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post (here if you are interested ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated.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 ( 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!


#teacher5adayread: a little room for you

Reading is the only way I can sit still. If I’m not submerged in a story, my mind will wander to food (always food!), plans that week, what’s left to do, what I could be buying on the internet- my partner Ben says it is the only way to get me to attempt to relax most of the time. I write this after being told that there were no plans today, and so took it upon myself to redecorate the bathroom. I need reading more than reading needs me!

It is with the lounge-worthy days of Summer that #teacher5aday came about; national libraries were challenging children to read six books over the summer break and @martynreah quite rightly mentioned, why can’t we do the same?

The discussions and recommendations that have taken place as a result of #teacher5aday have been a pleasure to see- I now have several books winging their way to me because I could not resist after reading a tweet that gave a snippet of the synopsis or seeing a beautiful cover that would fit nicely on my bookshelf. After all, it is all about the shelfie…but reading is always the surefire way to #connect, #learn, #relax and #notice, and what a perfect time of the year to do just that.

It really is that simple. Use the #teacher5aday hashtag for a multitude of recommendations, update the spreadsheet as you go with a mini review to share with others, tweet your reading spots or get involved by sharing your top three books of all time, or perhaps the book you would pick if you had to read one forever (kindly shared by Stagecoach- what a crisis! One book!). You’ll find the document here

This will be the fourth year to attempt fifty books as part of the #fiftybookchallenge that I shared a few years ago- if you like a challenge- and it always is for me- then please do get involved. I’ve shared my list so far (currently at number 38 and counting) here:


Happy reading!

Bring Your Milk!Developing Healthy Habits

On the back of a massively successful week over the Christmas Break, #teacher5adayslowchat is set to return over Easter. Over the seven days, @martynReah, @MsHMFL, @SueRoffey, @naomi7444 (founder of the #teacher5aday journal, a fantastic crowd funded project), @MrsPert1, @EnglishHOD , @formationpeople, @GilchristGeorge (a man of formidable knowledge within both education and improvement) and @robfmac contributed to blogs in the run up to the week with differing approaches to the same overarching theme: how can we tackle wellbeing, both individually but also on a vaster scale, within schools and communities?

I often tell this story to my students, after my Mother telling me the same story when I was young about individual impact.

There once was a small, insignificant village with a multitude of giving and compassionate people. One day, Hero, the local messenger arrived to announce that the Emperor was coming to town- their town! Who would have thought such a great man would grace them with his presence. As a result, the Mayor proclaimed that the fountain that greeted all the village’s visitors would flow with milk on the day itself, as a mark of gratitude to the Emperor.

It was very simple: every household would need to bring one pint of milk to the fountain early that morning to prepare for the great event. Easy.

The morning finally arrived, with locals gathering to see their great National leader as his procession began to flow down the hills towards the village. The mayor waited until the horses had just reached the gates before commanding his men to reveal the fountain of milk for all to see.

The villagers held their breath, eagerly awaiting this gesture of appreciation…… but nothing burst from the cherubs that sat at the precipice of the fountain. The fountain lay dry and dormant. The mayor stammered his previous words, his face a twisted ball of anguish, but again, nothing. A single drop failed to appear.

You see- this is why ‘teacher5aday is so important to me, and many others, for two reasons that you can draw from this story. One is that the small, simple acts that you carry out in a bid to maintain your own wellbeing, thanks to the use of Twitter, are reached by so many other people, that you may make more of an impact to simply you’re own. The second, is that whilst some may consider wellbeing as an individual issue, like so many other social and economical issues that are present in society today, I do not. If we want people to succeed, to thrive, to simply find contentment on a day-to-day basis within schools, we need to recognise that mental and emotional wellbeing is not something that will get better if we do not do something about it.

To re-vitalise and reaffirm the priority of wellbeing within schools, #teacher5adayslowchat is making a comeback! Join us over the course of the week, from 4th-8th April, as we look at developing healthy habits. I’ll be starting on the Monday- which coincides with my first day at a new role so @martynreah will be tweeting my questions and sharing ideas until I can drop in later that day. We’re going to start with your own wellbeing; I want to consider the different strategies that we can develop to recognise our own capabilities and limits, whilst sharing practical ways of maintaining levels of focus and keeping wellbeing a key priority overall.

Opening on the 4th, I want you to consider the following questions to start:

How do you measure your wellbeing? What are the warning signs?

Why keep #teacher5aday top priority? Why is work/relax simply not enough?

What has helped you to maintain the focus?

I look forward to you joining me over the course of the week as we discuss Developing Healthy Habits- please feel free to get in touch before April with any thoughts you may have.



Seasick and Froth: Independence and Progress

Where did we get to?

I’ve been mulling over the concept of spoon feeding within education, taking away the safety net whilst providing enough of the net for any of us to avoid feeling that swooping towards the cliff edge feeling and how we plan on going about all of that in the midst of what is stormy waters for the educational sector (all the shipwrecked metaphors. What can I say? I love a metaphor).

Previous action research included studying the process of peer and self assessment using a structured framework, guiding students towards making meaningful progress through using one another as an additional resource within the classroom; this then moved onto how to personalise learning through characteristic strengths and growth mindset. At Ashby Teachmeet recently, I spoke about the explicit link between developing the climate that makes things seem challenging and yet possible for all learners; this is only achievable, in my opinion, if we provide learners with the opportunity to reflect upon their own progress. Here is where we got to.

I have trialled the process of reflection, improvement and self-audit with my GCSE groups; one is a ‘top’ set, all working to target grades of B or above. The other, a mixed ability group with the range of target grades E-C. All students have a skills audit sheet that not only identifies the skills that they will develop over the GCSE course, but also outlines the particular assessment objective that the skill will relate to. Additionally, at the start of each unit, we have spent time selecting the skills that we will endeavour to develop during that unit. As a result of this, I am now currently working on a skills audit that will be tailored for each unit and perhaps act as an overlay to the giant skills sheet for the entire course (blue sky and all that). Both groups went through this process: visit audit sheet to identify skills before commencing a topic, using skills audit sheet to peer and self assess class work, planning and assessments and using the skills audit alongside post assessment work to celebrate successes in confidence but also identify areas that should be their key priority for the next unit or when we revisit the following year.

Successes? Both groups got it. The student feedback at a midpoint over the 3 month period and then again at the point of completion showed a clear, strong understanding their progress and the next steps required from the students’ point of view rather than the teacher; male students that always demonstrated a requirement for ‘beating targets’ found some sense of satisfaction in measuring their increasing confidence within a subject that may sometimes feel as though you are reaching a plateau- English content I find is reliant upon transferring skills in addition to developing them as such. One student noted that it ‘was more useful than comparing my work to other people as I don’t write in the same way’ which I found comforting. This was a process that was taking a rather qualitative subject and providing a linear way to demonstrate progress – nuts and bolts are hard to apply within English. The danger then becomes in who got the best and self-auditing means that students move away from test-topping which is always a good thing, surely. One student stated, ‘it helps me realise that I can now approach tasks better,’ and ‘it boosts my confidence to answer a question.’ Personally, this is the value of the progress over progress itself; if the effort is there and I have helped to strengthen that, then I believe the outcome will still ultimately be the same.

The key successes I took from this were that the skills audit acts as a triple whammy for teaching resourcing; one to one discussions post unit were far more focussed and specific to the student, the onus took a shift so that whilst I provided any material to help to make an improvement by way of intervention, the student was the one to signpost to me where they needed to make that improvement. It also made discussions at parents’ evening based entirely around progress and independent learning; conversations were centred around effort and action plans to aid this process. Intervention has been far easier to tailor as a result; students have been in a position to use assessment marking and the skills audit to know exactly what they want to develop or work on as the GCSE course has got underway.

Advice for approaching? Play the long game. This, like any practice or adaptation to teaching will take a routine and modelling to perfect. The more frequently used, the greater value the students placed upon the process of considering their work with a much more obejctive approach than they were perhaps previously used to. Provide as many examples of work using the skills audit to measure skills applied wherever possible; use the skills to drive lessons or form the lesson’s big question.

Two things stood out to me above all else: one, that it is questionable to suggest that the act of self audit has to be accurate or correct. Two, that the link between assessment criteria and the skills acquired needed to be much more clear to even the most able of students; they found it incredibly difficult to understand that they were using the same skills but just with differing content. The ideal? To create an online process for students to visit each time they worked yhrough a topic, measuring their confidence and skills developed as they progressed through the content and completed assessments to test their knowledge. Smaller, regular assessments that were clearly targeting skills outlined within the tool that students could then identify their own capabilities and perhaps even better, have a variety of links to resources that could help them to ‘close their own gap.’ Students understood the value and could identify holes in their learning, but sometimes struggled to know what to do with that information without guidance from me, although I do still need something to do with all this independent work, so I’m not complaining.

Back to the ship, big waves, etc, etc. What next? Develop a clear pathway for students to identify with not only what they excel at, but the targets for themselves as well. Essentially, a lighthouse in all this murky, gloomy weather that we are having. I just need to get around to making it…

Learning the Hard Way: Preparing to Fail

I was raised within both a home and education where right and wrong existed. There was very little room in either setting for a grey area; what was, simply was and what wasn’t- well, you follow. My secondary school was terrifying; my option choices were honestly made on the basis of avoiding certain circles (hence my complete inability to sew) and I lacked confidence to take on an additional GCSE, selecting supported studies because ‘you get a free hour for homework). The curriculum was not an invitation for exploration, but rather an A+B+C formula to the grades that were on my target report. I remember rather vividly, my English teacher correcting me on an interpretation of Browning’s Sonnet and being shot down in an instant (this is the same woman who laughed in my face at the outrageous notion that I could study Literature A level, so without digressing too much, her putdown may not be representative here).

Did I require the extra hour? To step outside my prior self for a moment and look upon 90’s kid Katherine from a teaching perspective, no. I walked out of school with an A* (English, smugly), two As, five Bs and 2 Cs (graphics- textiles would have definitely been my bag. I’ll give you a moment for that one). This was accomplished as a result of zero revision and my speedy completion of Tomb Raider – that four week break in school timetabling to sit at home really paid off. To put it in a nutshell, it could have been better.

It is only now, nearly twenty years on that I can peruse over the situation as a professional and consider the possiblities here. My academic potential? As much of a muchness to any other student at such a fine establishment. So what kept me from success? To toss aside the black/white approach, there was a lot going on outside the classroom, behaviour in the classroom of some subjects was verging on the ridiculous but above all else, I did not develop the confidence to believe that I would cope or could experience success at GCSE. Why? Because failure was not an option.

I’ve spent the last week or so mulling over the concept of failure after discovering the counterargument to Dweck’s growth mindset via Dr Tim O’Brien thanks to Paul Dix. The realisation that growth mindset was flawed shook up my thinking a little until a colleague put it rather eloquently that, ‘anything that takes an approach that is as binary as “you are or you are not” is subject to being flawed.’ I believe in the act of learning as opposed to an end point but yet this is not necessarily the train of thought here; by adopting an adherence to growth mindset within schools, are we then rejecting all those who dare to voice that there IS black and white and there IS a sense of failure as rejection and not simply put, a circumstance that requires us to dust ourselves off and ‘have a think on it’?

Flash forward to my classroom now and the jury is currently out. I very much reward effort over achievement; progress, in my opinion is a result of hard work and the ability to recover from what psychologically the individual may view as a setback. This is not only essential to an academic setting but to the world beyond the walls; coping mechanisms are built through small, repeated actions and experiences of such an emotion as failure- the small shortcomings are received in the same way as the larger and are just in valuable in developing resilience. And so with all of this in mind, how do I accommodate for students that need specific skills to pass a linear examination with a binary grading but that I would ideally like to approach the curriculum with them in a holistic way that defies all of the above? Big breath. Dr Tim O’Brien put it nicely in his article:’Yet in this new mindset environment, a teacher trying to establish which mindset learners possess will naturally place them as learners on the fixed pole or the growth pole. Instead of the teacher having multiple lenses through which to understand individuality and commonality, they now have only two.’ One size, as we all know, is not possible. Looking for the quick win is not what will save the educational format as we have or now know it and whilst my mind boggles at the thought (all multi-faceted sides of it), it is slightly refreshing to observe with children that they can possess a sense of peace by knowing that there isn’t a formula to crack. It is, as they say, all gravy.

#FiftyBookChallenge- 2015

For the first year EVER, I ended with time to spare. Granted, it was only a day but progress is progress! As ever, my exhaustive list followed by the highlights:

  1. Robert Graves- Goodbye to All That
  2. Patrick Ness- More Than This
  3. Jonathan Coe- The House of Sleep
  4. Pierre LaMaitre- Alex
  5. Very British Problems
  6. Michael Grant- Light
  7. Anonymous- Go Ask Alice
  8. Charlie Higson- The Enemy
  9. Ray Bradbury- Fahrenheit 451
  10. Lara Williamson- A Boy Called Hope
  11. Sabine Durrant- Remember Me This Way
  12. Brothers Grimm- the Robber Bridegroom
  13. John Williams- Stoner
  14. Carol Dweck- Mindset
  15. David Almond- Savage
  16. Tom Baker- The Boy Who Kicked Pigs
  17. Tim Bowler- Night Runner
  18. Tess Sharpe- Far From You
  19. Ann Kelley- Runners
  20. Anne Holm- I am David
  21. Gillian Flynn- Sharp Objects
  22. Sophie McKenzie- Girl, Missing
  23. Siri Hustvedt- The Sorrows of an American
  24. Banjamin Zephaniah- Teacher’s Dead
  25. Matt Haig- The Humans
  26. Sarah Crossan- The Weight of the Water
  27. Jessica Kane- The Report
  28. Mary Kingsley- A Hippo Banquet
  29. Marcus Sedgewick- Cowards
  30. Albert Camus- L’etranger
  31. JP Cavafy- Remember Body…
  32. Glen Duncan- The Last Werewolf
  33. Piers Torday- The Last Wild
  34. Dr Seuss- There’s a Wocket in my Pocket
  35. George Taylor- 1 4 Sorrow
  36. Paula Hawkins- Girl on the Train
  37. Paint me Like I am- Poetry for Young Adults
  38. E.Lockhart- We Were Liars
  39. Keith C Blackmore- Mountain Man
  40. Jay Asher- Thirteen Reasons Why
  41. James Thurber- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  42. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting
  43. Diana Hendry- The Seeing
  44. Jennifer Niven- All the Bright Places
  45. Gillian Flynn- the Grown Up
  46. Jasmine Warga- My Heart and Other Black Holes
  47. Andy Weir- The Martian
  48. Michael Acton Smith- Calm
  49. Neil Gaiman- How the Marquis Got his Coat Back
  50. Matt Haig- A Boy Called Christmas

It seems the overarching themes for 2015 were war, YA fiction, dystopia, poetry and a couple of wildcards in between! I will pick out some highlights for those that want to take something useful from this list. I would like to start by saying I did persevere with a couple of books even after my initial enjoyment waned, but I won’t dwell on these. In the same way that I would not introduce someone by saying, ‘he’s not my type,’ it would be rude of me to sway your opinion of a book. It is simply not fair.

YOU MUST READ The Martian by Andy Weir and Humans by Matt Haig. I have been standing on my soap box to anyone who will listen about both and they show a completely alternative insight to our existence as humans. They question the importance that we place on what we perceive to be extraordinary and open our eyes to the wonder of the ordinary.

ONES FOR THE BOYS if you teach are 1 4 Sorrow, Teacher’s Dead and The Enemy. Charlie Higson’s sequel has been on my shelf for a month now and is on the list for 2016. Michael Grant’s Gone series is another fantastic set that will keep anyone hooked for a considerable distance.

NOT FOR CHILDREN’S EYES but definitely worth picking up (on the basis that you are not easily offended or squeamish) are Sharp Objects and the Last Werewolf. Brutal, brash and unapologetic, Glen Duncan tells a convincing tale of the supernatural.

GOOD FOR WAR IN THE CLASSROOM are I am David and Sedgewick’s Cowards. Holm tells a story equal in poignancy to Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and places emphasis upon the impact that adults have upon children. The Report also shows the conditions that people faced in the aftermath of the war, based on an original news report of a tragedy that took place in Bethnal Green in 1943.

IF YOU ONLY WANT ONE, read Pierre LaMaitre’s Alex. It warped my brain cells in the same way that Under the Skin bent them inside and back out again.

Interested in a reading challenge for 2016? Join me (and my school!) in #fiftybookchallenge. No rules, no list- most of my reads are YA fiction as the library is free in school and kids often recommend books to me. Anything goes- as Dr Seuss demonstrates- non fiction, fiction, self help, educational… you name it. Our students started this September and one is leading on 36 books so far! For the fifty book pledge resources, please email me for access to #litdrive. Happy New Year!

Why We Are Shouting about Wellbeing

In the lead up to @martynreah’s Slow Ed Chat, wellbeing has been top of my ‘this time around’ for the new academic year. Nearly a year ago, I blogged about how #teacher5aday had prompted me to not only slow myself down, but to develop a sense of awareness both inside and outside the classroom (see ). So, where am I now?

Wellbeing has become more than simply promoting growth and development to students through self-fulfilment, but #teacher5aday centres me to an entirely new approach to my teaching, the way I deal with situations and breaking habits that I was not even conscious to during my previous career. Instead of reacting, I am proactive. Instead of pushing myself to such a point that it brings negative results for not only my health but also to the detriment of others around me, I listen to my body. We hear the term ‘wellbeing’ tossed around so frequently, but how easy is it to truly embed #teacher5aday into our day to day lives? Here is a little insight into how such a simple little mantra has featured within my Autumn term and the significant impact that it has made.


Twitter seems to have taken a little bit of a back seat for me this term and yet I feel that I have focussed my need to connect a little closer to home. Turning my attention to my school community has not been something that has come as second nature- in the daily bustle of lunchless, breakless school life, it is easy to feel a sense of isolation within school, but due to my new role as Literacy Coordinator, my role if nothing else has demanded that I form relationships with staff across the school. To ensure that all staff felt a sense of buy-in to my Fifty Book Pledge, I personally delivered staff ‘Now Reading’ cards, stopped to talk books with others after reading their cards in classroom windows- emailed recommendations in response to my findings. I visited the library more often to work my way through student recommendations and prompted reading exchanges over email by including my ‘now reading’ within my signature. Remembering a simple yet effective rule from @beingbrilliant, Mr Andy Cope, I go out of my way to say hello to everyone I pass during my school day. Now, both actions may sound rather small and not quite as grand as they could be, but both have had a significant impact upon me. You see, I’ve never been the person that offers up a conversation- the concept was terrifying. Talking to a stranger at a bus stop would have filled me with fear. I’m a changed woman; the straightforward act of connecting with other people, checking in on how they are, how they may be feeling has warmed my day more than I can describe. In the Winter months, twenty ‘mornings’ can be sometimes the best way to warm up your chilly days!

The other thing? Our TV ariel broke five months ago. We’re not replacing it. I enjoy telling people just for the look of pity that I receive in response. We read and talk. It is absolute bliss.


For anyone that follows my blog, I have been preaching about my ‘no work at home’ rule since my NQT year. It works for some, it is impossible for many not to I know, but it simply doesn’t work for me. My brain refuses to function after 7pm (spot the grammatical errors for proof) and I am at my least accurate and creative when I am that tired. Awesome, you say! Work life balance you say! Hang on there. The additional problem? Your brain switches off but your thoughts do not. Too tired to work but not too tired to think is an all too familiar state of the Autumn term teacher. Make a list? Nah. Doesn’t empty my brain to the point that I can sleep easy, free of crazy dreams about My Deputy Head and I planning to set up a theme park or an evening of grand plans as we get involved in a whole-staff effort to refurbish a haunted house to sell on to unsuspecting first time buyers. I have instead discovered Calm app, a new way for me to switch my brain off in the evening or to centre myself a little in the morning in an attempt to set myself up with a little resilience for the day ahead. Meditation is not for everyone, my previous self included in the mix, but I feel more able to tackle whatever is thrown at me- beyond that, I look forward to the things thrown at me (furniture being the exception to the rule!).


This is the area of #teacher5aday that I always struggled with the most. However, I have discovered that it was simply my perception of the word itself rather than the act that I was having difficulty with. Again, I started to look closer to home to see if I could help others without the expectation of help in return. I now proof read the school bulletin every month for one of the admin team. In the absence of a 2ic this year, I have taken on tasks to ease the workload of the department. I have shared my resources in a timely fashion to aid others’ planning. I have joined a twenty-strong team to share teaching and learning across the school through week-long incentives of non-judgement based observations (more on this later). I have shared the jobs at home. I have helped in small ways to make other people’s lives a little easier at times. And even in sharing all this, it feels a little self-promotional which is I think where I always found the difficulty. Although, sometimes it is the smallest of things that make a difference and in the same way that I have tried to do this, I have also tried to be more aware and appreciative of the small things that others have done for me.


Piano is still going strong, girls and boys. It is a year on and I know half of many a song. Some weeks, it seems impossible to fit in half an hour of a time-filler that isn’t sat in front of a computer, but after buying myself an old veteran of a piano for home, I have never looked back. I even take pleasure in the sound of playing scales! Nothing calms me more than going through the motions of what is now an well known tune and nothing develops my empathy with students as trying to learn a new one.

I have learned about myself over the last year, in my own capabilities and achievements. I have learned that I am only terrible at speaking in front of others as a result of my own fears and misconception that I am not entitled to know stuff. One of the aspects of teaching that you must face head-on quite early on if you are to progress as a teacher is that you are never done. I realised this some time ago, but it is only in my third year that I am truly accepting of the fact that I am always exposed to the possibility that things can be smarter, slicker, better. To open yourself up to the concept of being always-learning, without a standing point or moment of true mastery is both terrifying and liberating but I can honestly say, I have never looked back.


Now here, we have a stile in our path (I love a metaphor, obviously). After falling on the postman in the Summer, my ankle withdrew my ability to run on a regular basis and I struggled to find an alternative that left me with the same sense of satisfaction. so instead, I looked to improving the quality of my diet and how this could impact upon my sense of wellbeing overall. I bought @madeleine_shaw_‘s book, ‘Get the Glow,’ read the first few pages about quitting sugar, chuckled and then flicked through to a recipe or two that I would like to try. Now whilst I am far from kicking the sugar drug, I have managed to stick to honey in my coffee and my breakfast is now entirely vegetable based from the fruit bars that punched me into life in the morning. Swapping vegetable oil for coconut oil when cooking(also fab for hands, hair, face!) , spending Saturday afternoons whipping up thai soup much to the delight of a previously fussy child, including ‘superfoods’ such as chia seeds and fennel within my meals, or scattering pomegranate seeds on top of stir fries (much to the confusion of my partner) have all made me feel a little healthier. Whether this is simply down to the fact that I get to switch off in the kitchen, or that my body is eternally grateful in Winter for something that isn’t a potato I don’t know, but this is the first Autumn in a long time that I have not been ill. Not even a sniffle. I take that as a win.

This is all well and good……. but what does it have to do with teaching? Pedagogy? Improving wellbeing within our schools? Because, to put it simply-which is the driving force behind improving wellbeing- starting with people is the key. You cannot drive a concept without the small acts. It is the kindness of others, the act of humanity that drives a, ‘ghost of an idea’ as Dickens whispered with his tongue in his cheek. It is simply that I am a better person for reflecting on my own wellness. In turn, this means that I improve the wellness of others. In turn, this improves the wellness of others beyond the others that I connected with. There is such little need to extend our understanding beyond the straightforward. Steve Jobs stated,

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

It really is just that. Wellbeing is the simplicity that is essential to then move mountains within education.

Do As I Say: The Practical Implimentation of Growth Mindset

The spark of this blog came to me after an interesting week of obstacles. It seems that my teaching year demonstrates a certain rhythm to it; the beginning of the year is focused upon displaying your boundaries, developing relationships and choosing your battles in what feels relatively similar to that of a chess match in order to get the best out of the individuals in front of you. The second part of the term, I always encounter a battle of a different kind- the I Cants.

The students that I refer to are the ones that finished the previous year on a high. Their achievements were impressive on both a personal and school-wide level, their successes were celebrated in public and they left for the Summer with a well-earned and undeniable sense of pride and fulfilment. However, starting a new year with new challenges results in a feeling that they have not experienced in a time that they remember because the experience does not happen as frequently as their sense of achievement. I am referring to the concept of I can’t; this is the state of being where the student is unable to visualise the completion or success achievement of a task coupled with an inability to liken the sensation to another experience that they have had.

This is not the case, of course- they have reached obstacles (and overcome several) since they were born and during their educational journey. So why is it that these students seem to demonstrate the most resilience to believing that the can do the same with a new challenge, in a new situation?

The students are no stranger to Growth Mindset- they have carried out intervention sessions with our Most Able Coordinator, they are motivated by the very feeling of achievement itself, often with very other incentive because they can quickly recollect the emotions that come with success. They are intelligent, independent learners that will challenge, inspire and even compete with one another with regards to their learning. Consequently, I am always surprised when this point of the academic year arrives and I find that students experience a significant dip in self-belief that presents itself (in my experience) through either anger, anxiety or distress.

My opinion? That perhaps in the journey to success for these students, they have spent somewhat less time in developing their resilience to failure. Angela Duckworth outlines that the top players in their field are those that have worked hardest for longest, but also those that have additionally experienced failure along the way. In order to truly feel embodied by a sense of triumph, a student must be exposed to the reality of failure first. Now, there seems to be a very fine balance between managing a child through the psychological tightrope of success/failure ratio as a teacher. This must be personalised to the child’s own experience of resilience and developing that is incredibly difficult. You cannot simply tell someone that they need to be not so good at something in order to be good at it. You cannot merely outline the journey of learning- they need to not only be able to cope with the scenario, but also believe for themselves in 1)the necessity for failure but also that 2) it is temporary and that every student will go through a similar journey as their own.

This leads me to the speculation that whilst we challenge and motivate children so that they understand the importance and practical measurement of success, we are not preparing them for the emotions that they must experience or develop a certain level of flexibility to understand how to manage their emotions along the way, particularly with more able students. Additional support appears to be lacking for this group of students because of their ability to perform academically, however, I’m not sure that this means that they are at the same level to be able to ‘perform’ in response to their own mental wellbeing.

I will finish with this; a strong mental state is one of the most important factors that a child can develop during their education because with such an asset as this, the rest will follow. Flair and talent is inconsistent- hard work, application and a positive mindset to tackle and improve would always be my first choice. And so how are we equipping children with this level of self-awareness? If their mindset is one of the more vital factors that we have a significant chance to contribute to, how do we ensure that we develop strong, perseverant learners?

Look This Way and Quiet and 1: Behaviour Do’s for Term Two

To counter act my empty musing of this evening’s blogging, here are some things that are working now that the Term one Honeymoon of Impeccable Behaviour is over and you are now in the phase two of How Far Can I Go:

Be consistent.

Changing goalposts is confusing at the best of times, for adults and children alike. I like the same thing to happen, at the same time, on the same day. I like a cake on a Friday to reward myself for pretending not to eat cake the rest of the week. I like a coffee before I speak to another human in the morning. These tiny things are what keep my busy, chaotic life ticking over with a hunt of normality.

Imagine being 14 and the normality is taken away, ten times a week. Woah! Last week you wanted me to line up, then you gave me a warning for chewing, now I’m in a detention for talking once during silent reading and I have NO idea what is going on.Give me the same rules please- let I know what you want from me.

Keep It Impersonal

The system wants children to behave. The system is there because then teachers are left with no option but to follow the system so that children are safe and are able to learn. The system allows for consistency (see above) and we all know where we stand. Using language can help to reinforce this: ‘Billy, it is an expectation that you are on time to the lesson’ or ‘Jim-Bob, you need to complete the task to be in a position to share in the discussion, choose the question you want to answer.’ Notice the lack of I. I don’t want anything. Your learning wants stuff so it can let the magic happen and do its thing.

Box Of Tricks

Create worksheets that are exciting and make people want to keep them. Create boxes to be completed and small, fast -paced ways for students to show their learning. Encourage competition when it suits, but with your more challenging groups, cater for the time of day above all else. Just before lunch lesson? Miracles happen with a box of sausage rolls. Afternoon lesson? Get students to compete for passes to the Queue For The Door, featuring the all-important ONE MINUTE EARLY VIP. Lively lesson? Use it to your advantage and have them do the work with structured group work or flipped learning. Specify roles and tell them why you have chosen them in particular for that job- because they will be awesome at it.

Keep it Positive and Private

Negative behaviour gets you a very quiet warning and very little attention. Continuing to show me negative behaviour will, where possible, get you a quiet consequence. Loudly challenging that consequence will get you a moment outside whilst I ensure that the rest of the class is able to progress before I give you a consequence. On the positive, I will send out emails once a week. I will let you all know when you have had a fantastic lesson. I will highlight and hold up and let you all know when someone has done something great so that you know how you are capable of doing exactly the same. I will ask you for nominations for fantastic attitudes. I will above all, make it clear that effort equals progress; it is as simple as that.

Cheerleaders for You

Still unconvinced? In that case, call in the Rooting for You squad. Mum, Dad, Nana, Tutor, Key Worker- these guys cannot WAIT for you to do Great Things and they already have a bank of proof that you are able to do just that. They LOVE an email home on a Friday and are practically pleading with you to do the Great Things so that they can exchange it with the possibility of cold, hard cash and a trip to Pizza Hut.

Remember- they want you to like them. They really do.

Oomph- what? #ReadTL15

Yesterday, I ran a workshop at #ReadTL15 and was absolutely terrified, as usual. I doubt that I will ever get over the fear of speaking in front of teachers and whilst it may hinder the process of getting my ideas across, I feel that it is a fear that encourages me to put validity behind my words. Good fear.

My topic was some two years in the making and very much geared not to answer questions but create them. We often look at the format and content of our teaching, resourcing accordingly and adapting the way in which we deliver to engage but I am in the process of studying how we allow students to develop as people along the way. The thing that keeps teachers awake at night is incredibly subjective and mean is this: what impact can I make to enable young people to empower themselves?

Essentially, it is not English that I want to teach; my course content is almost (almost!) my secondary intention when it comes to teaching. I am far more interested by how I am contributing to the process of young people forming their sense of self.

Now, I know how grand that sounds, so let me put this into context for you a little and please be considerate of the fact that this is in the most basic of terms- in twenty years, do I want to be content in the knowledge that I was a good teacher of English or do I in fact want to know that instead of teaching, I facilitated the development of young people as they realised and celebrated their strengths, developments and attributes?

Two things. This is a theory which has limited but significant data. The other thing- it needs TIME, like all effective and meaningful theories within education- to quote Matt Bromley, ‘there is no silver bullet.’

Yesterday, I tried to segment this down into steps of a journey within the classroom to provide further context. When you are discussing something as lacking in tangibility as ‘drive,’ you need a little of the concrete.

Imagine your first day with a new group of students. What do you do? How do you build rapport, develop relationships, gain trust in such a short time? I like to carry out a task that allows me to identify the strengths and specific characteristics of a group. A shipwrecked task is good- select the loudest pupil to direct roles for each member of the class. The roles may not be suitable for the particular student, or may perhaps be particularly biased on the directing students’ part but it helps you to see the entire group’s interactions but more importantly, what they bring to the group. This process is about helping students their strengths and reinforcing this in different ways over time. I provided examples of role cards yesterday with specific praise attached (‘I’ve chosen you because you are fantastic at encouraging others’ or ‘you are a natural leader to consolidate ideas’)or a personalised conversation that introduces a new seating plan (‘you are sitting next to such-and-such because you have a calming presence whilst they will develop your confidence verbally’). Alongside behaviour, your positive language in the first third of the academic year is significant because 1) you are currently in a role as teacher to the students (will explain what I mean later, promise) and 2) something you say cannot be undone. Again, simply put but easily forgotten at times.

I am at the first stage of handing over a sense of ownership to students at this point; they are recognising their place within my classroom and additionally realising that the strengths that they already possess can transfer to success within my subject. Peer assessment holds real gravity with regards to knowledge and criteria but it seems important to praise individual’s character, consistently and with justification; students value your opinion to a greater degree than peers and at this point in the teacher-student relationship, they are looking for you to almost prove your capabilities to them as a teacher. The challenges that are found with any new class’ behaviour is centred around their curiosity to see what you know and how much you will care.

The other element that I have started to pilot over the last two years is the element of choice. Instead of creating worksheets, I asked students what type of task would suit the learning objective. Instead of resources for the classroom, I asked students what they felt they would benefit from on the walls. Instead of setting homework tasks, I asked students to create a project title for the unit of work and then create something for homework that responded to that project title. I have invited students to attend focus groups to ascertain the success and possible adaptation of resources before using them with classes. Each unit ends with a survey for all classes as their final homework to feed back on what worked or what could be developed and improved. This opened up discussions around other approaches around the school that students found was beneficial and again, created a sense of ownership. I deliberately select the less engaged learner; they are the most honest and the ones who will Their opinion not only mattered, but they were helping to mould and shape their own learning journey. In a Key Stage 3 independent learning survey (alongside a student voice session), 95% students responded, of which 90% stated that they preferred being given the freedom to choose their own homework. In the student voice session, one student stated that the choice was better because it allowed them to ‘show the topic the way we do best.’ Students recognised their own strengths and utilised them accordingly. Need an idea? One homework was this:

I then outlined the aspect of leadership within the classroom. In the same way that leaders are created through self-empowerment coupled with the open mindset to learn from others, students demonstrate the same processes and experiences. At this late point in the year with my classes, one of the most rewarding parts is seeing the confidence of students grow. It is at this point in a relationship with students that you can allow them to view you as a facilitator rather than a teacher- leadership can take its form through student-student mentoring, ‘Genius bars’ where students become masters of an aspect of the topic, student led learning (students select the direction that the lessons take or even the order of learning), or students lead parts or all of the lesson themselves.

Questions/ challenges? I was asked how this accomodates for those SEN pupils that value structure and require a frame for learning. My experience so far is that it is those children that have made most progress over the period of time that I have taught them. They are more confident with approaching their learning, recognise the ways in which they can excel and how to demonstrate that. Feedback from one dyslexic students’ parent last week was such,

‘he does enjoy the choice of activities you provide.  I know (*&^%!  has been more focused this year in English than previous years. So I want to thank you for all your help and support. I have my fingers crossed he may have the pleasure of you teaching him next year!’

The other question put to me was surrounding the concept of choice vs requirement- how do we bring them back in to do the test or write after they have had choice up to that point? Being given the opportunity to input and ownership over their learning has strengthened the students’ learning to then transfer into a written assessment or reading analysis because they have had a free choice of how they have reached the end point. They respect in the same way that we do as teachers that there will be an exam at the end of it all, that we still have that to demonstrate. It is not about teaching students content and how to pass a test, it is about arming them with the tools to self-regulate.

A final question was put to me regarding time constraints; how can we let students take hold of the learning when we are the experts that have content to work through within a specific and off limited timescale? My response was that it was not yet something that had presented itself to me as a challenge. The students had followed a similar outline to the one that I would have followed, but this method simply allowed them to tailor it to themselves as individual.

My next steps? I intend to formulate this concept a little more and identify research that supports individualised learning- Eric Mazur’s original flipped theory makes a start on what it is that I hope to achieve, and Denise Pope and Maureen Brown’s Overloaded and Underprepared outlines the value of an active pupil presence and voice within schools. In a time where it feels a little like exams are the endgame, I wanted to keep the idea alive that we are helping people to grow too. Which is a pretty big deal.