Geography not History

Last day of term. 9.10am. Email arrives with good news saying that I am still not teaching History next year. Bad news is that I will be teaching Geography instead. Reflect on fact that I have not considered anything to do with Geography for at least 38 years and that only thing I remember is term ‘Oxbow lake’. Try and remember what an oxbow lake actually is or how it is formed but almost immediately lose interest.

Consider It fortunate that recent purchase of waterproof jacket in the Finisterre sales will undoubtably make me Best Dressed Geography Teacher In The County. Assure self that whilst bar on that accolade is set remarkably low this is Hardly My Fault.

History/Not History

Email from M today telling me that next year I will be teaching two lessons of History. Another email ten minutes later assures me this is not the case. Later I overhear extended conversations between colleagues attempting to finalise timetables for the new academic year. Our last day of term is the day after tomorrow. Recall leadership team meetings in Autumn in which it was categorically stated that THIS year the timetable would be completed early in order to fully prepare for September. Fully expect to hear the same conversations in Autumn this year and to be writing a minimally edited version of this at the same time in 2019. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Not Research Based

Another Senior Team Meeting drags on interminably towards sunset. Much of the meeting again feels like stream of consciousness outpouring that has gone around in a strangely hypnotic circle. Pinch myself to ensure that I have not in fact fallen asleep and drifted into Joycian reveries.

I haven’t.

Meeting is punctuated by one hilarious moment when reviewing recent CPL session where various colleagues presented in Teach Meet style. T contributes to discussion by revealing that he was pleasantly surprised by effectiveness of approach after admitting deep mistrust of “those Teach Meet things” which, he suggests, “are only excuses for teachers to promote their blogs and look for routes out of the classroom”. Feel vague sense of unease and worry that T has somehow seen through the cloak of invisibility around Provincial Teacher and is making barely hidden reference to own previously published views on matter. Quick check on viewing statistics for Diary reassure me that this is Exceptionally Unlikely.

Hilarity increases when T admits that his stance on Teach Meets is not entirely Research Based given he has never in fact been to one. M immediately sulks and asks whether ANYONE in the team attended the Teach Meet events that he presented at. Sulk increases in intensity when mutterings around table leave no doubt that everyone had Far Better Things To Do on those evenings.

How difficult can it be?

Glanced at my Electronic Diary this morning and aghast to realise I have not added an entry since February. FEBRUARY! Immediately make resolution to Get A Grip, Man Up and otherwise Manage My Time more effectively. Make resolution too to Stop Using So Many Capitals and immediately decide that this is a Bad Idea.

Decide to record in diary how aghast I generally am also regarding spelling and grammar. Reflect that first sentence in this paragraph is somewhat awkward and probably poorly structured or grammatically incorrect and conclude that rules do not apply to me. Especially my own.

In all seriousness however I regularly hold head in hands in disbelief at the quality of written work from colleagues, which in general ranges from passably literate to abysmally incoherent. Immediately worry that ‘abysmally incoherent’ is in truth an oxymoron and is a phrase to be avoided. I do appreciate that colleagues are under immense pressure and that there is precious little time to reflect and edit before hitting ‘send’, but Still And All. How difficult can it be?

All of this brought into stark relief this week thanks to my taking over editing of the leavers’ Year Book. Tutors are therefore sending me Words Of Wisdom and farewells to their year 11 students, each of which appear to be liberally peppered with spelling errors and/or typos. Currently resisting temptation to print these off, mark with green pen, give a GCSE level and return to pigeonholes. ‘Must Do Better’ would be scrawled across the top/bottom of almost all (goes without saying that this would be in addition to some individual, targeted AFL feedback).

Also, double spacing at the end of sentences. WHO STILL DOES THIS? Answer: far too many people who are young enough to know better. By which I mean that if you are Of A Certain Age and learned to type on an analogue typewriter then I will cut you a tiny amount of slack whilst still secretly judging you on my own experience (I miss-spent much of my youth hammering on ancient typewriter keys in Kerouac-inspired outpourings of purple hued prose but even I learned that single spacing is the rule in a digital format).

But at least they are not writing in Comic Sans.

See-Saw (or Stating The Bleedin’ Obvious (again))

Email from J to leadership team this morning with a link to this. J is studying for a Masters at the moment, hence the steady stream of group messages with links to articles no-one else has time to read, let alone digest. Cannot resist taking a look however and skim through article over coffee. Cannot help but think article States The Bleeding’ Obvious to some extent and cannot help but also admit that this is me being old and cynical. One idea does connect, however, and it is over the fact that ‘orderly’ is often confused with ‘authoritarian’. Feel need to State Bleedin’ Obvious myself and add that this confusion exists on both sides of the tiresome ‘prog vs trad’ divide. Feel certain this is all about finding the sweet spot on the see-saw where as teachers we balance authority/control with the skill of establishing positive learning relationships with both individuals and the group as a whole. That the sweet spot changes on a daily basis even within the same group and even within the timeframe of a lesson is surely what makes the job so exhausting but thrilling, no?

Same old song – reprise

Morning spent placating Computer Science team about directive to spend some of their hard-pressed curriculum time on checking whether all students can successfully log in to <insert name of online learning technology here>. Unable to supply convincing answer as to why this needs to take place or what to do when members of the Computer Science team discover that <insert name of random student here> has lost little card with login details and/or Technical Issues Arise. Suggest shrug of shoulders may be most appropriate response and resist temptation to suggest sending <insert name of random student here> to offices of aforesaid colleagues so excited about implementing <insert name of online learning technology here> as whole school system despite no whole school hardware capacity being in place.

Upside of whole sorry situation is that I have been listening again to the sounds of The Creation.

“Why must we carry on always singing the same old song?”

“Why must we carry on always singing the same old song?” So sang The Creation back in the 1960s (and may I add than whilst I may be advancing in years I am not yet quite advanced enough to remember if from that time). The words are ringing in my ears now mainly as a result of extended email exchange over the weekend around the use of <insert name of online learning technology here>.

Having identified an opportunity for using <insert name of online learning technology here> to support students with persistent absence and other school-refusing tendencies (a use which, I hasten to add, I fully support), some of my esteemed colleagues decided that every student in the school would benefit from also knowing about <insert name of online learning technology here>. Assemblies were hurriedly arranged and aforesaid colleagues displayed slides of how wonderful <insert name of online learning technology here> could be. Little cards were distributed to all students with login details and everyone (well, aforesaid colleagues at least) emerged delighted with the potential of <insert name of online learning technology here> to Raise School Attainment.

Here’s the thing though: as a school we do not have the hardware capacity to effectively embed <insert name of online learning technology here> as a part of the day to day learning habits of our students or our staff. There is no whole school strategic plan to leverage the potential of <insert name of online learning technology here> and there is no whole school strategic plan for this because we do not have the whole school hardware capacity…

Yet despite there being no whole school strategic plan for the implementation and use of <insert name of online learning technology here> the same aforesaid colleagues have suggested our Computer Science team surrender some of their already hard-pressed curriculum time to, and I quote, “check that all year 7, 8, 9 and 10 can successfully log in to <insert name of online learning technology here>”. Own contribution to email exchange around this solely based on the question “WHY?”, when there will be limited (if any) opportunities for vast majority of these students to ever login to <insert name of online learning technology here> during school hours (this driven by, you guessed it, fact that school lacks whole school hardware resources for this ever to happen).

Personal sense of frustration amplified by fact that implementation of <insert name of online learning technology here> failed to gain traction when introduced nearly two decades ago in school before being dropped in favour of <insert name of alternative online learning technology here> and subsequently by <insert name of yet another alternative online learning technology here>. All initiatives failed to have significant impact exactly because investment in whole school hardware resources failed to keep pace with need. Which led/leads to failure of staff to commit to effectively using technologies (and let’s face it, why would one invest energy and time in learning something one has limited/no opportunity to use in one’s day-to-day teaching habits?) and so on in a vicious cycle of wasted investment.

Entirely willing to admit this is just another example of Creeping Cynicism, but also suggest that Personal Experience of attempts to implement systems such as <insert name of online learning technology here> Might Just Be Relevant.

(Another) First Day Back

Back to work today and so somewhat reluctantly switch on The Twitter to see what delights I may have missed. First thing to catch attention is list of ‘9 teaching ideas to bin in 2018’. After a New Year’s Day spent gleefully dismantling evidence of The Festive Season and sending numerous pieces of card to the recycling, find self fully in tune with notion of putting anything in bin and so settle in for quick and hopefully informative checklist of activities to avoid for the year ahead (not so naive as to suggest sending these ideas to landfill, however, since Experience Has Told Me that these ideas will once more return to fashionability in a few years).

To my surprise, find self agreeing with several of the items on the list. Pleased to see not alone in distaste for schools displaying OFSTED grading signs on every available wall (previously assumed this feeling driven by jealousy of never working at a so-called Outstanding school). Gladdened too by suggestion that ‘Progressive vs Traditional’ actually little more than a false battle manufactured by people caring more about their Follower Numbers on The Twitter (mine remain resolutely in double figures) than what is actually happening in their classrooms. Notion that schools ought to rely on support networks of other local schools to engage in some kind of peer-review system also raises cheer in times of general darkness and bleakness.

More confused, it must be said, by multiple suggestions in list that schools ought to dodge any notions of staff accountability or monitoring. Culture of School Leaders not looking in students’ books or watching colleagues teaching may work in idealised environment where every individual Works To A High Standard but not wholly convinced this is Living In The Real World. Willing to concede this is Cynicism At Work, or at very least the January Blues.

Determined too not to sound like someone who thinks that Lessons Can Be Learned From The Private Sector, and feel need to stress clearly that I am fully in favour of a solution-focused supportive approach to teacher development and improvement (also make no apologies for using word ‘improvement’, since this is un-arguably relevant in some cases – self by no means excepted). But if not work/book scrutiny, and if not lesson observations (agree these should not be graded, however) then what?

Book look / work scrutiny by far most useful method of EQ/QA I routinely experience in role as school leader. When used in conjunction with Student Voice (talking to the students with their book in front of them and asking them to tell you about it is immensely informative) it is an invaluable measure of whether they are making progress in that class (and yes, better than any Data Analysis – so find self wholeheartedly agreeing on proposal to consign Data Drops to the educational trash can of 2018).

Book look / work scrutiny / Talking To Students also invaluable to see whether students are getting feedback on their work. To this extent find self standing up and applauding suggestion that ‘Marking By Frequency And Colour’ be deposited firmly in recycling centre, to be replaced by policies for feedback. Admit to being confused to apparent abhorrence of notion of ‘policy’ in list, however. Certain that suggestion of “sharing expectations” is essentially same as distributing a policy, since what is a policy but a set of expectations?

Rack brains to think of something else to add to list of of things to send to the educational refuse collectors for 2018 but can only think of Teachers Writing Blogs About Teaching For Sole Purpose Of Self-Promotion. Decide this entirely in spirit of Celebrating Contradictions and subsequently rest brain. First Day Back is always so exhausting after all.

Bah Humbug

Actually that’s too strong because it is my (second) favourite holiday (nothing compares to the five week decompression chamber of The Summer Holidays). Spend most of the day explaining reason for not wearing Christmas Jumper or Foolish Hat. Unclear if many Year 7s would understand extended explanation of anti-capitalist/consumer stance of refusing to collude in Market generated obligation for purchasing items that will be worn once for a few hours and then promptly discarded and so simply tell them it’s important to understand that one does not always have to Follow The Herd. Despite insistence that such a stance in no way intended as criticism of those who choose to wear Christmas Jumpers and Foolish Hats, cannot help feel that many take it as A Personal Insult. Thankfully distribution of sweets at end of the day alleviates much of this sense of mistrust and almost all go home happy in the knowledge that it is The End Of Another Term.

(Still) Life After Levels: Same As It Ever Was

Book scrutiny this morning for some year 7 and 8 students. Evidence of progress? Yes. Evidence of diagnostic feedback that enables that progress? Well, yes, I suppose so. A bit (admit levels of generosity to colleagues perhaps slightly higher than normal At This Time In The Term i.e. with The End In Sight). And are the students on track to reach their target GCSE grades? Yes, no, maybe.

Evidence from infrequent visits to Other Schools in recent years has shown often bewildering range of strategies to cope with the removal of Levels at KS3 some years back, most of which appear to have replaced notion of Levels with some other arbitrary concoction (I heard of one school who were grading students according to different types of bird. “I am happy to report that Charles is on the Golden Eagle pathway” and “I’m rather afraid to have to inform you that Jezebel is struggling to raise herself from the Common Sparrow pathway”. Cue Prisoner proclamations of “I am not a bird! I am a free man/woman/preferred gender identity!”.)

Common sense however appears to be settling like a fine dusting of snow on Educational Landscape, driven no doubt by the transition at GCSE from Grades As Letters to Grades As Numbers. Good to see evidence in books therefore of students being assessed as being “on flightpath to 5” and “on flightpath to 3”. More elderly and cynical colleagues suggest this Perilously Close to being a Level but they are clearly mis-informed.