Sunday, 31 January 2016

Growth Mindset Month is over!

So a month ago I pledged to tweet a picture every working day for a month that would be tied in with Growth Mindset.   Its been an interesting time.   I don't know how much impact this has had - I tried to stay away from the 'famous' and 'stock' Growth Mindset stuff as I wanted to take a new slant on things.  

It was not always easy to remember to keep tweeting the photos  . . . .

I have really been pushing Growth Mindset this year and am pleased to see some of the language and ideas starting to filter in to the classrooms (and even the hallways) around my school.   This is something I am keen to continue to embed so that all of the staff feel part of the process to challenge any student who feels that they are not good enough and cannot achieve their dreams.  

If you missed any of the twenty pictures - I am going to post them below - so that you can download them away to your hearts content!  


Challenging how we make kids think about themselves . . .

At this time of year, in the aftermath of the 11+/AQE/GL assessment results, it is very interesting to see the discussions about the impact that these types of test had on people in the past and the way that this shaped their lives from that point on.  

I am not a fan of testing at 11.  Though I did have a child going through it all this year.  
I would love to see the tests go.   I hate this pressure that we put on 10/11 year old children.  I hate the pressure that we as parents and a wider society put on these tests.   I am a fan of comprehensive education.   I am an even bigger fan of Top Quality education and education in schools where there is a significant investment and drive to improve, to try new things and to push children to their maximum capacity.

Within Northern Ireland there are exceptionally good secondary schools.  There are also exceptionally good grammar schools.   But, funding and resource management is not universal to both.   It is rare for a grammar school to fall below its intake number, so they also know exactly what their budget will be.   Sometimes, even the best secondary schools are trying to get as many children into school as they can.  To maintain staff.  To make sure that they can actually put on the widest possible curriculum for students.   To be able to have the funds to buy those new computers or those new books for the classroom.  

I hate the thought that ANY child in Northern Ireland feels like a failure after this test.   This test only tests English and Maths ability.  What about the gifted sportsmen and women?  What about the young geographers, the historians, the ones who know everything there is to know about dinosaurs?  The ones who can code a computer game?  The ones who can edit a 5 minute movie better than an A Level ICT student?   What about the ones who love baking?  The ones who know how to strip an engine?  The ones who can build amazing creations out of lego?   The ones who can sing and dance on a stage in front of hundreds of people?  

We have created a very constrictive view about what intelligence is.

I don't like it.

Every child, every learner is unique and talented and gifted and it our job as teachers to help to unlock this genius and point children in the right direction.   We need to challenge how we make kids think about themselves.   This test does not define who you are or what you are and I am glad to see so many primary schools instilling this in their students and writing to them to remind those that miss whatever mark is set, that they are still amazing.  

I firmly believe that every child has got one thing that they are brilliant at.   This does not always map easily with what we do in school - so finding that talent needs to be wider than how you do at school. There is a responsibility here for everyone to be included in building up our young people.  

In our house, we spent a long time reminding my son that this test did not define him - regardless if the result was good or bad.   In the end, the final result was not really a big deal - we had more important things to be thinking about yesterday!!  He also is very aware that some of the things he enjoys the most were not tested!  

Yet parents - how much about THAT score is about us?  Is it about our social standing?  Is it about being to tell people down the Rugby club where our child is?   Is your child really best suited for that  school?   Is it right to put further pressure on your child by employing tutors to further practice what is already being covered in school?  Yes - we want what is best for our children, but at what cost?

I've spent all my working life working in secondary schools.   I want to be involved in building a school that provides for every child, that allows them to follow their dreams and to actually enjoy the whole experience of school at the same time.   Its not always easy.  There is a lot of re-building the confidence of the young person and sometimes breaking down the walls that children put up to deal with further failure and rejection that can be incredibly difficult to dissolve.    But, we need to remind these young people that we won't give up on them.   In the school I work in, as a staff we have been thinking a lot about Growth Mindset and how we can encourage young people to realise that they can improve and that intelligence and results are not fixed.   Its a start.  

So parents, you might like to know that for me, as a teacher - I am going to do my very best to make sure that actually it does not matter what school you end up in - BUT, it is all about you and how you respond to that  . . . . now, that is another story  . . . . !

Saturday, 2 January 2016

New Years Resolutions?? Its OK to FAIL!

I never have been very good at setting or keeping New Years Resolutions.   Every year I might think to myself that I want to do something to change . . . to eat less chocolate, to smile more,   to not be grumpy first thing in the morning (or the rest of the day, for that matter).

The one and only time when I managed to keep things going longer for 3 days was the year when I decided to say 'Yes'.  That was an interesting year and led me into a few places and situations where I never really expected to find myself.   But sometimes its those chance encounters and opportunities that can really take you in an interesting direction.  

But usually, I make a resolution and by the 3rd of January it has been confined to the bin with all of the other Christmas leftovers.    There is a guilt associated with giving up on a resolution.   Maybe we should not make resolutions that we know we are never in a million years going to hold on to.

But,  making resolutions is part of our Growth Mindset.  We want to change.   We want to do things better.   We want to 'fix' things that might not be in balance in our lives.   We think of a few things that might make our lives more complete.   There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.  This helps us in our realisation that we CAN do better.  It is an acceptance that we are not FIXED - that there are measures that we can take to improve our lot and our lives.  

And this means that is is perfectly acceptable to FAIL!   Failing is often the first step in realising what we need to do.   It allows to hone what we do.   It allows to refocus and find something else to work on and maybe simplify our targets and goals.  

So don't beat yourself up if you fail and give up on your resolutions.  
Refocus and come up with ONE realistic target that you can achieve in one month.  Not in one week or one year.   Make it achievable.   And then take the steps necessary to achieve that goal.  Make the changes that need to be made and get the people around you to support you (and badger you)!

I have spent the last year talking about Growth Mindsets and making sure that we push students (and teachers) out of their comfort zones and I have a feeling that this message will still be ringing long into 2016 as well.   If we are 'happy' and 'satisfied'  this often means that we are starting to stagnate.  So, keep moving.   Keep believing that you can improve more and that being comfortable is not really what it is all about!

Happy New Year!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Growth Mindset Month

I have been thinking a lot over the last year in relation to Growth Mindset.  I've done a few talks on this and have made this as a major focus for our staff development days and staff meetings in school. We have been trying to pick out different aspects of this and tried to inspire teachers in particular to adopt a Growth Mindset language and attitude.

There are a lot of lovely Mindset quotes out there and I have been ploughing through a few of them and have made them into inspirational posters for my classroom.   However, I thought I might have a go at creating some of my own.  They are not ground breaking.  They are not deep.  They are simple straightforward expressions that are there to help those of you who are interested in this sort of thing to develop your Growth Mindset attitude.

So on Mon 4th Jan I will kick this off and there will be one more Growth Mindset poster every working day throughout the month of January!   Each image will go live the day before to give you time to retweet to your hearts content!   The images themselves were all taken by me or Mrs M whilst we were in Iceland during the summer.  Some inspiring scenery to make your day!!!  

Enjoy, oh and Happy New Year!

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Coldplay: The music for developing a Growth Mindset

I was sitting in the car the other day and had the new Coldplay album playing in the background.  The previous album 'Ghost Stories' had been concerned with loss and change but the new album was initially described by the band as being uplifting.

There is no doubt that the band have produced something that is different.  Chris Martin is quoted as saying that "the band was trying to make something colourful and uplifting. He also stated that it would be something to "shuffle your feet" to." 

The album is certainly different from the noises of Ghost Stories.   The album title itself 'A head full of Dreams'. The story of hope and struggle for a new mindset starts right here.  The third line 'When I'm feeling ordinary . . . when I don't know what I mean' reminds us that our starting place is one of ordinary-ness but this is not the plan.  This is not how life should be  . .  instead 'and you get a head, a head full of dreams, You can see the change you want to, Be what you want to be.'  

Yet, each of the tracks on the album has a optimistic vibe that does not allow us to be complacent.  It is an album for dreamers.   It is an album for people who want to do better with their lives - who want to 'Everglow'  who are on an 'adventure of a lifetime' who might be having an 'amazing day'. 

There is a real sense of never giving up through the piece.  In Army of One the second verse reads
So I never say die, aim never untrue
I'm never so high as when I'm with you
And there isn't a fire, that I wouldn't walk through
My army of one is gonna fight for you

But i have to admit that my favourite song of the album and potentially of the year - is UP&Up.  its such a cool tune of inspiration from the Fixing up of a care to drive in it again to the chorus where 

We're gonna get it, get it together right now
Gonna get it, get it together somehow
Gonna get it, get it together and float, oh

We're gonna get it, get it together, I know
Gonna get it, get it together and float
Gonna get it, get it together and go
Up and up and up

But that is not all  . . . . oh no, Chris Martin has more to say and returns to the theme from the opening verse on the album . . .

Lying in the gutter, aiming for the moon
Trying to empty out the ocean with a spoon
Up and up
Up and up

How can people suffer? How can people part?
How can people struggle? How can people
Break your heart?
Break your heart, oh

Yes I wanna grow, yes I wanna feel
Yes I wanna know, show me how to
Heal it up
Heal it up, oh

and finally 

Fixing up a car to drive in it again
When you're in pain, when you think you've had enough
Don't ever give up
Don't ever give up

Believe in love

This is a masterpiece of positive thinking.   There is a drive and a determination to make a difference.   To go the extra mile.  To believe in difference.   To not allow negative thoughts to whisper in on the soul.   This is not an album for the Fixed Mindset.   It is one where music makes the difference.   It is where music inspires and forces us into action  . . . to do this things we never thought possible.  Its a theme that Coldplay have explored before and in many ways is there attempt to Fix You  . . . . 

You can listen to the tracks here on my special spotify playlist 

Monday, 28 December 2015

Reflections on the musical year of 2015


The investment recently of a dvd-rom driver thingy has changed the nature of a lot of my music this year.  I spent a few days going through my old boxes of Cds in the attic and downloaded quite a few of them into my music collection.   So 2015 has been filled with quite a lot of new music and quite a lot of old classics that got a bit of a revisit.  

So what has made the Top 10 this year  . . . . .

10   Black Sun by Death Cab for Cutie (from Kintsugi)
I saw DCfC a few years ago.  I booked tickets for my wife and she had never heard the band and was more than a little surprised to watch me sing along with every song.   Now that my daughter is a discerning teen and music addict like her dad – it was her turn to ve surprised to find that I was such a big fan and the haunting guitar through the track is pure Death Cab  . . . .

9  What Went Down by the Foals (from What Went Down)
I only allow myself one song from an album on this list.   I could have chosen Lonely Hunter but the first track of the album is more typical Foals.  Voice stretched to the limit and driving beat give this the song the pace that it needs  . . . when I see a man I see a lion  . . . .

8  Polaroid by Imagine Dragons (from Smoke+Mirrors)
Imagine Dragons rarely produce a bad song.  Every song has something memorable about it and this album is fulled with classic songs and it builds well on their previous album (Night Visions).  Again, I could also have (very) easily chosen Friction as my song of choice from the album.  Definitely a band that I would like to see live in the near future  . .

7 I’m Leaving by Low Roar (from Havallagata 30 EP)
We spent a week in Iceland during the summer and stayed in the same are of Reykjavik that this EP is based on.   The weird thing about driving around Iceland is that when you listen to Icelandic music as you explore the country – it seems to make sense.   Seriously, we must have played hundred of hours of Sigur Ros, Mum, Olafur Arnalds, Low Roar etc and it makes sense.  Only there, mind. 

6 Human Nature by More Than Conquerors  (from They’ll Make Art From The Things That I’ve Seen) 
It was sad to see the break up of one of Northern Ireland’s most energetic and creative bands.  This EP came out to celebrate the end of an era – a great suite of songs from a very talented band of musicians. 

5  If I lose myself by OneRepublic (from Native)
My daughter laughed at me when she saw that I had bought this album.   She accused me of going mainstream in my musical taste.  (She is at that stage where the more obscure the artist – the better).  When I started playing it though – we both realized there were a lot of GREAT tracks on this album and I could have put a few more up here  - Like Preacher or Love Runs out.   

4  You will never run by Rend Collective  (from As Family We Go)
I LOVE Rend Collective.   It is hard to beat a piece of positive, uplifting worship and this gets into the top ten easily.   You Will Never Run is probably my favorite track on the album but it is a close run thing and I could just as easily gone for Every Giant Will Fall.

The day that they album was realized we were on the same beach where they had taken the album art and we tweeted the band a little parody! 

3  Wirewalker by Circe  (from Circe)
It’s a bit of a side project for some of the Sigur Ros boys but osme of the tracks on this album just are fantastic.   I’m always on the lookout for backing songs for video/ slideshows and I am sure this will appear on something in the very near future. 

2 No Longer Slaves by Bethel Music (from We will not be shaken)
AND Here Now by Hillsong UNITED (from Empires)

I really could not separate these 2 albums.   I have listened to both pretty much on a continuous loop over the last couple of months.  They are calming and inspirational in equal measure.     The Bethel song contains a magical voice crying in the wilderness and the ensemble joins together for a rousing finale with some sublime voices mixed together.   Here now is a more slow burning and reflective piece of worship but allows people to pause and reflect and praise. 

1Up&Up by Coldplay (from A Head Full of Dreams)
Its Two years in a row for Coldplay to be at the top of my charts.  Last year I loved Magic.  Even though it was a melonconic reflection on sad times –I loved it.  But a few weeks ago they realized the follow up and it blew me away.  It has been on constantly ever since.   It is hard to fond a dud track on it.  The rousing Head full of dreams at the start is easily my second favourite song of the year as it encapsulates a lot of my thinking in relation to Growth Mindset thinking in work at the minute.  But, Up and Up is just one of those songs that when I heard it – I just went into meltdown and played it about 5 times in a row.  At full volume.   The dischordant echo through the verse is fantastic and the positive message of hope through adversity comes to a mighty crescendo.  I want more  . . . . .

What nearly made it?
The new Mumford & Sons album had its critics but there are some nice tunes (like Only Love) tucked away there.   Roll Call by Elbow also nearly made the list.  Tim Hughes new worship album Pocketful of Faith is also very good and had I not already had 3 worship albums on the list – would have made it as well.  

What disappointed?
I downloaded an album by James Vincent McMorrow and it was terrible – I had such high hopes but it turned out to be very poorly done.   Also I got a little disappointed with some of Nataniel Rateliff’s stuff.  He used to be soooo good! 

You can listen to the playlist on Spotify here

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Why keeping up to date as a subject specialist matters . . .

I am supposed to be marking.  Its sitting on my desk, laughing at me.  It knows a secret.  I will do  ANYTHING other than have to mark.  I will tidy my desk.  Wash the dishes.  Make a new playlist on iTune - rather than do my marking.   I'll even write a new post for my blog  . . . .

This week I have been reflecting on the question of how important it is is for post primary teachers to retain their sense of subject specialism.   In this age it is easy to lose a sense of belonging to a particular subject.   Teachers are (rightly) expected to be masters of more than one subject area.  They are expected to be able to handle a variety of things on their timetable.

But sometimes I think that due to this some teachers have lost their sense of identity.  They have allowed themselves to be increasingly distracted from what they enjoy teaching.   They have allowed themselves to be diverted away from the thing that drove them into the world of teaching in the first place.   Much of this is down to the fact that the teacher has not continued to develop their own professional development as a teacher of   (insert subject here).  

It is SO easy to move from being a NQT towards middle management and into senior leadership but ignoring your subject.   The desire is for 'leadership' theory and experience.   Whilst this is important and valuable, the cost is a loss of focus on the development of subject matters.    We can see this very clearly in Northern Ireland at present as there is next to no support for teachers in their subject areas.   It is years since I have been able to go to a specific meeting of geography teachers to talk about how we develop and improve our teaching and learning.   This makes teaching stale.   We need to have opportunities to share with each other.   We need to have a chance to hear what the trends and content and research that is making an impact in our subject.   We need to be challenged to change and be open to changes and developments within our subjects rather than merely by reflecting on things that we learnt in university 25 years ago.   In education, learning changes and we need to ensure that subject teachers are given the chance to go with the flow of changes in each subject.    It is the responsibility of the Department for Education to put the mechanisms in place to enable this.   CPD is very important but NOT just for leadership.   Not just for people who are aspiring to climb the greasy pole of educational leadership.   Real teachers need opportunities too.  

I suppose that I am lucky that I have managed to further both my leadership ambitions and my subject knowledge through my career.  When I meet people for the first time I still introduce myself as a Geography teacher.   I have a feeling that this will never change - regardless of the leadership and other responsibilities that I hold.   Writing Geography books helps keep me current in my subject but I still crave the opportunity to sit down with other Geography teachers and find out how they do it . . . . maybe its time for a Geography teach meet  . . . . who's interested?