Positivity

I had planned to blog earlier in the month than this but somehow January has escaped me. There are lots of things that we can say about January but one thing I think that everyone can agree on is that, at times, January can feel like a long month that is hard work. It’s not unusual to hear people use the words dark or depressing to describe it or to hear people talk at length about Blue Monday (not the great song by New Order but the Monday where everyone apparently feels sad).

 

January at Coupals has been like nothing described above. Instead, the month has been a positive one and the pupils and staff have achieved so much already – not bad for a month that gets everyone down. So, I hear you ask, what is there to be positive about in January? Well…

 

Black Box Thinking:

 

As with every new term, we have tried new things at Coupals. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t (I explained this to a Headteacher colleague last week – for every idea we have that works we have tried at least 2 or 3 that haven’t). The thing that we get right as a school when we try new things is to realise that getting things wrong helps make what we do better. This is called Black Box Thinking and is explained excellently in the book (imaginatively titled) ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed – you might know him as the Ping Pong Guy if you listen to Radio 5 live. We have discovered over the last few years, and had reinforced this half term, just how important it is to learn from Black Box Thinking. And here’s the thing: When you learn from everything you do (the successes and the failures) you are always improving and it’s hard not to be positive when this is the case.

 

Be brave – be bold:

 

We live in a world where sometimes we interact more with other people online than in person. I’m quite private and have a small circle of friends and tend to be the same online. However it’s really easy, and I’m sure everyone has done it, to get sucked in to a negative thread on Twitter or Facebook (or whichever social media platform people use) and to add fuel to the fire about something which either isn’t important or that we don’t really care about. It’s always easier to say negative things behind a closed group or on a page of someone when, in reality, we wouldn’t say these things if the person was in front of us.

 

There was an interesting example of this earlier in the week when Sean Harford (Director of Schools for Ofsted), someone who has done amazing things in engaging with Heads and teachers on social media about Ofsted and their work, received some very pointed criticism which became personal. Me being me, I couldn’t help but interject and argue against this unfair criticism. It led to some fairly scathing criticism of myself from someone behind an anonymous account whom I have never met but I was at least satisfied that I had done something positive.

 

This positivity, boldness and bravery is characteristic of our staff. Teaching is much like I have just described and there are lots of teachers everywhere who engage in negative conversations and criticisms of policy, teaching philosophies or even their own schools and Leadership Teams online. Our teachers don’t operate like this and have a very positive outlook on things. Does that mean that they don’t raise problems or concerns? Of course not. Instead, what they do is deal with them positively by raising them and making a difference. It seems quite a counterintuitive thing to do in this day and age but raising a problem, being bold, and dealing with it generally leads to positivity.

 

The Element:

 

What’s the most important thing to being positive? To be honest, it depends who you ask. There is however a strong argument that having something that you love to do or care about makes people positive. Whether that’s a job you love (like teaching for our staff), or a cause you want to fight for (e.g. human rights, animal welfare, world poverty) or even a favourite team to root for, these are all things that give people a sense of positivity. (Actually, come to think of it, as a Swindon Town and New York Jets fan I can’t claim that the last point has given me much positivity in the last 12 months). Some people call this a passion and some call it a calling. If you want an interesting perspective of this I would recommend reading ‘The Element’ by Sir Ken Robinson. It’s not coincidence that if you talk to someone who is passionate about something they generally project positivity. It can’t be chance…

 

You make the weather:

 

This is a phrase that a great Headteacher (Andrew Smith at Lyons Hall in Braintree) uses a lot, though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with weather. Teachers don’t literally make the weather, but they do set the mood for their classrooms and our school. Their positivity, their cheerfulness and their enthusiasm rubs off on pupils. We all have bad days (we’re only human) but the mood we set in school effects everyone in it. So if we come in to school with positivity, you’ve guessed it, the school fills with positivity. It’s a simple idea, but if you take it seriously and do it yourself it makes quite a difference to those around you.

 

Positivity is contagious and, fortunately for us, we have a school full of staff and pupils who spread it everyday. We never underestimate the importance or the impact that our positivity has but it’s very easy to. So go on, spread a little positivity. It feels good…

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Well? What do you think? Really?

This blog starts with a riddle: Teachers do this on average 400 times a day and roughly twice per minute. This means that in total they will do this, on average, 70,000 times per year and between two and three million times in their careers. If they do it well children’s understanding and learning is transformed and if they do it badly they can halt a child’s enthusiasm and interest in a nanosecond.

So what is this thing that teachers do so often with such importance and power? Simple: Ask questions.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers” Voltaire

There is one question which every parent hears. At times the question helps keep conversations flowing and at times it has parents begging for a moments time to think. That question is a simple, one word question: ‘Why?’

I remember, not too long ago, that my son’s favourite question was ‘why?’ Though at times I may have silently thought ‘please, no more whys…’ I appreciate just how important the question was for him understanding the world better. Every time he asked ‘why?’ in response to something which I thought I had explained excellently he was simply trying to find out more. Asking why was his opportunity to keep on finding out more and better understanding things.

We encourage children to ask questions at Coupals for a number of reasons. Children asking questions develop better skills around reasoning and critical thinking but most importantly questions help children to stay curious. But more than this the questions that children ask are used to check their understanding. In this context, if children don’t ask questions they are never taking the time to check their understanding.

But why?

So what about teachers? What type of questions do they ask?  Teachers ask questions naturally – it’s hard not to when you are working with children. But, like anything, some questions are good and some aren’t so good. We talk, as teachers, about open questions (where the answers are explanations) and closed questions (where the answer is a simple yes or no).

Neither of these better or worse than the other but how they are used is the important thing. Teachers are very good at selecting questions depending on what they want children to share. For example if they want a short answer they will ask a different question to if they want an explanatory answer. The best example of this is when your child comes out from the gate at the end of the school day. If you want your child to tell you about their day at school then asking ‘Have you had a good day’ doesn’t really work. All they will give you is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ But ask ‘what did you learn at school today?’ and there is no easy one word answer (though you might get the stock, ‘I can’t remember’ until you’ve made it a little way down the road) that they can give.

We know that children ask questions to find out more and to check their understanding but why do teachers ask so many questions? There are lots of reasons for asking questions. Like children, we ask questions to check our understanding: think of any time a child is explaining a long, complicated description of an event to you. Checking understanding is essential. But most importantly teachers ask questions to check the understanding of pupils’ learning. There are lots of things that teachers can do to understand how well pupils understand, for example quizzes, written assessments and tests and questions. But no method is quicker, more immediate or useful than asking questions.

Teachers have to think about questions constantly. 400 a day is no mean feat and the best teachers I have worked with (at Coupals and in other schools) have refined their skills of asking good questions carefully over years of teaching. But you don’t have to be a teacher and spend hours of your life thinking about the questions you are going to ask. Any question gets children thinking. A question where they can’t simply answer yes or no will get them thinking in a deeper way. A beguilingly simple question such as a ‘thunk’ (see the Thinking Corner page of our website) will get children thinking deeply on a range of different levels.

Next time you ask a question make it trickier for the children. Don’t let them get away with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it will get them thinking. More importantly, it’s your chance to get them back for every time the asked ‘why?’…

Farewell to the year

There are lots of things that could be said about 2016. Some call it an ‘annus horribilis’, others a ‘year to forget’ and no doubt, for someone, ‘the best of year my life.’ This blog has seen the best of both sides of the year. It has explored the loss that so many people have experienced through 2016 in my blogs about David Bowie, my friend Michael and the legendary (yet unheard of) Sharon Jones. It has been a year of interesting decisions and political changes too but that isn’t what this blog will focus on. No, instead this blog is going to take an unusual view of 2016: it is going to focus on the positives that our school have experienced in 2016.

So this blog, my last of 2016, will focus on the successes that we have had as a school and the things that I am most proud of. I have managed (just about) to narrow it down to 5 things but to say it was a difficult decision is an understatement.

So, here goes…

5. Results

I am a firm believer that results are a tiny part of a school and how successful it is (and this makes me unusual as a Headteacher compared to some Heads). However the last academic year which culminated in the SATs in 2016 was one of huge change at unprecedented rate. Amidst this turmoil our pupils achieved very well in both Year 2 and Year 6 compared to both the local and national pictures. We were proud of the results, but more of the pupils and how well they did.

4. Continued improvement

In November we had our annual Internal Review which was very positive and showed that the school has continued to improve over the last 12 months. The review highlighted that teaching over time is good across the school and that pupils across the school are making good progress. What I am even more proud of is that the staff aren’t quite satisfied with the improvements we have made and are keen for our school to continue to improve further in the future. I know for a fact that it will continue to improve and can’t wait to see these improvements (and their impact on pupils’ learning) in the future.

3. Visitors

Over the past couple of years as our school has been on a journey of vast improvement I have visited many schools to see the excellent things that they are doing. This year became a real turning point for us in the sense that we went from being a school that visited others to gain ideas to a school that other people visited to gain ideas. We have had people visit from lots of schools to see our approaches to teaching reading, our curriculum and our values. We are proud of the fact that that we are now in a position to support other schools and share the expertise that we have developed on our journey.

2.Primary School of the Year 2016

In July we were named Primary School of the Year in the 2016 Cambridge News Education Awards. Put simply, the recognition for everything that our team has achieved meant a lot to us.

1. The team

We have started the 2016-17 academic year with what I consider to be the best team of people we have had in the 5 years that I have worked at Coupals. The team of people in our school right now are the hardest working, most committed and open minded teachers we have ever had teach our pupils. Their dedication and determination to teach well, and to continue learning new ways to teacher better, is inspiring and is a huge benefit to the pupils in our school. This year has seen us begin the school year with teachers who have just completed the first term of their teaching careers. What has been wonderful to see is them developing and blossoming in to very strong teachers and to see them being supported by the rest of the team who have been keen to share their expertise in the interest of developing the next generation of excellent teachers. Not only are they incredibly hard working but they also have an exceptional sense of humour (evident in the flyposting of my office which has occurred more than once this year) which make working at Coupals a fantastic experience everyday. I am proud and privileged able to lead the fantastic Coupals team.

There were, of course, many other things that were successful that simply couldn’t fit in to this blog and I am sure that if you were to ask any member of the Coupals team they would have a slightly different top 5. The bottom line however is this: 2016 was a great year for our school.

The good news is that 2016 won’t be a rarity for our school. 2017 is already shaping up as an exciting year with work on our new building starting in January along with the launch of a new curriculum which will provide our children with amazing opportunities to develop their knowledge and understanding. 2016 was full of excitement and success of things that we hadn’t dreamed of this time last year. So which successes will I be reflecting on this time next year? It’s hard to say. But it will be an exciting journey to get there…

Happy New Year and here’s to a successful 2017 for our staff, pupils and families.

Sharon Jones – The queen of soul, heart and grit:

2016 has been a challenging year. Not in terms of politics (though as far as political years go 2016 has been a big one) but in terms of people that we have lost. I have already written two blogs about people who we have lost this year (David Bowie in January and a wonderful friend in March) but sadness filled me again in November following the loss of one of my musical heroes. The saddest thing in all of this however was that despite her enormous wealth of talent, she is almost unheard of in most households. Her music was amazing, her attitude exceptional and her grit and determination unmeasurable.

A long road to the top:

Sharon Jones was born in Augusta, Georgia (USA) in 1956 and her journey to fame was anything but straightforward. From the age of 20 she dedicated herself to music, moving beyond her roots singing gospel in church to making a name for herself as a solo artist. The road wasn’t easy though and for years she received endless rejections frequently being told that she was ‘too old fashioned and unoriginal.’ But this didn’t put her off. Instead it made her more determined to succeed. She continued to work hard and look for opportunities over the next 20 years until finally her chance arrived.

In 2002, aged 46, she was asked to record with a band (an incredible band at that) called the Dap Kings for a recording session they were holding. Within minutes it was clear that she was an exceptional talent and was signed up immediately. From that session she went on to record several albums with the Dap Kings and received acclaim around the world for both her voice and incredible stage shows – the world finally realised what an exceptional talent she was.

Her grit, determination and resilience to rejection (of which there was a lot) saw her overcome doubters to prove that she had the skill and talent to become a performer in her own right. Regardless of your interest in music or whether you liked her music, her attitude to failure and refusal to fail is admirable and the key driver to her success. But also her patience was exceptional – how many people would wait 20 odd years for their opportunity instead of giving up and making excuses for why it never happened. This is just one of the many ways in which Sharon Jones was inspirational and is an amazing role model for learners. Sometimes it might take a long while to master or achieve the goal but without grit and determination it will never happen. As someone once said to me ‘if it was easy, everyone would have done it.’

High exepctations = high standards

I never got to see Sharon Jones live (I was due to in August of this year but she was unfortunately taken ill and the show was postponed) but any glance, even quickly, at live footage shows two things about her. The first is that she has high expectations of everyone around her. The Dap Kings are one of the best live bands I have ever heard and this comes down to her high expectations. There are fantastic stories of her approach to rehearsal in which she’d stop the band if someone was even a millisecond late for a beat. Her attention to detail and expectations for everyone to want to be the absolute best they can be are wonderful. She once (and this is a story I have heard a couple of times) told someone to leave the band because they were happy enough with the standard of their playing. This wasn’t good enough to be in the Dap Kings and Sharon Jones expected them to want to be the best around. To do that musicians can never be satisfied with how well their doing.

After each performance she would think back and critique herself and make notes on what she wanted to do better next time. Sometimes this was a single note and other times it was a whole song but she was never satisfied with how she performed. She could always do better than she did in her last performance. Like with her determination, her high standards are something that should inspire us as adults and also children as learners. If you always want to improve and do better, and take the time to reflect on how you can improve, you will continue to get better and better at whatever it is you are trying to achieve.

More than a musician?

Was Sharon Jones more than a musician? Of course she was. She was a role model for singers, musicians and people in general. But even better she should continue to be a role model for learners everywhere. Because, the bottom line is if any learner shows the patience and determination that Sharon Jones did to succeed and the desire to continually improve then success will be the only outcome.

As I told my wife after the news of Sharon Jones’ death: ‘She wasn’t just a singer, she was a force of nature.’

In memory of Sharon Jones: 1956 – 2016

How do you measure a school year?

For my final blog of the school year it seems poignant to look back at exactly what a school year is and most importantly how can you measure it? There are several questions there and several different answers which this blog will cover. A school year is more than the 11 months between September and July, it is a journey and voyage of discovery for every pupil and adult who works in any school. That sounds very grand, but speak to any reception parent about the spectacular range of things they have learned and the idea of a voyage of discovery seems the best description imaginable. But how do you measure a school year?

Statistics: 

I love statistics – I make no bones about this. But the thing with statistics, as someone once told me, is that if you question them long enough they will tell you whatever you want. So if we were to measure a year in statistics what would it look like?

  • 2470 work hours for teachers
  • 1295 teacher hours face to face with children
  • 11211 books marked
  • 81400 questions asked
  •  2 residential trips
  • 190 breaktimes and lunchtimes
  • 83 certificates awarded
  • 532 leaves given in assembly
  • 1 Primary School of the Year award (in case anyone had missed it)

Now as I said, I love statistics but this doesn’t even scratch the surface of a school year. So what does?

Progress:

I know I talk about progress a lot in my blogs but the reality is that this is what schools and teachers do, they support progress. As you would expect there has been some amazing progress made across the school by our pupils as a result of hard work on the parts of teachers and pupils alike.

We can easily measure a school year in progress of a school and the best way in which I can describe what this progress is like is by comparing it to a rowing crew (think Cambridge vs Oxford – come on the light blues). George Yeoman Pocock, legendary rowing shell maker, explained that when a rowing crew work perfectly, stroking the water at the same rate with minimal disruption of the water the result is quite simply perfection. In his own words he explained:

“To see a winning crew in action is to witness a perfect harmony in which everything is right.”

There is an equivalent to this in terms of a school. When all of the parts of the school, i.e. the pupils, the staff, the plans, all work the school also achieves the perfect harmony like Pocock described. When that perfect harmony occurs, so does progress.

The most powerful and simple way to describe the progress of the school is to acknowledge that every individual has had a huge impact on the school and the school a huge impact on every single individual.

Change:

I have blogged on several subject this year and a couple of times change has come up. Change happens a lot in education and schools and this year has been a year of massive change (but I’m still not ready to blog about the changes for Key Stage 1 and 2 – it’s too soon). But the kind of change I am referring to is that in individuals, adults and children.

This year I have witnessed first hand huge change in pupils across our school. I have seen pupils who lacked the confidence to answer a question on the carpet lead class discussions around some fairly hefty philosophical ideas. Likewise children with a complete phobia of maths end the year finding huge satisfaction in digging deep in to some challenging mathematical problems.

The same goes for adults too and the reason for this is simple: even if you’re an adult in school you are still constantly learning. Teachers who began the year nervous about new assessments or teaching approaches have ended the year as experts. Teaching Assistants who began the year nervous about having to learn new content to support in maths and English have ended the year with a knowledge which has helped lots of children.

Pride: 

There isn’t a unit to measure pride, but if there was I think it should be called a ‘Coupal.’ For the last two and a bit years I have always ended the year with an immense amount of pride. Pride of my pupils, pride of my colleagues and pride of our community. The thing I know most of all is this: each year I feel more proud of Coupals than the previous (even when I didn’t think it would be possible to be more proud).

This year is no different. I am hugely proud of Coupals and its pupils, staff and families who have all contributed so heavily to the success of the year. I am proud to work with the teachers, children and parents whose encouragement make the most challenging of things achievable.

So how do you measure a school year? 

The choice is yours. You can measure a school year however you prefer. The truth though is that a school year should involve all of these things: statistics, progress, change and pride (though not necessarily in that order). But maybe there is a simpler way. At the end of year I ask myself: ‘Am I proud of what we have achieved. Could we improve next year?’ If the answer to either of those questions is no, it’s probably time to for me to do something else. If I’m honest, I can’t see the answer being ‘no’ any time soon. Besides, I have got September to plan for…

Thank you to our pupils, staff and their families for their hard work and support this year. We look forward to next year and building on our successes (but not before a well earned break). 

This blog is for my friend Michael. I would have loved to have told him all about this year.

The best team around…

“The strength of each team is the individual. The strength of the individual is the team.” Phil Jackson

“Coming together is a beginning.Keeping together is a progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

The title of this blog is deliberately provocative. Who does the best team in the title refer to? The All Blacks? The German national football team? Leicester City? The Denver Broncos? My very own Swindon Town FC? All of these could fall under the banner of the best team (well apart from the last) but none of these are the team that I am talking about. There can be no question that success comes from a good team of individuals but if Leicester City have proven anything this season it is that the combined value of a team is far more powerful than the individual talents of the players. But this blog is not about Leicester City. It is about the team that I am lucky enough to lead. The Coupals Academy team.

But what makes the team special?

The extra mile 

Any group of teachers are inherently committed to making the lives of pupils better (if they aren’t then they have chosen the wrong profession – blunt but the truth). The team here at Coupals go the extra mile so frequently that a marathon of extra miles is achieved on an almost weekly basis.

The commitment I see from our staff goes far beyond the sight of the parents and is always heartwarming and awe inspiring in equal measure. The fact that most staff are in before 8.00am and leave at the last moment when the school is locked isn’t seen by parents but is the greatest example of their commitment. Every minute of their day is put in to making children’s lives better whether that involves planning lessons to meet every pupils’ needs or marking work specifically to ensure they know how to improve the following day. It is by no means a given that teachers in every school do this. But it is not just these aspects of our teachers’ work that impress me but the many other manifestations that going the extra mile can take.

Regularly I see our staff giving up their lunchtimes to give extra help to pupils or running extra sessions after school to help pupils achieve things they didn’t think they could. After busy weeks at school they give up their time to attend discos, Christmas and Summer Fayres as well as many other things because they care for our pupils, school and the community that it serves. But the thing that impresses me most about our team is that they don’t do this for themselves. They do it for others. It isn’t part of their job (as lots of things technically aren’t) but if they benefit the children, they do them. They demonstrate for our pupils the very principle of ‘others before self.’ This makes me a lucky Headteacher.

Adaptability

The past two years have been quite a journey for us as a school. The only way for a school to progress is for the staff to accept change and be adaptable. Culturally our school is a different place completely and so many things have changed for our staff. Following our last inspection we looked at everything that we do in school from top to bottom and there was a lot that needed changing. The problem with change is that people don’t like it. It doesn’t matter if the change is a new pair of shoes or a new way to work. At first it feels strange and people don’t like it.

Our school and our approach to teaching is a constantly changing and evolving thing. This is great news for our pupils. It is possible, in the wrong school with the wrong team, for this constant evolution to become negative and for staff to become rigid and unprepared to adapt. What never ceases to amaze me is the way in which our staff approach change. They are adaptable in their work in so many ways whether it be the introduction of a new approach, idea or strategy (and believe me in 2016 there have been more than a few but I’ll blog about that another time). But they are adaptable beyond changes we make at school. Our teachers plan for every eventuality and know the children in their care so well that they adapt and tweak everything they do. Why do they do this? Because they think the pupils they teach deserve the best and adapting when things aren’t working is the least they can do. It’s not easy but it’s important. And if it’s important for the pupils our team will do it.

Humour

There is no doubt in my mind that our fantastic team at Coupals are just about the most humorous that I have ever worked with. You might ask why humour is important to making our team successful. The truth is that to some teams it isn’t but to ours it is. When you work in a school that is trying to rapidly improve there is no doubt that the stakes are high and everyone feels under pressure. This has been the case for us at several times over the last 2 years. What helped us through the times when the pressure was on? Humour. And lots of it. It is hard not to be impressed by by our staff’s sense of humour and ability to see humour in every situation (even the darkest and most challenging). Nothing unites a team like being able to laugh. The best thing of all about the staff is that they can laugh at themselves and one another. But most of all, they’re very good at laughing at me.

You might still be wondering why humour is important. The bottom line is this: we want our teachers to take risks because risks lead to progress. The downside is that risks can lead to failure. Humour is the secret weapon here because if teachers can laugh when things go wrong (and sometimes they do go spectacularly wrong) being able to laugh about it helps us dust ourselves off and take another risk to improve something different.

There are several things that set our team apart from others and one of the (if not the) most prominent is the humour they approach everything with.

The real star of the team? 

When I think of the motto of Team GB at the 2012 olympics it strikes me as the attitude our team take towards their work: Better never stops.

Our team is an amazing one. Like any team it is made up of some exceptional human beings all of whom have taken on great challenges to achieve what they have done so far in their careers. Most importantly they have not taken on these challenges for their own reward but for something far greater. 

Howard Lay, Chief Executive of Samuel Ward Academy Trust, explained to me once that he didn’t go in to teaching to help a particular class of children or one particular school but to change the lives of as many young people as possible. That’s not only the case for him but for the rest of our team too. 

So who’s the star of our team? It’s simple.  There isn’t one when you have a team like ours. Because when you have a team like ours, the team is the star. 
 

Who’d be a teacher?

“You (teachers) have the most important job of anyone today. Our kids need you to advocate their futures.” George Lucas

If your eyes and ears have been even slightly open over the last couple of weeks you will have heard something or other about education and schools in the news. It might be Headteachers heckling the Secretary of State for Education at their annual conference or it might be about testing or other mishaps (we mustn’t mention the “oops that wasn’t the practice” practice SATs paper…). If I’m brutally honest education appears to most as a bit of a shambles at the moment (one could even in the words of Malcolm Tucker that it is an ‘omnishambles’). There is no doubt that it is a challenging time to be a teacher and I’m sure many people are asking the same question: Who’d be a teacher?

Challenges:

Anyone who tells you that teaching is not challenging is a liar. If you’ve told someone there are no challenges in teaching and are offended by my calling you a liar I don’t apologise (and I’m not taking it back)! Teaching is challenging. It always has been. And it always will be. There is always a lot of talk about change in education. Some find change good, some find it hard and some just try to ignore it altogether. The bottom line is that education has to change because if it doesn’t it becomes stagnant. No team, system or organisation has ever become better by staying the same. There is a famous quote from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper which says:

“The most dangerous phrase in the English language is ‘We’ve always done it this way'”.

Change is good. Scary, but good. The greatest challenge in education at the moment is not the change but the rate and manner in which it comes. This year alone for example we have seen huge changes to the way that Year 2 and Year 6 pupils are assessed and the way Reception are assessed when they enter to name but a few. Throw in the suggestion that all schools become academies (that’s a whole other blog) and resignations from several high profile headteachers along with schools budgets being reduced and it seems like education is doomed. Again, one has to ask why would anyone want to work in a profession where there is no good news?

The answer is simple. Because there is good news. You just have to look carefully for it.

Change can be good:

There are several changes that are taking place which are very positive but aren’t always as prominent in the news. Of course these are my opinions and one man’s good news is another’s catastrophe so my disclaimer here is this: This is my opinion of good news (and I do consider myself an optimist).

One of the biggest changes, and the most positive, is the change to the ways schools are inspected. Yes, there is some good news about Ofsted. There are lots of positive experiences being shared locally and nationally through networks such as Twitter explaining how positive inspection experiences have been. Inspection is now focusing more on evidence, such as pupils’ work, and how well the children are doing in school now rather than being heavily dependent on previous data which sometimes made schools judgements better or worse than they actually were (though this wasn’t often the case it has been known to happen on occasions). A bigger revelation is that, and this may require sitting down to comprehend, Ofsted are actually human. Sean Harford, their National Director for Schools, is a positive public presence. He dispels myths, follows up where negative experiences have been shared and responds to questions personally (I have experienced this when I had a question about a change to the school inspection framework). When Ofsted become a positive fabric in the tapestry of education there is a sign that change is in the air. When change is in the air it is a good time to be a teacher.

One of the huge changes which there has been a lot of complaint about is the removal of ‘levels’. If you ask me, this is one of the best news stories in education at the moment. For years we have used levels which rush children through a curriculum too quickly, worked on best fit (meaning that children are ‘assessed up’ when they are not ready to be) and made it impossible to track how well children have done from the start of school when they leave reception to the end of Year 6.

The removal of levels has given us massive freedom in how we assess and to assess pupils more, and in greater depth, on less curriculum content over a longer period of time. For the first time in a long time teachers are able to assess pupils on a day to day basis focusing on what they are getting better at and what they can do that they couldn’t do a day, a week, a month or a term ago.  This is a massive development and empowers teachers to assess in the best way they see fit for their children, the children they know best because they spend more time with them than they do their own children. But again, this is a positive news story so you might have heard about it in the news.

Opportunities:

Teaching is about opportunities. It is about providing them and about taking them. On average a teacher has over 1,000 interactions with children. Every one of these interactions is an opportunity to help children become something better. Whether it is a better communicator, listener, problem solver or just to feel valued, teachers have the power to make these opportunities count and change young people’s lives. The best teachers understand this and realise what a privilege it is to have these interactions everyday. As John Hattie says ‘Know thy impact.’ The knowledge of how much of an impact a teacher makes on young people should be enough to make anyone want to be a teacher.

Now, more than ever, there are lots of opportunities for teachers. When I began teaching (and that wasn’t all that long ago really) opportunities to develop as a teacher were fairly limited. The best you could really hope for was a one day course run by the Local Authority, whoever that Local Authority was. Jump ahead 11 years and there are opportunities to develop all over the place. The development of Teaching Alliances, such as our own fantastic Suffolk Borders Teaching Alliance which is part of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, mean that schools have direct access to professional development (training in everyday money) which helps to develop teachers on their doorstep. Our school are beginning to develop a model of in-class professional development in September which means that teachers will begin to receive their development without having to even leave their classrooms. Throw in resources such as Twitter which help teachers link up to share ideas, resources and opinions and in the words of Edwyn Collins ‘the opportunities are endless.

So why would you want to be a teacher?

For me the answer is simple, but the question is wrong. The answer is this: the pupils, the opportunities, the challenge, the variety, the passion of those around you, testing yourself, aspiring to be better and wanting to make a difference to those children you spend over 950 hours a year with.

But as I said that’s the wrong question. The real question should be this:

“Why wouldn’t you want to be a teacher?”