Monthly Archives: January 2018

(Originally posted on Staffrm)

I had a brilliant reading session with a pupil today. Normally, if I have someone for a whole lesson, once we’ve finished our reading-the-book part we use the time that’s left to play some literacy games or work on a particular target. This boy was keen to keep reading today so I gave him a choice of books from the Rapid books that he isn’t using and let him go for it.

Like many similar books Rapid have a series of comprehension questions at the end and they also have a joke. Again, like similar things, the answer to the joke is printed upside down. I was quite surprised that this boy who is at quite a low level and struggles noticeably was very quick to read the upside down answer without a problem. He even questioned why they would just write the answer underneath so anyone could see it. I did a small experiment and made him read some more with the book upside down. Now this wasn’t ‘War and Peace’ but the kid read the whole book without a single mistake. He was ecstatic!

Now. I reasoned as he was doing it that it might be something to do with him being left-handed. I’ve read things about left-handed people finding writing back to front/ upside down easier and guessed that this probably fits in the same bracket. I also suspect that the extra thought process might slow him down and make him think so he’s not rushing as much. I don’t know. I’m just making it up. What I do know is that it was blummin’ impressive and gave the boy one hell of a boost.

Obviously I’m going to try it again. Maybe I should try writing something out back to front and see if he can do that as well. I’m wondering if anyone else has experienced this sort of thing? I know he’s going to have to learn to cope with reading words the right way up (unless we build him a camera obscura to live in I suppose), but I think it’s worth exploring a bit further too.

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(Originally posted on Staffrm)

Bare with me on this. I watched Legally Blonde recently and I’m going to stretch this one as far as I darned well can. Instead of a comparison with medicine, I’m comparing teaching with hairdressing and bending the metaphor til it, um, snaps.

Education, particularly evidence based education, is frequently compared to medicine. The idea that any profession should develop and update, based on research evidence where possible is something I’m all for. Education isn’t just a science though; it’s an art as well.

Teaching, like hairdressing, is a craft that needs to be honed and developed over a career. It is possible to learn the basics from a book or course. You could get by and end up with something crude. The theory, the step-by-step instructions, are great for giving it a go, but to be successful you need more than that.

The best teachers use theory and a core foundation of knowledge to push boundaries and try new things. They test out new products and can fine-tune the result.

The best teachers are aware of the individual needs of their client. They notice where they differ from the ‘norm’ – they spot the frizz, the cowlick, and the best ones know how to work with curl…

They know when someone might need a deep conditioning treatment or when they might benefit from highlights. They know you can only hide grey hairs temporarily.

Experience can be a source of invaluable advice but some are resistant to change and new techniques. They stick firmly to the tight perms and purple rinses that have always got them through. Others embrace fashion, rushing headlong into every new fad that comes along (without regard for anyone’s face shape or questioning the damage it might do). Some create the fashion; sometimes it’s classy and lasts a lifetime, sometimes it’s fixed in a particular era. There are the TV hairdressers, the ones with a voice, pushing their message to improve the hair of the nation. Most are probably in between, letting fashion filter through, adapting training as they need it – hanging on to trends a bit too long? Some insist on using a highlighting cap when foils might be the better option.

Keeping up to date and developing isn’t just about reading. It’s about having a feel for it and doing what is right by the pupils. Picking up the pieces of a bad job and turning things around even if it takes years; giving them something they can maintain between visits and, ultimately, something that will grow out well once they move on.


(originally posted on Staffrm)

This time five years ago, like many schools I suspect, the powers that be were trying very hard to get our school’s BSF project to the point of no return. Like many schools, we found it wasn’t to be. As it turns out, they’re still keen for us to expand.

New designs are about to be discussed for our extra building and the staff team have been given a chance to have some input into the new facilities. Given the headings of ‘Essential Features’ (eg. One storey), ‘Desirable Features’ (eg. Learning recovery spaces) and ‘Wish List Features’ (eg. Swimming pool), I was quick to write down a few things but it’s harder than I thought it would be to turn the vague ideas I’ve got into something more concrete.

My essentials include things like timeout space and a bigger staffroom. (It was ok when there were enough staff for 20 pupils, but now we’re going to go up to 100 that’s a few more staff). Desirable features are a bit more indulgent so I’ve mentioned having a bigger art room and a ‘proper’ library would be nice. My wish list is much more personal. I know our art tutor has requested a foundry and other highly specialist facilities, and I’m sure there will be some extravagant sporting suggestions from the PE staff. I’ve gone down the research route.

My thoughts on the place for research in the development of our school are constantly evolving and I’ve got a fair few things in place with ideas of where I see it heading. I am however a bit jealous of some of the things other schools are doing and what is a wish list for if not the extreme? So my wish list section now includes a Learning and Development space. Centre? Hub? I’m not sure. I’ve not thought about it as a reality before. Somewhere for CPD, collaboration, taking part in enquiry. Space to hold CPD events (for us and host for others). Host guest speakers from HE etc. A library of resources for professional development, to evaluate pupil outcomes and engage in action research/lesson study and reflective practice…

It’s not particularly solid as ideas go, but I think it could be. I wonder if it’s out-there enough for a wish list. I mean, I could’ve gone with pimped out golf buggies or a velodrome. If we get a chance it would be interesting to see what other members of staff have put as their answers.

So that’s what I’ve thought of so far. What would you put down as your ‘Wish List Features’ if you had the chance? You can have anything you like…


It’s fairly early and I’m snuggled on the sofa with just a side-lamp on whilst Howard catches up on some sleep upstairs and I’m writing a post that’s been swirling round my head since yesterday. I’m already fulfilling at least four of the introvert statements in the quiz in Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet‘ and that’s before I’ve really started –

  • preferring to express myself in writing
  • enjoying solitude
  • ‘diving in’ without interruptions
  • not showing or discussing work before its finished

‘Quiet’ was a book that genuinely changed my life. All of a sudden a lot of things made a lot more sense – not only that but I realised that the various oddities I have could be explained under a broad umbrella and it was amazing. Our world values extraversion and is geared up to promote and reward it but we need to take a step back and see how damaging it can be if we don’t recognise that this is not the way everyone is and see things from the introverts’ point of view.

Yesterday there were a couple of weaving Twitter conversations about ice-breakers and ‘motivational’ activities during insets. Some of it was tongue-in-cheek but much of it was a collective expression of doom at those fateful words ‘Everyone get up on your feet…’. I genuinely have a sinking feeling thinking about it. I wrote about my own feeling on this sort of thing a couple of years ago after my own ‘Motivational Incident‘ at a TeachMeet. I hadn’t read ‘Quiet’ then but having spent time analysing myself I think I’ve got more to say on it all so here it is.

There have been two occasions I can think of where I have flat-out refused to take part in a ‘fun’ inset activity. The first was a whole federation day where there were several activities to do and being asked to stand up and juggle fabric was too much for me. To the presenter’s credit she did tell everyone it was optional and we could sit it out if we wanted, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one. The second was a TA inset where we had to split into groups, come up with a type of machine and each act out a part for other groups to guess the machine. I can vaguely see why you might get people who didn’t already know each other to do something like this but even then I’d be horrified. There were two of us in our group who refused to do it and I did feel a little for the presenter as she’d possibly not come across this before but after some gentle persuading she just said it was very disappointing but we could sit it out.  That second one was post-‘motivational incident‘ but pre-‘Quiet’ and I was, I have to say, proud of myself.

Coming out as an introvert is an interesting thing. I’ve not shouted it from the rooftops (which isn’t necessarily surprising for an introvert) but I’ve had a fairly universal reaction from the people I have told, most clearly from my mum who, laden with supportive sympathy, said “Oh, no, you’re not” as if I was putting myself down. The realisation that I’m an introvert has transformed the way I think about myself and for the better; by telling people I’m actually bigging myself up. My mum’s (and others’) reaction is perfect evidence of how society values the extrovert and why, as an aside, I think we need to keep it in mind with students we teach.

Me as an introvert

For me, the realisation I’m an introvert has explained a lot of things. For example, I like to spend a lot of time by myself – in the holidays if I don’t plan outings I could stay at home for the whole time not wanting to go and talk to anyone or deal with ‘people’. I think it’s an extension of Cain’s ‘If I had to choose, I’d prefer a weekend with absolutely nothing to do to one with too many things scheduled’. I recognise that it can build up and actually can be bad for my mental health so I do force myself to do things but it really can be forcing myself.

I also realise now that there’s a reason why I find social events exhausting and actually it’s good to give myself restorative space away from things. This recognition is an important one. Knowing that when I have to do something that’s going to put me ‘out there’ that I need to schedule in an opportunity to be away from it a bit too actually makes it easier. There are about 17/20 of the statements on Cain’s list that I would say are true for me but I don’t think that’s made me resigned to the fact I like to do things a certain way, I actually think it’s made me aware of how to cope with trying new things.

Why people are confused and think I’m not one

I can understand why people are surprised when I say I’m an introvert. I’m quite good at getting involved with things, I’ve presented at conferences, I quite like a bit of fancy dress, I’m quite vocal in discussions. All things that seem fairly extrovert. The thing is though I do these things as an introvert. I get involved with things I want to get involved with, I have presented at conferences where I know the set up, I like fancy dress I have control over*, I’m vocal in discussion with people I know and once I’ve got the measure of a situation – I’ll rarely jump in for the sake of it. The technicalities are perhaps subtle but I think for me it’s about controlling a situation.

Introversion and me

Control is key.

Put me in a situation I have no control over and I will panic. If I can find some control I can cope. Leading a project or volunteering to speak means I can control what’s happening. If I don’t have any control, familiarity is important. This can be as simple as obsessively planning a route on Google streetview or when doing a presentation I’ll start in a fairly scripted manner but by the end I’ll be more comfortable and chatty (not that I think this is unusual for people). I won’t start up a networking conversation but if someone talks to me I’m likely to be able to prattle on til the cows come home. It just takes time to get going sometimes.

*Fancy dress is one I’ve had a long-standing theory about. With fancy dress you actually have more control over a situation. My theory, probably starting as a teenager, is that if you are dressed bizarrely on purpose people can’t take the piss. If you’re dressed in something fashionable that you think makes you look hot-as and someone laughs their head off it is crushing. If you’ve covered yourself in glitter or you’re dressed as Bert Raccoon it’s quite clear you’re not expecting mainstream acceptance and you get away with more. It makes it a performance and you can control how people react to you.

I realise that defence mechanisms in extrovert situations are about control and I think introverts get quite good at them. Whether that’s faced with whole-group country dancing, sticking with a small group of friends to take the piss, or taking the plunge and muddling through til it’s over and controlling the come-down.

I think there are two types of extraversion – the one that you control and the one that’s controlled by others. The first you get to pick and turn on and off. If you want to join in you can and you have a good idea of the reaction it will have and how that will impact on you. The second is both controlled and judged by others – a step into the unknown. It may be this is short-lived and the situation quickly becomes familiar but it may be that the outcome is completely in the hands of others. I know it’s healthy for me to challenge myself and not get too comfortable but I’m more aware of my limitations now, how to deal with that and the fact that, actually, it’s OK.