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Sunday, 27 October 2013

Our class mantra

I was fortunate a few years ago to attend a seminar presented by Dean Schneider. The theme around his seminars is developing character.

You can check him out at his website:

Now although it was a few years since I attended his seminar a couple of things have really 'stuck' with me and have become embedded in my daily teaching practice. Now this in itself is, I think, unusual. How many courses/seminars have you attended over the years but you would find it difficult to remember the content let alone have them affect your day to day work as a teacher?

The first thing that has stuck resulted from a story Dean told about his young pre school daughter. I have turned it into a daily mantra which I have used with all of my subsequent classes ranging from year 6 to my present year 2 class. 

Be Nice, Work Hard, Never Give Up. 

This mantra is easy to remember and covers all of our class and school rules which is what makes it so effective. It also works nicely alongside my teaching of the 3Rs Respect, Responsibilty and Resilience.

Be Nice - no fighting, swearing or cruel words, listen carefully, help others, be a good friend, pupil, son/daughter. (Respect)

Work Hard - do your class work, homework, try your best (Responsibility)

Never Give Up - be determined, no quitting (Resilience)

The next thing that 'stuck' was something called 'The 20th Kid' Ths is again a character building tool which works by reminding the pupils about the value of helping others, becoming the 20th Kid. An example being a pupil drops his/her books in the corridor, 19 'kids' walk by ignoring the child's/ young persons plight, the 20th kid however, stops and helps.

Again I have used this from year 6 to 2. It is useful for teaching pupils to help others without looking for or expecting praise. The latter being the most difficult, especially for the younger children. Very simple but again very effective. A short phrase which helps the idea to stick. 

They both work for me why not give them a go!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The 3 Rs Respect, Resilience, Responsibility

I talked in my last post about my fight back against the changes to education and the increasing dissilusionment of teachers. 

This has led to me thinking a lot about teaching and learning and some of the potential barriers to effective learning. Without solid foundations our pupils are, as learners, unsupported and they can flounder lacking the tools needed to be effective learners and to succeed not just in education but in life. 

So the 3 Rs, responsibility, resilience and respect form part of a toolkit which if used effectively, I believe, enable our pupils to become more efficient learners.

Let's start with responsibility - how many of us frequently hear excuses from both our pupils (of all ages) and more worryingly their parents? Excuses for why homework isn't done, why they can't do P.E. why they haven't read at home, why they haven't completed projects and even why their class work is not up to standard. I'm guessing quite a lot of us. So why is this? Well I think is because we (adults) shy away from giving children and young adults responsibility. In fact we go to great lengths to avoid it on their behalf. I know when I was a young child of primary school age I had lots of responsibility. Ranging from getting myself ready for school, walking to school by myself, doing simple chores at home, being sent to the shops to collect essentials we had run out of making cups of tea for everyone in the family ...... All of these responsibilities gave me a sense of belonging, they raised my self esteem, they taught me to be responsible for my actions and not to take what others did for me for granted. Most importantly it taught me the value of hard work, if I wanted to be good at something I knew I had to work at it. I had responsibilities and I was responsible. My parents would not have made excuses for me but then I never expected them too or indeed needed them too. I knew my responsibilities and I got on with them. I understand the worries we have nowadays that result in parents reluctance to give children responsibilities. It is almost unheard of now for most pupils to walk to school alone let alone go to the shops for 'messages' as we called them. But I think that there are so many thing we as teachers to help give pupils responsibilities.

Next resilience or as I like to call it 'bounce back ability' - we live in an increasing blame culture. If a child falls over and grazes a knee in the playground or has a very minor bump or bruise we all rush around writing notes to parents and filling in copious forms. P.E. lessons are a minefield of risk assessments and many traditional playground activities such as handstands and cartwheels are banned for fear of the risk of injury. Add into this the increasing 'fear' teachers live in of parental complaints if they so much as look at their pupils in the wrong way let alone chastise them or laugh with them for fear of offending both the pupil and their parents. All of which has resulted in children who have very little natural resilience. Life, as we all know is tough. It is full of knocks, injustices and cruelty yet we do not prepare our pupils for this if we fail to encourage resilience. We all have to be able to 'bounce back' when life knocks us or when things don't go our way. 

Finally respect - this is two fold, respect for the adults around them, including parents, teachers, the police etc, respect for their friends and peers as well as self respect. Now respect is a tough one due in some part to a growing culture of lack of respect in society in general. We don't respect our elderly, we mistrust the police, we are one of the few countries who don't really have respect for our soldiers, we distrust people of other cultures and have lost our sense of cultural identity. It is hardly suprising then that the word 'respect' is not a word or concept our children understand or are familiar with. If they do not see the adults around them showing respect then they will not understand how to show or give it themselves. Lack of respect for others then goes hand in hand with lack of self respect which then leads to lack of self esteem and we all know where that can lead our pupils to as learners and in all parts of their lives. 

Now what frustrates me is that in classes all over the country, in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges teachers are teaching theses 3Rs every day. 

Pupils are making HUGE progress in these areas. Developing the skills to enable them to be efficient learners and happier more rounded citizens. However,  these essential skills are not measurable. Ofsted do not recognise them or care about them yet without them pupils are not as likely to make the measurable progress that Ofsted care about so much. 

We, as teachers and educators must keep teaching these skills, we cannot afford to let our pupils down! Now I make this plea because I have heard teachers say:

'I can't possibly do circle time or PSHE, we haven't got 5 days to go on the annual residential trip, school council can only meet in their own time or I will not meet my targets!'

All of which makes me cringe. We are allowing outside pressures to dictate how we teach, to prevent us teaching those thing we have done for years and that we know are hugely important. There has to be time, the 3rs are essential!

Find the time, do what you have done for years, do not allow this ludicrous system turn you into robots. Be the best teacher you can be and your pupils deserve. Do circle time, discuss issues in the news, talk, talk, talk! Do PSHE, encourage School Council, give your pupils a voice, make them think about their values! 
After all we are talking about pupils, children, young adults, not results, levels, Sats scores! 

And with these essential tools guess what will happen? They will succeed, they will actually be more efficient learners but more importantly better citizens. 

Monday, 21 October 2013

Fighting Back

I have this last half term, more than ever, felt that the teaching profession and indeed the whole education system have been under attack. Reading posts on Twitter, education blogs and watching and reading the news have filled me with sadness and frustration. It seems to be a constant stream of negativity and bad press. We are bombarded with impossible targets, more observations, bigger work loads and changes to the curriculum. Our pay frozen and our pensions under threat. It is not suprising so many of us have limped into half term.

Like thousands and thousands of my fellow teachers I see teaching as my vocation. As corny as it sounds I truly believe it is what I am meant to do. It is a job I have enjoyed for 15 years, a job I still feel passionate about and up until recently privileged to do. However, I have recently felt like walking away, leaving the profession altogether! The demands and pressures have become disproportionate to the pleasure I have previously gained. I had to put it bluntly lost my mojo. 

Now I say had because if you check out my recent posts you will see I have begun my own one woman fight back! I am determined to regain my mojo fully and retain it! I will not be dragged down anymore. I will not sit back and watch as our pupils suffer from becoming seen as targets to be put into labelled boxes instead of individuals, tested and assessed to within an inch of their lives, the joy sucked out of their classrooms by continual observations. 

How am I going to do this? How can I one single teacher make a difference? Step 1: bring back the joy - reverse that vacuum, go back to doing what I do best, teaching! After all nobody knows our class better than me and my TA. We spend more time with our pupils during the term than our own families. We know what they can do, what they need to do next, how they learn, what they are good at and what they need more help with, what makes them laugh and what worries them. No manner of targets, assessments, 'outstanding' lessons will do more for them than we can. We will ensure that each of them 'attains' and makes 'progress' and we can do it with our eyes shut. We will go back to laughing together, singing, reading for pleasure, painting, creating and having fun because I truly, truly believe this is how they will learn the best. They will progress with the things we measure but more importantly will progress with those we don't. They will become more rounded citizens, be more resilient, caring, have self respect and work as a team......

Step 2: be a teaching Yoda - I will do this by doing my job the way I know works. I will continually evolve, I will reflect on my practice and I will be the experienced, passionate teacher I have always been without apologising or feeling that somehow my experience is something to be ashamed of rather than something to be valued. Albert Einstein once said 
'The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.'

Step 3: I will try to get other teachers to join me in fighting the good fight! We need to go into our classrooms, close the door and go what we do best! Teach!! We need to stick our fingers in our ears and hum quietly every time someone slags us off or tries to drag us down with more and more burdens. Let's be pro active not reactive let's remember why we do what we do. For the pupils not for the statisticians, the politicians, or in fact the parents but for our pupils! 

I hope you will join me and Remember 
Let's be careful out there!!!! 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Mad Maths Day

Today was Mad Maths Day at our school. As maths co-ordinator I had orgainsed the day with the intention of showing the children who do not particularly enjoy maths that maths can be not only useful but also great fun. Those children who love maths would obviously thoroughly enjoy the day anyway.

I  had planned it before the summer holidays thankfully, which meant I could just look forward to the day along with the rest of the staff. Each class was given a set of suggested activities including murder mystery maths, maths in art, outdoor maths, code breaking etc. However, the staff were free to come up with their own ideas too.

The day appears to have been a great success, judging by the feedback from pupils and staff. There was a real buzz around the school which was a real welcome on the last day of half term. In line with my own personal vow for the year I feel it really brought the joy back into my class and hopefully into some other classes too.

In year 2 we have made 2d monsters, played maths games on, made 2d shapes in groups of 4 - 6 with our bodies and finally became code breakers writing a secret code to our adult at home with the help of our year 6s. Obviously I am EXHAUSTED!!!! But I have to say probably the happiest I have been all half term and that's not just because half term beckons.

As a previous KS2 teacher I have to say I have a new found respect for KS1 staff. They never and I mean never sit down!! They, or should I now say we, hear our name at least 75 times a day, are constantly covered in paint, glue and snot! My head echoes with Mrs Kenny, Mrs Kenny all day long. Don't get me wrong KS1 does have its benefits I'm just too exhausted to remember what they are!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Bringing Back The Joy Day One!

Those that follow my Twitter account and previous blogs will know about my recent pledge to bring back the joy to teaching as I feel that whilst children are happy and relaxed they are more receptive to learning.  It is all to easy I feel to get bogged down by scores, sats and constant talk of levelling and progress. Now don't get me wrong my main aim for all of my children is to see them make progress but I do feel they are more likely to do this is if they are relaxed and we are all having fun. So today was day one of my pledge to bring back the joy which I feel for many reasons has been lacking.

So, as a conclusion to our Down in the Woods Topic we held a Teddy Bears Picnic day in our class.  We had a great, if not exhausting day! Our day began with us watching a clip of a couple of traditional bear programmes, Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear. Next we measured the length of our bears and weighed them. Then we made our bears a Paddington Bear style label in case they ever get lost, followed by a birth certificate complete with a photograph of our bear. In the afternoon we made our own sandwiches for the picnic itself with a selection of bear style fillings including honey and jam. We talked through the writing of instructions for making the sandwiches which we will complete tomorrow. Next came the picnic itself and whilst we ate our sandwiches we sang along to the Anne Murray classic, Teddy Bears Picnic.
Then we played a selection of parachute games with our bears and finished off watching Michael Rosen reading and performing We're Going on a Bear Hunt.

So all in all a very successful, joyous day and one of those days that you know the children will remember for years to come. A day when we all had fun and learned lots along the way!!

Bring on day 2

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Singing, singing, singing

Been doing a lot of thinking about teaching of late. Don't get me wrong I know that's all teachers do, think about our jobs. We are after all a committed lot who are passionate about what we do but I have. like lots of teachers I think, hit somewhat of a 'low' point and this has caused me to reflect, muse, even more than I usually do. One of my many thoughts is how I feel the joy is being sucked out of teachers and therefore the classroom, the reasons for this are vast and perhaps I will try to unpick that colossal thought some time in the future. For now however I thought I would share with you the rebel in me which is fighting in my own way against this raging negative tide threatening to swamp our classrooms.

My huge rebellion takes the form of singing! Now I would refer to myself , as a singer, as someone who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket but what I lack in technique I more than make up with enthusiasm. Singing has taken over my classroom. We start every Monday morning in year 2 with our Monday song 'What a Wonderful World' by Louis Armstrong. I chose this song as it, I feel, encapsulates all of the things that bring us joy in life and reminds me of all that is good with the world. Thanks to the power of adverts, most of the children had heard it  before and although a bit unsure at first by Monday, week three, were rushing in to sit on the carpet on Monday morning ready to sing it.

Throughout the week we sing a selection of  maths related songs, Odd Bod and Even Steven, times tables songs, the down, down, down, up, up rhythm for learning our tables. See the link below.

catchy tables

We have also this week been singing lots of Harvest Festival songs including Big Red Combine Harvester and a great song from Charanga called Vegetables.

Our week ends on Friday Mornings with perhaps our favourite song of the week 'The Candy Man' by Sammy Davis Jr. This song encapsulates the whole reason for my post today. The children LOVE singing this song, they sway and wave their arms in the air as if they were at a Take That concert, they smile, they laugh!
But what would Ofsted say? What would I get in a lesson observation? Sad isn't it? Now I said this makes me a rebel. Well it does in a way because sadly I know lots of teachers who simply wouldn't sing these songs as they don't have time, they don't teach the children anything, they don't see 'progress'. Well this is what I say to all of those teachers, the point is 'JOY',  life. Learning etc is enhanced by joy and happiness, indeed surely that is our absolute aim for our children's lives and our own lives - happiness. Because without out it nothing else makes any sense at all and maybe, just maybe we need to teach the art of happiness to our children and ourselves.

So please go away this week, be a rebel and sing with your class, have fun, laugh, seek happiness!!!!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Friday books and Reading buddies

As we approach the end of the first half term I have been reflecting about the most successful things I have introduced to year 2 this year so far. The first one has to be without doubt Reading Buddies, which are basically a box full of cuddly toys provided by myself and my T.A. The children get to choose a reading buddy when they are reading independently. This along with a whiteboard reading stamina count down has worked beautifully. The children actually say 'Yes' whenever independent reading is mentioned and they are now up to 10 minutes of independent reading stamina, which if you knew my class would definitely amaze you!

The reading stamina countdown can be downloaded from the link below:

Whiteboard files

My next most successful new initiative has been the introduction of our Friday books. This is an idea which I got from Pinterest. Basically it is a book into which the children write a letter every Friday to their adult at home telling them all of the things they have been doing that week. I had to model letter writing and they so far taking to it amazingly well. The idea is then that the adult writes a letter back to their child in reply and it becomes a dialogue between adult and child. It also prevents those conversations all of you parents will be familiar with:

 'What have you done in school today?' adult
 'Nothing' child

The letters are not marked by me at all, their main purpose is a way of improving their writing skills whilst communicating with their parents/adults at home.The only input from me is a list on the board, prompted by them of all the thing we have done in school that week. They are encouraged to keep to correct letter layout but other than that it is completely independent. The discussion about what we have done in school also acts as a mini assessment of what they have remembered and also for future reference what they have enjoyed the most.

Friday  books were launched the first week of term and the parents informed in more detail about them during our 'Meet the teacher' session. The books go out on a Friday, complete with the children's letters and should be returned with a response from the parent on the following Wednesday. Whilst the children are not over excited about writing the letters they clearly love reading their adults responses. If any of the children's adults have not replied, which sadly has happened quite a few times, I usually write them a response which they also enjoy.

So if you want a relatively painless way of improving writing give them a go. I think they would work equally well from year 2 to 6, with differentiation by outcome obviously. I think that they will also be a lovely thing for the children to keep and look back on in years to come.

If you do give them a try please let me know.