Saturday, 1 October 2016

Teacher Professional Development

I’m currently working on a presentation that I am giving at my school whole staff meeting on Monday afternoon but I have been keeping an eye on the twitter feed #FEILTE – which is the festival of education in Learning and Teaching Excellence – hosted by the Irish Teaching council.  They have had their education minister addressing the event and the Irish rugby coach amongst many other dignitaries.   They have their own app and the whole event is being livestreamed.   There has been a lot of investment in this – an attempt to make a teaching and learning conference that is as professional as possible. 

Having been involved in organizing a similar event in my own school a few months ago – I am feeling jealous.   I am very jealous of the obvious drive, support and money that seems to have been spent on the #FEILTE event.   It looks great.   There seems to be a real buzz.

I loved the #EduFestNI event that we were able to put on this year but it is just a drop in the bucket. 

There is little or no appropriate investment in CPD/ Teacher Professional Learning in Northern Ireland.   A nice shiny document called ‘Learning Leaders’ came out in March 2016.  But as yet there is no impact in schools.    In fact, the action plan for year one is focusing on some key areas of how to support high quality teaching but when you look at WHO is involved as the lead partner in the first instance  . . . . guess what no-one is actually talking to teachers or even the people who often lead the professional development within individual schools.   The lead partners are the GTCNI, DE, ETI and the EA – but when are you going to actually talk to the teachers?   What mechanism is there in place for this?  

And what exactly is the GTCNI doing?  Their website has not changed in any substantive way in over 2 years.   They collect our money and what exactly is it doing with it?   How is the GTCNI supporting and developing teachers?   I welcome any development in the support of teachers but it seems that instead of putting a proper strategy together and proper support – including personnel and finances – it is still hard to see HOW this is going to move forward.  

Come on GTCNI.  Come on Department of Education – take a lead here and start INVESTING in your workforce and inspire the teachers of Northern Ireland so that they can be making a BIG difference in every classroom across our province.  

Monday, 5 September 2016

How to prepare your child for back to school . . . .

Back to school week is a struggle for everybody involved. 
I got extremely irritated when our local ASDA had the Back to School stock in store during the month of June.   We were back before we got off.  

Teachers find Back to school week hard as suddenly we are governed by ‘the bell” again.  We are slaves to its routine.   We respond to its chimes with a grimace as we know that we have usually not got enough done  . . .  Students respond as they know what might be coming next and that either fills them with anticipation or dread. 

Many parents think that ‘getting your children ready for the school year ends with new blazers, socks and pencils’.  I’m afraid that is only the start.   There is as much psychological preparation required as anything else.

It always annoys me when a child says that they hate school – because that is not often the reality.   They hate the concept of school – they hate the way that school has been built up for them by their parents and their siblings.   In order to make sure that children maximize their potential and get the best start possible at school – parents could  bear in mind the following 6 tips . . .

1.     Physical preparation: rest and bedtimes
Children need sleep to function.   Appropriate bed times are important for children of all ages. Parents need to be consistent with their approach to bed time and make sure that kids have a chance to wind down or maybe even to read from a book before the lights go out.  Its not enough to send to bed but to ‘take’ to bed and check that settling and lights out has happened . . . at a reasonable time!  

2.     Be positive about the school and the people involved
Its too easy for children to ‘hate’ teachers and ‘hate’ certain subjects at school.   Challenge this behaviour.   Don’t allow your children to develop a negative mentality as it just continues to fester and it only makes things worse.   Say things like – ‘I’m sure things will get better’.  Try not to personalize incidents if they do happen.   Teachers are human too and are just as likely to jump to conclusions and get things wrong as you are.  

3.     Don’t allow a Fixed Mindset
Sometimes children can get easily put off and they will quickly adopt a defensive posture and will tell themselves that they cannot do something and that they will never be able to do something.   Unfortunately, such a stance often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.   Don’t allow children to get into a cycle of negativity – encourage a growth mindset where they have a ‘can do’ attitude and where they will try and learn from mistakes rather than see them as personal failures. 

4.     Encourage your child to develop resilience
How people respond to challenges will tell us a lot about their capacity to learn and grow as individuals.   Today, children are increasingly lacking resilience.   They cannot respond to negativity or weakness and crumble at the first whiff of any resistance.   We need to build them up and develop their tools and attributes in being able to bounce back from negativity.   We need to encourage them to get back up when they get knocked down and to see ‘the big picture’ in life so that they will be determined – even when things look difficult.  

5.     Technology can be great when used responsibly
We can’t do much without technology these days – iWatches, IPads, Iphones, digital gaming platforms, tablets and computers all play a big part in our lives.   We spend copious amounts of time online.  Technology is great but we need to teach our kids responsibility.   How long should they spend online each day?   What should they be accessing?   Should they just have free reign or does a responsible adult make a regular check on what is going into your kids brain.   Parents need to take more responsibility here.   Limit the amount of device time.   Check what your kids are looking up online.   Check the age limits of the games they are playing.   If in doubt – turn the wifi off or get an app that monitors access.   If your child is starting to be more aggressive and violent – look at what they are playing online.   It does not have to be an inappropriate game – even the most passive child will suffer if they are allowed to play games that trigger the adrenaline for hours on end. 

6.     The greatest gift – boundaries

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The greatest gift that any parent can give their child is to set boundaries.  All too often I meet children who have not been given any boundaries by their parents and some of them are crying our for someone to tell them what is appropriate behaviour.  Unfortunately, some parents leave these sense of moral education to teachers and then wonder why school are struggling with their child.   Children want their parents to be the ones to be their role models and to be the ones who challenge any behviour or attitude which is abnormal.   They don’t need parents who are mates or best friends – they need their parents to be, well, parents.   To guide.  To challenge.  To encourage.   To support.   To correct, as required.  

Friday, 8 July 2016

Continuing to develop professionally

Over the last few days I have seen a number of tweets and posts in relation to amazing courses and CPD opportunities that are taking place.  This is great.  I love seeing these things and love to see the messages about them.   BUT.   Why on earth do I never hear about these opportunities until they are actually happening?

I know that for people over in England - they might be able to see something one day and drive up to a conference the next day - but when you live and work in Northern Ireland you need to have done some serious forward planning to get flights, get transport, get accommodation sorted etc.  Plus, the earlier that you can do this, the cheaper it is - especially if you are having to fund this out of your own pocket.  

There needs to be some sort of repository of educational meetings and conferences somewhere online.  Maybe there is and I just have not found it yet - if it does exist - please let me know - otherwise I might have to look into setting one up myself.

CPD is essential for teachers.   Teachers need to be encouraged and challenged in their practice by seeing what things other people do and how they can work to inspire young learners.    We need to be able to make this easy for teachers to do and we should be looking for ways to help to fund those who want to engage in developing their practice further.   Its not just about those celebrity teachers - its about those quality practitioners who toil away at the front of classrooms all over the country who don;t even realise just how amazing they are.

So  . . . if a web site like this does exist - let me know, would you?

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Proud to be (Northern) Irish

In the midst of the EU Referendum political Tsunami that has been swirling around us over the last few days – one thing has really helped to raise my mood.    In France, thousands of Northern Irish and Irish football fans have demonstrated the attitude that groups of supporters should have while visiting another country.  

The level of support that the Green and White Army (#GAWA) and the Boys in Green (#COYBIG) have given to their teams has been phenomenal.  Their attitude and behavior on their travels in France has been awe-inspiring.   There has not been much for NI sport fans to cheer about this year – so the adventure of the NI football teams getting into the Euro Finals has been amazing.    The team themselves have played with a real sense of passion and togetherness that bamboozled their opposition and brought them respect from players who are in a totally different league (in more ways than one). 

The supporters though, knowing that the French people had been reeling from terrorist attacks and less than flattering run-ins with the English and Russian fans, decided to turn on that (Norn) Irish charm and win over the hearts of the people.    Supporters sung lullabies to babies, changed tyres, danced with nuns, picked up litter, put their arms around police men and generally behaved in a way that people wanted them to stay rather than to be out of sight as soon as possible.   In stadiums they arrived early, sang through half time and cheered off their players and sang with them again after the match – whether they had won or not.  

This is how to play the game.  To enjoy the event, the experience and not get tied up in the result.    Yes – we wanted to win but we wanted to have fun and make sure everyone else was having fun in the process.   Sometimes I do dispute it when people say that the Irish are the friendliest nation on earth  - but recently that has been proven to be the case.   We might not have got further than the second round but everyone wants us back and everyone wants us to do well so that we can bring the craic.  

I got my old Northern Ireland flag out again and with pride – was able to tell people that yes I was from the place where the crazy fans come from.  And no – we don’t really know much about why Will Grigg was on fire either.