Tag Archives: back to school

Getting back in the saddle

priory geography logoSo, one week down in the new term and the start of the new regime for @priorygeography. Not that it will be a massive regime change, I liked the old regime too!

It’s always a shock to the system getting back into the swing of things at the start of term. I don’t know about you but I barely seem to know how to think like a teacher let alone actually teach by the end of 6 weeks switching off, and a pen feels totally alien in my hand! We kicked off the year with two days of inset, the first focussing on embedding reading and literacy which was useful as I’m a keen advocate of this. Not much to say about the second. But I really enjoyed having our extended department time during these days. @priorygeography now incorporates myself, the ever trusty Sam and new recruit Jeremy so I get to boss boys around all day which is always nice 🙂 The atmosphere in the first week has been great and I’m really grateful to both for coming back with such enthusiasm and positive attitudes, as well as some great ideas for learning, and some hilarious ideas for department fun – see future posts on ‘Flag Food Fursdays’ when this kicks off 😉

So what have we been thinking about? Well, the department saw it’s best GCSE results to date this summer which is a huge boost and relief after so much hard work but also necessitates a challenge! I’m sure Jeremy won’t mind me saying that the biggest challenge is for him; getting to grips not only with teaching in England, and being an NQT, but also immediately teaching Year10 in a subject that is only his minor (he’s really a musician). So big kudos to him for turning up happy each day so far!

As curriculum leader and an NQT mentor I’d like to share some advice for a few things when tackling the hurdle of this incredibly challenging year. Feel free to ignore or disagree!

1) Don’t expect to remember everything immediately so don’t be afraid to keep asking. I never wanted to look as if I was struggling, and I don’t like admitting I’ve forgotten something or want to look daft so I would tend to keep things inside and try to muddle through. This isn’t the kind of job for doing that. There are too many acronyms, too many different approaches, and you’ll just get bogged down if you try to keep on your own. So just ask. If your department or mentor do not or cannot help you, or if they seem too busy then find someone else to ask. It’s their job to support you but your job to show what you need. You should be given access to topic resources, schemes of work, department guides/handbooks, etc. but it is up to you to adapt these and to keep up your subject knowledge and awareness of any examination / assessment subjects you teach (what a GCSE exam looks like, what criteria students need to achieve…) – that is your responsibility and there is a wealth of information online and many experienced people to check with. So just ask!

2) Do get yourself a good support network. Whether that be in school, through your university/training cohort, through local area networks (such as subject networks / teachmeets) or virtually through Twitter. These networks are essential for keeping you going, for banter, for sharing ideas, and for letting you realise you are not alone and are probably struggling with similar things to every other NQT if not every other teacher! It takes a little time and some concentrated effort to get the Twitter thing going to a point where it is beneficial but then it suddenly blossoms. Follow some key people, and then start joining in conversations. Soon you’ll find you have a wealth of support and start sharing ideas or planning joint projects. If you are a Geography teacher / interested in techie or creative stuff, try some of these:

– @daviderogers – @geoblogs – @johnsayers

– @geocollective – @ianaddison – @mrlockyer

– @dawnhallybone – @fascinatingpics – @teachertoolkit

Also get yourself reading or participating in some of the hashtag conversations that happen each week, such as #ukedchat, #geography, #geoedchat, #edchat, etc,. You’ll soon see who is useful to follow and interact with.

If you’ve not heard of TeachMeet then look into these. Follow this link to find out about TeachMeets in your area. Basically they are informal CPD training sessions where teachers share ideas and resources. It usually involves cakes and drinks with time to network and mingle. Teachers can offer mini presentations of usually 2 or 7 minutes in order to chat about something they have tried, be that in primary or secondary school or whatever subject. Apart from anything it is just a way to meet other educators in your area.

3) Get reading some blogs, journals and education / pedagogy books. Not that you’ll have much spare time of course, but it’s easy enough to flick through and scan some blogs for a few mins. Just set aside half hour each week or ten mins a day when you will have a scan. If you get a reader account with something like Feedly then you can manage blogs in one place and then quick peek. I’d recommend the following as a starting point:







And lots more. Have a look at the Ted Talks as well, just try a couple of video clips every now and then.

*Possibly useful books when you are starting out could include:

‘Not Quite a Teacher’ Tom Bennett

‘A Guerilla Guide to Teaching’ Sue Cowley

‘How to Teach’ Phil Beadle

‘Pimp Your Lesson’ Isabella Wallace

‘Teach Like a Pirate’ Dave Burgess

I’m not saying read all of them, or all of each book, or even any of them – but sometimes it’s worth a quick flick through and your school probably has some of these kicking around somewhere – ask your mentor or NQT induction mentor.

4) Don’t think you have to crack it and try everything straight away. You need time to settle in. Don’t feel down if you can’t have that all creative inspirational tick-every-box lesson straight away, or day in day out. It’s not possible. Not every lesson will be able to be as amazing as you want it. And you will probably feel you aren’t doing as well as you thought you did in your PGCE but don’t feel disparaged. Chances are you are being too self critical but remember you have a bigger teaching commitment, more paperwork, probably tutor group responsibilities, more meetings, and you will exhaust yourself. Surviving that first term (and the first year!) comes down to carefully managing your time and managing your own expectations of yourself. Yes, always aim for the best – the best outcome for the students – but that doesn’t mean every lesson needs to have bells on, or have you running around like mad or acting like a performing seal.

You’ll be hearing about all these fantastic ideas from other people, and getting all inspired to try something new and this is great – but it doesn’t mean you need to do it all at once. Or that it will work for you. Just because something works for another teacher doesn’t mean it will do for you. This isn’t a failing or a sign of your inability, but it is because teaching is an intensely personalised thing – just like learning is. We personalise lessons to suit a range of children and sometimes forget to personalise our teaching style to suit ourselves as well. Likewise what worked for you at your last school on PGCE may not work in your current school, and what worked for 7a1 on a Monday lesson 1 may not work for 9b3 Friday lesson 5. It’s about picking and choosing carefully. That comes with time and experience, but it’s important to not beat yourself with a stick if you get it wrong. Just try a little now and then, accept the consequences if it goes wrong and learn from it so that next time you nail it.

It is ok to use DVDs occasionally, do some ICT presentations or make posters! You need to survive in terms of planning and marking, and students need a break sometimes from really high level thinking or ‘whizz bang’ lessons especially towards the end of term. Break things up for them as well as for you. Otherwise everyone burns out.

Think simple and effective. Aim for lesson activities that are student led and remember you should be making them do all the work. Then while they are on activity you can spend time speaking to individuals, target checking and setting, having a look through their books. Even try scaffold marking and get a selection of them done during the lesson. Peer and self mark as much as possible. Invest in stamps. Try to be time and energy efficient. I am the first to admit that I struggle with marking, massively. It still takes me a long time, but there are ways around this and things to focus on in particular. It’s about having a system and a process that works with you. Try to look at other teacher’s books and their marking system, pick their brains for advice then mould it to suit you. Obviously you have to stick to your school policy for frequency of marking and that kind of thing, but how you go about it and manage it can be down to you. Just argue the case, so long as good learning is happening and you can show this, and so long as learners know where they are at and how to get to the next stage, then the mechanics is kind of unimportant.

5) Don’t get hung up on Outstanding. Or Ofsted full stop. Ofsted are not in your classroom every day. They are not the consumer. They are not the most important measure of how you are and of what experience your students are getting. Getting Outstanding for a formal lesson evaluation once a term for your appraisal does not in itself make you an outstanding teacher, it doesn’t mean your lessons are always fantastic or that your students are making amazing progress. It’s a flash view. To be honest, getting outstanding is about applying a system and ticking a checklist – this doesn’t make you a great teacher, it makes you a scientist or a mathematician able to apply a formula. It’s not the same as being consistent. Your learners need a consistent experience not a flash of awesome once in a while. And when Ofsted do come in, don’t perform an act for the sake of it and be fake – your students will know! And it’s not fair on them to pull out something different just for a measurement of how good you are, you should be delivering quality because it’s what they need and deserve all year long. Sorry, rant over.

Hopefully some of this may prove useful. It is worth investing time in reading around and chatting to other educators, you never know how much time that may save you in future! And this is a great job, and one that is hugely rewarding so it’s worth getting excited by it from the outset so you can have a nice long career 🙂

“Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.”

Mary Manin Morrissey

End of an era, dawn of something new

August 31st marks the official end of an era for @priorygeography as our once illustrious leader David Rogers has headed off to Patcham High for new adventures and I take over from him. Big shoes to fill, big footprints left to either follow or forget.

I started at Priory as a naive, ‘pink and fluffy’, fairly clueless NQT in 2008. Now, 5 years later, I have just seen my first tutor group successfully complete their GCSEs and leave the nest…and I am sure others’ will testify that I am still fairly clueless, generally pink and fluffy, but maybe a little less naive! It’s been an absolute privilege working with David and the team he has carved out over the years. It’s been a mission as well, but such an amazing learning curve. Two months into my NQT I thought I would be out of there as soon as I passed, that I wasn’t good enough or up to the challenge of what the kids needed. But I’ve never regretted the decision to join, nor the decision to stay so long. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that as soon as a teacher hits the three year marker they should be a head of department. When I attended conferences/CPD, especially being in the shadow of Mr R, I would get questions about why I wasn’t stepping out on my own, as if it was a sign of weakness or inability. Truth is, I just enjoyed being where I was. I loved the team I was in and that is something that is hard to find. We had adventures, played pranks, challenged ourselves, did crazy stuff like chalk graffiti over the school walls, and we were on a mission to improve the department and give learners a better experience. Why move when you can be part of something special?

It’s been a hard but epic few years, and with happy endings. I’m proud of the department and of whatever small part I played in helping to build it, and hope that we can continue to build on this and go from strength to strength while I am at the reins. Luckily I have the immense foundation of Sam Atkins to work with in the next year – though I know it won’t be long before he’s looking to lead his own department.

2013_14 is going to be an interesting challenge. We have a new member of the department fresh over from Canada who will keep us youthful and on our toes I’m sure. GCSE and KS3 changes to consider. There are the usual stresses of improving achievement and results, especially while the whole school goes through turbulent times. I was happy to see our Geography results improve nicely again this summer, with some notable success stories, and we need to build on this. We hope to reacquire the GA SGQM this year, and have been asked to take part in the Global Learning Programme as a leading department. We are also working on the Prince’s Teaching Institute quality mark and I’ve been asked to be a subject leader for this inspiring programme which is exciting. There is the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference at Berkhamsted to look forward to (will figure out something to talk about one day hopefully!) in March – see #tlab14 and lanyrd for more info. I’m hoping to get more involved in the Geography Collective and we will be continuing to work with other schools and local teachmeets as well, starting with #tmpompey on 17th September. Sign up here!

I’ll be honest. I’m dead nervous about the next year. It’s a scary thing to keep the momentum on a department that has been so much in the headlights and on such an improving curve. Stepping into those footsteps is a little overwhelming, but I am reminded that those shoes are just shoes, that path just one way of many. I don’t want to be the leader that sees the department I love and helped build slip into decline, but I’m confident we’ll battle through. I’m sad to see the team change, but excited for the new beginnings. I’d better say official congratulations and good luck to the old boss as well 😉

In case you fancy something cheesy, here’s our goodbye video celebrating five years of fun. Thanks for the journey, it’s been intense! Now let’s find the next path.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” (Semisonic, ‘Closing Time’)

How to change the world?

So this week it’s been back to school. Full pelt. As I mentioned before, I love quotations. And searching for them is therapeutic in itself. So although I may be making hard work for myself for every post hereafter, I’m going to pledge to try to include at least one quote each time. 

Confucius said : 

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

I like this. I’m not going to sit here and say that teaching is never ‘work’. This coming after a week where I saw midnight and was still on the laptop a couple of times would probably get my judgement called into question but it’s ok; because I love the job. Yes, 13 weeks holiday a year is great but the reason to do the job for me is the satisfaction of seeing change, of making a change. Steve Buscemi’s character in Armageddon (awesome film) has the line “Why do I do this? Because the money’s good, the scenery changes and they let me use explosives, okay?” – my department does lack the use of explosives sadly (maybe I should have been a science teacher….. 😉 ) but it’s true, one thing I love is that the scenery changes. The kids. They’re the scenery I see every day, and you see them change every day. Not always in a good way true, but it keeps you on your toes. I’d never be able to sit behind a desk watching and not partaking in the world going by, and teaching means I get to be doing, learning, changing, making the change every day. Pretty cool huh?

So, the start of a new year, new term…but same challenges, same difficulties? Definitely. I always find the term after Christmas the hardest one to go back to. You’ve had a lovely break, it’s proper family time, everywhere is sparkly…then you’re back at work; buried under marking and deadlines, with a massive ‘to do’ list already, and you never see daylight as the days are so short still. One week in and it feels like you’ve never been away. And the same problems from last year keep rearing their heads. I think it’s essential in teaching that we try to keep that drive and focus as much as possible all year. Impossible? Probably. But not if you have a supportive team (be that through school, home, twitter, etc,.) to push you and praise you, remind you it’s a collective effort. A big ripple becomes a wave.

I came across a few images this week that made me think, or smirk. Or both. The following sums up what I mean. ImageI don’t ever plan to run my own school. I’m not super ambitious and I know my limitations. I just want to be a great teacher and have an influence on those in my classroom. Change one at a time and you eventually change the whole. Sounds cheesy? But it’s true. Every big change started from something small. The human body and the Earth and the planets, complex as they are, are governed by the teeniest tiniest particles working together. So while I may not be a Headteacher one day that’s ok. It’s more than ok to have an influence on the hundreds of kids one-by-one who come to lesson, or who I tutor, or who I chat to in the quad, or who I help complete their college application. After all, I’m not just able to have an influence in the classroom – it’s about every time you have a conversation with a child, every time they see you. If I come in grumpy and like I don’t want to be there then that has an impact. If I’m rude on break duty they will remember that. I always make a big deal of the little things like saying thank you if a child holds a door open – you never know but you may be the first adult that day who has been polite to that child, or has been appreciative. It makes a difference.

How to change the world? One little bit at a time.