Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Saturday afternoon, when your head is feeling fine (Jefferson Airplane)

Teachers have it easy. All those holidays. You finish at 3.15 in the afternoon. Pushing a pen - easy peasy!

Teaching's not a real job.

Everybody thinks this. My family certainly did when I was growing up.
Sidebar: My father, who I loved and who loved me, never ever gave me any indication that he thought teaching was worthy. I heard from others that he was really proud of me when I became a Principal, but not from him directly.
No. Teaching's not a real job.

I heard it when I decided I wanted to be a teacher when I was 12 years old; during my initial university years when I got a teaching studentship; and when I was finally a teacher in 1983, age 26. And I have often heard it since from people, often when there is PPTA strike action but not restricted to that.

I still hear it.

On Saturday I marked student work for my senior students from 9am until 9pm. I stopped then because I could feel my brain overheating and starting to turn to mush. Soft right?

On Sunday I finished the marathon stint off with another three hours. Total during the weekend - 15 hours.

The previous weekend I'd spent a day reading Year 12 reports and writing my Dean's comments.

The weekend before that I'd spent Saturday writing report comments for my senior classes. It took 5 hours.

That's a fair chunk of my supposedly 'free' time.

I don't mind. It has always been like that. It's the life of a teacher. It's not peculiar to me. One of my colleagues has a young family, has a larger teaching load than me and struggles to carve out her marking time. I feel for her, but for good or for bad, it's teaching.

Yeah. Teachers have it easy.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A myth has just been shattered, upon the four winds scattered (Joan Baez)

Myths abound in education.

Here are my favourite five as outed by Nu Zild's very own John Hattie!!

1 Smaller class sizes improve student learning

Hattie's meta analysis of the research shows smaller class size only marginally affects student achievement because teaching practices rarely change when teachers move from larger to smaller classes. I've blogged about this before so...yeah - a class of three doesn't necessarily improve results!

2 Homework matters

To be effective, homework should be four things: brief, linked to the in-class lesson, monitored by the teacher, and not include new learning that disadvantages those who most need a teacher present. When is it so? Thass right - hardly ever!

Teachers need to soften critical feedback for students with praise.

Coupling critical feedback with praise negates the impact the feedback has on improving student learning. One of my students in Year 13 says I should use the compliment sandwich - compliment/ critical feedback/ compliment. BALONEY!

Content knowledge alone is enough.

Some believe that teachers in specialist subjects have a mortgage on content knowledge but Hattie says, "Expert teachers organize and use their content knowledge to make meaningful connections among topics and concepts by using students’ prior knowledge and adapting lessons to meet students’ needs".

Ability grouping can be effective.

While some believe grouping students by ability allows teachers to customize learning to students’ learning pace, Hattie says that in reality the opposite is true—it has a barely discernible impact on student achievement.

Monday, June 22, 2015

So much wasted in the afternoon, so much sacred in the month of June (John Mayer)

Recently, I asked the staff at school about finding a slot for some project based learning (PBL).

I didn't call it that - we have had community based projects at Year 11 and school based projects at Year 12 for a few years but because of our move to vertical Home Rooms we no longer have the horizontal structure to do these things this year.

The staff were split on my proposal to do a foreshortened version of these project based activities in Home Rooms in Term 3. So I flagged the idea for now. A shame. A wasted opportunity. But...a seed has been sown.

For now.

As you know I'm a big fan of the Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) that promotes entrepreneurship in the students: I think the whole 'learn by doing' paradigm is very worthy and I plan to have another stab at fitting PBL into next year's programme. 

Given our vertical Home Room organisational culture, I think it will be hugely exciting and beneficial for the girls.

Here's a little video if you need PBL explained as we have used it in the past and plan to use in the future.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come (Victor Hugo)

Just before leaving Richard Branson's  The Virgin Way for good - this little gem seemed worth repeating.

Richard mentions his enjoyment of Ernest Hemingway's crisp punchy writing style and along the way Hemingway's six word short story.

I'd never come across this. Surprising given my less is more devotion.

"A six word short story huh", you scoff. No way!

So here it is: 'For sale, baby shoes, never used'.

Amazing right.

Richard uses this example as a lead in to his dislike of mission statements. He's a man after my own heart.

His idea? If you MUST have a mission statement - strip it to the core. Restrict it to under 10 words!! 

This is great. He also mentions power points - use 2 slides, not 32.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

How can you say I go about things the wrong way (The Smiths)

Student reports are frozen in time in more ways than one!

There's a rant coming...

It seems everything evolves: hair styles; fashion; the Apple II3. But not school reports!

I've just spent my weekend marking the latest clutch of student work and writing a bevy of school reports (I think those are the right collective nouns). 

As I did, I couldn't help thinking about the elongated process from my writing of the reports to parents receiving these bon mots from moi in their hot little hands and wondering this: we are smarter than this!!

We're an innovative bunch at Woodford House (no, we are) and we can do better. It will be about three weeks before parents and students read my outrageously spot on comments.

One word: redundant.

Everything I wrote, every word I sweated over, every thoughtful sentence and intelligent piece of advice, every sinew I strained will be old, stale and redundant.

Why? The end of term will have arrived and then it's holidays - that's why.

After the two week term break the students will return to work refreshed and empty. It will then take another week to gear up and all my report comments will be a distant, mildly happy memory.

That's 6 weeks away!!!

Parents students and teachers need these comments and snap shot pieces of information NOW.

Not in 3 weeks time!! Gadzooks!!

What's crazy is we could actually send reports to them NOW. Or near as dammit. But we don't. We sift and scan for errors and wait for others to add even more comments and then we sign them and then we print them and then we mail them (yes, we do). We mail them.


(Followed by a deep sigh).

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

I welcome you to Crackerbox Palace (George Harrison)

How much do I love the guardian?

I love it a lot!

It's often the first thing I read in the morning via my ipad while I'm eating breakfast, and sometimes it's even the last thing I read at night (yes - okay - I'm probably checking the football news then to be fair).

When I lived in England for a while in the noughties I bought a copy of the guardian every day.

It has my kind of stuff - everyday. That idea seems too good to be true. 

A recent edition had a story about how aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate joyless life. Great title!

Along the way the article mentioned that last year the U.K. government okayed testing for 4 year olds:
The DfE said that the reception "check" would be taken at "the earliest possible point in school", with schools able to choose from a number of approved assessments, which have yet to be announced. It will then be used to measure how much progress pupils have made between the start and end of primary school, with the aim of meeting a progress target to be set.
There were so many alarm bells ringing for me in that short paragraph that I thought I'd been transported into Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon (you know - when all those alarm bells go off in Time)

  • the reception "check"
  • "the earliest possible point"
  • approved assessments
  • yet to be announced
  • progress target

AARRGGGHHHHHH!!!!! Followed by a deep sigh.

Just weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.
This is so Orwellian I thought I had gone back to 1984; this is so Alice In Wonderlandian I thought I'd gone down a rabbit hole.

Someone, somewhere had this bright idea to test FOUR YEAR OLDS and then they shared it with someone else and the idea spread like wildfire until THE GOVERNMENT approved it. 

Poor poor wee mites.

What the hell is going on?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

You make me feel so good (Rick Derringer)

Giving negative feedback to the boss is tricky. Very tricky!

Dan Rockwell recently blogged about this in his Leadership Freak site.

What his advice boils down to is: 'Don’t give negative feedback to the boss, unless you already have a positive relationship'.

I agree with him.

Even then though, it's tricky. Very tricky!

On every occasion I've had positive relationships with my bosses but I can't think of when I've ever given negative feedback to them. As I've got older and more experienced I've offered ideas and advice, but not negative feedback.

During my time in the U.K. I was seconded to a newly created Academy as an Associate Principal for seven weeks. This was November December 2006.

It was an interesting experience: a two hour commute into London, teaching Geography after the HOD Geography left suddenly, and taking a lead in a school where I knew no one!

I got all the nasty jobs like interviewing all the under allocated staff (basically everyone) and making their jobs more demanding. I was also in charge of creating an appraisal system for the staff, a third of whom had retained their jobs while two thirds of the staff were brand new.

These and other tasks went smoothly but my boss was a micro manager in the extreme. She wanted to know details on everything, would always want to offer her two cents worth on everything and wanted continual updating. This meant daily briefing. Daily. By now you know my views on meetings at the best of times right?

I don't work well in that scenario. My philosophy: if someone's doing their job well - leave them alone!

Even though I was only in the school for a limited time and she didn't know me from Adam, our relationship was positive. Although it wasn't the same with the other senior leaders in the school who were all excellent managers from what I could see. 

I did not give her that negative feedback about her micro-management. As Dan says in his post, an argument with the boss is a losing affair.

My rationale at the time was dictated by my brief plus the limited time I was to be there for. I wasn't interested in a Vietnam scenario of entrenched positions and worsening conflict which I sense would have happened.

But, I don't know. Maybe I should have. Maybe I was in the best position to have that conversation. Maybe if I did it over again I'd do it differently. Maybe.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

We're standing on this tiny ledge before this goes over the edge (The Script)

I had to present a progress report to the Board recently and by the by I again mentioned how much the LMS (Learning Management System) Schoology and our BYOD (Bring your own device) regime had transformed my teaching. 

The Jean Genie has well and trying left the bottle and she ain't going back any time ever!

All this came to mind when I read this Guardian article:
Digital technology has been one of the most powerful agents of change in how societies around the world work and live in the 21st century – from the way we do business and consume information to shopping, entertainment and socialising. The way we learn must therefore adapt to ensure students are equipped with the skills needed to thrive as adults now and in the future. Thankfully, many schools are rising to that challenge. But what impact will their examples of pedagogical innovation have on national and even global levels? Only time will tell.
My only quibble with this is that the article doesn't acknowledge how much our change is driven by students themselves. They are on the cutting (l)edge of digital technology. Their needs now overtly drive our change and that's as it should be. I no longer believe in teacher centred teaching (yes there was a time in the distant past). 

Baffles me how anyone could actually think that now.