Why Do I Trust?

We see a lot of values in schools now. This will always be high on my personal list. It is so powerful and can be an absolute game-changer in so many ways. I’ve already written a blog on how to build trust as a leader, but this will dig a little deeper into why it is so important. 

When we are young, we trust everything. It’s born in us, it is innate. As a toddler you don’t question whether what you’re being told is true, you accept it. Many times my children have asked me all sorts of complicated questions, and when I’ve given the best answer I can they just give a nod and move on. They don’t try to see the holes in what I’ve said, they accept it. When they are high up in a tree and stuck, they ask for help. When I put my arms out for them to fall into there is absolutely no question in their mind that I am going to catch them – they have definitive blind trust in me.

As an adult, we don’t have this blind sense of trust. Things happen that can chip away at it. These might just be small things, or they might be huge, but each one of them can chip away a little more wearing it down until it is gone and we find it hard to rely on anyone or trust what they say or do. However, sometimes it can be lost in an instant. Brand loyalty can be swept away with one bad press story. A bad meal at a restaurant and you may never return. Something that is so precious and means so much can be lost in an instant. 

That’s why it is so important we do all we can to cultivate an atmosphere of trust within our schools. I am a trusting person. You don;t need to earn my trust – you have it straight away. My first instinct is to give someone my trust and assume they are worthy of it, not to doubt them and have them prove themselves. This is the same for the way we run our school. My first reaction is to assume that a teacher is doing their job properly. I trust them to be working hard for the kids and doing the right thing by them. I trust them to be planning a series of lessons that follow on from each other, I trust they are marking their books. This doesn’t mean there is no accountability though, it doesn’t mean there aren’t high standards, far from it. It just means that I won’t be on someone like a ton of bricks right from day one, checking they are doing everything to the letter of our policies. We set out as staff our own definition of good teaching and what learning might look like. It’s broad, it doesn;t specify a right and wrong way of doing things, it just outlines principles to work to. How teachers fulfil those is up to them – I trust them to do it in the best way they can. It’s the same with our feedback policy. Pick the way that works best for that child, or for that lesson and do it. I trust you’ll make a good choice. 

I monitor, of course, I do, but not from a position of having to check everything at once. I am visible, I walk in and out of lessons and I know what is happening in the school. I have a chat with the children, I’ll have a flick through their books while I’m in (if they’ve got them out). I will assume that everything is going well, and these little five minute visits confirm this. If I see something that causes me concern then I will dig deeper and check that my trust is still well placed. Usually, it is. This level of trust gives teachers the freedom to get on with their job and focus on that rather than having to jump through hoops to try and guess what it is I want to see. They are professionals and I trust their judgement.  This builds a reciprocal trust. I trust them to do their job, they trust me to do mine. We help each other and we support each other with this as a team. I’m not a micro-manager. I’m not going to dictate what colour display’s have to be, or how many stars and wish they might want to use or insist on seeing planning every day or week, or look at books in a formal collection every half term. All of those things scream lack of trust. They just say “I don’t trust you to do these things unless I am checking up on you all the time.”. Trusting people does not lead to apathy, quite the opposite. Trusting people means they do things for the right reasons, rather than through fear of being caught out if they don’t do them. 

It can go further than this though. Assume that people will do a good job. Trust people with responsibility and watch them go. Of course, they may need support, but more often than not, people rise to the challenge rather than shrinking away. Very few people want to do a bad job or deliberately set out to be lazy. If you ask someone to prepare and deliver staff meeting training on their subject – trust them to do it well. Offer to help, offer to review, offer to support but give them the trust. I have been subject to an overbearing leader who asked me to deliver something, but then rewrote every draft I submitted and checked in daily on the content. It wasn’t because the content was bad – just the need of that leader to control. One head I worked for used to re-write everyone’s reports if she didn’t agree with them. As a teacher it made me feel like there was no point in working at it, the leader in question was just going to change it to what they wanted to put anyway. My thought process was ”Why don’t they just do it themselves then?”. It was a fake trust. Have this responsibility, but I don’t actually want to give this over to you. It didn’t lead to productive or enthusiastic use of my time, it just led to frustration. Why would you want frustrated teachers in an environment? I have very rarely been let down by people I have trusted with responsibility in school – in fact, people have shown themselves to do an even better job tan might have been expected. 

How we interact with each other and how we trust each other, just breeds a stronger sense of trust in the school. Once you have that, new people coming in instantly get on board – it becomes thy way things are done. It models trust for the children in our care, and that can be no bad thing. 

We need to hang on to that child like trust just a little bit longer. You don’t have to make people earn your trust – it is yours to give away as you chose. Seeing the good in people rarely brings out the worst in them. Being trusted gives a sense of wellbeing, it makes you feel good, it makes you walk taller and it brings out the best in people. Why wouldn’t you give people that?

Why Do I Rest?

This one is all about why I feel the need to strike the right work life balance. I am no good to anyone if I’m burned out, exhausted and stressed out. I’m ratty, shorter with people and my family end up bearing the brunt of it. This is the one I particularly feel guilty about. The don’t see me all day, and then when I do get home I’m very grumpy and generally not very responsive.

If I don’t get the balance right, then this just gets worse and worse and worse. So I have to make sure that I take the right amount of rest. This is easier at some times of year than the others. Firstly, I have to accept that there will be busier times and times where the amount of work that I have to do, and the amount of time I have to spend in school is out of my control. Fortunately, there is usually a pattern to them, and I can plan and prepare myself for them. I can warn my family too. The other flip side of this is that I can make sure I’ve been sensible in the run up to them.

Over the years I’ve had to develop a sense of leaving things be and working out when I’ve given enough time to something. I make sure I am home to have dinner with my kids every day as much as possible. I try to leave by 1730 each day. I make no excuses for that, and I said it would be happening at my interview. Of course, things come up and it doesn’t always happen, but giving myself that cut off really helps my work life balance. I may carry on after the kids are in bed, but I may not. What it does do though, is show my priorities to my staff. I always say that family comes first, and I have to show that myself as well. Sometimes I don’t achieve it. My wife always tells me that when I don’t come to events like class assemblies for our kids. She says “Would you let of your staff go?”. The answer is yes, I would. She rightly asks me why I don’t afford myself that same right. That balance of rest and work is absolutely vital.

I always work on the things I have to do first. And I mean absolutely have to do. The things that are urgent for the next day. Once I’ve done those, I then look and see what capacity I have for other things. If this is none, then so be it. You have to know when to stop for the day, otherwise you’d be working all hours. There are always things you have to do, more you should do and countless things you could do. Working out what needs doing and making your plans accordingly is vital for your own piece of mind.

Delegating is also key. It’s easy to get into the frame of mind of you want a job doing properly… but that is dangerous. You can’t do everything. That’s why you have a team, to help share the load. No one thinks worse of you for using the team you’ve built. Giving more responsibility to others can only help them grow too – just make sure they’ve got all the tools to do the job properly.

Downtime, for me, is key. The thinking doesn’t always stop, but the screen time and the writing does. It lets ideas mature and find their own way to conclusion a lot of the time, without the pressure of having a blank screen or a form to fill in. I play computer games, I play my guitar and I get away from work. It means I come to things the next day fresh and ready. That’s good for me, and good for the rest of my team as well. Often headteachers are the last three be asked about their well-being and can out everyone else’s before their own. We have to look after ourselves and make sure we are having the time to refresh ourselves – even if this is just overnight. The day yo day is so intense, the decisions, the knocks at the door, the responsibility that you can be drained at the end of the day, so the rest each evening is vital.

Why do I rest? Because if I didn’t, everyone suffers in one way or another.

Why Do I Lead?

So, following on from the first in the series about why I teach, now we move onto why I lead.

My journey into leadership was quick, I was a head at 31. I’m not going to get into the in ands out of whether people should be in headship roles at that age – it has its advantages and disadvantages, and for me in my context, I felt it was the right step to take. I was interested in school leadership right from my second year of teaching. I had just been made Maths leader and it was around the time the new national strategies needed implenting. We also had an Ofsted inspection and the data was in a bit of a state during day one. I’d been playing around with average point scores, which the current head hadn’t really looked at. As a result I spent my PPA time that afternoon working through the Year 6 targets and expected APS with the dep head and then presetning it to the inspector to show we would hit the APS for next year. We secured a satisfactory judgement, and I like to think I had a little part in that. From then on, I was just nosy about how things worked in school. That fuelled my journey to headship – I simply wanted to know what was going on and why. That desire to know meant I asked questions, which meant I found at things I wouldn’t otherwise have. The more I found out the more I wanted to know, and the more I wanted my say on what I was finding out!

So why do I lead? There are a few reasons. Firstly, as with many heads I saw ways of working that I didn’t want to emulate. I have worked in schools where the key word has been relentless. It didn’t make for a great working atmosphere and had a high turnover of staff. Work life balance was non-existent, and I knew that was something I would try not to do if I became a head. Another head made no bones about who she rated and who she didn’t. If she didn’t think you were up to much, she made sure everyone knew. Again, not a great working atmosphere. I think I lead because I want to try and be the head I wish I had when I was a teacher. Calm, but still maintaining high expectations. Making it about professional judgements and trying my best not to blur those into personal ones. Trusting people to do their jobs properly.

The other reason I lead is to make a difference. In the teaching part of this series I mentioned the same thing. Leadership is making a difference in a different way though. Leadership is about making sure that other people have all they need to be able to make a difference too. When I was a class teacher I had a direct impact on the children in my class, as a leader I can have an impact on more children by helping to create an environment where the teachers can make the biggest difference.

This is the crux of leadership for me and why I do it. It would be (relatively) easy for me to get all my files and folders in a line in my office, and make sure I could answer all the questions I might be asked in the right way. However, that would just be me looking after myself and making sure I was OK. That’s not what leadership is about. Leadership isn’t telling people where to go and then walking in front of them directing. Leadership is about working towards a goal together. If I have everything OK in my head, but teachers are struggling, not enjoying their work, or not having them impact they could be then I have to look at myself. Am I doing everything I can to help them do that? Leadership isn’t about putting yourself first, it’s about putting yourself last a lot of the time.

I also like the problem solving part of the job. For all the frustration the guidance arounf re-opening brings part of me likes to get hold of it and work through it seeing what we can and can’t do, ticking off things as we’ve managed to solve that particular problem.

Of course, leadership is frustrating too. You can’t always have the impact you want, but again that is a time for self reflection – why didn’t it go how I wanted? Getting feedback from others is so helpful, that’s why a good deputy, and some other trusted collegues can make all the difference. It can be a lonely job and there is a lot on your shoulders that no-one else can bear sometimes. It’s not always that way though. I have no problem being transparent with staff and parents aout why and how I have made a decision. Getting that input from other people makes all the difference in feeling like you are not on your own.

So, why do I lead? I lead so I can reflect on my own decisions and I lead to make a difference. I lead because I get to help people, hopefully, become better teachers and help them to make more of a difference.

Why Do I Teach?

Why do I teach? I’ve never actually asked myself that question. That’s because teaching had been what I wanted to do since I was 11. I’d never really questioned the why of it because it just seemed to be a natural progression for me, decided in my head early on. It wasn’t due to one particular teacher (although I had some great ones), it wasn’t that it was in the family (my mum started teaching after I’d decided I wanted to do it) and at 11 it wasn’t from a sense of wanting to do good for others. The path I wanted to take changed – initially I wanted to be a secondary Maths teacher. I was merrily going along my way until I got to A Level Maths beyond me completely. By then I’d already decided I wanted to go into primary, so it wasn’t the end of the world. Through my A levels all I wanted was to get the grades I needed into my teacher training course. That was a bit of a theme of my time in secondary education – just doing enough to get through to the next bit. It didn’t serve me overly well, and it continued in some ways into my degree. I always loved the teaching and hated the reading and the paperwork. I’m still very similar now. Anyway, at the grand old age of 21 I qualified and got my first job. As I’ve gone through my career though I’ve been thinking more about why it is that I do what I do and why I love it so much. There’s been far too much negativity about teachers in the press so recently. Very few see it as just a job and maybe give more than they should to it, to the detriment of their own families sometimes.

So why do I teach?

I get to make a difference

The thing I love about primary is that you are there at the start. Everything we teach them are the building blocks of everything they will do from then on. If we don’t do our jobs, then others can’t do theirs. We give them the basic skills they need to take on the world in their later life. If we don’t teach them to add up, to read, to love what they do then they can’t build on it. What an amazing thing to say you’ve had a hand in. We help them with the key knowledge they need, and there aren’t many jobs where you can say you’ve had that kind of impact on someone and we get to do it day in and day out.

You get wow moments everyday

Alongside the bigger picture of what we are teaching then we get to see, every day that moment of realisation, that moment where the penny drops, and they understand. The moment where they conquer their fear of something, they widen their understanding or become better in some way. Again, we see this on a daily basis. The little squeals of delight, the little jumps for joy, the swagger you see a child walk back to their desk with when they’ve done a good job. We see them walking that little bit taller, holding their head a little bit higher and know that we have been part of that.

This is a job that is never boring

I can honestly say that no two days of my working life have been the same. I can teach the same lesson twice and it’ll be different. Each class and each lesson are so varied and has the potential to go in so many different directions. That’s not scary, it’s exciting. The best lessons are often the ones that didn’t go were you planed then to and you end up on a completely different tangent. Every second of the day has the potential to make you laugh, smile, well up or feel frustrated. I’ve never been bored in a classroom. There’s so much to do, so many conversations to be had and so much fun to be had as well.

There’s always an opportunity to learn

I’m not a big reader of education books. I don’t invest too much time in the craft of teaching and try not to over think things. But learning as a teacher can be so simple. A snatches conversation can have a profound impact on what you do in the next session. Watching what someone else does can improve your own teaching hugely. There are so many subtleties to it, that little tweaks can make big differences. There is always the chance to try something new and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work out – fine, you’ve learned something new either way. CPD can be easy for teachers, and relatively little effort. Watch, learn and try it out.

It’s an awful lot of fun

I have countless tales off things that have happened in the classroom. Things that have gone disastrously wrong. Things children have said that have just made me cry laughing. Snatched looks a TAs that have meant one of us have had to leave the room to compose ourselves. That’s just working with the kids. I’ve come across so many amazing people during my career and been fortunate to learn from them. It’s a profession packed full of generosity, support and care. People are happy to give you their time, share their resources and help you out when you need it.

It’s not all plain sailing

It’s not easy though. In fact, it’s downright difficult. There are moments of exhaustion and times where things feel like they are too much. It’s during those times that I remember all of the above. The lows make the highs stand out. Things aren’t always enjoyable if they are easy. We always say it to the children – the learning pit and all that. We push ourselves to do better, as a profession we are modest and hard on ourselves. But when you look back at the bigger picture you see just why you do it.

I do it for every smile.
For every child that has made progress.
For every belly laugh in a class.
For every arm around the shoulder I’ve given and been given.
For every child who looked at me like I was crazy.
For every time I’ve felt proud of each one of them.
For all the children who I hear are excelling in their secondary school.
For me and my dream as an 11-year-old.
To make a difference.

That is why I teach.

Thriving September

For some, September will feel like it is crashing towards them and with it will come a wave of excitement and nerves. Planning for your first class and first term can be a mix of eagerness and dread – you want the day to come, but perhaps are feeling that imposter syndrome creeping on. Maybe you’re doing this for the second time round and it still feels new or you want it to be differnet this time around. Here are some suggestions for surviving that first or second September.

Setting Up

There are lots of pictures doing the rounds at the moment of classrooms ready for September. They look amazing and wonderful spaces. A few things to remember though – they are a small proportion of classrooms. The vast majority don’t look like that. Most of them look like what you would expect a classroom to look like. Mine never looked that good – but the children were still happy, comfortable and learning. In the same way a school isn’t a building, it’s a community reliant on it’s members and the ethos within it, a classroom is the same. It’s the people in it and the values and community they build that is important. If yours isn’t ready yet, don’t worry. Also these classrooms may be the culmination of years experience, of trying things out and collecting bits and pieces to put up and use. By all means, use these as inspiration but don’t feel you have to create someting the same.

You might not have been able to get into your school yet to set up. Thats not unusual either. Hopefully you’ve got some time where you can go in at the end of the holidays. But what does the set up look like? This year things are different – there isn’t the flexibility for table arrangements and the likes, so that is one less thing to consider. The key to it is getting it neat and tidy and having everything the children might need easily accessible. Need rulers? They should be able to get to them without disturbing anyone else, including you. Same for all the resources. It is there space too, and they should be able to use it as such. Clearly label everything so it’s easy for the children to spot and read and have it in a sensible place.

Display’s can be empty in September. You don’t need to populate them with stuff just because it is bare. Talk to your school – they may have things that insist on you having and then ask if they are any templates for these – that might make it easier. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel (more on this later). Get your backing paper up as a minimum and spend the first week creating something to go up. If you’re using working walls, they can be blank and be waiting to be filled.

Planning and Resourcing

As I have said, don’t reinvent the wheel. Find what has been done before and use this as a starting point. There is nothing wrong with schemes, textbooks and online banks as a resource. If they are exactly what you are looking for – use it. If it needs tweaking, tweak it. If you are gong to create everything from scratch then you’ll be doing much more than you need to. Somethings will need this, others won’t. Again use your common sense and focus your energies where it is needed the most. Talk to people in your school, get last years planning and most importantly, ask for help. This won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, much the opposite. No one knows it all at any point and no one expects you to either. The key bit here – use what is there as a starting point and tweak accordingly.

Planning is a tricky one as everyone has their own style. Some schools want full weekly plans, other are happy for you to work from your own notes. Find out and work to it, but more than anything do it in a way that works for you. If you need a full script for every lesson for the first few weeks – fine! If you are happy to plan by using the bones of a lesson and working round it – fine again! The important part is being clear about what you want the children to learn and trying to find the best way of getting that across. Sometimes that’ll be getting up and talking. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes they’ll lead it, sometimes they won’t. There is no right or wrong way to deliver a lesson – your a professional, use your judgement. If it goes wrong – learn from it for next time.

Day One

Beaming faces eagerly await you on the playground! There is bound to be nerves on both sides. That’s good – it means you care. The most important thing is building relationships. Teachers who can build good relationships will get far better outcomes than those that can’t. Have in your head what their routine will be when they come in and explain this to them beforehand on the playgrond if you can. Be explicit. We’re going to walk in quietly, hang our bags up and then come into the classroom. Find your table and sit down, then have a look at the board – there is a little puzzle for yuo to have a go at while we get settled in. This isn’t strict, this isn’t harsh – it’s setting out your expectations in a calm matter of fact way. As they come in, position yourself in the middle of the line and give a few positive reinforcement comments to those who are doing exactly what has been asked of them.

Forget the don’t smile until Christmas rubbish. You’re human, let them see it. That doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries and high expectations. Kindess and high standards are not mutually exclusive. Have in your head what you want their behaviour to be like. Are they allowed to whisper to the person next to them? Can they get up and get something without asking? Do they need to put their hand up everytime? Can they approach you or should they wait for you to come to them? Read your school’s behaviour policy and clarify it once again for the children. Let them explain it to you – “I’m new here, I know a bit about this, but can you explain it for me in more detail?”. If it is a rainbow type system discuss what might have you moving through it and hey presto you’ve got you’re class charter of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, all led by the children.Try to keep it simple though – I only had two rules – try you’re best and don’t stop others learning. The most important thing is to be consistent in your expectations. Set your boundaries and what happens if people set outside of those – each school will have their own version of any consequences for behaviour – but always remember to focus on the positives. Consistency is key. You often get back what you give them, so model what you want back from them – kindess, honesty and warmth.

Spend time getting to know them. Set an activity where you can have a chat with them and find out about them – what they like and don’t like. Trust them and rely on them, make it a team environment where you are there to help each other. Ask them to help you out, reveal bits of yourself. What do you like? What are your hobbies? Find some common ground with them.

You don’t need to worry about getting into English and Maths on day one at all – just build those relationships and set those expectations.

At the end of the day, reflect on what you’ve acheived and what you might ned to change on what you’ve planned for tomorrow. Find a collegue and have a cuppa – you’ve earned it.

It Won’t Be Right All The Time

Teaching has its ups and downs. Some lessons are amazing some are awful and most are somewhere in the middle. That’s ok. In the middle lessons are fine and give the children consistent good teaching. If you have one that goes brilliantly – have a reflect on why. If you try the same thing again and it doesn’t go so well, don’t worry about it. There are so many variables on a given day that the same thing won’t work every time. If it did, we’d all do it! Similarly, if you have a nightmare lesson apply the same approach – have a think about what went wrong, but don’t dwell on it. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You will get it wrong – things will be pitched wrong, activities won’t take as long as you thought, they just won’t engage like you thought they would. It happens everyday to experienced and new teachers alike. If you get really worried – talk to someone. That’s what your mentor is for. They expect there to be bumps in the road and they are there to help you through them, so use them!

Manage Your Time

There is the inclination to show yourself to be worthy of your role, to work every hour and prove you are a proper teacher now who does everything for the children in your class. This is a sure fire way to burn out by half term and find your self struggling for the second half of the term. Pace yourself, Autumn in particular is a long old term. Prioritise and thing about what has to be done each night. Get those things done first and then see what you have capacity to do after that. You’re no good to anyone if you are tired and grumpy all the time! No one will think badly of you if you aren’t the first one in and the last one out. Focus on the things that make the mists difference for the children – feedback and planning the next lesson. Get those right and other things will follow. Find a groove and a routine. Do you break for a cup of tea at 330 after the kids have gone or do prefer just to crack on. Everyone will work differently, so find what works, and is manageable for you.

Workload will always be a big one – but look after yourself. Sometimes you have to think what is the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done tonight? I’ve been honest with the kids before and said “I’m sorry I didn’t get your books marked last night, I had a meeting after school and then I had something planned in the evening – I’ll have a look at them tonight, I can’t wait to see what you’ve done”. That’s ok. You’re not infallible or invincible and you don’t need to pretend you are.

You have your NQT time – use it. Go and see other teachers, other settings even. This is invaluable as it is easy to get caught up in your little class bubble. After you’ve seen someone else, have a chat with them about it – they wont mind! pick their brain about why and how they did things that way. After that – pick one small thing to try in the next week. If it works, amazing, if it doesn’t don’t get disheartened! Sometimes things take a few tries to get working properly.

Ask for help

As I’ve said – use the expertise around you. If your struggling with a topic, go to the subject leader. If you’re feeling wobbly talk about it with someone. Don’t struggle. It’s better to get help at the beginning before it becomes something massive. No one will think you are weak – they’ll just want to help. No one expects you to know everything at all, don’t feel like you have to. There aren’t stupid questions – just ask away.

When the honeymoon period ends

It will happen. Two or three weeks in, everything will be going well and then the kids start to push back and their behaviour might seem to worsen. It isn’t you. Stick to your values and stick to being consistent in your high expectations and they’ll come back around. It happens every year to every teacher!

Set your pace now

Work in September at a pace and level that will be manageable all year. There will always be busier times and quieter times so work at a pace that means you can deal with those. At busy time set work that needs less marking or feedback doing or work that can be assessed in the lesson. Work smarter not harder as much as possible. As I’ve said find your routine and rhythm of what works for you.

Enjoy it!

It’s amazing. The joy of your own class is like nothing else. You’ll not forget them so enjoy the journey together. Focus on the relationships, work hard for them but not to the detriment t if your own well-being. Accept there will be good and bad times and most importantly – you’re best is enough. You can’t give more than that.

Catch Up, Not Patch Up

So much out there about catch up at the moment, and rightly so. Some children have missed everything, some have missed a lot and some have missed most of what they should have covered over the second half of this year. We’ve been asked to prioritise catch up in Reading and Maths and Phonics and we should. These are key skills that we need to get right. However, it also says in the guidance it should be done through other curriculum activities. It says that the vast majority of pupils should access the full curriculum.

So what to do about it? Well, we are not narrowing our curriculum. We get out positive outcomes by giving children the chance to apply their learning in other subjects, not by teaching more of it. When teaching Year 6 I never did extra Maths and English sessions for SATs and I won’t be telling teachers to do so in their year groups to help kids catch up. My view is, that for the majority of children, there isn’t a huge rush. The older they are at Primary, the less time you have, but Year 3s have four years to make up the lost time before they leave the school, not four weeks when you get back. Give them space to use their knowledge – this is where they really learn. They’ll learn more from this than in a extra technical SPAG lesson in an afternoon, and you’ll be able to feedback the same points to help them improve.

A rush to just pick up where children left off is flawed, in my opinion. Well stay where we always start – the basics in the core subjects – eg place value and four operations. If there’s gaps, we’ll plug it, if they need extra teaching on it we’ll do it. Same in English. We won’t be teaching objectives in the first 6 weeks just because they haven’t covered them. all this will led to is patch up learning, not catch up. Teachers will inevitably race through the old objectives as they know they’ve got this years to fit in as well. In turn we end up with superficial learning where they haven’t really learned it as it’s been raced through. After that, when you come back to build on it with the objectives for this year, you’re building on quicksand.

Our approach will be different. We won’t be catching up in the first month. We’ll be assessing and identifying. Most children will catch up just fine with the classroom offering you are giving them. They’ll take on board new content and get to where they need to by the end of the year. Some won’t. Those fall into two camps – those that need a group boost once a week for a short session just to go over something they haven’t quite got, and those that need more intensive, prolonged support. The last group is where our catch up money goes.

We won’t be racing through objectives. We’ll be waiting until they come round in our normal curriculum, and at that point we’ll teach the extra content. Doing speech punctuation? That’s the time to drop back to the objectives missed from last year and catch them up, and keep the learning together and ordered. You might be able to get through more in a similar time frame – but if you just front load the old stuff to September, you definitely won’t.

The key to this catch up is about embedding the new content – the same as we always do. We just might need to take a few steps back when we start off. We might not. That’s for you’re assessment to figure out. My view is teach it, and teach it well. Make sure they know it, and they’ve truly caught up not just been given a sticking plaster to say you’ve ticked off the objective from last year. This catch up has got to stand up to their learning for the rest of their education – do it once and do it right. There is no need to rush it – take the time to get it right, make sure they’re moving forward and can build on it next year and every year onwards. Proper catch up, not just patched up.

Teaching Year 6? Congratulations!

For me, Year 6 is the best year to teach in Key Stage 2. I taught for 6 very happy years in Year 6, across 2 schools. I loved every minute of it, and I think it is a unique experience when it comes to teaching at primary. Can you always but your finger on why? No, but there is just something about it that makes it special, exciting and that little bit different. I was recently asked for tips of teaching in Year 6, so here we go. 

Fundamentally, it is no different

Good teaching is good teaching. For the vast majority of the year and for the vast majority of the subjects what you need to do is no different to what you would do in another year group. Find out what they need to know, find out what they do know and plan the best way to help them acquire that knowledge. Assess whether they’ve got it and move them forward accordingly. There is no special Year 6 formula that makes them learn more, or less, or differently. Stick to what you’ve done that has been good classroom practice before and you won’t go far wrong. 

Relationships are still key

Any effective teacher will be able to build relationships with those in their class. I’ve said before, and stand by, that a teacher with perfect practice and no relationships will get poorer outcomes than a weaker teacher who can really get to know those children and make them feel valued in that class. In a setting such as Year 6, of course there can be pressure on outcomes (more on that later) and good relationships will help you out much more as you get closer to the first half of the summer term. They are going through a lot of changes in Year 6, and it can lurch from one anxiety point to another. I work in a selective county and they go from 11+ test, to results, to applying for schools, to finding out schools, to SATs to transition. Chuck in hormones kicking in as well and it can be a really up and down year for an individual. It’s a stressful time for them and they need a teacher who understands that and can help them get through it. For some of them, it’ll all be a breeze, for others it will be much tougher. They need a teacher they can talk to, who they trust and who can be honest with them. 

The relationships are different, slightly. They are that bit older, they can understand some of the sarcasm a little more, they give you a little more of that banter back, but when you set up the right atmosphere in your classroom this can add to the joy of it rather than turning into a problem. Mostly, they get the line of when it’s time to work hard and when they can enjoy a bit of back and forth with you. It’s a lot of fun. Their increasing maturity means they think deeper, they respond in different ways to questions and conversations can take unexpected and deep turns. This is true in a lot of year groups, but I found it more prevalent in Year 6 and was a reason I enjoyed it so much. 

They are still children though

Sometimes we expect way too much from our older children. They are the biggest, the most mature, they take on the roles and responsibilities like prefects and buddies and we trust them with tasks we might not in the younger years. However, the fact that they are still just ten and eleven-year-old children is always driven home to me on two occasions during the year. First, residential. When they unpack and the toughest kids, or the ones that seem mature beyond their years dig out their teddy and give it pride of place on their bed once they’ve made it. Secondly at the end of their leavers show. Often they look at the clock at the end of it and turn and say something like “Wow, its half past eight, it’s so late!”. They are still small, thy are still just kids with kid’s emotions. They aren’t scary and big. They’ll have tantrums, they’ll act strangely. We can’t expect them to act like mini adults just because they are the oldest, because they won’t, they can’t. Accept and embrace the childlike qualities in them – it won’t be long before they are entering a teenage world when they may feel like they can’t act like that anymore. Give them one last chance to be a child. 

You alone aren’t responsible for their outcomes

This is an important wellbeing one. The outcomes of Year 6 are a collective effort, not a solo performance by you. The results are the product of their time at the school, not their time in your class. Fortunately, the days of Year 6 teachers being the stars who can make magnificent progress with them and can take them from WTS to GDS in three months seem to be fading. It’s too much for one person. You can’t move mountains with every child. Yes, it may happen – they often to make good progress in Year 6, but you can only do what you can do. The weight of the school isn’t on your shoulders. If they come to you having had 6 years of poor teaching previously, you aren’t going to be able to turn that around by yourself. Accept that and be OK with it. If you’re in an atmosphere where that is put on you, maybe look to get out. It’s isn’t helpful and can make a stressful time even worse. 

You make the memories they take with them

This is why I love Year 6. When they look back at primary school, they often cite their leaving celebrations and residentials as some of their best times. You get to be part of that, and you get to share in their excitement and fun as well. There are milestones in Year 6 they don’t get in other year groups and you celebrate them with them. Amazing. 

It’s not all about the SATs

In my time teaching Year 6 I never taught an extra Maths or English lesson in a week. We did the daily sessions and that was it. Even in the run up to SATs. They need a varied curriculum. Why should they be denied it because they have exams coming up? They love finding out about foundation topics just as much as any other year group. They still need to be creative and express themselves, don’t take that away from them! I know the pressure can be tough, but there is fine line getting them there and pushing them so hard they go past the point of caring. Some of my favourite lessons have been exploring Science or World War II with Year 6. They are entitled to a full primary experience. Give it to them and reap the rewards. They can practice their skills, transfer their knowledge and learn more about how to learn. This will prepare them much better for the next stage of their education than drilling them for tests. Preparing them to move on is a huge part of what you do in Year 6 – they need to leave feeling confident and prepared. GDS across the board won’t be what does that. Prepare them to be good people, confident in what is special about them, not in their ability to pass a test. 

But we can’t ignore them

I fronted up with my Year 6’s early on. Yes, we’ve got to do them, yes they might be a pain, but together we’re going to make it as painless and stress free as we can. I played the together card strongly – it’s not just them. They’re taking the test, and I expected them to work hard, but it was up to me to get them ready for it. I went through a very specific timeframe to get them ready. I always likened it to the Olympics. An athlete has four years to peak at just the right time. It’s the same for those kids. Go to early and they’ve gone past the point of being ready and they are fed up and resent doing them, go to late and they aren’t quite ready. As I have said, I never taught extra English or Maths sessions, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t do anything. After Feb half term we gave them CGP books and asked them to do a double page a week, to start going over some topics. Nothing huge, it took about 15 minutes a week for them to do it. No pressure, that was all. We carried on teaching lessons as normal up until Easter. Post Easter, we went into revision mode. We’d finished the curriculum and they had normally 3-4 weeks. Still no extra whole class lessons – some TA support in the afternoons for those who needed a push, but nothing more than 20 minutes in one session and no more than twice a week. In the time between Easter and sitting the SATs we revised hard. Each couple of days was based around a topic and we went through things. Some we spent a day on, some longer. We supported it with Testbase packs based around the topic we were doing. They worked collaboratively though them, we played them as competitive games in teams, they spotted errors in completed tasks, and then we changed up topics. They didn’t need huge amounts of revision – the homework and good solid teaching helped them be ready. When we got one week out they had one final call for things they wanted to cover, and we went over those. I always used to give them a KS3 level 4-6 paper too. It was an amazing confidence boost for almost all of them! 

I found this got them ready, they knew what to expect, they’d seen the types of questions that would come up, they knew the process, but we hadn’t been drilling since November as I have seen some schools do. I always found they handled it amazingly well and I think it is because as a school and Year 6 team we didn’t overwork them. We didn’t make it bigger than it needed to be. They don’t need to know the school’s reputation hangs on their SATs results. Why would they? We made it very clear they just had to be able to go in on that morning and try their best. I could never ask any more of them than that. I told them, I’d be proud of their efforts, not their results. 

The last half term is not winding down. But it’s amazing. 

So much to fit in, tiring, but great. Leaver’s plays, leavers assemblies, residentials all the best weeks of the year. It’s a time to relax and enjoy they time they have left. They still need structure and they still need to learn, but I always felt a different dynamic about that period. There is time to get into transition properly to prepare them, to get into their worries and really unpack it with them. There is time to enjoy spending time with them and preparing them to move on. Of course, the last day is sad, they cry, and they say they don’t want to go. But they are ready – and that’s down the work you’ve done over the year. 

If I could teach a year group again I would choose Year 6 every time. Don’t be scared of them, embrace it for the opportunities and good times it offers. It’s a special time for them and to be part of it with them is a privilege. 

Home Learning Survey

Over the last few days I ran a short survey on how home learning had been working out for teachers and what had been provided. Here are the results:

Have you provided work for your students during partial closure? (2895 votes)

Yes – 99% No – 1%

Have you provided ‘live teaching’ during lockdown? (2888 votes)

Yes – 12% No – 88%

If not, why not (main reason)? (2496 votes)

Lack of tech at child’s home – 38%

Safeguarding concerns – 38%

Not suitable for age group – 21%

Lack of tech at teacher home – 3%

What has been your average return rate of work been during lockdown? (2769 votes)

100 – 75% – 10%

75 – 50% – 30%

25 – 50% – 38%

0 – 25% – 22%

What has been the biggest barrier to returning of work? (I realise this may be hard to generalise) (2569 votes)

Lack of tech at home – 19%

Availability of support – 20%

Lack of willingness – 38%

Both parents working from home – 23%

How effective do you think your provision has been? (2764 votes)

Very effective – 18%

Somewhat effective – 71%

Somewhat ineffective – 10%

Very ineffective – 1%

How much feedback have you given? (2658 votes)

Detailed daily – 21%

Generalised daily – 29%

Generalised weekly – 16%

Work acknowledged – 34%

How effective do you think your feedback has been? (2628 votes)

Very effective – 5%

Somewhat effective – 56%

Somewhat ineffective – 28%

Very ineffective – 11%

Do you think what you have offered has been the best you could have given the circumstances? (2772 votes)

Yes – 91%

No – 9%

No idea what any of that means, but it was interesting all the same!

I’m Tired

Maybe it’s Friday talking, but today I’ve had enough.

School opening gone well, kids happy, staff happy and the problem solving aspect of organising everything was, whisper it, an enjoyable logistical challenge. I should be pleased with our team effort, and reflecting that our carefully thought through plans have stood up to the scrutiny of 60 children. And I am, in a way. It’s just hard to focus on that right now.

I was pleased to hear schools weren’t reopening further, it just wasn’t practical in any way with the current guidelines. Until the capacity issue reared it’s head. Instead of clarity we now have vague, blurred lines that will be different for every school. Rather than being giving clarity, we received uncertainty once again. Now I’ve got parents falling over themselves to try and get their child back into school. They aren’t eligible, but they just thought they’d ask. They’re offering to make cleaning committees, rotas, pay for hiring other spaces, put up gazebos anything to get us open. They don’t know the half of it. If only space was the problem. Now we are under pressure to open further. Not just from parents but from well meaning governors too.

Of course I want to see more children in, but I can’t see a way to do it. Then we get onto provision for the other year groups. It’s worse than it was before as the teachers are teaching. That’s not fair on them. Now we’re trying to work how we can improve that teach the other groups at the same time, it’s not a straightforward task. Can we use more tech? Can we audio stream what’s happening in school. Engagement has dropped hugely. What we are offering isn’t working, so we need to find something different. Endless emails and discussions over how to do it. No real ways forward.

Then we start talking about September and what that might look like and start planning for that. And what we might do in a second wave if we lock down again. Will we provide something different to before? We probably should now we know how it all might work. More planning, more meetings, more guidance.

Life as a head is relentless at the best of times, but it’s another level at the moment. It’s coming from every angle, and we aren’t getting support from the organisation there to lead us – the DFE response has been poor – muddled, woolly and generally unhelpful. Tonight I’m just tired of it all.

I’m tired of solving one problem to be faced with another that solving it has created.

I’m tired of having to put my own spin on everything and deciding my own interpretation.

I’m tired of feeling like the blind leading the blind.

I’m tired of thinking about it all.

I’m tired.

But Monday is another day. It’ll come quickly, and it’ll bring more problems. Hopefully it’ll bring some answers too. Until then I’ll wait for the next piece of guidance.

Day One – A Head’s Eye View

So today we welcomed back around 50 of our children to school. Year R, 1 and 6, plus a handful of other key workers from other year groups. Guess what? It was great. Here is a little blow by blow account of the day:

7:30am – onsite to open up. Windows, doors and everything that could be flung open, flung open. Finished putting up the last little bit if signage that I didn’t get done last week.

8:00am – More staff starting to arrive. It was brilliant to see people again. We haven’t had more than three on site at a time for ten weeks to it was lovely to see faces again, albeit from doorways and across halls.

8:15am – First child arrives. A little early, but mum said he was so excited he wouldn’t wait any longer at home. How amazing is that?

8:30am – Staggered start begins. I was anticipating a rush, and quite a long queue, but all very civilised, arriving at well spaced intervals. Smiles from every single person as they came down the path, parents and children. A quick squirt of hand sanitiser and they were in. Parents appreciative, kids happy. Kids skipped into class.

9:00am – Walk round for socially distanced check-in with each class. Everyone settled, already getting on with tasks and taking it all in their stride. Tidied some stuff away to the stores.

10:00am – Stupidly began the DfE form. Nightmare. Found the wording ambigous, and it probably won’t match our attendance register. Ho hum.

10:30 – Caught up with office staff about somethings we need to chase regarding refunds for cancelled trips etc.

11:00am – Lunch arrived, sorted into class groups and delivered. Great buzz around the school. Their working at desks that are separated, sure, but they are happy and their learning.

12:00pm – Started and hour and half of lunch duty. Kids played beautifully and did their best to distance from each other, even down to Year R. Amazing to her them laughing and joking again.

1:30pm – recorded audiobook chapters for those chidlren still not atending.

2:30pm – staggered collection begins and miraculously goes as smoothly as the pick up. Kids exhausted. Not just tired – absolutely knackered.

3:15pm – Staff debrief on day one. All happy, routines and plans had worked. Do it all again tomorrow.

So, all in all, a really successful day. It reminded me why we do what we do. It’s easy to get hung up on planning, paperwork, targets, assessment but today was just about the joy on the faces of those children who returned to school. They were so happy to be back. The messages of support from parents were appreciated, but their smiles made my day. They couldn’t wait to be back. That’s why we do it. That’s why we put up with the crap we do. The road will get bumpier, and there will be things we needed to change. I know the novelty will wear off and the kids will push it, but for now it felt like being a teacher again.

I know we’ve been working throughout, but nothing is like the magic of a classroom and helping kids learn. Home school has got nothing on classrooms. I thought I’d got used to the idea of working at home, and that I might enjoy it and make it part of the new normal. After today’s reminders – not a chance. School is where we belong, it’s where the kids belong and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.