Clarity –  

I like this article. Blunt and true.


“That must be wonderful; I have no idea what it means” – Albert Camus Obfuscation is the enemy of the teacher; clarity is her hero. Get the stopwatches out. That hour long meeting…

Source: Clarity


Please protect our profession 

” How are we supposed to learn properly if the curriculum keeps constantly changing?” (My son, number 2, age 9)

Reading this article

as a fellow deputy head, I became overwhelmed with sadness. Not because I feel sad at the potential loss of yet another fellow colleague from the teaching army, but this time at the sheer challenge of being a parent of a child in the Guinea pig year 6.

Only two days ago I had to comfort a tearful 11 year old who happens to be my son, and reassure him that the testing and the results would not make me love him less. Nor that the testing or result define who he is or will even become but are just moments in his journey through this confused education system.

Suffice to say that I considered just then, that the pressure and anxiety that my son was exuding, could only have been as a result of the current climate in many primary schools across the country. There must be an ever growing number of teachers sharing the same feelings of exhaustion, confusion, disillusionment and pressure that is inexplicitly, unintentionally yet subliminally transferring to the children.

 This also means there must be several mothers (and fathers), like me, consoling, comforting, encouraging and protecting their pre-secondary school children in the hope that not too much damage is being done to their child, their friends and in fact their whole generation. What has become of educating the whole child? I wonder how many other teachers of year 6 children are feeling the strain and making for the exit doors?

 Can the government not see that the profession is heading for a crises? We need good teachers and good head teachers. The prospect of gaining this seems to be slipping by and by with each new day and every new change of mind , idea and initiative. Considering my aspiration to be a head, I would like to think that I would be bold enough to protect not just the children’s wellbeing and state of mind to endure changes ‘in the curriculum’ as my 9 year old stated, but also to protect the status and nobility of the profession, the high regard it ought to be held by and most  importantly, the teachers who on the most part, deserve to be held in high esteem for what they endure in and outside of the school day.

‘Oh marking, marking, wherefore art thou marking’

Picture1I have just read a brilliant and refreshing post by Pragmatic Education entitled ‘Marking is a hornet’. I agree with the thought process entirely around this very (now) emotive subject for teachers across the UK. However, I do feel that two major ingredients are liable for the chosen strategy and approach that senior leaders may take; context and the head teachers.
online marking articlesThis is what happens when you type in ‘marking, feedback and progress over time. There is a movement out there towards the eradication of unnecessary workload driven by an agenda to have every book in the country marked ‘how Ofsted’ would like. Perhaps here is a good place to remind us all what Ofsted actually say:

ofsted marking sept 2015

Schools have to rethink whether or not their activities are in the best interest of the students in their care or not but would it not also make sense to guarantee the wellbeing and emotional and physical capacity of the ones to enable that to happen, the teachers?

who likes marking

I am certain that any other readers of said article right now are either in a position of thought which says ‘now why doesn’t our senior leadership team take this approach?’ or ‘how can I convey the contents of this article in the best way, and sell it so our school moves towards this framework for ‘not’ marking and feedback and yet still make rapid gains for all stakeholders?’ It is true that marking pleases the least, the people who have to engage with it the most, teachers and students. Parents love marking, it shows that their child has had a few seconds, if not minutes of undivided teacher attention and highlights the errors or areas to improve that they could not possibly find the time to investigate let alone discuss with their children, sometimes after a hard day’s work or even just due to the level of academic challenge in some cases. SLT like marking because it shows that teachers are obedient, they are following protocol and they are giving the magic word… everyone say it altogether now, feedback. Ofsted, love marking, or as they term it ‘high quality written guidance’ as it shows them what best practice looks like so they can then tell one poor school with hard-working teachers what this high quality written guidance ought to look like.

Well I say, good for you Michaela school. I am sure you are setting the right tone and culture by having your position clearly written and framed around the school so that when our friends with the big ‘O’ do visit, they will see the implementation of your practice and hopefully the huge gains in student progress as well as staff well-being and ultimately, efficiency and effectiveness.

Context: when you are a school which is RI and Ofsted are due to call any second this makes this bold move rather tenuous.

I remember about a year ago reading also a post by @teachertoolkit deputy headteacher who quoted  @MrLockyer who said; “marking is broken” in an article entitled the ‘Marking Frenzy’. Teachers are in a marking frenzy but little argument can be found here when  evidence suggests that feedback features as the largest effect size on impact on student learning. So does this in turn translate equally into the number one use of teacher time? I am not so sure.

Influence Effect Size Source of Influence
Feedback 1.13 Teacher
Student’s prior cognitive ability 1.04 Student
Remediation/feedback .65 Teacher
Challenge of Goals .52 Teacher
Questioning .41 Teacher

This is further compounded by the statement in the teacher’s standards, teachers standards for feedbackwhich brings me to the head teacher. It would be a dream to announce to the teachers in my school, “no more marking everybody, we will simply use the tools we have online and in lessons to provide regular and high quality feedback to students and make sure they respond to this’. The key issue is consistency. Ensuring that the quality of this delivery and use of various strategies for feedback would need to be consistent and make an equal measure of positive impact on every learner. Of course it can be written into policy and even posted around the school but this does not translate automatically into practice but would take time. Time which an RI school does not have. It would take a very brave and courageous step from the HT, who is probably nervous at an impending inspection any minute, to allow this to happen at such a time. One could also say it would take a certain amount of trust.

So it looks like this nirvana of ‘no marking of books’ can be something for my school to aspire to for the future. It would be interesting to know what other RI schools would do.

For now, let’s get back to the joy of marking!


I wish my teacher knew…

How can you get your students to talk candidly to you but without infringing on their personal space and individual character? Well thanks to @ASTsupportAAli #Amjad Ali’s inspirational session with our staff all around the prickly issue of differentiation – making the impossible possible, the one strategy I was keen to try out was the one where the students write candidly about what they wish their teacher knew.

IMG_3091 IMG_3088 IMG_3087

…and my favourite one…


What do you make of this? If you have never tried it, I definitely recommend it. It comes with a caution though, know your students! Get behind the letters and numbers in your data file, markbooks etc and really get to know your students. You will be amazed where this takes you on your journey of teaching… and your own learning. Ensure you have the relationship with them you are able to take any comments they raise. They may not all be favourable. I know it may seem a bit self-righteous but if I come across one which is not so I promise to share it and let you know how I deal with this.

For now, why not select a class you will try this with and see what responses you get.

Treat them well

It’s taken me a while to write on here. Firstly because I am never sure which blog my reflection may refer to most. With two, that are supposed to serve different purposes, I often feel that there are some areas in which the lines are blurred. I find myself stopping in my tracks just when I feel inspired to write and then, suddenly, I cannot decide where it best fits. The one about the working mother or the one about my journey to headship. Oh well, on this occasion I have decided to post here. Hopefully it is the right decision.

On commencing, I recall a conversation with a friend who asked me the outright question “why do you want to blog?”. Suffice to say, I was a bit taken aback. Not wanting to seem as though I have a big ego, that I want attention but at the same time, needing to have a purpose and reason, I mustered up the response that it was an opportunity to vent… share… learn… network and grow. However, it did remain in my mind that the urge truly came when I had heard about a woman who had blogged and became a bestseller due to the number of followers she had gained. Okay, so I don’t assume that I will do the same, but I must admit, this did inspire me so I guess a little bit of my ego did get nudged to ‘just do it’ like Nike says.

Image result for nike

Indeed, it really has taken me a while to write here.

That being said, I have spent this entire week telling myself, I must blog. So much has happened, so many thoughts have meandered their way into my mind, from the early, groggy 6am mornings until the evening shifts when returning home to do my second job. What has stayed in my mind is the impact the early days have had and I hope to hold on to them for the entire academic year until the next summer holiday.

First came the 3 Rs introduced. Changing a culture in any school is no easy feat, especially a culture around the expectations and management of behaviours. However, my senior leader colleagues helped us all to sleekly drift into a self-reflective mode, allowing us to dig deep and consider our own behaviours when dealing with those of our students. Powerful and necessary I say. Every school should make the staff do this every now and again. Needless to say, by the end of the next day, we had a whole staff ‘gang’ ready to take on the most challenging with the agreed mantra: All our students will be ‘ready, respectful and responsible‘; chants in the first assemblies,  echoes in the form periods and shouting it ‘quietly’ around the school has somehow made its way to the lips of all staff on site! Brilliant.

 3 Rs

Secondly, was the phenomenal input my colleagues and I had when preparing for these first and second professional development (PD) days of the year. I wondered, ‘how many hours collectively  had gone into that?’ It was met with a resounding happy-clapping audience, not sure how many schools had that, but I believe it was because of the fact that every message was delivered with passion, meaning and consistently. Our key word for this year being that, CONSISTENCY.

This leads me nicely and finally, to the encouraging way in which the new head of English and her deputy have embraced the ethos of my school and come in to rescue a department which had two leaders leave in the words of ‘Tommy Cooper’,  “just like that”. And I am the lucky SLT to line manage them.

What a pleasant surprise to read the positive post from @thosethatcan #emmakell in her post (Re-)finding my groove … as a new colleague and fellow leader, joining our school. The fruit of our fantastic PD days, demonstrating the effect of helping others to  jump on board the bus… you know, the right people in the right seats and all of that good stuff? Let the networking begin as thanks to her, I will venture into the #WomenEd world of female leadership.

So it started like this, with a quote from the infamous Richard Branson that my direct report, the AHT used to kick start the day. I felt like a proud mother watching her daughter or son, presenting at an auditorium filled with famous onlookers;

“train people well enough so that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to”.

As DHT for teaching and learning, we know how demanding this can be, but even more pronounced when you have come from a school whose journey has been from outstanding, to the new framework version of ‘requires improvement’. Which means CHALLENGE ahead. Getting it right is not easy, it is always being viewed, renewed and up scaled. So much so that the expectation can become unprecedented in terms of the work-load and life balance.

So, it was a lovely surprise to see the article from a new colleague who was able to quote the quote but also to see how the PD had given way to laughter, enjoyment, participation, shared delivery, learning and growth, through PD by ourselves for ourselves, in order to increase the life chances of our children. Let’s face it, we all know of schools where achieving in the upper reams of 85%+ A* – C at GCSE is the norm. Though many wouldn’t dare to say this, and we don’t like to talk about what I will term the ‘disadvantage phenomenon’, we are aware that for reasons such as the demographic, the employment status of the parents or even the background and nature of the population of the high performing school,  the students may be in a more privileged starting position,  one which promotes academia, style of learning, understanding of the purpose of education in the deferred state and hence can sustain the drive towards such success and results.

Are all schools on the same playing field? Certainly not! So it becomes even more crucial in a requires improvement school, to lead the improvement in the quality of teaching, to narrow the achievement gap between those who ‘have’ and ‘have not’,  whilst ensuring that the well-being of the teaching staff remains paramount. This we achieved well through the high quality PD.

As a head teacher, I’d like to think that I will be in a position in which all my senior leaders know they have a responsibility to look after the staff (and themselves). If we can succeed at this, we can rest assured that they will be on the journey for the long haul rather than the short haul where many colleagues will face burn out, negativity and the inability to fulfil my vision of outstanding teaching and a culture of excellence.

We are going for ‘outstanding’ by the way. Remember, consistently good is outstanding so I figure if we fall back a bit, we will hit ‘good’.

2 Stars and a WISH?

I am determined to crack it! The art of being a Woman In School Headship. Although not there yet, being on NPQH qualifies me for ‘being close’ and with my aspirational ethers working their utmost, today was a day of utter disaster-turning-to-success as I began what every teacher loves most…….marking, the bane of every teacher’s life across the country. Whilst I was happily getting through year 9’s books, diligently completing the stickers we have introduced, Wow – something positive, Now… what to consider to progress, How..? Exactly what next step/s to take to make progress and for students to act on, IMG_2891. Up and down the country there must be a plethora of different sheets, grids, tick lists, phrases, colours and codes to try to address this. I decided to leave my pot of curried mutton cooking on the stove only to my horror discovering that I had neglected it too long and burnt almost everything in it! So engrossed does one become when they really want to give high quality feedback and I imagine there are many more like me who now consider this art so intense that they need to dedicate meaningful time to this task. I wonder what member of our those who lead the country would think if they were given a pile of books and asked to mark them. As a senior leader, this task seems even more mundane or pehaps less mundane but more frustrating as you understand, push for and possibly, in my case, lead this across a school, expecting everyone to do the same. However, you have less time in which to do it, and do it effectively whilst juggling real whole-school responsibilities and tasks, but ‘lead by example’ we must if we realise that leadership is all about influence. You’ll be hard served to feel any influential powers if you are unable to exercise the very things you wish to drive to success yourself.

“Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things.” (It’s best to be both a manager and a leader – they’re just different processes)

Nevertheless, I give myself a star, in fact a gold star for rescuing my recipe as in minutes, it was all back on the fire, continuing it’s bubbling journey to succulent-tasty dinner. Star number 1. Next came the pile of rice falling all over my laundry! Disaster-ridden Sunday… there just wasn’t time for these sorts of mishaps today as there was a lot to be done, juggling strategic planning which requires ‘thinking space’, washing, cooking, emailing. However, let it be known, that this did not ruin my plans and the additional time spent extracting every rice grain from the pants, vests, tees, etc was accomplished in record time for the Sunday-teachers’ schedule to resume. Gold star number 2! Back to marking, third distraction, my kids? NO!!! my twitter feed but this is brilliant because it is through this I find resources, thought-provoking ideas and research as a form of a short cut. Sheer brilliance found from @teachertoolkit who shared links to where I came across this brilliant resource which I will now share with my staff: a resource he accredits to a Mark Miller. I particularly like the ‘write feedback sideways’ and found this quite funny too as I visualised my class with sideways-turned heads. Another useful article I came to as I bounced from twitter link to twitter link was this from an English teacher We too have introduced DIRT into our school and share the following to get the message across: dirt though I like the sound of ‘getting DIRTy too. Of course I would also like to share this with staff, help them to understand that I feel their pain, I totally get the whole workload issues and it is high on my agenda as something to address also. A useful technique for the next professional development opportunity without sharing my two ‘star’ moments of course. It is no wonder that more than 1, 700 women headteachers are ‘missing’ from Englands’ schools according to the research from WISH. file:///C:/Users/Miriam/Downloads/08_fri_pm_-_women_into_leadership_-_eve_warren_and_meg_maunder_presentation.pdf wish logo Needless to say, those who make it through will crack through the apparent glass ceiling, making it more accessible for the rest of us. So there’s my WISH… I want to crack through that ceiling and help others to do the same with a true understanding of what it takes. NPQH assessments completed… bring on the presentation!

Keep calm and be awesome!

While the SLT meeting was in full swing, I realised that every member of the team that I line manage appeared to be under some sort of attack from members. Perhaps ‘attack’ is too strong a term to use but there was no denying that the level of challenge was much higher than had been experienced before.

Being a newish SLT, not yet engaged in team building activities, I feel, has meant that the team have quickly moved from what Tuckman coined the ‘Forming, storming, norming and performing’ model of team development and transition towards becoming high performing.

I also quite like the idea that the team moves form ‘performing’ to ‘adjourning’ when the team then spends time reflecting and planning and also recognises the contributions from all members!

Something very much needed as I watched and winced (a little) at some of the backlash from members of the team about the exposition of our school to others perhaps, or the need for a curriculum that would allow our students to both have breadth and balance but ensuring our ‘Russell Group’ cohort can still achieve, as well as securing the Ebacc for all those who we believe have a good chance at obtaining it and meeting the government’s accountability measure of progress and attainment 8!.  Or should I say ‘attainment LATE!’ given the delay in deciding upon it’s actual calculation and just to add more confusion and anxiety into the melée, we need to consider that this very year group will be judged using the new 9 – 1 GCSE scale and the new year 7 and current year 8 will have assessments without levels.

It made me wonder if we were at the ‘storming’ phase or on the cusp between this and the ‘norming’ phase. No matter how uncomfortable it may feel, it would lead to decisions being made and movement in a direction – let’s hope it is the right one.

Being a leader of others, being conscientious, you think about how you are leading; is it effective? do they have enough direction? if so, why is the idea they are presenting being met with so much challenge or resistance? How can I support them satisfactorily, empower them better and enable them also to exercise their impact and influence effectively? My emotions were up and down during the meeting where one after another each colleague would present their section of the SLT meeting. Not sure how it is done in your schools but I’m sure they would combine some form of discussion, task or activity with summary and decision making – usually a list of actions ‘to do’ for the individual who has presented their section of the school improvement plan. Throughout the meeting, this is when the leadership powers kick in, powers of being calm, measured, attentive and composed.

What a surprise it was then, when after reflecting on the meeting, how, as the SLT line manager you have stepped in to support without dominating your colleague’s presentation section, to be told that you have been ‘superb’ in leading, managing, supporting, reassuring and re-instilling confidence in members of the team. Awesome feedback, did I just say ‘awesome’? Yes I did! Because I intend to be the world’s most awesome headteacher… with some way to go of course till then. Someone once said to me ” you know when you are ready for headship when you look at how something is done and you think about how you would do it differently… or dare I say it… better.”

I think in terms of NPQH I can say I demonstrated analytical thinking and developing others.