#Nurture1314: That was the year that was…

2013: that was the year that was about…

1. TeachMeet Liverpool. I organised the first Liverpool TeachMeet in April. It was a fantastic day and showcased some excellent teachers and educational professionals. It was a labour of love. It was a Saturday. I’m not sure my SLT quite ‘got’ what a TeachMeet was when I first mooted the idea, but hey, I think they are now convinced. I am currently planning the next one, so watch this space!

2. #TLAB13 One of my professional highlights was my attendance at the Teaching Learning and Assessment Conference at Berkhamsted School. What a day! It started very early on the first London train from Liverpool but it was worth it. Not only did I get to hear some fantastic speakers, but I came away energised and enthused. For a profession that gets almost constant flak, us teachers are a pretty incredible bunch. One of my posts about the day is here: http://wp.me/pYpwi-4Z

3. Visiting Joseph S. Clark Prep in New Orleans. I was lucky enough to visit a high school when I went to New Orleans. It was a fascinating insight into how teachers are working in a very complex educational system. (There is a blog post; I need to finish it!)

4. Getting to grips with being (Acting) Head of English. Maternity cover is never easy. You want to do a good job but, at the same time, it’s not your job, you’re a caretaker-manager. I had the privilege of stepping up from second in department to Curriculum Leader for English for six months. It was hard work. Luckily, I work with a great team.

5. Getting to grips with being Head of Year. In September I became Head of Year 12. Wow. After five years with a departmental TLR, the pastoral side of school life has been an eye-opener. I have really enjoyed this opportunity and am sad that, come January, I am moving back into curriculum leadership. However, I feel that my experience as a pastoral leader will have added much to my leadership.

6. Meeting Twitter pals in ‘real life’. I value the inspiration, knowledge, ideas and support I get from twitter and the connections I have made as a result of being on there. In 2013, it was good to meet @joanne_rich, @mrpeel, @ChillEdU, @deadshelley, @learningspy, @nickdennis, @danpo_ and many more. It was also lovely to be reacquainted with @KristianStill. There are some who I can now call friends and others I consider virtual colleagues, rather than just random screen names and 140 character witticisms. That’s a great thing.

7. Team English. I work with some fantastic colleagues. I’ve already said that, but it cannot be over-stated. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.

8. About seeing people’s true colours. There were a difficult few weeks at work. It hardened my resolve to be the best I can be.

And 2013 wasn’t just about work, you’ll be pleased to know…

9. Finding a lost friend. Earlier this year a friend of ours went missing. It was a harrowing time for his family and closest friends. I was humbled to see how people pulled together and worked to get his name and face out there. It worked. He’s back and on the road to recovery.

10. Rediscovering a love of live music. In 2013 I have been privileged to experience some brilliant live bands. New Orleans was a feast of music, from start to finish. I also (finally!) visited Ronnie Scott’s for the first time. It will not be my last visit.

Jazz in the Park: George Porter, Jr & Bill Summers
Jazz in the Park: George Porter, Jr & Bill Summers
Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile, June 2013
Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile, June 2013
Soul Rebels, RNCM.
Soul Rebels, RNCM.
Irvin Mayfield at Wednesday in the Square
Irvin Mayfield at Wednesday in the Square
Treme Brass Band at dba, New Orleans
Treme Brass Band at dba, New Orleans

11. Cats! I can’t really do a summing up of 2013 without mention of McNulty, who I adopted in January and who is a joy. Alas, Brontë the beautiful stray who I adopted in August was sadly run over. She is missed.

McNulty: Jan 7th 2013
McNulty: Jan 7th 2013

12. All about New Orleans. My city. I have never felt as truly ‘me’ anywhere else. It was an incredible experience to return and I will definitely not be leaving it as long next time.

Bayou Metairie, New Orleans City Park. May 2013
Bayou Metairie, New Orleans City Park. May 2013
Free Hugs? Jazz in the Park, New Orleans.
Free Hugs? Jazz in the Park, New Orleans.
Jackson Square, May 2013
Jackson Square, May 2013
Reminders of Katrina: N. Rampart, Treme.
Reminders of Katrina: N. Rampart, Treme.

13. A reminder of the importance of friends. I lost a friend this year. He died suddenly and unexpectedly. It reunited me with a group of friends I’d lost touch with. It made me appreciate the fact that friends are friends no matter where or how you met, or indeed how often you all get to meet up. He is much missed.

Neil: wordsmith extraordinaire.
Neil: wordsmith and wit extraordinaire.

And 2014? What will this be the year of?  

(I’ve left a few blank… I’m hoping 2014 surprises me!)

1. Health. I am pledging to get fitter. I need to make time for exercise to balance the mental workload. And hey, if they want me to work till I’m 69 then I’m going to have to be seriously fit to do so!

2. Doing. And not just saying I am going to do. My biggest flaw? Maybe. I am the Queen of Procrastination. In 2014 I will be a doer and not a thinker-about-doing. Professionally and personally.

3. Marking. I’m making a concerted effort to mark smarter. I am focusing on D.I.R.T and making my marking meaningful.

4. Reading. I’ve set myself a ‘Fifty Books in 2014’ challenge and shall be blogging my progress. I want to read more for pleasure.

5. Writing. Years ago I wrote all the time. Now, I seem to forget what an excellent tool it is for reflection, idea generation and all round relaxation.

6. KS3 Curriculum. My big professional challenge as Acting Curriculum Leader is to re-vamp our KS3 curriculum in preparation for all the changes that are coming. A big job, yes, but one I am looking forward to.

7. Appreciation. Saying thank you and really taking time to recognise and appreciate those around you is often overlooked. I’m putting it on the to-do list as a permanent item in 2014.

8. Photography. In 2014 I’m determined to get out and shoot more.

9. Career. I think this is the year for me to make some decisions. Hopefully they will be the right ones.

10. De-cluttering. I need to do a bit of this. Physically and metaphorically.

11. Learning and getting better at being a teacher. #TLAB14 and Northern Rocks are two main teaching CPD events I’ve got booked into the calendar so far. Generally though, here’s to a year of collaboration and learning.

12.

13. 

14. New Orleans. I have to go back. My favourite Chris Rose quote kinda says it all: “She is a New Orleans girl, and New Orleans girls never live anywhere else and even if they do, they always come back. That’s just the way it is. This is where she belongs. End of discussion.”

#TMLpool: an educational “bring and buy sale”?

At #TLAB13, Alastair Smith spoke about TeachMeets. He’d attended the TeachMeet held at Berkhamsted the night before the main conference. He called it “an educational bring and buy sale” or a “carboot for teachers” and praised the counter-cultural, bottom-up rather than top-down nature of the TeachMeet format.

It made me think, as much of what was said at #TLAB13 did.

I’m currently organising a TeachMeet in Liverpool.

TeachMeets, along with the weekly #ukedchat sessions and the edu-extravaganza that was #TLAB13, have been the things that have re-energised my love for teaching. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure and the negatives, but meeting people from across the country who are engaged, motivated and brilliant at what they do makes me realise why I love this profession.

Not many of the staff at my school seem that engaged – yet. They seem somewhat reluctant to commit to an event on a Saturday. And I appreciate why: we’re horrendously busy at this time of year and the majority of us give up lots of time as it is for revision, extra-curiccular activities etc on top of a huge workload. However, I believe the chance to meet, share and learn is important.

I’ve currently 12 people signed up to present and another 35+ coming to watch, meet and network. I’m confident that figure will rise. I’m looking forward to the chance to meet educators from across the North West.

So here’s to our counter-culture bring and buy!

If you’d like to come along, then sign up here: http://teachmeet.pbworks.com/w/page/64371633/TM%20Liverpool

A* Vocabulary: building students’ word power.

One of the strands of my GCSE writing intervention has been vocabulary building. In fact, students really enjoyed looking up the ‘A* words’ I gave them. Simple pleasures… or straightforward gratifications if you will!

I’m not sure we do enough explicit vocabulary-building work. This is something I am looking to build into our schemes of learning. I’d be interested in hearing how other schools have done this.

I’m currently designing some posters with a selection of A* words to encourage pupils to consider their vocabulary and we will be launching a ‘Word of the Week’ scheme next term.

In our GCSE Writing intervention lessons, we shared a list of ‘ambitious’ vocabulary. 106 words Pupils were challenged to look up ten of the words and use them in sentences. With my groups, I then used these words in various ‘exit pass’ activities. Pupils were challenged to focus on five words and, in the words of my old English teacher Mrs Rough “make them their own.” I would’t let them leave the room until they’d used one of the words in a sentence. No repetition of sentences was allowed. Other variations on this theme included me demanding definitions of their focus words on entry and exit to my room.

Has it translated into improved performance in the GCSE Writing paper? Only time will tell, but it was a fun activity to do and pupils seemed genuinely surprised at the amount of words out there that they had never read or heard of before.

This is what makes me think I need to make vocabulary building an explicit activity with all my classes.

All help/ideas gratefully received!

(I will be adding ideas the good folk of Twitter share with me, as I have posted this on my Twitter feed.)

Ideas suggested:

@ramtopsgrum: use a “banned words” wall. I  ban: it, thing, like, stuff, youknowwhatImean, undefined pronouns etc. Answers have to be rephrased without these.

@yesiamemmab: even though I teach year 4 I use a ‘criminal words’ system for words such as ‘nice’ , ‘walk’ etc..

@KerryPulleyn: Geoff Barton has a long list of sophisticated vocab on his site. You could have a look at this.

@teacherTonytips: I get them to use 5 new words they have never used before in each piece of creative writing. This helps a lot.

@andrewmillar72: Big fan of ‘what goes in comes out’ mantra. Stress private reading, provide high level texts & model vocab in own speech.

@kevbartle: Has to be modelled by teachers. No dumbing down in SoWs. High level, subject-specific, technically accurate vocal from Y7. Must be embedded in the teaching. Everyday from the moment they arrive till the day they leave. Actually, really high level vocabulary is an equaliser between kids with high and low prior attainment.

@commaficiando: Specific vocab leads to specific ideas and thoughts and understanding what, for example, pathetic fallacy means is no harder than getting what ‘lemon’ means.

GCSE Intervention: Our Tuesday Writing Paper Sessions.

We do a decent job with our GCSE results. Last year, despite the much-publicised grading debacle, our results were up in Language and Literature.

Obviously we all want to continue that upward trend. However these are uncertain times for English students and their teachers, and it sometimes seems hard to know what to do or how best to secure that improvement.

We run revision sessions after school for pupils to attend but, clearly, that doesn’t always hit the students we may really want to reach. Letters and text messages have gone home to parents and carers and revision materials aplenty have been sourced and distributed.

What else to do?

Looking at our timetable, I noticed we had a slot in which all of our English Language classes were being taught at the same time. It got me thinking about how we could use it for a targeted intervention programme.

We teach in setted groups. Our students’ target grades range from A* to E. Sometimes I question the validity of this: do pupils work better in mixed ability groups? (Perhaps the subject for a different blog.) One thing I am certain of though, is that the old adage ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is often true and so I decided to mix the groups up a bit for their intervention lessons. I looked at the aspirational targets we had for our pupils and re-grouped them according to their 4-levels of progress target. I then discussed the groupings with class teachers and we moved some pupils based on them already outperforming against target data.

This through up some interesting anomalies. For example, we now had a number of set 3 pupils in groups with their set 1 peers etc. We felt this would have a positive impact on those students and so decided to give it a go.

I decided to focus on the writing paper for these sessions. By planning the lessons myself I could ensure that the whole cohort were getting the same messages about technique, tactics etc. Sessions were split into short and punchy sections; I wanted them to be pacy and feel different from ‘normal’ 50 minute lessons.

Session 1: vocabulary and punctuation.

Session 2: using the Toulmin structure in persuasive writing and how to improve content marks.

Session 3: audience, purpose and format and a recap on sessions 1 and 2.

(Subsequent posts will discuss the session content.)

We launched the idea to pupils and class lists went up. This caused some consternation in those who don’t like change, but on the day we had excellent attendance and they found their new rooms with minimum fussing. Pupil feedback after the session was very positive. They felt energised and boosted by the delivery. One pupil, who found herself in a “clever group” (her words!) waited at the end and told her teacher how pleased she was: “because I kept up with them and I know I could do that in my exam now too!”

We have our last session in January just before the exam is due to be sat. The final week in December was hijacked slightly by reward activities and mock exams. I hope to re-energise and inspire them before they go in and do battle with their GCSE-fate.

We will probably continue to use the lesson as a way of reaching the whole cohort in a practical, revision-y way as the year progresses.

 

 

 

This year and next…

Lots of people on Twitter seem to be writing an evaluation of their year & a looking forward to the next with #Nurture1213

So, in no particular order, here’s my contribution: twelve highlights of last year and thirteen hopes for next year.

12 Highlights of 2012:

1. Getting my own place.

Having moved back to my folks’ a few years ago, this felt like a huge step. I initially moved home to be able to afford to complete my GTP. I stayed for financial reasons and, although I love my parents dearly, moving out (again!) was and is just perfect.

2. Becoming Head of Department.

Admittedly this is an acting role during my boss’ maternity leave, but all the same I am enjoying the challenge.

3. Losing weight.

As of 27/12/12, I have lost 30lbs. I feel heaps better for it.

4. Starting to exercise.

I’ve discovered that exercise won’t kill me… although not doing any might!

5. Delivering a literacy INSET at school.

Sometimes I think my colleagues suffer from INSET-ennui, so being asked to present to them in December at the end of a long term was a challenge. Despite a raging flu-induced temperature throughout, I loved it. I’ve had some great feedback from colleagues from a variety of departments and I need to blog about the best bits.

6. Completing my MLDP.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Middle Leadership Development Programme and made some great contacts in local schools. It made me think and helped hone my practice. I have also found it useful to look back on as I have begun my acting Head of Department role this term.

7. Our departmental team.

I’ve taken on the acting Head of Department role and, it has to be said, I couldn’t do it without the support of ‘Team English’ who have been uniformly fantastic. We have a great team and it is a pleasure to work with them. I look forward to 2013, working with them to further improve outcomes for our pupils.

8. Learning to appreciate my family more.

My moving out was postponed by the horrendous flood I had in October 2011. The house was wrecked and lots of my possessions (I was in the process of moving in) were ruined. My family rallied round and were fantastic. From the initial desperate phone calls ankle deep in water, to the time they have taken to help clearing up, sorting stuff out and getting me settled, I couldn’t have asked for a better safety net behind me.

We’re not overly close. We don’t do emotion. I should tell them I’ve written this… but, whilst I pluck up the courage, at least some people know how much I appreciate them!

9. The fantastic wedding of the delicious Katherine and the marvellous Dave.

Two of my friends got married in July. It was the perfect day. The bride looked stunning and, what’s more, it was a loooooong time overdue. So, as the year draws to a close, I offer another virtual toast: “to the bride and groom.”

10. London 2012.

That opening ceremony. That glorious celebration of our past and present. The amazing Olympians and Paralympians. The medals. The once-in-a-lifetime moments. I’ll admit it: I got quite emotional!

11. Friends.

2012 delivered some new friends. That’s got to be a highlight!

12. The stuff I can’t write about…

Some of the highlights of this year are best not blogged about. But remembering them makes me smile… and chuckle. Lots.

Thirteen hopes for 2013:

1. To continue to lose weight.

I haven’t set any goal weight/size but I know I will continue in the new year. I’m following the Weightwatchers plan & so far so very good!

2. To make exercise an integral part of my routine.

I’ve recently started going to a Bootcamp fitness class in the village. It hurts but, oddly, I have found I quite enjoy it. I enjoy not being so preoccupied with work & just being outside in the fresh air. I’m determined to make this a 2/3 times a week routine.

3. To have one weekend a month in which I do no work.

Every year since starting teaching I swear I will achieve a work/life balance. I somehow fail. This year I’m trying to make this happen by having one weekend per month set aside for non-work stuff. We’ll see.

4. To start driving lessons… again!

Yes, I know, I should be able to drive at my age. Moving swiftly on…

5. To learn to salsa.

I’ve just booked a course of 10 lessons starting in January, so this is one step closer at least. Every year I watch Strictly and think I’d love to be able to dance. Every year I sit in front of the tv and do nothing. No more excuses!

6. To get back into photography.

I have a fab camera. I need to learn what all the buttons do. I’ve neglected it this year. I’m going to try & do more in 2013. (See hope no.3)

7. To successfully complete my acting Head of Dept role.

I want to make a success of the temporary position. I am looking to move onwards and (hopefully) upwards in my career, so this is a great opportunity. I don’t want to let our students down more than anything though. I want this year to be successful for them.

8. To be a better teacher.

I have committed to being the best teacher I can be. It’s a hard job but it’s also one of the best jobs in the world. I need to make sure I’m doing the best I can for my pupils. They deserve nothing less.

9. To make some of my Twitter pals ‘real’ pals.

This starts in January when one of my good Twitter pals is coming to stay. I’m very much looking forward to being tour-guide-in-chief for @joanne_rich as she ventures to Liverpool for the first time ever!

I have benefitted from the support, inspiration and challenge that Twitter, and the #ukedchat community in particular, offer. I hope to turn some of those ‘virtual’ friendships and collaborations into ‘real’ ones in 2013.

10. To blog more.

I’ve neglected this blog in 2012. I need to get better at reflecting on my teaching and blogging is such a good method of doing this. I read so many inspirational blogs… this year maybe I will contribute something of merit myself.

11. To travel.

I’m booking a holiday this year. I didn’t manage to get away in 2012 and I do so love to travel. After my solo trip to Italy in 2011, I’m hoping to venture further afield in 2013. I think a long overdue return to my favourite city – New Orleans – may well be on the cards.

12. To host a TeachMeet in Liverpool.

See no. 9 – this will, I hope, be a chance to meet lots of fantastic educators and to benefit my own practice and that of my colleagues. My Head will hopefully be on board with the idea when I present it to him in the New Year. Watch this space!

13. To be content.

I’ve felt somewhat at sea this year. I want to work at being content in 2013. I have so much to be grateful for and so much to look forward to. I shall work very hard to find my inner contentment this next year, even though I’m not quite sure how or what I need to do to make this hope a reality!

#ukedchat – a year or so on and I’m still a fan!

I blogged in August 2010 about the weekly #ukedchat discussions that happen every Thursday on Twitter between 8 – 9pm.

https://dailydenouement.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/ukedchat/

A year on and I’m more enamoured than ever with the whole #ukedchat ‘thing’.

Why? Well, for a start I have now got professional contacts from all over the UK who provide me with advice, support and inspiration on a daily and weekly basis. Sometimes I think there is a tendency for teachers to become quite inward-looking. We get very caught up in “this is how we do it here” and “our focus is this”… #ukedchat takes you out of your own classroom and gives you a privileged insight into hundreds of other schools, methods, pedagogies etc.

It’s free. It’s fun. It’s fantastic.

Join us?

Applying for your first teaching post: advice from an ex-recruiter

In my pre-teaching life, I worked as a recruitment consultant in the retail sector and spent some time recruiting managers and shop-floor staff for a multi-national retailer. As well as turning my hand to UCAS personal statements aplenty, I’ve also delivered training for our PGCE students on how to write a good application.

Here’s that training in a blog-friendly format:

1. Use the advert – schools pay a fair whack for their job adverts so don’t just look at them to get the bare minimum of details. The advert can often contain key words and phrases that give major clues as to the ‘type’ of school they are and what they’ll want to read in any application. Look out for things like: “The school nurtures innovation and risk-taking” or “and we are looking for an ambitious and enthusiastic colleague.” You’ll want to exemplify these qualities and attributes in your application.

2. Use the school website – again, this should be mined as a source of rich information about the type of school you are applying to. Do they have a mission statement? Has the Head got a welcome statement on there? Yes, most likely and you should again pick out the key messages. Read the latest school news; that will tell you a heap of useful stuff. Are they keen on extra-curricular provision? Have you run a club or could you contribute in some way? Make sure that part of your letter or statement is prominent.

But how do you ‘prove’ you can do it?

4. Mind map/Prep – before you write the application list, mind map, bullet-point everything you’ve done. Think about specs you’ve taught, achievements, extra-curricular stuff. Look at the person specification and job description and see where your skills and experiences fit with what they are looking for. Group your ideas together and prioritise based on what you’ve learned from your research about the school.

“What?! There’s no generic one-size-fits-all approach?”

In a word: no.

5. Tailor your letter to that particular school – having decided on what their focus is, prioritise and tailor your letter. Sure you can put together a basic letter of application, but every school is different. Cut and paste is your friend: if you think your A Level experience will set you apart, then move that further up in the letter; if it’s achievement of less able, then bump up your bit about your set 4 who all made three levels of progress.

6. Give real, tangible evidence – the Head Teacher and/or Head of Department may read 50+ letters for this post. You need to jump off the page as someone who can actually do it, someone who can hit the ground running. Don’t waffle! Use active rather than passive verbs: lead, coordinate, manage, engage. Give stats if appropriate: ‘25% of my Y11s received an A*, twice the national average.’

“But I’m only a student. I’ve not got real experience…”

Really? Have you been twiddling your thumbs for a year? I doubt it. You have experience and you have massive potential. Don’t underestimate the appeal of an enthusiastic person at the start of their career!

And finally, just a few application form dos and don’ts:

  • Do spell check & proof read everything
  • Do be truthful – you will need to back up your application claims
  • Do be creative with font sizes / margins if needed – page limits need not be too scary!
  • Do go and visit the school prior to applying if this is offered
  • Don’t copy & paste without checking – wrong school names do not a good impression make!
  • Don’t put someone down as a referee without checking
  • Don’t go over page limits or fail to follow instructions
  • Don’t send the same letter to every school – tailor it to fit them
  • Don’t use ‘creative’ fonts – stick to the basics

Hope this helps.

Any questions or comments, I’ll happily help if I can.