New year’s resolutions: 2015-2016

I’ve mentioned previously that I like to start the new school year with my resolutions. This year is not only a new year for me, but a new school and a new role as well. I’m extremely excited to be moving back to Southwark, the borough where I first trained, and to an academy and mixed school for the first time. I remember all too keenly the trials of starting afresh: the students don’t know you, so you must build up trust and predictability of follow-through; teachers don’t know you and don’t know how committed you will turn out to be; not to mentioned the umpteen-thousand-million names to learn.

So, this year, I need to simplify my aims and keep it simple. My two resolutions for this year focus on behaviour and curriculum.

Behaviour

Good behaviour underpins a school’s every success. Without excellent behaviour, even the very best teaching is significantly diminished in its impact. Beginning a new school as a more seasoned teacher and with responsibility, I will still prioritise ensuring the behaviour in my own classroom is exemplary. I’ll be re-visiting Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion chapter on the least invasive intervention, and constantly explaining why I’m enforcing the rules, bringing everything back to the students’ learning.

I’ve made several visits to my new school, and have been very impressed with behaviour on the corridors. But I know this is the result of tireless efforts from the teachers to constantly enforce their expectations, always with a smile, ensuring a calm environment. I need to be vigilant to ensure I am a part of that team of continual reinforcement. There can be no priority more fundamental than 100% of students complying with 100% of the instructions of 100% of staff 100% of the time.

And of course, that goes for the classrooms of others. As a senior leader, I pledge to be visible and supportive in ensuring behaviour is excellent. I won’t be taking children back to teachers who have sent them out. I won’t be walking past a chaotic classroom with a struggling supply teacher because a meeting or pile of work awaits me. And, most vitally, I won’t be blaming the supply teacher, NQT or any teacher for the behaviour of their students.

Curriculum

My role at will be to oversee Curriculum Design, so I’ll be drawing on my ideas from E.D. Hirsch, as well as other school examples, for guidance on what makes an excellent curriculum.

My aim for the curriculum is two-fold. Firstly, I would like to see a coherent curriculum, where students’ learning is systematically sequenced, and then revisited. I’d like to see a curriculum where all students are studying high-quality subjects in a clear and coherent way, and intervention for the lowest attainers on entry still ensures students are receiving a coherent curriculum that will enable them to have choices in later life.

Secondly, I would like to see a rigorous curriculum, where every subject is teaching high-quality content in an academic manner. This will also encompass rigorous testing of the curriculum, to ensure students are remembering what they have learned.

It may sound like an immense challenge, but I’ve been privileged to meet heads of faculty and senior leaders at the school who have already worked hard to put many of the structures in place that will ensure the above is a reasonable expectation. The principal has assembled a team of highly committed, impressive individuals and I will have to work hard to prove my worth and live up to their proven excellence.

Finally, I’d like to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I absolutely love what I do, and the temptation is always to plough into work and forget everything else. I’d like to work sensible hours, see friends and family, and read plenty of books.

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New year’s resolutions – for other people

Ofsted

It is received wisdom in the teacher world that Ofsted is not fit for purpose. Too many people have blogged much more eloquently than I to explain why; simply put – Ofsted need to scale back in a big way. They need to be mindful that everything they say becomes gospel in schools that are gunning for Good or better – that is, all schools. They need to look at the data: are results (including student progress from starting points) good? If so, why? What is that school doing well that other schools can learn from? And if results are awful, as they are in too many schools, what does that school need to do to improve, and how can it be supported to improve outcomes for all students? Other than this – do we really need anything else?

Department for Education (political influence on)

Yes, I know there is an election coming up and you want to put out enough policy ideas to make all the interest groups vote for you. But please, enough. Enough of change. I’ve spent my holiday working out how we will implement the new GCSEs and the new A-levels next September, and calling exam boards who assure me their support materials will be out “soon.” It’s not good enough. You can’t tear up KS3, 4 and 5 at the same time and expect us to just do it all without support, while doing the job we’ve always done (teaching children) as well as we’ve always done it (or better). There are not enough hours in the day. So just spend a year consolidating, supporting, reviewing, consulting. 

Headteachers

Headteachers have the greatest responsibility to build their school’s ethos and support their teachers. I’ve been blessed to have only experienced incredible Headteachers, driven by strong moral purpose, who are exceptional at what they do. The Heads I have worked for have challenged me to be better, but have also supported me without question or anger when I’ve made mistakes. I will never forget the first big mistake I made, in my first year of teaching. The Head took me into her office, asked me what I did wrong, asked what I would do if I could do it again, listened to my rubbish response, and coached me to a better one.

Students

We think we know our students, and in some ways, perhaps we do. But in other ways, we can never know them. We can never know the struggles they face, we can never know what their formative years have done to them, and we can never know their true potential. We just need to keep raising the bar. In my second year of teaching, I predicted a student in the lowest set for English a B, thinking I was being very generous. She came up to me with that grade, asking: “do you think I’ll get a B?” I replied, thinking I was being supportive: “I know you will.” She retorted: “I’m going to get an A, Miss – you’ll see.” And she did. And I did.

 Teachers

All teachers want the best for their students, but that aspiration can look different to different people. There are still teachers out there who say: “that’s really good progress for a student like that.” There are still teachers out there who say: “we can’t control their home lives, and so they won’t ever achieve what they could.” There are still teachers out there who say: “you have to understand that this child has special educational needs.” I know there are, because I’ve met them. These statements are wrong. They are wrong, and they underestimate both what the child is capable of, and the adult. We, as teachers, have enormous power to change a child’s life trajectory. Let’s stop being scared and use that power.