Guest Post: Teacher Ear

This is a guest post, well sort of…

As I am not supposed to be posting over the summer, I’m allowing people to catch up.

Today I’m posting something different. Darren Chetty’s ‘Beyond the Secret Garden’ at The Royal Opera House #ThrivingChild Conference is below. Chetty explores issues around identity and representation as they relate to how children thrive at ‘The Thriving Child’

He literally moved me to tears, tears which should have been cried years ago.

 

Change is in your hands. One teacher, one lesson and one pupil at a time.

 

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Losing A Pupil

This is by no way professional advice, a substitute for therapy or a ‘what to do when’ article.

This, unfortunately, is almost inevitable in the life of teachers, through your career you will lose a pupil, I have lost many pupils, to multiple different causes including suicides, road traffic accident, violent crime and illness. It hurts until a numbness envelops you.

This, unfortunately, is almost inevitable in the life of teachers, through your career you will lose a pupil. Click To Tweet

The teacher-pupil​ relationship is really complex, to some of these pupils you are the constant in their lives and although this is ‘work’ for us I would argue that our whole profession is predicated on the basis that we care for those we serve.

After losing a pupil, the intrusive thoughts of ‘should I have said something’ and ‘done something’, No matter how irrational these thoughts are, I call this the ‘what if’ phase, then for me comes the I don’t care phase. The world is so cruel why am I even playing this game and slowly the acceptance game. Everyone goes through feeling pupils similar to these, teachers, staff, the community I mean everyone.

We are trained to be the pillar of strength. We are strong for the kids, our colleagues, we are trained to be the adult. I am going to admit, I have cried many tears over my pupils, being the pillar of strength may be​ the right thing professionally but we need to recognise this takes its toll.

A pupil’s death is rarely an event that can be compartmentalised. This trauma can take months, sometimes years to deal with. Personally,​ I used to have a feeling of dread every year pre-holidays, with no idea of what and why I was feeling that way. Until I did. The community, teachers, our pupil, and the school family should be supported throughout these times.

I have no real answer to what this support looks like. Yes, I could suggest ​various things but like I said earlier I am not a professional. I would state again this is support is important and should not be pushed on to anyone other than the appropriately trained professionals.

Losing pupils to suicides is the hardest thing I have ever faced in a school. Every feeling described in the earlier paragraph is heightened. The hardest part is acceptance. Only once I accept that at that point it’s what that pupil wanted where I could move past rationalise any of it.

I’m going to leave this here. I will add to this. Just not today.

Edutwitter. A Dangerous Place?

Every so often, I get an email, a DM or a phone call, from someone that wants, no, needs their voice heard. Guest Blog.

TW: Online grooming.

As I am about to write this, I already feel like a fool. I start typing, read, delete and repeat. I’m not a blogger or a writer, I don’t use long, flowery words, so please forgive me. This experience is extremely difficult to articulate and write about.. but I will try my best and here it goes.

About a year and a half ago, I had a twitter account that I set up a few years ago when I was an NQT. I wasn’t a huge Twitter user at the time and dabbled in and out of Edutwitter although never became heavily involved with it. Over a couple of years, my account shifted from being focused on education to my personal account, posting photographs of what I was cooking for dinner, photos of my friends and I, rubbish jokes and puns as well as making fun of my horrendous dates from Tinder.

One day a message popped into my inbox from someone, let’s call him… Paul. Paul wrote to me ‘Hey, your tweets are so funny, they really make me laugh, how are you?’, before I reply to any message the first thing I do is suss out the person’s profile, I scroll through their tweets, look at the number of their followers, who they are following, I check to see if we have any mutual online teacher/education friends and look at their photos. Paul, quite clearly knew his stuff, a Head from London, all tweets where SLT/school-related, this was someone who had a thirst and a passion for education, however, there was one thing I did notice in particular, he had no picture. So what? Many teachers keep themselves private on Twitter. Headship is a lonely place, Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me.

Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me. Click To Tweet

I politely replied, small talk, chit chat but did not ask any questions. He messaged me again the next day, asking about my job and hobbies. This time, I tried to imagine how old Paul was, I assumed much older than myself given his position in school and/or married. After a couple of friendly messages exchanged I decided to ask him outright about his age. He told me he was thirty-four, whilst that is a young age for a Head it is possible, my previous Head was younger than that. After a few weeks of messaging, he asked for my number. I was hesitant, I didn’t know what Paul looked like but he seemed so interested in me, my job and I suppose after a while I became interested in him.

I gave him my number and immediately he sent me a Whataspp message, he sent me some photographs of what he looked like, one photo was of him standing in a school playground, suited and booted surrounded by secondary school pupils with a proud smile on his face. We Facetimed and chatted about each other’s day, he said I looked beautiful even though I was exhausted. We would speak on the phone for hours each day over a couple of months, Paul told me all about his interview for his Headship, he told me about his deputies and how two of them didn’t get along with each other. One day he told me about an NQT in the English department who was struggling so had a meeting with her and had gone to support her in her lessons. I enjoyed finding out about the ups and downs of his day and that he could vent and offload to me. I remember him telling me that a student had dislocated his shoulder and that the parents wanted to take the school to court.

Meanwhile, I was having a difficult time at work, I felt frustrated with my Head of Department for different reasons. I’d ask Paul for advice and he suggested a few things, my Head had asked to see me about my issues with my Head of Department and of course, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to. Even though I hadn’t met him yet, Paul had given me lots of support, he had run through what I should say to my Head. I’m definitely not the most diplomatic person so always tend to get flustered in situations like this but I felt confident what to say as Paul had advised me. I was getting text messages from my Head of Department and abusive messages from my ex-boyfriend, Paul told me to change my number, so I did.  Nobody had my new number apart from family, very close friends and Paul.

With a whirlwind at work and having just come out of a difficult relationship I felt that the best part of my day was talking to Paul. Every time I put the phone down I felt full of confidence and self-belief, he oozed enthusiasm and positivity. After a few more weeks, Paul said he was going to be visiting the city that I live in for a Head’s conference and asked if I’d like to meet him for a drink. I felt nervous, we had been talking every day for months and I agreed. We arranged to meet in the city and he was already there waiting for me, I slowly walked towards him and he turned around and beamed and wrapped his arms around me.

We went to a bar, it was busy but we managed to get a table, we were chatting away and he put his hand on mine and said he had something for me. The bar staff bought over a bunch of flowers, they were beautiful.  We spoke a lot about my job and that I needed to move schools, he suggested looking for a job in London and that if I could work in a London school I could work anywhere, I’d progress quickly if I wanted to work up (I hate London so that would’ve never happened). My phone ran out of battery and I had no cash on me so I used his phone to order an Uber for myself, he jumped on the train back to London. At the time, I was living with my parents, as soon as I walked through the front door with a bunch of flowers a barrage of questions followed which I avoided answering! I started to think and realised that even though I had been speaking to Paul for a few months, there was still a lot that I didn’t know about him.

Paul called me the next day and we had our usual chat however I decided I would dig a little deeper into his history. He had grown up in the city where I live and I was eager to know where and how his teaching career started. I asked him where he did his training and he would reply but not actually answer my questions. We met for a second time and he came to visit me from London, he took me to a lovely Italian restaurant which he told me it held happy memories before his mother passed away. So after our dinner, we were drinking red wine, I asked him about his school, I still didn’t know the name of his school or his second name, we had only met twice (I also wanted to read the OFSTED report for his school!). He couldn’t look at me directly in the eye and I knew something was off. He took his bank card out of his wallet to pay for the bill, so I played detective and managed to read the name on his bank card, let’s call his second name.. Smith (very original).

When I arrived home, I opened my laptop and my Google search began. No Head called Paul Smith, nothing. Not one single thing. I remembered I had the photograph of him and the students from our Whatsapp messages. I reversed searched the photograph (I had watched the programme Catfish many times!), nothing. So I turned into a ghost and vanished from Paul, I wouldn’t reply to his messages. Gut instinct is so powerful and usually, it is always right.

One evening Paul called me in desperation to talk to me again, I answered and told him I knew there was something that he wasn’t telling me. Then there were a few seconds of silence.  He said there was something but he couldn’t possibly tell me what it was. I told him if he didn’t tell me what he was keeping from me, he would never speak to me again. The first three questions I asked him were “Are you married?”. No. “Are you engaged?” No. “Do you have a family that you’ve not mentioned?” No. I remained calm although in my head my conscience was shouting “WTF” over and over again.

Now if I reveal too much detail here,  his identity will be exposed. After he told me his secret, he had been lying about his name, Paul Smith was the name on his bank card (remember Paul Smith is the name I’m using for this blog), he told me that he had legally changed his name. I asked what his previous name was and he told me. I Googled his original name and my mouth dropped open, there were articles published in the national press with his photograph and his original name. Although what he had been accused of wasn’t illegal but definitely a case of breach of trust and I’m pretty certain that no school would want him working them if they knew this information, true or not, his name and photograph had been dragged through the media with a pretty serious accusation.

I stared at his previous name, printed in bold. I felt angry at him and myself. There was no way this guy was a Head, it was all a lie. He had told me so much about his job, a complete web of lies over a few months. For someone to be able to manipulate and lie to this extent could potentially be dangerous. I changed my number, even a couple of colleagues made a comment about how much I changed my number. He knew what school I worked at, I was worried he was going to turn up outside the school gates or even turn up at my parents’ house (I remembered using his phone for an Uber). I felt like I had been groomed, even as a grown woman. I deleted my twitter account and completely disappeared. I was at work and had an email sent to my work address from a teacher who had been following me, he had guessed my work email address, I could see the numerous attempts in the ‘CC’ bar of the email. He guessed correctly and asked why I vanished. This was getting weirdier.

I moved out of my parent’s house and did move school. After a year, I made a new Twitter account, I wasn’t frightened anymore. After I gained a few followers, after a few months it became a few hundred and then thousands. My tweets occasionally get retweeted hundreds of times and I went to check Paul’s account only to find he had already found me and blocked me.

Twitter can be a great place for many, I’ve met some great educators from there and even friends and they are the people who will know my identity because they have heard my story already. However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Male or Female, Look after yourself.

However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Look after yourself. Click To Tweet

Me x

 

Leadership: Meeting Agendas

Guest Post from @_theteachr

How to have Impactful Meeting Agendas

  1. How can we improve teaching and learning?  – 55 mins
  2. AOB  – 5 mins

Before I continue, I might add here is if you have serious issues in the department with, for example, significant staff absence, the stability of the department, all the things that are stopping the department from functioning, you have to deal with those first. The point I was trying to make with the agenda above, of course, is that the main event in a subject or department meeting should be Teaching and Learning. What often happens is a lot of the time, subject meetings are dominated by administrative items and sometimes just plain, unnecessarily long monologues, about something unimportant.

People often ask how the housekeeping type of things are dealt with. Well, the reality is, that while you can make the main focus of meetings teaching and learning, sometimes you just have to deal with admin or address what you have been asked to by your line manager. The key, however, is to manage meetings well, because you usually only have an hour.

When I was a Head of Subject, I devised a way to help me do just that. I viewed department meetings as crucial and that every minute of time was valuable. The department all had strengths and contributions to make, and to not tap into that at every possible opportunity was a waste. Planning department meetings was a high priority and I never rushed out an agenda at the last minute in order to fill the time we had.

So bearing in mind that the main priority had to be teaching and learning and also, that sometimes it was just more effective to deal with some types of admin with the whole team together, I developed a way to help me plan the department meeting time and also let the team know what to expect at the meeting. It was a simple case of having a little icon next to each item. The icons stood for:

  1. a presentation
  2. a task, e.g. team planning a lesson for EAL students.
  3. a discussion, e.g. what the department felt were key priorities for the development plan.
  4. information, e.g. last minute information for an imminent event, e.g. open evening.
  5. upcoming dates or events.

Now some of these are mundane and could be done in other ways, but as I say, sometimes you have to deal with them. The key is to not let them dominate. So any agenda, to my mind had to have the majority of the time spent on 2 and 3. And adding those icons, with timings allowed me or anyone, at a glance to get a feel for what was going to happen in the meeting.

Oh, and I always asked for AOB items to be stated up front and noted them so that AOB didn’t become an open-ended, ‘let’s talk about whatever comes to your mind’ or worse, somebody drives the agenda with a random thought that has come to mind.

Oh, and I always asked for AOB items to be stated up front and noted them so that AOB didn’t become an open-ended, ‘let’s talk about whatever comes to your mind’ or worse, somebody drives the agenda with a random thought that has come… Click To Tweet

It takes a little time and effort to plan out a department meeting like this every time, but, teaching and learning is of the highest priority. You’ll notice this meeting’s learning focus was those well-behaved classes that are quiet as mice and work really hard. Very easy to neglect them and to often set unchallenging work for them to get on with for an hour. Every meeting had a different learning focus, differentiation, formative assessment, challenge and stretch, pupil premium, etc.

To me, department meetings were for allowing teachers to give their input, plan together and try new things and improve as teachers. This usually won’t happen by spending an hour telling them administrative things they could read in a bulletin.

TW: Assault. NDAs – Tools for Oppression

Come with me on this journey, you’re a teacher who breaks through the doors of a science prep room at the end of a hard day and a colleague (a woman of colour) is bent over, cowering in the corner. She is physically shaken. Marks on her hands and wrists, in fits of tears. Let me set the scene, she is 5 ft tall and with a petite frame around half the size of my own.

TW: Assault. Come with me on this journey, you're a teacher who breaks through the doors of a science prep room at the end of a hard day and a colleague (a woman of colour) is bent over, cowering in the corner. Click To Tweet

She is inconsolable, the headteacher had come into the department to find her after she asked for external representation, he’d started by grabbing her hands trying to get a hold of her paperwork, he apparently thought it was advice from her union. What she then went on to describe was simply abuse, I will not go into further details.

She was visibly distraught, after being attacked, yes attacked is the right word. A female deputy head enters into the room and asked what has happened? I’m sitting next to her thinking this isn’t helping.

My colleague had already told me what had happened. Now, she was being gaslighted by a member of senior staff who wasn’t in the room. When my colleague went to reach for the phone to call for help (the police) the female deputy placed herself in front of the phone.

That was the last time I saw my colleague.

I urged her to fight that afternoon, as an old union representative this felt like my duty. This was, in fact, my own privilege talking, as for me there is nothing more important than fighting for justice there were no other considerations.

She called me the day later, she said nothing but:

“Please don’t say anything to anyone Pran, I won’t get any money, if anyone does, I can’t afford for this to drag out. I’m a good teacher, hopefully, I’ll get another job before I run out of money”.

Yes, later she signed the non-disclosure agreement because she had very little choice. Nothing happened to that headteacher, no reprimands, no assault charges, nothing. In this case, a headteacher had power over a vulnerable woman of colour. This is not justice. This is oppression. An example of insidious systemic oppression where a middle-class white man can physically attack a woman of colour and still have the power to silence her without fear of any consequences.

Although to this day I wished she would have fought. She could not.

TW: Assault. There are ways of gathering evidence around the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements. It may be the right time to work out who is using them. Click To Tweet

My current thinking: There are ways of gathering evidence around the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements. It may be the right time to work out who are using them. I for one would not like to be working in an organisation that is using them prevalently. Why would a school leader need a non-disclosure agreement is beyond me, we are teachers and leaders ultimately charge with the welfare of children.

Those days are over. Misogyny, racism and classism may be alive and well in our society but we, together, are now much better placed to fight them.

 

Please do not assume the identity of the school, I have worked in, consulted and visited hundreds of schools over the last 15 years.

Leadership Journeys

Part 2 of 2 from a guest piece from @_TheTeachr. Read this here.

When I came back to the UK, I found what I still believe to be a big issue. Schools have their purpose handed to them on a plate or in an OFSTED report. Get these kids a grade C or above, get them value-added points, get them the English Baccalaureate, etc. And you’ll be measured in how good you are at doing this. And you’ll be put in a league table which will determine the success of your school and therefore, ultimately funding.

What happens in this scenario is that you get a big focus on results and people who are good at getting results to become leaders at the middle and upper-middle levels. These are sometimes individuals who’s people skills are ranked a long way behind their ability to find clever ways to squeeze in more English and Maths intervention into the week. Or potentially good leaders are buried in so much crap that they don’t have the time or training or even energy to stand up, take a deep breath and look around. They all too often spend their lives trying not to drown.

close up photo of man wearing black suit jacket doing thumbs up gesture

How many middle or senior leaders in schools know even one of their school aims? How many know where to find them? I bet someone spent time developing them, back in the day and they have just been sitting there on a document somewhere. Not many people probably even care about them. And I bet if you said that putting on loads of maths intervention lessons in place of P.E. and PSHCE was not in line with the school aims, you’d get at best, laughed at.

How many middle or senior leaders in schools know even one of their school aims? How many know where to find them? I bet someone spent time developing them, back in the day and they have just been sitting there on a document somewhere. Click To Tweet

I would argue that developing big-picture thinking, distilling it into aims will give the fundamental framework to help you, as a leader, with developing a meaningful vision. And that would help to give you purpose and focus your mind on what’s right for your students. And you can, with confidence engage the staff in your school to move in the right direction. If you get that right, you’ll be putting the horse squarely back in front of the cart and good things will follow.

Even that amazing OFSTED report.

 

What is the ​Personal Construct Theory?

This is from the work of George Kelly (1955). Personal construct theory looks at the differences in the way people attribute meaning. As every individual’s experience is different, all individuals will draw personal meaning to understand the environment around them. These meanings are referred to as personal constructs.

Leaders often make assumptions in questioning, in thinking their followers (from who they are gathering information from) have the same personal constructs (meaning).

While in secondary schools, I have been through lots of different data reporting cycles, to measure pupil progress and alongside this, there is often a box for attitude/behaviour with a numerical input of 1 to 4 (1 being the highest and 4 the lowest). I have always wondered how teachers make this judgement, I know how I make my judgement as a practitioner but as a whole how can a consistent approach be achieved through this?

Activity 1

What are the attributes of a great attitude (Grade 1) pupil?

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Now Think of the opposites. Not the literary opposite the opposite meaning to you.

i.e.

The opposite of a poor exercise regime could be a daily cardio workout equally it could be a rigorous 3 day a week weight lifting program.

Examples – Attributes

I placed these on Twitter earlier last week and asked for the opposites.

  1. Great in class
  2. Tries really hard
  3. Uniform is immaculate
  4. Achieves high grades
  5. Speaks articulate
Attributes Opposites
1.     Great In Class

 

Disruptive. Or so negative a presence they are like a human black hole sucking out the energy.

 

Disinterested in class

 

Passive

Disruptive

Doesn’t believe hard work can lead to success

Disaffected

Not great in exams

 

 

2.     Tries Really hard

 

Makes no effort

CBA

apathetic

Needs more direction with task

Indifferent

Doesn’t try hard enough

 

3.     Appearance is Great

 

Slovenly

Scruffy, clothes alway test uniform regulations

Lack of personal hygiene

Uniform doesn’t conform to school ‘standards’…

 

4.     Achieves High Grades

 

Failing

Bums out in tests

Achieves expected or lower than ‘expected’.

Struggling academically

Achieves their target grades

 

5.     Is Articulate Monosyllabic, or mumbles nothing phrases, er like y’no worimean like eh

Not able to flip between dialects

Has any accent that isn’t recieved

pronunciation.

Needs support with building confidence

Doesn’t write very well

We can see even from this small sample that these statements mean slightly different things to different people. People have different personal construct in answering.

The opposites of articulate ranges from the spoken word to the written word. I didn’t even think about the written word when writing this. Another example is the opposite of appearance is great which ranges from personal hygiene to uniform. This is because we have created a personal construct to create meaning around the experience of articulation and appearance.

These constructs are always are bipolar, to understand the meaning for each individual person that we need to identify those 2 poles and appreciate that meaning falls in between them for different people.  These constructs are built throughout our life and we place pupils on these spectrums unknowingly and this is often an unconscious act.

What actually happens is those judgements are made through choosing those the constructs that are meaningful to the individual. This does not only invite inconsistency, but it also invites bias.

How as school leaders can we make this more meaningful, after all, if the attitude/behaviour number doesn’t add consistent value,  what is the point?

How as school leaders can we make this more meaningful, after all, if the attitude/behaviour number doesn’t add consistent value, what is the point? Click To Tweet

I would think you are better off including the different categories with specific guidance or to possibly remove the number altogether.

 

That’s for another leadership blog

The Interview Lesson

Part 2 of 2 from @_theteachr

Quite a few years ago when I was in my early years of teaching, a colleague of mine told me that he was invited to an interview for a job. Part of the interview procedure was something new. It was something very unusual and not part of the normal selection process. It was quite innovative…

He had to teach a lesson. Yes, that’s right, he had to actually teach a lesson. In a school that he had never been to, to a class he had never met. And he would be judged on that lesson as part of the selection process. I had mixed feelings about it, but overall it seemed fair enough.

In fact, the more thought about it, the more it made a bit of sense. Nowadays it’s virtually impossible to avoid teaching a lesson when applying to a school for almost any position. The only way you might avoid it is if it’s a new school with no students yet.

Since that first encounter with the idea of teaching as part of an interview over 20 years ago, I have been on both sides of the process several times, as an interviewer and an interviewee. Here are my reflections, all packaged into five tips to help reduce the anxiety that an interview lesson can cause and to help you make the lesson as impressive as possible.

The first thing to bear in mind is that while it can help to test the mettle of any new member of staff applying to a school, it’s pretty obvious that the interview lesson is a very artificial situation – of course it is. As a teacher in your current school (or teaching practice) you know the students. You know that one student writes really slowly and that another one comes across as quite stroppy, but you know what to say to get her working. You know a student who is not confident and just needs that little extra bit of encouragement. And you know another who will either shoot through the work or do nothing. Yes, you know your own students very well.

Unfortunately, for the interview lesson, sometimes, all you get is something like this:

‘… a year 9 class, set 3 out of 4 with target grades ranging from 3 to 5. You have 20 minutes on the topic of ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds‘.

Unfortunately, for the interview lesson, sometimes, all you get is something like this: ‘… a year 9 class, set 3 out of 4 with target grades ranging from 3 to 5. You have 20 minutes on the topic of ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds‘. Click To Tweet

What are you supposed to do with that? Straight away, you have questions. How many in the class? Any particular behaviour issues I should know about? Will I have a seating plan? Do I seem pushy if I ask these questions about the class? Can I ask for a list of students?

You may or may not get answers to some of these questions but whether you do or not, you’re still going to have to impress.

So, here are some tips on how to ensure you perform to the best of your ability on the day.

 

  • Plan carefully. Yes, it’s obvious, but it’s the first step in showing a potential employer that you know your onions is to have a thought out and well-presented plan. Make sure it has the key elements – objectives, outcomes and how you might extend or help students. Also, be realistic in what you might want to achieve especially if you only have 20 or 30 minutes. It’s better to really get them to understand a small topic than race through a ton of content.

 

  • Don’t try to be too fancy. It’s very tempting to think up an exciting activity that will impress the kids. But then there is a danger of the focus becoming about impressing the students and the observer rather than a focus on learning. That’s not to say don’t try to engage the students with a demo, a picture or a short clip, but engaging them with something interesting is very different to planning your whole lesson around a wow-factor activity. I’ve seen various things, envelopes stuck under stools, balloon popping, animal specimens in jars, all sorts. Fun for the kids but what is the purpose? That’s my first question when I see this type of lesson.

 

  • Be prepared. By this I don’t mean your plan. Be prepared for the things that could disrupt the flow of the lesson – you only have a short time. Have a backup plan in case you can’t get that picture off your memory stick or you can’t login to your cloud account. Also, you might need a minute or two to get set up and that might mean fumbling around while the students sit and stare at you, or worse start chatting, or even worse, start shouting instructions at you for how to work the computer. Why not give a quick task, even if it’s to write their names on a piece of paper? Also, have a small supply of pens, paper, and spare sheets. So the minute a student says, “I’ve mislaid my pencil and my book seems to have gone amiss”, you can instantly get them on task, zero fuss. Oh, and something that I’ve seen before is that by unfortunate coincidence, you walk into your lesson and the topic you are about to launch into has just been covered by the previous interviewee. This can happen when the title for the lesson you were given was very broad, for example, ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds’. Don’t let this phase you, just acknowledge the fact, and carry on with a comment like ‘good, let’s have another look and see what you have learnt’. Then pace your lesson accordingly because remember, you planned in some extension work.

 

  • Connect with the students. For this tip, I’ll say this up front. If you do none of the other things mentioned here, do this one. You have to establish a rapport with the students. You will be nervous, yes and this might make you behave differently, but you really have to show you can connect. This might seem easier said than done given the situation. If you over-connect (too many jokes or worse, try to be cool or down with the kids) you could be seen as a pushover. If you under connect you might look a little out of touch. So, what can you do? Firstly, and this is my number one connect-with-the-class tip: make sure you use the names of the students. Of course, you won’t learn all the names in 10 seconds flat, but you can learn, or at least use correctly, quite a few over the 20 or 30 minutes that you have. As suggested earlier, you could ask the students to write their names on a piece of paper/sticker. (Let’s assume the presence of the classroom teacher and/or a senior member of staff will encourage students not to write fake names). When you ask questions, ask students to give you their name first (and remember it for later questions). Or if you are walking around the room helping with a task, you might notice a name on a planner or exercise book. And later, when you say, ‘Francesca, what do you think?’ just watch the impact that has on how the students feel about you. Knowing names is very simple and very empowering, in all new situations. The other way to connect of course is humour and while you certainly don’t want to try to be a stand-up comedian, a little appropriate humour can go a long way. If you manage to connect with the class, it can make up for all manner of minor errors in other parts of the lesson.
  1. Be reflective. Let’s face it, the lesson is not going to be perfect – this is something I can tell you for sure. But, there will be parts that go well and some that maybe don’t go so well. Be prepared to think through and talk about those parts in the interview. And if you feel you had a really bad lesson, the best way to rescue the situation is being able to talk reflectively on what went wrong in your eyes (don’t look for things that went wrong for the sake of it, that would just be shooting yourself in the foot) and most importantly, what you would do next time to make it go better.

Keep in mind that neither you nor the other candidates will teach a perfect lesson. Don’t be phased by the chap who turns up with a truckload of fancy gadgetry, and try not to be nervous. Easier said than done I know, but contemplating the above will help. It really will.

Interview: Preparation​ for Questions

A guest piece by @_theteachr

This is part 1 of 2.

We have all seen those articles that give you common questions and what to say to answer them right? I feel that this is not a great way of approaching an interview. This might be a better way to prepare.

Firstly, my point is that memorising or trying to memorise standard answers to standard questions is likely to work against you. We all know this one; ‘tell me a weakness’. I’ve asked this question a few times myself in interviews and for the life of me, I can’t remember an answer that I thought was genuine. What you get is the usual turn-a-weakness-into-a-strength response. For example,  I work too hard, I care too much, I would sacrifice a goat just to be able to do more marking, etc.  I’ll tell you at the end how I think this should be approached. Trying to memorise clever answers for predicted questions is not the way to go.

What to Do

  1. First, try and give yourself a mind-shift from trying to say the right things, to sharing your best attributes, successes and achievements. There is a difference. Take some time to write out all your successes, your experiences of teaching and behaviour management, projects you’ve undertaken, extra-curricular stuff you’ve done, assemblies, trips, initiatives you’ve led or been part of, and so on. A lot of this will be on your form but think about how you have demonstrated skills written about in the job specification, e.g. resilience, time management, etc. through those endeavours .This should take maybe 30 to 60 minutes. Draw a mind map or make a list or howeve,r you like to make notes. But make sure it is all written down, because once you have it, you don’t have to keep rethinking it if you have more than one interview or you go for an interview in the future. If you do it well it will show a great snapshot of you and where you are currently at and it will help you visualise you.

Now, on your list, these are the things you want the interviewers to know whether they ask you or not. You’re only going to get one shot and you don’t want to leave an interview having not shared one of your greatest achievements, because they didn’t ask you about it.

2. Once you have all the good stuff written down, you can then think about the questions they might ask. Make a list of 15 questions you think will come up. No more. It is worth doing a little web search because you’ll get some common questions. But be prepared to reject some silly questions like ‘You’re stuck on a desert island with a pen, a CD cover and cheese grater – how do you survive?’ Also, speak to a trusted colleague and if you’re going for a promotion, someone on that level who may have been successful in an interview.

3. Then think of how the points in your notes fit into those questions.  On your list, there will be things where you have gone beyond the call of duty for something – maybe you did an assembly on something that is close to your heart, or ran a sports, or art, or games club. If you have a question about your passion for the job, the above means you won’t go off piste and go evangelical about your love for learning and the kids, etc. You’ll hopefully revert to what you have written. Compare these:

“I’m really passionate (I know ‘passionate’ is grossly overused) about the job, but in particular I like to give students a broader experience of my subject. Last year I organised a visit to the natural history museum for year 7s and we did a follow up presentation in assembly”.

and

“I’m really passionate about the job and I have a real belief in teaching the young and inspiring them to be all they can be and to achieve success in life.”

The second one might be true – but it sounds like a standard response. Based on just this, which teacher would you hire? Also, out of your 15 questions, each one will probably cover variations of the same question, for example,

How do you ensure everybody learns well in a lesson?

How do you stretch and challenge students?

How do you support weaker students?

How do you make sure the work is appropriate for your class?

All these questions are about differentiation. You don’t need to have a completely separate answer for all of them. And this also exemplifies why you need to put a limit on the list of questions you prepare for (apart from maintaining sanity).

Those things in your notes that don’t fit into any particular question can be shared with the interviewers at the end, because remember, your notes cover everything you want the interviews to know about you. They very often ask you if you have questions at the end, and you may or may not have some but you can always say that you didn’t get a chance to mention that you achieved so and so. The worst thing that can happen is they say thanks and it has no impact, the best is that it tips the interview further in your favour, because they learnt something about you they never thought to ask.

So that’s it really. That’s my tuppence on how to prepare for interviews. I’d like to say it is fail safe, but it isn’t – there are always other factors (the internal applicant!). What it has been for me though is a strategy to reflect on and share the best of myself without leaving anything out. And I think that has improved my success to kicking-myself-for-not-predicting-the-pen-and-two-sticks-question ratio.

4. Oh and here is the approach to the weakness question. Question: Tell us about a (or your greatest) weakness.

First tip, be honest. What does that mean? If you are serious about self improvement or career development, you will have had to address your weaknesses or discovered new ones. So think of one of those. Managing your time? Saying yes too often to contributing other people’s priorities?? Leaving uninteresting jobs till they are urgent? Whatever it is, think of how you successfully addressed or are addressing it. This acknowledges that everyone has weaknesses (even you  Mr/Miss/Mrs Interviewer!) but that you have the mindset and strategies to overcome them or at least reduce their impact. I would rather hear about how a candidate has worked on  overcoming their tendency to get distracted by unimportant things, than someone who says their weakness is that they work till 10.00 pm every night to please the school leadership team.

Good luck!

Leadership Journeys @_theteacher

Leadership Journeys Part 1

 

This is a guest piece, from @_theteachr.

 

I think leadership training is lacking. I think preparing teachers for leadership is often not done well enough. And so, a crucial change needed when teachers move from the classroom to school leadership is too often missing. And I think it can go all the way up to headship. The change I’m talking about is this. 

It’s a shift from small to big-picture thinking. It’s about shifting your mind to looking at the whole and not details. Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But it’s crucial. Some leaders do it naturally and some can learn how to do it if given support to do so. Of course, this is not the only skill you have to develop, but it is an important one and it supports so many of the other skills you need.

I learnt this when taking over the role of head of department in a school in Singapore many years ago. I would argue that I may never have learned to do it if I had stayed in the UK. The school was an international one that took aspects of its curriculum from various places around the world. The school ran from year 1 to year 13. At Secondary or High School level, you could achieve IGCSEs, A levels, an American High School diploma, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. The grades you could get were A to D for the American High School Diploma, A to G for IGCSE, A to E for A levels and 1 to 7 for the IB Diploma. And lots of the students doing the different courses were in the same classes. At the time, I was fresh out of London. National curriculum levels in all their beauty had recently been introduced. And I was young, enthusiastic and full of beans. I knew the English National Curriculum well and swore by it (strangely enough, I did more swearing at it when I was in the UK – being abroad makes you more patriotic). Problem was, there were other teachers from other parts of the world in the school who were equally evangelical about their systems.

So I embarked on a mission to ‘improve’ the department and the school by devising a system based on my ‘excellent’ knowledge and experience of curriculum and spent a few weeks discussing, arguing, debating, selling and marketing my ideas. I talked in detail about levels and level criteria and moderation of work and level boundaries to anyone who would listen. And the people I spoke to, spoke equally enthusiastically about rubrics and teacher judgment and whatever system they used. And inevitably, the person (and therefore the idea) that came out ahead was the one with the loudest voice or who was most relentless in selling their idea at curriculum meetings. I felt I had to go into meetings with the answers to everything. I had to learn the curriculums of other countries, which, I will admit now, including trying to find fault with the systems. I remember people referring to the British National Curriculum (usually just before slating it) and me smugly correcting them saying, ‘Actually it’s the National Curriculum for England and Wales’. It got to that petty level.

One day, while lamenting over of the problems with mushing together aspects of different curriculums for the sake of appeasement of personalities, I had a thought. Actually, it was more like a mini-epiphany. Why was I trying to ram this square peg curriculum in my head to a round hole of the school’s context? It was an international school where students went off to different places around the world for higher or further education. So how do we serve these kids well? How do my ideas help them? There was a fundamental shift in my thinking. Suddenly it wasn’t about me flexing my (narrow) curriculum knowledge muscles so that I could be right. I was no longer about proving to everyone I could lead change.

So I started again. And I started from the top. What was the purpose of the school? What are the ambitions and dreams of the kids? What about the parents, who were pretty much all expats, soon to be heading off to their home or other countries? Where were we headed as a school? As soon as I realised that this was an international school, that had a place in the global context, (not a school in Hayes, London that was churning out kids for apprenticeships, vocational studies or UK university degrees) that’s when everything changed. I no longer needed to be able to argue the finer points of assessment, or advantages of curriculum levels for the sake of it. All I had to do was establish and execute a vision for the department, in the school, where I worked based on the thoughts above.