#ShareRamadan 

On Friday 28th I chose to take part in #ShareRamadan. 

I’ll start by saying that I thought this was a great idea and I wanted to support and be involved with it as I try to uphold the values that it represents in my day to day life and feel that this it is even more important to do so now that I’m a mother. Unfortunately that was also the problem, I’m a new mother – a new nursing mother. So fasting for a day was not the most sensible plan for me or my boy. It was this that caused me to adapt the idea slightly: rather than fasting, I chose to spend the day as if I was a mother on my NQT salary; I decided to use this method to remind myself how lucky I was and how there are many mothers struggling to balance the budgets. 

I cut the luxuries out of my day and chose my food for the day on what was in the ‘reduced to clear’ section and was affordable on my starting salary. 

I found it an interesting experience as the impact and realisation of the struggles of others didn’t really hit me until I was giving my son his bedtime feed. That quiet time was perfect for reflection and I walked out of his room with a huge load of respect and admiration for the families who often have to choose between feeding themselves of feeding their children. I also thought back to the time when my parents were struggling and, unbeknownst to me, they were sacrificing to ensure I was unaware of their financial struggles. I left my son that night with a greater appreciation of my parents and fond memories became fonder as I finally realised how much effort and sacrifice my parents put in to making sure I had those fond memories from those years. 

On a personal level, I learnt that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to live the life I do, but that if I had to, I would sacrifice anything to make sure my child grew up with fond memories. I also decided to stop trying to sell the bundles of baby clothes he’s out grown and gift them to those who need them instead. After all, we’re united in wanting the best for our children and I don’t need the money from them more than a new family may need the donation of baby clothes. 

And finally, I also learnt I’m useless without my Earl Grey; that would be a hard sacrifice to make again!

Developing a reading culture

At the end of last year, I took advantage of my gained time and having a trainee teaching one of my classes to finally  tackle the culture around reading in KS3.

We’ve been using AR for 2 years now and that’s had some impact, but not enough on our really reluctant readers. We’ve also been doing a daily Stop, Drop and Read but that begins to cause more problems than it’s worth!

Problems:

  1. Staff are using SDR time to do admin tasks instead of reading.
  2. Students who do read are not given the opportunity to enter in to a reading discourse.
  3. Some students see SDR and library lessons as painful, pointless and boring.
  4. Students only think of English teachers as readers.

Solutions:

  1. Clearer guidelines need to be issued to staff and those who join mid-year need to be properly informed about SDR.
    We also need to highlight to staff the benefits to students’ reading ages that the daily SDR offers and the importance of that in their day to day teaching and some students’ ability to fully access their exams.
    There is a wider school issue about workload (which is way above my pay grade to tackle!) We are offering staff 20mins of quiet reading time; a time to just stop and breathe during a, potentially, busy day. However, they see this as an opportunity to make a tiny dent in the never ending to do list.
  2. I made mini-review cards for students to fill in. This is a voluntary activity and they are rewarded with house points. In the first month, without any real pushing by staff, both myself and the librarian were pleasantly surprised by, not only, the amount of reviews we were getting but also by who was writing them. We found students who we assumed were reluctant readers asking to fill in review cards and share books they enjoyed with others. These will be displayed next year both in the library and the English corridor and, if I have my way, other places around school too – still desperately trying to prove that reading is not just an English lesson thing!
    The next step is to introduce longer review options, which we will store in a review folder or on FROG (depending on how effectively the FROG champions work this year!).
  3. We have students who keep rereading the same book for as long as possible as they can’t be bothered to go to the library to change it. Or those who deliberately wait until SDR to ask to change their book so they can spend as much of the 20 minutes as possible not reading. Although staff are not supposed to let students do anything other than read during SDR time, there are still those who regularly manage to go for a wander. To combat this, we have added reading books to the list of essential equipment that Y7 & 8 tutors need to be checking for and the library is now available for them to use during tutor time to exchange books and quiz.
    I’ve also revamped the library lessons. Our fortnightly sessions used to be split between library and literacy, but with packing, unpacking and moving the class very little of either was achieved. We decided to embed a weekly literacy focus into our lessons and spend the whole lesson on reading and reading / book related activities.
    I am building a bank of reading related tasks for students to choose from which allow them to engage with their book in a variety of different ways and give the reluctant readers a little gap between books, in the hope that it stops reading from feeling monotonous and never ending for them.
    These will be recorded and displayed if appropriate with the students permission and although house points can be awarded, these will not be marked. Their purpose is to allow students to engage with what they’re reading and to promote a reading discourse around the school.
  4. A little over a month before the end of the school year, I sent out an email requesting staff who would be willing to volunteer for a Student Recommended Summer Read. I was hoping for a small group of staff from different departments. I was surprised to see my inbox light up continuously for the first 15 minutes after the email was sent. However, I was a little disappointed that all responses were all from female teachers; I was concerned that this would not encourage some of our reluctant male readers. But I quickly learnt that the women in our school respond much quicker to emails than their male counterparts, as slowly  more male names added to my list. By the deadline, I had 44 staff who wanted a book and from a range of departments, including the admin team. With 24 recruits from all ability ranges in Y7 & 8 we met during tutor times to select books. They had the following instructions:
    – Choose a book you’ve read and would like to share.
    – Consider who you’re choosing for.
    – Don’t stitch any member of staff up!
    The books and a mini-review card were distributed and they’re starting to come in. So far  the reviews have been positive (3 or more stars) and a lot of staff have been surprised by their enjoyment of a genre they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen. What I’ve really been pleased by is the amount of staff who want to know who picked their book so that they can thank them and discuss the book.
    We plan to run this again for the Christmas holiday.

 

Our next steps are to bring in an author to work with our reluctant readers and to development parental engagement of the reluctant and weaker readers. However, with the start of my maternity leave looming I’ve left my maternity cover to embed and strengthen the new strategies started last year and the next steps will begin on my return.

Why change can be good.

Being an English teacher at the moment, means that I am in the middle of a LOT of change and it is feeling overwhelming at the moment, regardless of whether or not I like some of the changes. However, there is something that is making me smile and filling me with hope for 2016 / 17: the KS3 curriculum…

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of changes here but if you’re lucky enough to be in the right school with the right people around you it is such a golden opportunity.  During the January INSET we started working on mapping out our KS3 curriculum for next year and, being honest, I was a little worried about whether or not the department would like the vision that I thought would work best for us and our students. Luckily, they jumped on it.

We’re planning to break away from the rigid constraints of each unit being bookended by a holiday, so if there’s an INSET, bank holiday, snow day etc then you have to start looking at what lesson can be ditched. Or you end up rushing through the text (or worse still, not finishing it) and turning our students off reading or associating oncoming holidays with rushed assessments and stressed teachers who suck the fun out of the lessons. We’ve decided on 3 units a year but each unit is going to mimic the project style learning that primaries use. Each unit will have a title that is deliberately vague; each unit will have 2 set assessments; but the rest is down to the class teacher to decide. Each unit will have the opportunity to explore factual and fictional texts / extracts, as well as offering students the chance to practise a range of writing skills, but delivered with a variety that a unit titled ‘Writing to inform, explain & describe’ would often be lacking.

The head of department and myself wanted the team to be able to have opportunities to explore what they’re passionate about in English, as well as what catches the interest of their classes. As well as having time to focus on the skills that their classes need to work on. But we didn’t want them to be constantly counting how many lessons they had left before they would start to feel the pressure of falling behind.

It was heart warming during our INSET meeting to watch the teachers round the table become excited about where the random unit titles that were being thrown out could take them and their future classes. However, I think the excitement may have come from something else, something deeper and, perhaps, subconscious: their professional judgement was being trusted. Myself and the head of department were, essentially, saying to them all that we trust them to know their students, know their subject and to teach to a high standard without being given a prescriptive scheme of work (which, let’s be honest, often gets ignored completely or adapted). We’re not leaving the department high and dry; we are going to create a resource bank that will grow during the curriculum’s life. (I shall share what we’re doing after our next meeting and it moves from draft to confirmed plan.)

I’m not naive, I know that a curriculum map like this could create lazy lesson planning done in a rush the morning before and it could increase the work load to start with, but wouldn’t that happen no matter what we did? I also know that this will need careful monitoring by me to ensure that all students are getting full access to the full spectrum of English, but I’m happy to do that if it means the staff and students are enjoying what they’re doing in their lessons a bit more.

In addition to that, I’m lucky enough to have been invited to join the assessment working group at my school. We’re working together to create our version of levels and the new assessment policy. This is so exciting to me, not just because I’m a teacher geek, but also because everyone who is sat round the table has similar ideas about education: enjoyment, progress and character building are all important and none is more important that the other and we cannot lose focus on that in the new curriculum. These meetings have been some of the best meetings I’ve been in as I feel like we are all working towards a common goal and that our professional judgement and opinions are trusted. As well as seeing the passion in teachers of different ages, subjects and positions genuinely makes me happy. (I know, I’m such a saddo!)

So maybe, in our world of constant change and feeling under valued and undermined by those who are running education, we can and should see KS3 as a light in the dark. A chance for us to trust our colleague’s professional judgements and experiences and create something that we can be really passionate about which will truly benefit those who are lucky enough to enter our classrooms.

How I stopped drowning.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on the worst week of my life which was the most personal blog post I’ve every written, but the events in my personal life have impacted on my professional life in such a huge way. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘teacher guilt’ and the impact our personal lives have on our professional lives and vice versa and why we often feel we have to suffer in silence.

Back in September I had to take a week off of work, unplanned and badgered into it by a nurse, my husband and my head of department. I wanted to go in on Monday and Tuesday, but was forced not to. And although they were right and I was definitely much better at home, the reason I wanted to spend two days at work was that I wanted to hide behind ‘Miss’. I wanted to avoid being at home and facing the reality of my life at that time; to use my professional life to escape my personal life.

Once I got over the initial panic of returning and having to talk to people and deal with sympathy (don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ungrateful for people’s care and consideration, but at that time I wasn’t ready to say the word ‘miscarriage’ let alone acknowledge that I had experienced one), I quickly fell back into the day to day routine and my role as ‘Miss’ and worked hard to try to catch up on everything I had fallen behind on.

Sadly, the reality of what had happened quickly caught up with me and I found myself suffering from depression: I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings; avoided going home in the evenings; crept straight into bed once I did get home; spent most weekends in bed; avoided people. Needless to say I rapidly fell behind at work.

It is impossible to do all your PPA in your PPA time; we have to work outside of those hours just to keep our heads above water. As I wasn’t in a position to work outside of school I was sinking. I got by for a while just planning lessons and nothing more, but then more things started to collapse and I realised I was drowning. I think that was the darkest moment: feeling like I had failed personally and was now failing professionally.

It took a little while after that realisation to feel strong enough to want to face the challenge of fixing the mess I was in. However, doing it alone proved impossible. More work kept piling up and I kept trying to hide my struggles from myself and those around me. Needless to say that didn’t help and I came to face the reality that I couldn’t come out of this alone. I needed to admit the mess I was in and ask for support.

It’s a horrible feeling when you know you’re in a mess and realise that you have to tell people just how much of a mess you’re in. Speaking to both my head of department and head I was greeted with understanding and compassion. I’ve been offered help and been allowed the time, without any pressure, to get myself back on my feet. I felt instantly better after speaking to both of them and from there felt strong enough to look at the largest To Do pile I’d ever encountered and work my way through it.

During my years in teaching, I’ve found that we can often be too silent when it comes to our own struggles and need for help. Which, to me, seems bizarre as we are in a job where we are caring and compassionate every day and often go out of our way to support or get support for struggling students. It felt very liberating talking to my head  and head of department; dropping the façade of coping took a massive weight off my shoulders allowing me to start finding a way back to myself.

Teaching is fast paced and because of that, it’s so easy to fall behind and the further you fall the harder it is to get back to where we need to be. Throw in the guilt of failing our students and colleagues then it begins to feel like an impossible task. But these past few weeks I’ve learnt that it’s not.

The most important thing I’ve learnt from this and would share with anyone else who feels like they’re falling behind and sinking slowly or rapidly is talk.
Talk to the people who need to know your struggles.
Talk to the people who will listen and support you as a friend.
The key thing is to get it out of your head and into the world. Get it out there and it suddenly seems less scary and less threatening. Speak it out loud and it becomes clearer about how to start finding a solution.

The reality is that the only way to get out of a mess in teaching is often to work your way out, but trying to do that whilst still keeping up with each new day’s work is hard. But it is doable: I’m doing it now. I gave up a day of my holiday to go to school and work undistracted to catch up. I’ve worked smarter: only marked ‘actual’ work; planned lessons with peer and self assessment to stop adding more and more to my to do list; built time into my lessons to give myself time to mark / plan / do admin; said no to additional tasks that I cannot take on properly at the moment.

And even though I’m pushing myself hard at the moment, I feel happier. I feel like I’m on my way to winning.

#misCOURAGE: The Worst Week of my Life

Firstly I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this for sympathy but because I’m still in need of talking / thinking this through and the reality is that this is quite a lonely issue when it really shouldn’t be. So, I’m gladly joining Tommy’s #MisCOURAGE campaign.

In August I got the best news ever: a little + in the window of a Clear Blue pee stick. It was something I’d been waiting to see for 10 months and worried that I may never see when it looked like there may be a problem with my ovulation.

However on 11th September a scan saw my pregnancy was only 4 weeks along when it should have been around 10.

Words cannot explain the emotions that follow such an emotionless phrase: “it’s a non-viable pregnancy”

Holding back my tears caused me physical pain. Once at home I had to go through the trauma of calling another hospital, one with an early pregnancy unit, to discuss my options.

My surgical miscarriage was scheduled for the 16th September (sadly the day before my birthday) and the nurses were so kind. However with only a handful of people who knew I felt so alone.

And to be honest, I still do.

Miscarriage, whether natural or medically induced, seems like our version of Voldemort. Everyone’s scared to say its name out loud. Maybe we’re scared of breaking down? Or making people uncomfortable? Or inviting it into our or our friends’ lives? Who knows, but it leaves those who go through it in pain and without many people to talk to.

I’m lucky to have my husband, who was exactly what I needed when I was in hospital. But I’m scared to talk to him now. I know it’s irrational, but I do feel guilty. Not because I did anything wrong but because it was my body that didn’t do what it was supposed to. And, worse still, I’m terrified that it may happen again or that the problems they were looking into before the pregnancy (and never found an answer to) will turn out to be something real, something serious, something that means it’s unlikely that I’ll have a healthy pregnancy.

I don’t wish to sound melodramatic, and maybe that’s another reason I’m finding it easier to talk to anonymous internet people. The problem is, as well, that I ‘stiff upper lipped’ it when I went back to work so now feel that I can’t break down and let out what’s inside when one of the few who knows asks if I’m OK.

In these past months I’ve found that the pain remains and sneaks up on me. I’ve shed a few tears while I’ve been driving to or from work and I’ve found myself withdrawing from life recently. This past fortnight  I’ve forced myself to go out and although I enjoy myself once I’m with my friends the desire to curl up under my duvet and sleep is very strong. This has also had an impact on my job; once I returned from my week off I had a lot to catch up on, but I didn’t feel the same enthusiasm and passion as I normally did. I struggled to stay focussed during my frees and have found it hard to motivate myself to work once I arrived home. All this has kept me with my head barely above water these past few months. Luckily, once I started drafting this blog post last week I started to feel a bit better and I felt some of my passion return and with it my motivation; I still have an enormous pile of marking to catch up with, but I’m not hiding from it any more. I don’t want to hide from it any more.

And I don’t want to hide from what happened. I want to confront it head on:

I had a miscarriage and I still feel pangs of guilt & sadness about what my body took away from me and my husband.
I am worried that it will happen again.
But I will not live in fear of it happening again.

I will have a family, I just don’t know when yet and that’s OK.

My take away from the Takeover

Lots of people have written good blogs reflecting on the events of the 17th & the sessions they attended. But, like last year, I’d like to reflect on the messages I’ve taken away from TLT15.

As always I was excited in the run up to TLT, as well as feeling exhausted.

Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer) opened the day with a poignant message that too few of us are on Twitter. It can sometimes seem like there are large hordes of teachers roaming the cyber-corridors of Twitter because everyone is so generous, supportive and passionate about teaching, but it’s important that we remember how few of us there are. We were set a challenge in the opening moments of TLT15:

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On my first day back at school, I’ve completed the first three. (I am feeling a little proud of myself, I must say!)

It’s silly but so few of us really share what we find on Twitter and at events with our colleagues and it’s probably for a wealth of reasons. Personally, I was worried about exposing myself as a Teacher Geek and annoying people. As well as having petty moments of getting annoyed at the one way sharing of ideas & resources (both found & ones I’ve created). But I am going to take this challenge away and I am going to keep it going all year; although I may ration out what I find and only send it when the unit is upcoming!

Perfectly bookending the day, the closing session was delivered by Chris Waugh (@eductronic_net). As much as Stephen made us laugh with his story telling prowess, Chris made us understand something deeper about why we teach and why we attend events like this: we are there because of love. It’s true. We love our students, as they quickly become our kids; we love our subjects; we love teaching. But I think it goes even deeper than that: we love each other.

I have to admit that I love people watching and the main thing I saw on Saturday was the bonds between everyone. These could have been virtual bonds made real (Receiving a hug from Jill Berry still feels the equivalent of getting a hug from a Hollywood A lister!) or bumping into an old friend / colleague or meeting people for the first time. During a few quiet moments, I took the time to look around me and saw people chatting and laughing and making friends. This is such an important part of Twitter and events such as these. At times like this, when teachers are struggling and leaving our profession or feeling isolated or like they’re failing TLT (and similar events) create beacons of hope and solidarity that lifts our spirits. This year the comradery felt so strong that it was in the air; it permeated the whole event.

As always, I learnt a lot from the 4 sessions I attended and am already looking for ways I can improve my practice as a result. But, with a larger amount of stalls at lunch time and a bustling genius bar I took away so much from the event. But also felt humbled by how many people had spent their time creating stalls & resources to share their work with all of us for no recompense except a thank you and a possible Twitter follower.

As mush as I have retweeted and emailed blog posts from #TLT15 and would encourage everyone to seek out everything that comes from that wonderful event. My biggest take away from the Takeover is the spirit, generosity and love from the teachers. And it is that which I will continue to share with my department, school and students because from that only good things will come from it.

My Leadership Lesson Plenary

I have one more day left as acting Head of Curriculum Area and then my boss comes back and I return to my role as second in department. It’s been a very busy 5 months and although I’ve lost sleep; gained a few pounds from stress eating and have found a few more grey hairs I have really enjoyed this time and have definitely learnt a lot.

My most valuable lesson:

Ask for help when you need it. There have been a few moments as HoCA when I didn’t immediately know the right answer or even where to start looking for the right answer. But the advice from other HoCAs and SLT was given so willingly and often helped me sort the wood from the trees. I’ve always known I could ask for help in every job I’ve had, but my normal way of working is to try to find the answer myself first, however when running the department there isn’t always time to work my own way to the solution.

My ‘eureka’ moment:

Organising the media exam for over 200 students. If anyone knows the OCR media exam, you’ll understand the potential nightmare of this situation. For those who don’t: the exam features a 30 minute DVD clip, so 200 students need access to a clear projected image and quality sound system. This is not possible in our gym due to the skylight and we cannot fit 200+ students in our hall. This meant we had to run two sittings. This meant keeping 100+ students and some scribes / readers in isolation for an hour after they sat the exam early.
This (potential) logistical nightmare showed me that I am more organised than I thought. As well as showing me that something I often see as a character flaw is actually a side to myself I need to embrace and make better use of. Naturally, I go to the worst case scenario and think of every possible problem then work my way to the ideal scenario by solving every problem on the way. Normally, I hide this side as it can involve lots of questions and often unnecessary conversations and I worry that I’m bugging people and coming across as a worry-wart. But this time it meant that the whole day ran smoothly, there wasn’t a single problem and everyone who was involved (students; the English team; SLT; the exams officer; other members of the school) knew what they were doing and when and it went perfectly!
Since then I’ve been more confident to be myself. I think, if I’m honest, this is the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt. I can’t expect the best from my team and ask them to trust me if I don’t trust myself to follow my gut and handle potentially difficult situations in the way I feel confident in.

What will stay with me:

Watching the media coordinator find her voice as a leader. This was her first leadership position and she was finding the transition from team member to leader hard at times, often feeling like the rest of the department weren’t listening to her or respecting her deadlines. I have enjoyed coaching her and helping guide her through the first year of whole cohort entry.
But I have learnt a lot from working with her:

  • spend time supporting & coaching, but there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t meet with you now, use this time to draft the [whatever] and we’ll meet [whenever] and I’ll have a look at it.” After all, I’m busy and have deadlines too.
  • there’s nothing wrong with admitting my faults & struggles. Don’t try to look perfect and that you find this all easy when supporting someone. They need to know that it’s OK to struggle and how you found the solution.
  • show them you trust them. But not just to do their job; if they’re part of your leadership team (she was my acting second in department) trust them with information (only if appropriate) and sound them out on ideas before you take them to the rest of the department. Not only does that mean they publically support you but people always give their best when they feel trusted and appreciated.
  • tell them when they’ve done a good job. This one sounds easy, but doing it right takes thought. Should it be written or spoken? Private or in front of the team or SLT?

What would I  have done differently?

I would trust myself from the beginning. Taking on an ‘acting’ role is a tough one to manage: you want to hand the department back as you found it but you also don’t want to be disturbing someone’s maternity leave double checking decisions every 5 minutes. It’s often hard to ignore the nagging voice in my head which insists I’m always making mistakes and this time I wish I’d listened to my head teacher’s voice when she told me that she had faith I would do a good job in this role from the beginning.

Listening to my own doubts and second guessing every decision I made meant that I gave myself many unnecessary sleepless nights and teary evenings for the first few months. Yet looking back now, I can see that the department didn’t collapse; children kept learning and nobody handed in their notice! I really do need to stop being so hard on myself.

Next steps…

I need to keep pushing my KS3 agenda. I am going to consider this key stage and it’s teachers as a separate department / team that I am the leader of. I know that I can make good decisions about the best way to deliver English to my KS3 students and I need to be as assertive with my HoCA about my intentions as I have been with my line manager when I was running the whole department.
I will let my ‘Teacher Geek’ out more. The department have always willingly shared resources, but only when asked. I introduced some time to share good practice at department meetings and I want that to keep growing. I will insist on time in department meetings at the end of KS3 units to share resources & ideas which worked well, although I’ll probably keep them at a TeachMeet style 2 minute time limit.
I will put myself out there more and seek out CPD opportunities within the school which will help me grow as a teacher and as a leader and that starts tomorrow with an email to the head asking if I can shadow the organisation of the big October INSET day so that I can grow and experience the other area of leadership which excites me: whole school teaching and learning. Wish me luck…

The problem with invisible teaching*

*To steal a phrase from David Didau

This past week has been the busiest week of the year: A Level marks & moderation to send off; A Level data to go to head of sixth form; GCSE sample to send off; observation with the head & head of PE; meetings; illnesses (my migraine & 2 of my team); the AS Lit exam. I’m tired again just writing it all out and I didn’t include my day job of teaching and running the department!

But, somehow through all this, I still had to teach all my classes, including 4 exam classes, to my usual standard. This week really made me understand how much of our teaching is invisible. My students, my trainee and my observers only see the end product of a lot of thought, work and, at times, stress.

If I’m being completely honest, there was the odd lesson that was planned in my head as I was driving in to work that morning and I’m lucky that I have enough experience to draw on to do that occasionally. However, it’s not always possible to do this.

To teach a lesson where learning takes place for each student, you need to have planned your lesson knowing where all the starting points are for all your students and where their end goal is (and if they’re likely to achieve it without a bit of extra help / differentiation) as well as resource it.

And this is the invisible part of our teaching. Our students are often totally unaware of everything we have done to prepare for that hour of their lives. Their lack of understanding can sometimes come across as ingratitude which never goes down well with a tired and stressed teacher.

Perhaps the worse problem is that even though our SLT have been through it before, but the longer they’re at the top the longer it is since they’ve been on a full time table and the world of education is changing so fast now. This often makes teachers feel aggrieved by the demands of SLT, feeling that they are just unreasonable requests from leaders who don’t truly understand.

I’ve seen teachers kill themselves frantically marking books because the book scrutiny doesn’t fit in with their making schedule and they don’t want their knuckles rapped. But then they moan about the mark load and marking policy imposed by SLT; the same SLT who think you’re coping because of the book scrutiny you “passed”. This is why I stopped doing this and didn’t get my knuckles rapped when I explained I marked books fortnightly and Y10 had just handed theirs in ready for marking.

I think the problem of invisible teaching goes beyond SLT though. This problem stretches out to parents and politicians too. So few of the parents know what we really do and can assume we only work 8-3 term times only so offer little sympathy when we don’t reply to them straight away. But worse than that the people in charge don’t really know what we do. Nicky Morgan can visit as many schools as she wants, but unless she shadows a teacher, from the primary and secondary sector, for at least a week, she’ll never really understand. This means she can never truly understand the results of the work load survey and if that’s the case, how can she fix it?

Ideally, we should only complete our planning, preparation and assessment in our PPA time and show that it’s not possible. But how could we do that and not let our students’ education suffer? This dilemma will always be an issue and prevent us from taking successful action to do something to ease the workload and create teachers who have the time and energy to plan, prepare and deliver high quality lessons to every class every day.

Sadly, I think, at least for now, teaching will always be invisible. It really shouldn’t be; a good teacher works bloody hard and this should be recognised by everyone involved in education to prevent it from driving out passionate and highly skilled teachers from our profession.

Reflections on being in charge.

Last half term I took over my department while my HoCA took maternity leave to have a gorgeous baby girl.

So after a month as Head of Curriculum Area, what exactly have I learnt?

Have a strong leadership team.

When I stepped up to HoCA the media coordinator stepped up to second in department. This was a big ask as she was only a few months into her first leadership role and still finding her way round the minefield of middle management.

I have really enjoyed mentoring her these past few months and watching her grow as a middle manager, but she had been a fantastic support to me too. She has supported me and we’ve discussed ideas and begun collaborating on moving the department forward in the fledgling media GCSE and how we can make KS3 as strong as KS4 next year.

Don’t take things personally.

I’ve always been able to brush off criticisms and expletives from my students, but it’s a different feeling when it comes from people who only a few weeks before were complaining with you not at you!

When running a department, I’ve noticed, you take on the qualities of a phone line for my department. I am now a direct line to SLT, heads of houses, heads of year, parents etc. I’ve noticed that people complain to me and expect me to fix it or pass it up. And although I know that’s how it should be, it does take a toll. During the beginning of a stressful week a lot of aggro was heading in my direction and it really brought me down but after a couple of days I realised I was just the receiver for the stress and unhappiness and not the cause. Once I had this crystallising moment I found it a lot easier to deal with.

Don’t be afraid to let people know if they’ve made a mistake.

It’s not a nice part of being in charge, but if people make mistakes, you need to talk to them about it. Dedicated teachers don’t make mistakes on purpose, they are the result of a lack of understanding or a lack of time & increase in stress. But you need to talk to them to find out the root of the error as whatever the reason it needs to be fixed and a good leader should not leave a team member struggling if they need help.

However, the way in which you handle this conversation is key. I’ve worked with middle managers who don’t appear to realise there may be a good reason a teacher had made a mistake and have escalated to SLT far too quickly or have used a tone far too harsh for a teacher who is struggling to cope with a demanding work load. These poor decisions by middle managers mean that I have also comforted many angry and upset colleagues who feel unsupported and told off unfairly. I’ve learnt from this and tried to make sure I have a face to face conversation rather than an emailed one as it’s allowed me to ask if my team member is OK and, at the few times it’s been necessary, offer support.

But having this difficult conversation had meant that mistakes are not repeated and people have thanked me for taking the time to speak to them and thank me for my consideration.

Ask for help when you need it.

It can sometimes be hard to ask for help, but when you’re in charge, especially if it’s your first time, it is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your team and your students.

So far, I have asked for help from the head of sixth form, my LM, an assistant head, my team and ex-colleagues. This assistance has been about how to deal with a difficult parent who’s also a staff member; a class ganging up on a teacher; delegation of Y11 revision day etc. Each time I’ve asked for help I’ve felt myself getting stronger as a leader.

Say thank you.

I’ve always believed that “Thank you” was very powerful, but it’s even more so when it comes from someone in management. Teaching can, at times, be thankless: parents, students and SLT can often get the balance between criticism and compliment / gratitude wrong and it can wear people down.

I’ve made sure I’ve thanked everyone for giving me help when I asked for it and for those moments when they went above and beyond. But I’ve also made sure I thanked my team just for doing their job: teaching, especially in exam season, is brutal and you can see the lift saying “thank you” gives someone.

Take time for yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with doing nothing one evening a week or one day of the weekend. There is always another item in the to do list, but if you don’t listen to your body and rest when you need it you’re no good to your team or your students.

Prioritising is important, but so is being honest with people if you think the deadline is impossible. There is always work to be done, but is it more important than my husband, my family or my friends?

I feel like I managed a successful work / life balance during the easter holidays. I took the bank holiday weekend off and then went into school Tuesday to Friday to work. Once I left on Friday, no work was to be done in my holiday week. Yes, I didn’t get everything done, but because I ended the term by prioritising my to do list the world didn’t end because I didn’t reach the end of my to do list! And it meant I started the busiest term of the year refreshed, re-energised and ready to hit the ground running. And it worked: we had a strong start to this term.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed my first few months in charge: they’ve not been easy, but I’ve really enjoyed them and learnt a lot.

To HoD or not to HoD? It’s no longer a question

When I started teaching, I soon realised that I wanted a leadership role as I wanted to have a bigger impact on the lives of our students; I wanted to be able to make a bigger difference to their experience of English at secondary. I worked hard to gain experiences and promotions, but always had my sights set on a head of department role.

But in February 2013 I was given a new leadership role at a local academy and saw a truth to the head of department job I’d never seen before. Wellington Academy was very quickly thrown in to turmoil in the summer of 2013, although on our arrival we’d noticed that the English department should have already been feeling that turmoil. I was lucky enough to work closely with, and develop a friendship with, our amazing Head of Faculty. Anyone who follows her Twitter account, @fod3, will know that she is hardworking, dedicated and a teacher to the very core of her being but through our car sharing I saw the toll this job placed on her. I listened, counselled and consoled whenever I was needed and all the while learning so many things from watching this Wonder Woman of a teacher work tirelessly for the school and department she had fallen so deeply in love with.

Sadly, during my time at The Welly I began to question whether I still wanted to run a department of my own. Did I want to give up so much of my own life to what is, in reality, just a job? I had to keep reminding myself that these were exceptional circumstances; this was a school fighting a legacy of poor leadership and multiple mistakes. But I couldn’t help wonder if I could work so selflessly and so relentlessly all day, every day.

But, as ever, life came along and changed my plans without warning. A little over a year after arriving, I found myself at the wrong end of restructuring and started looking for jobs elsewhere. I was lucky enough to be appointed as second in department at a fantastic school and I relished another new challenge. But more significantly, I was looking forward to watching another head of department and seeing if this was still a path I wanted to travel down when the school wasn’t fighting for a grade 3 from Ofsted.

Again, things didn’t quite go to plan!

3 days after starting my new Head of Curriculum Area took me to one side to let me know that she was pregnant and would be going on maternity leave half way through the year. I was then asked if I wanted to take on the role of Acting HoCA in her absence. To be honest, I feel it was a risk to ask me. I was still unknown in the department and had barely started my current role: it was a gamble to ask me to look after the department which she had nurtured and grown to it’s current strengths over years. To her and the head’s credit no pressure was put on me and I was allowed to think it over in my own time and ask all the sensible (and stupid) questions I needed to. As I’ve blogged about before, I still felt exhausted and bruised from my time at The Welly and was really looking forward to this new job being the revitalising breath of fresh air that I so desperately needed.

After speaking to friends, family and colleagues, I decided to take on this challenge. Once I’d agreed to this, temporary, job change, I took every opportunity I could to learn the ins and outs of this challenging role. With the unending support and guidance of my HoCA, I felt my desire to run a department return. But more than that, I felt my passion, energy and creativity return. Without wishing to sound cliché, I felt myself come back to myself. I don’t know if it’s taking on the HoCA role, or if it’s having a new challenge to focus on which has refreshed me, but I’m so glad it has. I’m not naïve, I know this new role will be hard and I know it will be exhausting and involve some long hours but I am honestly excited about it (and a little scared!)

So, come 23rd February I will be running the English department and dipping my toes into the future career I had initially envisioned for myself. I have been preparing for this moment for the past few months through attendance at meetings, asking questions about EVERYTHING and building a strong support network for myself. I still feel an element of trepidation, but it feels the same as it has for every new job I’ve taken on. Although this will be a temporary position and I will hand the department back in September, I am determined to do a good job for the team and the students. But most importantly, I am determined to do well for my HoCA. She had faith in me when my faith in myself had been damaged; she put her trust in me when she knew how bruised I felt from past experiences; she saw potential in me when I was struggling to see it in myself.

And as I sit here reflecting on how I’ve arrived at this moment, I realise I have everything possible to be successful: I have trust and faith in myself again and I have trust and faith in my team. I do genuinely feel that I am ready for this.