Author Archives: lenabellina

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/


Thinking of Into Headship?⤴

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I wrote the following for the latest edition of our Authority Education Bulletin.

I found the experience of doing Into Headship absolutely fantastic. As an aspiring Head Teacher, it provided me with the opportunity to learn about and reflect on the elements that are essential to that role; defining the purpose of education, developing and sharing a vision, working with others to implement that vision and ensuring that every learner in your school has the best possible experience of education and achieves the best possible outcomes.
The reading on the course was skilfully selected by our HIE tutor Morag Redford to give us exposure to a wide of leadership and pedagogical theory. I particularly enjoyed reading the work of Brent Davies; for me, the ideas he expresses about authentic and moral leadership and about Head Teachers being community leaders are central to the type of leader I want to be.

The project element of the course was an opportunity to lead a strategic development in an area where improvement was needed and I was extremely fortunate to work with a group which developed the authority education strategy on Looked After Children. The work was both challenging and hugely rewarding but most importantly for me, had real impact.

The course gave us the chance to network with other course participants both within Argyll and Bute and in other parts of Scotland; online peer support was a key part of the experience and I hugely valued having others at the end of an email when things got difficult!

It was a huge juggling act to get everything done in the time available to me after doing my day job and anyone taking on Into Headship needs to be aware of this. However, leading a school certainly involves this type of juggling and so the course provides good practice!

Next steps? The course has inspired me and I am very keen to run a school one day. But for me, it is important that the timing and school are right; I am committed to living in Argyll and balancing the various parts of my life.
So for now, I am using everything I have learnt on the course to inform my practice as a Depute; I hope that this is having a positive impact on the learners in my school.

I am very grateful to Argyll and Bute Education for giving me the opportunity to take Into Headship.


The end of a momentous few months⤴

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This week I gave an end of term assembly to my S4s.
In it, I recapped key messages from my assemblies over the past year and reflected on the journey we have made together.
Back in June, the key messages were:

 

Then in August, the messages were:

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And in October, we talked about:

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In December, they got a lovely colour planner to stick on the fridge:

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And now, we only have this remaining:

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Also, in December’s whole school assembly, we spoke about how EVERYONE has it in them to be amazing:
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And now, in March, we have significant evidence of how amazing the pupils in S4 are:

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I then referred to the key messages of the incredible Tree of Knowledge workshops which the pupils attended this week:

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These pupils are truly amazing and have it in their grasp to achieve anything.
I wish them every success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Tree of Knowledge⤴

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This is the second of two posts about a recent visit to our school by Tony from Tree of Knowledge. The first post is over on my other blogging platform: https://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/FcqVaRp012

I wrote the notes below for staff at my school in our weekly bulletin.

Friday thoughts
As you know, I was incredibly privileged to be able to sit in on the workshops with Tree of Knowledge last week.
As I said last week, I thought that it would be useful for you to know the key messages as I would like to see us re-inforcing them. Inputs from external providers only really have impact when they are integrated in the work of a school. I think that there is a real power in being able to make connections between the different learning experiences that pupils have.

S3
In this session, Tony talked about Mindset and drew on the ideas of Carol Dweck.
More information can be found here: http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/

He talked about our zones; our comfort zone where we are happy and relaxed. It is a great place to be but if we only stay there we will get bored. Our stretch zone lies outside of this which is where we still feel able to do things but are pushing ourselves to the limit of our ability.
Then we have the panic zone where we are unable to do the things we need to do because we have not got the time or capacity to do it.
He exemplified:
• We are in comfort zone when we have an essay due in 6 weeks
• We are in stretch zone when we are pushing ourselves do get an essay done for next week.
• We are in panic zone when the essay is due tomorrow and we have done nothing.

He explained that, if we start early and plan properly, our comfort and stretch zones increase so we can achieve more and we have less panic.
He used Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example.
Arnie was a weakling and bullied at school and decided to become a bodybuilder; he pushed himself to become world champion. He moved out of his comfort zone into his stretch zone but this then became comfort. He decided to go into acting. He was never a great actor but he specialised in certain roles and pushed himself to become one of the highest paid actors in the world. This then became comfort so he pushed himself to go into politics and become the governor of California. He is an excellent example of a self-motivated self-starter who pushed himself to keep achieving more.
Carol Dweck has done 30 years of research into Mindset and has identified 2 types of Minds – Fixed and Growth.
Tony asked three questions and asked pupils whether their instinctive answer would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
• Do you believe successful people are born that way?
• Do you believe that you can only ever improve slightly?
• Is it ok to cheat to get things?
He said that if your answer is “yes” to the questions then you have a FIXED Mindset. If the answer is “no”, you have a GROWTH Mindset.
Dweck’s research has shown that most successful people have a Growth Mindset.
We may often have a fixed mindset when faced with a new challenge
If we say “that is impossible” we have an excuse not to try. With growth mindset, we embrace the challenge. We find the best way possible to solve a problem.
If some people are asked to try, they will say “Why? It’s pointless”. We tend to want instant gratification. However, real success comes from embracing challenges, persisting, putting in effort over time and succeeding.
We need to be able to solve problems as humans or we are part of the problem.
Effort is the distance between where I am now and where I want to get to.
Some people don’t put in effort and blame others when they don’t get where they want to get to (school, parents, friends.) This is a blame culture.
Tony explained that it can be frustrating when people succeed around us. At school, he was the best (and only) guitar player. He went on a summer camp and met Matthew MacAllister who was AMAZING and so he just gave up. Matthew maybe had more natural talent BUT he also put in 5 hours of practice a day.
Tony set the pupils a challenge:
If you meet a new challenge, give it a genuine try. See it as a pathway.
We all have different ideas of success – money/house/job.
See effort as a pathway to success but do not get jealous of others.
Admit how you are right now but admit that you can change it. The minute you say “this is nonsense and not for me”, you are giving in to a fixed mindset.
Matthew Brailsford helped turn around British cycling and he did it one step at a time – small incremental changes, eg:
• All in the team started careful handwashing which reduce illness and time off.
• The inside of bike vans were painted white to show dirt – they could be kept cleaner and less bike repairs were needed.
• All the team members got new pillows so they slept better and performed better.
1% at a time will lead to 100% improvement.
What will your 1% be? Less screen time? 5 minutes of study.
Just decide to start.
Tony was so inspiring and the pupils were incredibly positive in their feedback.
 

 

 


Four countries.⤴

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I am in a hotel for a conference. I am going to be discussing the future of Britain’s education with some incredible minds.
I am scared and my chimps are going mad.
I am on the exercise bike in the gym trying to get focussed.

In order to focus, I am going to remind myself of what I believe about education.

You should only teach if you care that every child in your school is loveable and can succeed. If you only want to teach middle or upper class children, avoid comprehensive education.
Teachers have the power to impact on the lives of children and therefore on the future. This is a massive privilege and responsibility.
This should be made clear in initial teacher training.

Teachers are very, very, very important and needed to be treated as such.

Parents and carers are very, very, very important and need to be treated as such. All of them.

Teachers who are not doing a good enough job in helping every child to learn need to be supported to do a good enough job.

Parents who are not doing a good enough job in helping every child to learn need to be supported to do a good enough job. Schools can play a big part here.

School leaders need to be prepared to work very hard, talk the talk and walk the walk. The 35 hour week does not apply.

Every teacher needs to be highly informed about the purpose of education, child development, attachment, adverse childhood experiences, mindset and nurture.

The job of a school is to help a child learn about the world and to help them find their place in the world.

The purpose of secondary education is to help children become adults who make the most of life and make sensible choices. The teenage years are incredibly complex and exciting and we need to understand the related psychological and neuroscientific fields.

We all need to keep learning and reflecting. Self awareness in teachers is crucial.

Political decisions about education should never be made by people who have not been successful teachers or educators.

Decisions about education must be based on evidence based practice and never a knee-jerk.

A long-term view is crucial.

Inclusion is not one experience…or maybe not even one environment …fits all.

Assessment. Hmmmm. We must measure what we value and not value what we can measure. Some important things cannot be assessed easily.

The community should be at the heart of a school and the school should be at the heart of a community. Governance structures should be arranged accordingly.

Education should be at the heart of society and society should be at the heart of education.
Soundbites? Maybe. Nothing much new. But what I believe.
What do I know…?


Keeping going…⤴

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A year ago I wrote this.

https://staffrm.io/@lenabellina/05CwLBnsxL

I am copying it in full at the bottom of this post because it is quite heavily referenced below.

It is one of my most read pieces of writing and was reblogged by the Mighty. It got a huge number of shares and comments on various platforms. Almost all were positive and the post seemed to strike a chord with many. The one that touched the deepest nerve was “wow, you slept til 5.15! Lucky you!” That was, for me, what I think is referred to as a trigger and I had to fight hard not to rise to it.

Today, a year on and I am in a similar but very different place.
Some of the actual stuff in the list has shifted. I have changed job, partly because of things related to number 1 and I am back in school, now as Head of Secondary. I am not putting myself in for the music festival this year. But much of the “stuff” and pressures are the same. The workload at school is immense. We have huge staffing pressures, massive issues with pupil mental health and further cuts and changes ahead. The personal financial pressures have not eased and neither has my husband’s situation.
The words “what else can go wrong?” have been a mantra but so have the words “we’ve survived before!”.
But the significant change has come in my outlook.
I have worked really hard to keep the mind tricks at bay. I have used writing as a way to keep my feelings in check. I have written an awful lot!
I am much better at not catastrophizing, (although at 8am when Steve informed me that his back had gone, there was a momentary relapse).
Over the summer I read a number of key books and more recently I have read “Frazzled” by Ruby Wax.
In the autumn, I did an online mindfulness course through FutureLearn. I have learnt amazing stuff about the brain and the relationship between body and soul.
I have engaged with educators who have helped me to realise that authenticity and a focus on wellbeing are not separate from raising attainment and closing gaps. Things like this keep me going: http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/this-town-adopted-trauma-informed-care-and-saw-a-decrease-in-crime-and-suspension-rates-20170222?utm_content=bufferafceb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I have found a tribe of likeminded educational souls and I feel supported, even though many of the tribe members are not in close geographical proximity.

I still fight the chimps, the demons, the internal voices that try and win from time to time. But on the whole I am winning. And you can too. It takes a bit of work but it is worth it. For those around you. For those you teach who will know when you are being authentic and will trust and learn from you because of it. But above all, for you.

🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻🌻

I usually sleep well but today I have woken at 5.15 and can’t sleep.
There is fierce raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries.
1. Something happened at work last week and I am worried that, although I know that I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.
2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues and I fear that they won’t like me and that they will realise I don’t know what I am talking about.
3. When the meeting is over I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.
4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week and feel as per 2 but also haven’t planned the training yet.
5. I have entered a singing competition in 3 weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.
6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.
7. My husband may have to stop working which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.
8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today but have arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight but am now worried that I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.
I could actually continue with more but 8 is probably enough.
What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.
But I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise that I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/ worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I KNOW.
So
1. I have lots of evidence of what really happened and I need to hold to that.
2. It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision which is to work with the team to improve outcomes for children.
3. I will write detailed notes in the meeting.
4. I have PowerPoints I can adapt and experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.
5. I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.
6. I can’t control her or her eating.
7. We only a have to get through 2 years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.
8.  University days. Frequent nights of 4 hours sleep. Baby days- ditto. Did I die? Nope.
Our minds can be devious and feelings and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, we can get through them.
Solution focus; we have within us the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges.
Happy Thursday.


On things that don’t change.⤴

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Today I did not march.
I took my beautiful, clever, inspiring girl and her equally fabulous friend to see ‘The Woman in Black’ in Glasgow.
And I realised that things will be ok.

I first saw the play in London in 1999 as part of a school drama trip from Huntingdon. As a drama teacher, it was a surprise to others that I had not seen it before. It was the absolute bread and butter of the GCSE live performance review paper and as soon as I saw it, I knew why. It exemplifies a huge range of dramatic conventions and techniques as well as a cornucopia of technical devices that one rarely experiences within one performance. It reminds us so powerfully of what drama and imagination can do: to create a horse and trap from a basket; to produce Spider the dog out of thin air and to tell a complex story through the incredible skill of just two performers and the collective imagination of the audience members; to force us to feel intensely and to venture into the lives of others. And teenagers love it.

I saw it again a few years later in Newcastle and so today was my third time. It was a joy to watch again and this time to share it with my girl.

Today I took some new messages from this classic: messages that I had not picked up previously about attachment and separation, looked after children and trauma, mental health and the need to tell our stories. And about the fact that there are some things beyond our comprehension and control.

But above all I was reassured by the fact that it is still the same, still so powerful, still such a timeless testimony to the power of drama and culture to transport us to another place where we can reflect on human nature and experience.
Politicians will come and go. Political decisions will impact on us for a while and then things will move on. But universal, archetypal, cultural experiences will continue to unite and enlighten us.
On the way home she asked whether we can see a Shakespeare.
Certainly, my lovely. Because 400 years on and we will still have more in common with that master of language and imagination than we do with the temporary rhetoricians and charlatans of today.