The true test of where you are comes not on the days of languid sunshine, when the birds arc lazily overhead, cooling wind brushes across the glistening white crests and you skim along without a care in the world. Whilst we should be grateful for those days, those days when everything works and all the bits seem to fit together, those days of glorious tranquility. In my experience of almost five years being a head, those days are definitely in the minority.
The true tests come on the days of biting cold, and howling gales. You know those days by the ominous black clouds swirling angrily overhead. The true test comes when you realise that after hours of work there are pieces of the jigsaw missing and the box is empty. The true tests don’t just come alone, they arrive with their mates ready for a ruckus. Those are the days when you find out where you are.
This week is one of those weeks…A perfect storm. A week where you batten down the hatches, aim your bow into the waves and crash on. Not easy but when you step back and look, school is running like you’re sailing in the calmest blue ocean.
Staff absence/ lack of capacity (when you have 12 High needs pupils in a one form entry mainstream primary school any staff illness is a challenge) has crashed upon our good ship relentlessly. Not really the New Year we wanted…we had such plans. Thing is, it is what it is, this is the reality rather than the dream.
This blog is a thankyou to the commitment of our brilliant staff…
That the children haven’t noticed, that the education hasn’t suffered, that school still feels like a well-oiled machine is testament to their sheer, utter bloody-minded commitment to doing a good job.
So thankyou and once more into the breach dear friends…then it’s the weekend. Hopefully the weather will turn, the clouds will clear and we’ll have a sunny updraft. If not we’ll keep riding the storm.
Those who are absent take care, look after yourself, don’t rush back. We miss you but we want you properly better.
The Christmas break is a great point to stop and take stock. To reflect on the good and the bad and to look at what is next. Sometimes it takes people from outside to really come and help you see where you are. When you are in the midst of it genuinely it can be really hard to see the wood for the trees.
I was lucky this term to have some people visit school (Karl, Kate, Mary you know who you are) and see us warts and all, they didn’t see a show (we never put on a show). They saw a picture of an ‘ordinary’ school doing what I consider to be ‘ordinary’ things. For me it was great to see the school through their eyes. You sometimes miss the good stuff that is going on when you’re stuck in the middle of it. So I want to say a huge thankyou to them and also the fantastically challenging Darren Holmes and Jaimie Holbrook who regularly hold up a lens to the work of our school.
As a head for me the key is honesty about where you are and that allows to focus on the priorities and get the next steps right.
What was great for me was that firstly they saw teachers totally focussed on the job, no distractions just getting on with teaching.
They saw really well-behaved, focussed pupils driving their learning without draconian behaviour policies. They saw a curriculum that has after three years of really hard work by everybody, especially my amazing deputy @MeganSuggittDHT who has driven it, is now really impacting on pupils. They saw the everyday, it’s not showy, there are no bells and whistles we keep it simple sticking to what we know works with our children. None of this stuff has been instant. It’s not quick -fix stuff. The key is playing the long-game.
Mary was kind enough to send me some feedback. This again allowed me to hold it up as a lens, it also made me a bit teary.
In 4 years Headteacher has transformed the schools…
However, this has been achieved without ‘bells and whistles’ and mega publicity. Rather, the understated, intelligent focus on getting the fundamentals right.
Behaviour is now brilliant: the school has a calm, purposeful atmosphere where children truly love learning. Again there is nothing showy about any of this: it is the product of important things, carefully thought through, done well.
There is a real, shared purpose in classrooms. Teachers talk to pupils as intellectuals and as a result they share their ideas, build on one another’s idea and are very keen to sharetheir work with other adults
Pupils are unself-consciously mature: beautiful behaviour at lunchtime with individual pupils serving one another.
The focus on reading has a significant impact not only on pupils’ enjoyment of reading, but also on their imagination and the quality of their writing. Pupils in Y6 were producing work of real wit and sophistication as a result of reading rich material. Again, their own voices came through in these compelling accounts. None of it forced.
The school makes a commitment of ‘pledges’ to pupils, important experiences such as visiting a city, building a sandcastle.
The curriculum beyond English and maths is carefully planned to allow pupils to investigate in depth.
Standards now significantly above national.
Very interesting models of staff development again characterised by understatement: a ‘running commentary on teaching.
Mary Myatt 2018
I don’t think what goes on in my school is replicable not because it’s so amazing but because it’s very much down to that group of people, in that place at that time. I’ve visited schools and brought back ideas, some have worked others haven’t.
So here are my top tips…
- Keep it simple. Know what works with your children.
- Be honest…
- Real change takes time, it’s not instant and sometimes you have to hold your nerve. (Play the long game)
- Believe in what you’re doing and why.
- Keep it clear. Do a thing but do it well and see it through.
- Keep the focus on the teaching and learning, create a culture where teachers talk about the work and look and reflect on their practice, (Dump lesson observations and data-related performance management)
- Create a culture of honesty…(honest discussions about what’s going on helps you get it right)
- Get behaviour right (Clue…it involves teaching children how to behave). Create routines and systems that develop the behaviour you want.
- Keep assessment simple. (Is it a tool to help teachers?…if not why are you doing it)
- Marking and feedback…if it helps pupils get better, then do it – most of that is in real-time in the classroom.
- Curriculum…get the underlying core of what it is right. This is where the body of your work should be. Spot that gaps and fill them. (Our pledges are weaved into our curriculum – not a ticklist bolt-on “DfE passport”)
- Don’t constrain teachers let them play to their strengths.
- Create opportunities for your children to show the best of them. They will constantly surprise you.
- Treat children with respect and trust. (They will become whichever version of them we want to create)
- Believe in the people you work with, trust them.
- Listen – a lot
- When something needs doing , do it.
Happy New Year. Make its a good one. The power is definitely yours.
That’s the question that firmly drives Piers Torday’s brilliant ‘The Lost Magician’.
Are you a Read or an Unread?
Which side are you on? Piers pitches us into a bitter caustic war between story and fact. Whilst admittedly fueled by his love of the work of C.S.Lewis, this is undeniably its own beast, and completely stands on its own two feet.
From the moment i took the dust jacket off and saw the superb under the jacket design I knew I was in for a treat. It is a book made with love.
When Simon, Patricia, Evelyn and Larry step through a mysterious library door in 1945 having survived the Blitz , it is the beginning of their most dangerous adventure yet. They discover the magical world of Folio, where an enchanted kingdom is under threat from a sinister robot army. The stories of the Library are locked in eternal war, and the children’s only hope is to find their creator. It is war between harsh fact which tries to reduce everything to data and the imagination of story and creativity with the untold menace of utter ignorance awaiting its moment.
There are so many talking points and references to the now and whilst the book is a love letter to libraries and the power of children’s literature, ultimately it is a book about balance and compromise; of needing and benefiting from differences. For me the key truth is that stories are not just entertainment but provide us with the universal truth of what it means to be human and that they too teach us things, help us to learn and develop and have true value and importance. Fact is world run on facts alone would be a sad place indeed.
A definite future classic IMO.
Age range Year 5/6 pupils and up
This would make a perfect class read with so much to talk about
‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna is one of my favourite picturebooks ever, a beautifully told tale of forced migration told with heart and love.
With ‘Me and My Fear’ Sanna takes us on that next step. What happens when we find a new home and place. Starting a brand-new school as a refugee, unable to speak or understand the language, a young girl relies on her devoted companion, Fear.
Fear is not presented as something to be scared of, more as a thing that is trying to protect us. Fear is soft and round, it is the bubble we put around ourselves to stop things hurting. The problem becomes that fear becomes our barrier to moving forward and dominates our thoughts and behaviours. Realising how we all have those fears and how we control and manage them is key. Sharing this book with children was wonderful to behold especially how they talked about how they could and would help.
As it grows in size from a cute companion into a fully-grown monster, children will recognize the difference between a little healthy fear and allowing fear to take control. We all have fears that a children’s picturebook so bravely addresses this makes it a treasure to behold.
The simplicity of the story makes it perfect for KS1 but it equally has a profound message for older children too.
Teachers are operating in interesting times. We are increasingly becoming an evidence based profession, I am however more than ever convinced that teaching is… well more. If we ignore the evidence from our schools we miss opportunities to truly learn what works.
I believe in teaching and more importantly I believe in great teaching. Being a good teacher isn’t easy, It’s a complex job. W.C Fields famously said, “Never work with animals or children.” But as well as providing the greatest challenge the greatest joy we have within teaching is that we are working with young people. I’m concerned that sometimes this key relationship, this alchemy, gets lost in the rush for evidence based practice.
There is a magic apparent when you see great teaching, an indefinable something that makes your heart sing. There are so many factors that come together to make great teaching, trying to define it is always problematic. I have seen too many occasions where something that worked in one class goes on to crash and burn in another. I think I can recognise the whiff of snake-oil when it’s about . If there is a common factor that characterises great teaching then I believe that at its core is the trusting and honest relationship between the teacher and the children. I realise this is not a new idea and that I will not sell textbooks and training packages off the back of it but just try a bit of completely non-scientific evidence gathering. Ask ten people what the most positive memory of their education is and I would bet my elbow patches that most reply with a tale of a teacher, a person, a relationship.
Some people seem desperate to make out that teaching can just be a formula, do A then B and child will learn C. (packaged and sold…job done) The key issue as I see it is how we measure learning if the measures are flawed then they will only point teaching in one direction. Improved results in exams will only align the direction of travel towards doing better at that thing. Time and again we see evidence of children getting better at the thing we measure. Does that genuinely mean the teaching is better or does it just mean we’ve just got better at ensuring children can do that thing. Speak to a seventeen year old about the stuff they learnt for GCSE it is amazing how much has dispersed into the ether, never truly learnt. Cognitive science may help us to help children remember stuff but it doesn’t hold all the answers however much some would want you to believe that it does.
So where does this leave our evidence based profession? Talk of alchemy and magic is hardly helpful in pushing the research agenda. We need to nurture the craft, the art of teaching. I look at my early years of teaching through interlaced fingers from behind the sofa, I have to admit some of it was a bit duff. But I was given time to develop and I did I became a good teacher. I worked hard at it, I read, I tried stuff and some of it worked. I feel for NQTs who are expected to deliver from the moment they step through the door. I worry that so many leave the profession just when they are getting good. They are not given the space and support to hone their craft.
There has been a big push for our teaching to be informed by research and the scientific method and that is no bad thing. Finding the most effective ways to teach can only help us impact more effectively on the life chances for all our pupils. Teachers that are more knowledgeable about what works, more reflective on the impact of their teaching can only be a good thing. However, the key word there is knowledgeable. I do find it odd that research seems to be increasingly used to shut down debate rather than open it up. There seems to be an increasing consensus to shut down exploration into things rather than open up avenues of research. Quality research should inform our practice but we need to be wary of assuming there is a ‘silver bullet.’
Access to research whilst helpful is not the answer either as there is a big issue that is often ignored, many teachers are not skilled in reading research and science and are not taught how to interpret it critically, in other words how to become knowledgeable. In my time, I have had numerous shiny initiatives thrust into my classroom from SLT’s looking for ‘the answer’ like a post Easter egg dieter extolling the virtues of the latest nutribullet recipe book. But like many of the fad diets pedalled in magazines, these educational revolutions were frequently poorly researched and tenuously linked to a very weak evidence base and alas never ‘the answer’. Learning Styles anyone? In my view, too much research sold to teachers as evidence, is in scientific terms not particularly robust. There are too many variables, sample sizes are often negligible and measures applied are often not based within theoretical frameworks. Research is often funded to fit an agenda and being aware of publication bias is important but ensuring a critical reading of research is the crux of the issue. How many educators have gone back to the original research rather than had a package pushed their way being promoted as the thing that will solve their problems? How many teachers and education leaders have read the limitations of the research outlined by the researchers themselves. Scientists know that research builds an evidence base it never provides proof. Picking out the valuable stuff is not easy. Picking it out without bias is even trickier; we are all sadly prone to confirmation bias. I see lots of practice in schools that is jumping on the latest bandwagon adopted with an uncritical eye. Knowledge rich curriculums/ knowledge organisers/ vocabulary fixes put in schools without true thought o looking for a quick fix. Yet those schools that are doing these things well have spent significant time getting it wrong, adapting the practice. Most would admit to making plenty of missteps on the way. Getting it right is hardwork.
So, with regards to using research evidence in the classroom I would say I am healthily sceptical. As the good Psychology graduate I am, I read a lot, I question more. Good teachers deal in evidence based practice every day. If we encourage staff to be reflective and explore what works in their class they often find the things that make the difference. This may be enhanced by understanding the research but replacing personal insight with off the shelf packages rarely shows impact beyond the initial placebo effect. During the last 23 years, I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time in other people’s classrooms. I say privilege because that is what is, to watch someone teach well is a wonderful thing. A great teacher makes all the difference. If you want children to make great progress then frankly there is no other solution. In our schools, the priority has to be creating the systems that allow our teachers to be great. There is no easy route to that. It is hard work, it takes time, focus and effort, there is no ‘silver bullet’. Teaching is a craft, it is something to be honed not solved. By all means be informed by good research ( not all of it is ) but be mindful that it might not help you to teach fronted adverbials to an excitable year 5 class on a rainy November afternoon. For that, you might need to use a bit of imagination, expertise and the artistic nature of your craft.
This is my pitch for DfE behaviour funding. After discussing with the issue @HeyMissSmith and @greg_ashman I have designed a fundamental behaviour program to support teachers in getting it right in their class. On looking further at the techniques I realised very quickly this was not for beginners. This approach is for master crraftsmen only…
These techniques are not for the faint-hearted or the weak-willed. They require a steely determination, an unwavering focus and the ability to go where others fear to tread. This is why I am classing this as a master’s level program. This is not for beginners, this is definitely not for the faint-hearted. This five step program if mastered will change your classroom and you.
1 THE STARE(TM)/THE SILENCE(TM)
Imagine the scene… a child is chatting at the back of the class, or catching Pokemon on their mobile- phone, or even worse gazing out the window at the majestic herds of wildebeast as they roam across the plains. The first step is THE STARE (TM). Focus your gaze on the individual in question, they do not even have to be looking at you. This must be accompanied by absolute THE SILENCE (TM), if you were in the middle of an explanation stop immediately. Maintain THE STARE (TM), do not take your eyes off the individual. Other eyes in the class will follow the direction of your gaze, quadrupling the power of THE STARE (TM). The increasing atmospheric pressure in the room will ultimately step into the consciousness of the individual in question. You must without fail maintain THE STARE (TM) until the individual in question becomes aware of THE STARE (TM) and makes eye-contact at that point move onto Step 2
2 THE ARM-FOLD(TM)
Once eye contact is made it is time for THE ARM-FOLD (TM). Without relinquishing THE STARE (TM) slowly, actually incredibly slowly (A bit like you’re in slow motion) move your arms into THE ARM-FOLD (TM) position as seen in the diagram above. You must them maintain this position for exactly 23 seconds longer than feels natural or comfortable. You are now ready for Step 3.
3 THE CLOCK LOOK(TM)
This is a quick move and requires precise timing to get it right. You will need either a watch or a clock in the class or on your person. if it’s a clock ideally it will be out of the eye line of THE STARE (TM). briefly do THE CLOCK LOOK (TM)* directing your gaze to your watch breaking THE STARE (TM) and THE ARM-FOLD (TM). Once you’ve carried out THE CLOCK LOOK (TM) then instantly return to THE STARE (TM) whilst repeating THE ARM-FOLD (TM). An optional ‘tut’ maybe added at this point. You are now ready for Step 4
*the purpose of THE CLOCK LOOK (TM) is to imply ‘you’ve wasted my time, now I’m going to waste yours.’
4 THE WHISPER(TM)
You are now ready for THE WHISPER (TM). Once you are assured that you have the pupil’s attention through use of the techniques above you must then employ THE WHISPER (TM). This is an almost inaudible voice (it only works if you have successfully deployed Steps 1-3) you must then directly use THE WHISPER (TM) against the miscreant. What you whisper is key please go straight to Step 5.
5 THE DISAPPOINTMENT(TM)
Whilst maintaining THE STARE (TM) using THE WHISPER (TM) you must then say my specially designed behaviour management sentence “I am not upset…Im just disappointed.” This is THE DISAPPOINTMENT (TM). Please do not play around with this sentence, it has been rigorously researched adapting the sentence invalidates the training warranty.
You should now be fully in control of your class…
I am available for staff training, weddings and major festivals.
I have to say picking my 10 favourite picturebooks this year has been almost impossible, I have another fifty or so bubbling under. So i just closed my eyes and saw which ones kept coming back to me. Now thinking about how to use all these in school next year. They would all be fantastic in primary classrooms. Maybe somebody would like to help me plan what to do with them?
The Visitor by Antje Dam
“Elise was frightened–of spiders, people, even trees. So she never went out, night or day.
One day a strange thing flies in through the window and lands at her feet. And then there comes a knock at the door. Elise has a visitor who will change everything.
The Visitor is a story about friendship and shyness that plays out in a mini theatre, as a child unwittingly brings light and color–literally–into a lonely person’s life.”
The visitor is a wonderfully simple picturebook focussing on the joy children bring into our lives. (this is a bit of a theme of my choices this year, it maybe because some seem to be intent on painting children as being naughty all the time) The use of colour brings a joy to the tale. It has been a book I ‘ve found myself returning too often and everytime I’ve left with a huge smile and a cosy warm glow. A magical book with a big heart.
The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold
‘When a great dam was built by the Kielder Water in Northumberland, the valley below slowly filled with water. But just before this, when the villagers had been moved out, two musicians went back to the abandoned valley. They tore down the boards over the houses, stepped inside and started to play – for this would be the last time that music would be heard in this place. In this astonishing picture book that combines themes of loss, hope and music David Almond pays homage to all musicians, showing the ancient and unstoppable power of creativity’
Whilst Almonds narrative drives the story it is Pinfold’s extraordinary illustration which take this book to another place. Sweeping majestic landscapes full of music and soul allow the reader to get carried away to another place. Together they have created a little piece of magic.
Cicada by Shaun Tan
‘Cicada work in tall building.
Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.
No sick day. No mistake.
Tok Tok Tok!
Cicada works in an office, dutifully working day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his co-workers. But one day, something truly extraordinary happens . . .
A story for anyone who has ever felt unappreciated, overlooked or overworked but dreams of magic, from Australia’s most acclaimed picture book creator. This is Shaun Tan’s first author-illustrator book in five years, and his most important and moving fable since The Arrival.’
This is not a book for small children the depressing picture of day-to-day work life drudgery, the bullying (potentially racist), the grey monochrome palette. This is not an easy book, it is however a book that has left me thinking more than any other this year. Tan combines his evocative artwork with a poignant but clever little tale that may well make the reader look a little differently at the humble cicada. The tale does have a decidedly wonderful twist…seventeen years indeed.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales
‘In 1994, Yuyi Morales left her home in Xalapa, Mexico and came to the US with her infant son. She left behind nearly everything she owned, but she didn’t come empty-handed.
She brought her strength, her work, her passion, her hopes and dreams…and her stories. Caldecott Honor artist and five-time Pura Belpré winner Yuyi Morales’s gorgeous new picture book Dreamers is about making a home in a new place. Yuyi and her son Kelly’s passage was not easy, and Yuyi spoke no English whatsoever at the time. But together, they found an unexpected, unbelievable place: the public library. There, book by book, they untangled the language of this strange new land, and learned to make their home within it.
Dreamers is a celebration of what migrantes bring with them when they leave their homes. It’s a story about family. And it’s a story to remind us that we are all dreamers, bringing our own gifts wherever we roam. Beautiful and powerful at any time but given particular urgency as the status of our own Dreamers becomes uncertain, this is a story that is both topical and timeless.’
Stunning, warm-hearted, strong and beautiful. This book is the antidote to the current political discourse on immigration. It is both true and honest and should be in every school in my opinion. A brave wide-eyed dream of a book full of hope and love. Just what the doctor ordered.
A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith
‘Deep in the woods
is a house
just a house
that once was
but now isn’t
Two children come across an abandoned house deep in the woods and imagine who could have lived there. A House That Once Was is a beautifully illustrated exploration of time, imagination and the nature of home that is sure to provoke discussion. Lane’s artwork is a riot of colour and rich texture that perfectly matches the poetic text written by the New York Times-bestselling author, Julie Fogliano. This evocative, rhyming story is perfect for reading out loud.’
We all know this house, we’ve all walked past this house and wondered, wondered about the stories and memories that it holds. The book find wonder in decay and the passing of time, it creates quiet poetic atmosphere all of its own. This is a book about home and what the word home really means. Smith’s artwork gives us joys to find every time we explore the book. Just a sublime moment of quiet.
Drawn Together by Minh Le and Dan Santat
‘When a young boy visits his grandfather, their lack of a common language leads to confusion, frustration, and silence. But as they sit down to draw together, something magical happens-with a shared love of art and storytelling, the two form a bond that goes beyond words.
With spare, direct text by Minh Lê and luminous illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat, this stirring picturebook about reaching across barriers will be cherished for years to come’
With very few words, this children’s book shows us the power of unspoken language. . The years faded between the grandfather and his grandson as they sketched and united on paper. What starts with dread slowly becomes joys as the generation gap is crossed and Grandfather and grandson cross both the age barrier and the language barrier to celebrate being with each other. (2nd book about really how brilliant and life-affirming children can be)
Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey and Julia Sarda
‘How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream, and a dreamer. Mary is one such dreamer, a little girl who learns to read by tracing the letters on the tombstone of her famous feminist mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and whose only escape from her strict father and overbearing stepmother is through the stories she reads and imagines. Unhappy at home, she seeks independence, and at the age of sixteen runs away with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, another dreamer. Two years later, they travel to Switzerland where they meet a famous poet, Lord Byron. On a stormy summer evening, with five young people gathered around a fire, Byron suggests a contest to see who can create the best ghost story. Mary has a waking dream about a monster come to life. A year and a half later, Mary Shelley’s terrifying tale, Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus, is published — a novel that goes on to become the most enduring monster story ever and one of the most popular legends of all time.
A riveting and atmospheric picture book about the young woman who wrote one of the greatest horror novels ever written and one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein is an exploration of the process of artistic inspiration that will galvanize readers and writers of all ages.’
The book handles Mary Shelley’s difficult life perfectly. Julia Sarda’s illustrations are absolutely perfect for the story, the atmospheric art with its muted colours and foreboding skies captures the mood perfectly. A great picturebook biography.
The Last Wolf by Mini Grey
‘Once upon a time, Little Red set off into the woods to catch a wolf . . .
But the woods aren’t all they seem – and are there even any wolves left? Mini Grey re-imagines the classic Little Red Riding Hood fable in an entirely new way. Can Little Red help her new friends in need and recover the wild days of the past?
This is a powerful, moving and funny picture book which will have children and adults revisiting its exquisite pages time and time again, and discussing the important message it holds.’
A modern parable about caring for our green spaces and making sure that we don’t lose them. This twist on Little Red Riding Hood which has a lot to say about the loss of all things wild. Great for starting a discussion about the wild and about how we can ensure its there for future generations. That its done with huge warmth and humour in testament to Mini Grey’s wonderful writing. Fantastic book.
Florette by Anna Walker
‘When Mae’s family moves to a new home, she wishes she could bring her garden with her. She’ll miss the apple trees, the daffodils, and chasing butterflies in the wavy grass. But there’s no room for a garden in the city. Or is there? Mae’s story, gorgeously illustrated in watercolor, is a celebration of friendship, resilience in the face of change, and the magic of the natural world.’
A beautiful, gentle story about how with a a bit of persistence we can create the world we want to live. Mae is a delightful character and the illustration bring the wonder of nature to life. Florette is an absolute delight.
Bonus book…Similar theme and equally as good…
Secret Sky Garden by Linda Sarah and Fiona Lumbers
When I Was A Child by Andy Stanton and David Litchfield
‘There is magic in everything.
The world is a spinning star,
No matter how old you are.‘
A joyous celebration of childhood and how children can bring joy and life to our world. (told you there was a theme). Playful words and sublime illustration make a memorable picturebook. Went down a storm in assembly too.
Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker
‘A beautiful wordless epic from the Caldecott Honor-winning creator of Journey, Quest and Return.
This year’s summer holiday will be very different for a young girl and her family without Sascha, the beloved family dog, along for the ride. But a walk along the beach to gather cool, polished stones becomes a brilliant turning point in the girl’s grief. There, at the edge of a vast ocean beneath an infinite sky, she uncovers, alongside the reader, a profound and joyous truth…
In his first picture book since his bestselling Journey trilogy, Aaron Becker achieves a tremendous feat, connecting the personal loss of one child to a cycle spanning millennia – and delivering a stunningly layered tale that demands to be pored over again and again’
An epic in every sense of the word. A very personal story of loss becomes a journey through time and history. A magnificent achievement. This is your history curriculum right here.
Bonus Book…Late entry… The Rough Patch by Brian Lies
‘A breathtakingly beautiful and luminescent book about loss and grief, love and hope, and the healing power of friendship and nature, from New York Times–bestselling picture book creator Brian Lies.
Readers of Cynthia Rylant’s classic Dog Heaven, the Fan Brothers’ The Night Gardener, and anyone experiencing loss will be swept up by this poignant story.
Evan and his dog do everything together, from eating ice cream to caring for their award-winning garden, which grows big and beautiful. One day the unthinkable happens: Evan’s dog dies. Heartbroken, Evan destroys the garden and everything in it. The ground becomes overgrown with prickles and thorns, and Evan embraces the chaos.
But beauty grows in the darkest of places, and when a twisting vine turns into an immense pumpkin, Evan is drawn out of his misery and back to the county fair, where friendships—old and new—await.’
Not many books make me cry, this one had me weeping buckets. This explores the emotions we feel when we lose something we love and it does it in a brave honest way. A beautiful book.
*Text in italics is taken from book descriptions in Goodreads
Shut your eyes and trust in me
You can sleep safe and sound
Knowing I am around
Sailing on a silver mist
Slowly and surely your senses
Will cease to resist
Shut your eyes and trust in me”
There is one major barrier to any attempts to reduce workload in schools. It’s one tiny little word but without it we will ultimately get nowhere. That word is TRUST.
Trust is fundamental to life. If you cannot trust in anything, life becomes impossible—a constant battle against paranoia and looming disaster. Just watching half an hour of Jeremy Kyle to see the impact of a lack of trust can have. You can’t have relationships without trust, let alone good ones. Intimacy depends on it. I suspect more marriages are wrecked by lack of trust than by actual infidelity. The partner who can’t trust the other not to betray him or her will either drive them away or force them into some real or assumed act of faithlessness.
In the workplace too, trust is essential. A school without trust will be full of backstabbing, fear and paranoid suspicion. The lack of trust can be prevalent in many schools. Twitter is rife with stories of SLTs asking for this and that, micro-managing to the nth degree. I know a school where staff are not allowed to leave the building till all their books are marked, I know another where reams of planning has to be handed in every Friday. Schools where performance management is about checking whether staff are doing their job rather than looking to help them move become better at it.
How did we get to this point? Well let me a tell you a story
Once upon a time, a long time ago there were some people, some important people who decided that teachers were lazy and didn’t do a very good job, so they decided to check up on them all the time to make sure they weren’t shirking their responsibility and were working hard.
The important people sent people to check up on the teachers. They often came with the desire to find things schools were doing wrong rather than celebrate the things they were getting right.
This led to teachers being afraid of the people who came to check up on them. The teachers listened to what what was said about what other teachers did wrong and made sure they weren’t doing that, they listened to what was said that the other teachers were doing well and they copied that because they wanted to make the checkers happy so they wouldn’t come back as often. Sometimes the teachers were told to stop doing things they thought worked by the people in charge of their school and instead they were told to do other stuff because the checkers wanted to see that even if they didn’t.Sometimes the important people told teachers how to do the job and made them rub their tummy and pat their heads at the same time.
This went on for a long time, but the important people still weren’t happy, so they decided the teachers should only be rewarded if they made sure all their children learnt everything they had taught them, so the people in charge of the schools started to measure their teachers. This made the teachers more scared, this time they were scared of the people in charge of their schools. Lots of teachers were told they weren’t good and then they disappeared, lots more didn’t like being scared and doing things that they knew didn’t help the pupils so they left as well.
The important people threatened the people in charge of the schools and said that someone else would be put in charge if it didn’t get better. As a result this carried on for a long time. Until everybody realised that nobody wanted to be a teacher anymore.
When the important people and the checkers realised this they decided to blame the people in charge of the schools for making the teachers not want to work there anymore and for making them work too hard. They told the people in charge of schools that they had to stop all the silly things they had been doing and asked “Why on Earth have you been doing that?” … I wonder?
The real question is how do we change it. This is where that key word comes in…TRUST. To truly get it right headteachers and SLT’s are going to have to trust that Ofsted and the DfE are true to its word around workload and other issues. (High-stakes accountability is not disappearing anytime soon.) Heads are going to have to be brave and do what they know is right for their teachers, some already are doing so. The caveat to this is that it’s a lot easier to be brave when you are not sat in an Ofsted category. At all levels we are going to both have to trust each other more and equally we have to live up to that trust.
LAs and MATs are going to have TRUST their schools and listen and change their expectations and requirements. (Hands up if you’ve ever been told to produce more stuff by either of those.)
Headteachers are equally going to have to TRUST their teachers and stop running schools as a deficit model where we trust no-one because sometimes people let us down. We need to focus on developing our teachers not measuring them. If you do this you may be surprised at what you get.
Teachers are equally going to have to live up to that TRUST.
I’m constantly amazed when heads claim to be overworked and under constant pressure, yet fail to do the one thing most likely to ease their burdens: trust other people more. They don’t delegate, because they don’t trust people to do what they’ve been asked to do; so they have to take on every significant task themselves. It’s not the pressure of actual work that’s driving them towards some stress-related illness, it’s their lack of trust in anyone and anything. Is it any wonder they’re close to total burnout?
With the pressures and challenges we face I appreciate it’s not easy. As a new head stepping into my school two and a half years ago creating a climate of trust has been my biggest challenge.
A key part of any heads role is to build the capacity you have in school. Without letting go and trusting you won’t move those people forward. A wise old owl of a head I worked with used to talk about ‘passing the monkey back.’ She was so right. Trust will only happen if your culture is right, expectation is vital, but also the guiding hand when it all goes a ‘bit Pete Tong’, which inevitably at some point it will.
I get that it isn’t always easy. Trust takes time and is reciprocal in its nature. To make it happen we have to take a leap. If we want to reduce workloads, we have to look at trusting and believing our staff more. Someone has to begin the cycle of trust by an act of faith. It’s no use waiting for the other person to make the first move. They’re waiting for you. It takes a conscious act of unconditional belief in that other person’s good sense, ability, honesty or sense of commitment to set the ball rolling. Will your trust sometimes be misplaced? Of course. Life isn’t perfect and some people aren’t trustworthy. But will increasing your willingness to trust produce, on balance, a positive benefit? Will it make your life more pleasant and less stressful? I believe so. You have little to lose by trying.
Simon Smith @smithsmm Teachers need to know books really well so they know when to get lost in them, knowing the perfect places to stop and leave children waiting for more. Let the questions be theirs, leave them full of questions but without answers. There is an art to reading a class book.
After saying this I felt I needed to clarify a bit…
There are things that stick with you from school. Moments, memories, bits that change the person you are, bits that set you on a path. For me one of those was being read to everyday. Reading being given real value by a skilled teacher. A teacher who was in completely in charge of the choice, being passionate about the book they are reading and totally showing that when they read it. This was not a book as an end of the day filler it was an important part of the learning day.
Mr Williams was that teacher, that memory, that moment. A master craftsman in the art of reading a story. He would take us to the summit and then bring us careering down the slope on the other side. He would leave us shocked and desperate to know more. The shock I felt when Boxer was carted away in ‘Animal Farm’ and the injustice of it lives with me to this day. He unlocked the understanding in us that books hold something more, that they are portals, to places and emotions and experiences and that we needed to embrace them. The act of him reading made us want to be readers. He made reading important and precious and that is something I’ve hung onto for the last 38 years. Even when I wandered through the bookless wilderness of my late-teens and early twenties. Even after the love of them had been decimated by some pretty inept teaching at A-level, (On re-reading my A-level texts it turns out they were really good) I still knew that books were worth the effort.
There is nothing quite like that feeling of having a class of children hanging on your every word. There is nothing more gratifying than the audible groan when you close the book and leave the class on tenterhooks, desperate for that next bit. It is however more than that. Reading to your class isn’t just a bit of fun it’s important.
I believe that reading to your class everyday is a vital part of what should be happening in our classrooms. I hear lots of people say they can’t afford the time. I would say you can’t afford not to make the time.
This summary from the Open University sums it up well…
The research demonstrated that reading aloud creates a sense of community, building the class repertoire of ‘books in common’ and a shared reading history. Teachers also noted it gives all children access to sophisticated themes and literary language without placing literacy demands on them. At the close of the project, reading aloud was widely viewed as a key strand of a reading for pleasure pedagogy, one which demonstrates the power and potential of literature and thus influences children’s perceptions of the pleasure to be found in reading.
Adapted from pages 94-97 Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge
Through reading to our class we build that sense of tribe and belonging, a shared history and experience (this is one of the massive advantages of primary teaching) When I walk into our classes and that reading history sings out, they have a common language and history regardless of background. Reading aloud allows us to challenge and allows children to access books beyond their reading years, it allows our classes to opens pupils eyes to the wonder that great books provide and it does it without us even saying that ‘reading is important.’ and is a key part in helping us develop pupil’s understanding that reading can be a pleasurable thing, a thing worth doing.
It is however more than that as author Ross Montgomery points your teaching them..
Ross Montgomery @mossmontmomery Replying to @smithsmm Agreed! There’s no better model for children reading than hearing a story read aloud well – youre literally teaching them how a narrative voice works and helping them internalise it.
How you do it is key…
There is an importance of creating a flow not destroying it. I have witnessed many a great book destroyed by over-analysis and picking it apart until it breaks under the scrutiny. That’s not to say you don’t clarify meaning or explore vocabulary, there is a balance to be achieved.
My final argument is that planning it involves reading a book…Perfect.
Top 7 tips for reading aloud…
- Pick books you like…it shows. Trudging through a book that you really don’t like will only transmit to your class that you don’t really like it. You are the teacher the choice is yours. I get that world cups of books can be motivating I would just say make sure you’re happy with the books you’re offering as a choice. (This can be a challenge if you are handed a core reading list)
- Pick books that challenge. (push the envelope and take children out of their comfort zone.)
- Have copies of the book and other books by the author available. It’s amazing how many children will be inspired to read the book because you have.
- Knowing the book well helps you read it well. Knowing the story, the characters the key moments allows to share the story more effectively. Knowing the book allows you to become the controller of the story and how it plays out. It also helps you know where the sticking points might be. I get that sometimes it’s fun to discover the joys of a book with the class, it is however not always the best way to get the best out of the time or the book.
- Make it important. Don’t put it as a throw-away end of the day that then disappears as you have to finish your work. Give it a time and stick to it. Make it an ingrained habit.
- It is a performance, reading aloud is a thing that we need to practice. It takes time to get good at it. Start with some great short stories or some brilliant poetry build your repertoire and confidence. (Paul Jennings was always my go to. I’m still a dab hand at Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake)
- Go under the ‘spell.’ Allow your book to flow and get lost in it together.
- Sometimes break the rules and allow it to go over, or grab a moment.
I believe that reading to your class everyday is a vital part of what should be happening in our classrooms.
I hear lots of people say they can’t afford the time, personally I would say you can’t afford not to make the time.
Now …get reading!
Added bonus…Rik Mayall Reading “George’s Marvellous Medicine” …just brilliant