Tag Archives: reflection

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)

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?! 😉

Performance Management – hammer down or enjoy the process?

Picture1We are mid-way through the academic year. Wahoooooooo! I’ll just pause a moment and let you check your calendars, synchronise watches, create a countdown (as if you haven’t already :-p), panic slightly about Year 11 time, and generally just breathe it in. (Please don’t gloat if you are in an independent school and only have about 10 weeks left before your 3 months holiday :-p

Today was my mid-way performance management review with my line manager. I’m always slightly apprehensive about such things because it’s difficult to know how others perceive both you as a person and your professional attributes and abilities. My line manager is very professional, thorough, and provided me with a lovely glowing review which I hadn’t expected (of course I’m dead easy to manage, perfect at my job, tick every box and therefore there was no other choice than to be so glowing…I jest).

Although I do feel competent (most days), and can be feisty about ‘doing the right thing’, I do crave that reassurance. Not in a ‘there there’ cotton wool kind of way. I also like to know how else to improve as this job is never a done deal (blessing or curse?). But as much as I enjoy freedom and it being assumed that I’m ‘transforming’ the department (with help from a great team of course but a work in progress) I do still have that little girl inside that needs to hear from someone else. I’m more of a carrot than stick person I suppose. Yet despite liking to hear positives, I also find it quite hard to accept. I tend to turn the compliment into a joke, or suggest something more needing to be done. Is this a teacher thing generally? I come across educators pretty often who are actually shy, praise-resistant, lacking confidence – and they (like me) maintain a professional facade the rest of the time, putting on our ‘game face’. I’ve often said that teaching is acting. In normal life (is there such a thing?) I don’t like making all the decisions, or being bossy, or having a plan. Our personas at school are maybe quite different to at home.

Anyway, this post wasn’t for self-congratulation but reflection about the process. We had PM twilight today and an activity akin to speed dating with pairs sharing targets, progress and ‘proud moments’ from their PM year so far. It wasn’t to be an embarrassment, but to be an honest reflection and mutual encouragement. It’s great to hear what others are doing! To see what collective aims we all have and how we fit into that whole school jigsaw. Performance management can, and should, be a celebration. Sure we are always going to have new targets, and the bar will keep rising, and we can always improve, but part of that process is celebrating what is going well. After all, isn’t that what we do with students? WWW/EBI? I remember one GCSE results day when Geog results had risen and I was feeling cheered but having a senior colleague immediately say ‘yes it’s ok, but it’s not where it should be’. Granted that was true, and we couldn’t be complacent, but there is a time to just enjoy the moment before stepping into the fray again. We needed to take some time to celebrate the progress so far, rather than immediately moving on to the next thing. It would be demoralising otherwise.

So take time, make PM positive.

5 Daily Essentials via staffrm.io

Over on staffrm there’s been a trend developing on ‘5 daily essentials’. The essentials that get us through the working day.

It sounds a bit like something from an advert doesn’t it? Reminded me of the old shampoo adverts and ‘what essentials do you take into the shower’. Anyway the topic made me think about what makes something essential. In normal life my essentials are the living breathing people (and animals 😉 of course) I love and whom I wish were around me more. I’m geographically separated from the most important people in my life and they are my essentials. And chocolate of course. And cake. And mountains and places to explore. Mmmm. I digress.

So what is essential in my classroom / school-bag?

1. Water. I drink a LOT of water in school. I’ve not yet grown up enough to drink tea or coffee, although mocha is making an appearance now. But at school it’s all about the water. Whatever our teaching style we spend a lot of time speaking, projecting, chatting. And we do (I hope) use the old grey matter quite a bit. The job is stressful. It’s busy. There are lots of minute or not so minute decisions to make every day, often with little warning and little time to consider. We may not get outside, have dry stale (and most likely child-germ filled) recycled air pumped round all day and plenty of kids sneezing. I notice immediately if I’m dehydrated. And as soon as I gulp that water down it’s like feeling a sponge in my brain get a shower. Plus I like to think I’m role modelling to students that water is important.

2. iPad. Other brands are available. I have the iPad mini for convenience. In a pink case, oh yeah. I use during meetings to flag up / record / make notes. I like Google Docs for sharing SoWs / booking resources / recording minutes with the team, OneDrive for sharing resources with kids (use Dropbox for staff), and Evernote for making notes – especially CPD. We have ‘ERIC’ (Everyone Reading In Class) time every afternoon and I’ll sit there with my tutor happily reading away (sometimes it’s the only time I get to!) from iBooks then chatting to the kids about their books. Then on the way home I’ve got in the habit of plugging in an Audible audiobook to unwind with. Currently Ludlum’s ‘The Icarus Agenda’.

3. Box of treats. Edible. For rewards or for cheering up the team. Amazing what a few sweets or chocolates can do for morale. This does need replenishing quite often!

4. Remote clicker. Maybe not essential but I do love it. Love the freedom it brings for me or anyone in my room to ‘step away from the desk’. It means I can be anywhere in the room, subtly intervening or helping out, or just sitting upon the lockers on the side referring to something out the window (I like to perch, I’m not an ‘centre stage’ person and don’t like standing out). Plus kids love it when they get to have a go.

5. Something on the wall to remind me why I do the job. Like this:

I could also add in there about shoes which I’m sure many would agree with. The sensible ones amongst you would think about comfort, durability, posture, reducing back stress, etc. I usually prioritise style. But then I’m a girl who used to be a retail manager. And I have a lot of shoes. But it’s actually something of a nice conversation starter with kids. So perhaps I could claim some sort of pedagogical slant….what do you think Rachel Orr? 😉

End of 2014 thoughts #nurture1415

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

So, the end of 2014 already? Well that went quickly! I don’t seem to be able to find my end of year post from last year, nor my start of year post this year, which is odd! But I can imagine the sorts of things I would have written. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions so I would have just written that I was hopeful for a positive year with a healthier family and that I would do a good job at work. I’m a simple enough girl, and have simple dreams. I know what I want to become, I just don’t know how to get there.

I’ve enjoyed reading the #nurture1415 posts that others have written. It’s inspiring to see the wonderful things that have happened in personal or professional lives, and challenging seeing the aspirations for 2015. One of my best friends gave me an empty jam jar last year at New Year (I know what you’re thinking, she wasn’t being cheap!). In fact we all had one in our group. The jar came with a challenge: to fill it with memories of things that made us laugh, smile, made us proud during 2014 which we would then all look back on at New Year in 2015. This friend has subsequently had a horrible year herself, and yet she still has things to put in that jar and I’m so proud of the way she has dealt with everything. I’ve loved sitting back and listening to my friends chatting when we get together, and hearing of their accomplishments – we’re getting so grown up nowadays and every one is making a difference in their own school and in their families. I’m so blessed to be part of this group of friends who have each other’s backs no matter what, and to have been born into an epic family who would do anything for each other.

So, what has 2014 involved?

I’m not following a particular format, sorry about that, but I’m a bit rebellious I suppose 😉 2014 had plenty of challenges, and saw the loss of loved ones too, but these are some of my highlights (in no particular order).

Running. Lol, did not think I’d be writing that! A year ago I decided to start running regularly. I’d been challenged / inspired by seeing the likes of David Rogers or Dai Barnes or other Twitter runners with their regular updates. I’d loved running as a child/teenager but only ever sprint distance. I still remember trying to keep up with my brother and him pulling me along when he would go running (I was very popular at my all girls secondary school when they realised my bro was the local runner ha!). I’d toyed with running on and off a few times over the years and have always been fit-ish and loved walking, but I didn’t think I had the mentality for anything long distance or the self-discipline and willpower to do more. Having been put down by my ex-husband for a few years it took me accidentally seeing one particular photo to finally drive me to take running seriously in order to get fitter, to de-stress, and to do something for me. I’d love to say I never looked back but I’ll admit I still struggle with it sometimes, and don’t go as far as I should but 2015 will see that improve. I started in January only being able to run for 3 minutes then walk a minute, then 3 minutes, then walk. This built up and then in June I completed my first ever race – a 10km Trailblazer race in Kent to raise money for MNDA. My cousin had died from this awful disease the year before, and I remember when I was part way round (on a stupidly hot day) thinking ‘I can’t do this’. Two things got me to the end: one was having loved ones at the finish line waiting for me (naughty stubborn dad that he is had to be held back by my sister from coming with me I think!), and the other was knowing that one year before my cousin Mark had been having his final journey and had fought the worst fight you can imagine. It humbled me and put my feet to the floor. In July I then completed the 10mile Race for Life to raise money for Cancer Research in honour of my dad (who is battling it heroically), and my Uncle Peter who had passed on earlier in the year. Reading everyone’s stories on their backs as we ran was inspiring, and the atmosphere with a minute’s silence was beautiful. I’ve carried on running throughout the year but injury and illness did stop one final race this year…so next year for more 🙂

Exploring the world. I love travelling. Always have. Probably why I’m a teacher really – so I can have holidays to go away in! This year I’ve been spoiled by the lovely people at Discover the World really. I took part in their first Teacher Tour Guide training cohort to become an Iceland tour leader for schools. This meant I got to spend a week in Iceland with some other great teachers in one of my favourite countries. I never get bored here and can’t wait to be involved with this more, and to go back with my school next Easter. I also spent 8 days in the Azores exploring the islands which was really interesting. Next time I’ll pack a better waterproof but it meant I got to climb my highest peak so far (Mount Pico) and make new friends. I also took a friend to ‘claim back’ Snowdonia as we both needed some excitement – which involved Europe’s fastest / longest zipwire and a giant layered trampoline suspended inside a quarry in the pitch black! Not to mention driving my Cupra into the most hilarious position up a mountain and then getting it back out…the less said about her navigational skills the better.Then the summer saw a ‘siblings and friends’ trip to the Cairngorms. Somewhere I had never been, but fell in love with. We had the most stunning weather, climbed beautiful mountains, played in rivers, went on silly rollercoasters, petted animals, played games, ate amazing food (thanks to my brother-in-law) and my brother and I will never be the same after freefall jumping off from some telegraph poles..brrr. While we were here we also took part in the MNDA Ice Bucket Challenge in memory of our cousin. We wanted to do it properly, so as a family stepped into a freezing cold mountain river, had bin barrels of ice thrown at us, and then threw ourselves into the river and floated downstream. It was great, for a good cause, and in the words of Mark himself – ‘not too shabby’.

Family & Friends. Where would I be without them? I certainly wouldn’t be the same person. Everyone I know has shaped me and moulded me. I was asking my mum this week whether I have become more cynical, and in 2015 I hope to get back more of my ‘pink and fluffy’ mentality. My family and friends are the rock I cling to and lean on. Mum inspires me every day as I’ve seen her passion for teaching, her selfless acts for others, her steadfast resilience, and her compassion. Dad inspires me with his grit, with how gracefully and patiently he fights (terminal) cancer and yet still only worries about others and not himself. Rachel inspires me with her ‘never say no’ attitude, with how generous she is for others, and her creativity (we are all also ever so slightly under the thumb but secretly love this). Jamie inspires me with his intelligence and patience, with how willing he is to put himself out for others, and I am grateful to have him as a brother in law. Darren inspires me with his exploring ways, his desire to help others, and how he always manages to know when someone is about to fall down the stairs in order to be there to catch them (literally). My extended family are also great, and we can’t wait to have Anuta join us back in the country too. And there’s always the faithful hound, BeBo, my lovely Border Collie. I’ve already mentioned my friends, but again I am very fortunate here. To have friends that are supportive but who also challenge me, and who push me to be better. Seeing their kids growing up is amazing as well, and I’m so happy for all those who had new little arrivals this year. I’m starting to feel old here when I realise that every one of my close friends is some combination (or all) of ‘partnered up’, with kids, with mortgages, with proper jobs, being published, winning awards….it’s great to see.

Professional stuff. This blog is a professional reflection blog really after all. I’m not big on self-promotion and feel pretty daft when I write things down, but there have been some cool professional moments this year. The big one is changing job really. I loved my time at Priory with the team, and all the changes that we put in place, and loved leading the department that I was proud of belonging to but it was time for something new. When I told the students I was leaving I was really touched with their disappointed responses, and had some lovely messages from them including an ‘Ode to a Geography Teacher’ poem that I will keep always. I’m proud of what we achieved there, and had some beautiful ‘spine tingly’ moments like children being on BBC News, or presenting at TeachMeets, or winning awards themselves, or some great results. Leaving one place after six years, and being promoted in a new school to oversee Hums and whole school Numeracy, has been pretty daunting. The long autumn term is now behind us, and it’s been a roller-coaster. It’s starting to feel more like home, and I do work with some lovely people. But I miss being part of the ‘A Team’ that once was as well. I think my new school has found me a bit more than they expected, but then they did hire me to ‘stir things up’ so it shouldn’t really be a surprise. I’m having to be thicker skinned than in the past, and fighting battles I didn’t expect. I’m excited about the future with introducing more fieldwork (Iceland 2015 here we come, expeditions, KS3 weekend fun, etc.), breaking the rules on BYOD and being a leading area in the use of tech (sorry in advance), changing mindsets (awful phrase), and seeing kids make the progress they deserve. Listening in on the parents’ evenings so far has been both uplifting and heartbreaking – uplifting to hear parent after parent, child after child saying ‘we like Geography now’ or ‘we’re learning so much now’, heartbreaking that for some this is coming at the end of the school career and is maybe too little too late. I don’t like injustice, and don’t like children getting a raw deal, so in 2015 we need to really nail this and turn the tide back.

I’ve been honoured to be asked to take part in leading different conferences this year, stepping out of the shadows a bit more perhaps. I’ve shared stories and ideas at TLAB, a Discover the World climate change conference, the RGS Expedition weekend, various TeachMeets and other things. It was lovely picking up the department’s GA ‘Centre of Excellence’ Quality Mark award for the team past and present, and was chuffed and surprised to have a few nominations for blog awards and things myself this year which was humbling. I spent the year working with the Prince’s Teaching Institute as a Lead Teacher which was very interesting and rewarding, and I look forward to the 2014_15 cohort too. I was very happy to be part of the Google Teacher Academy in October to become Google Certified and hope that in future Microsoft Partners in Learning might like me involved again here. And I’ve started co-writing a GCSE Geography textbook for the new specifications which is exciting, scary, tiring…you take your pick! Somehow it has been ten years since I graduated, and my life looks nothing like I thought it would back then but I seem to have fallen into a job that I love and that I’m good at so goes to show that long term plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be 😉

So thoughts for 2015?

A lot has been written about resolutions, targets, ambitions, aspirations. There’s the #workloadchallenge or #wellbeing trend going around at the mo. I do need to challenge myself to improve my work-life balance, but I don’t want to do a half job either. The New Year’s Honours List had plenty of people named in there for ‘services to education’, and wouldn’t that be something exciting one day in the distant future eh? I just want to be on some child’s list for ‘having made a difference’. Simples. 

When you think about 2014, and look into the trends for the year, it’s quite interesting to see. Google has these topics in the Top searches globally: Ebola, Love, ALS/MND, Fracking, WW1 Anniversary. The biggest twitter trends have included #bringbackourgirls, #umbrellarevolution, #BlackLivesMatter, #RealLove,  and of course #Ebola. We are wired to be political, and it’s interesting how the biggest trends have been about love, saving lives, making a difference. As a teacher I hope to inspire children to ask questions, make good relationships, make a difference. I found the Google trend summary video quite uplifting:

And the Twitter Moments are also great to investigate: https://2014.twitter.com/moments when you have time. In the #yearoftheselfie what have been your best moments?

So I’ll just stick in some photos of the year that saw me start drinking ‘proper coffee’, run a race, explore new places, and enjoy the simple things in life of friends, family and walking the dog. Next year I hope to spend more time with those I love, and to be happy. I would like at this time next year to be able to look back on a job well done, and that I’ve made a difference in my school. I want to be a good friend, and maybe inspire others with what I do. I’m going to complete at least 5 races, and run 600miles in 2015. I’m going to see my dad kick cancer’s backside some more, and see my family healthy and happy. Ideally this will also include a wedding or two 😉 I’m looking forward to speaking at Bett and the GA conference, to writing the textbook and maybe something else, to working with the PTI some more, helping with TeachMeet Pompey and the first TeachMeet at the GA conference, leading my school’s first Iceland trip and revamping the department. And who knows what else!

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Redacted literacy challenge

I’ve been trying to embed more literacy challenges this year as this is always something students struggle with and is a whole school focus that Geography can really contribute to.


Year 9 have been looking at Extreme Environments and with a focus on Everest at the end of this due to the recent events at Easter and the conflicts here. We often try to incorporate travel writing and non-fiction novels into lessons as well and encourage students to learn skills through these for extended writing, creativitity, grammar, etc,. With the Everest focus I’ve been sharing extracts from Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead novel about the 1996 disaster and other texts. This week I decided to try something different and set my students a ‘redacted text’ challenge.


Think top secret files and redaction, where text is obscured in order to inhibit meaning and keep a file secret. I thought that maybe this could be a good literacy tool. So, here’s what we did.


1) Students were given a four page extract from the novel and asked to read this silently for themselves, or aloud to each other in pairs. They were then given three minutes to contemplate and reflect on the story, on what it was conveying, on what style of writing had been used (specifically mood and atmosphere) and the literacy techniques used (eg. adjectives, metaphor, etc,.).


2) Using felt pens, I set the challenge that students had to go through the text carefully and redact it themselves by blocking out sections of the text leaving only certain parts visible. They were given two options here:


a) For a more accessible challenge: redact as much text as you like leaving only a selection of individual words visible (particularly adjectives or geographic words). From these, then take the words and rearrange them into a story or a piece of poetry in a similar style to the original story but in your own words.


b) For a harder challenge: redact the text very carefully leaving individual words but also short phrases visible. These words and phrases must be in a logical order and punctuation inserted as needed in order that the visible words now form new sentences that can be read as a new story, or poem. This is actually really hard! It requires text analysis and logic, having to plan ahead and have a vision of what they want the story to look like first and then to be able to create it. Very tricky. I trialled this first with top set students and they found this a real challenge but really interesting. The new stories they created from the visible words had to flow, had to make sense, and could either be in the same style as the original story or actually change the plot.


3) Students have to check the punctuation and grammar makes sense for their new stories, and then these are shared with others.


When I first suggested and explained this activity to a class, one of the (admittedly somewhat lethargic) boys asked ‘Miss, what’s the point of this – aren’t you just making us do something hard for the sake of it?’ To which I replied that yes I was in a way, that sometimes having to do something hard and learn to overcome it is as much the objective as anything specifically ‘geographic’. By the end of the lesson though he, and the rest of the class, were commenting on how they’d had to really push themselves to do well on this. That it was a difficult challenge that required some real logical and lateral thinking, that tested their creative and literacy skills. And they were pleased with themselves.


I wasn’t planning for them to be able to regurgitate the text by the end of the lesson, but I was expecting them to develop essential literacy skills that they have to be good at in order to succeed at anything – if they don’t get their English qualification, life gets pretty hard doesn’t it? It’s also a good tool to be able to say to SLT ‘look here, this is how Geography meets your whole school improvement plan on literacy with this, this and this…’.  The follow up is students making their own geographic adventure novel that must be a blend if fact and fiction.


The images show some works in progress, as the kids wanted to take home and finish some extra pieces bless them.


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Prince’s Teaching Institute – The Pupil Panel Discussion

Prince's Teaching Institute

Following the Opening Keynote, as part of the start of the summer school, we were treated to a pupil panel discussion. Four students aged 16-17 from local comprehensive schools gave a brief summary of themselves, their GCSE or A-level choices, and why they chose them. They then responded to questions from the audience. These learners were impressively articulate, composed (in front of an audience of 150 teachers!) and passionate. They knew what they liked, what they need, and what they wanted. What came across over and over was how much they trust their teachers.

Since they presented so well themselves, I shall just put their direct comments down for you to consider.

Why do you like Geography?

– “If you think about it, the world is quite a big place and has a lot of people in it (!) – I want to know about how I fit into this, where my place is”

– “Geography helps me to learn about cultures, to break down ignorance, consider and compare different situations ; just makes me think ‘I’d like to make a difference to help others in the world'”

– “Geography helps empower me, makes me more creative and expressive. It challenges me.”

– “Geography doesn’t restrict our individuality or curiosity, there are no bars on what you are interested in or good at because it is not like one single subject.”

– “If you don’t know Geography you don’t know your own home [world]”

– “Geography is real and realistic to our lives, it is essential because it balances factual with opinion and interpretation, enquiry and independence.”


What are your views on teaching and learning?

– “We will choose subjects if our teachers inspired us and encouraged us, if they make us feel like we can actually succeed”

– “It’s not just about a teacher standing at the front and giving us the fact we ‘need’ to know, it’s down to the teacher to engage us to WANT to acquire that knowledge ourselves and to help us gain the SKILLS we need in order to do so…at the end of the day we as students need to do the work”

– “We want the skills and confidence we need for future work”

– “Knowledge alone isn’t power, but knowledge with the ability to interpret this and be practical with it is the power”

– “The abstract and different lessons are the ones you remember most”

– “I can be engaged and succeed more if I enjoy my lessons, and I trust my teachers to be professionals and know what is best for me for how to learn”

– “Technology can be hugely beneficial, if used the right way, but not if it is just a powerpoint display on a wall with words that we have to read through. Then it may as well be a book. And we can tell if a teacher has just copied from wikipedia or downloaded the lesson from somewhere else – it’s clear if it’s not their own or coming from their own enjoyment of the topic”

– “Avoid unnecessary repetition – it kills the interest”

– “Teachers should show they are confident with their knowledge and teaching style, whatever that style might be. That’s what gets us and we will respect this and engage more. It is clear if a teacher tries some new buzz thing after a training day that they’ve been told to do but aren’t confident or comfortable with. I’d rather be taught in black and white, in the dark, from no resources but by somebody who could engage me and show enthusiasm and confidence”

– “Sometimes taking a break from what we normally do is needed; we get used to seeing certain styles of lessons and sometimes just having space to just have discussions is needed for deeper learning”

What feedback do you find more effective?

– “I need to know what I did well, and be given praise to build my confidence

– “Knowing a specific target to aim for, not just a grade”

– “The grade is not so important, sometimes it is a distraction”

– “Setting own targets is so beneficial; we might not feel we need or want to work on the same target as someone else, or even the same as what the teacher says, so if we set our own targets they are personal and it forces us to look closely at what we need to do”

– “I prefer one-on-one conversations with my teacher face to face, with the teacher showing they know me personally and can explain to me what I did well and what I need to do next”

– “I feel disappointed if I have no feedback from staff, feels like I’m not important. But that feedback can just as happily be verbal in class and doesn’t have to always be written down. I just need to know where I am and where I’m aiming for”

What do students think about Ofsted?

– “We benefit from inspections as well because we can know how we can improve, how our school is perceived and how it can be improved”

– “We feel a sense of pride in our school knowing our teachers are being recognised for their hard work”

– “It’s a chance to showcase what we’re good at”

So there you have it, out of the mouths of babes and all that. The panel were fantastic and should be proud of themselves. No way I would have been able to do that and hold my own in front of 150 teachers when I was 16!

“The fact is, we have the most to gain from our education working right, and the most to lose if it doesn’t. So we should have a say. And teachers should have a say. And we trust teachers to know how best to help us.” (Pupil Panel)



Prince’s Teaching Institute : The Opening Keynote

Prince's Teaching Institute

The summer school residential was opened and introduced by Bernice McCabe, the course Co-Director and Headmistress of North London Collegiate School. She explained that the aim of the PTI is that of ‘inspiration and empowerment’ – and I imagine quite a few of us in the auditorium inwardly smiled. She also mentioned that the PTI, amongst other official teaching organisations, are pushing government for the creation of an autonomous Royal College of Teaching akin to the other colleges that other professions already have, something to represent the people. If you are interested in sharing your views on this, take part in the consultation here

After outlining the plan for the course we were handed over to Lord Peter Hennessy, an Historian and journalist who also teaches at the University of London. As such, he  described himself as ‘one of us’.  The title of his talk was ‘Never lose a holy curiosity : Or how to get out of bed on a wet Monday in February’. To be honest, he could have said ‘in June’ judging by the weather that morning.

The phrase ‘Never lose a holy curiosity‘ was spoken by Einstein. Hennessy suggested it could be a call to arms for teachers, a banner to unite under. I would have to agree with a lot of what he said, after all, if we lose our initial enthusiasm and love for our subject, for learners and for learning then we lose our ability to enthuse others surely? Isn’t it easier if students can learn by example? Be inspired by osmosis? There is a danger that is we do lose our holy curiosity that those that we seek to inspire will notice, and will be the poorer served by us because of it.

Hennessy set us a question : What does get you out of bed? It’s worth thinking of this often. And if it’s not that you love your job then maybe something needs to change. Some say that we work in order to pay the bills. Now while this is true (we all have to live!) I would suggest that if your only intention is to earn money, possibly teaching isn’t the best way forward! I took a pay cut when I first started, and it was because I love the job that I stayed. Far too much hard work, long hours, and emotional investment otherwise! Anyway, I digress. But I do think it is something to ponder. How to keep your curiosity and how to pass it on.

“In the cycle in which we travel, we can only ever see one fraction of the curve”. The trick for educators, and for the next generation, is how to be able to get ahead of the curve and to be able to cope with whatever unknown is found beyond it. There is a danger otherwise of being overly present-centred. Our curriculum, teaching style and schools need to bring the best of the past, blended with the present, and looking to the future. We often say how we are educating children for jobs that don’t even exist yet, and that in learners’ lifetimes these jobs and environments are likely to change even more – meaning it is essential that we can be flexible; can adapt ourselves, our teaching and our curriculum to suit, that we encourage and seek to engender skills and understanding as well as knowledge, that whole life soft skills are developed. The whole package. After all (to quote a friend), I’m a teacher of children, not just Geography 😉

It was pointed out that university teaching expects that students will be able to not just have knowledge, but be able to think critically, to form opinions and justify, to reason logically and argue a case, to collect and synthesise information – and to be able to do all this independently or work collaboratively. Now I’m not saying every student should go to university, definitely not. But I would challenge you to find an employer who wouldn’t also like their workers to possess this skills, and these skills are also essential for building positive relationships, being a responsible citizen.

Finally, Hennessy made a brief foray into the turbulent discussion on the role and format of assessment. And after airing his views on this ended with a thoughtful comment: that the best way to measure the success of learning is not a formative exam (this perhaps only measuring the success of short-term memory), but the sustained desire to learn. That if in years to come our students still have a desire to devote their time, money and effort to still learning then we will know we have been a success. If they still have their holy curiosity.

“History never repeats itself, but sometimes it rhymes” (Mark Twain)

Prince’s Teaching Institute Summer School – Introduction


This week I was fortunate enough to take part in the Prince’s Teaching Institute summer school residential for Geography, History, English and Languages. The PTI first started in 2006 to continue the work of the Prince of Wales’ Education Summer Schools and perform a CPD role. The focus is very much on reinvigorating teachers through experiencing academic lectures, keynotes, workshops…and providing amazing food in the beautiful setting of Homerton College, University of Cambridge.

Homerton College, Cambridge
Homerton College, Cambridge

The three day summer school (which runs for various subjects at different times of year) is very much run for teacher, by teachers. High profile, contemporary, leading edge academic lecturers provide a reminder of why we fell in love with our subjects and wanted to teach them in the first place – taking us back to the undergraduate days. Workshops provide time in smaller groups chaired by Teacher Leaders (subject specialist teachers who have taken part in the work of the PTI before and are coming back to offer expertise and facilitate / host). During these sessions (which were sadly, in my opinion, too brief) we had some time to share best practice which was excellent and insightful, and to reflect a little on the sessions we had seen and consider ways to utilise in school. We also had a field trip day (it is Geography after all). The days were very intensive; packed, insightful and intellectually stimulating, and each ended with a formal meal in the college Hall (with pre-dinner cocktails on the lawn of course) including an after-dinner speech by celebrity speakers – in our case Michael Wood & David Aaronovitch.

I came away from the event feeling uplifted and enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong – I hadn’t been feeling ‘in a rut’ or forgotten my love of the job before, but I had been feeling overwhelmed by the day-to-day and increasingly apprehensive about taking over the department. So this was refreshing, a total immersion in just good positive learning. And you know how sometimes on courses you get the feeling that some colleagues don’t really want to be there (“Oh, I just got sent by my boss”), or you hear the cynicism in their tone (“It’s a lovely idea but that would never work in my school”)? Well there was none of that. Everyone I met was positive, excited, keen. They loved their subject but more importantly they loved teaching and learning. They were lifelong learners themselves. They were keen to try something different. Yes, we had differing opinions on the curriculum or the role of technology or what is the most important thing in school etc., but we all had a common purpose. The vibe was fantastic. It was cathartic for me personally as, having recently suffered a bereavement that has shaken me, being submersed in this delightful bubble for a time was great. So all that needs to happen now is for all those little bubbles of individual teachers, and the bigger bubbles of their departments, to all coalesce so that great teaching and learning is occurring consistently throughout. Not much to ask for huh? 😉

Ok, this post has already become longer than planned and I haven’t really said much. What I planned is to outline what I shall cover. There is simply too much to say in one post, and I need to get it all out. So I plan to break up the three days into separate posts.

1) The opening keynote by Lord Hennessy

2) The Pupil Panel discussion

3) Day 1 lectures: Professor Iain Stewart, Dr Kendra Strauss, Professor Hazel Barrett

4) Day 2 lectures: Alan Kinder, Christian Nold, Professor Jonathan Bamber

5) Day 3 lectures: Dr Jonathan Darling, Professor Klaus Dodds

6) The group workshops & reflections

7) The fieldwork activity & follow-up

8) The closing Educators questioning panel

Quite a lot to tackle then, so I better get started. I’ll finish with a quote from Prince Charles in the opening of the delegate pack:

“If the world in which our children will live is to be one in which truly civilised values can flourish it will need a breadth of knowledge and understanding of the kind that only a good, rounded education can provide”