Monthly Archives: July 2015

That’ll do! Won’t it?

I write this blog under the influence of cider given to me by the lady who cleans my classroom. I don’t drink during the weekdays but it is the penultimate week before the end of the year and we are starting to wind down – aren’t we? 

Just because we are winding down, doesn’t mean that we can give up doing what we do. Would you accept the fact that the decorator used a slightly different shade in the living room on the last day of a decorating job, or that a surgeon didn’t quite suture you up as cleanly as he would have done at the beginning of his shift? Of course we are easing of the pedal at this time of year, assessments are done, reports have been submitted and even the walls are starting to be ripped down ready for the new year. However, lessons (in whatever guise) continue to take place; I still have another four English and Mathematics lessons left to teach! 

In actual fact, one of the best pieces of sage advice that I received from my ATW was to “Keep the children on timetable for as long as possible; there are enough distractions [sports days, end of year productions and celebrations] to wind the children up!” I also accept that we are all exhausted (I have had two days where I have had over ten hours sleep as opposed to the usual five/six), but I still feel passionate about maintaining engagement and giving the children opportunities to learn. 

Meanwhile, there are some teachers who think it is ok to provide children with tasks that barely relate to taught subjects, let alone support the intended learning objective. We are all guilty, some more than others, of searching the internet for an activity relating to the unit of work we are teaching and then form the lesson around the activity, but does this always work? I have always found it tricky teaching from another person’s plan, but, if I didn’t support the team planning we have in school, I would be buried under inordinate amounts of unnecessary planning. When you plan as a team however, you can speak to your teaching partner, you can discuss the teaching and learning and, when you know them well, you can usually second guess their thoughts. When you teach from a plan that you have downloaded the previous night however, you are faced with a level of uncertainty and insufficient knowledge of previous learning, and so, are unable to provide quality first teaching. 

There are many great resources available from some fantastic free and fee paying websites, of which I have contributed to and drawn from, but it is most important that we make sure that we use them to support our teaching and not guide our teaching. In other words, don’t make the teaching fit the resource, make the resource fit the teaching.

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Everyone is different!

On a day when we remember one of the worst atrocities that the UK has witnessed in my lifetime, at a time when we are still asking questions regarding the recent attack in Tunisia and at a time where terrorism is a ‘credible threat’ I feel it necessary to remind ourselves that we must celebrate diversity, especially in our classrooms.

We all accept that we must meet standards in Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education and that, as Teachers, we meet the teaching standards to promote tolerance and uphold British values but do we really embrace diversity in our schools? Do we always remember that there are opportunities for us to learn from our children, where collegial education can outweigh Teacher instruction?

Before joining my current school, I worked in a school where, in a school of 250 pupils, diversity was limited to a traveller who rarely attended school and a small selection of non-white, British or Christian children. Now, however, I work in a school where diversity is great, where no two faces are the same. Initially, I was apprehensive of this, not because of a conflict of beliefs, my family are so diverse that I could represent four countries in any sporting event, but I because I didn’t want to offend families. It didn’t take long, however, to realise that diversity was not something to be feared but something to revel in, to celebrate and embrace!

My colleagues, I’m sure, must get frustrated with me when I say that I am a little behind with the plan or have recorded and activity slightly different as we have been caught up in a great discussion in class. These discussions however, are always linked to the planned learning but often allow the children to share relevant knowledge and experience which often provides their peers with a greater learning experience than one that I can offer. Of course, the discussion isn’t about the latest band that they are listening too or their current progress in Minecraft (often a discussion I kerb in class) but a discussion about how their religion and culture impacts their daily life, worship, up-bringing or learning.

I was teaching Hinduism all day yesterday as our scheduled RE day for this term, we had covered Christianity, Islam and Judaism and so Hinduism was next on the agenda. Planning for the day and preparing the associated resources proved a long and cumbersome process; I was learning as I was planning, it is a religion I know nothing about (maybe supporting your idea @Jon_brunskill about needing specialist teachers in primary schools). Furthermore, the learning intentions were very specific and appropriate resources were not available for download. With some trepidation and a low level of confidence in my plan, I took to the floor and began to deliver the lesson. I hadn’t got far into the lesson when I was greeted by “Mister E, I know all about this as my family are Hindu!”

“Don’t you know your children?” I hear you asking, of course I do, but this young man joined me unannounced last week, was of foreign origins where English was not his first language. In addition, he did not show a great deal of attention in class and was yet to participate in class. Immediately, I grabbed the opportunity by the proverbial horns and invited him to join me at the front of the class to share the teaching. With animation and enthusiasm, my young man joined me at the front, explained to the class about his religion, used anecdotal experience and even answered questions fielded by his peers. The only response from me and his classmates was a rapturous round of applause and a large quantity of house points.

This is not the first time that I have used my children’s own knowledge to support or enhance my lesson, and the children clearly are more engaged when their friends are teaching. The children show greater levels of respect, interest and engagement; they ask more questions and retain the knowledge more: I cannot compete with my seven year-old counterparts! These learning opportunities also provide wider opportunities, it promotes tolerance; the children not only tolerate their peers’ diversity but are eager to learn more about it. Since yesterday’s teaching experience by my new pupil, he has come out of his shell, become more engaged and appears to have made more friends: a boost in reputation and a boost in self-confidence.

In response to the question “Should we employ a specialist to teach this?” I maintain my negative answer. I gained sufficient knowledge to teach the class, I planned to a high level and nobody, including my Hindu pupil surpassed the highest level of challenge. I also continue to argue that my children appreciate my honesty about the limitations of my knowledge and witness life-long learning first-hand.

Finally, to those who have been affected by the atrocities of war stemming from diversity, I offer you this final thought: these catastrophic events are unforgivable and the loss of those affected can never be balanced, but my children live in a world where diversity is embraced and celebrated. These heinous acts do not cause hatred in my classroom but a resounding love for a world where every religion is a peaceful one, where diversity is not to blame, where we accept that everyone is different.

Everyone Has a Voice

This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting London, not to take photos of architecture, nor to experience the pomp and circumstance of our great British institution. Interestingly, despite the fact that one of the biggest tennis tournaments was taking place in London, I wasn’t anywhere near Wimbledon either. I was a delegate at Pedgaoo London, a TeachMeet organised by Hélène Galdin-O’shea (@hgaldinoshea) that I hadn’t been aware of until quite recently and, honestly, if my ATW (@hayleyearl) hadn’t been presenting there (which now makes her the Most Amazing Teacher Wife!) I wouldn’t have attended nor would I be blogging tonight (sorry Hélène). However, I cannot express my delight in attending and my gratitude towards Hélène for organising the event, supported by Kevin Bartle @kevbartle, to the many speakers and to the delegates also, many of whom I have started to follow and extend my own professional network.

Whilst my ATW was nervous about speaking to her peers, I housed my own anxieties: I would be in a room with delegates with extensive levels of knowledge and experience compared to my 7 years as a TA, Unqualified Teacher and Student, how could I participate in the anticipated discussions? Listening to Phil Stock (@joeybagstock) and then Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net), I was filled with awe; these two guys could hold an audience with musings of wisdom, and evidence of practice that I hope to achieve one day in my career. Maybe I had a right to be nervous, these people were eminently worthy of their podium position at the front of one of the IoE’s classrooms, what could I offer in discussion?

However, these fears were somewhat alleviated when I entered the room and realised that everyone was there for the same reason, to learn, share and develop professionally, a common expectation. What’s more, when I shared opinions, I found I was not alone, nor were they dismissed, people were interested in my thoughts and could relate and, dare I say, agree.

The day was a resounding success for everyone involved, for my ATW with her new-found desire to speak publicly (see www.musingsofateacher.wordpress.com) but selfishly, for me too. I’m lucky enough to have lots of CPD opportunities, formerly as a Schools Direct student, now as an NQT and as a Teacher at a forward thinking, staff investing school. Notwithstanding the existing opportunities, I cannot advocate enough the professional and personal rewards available from attending TeachMeets. The TeachMeets don’t have to be as big as Pedgaoo London or Northern Rocks (which will be in the diary next year!): try to meet locally in cluster schools to discuss progress and experiences. Meeting with colleagues of various levels of seniority, form varying backgrounds (primary and secondary) and with different levels of experience is an invaluable form of CPD. I’d even go as far as saying that I would happily organise PedagooGlos if enough are interested (will book ATW first!)

Finally, from this weekend’s experience, never underestimate the value of your own knowledge too: everyone has an opinion, everyone has experience, everyone deserves a voice.