Managing your time effectively

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One thing that I find is very common amongst hard working teachers is that they find it difficult to have a positive work-life balance. I have spoken to a lot of teachers ready to leave the profession because they cannot switch off. This saddens me because, number one, they are a hard worker, number two, they obviously care about the children, and number three, it doesn’t have to be that way!

One of my strengths is that I do have a good work-life balance and I absolutely love it. Yes they can spill into one another, but overall I am happy in both and I want to share how I do it so that hopefully I can help just a few people to stay in the wonderful world of teaching.

I want to start by saying it wasn’t always this way…

When I first started teaching I carried over the attitude I had whilst on my student placements. I took books home, marked until midnight on a regular basis, I planned on the weekends, I thought about planning whilst driving to and from school, I spoke about my teaching life to everyone that would listen and at first I didn’t even notice. It wasn’t until a very valuable NQT training session, when they asked a fantastic question: ‘How much time do you spend working? Include the time at home you spend on it and thinking time on your journeys’ and I realised I spent 70+ hours a week working. I would arrive at quarter to 8 every day, leave at about ten to 6 (when the caretaker would chuck me out) and ten to 7 on a Thursday, and I would continually work at home… It was a joke. I realised I was being paid about £1 an hour and it dawned on me that this was unsustainable.

I decided from that moment on I would limit my work to 8 until 5:30 only and if I had to take it home, it was obviously too much.

What I did…

Prioritise:

When it comes to marking especially, which tasks need immediate feedback? Which tasks need in depth responses? What will make the most impact on your children’s progress?

Planning:

I began to plan more efficiently, thinking about the fact that if the children were doing a piece of extended writing in English on Wednesday, then the writing piece in History should probably wait until Friday.

I realised that if I saved resources and plans in organised folders, for example, place value rather than week one, I could reuse them the next year.

Assessment:

I realised that marking as I go and giving next steps in the lesson was more effective to the children’s learning and my workload. It enabled a dialogue with the children and an opportunity to see where they can develop and act upon it within a lesson, as well as majorly reducing my marking after school.

I realised that getting to grips with levelling and embedding the criteria within my marking feedback allowed me to easily recognise their levels at the end of each term quickly, as well as helping the children understand their next steps.

During planning I decide on a learning objective and success criteria and then I either print these off or get the children to write them out. Then when marking I use these to mark against. The children can see what they have done well by the tick next to the success criteria and where to develop from the criteria marked with a next step. I also highlight good points in ‘brilliant blue’ and next steps in ‘growing green’. Not only can the child see what was great and what needs to be improved, but after half an hour of marking that piece of work (which it sometimes takes) you can remember what was good and what needs developing, plus it actually looks like you’ve read it – bonus!

Data input:

Luckily we have a good system called school pupil tracker and I am quite good with computers so I trained myself on how to use it to my benefit. But what I want to pass on is, you should have a system that works out the progress from one term to a next for you, that can instantly show you who is below average and who is above, that can work out your average point scores etc. Gone is the day in which we have to work it out with calculators ourselves and create our own Venn diagrams. Even now our school doesn’t use all the automatic functions of the system that may actually make our lives easier, such as creating pupil lists of under performing children.

As a leader:

Since my NQT year I have taken on different leadership positions and now I manage three subjects and a phase. I think that a big part of managing my time effectively is developing an action plan and sticking to it. Write down the objective you plan to meet in the allocated time out of class, or that evening after school, and use that time to meet it. Keep a record of how you spend your time and evaluate how effective it is. Are you making an impact or are you wasting your time?

Overall, I won’t pretend I don’t research new ideas about implementing the new curriculum and come up with elaborate lesson plans in my spare time. However the difference is, I only look/think/research aspects I am excited about. If I deem it a boring aspect of my job, I will not address it in my personal time.

I hope that this is beneficial to some people and I am sure there are things I have forgotten but if anyone has any questions or queries then just write it down in the comments section and I will try to respond; if you are a person reading a blog on teaching, you obviously should be in teaching and if I can help, I will.

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Miniature Victorian Society

Due to the new curriculum, our humanities leader changed our topics around and I had to reluctantly let go of World War Two and was given Victorians instead. I love history, so although I was sad that my brand new reading materials were now wasted, I was excited about having a brand new topic… Plus I had already planned an example of a medium term plan based on Victorians when I was humanities leader, so my planning and resources were done. Now the problem, or so I thought, was that the children had already studied the Victorians the year before. So I decided to find out what they already knew… I had a session last term and showed the children the picture below:

IMG_6277 I asked the children to explain how they knew it was a picture from Victorian times. I expected responses such as: the factories were a major part of the industrial revolution or the child is playing with a hoop because that was a popular game in Victorian times. However, the responses I got referenced their old fashioned clothes and that was about it. I asked the children to come up with questions they would like to find the answer to, about the Victorian era. One question was: “Why is it called Victorian times?” Shocked, I couldn’t help but explain right there and then, rather then wait until this term. How could a basic question such as that not have been answered? And so the question was… How do I begin our topic and make it exciting? Whilst watching an episode of ‘About a boy’, a comedy that has no relevance to my topic whatsoever, I saw a parent in the show create a mini medieval society to teach the children about the era. And so I decided I would create a Victorian mini society. I researched online and found nothing, so I had to start from scratch and I thought I would share with you, as you may find it useful. I originally thought of doing it across the year group but in the end I kept it within my class, thus reducing the roles I had originally thought of (which included tradesmen and whatnot). The activity was to take place over 3 days. Day 1: Give the children a brief background about the history of British monarchs and life in a Victorian household. Tell the children they will be taking on roles in the household and will be carrying out their duties. Inform the children of the general duties within a household and explain that there will also be actors and they will be performing some scenes from a Victorian play. Day 2: Children pull out roles from a hat, including their Victorian name. They read them out to the class. I divided my room into a kitchen (which had 2 mini ovens), a dining room, a drawing room (where the artist painted a family portrait), a nursery and a scullery. I sent the actors outside to rehearse some scenes of a play that was actually performed in Victorian times. They then performed their roles throughout the afternoon in the household including cooking some meals from an actual Victorian cook book and eating it. Day 3: Children continue their roles and perform the play. Then the children feedback about what they have learnt and potentially write it up. There are many ways in which to extend and improve this activity but it was thoroughly enjoyable and the children loved it.

Resources added 13.03.2015

Victorian society

upstairs downstairs – victorian script

recipes

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Yet another pointless course

Senior management decided to send me on a middle leaders course in order to aid my development, which was fantastic. And so I was signed up to a four day course.

So far I have experienced three days of the course and only one was beneficial. I am dreading the fourth day.

Unfortunately I think the ideas on how to train and develop people differ amongst many. I personally do not think that discussing what I already do and moaning about aspects of school is aiding me in the progression of my career. And that is what we seem to be doing…

The only beneficial day gave practical and applicable advice, resources, ideas and opportunity to present and receive feedback. It was a productive day and I am crying out for more.

As a result of this course I have one day I can take away with me and four days I can put on my CV. Look on the bright side eh!?

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Fairytale trials

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It’s one of my favourite times of year… Time for a fairytale trial!

Every year I hold a trial for a fairytale character, in order to assess and improve the children’s speaking and listening skills, and to teach them a bit about how our justice system works.

It all started in my first year of teaching when I put the big bad wolf on trial for the attempted murder of the three little pigs. It was an exciting week.

“We are going to have a trial!” I announced.

I split the classed into two mixed ability groups and named them the defence and prosecution. I worked with the defence team, and my teaching assistant worked with the prosecution.

I explained that the trial was to be against the so called, big bad wolf for the attempted murder of the three little pigs. I explained that each team would come up with experts, witnesses and evidence, which must be submitted pre-trial.

I nominated two barristers for each side (two strong debaters for each side). Prosecution set to work with my teaching assistant whilst I began work with the defence.

First of all we established our chain of events. I explained that an actual defence team will look at the evidence against the accused and then come up with a strategy, however, we were coming up with the story ourselves. I said that we should throw doubt on the wolf’s motive and have an argument ready for whatever the prosecution says.

The children came up with some amazing ideas for why the wolf was actually blowing down the houses and decided that the wolf was allergic to pork and had no intention of eating the pigs at all, but when passing the first house, due to his allergy, sneezed, and accidentally blew down the house with the force of his sneeze. He then followed the pigs from house to house to apologise!

They drew up a witness list, including a Dr to testify that the wolf suffered from an allergy to pork, a witness who happened to be passing when the wolf accidentally blew down their houses, and the wolf’s best friend, another wolf, to attest to the character of our accused.

Evidence included an official looking allergy test certificate and some cctv footage of the pigs plotting against the wolf.

The prosecution submitted their witness list: The three pigs themselves, Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma and The Woodcutter.

Each side reviewed the witnesses and evidence submitted and adjusted their strategies. The children nominated one another to be characters in the trial and the rest became the jury. I was the judge.

I instructed the jury that they must remain unbiased and not take into consideration the side they helped to prepare for trial. I explained that if they decided the wolf was guilty then it must be beyond reasonable doubt (I explained what this was), as attempted murder is a serious charge and the wolf could get life imprisonment.

The trial began.

The children gave their opening statements and it became clear that the barristers were very dramatic.

The prosecution began the trial by calling their witnesses. They claimed the wolf’s motive was that he wanted to eat the pigs and was on a murderous spree trying to satisfy his hunger.

We heard a sad tale from Grandma about her previous encounter with the wolf and how she was eaten. However, when questioned by the defence barristers, they found that Grandma ate meat and said that no one was judging her for her dietary choices, and asked the jury if they could blame the wolf for being carnivorous when that was in his nature? The jury seemed sympathetic.

We heard from Little Red, who was definitely a vulnerable victim, and the jury seemed to be against the wolf again.

Then the Woodsman stepped up to testify. The prosecution painted him as a hero, but then the defence painted him as a murderous villain, attempting to kill the wolf by filling his belly with stones and trying to drown him. Again, the jury were unsure what to think of the wolf, as was I.

The three little pigs sounded like they were the victims until the defence team played the cctv footage (acted out a scene) where the pigs had been plotting against the wolf and had set out to boil him in a pot. The jury gasped and did not seem pleased. The pigs defended their actions by saying it was self defence, after the wolf had attacked two of their homes already. The defence said that self defence is not pre-meditated. One of the pig’s stories seemed to have a lot of holes in it.

The defence called their witnesses and told the jury of the wolf’s allergy and recent aversion to meat. The wolf testified to recently attending groups to deal with his addiction to meat and explained that he was now vegetarian.

Both sides presented their closing arguments and the jury voted.

The majority ruled that the wolf was not guilty.

I asked the children what had made them decide the wolf was not guilty. The children said that the defence’s case was more convincing and the clincher seemed to be the testimony of one of the little pig’s, which was not as confident as the others and therefore they thought he was lying.

I explained to the children the importance of the jury in our legal system and asked them what they thought about it. Some thought it was good that a lot of people decide and not just one person, some thought they could be biased by liking one person more than another rather than looking at the actual evidence, some said the jury could be convinced by a good lawyer or expert. They made a lot of good points about the pros and cons of having a jury, but decided they liked our legal system, despite the flaws.

A few days later, one of the children told me there was an advert all about our trial. I looked it up on the Internet and there it was. I asked the children who leaked our trial to the papers, no one would admit it.

I couldn’t believe the fortunate timing of the advert coming out just after our trial, and now I use it every year as an introduction to our fairytale court.

Here is the fantastic advert, from ‘The Guardian’ news:

It turns out I wasn’t the first person to come up with this genius teaching idea and there is a wonderful website for the trial against Jack (in the fairytale of Jack and the beanstalk):

http://www.pthsd.k12.nj.us/SCH/BMS/Curriculum%20Projects/LanguageArts/FairyTale/FairyTaleCourt.htm

It includes witness statements and terminology. I have used it since my first trial. I found there was slightly less creativity and excitement then when the children made up the story, but it meant they had to carry out a more realistic trial, using only the facts found by the police.

I look forward to many more fairytale debates!

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A lack of black protagonists

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I love reading books by Malorie Blackman, she is a very thought provoking author. We have just studied ‘Noughts and Crosses’ for two weeks and now we are studying ‘Pig Heart Boy’.

Two years ago was when I first read ‘Pig Heart Boy’ with one of my reading groups.

The book is about a young boy who has a heart problem and is going to die unless he has a heart transplant, his only option is a pig heart.

Xenotransplantation, and the issues surrounding it, is the main focus of the book but when we reached page 100 something else became apparent. There was an extract from the newspaper with a picture of the protagonist and… he was black.

The children were shocked.

Now you are probably wondering why this was a surprise.

I asked why it was surprising to the children, as the members of the group all happened to be black. Their response was “he doesn’t sound black”. I asked what black sounds like, they weren’t sure, but it wasn’t him apparently.

I asked the children if I sounded black, as I am half black, they said no. I asked them if an extremely well spoken black girl in their year group sounded black, they said no. I started talking in slang in a similar fashion to them and asked if I sounded black, they said yes.

“So you think you sound black if you say things like ‘fam’ and ‘I don’t fink so’?”

“Yes” they replied, eyeing me quizzically, as if it was obvious.

I explained that not all black people talk that way, as I do not, the other black teachers at the school do not, some of the children don’t talk that way either. I said the way they are speaking is due to accent and dialect and white people can also talk using the same dialect as they do. They thought about some of their friends and agreed. However, they still weren’t convinced that the main character was black.

“But he hasn’t got a black name!”

I said I had met both black and white people named Cameron and that you can not necessarily tell the colour of someone’s skin by their name.

They still weren’t convinced.

I explained that the reason they were shocked was because the author had never mentioned the fact Cameron was black at any point in the story, even after the picture in the newspaper extract. I explained that usually, if the story is set in Western society then the protagonists are virtually always white unless they have been described otherwise. If they are not white it is usually for a reason (e.g. They’re a slave) and their skin colour would probably have been mentioned. I explained that, because the majority of books we have read have white protagonists, our natural assumption is that the main character is white, unless otherwise stated.

It wasn’t until the moment I registered the children’s shock that the thought had even occurred to me. I then struggled to think of any books where the main character was black or any other race for that matter.

The children asked me why most protagonists are white. I thought about it and realised that for many years, when books were first being published for the masses, the authors were predominately white because they were the only ones who were literate. I realised that, as a lot of authors in the past and in the present, are white, they write from their own perspectives! If I was writing a book, I would also write from my own perspective. I explained this to the children and said that the issue is not that there are mainly white characters, but that there are not enough black authors, or maybe there are a lot of black authors and their work is not as famous.

I asked the children why Malorie Blackman chose not to write about the colour of Cameron’s skin and just insert a picture towards the end of the book. The children decided it was because it wasn’t important – the main story was about a controversial heart transplant. But they thought maybe she did it because she wanted us to have the conversation we had just had. I agreed.

As a result of this revelation two years ago, I have chosen to study the book with my whole class this year. We have read the first three chapters so far and discussed the potential xenotransplantation and whether or not the children would take the pig heart (they all decided they would, in contrast to my colleague’s class, who virtually all decided they wouldn’t).

I asked the children to draw a picture of Cameron and label him with the emotions he is feeling after deciding to have a pig heart.

Surprise, surprise… nearly every picture has been labelled or coloured with blue eyes and fair hair. However, I was pleased to see 3 exceptions out of 30.

Cannot wait to discuss their pictures tomorrow!

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Being British

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What does it mean to be British? This question was posed to me and my colleagues one day by our headteacher. We came up with many ideas such as having a British passport, being born here and drinking copious amounts of tea. The most important for me was freedom of speech.

We were preparing for our black history month at the time and the theme was ‘Black, British and Proud’. The theme had specified British because in the past our children had focused on icons such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jnr and Usain Bolt. The idea was to get the children to start looking at icons within our own country as well. It also ensured there was much more variety as the children didn’t know many famous black Brits instantaneously.

I started the project by asking the children what nationality they were, and although they are all British citizens, a lot of them identified with other countries such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Nigeria because that is where their parents or grandparents are from or they had been born there originally. Some said they were English, some British. I explained that although we are English as we are in England, England is part of the United Kingdom, which consists of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I said that as our government rules the whole of the UK, on our passports it says Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so we can be defined as British.

We discussed what being British was and our society and the children mainly listed foods associated with our nation such as sausages and mash, and once they started, they could not stop talking about food and so I had to move them on.

I brought up other aspects of our society. One thing I noticed, whilst having our discussion about our country, was the lack of patriotism. A lot of the children’s attitudes towards our government, our healthcare, our transport, our police force, were negative. I have complaints about aspects of our society too, but the overwhelming negativity was extraordinary.

I explained how lucky we are that we can walk into a hospital with a broken arm and they will fix it. We may have to wait a while, but they will fix it. Whereas in other places in the world, if you do not have insurance, private healthcare or cannot pay £1500+ you will have to go home. The children were shocked.

“Why do you have to pay the hospital? They can’t just leave you in pain!”

I explained that running a hospital is expensive. They must pay for qualified staff, extremely expensive equipment, electricity etc. I explained that everyone in our country who works, pays taxes and national insurance and this goes towards running the country and hospitals are part of that. If no one paid for the staff or equipment, no one could fix their broken arm.

The children were still baffled and started asking me questions about how expensive different broken limbs were. I said I didn’t know because I was lucky enough to have been born in Britain and had never been presented with a bill but regardless, I am also lucky enough to have not broken any limbs. I explained that although many people moan about the NHS, without it, millions of people would suffer. I explained that I have rarely had any issues personally and that I know a number of people who work for the NHS and who are passionate about their jobs. I personally love our healthcare system and I am very grateful for it.

I then explained that the money the government also takes from our wages also goes towards paying for schools and that we are lucky that in our country we all receive an education regardless of wealth.

I explained that we are lucky enough to have a welfare system. We can get council houses at reduced rates and a variety of benefits depending on our circumstances. I said that without this system we would have a lot more homeless and starving people.

I explained that the reason we pay our taxes and national insurance is to benefit our country and those that live here.

I explained that the reason people emigrate to our country is because they love our country and the opportunities that it can provide. The reason people find refuge here is because their country is war torn, or they have been persecuted. I explained that we are incredibly lucky to be British citizens.

The children began to understand and attitudes began to change. I asked them to reflect on the lesson and what they have learnt about being British. Their attitudes were far more positive.

I asked them to all research someone that inspires them that is both Black and British. It could be someone famous, in politics, in entertainment, in sport, or it could be someone they know.

The children came up with a wide variety of people and presented their findings in a variety of ways.

I enjoyed a thoroughly written report on Naomi Campbell (a model), a website created about Daniel Sturridge (a footballer), a poster about Chuka Umunna (a member of Parliament who visited our school) and many more. It was very informative and the children were excited to share their work with the class, and the parents who visited during our presentations.

I loved our project and especially enjoyed thinking about what it is to be British. I know I am proud to be British, I hope the children are too.

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Gender equality in schools

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I am an egalitarian. I believe in equal rights and opportunities regardless of gender, race or sexuality.

As a primary school teacher I am able to teach lessons and highlight issues regarding equality. However, my concerns are the subliminal messages we send to the children every day; it may be through what we say, what we do, what is shown on TV, what is written in books, anything.

From the moment children walk and begin to injure themselves a lot of people will reinforce gender stereotypes and be completely unaware. A girl falls and cries and people tend to say “Awww” and shower the girl with sympathy. A boy falls and cries and he is often picked up and told he is a “big, strong boy” and encouraged not to cry as that isn’t appropriate for a “big, strong boy”.

I was lucky that my mother didn’t often indulge me with sympathy and her response was often “Which knee hurts? Shall I kick the other one?” This is probably why I have little sympathy for crying. However I believe that the reaction to crying should be the same for both sexes.

The children I teach have already been exposed to gender bias as it is clear in their actions and reactions. For example, girls think it is acceptable to hit boys because they are annoyed and the boys often just take it. Whereas if a boy hits a girl there is outrage and an angry mob will stampede towards me demanding justice. It has been deeply embedded that it isn’t right for boys to hit girls, but why hasn’t it been firmly implanted that it is unacceptable for girls to hit boys too?

As this seems to happen every year, I show them a fantastic advert (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SzfLVyNHJgQ) which first shows a couple walking down a busy road. First of all the man is arguing with the woman and becomes increasingly physical until strangers intervene. A woman approaches the couple first and then more women get involved asking if she is alright, informing the man that they could call the police and that she doesn’t have to put up with it.

Then the scene rewinds and the same couple walk along the same busy road but now littered with a different set of strangers. This time, the woman becomes increasingly physical. No one intervenes. The camera zooms in on several people sniggering and smiling.

The advert ends with the statistic 40% of domestic violence is suffered by men.

During the clip the reactions of the children are the same as the people on the street. The children are disgusted by the man abusing the woman but openly laugh at the woman abusing the man. It seems to be socially acceptable that women can abuse men and they have to take it.

I then discussed their reactions to the clip and asked them what they though of the statistic at the end. Last time I did it the children began with mixed views. Some said that on reflection it wasn’t the right reaction and it is wrong for anyone to suffer abuse. Others, including boys, argued that boys are stronger so they can handle it and some said “he probably deserved it”.

I asked “Why did he deserve to be abused but the woman didn’t? How do you know what either of them did prior to this? Is it acceptable if they did do something wrong?”

The responses were varied again. Some arguing that it was understandable for the women to be upset but men are stronger so it is never acceptable for them to hurt the woman. They said that the man was strong enough to get the girl off him.

I explained that because this is the perception of many, men/boys feel powerless when a woman/girls abuse them because they do not want to hurt the girl. They often don’t tell anyone about it because they know that the reaction will generally be laughter. Some will say that they should be able to handle a female because they are weaker. The reaction is very rarely sympathy and acceptance. People rarely encourage them to leave the situation. In fact, I have male friends who I have relayed this to who do not accept that it is possible for men to be abused by women. This is what makes it hard for men to own up to it and get out of it.

The children began to understand and explained how their opinions on what happened had changed. Everyone agreed that it was wrong. I am not sure it will translate to actions instantly, but it may give them pause for thought.

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