Really...how important are first impressions?

Perhaps you're up late before your first day because you're busy finishing off the last drop of that good-luck-in-your-new-job whiskey. Perhaps you're making the finishing touches to the batch of 50 Marry Berry's Cupcakes you're going to give the staff. But perhaps you're thinking: What if my first day goes wrong?'

If you read this and have done all of these things then I give you permission to implode. However, before you do so consider your worth to educational science - you marvel!

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I'm up early, trying to imagine why on earth I thought drinking last night was a good idea. Settling your nerves you say? Well don't worry, I heard that in every school there's a weekly AA meeting in the head teacher's office - ask them for details.

I look in the mirror. Is this a good time to be working out the definition of 'smart-casual'? It's only an INSET day after all, as long as I look better than the caretaker, I'm sure no one will notice. Shall I eat breakfast? Well, I'll look a little silly if I can't finish the welcome cake from the rest of the staff, I better give it a miss.

I think to myself, today is the start of a brand new future. New job. New attitude. I'm going to eat healthier and exercise more! Well then today should be the day I start cycling to work. If you don't get off to a good start you'll never end up doing it. Better leave early, give myself enough time to work out the directions en route.

Now...if the sun is over there then I must be going...in circles. I better get my phone out. "Ah great" It's out of battery. I knew I shouldn't have been scanning my Twitter feed for NQT horror stories to make myself feel better. Simple. "I'll ask in a shop." - I'm full of such great ideas, no wonder I became a teacher. I rush in. I pant in query. At the mention of the word 'school' they give me a worried look as if to say 'Thank god I didn't send my child to that local school'. Think. "I've got my charger!" Seriously now genius, save some of that brainpower for the CPD tidal wave INSET.

The phone has enough charge. Got clear directions on google maps. I can't help but think how people coped before mobile phones. Better get those 'brand new future' legs on, time's racing.

Bike. Bike. Bike. When they told me during teacher training to get to know the local area I did not think they meant a crime survey. Was I really in there that long? I mean it was only a couple of 'Top 10 things not to do on your first day' blogs. Think. Think. Think. I just read the most important thing is not to be late. I can't be late. It's just not the model practitioner I am. Run. Ok it's the first day of my new regime, I'll jog. Blimey these cupcakes are heavy, I'll walk fast.

If I don't change into my smart-casual clothes I can just about get in on time. I used to rock up in my gear during placement anyway so I'm pretty much a pro at the cycling look. Although I can't remember the sweat coming through my t-shirt quite like this. There just simply isn't any time. Walk up to reception (by now the fast walk is an all but distant memory.) I better check my 'First impressions checklist' while I'm going through the corridors. Ah I forgot I used that to try and get the shop keeper to write a map. Never mind, I pretty much knew it off by heart anyway. All I'm worried about is how long they've been waiting in the dark ready to surprise me and welcome me to the school. They'll wait a little longer, I got an outstanding on my 2nd placement after all.

I take one step into the hall. The eyes of a thousand disappointed teachers. Not disappointed at the INSET, disappointed at me, they must have got tired waiting and thought the fresh perspective I'm bringing would never come. As I walk further in, their faces become deeply perplexed. How can they be quizzical? I did 3 weeks in the school before the summer holidays. Don't scratch your head, I observed your maths lesson. Rolling your eyes at me? I saw the lack of differentiation in your starter! Why are you looking at my bare legs like that? At least I can engage in modelling during my gymnastics lessons. The staff just aren't who I thought they were. What a shame, we spent so much time together. Doesn't matter at least the head teacher has a smile on her face! Must be the great chats we had during my interview. I had so much to say about being able to cope with the workload of my first placement or how changed I was after an SEN lecture during university. I must have been inspiration incarnated.

I smile back at the head. I think we know each other enough to use the nickname I came up with over the holiday. But I wonder if the other staff would be jealous of our bond. Perhaps I shouldn't I would hate to give them a reason to dislike me on my first day. However much of a strength it was identified as being, I better stop reflecting on everything. I've not even got to the spare chair the head has left me at the front. My cheeks have barely touched the seat when the head says...

"Nice of the..." looking down at my body in lycra "Nice of the N.....QuTie to arrive on time." The room rumbles with giggles. I can't believe it, this is the scenario in all of those blogs I read on the way here. Last ditch attempt. Harness the power of Marry Berry and offer those lemon cakes. I rattle open the tin, point it towards the head and reveal Marry Berry's Eton Mess.

 
 
Methods for Teaching Guided Reading

In trying to understand the best methods for teaching guided reading I ended up doing a lot more research than I had intended. As a result I have had to make that research an entirely different blog. It can be read here. I would love of course for you to read it completely, but I will attempt to summarise the research into the practical ways in which guided reading might be seen in our classrooms.

I have also provided the way I teach guided reading - The Book Club. I have trialled it for a complete year now with my year 5 class but I have also used The Book Club for one term with Year 2 and with year with a year 3 class. I would be very interested in completely honest feedback of my method, especially if you use a similar model in your own school.

A Good Guided Reading Lesson

There are common trends for all guided reading sessions: most are every day and for about 20-30 minutes. The most common guided reading sessions will have ability groups. Groups are may well be dynamic; they might change in response to assessment and student need; the intention is that they are flexible and fluid. The teacher will work with a different group one day of the week, thereby getting to work with each group once.

When working with that group the teacher will:

·       Match student reading ability to text levels giving everyone in the group the same text. The books aren't matched to 'ability' but matched to making progress.

·       Introducing students to skills in their reading processes: word solving, searching for and using information, self-monitoring and correcting, summarizing information, maintaining fluency, adjusting for purpose and genre, predicting, making connections (personal, other texts, and world knowledge), synthesizing, inferring, analyzing, and critiquing.

·       Assessment - The teacher will observe and make notes while students read

·       Introduction—Ask students to examine the book to see what they notice. Support students guiding themselves through a preview of the book and thinking about the text. Students may notice the book’s format or a particular element of the print.

·       Reading practice—Rotate from student to student supporting the child if they get stuck on words or points of comprehension either through questioning or peer-support.  

·       Discussion—Let students talk about what they noticed while reading. Support their efforts to think deeply and connect across the whole book. For example, a student may notice that an illustration opening the text shows ingredients in a pantry, and at the end, they are all over the kitchen.

The students not working with the teacher will often be working on differentiated activities. Normally a follow-up activity for the group that was with the teacher the day before. Perhaps if you have the resources, a teaching assistant might work with another group. Groups often complete comprehension activities, spellings, handwriting practise, use technology (even using blogging and Skype is popular), Students might reflect on the reading (Book review, wanted poster for a character, create their own endings, middles and beginnings). A wide variety of activities are possible and they often focus on skills, mostly in the form of consolidation. This can be a lot of work for the teacher, differentiating so many ways for each session is exhausting and as a result you might have a coloured timetable so that some overlapping of activities make your life easier. A group doing 'free reading' whereby they read any book of their choice for pleasure is a good slot that achieves the goal of 'freedom of choice' for the student and less work for the teacher.

The underlying classroom management strategy of guided reading is that you have to work exclusively with your guided group, attention to them is very important to the whole process, as a result the independent activities are, in short, ways of crowd-controlling the rest of the class. There is a push for those activities to be extremely progress driven. You often question the purpose of some of the activities. From my own experience, you wonder where on earth your students are getting a lifelong love of reading from. In KS2, the books tend to be quite long and you can't get through them in one session. Therefore, they overlap into several guided reading sessions. What can often happen is, they read with you on the Monday, follow-up activity on the Tuesday, Free read on Wednesday, Grammar activity on Thursday and Comprehension on Friday. It's a week before they get back to reading the book. I've certainly forgotten what's happened, the students are positively unmotivated and disinterested.

Sometimes teachers might allow time each day for students to read their guided reading book. This is a good idea, but it moves away from aiding students' development of skills in reading and just becomes a free read. They read at different speeds and you end up with students at completely different points. Some teachers allow their class to read some of their books at night, this is not always possible with resources and many schools don't allow guided reading books to be taken home. The opportunities for continuing the book during school time are not numerous - especially with added pressures to your timetable.

I decided I had a few issues with the way I taught guided reading.

·       Little encouragement for student's love of reading

·       Follow-up activities often not about reading at all and sometimes merely 'crowd-controlling'

·       Students just wanting to read more

·       Students wanting to take control of discussions and debates

·       Students wanting to be more independent

I wasn't happy and I decided to research guided reading more deeply. Once again you'll find it here if you have the time. I decided it was important for students to be able to decode, confident readers and mature enough to engage before I tried my new method. Therefore I didn't start it straightaway. I still do believe that this scheme should follow on from the phonics programme/ initial reading programme. After several months I decided to trial it with my Year 2 class. My session was called:

The Book Club

·       Students were split into 5 ability groups of 6 students.

·       Match student reading ability to text levels giving everyone in the group the same text. The books aren't matched to 'ability' but matched to making progress.

·       Appoint a student as 'leader' for the session. Given a dictionary to use.

·       Provide them with question starters they could use (They're nothing special, nor did I make them myself. They are great starting points. Most important thing to remember is the students choose the questions they want to discuss and use them to help themselves, not any assessment criteria you have - They can be found here)

·       Student initiates the guided reading session and acts as the teacher would (questions, help with words, encouraging expression) (One person speaks at a time, very high expectations needed of year 2's)

·       If the teacher is with that group, they model (took a while with a class of year 2's) the way the leader should conduct the session, as well as the way the other students should conduct themselves. (Big push on moving away from 'What does that word mean? - those questions are important but all too common - to comprehension questions which challenge meaning) I found I was continuously reinforcing the modelling as I worked with each group but over time I could move from modelling the learning to facilitating the learning. I could move a whole group forward by recommending to the leader to introduce to the group a new reading process: word solving, searching for and using information, self-monitoring and correcting, summarizing information, maintaining fluency, adjusting for purpose and genre, predicting, making connections (personal, other texts, and world knowledge), synthesizing, inferring, analyzing, and critiquing.

It took several months of modelling, expectations and practice. I used every opportunity. I made full use of shared reading and class texts - anytime during literacy. By the end of one term if you walked into my classroom during guided reading you would see: 5 different groups reading a text, each with a designated leader. The leader would be asking questions (improving their own understanding of the text), using dictionaries to check the meaning of words, understanding the difference between decoding and comprehension.

I honestly didn't think a class of year 2's could do it. The biggest problem I faced was classroom management. I was worried about it before I started and I knew I had to have unbelievably high standards to make it work. The potential problem was having 5 groups reading at the same time. I made sure that only one person from each group could speak at once. This didn't stifle discussion, quite the opposite, I actually found the time students waited for a person to talk meant their own answers were thought out and more deeply developed. Even with only 5 people talking at once, this could still distract each other from reading. I introduced the quiet reading voice, it worked remarkably well because students were conscious about the level of their voice. When they wanted to use expression, they would just revert back to their normal voice and it didn't seem alien to do so. They enjoyed deciding when the expression in the story warranted a voice increase.

The result was a classroom where the whole class was reading a text pitched to their level, they were quiet, could concentrate and could receive encouragement from their peers. They soon realised they didn't need me to read books, they could tackle any book they wanted.

I then moved into Year 3. I wanted to know whether it was just my original enthusiasm for something new, the particular cohort or whether it was a good method for guided reading. Thankfully, it was the latter. Part way through I reflected on the strategy and decided that it didn't encourage a few elements that were key to how I wanted my students to see reading. I wanted them to:

§  participate in more discussion

§  recommend books that they have read to their peers, giving reasons for their choices

I decided to introduce a session on Friday's replacing the 5th guided reading slot. I didn't put them in the same groups, I put them into mixed ability groups of 6. Students would take along the book they've been reading, have read or would like to read or just have ideas of topics they would like to discuss. They would take it turns to 'host their book'. Positive or negative they talked about their book, inviting questions, answering questions. Each in turn would 'host'. This is what I see reading as being, a discussion about themes, characters, things that moved you (for good or bad) I was worried this session would be seen as lacking in progress. I was wrong. They were using the skills they had learnt being the leader of their guided group. They transferred the skills. Asking questions that probe for understanding and not just surface-level questioning. Being able to summarise the book (Because they had to summarise to a weaker member of their group when they were leader). Their evaluation skill was brilliant. In order to talk about their book, they began to make connections between texts. They were being exposed to far more books than ever before.

Last year I took the method into my year 5 class and it was just as successful. I am hoping that by sharing this I will be able to receive some critique and be able to improve this even further. I hope that if someone sees a massive flaw they can point it out to me, it would benefit me greatly.

What I will say is, the students didn't just learn new skills during those sessions - they left with a love for reading. They valued reading as something more than just with the teacher, more than just follow-up activities. I managed to find a way to please people who wish to see progress, skills and did I say progress? But I also managed to do it in a way that left a positive impact on the literary lives of my students.  

 

 
 
When trying to deliver CPD or implement any changes, I have found teachers loosely fit into 3 types of attitude. The Will dos, the Will nots and the don't cares. The Will dos will be positive. They will be enthusiastic about almost anything - annoyingly almost anything. They include the people who genuinely believe in the changes but also people jumping on the bandwagon. They will say such phrases as: 'Any change is good change' or 'Well, [insert prominent name] said it so it must be true for us' or 'SLT are bringing in these changes so we have to just go along with it'. They include the people who don't think for themselves, or at least not enough to provoke any serious reflection. However, they're not the people I want to blog about.

The will nots will be openly negative, unmovable forces of antagonism, the world will change before they do. They will be heard, usually at inappropriate times, saying such comments as: 'I've been doing this for long enough to know what works and what doesn't'. The teacher doesn't even need to be old or experienced to come out with, 'I don't understand why we should be told, it's not like they even teach'. In my mind, if you can reach them then that's great, but they're not the people I want to blog about.

I'm interested in the don't cares. In my experience, there are a lot more don't cares than I ever appreciated. If I ever went into a school and saw 100% of heads nodding, I knew there was a problem. I'm interested in them because they have disenfranchised themselves with the system. They're not just all the traditional, unmovable, geriatric corpses of teachers in the school. They're not the people who have never and will never get on board with change. It's not even the people who think they know best. It's the people who have tried to change their practice, get onboard with the newest initiative but have become apathetic regarding the million-and-one things they have to sit through during CPD. Ironically, I have found that they are the people with the biggest value to the school. They have the attitude of continuity in a changing world of education. If you can win them over on something, genuinely win them over, then almost always that initiative will be successful.  To finish the trend, they will say such things as: 'These assistant heads and deputy heads come with their show stopper changes but they leave within 2 years and we are left to pick up the pieces', or they'll say 'During INSET they cite Ofsted here, Ofsted this and frequently cry "What about when Ofsted come?". Over time, the don't cares just got disinterested.

The don't cares were once the Will dos but people taking INSET and staff meetings have ground down their love for pedagogy by introducing: 'The newest initiative that will change everything' or 'The newest thing Ofsted is looking for'. Is it marking? Is it planning? Is it teaching? Well I'd imagine they're interested in all of those.

You might say, well I don't want those types of people in my school. You might say they're job is to do as I say, well it is but good luck changing anything with that attitude. You might say, well as long as my INSET reaches a few people it will start to improve practice - that's defeatist, don't you want it to reach everyone? I want to blog about the ways you can get on-board the teachers who will go along with every change but deep down close their classroom door and do it their own way.

No amount of bulldozing is going to work

It doesn't matter how much Dweck you knock their close-mindset with, or how much Williams you assess their apathy by, you're never going to see any visible Hattie learning from them. If you start pacing up and down bringing Teach like a Champion to life, you'll get nothing but rolled-eyes and a hand moving closer to the pile of muffins. But to you they'll nod, agree with you, smile and change nothing - it'll infuriate you even further.

Use a sieve

We've all done it, you watch a video, read a brilliant book and your mind is swimming with the way you're a changed practitioner, angels are singing from above - you just can't wait to try it out. Everyone has their opinion on education (hey I'm surprised you've even read it this far). Why are there are millions of different voices on how to teach? Because no one can give an answer for every school. Each school is organic, it changes by the people who work and learn there. What works for someone else, regardless of sometimes overwhelming research, doesn't work for all. Win over the don't cares by not announcing every time you get a 'holy grail' moment and pass everything through a sieve.

Continuous, purposeful, digestives (CPD)

INSET and training should be looking for continuity. John Hattie identifies teachers as being the single biggest variable for good learning. What's one of the best ways to destroy this variable - destroy moral. Announcing that from this day forth we shall rise above the shackles, turn our backs on the past for it was not worthy. For the don't cares, you might as well play Lion King's Circle of Life, because every few years INSETs seem to revive that ethos. Within your opening statement you've got whispers of, "Thank you hot shot, put a lot of effort into last year."

I've been to a few schools where you've needed to bring about a lot of change, but there are other ways of doing it. Bring about big changes but take the staff with you at the same time. Engage the change from the point of view of continuity. Identify teachers you've seen where practice has been brilliant and use their example to ignite change. Blame senior leadership where appropriate, nothing raises moral like a good old fashioned own-up. Do it from within what was already there. It wins moral and doesn't widen the 'Them and Us' gap any further.  

Purposefulness. You'll win them over with leadership, not playing to every whim of Ofsted. Show how you're doing this for the children and don't mention anything other than your overwhelming belief in what you're doing. True passion speaks volumes. If your changes are to show you're 'doing something' or a way to exert your own ambition then the don't cares will cut through it. Some schools do need big changes, but I have found if you take the time to win the staff by putting children at the center, you'll win their classroom.

Digestion and not just to allow time for the digestives to settle. You've got to accept that it takes time. You have to allow time for discussion and opinions to be thrashed out. If you're bringing in an new initiative for the right reason and it is sound policy then don't be afraid to let the teachers discuss its merits and short-comings. I don't mean a classic example of, discuss on your tables what you think of this new policy that I've clearly spent ages on and if you even think of raising a negative point I shall shove a negative point of my own so far up your... Be the person clearly willing to trust teacher judgement and opinion, make changes to your policy there and then to encourage honest discussion. I don't see why CPD should be the only area of school where 'Chalk and talk' is still default. Over lunch, allow for digestion of both food and changes.

So, if you're thinking about what to do during your INSET at the start of term and you've been riled up over the summer by all of the talk on twitter, blogs, books or videos you've had the time to finally watch, think about the types of people you have to pitch it to in your school. Do you want nodding dogs or do you actually want to win them over. In my experience it is powerful when you take the time to think about the different types of people you have in your school and how to pitch it to them. Don't be happy just pitching to the will dos. Don't be happy just complaining about the will nots afterwards. And don't forget about the don't cares. Don't bulldozer your way through, use a sieve, win them over and remember Continuity, purposefulness and Digestives - I mean Digestion.

 
 
From The Ground Up

Reading about head teachers creating their own league tables didn't make me think about whether they were good or bad - a reaction dealt with heavily by some great blogs already - it made me think about whether this could set a precedent for what else the teaching profession could do from the ground up. It made me think about self-regulation.

The DfE will never set up a body which is completely independent. Ofsted is and never will be truly independent. This is not new and I'm sure the view is widely accepted. Any regulator set up by the government will be influenced by politicisation. Education is too important to be a bargaining tool for votes and elections and it is therefore of the highest priority that the teaching profession self-regulate.

The body which regulates any profession should be two things: trusted and independent. Without trust it loses legitimacy. Its ability to be a voice of teaching, for  teaching, is diminished. It needs to be independent, free from political, social and economic restraint. The regulator mustn't look at what is in the best interests of the 'moral fabric' of society nor whether they can get the best value for money, it must look at the best interests of education.

Ofsted is not free from political influence. The DfE appoints the Chairman of the Board of Ofsted, as well as its Chief Inspector. A significant amount of noise has been made over the appointment of David Hoare as Chairman of the Board of Ofsted, mainly because of his ties to Academies Enterprise Trust, but also because of the firing of his predecessor Baroness Morgan. With such ties to the DfE it is hard to imagine that Ofsted will ever lose a level of politicisation.

Similarly, Ofsted doesn't have the trust of the profession either. The politicisation doesn't help but also the way in which Ofsted goes about its business. The way it is seen as battling against teachers 'for the benefit of children' and the way in which its Inspectors sometimes have little experience in education and more often than not don't have specific knowledge of the areas they inspect. It is commonplace for Inspectors with secondary experience to inspect primary schools and subsequently spend their time trying to understand early-years. This isn't always the case, but it happens often enough for the profession to distrust the voice of Ofsted. The impact of this is a polarisation of the profession. SLT dragging the school to meet Ofsted criteria and teachers trying to maintain what they know to be beneficial to their children. The teaching profession is getting too many splinters straddling the fence of: changing political standards v pedagogy.

The government will never relinquish control of an area of policy that can be used in the political game and I can understand why. Education policy is a great vote winner with core voters. If the Conservatives need the support of their core they engage in some education bashing of the 'teaching-left'. Equally if Labour want to rally support they let the Shadow Secretary loose on a 'listen to their concerns' campaign. All the while the teaching profession is rolling its eyes and listening to no one. It is enviable that all of the press recently has alienated the teaching profession even further. Some reforms are good, some are equally terrible, but none are being trusted by the teaching body. A lot of teachers will try as much as they can to continue to shut the door and get on. This is not healthy for anyone that is involved in education.  

An answer to this problem could be the setting up of a body that represents and regulates the teaching profession. The General Teaching Council of England sought to do just this in 1998. It was responsible for awarding Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), it regulated the teaching profession and advised the government and other agencies on a wide range of issues that affected the teaching profession, including standards, teaching and learning. The problem was it was constructed under heavily politicised terms and the result was a body that the teaching profession may have trusted slightly more than politicians, but a body that was definitely not independent. It was set up to appease teachers and did nothing but just add to bureaucracy. Michael Gove swiftly abolished it in 2012 as meaningless. Stating that:

"The GTCE does not improve classroom practice, does not help professionals develop, does not help children learn - in short it does not earn its keep - so it must go.

"And for those who argue that we need a body to help police the profession, let me say this: this government wants to trust professionals - not busybody and patronise them."

Regardless of what the GTCE did or did not do, it was certainly within a swipe of the governments whims. This shows that the teaching profession can't be regulated by any Council or body which is within an arm's length of Westminster. It can't be an Ofsted, set up by the DfE to be 'independent', it can't be set up with powers given by the government like the GTCE, it has to come from the ground up. 

In 2013 there was recent talk of a Royal College of Teaching. A lot was made of it a year ago, there was political consensus that it needed to be trusted and independent, but this seems to have died away. I think a lot has changed since 2013 and we're in even more of a need for a professional body. The idea is there but instead of being proactive towards it, we remain reactive to education policy. I would like to see blogs and tweets that take this idea seriously. 

Similar to medicine, law and nursing a Teaching Self-Regulation Council would gain the trust of the profession and the public by:

·       Taking into account current study of pedagogy

·       Influencing Initial Teacher Training

·       Maintaining a code of conduct holding teachers to account

·       Being peer-reviewed

·       Not being a trade union

·       Being a voice against politicisation

These areas would make the profession more than just an extension of the Civil Service, it would raise the image of teaching in the public eye and restore the confidence of teachers.

Enough background, the real question is: How do we create a professional body that is truly independent and trustworthy? I would argue it has to be done from the ground up.

This has to be a slow process, no grassroots revolution - however muddy school playing-field that sounds - no raise your banner and strike until we have independence, it has to gain the confidence of the teachers, the public and the government. Politics has to be completely taken out of education. There can be no trade union influence. Trade Union's have had their role in protecting the rights of practitioners and this should continue, but their role in speaking up about education policy would have to stop. Trade Unions would have to readdress their role and represent the worker not the educator. They would represent the worker on pay, conditions, pensions and workload but their voice representing the educator on issues such as the new curriculum, teaching styles and ITT would have to stop.

To gain enough widespread respect and support from all it couldn't be a radical voice. It couldn't speak out against policy. It wouldn't work if it was reactionary to every new policy by different governments, it would only serve to be seen as just another educational lobbyist group. Its integrity and independence need to be paramount. In being apolitical it could seek out as broad an appeal for the best pedagogy in education as possible. There are people out there currently who are apolitical and voicing these concerns. There are groups that are apolitical and voicing their concerns to the government. I would argue that that is their problem, they are voicing them to the government which clearly has decided against such appeals. It takes a body to stay out of politics during both Labour and Conservative governments for it to gain a level of apolitical integrity. It has to be a slow process because it would have to work alongside Ofsted, DfE and the Government in power until it could prove itself. It would have to have a long-term view and rise above current frustrations in pursuit of the greater educational good.

If it could attempt to be as apolitical as possible to gain the confidence of the public and the government, how could it gain the confidence of the teaching profession? It would have to be solely represented by them. It would have to include trusted voices on pedagogy, members of ITT, head teachers and be significantly populated by teachers. It would have to speak as a unanimous voice by these different levels of educators. There would exist no 'them and us'. They would speak on behalf of what was best for educating children. They would set standards of professional conduct, not criteria for educational practice. They would provide the best possible information available in the most beneficial way for schools. They would not state a preference for anything. They would provide answers to problems so that schools themselves could decide how best to solve their own difficulties. Graham Nuthall produced a great paper on research informed change it can be found here and he stated that '...we should first find out what kind of knowledge would be most useful for informing teachers' thinking and guiding their practice.' This could be the main guideline for the body. 

This all sounds great, I hope it would be a more independent and better world for education. Whether it sounds too good is an argument I accept, but I would say something has to change. Are we able to get behind the proposal for a Royal College of Teaching? How long does the teaching profession leave it before they lose even more faith in the people representing, governing and controlling them? How long do we continue to be reactionary voices against the latest Ofsted policy or the latest government in power? Are we to continue to roll our eyes, tut and say "Whatever next?"? Do we continue to just be a branch of the Civil Service or do we establish ourselves as a professional body?

When are we going to realise that the only way for fair regulation, that we trust to be independent and in the best interests of children, is to act from the ground up?

 
 
There has been a significant amount of political rhetoric surrounding the topic of citizenship, such words as 'Britishness' and 'civic nationalism' being prime examples. I wanted to use this opportunity to dicuss a topic that will, no doubt, continue to be 'hot' for sometime. 

Citizenship has been a topic of discussion before people were even recognised as a citizens. However, NIcky Morgan has reignited a debate that originally started when the Government published the new teaching standards. The Teachers' Standards states for teachers to ensure they are: 

'not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.' 

She decided to stick with the Govian style of teaching and jump feet first into a tricky debate on teaching nursery children these 'fundamental British values'. Here comments can be found: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28700449

I don't want to focus on the teaching of British values to nursery children, I want to focus on the debate that these values have anything to do with the word British at all. I would argue very strongly that 'Britishness' and 'British Values' are political constructs that are being used for a political agenda that make teachers uncomfortable teaching.

I want to address the questions: What does 'Britishness' mean? and How do we teach British Values?

Ah yes, those distinctly British values that are ingrained in us all as exclusively British. Um, what were they again? Sense of humour - or lack of one? Mutual Respect -fair play old chap? Democracy - something, something Churchill, something, best of a bad bunch, Individual Liberty - ah yes Liberté, égalité, fraternité the most British of values? But yet Britishness seems to be everywhere, we are constantly reminded by numerous quotidian events by the performance of our sporting representatives, the prevalence of flags, symbols and emblems of nationality in public spaces and you only have to google Nigel Farage to see him pulling a pint of Proper Job down the local pub - which the name of the pint inevitably symbolises Work Ethic must be added to our list of 'British Values'. 

Why do we need this political construct? Are the values mentioned not universal or personal rights? Teachers would feel much more comfortable teaching rights as moral or as human rights. Including the word British as a prefix gives it a worryingly nationalist tone. The term has been used to politically coin a sense of national identity and citizenship to please the people who believe this sense of what it means to be British. In trying to find a term and definition, the Government has in fact divided opinion of what it means to live in this country. What it means to be British is different for every single person, even within the same community or school. In doing so, the Government is forcing disunity and forcing people to 'choose sides' within this country where there exists no need.

Another example that highlights the mistrust of using 'Britishness' to describe anything associated with values, because of the political connotations, was the plan for a Britishness day. In October 2008, Gordon Brown dropped plans for a Britishness day, along with suggestions from immigration minister Liam Byrne that it could be marked by such national 'distinctives' as drinking, watching television and appreciating both the weather and Morris dancing. I wonder what the British people think to such a description of their key pastimes. Although this could be argued as containing a significant amount of exaggeration or romanticising, that is almost the point. The term 'Britishness' is used and associated with examples such as these, which is clearly extremely subjective and political. The fact that a day to celebrate Britishness was proposed to encourage unity but then withdrawn because of its apparent negative undertones is a prime example of the difficulties in using Britishness or British values to describe a set of ideals.

How do we teach 'British Values'?

The new curriculum believes it should be taught through history, British history. Michael Gove stated that the 'national story' can be used to show the importance of these values. It is unclear whether the government is intending for the negative elements of British History to be taught as well or for us to pick and choose the few times in history we showed such angelic qualities. Putting the word British onto history restricts our ability to be able to teach in a balance, fair and representative way. Here is the personal value of democracy and Britain has shown it here, here and here - but not here. 

Instead you should use a variety of different histories to teach moral values. By taking this approach you are broadening the minds of children rather than restricting them to a damaging political construct. They are being restricted to the view that the values are exclusively 'British'.  'Britishness' and 'British Values' is a hot-potato topic in schools and could lead to an issue in the teaching of the new curriculum. Britishness, values and citizenship is a very political topic and the culture that has emerged today makes teachers and especially trainee teachers feel as if they are 'walking on egg-shells' as there are numerous 'political correctness 'holes' they could potentially fall into. 

I would advise Nicky Morgan to take the word British out of the Teaching Standards and out of the political rhetoric she seems to have jumped straight into. 

Teach that values are moral, they are universal and the child will form their own personal values that will not be tainted by politicisation.  

 
 
I just came across an article by Andrew Jones 'Coaching v mentoring: what works best for teachers?'. He put forward the notion that most of us have been mentored at some point during our teaching career but very few have actually been coached. Andrew makes clear that it is difficult to tell the difference and he explains that:

 "In a nutshell, mentoring is a way of managing career transition whereas coaching is used whenever an individual feels the need to evaluate their professional capabilities, allowing for genuine continuous professional development (CPD)"

It is an interesting point and it has made me think about the difference between the support I have received, as well as when I have given support.

My brain went through a few mini explosions trying to really pin down the difference between the two and I tend to agree with the origin of the word mentor. In the Odyssey, Odysseus gets Mentor to teach and oversee his son Telemachus. Mentor invested time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of Telemachus. I like this view because it uses the phrase 'assisting the growth ' and I think that it encapsulates the fundamental difference between support and coaching.  

Coaching is very performance driven. It tends to be focused on a improving a certain aspect of a teachers practice and it is usually short-term. You could be coached on a variety of different aspects but coaching is normally more focused and wants to see a much quicker improvement than mentoring. Coaching is expected to yield results as the coach is a 'partner in the growth' as opposed to 'assisting the growth'.

In my experience mentoring tends to be more objective. You see the person being mentored for their strengths, weaknesses, experience and style they can bring and you try to understand how best to assist the natural direction of their career. You establish a relationship that is based on freedom and trust. You don't force a change on their personality of teaching and you never seek to change their style. You look at the person for the best they can bring out of themselves. It is a relationship based on the principle that the mentor can learn just as much about themselves as the person being mentored. This is where my view differs from the one in the article. It is my experience that by mentoring in a way that is 'assisting the growth' you allow room for the individual to evaluate the direction of their own practice and you allow for genuine CPD.

 The article states that mentoring usually takes the form of imparting knowledge. The mentor provides themselves as a model of their own style, strengths and weaknesses. I would argue that coaching is equally, if not more narrow in the way it imparts knowledge. The person being mentored might say "I would like to improve this aspect of my teaching, can you coach me to improve?" The coach then becomes a partner in the growth and they bring with it their own subjective views of teaching. I have experienced people that have said, "What would you like to improve on in your own practice?" to only then go on to say "It is great that you are reflecting but from what I have seen I think it would be more appropriate to do X or Y." I have had scenarios where they have said "Yes you have clearly reflected well and I think that would be appropriate, if you want to succeed you should do this, this and this." Even if they have asked, "How do you think you could achieve that?" The conversation invariably becomes subjective, I do not blame it for being so because a coach can only help improve skills and practice in the way they know and within their capabilities. I have found it difficult to stay objective when there is a clear skill that needs improvement even if it has been identified by the teacher. Some might argue that you should be objective in your coaching and nurture their skills and style while coaching them to improve. In my experience this is difficult to do.

I do not think the best way forward is arguing coaching against mentoring. I think taking on more of a coaching role has a tendency to pass across your own views on how you can achieve that goal. There is a place for coaching but I think it is for the practitioner to coach themselves. The most important way of supporting is in the form of mentoring. You take a long term approach to a person's development. Mentoring takes an understanding that growth is always on-going and any support someone has should fit into where they want to go themselves and not the views of the person giving support. You should seek to understand the whole person, what makes them tick, what their work/life balance is like, what they base their self-confidence on, whether they have any damaging self-perceptions, and how the personal influences the professional. It should develop the person for the future and not just the skills or changes needed right now. In trusting the people you mentor, understanding them and giving them freedom, you can enrich the school community and enhance your own professional development.

Coaching focuses on results and changes which need to be made in the immediate future in order to pass and not fail. Coaching will always bring the potential for subjective influences. Whereas, mentoring respects what people can bring to the community, because it makes them aware of themselves and it gives them the self-confidence to coach themselves.  

 
 
Ofsted have just released their revised guidance for inspections, it can be found here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/revised-guidance-for-inspections-of-maintained-schools-and-academies 

One of the areas that I am not happy about is the fact that inspections will:
  • no longer record on evidence forms a grade on the quality of teaching for individual lesson observations;

So there it is, the end of being given an individual grade for your teaching after your lesson observation. The majoirty of the teaching world will probably be rejoicing about this and we'll inevitably see them posting their joy on GuardianTeach under 'How are teachers relaxing over the summer holidays?' but I won't be jumping over any moon. 

Ofsted are still going to have to give an overall judgement on the quality of teaching in the school so they are still going to have to keep notes so they can collate various observations and make an informed decision. I think it would be naive to think that although they won't be writing information on 'evidence forms' they will still have to take jottings. If the overall quality of teaching in a school is still going to be decided through 'Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate' I can't believe that Ofsted are not going to keep track of in which category they think particular lessons fall into.

So you have to ask yourself the question, if Ofsted are going to keep track then why can't that be communicated to us?

The main argument comes from a progressive style of teaching. Do you want to be labelled as a particular grade or do you want feedback that highlights your strengths and weaknesses and allows you to reflect upon it and improve as a teacher? I'm sure you're leaping in the air pointing at the latter, I would say why can't we have both? I know I'm being judged by you Mr. Inspector and you know what, I know the grade criteria, I know I am good but not outstanding and I can take being told that like a grown-up. I don't want it wrapped in the gift-wrap of educational cliches and potential misinterpretations. I want a constructive conversation and that starts will the benchmark I work by, Ofsted work by, my Performance Related Pay works by. I don't have time for misinterpretation by all of those. I think a grade is a good starting point, no one is under any illusion what you are, you're not exchanging Morse Code winks to ask if you're a 1, 2 or 3 or heaven forbid a short wink, short wink, short wink, long wink. You want to trust that because they've seen hundreds of lessons, they are better at judging yours than yourself and although that may get a few cries of naivety, in my experience it is generally true. 

It also filters down into the practice of the school. If Ofsted no longer give grades, then low and behold I'm sure your appraiser won't be giving them. Have some courage, I've taught lessons during observations when I did require improvement and the observer didn't bake me a plate of cookies, sit me down on a cushion and begin on passive-aggressive feedback, they told me straight that it wasn't good enough and that I needed to improve considerably. We are dealing with children, they are the most important element of our school and if I'm failing them I need to be told. I need a frank conversation about the areas that will have the biggest impact on their learning and I need to be told to get on and do it now. I don't want a few targets here and there so that by the end of my appraisal at the end of the year I've systematically failed a cohort of children, I want clear and unwavering guidance. Ofsted can give this, yes you hope they'll be impartial, you hope that if they do have a preferred teaching style it doesn't affect their judgement - but yes they are only human and they'll make mistakes (hopefully not during my observation) - but I trust that they have the interests of the children at heart and if they give me a 3 and give me 5 areas that will drastically help my children to learn then I am happy for it. No one is bigger than the learning that needs to take place, not my pride, not anything. 

My school this year has trialed the no grade approach to feedback and the consensus is that it: wastes time while the observer tries to say it was good without saying the word good or any synonym of good, it degrades the teacher as a professional (can we take it? Apparently not) but most importantly, it impedes the constructive dialogue that is needed to improve standards. If you can't even say what grade it was, how are you going to confront deep-rooted issues in my teaching style, how are we going to have a productive conversation? 

So I say, give it to us straight! I want you to tell me what I am and then we can talk about why. I can then trust you to give me purposeful criticism. Taking away grades sounds a lot like protecting the teachers feelings and that is fine unless it is detrimental to the dialogue that will drive improvement of education in our schools. 

So when I sit opposite an Ofsted inspector I shall be asking - "Please Sir, ca