Ranty McRantface…GRRRR!!!

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Today I spoke to another headteacher who has been sacrificed to the Ofsted gods, cast adrift, thrown off the boat as the pressure beats down. She was finished, tired, fed-up, just plain disillusioned and even worse sad.

The ongoing pressure of constantly balancing the impossible year on year, being asked to do more with less and less finally took its toll. This was not the job she signed up to.

I know many primary headteachers who are teaching almost full-time and then doing the day job. (They are not heads in small schools either). Headteachers facing the prospect of or in the middle of a staff restructure because there is no money. Headteachers cleaning schools at the end of the day. Headteachers increasingly filling the gaps where Children’s Services have disappeared. . Headteachers where inclusion is the core of their beliefs  finding it becoming an impossibility due to the inadequate funding. Vision and personal morals increasingly compromised by the reality of the job.

This is not why they signed up to the job.

So this is a blog partly driven by frustration. As a head of a small coastal primary school, the challenges you face are huge yet your voice feels practically non-existent. Finance, budget, recruitment, SEND all massive issues but ones which you feel you have no power.  So that was the motivation to provide a voice for the average school. The school doing their best in challenging circumstances. (I should write that as the first sentence in my SEF). I have at times been outspoken.(I’m OK with that). I’ve more often been ignored (often when you post something that doesn’t agree with someone elses narrative). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shout out. Sometimes people are afraid to shout out. The thing we must realise is that every person’s voice needs to be listened to. Some people seem to wield blocks and mutes on twitter as a way of shutting down debate, clearing their timeline of dissenting voices. Thing is if we only listen to the voices that agree with us we don’t actually get a real picture.

Some will tell you these things aren’t happening. If anyone that says funding isn’t an issue then I cordially invite them to visit and come and look at the challenges first hand. To come and have a real discussion. (pretty sure they won’t though)

We can welcome Ofsteds change in focus (I actually agree with big chunks of it) but we equally need to be honest about the potential this framework has in creating massive workload while it talks about reducing it. The proof as always will be in the pudding.

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I will for the present keep being a ‘Crap Umbrella’ (as in bouncing away crap rather than a rubbish umbrella) and creating a climate and environment where our teachers can teach because I still love the job and our school. I am fortunate to have good people who help me see the wood for the trees (So grateful to our trust, they know who they are).

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My expecto-patronum is currently working well and chocolate definitely helps.

We do however need some honesty and some solutions from the top.

 

 

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World Book Day…don’t get in a stew.

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Firstly let me get it out there that personally I think everyday should be World Book Day. Books are central to our curriculum so in some ways World Book Day is just another day. Creating a culture where reading is seen as important and dare I say it pleasurable is key to creating readers.

If you look over social media yet  again we are in the season of negativity that happens every year around the first Thursday in March.

Now let’s get it straight teachers…this is not about us. World Book Day should be about getting children excited about books and reading. (Again this should be part of what we do everyday.)

World book day is about hopefully getting children to engage and enjoy books. If that is not what happens in your school then refocus it. Put books at the centre of what you do. Share some brilliant books, give children the chance to talk and dig deeper into a book. We take the chance as a whole school to dig into the same book in every class. This allows us to have a school wide conversation where all members of our community can have the same conversation about a book.

Lostwor.pngLast year it was ‘The Lost Words’ by Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris. It was more than a day (actually it was mor like three weeks).

Every year we have people moaning about costumes and the supermarkets selling stuff. I have to admit the commercialisation  of the day frustrates, I personally don’t want our parents to waste money on costumes. We’ve in the last few years dressed up as characters from books we’ve been using in class. Mainly that’s sorted the issue. We’ve sent out cheap instructions to help parents make the costumes together. Making it a thing parents and children could do together for the most part was great. (we had spares in school just in case).

If you don’t want to dress up then don’t.

5 Tips for getting World Book Day right…

  1. Make it about fantastic books
  2. Share some amazing books
  3. Talk about wonderful books
  4. Enjoy using some brilliant books
  5. Oooh did I mention Books

Enjoy it…a day where you can explore brilliant books what’s not to love?

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I have to say the £1 books are really good this year as well.

Also don’t miss the BBC Teach Live Lesson on Thursday with the brilliant Cressida Cowell, Malorie Blackman and Rob Biddulph. All looking to help you dig into their brilliant books.

ENJOY…

 

 

 

Just write!

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Not written anything for ages and found myself in a class in Parklands Primary in Leeds. They were having 15 minutes free writing so I  picked up a pen and just wrote.

Forgot how much joy, just writing can be…

The Magic Library

If you don’t look carefully you would never know. It was, from the outside at least, just another boring old library full of dusty books and crusty old people looking for company on their long lonely days. Even if you went in you still might miss it, as the silence stifle your voice and you feel squashed.The slightest sound is met by a glare from the ancient librarian , she will pierce you with her steely blue eyes as she stares over the top of her half-moon spectacles. However if you dare to venture in, if you dare to wander off the beaten track to the corners long forgotten. You may if you’re lucky find the magic.

It won’t jump out at you, it takes a bit of work. If you pick up the right book, open it and carefully read the words hidden within the magic will surround you. It will sweep you up like a wave and send you careering into world unknown and adventures yet to be had. Monsters and magic will swirl around you. You will run, you may hide but you will not escape. You will lose days and explore mountainous peaks and delve into long forgotten dungeons. Until finally it will let you go and you will close the book with a deep sigh.

Then you will hunt for that next portal, hidden in the dusty quiet.

It’s not great but it was great fun to write, just write, without the spectres of success criteria or writing frameworks looming over like a cloud. I’ve not edited it. It is what is 10 minutes just splurging.  I read it to the class it worked pretty well as aread aloud.  (wish I has the skills to illustrate it.)

Made me reflect on writing in our classrooms. Do we create time and space to write? Do we let children sometimes write what they want? Do we let children really be writers.?

 

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Deep breath and ready for another week.

Anxiety
Sometimes you don’t notice it
Sometimes it just sits there quietly…but its never not there
The start to this term has been a tough one, I’m not going to talk details but lets just say it’s been up there.
Anxiety just sits, it’s not one thing it’s lots of things and sometimes it just overwhelms. It’s layers and layers and layers. It sits and nags. It’s that slight sick feeling I have every morning at the moment.  It’s those moments when you can’t see the wood for the trees. Normally I’m a problem-solver, I find solutions. At the moment I’m finding that tricky.
It’s not the big things, it’s the tiny things that threaten to capsize your boat.
Systemically there is a constant pressure feeding down all the time starting at the top and cascading down bit by bit. (When there is a ministerial phone call to your trust about your data you really feel actually how close it is.)
 There is that nagging gnawing feeling that whatever job you’re doing it’s not good enough. At every level this can take a different form.
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The lack of trust and a toxic system of accountability spirals to every level and feeds down and down.
Anxiety is a hungry beast and it wants to be fed it wants you to satiate its hunger. Have you ever stopped to think why some schools create ridiculous demands of their teachers, set up systems that show no trust or faith in their staff and then why this cascades down onto pupils.
With all the talk about  recruitment and retention it’s vital to think why increasing numbers of  people don’t see this job as a long-term thing. If you’re looking for a reason why people leave the profession I suggest that’s part of your answer. For lots of people feeling that what you are doing is not good enough is a massive part of it. In schools we sometimes create systems that do just that maybe it’s time we stepped back and really looked at the impact of our actions. I guarantee for most it’s not about money, it’s a lot about pressure. Workload is something that is created to make people feel better about the job they are doing whilst it might ease one person’s anxiety it inevitably impacts on the people below them.
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Leaders of schools can stop it impacting down into their schools and staff. The pressures however are still there and they build and build and when that’s the case sometimes it’s the tiniest things….

The Best of Days/The Worst of Days.

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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.

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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.

 

New years revolution…Keep it simple

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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.

Listen

What was great for me was that firstly they saw teachers totally focussed on the job, no distractions just getting on with teaching.

Good Teaching…what is it in your school?

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…

  1. However, this has been achieved without ‘bells and whistles’ and mega publicity. Rather, the understated, intelligent focus on getting the fundamentals right.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. Pupils are unself-consciously mature: beautiful behaviour at lunchtime with individual pupils serving one another.

  5. 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.

  6. The school makes a commitment of ‘pledges’ to pupils, important experiences such as visiting a city, building a sandcastle.

  7. The curriculum beyond English and maths is carefully planned to allow pupils to investigate in depth.

  8. Standards now significantly above national.

  9. 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…

  1. Keep it simple. Know what works with your children.
  2. Be honest…
  3. Real change takes time, it’s not instant and sometimes you have to hold your nerve. (Play the long game)
  4. Believe in what you’re doing and why.
  5. Keep it clear. Do a thing but do it well and see it through.
  6. 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)
  7. Create a culture of honesty…(honest discussions about what’s going on helps you get it right)
  8. Get behaviour right (Clue…it involves teaching children how to behave). Create routines and systems that develop the behaviour you want.
  9. Keep assessment simple. (Is it a tool to help teachers?…if not why are you doing it)
  10. Marking and feedback…if it helps pupils get better, then do it – most of that is in real-time in the classroom.
  11. 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”)
  12. Don’t constrain teachers let them play to their strengths.
  13. Create opportunities for your children to show the best of them. They will constantly surprise you.
  14. Treat children with respect and trust. (They will become whichever version of them we want to create)
  15. Believe in the people you work with, trust them.
  16. Listen – a lot
  17. When something needs doing , do it.

Happy New Year. Make its a good one. The power is definitely yours.

Longer Read Book of the Year…The Lost Magician by Piers Torday.

Lost

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.

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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

Picturebook of the Year… Me and my Fear by Francesca Sanna

Fear

‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna is one of my favourite picturebooks ever, a beautifully told tale of forced migration told with heart and love.

Bookblog No4 The Journey by Francesca Sanna

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.

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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.

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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.

Good teaching is the answer…Getting there is hard work.

ebp.ebmTeachers 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.

Comprehension is a long and wide game.

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.

Hyperbole-What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

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.

Good Teaching…what is it in your school?

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.

Behaviour 101…A behaviour master class.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.’

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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.

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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.