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Learning Spies

Quick one today – over the next two weeks, I have tasked my department with becoming ‘learning spies’. Their mission? To wander round each other’s lessons at some point, and report back to me three things they have seen that are good.
The idea is to get us collaborating more, and sharing good practice more often than just in the department meetings. I also want a list of things we do well as a dept for when the big ‘O’ visit, and it means I’ll get a more representative list of things than if I went in as HoD, as that tends to change people’s behaviour!

Eventually, I hope to get them to agree a time to visit each other (just for a short period) and then feed back at least two things they want to share/steal from the lesson, and something that could have been done differently (What Went Well and Even Better If, if you like that sort of thing…). It wouldn’t be official, just supportive as a dept. If everyone did it, maybe in small groups, you’d get two or three positives back from each person, and one suggestion. It would hopefully boost confidence, share good practice, and help us all to develop our teaching, without it being a scary observation that’s all official and terrifying.

To start with though, positives only. Egos are fragile things, and we’ll need to build up to a point where people feel confident enough to give and take constructive criticism from each other.

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Reflections on the first half term

First: I love my job.  I feel challenged every day (and I love a challenge).

Second: It’s exhausting being this challenged!  I think for the first 3 weeks I was doing 70+ hours a week, although since then it has settled down to a manageable balance.  

I feel as though I’m making progress – the department is a different place according to others who have been at the school and seen the changes happening.  That’s very encouraging, and makes me feel as though what I’m doing is working.

I am a little concerned that, as the end of the 8 week(!) half term drew nearer, I got more and more bogged down in admin, and chasing up other people’s naughty students, and spent less time than I should planning my lessons.  I’ll admit, it was a little bit ‘textbook-y’ towards the end, and that’s not how I like to teach.   

During the week off, I’ve planned a month ahead with my year 9 top set, and will be doing lots of rich tasks and investigations related to the SoW, interspersed with some now-do-lots-of-these-questions lessons to ensure that they are translating their new skills and information to answering questions.

I’ve found it more difficult to do that with my two yr 10 classes though.  They are roughly the same ability level, but one has had several cover teacher periods of time, and so really struggle to focus or apply themselves.  Both classes are very challenging, and are stretching my behaviour management skills!   I’m resisting the urge to move a couple of them out, following the end-of-half-term tests, as I wouldn’t wish them on any other teacher…  You know when you reach the point where you just want to split the room in half, and have the half that want to learn on one side, and the feral ones on the other side, and just leave them to natter/text/pull stupid faces/be a moron while you teach the rest…..?  

The boy/girl split for year 11 seems to be working well.  We took sets 2 and 3 (our C/D borderline students) and merged and then split by gender to give 2 parallel groups.    The girls seem to be thriving under the new system, without the testosterone-fuelled stupidity that boys bring.  The boys are ok, and I think they’re better than they would have been before, but they’re bloody hard work!   One group has the Principal as a teacher, and yet there is still apathy (we set a homework, and she got 16 back, I only got 4….).  The other group has me.  

We have entered 76 students for their linear exam in November (eep!) so there has been a logistical challenge with teaching them.  I’ve been lucky in that I have a support teacher with my group (we are overstaffed) so she has been taking the non-early entry students to another room to work through at their own pace, while I blitz the early-entry boys with revision.  Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to ‘get rid’ of at least 40 of them in January when they get their results.  They’ll be given something else to do (don’t know what, but it’s luckily not my problem) and we’ll be able to reduce group sizes, and focus intervention on different students.   It has meant that we have been able to really direct intervention at the students who need it, by using my intervention guy to take them out of lessons (mostly maths, but some have spaces in their timetables elsewhere) to get extra support in small groups.  

We ran after-school revision by topic twice a week in the run-up to the exams.  We had 4 rooms available, which staff signed up to teach in the office, so they could choose topics they preferred. The topics were displayed on the board in Maths, and students chose the topic they needed the most help with, and went to that room.  This proved popular, although there was a lot of dithering…!

We also took all 76 off timetable for a day on the last day of the half term to do a carousel of maths with 5 teachers.  We split it Number, Algebra, SSM, HD, and problem solving.  I ran problem solving, and laminated questions from 2012 papers that involved thinking skills.  We worked together to decide what it was asking, and how we would solve it.  They drew on their solution with whiteboard pens, checked it with me, and then wiped it clean and swapped for a different one.  It worked well, although I was VERY bored of those questions by the end of the 5th session…

We had about 40 of them in for one or two days at the start of half term too, which was a much more relaxed atmosphere.  Mostly very productive, and those that couldn’t be bothered mostly disappeared at lunch anyway.  

January will tell I suppose!

Other than yr 11, I have introduced ‘Maths Inclusion’, which is an idea I pinched from a previous HoD of mine.  Instead of naughty students spending a day in internal exclusion, they spend the day with me.  If I don’t get enough work from their teachers, they can just do extra maths 🙂  

They hate it (hooray!) and the word is spreading that I’m a bitch.  I’ve explained to them, I’m not A bitch, I’m THE bitch 😉

I’ve been volunteered for leading (I think) a New Technologies group, where we will start with how we get Moodle working for us, and then move on to looking at other stuff that we could use to our advantage.  We get to go to BETT in January, which I’m very excited about 😀

People-management has been quite eye-opening so far.  I have a mix of personalities in the department, some very independent and happy to use their initiative, some who need reassurance quite often that they are doing the right thing.  I think I’ve sussed out the egos and how to deal with them (not just in dept, but around school), but I’m sure I’ll end up eating those words.

My logistical challenge over the last few weeks has been year 7.  We started with 4 groups per year half, with two on each side being timetabled in a half-classroom, seating 18.  Since the start of term, we have had 5 million* new starters, most of whom are EAL students.  This has meant that my KS3 co-ordinator has started to twitch every time his email pings, as he fears more lists of students to place!  We are about to run out of room in Yr 7 Maths (which, frustratingly, I predicted in July) and are having to create a new group on each side.  Unfortunately, Y7 and Y10 have been blocked together, so I have no spare teachers.  I had a plan involving a TA who does lots of maths, but politics intervened, and I have been given a new TA.  She is Polish, and used to be a maths teacher, so should be brilliant, but her language is ‘not confident’ enough yet to take a class.  I haven’t met her, so have no clue what I’m getting after half term.  I’ve had to find teachers to cover the classes until she feels confident enough to take over them, and I’ve had to call the new classes set 4a and 4b, as a TA can’t be in charge of a whole set, and the only teachers available are from Art, and they REALLY don’t want to do it, and we have to plan the lessons as though they are cover lessons and…. (kaboom – too late – my head has exploded.)

*slight exaggeration

Oh, and I won an Innovations grant to paint our outdoor spaces with useful learning stuff.  We are going to paint things to make students think of distances and scale etc.   Near Science will be a scale painted solar system, with orbits shown.  Near Geography and History will be a world map on the floor (ocean name labels to be placed anyone?).  There may also be a scale drawing on the wall of either some mountains or some big buildings to show scale.  Near Maths, we will have a 1-100 grid (stand on a prime/multiple of/factor of….) 0-10m marked out long distance jump (world record marked on) , world record high jump painted on wall. Times tables on wall. Numberline from -10 to 10.  Etc….   

 

IN VERY EXCITING NEWS – The Little Book of Emergency Maths Lessons is now on the iTunes store, and has sold over 80 copies so far! (Well, I say sold, it’s free, but you know what I mean).  Must do the Rich Tasks book next…

Anyhoo – I think I’ve written enough for now. Back soon – promise 🙂

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