Let’s Go Crazy… or how re-igniting a passion has made me re-think my attitude to teaching.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. 

Electric word life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.

But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else…”

So begins the song ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ from Prince’s 1984 masterpiece, Purple Rain. But why am I starting a blog post, ostensibly about my experience as a teacher, with a quote from Prince?

I’m a Prince fan. Indulge me.

In February this year Prince came to the UK and began a series of ‘guerilla gigs’ in a tour called Hit n Run. It was term time. I was in Liverpool, he was in London. I was devastated, thinking I was not going to get a chance to see him.

The last time I’d seen him was in 2007 when he did his legendary residency at the O2 Arena in London. 21 Nights in London. Great show. (He’s awesome live. If you haven’t seen him, you should try to. I’m going to explicitly put that out there, though it will no doubt be implied throughout!) Seven years had passed and, although he’d toured in Europe during that time, life – work, finances etc – had somehow always got in the way.

Cut to 2014 and we now live in a social media world. I was fascinated by the #princewatch hashtag as people shared information and sparked rumours of his whereabouts. Gigs were announced with just hours’ notice. (Again, I rued the fact that a) I didn’t live in London any more and b) I had a sensible job!) A real sense of hype and drama was created. Prince was back in the news. People were discovering his musical talent and talking about it.

More importantly, through social media, I was suddenly in contact, virtually at least, with people who shared my passion. (Of course my non-Prince-fan friends and family had to vicariously suffer the agony as I waited to see if he’d leave the capital and come anywhere nearer. And when I say ‘waited’ I actually mean moaned incessantly!)

Finally, as he and his band, 3RDEYEGIRL, presented an award at the Brits ceremony, I got the news I’d been waiting for. Prince announced he’d be “heading up North so we want to see you in Manchester. We’re gonna rock it up there a l’il bit.” Simultaneously, a tweet announced the tickets were on sale.

I pounced. My hours on virtual #princewatch had paid off. I got a ticket for both nights at Manchester Academy.

If you’ve even got this far, you may still be wondered when even a tenuous link to teaching is going to appear. This is, in many ways, an even more self-indulgent post than normal. This is me in full-on fan girl mode.

I’d apologise, but actually full-on fan girl mode is what I want to talk about.

I went to Manchester for the gigs. (Thankfully it was half term.) I queued all day for the chance to be near the front. It rained. In fact, at one stage there were hailstones. Even in layers of thermal clothing, it was freezing.

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But the joy was palpable. I met people from all over the UK, from Paris, from the Netherlands, from Italy. We laughed. We shared our Prince stories. We marvelled at those whose fandom was extreme: hundreds of gigs, monthly Prince-fund, sleeping overnight outside the venue.

I felt like I was a teenager again. This was sheer, unadulterated pleasure. I forgot about the marking, the exam result pressure, the observations. I left vaguely sensible Head-of-Department-me at home and revelled in just doing something I love – watching live music – with a group of people who felt the same thing.

I won’t go into details about the gigs.*

Suffice to say, I had a blast. The hours of queuing paid off. I was front row. Front and centre in fact. Underneath the man’s microphone; about three foot away from him. Living the dream. I got to spend hours watching a genius at work. I sang along. I let myself get lost in the music. Everywhere I looked people were doing the same thing. The shared sense of awe and wonder was incredible.

And I did it all again the following day.

As I said, full-on fan girl mode.

I floated home on a purple cloud, the music still ringing in my ears. New friendships forged and memories to last a lifetime. My passion for Prince, if it ever really needed to be, was completely rekindled.

At some point in the following days, I realised that something had happened. And this, finally, is where I get to the teaching bit…

I was smiling. Lots. I couldn’t stop talking to people about how good the whole experience had been. I realised that I need to re-connect with the things that make me happy. I need to surround myself with people with shared interests and shared passions.

And I want to feel that about my teaching. 

I’ve made myself a promise to reconnect with the joy I felt when I first started teaching. I’m going to find my career passion again. I’m going to surround myself with positive people who feel the same way.

Because my students deserve that. They deserve the version of me who is focused and driven, not weighed down and cynical. I became a teacher because of my love of my subject and my desire to do something that meant something. I need to show that every day.

Seems odd to have had this sort of career-epiphany in the queue for a gig.

One of the friends I made as we queued told me that the Academy gigs had been life-changing. I agree with him, as hyperbolic as that might sound.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. 

Electric word life. It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.

It is a long time.

Too long to not do the things you love. Too long to not find joy in your work. Too long to let things overwhelm you. Too long to be cynical.

So as I plan for next year, I’m planning to teach in full-on fan-girl mode.

“And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy punch a higher floor”

And to Richard, Jay, Simon, Keira, Dave, Ian, Emma, Farah, Shana, Sonia, Lucas, Dani and all the February crew: thank you for being a part of it all.

*Look them up:

Bill Lucas at #TLAB13

I found Bill Lucas’ keynote interesting. It wasn’t only what he said but, through the power and instant nature of social media, the things others in the audience and beyond were making of the speech as snippets were being tweeted throughout. To say it was controversial and opinion-splitting is perhaps an understatement, but let’s be honest, it’s good to be challenged.

(Professor Lucas had the unenviable post-lunch slot. Maybe we were just a tad restless, like our pupils often are in that first lesson back after lunch!)

Anyway, I digress. His talk.

I’m going to focus simply on the key take away points which resonated with me. I will link to the whole presentation at the end.

Bill suggested we need to consider how we can look at our praise systems. We need to think about what we praise. His suggestion: “Don’t just praise the outcome – praise the effort, process, journey.”

This made me reflect as I travelled back to Liverpool. I checked my recent use of our Vivo system and the commendations I’d given: was I praising or rewarding outcomes or efforts? On balance, I probably praise effort more than achievement and yet, during lessons, could I say the same? In the moment, am I recognising the processes or journeys my pupils are going on or just the outcomes?

I’m setting myself a challenge: when we return to school after the Easter break, I’m going to ask our PGCE student to observe some of my lessons and keep an eye/ear out for my use of praise. I think we should praise/recognise the efforts made by our pupils. They need to reflect on the processes they go through and understand how to learn from any mistakes. Praising this, pointing it out to them, might make a difference.

The next point I have taken away from Bill’s presentation, is the need to move away from the traditional three Rs of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic . 

The 6Rs
The 6Rs

Obvious? Well, yes. Despite the best efforts of the Gove-ian machine, we’re not teaching in the 19th century. We’ve moved on. So why was this suggestion so thought-provoking?

Bill Lucas suggested we need to promote six, not three, Rs:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Remembering
  • Reciprocity
  • Resilience
  • Responsiveness
  • Reflectiveness

(This was tied up, as you might be able to see from my dodgy mobile pic above, in a push for some of his publications. This was one of the grumblings – I think – about this keynote. It did feel, at times, like a sales pitch.)

But again, I’m digressing. The 6Rs.

Do we teach our pupils these skills? Do we embed them in our curriculum? Do we need to? This is what I’ve been pondering post-Lucas.

Some of my pupils are not resilient. If they “don’t geddit Miss” then they seem unable/ill-equipped to try again, to fail again, to fail better. “Do I need this for the exam?” is a question that sends chills right through me. They can be incredibly resourceful (especially when trying to check their BBM or text messages in class!) but how resourceful do they need to be when they can just rely on Google for the answers?

I’m an ex-retail manager and recruitment consultant. I understand that employers want world-of-work-ready pupils when they leave at 18 or start their first job post-university. I think this may be why this part of the keynote spoke to me.

Are we equipping our pupils with the skills they need? You may not agree with Bill Lucas’ 6Rs, there may be other things you’d add to that list. Can we ever hope to future-proof our pupils in such a fast-changing world? I think we have a duty to do our best and try.

You can watch the full presentation here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdGsmaizgZs

Professor Bill Lucas was speaking about the Expansive Education Network http://www.expansiveeducation.net

#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

After #TLAB13: what next?

It was a long journey home after the conference and I had time to reflect and start to think how I was going to implement some of the things I had seen, heard, discussed, considered…

My action plan:

  1. Students as questioners, not tellers: using Rosie’s ideas in my Y12 planning.
  2. Sharing what I’ve learned with colleagues back at school.
  3. Risk-taking: I need to look for my next challenge and that might involve taking a gamble. (No more ‘if only’ regrets!)
  4. Looking at my planning at how I can incorporate some of David’s ideas.
  5. Next year’s KS3 schemes need an overhaul. What better time to think about explicitly teaching grammar?
  6. Promote TeachMeet Liverpool – networking is so valuable.
  7. Blog more and read more blogs.
  8. Try to recapture some of the sheer exuberance and joy for teaching that was present – it can get lost amongst the daily grind (aka exam season!)

Thanks to everyone at #TLAB13.

You made me think, reflect, reconsider and laugh, lots.

David Didau at #TLAB13

As an English teacher (and self-confessed Twitter-holic) then the choice of the first #TLAB13 workshop was a no-brainer: I was going to listen to David Didau’s Anatomy of an Outstanding Lesson session.

For those of you who don’t know David, he is an associate member of SLT and Director of English and Literacy at Clevedon School in North Somerset. He is also an associate of Independent Thinking Ltd and specialises in training on Literacy, AfL, Outstanding T&L and English.

He blogs and tweets under the name of @LearningSpy and I have always found his take on teaching to be both innovative and refreshingly real.

So, I left the theatre with my head buzzing from Alastair Smith’s keynote and entered the room to the sound of Cameo’s Word Up – classic theme tune for an English teacher, right? (Later in the workshop David spoke about playing music at the start of lessons and its potential to change mood/atmosphere etc.)

What a pleasure it was to meet David and to get an insight into how he goes about planning a lesson. He manages to combine authority with an endearing humility which belies his ‘twitterati’ status as the go-to-guy for English.

Alastair Smith had already talked about the problem of many lesson plans being simply “elaborate to-do lists” and David’s workshop continued this theme as he promised us he would demonstrate his “contempt for activities”.

Firstly, the visual metaphor of the iceberg to describe lesson planning was perfect. It really is the unseen ‘stuff’ that makes the observed lesson work. And, as someone currently mentoring NQTs and a PGCE student, it gives me a great discussion point for this week’s meetings.

David’s learning questions resonated with me. (I’m using the word resonate a lot in my #TLAB13 posts – but it was that kind of day. Lots of little lightbulb moments or earnest head nods and palpable relief that I’m not alone in problems, dilemmas etc)

Five Planning Questions

1. How will last lesson relate to this lesson?

2. Which students do I need to consider in this particular lesson? (Pen Portraits.)

3. What will students be doing the moment they arrive? (Bell work.)

4. What are they learning and what activities will they undertake to learn it?

5. How will they – and I – know if they are making progress?

Again, not only am I going to reflect on these questions in my own planning but they will become part of my dialogue with the department. I liked the idea of the Pen Portraits. Having certain pupils in each class who are the focus for that unit, skill, module, term etc seems like a good way to do it.

David is a teacher. He may have additional responsibility and a sideline in writing and training etc but the man teaches. So when he talks about how “time is precious” and offers ideas of how to work smarter, then this fellow teacher is listening. His assertion that “a set of books marked is a lesson planned” and “lessons can simply be working through the feedback” made me think. Could I (and by extension, the teachers in my department) be working smarter when it comes to marking and planning?

I liked David’s idea of the post-it note as instant feedback. I’m a fan of the post-it note as teaching aid. I use them all the time. I’m not sure I have used them in this way though – an instant take-away-and-implement idea. Genius! (The idea: step back during the lesson, observe pupils’ learning & use the post-its to offer suggestions, feedback, next steps etc)

The workshop continued. I was typing away furiously. Discussing ideas as they popped up with Kristian, my fellow back-row occupier. (It was probably at about this point when I stopped forgetting I’d already been up for hours and realising what a brilliant day this was turning out to be!)

A discussion about learning outcomes followed. David shared his use of the phrase “so that we can” which was a little slice of genius. This allows you to split the learning from the outcome but still make it meaningful and coherent. See the example he gave below:

Learning: To be able to analyse characterisation.

“so that we can…”

Outcome: Evaluate Steinbeck’s intentions

Or another: zoom in on details “so that we can” zoom out on the big picture

This was my second instant take away from the workshop. I’ll be framing my learning objectives/intentions/outcomes (whatever the phrase du jour is!) in this way from now on. It makes sense.

As a fellow English teacher, I always appreciate training delivered by subject specialists. I am confident that whatever subject the audience taught, they would have gained much from David’s clear breaking down of the elements of a lesson but, as an English specialist, the subject-specific element gave this the edge.

David on writing was very interesting. He writes with his pupils. Sometimes this may be typing straight on to the screen in full view, other times it may be on paper and then shared with them at the end of the task. It sharpens his own writing. It helps him re-frame tasks or questions. It also models good practice and, let’s be honest, good writing takes deliberate practice. (I do this. I think I miss a trick though; I don’t perhaps explicitly talk about the writing process enough. My third instant takeaway from this session.)

I’m going to pinch a Didau-ism and make it my own. Henceforth, I won’t talk about writing… it’ll be called drafting so pupils realise it is a process. I’m also going to channel David when I say: “If it isn’t proofread, it isn’t finished.” 

David went on to talk about how there is no magic formula for a perfect lesson. I agree. He did however point to one fact that separates the good from the great when it comes to lessons. What is it? The relationship between teacher and pupils. As the class teacher, you have an innate advantage or trump card you can play on the observer: your knowledge of the pupils in front of you. “Dare to know” challenged David and he’s right.

Thinking about the outstanding lessons I’ve observed and, dare I say it, the best lessons I have taught and they hinge on the teacher’s knowledge of the pupils in front of him/her. If you dare to know your pupils and teach a lesson tailored to meet their needs, designed to help them progress or to challenge them to exceed expectations, then how can it fail to impress those who may be observing?

What a workshop. What a guy.

Sycophantic? Unashamedly so. I had the privilege to meet someone whose writing I’ve long admired and, do you know what, he deserves the plaudits.

Alastair Smith at #TLAB13: Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

Alastair Smith opened the inaugural #TLAB13 with his keynote speech entitled: 50,000 chunks: how we become ‘experts’ and what it might mean for our conference today. 

I’ve posted a link to the presentation which Alastair has uploaded on to his website. I’m not going to attempt to re-hash the presentation, but rather discuss what I personally took from it.

Starting with a call to arms to identify the expert schools amongst the audience, Smith was both challenging and entertaining.

Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

Beware the Ofsted Whisperers

He cautioned us, as a profession, to beware the ‘Ofsted whisperers’ as: “Ofsted chasing will reduce us to the mean, turn our profession into a trade and make us all vulnerable to the industry of second guessers…” Having recently sat through some (no doubt expensive) training which was designed to teach me about the new Ofsted framework and yet taught me nothing I couldn’t (and indeed pretty much had already) read myself, I found myself nodding in agreement.

Citing an example of a school who had gone from special measures to outstanding under the guidance of an inspirational leader, Smith spoke eloquently about how it isn’t all about Ofsted. There is an Ofsted 1 and a ‘real’ 1 – I think I know which kind of outstanding I’d like to be a part of.

So how does a school become truly expert, truly outstanding in its day-to-day life?

The following characteristics of an ‘expert school’ were offered:

  • Have a School Development Plan
  • Seen School Development Plan
  • Feel you have contributed to School Development Plan
  • Senior Staff Member responsible for Teaching and Learning
  • Teaching and Learning number one priority within the School Development Plan
  • Within Teaching and Learning Priority there are identified strategies
  • CPD priorities built around these strategies
  • Regular whole school dialogue around these strategies
  • Lesson observation (including peer observation) built around these strategies
  • Agreed strategies revisited consistently and over time
  • There is shared lesson planning utilising strategies and data
  • Staff are accountable for students results
  • Involvement of students in understanding processes of learning

Given that the audience were comprised of, in my opinion, predominantly forward-thinking educators, it was surprising how few people remained standing once the entire list was read out.

So, once all of that expert practice is in place, what else is needed to make the Ofsted 1 a real 1?

Alastair Smith suggests that a school needs core purpose, clarity, coherence, consistency and community. Music to my ears. Too often I worry we suffer from initiative-itis… we’re guilty of adopting the ‘Dangerous Deputy’ approach. We say ‘I fancy giving that a go’ and jump on the latest faddy bandwagon without really considering what value or impact it will have.

If we are clear and consistent in our approach, if the whole school community knows what our core purpose is and works together to achieve it then positive and lasting change will happen.

I’m not a school leader, but I aspire to be one. I am currently leading a department and so much of what Alastair Smith said resonated with me.

Define and Enshrine What Works
Define and Enshrine What Works

I need to now think about the strengths we have as a department and how we can embed this. I also need to think about where we can improve, look at what other departments or schools are doing and make that a part of our daily routines. As Alastair said, the rhetoric of marginal gains is all well and good but the basics need to be in place first: “you still need to get the bike up the hill.”

Expertise requires dedicated practice. It requires simple, clear and coherent messages which everyone can get behind.

We owe it to our students to be expert teachers in expert schools. No matter what is going on with education at a political level, we can be agents of change.

That’s a call to arms. That’s a reason to get out of bed… even on a Saturday morning.

http://www.alistairsmithlearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/TLA-Berkhamsted.pdf

#TLAB13: Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference, Berkhamsted School

4am on a Saturday morning & my alarm is going off.

What would get me up at this unearthly time? Why, the inaugural Teaching, Learning & Assessment Conference at Berkhamsted School of course!

The conference was organised by Nick Dennis, Deputy at Berkhamsted (@nickdennis) and publicised on Twitter. The power of the educational network on Twitter means that come 9am on a chilly Saturday morning, around 200 educators who had travelled from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United States were gathered in the theatre to listen to the first of the day’s keynote speakers.

I’m going to do a separate post about the various sessions I attended, each of which have made me reflect on my teaching, but wanted to reflect on the day overall as well.

A massive thanks goes to Nick and the staff and students at Berkhamsted for hosting such a fantastic event. To those who gave up their time to be workshop leaders, thank you. A special mention to David Didau (@LearningSpy) Rosie McColl (@rosiemccoll) and Daisy Christodolou (@daisychristo) whose sessions I attended and found both incredibly useful and thought-provoking.

The three keynote speakers: Alistair Smith (@alatalite) Bill Lucas (@eed_net) and Bill Rankin (@rankinw) also deserve a mention. You all made me think, re-think and reflect on both my own teaching and my school’s direction and purpose.

Equally valuable was the chance to meet, chat and learn with and from fellow educators. In a time when education is undergoing a massive transformation and morale can, at times, feel low it was a pleasure to meet everyone and realise what a passionate and committed bunch we are. And yes, there were moments of contention and disagreement when views were shared which some didn’t agree with. But that’s what made the day so interesting. We all come with different experiences and realities and we bring a variety of perspectives to every issue.  The one thing I believe we all had in common was a desire to become better at what we do. Admirable on our day off, no?

Finally it was, as always, a pleasure to catch up with Kristian Still (@KristianStill) Vice Principal at The Wellington Academy, fellow mischief-maker, almost-heckler and force-of-nature.

#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?

Dumbing Down English Literature?

There’s a report in today’s Telegraph saying that the English Literature A Level has been dumbed down.

It makes for a great headline. I can just imagine the horror over afternoon tea: “Do you know they aren’t teaching the classics anymore?” “I doubt they even know who Shakespeare is nowadays. It just isn’t good enough.”

The Ofqual report has looked at the AQA exam board and focused on their choices of text for A Level teaching. They believe that the choice of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights are not sufficiently challenging for A Level students. I’m not necessarily going to dispute that, although I actually think that Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy are some of the most profound and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long while. It’s interesting however, that as you read the article further, a spokesman from AQA confirms that neither of these novels is on the current exam specification anymore.

So is English Literature really being dumbed down?

I teach English Literature A Level. My Year 13 students this year are tackling a variety of texts including Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, Hamlet and an anthology of poetry that includes work from Petrarch to Duffy, Browning to Angelou. Their Reading for Meaning unit is called Love through the Ages and they are examined on texts from Chaucer to the modern day. Their fellow students in Year 12 are studying Victorian Literature: Hardy, Clare, Bronte, Wilde etc. In both years, pupils are encouraged to undertake wider, independent reading and indeed without showing an appreciation of a variety of texts from different genres and, for the Year 13s, from different times, they cannot hope to pass their AS or A2 examined modules.

Of course we embed an appreciation for literature from an early age. All Key Stage 3 classes study a variety of literature from different genres, cultures and periods. Our Year 7s have a weekly library lesson, in which they are encouraged to read for pleasure. Later in the year they will be introduced to Shakespeare in a module that samples extracts from a range of his plays. Our Year 8s all study a pre-twentieth century classic novel in addition to a Shakespeare play. Differing abilities are catered for in the learning activities teachers choose for their groups, but all pupils are exposed to the texts in their original forms. In addition to this, they have guided reading of modern classic novels and poetry from different cultures. Our Year 9s build on this, studying further Shakespeare plays and a range of poetry, learning to make thematic and structural links between texts they have studied. At GCSE, our pupils study both English Language and Literature.

We are passionate, as a department, in encouraging a love of literature. We wouldn’t choose to teach exam specifications that we didn’t believe promoted a rigorous understanding and appreciation of the texts we study. The skills our A Level students acquire don’t just help them go on to study Literature at university either; they are both valuable and transferable: inference, deduction, synthesis of information from a variety of sources, analysis, and a formation of personal opinions alongside an appreciation of critical readings from many different perspectives. Our students mature into informed, independent readers.

The exam board we use is the apparently maligned AQA. However despite the shock headlines, I can assure you there’s nothing dumb about our lessons!

 

Written for the Huffington Post UK: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/clare-sarson/dumbing-down-english-lite_b_979079.html

 

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.