Monday, 31 January 2011

Teachmeet Cheshire

After having read about Teachmeets on Twitter for the last few years I was excited to find that one would be held just around the corner from school. It meant that for the first time I would be able to see first hand what teachers get so excited about, and I'm so glad I did - it was fantastic!

It was organised by Jan Webb who described a Teachmeet as 'CPD on speed' which I thought summed up the idea very well. There were a number of brave volunteers who offered to share their classroom experiences and around 60 people who came along to learn from each other.

I made notes on my iPhone using an app called Catch.

The Teachmeet was organised using the wiki and Twitter using the hashtag #tmchesh.
Here is a record of the ideas that inspired me most:

Kevin Rendall shared Voicethread:

I had dabbled with Voicethread around a year ago and seeing the way that Kevin had used it to collaborate with pupils in a local primary school has inspired me to use it again. Over the next few weeks I am planning to use it for assessment in French and possibly for a piece of English homework too.

Bev Evans talked 'virtually' about Learning Logs
I was really pleased that not everything shared was technology based. Bev Evans shared her schools way of inspiring children through an exciting homework project where any media can be used to create a mini-project for a given topic. It looked fantastic. Our homework system seems to be working at the moment, but this would be the way I would go if we get the chance to change.
Jan shared various online resources during the evening including:

Helen Morgan described how she used PowerPoint with her students to create movies. They were certainly amazing, but I think this could be a bit advanced for my Year Threes (at the moment!!)
Jan shared a few great-looking PowerPoint plug-ins:

  • PowerPoint Plex which gives you the power to zoom in and out of slide sections and move directly between slides that are not sequential in your presentation. PowerPoints could be far more interesting if we used this! You can also embed documents.
  • I noticed that the computer used on the evening had a Community Clips plug-in - this looks handy for recording screencasts.
  • Mouse Mischief is a plug-in which allows several mice to be used to work on the same PowerPoint at the same time! Fun!
Zoe Ross shared Photosynth. This is a tool that I have heard about, but Zoe made it look so easy to use. This could be great for creating an online tour of the school. You take loads of pictures of the same thing from different views, and Photosynth matches them up so that you can zoom in and out and explore the picture. She also showed some new tools in Google Earth, including the sky view, which would be interesting for our Year Fives to use.
I will also be sharing the random name picker with our staff. This was used throughout the evening to pick the speakers.

David Rogers shared (virually) the Place Creators project which saw the school council heavily involved in the re-design of an area of the school. I really want to steer our school council into being involved in this.
It was great to meet 'blogging evangelist' David Mitchell, albeit briefly, as I've enjoyed reading his tweets over the last year or so. He talked about the staggering effects that blogging has had on the standard of writing in his Year Six classes, particularly in boys. This is definitely something that we are going to encourage in our school. At the moment we have class blogs, but sharing writing this way is not something we have tried. One of his pupils also have a virtual presentation, but I can't find the YouTube link anywhere, but sharing his thoughts on how it has affected him would inspire any teacher! I also spotted. I also spotted David using 3x3 links - something which looks really useful!

In her second presentation, Helen Morgan shared which could be used as an alternative to Wallwisher. It has real potential! She gave a great line which I will use to justify using technology in class: "Just because ICT sometimes goes down is not an excuse to not use it. Sometimes my chalk breaks, but I still use it." Very true!

In the final virtual presentation of the evening, Kevin McLaughlin shared some great tools for making music. This is something that I will be looking into over the next few months, so I look forward to using some of the links he has added to

I believe that plans are already afoot for the next #tmchesh and I hope to attend and be inspired once again!

Monthly Review: January 2011

It's been a chaotic start to 2011 but I've been pleased with what I've managed to do. I've managed to get my school office looking straight which has been a major weight off my mind. Over the last few weeks before Christmas I wasn't able to take care of it at all!

Here are some other highlights:

Finishing school early
For years I've left school at 6pm at the earliest. In preparation for the baby I've been leaving school earlier. I'm trying to leave five minutes earlier each week to try to train myself up, and now I'm leaving at 5.30pm. It means I have to manage my time differently, but it must be done!

Project 365
I've managed to keep my Project 365 up-to-date every day in January. I'm also keeping a record a a tune that stands out from each day and I've done this each day so far. In addition I'm still keeping a sort of diary of events using memiary, and a record of films that I've watched using an iPhone app called My Lists.
My Lists
Creating a nursery
We've created the nursery for our baby girl, ready for when she's ready to use it. I normally hate decorating, but  this time I didn't mind so much! We just need curtains and a couple of decorations and then it's finished!

French course
This month I finished a French Language and Methodology course. We began the course back in October, and it's without a doubt, one of the best CPD courses I have ever attended. My enthusiasm for a subject I do not find easy to teach has been renewed and my confidence is high. I've got so many things I want to try to put in place in my classroom that I think I'll continue to enjoy teaching French forever.

Getting older
It was my birthday in January. We enjoyed a great meal in Knutsford.

Keeping my to do list up-to-date
So far I've managed to keep my job list up-to-date. I hope I can manage this in February.
Attending my first Teachmeet
I thoroughly enjoyed my first Teachmeet and I believe that this style of sharing and training is the future of CPD.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Observing lessons

I recently read this interesting book from the Pocketbook series. It gave some interesting ideas for observing lessons and for being observed.

Here are some of the points that I will take with me after reading the book:

  • Why observe lessons? The book shares lots of purposes for observing lessons and it really makes it clear that observing lessons can be a two-way process - the observer could be there to learn (like a trainee teacher) and also to support the class teacher.
    • To demonstrate a skill
    • To share a success
    • To diagnose a problem
    • To explore alternative ways of delivering a topic
    • To assess performance
    • To support a colleague
    • To learn
    • To coach
    • To work out a solution to a problem
    • To monitor progress
    • To help with discipline
  • As an observer there could be many things that you can be looking for in a lesson, but it is important that the focus for the observation is made very clear. When observing, always consider:
    • What did the pupils know when they entered the lesson (prior learning)?
    • Was this developed or used (reinforcement/development)?
    • What did pupils leave with (new knowledge or skills)?
  • Observers can look at an aspect of your teaching to help your professional development. Ideas could be:
    • Lesson pace and structure
    • Transition between tasks
    • Behaviour management
    • Use of prior data such as key stage results and Fischer Family Trust
    • Teaching the less able/students with special needs
    • Managing group work
    • Use of praise and reward
    • Assessment
    • Key skills delivery
    • Use of support staff
    • ICT use
    • Effective starting tasks
    • How you round off the lesson
    • Pupil progress during the lesson
    • Body language
    • Questioning techniques
    • Implementing specific school policies
    • Use of VAK
    • Differentiation
  • The book describes how schools should agree fair and effective feedback protocols, and has great ideas for how a school can formulate its own criteria for judging lessons.
The book is worth a read if your school has a copy, and, although I think many of the ideas are more suited to high schools, much of the guidance can be applied to primary schools.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Back to the Future

I ordered some new Film Club materials last week and I was pleasantly surprised to receive some extra goodies when the delivery arrived this week - some wristbands. I know the children will love them when I give them out next Friday.

But one of the wristbands jumped out at me as it featured a line from one of my favourite films ever - Back to the Future. "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads," Doc Brown announced right at the very end of the film. It has taken me until now to realise that he wasn't just talking literally.

The line is a metaphor for the future - no one has planned it all planned out. He expands on this at the end of BTTF3 when he tells Marty that, "We make our own future." He's right. With our first baby on the way I intend to always look 'back to the future' and make things happen for us and our little girl.

I'm unbelievable excited about the baby and my wife and I can't wait to enjoy our future together!


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Reading By Six: Leadership Lessons

Reading By Six is a report produced by Ofsted which identifies how outsanding schools introduce reading through phonics successfully. The report was produced to 'challenge all schools emulate practices which are eminently transferable and which should be applied consistently and reliably everywhere.'

I particularly enjoyed reading the section on leadership. Here are some lessons that I must learn and introduce when I become a headteacher:

  • The first, most overt feature of headship in these schools is the determination that children will learn to read.
I cannot help but admire leaders who are incredible focused. Such headteachers know what they want, and are very clear about what they want their children and staff to achieve. I also like the implication that a focus on basics is what makes a massive difference to the children's learning.
  • They articulate the school's vision and its ambitions for children's reading.
I have written about the need for communicating clearly before. Clearly communicating the school's visions, values and ambitions is essential to the success of any initiative.
  • They invest in the best teachers and teaching assistants they can find and scrupulously train or retrain them to teach phonics.
  • They appoint the most suitable person to lead and manage the day-to-day teaching of phonics, reading and writing.
Playing to the strengths of your staff is a really positive way to boost morale and achieve results.
  • They exert instructional leadership through demonstration, monitoring and dialogue.
It seems important to not lose touch with classroom practice. In fact, you need to be seen to be 'fully involved' in the initiative.
  • They build cohesive teams with shared values and consistent practice.
  • They take responsibility for the achievements of the school and account for them to governors and parents.
  • They are obsessive about the quality of children's learning as well as the extent to which teaching engages and ethuses them.
Leading by example?
  • All the headteachers were highly visible as well as being uncompromising about the things that were important for their pupils.
  • The headteachers and senior staff of these outstanding schools expected teaching of the highest quality and were passionately involved in how well children were learning.
  • Consistency and attention to detail are the hallmarks of this leadership team and of the staff. Everyone in the school knows what she or he has to do to improve. Individual performance management targets are set to ensure that all the staff play their part in raising the achievement of named groups of children.
  • Headteachers readily acknowledged that much of the success of their schools was the result of the 'huge commitment from staff.'
Recognising and celebrating the achievements is crucial.
  • They all heavily invested in the training and continuing development of teachers and teaching assistants.
I believe in the importance of CPD, and this seems to have a massive impact on the successful teaching of phonics.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Becoming Brilliant

I have recently read this excellent book about how to 'be brilliant'. More specifically it explains the basics behind positive psychology, and training yourself to be happy. The authors, Andy Cope and Andy Whittaker, introduce their six common sense principles, and I include here the most important points that I learned from reading the book.

Choose to be positive
"Positive people choose to be positive. This conscious choice to be positive and upbeat doesn't make the sun shine or the traffic disappear, but it does put you in a better frame of mind to deal with the rubbish that life inevitably throws at you... By actively choosing to be positive we are better able to attack the issues with purpose, vigour and enthusiasm and are more likely to come up with solutions. 10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react to the 10%. If we understand this rule, we can begin to control our feelings and therefore trigger different behaviours and outcomes."

Understand your impact
The book highlights the importance of the 4-minute rule, made popular by Steve McDermott, who write about the first four minutes of any social interaction being the most important. A quick search on the internet reveals that the rule can be applied to:
  • Getting things done;
What actually happens is that if you do anything with energy and enthusiasm for at least 4 minutes, enough endorphins will be released into your system that makes you feel good and that good feeling gets associated with what you are then doing at the time. (
  • Dating
You can predict how an evening with your partner will be based on the first four minutes of your time together, so make those minutes count! Bring flowers. Greet each other with a compliment. Ask questions about your partner's day. Smile; it'll make a difference. (
  • Family
The book gives a great example of how this can be applied to family life.

Take personal responsibility
"If things aren't working out, positive people are big enough to point the finger back at themselves and say, 'OK, what can I do to get an outcome? How can I change something about me to influence the situation?'"

Have bouncebackability
"When life's dealt you a redundancy or marriage break-up, or when someone you love dies, then it's very hard to bounce back. People who apply positive psychology manage it, largely because they've chosen to be positive and so they know that the current situation is not permanent. They move forward positively rather than wallow in the negativity. If you like, they remain focused on the solution rather than the problem."

Set Huge Goals
Doug Belshaw, in his book "#uppingyourgame: A Practical Guide To Personal Productivity, writes about the importance of setting goals. In The Art of Being Brilliant, the authors write about the need for "HUGGS (Huge Unbelievable Great Goals, whopping goals, on the edge of achievability. You'll need to stretch your yourself to attain them. 'Aim for the sky and if you'll miss you'll end up amongst the stars.' The goals should excite you - close your eyes and picture yourself having achieved your goal."

Play to your strengths
"Be aware of your weaknesses - plug them if they are stopping you performing your job safely or competently. Other than that, chill. Everyone has weaknesses. What you'll find is that successful people focus on their strengths rather than their weak areas."

"Positive people choose to be positive. This conscious choice to be positive and upbeat doesn't make the sun shine or the traffic disappear, but it does put you in a better frame of mind to deal with the rubbish that life inevitably throws at you... By actively choosing to be positive we are better able to attack the issues with purpose, vigour and enthusiasm and are more likely to come up with solutions."

Great advice which I really want to try to follow during 2011 and beyond!

Friday, 14 January 2011


Another great quote from this fantastic book:
Messages should be simple and positive. They should focus on what we want to happen rather than what we don't want. "Get the communication right and the results will follow."
Through learning about leadership over the last few years I have witnessed communication being done well and being done badly, and so, for me, this message is so important. 

I've seen first hand how morale can be damaged if policies, protocols and beliefs are not communicated clearly. The importance of communicating what you want to happen from the very beginning, and leading your team in the right direction, is crucial to building a happy and successful team.

I aspire to be a leader who actively communicates positively with my team and all stakeholders.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Art of Being Brilliant Part One

At a senior leaders' conference in November I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Andy Cope, one of the authors of The Art Of Being Brilliant. His talk was truly inspirational and I bought the talk on which his talk is based. The book has some straightforward advice on how to become happier, and therefore more productive.

"Basically, emotion drives motion (i.e., the way you feel drives your behaviour). Happy people are productive, take fewer sick days, give better customer service and are a positive influence on their colleagues... But the benefits spread wider than the workplace... Happy people live longer, have fewer ailments, are more altruistic, have more friends and make other people feel great too!"

If this isn't a clear argument to promote well-being and work-life balance in school, then I don't know what is!

I will explore some of the themes from the book over a series of posts.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

My top Twitter followers of 2010

Earlier this year I wrote about feeling frustrated with Twitter. I have to say that since then I'm enjoying using it more and more. It's a lot of fun and yet I'm constantly learning too.

Here are my top followers of 2010, based on the number of times they've replied to me:

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Monthly Review December 2010

As the new year begins, I plan to make sure I do write these reviews every month.

The last month of 2010 was, as I'm sure it was for everyone else too, extremely busy. It's almost a relief when it's all over!

Christmas Play
During December my colleagues and I helped to organise our Christmas play for Years Two and Three pupils. This was the first play I have been involved in as a Year Three teacher. We performed a play called The Xmas Factor by Sheila Wilson. It was a terrific experience and I was so proud of the children who gave a first class performance. In total they performed six times, four times for parents and two shows for the other pupils in the school. It is amazing how much Christmas plays can dominate the teaching timetable. But I would argue that chuldren who are good at maths and English get to show it on a daily basis, whereas good performers only get to share their talents a few times a year, so I think it is worth it.

Rearranging House
I have spent a lot of time at home rearranging the house this month. Activities ranged from setting up Christmas decorations to swapping rooms around ready for creating a nursery for our baby. I don't think I will ever get my new office tidy.

Complaining about the weather
I am a bit of a moaning git when it comes to the weather. Put simply, I hate the cold and I despise the snow. Our estate is particularly bad when it's icy. We managed to get the gritters to agree to come round the estate but then it snowed the next morning. The other day it was as warm as 8 degress - it felt like summer!

Eating and Drinking
Oh my word! I have eaten and drunk far too much this month. I intend to run each week this year, and so hopefully I can reverse some of this damage!!

Thinking about stuff
I've been thinking a lot about the way this year has gone and deciding what I would like to do in 2011. I hope next year is all I hope it will be.

An early new year's resolution was to read more books. Since I made my decision I have read at least one chapter of a book every day. I hope I can keep this up all year. I have also joined Good Reads to share my books. Most of my books are now in boxes ready to display on the bookshelf in my new office, but I have kept out the new books I have received over Christmas so I have no excuse to continue to read!

Something Pink

My Project 365 will be something a little bit different. It's a bit quirky. It will be a challenge. It will be fun!

Here is what I have written to explain the idea on the blog:
"Our baby girl will be born in April so it won't be long until I'm surrounded by pink. To help me get used to the colour I'm going to take a photo of something pink each day as a 365 Project."

I will be using Posterous to keep the blog and you can find it here.

My plans and hopes for 2011

I used to think that years with odd numbers were bad. Nowadays, it seems good things happen in odd-numbered years. In 2001 I started teaching, in 2003 we bought our first house together, in 2007 we bought our second house and in 2009 we got married. Here are some of my plans and hopes that could make 2011 another vintage year!

Our first baby is due in April and she's already started turning our lives upside down! Our house is a little bit all over the place due to moving rooms around ready to create a nursery. I hate decorating, but this is going to give me so much pride! I need to adopt a completely different way of working - coming home much earlier so that I can see the baby. Financially I need to be careful as Lisa won't be working for most of the year. The baby will be the centre of our lives, and whilst I'm nervous about it all, I simply cannot wait!

Since reading Doug Belshaw's #uppingyourgame I have realised that my life is a bit disorganised. I really want to sort this out in 2011 and one way that will really help me is to keep more closely to routines. I want to establish routines in work to make me more productive and allow me to leave school earlier each day, routines in carrying out chores at home, routines in taking exercise (running at least once a week and cycling once a month), financial routines, blogging routines and probably other routines too. I don't want to become boring, but what I do want is to have a better work-life balance and to feel more organised.

I really want to spend more time blogging this year, and write more regularly. Things like weeknotes and monthly reviews have not been written consistently in 2010. I like being reflective, and blogging allows me to gather my thoughts (and share them with anyone who likes to read them). I might even take the plunge this year and set up my own web site, but we'll see.

Project 365
I'm really keen to set up a 365 project where I record a photo each day. The problem is that it's 2.30 on day 1 and I haven't got a clue what I want to do. I would like to have a theme rather than record random photos. But I will start something today and I will share it here when I have set it all up. Lots of people have suggested on Twitter that I record the baby, but this is something that we will do anyway without being part of the project. Does anyone have any ideas?