Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Reflections from the Staff Development Day 12th Feb 2016

We have a special responsibility to the children in our care to make sure that we give them every possible opportunity.   We want to support them in every way that we can. 

We want to be involved in a forward-thinking school where the needs of our young learners are the most important.  This is is what makes our 2020 vision – our 5 year plan for the future. 

We want Cullybackey College to be an inspirational place.  We want people talking about what we are doing here.  We want to see our learners being stimulated and challenged to be the best that they can be. 

As teachers, we need to spend time developing our practice.  We need to be working on how we can become better teachers.   We should be thinking about how we prepare and provide AMAZING learning experiences so that we can become EXPERT teachers. 

Shuan Allison and Andy Tharby have identified some of the key aspects of what makes Expert teaching.

We can also put this into a ‘Growth Mindset’ context – Carolw Dweck teamed up with RSA to create a powerful animation about ‘How to help every child fulfil their potential’. 

This got me thinking about the different skills that we already have as teachers in the classroom – we create for ourselves a type of Teacher toolkit – but what are the different activities/ games/ tricks that we keep in there to use with learners to push them further and stimulate them?   How can we shake up what and how we do teaching?

The Cullybackey Learning Cycle

The main difficulty in developing a new Learning and Teaching policy for a school is to make sure that this is a useable document and not just something that gets dusty in a drawer.  We wanted to develop a tool that would infect all of our classroom practice.   We wanted something that would be common to us all, using language that we would be able to transfer from one subject to the next, from one classroom to the next.  

Much of the Learning and teaching policy has already been in the school for 10 years.   We took it and have tweaked it a bit to fit with where we wanted to go.  For example, in the past there has been a very important focus on independent learning.  

As professional teachers there is an expectation that we will plan and use agreed schemes of work;  that we would plan lesson carefully and that we would use daily planners and lesson plans to clearly sign post what we are trying to deliver. 

There are lots of different barriers to learning and issues with timetabling – whether you have one period, a double, a triple or six in a row!   Maybe your subject lends itself to 3 periods = 1 lesson or maybe you find that different phases add complications for your planning eg the differences between a Y8 lesson and a Y14 lesson.  

We are convinced that organized lesson planning leads to very good lessons where students will be engaged and ready to learn.   We want to see this tool embedded into departments over the next 5 years so that by 2020 – this is common and organic in all lessons and so that we don’t need to think about it!  

We will use this format to help plan our lessons – we are already building on good practice in school, I have already seen different departments using variations of this tool  - but we are now making sure that we develop our lesson planning in a consistent manner.

The key attribute in a CLC lesson should be diversity  - we need to understand that a lesson should not be just ONE activity but it should be a number of interconnected opportunities for students to learn. 

T Manson
Feb 2016

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

I want to be a user of ICT not a maker of ICT

This might be controversial.  

Currently in education circles there is a big push for STEM and in particular for BIG changes in the world of ICT.   There are few people who acknowledge the importance of ICT more than me.  I am an enthusiastic user of all things digital and I am always trying to find new ways of supporting students in their use of ICT.

But thats it - its their use of ICT I am interested in.   I am interested in how to use social media for communication and learning.   I am interested in how to use photo/picture apps to help memory and preparations for exams.   I am interested in exploring apps that will allow students to access their learning 24/7.  I am interested in giving teachers and students connectivity so that their files and learning materials are always accessible.  

I am not THAT interested in the nuts and bolts that create these apps and programmes.   I am not interested in learning how to code.   I don't really want to know how to code a game or an app.   Many years ago I taught myself how to create web sites - I did not want to spend the time learning all of those html codes and phrases.   My aim was to produce the best that I could using the (limited) skills that I had.   I did alright.   The important bit was the content not the coding.  

At present in education there is a real drive to say that teaching kids how to code is the be all and end all.   I have no problem in giving an opportunity to do this within the curriculum but the thought that all of our children should be pursuing jobs in this is just crazy talk.   There are so many creative and fun ways for kids to get involved and interested in this these days.   But - there is still a massive shift for kids to move from being users to being producers (I am struck by the thought that our young people might get pulled inside the computer system in some TRON like manner).  I do not think that all kids are cut out to be coders.    In coding there are 2 things in particular that you need - maths ability and a good memory.   These are 2 things that I have not been blessed with - and I know a lot of other kids who are similar to me.  

I had a conversation with a young lad who told me he wanted to be a computer game designer.  I asked him what computer language he had already learnt ("Wha?").  I then asked him what type of games he would like to work on ("Dunno . . . Minecraft?").  I pointed out that Minecraft had already been invented.   His problem was that he did not know what he could build a game on . . . .

I want the kids who are interested in this to go for it - but I don't think it is a necessary thing for everybody.    Coding is a method of building a virtual world.  Equally, we do not teach carpentry to everyone or brickwork to everyone.  We might give them a little glimpse into a future in this area but  these too could be seen as the building blocks of a future job or opportunity in a growth sector.  

The reality is that many kids today are interested in the finished product that these coders produce but they are not at all interested in the mechanics of how to get there.   Plus, lets face it - the vast majority of teachers have no time, experience or inclination to learn this for themselves to pass it on (and I have to include many ICT teachers in this  . . . )

Increasingly, in education its the content not the coding which is important.   This is what we test.   Today in the Guardian  (Complicated GCSE changes are a catastrophre in the making)  we are reminded that coursework/controlled assessment will be at an all time low level whilst exams themselves will be more rigourous.    Knowledge and its application is going back to basics.  

So, I want to be a user of ICT not a maker of ICT.    I am quite content using the products that others design for me to be able to communicate and share my ideas and knowledge.   I have no great desire to create my own platforms  . . . .   I know where my strengths lie . . . but why then do we expect everyone else to be coders too?  

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