Author Archives: lenabellina

What are we about?⤴

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I have been wanting to write this post for a long time.
I have a rough sense of what I want to say and I have tried, several times, to start to formulate it but I have failed.

Here, then, some unformulated
Ideas.

Last year I did the Scottish Into Headship course with the view to becoming a school leader. I loved the course and developed a sense of the leader I would like to be. Since doing the course, I have taken on the role of Acting Head of Secondary in the Joint Campus where I was appointed four years ago as Deputy Head of Pupil Support.
Prior to that I had been Head of Support Department and a Head of Languages Faculty in a school in the Outer Hebrides. Prior to that I had been a mum to tinies and prior to that I had taught, in various roles in schools in England.

What I want, or need, to say now, is that I don’t think most schools work.

I don’t think they can, unless we commit to a fundamental shift in what they are about.

Although they are first and foremost about teaching and facilitating learning, we also have to be honest and admit that they are about caring for and looking after the most precious things in other adults’ lives.

The care of children.

Childcare. Right up to when those big children are 16 or even 18.

And if our schools put other things at a stake above caring for children, we are getting something wrong.

We can pretend and make excuses that getting pupils to pass exams and achieve all sorts of other things that can be assessed is part of caring for them.
But I don’t really believe that it is.

I am not sure that I have ever really understood this until now.

Until now that I am in a situation where my own two children are in the school where I am a leader. And where I see every one of their peers as another child in need of care. Of love.

I currently have the privilege of working in a 3 to 18 through school.

And much as it is all it can and should be, my virtual tour may give you a sense of what I feel to be wrong.

“Ah welcome, welcome to our pre-5 unit, Mrs Leader. Here we will do our best for three year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye. Yes, fifteen other lovelies will share the attention of our two wonderful nursery nurses but she will be fine. No no, they aren’t teachers but they both studied childcare at college.

Yes, she’ll be loved and cared for and we are a hug-friendly provider (see the notice on the door and our attachment-informed policies). Well, yes, only two pairs of arms and two laps to go round but we are training them to be ready for school so we don’t want to encourage them to be clingy. At three, we need to foster independence and a more formal relationship with care-givers.
Sharing attention is an important part of growing up and becoming an independent learner, after all.

And through here is our first year class. Yes! Thirty in here, some fours and some fives! We are nearly over-subscribed!
One teacher, one classroom assistant and Betty, who is split between this class and the one next door because each has a pupil with a special educational need. No, no,not a teacher. Not an autism specialist.
Yes, you may recognise Betty from her other part time job in the co-op.

Here we will do our best for five year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

 

Yes, isn’t the uniform lovely! Confirming to a dress code is an early step towards learning about the world of work.

 

And how time flies and already here they are in the last class of primary, ready to spread their wings and join big school. Well, apart from the ones who aren’t. And then of course there are those who really were ready two years ago. But we have to keep them together on their age groups because…. well, how else would it work?
No, Mrs Smith is a temporary teacher because Mr Brown left to concentrate on his writing. I know, such a shame.
Mrs Smith can only do three days for us so the rest of the time is shared between other staff. It is quite okay though as it will get the children used to having several teachers; they will have up to 18 in secondary!
Here we will do our best for eleven year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

And now we move round to the secondary department.
Yes, isn’t it busy! Oh yes, the canteen is the hub. Too noisy? No, no. There’s nothing teenagers like more than this type of environment.
Supervision? Well, a couple of teachers do lunch duty and the older pupils look out for the younger ones.

Yes, classrooms do look a lot like they did when we were at school, don’t they? All facing the front! All doing as they are told! You remember being taught by Mrs Reece? No, I bet you never answered her back! It never did you any harm though, did it?

Yes, thirty-three thirteen year olds!! In one room. All those hormones and sensitive, imaginative, rebellious teenage brains! Yes, it takes a lot of skill but our teachers are very experienced and our results are fantastic!

Here we will do our best for fourteen year old Lucy, the love of your life and the apple of your eye.

 

And finally to our most senior class. Oh, no teacher in the room here. We must have needed to put him with a junior class due to staff shortages today.

Luckily they are all excellent at independent study, though. We encourage them to be so from an early age.

Lucy, tell our guest what you are working on there. French? Excellent. And you are going to study it at university? Brilliant.

You think you know this lady from somewhere?
You live in the same house?
Breakfast and dinner and the odd weekend outing?
But she gave you away to the care of someone else when you were three?

I see.
Well, Mrs Leader. The end of our tour for today.

I do hope you will choose us.”

 

Let’s be honest.
What are we doing?
One adult in a room caring for 20, 30, 33 of those most precious things?

Caring.

Top of my list of values as a school leader. But maybe not compatible with a system that pretends it is about something else?

 

 


Why we need to teach about Mental Health.⤴

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On Wednesday evening I delivered a 7 minute talk at the Scottish Learning Festival Teachmeet. This is what I said.

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Today I am going to talk about why I believe we need to teach about mental health in schools. Some people like to argue that mental health education should be the remit of parents or health professionals or trained staff but I would argue differently.

I’m not very good at talking concisely. But I have to do so today. So if you are interested in hearing more of what I have to say, please check out my blog Lenabellina on WordPress.

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This is one reason we need to teach about mental health. I don’t disagree with reports like this when they are evidence-based and if they help raise awareness that we need to talk. But I also think that we need to be clear what we are talking about. Teenagers have always suffered from emotional difficulty; it is part of being an adolescent and it is really important that we acknowledge that and talk about it as teachers and as parents/carers. We also need to ensure that we don’t create a crisis of “mental illness” or teenage depression by somehow turning normal emotions into something pathological. In perhaps the greatest and most popular study of teenagers ever, Shakespeare presents adolescence in all its terrible, emotional beauty; “Romeo and Juliet” deals with the issue of teenage suicide.

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We also need to teach about mental health because of this. Because the world is confusing and hard to understand a lot of the time, not just for children, but for us adults too. And it’s only if we talk about it, that we will be able to manage it.

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So, I have tried to summarise my thoughts (aiming to be concise, remember!) in these four statements about why we need to teach about mental health.
1. Because there is still too much stigma surrounding mental health.
I did a twitter poll for teachers a while back and there clearly is still fear around judgement if you admit to sometime struggling with mental health issues.
2. Because we are role models and turnaround adults who shape lives.
When we choose to take on the responsibility of shaping children’s lives we become role models, like it or not.
3. Because by talking and teaching we can help to challenge the stigma.
4. Because children die when we don’t teach them to be mentally healthy. There is no expressing what you go through, as a teacher, when a young person in your care commits suicide.

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This is the World Health Organisation definition of mental health and I really like this. When we look at this, we have to question why there is stigma around talking about mental health. How is this any different to the broadest aims for education that any of us would aspire to achieve?

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And in fact, in spite of all the recent wranglings about the four capacities of Curriculum for Excellence, there is a huge resonance between the WHO definition and these capacities. I would not want to work in an education system that has anything else at its centre.

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But just to return to this slide for a moment, although I love this, I do have a slight issue with one word here and that is the word “normal”.

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When we talk about mental health we need to remember that there is no normal; my mental health is not necessarily yours. What is important is that each one of us understands what we need to do to keep mentally healthy.

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So, where should you start if you are going to teach about mental health? Just do it! ask pupils what they think, look at the World Health Organisation definition as a starter; why wouldn’t we talk about it? Use these fantastic resources which are freely available and if you need more help, consider doing a mental health first aid training course which will give you both confidence and understanding of mental health.

 

Before I finish, I would like to return to the idea of us being role models. It is important that, as role models to young people, we show our own vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. All my pupils know just now that my dad is not well and that I’m struggling…but they will also see me come out the other side of it and manage the emotions around this difficult situation.
They also know that I struggled with anxiety and perfectionism when I was in my early 20s because I have told them; I want them to learn from where I went wrong.
They don’t know the full details but I can tell you that it was a pretty dire time for me and that I fought some really difficult battles to stay mentally healthy. I am 100% certain that if someone at school had talked to me about mental health I wouldn’t have had such a difficult time. When we do talk and learn about it we can feel better and children need to know that.

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#CelebrateTeenSept⤴

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Working with teenagers is the most wonderful, inspiring, challenging and life-affirming privilege.
Having done it for over twenty years, I am absolutely delighted that in the last three, I have discovered research and literature that backs up my rather intuitive feeling that we need to look very carefully the way we teach and interact with teenagers.
There are five key messages that inform my practice as a secondary school leader;
1. Teenagers are not just big children or young adults. They are a valid entity in their own right. Adolescence is not something to be survived or tolerated. It is an exciting phase of development where we need to nurture and facilitate.
2. Everyone who works with or parents teenagers needs to look at latest research.
3. Schools need to accept that educating teenagers is not easy within a system where one adult who represents authority has to manage the energies, personalities and potential of approximately 30 adolescents in a confined space for around an hour at a time. But difficult is not impossible. Allowing spaces for creativity and risk-taking with safe boundaries is essential.
4. Becoming more sensitive to what your peers think and less concerned about what adults think is an essential part of attaching to the people who you will make your future with. To tell a teenager to ignore peer pressure is to underestimate the importance of peer to peer connection.
5. We adults need to remember that when teenagers rebel, it is never personal. You can hate me for now but my continued love for you is what will help you. You can push against my boundaries but I will continue to hold them so that you better understand the world.

My thinking has been influenced primarily by the research undertaken by Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and I have blogged about her work here:
https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/04/06/sarah-jayne-blakemore-comes-to-edinburgh/

For the last two years, I have taught a module on the teenage brain to fourth year pupils at school.
This year I am also running a workshop for parents and carers.

The work starts with discussion of words and thoughts that spring to mind when pupils hear the word “teenager”.

When I say “discussion”, I handle this very carefully. Asking teenagers to talk about personal issues in front of their peers when sensitivity to peers is so heightened can be unwise and so I elicit responses in ways that make it easier to elicit honest responses: for example ideas written anonymously on small bits of paper which I read and then destroy.

I ask pupils to suggest teenagers as they are presented in books, films, songs and the news and we reflect on the types or role models that these teenagers are.

I use Kevin from Harry Enfield https://youtu.be/dLuEY6jN6gY

and Lauren from Catherine Tate https://youtu.be/JpgVokQEchA
and begin to suggest that perhaps teenage rebellion against adults is not just about “a phase”.

I then talk to them about Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s ground-breaking work and show this fantastic talk:

The drama “Brainstorm” from Company Three is a fantastic resource and script can be purchased from Nick Hern, along with a guide to making your own Brainstorm:
https://www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/brainstorm

I also use Nicola Morgan’s excellent video:

If anyone wants a PowerPoint with links to all these resources, I can email one.

 

There is so much out there and so much to be excited about.

We must #CelebrateTeenSept and I will finish with Yaamin’s words from “Brainstorm”:

You say to me
Your brain is broken.
It’s like an adult’s brain but it doesn’t work properly.
It’s like you’re in a city you’ve never been to and you don’t have a map and you don’t know what you’re doing.
And you keep taking the wrong turns.
You say
Listen to me.
Don’t worry
One day you’ll be okay.
Probably.
Your brain will start working properly.
One day your brain will be just like mine and then you’ll be okay.
But until then:
You’ve got to try and be more…like me.
I say to you
My brain isn’t broken.
It’s beautiful.
I’m in a city I’ve never been to and I see bright lights and new ideas and fear and opportunity and a thousand million roads all lit up and flashing.
I say there are so many places to explore but you’ve forgotten that they exist because every day you walk the same way with your hands in your pockets and your eyes on the floor.
I say
When I’m wild and out of control it’s because I’m finding out who I am.
And if I was a real wild animal
Then I’d of left by now.

I say
My brain isn’t broken
It’s like this for a reason
I’m like this for a reason
I’m becoming who I am

And I’m scared
And you’re scared
Because who I am might not be who you want me to be.
Or who you are.
And I don’t know why but I don’t say
It’s all going to be okay.

There are so many things I stopped saying to you.
I want to say them.
But I can’t.

Brainstorm Copyright @2016 Ned Glasier, Emily Lim and Company Three. Shared with the kind permission of Ned Glasier, who I had the great privilege to know when he was a teenager.


Message for Monday.⤴

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This is the message that my pupils are getting in the bulletin on Monday.
A message from Mrs Carter
Lunchtime behaviour.
At lunchtimes, we want to give you freedom to be with your friends, have some  less structured time and get a break from strict supervision.
We trust you to behave in a way towards each other that ensures that everyone feels happy and relaxed.

If you cannot do this, there will be very serious consequences, so before you speak to anyone at lunchtime, stop and consider the following:

Is it true?
Is it helpful?
Is it inspiring?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?
THINK.

If you cannot be kind to others in this school community, I will need to supervise you until you learn to be so.


Real results.⤴

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30 years ago today I turned 18. I cried for most of the morning. 30 years ago to the day, I also received my A Level results and “only” got 2 As and a B so was not going to be accepted into my chosen university.
The tears were related to the results and not the birthday, which should have been a day of celebration and joy.

Of course, I had done incredibly well. But I felt a failure. The system of exams and university entrance, so divisive and narrow in its definition of “success” and “intelligence”, had led me to equate value with being able to do well in exams.
No matter that I was a good, kind person, a creative and talented singer and actor and a deep but slightly chaotic thinker.
In the end, I got a place by re-applying the following year. But the experience having “failed” on the basis of a few hours sitting in a stuffy hall and spewing out all I could remember about French, German and Politics hit me hard.

So reading this fabulous piece this week makes me wonder what on earth we are thinking and doing, thirty years on from my results day:
https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/after-sitting-28-gcse-papers-four-weeks-i-was-left-thinking-what-was

Having worked in education for over twenty-five years, I have seen attempts to challenge the system come and go:
Vocational GCSEs;
The revival of Drama and other creative subjects in the noughties;
The accreditation of work experience;
The inclusion of Key Skills in A and AS levels;
The attempt by organisations like the RSA to promote the value skills-based qualifications.

And in Scotland, where I now work, the creation of a new Curriculum For Excellence qualifications system that allows pupils to be assessed without an exam.

But what are we doing in Scotland? We are talking about re-introducing the exam into our National 4 (lower tier GCSE equivalent) as seemingly people don’t value it without one.

In fact, all that needs to happen is that we need to do the PR better. Pupils, parents and the universities need to be persuaded that exams are only one way of assessing pupils, alongside many other equally valid methods.

Exams are indeed often a memory test. And they are easy to administer and mark.
But let’s not pretend that easy is best for our children or for the future of our country.

When I go in tomorrow for our first day of term and ask my colleagues to analyse our exam results, I will be just as interested in the non-exam results; in the non-examined National 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s.
But I will also be keen to hear the narrative around each child and to reflect on how well we have supported them in their journey to become educated and achieving in the broadest sense; to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

 


The longer-term view.⤴

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Last weekend I went back for a music festival to the island where we had spent six and a half years. We left nearly four years ago when I sought promotion to a senior leadership post.

When we lived in Uist, I was variously a supply teacher, PT (Head of Department) of Support for Learning, PT Languages and Youth Theatre leader.

I consequently got to know lots of pupils over the years.

I knew at the time that I was blessed to work with them. They were generally co-operative, creative and resilient.
The classes were small and although we were on a remote rock in the middle of the Atlantic, we were generally well-resourced.

Of course we had some issues. There was a significant degree of rural deprivation. Some pupils found island life suffocating and frustrating. We had our fair share of family break-ups, health and mental health difficulties and bereavements. Alcohol misuse was a concern amongst young and old.
And we had the terrible trauma of a care-leaver who was murdered soon after leaving school in S4.

But we also had an amazing sense of community that was based around music, drama, ceilidhs, Gaelic and tradition.

The community was somewhat wary of outsiders at times but on the whole we fitted in.

Within minutes of arriving at the festival, I was confronted by three lovely young women. “Lena! Do you remember us?” At first, a moment of bluster, having been taken unawares and unable to place these beautiful faces… and then “Of course!! Caitlin, Sarah and ….. Jessie!” Two former Germanists and youth theatre die-hards and one of my first S4 French class and a Gaelic star.
Now, as if possible, an art undergraduate, a medic and a British Museum trainee…..All confident, poised and so very interesting.

I felt a burst of pride and a genuine sense of contentment.

And so the weekend continued. Re-union after union, tale after tale of children grown into young adults; lots having been inspired to continue with German, many carrying the baton of drama into their adult lives.

Several had not found school easy but are now achieving and thriving as grown-ups.

The highlight, perhaps, was dancing along to the Beinn Lee Ceilidh Band which rivals any of the modern-traditional fusion bands that you will hear today and was formed completely of former pupils.

I know that I didn’t get the full story or complete picture in every case. I know that not every past pupil will be in a good place.

But last weekend gave me a huge sense of affirmation that our job as a teacher is a privilege and potentially life-changing.

We can’t measure our success in a matter of months or a few short years. We need to take a longer- term view to really see the seeds we have sown grow, flourish and bloom.

 

 


Proud⤴

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Last night I gave the following speech to introduce the review of the year at our Celebration of Achievement evening.

Back in December I was given the great privilege of becoming acting head of teaching and learning in the secondary school. Teaching and learning are at the heart of what we do in school. Our excellent team of staff works to ensure that all of our pupils develop skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work so that they grow into the best possible versions of themselves.

As a school we are judged partly through the assessments and exam results that we produce and there is no denying that these are important. Formal qualifications are the currency that allow our pupils to compete in a world where opportunities are sometimes hard to come by.

I recently spoke in an assembly about Richard Branson, the self-made multi-millionaire who left school with nothing and made it nevertheless.

Whilst in some ways he is an amazing role model, particularly for those with dyslexia, he is also in other ways unhelpful because he is one in a million. Qualifications on the whole do matter and it is for that reason that we want all of our pupils to leave school with the absolute best results that they can.

But being the absolute best is about more than just qualifications.
In our Learn to Learn and PSE classes and our assemblies, we focus a great deal on the idea of being reflective learners and of using all situations, both in and out of school, as learning opportunities. The successes and mistakes. The highs and the lows.
Our pupils know that being the best is also about being helpful, being loving, being understanding and being a good human being.

You are about to see a presentation that celebrates the highlights of the past school year and shows, alongside all the other huge achievements in the room tonight, why our school is amazing and why having my job is an absolute privilege.
There will be some things missing: please don’t be offended but just understand that in 15 minutes, we have just produced a snapshot.

This is the work of the students who are presenting it and a few others behind the scenes.

The quotes your will see are from our Learn to Learn sessions and assemblies and will give you a flavour of the ideas that we encourage our pupils to explore.
I will now leave you in the very safe hands of the students.

The presentation that the pupils presented was slick, professional, moving and entertaining and they did themselves and the school proud.

I am so very lucky to do the job I do.

 

 

 


The Story of a Timetable⤴

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I have just completed my first ever secondary school timetable. It has been a huge learning curve and I have decided to write a bit about it to help anyone who might find themselves in the same position as I was back last December.

When a colleague left at short notice and I took on acting head of teaching and learning secondary, the timetable came as part of my remit. I had never been involved in timetabling before but had attended a two day course on the principles of secondary timetabling back in 2015 and still had the useful notes, folder and certificate.

The most important part of that course was that it provided me with the following image:

There is a school’s worth of pupils standing in the school playground. Every teaching period of the day, they all have to be grouped in a slightly different configuration to attend a class with a teacher in a room. The timetable is the organisational structure that allows for this.

When timetabling, you must ensure that every pupil is catered for and that no teacher or room is doubled up.

(There are computer programmes that help with the whole of this process and can make it a simple task.  If you can afford one that has good reviews, it may be worth it. But I was not able to purchase one for the whole process and so I and going to describe the process that I went through. I know colleagues who have timetabled for years and still prefer to work with paper and pen and in their head rather than using a programme.)

In late March, I attended a course with SEEMIS on how to use the two parts of SEEMIS  (COS and SETTS) that can assist with timetabling. It was useful but I left it with  major anxiety as I felt that I had lots of unanswered questions and that there was not a huge connection between the SEEMIS training and the two day course I had done previously….

However, a simple image that I created to help me was to imagine that COS and SETTS (SEEMIS Extended Timetabling Toolkit System) are two tables. On the COS table, you have lists of all of your pupils and their option choices as well as a framework showing option columns and numbers of sections (classes) in each year group. Here you can also move pupils into the correct sections (classes) and create class lists.

 In SETTS you have a similar framework but also information about staffing and rooms.

Neither table does the actual process of creating the overall timetable (schematic or chronological – see below) for you. 

You have to do this yourself, sitting at a third table between the two with a range of pieces of paper, coloured pens and pencils, tippex mice and endless cups of coffee).

Starting with the seniors

Pupils in the senior school will follow a programme of study based on options or choices. 

Obviously the numbers of pupils opting for courses each year will vary and so no one year’s timetable will suit the following year’s cohort exactly. In my school, we had options forms that had worked ok the year before with very similar staffing and accommodation and so I decided to use them again as a starting point this year, given that there have been no significant changes to curriculum, staffing or rooms for the next session. We did draft option choice runs in January and February with all of our 3rd, 4th and 5th year pupils and made a couple of tweaks – for example moving a science subject from one column to another in fourth year so that more pupils could take it.

The option forms I adopted had a clear indication of class sizes (practical classes max at 20, others at 30).

When you have an option form, you know that each column represents all pupils in a cohort being in one of the choices listed and dividing into groups to go to their classes (also referred to as sections) in the column at one time (think the playground image on a smaller scale). At this point it does not matter that each column might have a different number of periods assigned to it than to the other columns. 

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Once we had run a final options exercise in March, I entered all the data into our information management system called SEEMIS in the section called Next Session COS (Curricular Option Structure). Here you can pull across all the names of pupils currently on roll and enter their option choices into a structure that mirrors your option columns.

My next step was to block together the columns for the three years who had made option choices. You have to do this so that the combinations work in terms of staff and rooms. For example if your fifth year column A has science but so do your 4th and 3rd year column As, it is unlikely to work because you will run out of science teachers and labs.

In SEEMIS, there is a way of working out which combinations of senior school options will work together. You have to enter your options structure into the SETTS part of the system and specify the number of classes in each subject in each column. You then have to enter your staffing information very carefully: who can teach what and for how many periods. The more staff you have who are able to teach more than one subject, the better here.

(For the record, an FTE teacher in Scotland teaches 22.5 hours maximum a week which I my school is around 26 periods; our period lengths vary. A head of department teaches around 23 and a pastoral head teaches around 19. It is very important to record this accurately at this stage).

In SETTS you first run pairs. This is the option combinations that will work for your upper two years in terms of staffing and rooms at any one time (in any one period).

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You then need to decide which of these will allow you tick off all of the numbers of periods required in each column. For example, you need to use your 5th year column A  six times because a Higher course gets six periods a week and your 4th year column A four times because a National 4 course gets four periods a week.. …etc etc.

Following the identification of 33 pairs (we have a 33 period week) that would allow all the necessary periods for each course in each column to be accommodated, you then run SEEMIS to show compatible Triples; this is the option combinations that will work in terms of staffing and rooms for your upper three years at any time.

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You then identify 33 Triples that will allow the necessary periods for each course in each column to be accommodated. 

You should  repeat triple use within the 33 as much as possible as this is less likely to result in split classes.

This is where I needed help and drove to Dunoon to get some amazing support from a very experienced timetabler. I have to confess that the magic he worked is still a slight mystery to me but involved poring over combination charts as these and resulted in me being able to identify what is referred to as the SCHEMATIC; the series of Triples that allows each of the senior year groups to have their option subjects staffed and roomed  within your 33 period (or whatever) week.

After this, you need to rearrange the 33 parts of the SCHEMATIC into your CHRONOLOGICAL timetable for the upper school.

This is the arranging of the individual period blocks into the days of the week and the periods for each day. When you do this you want a good spread and balance across the week.

Then comes the part where you need to see what the CHRONOLOGICAL timetable actually looks like in terms of subjects. My Heath Robinson approach to this was to create a colourful paper skirt which I pored over analysed and rearranged until it seemed to work.

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The next step was to take the senior school chronological and transpose it onto a master timetable with days and periods along the top and staff down the side.

There had to be two halves to this: one showing the departments where subjects are taught lower down the school in practical classes of twenty and the other showing those taught in larger classes.

Moving on the the juniors

Once the upper school classes had been scheduled, it was time to add in the first and second year classes.

This was like doing a jigsaw puzzle or suduko of matching and checking and trying to find solutions. 

The trick is to constantly keep the idea of a particular group or cohort of pupils needing to be accounted for in every period of the day, ensuring at the same time that each class gets allocated its full range of subjects.

So, let’s say that second year need 4 periods of maths across the week and that they are taught in  four classes. You need to find 4 periods in the week where there are 4 maths teachers available (i.e. not tied up with third, fourth or fifth year.) Then, from those available, you need to select those periods which will give a good spread across the week and allow as much maths to be taught in the morning as possible.

Once second year are in, first year maths needs to be added.. etc, etc.

Maths is fairly straightforward but with other subjects the matching is trickier. 

For practical classes in first and second year, there are five classes. At any one time, the five classes must be in a practical class (PQRST) – so one or more could be in art, technical studies, home economics etc etc.

The same applies when the year group is doing a non practical class and must be divided into three classes (1,2,3) across subjects like PE, RE, History, French….

This part took me a long time. It helped to colour code the classes and have a grid to tick once a class had been assigned.

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Here it is really useful to be able to remember which teachers may be able to teach out of subject or deliver an odd period of PSE/RE/Study skills.

I had a period of about 12 hours scratching my head over a seemingly impossible French situation…. until I remembered that I can teach French.

After you have done this part, you enter it into SEEMIS in the SETTS section in SETTS: this can be done by option column or by individual class and you can get COS and SETTS to talk to one another so that class information is pulled through and individual pupil and staff timetables can be created and printed. This will also link to the Click and Go part of SEEMIS so that once the new timetable starts, staff will get the correct electronic registers.

Your new timetable will stay in NEXT SESSION until a period in the summer called turnaround. This means that you can start using it before turnaround (this is called rollover) and you just need to enter the date for this into the correct part of COS about a week before you plan to roll.

Between rollover and turnaround, you may refer to pupils in their new year group (ie S1 become S2) but in SEEMIS they do not officially move up until Turnaround.

There are good manuals to go with SEEMIS timetabling but they are not always easy to read if you are new to them; they assume a basic understanding of the process and terminology.

Once all the timetable has been entered into SETTS, the information from COS is merged and analysed and will flag up any conflicts or clashes.

Then, you are in a position to see and print individual pupil and staff timetables.

Unfortunately, it is only at this point that you can see what an individual pupil’s day and subject combination looks like so it is worth trying to get to this point early enough to be able to do some re-jigging if needed. Only when

I printed my own daughter’s timetable, for example, did I see that she has three science subjects in a row on a Tuesday due to the options she chose…..

Never, however, can you get the overview of your entire school timetable in SEEMIS, however, so you must ensure that you keep a tight control over and correlation between any changes made in your spreadsheet and SEEMIS.

Tomorrow we roll. 

If it has worked, I will be very happy.

If not, there will be another chapter below entitled “learning from an I successful timetabling experience”.

Timetabling has been a hugely challenging experience for me. The challenges have been both positive and negative. On the positive side I have learnt an incredible amount about curriculum, staffing  and the philosophy and technicality of timetabling.

On the negative side, I have suffered huge anxiety and been up against it in terms of time.

Everyone says that the timetabler needs to start early, be part of a team and be away from school for a good week (preferably in a quiet hotel room) to do the technical parts of the schematic and chronological timetable.

I faced challenges in respect of all of these.

There were massive highs and lows (the latter mainly when you find an insoluble problem and have to work back and unpick, over and over).

I am not even going to talk about the tears, swearing, lost nights, weekends and holidays since Christmas.

But some of that is my own fault. Once I have a project or problem in my head, it eats away at me and runs in the background until it is solved and the timetable was one big problem that needed solving and have my brain very little rest. Some reflections on all of that here:

https://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/zFRfN37d1N

https://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/DT8iBwxztL

Next year I will work differently, if I am still in my current post.

But this year will all have been worth it, if tomorrow:

  • Teachers and pupils are all in the right places at the right time
  • The timetable allows for efficient and effective use of staffing to support the best in teaching and learning
  • The timetable supports flexible curriculum delivery and personalisation and choice
  • The pupils and staff in school are happy, healthy and doing the best they can.

Ready for tomorrow:

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Fingers crossed.


Sarah Jayne Blakemore comes to Edinburgh.⤴

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Back in March 2015 I heard the following episode of Jim Al-Khalili’s ‘The Life Scientific’ with Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05mrn29

In listening to this short programme, I felt a real ‘eureka’ moment; after many long years of working with teenagers and knowing instinctively that they are amazing, full of potential and worthy of being treated as different to both children and adults, a scientific, intelligent and sensible voice on the radio was backing up my instinct with research.

I was desperate to know more. I looked up SARAH-JAYNE’s Ted talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain), read as much as I could about her ideas (https://www.edge.org/conversation/sarah_jayne_blakemore-sarah-jayne-blakemore-the-teenagers-sense-of-social-self) and began to get evangelical about her ideas. At the time I was an acting education support officer working in schools and training on behaviour, learning and additional support needs and I began to use her ideas in my training. I talked about how we need to understand that ‘teenage’ behaviour (such as risk-taking and sensitivity to peer influence), so often maligned and seen as ‘difficult’ is in fact a key part of adolescent development and crucial to the teenager’s un-attachment from care-givers (who won’t be around for ever) and attachment to those of a similar age (who are more likely to be around for longer). But I also talked about the fact that the brain’s plasticity means than teenagers must not be written off as unable to learn new things – including positive attachments and behaviours – and that we have to resist the obsession with putting all of our money and efforts into the early years and to fight against the misconception that EARLY INTERVENTION is EARLY YEARS INTERVENTION. I have known numerous children over the years who sailed through childhood with no issues or difficulties but then suddenly fell apart in adolescence, only to find that support from agencies was inaccessible as they were ‘too old’. As if it would be a waste of money or too costly to intervene with them instead of intervening with a younger child with more ‘potential for recovery’. Grrrrr.

Sarah-Jayne’s science and research helped me to champion the cause of the adolescent in a way that I had never been able to before.

In the summer of 2015 I was delighted to hear that a play had been produced with Islington Youth Theatre and the National Theatre ( http://www.companythree.co.uk/brainstorm-1) and more delighted to discover that Ned Glasier, the director, had been a drama pupil of mine back at Shene School in 1994, and a very fine Salieri at that. These small world coincidences keep me going.

On returning to my school and Deputy Head post last May, I took my passion for Sarah-Jayne’s ideas with me and introduced a module in PSE for all of our 4th year pupils on the teenage brain and how understanding the science is so important for learning. I reference her regularly in my assemblies (https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2017/04/01/the-end-of-a-momentous-few-months/) and blogs

Last week I made my first foray into the world of being a ‘teacher voice’ in a TESS article and quoted Sarah-Jayne’s ideas when commenting on the fact that girls seem to feel that their voices go unheard at the time of transition from primary to secondary school.

And so last night it was an absolute joy and privilege to hear her speak live in Edinburgh at the RSA Scotland annual Angus Miller lecture.

It was great to see a number of young people in the audience and to learn that Young Scot had played a large part in the organisation of the event.

It was also a privilege to be accompanied to the event by my thirteen year old daughter. Aside from Sarah-Jayne’s own children, I think that she may have been the youngest person there. And she loved it.

(On the way home she quietly told me that I can’t have a go at her for going to bed too late, sleeping in late and wanting to be on her screen….because Sarah-Jayne says that those things are ok.)

 

Every secondary teacher in Scotland should have been in that room with us. Everyone who has chosen to accept the privilege of working with this fascinating and inspiring tribe should know about these ideas and listen to Sarah-Jayne.

I am hugely grateful to her for coming to Scotland and to the RSA for making it happen.

 

Below are some notes that I took and photos of the slides. This is what I heard Sarah Jayne say and what I took from it: others may have heard or interpreted differently and I sure there will be other posts about the lecture. If you want to know more, look at Sarah Jayne’s research and read her books.

If you don’t have time, these are the three messages that you need to hear right now:

  • The education system we have does not suit what we know to be true about the teenage brain. Things need to change.
  • We need to listen to teenagers when designing their education
  • Let’s not give up on people who have not done very well early on.

(and a PS to the lady who spoke who spoke so very well in the Q and A about children who are vulnerable: I am a drama teacher and will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in schools; I was a dramatherapist and it informs every bit of my educational practice and I hope to be a head teacher one day…..There is hope.)

Notes:

Sarah Jayne began with explaining her reasons for coming into this field:

Degree and post doc on schizophrenia

Asked question re when symptoms started (eg voices and delusions)

Found that it was mostly between ages if 18 and 25

Why?

Why does late teenage brain dev go wrong in those individuals?

Little research back then into teen brain so went into that – ended up making that her main focus.

75% of adult mental health disorders start in adolescence

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Adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal and physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable, independent role in society.

Adolescence starts with puberty (easy to define)

Ends with when you take independent role in society (woolly!)

Unique period of biological, psychological and sociological development.

Expectations around age of independence are culturally varied – may stay with parents until mid-20s or leave much earlier.

However Sarah-Jayne says that there are commonalities in all adolescents across all cultures.

Risk taking, socialisation are key factors.

Studies done on mice who have about 30 days of adolescence:

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Study published about 3 weeks ago:

Shows similar patterns across different cultures.

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Based on experimental tasks and questionnaires.

Strikingly similar patterns across cultures and across history:

 

Adolescence is period when social self goes through profound transition.

Most of our memories that are most vivid are from the teenage years and early 20s.

Moral and political beliefs and sense of self develop hugely in teenage years .

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Lots of research on risk taking and teens has been done.

There is some evidence (no of deaths etc) that teenagers take increased risks.

In some ways this is to be expected as teenagers are given more freedom…

Peer influence is critical issue.

Larry Steinberg research:

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Friends standing behind a teenager during a lab test on risk-taking has a HUGE effect.

This is backed up by insurance company data.

Young person is most likely to have car accident with more peer passengers in car… Up to age of 25. Adults with passengers are less likely to have an accident.

Are adolescents sensitive to fear of social exclusion?

Used cyberball experiment.

(Seemed advanced tech in 2000! Not now)

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The experiment was about excluding  the player from the game (manipulated by the tester)

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Low mood and anxiety in adolescents is SIGNIFICANT when excluded by others.

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When we make decisions there are always different elements at play.

Social pressure is important (eg football hooligan phenomenon).

Social element iS VERY important for teens.

Eg smoking – health risk would be less important than peer ostracism .

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Experiment at London Science Museum:

Asked people to rate the risk of various situations.

Then told them what other teens and adults had allegedly said:

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Then tested again to see the change in rating after the provided rating:

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All five age groups shifted rating significantly.

What about whose provided ratings they were?

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Children, young adults and adults are more influenced by adult ratings.

Mid adolescents are equally influenced by adults and adolescents.

Young adolescents are influenced most by other adolescents.

Adolescents are influenced by social norms and peer influence.

Health awareness  and public health advertising should be aware of this and look to change social norms and engage peer influence.

Sarah-Jayne referenced an anti bullying campaign I the US – most effective where there was child led interventions

Effect was greatest where the popular kids led the campaign.

Brain research

Was not much on teenagers when Sarah-Jayne was studying:

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Just WRONG! Now know that myelination goes on into 20s.

Everything has changed due to MRI scans.

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Social brain

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Mentalising is same as theory of mind- being able to understand people’s hidden mental states through facial expression or behaviour.

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Used to think that children develop this around 4 or 5 but have realised it is probably more like 18 months

What about adolescent mentalising?

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Scanners show that these parts are activated when we think about others/ mentalising

How do these 4 regions develop in adolescence?

Study done by Jay Giedd – longitudinal study so very useful.

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Grey matter peaks in late childhood then decreases in adolescence.

Replicated in a Dutch study.

Only part where grey matter does not decline is adolescence is the part related to vision at back of brain.

Decline in grey matter then levels off for many years before declining again in old age.

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In adolescence the brain becomes more white (myelination) and less grey.

Synapses and connections are made in childhood- more that will ever be needed.

Connections which are used are kept but are pruned away if not used during adolescence.

No such thing as an average teenager.

Casey and Steinberg thought risk taking occurs when there is a mismatch between the limbic regions (getting a kick) and prefrontal regions:

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They suggested that limbic brain matures sooner that prefrontal cortex.

Sarah-Jayne and colleagues wanted to prove this:

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Average data suggested yes but individual data was messy!!!

What accounts for the big differences between individuals?

Can’t tell from the Casey/Steinberg data as done 10 yrs ago- no risk question was asked.

More research being done now.

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This is a big assumption in education but Saarh-Jayne wanted to challenge this:

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This is used in IQ and entrance exams as they think it is not trainable. (It is!!)

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Non verbal is very trainable and IMPROVED across adolescence.

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Learning does not always decline with age.

Can do lots of really useful tests on animals around social interaction and the impact of brain development.

Education – what are the key issues?

Sleep patterns are important

We make them get up in the middle of what is their night!! Does not suit  them but DOES suit society which wants to get up and out at 8.

Does not suit adolescent brain.

Evidence suggests that we should let them sleep later.

Suggestion- involve adolescents in designing their education.

UCL academy in London- not a Shakespearean school – good model.

Break out spaces

Peer to peer learning

Young people influenced in the design.


Tree of Knowledge – Study Skills⤴

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A week ago today we had another day working with Tree of Knowledge; this time our S4 pupils worked with the brilliant Daryl on study skills.

Some of the S4s missed the session and I promised that I would write a summary for them. Of course, notes like this are a poor substitute for the session because, with Tree of Knowledge, you get so much more than the content. The organisation thrives because of the highly inspirational, motivational and entertaining speakers that they engage and it is just as much about the way in which the ideas are presented as the what of the ideas.

Daryl was just as amazing in this respect as Tony who had been before him. Half stand-up comedian, half philosopher, he had an amazing way of relating to every single young person in the audience.

Below is a summary of the what, with an invitation that anyone reading gets along to a TOK session whenever they possibly can.

Daryl started by talking about his own background and education:

school, physics at St. Andrews and then a masters in theoretical physics.

He then spoke of how he had been inspired to work for TOK by 2 things: 1. a memory of witnessing an amazing TOK workshop as a school pupil; and 2. a TED talk based on the idea that you can only really be content in life if you do a job that helps others.

These 2 factors led him to decide that his vocation should involve helping young learners to be the best that they can be.

He noted that it can be hard for young people if they don’t have an idea of what they want to be in the future (approx only half of our S4s surveyed in the room indicated that they had a clear idea.)

However, he stated that the workshop was about giving everyone the knowledge and techniques in order to be able to overcome the challenges and hurdles that might arise along the path to a successful future.

 

He began by talking about brain science and outlined ideas on left and right brain, brain connections and the need to master skills through practice. A few practical games like “do as I say, not as I do” and rub tummy/pat head showed everyone the importance of practice and repetition in learning. Daryl elaborated on this and talked about the importance of connections in the brain that need to be repeated in order for a process to be learned and instinctive. He used a very helpful metaphor; when you learn, your brain makes connections. The more you repeat an activity, the deeper the learning. Think of walking a path through a field of grass. The first time you walk it, it is hard work. As you repeat walking the path, it gets easier. If you stop walking, the grass grows back and it gets hard again. This, he stated, is the brain science behind “practice makes perfect”.

He then went on to talk about other elements of neuroscience that related to learning, such as the need to engage both the logical left-side brain as well as the creative right-side brain when learning. Logic alone will not lead to effective learning and the study of all subjects is enhanced when we engage both sides of the brain.

 

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Albert Einstein.

 

Daryl spoke about the fact that when we are children we engage imagination all the time as we learn but that, as we grow up, we tend to discourage and avoid play; however if we are to learn effectively, we need to break this cycle and re-engage the imagination. Songs to learn the alphabet, rhymes to help with the compass points (never eat shredded wheat) all helped us as children and can help us still. The irony of education is that we spend years teaching young children to walk and talk and then formal schooling often seems to be about getting children to sit down and shut up!

Daryl then engaged the group in an imaginative story telling task that enabled them to memorise 10 items on the board and the results were astounding! The key elements were use of imagination, repetition, visualisation and exaggeration.

Whilst the technique may not suit everyone, there will be a technique that DOES and the key is finding the right one for you.

The brain is a truly extraordinary thing from the moment you are born until the moment you die and you need to find ways to make the most of it for you.

Daryl then went on to talk about the fact that sometimes, young people have difficulty with expressing what they know, even though the information and ideas are in there somewhere. He referenced the work of Dr Paul McLean and the Triune Brain (http://www.thebrainbox.org.uk/triune_brain_theory/triune_brain_theory.html) and explained why it is crucial for us to be creative, happy and relaxed if we are to learn well. This had links with the S3 and S2 workshops on Mindset and the Chimp Brain and looked at the idea that stress, reptilian fight or flight responses and the release of cortisol are all detrimental to learning.

 

Daryl went on the highlight the fact that being calm and happy comes from being well-prepared ad organised in our study (at which point Mrs Carter was punching the air as this has been THE key S4 message this year ….Eating Elephants included).

He then talked about some more advanced psychological theory about the need to ensure that learning is embedded in the deeper part of our being if it to be sustained. He referenced ideas about conscious, subconscious and unconscious learning and the way in which psychophysical influences and subconscious impulses can all affect our ability to learn.

The last part of the session, focused on the idea that we can talk ourselves in and out of being able to learn (again linking with the S3 workshop on Mindset). If you tell yourself negative things, there is evidence that you are more likely to fail as the negative messages filter through to your subconscious. Daryl noted that Scotland has a particular issue with negative self-talk and its consequences on confidence; in a 2088 Guardian survey found Scotland placed 24th out of 25 European countries in terms of self-confidence rating, above Bosnia and below Northern Ireland!

 

The key message here? We need to tell ourselves that we can succeed.

“I like school. I can do it. I will enjoy today at school with my friends”.

If you do not set yourself up to achieve your potential, you probably won’t. You need to decide what you want and go for it.

If someone asks you “how are you?” (as they do about 47 times each day!), try answering “fantastic”. The more you say it, the more you will feel it.

Positive words, positive thoughts, positive actions; the key elements to being the best version of you.

Huge thanks to Daryl and Tree of Knowledge for the inspiration.

More top tips can be found at the Study Ninja app: https://treeof.com/blog/2017/01/09/amazing-study-ninja-review-in-teach-secondary/