Ask a Headteacher Anything

This morning I asked people on Twitter to ask me anything they had every wanted to ask a headteacher. There were some really challenging questions, and I have really reflected on myself and some of the things I do and why. Below are all the questions and my responses in one place, feel free to ask anything else via @secretHT1

What’s the most annoying trait in a (generic) member of staff?

I find needless negativity really difficult to deal with. Doesn’t matter how great and worthwhile a new idea might be, the one person who always starts with ‘that all sounds well and good, but…’ makes my heart sink and seems to easily followed.

Does age matter when looking at leadership roles?

I was SLT at 25, DH at 29 and HT at 31, so it doesn’t have to. Experience matters, but wanting to find out about strategic things, being a governor, offering to do things and shadowing people can gain you that experience quickly. Dealing with people needs practice though.

What is it about “windy days” and kids? Is it like full moons & werewolves?

Definitely. Avoid them like the plague. Absolutely avoid off timetable wet play, windy, full moon days.

Why do you need to be a “secret” Headteacher?

I have a parent body who would, and do hunt down members of staff on social media. Sometimes what we think, say and the harsh realities of life in schools is not always what parents want to read or hear. Much safer this way 🙂

What do you really think of staff who suffer from stress, anxiety and or other mental health issues? Really..

I have a member of staff absent at the moment. I’m concerned for them, I wonder what I can do to help them, I tell them not to worry about school and they need to focus on getting better. Does it cause me problems/expense trying to cover at times? Yes. Does that matter? No.

Am I better to ask about part time leadership (0.6 or 0.8) before applying, at interview or after offer?

I always think honestly is the best policy. Be up front rather than maybe running the risk of them feeling hoodwinked afterwards. If they aren’t open to it initially then it’s not the right role.

Do you actively see the the societal change where young people can’t be reprimanded without bringing the wrath of “parents” upon your head?

Yes. Should that stop us? No. I always tell teachers I will back them up, but they have to be able to evidence their decisions. If they’ve got that, then I’ll try and back them up all the way. It’s about trust and honesty though, build that with the parents and all gets easier.

Do you think your headship is successful and if so how do you measure that success?

I like to hope so.

I judge myself on, is the school a better place than when I started? I genuinely think it is. Academic results have stayed very strong, but curriculum, relationships with parents, attitude of kids, atmosphere and ‘buzz’ have all improved. I’ll take that.

As a primary HT what are your main sources of frustration when dealing with the secondary schools your students move on to?

Ignoring our handover notes and putting them into inappropriate groups.
Distrust of our assessments.
Taking our Year 6’s for up to a week in July and not having consistent dates across the schools.

Why don’t schools follow the business model and start actively listening/asking to hear what matters to their staff?

I try to. I think most heads do. However, not everything can be done at once, and leaders have to prioritise. However, the key is how this is communicated – I realise this is important to you, but I can’t do it right now because… Why keep people in the dark over decisions?

As a fellow HT, I respect the honesty in your responses.

Interesting to compare – what is/are the biggest challenges you see in the next 18mths to schools and school leaders?

Finance, but not just in schools, in every service which leads to frustrations in accessing help for those that need it.
Recruitment and retention, burn out, disillusionment.
inevitable increase in powers to Ofsted, meaning more schools will do things just for them.

How do you think education or leadership of schools has changed in the duration of your headship?

Mental health and lack of access to services has been huge.
A focus on the curriculum is for the best, but doing it through fear is wrong.
Leaders seem to need to be braver to ignore the agenda and actually put kids first. Shouldn’t be that way.

Do you let your staff have their ppa at home- if not, why not?

Yes, they have the choice. And if they want to use it for a lie in, fine. As long as they’re getting the work done and to a good standard, I don’t mind.

@secretHT1 do you get enough time to be with the children? How do you ensure you are present within the school?

I’m timetabled one day a week. I do all the cover in the school as well, so I’m normally teaching at some point during the week. I’m on the gate every day and popping in and out of lessons all the time.

What do heads or SLT do that other staff don’t see or appreciate?

Constant decision making. My staff are constantly surprised at what comes across my desk and how quickly it needs responding too. Not saying that it different from teachers, but some of the decisions have a greater effect on everyone.

What advice do you have for teachers wanting to progress into management?

Get involved, shadow people, be a governor, ask questions, show an interest, offer to help.

What do you really think of governors? Help, hindrance or necessary evil? Would schools improve without their scrutiny?

I love mine. Governors that have your back are worth their weight in gold.

Are there any types of schools you would avoid and why?

Special Ed and alternative provision is not my calling, but massive respect for those who do. With regards to types, I’d give most a go I think, but would want to make sure I fit them as well as they fit me.

How do you keep going?

Some days I honestly don’t know. Good days are great, bad days can be really bad. Knowing you’re making a difference helps.

Who (what roles) make up your trusted, collective sounding board?

As far as possible everyone! Apart from that, my deputy, another senior teacher and my wife!

Why do some HT get the balance right and others allow their egos to run rampant?

Can’t answer that, but don’t see any need for it to happen. Leader doesn’t mean dictator.

What are your views on growth mindset?

Also, if a teacher made a really bad pun during an interview would you still hire them? Asking for a friend.

Do you know, I just might.

I like growth mindset, but really focus on the power of persistence and hard work with the kids. We try and bust the natural talent myth and teach them you can improve anything with hard work.

Do you respect the person who stands up to you if they don’t agree with your decisions more than the person who jumps through every hoop?

Most of the time. It’s about communication, I’ll have more respect if they articulate why, give good reasons and can offer a possible solution then I’ll always listen. Don’t just bring me a problem and tell me you don’t want to do something.

Why don’t Headteachers budget for a school library and librarian when the research shows that they make a difference to academic attainment across the whole school?

I’m primary, so having a librarian would unusual in a school my size. I guess it may be about priorities. I’m sure lots of HTs would like to run a fully stocked and resources library, but just can’t afford it. I spend 92% of my budget on staff. I can’t afford much else.

What’s your opinion of differentiation in the classroom? Currently writing an assignment on it.

I was trained on it and spend a long time of my teaching career on 3 activities. I’m shifting though. Limits on outcomes aren’t great, but work they can’t access is demoralising. Like everything in teaching, it has a time and a place.

Do you think MATs have had a positive impact on education? Do you feel the salaries of the CEOs are justified?

Haven’t had much experience with them to be honest. Not sure there are hard and fast rules you can apply to every school to expect success. If there was we’d have a completely prescribed state system. context is everything and MATs who impose all sorts of things may hinder this.

Whens the best time to take on a middle leader role and how does one go about achieving it?

Show interest, get involved and put some time into it. Talk to, and shadow existing leaders. Do you feel ready? Don’t be worried about starting with a small role and working up. Every subject leader role is a chance to make a difference.

Do you ever miss ‘teaching’?

I miss teaching, but I don’t miss marking, reports, etc. I still teach every week.

Do you think it’s okay to take SLT team out for Christmas Lunch during school hours?

Personally, I wouldn’t. Seems like it could create a them and us scenario which is unnecessary. Why do SLT need a special ‘do’? They aren’t any different as people or teachers.

I start my new role as LP for Inclusion & SEND in Jan. I’ll be part of a whole new SLT, the person I am replacing had no teaching commitments and I will be teaching full time. Nerves are starting to kick in! Any advice?!

Agree your priorities, expectations and standards as an SLT and stick to them. Be honest about your capacity with such a teaching commitment, esp with your HT – don’t try and set a pace you can’t sustain. Finally, be confident in yourself. They gave you the job for a reason.

Has budget ever been a factor in whether a teacher progresses on the pay scale or is it purely down to PM targets being successfully met?

Not in my school, no. But I am sure there are schools where it has been. Budgets aren’t the teachers problem, shouldn’t affect their pay.

Would you ever make every single TA in your (primary) school redundant and then replace them with new staff in order to save money?

Of course not. If the job role has stayed exactly the same hours and job spec, can that even be done?

what is your opinion on differentiating by giving less able children work pitched at say the year 2/3 curriculum when they’re in year 5? (Particularly in maths – do you think this might just widen the gap further?)

I think like everything, there is a time and place. If they can’t access the work in their year group they it might help. Support, practical resources and time might be just as beneficial though. Don’t put a limit on their outcomes though.

Why don’t schools ‘use’ their experienced teachers more ie ask them what worked well in previous schools, or their opinion on new initiatives? I think experienced teachers hold the key to whole school improvement, and would enjoy playing a greater role.

Not just experienced, strongest. I try to do this as much as possible. Just because I’m head doesn’t make me the best teacher in the school or know what will work – why not surround yourself with other talented people and use them?

How do you avoid micromanagement of staff? Where is the line between support and micromanagement?

We set out what we thought great teaching, monitoring, assessment and behaviour was as a staff. After that I leave them to it. I talk to pupils, pop in and out of lessons and look at books. If there are major problems I’ll intervene, otherwise they are professionals.

How can your teachers best support you?

By putting the kids first and doing what they can for them first and foremost. By trusting, challenging, being supporting to parents and behind the scenes with other staff. By being consistent in their expectations in a way that aligns to our school aims. By being honest.

What is your opinion on a school doing a mufti day that asks families for donations to a teacher wellbeing fund?

If you need a wellbeing fund there is a problem. If you don’t prioritise it enough to pay for it out of your own budget there is an even bigger one.

Do you prefer teachers who don’t have families, so they’ll be more committed work? Ive heard someone say that about a head before and it seemed a daft idea

Motto in my school is family first. Doesn’t matter to me if you’ve no kids or ten.

Do you have difficulty keeping powerful, proactive, vocal parents on side without agreeing to all their demands?

Sometimes, but I try to be open and honest and explain why I took the decision I did. That usually works a treat. If I got it wrong I’ll say so and apologise. Building trust rather than suspicion is absolutely key.

Do you ever hate kids just by sight , because I’m pretty sure it’s why teachers hated me.

Being completely honest, some can grate more than others, but I’ve never hated one. They all need help for a host of different reasons. We are there to give that.

How has your classroom practice changed/been affected etc since becoming a head?
2 positives/2 negatives…?

  • seeing more lessons esp in KS1
  • more time to talk to pupils about what works for them
  • don’t get to teach as much as I’d like
  • when I do it feels a bit ad hoc and my mind is half somewhere else.

What’s your thoughts on teachers who love what they do in the classroom but are happy staying at middle leader (ish) grade and don’t wish to progress through leadership/management?

Brilliant, means one of my classes has a great teacher. Not every teacher needs to go into management/leadership. Nothing wrong with being a great teacher and doing what you love.

Last question, what changes would you like to make in the way you work, or in your priorities, in 2020?

We will keep going with our plans to reduce workload, reduce stuff we do that doesn’t benefit children and engage teaching staff in class based research projects for their appraisal rather than data driven nonsense.

Can I have a pay rise?

If it was up to me…

Do you have a vacancy?

Not at the moment!

Can’t Please Everyone? Maybe we can.

I know this is an old hat topic, but I heard something new about it which changed my thinking about it. It came from a non educationalist, but it really resonated and is something I am going to try to build more explicitly with my parents over the coming months.

This was a new leader talking about vision. The point was that people will always want something different in some areas. The idea is easily translatable to education as we know. Some want more homework, some want less. Some want the school stricter, some think it is too strict. Some want it more academic, some want it more pastoral. In some areas, what we provide will be absolutely aligned with parents want. The problem comes when there is a gap between what they want and what we provide. This happens for a variety of reasons but mainly practical or ideological, but the point the speaker was making was this:

What do people fill the gap with?

Too often the gap is filled with suspicion. We must encourage them to fill it with trust instead. We’ve all seen that the default is suspicion. That’s what causes the sniping on the playground. We’ve seen the suspicion when a child has an issue and parents may come in all guns blazing having only heard their child’s side of the story. They are filling their gaps in understanding with suspicion rather than trust. How can we change this though? We all know that we have thought things through, we all know we have good reasons for doing things, but do we communicate this enough? It frustrates me when parents kick back against a decision we’ve made or a path that we’ve chosen, but maybe some of that is my fault. Have I explained it properly? Have I gone through the rationale for it, at a level they will understand? Have I done enough to make them understand it has been thought through?

I have been working on this so far this year. I am finding I am over explaining things. I have a parent body who will question and probe often, they are used to doing it in their jobs etc, so they apply it to us. It will take time, but already I have had less comeback over the changes I am making – heavily reduced marking in books for example. Not one comeback. Often we think we have been clear, we think we have justified it, but actually to a none educationalist it still doesn’t make sense. It needs to be done until the automatic response is to fill the gap between what they want and what they get with trust. I have already explained the idea to prospective parents for next year – the seed has been sown. I’m not saying there is no trust in my school – but it can feel like that sometimes. A shift in parents’ first response will make life easier for everyone.

This works for parents, but also for children and staff. Are teachers explicit enough in why something is changing or why they have done it one way and not another? If teachers can justify the way they have dealt with an incident and explain it clearly, it is no problem to back them up to parents, and the parents, once they have heard the rationale are fine. That’s why we get in first if there has been an incident during the day Make the phone call, or catch them at the end of the day, explain, give the reasons and be clear, build trust and we have the potential to bring a close community even closer. The first response will be to back us up and know it has been thought through and the best practical option has been taken. Win win.

Trust, it’s magic.

English Warm Up Games

Following on from the Maths Warm Up ideas, here are some ideas for English too!

1. Adverb Charades

Child leaves the room and comes back in acting out an adverb. Others have to guess what it is. One who gets it gets to do the next one.

2. Word Association Game

Play with two pupils. Start with one word and the other has to give a related word. Back and forth until someone repeats or hesitates.

3. Dictionary Wizard

Give a dictionary out one between two. Make sure all have the same edition if poss. Call out a word and first to find it shout ‘I’m a dictionary wizard’. They then read the page number to check correct and read the definition.

4. Taboo

Have a list of words/objects eg worm, Eiffel Tower and on each card have words they cannot say to describe them. The class have to guess the word from their description. They must pass if they use a forbidden word.

5. Articulate

30s timer, describe as many words from the cards as they can in the time. Rest of the class guess.

6. Unfortunately, However

A talk for writing one this. Two pupils one starts a sentence with Unfortunately and the other responds by starting theirs with however. Eg Unfortunately my car broke down. However, the repair game quickly etc etc.

7. Countdown Words

Pick 9 consonants and vowels. Children have 30s to make the longest word they can.

8. Anagrams

A list of anagrams to do with your topic, children unscramble.

9. What did you do last night?

One child tells the story of their previous evening in the most outlandish way and with most imagination possible. Other children can question the story. Great for imaginative storytelling.

10. Spelling Bee

Teacher has dictionary. Asks one child for a page number, another to choose the left or right column, final child to pick from 1-20. Count down the list. Child has to spell the word.

11. Super Sentence

Give each part of a sentce a points value eg opener, adjectives, adverbs, punctuation etc. Minus points if they miss punctuation. Chdn in pairs write highest scoring sentence they can. Score. Leads to discussion if being full of everything makes good sentence

12. Punctuation Bingo

6 squares filled with differing punctuation. Teacher gives secription if what the punctuation is used for, children cross of if they have it.

13. Synonym List

Write 3 verbs on the board. Children have 2 min to write as many synonyms as they can. Create class list.

14. If this is the answer…

Put a word on the board, children generate as many questions as they can that could lead to that answer.

15. Table Stories.

One children starts a story, but can only say one sentence. The next child sitting on the table continues it. Keep going round the group until the story comes to an end.

17 Maths Warm Up Games

Some maths warm up games and ideas that I have used over my time teaching maths to get you started for the new year, hope they are of some use!

1) Shoot the Sheriff

Children stand back to back and take five paces. You fire a question, first one to turn and shoot the other with the correct answer wins. Winner stays on, how many in row can they win? Children could ask questions.

2: Splat

Write around 10 numbers on the board. Two players stand in front and you ask a question, first one to find the answer and splat it by covering it up is the winner. Add decimals and negatives for more challenge. Winner stays on.

3. Related number facts

Write one number on the board. Children work in pairs to write all the facts they can think of about the number eg factors, multiples, halves, doubles, addition and subtraction facts, squares, roots.

4. Countdown Numbers

A classic, children work in pairs or solo on whiteboards. 10 points for spot on, 9 for one away, 8 for two a away etc. Tip: get them to write out the 75 times table first. Online version here that are always solvable here: https://t.co/Saz7eyc1qj

5. Countdown Fractions

Same principle, but more challenging! Difficulty can be set by level. https://t.co/jkf3yqRsZR

6. Broken Calculator

Can children make the target numbers using any certain keys on the calculator? Eg just a 5, 3, 2 and a +, x and =. Good starting point here:

mathsisfun.com/games/broken-c…

7. Transum Starter of the Day

Great problem solving starters for Y5/6. All topics covered, one for every day of the year. https://www.transum.org/Software/SW/Starter_of_the_day/

8. Area Challenge

Can the children complete the grid by working out which boxes go where to fill it, given the area of each box? Five different grids to try. https://www.transum.org/Maths/Puzzles/Area_Wall/default.asp

9. Number Bingo

Children choose 6 numbers from a twenty number range. Teacher says a question and children cross out if they have the answer.

10. Traffic Jam

Aids problem solving and forward planning skills. Can they move the red car out if the traffic jam by moving the others around? https://m.coolmathgames.com/0-parking-panic

11. Back to Back

Prepare pre drawn shapes or pictures using shapes. Children sit back to back one has picture and one has whiteboard. Children with pic has to describe it to their partner. When finished look and see how accurate. Encourages language like opposite, diagonal etc.

12. Four a Day

One addition, subtraction, multiplication and division calculation to solve. Can give three sets of questions for different levels of challenge.

13. Kim’s Game

Write ten number facts of the board eg 3 x 8 =24, 7 is the third prime number, a hexagon has 6 sides and give the children 2 minutes to memorise. Take one away and get children to write down which fact disappeared. Remove one every 30 seconds.

14. Multiplication Grid

Children have a grid with numbers 1 – 36 on, two dice and coloured counters. Children roll dice and cover up the answer to the two dice multiplied together. Whoever had most counters at end is winner. Use 9 sided dice and bigger grid for more challenge.

15. Number Slide

Draw pentagon with circles on corners. Draw another circle in middle, connect to all others. Num 1-6 in circles, random order. Chn start at 0, take turn to slide around adding the number they slide to. Can’t go back to prev num. Chd who makes it show 25+ loses.

16. Calculator Countdown

Start displaying 50. Children take it in turns to take off a number from 1-9. Whoever makes it show zero is the winner.

17. Odd One Out

Write three numbers in the board. Children have to find the odd one out and give a reason why.

Mind Consuming?

Of course teaching is time-consuming, but it’s not just that. It mind-consuming too. Yes there is a lot to do during the day, marking, planning, meetings, supporting, helping, guiding, writing, but the one thing that takes up most of my time in the day is thinking. I find this aspect of the job the most difficult. The inability to switch off, the constant thought process about how to be better, how you haven’t done that display, how you haven’t got that bit of paper laminated. The constant thoughts that pop into your head are exhausting. Possibly more so than the actual practical work. It happens in the holidays, the weekends, in pupil progress meetings and at 2am. Any time and usually every time. Teaching must be up there with the most mind-consuming of jobs.

The amount of mental effort that goes into teaching is the reason that teachers are amazing. It shows just how much each and every one of us care about the students that we look after. If it didn’t matter to us, this wouldn’t happen and I take reassurance from the fact that it does happen. The moment it stops is the moment we don’t care any more, and that is probably the moment we should probably think about whether we really want to be teaching.

But how do we deal with this all mind-consuming aspect of the job? The worries that ping into our brain at 2am. Spending an hour laying in bed at night debriefing from that difficult meeting with a parent. I’m not sure there is an answer to all of this, I think it will always happen. What worked for me was trying to get some perspective on it all though. I’m a big advocate of trying not to worry about things I can’t affect. That is an small statement, but one that can that in certain situations impossible to achieve, I understand it is not as simple as shrugging off all of the thoughts in our mind. However, there are definitely things that occupying our mind that with a change in perspective in our thought process, we can change our thinking, our response and improve our own wellbeing.

Here are some examples.

Number 1: A two hour meeting with a parent over a recommendation for a selective school I gave their child. It was unpleasant, it got heated in their behalf, especially when they realised it wouldn’t be changing. Previously, I might have stressed over this meeting for days beforehand and afterwards. But can I change the way they feel? No. Did I make the right call in my judgements? Yes. Were they always going to be upset because it wasn’t what they wanted? Yes. Will stewing over it help them or me? No. I can’t affect any change in that situation so why give precious time that could be spend in much more productive things to it?

Number 2: my budget. It’s a deficit, has been for two years. Does it keep me up at night? No. I can’t change the amount of money we have coming in, or the amount we have to spend. I am in a fortunate position where I don’t have to consider redundancies as it’s been acknowledged I’m not overstaffed. Will me worrying change the situation? Not one jot. Am I likely to find a solution at 2am?

Number 3: Pupil Progress Meetings. I worried about these for days as a teacher. What would I get accused of doing wrong? What else would I be asked to do? What would I be made to feel bad about? The solution to this worry was much simpler than I thought. Had I done everything I could for those students? Had I worked hard and done my best to get them to reach their potential as much as possible? If the answer to that is yes, then I have, or shouldn’t have, anything to worry about. I have to trust in my own expertise and knowledge of my class. If an SLT can’t see that I’ve done all I can, and that’s good enough, then maybe I’m working for the wrong SLT.

I found this ability to let go of things that I couldn’t change absolutely liberating. It wasn’t easy, it took practise and time. I’m not saying I don’t care, I do, deeply and always will. But the sleepless nights have reduced. The anxiety over my work has reduced. I’ve made sure the things I can affect are being done as well as I can. I have faith in my own practice, standards and ability. This has meant that I’ve been able to let go of things I used to worry about that my worry had no impact on, apart from making me tired and grumpy.

I’m convinced that almost all teachers are better then they think they are. I always encourage teachers at my school who are worried about meetings etc to remember that they are the expert. They know what they are talking about, and they have the knowledge to back up their point of view. Once we can get to a point where we are all secure in our own abilities and strengths we can move past these worries. There will always be exceptions to this rule, but there are definitely things it can applied to for our own wellbeing.

Teaching will always be a mind consuming job, but with some perspective maybe we can focus our thoughts and thinking time on the things that are in our control and really matter, rather than worrying over things we have no can have no impact on. Let’s make it so we can give all of our thoughts to the children and their progress rather than external factors.

#edutwoxic?

First of all, this is not a response to #listgate. Enough has been said over that, on both sides of the argument. However, it did inspire me to revisit this blog I’ve been meaning to write.

I joined twitter as a teacher in June. I have actually always tried to avoid education in my life away from work. I can’t stand watching TV programmes about education such as Secret Teacher, Educating wherever or Jamie Oliver’s attempt to run a school, they have always just wound me up. I don’t know what made me make the leap, but I did. Setting up as an anonymous was not something I did because I am embarrassed of anything or because I want to hide. I know that the parents from my school will be trying to track me down, especially as we have just started our own social media platforms. Who knows what gets back to parents via likes and retweets here and there, and before you know it you are in hot water.

I have a long experience with Twitter and have several accounts. My first was for friends and family and has largely stayed as such. It is very placid and doesn’t get much attention or traffic. My other account is a football based account. Wow – eye opener. I understand that football is tribal, and I can be as tribal as anyone when it comes to my beloved Liverpool. However, I was taken aback by the amount of vicious comments that passed back and forth over simply expressing an opinion. Nothing is agreed on, any comment is met with consternation or disgust and generally abuse. It’s a harsh world. It’s also a very funny one at times and part of me understands the context in which it is based. Football and sport can be a competitive and divisive world.

So this background brought me to the world of edutwitter. A slow foray into its world led to some exceptional accounts (I won’t list them!) and left me feeling inspired, just what I needed as I was coming in to the end of a long year. My timeline was soon filled with so many excellent ideas and resources to take back to my staff in September. It is a wonderful resource and has opened my eyes too lots of new ways of working. I am very glad to be part of it.

Then came the summer holidays and a whole new world opened up.

In amongst all the good stuff was a world of backbiting, sniping, criticism over classrooms, displays, even over going into work. Someone made to feel awful just because they asked for help? This surprised me much more than seeing it in the football world. The world of twitter suddenly became a double edged sword. One of my very early tweets was just after a visit to a nearby school where I came away feeling inspired, but just as depressed. My school wasn’t like this, there was so much lovely stuff, why wasn’t I doing it? Imposter syndrome came on strong. Twitter can be just like this. Seeing people’s classrooms over the holiday brought on exactly the same feelings. They are amazing, wonderful, fabulous and would be a joy to learn in, but mine never looked like that at all. I wish they did. Does the make me a worse teacher? No. Does it inspire me? Yes. Does it make me feel like a worse teacher? Partly. Would I say anything about it to anyone online? No. What would we say if we saw behaviour like this in the playground? We would be on it in a flash and trying to modify it. It so easy to get offended on twitter, but it also very easy to offend, often completely unintentionally. There is no tone button, there is just face value.

But, why shouldn’t they share it? It’s not done with any malice, it is done to inspire and because they are proud of what they have done. Who are we to take people to task over that? Why is it our place to tell people what they can and can’t share? It isn’t. We are all adults and can make our own decisions about what we look at. However, I can completely understand how the guilt starts. It’s the summer holiday and we all need a well deserved rest, but seeing people in work could make people feel the opposite of what is intended, but that is their choice. You know what works for you, you know how to set up your classroom, you know what access you’ve got. Work with that and be secure in your own expertise.

Is twitter amazing? Yes. There are so many reasons to love it, so many great accounts and great resources and I have really enjoyed my time so far. I’ve gained an awful lot of ideas and resources to try out in September – what a fabulous hub of inspiration and learning. Is Twitter toxic? Yes, at times it can seem that way. It has the potential for making people feel guilty, offending and making people feel inadequate. In a world of education where we all strive to be better and try to teach children the art of collaboration and learning from others, it seems that, at times, we are unable to do it in the online world.

People not Pupils

Don’t smile until Christmas. I was given this advice by tutors, colleagues and even my mum who was also a teacher. Show them who’s boss and set those firm boundaries. Woe betide anyone who might cross them. So, in my NQT year I gave it everything, I was firm, strong, strict and took no messing. Had I cracked it? Maybe. The kids behaved, they did ok but at the end of the year I overheard the nickname they’d given me. Mr Temper.

I was devastated. I realised it wasn’t my job to be their friend, or to be their favourite, but how on earth could they have enjoyed coming to school when they called their teacher Mr Temper? How could they have learned as well as possible? I needed to change something for the following September. Strict and nasty wasn’t me anyway, but I’d done it for the right reasons and was looking for the right results, it just wasn’t the right way of doing it. Children need to enjoy coming to school, they need to feel appreciated, like they will get a fair crack of the whip and I don’t think my first class will have felt they got that.

I started my second year determined to do something different. I still wanted the boundaries but wanted to apply them in a different way. I decided I would only hold them to two rules: do your best and don’t stop yourself or other people learning. We unpacked those as a class and we had a much better year. But why was that? It wasn’t because I had less rules or different ones, it’s because I took the time to get to know my students. Instead of watching them like hawks, ready to pounce on the smallest indiscretion I found myself having more opportunity to chat with them and get to know them. Consequently, I think I had what is still the best year of my teaching career. Our relationships were so much better. We understood each other, we knew where each other were coming from and what our boundaries were. I was more consistent and they responded to that.

I started thinking about this when reading cards from pupils this year and when I found some old ones in the loft. None of them told me I was great at lesson planning, none of them said I led maths really well nor that the way I catered for all learning styles really helped them. No, they commented on kindness and helping them, humour and being happy. This is is what they remember and this is what puts them in the right frame of mind to learn.

A teacher who can build good relationships, but has poorer practice will get better outcomes than a teacher who has perfect practice but can’t connect with children. We know it as teachers, from the way senior leaders interact with us. Set the boundaries and establish your classroom ethos from a place of relationship, not from domination.

That’s why every first days of the year was spent getting to know children. I always did an art activity with them in the first afternoon and sat down with each table completing my own version of it. I didn’t comment on their technique or try and teach them anything at all. We just chatted while they were kept busy. Did I miss several learning opportunities? Maybe. Did I care? No. I built the opportunity for so many more just by spending time with them as people rather than pupils.

The children reflect everything we do. This came sharply in to focus for me when some of my Year 6s taught my class for a lesson. It was like looking in a mirror, every quirk I had when I taught, they did. My phrasing, my language, my structures. They will reflect exactly the relationship we offer them. We want them to be happy and to respect us, and reach their potential and they can only do this if they feel happy, safe and secure. The best way to reach this point is to really get to know them. Not just superficially, but to laugh with them, get upset with them, get indignant with them and share experiences with them. All of that made for far better learning, for them and for me.

Paying Lip Service

Pay rises, extra money, Nick Gibb saying he’s looking forward to sorting out education spending, a new Secretary of State for Education who actually has a link to teaching, a new optimism in politics. The future is bright, surely?

Except we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? Every time there is a change in leadership or reshuffle, we get the same old rhetoric. Let’s make our education system the best in the world, let’s raise standards, let’s finish the job this government has already started. Unfortunately, it is a load of old cobblers.

But why? I think the people who have said this down the years have genuinely meant it. They do want our system to be the best, and they do want to fund it, but their hands are completely tied. Not by chancellors or austerity or spending cuts, but by simple necessary prioritisation.

Education will never be life and death, and that is the reason why it will never get the spending it deserves. The NHS is crumbling and struggling to cope under winter demand and the outcome is that people die. Defense spending is cut, our troops die. Crime rates go up and there is less policeman, people can die. Housing is mess, same scenarios. If education is underfunded what is the worst that can happen? That little Johnny doesn’t have a gluestick? We all know it’s much worse than that, but politics is never about the long term. The other public services have serious short-term impacts of underfunding so get the money quickly. The effects of underfunding on education won’t be seen for years and years, by which point it is too late. This is why education is only ever paid lip service too. It will never be important enough in the here and now to warrant a substantial and meaningful cash injection. I’m not saying that other public sector workers don’t have similar feelings – the NHS is testament to that. Workers there will feel the strain just as much, or even more so than teachers, but my point is that when use comes to shove, the NHS will get the funds. Push will never come to shove with education.

This infuriates me. Why should my first concern over a child’s support be whether I can fund it, not whether they need it? The short-term views of politicians and policy makers will never place education high enough up the list to see their ideas through. There are no votes in education, because the effects of underfunding can never be seen vividly enough in the public domain. Standards are rising, funding is better than ever, pay is better than ever, it is fairer than ever, more children have access to a good or outstanding school than ever.

That will always be the argument. But education is life and death. Not literally, but it is the key to everything politicians want for this country. Strong export businesses, strong economies, low unemployment, the actual vote winners. We all have the common sense to see that an education system that doesn’t work will cause more problems further down the line. It’s because of this that teachers make sure it won’t happen. They give everything to give children meaningful, memorable and effective educations that will help them. The politicians know this. They know teachers won’t stop and will keep providing great education, and that’s why they never have to pay more than sound bite lip service to our education system. Let’s hope that this time I’m wrong.

The Dark Night of the Soul

Today marks 8 years since the lowest point of my teaching career. I remember it vividly. However, looking back it was probably simultaneously the worst and best day of my career. 

I was coming to the end of a long year in Year 6, and despite coming off the back of another good set of SATs result I was at my lowest ever ebb. Working for a headteacher who can only be described as relentless I was fed up. Nothing I did seemed good enough and I couldn’t see how it would ever be so. Work sampling filled me with fear. Emails from the head made my blood run cold, as a member of SLT there were plentiful. It wasn’t that she was a bad head, far from it. She was excellent and demanded the best everyday, but I couldn’t see a way to come to terms with and deliver what she wanted. I didn’t want to go to work at all. This was more than the usual end of term exhaustion. I was as unhappy as I had ever been in the job.

The reason I remember the night so clearly is that it was the night of our Year 6 show. I remember sitting on my computer  between the end of the day and the kids coming back for make-up and googling ‘alternative jobs for teachers’. I had pretty much made my mind up to leave the profession. 

It didn’t take long before I realised that this wasn’t really an option. I had wanted to a primary teacher since the age of 14. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t work hard enough for GCSE and A-levels, and while they were good enough to get my onto my BA Primary Ed course, they should have been so much better (although I do now have a good motivational story to tell Year 6 every year). My degree was in education, all I knew was education. It dawned on me that all I was qualified for was education. As the main earner in my household and my wife pregnant, retraining wasn’t an option, we couldn’t afford the salary cut.

So, in that empty classroom I realised this was me, and this was what I needed to keep doing. I wasn’t qualified for anything else. At that point, after I had made that resolution, I instantly felt better, like a weight had been lifted. 

Over the nest few months I slowly started to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t need to be perfect. We can’t strive for perfection, we will never get there. However, we can strive to be excellent and we need to accept that this is OK. Teachers are a strange breed. They forever look for the negatives and the ones that got away and what they could have done more of for each child that doesn’t quite get what we wanted them do.. We need to stop this. It doesn’t do any good. Celebrate success. Accept you did all you could. Remember you are working with children. They aren’t adults, they are immature and unpredictable no matter how grown up they seem. By shifting my mindset I was able to fall back in love with teaching. I could hand on heart say I was doing all I could, and to be honest, no one can ask any more from me than that. After all, that is all we ask from the children. There are thousands of things we can do, hundreds of things we should do and tens of things we have to do every day. Once I accepted that I cannot do all of the things I could do, or even all of the things I maybe should do I instantly became a better teacher. Being able to say sometimes:

What is the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done? 

It is OK for my students to know that I have a life outside school and that’s why I didn’t WWW and EBI their RE work from yesterday. 

I am not going to be the perfect teacher, but I am going to excellent and make sure that no-one can say I haven’t tried my best.

I gave that child my all, and they still didn’t make their target – that is not my fault.

Accepting this liberated me, and I am so glad it did. This is the job I wanted to do, and love doing again. As a head I try and let my teachers have this attitude. Nothing will every be perfect, but if you have done your best, I will never tell you it isn’t good enough. I will tell you how it can get better and  help you with it. Why should we treat staff and differently to the children when it comes to their professional development?

We are privileged to do the best job in the world. We do it well. We shouldn’t be made to feel like we aren’t doing well enough when we are. If you are thinking of leaving the profession, before you make up your mind, take a look at your mindset and ask yourself if you are being too harsh on yourself. The children deserve our best, yes, but they shouldn’t get all of us. That is what leads to burn out, stress and and an unrealistic view of what an amazing job you will be doing for those children. Allow yourself some slack, appreciate how great you are and accept that your best should be good enough. 

Reports – The Honest Truth?

Urgh. 

I’m sure I’m supposed to say they are a vital part of parent’s feedback and will be treasured and valued. But, actually, are they? 

However much thought goes into them, are they ever more than a sycophantic snapshot, filled with teacher jargon and obscure adjectival changes to shift meaning for those who can read between the lines, and pull the wool over those who can’t? Is it just an arse covering exercise…”well if you read his Year 5 report Mrs Jenkins, it does say that he was developing his understanding, and was beginning to show signs of working at the expected level”.  It’s clear to us teachers, but is it clear to the parents? I’ve seen it reports I’ve read, I’ve seen it in reports I’ve scrutinised for appeals, I’ve seen it my daughters reports, and yes, I’ve written it in reports myself. 

Let’s be honest, unlike we are when we write reports, we don’t want to deal with the hassle from the parents at the end of the year but maybe, more importantly we don’t want to be told it is our fault. Little Johnny who has been a pain all year suddenly becomes a child who ‘has progressed well, despite a tendency to become distracted and lose focus at times’. Sorry? You’ve been in my office complaining about him and how he needs a 1:1 TA all year, and now all he does is become a bit distracted? However, if we tell it like it is, then it won’t be anyone’s fault but our own. Not in the eyes of the parents anyway. It doesn’t matter how many interventions we’ve run, how many booster groups have been delivered and how much extra support has been given, it will still be the school’s fault if there hasn’t been an improvement. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t done a shred of homework. It doesn’t matter that he’s late every day. It doesn’t matter that he’s spent the last three months trying to write upside down with his wrong hand in italics, bold and starting every other sentence with one of those superman ’S’ shapes. We can’t say that. 

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But why? We should be able to say it. We are the experts, we are the professionals. We spend the most time with the children, we know how to make them improve. We’ve been doing all we can for the last 9 months. Why shouldn’t we tell it like it is?  We should have faith that we have done all of we can. We can prove we have offered everything we said we would, but we haven’t been met halfway. Teachers are a most immodest breed, always thinking of what extra they could have done. Why should  we cover up for a child who has refused to engage despite the best efforts of every member of staff who has come into contact with them?

It’s not blame shifting. It’s not an absolution of responsibilities. It is honesty. It’s realism. It’s helping prepare children for a world when there isn’t always someone there  to gloss over the tricky bits and over emphasise the good.  In an education world that is full of values and personal development, determination, resilience and perseverance are everywhere at the moment. There is another one that is always there as well though – honesty. Maybe it is time teachers started being truly honest with parents and children. We’ll help you, we’ll work with you and give you all the support you need, but if you aren’t pulling your weight we will hold you responsible, and tell your parents just as much. We are the experts, we should have nothing to fear because actually, deep down, we all know it is for best.