Musings over Michaela

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (a wall, Michaela. Originally Aristotle!)

I have deliberately waited a week to blog about my recent visit to Michaela, because there was so much to take away, but also questions that rather than remaining unanswered, had not even existed in my mind before walking through the gates, or perhaps do not even have an answer. I am also incredibly aware of the weight that opinions towards Michaela seem to carry, so have an incredibly ardent wish that my words are concise enough to convey the meaning with which I intend (not something that I excel at on the whole, but I’ll try). Above all, I waited to write so that I would have enough time to do so with clarity, but not enough time that I would waffle forever- as you can see, this first paragraph fails already! Rather than spend time explaining the details of my visit- what I did, who I saw, I want to try and pull together my key observations and why I see the school as one of the most refreshing opportunities for young people in state education in quite some time.

The balance of childhood and challenge

Arriving at lunchtime, I was free to talk to the children as they played and waited to be called in for lunch. The playground reminded me of my first Primary school , a small village school outside Felixstowe where the playground and the act of play was central to any lunchtime. On the Michaela website, Katharine’s address begins with the statement, ‘at Michaela, children can be children,’ and it was this statement that rang so truly throughout my visit. The conversations that I shared with the children carried a combination of curiosity in me and my teaching experiences (LCFC saved some blank looks at least from the boys! Leicester is a long way from London) but also a burning desire to answer any questions that I may have in return.  The lack of phones, talk about last night’s TOWIE, not shying away from the fact a grown-up is cramping their style at lunchtime was so refreshing. Discussion was energetic and I noticed a sense of community; students teased one another playfully about the fact that one of their friends had put an incorrect answer for a knowledge quiz that morning, before thinking up a rhyme to help him remember it next time. Two boys chased one another round but as soon as this resulted in one of them dropping his work folder, several students helped him retrieve the contents from the floor. There was a sense of calm and I think it wasn’t until attending lessons that I reflected upon the possibility that without a presence of disruption and challenging behaviour that I would expect to see within a school (this is where I will struggle to be concise) that aggression simply doesn’t factor here. I do not believe that conflicts don’t occur or that students don’t walk through the gates with events of home or relationships on their mind, but simply that they are either equipped with the tolerance of others to know how to deal emotionally as such, or that being in school is a momentary escape to learn.

 

Tough love and Time

Children were so ready to share their takes of the school that they have an unabashed loyalty towards: my questions varied from, ‘what would be the first thing you told my son if he were to come here?’ to ‘what is the best thing about this school’ and the answer was always the same, but with such different meaning: ‘it’s strict Miss.’ It was always conveyed as a positive thing. At family lunch, play time, the discussions centred around this to the point that I probably exhausted them with my curiosity in something that as teachers, we already know- children like boundaries. Beyond that, they appreciate them, are grateful for their undeniable regularity and above all, understand their value because at Michaela, the children grasp the reasons behind sanctions and praise. Rather than an oppressive stamp upon their enthusiasm, it spurs the students on to succeed; family lunch appreciations were a clear example of this. Students are invited to share a moment of appreciation with the group and are encouraged to notice kindness, give specific evidence and project to the crowd in exchange for a merit. This act is so embedded with the children that their motives for sharing seemed to be rooted in the opportunity to share gratitude rather than the reward (rightly so). @jo_facer facilitated and was not an easy one to extract a merit from! Her feedback after each appreciation was critical but fair, highlighting the successes whether it was volume or the specific appreciation but not shying away from stating where others fell down in their delivery or lack of reasons. My main observations? That ALL children that had contributed, those with merits and without, immediately put their hand back up for another opportunity to share. Imagine that level of resilience within a classroom setting.

In acknowledging what one student described as ‘tough love,’ and a robust system where children do not recognise the teacher as strict but the system, it is clear to see the advantages within the school day in its entirety. Time is given a place of honour for both staff and students in every act; school appreciations are received with a double clap only; a process like lesson changeover is swift and ordered because learning is the key outcome of time spent well. Time was a central theme that repeatedly cropped up during the course of my day- my guide noted the fact that in comparison to friends in other local schools, he described his education as ‘better’ because his time in school was not wasted. He told me in rather astute terms as he showed me spectacular artwork produced as a result of the study of artists such as Monet and Renoir that pupils made progress at Michaela because the time is dedicated to learning, always.

 

Priorities for Progress

Knowledge organisers, something that I now feel that I have not utilised enough, play a central part to the Michaela curriculum. Students have a bank for each year of their education, of which they are quizzed upon different sections at regular intervals. There are several advantages to this approach; all students retain key information for the subject, demystifying both the cognitive process of retention but also the topic itself into a process of simply learning and recalling. Michaela’s walls are adorned with the work of students, accompanied with detailed captions that draw the reader to appreciate particular attributes of the work, but most importantly details of how the student has applied previous learning to put the piece into context, for which I believe KOs are wholely responsible. For such a large proportion of students, they falter at this starting block for so many years that they lose the opportunity to move onto the analytical and evaluative qualities of the topic itself (I won’t dwell on this, not being an expert. @joe__kirby does a much better job of explaining the successes of KOs here). Work displayed in the toilets (!) demonstrates the power of this process paying off; students use knowledge gained from previous topics and apply it to their analysis months later.

Another key success (and something which was repeatedly tweeted about at ResearchED recently) that I observed was modelled reading. @doug_lemov preaches- in the nicest possible way!- about this incessantly and it is something that doesn’t get the airplay at secondary. Michaela teachers modelled reading beautifully, to which students replicated to in some cases, a superior standard! Reading is an incredibly active task within lessons, with target questions fired at students regularly to maintain the ‘moment’ of the text, rapidly unpicking challenging language using recall of previous units to ensure comprehension and move swiftly towards the analysis of character actions and motives.

The process of annotation and a lack of an ‘end point’ was also intriguing to see; students annotated and developed their own ideas in green pen, when feeding back after a knowledge quiz, others contributed answers, or annotating a text. Everything about the process of teaching and learning at Michaela is explicit; teachers instruct to annotate something of interest as a result of student questioning; students ask as many questions as necessary to understand an essay task set. NOTHING is left to interpretation, but do not construe this as a disadvantage. Instead, students have an incredible understanding of what is expected of them; their confidence not in the topic itself but in their ability to master it is what drives them forward. The efficiency of the practical process of developing work but also a deep understanding that there is always room to improve makes for an incredibly high ceiling when it comes to outcomes.

During my tour, I asked about the presence of challenge within the school; I was keen to understand the aspiration for the student that successfully retains information and is keen to exceed expectations beyond the Knowledge Organiser; where was the opportunity for fostering curiosity in the subject? With less discussion time than I was used to, I wondered if students were ever My guide stated that personally, his current challenge was the requirements of GCSE papers. He felt that not only were the questions easier than work that he was used to, but the format of them would be difficult to combat initially. Does this simply open up the debate that the demands of examinations still don’t accommodate for anything other than teaching to the exam?

Debate and Discussion

I think I would have always left Michaela with questions, but most I have been able to provide my own answer, having worked in state schools and dealt with in some instances incredibly challenging behaviour and a frustrating lack of progress. How do pupils reach additional challenge? Because challenge IS the expectation here. Why is the competitive edge that I heard essential to success? Because it drives success in pupils if they understand that they are pitted against one another by a system that we cannot control but are rooting for them all the same. How do all succeed? Because this is growth mindset in its most practical form; students understand that hard work equals progress. Anything else is simply wasting time.

If I learned anything that day, it is that context is key. Aspects of Michaela’s approach will work in all schools, with a whole-school approach and the backing of everyone- is that possible to achieve? Perhaps, but the reality usually presents a very different, varied, inconsistent outcome (we’re human, consistency isn’t really our finest hour). Context is what makes Michaela’s success so extraordinary- the eloquence, perseverance, gratitude and sheer determination of the pupils are qualities that I have not seen within a school setting to that extent in my five years of teaching. What the media seems to fail to notice is that Michaela is succeeding at providing a robust education with high expectations in quite a transparent, honest capacity. In the face of hate mail, criticism and some quite despicable acts of cruelty towards both staff and students. The first question put to me by friends (teachers and otherwise) was: Did I ‘agree’ with all that I saw? I’m not sure that that word has a place here. In fact, it lacks all relevance. The children do, wholeheartedly, with a fierce sense of loyalty and enthusiasm, and it allows them to succeed. Perhaps that is enough. At least, if you teach and support teachers, I believe that it should be.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”- Karl Marx

The #Litdrive Way of Life

After receiving a vast amount of interest about my ambiguous spouting on about #litdrive on Twitter over the weekend, then sharing the original post (here if you are interested https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-little-acorn-litdrive/ ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated. One, we shifted from googledrive to dropbox (mainly because my ICT skills leave a lot to be desired and my lack of organisational skills could do with an entire post of their own). We have also grown from the original concept that I posted about; what started in my mind as a resource for literacy has inevitably grown wings, sprouted heads and transitioned to a heaving bank of resources for all sorts.

Change is good! We are now sitting at 350 contributors (primary and secondary) and with lots of shared drives floating about, I hope that the variety of resources will add value to any teacher, anywhere. A plethora of ‘stuff,’ #litdrive offers schemes of work, exemplar work, marking ideas, reading lists and initiatives, written literacy support, literacy across the curriculum and a whole heap in between. I usually have a monthly re-arrange/clear up/back up to ensure that resources shared are safe and easy to find.

What next? I thought it may be beneficial to outlinethe purpose of the drive but also put a few guidelines/pleas in place to make it great for everyone. Excuse the bullet points (some people may not have wanted to read the rambly words above and just get to the good stuff):

 

  • DM your email address with the #litdrive hashtag for me to send over an invite for you. Alternatively, send to my email (Katherine.howard@hotmail.co.uk) and #litdrive world is your oyster.
  • Once you have access, please do share how you have used someone else’s wonderful resource, using the #litdrive hashtag! It may be that you have tweaked a resource or used it in a new way which would be invaluable to any teacher. You may just make someone’s day after an hour of pulling glue sticks out of a child’s hair. Make someone smile.
  • Please, please, please do add your own resources- the top folder entitled wittingly, ‘I have something to add!’ is the place to pop it. I get heaps of messages from people saying, ‘I don’t really have anything great,’ or, ‘what type of thing would you want?’ Nonsense to the first- you’re an ace teacher, joining an online community to collaborate and share resources. You’re resources must be awesome. To the second- if you’re sharing a resource, I will find a folder to put it in.
  • Final gigantic plea- please do not delete or modify files. By all means, download it- stick it on your usb but other shared drives are really suffering as a result of this. It’s never deliberate of course, but if your Dropbox is heaving and you want out, just let me know and I will remove you from the drive.

Thank you so much for getting involved with #litdrive- I have had teachers from all over the world say thank you and would like to pass on that thanks to the people that deserve it. Enjoy!

Making English More Like Maths?

I will open with an admission; I am a little bit airy fairy when it comes to teaching English. Rather than drilling with facts, I will spout on about the importance of personal interaction with a text, sing-songing my insistence to students that they need to consider how THEY feel, how THEY react to the words upon the page. I’ve skipped about during active Shakespeare lessons, encouraging students to shout ‘disobedient wretch’ in one another’s faces to really get a first-hand appreciation for how that poor lass Juliet felt.

I appreciate, this is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, is that not the point of teaching: that you will not please/teach/get through to/appeal /succeed to all of the people all of the time?

The new specification asks exactly that. No scaffold, no optional levels of difficulty, no breadth of literature outside of our little island. And so off in our metaphorical rafts we go, trying to calculate exactly how to teach knowledge without flouncing about outside to students that seem to become increasingly concerned that Lord Capulet mistook his daughter for a suitcase.

The students I have in mind are typically boys, typically not getting through a great deal of Shakespeare of a weekend, typically mathematical and linear in their approach to analysis (tentative words like ‘perhaps’ or ‘could be’ have no place here). This is where the facts come in; this is where after two years, you see a little of a silver lining in that linear spec you’ve been wrestling with.

FACTS! Full of them. Facts about poets, facts about Dickens, facts about Victorian London, facts about Priestley time travelling using only his imaginary flux capacitor and a theatre audience, terms to learn (Oooh, we do this in science, Miss), quotations to recite, vocabulary to memorise and recall which act as the hooks of security and success. Knowledge Organisers have made a fantastic start to this process, with others sharing Quizlet tests and memory banks for quotations. This is the time that we use our fellow subject heads for ensuring students have the tools to tackle the ‘why’ element of English rather than spending a considerable amount of time learning the ‘what.’ For more, please have a gander at these and mull it over for yourself:

https://goldilockshistory.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/knowledge-organisers-in-history/

https://teachingtoptens.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/quotation-retention-why-and-how-i-do-it/

https://tabularasaeducation.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/curseofknowledge/

https://reflectingenglish.wordpress.com/2015/10/30/improving-recall-in-gcse-english-language-and-literature-some-practical-suggestions/

 

 

#fiftybookchallenge 2016

Ridiculously, the easiest so far! I think I got a head start this year which saved me from a couple of months of barely getting through a page. Here we go; the full list, followed by the highlights:

  1. The Sunshine Kid by Harry Baker
  2. The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis
  3. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares
  4. The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe by Brain Keaney
  5. Every Day by David Levithan
  6. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
  7. The Hunted by Alex Shearer
  8. Monster by CJ Skuse
  9. Noggin by John Corey Whaley
  10. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
  11. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  12. Ein Ganzes Leben by Robert Seethaler
  13. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
  14. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  15. Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  16. The Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett
  17. The Revenant by Michael Punke
  18. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
  19. Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl
  20. Locke and Key by Joe Hill
  21. The Accident by CL Taylor
  22. We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach
  23. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
  24. High Challenge, Low Threat by Mary Myatt
  25. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  26. The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgewick
  27. Doll by Nicky Singer
  28. A Song for Ella Grey
  29. The Lie Tree by Frances Harding
  30. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
  31. I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  32. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  33. Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
  34. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
  35. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
  36. A Little Book of Language by David Crystal
  37. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
  38. Reading Reconsidered by Doug LeMov
  39. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  40. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  41. Feed by MT Anderson
  42. When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  43. Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
  44. Land by Alec Campbell
  45. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  46. The Girl with all the Gifts by MR Carey
  47. Alice by Christina Henry
  48. Nod by Adrian Barnes
  49. The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
  50. The Girls by Lori Lansens
  51. The Moth by Catherine Burns

This year’s lot has definitely been my favourite to date! Although I’m still heavy on the YA fiction (soon to be rectified by Fiona Ritson’s 52books challenge including a couple of classics, eek!), a lot of the reads this year have been recommendations without prior knowledge of the author.

ALL TIME FAVE Burial Rites, Hannah Kent’s debut was a book that I really enjoyed reading. Now I know that sounds obvious but whilst I like the plotlines or ideas behind a story, I very rarely enjoy a book so much that I relish the process itself ( I rush read, a lot!)- this book made me slow down. The main character represents so many aspects and faces of society that the story stayed with me for a long time after reading.

ONE FOR THE BOYS Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. This book sparked so much discussion with male students whilst I was reading it, that we ended up in the middle of a non-fiction lesson using an extract from Chris McCandless’ diary to consider the bravery/naivety of such a boy.

CLASSROOM VALUE Reading Reconsidered by Doug LeMov has completely flipped the way I approach reading within the classroom and ultimately contributed to overhauling reading strategies within the department. LeMov provides an accessible way to teach reading to students, uncovering the mistakes that teachers often make through unknowingly missing out the ‘steps’ to effectively accessing a text. A complete game changer for any teacher.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT Harry Baker is wonderful. Running poetry club last year left me scouring the internet for performance poets and along with Jess Green, George the Poet, Harry’s TED Talk is definitely on my most watched. He’s marvellously endearing and his collection of poetry will warm your heart.

DISAPPOINTMENT Alice by Christina Henry- I am a huge Alice fan and this attempted new take on a ‘what Alice did next’ was painfully slow and incredibly difficult to understand what the eventual point was. If I had been Alice, I would have given up and headed back the way I came by the third chapter, tops.

IF YOU ONLY READ ONE Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. The way that Haig celebrates the ‘weaknesses’ of humanity, along with the incredibly personal voice to his previous self took my breath away and I hope that one day, society will be as honest as he is with the topic of mental health.

If you have any recommendations, please tweet me or find me via Goodreads- I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone! I am happy to chat about anything I’ve read too. I mean it when I say that this year has been a fantastic one for books- there are so many on this list that I could happily pass on to others. Here’s to another wonderful year of reading 🙂

#teacher5aday Pledge 2017: Nuture through Kindness

Just looking at my Nuture post from this time last year, it was clear to see that I was trying to doing too much. This year has truly been my most difficult one to date, as my experiences were not only ones that I hadn’t never endured before, but more frustratingly, I met obstacles that I had met at previous points in my life- both personally and professionally. I am going to try to make this a blog that doesn’t dwell on the negative or over share, but instead use the emotions and thought processes that came along  2016 to #learn how to be kinder to myself. To start, my 2016 pledges still ring true and I definitely think I am on the right track:

Get outside. National Trust membership is on its second year and whilst it gets neglected at the busier times of the year, I have managed to rack up 25k a week for the last two weeks of the year! Tragically (and much to my sloth of a partner’s dismay), I currently get very excited when I see a new yellow public footpath sign.

Spend regular, quality time with my small person. I am so proud of the wonderful young man that my son has become. His kindness has shone through in so many ways over the last year and he has a genuine gratitude for the little things.

Make fifty book challenge for the fourth year on the trot! Done! And Goodreads makes it easy to spot that when my mind is restless, my reading habits go out the window. You can find last year’s fifty books here and my 2016 lot will be up shortly.

Quit sugar! I managed six months before a holiday mojito broke me (happens to the best of us). I’m currently off meat a little bit and still eat considerably less sugar than I used to but I think the main learning curve that I have taken from this is beginning to change the way I look at food; instead of denying myself certain things, I eat to fuel myself and eat the things that make me feel good.

Work on my fear of talking in front of adults. Don’t worry too much about the direction. (These are important. I’ll come back to these).Write a book. (one for 20–)

Ditch the waste. To an extent; last year, I was blown away by the impact that negativity had had upon not only myself, but others within the profession. Looking with fresh eyes, I view this on a personal level at the moment. I’m currently reading Sarah Knight’s ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a f&*k’ which considers the time that we spend under obligation to the happiness of others at the expense of our own. I have learned the difference between kindness and appeasement.

Continue to blog, regularly, about more than simply musings. This has been a little bit of a 180 degree turnaround, but not in a bad way. I’ve deleted Facebook for the moment, and removed Twitter from my phone. Social media (particularly when used in a professional capacity) can be invaluable, yet creates several false allusions, including what I like to call ‘Missing-out syndrome.’ The opportunities  will still be there when I get back from whatever I’m doing in the real world.

See other teaching in action. (another one to put on a side-burner).

What can I take from these reflections? That sadly, work was driving things earlier on in the year and at one point, took far more of my brain time than the other stuff. In my constant bid to have stuff ‘done and dusted,’ I am going into 2017 at the furthest that I have ever been from a masterplan, and liberatingly so. Career path scrapped, life plan also scrunched up, and more in the present than ever, my pledges are not so much ‘to-do,’ but rather ‘to-be.’ In order to make small, effective changes, you have to strip it back a bit. Here we go for pledges:

#exercise every day, a little something. It doesn’t matter what, as long as it makes me feel good (fitbit at the ready).

#notice I subscribed to Headspace during my stay in hospital and I cannot recommend this app enough; mindfulness is something I have plugged more and more over the last few years but in doing so, I think I worked too hard at it. 2017 will be about being present and recognising the opportunities that I have to do so throughout the day rather than allocating time to be present (and somewhat defeating the object!)

#learn Futurelearn has been an amazing find and I hope to continue to find courses to explore this year at my leisure- the social wellbeing course has been fantastic. I’d also like to come back to the write a book bit here- I’m currently collecting all my recipes (sugar free, healthy bits) and compiling a bit of an introduction to how I approach food which will hopefully come to fruition at some point. #teacher5adayeat if you will. There’s a lot to be said for the way we expect our bodies to function without fuelling them properly (and what we expect from students who do the same)- but I’ll save that for another time.

#volunteer a bit of a tweak on this one. Again, instead of allocating a spot each week, I want to focus on being kind to people without expectation. Above all, I want to be kind; saying hello, smiling, making conversations at bus stops. The little stuff. Like my #notice pledge, this is a case of recognising the unbelievable kindness and positivity that people around me show me every day- @KAB21MAC, @behaviourteach, @martynreah, @thatboycanteach along with the hundreds of teachers that reach out on social media or share their experiences so that others can learn from them. This is one of the loneliest professions at times, and you cannot place a value upon the wonderful people that drive it, relentlessly and with patience and compassion.

#relax Ha! In three months I will have completed my notice period for my current role and resigned. What comes after at the minute is a blank page (which would have terrified me before). However, I keep thinking about all the opportunities that will present themselves, the people (students, staff or other people!) that I might meet and that it is actually a little exciting to not know what comes next. #relax for me this year is putting my needs as a priority in all aspects of life- we tend to view self-care as conceited, when it is actually one of the most important tasks of all. How to start? Using my voice more. Literally (see the talking in front of grown ups bit earlier on!).

My #teacher5aday pledges may not be mighty or tremendous, they may not scream change or improvement, but I think that’s the secret, for me at least. Teachers place so much expectation on themselves ( I would strongly recommend that you visit @thatboycanteach’s blog about Superheroism here for an eye-opening take on what we are inadvertently doing to ourselves) and sometimes the best of intentions get lost along the way. Be kind, always (that includes to yourself).

 

Life after Levels VS 1-9 Flight Path

Please find two guides created to support staff with marking for life after levels. We are applying a 1-9 flight path for data input so that progress is still measured through to the start of the GCSE course in Y9, but reporting home using ‘working towards, working at, working above’ expected standard. Hope they are useful:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/o3b4g3t6av8c402/A%20Guide%20to%20marking%20for%20Key%20Stage%203.pdf?dl=0 a marking guide for KS3

https://www.dropbox.com/s/co157e70k0udnyk/Life%20After%20Levels%20marking%201-9.docx?dl=0 data input guide for KS3

 

#Litdrive Moves House!

huge_2_10682A year ago (almost to the day) I started up #litdrive, a shared drive for Literacy Coordinators (and all those who think it important that kids know their exclamation form their explanation) to share resources and initiatives. A year on, we have grown from a select few to a few more and I’ve shifted us over to Dropbox to celebrate. The reason? I’m paying for all this nifty storage and want something a little tidier for what is now a hefty bank of resources.

It is the collaborative nature of this profession that will aid teacher survival (I spoke about value vs time a while ago here: https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/01/) and my aim is to teach students and help teachers.

The more the merrier- as ever- so please get in touch @saysmiss if you would like to share or benefit from the shared drive.

K