Veema Paper: How to sequence the Curriculum to optimise learning for all pupils
A Contextual Safeguarding Approach for International Schools
We are used to the visual focus of ‘safeguarding children in education’ being linked to possible risks within the child’s family. But this does not take into account ‘contextual safeguarding’, because considering risks within a child’s family is only part of the safeguarding picture, especially for older children.
The concept of contextual safeguarding takes into account influences from outside the family, the public environment in which children and young people spend their time, which are key to assessing risks for example, public settings such as parks, shopping centres, through to children and young people increasingly using the internet which can impact on their physical, emotional and mental well-being1. There is concern about the amount of phone usage and how phones and the internet monopolise the time of children and young people. As a generation growing up with the internet, it has always been present in their lives but the impact of less face to face social time, traditional family time, conversations and eye contact is the result of the time spent and lost staring at an app or a phone.
In particular, high level risks such as child sexual exploitation, should be robustly addressed while complementing any family intervention. In effect contextual safeguarding does not replace the assessment of family risks, but it provides a more holistic safeguarding assessment, which includes looking at children’s social or public environment (peer group, school, neighbourhood) which they frequent, as well as their family environment, leading to a more vigorous and all-inclusive response.
Schools may provide a protective factor, but research2 shows that pupils have experienced sexual harassment and peer-on-peer abuse in educational settings as well as organisational abuse.
In essence, contextual safeguarding provides a framework to address extra-familial risk, by recognising that:
children are more likely to be influenced by their peers than by their families
children encounter significant harm in a range of settings beyond their families
there is a need for referrals to be made for contextual interventions that can complement work with families.
A contextual safeguarding assessment will consider risks from peer-on-peer abuse, a key topic in the latest Department of Education statutory guidance Keeping Children Safe in Education, 2018. International schools overseas should use UK statutory guidance as a benchmark of best practice. A new section on sexual violence and sexual harassment between children and young people explains the complexity and difficulty of addressing such behaviour. It is important to remember that children displaying harmful, sexual behaviours have often experienced their own abuse and trauma. Nevertheless, bullying, physical abuse, sexual violence/harassment and cyberbullying are serious forms of peer on peer aggression, are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. Both victims, perpetrators and others affected by peer on peer abuse must be supported with clear processes and policies. Within the diverse cultures of international schools overseas, contextual safeguarding may be more prevalent. Peer-on-peer abuse or exploitation can undermine the capacity of parents to keep children safe and can fracture family relationships (Firmin, 2016). It can include physical abuse, sexting (or youth produced sexual imagery) and initiation/hazing type violence and rituals which can involve victims undergoing painful, humiliating or dangerous activities and can include sexual assaults and tortuous initiation practises. Peer-on-peer abuse in schools may also be an indicator where children go missing, or disengaging, from education.
Grooming is a significantly harmful activity where trust is built up over a period of time, trust that is carefully nurtured by perpetrators who use a variety of methods to befriend not just other children, but also parents and friends. This is the common the pre-cursor to child sexual exploitation, sexual abuse and harassment, but what can be done to prevent it?
What can you do?
Schools can work towards a contextual safeguarding approach3 through:
(a) Providing a safe environment:
Raising awareness of the issues of peer on peer abuse through Personal Social Health Education classes, the use of school assemblies and circle time to raise issues with children. In essence, affording children opportunities to consider potentially harmful views on sex, consent, gender and relationships with their peers which are the basis of some forms of peer-on-peer abuse; offering the services of a trained counsellor on the school site to encourage children to seek support regarding their worries and any mental health needs.
(b) Recognising incidents of peer on peer abuse and taking action:
In many cases staff may either not recognise peer-on-peer abuse or will not recognise the severity of what is reported to them. Better training to address signs and indicators is necessary for both; specifically, for the latter it is critical that action is taken when initial information sharing occurs, otherwise it will lower confidence in services and discourage future information sharing from both staff and children.
(c) Sharing information appropriately – supporting proactive rather than reactive responses to escalation risk.
This can be broken down into the following areas:
Emails regarding peer-on-peer abuse directed to senior safeguarding officers, but also shared with all members of staff, so that the whole school is aware
Information from parents and children to be recorded on a Safeguarding Awareness Map. This peer group mapping exercise can help staff see links between isolated incidents which in turn will help to identify children that might be vulnerable or at risk of offending or being victimised.
Every term, children are asked to complete an antibullying survey, followed up with a robust analysis and response to the survey
The designated safeguarding lead to collate safeguarding concerns on a cause for concern template, stored in a locked and secure cabinet
Ensure there is a central confidential logging system, to include behaviour incident logs
(d) The school’s responses to abuse and discouraging a victim culture – what are the options for children to identify and disclose harm?
Staff responses to reports of abuse can be counterproductive and can encourage a victim-blaming culture. Saying things like ‘she teases them’, ‘she’s a huge flirt’ or commenting on appearance, can transfer culpability onto victims and unintentionally normalise harmful attitudes and behaviours.
How easy it is for children to disclose sexually harmful behaviours to school staff? Is there a named person (without a teaching timetable) who can be available for managing disclosures?
It is essential that reassurance is given that disclosures are being taken seriously. Children who disclose must feel supported and kept safe.
(e) Effectively assessing and addressing incidents
In some cases, it may be necessary to create an individual timetable for children who are involved in peer-on-peer abuse. While this may not address the cause of the behaviour, it allows some time where victims can safely come and go and provide respite while the abusive behaviour can be addressed by staff.
Identifying and addressing the issues that are driving abusive behaviours with groups of children who engage in peer-on-peer abuse
Using joined up working with experienced partner agencies, to support and challenge children exhibiting unsafe and unhealthy behaviours.
(f) Effective and good quality staff training
Training should be regular (at least annually) and include issues relating to harmful sexual behaviour which should be informed by national and local evidence. Training should include specifically how to identify and respond to harmful, sexual behaviour. Face to face training is essential and conducive to effective learning, as opposed to just online training. The benefits of face to face training include the opportunity to network and learn from others, it provides engagement and focus for a more effective learning experience, it is adaptable to the learner’s needs (rather than set options), it provides human interaction, discussion and debate and an instructor on hand to answer your questions and queries.
Both staff and children should receive training – see (a) above.
A ‘calm, considered and appropriate response’4 is advised. This type of response is not possible without proper planning, procedures and effective training. A robust policy on sexual violence, sexual harassment and effective staff training are key to pre-planning. Schools should not underestimate the importance too of staff being trained in managing disclosures, taking into account the child’s age, developmental stage, whether they are disabled or not and whether there is a power imbalance. It is likely that staff will be dealing with the beginnings of what could turn out to be a criminal investigation and therefore knowing what questions to ask, how to ask questions and ensuring the child’s wishes and feelings are constantly considered, are key to ensuring proper procedures are followed and to determining what action to take. No amount of preplanning can forewarn staff of what the disclosure might be and so each case should be decided individually, i.e. on a case-by-case basis.
The practise of engaging children and listening to their views can lead to greater awareness of and the prevention of harm5. For example, a group of year 6 girls in Derby were able to provide evidence to the police after watching ‘Alright Charlie’, a film depicting child grooming and sexual exploitation, which later led to the arrest and conviction of a perpetrator. Similarly, in North Lincolnshire, the safeguarding children board involved children producing a ‘positive steps’ leaflet promoting positive emotional wellbeing and mental health.
To demonstrate the importance they place on safeguarding, international schools overseas should ensure they follow UK statutory guidance which states that the designated safeguarding lead (and all deputies) must have a ‘complete safeguarding picture’6 with their job descriptions amended to reflect this update. Given the weight attributed to their role, it is the designated safeguarding lead (or a deputy) who should take a leading role and, working with other agencies, is positioned as the person with the most information and who can help clarify what is happening in a child’s life and use their professional judgement to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Although this does not seem any different to previous guidance, it has been afforded more clarity, emphasis and importance with this update.
Poor information sharing can directly impact on the safety of children, especially around all aspects of a child’s well-being, health and sexual health, particularly where staff may be reticent in sharing relevant information. A significant aspect of sharing information is to keep our focus on the child, rather than on what adults might think if the information was shared. The paramountcy principle7 advocated by the Children Act, remains critical in forming professional opinions about whether to share information or not and the newly published General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), human rights law and Data Protection Act 2018 are clear that the barriers to information sharing where there are safeguarding concerns have not been raised. What it does do is advise that they provide a framework to ensure personal information is shared appropriately. The recently published ‘Information Sharing – advice for practitioners providing safeguarding services to children, parents and carers’ advises that ‘relevant personal information can be shared lawfully if it is to keep a child or individual at risk safe from neglect or physical, emotional or mental harm, or if it is protecting their physical, mental, or emotional well-being.’8 The advice should be considered by overseas staff as a benchmark of good practice and followed wherever possible.
Contextual safeguarding is essentially linked to significant harm beyond the boundaries of the home, where children spend increasing amounts of time away from their families in public places and/or in schools and are exposed to violence and abuse. There is a need for more meaningful staff training and guidance on how to identify and respond to peer-on-peer abuse. Robust recording and sharing information systems are essential to support designated safeguarding leads to have a complete safeguarding picture and to correlate and share information. The whole school community must be mindful about the role they play, to ensure the root causes of the abuse are addressed through supporting both victims and perpetrators.
Top tips on evaluating teacher CPD in your school
One of the greatest influences on student outcomes is by improving both teaching and learning through effective teacher CPD. Yet few schools evaluate its impact adequately, or even at all. Unless you do so, it is difficult to know to what extent a CPD programme has benefited a school or offered value for money.
The following initial framework will help you go about evaluating CPD:
- Decide what you want from a CPD programme. If you don’t have set expectations for changing teacher behaviour or other headline objectives, you will never know how successful the programme has been.
- Determine the tools and criteria you will use to assess progress. These should measure the difference that the CPD programme makes to teacher practice and student outcomes, rather than just evaluate the CPD activity itself. You may be already collecting relevant metrics. If not, you will have to start from scratch.
- Employ a range of quantitative and qualitative measures, which could be collected by, for example, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, observations, feedback sheets and reflection logs. This will give you holistic view of any changes that are happening.
- Apply these tools over an extended period. Research shows that most CPD evaluations are based on participants’ reactions immediately or soon after the CPD programme is finished. As a result, assessment is generally brief, subjective and difficult to interpret. So don’t simply tack evaluation to the end of your CPD programme as an add-on.
- Make evaluation a positive experience. Unfortunately, all too often it is seen as highlighting failure and undesirable outcomes rather than a necessary requirement for ensuring improvement is appropriately targeted and on-going.
- Take CPD evaluation seriously. Don’t see it as some tick-box exercise to appease governors, inspectors and other external stakeholders. Properly embrace it as a means to develop pupil learning and the quality of teaching in your school.
- Don’t make CPD evaluation burdensome. With the right training, a practical and collaborative approach, and the use of appropriately rigorous tools, CPD evaluation can be surprisingly straightforward.
- Involve everyone who will participate in the evaluation process from the start. CPD evaluations should not be left solely to members of the senior team to impose on others.
CPD evaluation is an often neglected step because it is perceived as challenging. And yes, it does require long-term commitment and planning. However, to ensure that your school and its pupils gain maximum benefit from anyprofessional development programme, assessment of trainingis not a nicety, but a necessity.
If you struggle to measure CPD effectively, seeking advice and guidance is imperative, because only then can you create the long-term training programmes that are so vital to your school’s development.
Costa Constantinou (BA, MA, PGCE)
Director of Educational Services
10 morale boosters for school staff to keep momentum high
Boost staff momentum by adopting these simple morale boosters, helping create even better opportunities and providing a platform that nurtures skills and talents every day!
- Invite two members of staff each half term to shadow members of the senior/ middle leadership team member. They can also attend and contribute to the weekly meetings.
- Surprise staff with a ‘thank-you’ video from current and past pupils.
- Design one area of the staff room that is a ‘chill out zone’ with magazines, promotional offers from local restaurants, entertainment and sport venues.
- Send termly handwritten recognition letters to staff that have gone the extra mile.
- Encourage SLTs to have an ‘open door policy’ at least once a week for staff to drop in.
- Arrange for discounted offers for your staff from local businesses. For example, restaurant offers, car service, mechanics etc.
- Dedicate a section of the staffroom for up-to-date CPD literature and books, along with a CPD ‘live’ display board with research informed practical classroom tips and activities.
- Provide a ‘teacher tool-kit’ each term with resources and updated pedagogical practices, summaries of useful research papers and findings and teaching and learning ideas. Ask staff to present information they have picked up in staff meetings.
- Arrange a group competition, such as ‘Masterchef’, ‘Bake off’ or ‘Ready, Steady, Cook with 5 secret ingredients’ — you could even include students.
- Arrange a short staff team-building activity at the start of inset days or twilight training sessions.
Costa Constantinou (BA, MA, PGCE)
Director of Educational Services
How to use the six learning hormones to switch students on
Before we start…
What if you could invite David Attenborough, Ron Weasley’s mum, Nigella Lawson, Jeremy Clarkson, the Bodyguard and Doctor Who into your classroom, drawing on the unique characteristics of each to make lessons more interesting and effective? Well you can, if you know how to control the six learning hormones they represent.
There’s an iconic scene in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ film when Dorothy’s dog Toto tugs away a curtain to reveal that the amazing Wizard is actually a man who pulls levers to create an illusion of power. One lever deepens his voice, another releases plumes of smoke and a third produces bright flashes of light.
Teachers are expected to be classroom wizards by putting on pyrotechnic displays to rival New Year on London’s South Bank every day. If they don’t, observers just tut and tick the box marked merely ‘adequate’.
But, like the Wizard, to create a powerful impact you simply need a set of powerful levers to pull. For teachers, these are the ‘six learning hormones’, each of which has its own unique characteristics, just like Jeremy Clarkson and Nigella Lawson et al.
So, let’s introduce our cast of characters.
Testosterone (Jeremy Clarkson)
Testosterone is the hormone that keeps us alert, focused and competitive. By encouraging resilience and perseverance it helps us rise to a challenge rather than give up. Both boys and girls need good levels of testosterone to feel in control.
Movement and noise keep testosterone levels elevated, but these are the very things schools tend to steer clear of because in most lessons they indicate chaos and anarchy. However, children who are kept quiet, still and obedient also need moments when they are offered choice, control and the potential for jeopardy.
They must be able to choose how to tackle problems and challenges, or given the opportunity to work in teams where there is a meaningful degree of competition, jeopardy and rewards for the victor.
Children need to look good in front of their peers, to be seen to excel and to receive plaudits and praise. When that’s done across the class, every child can discover their own strengths and demonstrate these to others. This is the basis of rites of passage challenges that teenagers have performed for millennia in different cultures around the world.
Taken to excess, however, the need to impress can be problematic. Risk-taking behaviour, for instance, increases when children are with their peers, rather than adults, or alone (1). Typically, teenage drivers carrying teenage passengers drive faster than when they are on their own or with an adult passenger (2). Testosterone also impairs thinking. In one test, a testosterone gel applied just once to a group of men resulted in them buying higher status products than those in a control group who received a placebo (3).
The strutting Jeremy Clarkson inside all of us was essential to early human success, enabling our chimp-like ancestors to push aside more passive species of lemurs who once ruled forest canopies and now remain only in Madagascar, saved by an ocean barrier (4). Testosterone is still important. If children are not taught how to use it appropriately the consequences in classroom and country can be catastrophic. Aggression, assertiveness, acquiescence and compliance are crucial behavioural choices we all need to learn to be healthy adults.
Cortisol (The Bodyguard character)
Limit testosterone release too much and we inadvertently increase its partner hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is one of our body’s emergency services. It’s the equivalent of Richard Madden in the hit TV drama Bodyguard, coiled tight as a spring, hyper-alert to potential danger and totally focused on his immediate surroundings. Great in an emergency, much less so when it comes to learning anything new.
Worse still, if cortisol and other related hormones remain too high for too long, this can have significant adverse consequences, preventing effective learning and even compromising the immune system.
It’s for good reason that cortisol is known as the ‘stress hormone’ and we certainly don’t want too much of it in the classroom mix. As it is, in an average class of thirty, three children are likely to suffer from mental health issues. You can add to that the ten who have separated parents, seven more who have been bullied and the six who have self-harmed (5). So teachers who aren’t pulling the right levers could be seen as either cruel or misguided.
Gamification, concept tests and physical activity are all ways to help get levels of cortisol and testosterone into optimum balance.
Serotonin (David Attenborough)
Serotonin is the hormone that most makes us human because it binds us together with others in groups, tribes, gangs and spiritual beliefs. It enables us to dissociate from ourselves so we can see a bigger, better picture, and allows us to feel awe and wonder. Just think of David
Attenborough narrating over moving footage in one of his documentaries. We feel deeply connected to the planet, content both as an individual and as part of one universe.
William Blake summed up the impact of serotonin in his sentence: ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed man would see the universe as it really is; infinite.’(6)
While high levels of testosterone cause aggressive, lone-wolf and self-destructive behaviour (7), when it’s paired with serotonin, bravery and altruism result.
Too little serotonin, on the other hand, leads to loneliness, which is as damaging to our health as smoking or obesity (8), and when absent for prolonged periods it also results in depression.
Oxytocin (Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter)
Oxytocin is referred to as the cuddle chemical. Oxytocin is a comfort blanket, the parent figure that reassures, much like the mothering Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter. Not surprisingly, oxytocin levels are at their highest in women during and immediately after childbirth, strengthening feelings of deep love between mother and baby. But it helps with bonding at other times too.
Oxytocin is the counterbalance to cortisol and testosterone and it has an intoxicating effect in the classroom, calming, relaxing and creating contentment while boosting creativity and recall. Its calming impact is the perfect balance to the energy, focus and intensity delivered by testosterone, and the perfect hormone for times of reflection.
Oxytocin has a measurable positive impact on exam performance, which is why many universities recruit animals at this critical time so students can get an oxytocin boost from petting them (9). Schools who apply similar principles to calm students by using music, pictures or anecdotes to boost oxytocin, also see a performance improvement.
In addition, oxytocin has medicinal properties. Hamsters in social groups heal faster than those isolated from others. Even those kept apart heal faster when given a daily injection of oxytocin (10).
So, oxytocin is a key lever that teachers can use to build resilience, a much-lauded aim in education, though one that’s difficult to define.
Even the toughest Year 11 asked to mentor a Year 7 at football or show them around the new school enjoys an oxytocin explosion that benefits them as much as their advice benefits the mentee. The positive impact of mentoring programmes has been widely observed (11), most recently in Channel Four’s Old People’s Home For Four Year Olds. Here, when elderly residents and the children followed a three-month programme of joint activities, there was a measurable positive mental and physical impact on both. If they’d measured oxytocin levels they would probably have increased as well.
Endorphins (Nigella Lawson)
Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that peak when we are in ‘flow’. They also bathe the body in a protective glow that shields us from pain (12). If you’ve ever been gardening, played golf, or done some other activity only to notice half an hour later an injury you didn’t know you had, that’s down to endorphins hiding the pain so you can continue doing what needs doing.
Endorphins are our Nigella Lawson. She who caresses even the most unlovable vegetable, coaxing it from ugly duckling into beautiful swan, the stunning centrepiece at a sophisticated dinner party.
If you can coax a student to become totally engrossed in an activity, they will be learning at their peak, and encouraging this is the big prize in the classroom. So, if you can wrap up content and knowledge within a story or in a puzzle, you will ramp up learning.
Because endorphins foster concentration and help us contemplate new ideas and concepts, they are the perfect hormone for solitary, focused and detailed work. Unlike oxytocin and serotonin, which are more beneficial when it comes to discussions, group activities, problem-solving, and the consolidation and transfer of new knowledge to long-term memory.
Consider which is the most beneficial mix for the learning, and design the activity to fit.
Dopamine (Dr Who)
This is the star of the show (13) because it stimulates neurones to connect and create thoughts and memories.
In the right amounts, it’s the hormone that underpins all lessons and learning. Like the Doctor in Dr Who, it bounces us from one amazing adventure or learning experience to another, whether that’s in the classroom or in time and space. There’s just a slight pause for breath … and a new adventure begins.
Dopamine facilitates the brain’s main raison d’etre, which is to learn and create memories. It forges meaning and learning through a magnificent alchemy, as it uses both a simple on or off switch at synapses and is part of the most complex structure in the known universe, our brain, with billions of neurons connected at the speed of electrical currents.
Dopamine is a precious resource, and the most successful teachers are those continually looking to release small dopamine hits through probing questions, tasks, challenges, facts and experience that help the learning and memory happen without the student consciously concentrating. Done well, lessons fly by and learning is smuggled into the student’s mind with little apparent effort.
Unfortunately, dopamine has a brutally short attention span. So, if it’s triggered by something dull, insufficiently novel or which doesn’t quickly yield a reward, dopamine says goodnight and literally turns out the lights, so no electrical current crosses between synapses, no information is exchanged, and no memories are formed.
However, dopamine hits are highly addictive. Drugs such as heroin and sugar have dopamine enhancing pathways at their core. Gambling is also dopamine-based. Addictions switch on all the Christmas tree lights at the same time, if this becomes the norm, the personal cost can be high.
When I shared this article with a teacher they sighed and said: ‘So I’ve got to be Nigella Lawson, David Attenborough, Jeremy Clarkson, Mrs Weasley, that Bodyguard bloke and Doctor Who in every lesson!’
Well, not quite. But a great teacher prepares lessons that tap into all these characters so as to release the full range of relevant hormones in children and create a delicious learning soup. TV programmes like ‘Bake Off’, ‘Pointless’, ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!’ or ‘Strictly’ are successful because they know how to release all six hormones in just the right mix throughout the show.
So, even if you’re an energetic drama teacher with certificates to demonstrate your acting range, it’s still better to let children generate these six hormones for themselves. Remember, you’re the director, not the lead.
When children are provided with strategies for planning, monitoring and evaluating their own learning, pulling and directing the levers of their own hormones, they learn how to live, as well as how to learn. This is metacognition at its best, what researchers consistently rank highly for its classroom impact (14). Strategies will be presented in a future article.
After a revision boot camp session at which I’d shared brain-friendly ideas to make revision easier, three girls challenged me to make river erosion interesting.
So, I asked them to work as a team (that generated oxytocin release ) and to choose a random item from one of their handbags (that caused a dopamine rush), then link this (serotonin release) to the key facts about river erosion.
They had all the knowledge they needed to do this, so were in control (testosterone release) but if they needed help, they could ask.
The girls picked out a perfume and then presented together (cortisol with serotonin) an alternative brand they called HAAS.
The H stood for ‘Hydraulic’ — one girl sprayed perfume onto her wrists and said this was like water hitting a river bank. A was for ‘Abrasion’ — the next girl rubbed her wrists together to mimic the action of rocks rubbing against each other, releasing more endorphins. They did similar things for ‘Attrition’ and ‘Solution’.
Their presentation took twenty minutes, during which all three experienced the full range of hormones while making river erosion interesting. Hormones really do influence behaviour, and finding the right balance between recklessness and bravery, anger and boredom, is surely a lesson best learned in the classroom.
Teaching and Learning Consultant, Author and Keynote Speaker
What’s Your Problem?
Reflective Practice to Lead Change
We all know the power that our words can have on our students and colleagues but how often do we stop to think about the power of our words upon ourselves? Take the title of this article and the word, “problem”. Where did that take you? Did you picture your worst class? You pile of marking, your failing departments, your demanding parents or that one child that you cannot get through to? Did your heart sink at the “problem” the issue, difficulty, trouble or complication? Each of these labels create a sinking feeling, a wall or barrier that must be overcome. The obstacle is merely a metaphor, created by the language you have chosen to surround it with.
Taking time to stop and reflect upon anything can help us to overcome that which seems impossible. Let’s reflect upon our use of language and observe the impact that this could have upon our practice. Let’s discard the word “problem” from our vocabulary and replace it with “project”. Now look again at that parent, child, colleague or work to be done. Look at it as your project. Did you feel that? Did you feel the energy change from such a small difference? The word problem conjures the wall. The word project creates a sense of purpose. It makes me want to run for my big paper and markers to get started on the idea storm! A project has a desired outcome and it is up to you to design the routes that take you there. You learn upon the way, set deadlines and mini goals to lead you to success.
Spot the difference in these two scenarios:
- It’s Friday afternoon; Lucy arrives at work, coffee in hand and pile of problems waiting on her desk. She has three classes of books to mark ready for the book scrutiny next week, her first lesson is 9Z5 with a class full of problem children and she has to fill out her performance management document before she leaves today.
- It’s Friday afternoon; Lucy arrives at work ready to face the three main projects of the day. 9Z5 are her first priority. They have been working on routines as they enter the room. She then has three classes who are ready for a progress check; this is great timing for the book scrutiny next week. Finally, her performance management document will be completed. She hopes that this final component can be linked to the ongoing project with 9Z5, supporting their progress even further.
Is your self-talk more like Lucy one or Lucy two? Do you walk into a desk full of problems or a series of projects that you are working on? What difference could changing your self-talk to Lucy two’s “project”, “priority”, “component”, way of looking at the day ahead have upon your motivation? The work exists, the battle remains but you can learn to enjoy the battle by seeing it as a project to reflect upon and move forward with. Reflection can create changes that help us, not to eradicate difficulties in our lives, that is impossible. It can help us to face new hurdles as they arise. A reflective practitioner does not panic in the face of an unruly class, a failing teacher, a bad set of results or whatever else might blindside the fearful. They stop, take a breath and plan for success. They lead the change through their positive, reflective practice.
To lead change in education, we need to avoid the culture of racing forwards without ever taking time to stop and reflect. We need to recognise the reality that, when one project ends, another will be created in its place. There is no such thing as smooth sailing. We need to learn to navigate the rough seas through attitude and experience. Where are we? Where do we want to be? How are we going to get there? Reflecting upon our word choices is such a small change that can make a huge difference to our attitude, outcomes and motivation. Your reflections do not have to stop there…
Lisa Jane Ashes
Teaching and Learning Consultant, Author and Keynote Speaker
What do teachers do that leads to everyday greatness?
The best teachers recognise and embrace their potential to have a transformative impact on the wider future of the nation, and beyond. By promoting positive values, including tolerance, understanding and inclusion, this sense of moral purpose is the engine that drives the best teachers. It is a privilege to be a teacher, to have the opportunity to impact positively on the lives of so many young people, their families and ultimately their communities. Teachers get to make a difference to the lives of children and young people and improving their life chances and helping them to secure their futures. In this way, teachers have the most important job of all. The greatest of teachers, however, work tirelessly to create a challenging and nurturing environment for their students. Great teaching seems to have less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude towards our students, our subject, and our work. Although, the list below is certainly not all-inclusive, it does narrow down numerous characteristics of great teaching.
When you next doubt yourself or feel exhausted by the job, just remember, YOU make a difference.
- A great teacher respects students. In a great teacher’s classroom, each person’s ideas and opinions are valued. Students feel safe to express their feelings and learn to respect and listen to others. This teacher creates a welcoming learning environment for all students.
- A great teacher creates a sense of community and belonging in the classroom. The mutual respect in this teacher’s classroom provides a supportive, collaborative environment. In this small community, there are rules to follow and jobs to be done and each student is aware that he or she is an important, integral part of the group. A great teacher lets students know that they can depend not only on her/him, but also on the entire class.
- A great teacher is warm, accessible, enthusiastic and caring. This person is approachable, not only to students, but to everyone in the school. This is the teacher to whom students know they can go to with any problems or concerns or even to share a funny story. Great teachers possess good listening skills and take time out of their way too-busy schedules for anyone who needs them. If this teacher is having a bad day, no one ever knows—the teacher leaves personal baggage outside the school doors. These great teachers also need wellbeing support too, so make sure you keep and eye on each other.
- A great teacher sets high expectations for all students. This teacher realises that the expectations set for students greatly affect their achievement; and knows that students generally give to teachers as much or as little as is expected of them.
- A great teacher has their own love of learning and inspires students with their passion for education and for the course material. Constantly renewing themselves as a professional on a quest to provide students with the highest quality of education possible.These teachers have no fear of learning new teaching strategies or incorporating new technologies into lessons, and always seem to be the ones who are willing to share what they’ve learned with colleagues.
- A great teacher is a skilled leader. Different from administrative leaders, effective teachers focus on shared decision-making and teamwork as well as on community building. This great teacher conveys a sense of leadership to students by providing opportunities for each of them to assume leadership roles.
- A great teacher can “shift-gears” and is flexible when a lesson isn’t working. This teacher assesses teaching throughout the lessons and finds new ways to present material to make sure that every student understands the key concepts.
- A great teacher collaborates with colleagues on an ongoing basis. Rather than thinking of themselves as weak because they ask for suggestions or help, these teachers view collaboration as a way to learn from a fellow professional. A great teacher uses constructive criticism and advice as an opportunity to grow as an educator.
- A great teacher maintains professionalism in all areas — from personal appearance to organisational skills and preparedness for each day. Communication skills are exemplary, whether speaking with an administrator, one of the students or a colleague. The respect that the great teacher receives because of their professional manner is obvious to those around them.
- A great teacher contacts parents with a supportive phone call. Not the phone call to say something has gone wrong or a child has misbehaved, but a call to celebrate achievement, attitude and progression, either academically, emotionally or through showing kindness to others.
- A great teacher realizes that attending school when they are unwell is not a good idea. As much as we want to be there, make sure the children and young people are safe and secure, spreading your germs is not good for the school. The greatest of teachers will take care of their physical health too in order to protect others from becoming unwell. There are no trophies or medals left in the cabinet for turning up to school sick!
- A great teacher never stops learning. Every day a learning day.
- A great teacher also realizes that greatness means having a bad day and that you cannot be 100% brilliant or great all of the time. However, working towards greatness as much as you can is what others will see and value in you. You are not a robot, you are a human being and great human beings have ‘off’ days too. Knowing when things haven’t quite gone to plan is what makes a great teacher a reflective practitioner.
- Great teachers are collaborators, communicators and creative artists. Sharing your work and skills is as important as putting them into practice. Spread your greatness and in return you will receive thought provoking ideas back from others.
Whilst teaching is a gift that seems to come quite naturally for some, others have to work overtime to achieve great teacher status. Yet the payoff is enormous — for both you and your students. Imagine students thinking of you when they remember that great teacher they had in school or college! YOU can change the future with being a great teacher.
Teaching and Learning Consultant, Author and Keynote Speaker
8 Facts About Teacher CPD You Need To Know
Great CPD programmes inspire you to put into practice what you learn so you become an even better teacher. But effective CPD doesn’t depend on how long you spend listening or engaging in activity. Instead, it’s about the ongoing commitment you make as a school to do things differently.
Here are 8 reasons why CPD is so important:
- Effective teacher CPD has a direct and measurable impact on student achievement. The Sutton Trust says students learn 40% more when taught by an excellent performer.
- Good CPD increases staff morale, recruitment and retention. It also empowers staff to grow as pedagogical classroom practitioners.
- CPD must be based on the latest and most reliable research to ensure you are delivering best practice in your classroom.
- CPD is about more than just performance management. It creates much more effective teachers who can profoundly affect student outcomes for the better.
- Great CPD not only grows great leaders but also enables them to coach talented individuals so they become increasingly expert teaching practitioners.
- Choosing the right CPD will deliver the greatest benefits and value for money, which makes it crucial you select programmes that meet your school’s real needs.
- Celebrating successes in Continuous Professional Development will create an even more positive experience for all involved.
- Failing to evaluate CPD means you won’t know what works.
Costa Constantinou (BA, MA, PGCE)
Director of Educational Services
If They Don’t Remember, Can They Really Know?
Tips for using effective revision strategies that strengthen students’ retrieval capacity
“But… I don’t know how to revise…” Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s a common phrase we hear from our students when it comes to exam prep. It can also serve as a reminder that it is vital we consider not just the content of what we teach, but also how students learn this material. As Dr. John Dunlosky points out in his article ‘Strengthening the student toolbox- study strategies to boost learning’, teaching students how to study is just as important as teaching them the content. Exploring and demonstrating effective learning strategies with students is crucial if we are going to train them to move away from unhelpful practices like last minute ‘cramming’ sessions, caffeine-fueled all-nighters and the highlighting of everything on a worksheet or textbook meaning the re-reading of it almost in its entirety.
Unfortunately, there are no magic tricks I can teach pupils for retaining information for an exam (as much as I would love there to be). Learning is achieved through hard work and continuous effortful practice. However, there are some very useful techniques and tips I would encourage. Strengthening the retrieval capacity of our students is essential and if we manage to store information into longterm memory, we are able to retrieve it again and again and again.
Working with my own pupils as well as planning and delivering the student Brain Booster masterclass workshops I deliver for Veema Education has meant I have developed a deep interest in neuroscience and the science of learning. However, what I feel is sometimes missing from the research papers are simple, practical revision strategies we as teachers can adopt to enable our learners to maximise the impact of their revision. So what follows is a list of the ones that I have found to really effective:
Retrieval practice is one of the most effective ways of learning that leads to fluency. Trying to recall something from memory requires mental strain and effort, which is why low stake-testing rather than simply reading, highlighting and re-reading information is more effective. When reading text from a textbook or worksheet have pupils answer a series of questions to test their knowledge and understanding from memory. These can be questions that have been prepared earlier or questions that you get students to prepare themselves. Knowing that students are about to test each other can be a wonderful engagement tool! To take this a step further, include some more challenging and higher order thinking questions that encourage them to think about how this new learning relates to previous information they have learnt in the past–whether this being yesterday’s lesson or something from last term.
Graphic Organisers such as mind maps, spider maps, sequential thinking and Venn diagrams should be used as much as possible for students to show their thinking and understanding of key ideas and topics from memory. When learning, students need to be active and graphic organisers are a fantastic way of reconstructing information they have been exposed to whilst making useful links and connections to what they already know.
Flashcards are a common resource students use when revising but research tells us that around 30% of people do not use flashcards to self-test (Hartwig and Dunlosky, 2012). This this is real shame as there are great ways flashcards can be used to test knowledge and understanding and memory. For example, you can train students to create flashcards in the following way:
- Write a concept or key term at the front of the flashcard and at the back get students to write down their answer. This can then be checked with the original answer to see how well they have done. This is an effective way of selfquizzing how much you know and where the gaps might be.
- While reading information, highlight key words, concepts, theories and at the same time translate this information to a set of flashcards, which can then be used for self-testing purposes.
- Combine writing with a visual illustration. Students can then test themselves by explaining this in more detail at the back of the flashcard.
One thing I would say with flashcards (and I’ve told this to my students many a time) is be weary of totally dropping from the pack the ones that you feel you are confident with. You should aim to revisit material as often as you can especially in the build-up to exams.
Cornell Note taking. I love the Cornell note taking system and many of my GCSE and A-level students did too. This is an excellent way of getting students to think metacognitively (McCabe 2001), asking questions, noting key terms, and summarising the content being revised at the end of a lesson or during independent study. This method enables students to self-test what they have covered in the lesson as well as piece together previously learnt information. You can download a guide I produced last year of how to use this and it’s a definitely worth exploring with students.
Spacing out your learning and revisiting material as often as possible is so important for embedding. This is one reason why I feel we constantly need to expose students to information they have previously learnt either in the lesson or through homework, mixing up material from different units in class tests or assessments if they are going to hang onto the knowledge they gain.
The key here to effective revision is not the hours of cramming you do in the final few weeks or days before the exam but regular, focused, shorter sessions with regular brain breaks. Cedepa et al (2008) in their research on spacing effects in learning show that the optimal intervals for retaining information between study sessions for say one week should be between one or two days, six months three weeks and 1 year every four weeks. I often put it to my students as ‘the little and often’ approach. Daily lowstakes testing, weekly reviews and cumulative testing is so important for helping students store information into longterm memory.
Past questions. Students need to practice different examination questions, over and over, well-spaced over time, rather than massed practice of the same problem type (and without looking at any notes). Also, the effect of exploring worked examples or exam answers, as well as writing their own, helps students process, practice and refine their revision to meet the parameters of exam success.
The reason many of the following techniques work so well is that they encourage learners to be active agents in their learning, They need to think hard about the information they are faced with. Learning that feels difficult embeds knowledge into memory better compared to learning that feels easy, which soon disappears–hence why we need to train students to avoid passive, superficial and time consuming techniques.
Preparing students for exams is never easy, and if we are going to teach students to be independent learners than we really do need to give some further thought into guiding students on how to revise, rather than simply telling them they should do this or focusing merely on subject content.