The ‘evidence’ is there in their books. It can be used as a back up when the system below needs further evidence or confirmation.

However, I propose in using the MC data to give an overall indication of progress. To do this I will need to:

  • Embed the system. No guessing
  • Improve the questions asked
  • Probably ask a few more questions – currently it’s 20
  • Decide how much makes ‘expected improvement’
  • I also need to make it so differentiated that no student will achieve full marks at the start unless they’re a true expert in the topic ( in which case I need to provide them with completely different work anyway)
  • I also need to ensure that if we haven’t covered the topic in class then getting it ‘wrong’ doesn’t count against them.
  • I’ve used a ‘I don’t know’ option in the MC quizzes. Do I need to give them minus points for incorrect answers to deter them from guessing?
  • Create an end of year test which is all the topics in MC quiz
  • Decide if we tell them their result. My current thinking is that we don’t. It’s irrelevant. It needs to be ‘no stakes’ or does this system mean it cannot be ‘no stakes’?

Any thoughts and feedback on this proposal welcomed.

The all consuming issue of behaviour in schools

Standard

I’ve worked in several different types of schools. Some have been ‘challenging’. This is a code word for ‘many students with behaviour issues’ which is a code word for ‘can’t follow school rules’. Whether they can’t be quiet when a teacher talks or throws chairs around the classroom, their behaviour is unacceptable.

But the effects of poor behaviour go well beyond being told to ‘Fuck off’ by a child. It’s all-pervading in our teaching, in our schools and worst of all, in our private lives. Here are some thoughts why….

It takes time to record

Triplicate statements.Email, paper, MIS. Whatever happened in a second in your classroom will probably take at least an extra 10 minutes of your day to record. Following it up will take even longer.

One student has the power to affect everyone else’s learning
Things won’t move on in a classroom whilst a student is disrupting. Everything slows down. Sometimes you can’t do any teaching at all.

It makes staff feel bad even depressed

No-one likes having to deal with poor behaviour, especially if it becomes personal to you. Teachers are humans and have feelings. Bad behaviour makes us feel bad.

It has the power to all pervade your outlook on your day/week/whole job

Ever thought ‘this is my worst day on my timetable’? ‘ Ever thought ‘I hate week 1’? One student’s behaviour has the power to make us feel negatively towards many children and other aspects of our job that have nothing to do with them.

In can be very sad

This sounds flippant; it’s not supposed to be. It can be heartbreaking to hear that children are behaving in a particular  way because that what is happening to them at home. Telling you to ‘fuck off’ is exactly what  they’re told every day by people who are supposed to love them. There are some heartbreaking situations out there which we as teachers can do nothing about.

In some cases it stops teachers teaching

Temporarily in a lesson but also as a career. When there’s pore behaviour, being passionate a pure your subject isn’t enough.

In serious cases, it can change a teacher’s life forever

Unfortunately for some, the physical and mental scars resulting from poor behaviour will change their life forever. In deeply sad cases people have lost their lives.
It can give a false sense of all student behaviour

‘My year 9 class are awful’. ‘Year 8 are an awful year group’. These sorts of sweeping generalisations are common amongst teachers. It usually comes down to a handful of students.
Teachers spend time talking about it

Yes we should be talking about children but ideally it should be about their learning. How many meetings and break times and PPAs do teachers spend talking about the negative behaviour?
It determines what and how you teach

If you have a tough class there will be things you most definitely would not do with them. How sad is that? Differentiation by behaviour.

Without consistency, behaviour systems don’t work

Whilst you’re busily following the system, there are others that aren’t. Every time they don’t, they undermine everything you do. Leaders are too busy with the behaviour instead of dealing with the staff that aren’t being consistent.

Children thrive on inconsistency. “Why should I? Mr Smith doesn’t tell me off for it….”

Many schools have woeful behaviour systems

Some of the schools that need it the most do not have clear, manageable systems. Behaviour will never improve without them and it being consistently applied.

Until you’ve worked in a school with serious behaviour issues you really have no idea what it’s like

I see many people commenting on behaviour in schools. I genuinely don’t believe you know what it’s like to deal with poor behaviour unless you’ve worked in a school with serious behaviour issues. You don’t know how it works, how it feels and most importantly I think you can only offer limited advice on how to deal with it.

All of these reasons are why, if poor behaviour isn’t dealt with, a school will never improve overall. It’s the underlying factor that cannot be ignored and if there is no-one on the leadership that understand this it will carry on seriously impacting teachers, students and the whole school.

If we asked the people leaving the profession ‘Why?’, how many would cite one or many of these reasons?

School development plans – are they really needed?

Standard

In my experience school development plans (SDPs) are usually written by the Headteacher in September, possibly with the input of the senior leadership group. It is based on what they believe the school needs to do to improve. Some documents cover one year and others can cover several years. Some are lengthy and go on for pages, others have tried to ensure the SDP sticks to one side of A4.

IMG_1340

Middle leaders are then told that they should write their own subject development plans around this whole school document.

Teachers then have to write their appraisal/performance management targets around the subject development plan or the SDP.

CPD is only ‘allowed’ or at least will only be funded if it links to the whole school plans.

Teachers that are already successful in the areas that the development plan identify as school issues, are ridiculously forced to focus on things they don’t need to focus on.

SDP targets overall are vague and require reading pages of documents to drill down to what they mean.

image

This system is deeply flawed and I would argue mainly inefficient. It’s not owned by all staff and is wasting the power of the many with the perceived accountability of senior leaders.

I am going to argue that some schools should rethink this process. I will use random visual examples on face value from publicly available plans shared on the Internet.

Top-bottom to bottom-top

In the model described above, the school’s priorities are derived, hopefully from a good knowledge of the teaching, teachers and students in the school but from the ‘top’.  I suggest this is the wrong way round.

Teachers, support staff and depts. should have time to discuss, what they really need to develop to move forwards. There needs to be high quality conversations about what would really make a difference to their teaching and the students’ learning. This all should happen before the SDP is written.

They need to be short achievable things that the teacher believes can make a difference. They need to be realistic. What is the point of an RE teacher with 25 classes being told they have to mark their students’ books every week? It’s probably not going to happen and you’re going to end up with a very stressed, probably ill, unhappy group of teachers.

Teachers and depts may be given some overarching areas which they  could choose to include or not in their development.

They then focus further on which aspect they want to develop. It must be achievable and so specific that it is ‘checkable’.

These should be flexible, open to trial and error and whilst they can be checked, they’re not being judged on. Judging something implies that the outcome should always be positive for the consequence . Trialling means it can go wrong and it doesn’t matter.

Keeping it achievable & realistic
I’m a fan of quick check lists. I propose that this set of developments (I’m avoiding the word ‘target’) should be recorded as a simple checklist for each teacher and each subject. I suggest they are mostly if not all short-term targets. They may be planned for different months or terms but if they are short term it keeps them much easier to achieve.

Instead of saying

  • New schemes of learning will be written for the end of the year for Year 10 new GCSE Maths specification

It would say

Term 1a

  • Agree exam board
  • Agree dept. format for schemes of learning
  • Agree who is writing which topic
  • Agree assessment format & timings

SDP targets are whole school and lose meaning by the time they filter down to staff. These need to be turned on their head, giving the priority to specific things that need to happen, that will overall meet the desired aim.

image

Regular, quality reflection time

One of the big problems with the current model of SDP, dept plans and then appraisal is that they are looked at infrequently. I suggest this needs to be the main focus of any meeting/line management meeting. Discussions would be very focussed and it would be a time to appreciate the work that is being done at all levels throughout the year. Instead of looking back over the whole year at appraisal review and try to ‘come up’ with evidence of what happened in the year this would be short, quick, regular reviews. A quick 10 minute list check, every few weeks could prove to be much more effective.

It is also a way to keep focussed throughout really busy times. If the list is realistic it should be achievable. Under normal circumstances if large parts of the lists go ‘unticked’ then there was something wrong with them in the first place. As they can be month by month they can take into account unexpected events that an annual plan may not. Some times list points  will need to be carried over to the next. The system is much more flexible and responds to the day to day life of teachers and depts. than a prewritten yearly one.

Where CPD is needed for part of a list then it is very clear how it will contribute. As with the trial and error model, there also needs to be an acknowledgement that sometimes CPD doesn’t have the desired impact or help move a teacher on. Leaders need to be brave enough to take this ‘hit’. We can’t pretend all CPD has the ability to instantly change things.

Pulling it all together

The final part of this model is the SDP. This is where things become complicated.

If every single member of staff, including support staff and senior leaders have their own development lists do all the lists need to be collated in to one document?

Do Governors want to see a huge document of top down targets or know that there is a highly personalised, efficient, regularly reviewed, meaningful process of trial and improvement?

Maybe SDPs should be a thing of the past and Governors need to be more involved in supporting the process of development and the steps it has rather than asking the Head if a plan is being met?

Is this needed? Is CPD more/less meaningful using this model?

Is this needed? Is CPD more/less meaningful using this model?

CPD in this model is driven by staff; what they need to move on in their role. It becomes macro-CPD not whole school programmed. Reading a book is important and classed as CPD. A 5 minute chat with another teacher is recognised as powerful. Trials are not judged but discussed and tweaked. No more whole school priority training.

 
The popular current model has become so impersonal to many teachers that it may not be relevant to them; school development becomes so diluted that is everyone’s and no-one’s responsibility. This model puts the emphasis on many regular, meaningful conversations that have the power to move a school forward. Everyone is responsible and accountable for their own development which in turn leads to whole school development.

It’s open evening season;when schools turn into sideshows

Standard

Twitter and teacher forums are buzzing with “What activity can I do for open evening?”. It’s the time of year where teachers become sales reps and SLT smiles are brighter than Colgate.

Teachers spend hours cutting, sticking, tidying and creating. But for what?

Are open evenings worth the time and effort? 

Are there better ways to promote a school? 

Do they really represent the day to day life of the school?

Are parents bothered about the activities that are presented to them? 

Is this what professionals should feel they have to do?

 In some cases teachers are selling their souls in desperation to make their subject look ‘fun’. We demand to be a profession to be respected yet we dress up and become the Disney equivalent of a sales rep.

The flashes, bangs and tricks that a student may experience once in five years are performed in science.

Food that they will probably never eat again (and has little to actually do with religion) appears in RE.

Teachers dress as characters from novels they’ve probably never read, in English.

I know some schools follow open evenings up with open days and year 6 group visits. Are these more representative? Is it more important for a child to feel comfortable on these days than on a show stopping performed evening?

And of course, the biggest issue with these evenings is that for many teachers they become a 12 hour day in probably the most difficult term. The day after you still have to teach and mark all day*. It’s absolutely knackering.

Does anyone evaluate the time/effort/illness cost of open evenings in terms of making a real difference to selecting a school**or have most of the parents and children that walk through the doors already made their minds up?

* All credit to my first ever head who made the day itself a half day and the day after a non-student day where, once you’d packed away you had the rest of the day off. That was probably bending a rule.

** I did one piece of market research on this with a friend and she told me it does actually make a difference. I accept it might but question the ways in which teachers find themselves behaving on the night and feeling for the rest of the week.