Teacher Targets

accomplishment accuracy accurate aim
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First of all I want to thank Sophie Bee (@_MissieBee) for this as she started the ball rolling with this really and got me thinking about what I want to work on professionally throughout the next school year.

Summer is a great time for reflection as often during the school year things are too manic to really stop and take stock of what happens in the classroom. That isn’t saying that we are not reflective practitioners – of course we are, if we weren’t we wouldn’t be very effective in the classroom. However the summer break really gives us time to digest the previous year and think about the new school year ahead, its new challenges and the things we want to achieve.

Me being me I couldn’t put this into a tweet so I have decided to blog it instead. This is mostly because this is me reflecting. Me going through the thinking process as both me as a teacher and me as a leader in school. So does that mean I have two sets of targets – those that make me better in the classroom or those that make me a more effective leader in school? Or do the two go hand in hand? Maybe that’s one for me to mull over for a while but for now here are my teacher targets for the next school year.

  1. Whole class guided read – not just focus on text and comprehension but a wider range of responses to texts. Also increase the use of images to support developing vocabulary and inference and the use of non-fiction to support learning in wider curriculum.
  2. Vocabulary – focus on the direct instruction and explicit teaching of vocabulary (inc subject specific) in order to have impact on reading, writing and wider curriculum.
  3. Wider Curriculum – embed learning deeper through use of KO and development of memory through own research.
  4. Creative approaches – explore and experiment with a wider range of creative approaches to support and enhance learning in year 6.
  5. Maths – focus on more abstract problem solving and the representation of mathematical problems to support reasoning.
  6. Whole class feedback – Continue to develop feedback strategies to have greater impact especially in writing.

So there we go. There are my 6 teacher targets. It will be interesting to review these in July.

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The Silence

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One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. This is a shocking statistic which up until few months ago I was totally unaware of.  I too am now part of that statistic.

But why did I not know this before? I know couples don’t share the news that they are expecting until after 12 weeks as the risks are so much higher, but one in four – a quarter. And the reasons this happens is still so unclear.

In my last post I mentioned my miscarriage. This weekend would have been my due date. It’s been a tough time thinking about what should have or could have been. My son starts school in September and I had this image of pushing the pram taking him to school every morning. Spending time being a full time stay at home mummy again. Instead I am thinking about my new class and working out how to balance being the best parent I can with being a teacher.

I have always been aware of the risks around pregnancy and for some women it doesn’t all end happily ever after. But you never think it could happen to you. I experienced weeks of problems before my miscarriage. The entire Christmas holiday was filled with anxiety around whether my pregnancy was going as it should. I had scans and saw my baby. I saw its heart beating and was told it’s developing well. More complications came, more trips to A&E and more scans. Even a scan on the day I now know I miscarried. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I couldn’t due to the pain I was in or the anxiety I was filled with. Instead I lay on the sofa watching endless Bob Ross re-runs on Netflix. Anything to calm the anxiety.

We went to the mid-wife appointment as planned. Explained what had happened. I didn’t want to go back to the hospital to sit for hours in A&E again when I knew I would be seeing someone in a couple of days. I think I also knew by then it was too late to change things anyway. The midwife certainly knew as she listened to me she rang the hospital to book me in for a scan but didn’t bother to fill in any pregnancy notes.

The hospital were great. They looked after us well. My son was with my parents for all my visits to the hospital over the subsequent weeks. The first two trips were the worst – being put in the beige bad news room with the blinds at the windows, plastic flowers and insipid art work on the wall. I hated that room. I was fed up of the visits to the hospital – having to tell the story again and again of what happened to a different doctor each week was awful. But every doctor I did see was kind, compassionate and made sure that my wellbeing was catered for.

Following my honesty over what happened in January I have had many women contact me telling me they have been through a similar experience, some more than once. The courage and strength these women have is amazing – to message someone they don’t know and share their story. To share their understanding of what you are going through and offer support. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

When I lost my baby I felt so alone and I am sure than many other women felt the same. I apologised for losing our baby. I felt it was my fault. I still can’t talk about what happened without crying. I am not sure I will ever be able to, but that’s ok.

We keep miscarriage a secret. We keep it hidden but it happens. It happens a lot – one in four. And  I suppose that’s why I am writing this. To say that it does happen and if it’s happened to you, you are not alone xx

 

Reflections on a year

Where do I begin? Honestly, I don’t know where I begin this post. Does it start in September or does it start in January? There are two starts. Both significant, both with stories, both with lessons to learn.

I was stepping into a class on my own without class sharing for the first time in over 5 years. Not any year group but year 6. Anxiety ran high. There was so much to prove. Attainment, progress, me coming out of the year in one piece. All of these things weighed on my mind but the year started and things were ticking along nicely.

Then ofsted came but this post isn’t about ofsted.

As a year 6 teacher with an ofsted under our belt I knew the pressure we were under. I knew what needed to be done and I set about doing it. Then things changed.

Autumn term is always grueling. It’s a long, dark and a slog. It’s establishing relationships, setting routines and getting ready in 6 for the spring term to fly towards SATs and writing assessments. The Christmas holidays were a welcome break at the time. It was time to spend with my family and enjoy a rest.

But on January 3rd after a week or so in and out of a&e I had a miscarriage. It was 3 days before my birthday. Right now I should be preparing to finish for Mat leave, but I am not.

I didn’t return from the holidays and had three weeks off work. I was offered more but quite frankly I had started to go mad at home being stuck in what had happened. I needed an escape. I needed a distraction so I went back to work.

It was at this time that I also had a world of grief for teaching an abridged version of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde to my class in English. Makes me think, we should be cautious about all jumping on to what someone does – we never know what else they are dealing with.

Going back to work was a relief. It occupied my mind and gave me a new direction. My class were glad to have me back and I threw myself into it totally even landing myself a new curriculum lead TLR.

Then our head sadly passed away. I was still dealing with my own grief of what had happened only a month or so before and I had to tell my class that our head teacher had died. I was given the option of having someone else tell them but I knew it had to come from me. It was hard to get the words out and I cried through the whole thing.

Following this my school pulled together. A community bonded in their grief – staff, children and parents. It was a difficult time for everyone.

At around this time the third PrimaryRocks event was to be held at my school and I threw myself into the organisiation of it. I knew that Joanne was proud of the event that took place in her school. I also knew that I would get to spend time with good friends and awaited the event with nervous excitement.

The event as a massive hit with a lovely tribute paid to our head. Even with the snow, it was a celebration of teachers coming together in the name of being better teachers.

Yet again following this I was astounded by the generosity of the twitter community and how it supported my school and its community in a time of grief.

The last term has been a slog. But we have got there. I am tired and ready for the rest but there is a bittersweet end as I am thinking about what should have been.

But I want to say thank you. Thank you to the twitter community that helped me through tough times. That supported my school and have generously donated to our school library bus in memory of Joanne.

And here’s to a new academic year – Onwards and upwards!

Ps. I am sorry if this is a rambling post. It’s more about me getting the weight off my chest and setting things free.

Curriculum Goals – What do we want from a curriculum?

I think I need to set some context to this post before I begin in earnest.  I am curriculum leader at my school and a year ago I introduced a new curriculum map which gave staff an outline of progression in the wider curriculum. It is by no means perfect and there is a fair amount I want to and need to do with it ready for September and this post is a reflection of those things. It is a rambling of thoughts and ideas that I need to work through in order to continue to develop the curriculum in my school.

  1. The knowledge rich curriculum

Well obviously! What is the point of a curriculum where the children don’t learn anything? However we need to look at how deep this learning goes and how well this knowledge is embedded. I saw a tweet this morning which hit the nail on the head with regard to this.

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For our children to have the level of knowledge and understanding we want first and foremost our staff need to be equipped with that. They need to have the confidence to plan lessons which show progression in learning, deepen children’s understanding,  deal with ay misconceptions that the children might have and tackle any questions which arise. Now I am not saying that they need to know everything to a degree standard – there can be a lot to be said for teachers admitting when they don’t know something and researching something together can offer many great opportunities. But a level of competence is required.

So how do we deal with this? I know that there are teachers who have been in the same year group for years; there are those that move on a regular basis for whatever reason. At this point I am going to assume that those who have been in the same year group for a number of years are secure in their subject knowledge, but what about those who jump year groups? Not just move up one year but maybe go from year 2 to year 5. Do we just presume the staff have the subject knowledge to teach to an adequate standard in their new year group? If we know this isn’t the case do we provide support through quality cpd or is it the responsibility for the teacher themselves to do this?

Last year I went back into class after a number of years out, I was thrown into year 6 with a new curriculum. Now, there were aspects of the curriculum I didn’t know – I had to carry out my own reading in order to teach it. I also worked in a team of teachers who all had different expertise and we shared good practice and developed each other professionally.

With the emphasis in schools on English and Maths I am not sure how much opportunity there is for staff to receive cpd on delivering the wider curriculum. Yes they might do this within their planning teams but what about on a whole school level? If this is the case does anything get any better? Is this then down to the subject leaders to address and if so how? If the DT subject lead identifies that there is an issue, how is that addressed if no time is allocated to support staff with that? Should it be or are we wasting time with wider curriculum in the current climate? Or do we just scrap those subjects which are less ‘academic’ as we can’t facilitate the time or standard required to teach them? (Disclaimer – I would like to point out that this is not necessarily my view but as stated earlier a rambling of thoughts and questions). Alternatively should certain subjects be taught by subject specialists? I can certainly see the advantage of this with MFL and Music.

A step on from this is how we have seen the increase in teachers using downloadable schemes of work to support their teaching, especially in wider curriculum areas such as Geography and History. I think the rise of this comes in two parts, one is the guidance for coverage and content and secondly the support it provides for workload. Teachers’ workload is often unmanageable and I fully support teachers taking measures in protecting their wellbeing. However, my worry with this is how fit for purpose these are. Are these planning supports used straight off the shelf or are they being adapted to suit the needs of the children in the class they are being used in? At times, I am not always so sure.

  1. Knowledge vs Skills

I think this one is obvious. Both are needed – the two go hand in hand. Some subjects have an emphasis on skills other are more knowledge, but regardless of this we need to develop skills so that they can be transferred to other concepts later. Without skills we don’t build learners for life, we don’t build independence and resilience.

  1. Back to basics

Basic skills in reading, writing and maths are fundamental. They really should help to underpin the wider curriculum with plenty of opportunities to develop and transfer these skills into wider curriculum areas. However we all know that this is a tricky balance to maintain – it can be like a tightrope to navigate.

Reading in the wider curriculum is a huge one that needs to be tackled. Doug Lemov talks of the need of a balanced and rich diet of Fiction and Non-fiction texts. I know this is one to be addressed within my setting and is a job for me ready for September – the matching up of quality texts to support learning in the wider curriculum. A no brainer for me is that if you are doing WW2 in History then your English lessons should be around a text that links – Rose Blanche or Goodnight Mr Tom and in guided reading you might look at a range of non-fiction texts on WW2. You may choose to mix and match this slightly but you get the idea.

I think what happens without this balance of fiction and non-fiction is that we become very good at using History to write for a range of purposes but we often forget about the History itself.

Then there is the marking. What do we mark? Do we mark against the LO or the Basic English skills. My answer is both – SPaG must always be addressed, but then id a key concept of the lesson isn’t being understood we need to pick this up too. However are we then over marking? This again comes into the issue of staff writing similar comments in books which when you have 30 kids and 4 lessons a day – that’s a whole lot of books! This could easily go off into a discussion about marking and the merits of whole class feedback but I want to stick to curriculum.

  1. Engagement

This is a big one for me and one that links back to many of the things I have already talked about in this post. Is the curriculum that your schools delivers fit for purpose? Does it work for the pupils in the context of the school you are working in? If the answer to this is no then you need to look again.

But I think it goes beyond this, it is not just about the way the curriculum is put together but the way that is delivered. Actually scrap that – its ALL about how it is delivered. Are topics put together to support a cross curricular holistic approach to deepen the learning? Are there opportunities to develop skills in other areas and build upon previous learning? Are there opportunities to ask questions, make connections and solve problems? Does it cater for the needs of all pupils in the classroom? Again I think this ties back to some of my issues with off the shelf units of work.

I think autonomy and collaboration are key here. Yes staff need to know what they must cover but the way they put that together and the way that they deliver that should be down to them. I don’t want to tell teachers that they must use Who Let the Gods Out if they are teaching Ancient Greece but at the same time I want to provide a selection of texts that could be chosen from. In regard to collaboration – the sharing of ideas is key. The diverse range of expertise a teaching staff has is a huge asset to any school and needs to be developed and valued. Collaboration can make get staff excited about the many possibilities that a new project can have. If staff are excited about what they are teaching surely this will come across when they teach it.

  1. Risk taking

We all love a comfort zone. The children have them and as staff we have them too. Often ours are much more deep rooted than the children’s are. We don’t always like trying new things with the fear of it going wrong. But if we don’t try new things and push ourselves do we really develop? Do we get any better?

I would want the curriculum to encourage not just the children to take risks but the staff too, for both to try new approaches. I am not quite sure how this is going to look yet but it is in definitely in my mind.

As I said at the start this post wasn’t about how I do things, about how I think things should be done or advice on how things could be done: it’s a ramble of ideas and questions which are in my mind as I look at how to move the curriculum forward in my school. If anyone has any thoughts on this or answers so some of the many questions I have then please get in touch. There isn’t one right way of doing things but many possible ways. And let’s not forget collaboration makes us all better!

 

Also thank you to @HeyMissSmith for allowing me to quote her tweet and to @TeacherStarr for listening to me talk through my thinking.

From The Inside

Recently I have had a lot to reflect on as it has been a very difficult start to the year, but this weekend….What can I say? I have been waiting for this since Christmas, truth be told. I have been waiting for that buzz that you get from #PrimaryRocks Live. I still don’t quite understand it myself. It is crazy bonkers that I have been able to be involved and part of something so joyous and celebrated in this business that is education.

A lot goes into setting up the event and it’s a huge team effort from thinking about getting the balance of speakers right, to organising the timetable, the ticket sales and managing the waiting list, the hiring of chairs, organising lunches, sorting and filling goodie bags, writing and chopping lanyard passes – the list is truly endless and that’s even before we have actually set up the day before.

On Friday when we met to set up the nerves started to kick in. I am always nervous the day before as Gaz reminded me but this time it was different. There was a new element that added to my anxiety – snow! What if the snow came so people didn’t? But people did come. They even came and stood queuing outside in the snow to get an ice cream!

The weather may have been grey and snowy outside but the vibrancy and light that went on inside was infectious. To see so many teachers come out on a Saturday to share their knowledge and passion for teaching was something to behold. School was buzzing and that wasn’t just due to the amount of caffeine that was consumed or the sugar rush from the sprinkles on the ice cream.

The best part of #PrimaryRocks for me is the people. I have talked about this many times. It’s the strong sense of community that fills the event. The bond that is between the 10 organisers is one thing, but to see the many people who join in on a Monday for the chat is also amazing. It is also that chance to see people you talk to all the time but never see and the fact that it continues well into the small hours is even better.

I know that there has been a lot of discussion around Saturday events and the expectations that they can place on teachers. For me these events are yes about great cpd but it is also a chance to see my mates. Maybe it is some desperate attempt at clinging on to my youth as for one day it is like being back as school – especially if you are sat next to Stephen Lockyer who is trying to distract everyone or hide things in peoples coat hoods.

There is only one downside to #PrimaryRocks Live and that is when it is all over. When we have all packed away, turned off the lights and gone home. The comedown the next day can hit hard. However, the spirit and energy of #PrimaryRocks Live – that will last forever!  See you at round 4….

 

Reading Habits – What are yours?

 

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I am going to start with a confession of sorts. I have always liked reading and enjoyed the escapism you get from immersing yourself in a good book. However I had kind of lost touch with it. I had got out of the habit and things always seemed to get in the way which meant I had a period where I didn’t read much. Shocking I know – especially as a teacher. However thanks to Twitter I have definitely got my reading mojo back which has been great, although less so for my bank account. And this has got me thinking about my own reading habits, why I stopped and the type of reader I was and am now. This then led me to think about the children in my class and their attitudes to reading.

  1. Books vs e-readers

Firstly I have always loved books. I am definitely a book fan – you can keep your Kindle thanks, it’s not for me! There is nothing like opening a new book; the smell, the feel and turning the pages for the first time. I also love second hand books – the history that comes with them, especially really old ones. I am very happy to see that books are fighting back against technology. Reading from a book is a different experience to holding a screen and I must say I think we probably should look away from the screen more often than we do! However if you are a holiday reader then taking 20 paper backs in your suitcase isn’t really ideal.

As teachers we need to model behaviours and show children how special books are. The way we hold a book, the thrill of opening it for the first time and seeing the end papers, the sharing of books, stroking covers of books – all of it.

  1. Reading time and space

This is where I had problems. My reading time got taken over with screen time (I know) or taken up with a small boy. Obviously, time with the boy involves sharing and reading books but this isn’t reading for me. The biggest part of my getting out of the habit of reading was change in routine. I wasn’t setting myself time to read anymore. Also having a quiet space to read – my favourite spots to read have always been the garden (summer only), the beach (summer only) or the bath (yes many books have been lost to the water). To truly enjoy a good book, you need time and a quiet space.

It’s the same for our children. If they are not into a routine of reading then they will struggle to get into one. We need to support children with providing a quiet space and time for them to lose themselves in the pages of a book. Many of our children might not have a space at home where they can read for whatever reason. So we need to make sure that we have set routines for reading.

  1. Reluctance

I have been a reluctant reader, especially when I was out of routine. There are many reasons adults and children are reluctant readers, some are harder to crack than others.

  1. Decoding
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Reading attitudes at home

These are some of the barriers children and adults have to reading. If we allow these barriers to remain then when the children become adults we are at risk of continuing the cycle of reading not being of importance.

During my time as a teacher (13 years) we have gone round in circles in certain areas of reading. Children MUST read aloud – children MUSTN’T read aloud – children MUST read aloud etc. Obviously this applies to whole class or group reading not one to one. Personally I am a fan of reading aloud and it’s regularly practiced in my classroom. Fluency has improved dramatically in my class through reading out loud. This way I listen to every child in my class read daily through some sort of shared text, whether it’s English, guided reading or a foundation subject. I know my children too – I know that some texts might cause children to panic so I am selective about what I ask them to read. My reluctant readers are now more confident, imitating expression that’s been praised from other children and are asking to read to the whole class on a regular basis.

  1. Serial book readers

Ok – you got me! Guilty as charged here on this one. I have been one of those readers who sticks to certain authors and doesn’t really try anything outside of a very set remit. The fear of trying something new – well, what if I don’t like it? I must also confess I am/ have been one of those readers that reads the same books over and over and over. I am not going to tell you which ones – guilty pleasure holiday reading is all you are getting.

How many of our children have we seen devour every Jacqueline Wilson book in the library and then become stuck, or the fight over the Wimpy Kid books. I was a serial Roald Dahl reader as a child. Those and the Mr Men books are still close to my heart as they have become more about remembering time with my lovely dad.  A tradition he has continued with my son.

But how do we get children to see the wider range of authors and books that are available? Well it’s simple – as teachers we need to read. We need to have a good knowledge of the children’s books that are out there and we need to recommend these to our children. I have used Seesaw to send book recommendations home when I have finished a book. I have also lent my own books out to children if there is a book I think they might like.

  1. Fiction vs Non-fiction

Confession time again…I am not a non-fiction reader. I really struggle with it and have to concentrate in order to get into a groove with it. However I am much better now than I was. I don’t know whether it’s just not my thing or I don’t have the stamina for it. I know that this is something Doug Lemov talks about in Reading Reconsidered.

This is the case for many of our children also. They don’t have the stamina to deal with technical vocabulary and if we don’t expose them to a range of non-fiction texts they will find reading in later life difficult.

On the other hand, I know of people who only read non-fiction. They devour non-fiction in a quest for knowledge and understanding but are reluctant to read a novel.

It’s through a rich and varied diet of quality texts in school that we can ensure that children become well rounded and resilient readers.

  1. Pleasure vs necessity

Children need to learn to read – there are no bones about it. The world is full of the written word. There is no escaping it. It’s on our phones, it is in our supermarkets, it is on our roads – it is all around us. Children know and understand this too. That reading is a skill that they need to master. However they are not fully aware of the extent to which reading will impact on their lives.

Reading cornerThat is where reading for pleasure kicks in. Children who actively seek out a rich varied diet of texts are going to be more resilient to tackle reading later in life a college or university. However fostering a true love of reading is hard and will take time, understanding, patience and hard work. It is about putting books at the centre of the curriculum. Seeing that books contain knowledge and that knowledge is power, seeing that reading can take them on a journey of discovery. That reading opens up a world of possibilities. Seeing that reading really is a window into a new world.

‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut – Dr Seuss.

 

Year 6 innit!

I don’t think there is a teacher anywhere that doesn’t understand that year 6 is hard. It’s essentially a pressure cooker waiting to go off. SLT stress about it, the teachers stress about it and the children (although I hope they don’t as this worries me the most) stress about it too.

The pressure put onto this year group is pretty intense really. I have seen things recently on social media that has shocked me. Things like year 6 not being allowed to do any art, Easter schools and Saturday boosters etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the implications of poor SATs results – it’s the system; that double edged sword of not just getting those high percentages at ARE but also closing the progress gap based on previous attainment in year 2.

The progress one is the killer for me. It’s the hardest battle to fight as there just isn’t time. Gone are the days where you can get a child to a 4b in a term. Ok, yes you can just about get the children to pass that 100 mark, but when they are predicted to get 108 – wow! Talk about an uphill struggle.

It’s a year group that’s driven by tests and the life, soul and joy could so easily be sucked out of learning and sadly it often is. It becomes an exercise in box ticking (literally for the writing) and frequent testing, in some cases weekly.

So how do we change things? Well that’s a big question and one that I think whole schools need to look at and address. It’s not about what the year 6 team do (although they could look at how they do things too) but what the whole school does so that when children land in year 6 there isn’t a need for such extreme cuts in the wider curriculum. And before you say it, I know I am being massively ideological here, but surely these are the questions we need to ask.

It is unfair on children in year 6 to spend days on end with lined paper and a pencil in front of them – there is more to life than that! They need a break and do you know what, so does every year 6 teacher! I keep subjects like PE, computing and art going in my class because the children need something else and also I can’t possibly keep on top of all that marking – I am not sure who could?!

My approach to year 6 is, yes we have to jump through silly hoops but let’s try and keep things exciting while we do it. So what do I do?

  1. English and Maths– not streamed, especially for English! This is a big one for me. Those children who have prior low attainment need to be exposed to high level talk and text, otherwise we are putting a ceiling on what they will achieve. This isn’t helpful. Personally I like English and Maths in the morning. I know there are arguments against this – that’s fine. It’s what suits you.
  2. Book centred themes. English drives forward the learning in other areas. It picks up elements of science and history or geography. Learning is cross curricular and immersive. It has more impact in my experience. Also seeing the power one text can have – the opportunities a quality text can hold for art, drama etc – you can’t beat it! It’s great!
  3. A combination of whole class and group guided reading straight after lunch. I love guided reading after lunch – Why? Well, because any lunch time stresses that the children may still be carrying around simmer down rather quickly. As for whole class over groups – well, I love whole class but sometimes I like to break into groups. All using same text but with a different focus depending on what children’s gaps are. As with anything it’s all about balance.
  4. Science – I don’t teach science in my class. It is taught on my day off. This is a big relief on my timetable and marking. I know this isn’t always possible but depending on who covers your PPA could this be taught then?
  5. Focus on a few foundation subjects that you can teach but allow you to focus main planning and resourcing energies into English, guided reading and Maths. These are not keep the children busy baby sitting tasks – they still need to be purposeful but are less intense and support both your wellbeing and the children’s. These can link back to text and are part of a wider project. But most importantly don’t worry about covering everything or having to cram after sats. Keep a few pots simmering throughout the year.
  6. Story time – everyday. Whenever it suits.
  7. Quality down time. Chat time, show and tell, play games – whatever. Shared time on a Friday afternoon when you can have fun with your class, they can be children and everyone goes home on a high!

This post is more me reflecting upon what I have heard year 6 teachers say, some experienced and some early in their careers. At the end of the day what do we want for our children? Is it all about those percentages? I don’t think so. I want my class to have made progress, got good scores which reflect their true capabilities, but most importantly I want 30 people to leave my classroom happy, well rounded, articulate, confident, resilient and ready to face whatever comes their way. If I can achieve that – job done!

Why Teach?

Let’s face it teaching is hard. Harder than we all thought when we were young, wrinkle and grey hair free students. The hours are long; the pressure is intense and let’s face it – that to do list never ends. I am sure I am not the only teacher who has doubts. Doubts about the job and the sacrifices that sometimes have to be made or doubts about their effectiveness in the classroom. The confidence crisis is probably the hardest to crack. Breaking that mind-set cycle is tough – I know. And if I am honest, it never goes away. There is always going to be a lesson that doesn’t go to plan, or a concept that just doesn’t seem to stick.

I wrote this post quite a while ago for @staffrm and it came to me as a lay awake thinking about my class, SATs, marking, leadership stuff that needs doing. All the usual stuff that keeps us awake with that back to school anxiety. So I thought I would give it a read…and do you know what? It helped.

Sometimes we just need to stop, take time, think, revaluate and most importantly…breathe.

So why teach? I will tell you why!

On Wednesday we had a really interesting staff meeting. I don’t mean interesting in the sense of ‘wow’, I mean different and it had made me think. We talked about why we worked at the school we do. Why we come to work each day and what it is that keeps us going.

So why do I teach? We often hear the negatives around teaching; it’s hard, the hours are long, the workload is never ending, it’s exhausting and sometimes it drives you to tears. But there are so many reasons why it’s a brilliant job.

  1. You make difference.

Each day you make a difference to the children’s lives. In some cases as a teacher you are the only safe constant that a child might have in their lives. You open doors for the children and equip them with the tools they will need when they go out into the big wide world as adults.

  1. Every day is different.

When you are managing 30 small people in a classroom, all of whom have their own agendas, own issues and own personalities it’s a balancing act. Just because Alex was fine yesterday doesn’t mean he will be tomorrow. Teaching different things each day also keeps you on your toes.

  1. Children say the funniest things.

In my 11 years (it’s more than this now) of teaching I have heard some corkers. Including the Titanic sinking due to hitting an ice bird (not a typo).

  1. It challenges you.

As mentioned earlier the balancing act of managing 30 small people in order to create a harmonious productive learning environment is a massive challenge in itself. Then there is trying to make the incredibly dull sound like the most exciting thing since Minecraft!

  1. You never stop learning

You constantly reflect and evaluate on your own practice. You research and talk with other teachers all in the name of being the best you can in order to make the difference for those 30 little people that appear in your room each day.

  1. You build long lasting relationships.

I have been at my school for 11 years. I have taught many children and in many cases children from the same family. I have established strong relationships with these families; they come and see me and ask after my little boy. Ex pupils who are now 18 and 19 come back and see me and when they take the time to do that I know that I made that difference.

And that’s why I am proud to be a teacher!

Hook, Line and Sinker

Over the past couple of years I have started to develop the idea of using a hook at the beginning of a unit – especially an English unit, but what is a hook? For me a hook sets the tone of the learning that will take place over the coming weeks. Hooks can be small and simple or quite dramatic and elaborate. It should give the children an insight into what they will be learning but will fundamentally leave them with more questions than answers and a desire to find out more.

How to create a hook

  1. It’s all in the atmosphere

This will obviously depend on the type of topic or the book you are working on. Where you want to bring any sense of atmosphere that is in the book into the classroom. This can be done in a number of ways – through the use of music, lighting and imagery.

Audio network is a great website that can be used to source music that could be played in the classroom. I recommend that you use music which is instrumental rather than anything with words – this is because you might need to speak or have the children carrying out speaking and listening tasks while the music plays.

Lighting is key in changing the atmosphere of a space. A great way to do this is to maybe dim lights or turn them off completely and use electronic tea lights or candles.

The interactive whiteboard is a great tool in creating atmosphere in the classroom. It is a great way of creating light and displaying an image which represents an idea, theme, character, setting or event within the story or topic that is being covered. This image could come from the book itself; however I often like to find something else as I might want to use images from the book later. They also might give more away than I am wanting to at that time. Pinterest is a great way of finding images that could be displayed.

  1. Give us a clue

A good way of creating mystery and intrigue is to set up a series of props that will give the children clues about what the story might be about. These objects could be linked to the characters in the story, the stories setting or the events that take place. It is a good idea to have a range of objects, some of which will have more significance than others and that will raise more questions. Some objects you might want to include could be difficult to get hold of so you could always use a picture of the object.

Objects I have used in the past –

Macbeth – a bloody shirt, a dagger, a crown and a cauldron. These objects were all linked to the story.

Frankenstein – a suit case, a note book, a painting of a woman, a painting of a boy, surgical equipment, bread and a jar of milk. These objects were linked to the main character.

Jekyll and Hyde – Henry Jekyll’s last will and testament, a newspaper report, a letter which says not to be opened until…, potion bottles. These objects link to the story and some of its characters.

The key with these objects is that the children might look at them and how they could be linked. What is their purpose or significance? What do they tell us about what might happen in the story? How are the objects linked? Etc. Setting these objects up on a table with music and atmospheric lighting has the most impact. These can then form part of your English display.

(NOTE – for maximum impact it is best that the children come into the room with this set up ready. It comes as a surprise. This could be set up over a break time, lunchtime or during an assembly).

Hooks of a different kind

  1. Digging up the past.

Archaeological digs are a great ways of hooking the children into a topic. You could take objects and bury them outside or in trays of sand for the children to uncover with paintbrushes. Alternatively you could bury fragments of images for the children to uncover and try to piece together.

  1. It’s a mystery.

Setting up a problem or a crime scene type investigation can be a great hook into a text or part of a text. I have used newspaper reports to provide clues about events or characters. These are great as mini hooks to introduce new chapters as a story line develops. I have used newspaper reports with Frankenstein reporting on a number of grave robberies that had taken place. Police style reports for the Highwayman also work well, especially in giving children an understanding of what a Highwayman actually is.

  1. Take a trip.

A trip is a great way of starting off a unit or a topic, even better when you introduce your narrative in the space. Lots of places are happy for schools to run their own self-guided programmes: why not carry out some simple drama activities or introduce some of your characters with teacher in role in a new space. This could be a trip to a castle, an old house, or even in front of a painting in an art gallery. You would of course need to arrange this with the venue beforehand.

I fully understand that setting up and developing ideas for these hooks takes time and a great deal of thought. However I have found that the benefits outweigh this considerably. The children are invested until the very end in the story that they are reading. They hang on every word, right until the very last sentence. I know this because my class last year sat in stunned silence for several minutes after reading the last chapter of Frankenstein. The quality of work produced by the children and the level of discussion that comes from hooking the children in this way was far beyond my expectations and is something I am going to continue to do and develop.

*senses a blog on hook ideas for different books coming on……