Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

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Firstly I just want to say that this book,  in my opinion, was the best picturebook released last year. It is an absolutely stunning book. However it is not an easy read, elements and themes in the book are both challenging and provide a window about something we hopefully will never experience ourselves.

We hear the words “refugee” and “migrant” thrown around so much these days that we run the risk of being desensitized to these stories or worse that these words become scape-goats for our woes. Currently in this country they are almost dirty words. When I posted a tweet a while ago recommending a few books that deal with the issue of migration I received some pretty foul abuse.  I was accused of indoctrinating children. The words and the stories behind the words seem to have been lost.

This book thankfully gives some of that story back to the people who are beginning and enduring  this kind of journey every day. I have to say I was in tears the first time I read it. 

The story begins with a normal family doing those normal  things that we all do by the seaside. It looks lovely and idyllic, but the water feels incredibly dark and foreboding. And indeed, a wave of war comes and washes away everything that the child narrator knows, destroying their family in the process.

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In the aftermath of this the narrator’s mother is forced to make the heartbreaking decision to leave all they have known. Many other people are leaving and dreaming of a country far away with mountains, cities, forests, and animals – all different from what they know.

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This sets up and creates “The Journey” of the title – the family packs up and decides to follow. The trip is long, dark, and dangerous. The farther they go, the more of their precious  belongings they leave behind. (I only spotted  this after Matt Tobin pointed it out to me) When they finally arrive at the border, they are turned away.

Sanna plays pictures against words wonderfully. The use of the child as the narrator creates a naivety and innocence to the written narrative that she exploits brilliantly. As a reader we always know more. She uses a wealth of artistic devices to do this. It’s a book that repays time spent exploring it in spades. Having used it with a number of classes they completely get it too and instinctively interpret the amazing images.

The pictures are all so strong, it’s hard to choose which to highlight, but for emotional power the twin images of the mother encircling her children for protection in the darkness of the forest will linger long in the mind. (see below)

On the left hand page they are all awake and gazing at each other with a warm hue of colours creating an image of protection and love. On the right hand  page (It’s colours notably muted and darker), the child’s words ‘But mother is with us and she is never scared’ counterpoint the image of the mother’s tears cascading down as her children sleep. The subtle change in tone between the images conveys the mother’s fear, the constant threat and the relentless despair that the mother feels. That the children are oblivious to these things makes the page doubly powerful.

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Sanna however decides to leave us on a picture on hope, linking it to the cyclical nature of bird migration, where movement and migration follows the seasons so that life is more bearable and dare I say safe but also that there is still a wish to ultimately return “home.”

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 A beautiful heartbreaking picturebook with real heart that deals with real world issues in a deeply compassionate way. Moments of threat and fear.  (9+) (A great class explore for Year 4 and up. With care could be used with younger children )

Themes :- Forced migration, immigration,  family, loss, hope, travel, voices and viewpoints

I’ve added Amnesty’s fantastic question resource that really help you dig into the text.

Amnesty International Exploring The Journey Together

Matt Tobin blog on The Journey

http://mattobin.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/the-journey-francesca-sannas.html

Also these books would also work brilliantly alongside it giving different perspectives.

 

 

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Safety First…Are you doing this?

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“…In the rush we become

Some things we thought we’d never be

We were surprised by how hard

Left weary and scared

By the nights, spent feeling incomplete

And all those evenings swearing at the sky”

All at Once by Airborne Toxic Event

I can only describe it as one of those weeks. That statement both says it all and is a complete understatement for the week I’ve/we’ve had. I have not had a lot of sleep this week, lots of time has been spent running through my head how we could have done things differently. I’m not sure we could have by the way but that only makes you feel more useless. I’m glad the weekend is almost here because next week cannot be worse. It has hit home this week both how important our job is but also why it is vital that we listen to children.

“…And it comes like a punch

In the gut, in the back, in the face”

We don’t know what’s behind the front door. We don’t know what is going on in our children’s lives but we need to listen and pay attention. When the child lashes out. We need to notice. When the child acts in an unusual way. We need to notice When they dawdle over going home. We need to notice. When they won’t get changed for PE. We need to notice. When they never seem to be equipped. We need to notice.  When the shoes have a hole in. We need to notice. When they haven’t got a coat. We need to notice

WE NEED TO NOTICE.

I worry about systems in school that almost seem to ignore the pupil. Systems where symptoms are addressed but not the cause.

We need to ensure we have robust systems in our schools that join up the dots. that pulls together all the information we receive, that doesn’t dismiss the little things. Systems that put child well-being and safety at the heart of what we do. What we do in our school, our systems does all those things.

Sadly even then it may not be enough. Even if you do all that stuff, it may not be enough. Even if you have all the systems in place, it may still not be enough but at least maybe, just maybe you can look at yourself in the mirror and say we tried.

Book blog no. 3 The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

I had started bloging about another book but after finishing The Explorer by Katherine Rundell I was compelled to just let people know how good it is. For anyone asking for a recommendation for a book set in the rainforest this is that book.  (And that is coming from someone who loves Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea)

A plane crash strands four children in the Amazon. It leaves Fred, Con, Lila, and Lila’s little brother, Max stranded and struggling to survive in a harsh unforgiving environment.  Together they search for shelter and forage for food, all the while Rundell drops hints that the story is more than this which ultimately is exactly what it turns out to be. The dangers of the Amazon leap from the pages the children lurch from moments of success and joy to moments of danger and peril. Just as we feel the children stand a chance nature comes and trips them up.  A map, found by chance,  leads them to a ruined city of secrets and the eponymous ‘Explorer’ of the title.

Rundell as she did in Wolf Wilder creates an evocative believable word and then inhabits it with great characters. The sounds, smells, flora, and fauna are vivid and tangible in the mind. The Amazon she creates is beautiful, wild and astounding. Initially I was struck by similarities to Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and that desperate human need to survive, but the characters ultimately make it a very different story.

It is the characters that hold the story together. The developing relationship between our four survivors  is fantastically done and as in Rundell’s other books is the bedrock from which she builds hers story. That she then has the confidence to throw this up in the air  in the second half of the book and challenge our thoughts about the characters and their motivations is a fantastic. Whilst I believed in all the characters I have to say that Con was the character for me, she is indeed a “Lion-heart” and it was her journey that I enjoyed the most in the story.

Rundell describes here what she wanted to achieve with the book. I have to say she absolutely hits it spot on.

 

I’m trying to be very careful about spoilers, as for me the joy was discovering this as it happens. Howvever the playing in the rain scene was a truly standout moment that truly evoked the idea of childhood.

It’s a cracking adventure and a great story. Go read it.

 

 A thrilling fast-paced survival adventure with real heart set in verdant and luscious setting. Moments of peril and some really rather disgusting sounding food.(maybe that’s because I’m a vegetarian.) (8+) (A great class read for Year 4 and up)

Themes :- Friendship, loyalty, survival, Caring for the environment, coming of age, trust, honesty, broadening horizons.

The link below is to Bloomsbury’s Teacher writing  resource pack

Explorer teacher resource pack

 

Most of all, though, I wanted to write a book in which the children discover that they are braver they think they are. I wanted to write about children discovering that the world is more beautiful and more complicated than they had ever imagined. I wanted to write about fire and food and love. Survival stories are after all, at their heart, about why it’s worth living in the first place.

                                                                                                  K.Rundell for London Review

Book blog No2 Pax by Sarah Pennypacker

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I’m going to put it straight out there,  this is a fantastic book. I have already said on twitter that Pax is one of the best books that I read last year (It was the best book till I read Raymie Nightingale). I would go so far to say is it should be an instant classic.

Pax is a story about a boy and his pet fox and the unbreakable bond between them. The best children’s stories are  little bit dark, and in this book there are whispers of violence, loss and death. Yet the it is also utterly and unashamedly about love and this makes the  tale both powerful, emotional and ultimately redemptive. That it does this without resorting to sentimentality is an achievement in itselfThe story is set in the context of an ongoing war  which whilst being fictional could at the same time  be any historical or contemporary war.  Pax,  is the story of a  12-year-old boy and his pet fox.  It begins with betrayal as the boy’s father forces him to abandon the fox and then takes on a quest structure as the two friends embark on a fraught journey to find each other and make things right.

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Elements of the book are not an easy read. Bad things happen and the book doesn’t shy away from them. Pennypacker uses alternate chapters between Peter, a young boy whose father leaves to fight in the war, and his fox Pax,  who must learn to adapt in the wild in order to survive.

The chapters written from Pax’s point of view are insightful and provide an animal’s perspective of humans and war. Pennypacker worked with a number of experts on fox’s behaviour and this is evident in how she he helps us understand their world.

While Pax learns to negotiate the complications of surviving in the wild and relating to other foxes. Peter’s epic journey is complicated when he breaks his leg and is forced to rely on Vola an eccentric woman and war veteran fighting her own demons.

Both characters grow tougher and wilder as the story progresses and this really lends the story a coming of age feel. The balance of the chapter structure works wonderfully and drive the narrative forward relentlessly.

 

Pennypacker’s use of language is dense and complex. ( Upper KS2 teachers it will challenge and then some.) It is also absolutely wonderful. I have included a brief sample just to whet your appetite.

“The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first. Through the pads of his paws, along his spine, in the sensitive whiskers at his wrists. By the vibrations, he learned also that the road had grown coarser. He stretched up from his boy’s lap and sniffed at threads of scent leaking in through the window, which told him they were now traveling into woodlands. The sharp odours of pine — wood, bark, cones, and needles — slivered through the air like blades, but beneath that, the fox recognized softer clover and wild garlic and ferns, and also a hundred things he had never encountered before but that smelled green and urgent.

The boy sensed something now, too. He pulled his pet back to him and gripped his baseball glove more tightly.

The boy’s anxiety surprised the fox. The few times they had traveled in the car before, the boy had been calm or even excited. The fox nudged his muzzle into the glove’s webbing, although he hated the leather smell. His boy always laughed when he did this. He would close the glove around his pet’s head, play-wrestling, and in this way the fox would distract him.

But today the boy lifted his pet and buried his face in the fox’s white ruff, pressing hard.

It was then that the fox realized his boy was crying. He twisted around to study his face to be sure. Yes, crying — although without a sound, something the fox had never known him to do. The boy hadn’t shed tears for a very long time, but the fox remembered: always before he had cried out, as if to demand that attention be paid to the curious occurrence of salty water streaming from his eyes.”

From PAX by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Pax is as much a powerful tale of the costs of war as it is a story of boy and fox, It offers insights into the impact that the barbarity of war has on humans and animals alike. Pax is ultimately a compelling and heartrending coming of age story. I have to say I cried quite a bit.

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A special mention must go out to the illustrations by Jon Klassen, award-winning creator of the picture book hat trilogy (I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat, and We Found A Hatif you haven’t read them, find them and  read them now!), his artwork magically captures the tone and feel of the book: charming, homespun and emotional.

There are moments of darkness, loss and the graphic brutal reality of war which for me would place it firmly for Year 6 and Year 7 pupils or older. (10+) I would recommend reading the book before using with a class, then you can make informed judgements about suitability.

Themes :- Friendship, loyalty, pacifism, war, environmentalism, redemption, coming of age

 

Pax discussion Guide from Sarah Pennypacker’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book blog No1 The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

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“Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a dark and stormy girl.”

Firstly I Think this book should be being talked or thought about as a book for sharing in our classrooms. It is an absolutely thrilling piece that at turns plays with and shocks the reader and ultimately becomes the fairytale that the opening sentence alludes to.

The story is set against the background of the yet to happen Russian Revolution and the seeds and shoots of rebellion weave their way through the book ultimately driving the narrative. The fact that children are very much the agents of change in this story ensures it has at it’s core an innocence. The picture drawn is of a society very much of have and have nots, with the have nots beaten down and oppressed. Feodora Petrovich and her mother Marina live in the Russian wilderness, not too far from St Petersburg. Though they’re the only humans for miles, they’re hardly alone – not exactly. The Petrovich family has been “wilding wolves” for centuries – since the days of Peter the Great, in fact.

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Wolf wilding is the exactly that : training tamed wolves (though evidently that is not truly possible) to survive in the wild, without any human interference. Feo and Marina take in wolves who were kidnapped as pups, sold as pets, and subsequently became “dangerous” or “nuisance” animals as they aged. Many of “their” wolves left with a piece of their former owners, literally: fingers, ears, noses.

This life is broken by General Rakov who as the antagonist very much acts as the catalyst for the rest of the story. He imprisons Marina and is hellbent on killing the wolves. The story then settles into becoming a quest as our heroine aided and abetted by motley band  in the form of Black, White, and Gray, her adopted wolf family, Ilya, an unwilling child soldier gone AWOL and Alexei , a fifteen-year-old agitator from a nearby village set about freeing Marina from prison before she is executed.

The real strength of the book is down to Feodora. Feo is a fantastic character – feisty and determined like all the best heroines. She’s part wild herself, and more than a bit wolf. She is more than a little rough around the edges, not at all sure how she should talk to people – but she wins others over through courage, loyalty and her  unwavering moral compass. This is a girl who just does not give up. Her relationship with Ilya is the core of the book and the growing fraternal love between them becomes the rock on which the story is built.

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What really works for me is Rundell’s wonderful use of language (words are not ever wasted) and her ability to tip the story between harsh brutal reality and wild fantasy fairy tale without the story ever missing a beat. The entrance to St Petersburg made me want to stand up and cheer, whilst the language of Ilya’s dancing was truly balletic.

There are moments of pure wonder in this book, bits that made my hair stand on end and bits that had me reaching for the tissues.

The Wolf Wilder is a powerful, magical, heartfelt fairy tale. Combining break-neck action with wonderful literary description, the writing grabs like a wolf might and never let’s go.

As a final note the illustrations by Gelrev Ongbico are phenomenal and really add to the text.

Tygertale’s lovely blog focussed on the illustration.

There are moments of brutality and violence which for me would place it firmly for Year 5/6 pupils. 

Themes:-  right and wrong, freedom, family, strength, bravery, sacrifice, rebellion and rewilding

I have included Bloomsbury’s teacher notes  here

The Wolf Wilder Teachers Notes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATs…SATs…SATs ( rolling eye and a massive sigh)

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“SATs, huh, good god
What are they good for
Absolutely nothing, Say it again”

                                                                                                         My new Karaoke Anthem.

Actually that’s wrong. Well designed assessment at the end of phases of education should be incredibly useful. Assessment that supports a childs transition from one phase to the next and supports the next teacher or school in getting it right for the pupils. Assessment that clearly passes on information about what a child can and can’t do and the next steps.

Sadly SATs does none of those things. SATs are a measure of schools not pupils, the pupils seem to be the least important aspect of the process. Most secondary schools will say “Well they aren’t there now!” when they look at a pupils SATs results. Undoubtedly that’s true in the same way that if my son had taken his GCSE’s in September he would definitely have not got the grades he got in May.

Many schools feel they are being driven to prep…prep…prep for the test.  Some schools going as far as to say that they’ll be doing weekly SATs tests to parents as if it’s a good thing.  The high stakes nature of the tests is equally driving a narrowing of school curriculum. I firmly believe that if you stop teaching children stuff and narrow your curriculum then actually you’ll damage children’s chances of achieving in the Reading test as it is currently designed.

I applaud Ofsted and Amanda Spielman when they talk about curriculum. I also know as a school in challenging circumstances rightly or wrongly the dice are stacked against us with regards to Ofsted, it is a fact that a greater percentage of schools with challenging catchments are rated  ‘Inadequate’ or ‘Requires Improvement’. Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re staring down the barrel of a data shotgun.

Now don’t mistake this for me being anti-SATs or testing because I’m not. Don’t think this is me making excuses for low expectations because I’m not. My school was well above national last year and will be in line this year. We believe children should be Literate and Numerate they are core to what we do in our school.

What I am sick of is the sham that has been Assessment for the past 2 years at the end of KS2. I won’t rant about it here I’ve already ranted enough about Writing and the Interim Assessment Framework (ITAF). I won’t use the word cheating with regards to this but I think we can agree not all schools are playing the same game or in some cases even on the same field.  That’s before I even get going on the impact it’s having on writing. Some schools are not even getting the same guidance.

Here are my previous Writing rants.

Writing…Honestly, we need honesty.

#whatawritemess – Independence and honesty.

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This year to add to what can only be described as the absolute shambles that the new SATs have been we have the marking of KS2 SATs, especially the GPS paper.  That many teacher’s and headteachers have spent their valuable weekend time  looking to see if their pupil’s papers have been marked correctly is frankly appalling. The biggest issue is the inconsistency of the marking and the pernickity-ness (I like that word) of the mark scheme.

This is before we even get to the car-crash that will be “2020 SATs and the impossibility of progress” (not keen on the new Harry potter book)

The Independent Assessment review group set up by the NAHT suggested some interesting ways forward both on testing but also on the idea of high-stakes accountability. Sadly I don’t think many have read it. I think its worth a read. Their six guiding principles may give us a start point for getting it right.

Redressing the balance – Assessment Review Group 2017

  1. Assessment is at the core of good teaching and learning
  2. Statutory assessment should be separated from ongoing
    assessment that happens in the classroom
  3. Data from statutory assessment will never tell you the whole
    story of school effectiveness
  4. The statutory assessment system should be accessible to
    pupils of all abilities and recognise their progress
  5. Progress should be valued over attainment in
    statutory assessment
  6. The number of statutory assessments in the primary phase
    should be minimised

So I don’t really have any solutions to this mess but I know we need to stop and rethink. We are currently heading down a blind alley and we need to admit it’s wrong and do something about it.

We need this to be the key question

“How can we make statutory assessment help children on their learning journey?”

It seems sadly the children’s learning part has been completely forgotten.

Perspective…Step back and take another look

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“Here you go
Way too fast
Don’t slow down
Gonna crash
You should watch
Watch your step
Don’t lookout
Gonna break your neck”

Primitives Crash

 

This is a short blog about moments.

Just over a two weeks ago I had a moment. I don’t remember a lot of the moment. I remember a bang. I remember smoke.  Then the next four hours are a blur. There have been tears, lots of tears. There has been an inordinate amount of hugging. Small car vs 40 ton lorry led to only one winner.

It did however make me stop and think. It also did the brilliant thing of putting front and center the important stuff. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of finding perspective but it definitely has done just that.

So this blog now will unadulteratedly and unashamedly be a little…well…cheesy.

I was lost on a winding road
I thought that life had nothing left to give
Then you came and showed me that just to live
Was the greatest gift of all?
And you showed me

Life is a celebration
And Lord, I’m gonna celebrate
Don’t you know that life is a celebration?
So come on now and celebrate, celebrate
Life is a celebration

 

The moment has led to perspective.

You forget how the job swallows you…At the end of the day it is just a job.

You think yourself invaluable…The place will carry on.

So as I walk back into school. I look at our SATs results with pride not worry. They’re an honest reflection of the children in that cohort. Did they work their socks off…Yes. Could they have done any more…No. Do they still love learning…Yes. We won’t play the game where we just prepare children for tests. Education is bigger than that. That runs through the core of our school and I will fight tooth and nail to defend that.

Walking on the beach with my boys at the weekend after five days of solid rain. Perfect and precious. The sand whipping across in swirling patterns, the roaring and crashing of the waves. The hugs and laughter.

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I have some brill friends on twitter, as a group we created  #PID17. That it trended on twitter that day brought us great joy and smiles. Check out the hashtag it’s rather fab and just very silly. Thanks everyone who joined in you reet made me smile.

Perspective is a precious thing. I’ve been jolted back into mine and it feels as though it’s on a slightly different axis to the one it was on before.

I’d say you need to find a balance but in reality there is no such thing. It is a series of ebbs and flows, pushes and pulls. Managing how you deal with that is key. At some points there is no choice and you have embrace and do the thing that needs doing.  Fighting it creates more stress.

Taking time to intentionally be alone – to sit in silence – is an important and essential part of life. For me, it provides perspective and balance.

Books and reading, strumming badly on a guitar, pretending to surf (really just bobbing about on a board), cooking a chilli… Find your thing… Take your moment.

So give the job your all, then walk out the door and make sure you give life your all too. It is just a job, one of the most important jobs perhaps but it is just a job.

Gotta go I’ve got some balancing to do.

 

 

Doing the difficult stuff…It may not be easy but try to make sure its right.

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“It’s not hard to do the right thing; in fact it’s easy. What’s hard is knowing what the right thing to do is. Once you know that, and believe it, doing the right thing is easy.”

Ben Kingsley in the Confession

Stephen Covey described “personality-based leaders,” who were preoccupied with “looking good” (in hopes of being liked) instead of “doing good.” These true leaders, he described as “principle-based leaders.” These leaders struggled to “know the right thing to do,” but then had the courage and integrity to “do the right thing”—even if it was unpopular at the time.
“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” -Ralph Nader
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Leaders face this dilemma frequently, because in the imperfect real world, there are a lot of not-so-good choices, and few really good, clear and right ones. But leaders must decide. That is their job. Leaders don’t always get it right. Leadership seems to be on all  of our minds at the moment. The Election and current political situation seems to have heightened this.

True leaders will not do the “wrong thing” just to be liked. Leaders must make the best available, “right” decision. Flip/flopping for approval is not leadership sticking by your principles and holding fast is. Being able to admit you got it wrong is leadership,  blaming others when things go wrong is not.

Having listened to the rather wonderful @DavidMcQueen at Northern Rocks I was emboldened again to do the right thing. He was spot on the need for bravery in Leadership and also I’m a sucker for a cracking acronym

Bold

Resilient

Authentic

Visionary

Empowering

Leadership should be B.R.A.V.E. Great leadership advice.

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As for everyone else, they have a decision about which kind of leader they want to follow, to vote for and elect, to support. Do you want the vain-glorious leader who always looks good, but cleverly avoids the tough decisions, (or make the wrong ones)? Or would you rather have a leader who struggles mightily evaluating what the “right thing to do” is, and then does it, no matter how difficult, how painful or how unpopular it might be.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” –John C. Maxwell

 

I’ve seen and worked with and for both kinds. I can pick them out to this day—good and bad. I know which kind I want to follow and be. How about you?

Ref
“Principle-centered leadership” by Stephen Covey published 1989

 

 

We are Dreamers and Fools.

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“You say I’m a dreamer, we’re two of a kind
Both of us searching for some perfect world we know we’ll never find”

Hold Me Now

The Thompson Twins

 

I constantly try to believe the best in people. I believe the best in children. I believe that children actually want to do the right thing most of the time and that if we teach them and guide them then actually in most cases they will choose to do the right thing without us forcing them. Most of the children in our school make the right choices most of the time. They are kind, compassionate and thoughtful. They look after and support each other, they choose to do the right things.  I’ve been called ‘naive’ for this view by a high-profile tweeter. Actually I am anything but naive, 23 years teaching and working in inner-city schools makes you anything but. What I am however I’ll admit is a bit of a dreamer, I’m an optimist, I genuinely believe that we can make the world a better place. I believe that education can change the world, I also believe that education is about much more that passing some exams. The purpose of our education system must be about giving our young people the opportunities to dream. Creating Literate and Numerate pupils is vital but to truly motivate our pupils the vision has to be bigger.

To be honest being based in the North-East I sadly see education as not really being the doorway it should be for our young people. As the father of a 17 year old battling for jobs, dreaming of a career in a field where sadly privilege does often make a difference, where who you know is often more important than what you know I find my optimism dented. Never once however does it stop him, he works even harder to push for that dream. He is an inspiration. After getting nine GCSE’s (including maths and three sciences because he was given no choice)  he is doing Musical Theatre. Nobody at any point spoke to him about his dreams, his aspirations and even if they had there were no options for him in what he was offered. His one career talk essentially did two things it talked about earning lots of money and about being an engineer. We seem to be driving to an increasingly narrow view of education, one where our school data is more important than actually supporting pupils in achieving their dreams and aspirations.

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As education seems to narrow so too has politics with little between the offers of the parties. This general election for the first time in a long time seemed to offer options, real choices. Since the general election, on twitter,  I have seen and read a number of tweets criticising young people for the voting choice they made they too were being called ‘naive’.  How many of those tweeters have actually spoken to those young people and asked why they voted the way they did.

Having carried out an election in school it was fascinating to listen to children’s reasons for voting.

In our School (119 pupils voted) the Results were as follows

Labour 34%

Green 35%

Lib/dem 21%

Conservative 7%

UKIP 3%

The children spoke a language of tolerance, of a caring supportive society where no one was left behind. That’s what they wanted to see.

Equally sat ear-wigging to my son talking to his friends (most of whom could vote) discussing a vision of a better Britain without the cynicism that age brings was refreshing. To be fair they knew a lot more about the parties policies than I did. To hear them fired up by politics was equally fantastic. For many their vote wasn’t about them, it was about a creating a fairer society, the exact society we try to create in our school.  They weren’t just concerned about them it was bigger than that.

Now they may have been idealistic when they voted, but tell me is that really a bad thing? Or is it worse that we actually have lost that ability to believe in a better world.

So here’s to the dreamers…

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us & the world will be as one”

Imagine

                                John Lennon

 

Chelsea Flower Show is not the only place where blooms need to be nurtured.

growing-plants

‘You’re going to reap just what you sow’

Perfect Day Lou Reed

Today is one of those weird days. A member of my staff has gone for an interview for a promotion. It’s the first time it’s happened since I’ve been a head. There is secretly a bit of me that is gutted by this. There is a bit of me that is thinking ‘Well why don’t they want to stay here?’ ‘What’s wrong with here?’

I have to ignore those bits.

Over the last three years I have seen this teacher develop. I have seen them challenge themselves, I’ve seen them make mistakes I’ve watched them fall over a few times. At points I’ve picked them up and set them off again, increasingly now they do it for themselves. They dust themselves down, climb back on that horse and trot on. Whether they get this job or the next at some point if I’m doing my job properly they will rightly move on and go on to impact on more schools and more children.

The moment has just made me stop and think about my job. Fundamentally what is the role of a headteacher.

A member of my governing body and I sat chatting about this just last week and he talked about his time in the police and his analogy really struck. He talked about being a gardener and growing  people,  they often start as seeds and we if we do our job properly we turn them into beautiful blooms and that is when they get picked by others and we get a load more seeds.

I have regularly talked about the need to help teachers to be great. Creating a reflective, supportive culture which challenges our teachers to try to be excellent everyday. It is more than that however. We need to clearly understand their aims and what they really want. It’s really important that the growth is bespoke to the individual. In schools there is often a treadmill towards leadership, the fact is that it’s not the right path everyone.

We have a habit in this country of  promoting people to the point of incompetency. Could we not looks at things in a different way.

Why not let people be really good at the thing they do, use that to its greatest impact and reward appropriately. I had lots of headteachers who did just that for me.

-TANGENT-

I have been very lucky I have had a range of  experiences that have ultimately led me to this point. My journey has been a round the houses route to headship that took 23 years to reach its destination. I had my first five years in the lovely sounding Marton Grove in Middlesbrough working with a wonderful head called Chris Gent.  He gave me space to develop and improve. He helped me improve my teaching. He also had the most effective “I’m disappointed” routine I have ever seen. I definitely stole that from him.

im-not-angry-im-just-disappointed-in-you-quote-1

He pushed me to just get better at the teaching then he when he thought I was good enough he pushed me forward as a lead-teacher.

I was then seconded to Archibald  a school that was at that point in special measures. I was there for an absolutely brilliant eight years. The head Pat Irving was fantastic at building the team and recognising the skills the staff she had and using them to the best effect for the school. It was a joyous time. More than anything in my school I aspire to the team ethic that was instilled in us. I have never laughed more than I did there, I have never sworn more than I did there. The staff room was a place of laughter and support.

Archibald Leavers Video 2005

The trust and faith that Pat showed in me has had profound effects on how I try to lead my school. She both challenged and supported me to be the best I could be, at this point being a head wasn’t even on my radar. She helped me become a good teacher, and let my passion for English impact on the whole school. She also took no prisoners and was always the crap umbrella that let us get on with doing our job. In 2006 that hard work led to an ‘Outstanding’ judgement in Ofsted. I don’t think I have ever been in a school or met a staff that deserved it more.

I then took a sideways move and had a shocking couple of years. I was according to my wife unbearable to live with. The lurch from Archibald to Pennyman was almost too much for me to take. When you’re sat in the middle of something that is ripping you apart in the most destructive way, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, when you lie awake at night because the of it, it can be really hard to see the positives. Pennyman was all that for me. I struggled daily to even go into the place. It was unrelenting. It made me need to get out of schools for a while. Looking back however I learnt so much about leadership there. Mainly that I don’t ever want to be that kind of leader. I was micro-managed to the n-th degree. and there was no trust. Think being a head is in a bit of revenge on this person who had no faith in me.

At that point I left the classroom. I was lucky I got a job as a literacy advisor in Hartlepool, working with  “The Debbies.” This restored my belief in my ability, but also was the point I realised how great a job being a headteacher was. I was inspired by these people managing complex organisations and people. I also for the first time realised I got the bigger picture.

I then moved to Saltburn as a deputy-head teacher and began really to develop the skills of leading. The key bit for me was and still is the understanding of the people you work with. It was a tough but great four years, we got an RI judgement almost straight after I arrived. The head Janet never once blamed the staff. She took it on her shoulders and worked tirelessly to move the school forward. She built us back up, she stuck to the vision of what she believed and carried us on that journey.

Which 23 years later leads me to where I am now.

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So how can we grow our own staff. I  think it’s important, that to develop people, the opportunities are there and it’s the culture that gives authentic experiences. Building capacity is best thought of as both a process as well as a solution for schools seeking to grow. If schools want to get better they must look to make the individual parts better.

  1. Create common goals – (Do you all believe in where you’re going?)
  2. Get to know your staff – (aspirations, ambitions, strengths, challenges and be the person who allows them to be great.)
  3. Look for common links between personal aspiration and school goals. How can enhancing one benefit the other. (Improving you improves us)
  4. All of the learning must be embedded in a trusting environment , in which relationships form a safety net of support and challenge. Make the growth authentic. (Let them have a real impact)
  5. Be aware that in the beginning, however, people are taking risks, and no matter how valuable things may be, in practice barriers may go up when new things are suggested. (be the net under the tight-rope walker)
  6. Let them lead. Don’t micro-manage. (STEP AWAY)
  7. Value that there are different ways for staff to impact on your school. Not everyone wants to be a leader, be creative in how you build your school capacity. (Understand how to grow your different plants, make sure the soil is right and they get enough water)

…building capacity an ongoing process by which individuals, groups, organizations and societies enhance their ability to identify and meet development challenges in a sustainable way…

Keep growing them seeds.