There has been a lot packed into this year and it’s nice to reflect, so here’s some of it under the now reasonably traditional headings of personal, travel and work…
I suppose the biggest thing that happened this year was the loss of my lovely little Grandma in May. She was naughty and awkward and utterly marvelous. I documented a great many of our phone calls on #grandmacall on Twitter and it’s pretty special to be able to see them and remember just how tedious it was to hear the entire week’s meals she’d just bought or the clockwork precision of her calling to sing Happy Birthday the day before my birthday every year. I miss her.
We got two new twin nieces (and decided now there are a thousand of them, nephews and nieces is too long and wanted a catch-all so stuck with the ‘n’ and added the ‘iblings’ of siblings to coin the term ‘niblings’ which we shall expect to appear in next year’s dictionary). They are small and gradually unfurling.
I think quite a bit of the ‘personal’ side for this year has cross-over with the travel and work bits. Maybe more separation of those next year.
We’d said that we’d slow down the travel a bit this year but researchED came along again and put a stop to that. I did rEDHan in Stockholm again and we finally got todo the (non-open-topped) bus tour. It was all very super. The next one (conference and bus tour) was Toronto. This wasn’t planned but it was also very super. We charged around Toronto for a week looking at towers and museums and black squirrels, with a day trip to Niagara where we saw a waterfall and tried wine and saw an actual real life made-for-tv-Christmas-movie being made. Then we hopped on over to rEDOnt where there was an ice-storm and we had our first experience of being de-iced on a runway.
Our summer trip was a pretty good adventure as we decided to have a pre-Brexit blow out and go Interrailing through Europe. We did Nottingham > London > Amsterdam* (it was Pride and we saw an actual Spice Girl) > Frankfurt** > Zürich > Chur > Tirano (on the Bernina Express through the Alps on a panoramic windowed train) > Lugano (on the Bernina Express bus) > Milan* > Verona* (for the day) > Milan > Paris > London > Nottingham. I Listened to audiobooks and we ate a lot of mini carrots. *bus tour **boat tour
In October we decided that as we hadn’t done a restful break, we’d get a cheap all-inclusive holiday and went to Ibiza where we didn’t have todo any charging about or anything and it was lovely. We read and napped and completely forgot about work (which had got crazy by this point) and drank green cocktails. We did do some sightseeing (because we can’t not) but it wasn’t quite as intense as the other trips.
Work has been a mix. I spent the first part of the year having conversations with our MAT Director of Education about working across the trust around CPD and research which is all very exciting. I’ve two days a week on trust stuff since September but I don’t have a job title yet so probably one to sort out next year.
I also spent most of the year completing the Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership programme which was amazing. Obviously this fits in with the trust work, but it was something that I found all-encompassing, exhausting and thoroughly fulfilling. To work with a group of people with so much experience and advice, and be guided by the man who literally wrote the book, has been a fantastic thread through the year.
I’ve spent the first term of this year introducing a CPD programme for our school and auditing another trust school which I’m sure I’ll write/talk about next year. It’s a slow process but I’ve run a range of sessions for staff and it looks like journal club might’ve sparked a curriculum special interest group.
A slight spanner in the works has been my accidental shift to teaching all the GCSE art. I’ve supported it for several years now and our art tutor has been off long-term sick so I’ve taken over. It’s not been the most relaxing of activities (I’ve cried a lot) but my boys have been very understanding and are producing some awesome work. I’m determined that they aren’t going to be at a disadvantage because of it all.
I suppose because the final third of 2018 has been quite work-focussed I feel like there’s been a bit of a shift away from the ‘personal’ side of things. A lot of what I do away from work has turned a bit work related so I think there’s room for shifting back again. I think we’ll have a year of decorating and Bert’s going to have a new hutch.
I’ve no idea what’ll happen with work – either CPD stuff or art. I’m going to try to introduce some English revision to art lessons and see how that goes. I’ve got a few conferences booked in for the first half of the year and travel so far involves Sweden for rEDHan again (I’m talking about CPD) and we’ve just booked a Brexit-proof (hopefully) week in the UK at Easter.
As far as the rest of 2019 goes, who knows what the UK has up its sleeve. It’s pretty embarrassing to be part of it all so I hope it works out OK.
This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read all these books over the summer. Normally we go away and I have suitcase full of books to work though but this year a combination of having a mega assignment to write and deciding our holiday would involve interrailing round Europe so lugging books wasn’t a priority, meant that I didn’t really read a huge amount in summer and never got round to blogging. Anyway, having just grabbed a week away with plenty of time to read, I thought I’d get round to it. So here, in no particular order, is my reading from the summer, October and a couple from in-between.
- All Shot Up by Chester Himes
I think I got this one for Christmas and I saved it. This was one I took interrailing because it’s nice and thin. I love a detective and these are ones I’ve written about them before here. There’s something so ridiculous about the situations that happen in these books but the writing is exquisite. There are whole passages that serve as supreme examples of everything we try and get kids to write about. I loved it. I’m trying to read them in a sort of order but you don’t really need to (although the first one ‘A Rage in Harlem’ does introduce the detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones). I think this might be my favourite so far and there is a chase scene so perfect that I read it out loud to Howard.
2. Around The World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly
Well this was a find. A sort of ‘summer and ongoing’ book really. This is a collection of writings by Nellie Bly, one of the first female journalists and ‘stunt girl’ reporters.
Starting with her work in 1885 and moving to 1919, it covers some extraordinary undercover reporting where she gets herself committed to a lunatic asylum in order to expose hideous treatment practices, and her solo journey around the world to break the fictional record set by Jules Verne. Quite why she’s not more widely known I have no idea, but she was one hell of a woman and I urge you to have a look – you don’t need to read it all at once as it’s comprised of articles she wrote across her career and easy to dip in and out of.
3. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
It’s been ages since I read the first Harry Hole book and whilst I bought this almost straight afterwards it became a casualty of my need for small books to take on holiday I think. Whilst he’s a Norwegian detective, the first one’s set in Australia and this one is in Bangkok. I quite like the change of scenery making for different story elements but I found the writing a bit clunky in places. I don’t know if that’s down to the translation or the originality of an alcoholic detective but I reckon it’ll be a case of remember to buy the next one at some point rather than ‘collect em all’.
4. The Armada Boy by Kate Ellis
Now these I love and there’s loads of them. I took this one of the epic train journey because it’s small.
I haven’t written about this series before but this is the second one. The central detective is Wesley Peterson – the cop from the Met returning to a more rural life (Devon in this case). The thread through these is that he studied archaeology at university and his cases invariably have a link to local archaeological digs run but his friend Neil so there’s ongoing snippets from the past (not necessarily connected with the case, just running alongside). It’s got a sort of Midsomer vibe (but Devon and with history) with them covering a wide area with lots of murder potential in tiny villages.
5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen
It’s the end of the world and there’s an angel and demon who aren’t particularly keen on this happening so they set out to stop the antichrist and everything else. My brother bought it for me a bit ago and I never got round to it (spotting a theme here) and I rather wanted to read it before the TV series is out. It was everything I was hoping for (and I always love a Dog).
6. An Unhallowed Grave by Kate Ellis
Number three in the series. This one starts with a hanging in a churchyard and a trail though Devonshire villages and history with an archaeological uncovering of another body from the same tree five hundred years earlier.
The Wesley Peterson series started in the late 90s and are still going, but it means these early ones must’ve hit the shelves as Time Team (which I adored) was peaking and there’s a good element of that in there. It also means that there’s not a huge amount of mobile phone/ internet stuff so I’m looking forward to carrying on the series and things like that changing the feel of the books a bit.
7. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
Ooh, this was lovely. I bought ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ on a bit of a whim years ago and I leant it to a friend who then read everything by Albom she could lay her hands on and I finally read another one. This follows the life of Frankie Presto with his talent for music – from a war-time birth, journeys around the globe, to a dramatic ending. Throughout his life Frankie finds inspiration in and inspires musical icons like Duke Ellington, Elvis and KISS (kinda Forrest Gump-ish but not really). It starts, and is threaded, with people remembering Frankie at his funeral and there’s something about knowing a character dies that I find quite comforting. That’s not to say there aren’t shocks and surprises, but it knew where I was heading. I never like giving things away when I’m talking about books so this really doesn’t do it justice but I loved it and kinda miss it, which I always think is a mark of a good book.
8. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (audio book)
I’ve not actually finished this yet. I took it for the train journeys and loved it. I had a lot of cassettes of comedy sketches and stand up when I was younger and quite a few had Stephen Fry’s voice on them which I found surprisingly nostalgic when it came to this. I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology so I was looking forward to this and when the Eleanor Oliphant audio book failed to impress I swapped it and wasn’t disappointed. The stories are brilliantly told and I managed to produce some excellent background to sculptures in galleries we visited. There’s a wealth of etymology for etymology fans and so many names it’s impossible to remember everything (I tried listening to it in the car but it stuffs my working memory and I can’t listen and drive ) so I’ll probably get the book too.
Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.
My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:
- Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
- Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
- Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
- Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum
It was a guddun.
This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.
One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.
Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.
My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.
As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!
All researchED events kick off well and whilst I’ve sat through a fair few ‘we aren’t expecting a fire alarm test today so if you hear a continuous bell…’ housekeeping announcements in my time, never before has this included instructions of what todo in the event of a lock-down. This made for a very exciting start to rEDBrum (and a silent wonder if each of the change-over bells would run to a count of 5 and we’d (very sensibly and in an orderly fashion) be required to dive under the tables). It didn’t happen (for the best really). It was also the most purplest school I’ve ever been to and if the TES do an award for having a theme and running with it, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School wins hands down. The announcements and introductions were swiftly followed by a mini-keynote from Daisy Christodoulou on why we need to improve assessment and this ended up an unintentional but welcome theme threaded though my day.This event was also the first time I brought someone else from school to a researchED conference; a surprisingly big thing for me. I’m conscious that I hold researchED dear as my ‘thing’ – there are people I know, ideas I’m familiar with and challenged by, and despite the day-to-day stresses of work I can rely on something like this to put me back on track with why I love it. Of course I share what I learn back at school but bringing someone from one work-world into my other work-world was strange but positive. Anyway, at 7:45 on a Saturday morning our school principal Marcus hopped into our car with his copy of Daisy’s ‘Making Good Progress’ to read along the way.
Introducing a ‘novice’ to all this was a refreshing way to view researchED. Aside from the general what-is-researchED-who-is-Tom-Bennett-yes-everyone-really-does-do-it-for-free stuff there were a lot of things I found myself giving an overview of that I pretty much take for granted now and think lots of other people do. A couple of speakers openly glosssed over who Dylan Wiliam or Daniel Willingham are because researchED is pretty much taken as an environment where that’s basic knowledge – a solid case of David Weston’s point on Fundamental Attribution Error. There were a lot of hands up when Tom asked whose first rED it was in his introduction and whist some may be of the opinion that it’s unthinkable for a teacher of 30 years to not know about ‘Inside the Black Box’ I reckon there’s more out there that don’t know than do.
Marcus reading ‘Making Good Progress’ was actually a happy coincidence. I’d popped into his office to arrange our travel arrangements for the weekend and rattled of a few of the people who were going to be speaking, including Daisy’s keynote, and whilst I explained some of her work he produced the book from under a pile of incident sheets and exclaimed that he knew the name was familiar (promptly writing his name in the front when I asked if it was the copy I’d leant to another colleague). He’d not started it yet but when I popped in again on Friday it’s pretty safe to say it was blowing his mind even from Wiliam’s foreword.
My own day was perhaps subconsciously threaded with assessment/feedback/progress. I’ve spent a week cramming in baselines for new pupils and using a new system for the first time (GL Assessments in English, Maths and Science alongside Hodder Reading and Spelling tests for those who are interested). Ben Newmark’s talk on the mess that is target grades and Tom Sherrington’s take down of ‘Can-do’ statements make complete sense to me and it’s confirmation that what I assumed for a long time was naivety on my part – that the reason for all these non-sensical things must have been explained on everyone’s PGCE courses and it was all a ‘teacher’ thing – is actually based on a snowballing of decisions that nobody is certain of why it’s done; it just is. I’m still moving thoughts on this round in my head so I might consolidate those more clearly at some point. I have to say though, my take-home feeling is it’s no longer just theories of better ways to approach things, there are researched models out there, Ofsted are pumping out the message that they aren’t looking for specific things and school leaders have to be really brave to leap and make these changes. The fear of change is very real for many reasons and not all leaders have the autonomy they need to really go for some of these things. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get going but I sense that as some are starting to jump off the cliff edge it won’t be as hard for others to follow.
As always I left yesterday feeling positive and full of ideas. We’ve still got a week before half term and I’m desperately trying to finish off Relay before Friday so positivity is welcome. It was great to see people I’ve not seen since September and for my fox shoes to make friends with Cat Scutt’s. I’m still rubbish at talking to people at these things and shall endeavour to do better next time. I think Marcus got a lot out of it too. I know it’s consolidated some ideas for him and given food for thought in other areas. I also know that whilst most of us on-line buddies are introverts and ignore each other IRL, he’s 100% extrovert and turns out he spoke to loads of interesting people! We’re in a big period of change at school now and I’m hopeful that there can be increase in evidence informed decision-making. At the very least I’m hoping that when I enquire nicely for time off to do yet another international conference or plant the seeds of hosting a rED event the boss’ll at least know what I’m banging on about.