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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A back to school Pledge

The end of the summer holidays is fast approaching and whilst thoughts about school are never far away the immanency of the return to school has resulted in lots of reflection and a desire to ensure that the coming year is a successful and happy one.

Hence the decision to make a very personal pledge, I hereby pledge to:

  • Immerse myself in the teaching and learning that takes place in my classroom as regularly as possible.  
           Do whatever you do intensely  
          Robert Henri  - American Painter and Teacher

  • Engage and enthuse the pupils in my class making their learning experience challenging and exciting. 
           When the creativity is well embedded the learning happens naturally  
          Diane Kenny - Primary Teacher Wirral
  • Stay true to myself, avoiding the politicalisation of education and the pressures that it brings 
           This politically charged time is the time to stick to our values and get on with getting on
           John Tomsett - Headteacher York

  • Ask questions of my pupils, myself and my colleagues both in school and within the Twitter community
           Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom.
           Chip Bell - mentor, trainer, speaker, author

  • Fight my absolute in built desire to seek the acknowledgement and approval of other adults
          Do what you feel to be right in you heart for you'll be criticised anyway
          Eleanor Roosevelt - Longest serving first lady of the United States

  • Continue to be responsible for my own professional development

          Once you stop learning you start dying
          Albert Einstein - German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science

  • Try to maintain a work life balance
          We live in a world in which we are dependent on others; We cannot expect to fulfill our 
          goals while disregarding others needs
          Dalai LamaHis Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a 
          simple Buddhist monk and the spiritual leader of Tibet.

  •   Be the best teacher that I can be
           Teachers have three loves: Love of learning, love of learners and the love of bringing
           the first two loves together
           Scott Hayden - ?

Sunday, 24 August 2014

An essential back to school checklist for NQTs

The new academic year is upon us and for some has already begun, but for those who do not return until 1st September I have compiled an essential back to school checklist. The list includes all of the things I have discovered over the years that really help me to hit the ground running at the beginning of the new academic year. With the constant pressures put upon all of those in education that can only be a good thing, there is nothing worse than getting to day two of the new term and already feeling behind and like you are running around like a headless chicken! 

The only way to prevent a chaotic first term is to take some of the time over the holidays to begin your preparation. Some people prefer to go into school right at the beginning whilst others would argue the case for the last week of the holidays but whichever you choose I would advise roping in any willing helpers you can. Hopefully your T.A. if you have one, if not long suffering friends and family can fit the bill nicely.

1. Planning:

It is essential to know what to are going to teach. Are there topics already in place? What were your year group taught last year? Always approach other teachers planning with caution though. After years of teaching myself I can genuinely say I have never repeated my own planning and have never followed another teachers. I use my own planning from last year as a starting point but each year I often find more up to date resources or have to alter my whole approach due to the cohort etc. If there is no planning in place start with the expectations for the year group or groups you are going to teach. Hopefully your SLT will provide you with some guidance here but if not there is a huge amount to be found very easily with a quick Google search. Here is quite a useful one from TES if you are stuck for time Overview of the new Primary Curriculum. 

The next step is to put these expectations into some sort of order to form your Long Term Plan. Perhaps by organising expectations into topics across the three terms, topics can be termly or half termly this really depends upon the topic and your cohort. When planning topics it is always useful to come up with an exciting way to launch your topic, this can come in the form of a class visit or visitor, a mysterious letter etc. And likewise an exciting way to round up or conclude the topic, again this could be a trip, a class party or celebration, an assembly or performance. Use the internet as much as you can, Hamilton Trust have lots of topic based planning and even if you do not want to follow it all it can act as a good starting point.

Phase two of your planning prep comes in the form of Medium Term Planning which sorts out the learning for a particular term or half term depending upon the topic. This requires a little more detail and breaks down the learning into weekly sections. Try to add in potential websites, books you may need, class visits you need to plan and when you will need them.

The final part of the planning is your Short Term planning weekly, daily, lesson plans, what you are going to be teaching across the whole week but written in a clear, more detailed format. This should link to resources for you daily plan such as Hamilton Trust or Abacus Evolve, particular books etc. It is essential to match your planning to both curriculum expectations and your learning outcomes for the individual lessons. What do you want the children to learn? Lots of schools will have a suggested format for your planning but if not do some research both on the web and from colleagues in the school. 

2. The Teaching and learning environment:

I have written in previous blog posts about the road to outstanding teaching and believe that environment plays a huge part in this. .

This is where your friends and family can come in really useful. The first job is to start with a blank canvas, make sure all previous display boards are stripped and your classroom is clean and tidy. Hopefully your school with have a caretaker and a cleaning team, if so make friends with them immediately! If you have them on your side you will always have a tidy room. Once stripped and prepped the next step is to put up some displays. 

If you are not given any guidance from the school here go and have a look around in other rooms. Its great to get a feel for the school when it is empty and it will give you a sense of what is expected. I would suggest as a starting point a Literacy and a  Numeracy working wall. A good tip here is to place some garden netting over the top of the backing to act s a place to peg pupils work up because as a working wall this display will and should alter if not daily at least weekly. The netting will therefore prevent you having to change it at all for the year which is always a bonus.  

You will also need a topic display which you can have prepped with the topic heading and maybe with some questions and some books at the base. Next you should think about a board for behaviour management with statements of expectations and sanctions, try to keep it as positive as possible. Research is required here to ensure you follow the schools behaviour policy but often even where there is a clear policy schools allow individual teachers to have their own reward systems.

Learning zones are really useful if you have he space but even the tiniest rooms should be clearly labelled and organised with the basics such as a reading area, writing area. An investigation area is always a good area to have as it can cover all of subjects including Literacy, Maths, Science and topic. Be creative and really try to make the space clear, uncluttered but fun.

All resources should also be labelled such as pupils books, trays or boxes but also trays with printer paper, lined paper, pencils, rulers etc. You will need to think if you would like resources such as pencils, rulers etc be on the tables or not. I prefer not to as often this just gives pupils something to mess with. However, I do have to then ensure all resources are easily accessible and clearly marked. Pinterest provides lots of ideas for creative classroom environments and is well worth a look. Here are some ideas for decorating your classroom door which the children really love and certainly make a positive statement about you and your classroom. 

3. Know your Cohort:

It is essential that you know your pupils. You will obviously after the first couple of weeks of term have learned a lot about them but in order to make an impact straight away it is essential that you do your research. Ask for up to date data which should provide you with where your pupils were at the end of last year and where they need to be at the end of the new academic year based upon their year group end of year expected national level as well as based upon their individual expected level. This will help ensure good to outstanding individual progress. This information allows you to plan, sort your pupils into groups, identify any pupils  that may need individual or group interventions, extending or support. All vital components of ensuring progress. A meeting with the assessment coordinator or a member of the SLT would be great but if they are not available until the start of term have a go at analysing the data yourself. Ideally you should also have a meeting with the teacher who taught your pupils last year for a proper hand over which allows you to find out their family life, friendship groups, who they work well with, who they should not sit next to etc This will all again really help you to make a well prepared and informed start. 

Prepare a class 'mark book' with all of your pupils names, end of last year data at the beginning of the line, Where they are now, and their expected end of this year data at the other end, Where they need to be. Leave sufficient space in between for half termly assessment to be added. This allows you to track progress throughout the year. Have a different page for Reading, Writing, Numeracy, Science etc as well as a page for things like times tables and mental maths scores, homework and reading books. all of which will provide essential information for parents evenings and give you a reminder about who needs chasing up for homework or who needs more times tables practice etc.

I hope my checklist has helped rather than put you into a blind panic! Remember this preparation will be for each new academic year not just your NQT year. Teachers in schools all around the country are preparing for their new pupils too and no matter how long you teach each new year is a fresh start, new pupils, new topics, new Government initiatives..... That is what makes teaching the challenging yet amazingly rewarding profession that it is! Try to be prepared as you can to help ensure a good productive and happy start to your school year!

Good Luck and above all else enjoy because happy teachers make happy pupils and happy pupils are much more likely to achieve!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Three Teaching Ghosts

The Ghost of class past:

I have been teaching for a long time ...... However, last academic year was my first ever in KS1. I taught a year 2 class of 34 children, 22 boys and 12 girls. I approached the year as I always do with a mixture of excitement and anticipation. It was a new challenge and that is something I always enjoy.

As it turned out it really was a challenge! They were a full on, hectic, noisy but absolutely lovable class. Due partly to the size of the class (34 is not that large in KS2 but it certainly is in KS1) also due to the high number of boys, together with a relatively small classroom resulted in quite a noisy year. 

We already have in place a behaviour system based upon the sunshine, rainbow and cloud but each teacher then runs their own reward system to compliment this.  It was clear pretty early on that I was going to need a reward system that would match the needs of this particular class. They needed something to keep them on task, motivated and quiet! I also felt that it was important that some sort of a reward should be awarded at the end of each day. I  was then, thankfully, introduced to the joys of The Great Behaviour Game by my, experienced in KS1, T.A.

Once you have registered it works by continually adding points to each pupils name, unless otherwise paused. It also has the facility for you to add additional points for whatever you choose. The game is displayed on the Whiteboard for all to see and the children quickly became enthralled by it. The reward for 'winning; the Great Behaviour Game was two fold. Firstly a postcard home to their adult and secondly a class wrist band allowing them access to the schools adventure playground equipment. Two much coveted prizes which resulted in a much happier, calmer class, pupils, T.A. and teacher! The parents really enjoyed receiving the postcards too.

Teaching year 2 has been a challenge but I loved it that much in the end I begged and pleaded to do it again! We had lots of fun and learned a lot together. I have had lots of experience of year 6 Sats but this was my first dip into KS1 Sats. I am glad to say that on the whole the experience for the children and for me was quite a painless one (even I cannot believe how well they all did!) The KS1 Sats are delivered a lot more discretely but are still very strictly implemented and assessed to ensure data which presents as true a reflection of the pupils attainment as possible. 

I have throughout my teaching career moved year groups regularly, due to circumstances in each of the schools I have taught in as well as to my requests. I have always seen changing year groups as a way to keep learning, keep things fresh and to improve my skills as a teacher. It is great professional development! After teaching for 16 years I really I have gained so much from moving regularly, my experience is vast. However, I also think it is important to have at least two years, preferably three,  in a year group before moving on. This provides an opportunity for real reflection: What worked well? Why? What didn't work so well? Why? And where there is reflection there is learning.

The Ghost of class present:

No I haven't been teaching summer school! Or have I? During the summer holidays this year I have had the opportunity to spend lots of time with my six year old grandson. All teachers know that even during the holidays school is definitely not out. Wherever we go, the beach, the museum, the pictures, anywhere, even a wet day at home ... there is always an opportunity to teach. I cant help myself, everything presents itself to me as a teaching and learning opportunity. This year has been a great one for that, my grandson has just completed year 1 and will be going into year 2. The very year group I have just taught and will be teaching next year. Great! Well for me at least, I'm not so sure he would agree.  

I would describe my grandson as very active, inquisitive, interested, interesting yet a very, very reluctant learner. I have to approach any formal work with great caution and go to great lengths to avoid anything formal. This is easy when it comes to science experiments, rock pooling, collecting shells, sticks, treasures, mini beast hunts,  counting, painting, drawing, making our own Lego movies etc.  All of which we have both thoroughly enjoyed and all of which he has with out a doubt learned a lot from. 

The tricky part has been the more formal learning specifically writing. He has been reading regularly with his Mummy and actually is really beginning to enjoy it, well I hope so anyway. Writing however is another matter. He is a very reluctant writer and thankfully as I had taught a year 2 class last year I know he is most definitely not alone. I have taught lots of boys who are reluctant writers from every year group in KS2 but year 2 reluctant writers are really a completely different breed. They will do and do do anything to avoid writing. It is as if it is actually painful to them, similar to sitting still, which for lots of boys is genuinely painful, well it appears writing is the same.

I had a core group of reluctant writers last year but by the end of the year they were all much improved and finding the whole process a lot less painful. This gave me some hope, perhaps foolishly, that I could achieve this with my grandson. Any teachers who are parents will understand that teaching your own children is not quite the same. To them you are Mum, Dad, Grandma etc not their teacher. They do not therefore behave the way a pupil would towards you. 

Nevertheless as my grandson had homework to complete for his new teacher and his Mummy and I did not want him to go back to school having not written at all I had to have a go.
It has been like pulling teeth! With short, sharp periods of writing spread out over the holiday he has actually made progress. Oh no I cant believe I just uttered the dreaded word progress! and about my own flesh and blood and during the holidays! I really have lost the plot. But progress he has made. I can see a distinct improvement in his handwriting (on the line and legible) and he was able to write about three sentences before having a total meltdown. 

All of this has presented another opportunity for reflection about teaching and education. Why are lots of boys such reluctant writers? Is homework worth the stress it causes parents? Do we begin formal education much too soon in England? 

The ghost of class yet to be:

Year 2 2014/2015 rapidly approaches. Due to the time to do it I feel like have prepared more this year than any other. My classroom looks amazing, I have completed a long term plan for the year, a medium term plan for the first half term and two weeks short term planning! I have hammered Pinterest and Twitter in search of new inspiration and have done lots of reflecting upon last year. What worked? What will I change? What will stay the same? What new thing s will I introduce?

I am poised and ready to pounce! I love seeing my new class on the first day all shiny shoes and new haircuts. I love listening to the buzz in the classroom as they return to see each other after the long break and share their stories of summer. It is always a time of great anticipation and a huge sense of the task ahead. It is an honour but also a great responsibility to be a teacher. A whole class of different personalities, backgrounds, home lives, abilities, expectations but all with the right to a teacher that believes in them and will lead them on the learning journey ahead. 

Oh no I've gone all soppy!! It is because of all of this though that teaching really is a full time job a true vocation that takes over your life. But a job I know I am good at and in the dark, hard days when every one wants a piece of me, I need to try to remember the three little ghost and why I do it in the first place!