Author Archives: susanward30

Love and Nonsense⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

When I had my first baby, my Gran gave me a little poem in a frame. It’s by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton and it goes like this:

 

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow

For babies grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow,

So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep

I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.

 

I used to look at that little poem as I breastfed my daughter amidst the chaos of washing, nappies, toys and general debris that consumes a household when a new baby arrives. Those words calmed me, helped me to control the rising panic I felt when I looked around the room at all the things I had still to do. Those words helped me to focus on what mattered, helped me to relax and listen to the gentle rhythm of sucking and swallowing and the little heartbeat pressed against my own.

When my second daughter arrived seventeen months later, that little poem helped me see past the devastation wrought by my almost-toddler, the fact I’d slept for three hours in the last twenty four, the knowledge I hadn’t washed my hair in five days. Those words helped me remember that actually, none of that nonsense matters when you are rocking your baby, because your actions are carved out of pure, undistilled love. It is this love that you prioritise over all other things, that you must fight fiercely to protect in the face of your ever-growing to do lists.

The poem reminded me that these moments with your baby do not last; you must grasp then and cherish them because soon your baby will be a baby no longer. These little moments of pure love and connection will be gone.

I was at the Into Headship launch conference this week, listening to @louisemac talk about how we must lead with love. Her assertion that we must not be afraid of the word, that love is the most powerful change agent in the world.

How then, do you lead with love? For me, that question can be reframed as this:

How do you tamp down all the nonsense and focus on the moments with your learners that really matter?

Because these moments are just as fleeting in the classroom as they were with my wee girls- your class is yours for a heartbeat and then they are gone, on to new adventures without you. How do you ensure your time together makes a difference, that you use that time as wisely as possible?

Also speaking at #IH2016, @johnswinney shared his vision for a teaching profession unencumbered by bureaucracy, liberated to teach. He talked about ‘getting rid of the background stuff’ that gets in the way of brilliant teaching and learning. New guidance from the government promises to deliver this.

He also talked about the ‘collective autonomy’ of teachers, the importance of Scotland not just producing leadership clones that all operate in the same way. Rather, he suggested we need to embrace what’s excellent about what we do and work together to find our own way. I have long been a believer that the answer lies with teachers. That if we can just harness our collective power as a profession and speak with one voice about what truly matters in education, we will be unstoppable. Go check out TeachMeet Connect if you agree.

This to me, is about focusing on what matters about what I do and protecting it. It might not be exactly the same as what you choose to focus on. I might prioritise one aspect and you another, and that’s ok, as long as we are always guided by doing the very best for our learners. John Swinney urged us to find our own ‘North Star’; to know where we are going and why and to protect that path fiercely from anything that slows our progress.

So here’s my challenge to you this week:

Decide what matters.

Protect what matters.

For me that means the learning. Protect the learning. Fight off anything that will mean I am less able to be the best version of myself for the learners in my classroom. Have the confidence to strike things off the list that don’t belong there.

Will it be easy? Course not! But then, breastfeeding a newborn whilst my toddler swung from the light fittings wasn’t exactly a picnic either. But you get through it, because of love. If you love what you do, really love it, you’ll find a way to focus on what really matters.

Because being there, connected to your learners, connected to what you really love to do, is the most important thing. Investing that time and care and diligence and energy and sacrifice into something is how you grow a miracle. Sometimes those miracles are happy, healthy babies and sometimes they are the kid in your class who finally understands place value. Thanks to love. Thanks to you and what you do.

So quiet down paperwork and tests go to sleep

I’m teaching my learners and learners don’t keep.


An Ace That I Can Keep⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Well, it’s that time of year again. We are back to school. The busyness has descended once more. This is the time of year I need to take a deep breath. Get steady. Be ready. August is like the moment just before you swim a length underwater; technique really matters. If you don’t breathe deep enough, get steady enough, you’ll never make it to the other side.

So here’s my advice on how to get steady for this session. I will dispense this advice to the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’. Why? Because it’s a song about giving advice on getting steady. And also because when a song is on permanent repeat in your brain for a week and half, it’s probably trying to tell you something and you really ought to listen.

If you’ve never heard the song, by the way, stop reading and go and educate yourself immediately. We’ll wait here for you to get back.

Sorted? Ok, here goes:

Know when to hold ‘em

What are you going to hold on to this year? What matters to you? What aspects of your practice are you going to hold onto, regardless of what comes your way? For me it’s the learning, always the learning. Keep in sight what’s needed for real, authentic, messy, exhausting learning to take place, for teachers and pupils, and I know all will be fine. Everything else is background noise.

Know when to fold ‘em

So get rid of what doesn’t matter. Don’t go into the new school year with excess baggage. Like the day after a major house party, you need to take a long look around in the cold light of day and get rid of everything from last session that’s no good. Regrets. Frustrations. Disappointments. Unfinished marking. Let it go. It’s no good to you now. Looking at it all will only make you feel worse. So get the mental bin liners and Febreeze out and ditch the lot. New year, new start.

Know when to walk away

How’s your diary looking? Filling up? If it’s already looking like Piccadilly Circus in there, stop. Are you taking on more than is sensible? I am the worst ever at this next bit, but I’m going to say it anyway- you do not have to do everything by then end of August. Or even the end of September. Pace yourself. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you’re more Bolt than Farah, apply the breaks before you burn out. And primary teachers, for the love of God, stop laminating and eat your tea.

Know when to run

If it feels wrong, challenge it. If it’s making you ill, stop doing it. Talk to someone. Do not suffer through things alone. If you are overwhelmed, strap on your trainers and run to your person. You know the one I mean. The one that listens without judgement, helps you work out for yourself what you need to do next. You are not effective at what you do if you are in the black hole. So if you see it on the horizon, turn the other way and run back to the light.

Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table

Don’t congratulate yourself too much, but don’t beat yourself up too much either. You do stuff, things happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Remember it’s all learning. Parking your ego can be hard sometimes, but making mistakes, however embarrassing at the time, mean you are learning. At some stage this year, you’ll make a mistake. I’ve made about six already and it’s only been a week. Embrace your failures because they are data-rich. Everything you need to know about succeeding is down there in the wreckage of your latest screw up. So go and pour over the debris and next time you’ll do it right. (If you’re interested in this idea, read ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed, who says it a lot better than I have.

Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep

You know how you cleaned out your classroom at the end of term? Do that to your brain. Get rid of everything that you don’t need to be happy and effective this session. Hold onto the good stuff but ditch the rest. You’ll feel better for it.

Every hand’s a winner, every hand’s a loser

Remember it’s all relative. One person’s foul up is another’s success story. Something you think has gone appallingly may be perceived quite differently by your learners or colleagues. So be mindful of that mirror. Make sure it’s showing you a true reflection. Being too hard on yourself or doubting that you are any good is toxic to your ability to do your job well. Be proud of what you do. If you have invested your time and talents to make it the best possible version of itself, then set it upon the water and watch it sail to glory and greatness. Or at least don’t assume it’ll sink.

So there you are.

Have a great year.

Take a deep breath, get steady.

Believe you can do it.

Be ever watchful for black holes.

Keep your trainers handy.

Get into your classroom and gie it utter laldy.

 

And remember, ‘if you’re gonna play the game, you gotta learn to play it right.’

 

Thanks, Kenny. That’s an ace that I can keep.


Kevin Costner, The Kelly Report and Why Teachers Should Go Jump In a Lake⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Last Thursday, I attended the inaugural SCEL conference on Developing Teacher Leadership. It was a pretty amazing day. Fearghal Kelly got things going by introducing the Developing Teacher Leadership Report (already better known as the Kelly Report, after Fearghal’s joking suggestion it be renamed gained instant traction and has now well and truly stuck). The Kelly Report presents the findings of Fearghal’s engagement across Scotland with more than a thousand stakeholders on the subject of teacher leadership.

It’s an extremely interesting read. Take a look at this:

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Developing Teacher Leadership Report, page 6

 This summary of the eight key themes identified as a result of the engagement are all worthy of further exploration, discussion and debate.

The one that resonates most strongly with me is sharing. I have talked in the past about why sharing matters and it makes sense to me that increasing the opportunities for teachers to talk, share and learn from each other will lead to teachers who are better informed, happier and better at what they do. TeachMeet Borders is about carving out spaces for teachers to do just that and I really enjoyed talking during my workshop to teachers from across Scotland who are committed to doing the same.

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My notes from the TMBorders workshop

One of the key messages from the day was that teacher leadership isn’t a bolt on. It’s not an added extra. It is not some new, shiny initiative that teachers will be expected to heave on top of their already brimming workloads. It is quite simply, a change in mindset. Or as Fearghal himself put it ‘thinking differently, not doing more’.

To me, teacher leadership is about reflecting on what I do, sharing my practice (not just my stuff) with others and helping to ignite a rich and on going discussion about how we get better at what we do.

That doesn’t happen overnight. Developing a shared understanding in Scotland of what teacher leadership is will take time and patience and lots and lots of talking. It will sometimes seem like we are getting nowhere and the naysayers will tell us it’s a waste of time, energy and effort. At these moments, we will need to take a deep breath and remember the cheesy-yet-wise words whispered mysteriously to Kevin Costner in 80’s classic ‘Field of Dreams’:

If you build it, they will come.

Build opportunities for teachers to share and learn from each other and they will come. Maybe not at all at once, but they will come.

Field_of_Dreams_poster

If you’ve never seen this film, by the way, you need to. Like, right now.

One of the unsettling things revealed in the report is that one of the main barriers cited by teachers to increasing leadership was confidence. Ewan McIntosh said in his keynote ‘Having the confidence to act is what makes you a leader. Lacking confidence makes you a follower.’

As a profession, we lack confidence. We are followers. Collectively, (and I realise I am generalising hugely here) we are the pupil in the class who never volunteers an answer. We think we are not good enough. We think that what we have to say might not be important, or smart enough or insightful enough. We don’t think anyone wants to hear what we have to say. I know from working on TeachMeet Borders how hard it can be to get teachers to believe what they do is good enough to share, even with just a few colleagues. No one wants to stick his or her head above the parapets.

So maybe it’s time we demolish the castle.

My eight year old daughter went to Brownie camp this weekend. She had a ball. Lots of tree climbing, marshmallow roasting, the full nine yards. On the last afternoon, she went canoeing. At the end of the session, the instructor said, ‘See that island in the middle of the lake? Brownies always want to wade out to it, but no one ever has.’ ‘Why?’ my daughter asked. ‘Well, look at it!’ the instructor answered, pointing to the distant clump of mud and reeds in the murky water. ‘You’d fall over. The water’s freezing. You’d lose your wellies before you got halfway!’ Needless to say, the challenge was set and my daughter and her friends began wading out. Fifteen minutes later, she stood alone on the island, soaking wet, shivering and welly-less. Three baths and a shower later, I asked her if it was worth it. She answered, ‘I knew I’d have to give up my wellies, Mum, but I got somewhere no-one else has ever been.’

As a teaching profession, we need to give up our wellies. We need to let go of the aye bins and get a bit uncomfortable. We need to recognise that to develop teacher leadership, we will need to change our culture. It will be tough and people will tell us it can’t be done, that no one’s ever done it before, that we shouldn’t attempt it. But we need to keep going anyway.

Because we might just end up somewhere no-one else has ever been.

Join the discussion:

#TMBorders #scratchandriff #costnereffect @susanward30


Seven Things Teachers Wish School Leaders Would Say (And Three Things They Really Wish They Wouldn’t)⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

1.’How Was Your Weekend?’

Sounds obvious, but asking someone about their life outside of school (and actually listening to the answer) is an essential part of building a positive working relationship. It is also the first thing to be jettisoned when people get busy or stressed. Taking a little time to chat in this normal, everyday and courteous way shows that you recognise your teachers are more than just the sum of their parts, and makes it all the more likely they will come to you when they need help.

2. ‘What can I do to help?’

As a class teacher, I love it when the Head Teacher arrives at my classroom door, because it means an extra pair of hands. Getting round classrooms is something all school leaders know they should do, but few manage to prioritise. Other things get in the way. But actually, what’s more important than knowing what’s going on in your school today? What kind of an experience your learners are getting today? Which teachers are doing amazing things and which ones could do with some support? Without knowing how things are right now, how can you be sure the measures you are taking to move the school forward will be effective? So get into classes. And I don’t mean with your clipboard. I mean arriving unannounced, with your sleeves rolled up, ready to help out with whatever we are doing. Yes, some teachers will freak out, but only if you only ever do it once. If popping into classes and lending a hand becomes part of your normal practice, it will also become a part of theirs. And the benefits are huge. You will get to see what’s really going on. You will be able to have real conversations with teachers about learners and how to get the best out of them because you will have that essential ingredient to all discussions about practice- context.

3. ‘I’m heading home now, see you tomorrow.’

I did a placement as a student teacher in a school where the teachers literally competed to see who would be the last to leave each night. It was a badge of honour to be there last, a true sign of your commitment to the job. The ethos of that school was ‘unless you’re here til 6.30pm, you must be a slacker.’ Now, I like to think I am pretty decent at my job. I care. I try my very hardest. I am conscientious. But I’m not there until 6.30pm every night. And why should I be? I’ve got kids of my own at home that need me. I have a life and commitments outside of school that I am entitled to embrace. Having a healthy balance between my work and home life is essential if I am to continue to be decent at my job. Lack of balance leads to frustration, exhaustion, unhappiness, burn out. So lead by example. Go home by 5pm at least once a week. Be conscious of the ethos in your school after the last bell rings. Show that you too have a life outside of school and that you are protective of your own work-life balance. Your teachers will notice and be grateful for it.

4. ‘Tell me your plan for dealing with this.’

A teacher comes to you with a problem and they want you to solve it. Which is fine, you probably can, but do you really need to be adding to your own to-do list right now? So push it back across the table to the teacher. Imagine that teacher is me. Ask me what I think the solution to the problem might be. Support me in working out a plan for dealing with it. Tell me you are here to help. But be very clear with me that it’s my plan and I need to go and implement it. I might not be best pleased (because it’s always easier to dump a problem on someone else than solve it yourself) and it might mean you need to spend twice as long supporting me in dealing with it than you would have if you’d just sorted it yourself, but you are building capacity here. You are helping your teachers forge the confidence, creativity and resilience to solve their own problems, and that’s something worth investing in.

5. Nothing At All

I’m working with a teacher just now who has a really challenging class. Every day brings some new disaster or confrontation and by the end of the week she is often on her knees. Every day I am in that school, I make sure hers is the first classroom I visit after the bell rings. I make up some reason to pop in and while I’m there I ask her if she wants a cuppa. Then I take it to her and I let her talk. And I mean I let her talk. I have a secret rule that I don’t speak at all until I’ve finished my cup of tea. I just listen. Because an interesting thing happens when you create silence- people need to fill it. I’m not saying anything, so she keeps talking. We get quickly past the trivialities and into the nitty gritty of how the day went. She starts analysing, asking and answering her own questions, she identifies the wee glimmers of good stuff in another challenging day. She starts to formulate her plan (her plan, not mine) for the next day, based on how today has gone. In short, she debriefs. And I want it to be me she debriefs to, because then I know how her day has gone and I know how she ‘s feeling and I can work out how best I can support her. Most important cuppa of the day.

6. ‘We need to make this change because…’

School leaders are all about the big picture. They have the blueprint for future success and they share it with teachers so everyone knows what we are working towards. Sounds great. But what does that actually look like in practice? As a class teacher, do I understand why the changes I am being asked to make actually matter? Do I understand where these changes fit in with the master plan? Can I see how these changes are going to benefit my learners? If the answer to any of these questions is no, something has gone wrong. Explaining the why of change is just as important as explaining the how. Because teachers not on board with the why will never implement the how.

7. ‘How are things going?’

This is a good staffroom conversation starter. So is ‘What’s gone well so far today?’ ‘How’s wee Jimmy getting on with his Maths this week?’ and ‘What did you decide to do about that reading group you were telling me about?’ This is you checking back in following your ‘pop in’ visits. This is you showing me you remember me and my class and you are interested in what I am doing, beyond what’s on your clipboard. This is your golden opportunity to ensure what I’m doing as a teacher fits with the master plan, and your chance to gently nudge me in the right direction if it isn’t.

8. Please don’t say ‘My hands are tied on this one.’

Unless you are physically bound to a chair with cable ties, I don’t want to hear this one. Don’t make out like the thing I just asked you for isn’t within your power to agree to. Maybe it isn’t, but as a class teacher, you represent the top of the tree. If you are going to tell me why I can’t do a thing, I want to know your reasons why, not just a casual, palms-raised ‘I wish I could but I can’t’ shrug. If you don’t like what I’m asking for, tell me that and the reasons why. And if you do like what I’m asking for but it will mean a change from the status quo, or you having to shake the tree further up, tell me I’m going to have to convince you it’ll be worth it. Put the ball back in my court and give me a shot at it. I’ll respect you more for it and it might just lead to something new and brilliant.

9. Please don’t say ‘I’m going to need it by Friday (on Wednesday afternoon)

For all of the work-life balance issues discussed above. And because if it’s Wednesday now and you need it for Friday, it’s you who should be better organised, not me.

10. And finally, please don’t use jargon.

I don’t care if it’s an ‘actionable event that, across the piece, is a best-practice example of blue-sky thinking that we should run up the flagpole and touch base off-line about then share with colleagues before the grass grows too long.’

I just think it’s super-annoying.

 

Susan Ward is a Principal Teacher and a class teacher in the Scottish Borders.

Come and talk more about teacher-friendly school leadership at #TMBorders


Why Sharing is Caring (but only if there’s something in it for you)⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

I am working hard just now to encourage teachers in the Scottish Borders to engage with TeachMeet Borders, a series of local events that aim to provide space and time for sharing practice.

Because of this, I’ve been talking to teachers a lot about sharing, and I’ll ask you what I’ve been asking them:

What was the last thing you shared at school?

Are you thinking about a resource right now? Or a topic plan?

You are not alone.

Most of the teachers I spoke to cited resources or planning documents as things they have ‘shared’. Which is lovely, and I’m sure the poor soul who was sweating it over how to teach Vikings next term was extremely grateful you came along, but let me ask you this:

What did you get out of that deal?

They asked, you gave. They’re now a step forward and you are right where you started. Now, I know in terms of karma, and you know, being a decent human being and all, one shouldn’t automatically expect something in return when one shares. But really, what’s in it for you?

Let’s look a bit closer at the idea that sharing = giving people stuff (resources, planners, biscuits).

Imagine you have a child in your class who is struggling with a problem in Maths. You know he has the skills and knowledge to solve the problem, because you have taught him what he needs to know. He now needs to apply it. He comes to tell you he is ‘stuck’ and asks for your help.

What do you do?

Do you tell him the answer? I certainly wouldn’t!

Because he doesn’t need that from me. He can get there himself.

Giving him the solution is robbing him of the chance to discover it for himself. It’s shutting down learning. It’s ensuring he has no ownership of his learning and it sends the message that as long as the right answer (i.e., my answer) is reached, the goal has been achieved. In short, it’s rubbish teaching.

So instead of telling him the answer, I ask him to tell me what his plan is for solving the problem, based on what he has learned so far. Then I share with him how I might go about starting the problem, explain what I’ve tried before that’s worked for me. I encourage him to have a go and try the next bit and let me know how he’s getting on.

Now, if you go with the notion that sharing = giving people stuff, I should have just shared the answer with him; after all, he asked for my help.

But I didn’t.

Instead, we talked about his practice and mine, linked it to his skills and knowledge and then he took the next step that was right for him. Maybe his answer will still be wrong at the end, but think of the learning that will then result!

Now let’s imagine I am the teacher in the room next door to yours, and I’m freaking out about having to teach Vikings to P3. I am feeling overwhelmed. I am faced with something new. I have planned topics before, so I have the skills and knowledge that I need to plan this one, but for whatever reason, it’s just not happening.

What do you do? You are going to hand me your Vikings plan aren’t you? Because sharing = giving people stuff. Great! Means I can go home early! Admittedly, it does mean I’m probably not going to think through as thoroughly as I should how to tailor this topic to my learners. I’m probably not going to consider all the practicalities and pitfalls involved in each planned learning activity. And I suppose there is the chance I might miss the point when it comes to assessing all this because I will be using your thinking instead of mine, but hey, still, early finish!

Think about this ‘sharing’- have you really helped me here? Or have you just given me an easy option? And what did you get out of it?

I speak to lots of teachers that are tired of sharing in this way. They are fed up of handing over their stuff all the time, and frankly I don’t blame them.

So let’s consider another definition of sharing:

Sharing = giving people you

Don’t freak out. I don’t mean all of you. Just a little bit. Just a glimpse into your thinking, your motivation, why you do things the way you do.

Instead of giving me your topic plan, ask me what’s worrying me about planning my own. Remind me of the ones I’ve planned already. Point me towards good stuff you’ve used and tried before and tell me what are the important things you always keep in mind when you are planning. Encourage me to have a go at it and come and have a chat with you and share with you what I’ve done.

In other words- talk about your practice and mine, link it to my skills and knowledge and then enable me to take the next step that’s right for me.

That’s real sharing. And guess what? There’s actually something in it for you. This isn’t a deficit model of give stuff, get nothing. There are only winners in this share model and here’s why:

Sharing what you do helps you see what you do more clearly.

M Forster is often quoted as having said ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ Talking about what you do helps you to consider what’s important in your own practice, helps you see more clearly the path you have carved yourself, the values you have stuck to and been guided by.

When you share yourself, everybody wins.

So here’s my challenge to you:

Stop sharing stuff. Share yourself.

If you do, others will follow.

Imagine how it would feel if next time you were ‘stuck’, someone took half an hour to talk to you about how they’d do it, what works for them and why. Encouraged you to find your own way through, with their support?

To me that’s a way better use of my time than handing over all my hard work and thinking on a silver platter. No feeling of resentment. No feeling of giving all the time and getting nothing back.

So pay it forward. Share yourself. Enable others to move their own thinking on by just being you.

Because this is real sharing that will result in amazing professional dialogue about what really matters. It is not one person’s hard work handed around for an easy life and used without thought or adaptation. We, as a profession are better than that. We are worth more.

It is sharing as an acknowledgement that we are all at different places in our knowledge, skills and understanding and that what works for me might not work for you. It is sharing that abhors a vacuum; it encourages rich, complex debate and exploration of our own values and motivations as we share with others what matters to us most. It is sharing that shows you care about helping others fulfil their potential.

Start sharing yourself and see what happens. I’m right there with you.

A great place to start sharing is at a #TMBorders event! Click here to find out more!


Teachmeet Borders and why it’s time to share⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Let me ask you a question:

What was the last CPD you did?

Now here’s another question:

Are you thinking right now about the last course you went on?

Lots of people do when you ask them about CPD. They tell you (sometimes slightly defensively) that they were ‘on a course’ just last week. They’ve got the certificate to prove it.

I know all about these courses. I’ve got a folder full of certificates myself. I was looking at them all last night and a thought occurred:

What impact have all these courses actually had on my practice?

To go on these courses, I had to give things up. Time in my classroom. Dinner with my husband. More than once, my kids’ bedtime. I had to bolt out of school, race to the course venue to try and get there on time (usually unsuccessfully). I had to accept that I’d need to do my marking late at night or get up at the crack of dawn since the course was in the evening. That’s a lot of work and a lot of compromising with my work-life balance happening there.

Good job these courses have all been worth it then, eh?

Oh.

Picture the scene:

I’m sitting in an overly hot room with other tired people at the end of a long day. I’m only there because the title of the course sounded like it might vaguely fit with some of the things I’m interested in. Others are there because they’ve been told to attend by senior management, because it ticks a box if someone on the staff has ‘done the training’. You can spot these people, because they look even less happy to be there than the rest of us. The session begins and I find I am listening to someone very well-meaning talk me through every slide of a very long PowerPoint, in punishing detail. Now it’s time for the obligatory group discussion. I’m not sure what we are meant to be discussing as I mentally checked out and went to my happy place somewhere around Slide 17. I shuffle round in my chair though and get chatting to a couple of other teachers. One mentions she’s had a tough day with a boy in her class; she just can’t seem to get him to engage with learning. I have just begun to share a similar experience I’ve been having at school when suddenly time is up and we are supposed to report back to the group on whatever it is we were meant to be discussing. I notice none of the other groups are particularly forthcoming with their answers either. Then it’s feedback sheets all round, maybe a certificate for your CPD folder if you’re really lucky, then we head off home.

How many times I have spent that hour-long car journey home thinking ‘Well, that’s two hours of my life I’m never getting back.

And they don’t even give you cake.

Where’s the learning here? And why do we think that’s all we can expect from professional development?

Would you accept that standard of provision as good enough for your learners? Of course not! We strive to give them the very best conditions for learning. Don’t you deserve the same? My head teacher once said ‘Without being a learner yourself, you are unlikely to be able to set the right conditions for learning.’

So how do you learn best? For me, it’s about sharing. I want to talk about what I do and I want to hear about what you do. I want to magpie all interesting stuff from what you tell me and think about how it might work in my setting, for my learners. I want to examine my practice and justify why I do what I do. I want to look at what I’m doing through the lens of the best research and see how it measures up. Through that process, I get better.

And it starts with sharing.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if that was what we thought of as CPD? A room full of teachers who set their own agenda, sharing what they do, talking about what they’ve been reading, bouncing ideas around and cherry-picking their favourite bits, then going back to class and trying something new. Keeping in touch with each other and sharing again, this time about how the ‘something new’ worked out?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘Yeah, sounds ok, but no way am I sharing what I do. You’re thinking ‘I’d rather stick my head in a basket of rats than share my own stuff with a room full of teachers.’ How do I know? Because I’ve heard it before, more times than I care to count:

What have I got to offer?

What can I possibly share that would be of interest to others?

What if I’m way off-beam and what I think is good is actually rubbish?

The lack of confidence teachers have in the validity of their own practice never ceases to upset me. Why wouldn’t it be good enough? I trust your judgement. If you’re telling me it works for you, I want to know about it. This is what you do. This is your craft, your passion, your talent. Own it. Be proud of it. And for goodness sake, have the guts to share it with me.

I understand that the ick-factor is high. I get it, I really do. Sharing can be scary. But you know what? It’s time to get over it. Would you accept the basket-of-rats response from your learners? Hardly! We are constantly encouraging our young people to share what they do and give each other high quality feedback- it’s the mantra we embed for all improvement; know where you are, know where you’re going, know how to get there.

And it starts with sharing. So if you wouldn’t accept these responses from your learners, don’t settle for them yourself. Anything else is selling yourself short.

It’s time to practise what we teach.

Because the clue’s in the name- professional development. If it’s not helping you develop professionally, it’s a big, fat waste of everyone’s time. What I’m talking about here is actual discussion. Not sitting listening to an expert tell you how to be better. Only you can decide how to be better. How? Through professional dialogue that results in measurable, improved practice. Sharing what you believe is excellent about what you do. Putting it in front of others and discovering if they agree.

Scary? Absolutely. It means taking a chance. Trusting others to be respectful with something you have invested in. But it’s no more than what you ask kids to do every day. Share your learning. Ask for feedback. Use the feedback to make your performance better.

I want to be part of a profession where sharing what I do is just part of what I do. It shouldn’t be scary, or icky, or involve baskets of rats. It should just be what we do in order to get better. And wherever possible, it should involve cake. So I set up TeachMeet Borders.

There’s one happening near you and it’s going to be brilliant. You can expect teachers like you, sharing their own practice on a range of different topics. You can expect teacher-led discussion about practice and pedagogy. You can expect non-scary, non-judgemental teachers, just like you, who are giving this sharing thing a go for the first time too. And obviously, you can expect decent cake.

TeachMeet Borders is about carving out time and space in our busy lives to talk about what we do and giving teachers the chance to share practice and challenge each other. You can expect plenty of ‘Wow! I’ve never looked at it that way’ moments, but it isn’t just about leaving with a bunch of new tricks to try in your classroom; it’s about taking time to reflect on what you do and how you can make it better. Because real, systemic change happens when you look in, then out. In, then out.

Personally, I won’t be happy until high quality professional dialogue and reflection are fully integrated into our everyday practice. We are professionals and we should be developing ourselves professionally; if it’s not good enough for your learners, then don’t accept it for yourself. You’re worth more. And your learners will get better from you as a result.

So here’s my challenge to you- stop letting professional development be done to you. Be active, not passive. Come to a TeachMeet Borders event and find out what CPD that actually works feels like.

 It will mean being a bit brave. It will mean spending literally two minutes (I have a timer and everything) talking about what you do. But we will give you encouragement and respect and cake.

 And we can’t wait to meet you.

 Sign up now at TeachMeet Borders.

Keep up to date via Twitter @susanward30 #TMBorders


Voices In My Head⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

So I want to tell you a story. Something you don’t know about me.

I won a Teaching Award once. I was the UK’s Best New Teacher of the Year, 2006. I got a trophy and everything. There was a big award ceremony in London that was televised on BBC2, it was all proper glitzy.

I had been teaching for a little over a year and, after being nominated by my school and winning Probationer of the Year in the Scottish Education Awards, the nationals followed. It was all very exciting. I did newspaper and radio interviews, I got my own wee party at the City of Chambers in Edinburgh where I was presented with a signed ‘Harry Potter’ first edition. I was invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace and met the Queen, then another reception to meet then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I was asked to give presentations to students and teachers across the country.

It was an amazing, intense episode in my very new career. I remember the feeling of panicky excitement that I felt with each new opportunity. ‘Oh God, that’s so brilliant’ quickly followed by ‘Oh God, what if I screw up?’ My imposter syndrome went into overdrive, whispering in my ear at every opportunity; ‘They’ll find out you’re actually a bit rubbish’ and ‘You can’t keep this up, they’ll see the real you eventually’. It was a curious mix of nervous energy, flattery and abject fear.

Now, the idea of teaching awards is a divisive one, I get that. Parading teachers around and picking some out as the best is a distasteful concept to many. Some see it as demeaning to the profession, or damaging to our sense of the collegiate. Others claim pitting teachers against each other to win awards creates discord where there should be harmony. Some see it as just plain tacky.

I got the full force of some of these opinions via the TES chatrooms. There was a whole thread dedicated to Scottish teachers venting their spleen about how bad teaching awards were in general and a ‘who does she think she is anyway?’ discussion about how I was actually a bit rubbish. It was like my imposter syndrome had taken human form and hacked my laptop.

Now, you need to remember this was 2006. Getting slagged off on the internet was still quite a new phenomenon in Scotland and apparently, newsworthy. I was also very green. I was twenty-six years old. I had shoes in my wardrobe older than my teaching career. I did the worst thing possible and I gave the whole thing oxygen by posting my response online. It was part rant, part you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourselves scolding. A very small flurry of articles followed, most horrifyingly for me, the front page of the TES with the screaming headline ‘AWARDS TEACHER VILIFIED’ beneath a picture of me looking particularly annoyed (which had been taken in London right before the awards ceremony when I was so nervous I thought I was going to puke). Click here if you really must.

I was utterly mortified. My excitement turned to upset. The invitations dried up. I started receiving letters from teachers around the country, sympathising with me, telling me how sorry they were I was being bullied like this.

‘Bullied?’ I thought. ‘Seriously?’ Because it wasn’t nice what was said about me online, but I didn’t feel bullied. I was bullied in primary school and I know very well what it feels like. It strips away agency. It makes you feel like you have nothing to say, nothing to offer. It makes you feel worthless and pointless and invisible.

I came out of the other side of that with a determination that I would never be silenced in that way again. The broken girl who bullied me when I was ten years old gave me the most precious gift anyone could ever give- she gave me my voice, and I have guarded it fiercely ever since.

So it made me mad that people were now making out like I was a victim. It enraged me that I looked like a poor wee soul on the front of the paper.

What had been fun and exciting became frustrating and a bit humiliating. I felt like no one was really very interested in how I really felt about it so I decided to just not say anything. The awards got consigned to the back of the cupboard.

Of course, this was all a storm in a very tiny teacup. It blew over quickly and I got back to the much more interesting business of learning how to teach. My five seconds of fame was behind me.

I moved house recently, right next door to my mum and dad. It’s proper handy. Stuff just appears in my fridge and the heating’s always on when I get home. It’s brilliant. Last week, two teaching awards also just appeared on the shelf in my living room. You know what mums are like.

Seeing them again, ten years later, felt a bit strange. It was all so long ago, it feels a bit like it happened to someone else.

On Thursday night, I was chatting on Twitter during #scotedchat with other educators in and beyond Scotland. @GeorgeGilchrist raised the ‘reluctance of many teachers and school leaders to either think their views have validity, or to be prepared to put them out there on public forums like Twitter or express them through blogs.’ He explored further in his own blog the idea that as a profession we often lack the confidence to say what we really think.

It got me thinking about how I had come to see the whole teaching award thing as an embarrassing sidebar to my career, something I kept hidden from others for fear they would think I’ve got a big hit for myself. I have essentially become my own internet troll.

A decade on, and I can say with some perspective that I wouldn’t change a thing. Being involved with the Scottish Education Awards and Teaching Awards was overall a really positive experience. I met some amazing and inspiring people. It brought just credit to my school and colleagues, it brought huge excitement and pleasure to my wee P2 class (who will now all be in S3 or S4!) and it was a whole lot of fun. Even the rubbish bit did me some good I think- it helped me keep my feet on the ground and not get too carried away with myself. It kept my ego in check and reminded me to wind my neck in and learn my craft.

And that’s the balance we need I think in education- it’s not about a few voices listening to and agreeing with each other, back-slapping and congratulating each other on how brave we are to be blogging. That won’t move us forward. It’s about each educator finding a way to reflect on the creative process of teaching and learning with honesty and curiosity and committing to talking about it. George talks in his blog about ‘our professional responsibility to contribute to the debate’ and I think he’s hit the nail on the head. We are the voice from the shop floor, people. We are the authentic voice of the profession. We have a duty to use that voice for the good of all that we do.

Look, even as I type this, I’m worried about what you will think of me. Telling you my wee story is kind of a big deal for me; I haven’t even told my colleagues at work. But I’m doing it because I think it’s time I expose it to the light and because I want to give you the opportunity to say something back. It would be nice if you were kind, but I’ll live with it regardless. All good conversations need a bit of conflict as kindling; if we all agree all the time, how will we ever forge something new?

So make this the week you tell your story. Blog it, note it, video it, chat about it in the staffroom. Find you voice. Use your voice. I’m standing beside you. I’m holding your hand. I am giving you a virtual high five right now for even just considering it. Be brave. Have confidence in what you want to say and then just say it.

Commit to the debate and let’s start a new adventure together.


Any Questions?⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

It’s been a busy week. Busy at school, busy at home.

The ‘to do’ list has kept growing and it has felt like every time I crossed something off at the top of the list, another four things have appeared on the bottom.

Most people I meet seem to be the same. Hurried ‘good mornings’ with colleagues in the corridor at work as they race from one lesson to the next and hurried catch-ups with friends as children are bustled from one after school activity to another.

Why do we do this? Why are we living our lives at such a break-neck speed?

I feel like I spend my life rushing through tasks, head down, keeping going, with the constant knowledge that to let one of those tasks slide would be to admit a fatal weakness; I’d be a bad mum, a bad teacher. ‘If you were just better organised’ I chastise myself whilst folding the kids’ washing at 6am. ‘If you’d worked through lunch today you could have got that done by now’ I mutter to myself while marking jotters at bedtime.

The impact of all this busyness and negative self-talk is stress. Oppressive, shove-you-to-the-ground-and-sit-on-you stress. That breathless, panicky feeling like someone’s hand is round your throat, even when you are asleep.

I am a big believer in authentic teaching and learning- to get the best out of my learners, I know I need to be the best version of myself. I need to be in the room, present and ready to create the conditions that will allow my learners to flourish. That means not thinking about the homework my own kids still need to finish before tomorrow morning or the emails I haven’t replied to.

Stress + Busyness = Poor Quality Teaching

Having a teacher that is constantly in motion is like trying to learn long division from a whirling dervish; it simply does not work. I have come to realise that, instead of deserving an award for keeping on top of everything, instead I am short-changing my learners by trying to do too much.

 My busyness has become toxic. And what’s worse, it’s highly infectious. Rushing my learners through one lesson after another, trying to pack everything in, infects them with my stress. The message they get from my hurried glances at the clock and reassurances they’ll be time for questions later, is that learning is linear and speed is king. Do it right, do it once, do it fast.

How awful to reduce the magnificent, sprawling, gloriously creative mess of learning to a sad little straight line, from A to B.

Twitter (via @FifeEduTeam) led me to a quote this week:

“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been–it may even be greater–for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.”― Margaret Wise Brown

Margaret Wise Brown wrote children’s books. She died in 1952. I can only imagine what she would have made of how as a society we have continued to worship at the altar of activity (with increasing devotion) in the sixty years since her death.

The idea that quietness is an essential part of learning is often overlooked. It does not sit well beside Government benchmarks for progress in learning or tracking attainment. It is jostled out of the way by a curriculum bursting at the seams. School leaders are nervous about teachers embracing quietness. ‘What’s the point of this?’ they’ll ask crossly when they see a class reading for pleasure or taking a walk down the corridor after a Maths lesson. ‘Where’s the learning here?’ ‘What is this achieving?’ Such school leaders cannot see the invisible, subtle importance of weaving quiet space into the busy tapestry of teaching and learning and this is a fatal mistake. The downtime to process learning is fundamental to the learning process- it needs to be built in and respected. It is not a skive if, as a result of twenty minutes of quiet reading, learners and teacher are refreshed and ready to move on to new and greater heights.

So, my plan this week is to start from quiet. I am going to carve out spaces for quiet in my professional and personal life and I am going to infect my learners with this instead of my toxic busyness. I am going to breathe in deeply and avert my eyes from that hateful ‘to do’ list and just start doing. And I am going to break up the doing with quietness. I am going to say:

That’s an interesting idea, let’s explore it.

How would you like to tackle this problem?

Let’s take time out now to let that sink in.

 

And best of all:

Any questions?

 

 

 

 

 


Flashing Lights, Raspberry Pi and Why You Should Fail More⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

This time last week I was packing my bag and checking my train tickets because I was heading to Manchester for Picademy @ Google. I was looking forward to two days of total Raspberry Pi immersion.

Sadly, this was not a CPD event based around baked goods (although someone should definitely look into that). A Raspberry Pi is a low-cost computer that fits in the palm of your hand and can be used by people of all ages to learn how to computer program.

It’s also freaking awesome.

I’d done a very little bit of coding through running a Code Club at school, but I’d never even seen a Raspberry Pi before I arrived in Manchester. Over the next two days, I learned how to do a bit of programming, wire up a circuit, use a camera and other cool gadgets to extend what the Raspberry Pi can do and even build my own project to show what I had learned.

I also failed. A lot.

An hour in on the first day and I was really struggling. There were people in the group that clearly knew their way around a Pi and when the first challenge was to build a circuit and write the code to get an LED to flash, the room was like Blackpool Illuminations in about two minutes. Meanwhile, I was still trying to get mine out of the box.

Oh crap.

My palms started sweating, my breathing got quicker. I was desperately looking at what everyone else was doing and trying to catch up (by copying) before anyone noticed. Had it not been for the enthusiasm and encouragement of the Raspberry Pi trainers (who are totally brilliant in every way), I might have snuck out the nearest fire exit. I was well out of my comfort zone. I was being challenged to do something I didn’t already know how to do.

In short, I was learning.

Realising this changed my attitude instantly. I stopped freaking out. I applied myself to the task and I stuck with it and eventually, with perseverance and determination and a couple of breaks to eat biscuits and get some advice, I got that LED to flash. Move over, Mark Zuckerberg!

Of course, by this time a good section of the group had moved on to three flashing LEDs, controlled by a button and some clever coding to mimic traffic lights, but still!

Being back in the role of the learner took me by surprise. And to my eternal shame, I can’t think of the last time I consciously put myself in that position. Certainly not in such a visible way. With people watching and everything. It felt really uncomfortable at first, like putting on shoes you haven’t worn for ages. I didn’t have all the answers. I wasn’t the expert. I wasn’t in charge of where this was going. What happens if I get it wrong?

In actual fact, I did get it wrong. Many, many times. I’d love to tell you that each time I got it wrong, I persevered and succeeded in the end, but that would not be true. Some of the stuff was so far beyond where my understanding and skills were, I just couldn’t get to it. Or I’d get so far but then hit a brick wall that I couldn’t get myself around without help.

I was a learner again and it made me remember something:

Learning is hard.

You have to push yourself and be brave and look like a bit of an eejit sometimes and not give up and ask questions more than once. It’s an exhausting, exciting, frustrating, exhilarating drama, full of mini highs and mini lows. You have to fail (a lot). Through failure, you learn what doesn’t work and you learn that you can either give up or suck it up and try again. Because it’s failure that makes success worthwhile.

So ask yourself this:

When did I last fail?

If, like me, you can’t answer that, you need to do some failing and this is why:

Forgetting what it’s like to fail means you can’t empathise with your learners.

Credit where credit’s due, people. Your learners show up, give it a go and engage with the messy and tiring process of learning every single day. Does anyone expect you do that? As the teacher, you are the expert, you have the power and the answers and the big picture. Try sitting on the other side of the classroom- the whole thing looks pretty different from over there, I can assure you.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

I’m going to fail more.

I’m going to talk to my class about my failures and what I learned from them.

I’m going to show that I am a learner too and that I know how hard it can be.

 

And most importantly, I’m going to show them that we don’t give up.

Because in spite of all my challenges, I proper LOVED Picademy. I had the best time. I was completely inspired by what’s possible. I moved my understanding and skills on and I failed enough that I really want success. That is the true magic of learning. I am totally committed to changing my practice to embrace what I have learned. That for me is top quality CPD. It’s time well spent.

Incidentally, Fearghal Kelly started a discussion this weekend about Teachmeets that’s led to some consideration of how/if they make a difference to practice.

Maybe if we all make a commitment to fail more, seek out development opportunities where we challenge ourselves to fail, then reflect on these with our colleagues, they will.

Thanks to @Raspberry_Pi  for everything- my LEDs will always flash when I think of you! #Picademy


Wet-look leggings and why if it ain’t broke you should fix it anyway⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

I’ve never really been one for tradition. I don’t mean birthdays or Christmas traditions, I’m all for Christmas; I have the antlers and novelty jumper to prove it.

I’m thinking more about tradition in education.

You know what I mean, that comfortable way of doing things that you just stick with because that’s the way you’ve always done it. Or because that’s the way everyone else does it. These are the snuggly cardigans of your practice- comfortingly familiar and maybe a little worn out at the elbows from overuse. Maybe they aren’t even yours- often these are handed down by colleagues or issued to you at the door on your first day by the head teacher- ‘there you go, that’s how we do things here’.

Everyone has their ‘aye bins’. And we need them too; in order to get good at something, you need to practise, and when you practise, you do the same thing over and over again until you become proficient in the skill. The problem is though, if you do this for too long, you stop practising and it becomes just what you do.

And if you only ever walk the one path, you’ll only ever see the same things.

My point is, you need to shake it up a little. Look in the wardrobe of your practice- push the cardigans along to one side and what do you see? If it’s just more cardigans you need to ask yourself why that is. What’s missing here? Just like a well-stocked wardrobe, you need a mixture of old favourites and new things that change each season. What’s just arrived in your practice to challenge you and your learners? In other words, where’s the new in what you do?

Ask yourself:

 What did I last try in the classroom that took my learners by surprise?

 What do I do now that I wasn’t doing a year ago?

Not all new is good. I made a particularly bad decision once with a lively P5 class when I introduced table points using round, flat plastic tokens. I couldn’t get them to listen to me after that as they were too busy playing tiddly winks with the tokens and fighting over who had won. It was a total disaster and I had to think again.

That was the teaching equivalent of an impulse buy- I saw the idea and implemented it without really thinking through if it would work or suit my learners. These are the wet-look leggings of what you do; ill-fitting and likely to result in crying.

So you don’t want too many cardigans and you can’t avoid a few pairs of dodgy leggings, but what about the rest? What should your teaching wardrobe be filled with? Sensible staples that change over time. Ways of doing things you have thought about and considered if they will suit you, if they will help you be your best. Sometimes the only way to know is to give it a go; try on a new idea and see if it suits you, if it does, great! If not, consign it to the back of the wardrobe; at least you’ve tried it and you will have learned something from the experience (like not to use tiddlywinks as table points). Aim for a mixture of safe, risky and somewhere in between.

I’ve been lucky to work for leaders who have been fine with my eclectic fashion sense- leaders who have allowed me, encouraged me to take risks and experiment and try new things, to see if they suit. I have been give the time and space to become the kind of teacher I want to be, learning from the choices (good and bad) that I have made and moving my practice forward accordingly. Most important of all, I own everything in my teaching wardrobe- I put it all there, it belongs to and it is unique to me. And this you must guard fiercely, for the alternative is very grim indeed.

Leaders and schools that shut down your creativity, that shout ‘do it this way’ or ‘that’s not how we do it here’ have a devastating impact on quality teaching and learning. Insisting we all do things the same way ensures nothing new will ever happen. When we all do things the same way, we all begin to look the same, we lose our uniqueness, our creative right to lead our own practice. In short, it’s pupils who should be wearing the uniforms, not the teachers.

 So have a look inside your teaching wardrobe and find out what’s there. I hope there’s something lovely with the tags still on, ready to be tried on this week. I hope you, like me, have been given the time and space to put together things that really suit you and help you be your best. And if not? If you just see the one uniform that you are expected to wear every day? Or a whole rail of comfy cardigans, perfectly serviceable but not likely to excite or inspire? Then go shopping, my friend. Find something new and try it out. Challenge anyone and anything that wants to take away your right to lead, shape and develop your own practice.

Because deciding what to wear every day may be much more difficult than just shrugging on the same old uniform, but it is the only way to ensure that you can be you.

And no one else can do that.