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You’re Not Alone

If I had to summarise my book, How to Survive in Teaching Without Imploding, Exploding or Walking Away, it would be with these three words: “you’re not alone”. Whether you’re nearing retirement after three or more decades or are a few years in and ready for a change of context; whether you’re a leader working to balance teaching with leadership or a parent negotiating the tricky landscape of parenting and teaching: you’re not alone.

Representing the voices of almost 4,000 teachers, trainees, former teachers and educational professionals, How to Survive provided both a comfort blanket and a source of nightmares during my year of writing. From it, I can promise that you’re not alone if you have:

  • Collapsed into giggles at the umpteenth filthy Shakespeare joke and been openly disapproved of by teenagers.
  • Sobbed in the store cupboard after your showcase lesson went to pot.
  • Spent ten extra minutes in a toilet cubicle during the school day just to enjoy some SILENCE.
  • Walked away from the job but never for a moment stopped loving working with children in the classroom.
  • Been surprised to the point of tears by a touching goodbye card from a student whose life you never imagined you’d touch.
  • Evacuated the classroom due to an unwelcome rodent visitor.
  • Evacuated the classroom due to toxic flatulence from a student.
  • Progressed from wild excitement at being offered a job to crippling depression when it wasn’t what you’d hoped it would be.
  • Taken five years out of teaching and decided to give it another go – and love it now.
  • Thrown caution to the wind and sung and danced in appalling glory on the school stage.
  • Just reached your half-century and want to give teaching a go for the first time.
  • Used the words: ‘I see more of you than my own family!’ to your students in exasperation and exhaustion.
  • Mourned as a community the death of a student or former student.
  • Been turned down for an interview for a job you knew and felt was yours, and your professional purpose twisted on its axis.
  • Then stood up and brushed yourself off and embraced new teaching opportunities.
  • Taken students outside London and watched them swim in the sea for the first time.
  • Hugged a teacher at the news they’re pregnant and hugged another after the loss of their baby… in the same week.
  • Never got tired of ‘Vater’ and ‘Grossvater’.
  • Trailed toilet paper along the corridor; worn your dress inside out; pulled out a tampon instead of a board pen; overslept and driven at law-breaking speeds; set yourself alight; hurled yourself into the middle of a fight; forgotten to check the French film before showing it to Year 9…

You’re definitely not alone in these.

You’re also not alone in the following situations either. But they can make teaching feel like the loneliest job in the world:

  • If you’ve been forced to enact policies and procedures which defy your very reason for being in the job.
  • If you’ve lost weight dramatically or turned to anti-depressants and alcohol.
  • If you’ve broken down, physically and emotionally and had to step away for weeks or months at a time.
  • If you’ve been handed a cardboard box, signed a document which says you’ll never discuss what’s happened, and left your school forever in the middle of a working week – without a chance to say goodbye.
  • If you’ve sobbed in front of a class because you just can’t cope.
  • If, after 20 years service, you’ve been told you’re being made redundant and that the pay you’ll get is dependent on you keeping silent about the process.
  • If your family and friends tell you you’ve lost your passion for the job (and indeed life), and you’re too stubborn to admit it.
  • If you’re suspended from work for weeks at a time after an allegation from a student that nobody will discuss with you.
  • If you’ve been forced to go through a miscarriage at work because your boss refused you time off.
  • If you’ve lost your Mum and the only call you get from school is from HR to check you’re off work for valid reasons.

Our job can feel like the best job in the world. It can also feel like the worst.

Four more words? “There is always hope.” So many of the teachers who were kind and generous and brave enough to share their stories are now flourishing. Some have walked away for reasons that are entirely valid and make me steam with fury. Others have stayed on and excelled. Others still have changed schools. I can tell you from my own experience that changing context can feel a lot like a change of career.

I’m proud to call myself a writer, but I’m even prouder to call myself a teacher. I’m still teaching full time. I’m still experiencing the giggles and the moments of blind stress and the exhaustion that has me sleeping like a teenager at weekends. I’m walking (or stumbling, or racing) the walk with the rest of us. And it’s worth every moment.

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Above all of those, I’m a wife and a mother, and I want the best teachers for my own children. If you’re considering teaching and you love working with young people and are prepared for a steep learning curve, go for it! If you’ve left and are considering coming back, trust me when I say there are good places and good people out there.

If young people represent one thing, it is fresh starts, optimism and determination. And hope. Where there are children, there is hope.

 

Dr Emma Kell’s book How to Survive in Teaching is out now! Follow Emma on Twitter: @thosethatcan.

 

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Top Tips for Living Well and Teaching Well

I’m an English teacher and, put simply, I believe I have the best job in the world. I cannot believe I get paid for what I do. Does that mean the job is easy? Of course not.

I began working in schools in 2009; I’ve been teaching for 8 years. I’ve worked in 3 very different schools and in that time have held many different roles: teaching assistant; behaviour manager; teacher of English; teacher of law, second in English; head of house; lead practitioner; extended SLT, and I’m currently Director of Learning, English at a state school in London. Through experience I can tell you that all of these roles present their own challenges yet provide wonderful job satisfaction. One thing they all have in common is that your job is never done; there will always be something else to do, and if you let it, it can quite easily take all of your time. And I used to let them do just that. I would regularly clock up 65 hours of work a week. Obviously, this wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle so I decided to make some changes which I think may be of use to others.

Prevent work emails coming through your phone. This one decision helped enormously. It meant that I wasn’t tempted to contact colleagues, or worse still, parents, in the evenings. Your working hours should be the only time when emails are being read and sent. I’m happy to report this is now the case for me.

Leave your work at work. I very rarely work at home. Instead, I prepare my working week at work. It means that the minute I leave the school gates, I am free to spend my time as I wish.

Have a mini-weekend. The aim with this is to leave work as early as possible once a week and spend your time doing something you love: go out for dinner, exercise, go to the theatre. Whatever it is you enjoy doing, just do it. You’ll feel refreshed the next day for it.

Prepare your weekly lunches. This has had a huge impact on my diet. I eat so much healthier than I ever have and it doesn’t take long to prepare it all.

Say no if you want to. This is a tough one, but it’s important to realise that if you want to feel like you are doing a job well, you can’t take on everything at once. If you feel like more and more work is being added to your main role, ask if something can be taken away before you accept another task. Take control of your workload and be okay with saying no.

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Make light work of planning. Reuse old lessons. Tweak what you can. Yes, there may have been lots of changes recently, but there’s no need to start from scratch. Work collaboratively with colleagues. Share what you can. There are so many online sharing drives out there; I am indebted to the likes of Freya O’Dell (@fod3) and the #TeamEnglish community who regularly share their resources. I’m still not brave enough to share my own resources, but I’m building up to it!

If you haven’t already done so, stop the madness that is marking. Challenge school leaders who are insisting on a marking policy that has little impact on student progress yet significantly impacts teacher time. Use live marking/feedback. Share whole class feedback. Have mocks externally marked (I’m planning this one for next year).

I’m currently working in a school that considers the wellbeing of its staff important and I’ve never been happier as a teacher. That’s partly due to the wonderful staff and students I work with but also down to an understanding on my part that, as much as I love it, it’s just a job. I go home happy to have made a difference however big or small, but know that there is a life outside of the school gates that is also pretty awesome. And because of that, I’m a better teacher than I’ve ever been.

If you’re struggling with your own workload, maybe it’s time to reflect on what you could change to make things better? It’s worth noting that if it’s the school that’s making you unhappy, leave. Not all schools are the same. Great schools do exist. I work at one.

These are just a few of my tips aimed at making teaching a truly sustainable profession. For more help and guidance, Live Well, Teach Well has over 90 practical ideas to help you maintain a healthy work-life balance and stay positive and focused throughout the school year.

 

Abbie Mann’s debut book is out now!

 

The Liberation of Learning

We all have a view about what education should be like – and we know what it looks like in reality. In the currently dominant model of education, the focus is on learning prescribed syllabus content, determined by what can be easily assessed by written examination, namely, factual recall, divorced from much consideration of relevance or interest and driven by a remorseless concern for successful examination results. The watchwords of traditional education are rigour, knowledge, examined assessment and opposition to student control over the learning process.

This is, of course, not the only way to think about education. By way of contrast, the educational progressive favours independent learning, arguing with Dewey that the centre of gravity must be nearer the child: their interests, concerns and questions matter when we are determining what is to be learned. Progressivism draws on simple but often neglected insights into the learning process, such that students learn better if they are interested in what they are studying, are able to make significant choices about the learning process and the form in which they exhibit their knowledge, and have time to develop a deep understanding rather than simply memorising facts for short term recall.

Progressive education embraces the realms of the unknown, the imaginative, the evaluative and the creative. Learning is connected much more directly to life itself. It is an active process of inquiry and exploration, involving the individual construction of meaning within the domains of study. Skillful exploration of such domains is often not susceptible to assessment by means of a written examination, not least because the choice of question lies with the student. It can however be assessed, and rigorously so, by means of extended projects, a form of assessment which is for many purposes more valid than an examination, not least because students have many skills other than those which lead to success in short, sharp written tests.

Amongst these polarized views of education, where should we stand? For some years now, I have believed that we need a new movement of educational liberation. The processes of teaching and learning have been shackled by an approach which values only what can be measured and which sees only examinations as a valid form of assessment. Education, which should be about the examination of life, is reduced to a life of examination. As for teaching, since the goal is to succeed in the next round of tests, the dominant method is that of direct instruction. ‘Tell us what we need to know’, the student insists, taking for granted that the ‘need to know’ is determined by what is on the test, and that the best way of learning is for the teacher to provide the ‘right answers’ (meaning, once again, those to be written in the exam).

The effect of this process of the reduction of education to test preparation is to lock education into a matrix which is stifling, uninspiring, ineffectual (much of what is learned for tests is thereafter forgotten), psychologically damaging, pedagogically shallow, economically misguided (for the workplace needs creative critical thinkers, not well-trained sheep) and destructive of the roots of liberal democracy.

Despite the ubiquity of this scheme, it is not difficult to describe a better alternative, and some of us have dedicated much of our professional lives to building it. My book, Bloomsbury CPD Library: Independent Learning, offers a practical guide to independent learning, representing the fruits of a quest to find a new way ahead, whilst recognising the inevitable need, as things stand, to work within a framework where a traditional conception of the curriculum remains dominant.

What is manifestly the case is that we need more radical measures to find a way ahead and to give progressive educational methods space to feed into the educational mix. In my book, I review some of the research evidence which shows clearly that the best education combines the core insight of a traditional approach (some things need to be taught directly) with the insight of progressivism (deep learning begins with the learner’s own questions). We need what I would call ‘directed independence’: a process in which we teach students the skills and knowledge they need in order to be able to go on to learn for themselves.

This approach requires space and time for open discussion and debate in the classroom and for students to be able to work on extended projects of their own choosing. In my experience, and the experience of many teachers, it is when we give students freedom to choose and think for themselves, within a carefully structured learning environment, that they do their very best work. Currently, though, this type of rich, deep learning is confined to small pockets and the margins of the syllabus. It should be at the heart.

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Dr John Taylor is Assistant Head (Director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation) at Cranleigh School and is responsible for the development of independent learning across the three schools in the Cranleigh Foundation.

Bloomsbury CPD Library: Independent Learning is out now.

 

Igniting Dylan’s Writing

Dylan doesn’t like writing. His teacher makes him write and then he has to go back and correct mistakes. So, he tries to write as little as possible. He can’t wait to be “finished”. And she makes him “do spellings”. This is difficult for Dylan because he doesn’t talk or read much at home, so he doesn’t encounter as many words as his peers. He doesn’t know what half the words mean, anyway. His latest piece of writing is about 18th Century smugglers, whatever that means. There’s a smuggler museum in his home town of Hastings but Dylan has never been. In fact, he’s never been to the beach, even though it’s only 3 miles away. So, his writing about smugglers lacks context and understanding. Dylan is like many pupils, who associate writing with failure, doing corrections and feeling pretty miserable about themselves.

Dylan is burdened with all sorts of labels at his school, but perhaps the best label would be that he is an able pupil who, at this stage, hasn’t had the same opportunities as his label-free friends. In my experience as a teacher, consultant, headteacher and writing moderator, there are plenty of Dylans out there. If we’re not careful, their experience of writing in the formative years will restrict their progress and overall prospects. Which is inexcusable – because the Dylans of the world have the same potential as anyone in their class.

What does Dylan need? He needs his teacher to look at things a different way. Rather than getting Dylan to launch headlong into writing and then take a soul-destroying look back at things he’s done wrong, the teacher needs to deliver teaching sequences which support Dylan to build up a piece of writing, layer upon layer, with the skills of writing, reading, spelling, talking and listening embedded within. Dylan, like any pupil, needs to make mistakes (or how will he learn anything new?) but he needs to make them as part of a journey through word-level activities, into reading tasks, through drafting “messy” writing by exploring different writing choices, into edited and polished writing – which he can review proudly.

I’ve been working with Dylans for many years and have used my experience to create a sequence containing all the key ingredients for brilliant writing – the WRITER sequence. My new book – Igniting Children’s Writing contains 50 tried-and-tested activities, organised into the sequence, to get pupils thinking brilliantly about their writing.

Take Dylan’s Smugglers piece. Imagine if, over a couple of weeks, he experienced the following sequence:

Work on Words: Dylan gets to read paintings of smugglers, explore maps and talk about the history of smuggling in Hastings. He doesn’t realise it, but by talking about what smugglers wore, their dastardly deeds and where they did them, Dylan is practising all sorts of grammar and encountering new vocabulary. He might even get to go to the Smuggler Museum – and see the sea! The words he’s encountering are displayed on the wall, so he’s already learning to spell them correctly.

Read as a Writer: The class starts to read Moonfleet. Key passages are studied closely and Dylan gets to use different reading skills, such as skimming and scanning for key information and terminology, or thinking about what he learns from the characters based on the things they say and how they speak. He loves the quizzes that the teacher sets after they listen to a scene from the audiobook.

Investigate Writing Choices Together: Dylan hates grammar worksheets (These still have their place, of course – the bin) but now he’s working with pairs and groups to think about the grammar choices a good writer makes. He joins in with some shared writing to practise some of the grammar, which he helps to present to the class.

Try-Out individual Choices: The teacher catches Dylan reading the next chapter of Moonfleet before school. He’s had a good few days and feels ready to draft out his only piece of writing: he’s decided to write a “drop in” scene, featuring an encounter with the ghost of Colonel John “Blackbeard” Mohune. Dylan is hooked by the story of the King’s diamond, which, legend has it, was stolen by Blackbeard. Dylan uses a thinking map to plan his scene and includes key words and phrases. He’s thought of topic sentences of each of his paragraphs. He writes a draft – a first attempt. He’s given the ghost “a burnished, gold locket, which contains the hurriedly-scrawled location of the diamond”. He likes that.

Edit, Perform and Publish: Dylan can’t be finished yet, because everyone in the class has only produced a draft. His partner and the teacher give Dylan some feedback and he’s ready to edit and improve. He tries writing some of his sentences differently. He changes some words. He takes other words out completely because they’re not needed. Because the class is putting together a Smuggler Writing Collection, he makes some final changes and “writes up” in his best handwriting, within the Smuggler border he’s drawn in Art – with maps and lockets and the ghost of Blackbeard.

Review Key Learning: Although he won’t admit it, Dylan is pleased with his writing and he’s asked to review what helped him to write well. He decides that using the Spellzone display, and planning the paragraphs, were the most helpful.

Dylan still says he doesn’t like writing, but secretly, he’s starting to feel the buzz of success and creative pride. He hopes that Mum will see his writing on Parents’ Evening. And he can’t wait to see where that Ghost has hidden the diamond.9781472951588 (1).jpg

Mark McCaughan is an experienced senior leader and local authority consultant. He has taken on whole-school, subject and pastoral leadership throughout three ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted inspections and is currently supporting schools where performance was low in the Reading SATs and using the activities provided in Igniting Children’s Writing to great effect.

Mark loves supporting schools to get pupils thinking brilliantly and can be contacted at mark@mcmlearning.co.uk.

From Pirate Sword to Pen

Pirates of Poseidon, the third book in my Ancient Greek Mysteries, has recently published. It’s one that I really enjoyed writing because it twins my two biggest literary passions: Ancient Greece and piracy. It is also set on one of my favourite islands: Aegina.

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I grew up on an island rich in pirate lore. Malta sits right at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, half way between Europe and North Africa. Any empire that wanted to conquer the exotic lands of the Barbary Coast used Malta as a base for their naval operations. The island has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, English and French. All this activity drew the attention of pirates, of course. For thousands of years, they plundered the sea around Malta, attacking ships as they bustled between the two continents. They left an indelible mark on both the Maltese landscape and psyche. Every corner of the island has a pirate story to tell. Here’s a house where a bride was kidnapped by pirates on her wedding day. Here’s a cave where a young girl hid from corsairs on her way home from the fields. That light at the bottom of the sea? It’s streaming out of a church that tumbled off a cliff after the holy saint in its painting came alive to rescue a boy from the evil pirates.

It’s no wonder, then, that I grew up fascinated by pirate stories. When I first had the idea for the Ancient Greek Mysteries, a good many years ago, the first image that flashed through my mind was of Ancient Greek pirates fighting two boys and two girls on a burning ship. I knew the pirate captain would have a highly polished sword that flashed in the moonlight. He would wear a golden mask to hide his true identity, one very much like the ‘mask of Agamemnon’ found in the ruins of Mycenae.  But who were the plucky kids? I toyed with all sorts of ideas: they could be actors in a touring company, or acolytes in a temple. I even thought of making them athletes, travelling around the ancient Greek world to take part in festival games and contests. But how would they come across the pirates? Why would they be fighting them?

For inspiration, I travelled to the Peloponnese islands. On the ferry from Athens, I chatted with a man with a shaved head and a snake tattoo on his right forearm. He claimed to be a detective, heading to the island of Poros.

“On holiday?” I asked.

“No, work.”

Having read that Poros is a sleepy island with a population of less than 4000, I couldn’t for the life of me think what he could possibly be investigating there. I tried worming some information out of him but to no avail. Later in the week I bumped into him a second time, at the famous temple of Poseidon on the northern side of the island. Was he on a break from his detecting duties, I wondered, or was he visiting the sanctuary in search of clues?

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Suddenly I had a role for the children in my stories. They would be detectives.  The boys would be Sherlock Holmes and Watson transported to Ancient Greece when the temple of Poseidon was at its height. They could travel all around Greece solving mysteries and every story would feature a famous temple hiding a vital clue.

In the end, I never did use the temple for the series. A few days later I visited the nearby island of Aegina, and decided to set one of the stories there.

It took me well over fifteen years to find the time to collate all my travel notes and work out proper plots for the Ancient Greek Mysteries. Other projects got in the way. But I never forgot that first meeting with the mysterious detective on his way to Poros. He was the inspiration for Thrax, one of the main characters and the lead detective in the stories.

Like the man with the snake tattoo, Thrax is someone who keeps his cards close to his chest, and he has a shaved head. Not to look cool but for an entirely different reason. A reason that ended up being the backbone for the whole series. Want to find out what it is?  Nico, the narrator of the stories, would love to tell you all about it…

 

Saviour Pirotta is the author of nearly one hundred titles, including Ancient Greek Mysteries Mark of the Cyclops and Secret of the Oracle. His most recent book, Pirates of Poseidon, is out now.

Embrace the Mess!

Having been on a personal ‘tuff tray’ journey myself, one which opened my eyes to the countless possibilities and benefits associated with using this versatile resource, I felt inspired to share these with others in the sector.

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50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is a simple guide for those looking for creative, sensory ideas for early years children. The tuff tray activities are linked to learning outcomes and offer next steps for practitioners to take ideas and motivation from.

Sharing my passion for these multi-sensory enhancements was the easy part, however, what the book does not provide the reader with is the aptitude to be able to embrace mess in the setting! Okay, so we work in the early years and we all know that children and mess are two interrelated things. We know it, but do we support it? Are we skilled at it? Do we actually completely allow mess to unfold in our provision? Real mess. The type which involves combining resources, moving items from one space to another, scattering, taking things apart, mixing, tipping and basically creating disorganised chaos. You see, ‘mess’ is a deposit of play and it takes a certain level of expertise to be able to  embrace it!

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It may seem like a very simple requirement, yet so many struggle to truly allow the mess to manifest. Take me for example: I like order, organisation and everything in its place! I have this instinctive drive to clear and tidy up. Well unfortunately, order and organisation do not marry well with children in the early years setting which is the reason why we must condition ourselves to embrace the mess.  It is this capacity to allow disarray which will allow you to fully get the most from your tuff tray activities.

During a child’s play, if we continually spend our time ‘tidying up’ after them we are not supporting their work, we are in fact doing them an injustice. We are inadvertently controlling and leading their free play. In our need for neatness we are sending a message that reveals we do not value their innate prerequisite to explore.

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It is simple fact that early year’s children like to transfer, transport and combine things. I have never prepared a tuff tray that has not had extra resources added along the way by the children. It’s how they choose to discover, to investigate and to learn. Dinosaurs in the foam soap, teapots in the paint, dolls in the play dough. It is meaningful to them. It’s interesting and the best way for children to acquire new levels of competence.

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Albert Einstein stated that “Play is the highest form  of research”! I love this quote and I am fairly certain that he was referring to the child’s own aspirations  to explore and not play discovered in our measured and meticulous need for order and tidiness.

So, how do we obtain this skill? Well firstly we must not have expectations of how things should look or how they should evolve, this way we can never be disappointed when our anticipations are not achieved. Next we must acknowledge that we are indeed the ‘tidy upper’ the ‘put this away first’, the ‘don’t add that to that’ or the ‘everything has a place’ type of practitioner! Once we have done this, we ‘stop!’ It’s that simple. Stop yourself from intervening, instructing or taking over the children’s play. Allow them to work.

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Of course, when supervising young children we have to contemplate certain risks so there will always be the ‘clearing for safety’ considerations and every setting will have different challenges such as space, cohort sizes and premises to name a few, but for wherever possible, we must allow the mess or ‘free play’ to unfold. Embrace the untidiness and see the magnificent learning which is going on amongst the disarray. When you do this, your children will truly get the most out of your tuff tray enhancements and provocations.

I hope you enjoy the book and the undoubtable jumble of chaos and wonder!

 

Sally Wright’s 50 Fantastic Ideas for Tuff Trays is out now!

June O’Sullivan’s Top Tips for Successful Leadership

Honesty and Integrity…Confidence…Inspiration…Commitment…Passion… Communication…Decision Making Capabilities… Accountability… Delegation and Empowerment…Vision…Courage…Passion…Emotional Intelligence… Resilience… Persuasion…Curiosity…

Leadership is constantly in the news. Mostly for the wrong reasons as we see example after example of weak leadership. Weak leadership is dangerous; it causes businesses to fail, organisations to collapse and for those working with children— especially poor children— it leads to failing education standards. But hey, it’s easy to criticize from the safety of an armchair. The reality is that leadership’s tough.

I have enduring admiration for good leaders, that’s because I spend my entire working hours trying to be one. Like most leaders, I have a lasting vision.  Mine was to create the best social enterprise childcare model where all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, could thrive and succeed. I think it’s wrong that children from poorer families can’t easily access great childcare, especially when so much research demonstrates the correlation between good leadership in nurseries and schools and good outcomes for children.

Of course, a leader with a vision needs a team of people to support that vision. Great leaders make great nurseries and I am blessed with a team of staff and nursery managers who similarly believe in providing the best childcare. They want to make a difference and do something great every day, which is a continual challenge.

Let’s look at a day in the life of a nursery manager. Wake up to a text from two staff from the early shift telling you they both have diarrhoea and vomiting. Rush to the nursery so you can recruit an agency staff member to remain in ratio. Redeploy the team so that babies are not disrupted by the change of staff. At 8am, busy working parents arrive. One mum’s upset because of a difficulty at home and wants to talk, another has an issue with the fees. A child slips up and hurts his head. Two staff members need to reflect on their attitude to each other. The student tells you that her tutor has announced she is visiting later and she forgot to tell you. This is all before you’ve had a cup of tea.

You end the day with a staff meeting where you want to help the team reflect on the quality of their teaching. You’ve been observing and think they could differentiate and extend more. You’re keen to develop a new piece of action research because you want to measure the benefit of playing music during the day.

How do you manage all this with calm and confidence? I designed a model that summaries all the areas Early Years leaders need to be able to juggle.  It’s quite an ask given that nursery managers are often undervalued and their abilities underrated by the public.

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Most leaders are not superheroes, just ordinary people doing extraordinary things because of their great commitment. High management goes hand-in-hand with tremendous responsibility and power which needs to be respected and wielded with care and thoughtfulness. Good leaders buzz with emotional intelligence; they can read people in order to respond with sensitivity and humanity. They care about their staff, which includes having those frank conversations to pull staff into line. Performance management can be considered negative but it’s the framework that gives staff members clarity and a manageable set of expectations that help them recognize, articulate and ultimately achieve their next step.

Leaders need to get things done. I love the completer finisher staff who like to see things through within that SMART target. It’s marvellous to see change occur, no matter how small, like a new display or a whole refresh of the baby room. The joy’s in the sharing, praising, celebrating and evaluating what has been achieved. Even if it’s a fish supper at the Staff Meeting. The progress should always be documented, whether it’s face-to-face with parents, posted on Facebook, written in a newsletter or uploaded to YouTube.

Here are my top ten traits of strong leadership (in no particular order):

  Strong Leadership Consequences of Weak Leadership
1 Visionary with a sense of purpose and ambition You are lost and out of your depth and the business will fail
2 Credible and knowledgeable (a pedagogical leader) Nobody respects you and you will lose in the marketplace
3 Committed and passionate, caring for the staff and purpose Staff will neither follow you nor show loyalty
4 Brave and risk-taking Cowardliness leads to an unwillingness to face problems and a lack of innovation
5 Curious; keen to learn and support others to learn Disinterested staff and poor retention and loyalty. Risks business profitability and success
6 Persuasive, challenging and motivating Unconvincing so staff won’t follow
7 Great communicator Risk of poor organisation culture and brand damage
8 Decisive Doddering about so lack of trust and direction
9 Humble and humane Arrogant and unpopular so no leeway when things go awry
10 Emotionally intelligent; understanding yourself and your motivations Detached and distant so performance and retention likely to be poor

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In my book Successful Leadership in the Early Years, I developed a  practical questionnaire to assess the quality of individual leadership. It might be worth having a look and completing it alone or with staff to review your leadership.

 

June O’Sullivan MBE is chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation and a regular media commentator. Her upcoming books 50 Fantastic Ideas for Nursery Gardens and 50 Fantastic Ideas for Engaging Dads will be out in July and September this year.

 

The Birds, Bees and a Giant Stork

For seven years, in what now feels like a distant and previous life, I worked to support primary schools with their sex and relationships education (or SRE). My role included training teachers and governors, speaking with parents and carers, and providing numerous resources. While all of this was helpful, in a nutshell, my job was really about managing people’s— often irrational— gut reactions to the idea of sex education.

“Won’t it encourage them to experiment?” “Won’t this disturb them?” “My daughter still believes in Santa Claus; I don’t want to talk to her about body parts.”

The reality is, we often have a response to talking about the body, sex and relationships in a way that mimics the attitudes held by the adults in our childhood. Once that reaction is unpicked a little, it doesn’t take much to help resistors of SRE see that, in actual fact, it’s always a good thing.

There are several reasons why it’s good for children and young people to have trusted adults who are prepared to talk about gender, body parts, puberty, reproductions, and sex. Here are some:

  • A Trusted Source of Information:

Without adults that are prepared to give children and young people accurate information and help them develop positive and realistic expectations about sex, our young people will flounder around with absolutely no understanding of what sex should or should not be about (or worse still, use pornography for information). It makes sense that children and young people who have never learnt about sex and relationships are more likely to ‘fall prey’ to negative sexual experiences.

  • Safety is the Number 1 Priority:

Having sex is potentially life altering or dangerous. (Think pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections or exploitative relationships.) Crossing the road is also dangerous. Imagine if talking about crossing the road safely was embarrassing. Would that stop you teaching your child how to cross the road safely?

  • Not Harmful When Discussed Sensitively:

Parents and carers who have told their children how babies are made at a very young age would argue their children are no less innocent for having this information.

  • Encourages Trust Between Parent and Child:

Talking openly about sex early in a child’s life teaches them that adults are prepared to discuss these topics and that there are people they can turn to for help and support.

  • Sets Realistic Expectations:

Children and young people are bombarded with information about sex, relationships and gender from a variety of sources (for example: TV adverts, graffiti, shop displays, posters, the internet, computer games, pop videos, TV programmes, their school friends, older brothers and sisters etc). Some of the messages children receive from these sources are not accurate or realistic and in the absence of adults to help them process this information, they are often left confused or with ‘unhealthy’ ideas.

  • Inconsistent SRE at School:

School SRE varies considerably in quality and quantity. Parents and carers cannot assume their child will receive comprehensive SRE at school. This can be illustrated by the fact that 10 % of girls in the UK start their periods without knowing what is happening to them because nobody has told them anything. This can be an extremely worrying experience for a girl.

For me personally, telling my children in simple terms at a young age how babies are made seemed the right thing to do. They knew as soon as they were old enough to understand. They were also still young enough not to have picked up anything about these topics being embarrassing or awkward for some people and they simply showed an innocent interest in what I was telling them.  They always felt they could ask questions knowing they would get an honest answer. I think I ultimately equipped my children to feel comfortable accessing support in this area.

9781472946416I strongly believe conversations about these topics between parents, carers and their children only have a positive impact. That’s why I wrote, Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees. The book is quite comprehensive and aimed at young children. It explains how boys, girls and adults’ bodies are different; it explores the idea of safe touching; what’s appropriate for public and what needs to be kept private; the changes of puberty; how a baby is made and that sex is not just about reproducing. It also explores pregnancy and birth, what love is, what is involved in parenthood and why some parents’ relationships go wrong. The simple language is enhanced with wonderful illustrations and the only euphemism is in the title! I never used euphemisms with my children. If I had written this book when my children were young, I certainly would have used it!

9781472949806

 

Molly Potter’s books Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees and What’s Worrying You? are out now. Her newest book, Let’s Talk About When Someone Dies is out on 4th October 2018.

 

 

 

Leaf Angles and Soggy Wellies: How to Take Lessons Outside

Imagine the scene—your Head comes in, looking harassed. The Government has ordered that all pupils should spend a minimum of 10% of their curriculum time outdoors, and PE is not to be included in this calculation.

What would be your first thought? That you don’t have enough space? What could you do with them? What would happen to the learning? What about rain?

As the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of a small Primary Academy Trust in west London, this is a long term aim of ours. All three schools are in built-up areas, and we have worked hard to begin developing our outdoor spaces to make them more curriculum-friendly.

All the evidence points to children spending less and less time outside, with 74% of children spending less than an hour playing outside each day. This contrasts with UN guidelines that prisoners have the right to one hour’s outdoor exercise each day as a minimum.

So why are we such advocates of outdoor learning? Being outside brings a multitude of benefits— children are able to concentrate for longer, ask more questions, and are more engaged with their learning when outdoors. We are working hard to bring more of the curriculum outside— Art, Maths, English, Science and Geography all leap comfortably into outdoor spaces, be it creating poetry under the canopy of a sycamore, to digging under the ground to test the acidity of the soil. Behaviour improves and different characters emerge. In one session recently, one child kept exclaiming “oh, I’ve never done this before” so often it became a catchphrase.

For some schools, shelter from the weather is a priority. Although the phrase “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” is generally true, children can cope with about sixty minutes of wet weather before starting to struggle. Children should, at the very least, be armed with coats to stave off wet or windy weather, and teachers can ask for a Welly Collection from parents— paired with beefy bulldog clips for hanging soggy gear.

If you have no outside shelters (either manmade or natural), buy a gazebo sail and find the funds to have three posts put up— these work perfectly. You could even look on websites like Freegle for actual windsails (we got four this way).

The first approach to taking more lessons outside starts with a good look at the timetable for the week. Look at the lessons which absolutely have to be taught indoors, and cross them off. Next, consider the lessons which would be enhanced by using outdoor spaces, although often just a change of scene can reinvigorate a class, make your outdooring more than simply this. Finding isosceles triangles in nature is ridiculously more interesting than a worksheet and greater depth can easily occur with protractors. Collecting and measuring leaf angles will position the memory far more successfully than the lesson you would carry out inside a classroom.

Try it, just for a week. Find two lessons which would zing by happening outside, then make the leap. You won’t look back.

 

Stephen Lockyer is the Curriculum Enrichment Leader of the Lumen Learning Trust in outer west London, where new staff are issued with fleeces as part of their welcome package.

He has written three books for Bloomsbury, which are available here, and his other books can be found here. His latest title, 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Interventions, is out now.

   100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Outstanding Teaching   100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Interventions

 

Alistair Bryce-Clegg’s Top Tips For Effective Transition Into Year One

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlistair Bryce-Clegg was head teacher of an infant school and Early Years unit for 10 years. Alongside his headship, he worked as an EYFS consultant working with a diverse range of settings to help them enhance their EYFS practice. In 2009, Alistair left headship and went into full time consultancy with his business ABC Does.

 This is Alistair’s 25th book for Bloomsbury Education; he is also series editor of the popular 50 Fantastics series.

A really good transition to Year One can make a significant difference when it comes to children’s well-being and attainment. As our children join Key Stage 1, it is really important to be mindful of the fact that they are only five or six weeks older than when they left Foundation Stage. In those five or six weeks, they have probably done very little (if any) guided reading, phonics or mega maths! It will take them a little while to get back to where they were before the summer. That is why the more familiar the Year One space is, and the more it reflects the way they are used to learning, the faster their progress would be.

There are lots of elements to an effective transition. Some are to do with culture and others are to do with activity, but if I had to give you my top five transition tips, they would be:

 

  1. Transition is a process not an event

One thing to keep at the forefront of your thinking is that children should enjoy the transition process – not just experience or endure it, but actually enjoy it. For this to happen, it needs to be planned well in advance. If it is practical, then pre-transition visits should be regular throughout the year, not just in the last week of the summer term. Children should have lots of opportunities to visit the Year One space, even if there is no guarantee that it house the same teacher next year. Every bit of familiarity helps.

  1. Play – it’s not a four-letter word!

A play-based approach to transition is not just about getting out the buckets and spades and some construction on a rug! We want children to be able to build on what they already know and to hone and extend their skills, resulting in them becoming effective learners.

A good EYFS environment is based on accurate assessment, skill development, and implicit and explicit challenge. It is not left to chance and it doesn’t happen by accident. When the children transition into Year One, there needs to be the same rigour applied to their play spaces as there was in Reception. High level engagement leads to high level attainment and children are rarely more engaged than when at play – whatever their age.

  1. Continuity is key

As adults, we can find the transitions that we make in our life nerve-racking and unsettling, such as starting a new job or moving to a new area. We often don’t feel happy and settled until things become a bit more familiar.

This sort of feeling is no different for children, in fact it is likely to be greatly magnified. As adults, we have a great deal of prior knowledge and experience of life to draw on, whereas children have significantly less. They don’t know from experience that everything is likely to be all right, nor do they have strategies for dealing with the situation if it isn’t. That is why good transitions are crucial, both for children’s emotional well-being, and their potential for attainment.

  1. Don’t forget the parents/carers

Transition is primarily about children, but it is also about their parents. Parents and carers need to feel well informed about and comfortable with all transitions in their child’s life. Children, parents/carers and staff need to be involved on an equal basis. Parents need lots of opportunities to access a variety of information to let them know what Year One will look like and what to expect. Transition is about the setting fitting the child, not the child fitting the setting.

23 effective transition into year 1

  1. Enjoy it!

The most important thing to remember about transition is that effective transition takes time. Effective play-based transition can have a really powerful effect on all children, capitalising on what they know and how they learned it, enabling them to be the best that they can be in Year One.

Effective Transition into Year One is available to buy now