The Wellington Way

So yesterday was my last Friday at Wellington Academy and I have said goodbye to all my classes but one; 10X1 will be the last ever lesson I teach at the Academy.

Some may think that leaving after only a year and 3 months would be easier and I guess in some other schools it might be. But this past year the staff and students have gone to war together: we bonded in the trenches. We had a hard time of it at the start of the year with results dropping and the principal being dropped quite rapidly afterwards. We were given an acting principal from Wellington College’s SLT and a whole new set of instructions for the coming year. Oh yeah… and continual attention from the media, bloggers, parents, random people who didn’t seem to have any real connection with the Academy…

On the face of it it seems like it was all terrible and that’s certainly the way it was portrayed by those who wrote about us and judged us yet had no real knowledge of what was really going on inside our walls.

The reality was something very different (and perhaps less newsworthy).

We were given an acting principal who genuinely cared about our students and our school. An acting principal who wanted to support uncertain and tired staff. And, rightly, he was made permanent. Mike didn’t have an easy job to walk in to, but he walked in to it very well. He faced criticisms and cynicisms that were unjust, but he kept his head high and a smile on his face. He wasn’t afraid to say what was wrong and to say it needed to change.

And change it did. Within weeks we saw the behaviour of students improve. I could actually get all my classes lined up and in my room within 5 minutes! This was the impossible dream when I arrived in April 2013. Walking the corridors of the academy I could have mature conversations with the students and get respect back from them. Students saw academic achievement as something that was within their grasp and as something they wanted. And that was never more apparent in Year 11.

Year 11 were a special year group and I honestly don’t think I’ll ever work with another year group as special as them. As the year started it quickly became apparent that coursework marks weren’t quite what they seemed and folders that should have coursework in them didn’t. And so it began… The mammoth session of telling students that they had to do new coursework tasks as they were failing. It was near enough a whole year group doing a GCSE course in one year. To be honest, I was a little relieved that I didn’t have a Y11 class!

And then 11B3 happened.

It shouldn’t have worked. I picked them up at the start of November and they had target grades of E – C. I was the 4th, 5th or 6th English teacher for some of them throughout their GCSE course. But something clicked. All the stars aligned and that miracle happened: the class of disruptive boys & disengaged students completely flipped. They wanted to work. They wanted to write new coursework tasks. Some of them even did homework, much to the surprise of their parents! They worked harder than I’ve ever seen 15/16 yr olds work. More than any year group I’ve had the pleasure to work with, these students deserve good grades. Yes, I know that some of them were right nightmares lower down the school and some even kept that up in Y11. But in English something was different. They learnt from the shocks and low grades of the year above and desperately didn’t want that to be them. In the English department, it was impossible not to fall in love with that year group, especially for our Head of Faculty (@fod3) who knew every student in that year group and didn’t give up on them once – as you can see in her blog post.

And then I had my key stage: the brilliant sixth formers.

I loved teaching them. They were fantastic! They pushed me to be such a better teacher: they didn’t stop asking questions and wanting to know more. Except for the first few months of teaching the Lovely Literature Ladies who dug their heels in and refused to speak! They certainly pushed me to rethink my teaching style & lesson plans. But I won in the end! They found their voices and what voices they had! Their questions and inquisitive nature were a delight to be in the same room with. They saw things in the texts that were hidden from my eyes.

Not forgetting the Language Lot. I’ve never seen 16 year olds so enthusiastic about language! It was a delight to just stop and discuss language with them. So much so, that I sometimes forgot to actually teach them! It sounds a little cliché but it really does feel like they inspired me through so many of their lessons.

And then there were my Y13s. My little class of 5 for language never stopped striving for a better mark or understanding of the topic. They showed me that it was that which was truly “The Wellington Way”. They were such an amazing group of people & had such brilliant ideas; I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading coursework as much as I have when I was reading their pieces.

Can’t forget A2 literature. There are no words to describe the characters in that class, but they were truly amazing people who I am sure will go on to do truly amazing things. Although deadlines didn’t quite mean the same to them as they did to me they never stopped delving deeper into literature.

I guess, the point I’ve been trying to make is that I don’t feel like I’m jumping from a sinking ship or running away as it’s too hard to keep fighting for Wellington Academy. It’s that the papers have it so very, very wrong. The people who stand on the outside and criticise us have it wrong. This is a building full of highly dedicated staff and students who are such brilliant people who work as hard as they can.

And who can ask for more than that from 1000 odd teenagers?


My New (School) Year Resolutions

I’ve had cause to reflect on the past year this week and on more than one occasion I’ve felt like I failed at it.

It’s seems rare to me to find a teacher who feels that they’re getting it right all the time and is doing their job perfectly. And to be honest I’m not sure I trust the ones who say they are. I’m often the first to admit my mistakes and I try really hard to look for solutions and not problems, but it’s not always easy.

But there started to be moments of change: coursework improvements were coming in on target; reading and spelling ages were improving; analysis was in depth and students were challenging me with their ideas.

So with this in mind and a new position in a new school looming for September I’ve started to think about what I will do differently: I’ve started to make my New (School) Year resolutions:

1. Organise my time better
I say this every school year and make some improvements, but I still feel that there’s some way to go. However it’s not just me that if need to think about, there’s whole school issues too. Firstly, a homework timetable. I have nothing against them, but I’d prefer to work it out for myself and tell my class or at least within the department. I find that it is very rarely practical when it’s issued from up above. Take this year for example, I have to set Y10 homework on Mon & Weds which means I can only mark their books during lessons or take them in on Friday. As much as I try to mark during the lesson I can’t get a whole set done and still help them achieve A*s and with a full day on Friday I’m forced to take books home, something I hate doing as they’re heavy and if I forget them Monday I’m screwed! But it’s not just that, it’s things like the unhelpful placement of off timetable initiatives during assessment week – thanks for that – which stop me using my time productively.

2. Put aside 30mins at the end of every day to email / call parents
Honestly, making the positive phone call home is the best part of my job. Sadly, it’s often the part which gets pushed to one side as I’ve got mocks to mark, meetings to go to, reports to write etc Next year, no matter what, I’m going to do this! It’s such a simple thing and so essential for building good relationships with classes and parents. It’s often the best and most time efficient way of creating an effective learning environment, but it just doesn’t get done enough.

3. Plan my lessons the way I know I can
I can sometime produce a lesson that I know I could have done, and sometime have done, better. Tiredness, lack of time or lack of inspiration all impact the lessons I produce. But I know I can be outstanding, even got the obs to prove it, but I also know I can require improvement, got those obs too. I hate when I look back at the lesson I just taught and ask myself why I did it that way? It’s impossible to be outstanding all day everyday, but I’m going to try to make sure each class has at least one outstanding lesson a week. I know it’s going to be challenging, but I hope it’ll be worth it.

It’s not a massive list of resolutions, but they’re the ones I feel I should make, I need to make and the ones I feel I can keep.