logoSo today marks the first specialist Geography TeachMeet in Kent (that we know of). Back in January when I moved back, I sent out some tweets asking if Kent really did much in the way of TMs…or had much of a Geography network presence…and the silence was met eventually by @AdamsGeog and @MrsHumanities who kindly agreed to help me sort out something new and exciting (hopefully!) for the area.

After a planning session in a pub on a wet February half term day, the days and months have sped by until we are now here. I’m really grateful to Chris and Victoria for holding the organisation together while I was busy with my poorly dad, and to Skinners’ School for hosting us and providing refreshments. We are also lucky enough to have some lovely goodies courtesy of sponsors: the ever amazing Discover the World, NightZooKeeper, Sage Publishing, iRevise & Travel Places for such exciting things as £200 travel vouchers, branded polar buffs, lovely books, website subscriptions, resources, games, etc.

So – the event kicks off at 5pm (meet from 430) and we have representatives from all exam boards (barring AQA who disappointingly declined to represent). There will be a few nano presentations (which will be hosted on here for your delight after the event) and then breakout planning sessions in specification groups with a specialist to facilitate.

We really hope this event is successful and enjoyable, particularly in this climate of curriculum change and uncertainty on assessment style. Personally I’m just looking forward to a night of being a geographer, rather than an AHT leading Maths! Can’t wait to write back here later sharing all the great ideas I hear.

Follow the event on #TMWealdGeog on twitter and via myself @GeoDebs, or @AdamsGeog or @MrsHumanities


#Nurture 15/16

‘Twas the night before term starts, and all through the land,

Every teacher was stirring, wondering if they had planned;

Good enough lessons to teach the next term, 

With knowledge a’plenty so children could learn….

It would take me all night, probably all week, to finish that as I am no poet so I shall leave it there! I’ve been trying to get this post done for days now, reviewing the year and sifting things through. It’s often painful doing this, dredging up memories you’ve tried to bury.  2015 wasn’t the best of years in many ways, and it’s hard entering 2016 with the shadow of dad’s illness prognosis over us. But 2016 might be the year of miracles! Anyway, the slideshow of pictures reflect some of the moments that left a mark on me in 2015. 

2015 Highlights:

Family :)
Family 🙂
My family. Who continue to amaze me every day. Watching the way that my devoted mum cares for dad every day with total patience and love, and how he never complains and just worries about others. How my sister gives up so much of her time to make things for others, or decorate 26 Christmas trees at different houses to bring cheer! How my brother doesn’t complain when he’s making the hundredth tip run to clear my house, or helping me move house, or spending hours on Skype to bridge the gap to Ukraine. How my brother-in-law is giving up countless hours to renovate my house, despite having no spare time whatsoever as he’s always doing things for others. How all the extended family (I have many, many uncles, aunts, cousins!) have rallied around to support and to visit with dad, including a very emotional family carol sing-a-long with four generations all present. I am blessed and love them all.

Awesome friends
Awesome friends
Old and new friends. Laura, Becky and Jo are always there for me and constantly support in good times and bad. They constantly impress me with their professionalism as well, and I’m super proud of each of them in their work as well as being such good friends, mothers, and soon-to-be mothers 😉 We don’t see enough of each other, and I shall miss being close geographically and seeing the littlies grow up…but I can always travel! It only takes minutes to have each other in hysterics.

Great times with O’Donnell family again this year. The Cairngorms trip was a blast and I’m always impressed by how smart and hilarious the younger O’Donnells are!  I think I’ve heard more about Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Lego mechanics and robotics than I could remember 🙂 You are all awesome. 

When I moved to Basingstoke this year I was apprehensive about the new folk I would be living with, yet they have all turned out to be (in the words of ‘Spud’) ‘super human beings’! Ben, thank you for always making me smile and for cooking the most outrageously amazing meals to spoil us (also sorry about the ice-skating). Philippa, thank you for being beautiful inside and out and such a good listener. Nerea, thanks for putting up with our tea-towel fights, Christmas obsession, and general madness! Richard, thank you for the midnight chats about anything under the sun (sorry for boring you). I hope to see you all soon.

New house back in Kent!
New house back in Kent!
New house! I’ve finally made it back from Hampshire to Kent! After spending ages trying to find a job and a house at the same time it seemed impossible, and then a house turned up on the same street as my parents! It’s quite the renovation project but does have a roof again now at least! Moving was traumatic, leaving broken dreams and heartbreak as well as close friends, but now I’m close to those who need me most.

New job! I’d decided to try for Assistant Head Teacher some months back when I was looking to relocate, but didn’t think I’d get one. I’ve loved being a Head of Geography, and being in the classroom feels natural and I know I am good at it. But I was beginning to feel like I needed another challenge, and to put my knowledge of turning places around to good use. Despite wanting to be back in Kent, I’ve never been someone to do a job for the sake of it and I wasn’t prepared to just apply to any old school. I wanted to feel like I would be in the right place, so I have been picky about where to look. Then when I did apply I assumed it would be just ‘an experience’ and was thrilled to just get an interview, wanting then only to not embarrass myself on the day. It was the hardest thing I have done professionally, and by some miracle I got the job! I really felt an affinity on the day, that this school is on a journey with some really needy children needing support. And I loved that my new Head wants to make this the best school in the world, not just ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and he wants it because the children deserve it. But I will admit, I am petrified at the thought of starting tomorrow. I haven’t felt clueless for a long time and this uncertainty is scary! I wrote a piece on UKEdchat about my thoughts, so feel free to read this here . I just want to make a difference, and give children a good foundation in life. Just hope I have the tools to do this.

Working with amazing team at Eggar’s
Eggar’s itself. What an experience working here. I worked with some truly amazing people. The Hums team were just great. Super supportive and so professional, always seeking to do the absolute best for children. Each member brought something great to the table, whether it was Louise’s chirpiness (I’ll miss being greeted as well as you did!), Claire’s meticulous organisation, Linda’s ineffable charm (who cannot smile around you?!), Emily’s creativity and enthusiasm (though with a bizarre obsession with satsumas), Cathy’s calm presence and support for others, Anne’s amazing baking (!) and support for yr11s, Cath’s steadfastness and constant support for all children (best Head of Year I’ve known), and Gill’s enthusiasm, laugh and patience. Even though we were sometimes accused of being ‘overly questioning’ this was always because these queries were always rooted in ‘how will this benefit children’ and had this core purpose. It was our job as teachers and middle leaders to question, and to ensure we did the best possible for our learners. I would always hope that middle leaders do this, and that staff feel free to talk to me as a member of SLT – after all, we as teachers are all learners and we don’t always get it right. 

The Geography ladies helped me to see the department transform from a place that children loathed and disrespected, to somewhere that children enjoyed and felt challenged in and made progress. From being blue on Raise to green. From poor achievement to better (still not perfect!). From being inadequate to good. From being unknown to being recognised by other professionals outside school as somewhere to come and learn. Anne with her support of trainees and organisation, and Gill with her ideas and willingness to try new things. I may have only been there 15months, but we did some good work. Results day was emotional! Those year 11s who had to learn an entire course and controlled assessment in nine months, and yet still beat national average! Student feedback before and after was so positive, and I loved hearing from them and their parents.We also introduced previously unknown fieldwork, including overseas and a fantastic Iceland excursion. And we had fun with Skype in the classroom that saw one year 7 boy who had never spoken aloud in class suddenly speak voluntarily to a scientist in the middle of the Arctic Ocean in front of his whole class.

Oh and introducing the Eggar’s Experience was great, trying to encourage a ‘have a go’ culture and attitude with students and extra-curricular opportunities. I also hope the ‘This Girl Can’ efforts introduced by my excellent colleague Cathy take off. I could say so much about Cathy, who held me together on more than one occasion and is the most selfless, down-to-earth, thoughtful and professional person I know. I don’t know how many lunchtimes she gave up for students needing someone to talk to, or for colleagues, but she is the unseen glue and I hope she knows how truly valued she is by those that matter most.

Students are awesome
Students are awesome
Students past and present. When I left Eggar’s I was blown away by the generosity of students (and staff of course), but I was reduced to tears by the comments in cards by them and by their parents. To be told you have raised a child’s confidence as they prepare for their finals and that they finally feel able means more to me than a piece of paper with their mark on. To be able to give a lad his first ever C grade on two mock exams when his FFTd is an E. To have parents saying thank you for helping. To know kids want to pursue their learning at college or university. That is why I teach – for those spine tingly moments that say yep, I did some good today. 

I also attended my first student funeral last year, for Elliot. He was the student who changed me most as a teacher, and it is with thoughts of him that I go to my new school knowing that there will be so many more Elliot-like children who need TLC, need their teachers to support them, and need us pushing to get those grades more than they would ever admit.

Getting certified!
Getting Chartered!
Professional bits and bobs. I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking at various events last year including BETT and the GA conference, as well as the work with the Prince’s Teaching Institute until September. I was sad to stop with this work, but to be honest was a little disappointed with the upper leadership that did not seem to want to recognise the necessary changes or embrace alternatives.Hey ho.

The GA conference was one of the highlights of my year, especially the first ever GA Teachmeet that had me reduced to tears of laughter with the inimitable Paul Berry’s session. I can only hope that when I am close to retirement like he, that whatever job I am doing I do it with the same level of love and enthusiasm and dare-I-say passion as he seems to. Wonderful man. We also had our last ever TMPompey which was great, even with me knocking myself out before the start. I shall miss working with David Rogers in future and am sad the once dream-team is ended, but grateful to have had some great opportunities in the past. I shall also miss being near to Rachel Jones for her amazing work and joining in her mad antics, as well as her support as a great friend. I am genuinely so impressed with how she juggles everything and has some of the happiest and most confident children I have met which is testament to her and to her new family. 

Taking part in the RGS Explore weekend was also amazing, working with other great professionals and hearing about incredible expeditions current and planned. I hope to be more involved with the RGS in future in the education capacity, and was thoroughly chuffed to receive my Chartered Geographer status this year as a Christmas present 🙂

I was published in a few magazine bits this year, including a revision guide and finally finished the GCSE textbook! What a mission! I never realised what hard work it is, all the research and then trying to put it into something work-able. Being somebody a little bit perfectionist it is hard to know what to do when it is your first go! But hopefully all is well, and will be on sale in March so if you fancy a new Geog textbook please try it!

So 2016?

I don’t know what the future holds, and I am apprehensive about much of it. I’m not making any resolutions other than to be as good a daughter/sibling, friend, and teacher / leader that I can be. I will be running more this year, including a half marathon which will be near to home which is good. I will try to blog about my journey in SLT and other random musings more, as I’ve not been consistent with this. I have a house to finish and a life to build as well though, so perhaps this blog will include a bit more about life beyond school by this time next year who knows!

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#TMRGS presentations – Geography TeachMeets really are awesome

RGS So last night saw the very first TeachMeet hosted by the home of Geography, the Royal Geographical Society in London. The event was organised by the amazing Claire Brown from the RGS, Steve Brace (Head of Education), sorted by David Rogers and a tiny bit of effort myself.

What an evening! Geographers really are an awesome bunch. It was a later start than usual to allow for travel, but the enthusiasm in the room and in the virtual room from Twitter was palpable. We missed the company of other illustrious Geographers like @aknill and @robgeog, but did get a wannabe geographer from @Miss_J_Hart. And thank you to Richard Allaway for sponsoring refreshments!

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I’ve got the fun job of sharing the presentations from all the amazing presenters that night. In true TeachMeet style these were 6minute snapshots into truly professional teachers’ work and their presentations won’t be the same as hearing them speak, so for questions I suggest getting in touch! The great thing was seeing such a wide range, and each presenter kept coming back to the need to have carefully thought out sequences of learning, building curiosity and developing rigour and skills, but also making everyday lessons memorable. There was also the challenge by David, to remember that Geographers change the world!

So here’s a rough idea of who did what!

  1. We kicked off with Steve Brace defending the importance of Geography, and how statistically speaking geographers still are more employable and that the skills of GCSE and A Level v highly valued by universities and employers alike. Did you know that 10% of all PLC revenue is based on data from the OS…and geographers?! Slideshare link to presentation.
  2. The adventurous Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop from Digital Explorer shared the beautiful resources of D:E. including citizenship materials so critical to current key global issues such as refugee crises such as My Voice, My School. He also reminded us of the stunning Catlin Seaview Survey resources, e.g. virtual dives (Oh, and he’s a historian that is now working for geoscientific research!) His slideshare link here
  3. The wonderful Liz Pattison shared a range of differentiation ideas, including lead learners, learning grids (always love a learning grid!), silent debates, use of SOLO.Her slideshare presentation here
  4. Deborah Syme talked about underachievement and barriers to learning, through ‘executive dysfunction’, and potential smart solutions to these. Slideshare link
  5. Andrew Boardman shared his use of ActivInspire software for verbal feedback through sound recording and screen capture for students to keep coming back to. Loved that he emphasised the need to ‘talk like a geographer’ – so critical for success. Link: tinyurl.com/qxuheao
  6. Richard Maurice shared ideas for developing more challenge and use of better questioning. The 5Ws are not enough, we need better deeper questioning. I also liked his suggestions for subverting the #5minlessonplan by getting kids to use it as a structure for note taking / forming and answering Qs. His presentation here
  7. Rachel Hawke shared lots of ideas for encouraging creativity and curiosity, plus great use of SPAG model for proof reading – CUPS: capitalise, understanding (do your sentences make sense), punctuation, spelling. In fact, by 10pm @dukkhaboy had already created his own style version of this and was preparing to use in class next day – and he was only following on twitter! #TMRGS making an immediate impact. Slideshare link
  8. Deborah Gostling spoke about making real world links to architecture and urban design, through tricky projects such as redesigning Cairo. Building rigour and knowledge while using Google Earth and CAD software to add challenge Slideshare link
  9. Rupert Littlewood talked about making favelas and creative hands on learning – always love a bit of model making and really getting the feel of things. Slideshare link
  10. Anna Forshaw gave loads of practical ideas and suggested activities for embedding DME skills and problem solving activities Slideshare link
  11. Ewan Laurie shared some fab ideas for ‘hijacking Geography’ and getting it taking over school. Love the idea of the Pop-up classroom, or teaching something for ten minutes in the corridor at lunch, letting geography take over the school.Slideshare link

My own presentation got a little distracted on Monday night when I stumbled across some tweets claiming that Geography is ‘confused’ or ‘not a subject’. The controversy! Some were claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. It’s the same story as has been heard before, but it does frustrat me that this is seen as a weakness, and also that people don’t appreciate that other subjects are equally diverse – it just goes unhidden. There is no one History: there’s a vast difference between ancient and modern history, and I’ve yet to meet a Historian that likes every era. There is no one English: pit a medieval romantic literature lover against 21st century science fiction lover and there are sparks – the skills employed to decipher the different English types vary as well as the content, and the language itself has clearly evolved. There is no one Music! I could go on. And as with all these other varied subjects, it is not a weakness to be a diverse hybrid. There is always something to hold it all together – and in our case it is the way that Geography marries together the world of hard scientific fact and process, with human interaction and reaction, through skilful application. That is the strength. We don’t study for the sake of it, we problem solve. We don’t learn skills to sit in a room and stare at them, we go out and fix issues. There were some great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x as well 🙂

So this led into my presentation: that not only is Geography not confused, but actually the 4 key strands that hold it together as ‘awesome geography’ are essential. The talk was a variation on the #GAConf15 theme: Shakespeare was a Geographer, so was Pythagoras. Looking at embedding whole school priorities of literacy and numeracy through simple Geography activities in different year groups. My main point is that since we are all responsible for teaching these components, and since we should do anyway as it empowers students to become more successful Geographers let alone having great skills, we should make sure we use the same language as our Maths and English departments. I was responsible for numeracy across school last year, and each department (or faculty for smaller areas like Hums) has a lead teacher for literacy and numeracy who takes part in regular reviews and auditing the curriculum of every area in school. We met as a full staff on Tuesday, and going through the list of key skills for Maths and English as a Geography team we could easily say ‘Yes!’ or ‘Tick, Tick’ to every kind of skill since we are so literacy and numeracy heavy. The weakness at the minute, is that we do not use the same language as our specialists in schools. I don’t often say to a class ‘oh that’s a homophone, be careful on the spelling’ or ‘great use of compound sentences’ or ‘don’t forget your factoring operation’…it’s not my natural patter. But it needs to be. Having a uniformity of language in the classroom for core concepts will develop transparency for students, and encourage the idea that these skills are actually pretty important in a range of different environments and situations. Otherwise, how often do you hear ‘yeah but when will I need to do that in the real world’?!

If you’ve made it this far and want to read a brief kind of summary of what I said for each slide, here you go:

My presentation notes:

Slide 1: The controversy! Twitter debate on Monday evening. Some claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. Great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog  @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x

Is Geography confused, or is it a brilliant blend of science and art that is held together by that essential application.

Slide 2: The strengths of Geography are clear within the new national framework – there are 4 strands to being a great geographer: those of knowing, thinking, studying, and applying like a geographer. Value of skills and knowledge combined but with the life-skills essential component of having to apply those, to problem solve. Synthesis and making relational links is the key to Geographical genius.  And what makes Geography strong, is how we meet whole school issues of literacy and numeracy, as well as building whole child skills.

Slide 3: So meeting whole school aims of literacy and numeracy – because if we do, we not only support the wider school community but we will empower children to get power results in geography and across the board. Particularly with more rigorous examination systems, content, and emphasis on skills we need to be building these skills from day 1 in year 7.

Slide 4: So Shakespeare. 21/38 plays were set in the Mediterranean…yet he never really left London, apart from a brief trip to the Netherlands. So it was entirely based on geographical imaginations. Imagination is key part to our subject, and to curiosity. Many of our students, particularly our disadvantaged students, may not leave their own areas either – so we need to encourage imagination.

Slide 5: Use Shakespeare quotes / DARTS text analysis to talk about describing places. Encouraging the idea of speaking like a geographer. Analyse text for context, introduction to places, to listen to silently and picture, descriptive mapping, and for picking out use of literacy techniques e.g. synonyms, compound sentences, rhyming couplets, metaphor, etc.

Slide 6: Read the text (perhaps excluding some bits that are too obvious!) and kids have to guess what the feature is being described. Then turn into modern descriptive text.

Hamlet piece- read it to them, and tell them it was written in Denmark and finished in 1599. Ask them to figure out what the features was that was north-north west from Denmark and sulphurous (Hekla in Iceland that erupted in 1597)

Slide 7: Compare descriptive text of geographic features through the ages. What are the similarities and differences? How does the language, and the understanding of science, change over time?

Slide 8: Use text to describe climate as Shakespeare recorded the Little Ice Age

Slide 9: BUT – since he didn’t visit locations, there were misconceptions! So give children the text and then get them to prove what is real vs unreal, fact and fiction

Slide 10: Example of differentiated activity with class

Slide 11: Where does our subject meet maths? Everywhere! The key thing is to be liaising with our maths departments and ensuring we teach at similar times, but most importantly that we all use the same language and teach skills in the same way. E.g. Science and Maths teach line graphs differently, do we? Are we using the language of everyday maths classrooms in our classrooms? Because we certainly do plenty of data analysis and graphicacy, just need to hit the terminology to make it explicit to learners.

Slide 12: Using Google Earth polygons to identify shape patterns of landmasses – just simple shape work but builds confidence with using Google Earth tools. Can also use alongside measuring tools and estimating area, discussing different types of shape and calculating area from them.

Slide 13: Create layered data presentation, e.g. climate mapping: base layer for temperature, tracing overlay for precipitation – then analyse. Helps with learning locations and climate patterns, as well as analysis skills. Or proportional mapping for tourist locations. Key is using different methods to learn locations, become confident with features of the UK, and having to do numeracy skills.

Slide 14: Use your school for urban steps. Calculate the number of steps required to climb the equivalent of different mountains indoors. Have to measure each step, multiply it up, divide by number of kids, etc. Make it a House competition challenge.

Slide 15: Links to STEM. Produce equipment. From simple weather equipment to earthquake sensors. This example was a beautiful cloud cover measuring Oktas device. Student had to scale it all up, measuring and calculate, etc.

Slide 16: Geocaching – measuring distance, direction and bearings.

Slide 17: Make graphs 3D and tactile. Brings to life population pyramids and statistics, easier (especially for lower ability) to analyse and interpret the data.

Slide 18: Use numbers and ask students to discuss, interpret, tell a story with them.

Answer in this case: it’s all to do with elderly dependency

Slide 19: Transform one kind of data presentation into another form of graph – have to recalculate, compare, translate. This is from the London National Park statistics on the amount of green space in the city. Analyse the patterns.

Slide 20: Because it all comes down to skills. Skills web based on GCSE criteria. Geography ticks off so many skills and really builds literacy and numeracy, so make it explicit!

Slide 21: And at the end of the day, it is worth the challenge!

The next bit of Geographical TeachMeet fun will be at the GA conference in Manchester at Easter. Check the conference pack for more details, the GA website, and follow #GAConf16 

Women in education leadership…I may be naive

From my Staffrm post.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, anywhere. Not out of a lack of interest as I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing what others have shared online. But I’m trying to collect and rebuild myself a little and needed a step back.

I’ve followed most of the #WomenEd posts and discussions, and before I start please don’t think I’m against the movement in any sense or attempting to be disparaging or puerile, but I have to admit to finding a thought keep popping in to my head all the time. That thought: maybe women don’t actually want to be headteachers. I may be being naive. I see the statistics shared, and can see that the proportion of female heads is distinctive and could automatically raise alarms for people wanting to know the reason why. But I also think sometimes we might overthink, and be looking for a sinister cause or barrier that might not actually exist. I would certainly never want someone to hire me because I ticked a box as being female and they needed to fill a quota. I’ve known that happen.

Now I’m not disputing that there will be cases where women across the world have had a door shut, faced discrimination, been steered a certain way, and have felt hindered. But I also think that there may well just be a case for saying that maybe there are fewer women in headteachership because they are happy to stay in other positions. After all, there’s no denying that the psyche and makeup of men and women is different. Same as within each gender there is plenty of difference. These ultimately influence our decisions, our passions, our drives. And maybe, just maybe, more women actually want to remain in the classroom than men. Maybe more women don’t want to lose that face-to-face contact, the relationship building, the daily spine-tingly moments, the feeling of having personally been responsible for a deep change in a child or for their progress. Maybe we want to retain that feeling of closeness to a child that means you get goosebumps knowing that you, yes you, made a child’s day when you gave them the first positive feedback they’ve ever had. Maybe we just want to be up close and personal to the reason we are in teaching: to make a difference. Because at the end of the day, when you move up the ladder that is something that gets sacrificed. I’ve known plenty of SLT who on a regular basis regret the move (especially if they moved up the ladder rapidly) because they miss the buzz of being at the chalkface, they hate having absolutely no time to be creative, they feel burdened by constant data analysis and administration, they don’t get to know children as well, they feel isolated from their colleagues and from students. I’ve had headteachers say to me that being a middle leader is the best job in the school – after all, we are the powerhouses who drive everything through. And I say all this based on having a mum who was a headteacher, a sister who is the personnel manager for an international organisation, friends who are business leaders, and on myself who thinks ‘you know what, you’d miss this’.

I went to an all girls’ school where we were berated if we had the audacity to suggest that our future might include marriage and children since we were told we ‘should be career focused’. Ironically my future doesn’t include the former, and I don’t lack ambition but ambition doesn’t have to mean we keep making every step until a pinnacle…after all then the next step is actually downhill! There’s nothing wrong with ambition meaning being the best darn teacher and leader you can be, at whatever level. This situation is not unique to teaching, there is low representation of women in senior roles across every industry…but is this because they’re held back, or just because they are happier in other roles? I’m not talking about the pay gap by the way, that’s a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned: if you do the same role, have the same responsibility, and have the same qualifications then you should get the same money. Perhaps I am naive, having not experienced being held back, but I actually trust that whatever rung of the ladder I go to next I will be judged as worthy or not based purely on me. Will I ever want to be a head? I don’t think so, I know what I’d miss. Does this make me held back, stereotyped, weak, or unambitious? No way. It makes me, me. My choice. For me, that’s what WomenEd should be about – celebrating and empowering choice.

‘I am not a leader’ (or Yes you are! Every ONE of us in education is)

Post taken from my Staffrm story in response to the Leadership Artefacts thread. Well worth visiting.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has read the #ldrartefacts thread on Staffrm with interest, and also someone that’s thought ‘I’m not quite there yet, so I don’t have anything to contribute’. After all, I’m ‘just’ a middle leader, not SLT, so does that count? I had been inspired by some accounts, and also thought ‘hang on, that’s what I do!’ when reading them but kept putting off getting involved in the thread as not feeling competent to. Well that was until someone said to me ‘you’re not a leader’…and that caused a reaction. I wanted to slap him (not for the first time!) and my immediate response was indignation…which is of course what he’d wanted. See although I believe I am good at my job, I don’t like to shout about it or pretend I am anything better than others, so tend to shy away from getting involved in social media / public face leadership discussions as if feeling unqualified.

You’re not a leader‘ kept ringing in my head. Grinding away. How patronising I thought! But then, I don’t have any major evidence of whole school impact or long-term change in my own right I suppose? I mean, I lead a department that is gradually transforming and kids have actually learnt something, found high expectations, feel challenged – so there’s a whole culture change there right? I lead whole school numeracy but that’s only been this year so can I really claim much? At my last school I was HoD for a year following from a bit of a high maintenance bloke who I’d helped transform the dept…but he’d take credit for that of course 😉 So can I really say I’m part of this leadership group?

Answer: definitely yes.

You see I’ve been an education leader for a 7 years. How? I’ve led in my classroom. Or on the astro turf. Or in the corridors. Or on school trips. I’ve taken a claim to my physical space, laid groundwork for the mental and emotional space of that learning environment, and every day fought battles with myself or with others to just be the best I could be and ensure that kids got a good experience and were led to be the best they could be.

Every single one of us from day 1 of PGCE stepping in front of your first class and taking tentative steps is a leader. We lead by example. We lead by our body language, the words we choose to use, whether we give ‘the evil teacher stare’ or give a smile, we lead by holding doors open for students and modelling good manners, we lead by the way we encourage them, how we don’t let them give up, when we motivate or praise them, when it is time to sanction them or hold them to account. Aren’t these the traits that ‘real’ leaders portray, whether in education or business? Does it make any difference whether we are leading a class of infants and teenagers or leading thirty sales assistants? It’s the same principles.

After leaving university I fell into a job in fashion retail almost by accident. It led to me becoming a deputy manager within three months and then successively becoming store manager to two large stores, and setting up a national flagship. The stores I ran were filled with staff of all ages and experiences. Some were keen trainees, others were jaded and resigned with a ‘this is the only job I can get’ mentality. Some felt overlooked by previous managers. Some felt they’d not had their potential realised. Some kicked off and didn’t like change. Some didn’t appreciate being given targets and boundaries and expectations (it’s shocking that I wouldn’t let them swing on the fixtures in the loft and steal from the till really). Does this sound familiar in a school context? My wise sister once said to me ‘children are just like adults, only with shorter trousers’ and it’s true. Leading children and leading adults have massive parallels. It’s always a joke at Inset isn’t it how much like naughty kids the teachers suddenly become? And none of us like being treated like a homogenous group and given the same diet of CPD or being made to feel hard done by or overlooked. Same feelings, similar baggage, similar needs.

Day 1 in my classroom as an NQT I started leading. With 19 classes I was effectively leading 490 ish children on a weekly basis. But even just with my tutor group of 26 from that first day I was a leader. Even before I got into any other roles. Being just a tutor is a profound leadership opportunity. I set up my classroom with a photograph of my dog or favourite places on the tutor board and built relationships with those tutees based on their pets & places and from the first meeting I was leading them. In retail my decisions affected a team of 27 and a turnover of over £2.6million a year. Now my decisions affect the Hums team, our students of about 850, and a budget of just a tiny fraction. But those decisions and the leadership we each give day in day out will affect those students potentially for the rest of their lives. Even if they only learn to be polite to each other! I have been doing performance management and leading teams for 11 years now in retail or in school, and I use those retail skills all the time. Same issues, same leadership traits.

And one day, when I am SLT, it will still be the same principles that make me lead: motivate, cajole, inspire, hold to account, recognise, empathise, humour, train, develop, trust, etc.

So my actual leadership artefacts?

1) A quote on the wall: ‘just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly‘. I refer to this with kids or adults often. Something unattractive or seemingly at its end can become something beautiful and a new beginning.

2) Postcards/cards: to give as thank you notes, messages of support, pick me ups. Do them unexpectedly and sneak them onto someone’s desk (or into a student book to find later) so it doesn’t make a big show of it and allows the recipient to just have a surprise.

3) The open door: mentioned by many others but still true. My door is open whenever I am in there and I’m happy for anyone to come anytime. I encourage an open door policy in the department so we will wander in and out and see each other and speak to students. No need to have secrets: we are all on the same team! And the open door extends to meeting minutes and data tracking too using Google Docs. Everyone can see how well or how poorly my classes (and others) are doing or what we are working on so there is transparency. I think this is important.

At the end of the day, we are not chained to a title and we don’t only have an influence when we plan to and have prepared for it – we lead from the first moment we walk through the door. That is both humbling and worrying! It can be the smallest thing that sticks in someone’s mind, so let’s lead in a way that can change the world 🙂

Leadership is not a title.

Thank you to the lovely Staffrm folks for your response to this story. I hope you don’t mind me copying them here.


Saying goodbye…how one student changed me as a teacher

imageI’ll be honest, I’m writing this with tears in my eyes and often falling. I’m torn between feeling the need to write, and wondering if it is somehow inappropriate. I hope you’ll bear with me.

This morning a former student of mine named Elliott died from cancer. He was just 19. I taught him for four years and first met him when he was in Year 8 and I was starting my NQT year. He was in the bottom set. All boys. A sink group some say. They were difficult. Obviously I was new so would say that anyway, but there were some real characters known across the school. Elliott wasn’t one of those. He wasn’t a ‘naughty boy’. He faced massive challenges. His mum had suddenly died the year before. No dad either. He suffered from Neurofibromatosis and as a result was only partially sighted, had difficulties with writing and comprehension, and wasn’t always too steady on his feet. But…he always had a go. I don’t believe I ever heard him complain. He took life as it was, and just got on. Didn’t ask for special treatment or expect it.

Elliott changed me as a teacher, and probably didn’t ever realise quite how much. It was November of my NQT year and I was really struggling with this class. One day I remember blurting out something like ‘why won’t you all just give me a chance, I’m trying to help’ and his response will stay with me forever: ‘what’s the point of us getting to know you Miss, you’ll only leave us like everyone else does’. It cut me to the core. The sense of abandonment that a lot of the kids had. Either physical abandonment of people leaving (including a high turnover of staff I guess!) or perhaps apathetic abandonment – of teachers assuming these kids would never amount to anything anyway and so not pushing them or trying their best. It changed me. Made me realise I wanted to work where I was really needed. Wanted to give kids a chance. Wanted to not give up on them.

By February I had the class onside. They realised I wasn’t going anywhere. We had fun. We shared. I learned lots about their experiences too. We had good discussions. They weren’t angels but we made progress and they did well. They respected me and we had each other’s backs – they knew I would support them, and equally they supported me. I remember one time when a new lad joined the class who was quite violent. We got off to a bad start when he took offence at me asking him to not damage another child’s book and when he stormed out of the room he pushed me into the filing cabinets. The reaction of the rest of the boys was protectiveness of me, and Elliott stood there saying ‘you better apologise to Miss, she’s our Miss, and you’ll have to answer to us otherwise’! This from a lad with tumours growing in his fragile body bless him! (Obviously I did talk to them about threatening language but you get what I mean!)

One lad changed my attitude to teaching and my way of dealing with situations. I look for reasons more, try to find solutions (not excuses), I don’t give up straight away on what looks hopeless. He wasn’t a naughty lad, but he had an influence on them. The toughest kids respected him. And seeing the comments on the news and Facebook in memory of him today shows that he made a difference to a lot of people. One comment really tugged at me where Elliott had said he wished he had had a talent. Heartbreaking. He did. His talent was being Elliott, a brave young man who didn’t complain and just had a go despite everything. Can’t ask for a better talent than that. Thank you.

“The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, the steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.” (Graeme Fife)

GA conference 2015 materials #GAConf15

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’ve been a wee bit distracted with leading an Iceland trip and getting back to school mode! The Geography Association conference this year was ace. Really enjoyable. Thank you so much to all of you who came to my Revision Games workshop! I was truly surprised to have standing room only and flattered by the lovely comments you gave in feedback. I really hope that you can find one tiny thing that is useful and then take it and make your own.

Below is the presentation from the Revision Games session. If you download the file you can see in the comments box in powerpoint which explain each section.

I was also privileged to help with delivering a Discover the World workshop alongside Simon Ross sharing the website resources from Discover Geography . This excellent site shares teacher resources for Key Stage 3 – 5 for a range of locations including Iceland, Norway, Azores, etc. that have been created by teachers from experiences in the field and can be used before, during and after trips or as virtual fieldwork and just great case studies. I shared some materials from the website that had been created from a teacher inspection trip to the Azores, and just explained how I have modified and used these materials for myself in the classroom. If you want to have details on the different sites and what we saw in the Azores, then check through my posts from the visit in April 2014.

Finally, this year’s GA conference saw the first ever TeachMeet courtesy of David Rogers‘ badgering which was an epic success. Lucy Oxley and the GA team organised a fantastic event, and it was thanks to sponsorship from Discover the World. When we first stepped into the venue I got nervous – worried we wouldn’t pull it off, that nobody would come, that it was such a big room and I would muck up, all sorts! But it was so so good. The reason it was good? Purely down to the range of presenters in the room, the Twitterati interacting online (thanks to Rich Allaway for live streaming it), and the networking and rapport going on in the room itself. Particular credit has to go to Alan Parkinson for sharing some great ideas in a hilarious way (‘who is David Rogers anyway?’!) and to Paul Berry for closing the show in style. I had known Paul as a fairly quiet, unassuming, gentle kinda chap with a cheeky smile and penchant for vino…but he blew me away with his presentation at the end. Coming up to retirement in a few months he bounced all over the stage squawking blow-up parrots, throwing inflatable globes around, sharing all sorts of whacky and brilliant ideas, and showing that he is a brilliant educator. Loved it. All the other presentations were fantastic as well, and great to see new people who haven’t spoken before too – I merely mention Alan and Paul because they made me laugh so much. Epic evening so thank you all. David has a full run down of the event and the Google Hangout video archive on his blog here. Cannot wait for next year’s!

My own TeachMeet 6 minutes was based on a title thrown on me: ‘Bill Shakespeare was a Geographer’ and just has a few ideas with quotes from text for how to embed good old Bill and literacy in general into geography lessons. Ticks the boxes of ‘literacy in every lesson’ and ‘we are all teachers of English’ as well as just being good fun, useful, enlightening, and ultimately improving literacy and writing analysis which good geographers have to be able to do. If you want to know what I was rambling on about during each slide then look at the video on David’s blog, scroll to about 44mins and you’ll be able to hear some waffle.

All in all, GA Conf 2015 was great. Really enjoyable sessions attended and great to take part in. Roll on Derby 2016.

What’s the point of residential fieldtrips? Are they worth it?

I just got back from a field-trip to Iceland with forty students and my team of staff. It was epic. We were straight back into teaching and the new term today after arriving back at school at 10pm last night, but it was totally worth it.

This year is the ‘Year of Fieldwork’ but I still hear / see so many conversations that include ‘why bother’, ‘it’s too much hassle’, ‘my school won’t let me out’, ‘why should I organise it’, ‘it’s too risky’, and see conscientious teachers worrying about benefit vs cost and whether trips are worth the effort. Well, they are. End of. Because it’s not about the hassle, the paperwork, the emails to the British Council, the liaising with parents, the money collecting, the itinerary building, the bag packing, the passport checking. All of the minutiae isn’t worth focusing on. We say life is a journey, that destinations aren’t important, that learning is a process and that the end point isn’t always the actual achievement – well I think that fits to trips as well. Does it really matter whether every student has a better grasp of coastal processes or volcanism at the end, will the trip itself make them more successful at an exam? No, not in itself. Five days in Iceland doesn’t pass an exam, but it doesn’t half make a life changing difference to some students. Because what matters to the students themselves on a residential, and what they remember most, isn’t necessarily what we as teachers are focusing on. Are they bothered whether they stop for twenty or thirty minutes at a waterfall, or are they more concerned with whom they sit next to on the bus? I’ll be honest, I didn’t have forty students asking me deep and meaningful geographic questions every minute of the day – but I did have deep and meaningful conversations, and saw students having them for themselves.

So why bother with residentials? This was some of the feedback from the students last night that I overheard while they were updating our trip blog (www.geogdebens.wordpress.com if you’re interested):

“I really loved spending time with people I hadn’t known before, and finding out we had become good friends by the end”

“I was dead nervous before the flight as it was my first time flying. I was sitting next to a student I hadn’t met before and Miss. They kept talking to me and reassuring me, and making me laugh. Before I knew it I was confident, and I had a new friend. Now I just want to travel everywhere!”

“I loved every minute of the trip. The teachers were fun and I learned so much. But best was getting to know my friends in a whole new way, learning to look after ourselves.”

“I liked that the teachers gave us freedom and trusted us. We could make mistakes but knew that they were there to look after us and help if we needed it. I felt safe to try something. I’ve never crossed a river by hopping stones before, never been on a glacier. I was scared but now I’m confident.”

“I’ve never walked that far before, and when I first started up the glacier and up the waterfall I didn’t think I could make it. But I wanted to have a go, and Sir kept me going and chatting and distracted me from worrying. I realised I could do more than I thought and that fear had been holding me back. My mum was proud when I told her I did it.”

“The trip was epic. We nicknamed the teachers and it was good getting to know them in a different way. They helped us when we had an argument with people in our room and I learned to ignore the little things and not get so stressed.”

As teachers we might focus on what we want students to get out of a trip, in an academic sense maybe. Students will have different priorities. There might be a disconnect between our disparate aims unless we are careful. Of course this is natural to some extent, but no reason why we can’t cross over more.

What do students worry about / ask about most on trips? Easy: food and friendships! The most often asked questions were to do with who they could sit next to, who they shared a room with, what free time they got, what food they will have. The only tears we had were on the last night when a room key was hidden as a prank and this caused hurt feelings of ‘they don’t like me’ before being resolved and forgotten. Right up there alongside glamorous glacier hiking and Blue Lagoon bathing in the ‘what we enjoyed most’ category was the time spent with friends, the ‘girly chats before bed’, the walking and talking together, the food.

As far as I’m concerned, a residential trip is multi-purpose. I took mixed year 9 and 10s, all GCSE Geography students but a wide range of abilities and personalities and circumstances. I had some with serious health concerns, some child protection children, some first-time travellers, some world jet-setters, all sorts. It wasn’t a ‘clipboard-tastic’ trip. If someone has paid £850 and gone in their Easter holiday then I want them to enjoy themselves. The kids called it ‘learning by accident’, which I love. We had snowball fights, laughed at ourselves, told stories, shared experiences but also learned about waterfalls by being inside one, learned about waves by listening to them and watching them smash the shore, learned about glaciers by climbing on them. But on top of this we watched students blossom from being shy to being outgoing, learning how to hold conversations, learning independence, sorting their own problems (if you lose your room key, you try to sort it out first), dealing with fear, building relationships, becoming more well rounded young people.

Residentials also have a purpose for the staff involved. We bonded ourselves, having not all worked together before. The science NQT had some ‘in at the deep end’ learning experience (and can check of some standards in his folder!) – you could see his confidence clearly rise throughout, and his presence with students change both out there and now back in school. The non-teacher learned all sorts of subject knowledge and logistics planning. The member of SLT got to let their hair down and build relationships with teachers and students in a different way. The returning-to-work Geographer had some in depth hands-on CPD and came away buzzing.

On the last night meal we had speeches and awards. Our newly appointed Head Girl made a thank you speech to staff that made me well up. She thanked us all, but particularly made me well up by thanking me for the opportunity that they had never had before and for ‘making life better’ since I joined. This trip wasn’t about the geography, it was about the students. And as far as I’m concerned, it always will be. Why am I a teacher? For spine tingly, eyes-welling up moments like that. Was it worth the hassle of 6 months of planning? Hell yes. Staff happy, students happy. And when else do you get to be on a trampoline under the northern lights with a bunch of teenagers chatting about life?!

Happy birthday to me! (Or ‘On being grateful’)


In case the title is too subtle, today is my birthday. 33 (gulp) years ago I came into the world, and the process nearly killed myself and my poor mum more than once. In a very traumatic labour I ended up without oxygen for quite some time and my parents were told I would have suffered trauma to my brain and highly unlikely I would develop ‘normally’. Mum was given the ultimatum of ‘get her out or you both die’ and then had me whisked away before she could even see me or hear any reassuring cries. I was in the baby special unit for a while and when my brother (age 7) first saw me all swaddled up, tubed, and in furry mittens for warmth his plea to dad was ‘I think it’s best we don’t worry mummy right now, but the baby has paws’.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks impossible, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. And just because someone who is a specialist and highly qualified tells you something doesn’t mean they will be right. Mum defied the odds getting us to both survive, and somehow I turned out ok (I know Rogers and Lockyer will contest this :p ). My family says I was born and survived for a reason, and I look forward to finding that reason one day.

Ten years ago today I accepted a wedding proposal. It was romantic, the ring was the right amount of sparkly and pink, the right words were said. But it was the wrong decision.

The moral of the story? Just because something looks beautiful or because words are what you want to hear doesn’t mean it’s good. Take education: we may rant and rave that policies are unattractive and not what we want to hear, but does it really matter? We can change things to suit ourselves. No policy will ever sound good to everyone after all. They’re not beautifully crafted or wonderful words – that bit is down to us to make happen. And just because something was a bad decision doesn’t mean good can’t come from it – I wouldn’t have become a teacher if I hadn’t made that poor decision, wouldn’t have been trained by amazing people, and wouldn’t have met my best friends.image

So what about today? Today involved: pancakes, wine, awesome food, leopard print gifts (lol!), glass making flame-off, a fab personalised map, and furry cuddles.

Today I am grateful for the amazing family and friends I have. Who put up with me, excuse me being busy during term times, come to my aid when needed, help with sorting classrooms and kids books, talk through decisions with me and allow me to rant and vent, and who always encourage me. I saw almost all the people I love most throughout today and I just want to say thank you. I wouldn’t be who I am or doing what I do if it wasn’t for all of you. I hope I do the same for you all in some way at some time too. I don’t need much, and don’t expect presents, I am just grateful for time and lovely words.


Message to my younger self…or what I wish I’d known

Jo_Darren_youngAnother part of the #28daysofwriting Staffrm challenge.

I’m sure we all have plenty of things we wish we had known when we are younger. And how much of the time do we then try and force (not always helpfully) that information on the students in our care? “You’ll regret this…. when you’re older”, or “when I was your age….”, or “I wish someone had said this to me when I was your age….”, etc. After all, what is the perk of getting older if it means we can’t pass on such wisdom as ‘don’t run with pointy objects’ to the next generation?!


The first image was from a family climbing trip when I ‘earned’ my first climbing boots, and the second image from a friends’ teenage trip to Cornwall. Such innocent times. All that mattered was being outdoors, friends and family, pets, and food. So maybe things haven’t changed that much… 😉

So, what would I have told myself in my youth? 

1) Relax. I went to an all girls’ grammar school. I was fortunate and had teachers I (mostly) liked but we were always under pressure to achieve and exceed. It was frowned upon to say that your ambition was to have a family, and you were schooled from day one to be career minded and ambitious. I didn’t really want that, I wanted simple things. We weren’t encouraged to spend time learning useful things like cooking as it was considered ‘sooooo anti-feminist’. You were seen as failing if you dropped a mark at any point, and guilt tripped for letting the team down. I didn’t learn to relax, and didn’t feel I had time to do other pursuits.

2) Learn a musical instrument. I always fancied the clarinet but we couldn’t really afford it and I wasn’t disciplined enough to teach myself. I did learn to play the piano, ish, but struggled with reading music as left it too late really. It’s a shame as I love music, and love singing, and my whole family are so musical.

3) Don’t fall so hard and fast. Don’t marry the first guy that asks 😉 Mum always said ‘more hast, less speed’ and she’s always right grrr.

4) Maintain a foreign language. I loved learning French and Spanish, but they fade so quick. Why is it that random Latin verbs still stick in my head but useful phrases in languages that still exist do not?!

5) Grow a thicker skin sooner. Risks are fun and exciting. You don’t have to laugh and pretend it’s all ok, admitting weaknesses is not itself a sign of weakness. People who admit they need help aren’t necessarily helpless.

One thing I do know. My teenage self would have laughed hysterically to find I’m a teacher. Who’s laughing now eh?! 😉

"I am still learning" (Michelangelo)