Friday, 27 December 2013

Reflections And Hopes Aplenty - Nurture 2013 - 2014

What a year. It is difficult to sum it all up but I will try...

13 brilliant things from 2013:

  1. Twitter - Well... Twitter, what can I say? It has been emotional. I have learnt so much from the amazing educators I have connected with through Twitter. I am questioned and affirmed in equal measure. It has been a great tool for challenging my views and connecting with wonderful education professionals around the country. Super stuff.
  2. SLTcamp - I am so proud to have been a part of this wonderful weekend. From the moment Stephen Lockyer asked me if I was mad enough to be a co-organiser of the event I was excited about the project. I do have far too much on my plate most of the time but this was well worth the time and effort involved. The group of senior leaders that we brought together in a remote country location for sharing of good practice was an immense team. The weekend was a wonderfully a dedicated and developmental one. Thank you to Stephen for asking me to be a part of it and to all the SLTcampers for their amazing contributions.
  3. Blogging - There is something really quite petrifying about blogging from the heart about stuff you really care about. I have a real and deep fear each time I blog because I am laying my professional heart and mind on the table for all to see. Despite this horrifically scary reality, I have found it immensely developmental to blog about education. It has been an amazingly reflective tool for bettering myself as a teacher and leader.
  4. Guardian and TES pieces - This year I have written two pieces for the Guardian Teacher Network and one to open the TES English blog. This is so special to me. I am grateful to have been asked to do these pieces.
  5. Teachmeets - Last December I met the effervescent Ross Morrison McGill at the first ever SLTeachmeet. It was a wonderful CPD event and really opened my eyes to the wealth of wonderfully passionate professionals out there.  I have since presented at Teachmeet London and SLTeachmeet 2. I have also co-hosted SLTcamp Teachmeet and Teachmeet Literacy.  There is something quite wonderful about a teachmeet.
  6. Teaching and Learning Takeover - I ran a workshop on progress within lessons and over time at Teaching and Learning Takeover organised by Jen Ludgate and David Fawcett. I was genuinely surprised and honoured to be in the main room along side Stephen Lockyer, John Tomsett and Vic Goddard. Not worthy!
  7. Students - So many of lovely students have had an impact on me this year. A few follow... To the student who was having a really tough time dealing with exam pressure and spent a lot of anxious time in my office - you did so well and both your family and I are proud of you. I told you you were amazing. To the student who was new to our school this year. You gave me a card thanking me for helping you settle in - You did it all by yourself and we are lucky to have you! To the student that has just joined our small school - you are such a special and warm soul and we are happy you are with us now. To the student who I dealt with for some misdemeanour or another on my first day in post a year and a half ago - I knew then, just as I know now, that you are destined for great things despite what you said on that day. I think you might just be starting to believe it now. To the group of students in my Y10 class (the whole class is amazing to be fair) who are such shining stars and always make me feel happy. Thank you for the over-brimming joy you bring to lessons. I could go on forever... Another blog post I think.
  8. Technology in the Classroom - Over the last year and a half I have tried loads of EdTech tools. I have no idea why I have the bug but I do. I know for sure it is the future... well actually it is the present. The education system needs to catch up!
  9. Healthy and happy - Over the last year my sister has been through a horrific life-threatening ordeal with her health. She is, thankfully, ok at the following treatment she underwent this year. This is not the first time I have been through a serious illness with my friends and family but is does not make it any easier. I remember getting the call about my sisters illness at the start of the year and sobbing silently while assuring my sister that I was fine and I would be strong for her. I was strong for her but boy life is hard when times are tough. On the up side, like I said, she is now happy and healthy and I am so happy to have her in my life. She is a hero.
  10. Colleagues - I have got to know a number of colleges on a professional and personal level that have made me a better teacher, leader and person. To you lovely souls - Thank you. That is all.
  11. Friends and Family - I am very fortunate to have a great network of friends who are very proud of me but are not teachers and are wholly uninterested in anything to do with twitter or teaching. They keep me in the real world - you guys are immense. I also have some lovely teacher pals from previous schools that I have loved keeping in touch with this year. You guys are also immense.
  12. Travel - This year I have been lucky enough to go to Jamaica, Lille, Guilford, Liverpool, Holmbury St Marys, Dorset, Nottingham, St Alburns, Mallorca, Bristol. Paris, Southampton, Gloucester and Windsor. Some of these trips have been for pleasure and some for work but all have been brilliant. I know I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to experience different places and way of life. Travelling near and far will never get old for me.
  13. Writing - Writing. What can I say? I never thought I would be writing like this; about education. I always thought I would end up writing in my old age about my escapades through the years. Surprisingly, right now I am really enjoying this type of writing. Writing about education helps me reflect and regroup. I love it. I was also super proud to have been asked to contribute a chapter to Ross Morrison McGill's 20" ideas for Secondary Teachers Outstanding Lessons. Who'd have think it? Mum, all those nights spent sleeping in your bed while you frantically typed away under the lamp light on your type writer affected me... What have you created!

14 Wonderful Wishes For 2014:
  1. Writing - I would like to write some great blog posts that further me as a teacher and leader. This year I have some exciting projects underway too... watch this space.
  2. Leader - I want to keep moving forward. I need to do lots more reading, thinking and reflecting on how I can become an better leader every day.
  3. Teaching - I want to enjoy as many lessons as I can this year. All the turbulence in educational politics can be a distraction - I won't let it be.
  4. Teacher Training - I would like to research and do my bit towards improving teacher training / CPD in my own context and wider. We are on the cusp of something changing in schools and CPD is a key player in this - I just know it.
  5. Friends and Family - I want to ensure that I really appreciate my friends and family this year. I am so lucky to have many wonderful friends and family and sometimes I think that I take that for granted. I love you all.
  6. Well Being - I loved starting to exercise for the first time ever last year. As a young person I claimed to be allergic to exercise ;-) Now I love it. Health issues stopped me in the last few months and I can feel the difference. Just watch me come January. Healthy body, healthy mind. You have to look after what you have got.
  7. Educational Technology - I need to hone my tech use in the classroom. I am excited about this and really want to use my Digital Leaders to help me. How though...
  8. Teaching, Learning and Assessment - Berkhampstead - I am honoured to be running a workshop at this event. I have heard great things about it last year. No pressure then!
  9. SLTcamp - The first event was so special that we could not leave it there! Watch this space.
  10. Home - I love my home but it is time for a move after seven years. Onwards me thinks.
  11. Marking and Feedback - I want to do more work on this topic. I have experimented with online marking, written on the topic for both the Guardian Teacher Network and TES English blog and I really do love a sticker! I know marking and feedback can have such profound impact on pupil progress that I cannot help but want to know more. I also know that teachers time is precious so we need to do this effectively or it can take over our lives.
  12. Reading - Good gracious woman - read for pleasure won't you!
  13. Celebration - I want to make sure I celebrate my student successes more than I do. I so love making positive calls, sending positive letters home and awarding students with certificates. I need to make sure I do this more often. It is good for the soul and essential for the heart.
  14. Happy - I want to appreciate the present more. Life is so busy most of the time that great things can pass us by. Must be more mindful. I am a naturally happy and positive person and I need to focus on keeping it that way. Laugh, love and be happy.

Happy new year one and all.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Start Of Something Small But Special - SLTcamp

The doors slammed shut and Stephen and I sat bleary eyed and a little dishevelled in the front of the mini bus.  It was Sunday morning and the end of SLTcamp. We sat in silence for a moment and then I turned to Stephen and said "We only went and bloody did it!"  We both laughed, Stephen started up the engine and we set off on the muddy road out of Holmbury St Mary YHA.  We had done it. The weekend was a blur and it all seemed a little surreal to be honest. We were both exhausted but very happy that it had gone so well.  As the scenery wizzed by we chatted excitedly about the weekend through smiles and yawns in equal measure. We talked about what we liked and would we will improve for next time... And yes there will be a next time.

We arrived at Dorking station and I bundled out of the mini bus trailing behind me my suitcase and clutching my flowers from the campers in my arms.  I stood on the pavement and waved Stephen off as he tooted past and off home. I stood there dazed for a moment. It was over. Moments from the weekend swirling around my head and a smile crept across my face. The announcement for my train home snapped my focus back to the here and now.  The bubble of SLTcamp bust and off I skipped... back to reality.  

Later that evening I started to update the @SLTcamp twitter feed with all the larks of the weekend and I felt a real sense of pride at the quality of leaders we had spent the weekend alongside.  I felt proud of what we had all been a part of.  The exhaustion I had felt that afternoon had passed and a feeling of euphoria had taken over.  I didn't feel tired at all; I felt buoyed up form the whole experience. Both Stephen and I agreed there and then that it was such a special weekend full of innovative ideas, sharing of experiences, amazing people, great conversations and a supportive development that we would be mad not to let more leaders benefit from the experience we'd had.  Would we do some things differently? Yes without a doubt.  Next time will be even better, even more tailored!  I thought I would feel battered and bruised from the weekend away that week in school but I was wrong.  Actually, I felt rested, reinvigorated and inspired - not a touch of tiredness to be seen.

What a weekend.

It was jam packed with quality CPD experiences, workshops, talks and debates.  The teachmeet on the Friday was brilliant opener to a brilliant weekend. The breadth of topics and experiences that were shared and discussed was top notch. Personal highlights for me were Phil @joeybagstock, Tom @tomboulder, Stuart @stuartlock and Debbie @teachertweaks - all of whom gave passionate and useful presentations that made me think about my own practice. That being said, we were spoilt for choice with the presentations that evening - from pedagogy to behaviour,  whole school CPD to lesson observations approaches, educational research to developing leaders.  There really was outstanding leaders in our midst and the presentations showed this.  The difference with this teachmeet was that we had time to follow up those discussions once the talks were over - and boy did we. The atmosphere during the break and after the teachmeet was electric. Debate was deep and questions were flying around the tables until late into the evening.  

The Saturday sessions were kicked off my Mel and Debbie leading the team building warm up activities. Great fun and it really got everyone chatting to one another. The workshops covered teaching, learning, behaviour, pastoral issues and leadership topics. I was astounded at the passion and generosity of the sharing of experiences, resources, advice and ideas that flowed freely around the tables.  Ideas that had been touched upon in the teachmeet the night before were picked up again and debated with vigour.  Connections were made and tribes formed. People found others with similar interests or delved deeply into heated discussions around different views.  Notes were made in every session and reading over these as we publish them on the SLTcamp site have confirmed to me how useful and developmental these sessions truly were.  The evening was a feast of fiesta food and dancing and I very much enjoyed the impassioned chats had with Grahame Newell of IRIS Connect, Debbie and Mel, one of our Headteachers (who shall remain nameless ;-)) at the event and all the other wonderfully different senior leaders who took the time out of their weekend to better themselves and others. I take my hat off to you all. 

The Sunday morning reflection session was sprinkled with amazing virtual presentations from Ross Morrison McGill @teachertoolkit Rachel Orr @rachelorr  Jill Berry @jillberry and Heath Monk @heath_monk. During this time we had space, quiet and focus to digest all that we had been a part of over the weekend. We focused on what we were taking away with us, what conversations we wanted to continue and what the next steps were for us individually. Committing to our next steps following the weekend. Then, as had been the case all weekend, the attendees teamed together and cleared the place up in the space of a few short minutes. We said our good byes, warm hugs and smiles all round, and locked up what had been our home for the weekend.  

And then there were two...

This is such a crazy and outlandish job we do that we need a little touch of something different - this was that.  To quote one of our campers Ashley @BMS_MrHarrold "I don't know what you two have started this weekend but I know I like it." It was the start of something, something organic that is yet to be defined.  Watch this space.  I am looking forward the next one where we can make the event even more useful and give even more senior leaders the space to develop themselves and others. 

Register your interest for #SLTcamp14 below and be a part of something special if you dare.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Digital Debates - Issue 8 - Literacy

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine. A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to literacy. The pieces included are presented in no particular order.

The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach. Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Leadership - When Opportunity Knocks

One rainy evening I sat at my desk surrounded (as usual) by exercise books, sheets of stickers, sticky back plastic, scissors, glue sticks and a selection of red pens.  My classroom was very much like my second home. I had organised the furniture and decorated just how I liked it. I was on the third floor and my window looked out into two huge beautiful trees that were the oldest on the school site.  In the summer they were full and all the shades of green you can imagine; you felt as if you were in the midst of the jungle.  When the wind was strong, the rustling leaves sounded like the sea.  In the winter the branches were bare and maze-like.  From the right angle you could see all the way to the Gherkin - a glimpse of the 'real world'.   I loved that room and was really sad when I had to leave it behind as they knocked the old down to replace it with the new a couple of years later. The cold winter air blew in to my always overheated classroom, making me feel feverishly freezing and clammy all at once.  My mind drifted as I tried to focus on the pile of marking before me, letting the echoes of the day's classes filled the room.  Suddenly, a knock at the door startled me. That knock changed it all. 

As a young teacher I was so focused on surviving and keeping my head above the water that I never really thought about leadership.  My concerns were very much directed towards getting through the day and keeping up with the rigorous routines, planning and marking systems that were a no-questions-asked requirement in my school. I loved those kids but boy, they were no joke let me tell you! The routines and systems needed to be tight and that meant ALL of us doing our bit - and we did.  Lesson plans were expected to be printed off and available for every lesson taught. Books needed to be marked on time and as specified as there were weekly extensive random book checks that were taken along to SLT meetings and poured over in great detail. The school was no walk in the park but the best training I could have had to become the best I could be. I am grateful to them but I felt the strain as a new teacher.  I was not perfect by any means but cared a lot about what I did.  I tried my best to take any advice and instruction given to me in those early years. I was, and still am, good to line manage. I want to please my line manager and show my worth. I don't always get that right but I keep going until I do. So leadership was the last thing on my mind until that knock.  I was asked to apply for a junior leadership post in my school - "No guarantees. Interviews have to be held but you would be great. Why don't you apply?"  It took me completely by surprise.

I sat silently, in shock, for quite some time after my boss dropped that bomb shell of a suggestion on me.  I would never have dreamed that they would WANT me to step up to a position of responsibility.  I am a perfectionist.  I was very demanding of myself as a young teacher and did not see the potential that my boss clearly did.  (note to self - I have never been perfect at anything and that is ok.  I need to get over that.) I was really unsure about whether I should go for the post. I was scared I might not be successful and have to live with the shame of failure; everyone knowing that I was no good and silly to have thought I might ever have been.  My lovely boyfriend, now husband, talked me out of that very abruptly once I got home.  He had seen how much hard work I had put in over the few years I had been a teacher.  He had witnessed the tears at the end of holidays in my first year, weekends and nights spent planning and marking, whole holidays spent working tirelessly, the countless mornings waking up having had another dream I was in school and all the rest of the rubbish.  He had to remind me of the the slow progression towards gaining my personal time back by keeping most of my work in school, the ever-increasing evening stories full of laughter and smiles about how much I had enjoyed this lesson or that, the growing confidence I had in dealing with challenging children and the passion I clearly had for the job.  Truth be told,  I was my own worst enemy - I didn't think I was good enough.  He basically told me not to be stupid and go for it. He was right... so I did.

I spent the following week slavishly preparing for the interview. My evenings were spent researching interview questions, putting together work I was proud of, quizzing people in similar roles about their jobs and practising possible questions. That week a number of well-meaning colleagues said things like "what are you worrying about? You are confident and you work hard. You will be fine."  I am confident, but I am also a very nervous person - full of contradictions me. These nerves always kick in full force when I really care about something.  Their comments drifted around me but nothing sunk in.  The week was a haze. I kept myself very busy freaking out about the fact that those pesky nerves might be my downfall in the interview. So I practised the possible interview questions over and over in my head and attempted to sleep a few times in the lead up to the interview. You can practise all you want but when the door closes and you are on one side of the table and they are on the other all bets are off - it is anyone's game.

I was well prepared but very nervous in the interview. I remember the sun shining through the window blinding me but making me feel alive at the same time. I remember them asking me questions and me answering but not want was actually said. I remember showing the portfolio of projects I had worked on but not their reaction. I remember thanking them for their time but not whether their response was positive or negative. I remember sitting in my empty classroom after the interview feeling exciting and exhausted but not which I felt more of. I remember answering the the phone and being told they were very happy to let me know that I had been selected to be KS3 Coordinator of English.  I remember them saying that they had chosen me because "I was the best person for the job." I remember the floor falling away from beneath me, the room spinning and a voice that sounded like mine saying "WHAT? ME? REALLY? Thank you so much! I won't let you down, I promise!" And I meant it from the bottom of my heart.  

Truth be told, I didn't think I was good enough. 

Guess what... I was wrong.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Writing About Leadership - Leap Of Faith

So, I have put off writing a leadership post since starting this blog.  I'm not sure why really.  No, actually I do know why.  For me, leadership is so complex that you have a duty to be mindful, honest and to consider your impact.  Because of these points, I feel a great responsibility whenever I go to press the publish button. 

Leaders have to be themselves to be truly successful.  They must know their professional mind and marry that with who they are in the real world. They must also not let who they are in the real world stop them being a great leader.  No mean feat.  I took quite some time to allow myself to be 'me' as well as a leader I was happy with - it took some harsh lessons and experience of some very different leaders for me to get there.  Professing to know all there is to know about leadership would be silly - I am still (and aim to always be) learning.

To write about leadership... Where do you begin? Blogging, when it is done well, lays the personality of the writer bare. There is nothing quite like reading a post where someone has been brave enough to share their raw experiences.  These posts have been too rare for me so far; looking back over the last year or so (since I started blogging) I have opened my heart fully in six of the thirty two posts I have published.  Each time I have written one of these posts I have felt a stronger bond with the job that I do. It is a leap of faith, a step out into the unknown.  Speaking from the heart is thrilling and petrifying all at once - it gets under your skin and changes you.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy writing the informative posts too; I like reading practical posts for inspiration myself.  But the posts where you invest a little of your soul... they free you.

I am working on a series of leadership posts at the moment.  I will try my best to be open and honest about my experience.  I hope I do my past leaders, present leaders and the people I have lead over the years justice - they have taught me so much about leadership and myself. I have the deepest respect for the colleagues that I have worked with - the kindred spirits and those that have been poles apart alike.  Being a school leader is a brilliant position to hold and I have been on one heck of a journey so far.  

So here goes...

Friday, 18 October 2013

Digital Debates - Teacher Talk - Issue 7

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine.

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to effective teacher talk. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.
 Edited by Sarah Findlater

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Marking For The Masses And Feedback For The Future

So this year, inspired by the force of nature that is Chris Waugh, I have taken my classes into a bright new era of marking, feedback and improvement.  We have gone digital.  No more lugging of books home on a regular basis.  Now, from my iPad, I can mark and feedback to all the students with a swoosh of my finger.  No more "Miss I have lost my book and now I don't have the feedback you gave me."  It is there for ever in a safe and secure place to look at, work on and track improvements.  No more giving targets and waiting until the next piece of work in a few weeks to make the improvements.  They are done live, acted on immediately and tracked automatically. No more parental complaints about not knowing what their children are doing in class or how to help them.  They have direct and immediate access to what we are doing in class as well as how their child is doing in each task if the wish to have it.

No more tatty, dogeared exercise books that have been used for months and having to be kept to track work over the years.  Now the students can neatly keep their work from the start of their school life to the finish and access it from anywhere and on any device.  This my friends, this is the future!  Starting with my Y8 and Y10 class, I have introduced them to three new tools to allow us to do this effectively.  We have started using Edmodo, Google Drive and individual blogs on Wordpress.   These three simple tools have been a revelation, they have opened up a really effective way for students to engage with tasks, take on feedback and celebrate their work.  

Note - I fully understand the importance of writing by hand and provide plenty of opportunity for this to take place in class.  They write in their notes books regularly and some assessments are written by hand, a photo taken and submitted via Edmodo as a picture. Until the exams change to allow digital format (that will happen) we will mix the two skills in class.

The Tools - An Overview:
Edmodo is a safe, secure and open environment for communication with students and parents.  It looks a little like Facebook but is completely controlled by the teacher and only viewable my teacher, students and parents if they opt in.  It is so simple to set up.  The teacher signs up, creates a group and a code is generated.  Then, in class, the teacher sends the student to the Edmodo site where they click "I am a student" and enter their name and the code you give them.  This automatically adds them to the class and allows them to see all posts you send to the class.  You can set it so that all comments from students are moderated too if you wish for have full control.  You can set class tasks or homework and feedback on work they have submitted for assessment. You have a digital mark book for the class built into the site allowing for easy tracking of progress.  You can enter the grades for specific tasks here.  There is also the option of creating automatically marked quizzes here and adding them to your mark book too.  Edmodo is where my students submit work, get feedback and grades from me and watch for notices.  Only the student, the parent and I can see this.  An introduction video is below.

Google Drive in essence is simply computing in the cloud.  It allows students to sign in using a Gmail account and have access to the Google Drive facility.  Students are able to create documents (very much like word), spreadsheets (very much like Excel) and presentations (very much like Powerpoint) and they save automatically in the cloud.  This is great as there is never a chance of loosing a document as it save on the spot as you type.  Another great feature is that you can access all previous versions of the document you have created, eliminating the possibility of loosing work.  Also you can access and edit the document from home and in school using any device that allows you access to the internet - brilliant.  There's more though! The peice de resistance with Google Drive is that it allows the students to share a document.  You could ask pairs to share their work with each other and create a presentation collaboratively.  You could ask the student to share a document with you as they work so that you can view and comment live without interrupting their flow or stopping them working.  Google Drive links directly with Edmodo, allowing students to hand in a Google Doc from within Edmodo.  Brilliant tool with endless possibilities in the classroom. An introduction video is below.

Wordpress blogs are the final essential digital tool this year for my classes.  This has been a labour of love for me but well worth it.  I have created a network of blogs spanning down from my main introduction page which is more or less static.  The middle level of blogs houses the individual class hubs for each class I teach.  The final lower layer being the individual student blogs for every student in my class.  The blogs a linked by a network of hyperlinked buttons on the pages creating the experience of a website.  During the creation of this network of blogs, I was advised often by the wonderful Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net) who has created a similar, and in many ways much more sophisticated version for his classes.  Thanks Chris!

Example Digital Work Flow:
Step 1 - Setting The Task:
I open my lessons as normal with students seated at tables, me introducing a concept, skill or new knowledge.  Students will complete a starter or introductory activity in their note books.  I will then guide the students toward the main activity of the lesson, model expectations, clarify any misconceptions apparent from the starter and talk them through the task.  Students will plan or make preparation notes in their notebooks.  Once I am satisfied this has been completed to the expected standard, I will direct individual student to the computers allocated to them.  A reminder of the task set will be waiting for them when they log into Edmodo, often with a help sheet of suggested sites to aid them if they are stuck. There is a button in the message reminding them of the task that says 'turn in assignment' that the students use to submit their task once they have finished.I can see live how many of them have turned in the task and if they were late from my login.

Step 2 - Completing The Task:
Students have a Google account set up via the school as they are under 13.  Older students can use their own Google login if they have one.  The students leave Edmodo up on one tab and open another tab.  Students go to their Google Drive, create a document and use their notes from the starter activity to complete the task.  The save the piece in a folder called 'English' and possibly even a sub-folder for that individual unit of work; All of which is very easy to set up.  As they work I often ask to have access to the document.  Students allow me to view the document from my PC or iPad by clicking the 'Share' button on the document in Google Drive and entering my email.  I can then view their file and advise them via the comment or chat facility.  This allows them to continue working uninterrupted while I assess their work and help them improve.  I can often see them making the specific improvements straight after I advise them.

Step 3 - Handing in Work
Once the time is up for the task, students shut down the tab with Googe Drove on it - knowing that the document automatically saves so no fear of losing the work.  This will leave only the Edmodo window open. The message I sent them in Edmodo that outlined the task also has a 'Turn in Assignment' button within it.  The students have already linked their Google Drive to Edmodo so they can submit a document straight from within Edmodo.  They click on 'Turn in Assignment', select the relevant document from their Google Drive as instructed and hand in their work.  They can also write a message to you as they do so if they have a particular thing they want to ask you or for you to focus on when you mark it.  As the students hand in their work I can see that they have done so immediately either from my PC or on my iPad and can access the document.

Step 4 - Marking and Feedback:
All the completed pieces of work are now available for you to view and mark from within Edmodo.  I use our school levelling system and feedback something specific from relevant level descriptor that I liked about the piece.  I also clearly write a target from the level descriptor above to help them strive towards the next level.  There is a library facility in Edmodo where I store the level descriptors for students and parents to use when looking at feedback.  Students also have copies of the descriptors of the level they are working on and the next level up in their paper notebooks for reference.  Students have a dedicated 'Marking and Feedback Reflection' section in the back of their paper notebooks.  Once I have marked the pieces, I ask the students to log into Edmodo, read the positive comment and target I have given them.  They then note this down in their Marking and Feedback Reflection section of their note books.  Underneath this they write a response to my marking, committing to specific actions they will take to work on the improvements that I have asked them to make.

Step 5 - Moving Forward and making Improvements - The Blog / E-Portfolio
Students then close down Edmodo.  They open up and log into Google Drive and Wordpress in two separate tabs.  They copy their pieces without any improvements made and paste the words into a draft post on their individual blogs.  They then close down Google Drive and simply have their Wordpress blog open on the computer.  Now their task is to take the action they have just committed to after looking at my targets.  Once they have done this they publish their pieces.  They have a piece of work they should be proud of and a real audience to show it to.  I do not level the pieces publicly on their blogs; they have already had a level from my privately in Edmodo.  When it comes to reporting I will use the level from Edmodo and their new and improved pieces on their blogs to form my judgement.  I will be place a comment on each blog post saying what I like about the final version.  For me, this part is still a work in progress.  The only class I have actually got live blogging are my Y8 and they were so excited to publish that a lot of them have not yet made the improvements, but they will be updating their posts to improve next lesson.  Y10 will be doing starting to blog their new and improved pieces this week too!  As long as they are moving forward, I'm happy.  These E-Portfolios are a brilliant way of the students showcasing their work and forming a positive digital footprint for themselves.  Parents can see their improvements by looking at Edmodo, then the blog and seeing for themselves the differences the students have made.

It is early days but the signs of success are glimmering on the horizon.  With only a few weeks gone of the school year, I am very excited about the possibilities.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Digital Debates - Homework - Issue 6

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine.

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to homework / home learning. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Saturday, 5 October 2013

You what? A You Tube Channel For Teaching You Say.

The internet is an amazing tool for finding great educational videos.  I use You Tube all the time. It is a great to place to find video clips of just about anything.  But that is the issue, unless you know where to look you can get very lost indeed.  There is a lot of great stuff on there but also a lot of silly and useless stuff too.  If you direct students to find or research things on You Tube in class or at home they can waste time.  What is the solution? A You Tube channel.  There are so many uses for You Tube in the classroom.  Below are a few ideas to get you going.

Upload your own videos
A great way to engage your pupils is to make short videos for various topics you are teaching or wanting students to revise.  You could video yourself speaking to the camera talking through a topic - a reassuring teacher face in a time of need perhaps.  You can use screen casting programs to record a walk through of a PTT with your voice-over included.  I recommend using something like Screencast O'Matic or Explain Everything. These videos can be used again and again if you teach a topic to more than one class or repeat it year on year. 

Create playlists of videos for class topics
You don't have to create your own videos and upload them to You Tube to use the site for revision or pre-learning tasks, there are plenty of ready made videos and playlists on millions of topics from philosophy to molecular science.  Teachers up across the world have uploaded their lovingly made videos on topics a plenty.  Simply search a particular topic or subject and hey presto - the videos will appear.

Create playlists for inspiration
I like to create playlists to inspire and motivate my students.  I may collect together videos I have used or want to use for assembly or to recommend to my tutors to use with their tutor group.  I also like to have a playlist of videos to pull out of the hat whenever one of those "Miss... why should we care about learning..." conversations start in class.  Great to discuss it and they view a clip to bring it outside of the classroom.  I also like to save music collections in a playlist to have playing in the background for when pupils are writing.  We listened to a variety of love songs while writing poetry the other week, the James Bond theme tune collection for spy writing,  classical music for general focus (Y11 asked for this again today after pretending to hate it last lesson - you know who you are! ;-))  There are lots of collections you could create to help set the tone and mood of your lessons.

Create playlists for extension tasks
We all have the super speedy students in our classes.  Well have them log on, or have their device ready, as the enter.  When they finish early (because they always do!) you can direct them to your you tube channel to look at a particular playlist for the topic and extend their knowledge.  Get them to present the extra information they have gathered to the class when the task ends for everyone else. Everyone is happy!

Save private videos for select groups
You can save videos in your you tube channel privately.  Only you and the people you select can see them then.  This is ideal for when you film students doing presentations and drama for example.  Something that they may be fearful of having filmed if it was available in the public domain.  That way you can still review it, share it with specific people via email and not have to take up memory on devices and computers - and still be able to view the piece from wherever you are.

Create discussions around selected videos
Ask students to comment on videos you have created or directed them to. They will need guidance as to how to do this and what to say so it is useful.  This can be an interesting discussion task with a wider audience.

Flip your classroom
You can set homework to watch a clip / series of clips in preparation for the next lesson.  That way you save precious class time for doing rather than watching and instructing. More information on flipping your classroom can be found here.

Below is a video showing you how to set up a channel if you think it may be of use.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Digital Debates - Gifted And Talented Education - Issue 5

This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine.

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating approaches to gifted and talented education. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Digital Debates - Marking And Feedback - Issue 4


This is the latest edition of Digital Debates e-magazine. 

A round up of blog posts and articles from the web. This issue looks at pieces discussing and debating effective use of marking and feedback in the classroom. The pieces included are presented in no particular order. The purpose of this e-magazine is to spark discussion around key teaching and learning topics, not dictate a particular approach.

Thank you to all the dedicated writers and teachers that have taken the time and trouble to write these pieces and help us all become better teachers.

Edited by Sarah Findlater

Friday, 20 September 2013

New Teachers - Buckle Up And Get Ready For The Ride

So, we are three weeks in and new teachers - we feel your pain.  The impossibility of the task that has been set is weighing heavy on your soul no doubt.  I want to say to you, one and all - stay strong and stay focused.  You can do it!

I remember it like is was yesterday.

Leaving Liverpool post-university to become a teacher, having tried my hand at a 'real job' for a couple of years, was a wonderfully heady and scary prospect. I had been working in advertising and marketing and was offered a tidy deal to stay.  I'm not just boasting - honest! I was genuinely surprised they wanted me to stay that much.  I still happily turned it down.  I had done a lot of soul searching and I knew what would make me happy - it was not the job they were offering me. It was a great job.  I had a great boss, benefits a plenty and a diary full of fancy dos to attend.  I wanted to love it but it all just felt a little empty.  I remember sitting at my desk and feeling suffocated by the boredom and the lack of interest I had in what I was doing.  I learnt so much about business, running meetings, interviewing, ICT, organisation, sales, marketing and confidence.  I worked with some inspirational bosses and colleagues.  I gained so much, the list is endless. I just felt that that job should go to someone that actually wanted it, loved it. It was wasted on me.  They allowed me to take a sabbatical to be a teaching assistant thinking that I would realise how crazy my idea was and stay on with the company.  But I didn't and that was it - I was hooked.  So, I handed in my resignation.  A new chapter had begun.

Teaching was my dream. Myself and my now husband drove a van down to London with our eclectic array or furniture and, well... junk.  There really is no other way to describe the collection of items we had amassed from various shared houses.  Turning the radio on as we left the city, London's Calling blasted out on the radio and we sang along euphorically.  A prophetic message assuring us of the bright future awaiting us in the big smoke - the dream.  I was about to start on my PGCEs at the Institute of Education.  A whole new world was ahead of me. I was excited.

The first few weeks were no let down.  I was in my element.  The Institute did an amazing job of inspiring me.  I felt invincible, the possibilities were endless, the world my oyster.  The group I was on the course with were all wonderfully passionate about the journey they were about to embark upon.  I knew they would be, the interview process was no joke and we were all very grateful to be there!  My tutors, Caroline Daley and Deirdre Pierce were a wonderfully different pair and I learnt so much from both of them.  They were the passionate, thoughtful and creative beings that I hope I am on the journey towards morphing into as time passes and I learn what they already had.  

Ten years on and I really do feel like a different person - both personally and professionally.  I think I was much less myself in the classroom when I started than I am now.  I really am who I am now and that helps a great deal.  You are not playing at being a teacher - it is part of you.  It is a wonderful feeling that only comes with graft, grit and perseverance. Time spent 'on the job' won't get you there - it is a labour of love and one worth striving for.  
  • I have tried out every teaching initiative that has come along.  
  • I have observed every teacher that would let me though their door and stolen as many ideas along the way as I could.  
  • I have spent many a night trawling the Internet for resources that I love and adapting them to 'my style'.  
  • I have read too many books on education to even remember. 
  • I have trained over 15 PGCE students and mentored a number of NQTs over the years - they have taught me just as much as the old-hands I have worked with!
  • I have searched out relevant CPD courses, put forward my case as to why I want to attend them and implemented things I have learnt as soon as I got back to school.  
  • I have run projects for passion not money - things that I love and are over and above "my role".
  • I have dealt with the fight on the other side of the play ground and not walked on by.  
  • I have met with the parent that "is not worth meeting" and moved things forward for the sake of the child.  
  • I have accepted that sometimes there are things that you cannot share with other staff and that that will lead them to a possible wrong conclusion about you - I am professional and value confidentiality and the welfare of the students above all else in my job.  That is harder than you'd even imagine.
  • I have learnt to read a students mood in a split second and try to work with it - I'm not always right!
  • I have dealt with that difficult members of staff that no one else wants to deal with.
  • I have admitted when I am wrong and tried to make amends with student or adult.
  • I have cried with joy at results and sadness at a student having a tough time.
I could go on. You get the point. And now... I am who I am.  Teacher and person as one.  What an amazing journey.

I'm not going to lie to you, the first two years of your teaching career will be the hardest two years of your life.  Training to become a teacher during these two years is all-encompassing.  The mountain of lesson planning, pedagogical theory, observations, advice, names to learn, books to mark, meetings to attend, training to undertake, events to be a part of, extracurricular activities to be part of and systems to learn will seem never-ending.   Christmas holiday during my NQT year was a dark place for me.  I was close to not going back - but I did and I'm so glad.  If you persevere, work hard, take advice and stay true yourself - you will reap the rewards.  IT DOES GET EASIER!  

There really is nothing like working with these off the wall, vibrant, loud, creative, emotional, open and inspiring young people that we work with. Watching them grow and having an opportunity to be a part of their development is so special - we are privileged.  Don't let that out of your focus - ever. There is no other job like teaching.  It is immense.  FACT.

Looking back, here are the tips I would have given/reminded myself of as I stumbled through my first two years of teaching...
  • Love your lessons.  If you don't, they won't.
  • Never disrespect, or approve your students disrespect, of a member of staff - it will be your downfall.
  • Plan your lessons well.  Plan objectives over tasks for lessons.  Consider the end game.
  • Keep parents on side.  They want the same thing as you - their child to do well.
  • Observe and listen to every member of staff you can.  Then make your own mind up.
  • Be consistent and fair.
  • Be selective about who you allow to influence you and your teaching
  • Toughen up if you are not already tough.  Not hard though, just tough.
  • Be the role model you know the students need. All the time. No excuses.
  • Don't take things personally.
  • Be open to things that you don't think 'are you'.
  • Talk with other teachers - a lot.
  • Get to know the students, invest the time. - they are people, not just a space in the seating plan and a number.
  • Get to know the student outside the classroom around school - be visible.
  • Have high expectation of them always, everywhere.
  • Get the parents on board.
  • Prioritise.  Get a system going for time efficiency and manage your work load from the start.
  • Ask for help!
  • Consider your lesson from the students perspective.
  • Be honest with yourself.  if you have been rubbish admit it and plan for improvement.
  • Remain professional even when others are not - don't get drawn in.
  • Enjoy the students - they are brilliant beings and need you.
You will laugh and you will cry. You argue that you're right and you will admit that you are wrong.  You will revel in the dizzy heights of the highs and wallow in the depths of the lows.  You will learn more about yourself than you ever have before.  This is no ordinary job.

Hold on tight and get ready for the ride. I wish you all the best in your adventures.  I leave you with this...