New year…New Hope. Deep breath and a big grin.

NEW HOPE

This is the start of my fourth year as a headteacher at East Whitby. The hopes and aspirations for the year are vital. The seeds that are planted in September are the ones you nurture through the year. Year on year we have as a school steadily improved, not change, change, change  but building on the strengths we have and most of the time pushing in the same direction. Fact is we can’t control the outside, but we definitely can control the inside. We can’t change  the “weather.” DfE and Ofsted will do what they do but we will be ready to react accordingly to that, we’ve got sun-cream, wooly hats and umbrellas at the ready.

I do however have a few wishes for the upcoming year. Ones that we will hope to fulfil in our school.

Firstly I wish for this upcoming school year that we, as teachers, act on the principle that education is not only about the mind — but that it’s about the person.   I believe a school must function  for the purpose of developing students as whole people, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge.  My wish is for teachers to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information.  That is not saying that we don’t have to teach stuff because blatantly we do and obviously that is our core purpose, but there is so much more to what we do and we ignore that at our peril.

I wish that we can get children to that spot where learning is a motivator in and of itself and that we embrace the joy that brings. Sometimes we have to engage and excite to get the children there. School should be a joy. Children should rush out to tell parents what they’ve learnt. Smiles and happiness should be synonomous with school, so I also wish that  we make time to have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest  as well as time to work.

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Which brings me to my final wish I also wish that as teachers is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day is a human being, a person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains and  that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools and we never lose sight of our own humanity when we work others.

Now is equally the perfect time to revisit what you are about and to look at those values. Here are ours as a school. I think they stand us in good stead.

East Whitby Vision and Values

At East Whitby we take pride in developing outstanding teaching and learning by holding the highest expectations of all our pupils and knowing the children well. We challenge all children to strive for academic, creative, sporting and personal accomplishment within a broad, vibrant and enriched curriculum. Our students are given time to explore subjects and develop deep understanding.  We celebrate perseverance, resilience and risk taking, ensuring children welcome challenge and are not frightened to make mistakes.

We encourage children to take ownership of and responsibility for their learning, so they have the confidence and curiosity to ask questions, solve problems and respond to quality feedback. Children are praised for hard work, determination and having a positive attitude. In order to create an inclusive school where everyone can flourish, whatever their background, we promote an ethos of respect and empathy, where diversity is valued and celebrated – both within school and the wider world.

Pupils are taught the virtues of kindness, appreciation and what it means to be courageous. Special care is taken to educate everyone in the East Whitby community about the needs of others and how best to meet them.

We foster open and honest communication with parents, carers and specialists and actively seek to engage with all members of the East Whitby community in a positive supportive manner. High quality teaching is a key priority at East Whitby and the relationship between staff and children underpins inspirational, supportive and effective teaching and learning.

Staff are actively involved in identifying their support and training needs and this leads to careers with clear progression. We ensure that there is a wide range of quality training available and that staff are able to learn from each other and share good practice.

It is our aim for all children to leave East Whitby as confident learners with self-belief and an abiding respect for others. We aim to instil a lifelong love for learning and a strong grounding for future success.

We promote achievement by:

  • Holding the highest expectations for all
  • Striving for every child to make the very best possible progress
  • Being restless in our pursuit of excellence

We develop as confident and independent learners by:

  • Providing learning which excites passion and curiosity.
  • Embracing challenge and not giving up
  • Trying our best without fear of failure
  • Speaking knowledgeably about our strengths and areas of improvement

We value supportive and positive relationships by:

  • Bringing out the best in each other
  • Showing pride in one another’s achievements
  • Creating strong partnerships between home, school and the wider community

We appreciate others by:

  • Valuing and respecting the rights of others
  • Making sure everybody feels listened to
  • Promoting good manners and caring attitude

So take that energy and passion that we all start this new year with and make it a good one, whatever the “weather” throws at us.

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Not the Messiah! There are no magic wands.

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Felt I needed to clarify my headteacher tweet. Now going on a internet break

The new academic year is always a fascinating thing. Dreams, hopes, ambitions often fill the air with their heady perfume. However the dreams and ambitions of the last few years seem to be more akin to survival than forging new paths. It is hard. It’s hard for Teachers, SLT’s and heads. I genuinely don’t have all the answers, as a team we have a lot more.  For us this year it’s about doing what we do but better. Honing /polishing/ tweaking.

This however is the point when the “Experts” swoop, praying on the stragglers from the flock.
Never thought I’d agree with Michael Gove but I have to say I’m sick of “Experts”

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There are a lot of people who essentially promote themselves as the new messiah…The man with all the answers (They are invariably men)…They are infallible, armed with their sword of research, their shield of “I think you’ll find…”, the sacred armour of “I know best!”and the helmet of mansplaining. They will without any knowledge of you and your school proceed to tell you how you are wrong and they are right. They will tell some anecdote about some school somewhere that did this thing and it was all amazing.

They will offer you a vision after your 40 days wandering in the desert. A picture of a perfect world, a luscious place where the sun always shines and the lemonade river flows past the lollipop trees. They will tempt you. They will dazzle you with sparkly figures often written on the side of a big red bus. They will present this years thing. (5 years ago they would have flogged Learning Styles or Brain Gym)

 

They will then present their Holy Grail.

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“Do it like I did once…it worked for me” They will say accompanied by choirs of angels exalting their panacea to the heavens.

What frustrates most is the seeds of discord that these “experts” will sow amongst teachers. They will blame SLT’s or heads.

Except they often haven’t done it really. They haven’t led a school and faced the myriad of challenges that fly at you like stalker birds. They haven’t actually put themselves out there and put their career on the line by taking on the challenge.

Those that have invariably won’t tell you what to do, they’ll coach, question and help you find your solution.

Having worked in 7 schools in 23 years the one thing I know is that there is no one answer. What works in one place often won’t work elsewhere. The one common factor in school success is hard work, commitment to the vision and the whole school pushing together.

Now let me show you one I prepared earlier…

*Not all experts do this by the way, some genuinely bring expertise in their area, they are passionate about what they do. They don’t make wild promises. 

 

 

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