Wednesday, 31 August 2011

If I could design apps, this is what my teacher app would be...

I don't know how much of a market there is out there for an iPhone (or Android) app for teachers to help them with their professional work. But I know that I could use one. However, so far, I've not come across one that I would use. Here are a few ideas for what I would want from an app:

  • Secure - It's absolutely vital that the app is secure. A pincode and also a password should probably be standard.
  • Accessible online - Everything done on the app must be stored online which I must be able to access. Again, security is important.
  • Add details of each class I teach - I want to be able to add each child (probably first names only, for security reasons) and then attach data for each child as and when I collect it.
  • Camera for photographing evidence - The app should enable me to take photographs of evidence and attach it to a particular child(ren).
  • Spreadsheet - The data should be stored in a spreadsheet style grid which I can customise to my liking. I can then add assessments to the grid to build up evidence for the progress of each child in the class. The spreadsheet should also be able to do things like calculate average levels, average progress etc.
  • Make notes - I must be able to make notes to accompany each piece of evidence in the spreadsheet.
  • Linked to documents - It should be linked to the National Curriculum and other relevant documents so that I can immediately view expectations and plan accordingly.
  • Planning - As the app should be linked to an online facility, I should be able to access my planning through the app.
  • Class name picker - The app should allow me to pick names of children in the class at random. 
  • To do list - The app should allow me to set up a to do list for my class.
Do you use any teacher apps?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Becoming a powerful leader

There's a brilliant post about leadership at the Dumb Little Man blog where 7 simple tips are given to turn you into a powerful leader. It's actually an inspiration read. You can read the post here.

The blog post goes into much more detail, but the seven tips are:

  • Goals: Make it simple and easy for your team to understand the mission and to understand their part in achieving it.
  • Motivating people: What you reward gets done. It's that simple.
  • Walk your talk: You need to practice what you preach. This is how you establish trust and credability.
  • Inspire: Through a combination of unwavering positive future vision, commitment to improve and the ability to bootsrap when resources are tight.
  • Process power: Good process is like having a high performance machine. Sloppy process makes things fall apart.
  • Change: Embrace change by seeking it out. This will tread a path for your teammates to follow.
  • Advocacy: Support your team and they'll support you.

Really good simple advice. I hope to become a headteacher in a few years' time. These tips will help me to establish myself as a good leader.

Take a look at the full blog post at Dumb Little Man.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brilliant Headteacher Part One

As part of my plan to become a headteacher, I have been reading books which offer some great advice. I recently read Brilliant Head Teacher by Iain Erskine. This book is certainly a helpful read - it's full of practical, honest advice for anyone who wants to be a brilliant headteacher.

So what makes a successful Headteacher?

Building an ethos
No really successful school is about standardisation and uniformity. Inspectors will tell you that they get an immediate feel for the school they are inspecting and even what will be their overall judgement for a school after the first few minutes of entering it. Something hits you about the ethos, which has a unique feel to it. A good school has developed an ethos and a curriculum that suits its teachers, the school building and most importantly its children and community. Ultimately the creation of that ethos is down to the Head even if much of a school's success is down to what happens day to day within the four walls of a classroom and the interaction of the adults and the children in that room. A Head's influence can and must inflitrate those four walls as well.

Being a leader
Headship is about enabling others to be successful, be the best they can be, at every level of staffing, as well as the children and the extended school family of parents and carers.

More than ever before, staff want a Head to be good at the job of headship and not necessarily a wonderful classroom practitioner. In the past there was always a strong argument that Heads must be good classroom practitioners but the whole educational landscape has changed in recent years - there are many more distinctive layers of management leadership and responsibility and a Head's job is very different and distinctive compared to 20 years ago. In addition to this, if we are not in a classroom day to day, we quickly become de-skilled as practitioners, but we do become up-skilled in what we have to do as Head.

Role model
Many Heads rightly believe that it is important to role model the behaviours we wish to see throughout the school, the Head ultimately setting the whole climate for the school. Staff follow the model that is set for them by the Head and children follow the example that is set for them by the Head and the school staff. That is why when a Head changes in a school the school can go from a highly successful one to a failing school or the reverse.

There are times when family life and the needs of family members must come first, but equally there are times and circumstances when the job must come first.

Ever the optimist
As Heads ourselves we must display bountiful energy and be full of enthusiasm for the job no matter what each day places in front of us; we must have an endless supply of optimism and hope for a better and more successful tomorrow. More importantly the school community must see the Head's optimism in order to replicate it themselves. As Heads we must be confident in what we are doing and what we believe in and stand for.

Be visible
Successful Heads know that during the day the whole school community is in school and that they need to be high profile, making the daily round of greeting staff, pupils and parents cheerfully as they welcome everyone into the school. It is important, when you tour the school, to vary your route so that you get a chance to see different people at different times of the day. This allows you to monitor what is going on around school and which staff are following school routines.

People person
A brilliant Headteacher in this day and age has to be a people person; you must be able to get on with both the Ofsted Inspector and the cleaner. 

Decision maker
One of the most important qualities, if not the most important of headship of leadership, is to make sure that in your decisions you put aside your own needs and priorities the needs of others.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Little and often

I loved reading this blog post at by Jamie Michie. 

He includes some real practical advice for trying to gain a work-life balance. I love the idea of doing things 'little and often'. Here is what I am going to try to do next year:
  1. Keep a note book (or folder) of lesson ideas, activities and homework; keep it with you to jot down ideas on the fly. I have a note book ready and have already started jotting ideas down.
  2. Mark and assess work in small batches avoiding the dreaded “marking pile”. This is the biggest thing I need to do next year. I will be 'experimenting' to find out what works, but I know I can't go on marking 60 books each evening (plus homework) and I need to reduce the amount that I do whilst maintaining its effectiveness.
  3. Make feedback short and precise to make it meaningful and to keep it manageable for yourself. I can go on a bit with my marking. Keeping it short and precise will work better.
  4. Take 15-20 minutes to reflect on your day: what went well, what didn’t, how can you do better tomorrow? I need to build this into my day, but it is often easier said than done.
  5. Collaborate with others but make meetings short and emails brief; instead get on with the doing, focussing on the outcomes instead, evaluating as you go. Making meetings shorter is everyone's dream. Can we do it? We'll see!
  6. Share ideas, resources and useful links via email, Twitter or Facebook immediately; don’t wait, don’t stock pile. I need to build some time to 'discover and play' new resources, web-based or otherwise, into my week so that I don't stockpile.
  7. Don’t let things become untidy. Fix displays, put away resources, tidy your desk when you see that it needs doing. I'm going to do a 'sweep' of my classroom each day to keep it looking fresh. In fact I'm going to take a picture of it every day at I hope to keep this up-to-date!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

SWOT analysis - a different approach to school improvement planning?

In his book, 'Wake Up and Change your Life', Duncan Bannatyne talks about SWOT analysis as being an approach to improving a business and for regularly reviewing the situation. Could this be an approach schools could adopt?

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Each part of this analysis process could easily be transferred to schools.

Strengths: What are we getting right? What do we do better than anyone else? It's easy to overlook successes, but they should always be valued and be made even stronger. After each analysis new strengths may be discovered.

Weaknesses: What's not performing well enough? This is about Identifying your vulnerabilities. Data (qualitative, as well as statistical) will be crucial for this. What part of the school is under-performing? What do your parents think we could do better? Which lessons have pupils said they aren't enjoying as much as others?

Opportunities: What is your best chance of developing further based on your current situation? What has been overlooked? Was there a part of your school's plan that has been brushed aside for a while? Could now be the right time to bring it back? What have we learned that could help the school improve? Is there a new initiative that offers an exciting opportunity for the school to try something new? 

Threats: Threats, is possibly the one business term that doesn't transfer to schools as easily. But this is mostly because we don't really use the word 'threat' in a school environment. Threats, in a school sense, might mean the effects of physical damage to the building; a member of staff about to leave; or a different issue. Basically it means what could affect your school's situation adversely?

These questions will form the basis for the school improvement planning process when I'm a headteacher. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Three Word Branding

Duncan Bannatyne writes in his book, 'Wake Up and Change your Life',
"Branding is basically about conveying your values to your customers. You might want to indicate that your product or service us honest, fun, upmarket, ethical or fast. Values are not always easy to pin down and they can be quite abstract, but once you've worked out what they are, then it becomes easier to establish a brand that means something to your customers. The best way I know to do this is to come up with three words - just three words - that you want your customers to associate with your company."
Three words to describe yourself. Blimey. That's not very easy! But such branding is quite important. When people think of me I'd like them to say that I'm x, y and z.

In interviews that we had in school a few months ago, we asked our candidates to describe themselves in three words. It gives a quick snapshot of that person. Thinking of three words on the spot is not easy though, so I've been thinking.

I think the words that best describe me are: dedicated, motivated and responsible

Dedicated because I always follow through with what I believe. I have values which I try to uphold through everything I do. Once I start on a challenge I always see it through. I can be relied upon. I am loyal and will support people when I believe they deserve it.

Motivated because I am always active. I get quickly frustrated when I can't get on with things. I have plans for the future and I reflect upon things and try to develop and improve when I can. I am ambitious in the short and long term. I am fun, hardworking and I hate laziness.

Responsible. I believe that I can be relied upon to do a great job, relied upon to be a caring and loving family member, and a loyal friend. I take a responsible approach to everything I do.

Now that I have my branding, I want to ensure that others would use the same words to describe me. This has to be done through my thoughts, words, actions and interactions. 

If I was allowed a fourth word it would have to be a word best explained in this poster, featuring Barney from 'How I Met Your Mother':


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Flat Stanley

 One of the best projects that we have enjoyed in Year Three this year is based on Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. I found a copy of Flat Stanley: Three Books in One and I immediately felt it would provide real inspiration and would allow the children to produce some great work during the last few weeks in school.

These are the activities that we completed:

  • We read the book together, with the children taking turns to read the story. We discussed the themes of the story and its realism (or not).
  • We wrote play scripts based on parts of the book after looking at a play script version (Flat Stanley: Play (Take Part) and comparing the features of play script writing with the book itself. 
  • When Stanley travelled around the world we pretended we were Stanley and sent postcards back home to mum and dad.
  • We wrote instructions for how to catch a museum thief.
  • We looked at the picture of Stanley flying like a kite in the picture book version of the story (Flat Stanley). We read the description of Stanley flying in the wind. Using a video of a carrier bag 'dancing' in the wind we wrote a similar paragraph about the movement of a bag. The children wrote some great descriptive writing.
  • We wrote a newspaper report about Stanley stopping the museum robbery. (We entered our reports in a local writing competition for journalism and three of the class won awards!)
  • We used the Flat Stanley iPhone app to take some pictures of Flat Stanley in our school. We then wrote letters to a school in Cornwall (thanks @purplelady1979) to share information all about the school. We received letters from our new friends as well.
  • We designed our own flat characters and wrote short stories about how they came to be flat.
The whole project was real fun and it was great to have a real reason for writing. The work produced was fabulous and I'm pleased that it kept the children focused and enjoying their writing during a very busy summer term.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Managing people

I love the advice Duncan Bannatyne gives in his book, 'Wake Up and Change your Life'. The book is about how to start a business, but lots of the guidance in the book is relevant to leading schools. The chapter on 'How to manage people' is a prime example of this. It explains really clearly how to delegate effectively:
"If you're part of a management team, you want to make sure that everyone's roles are well defined and that you each know what you are responsible for, so that you don't step on each other's toes. These are my guidelines for effective people management:

  • Agree what each of you is responsible for.
  • set an achievable target.
  • Set a deadline for achieving those targets.
  • Meet at a regular time and place to update each other on your progress. 
Aside from that, leave each person to get on with his or her own job... When you're all hyped about your venture, there's a natural tendency to want to get involved in everything, and that leads to a natural tendency to want to get involved in everything, and that leads to meddling, a duplication of tasks, time-wasting and conflict. The people who work for you need to know what is expected of them, how their work will be monitored, what they have the authority to do without referring to you and the timeframes they are expected to work to. No one appreciates a boss who micro-manages their every move, and once the boundaries have been set, you should stick to them."
Chris Gorman later adds in the same book:
"Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of Kwik Fit told us something that I've never forgotten: it's all about people. You have to remember that your staff have lives outside work, and sometimes they might have had a bad day, but the more you understand your people, the more you get out of them."
I can immediately see how this advice transfers to working in school. It's vital to have a clear management structure with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and expectations. Job descriptions for each person should be clear, possibly tailored to the person who is most right for the job. It is vital that you play to the strengths of your team. It's important to value the person as a whole so that expectations can be realistic yet forward-driven. When I'm a headteacher I must remember this good advice.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Habits of Mind and Leading

The Leadership Daily blog wrote about the habits of mind that leaders should demonstrate. You can read the post here

The post is about developing habits of mind - getting your mind into habits that will demonstrate good leadership. The write shares six good habits. Here's how they could apply in school leadership:

Modelling: If we want others to achieve we need to model what we expect in terms of behaviour, attitude and the approach to the way we work.

Coaching: We should encourage others to think through what they are trying to do. Raise questions to help others arrive at the answers rather than telling others what to do.

Scaffolding: Provide the opportunity for members of staff to experiment and try new things. Give them the chance to explore and perform well.

Articulation: Explain what you are thinking and why you are considering making change so that colleagues, parents and pupils appreciate the process.

Reflection: Reflect on all aspects of your leadership role. What went well and why? What didn't go well and how could we do it differently?

Exploration: Model risk taking so that others can see that there are rewards for taking a  risk and trying something different.

Do leaders have any other habits of mind?

Monday, 1 August 2011

Monthly Review: July 2011

July is probably the month that I like least. It is, without a doubt, the busiest month of the year. When people (non-teachers) say things like, "You must be winding down for the end of the year now," I get really annoyed. It's more like the exact opposite! After feeling lucky to have had two weeks off at Whit, the extra week that we have in school in July seems much longer!

This is what has kept me busy this month:

The month began with our baby's christening. The preparation for the day was immense, mainly because we decided to cater ourselves. We had asked almost one hundred guests and just about everyone said yes! A mammoth sandwich making took place at one family member's house, a sausage roll factory was at another, trifles were made elsewhere and lots of salads and other things were made here. It was a real team effort, but Baby Lily enjoyed a lovely service and a great reception afterwards. She was very well behaved, despite the heat that day.

Moving to Year Four
After nine years in Year Six, I moved to Year Three at the start of this year. It's been a brilliant year. But, due to various staff changes in school, I will be moving to Year Four next year. The end of the year was spent packing things into boxes once again, ready to move to a new classroom.

Primary Deputy
As a result of moving year groups once again, I've decided to change my blog and Twitter username once again. I'm now @primarydeputy, a name which I can't believe was still available!

Flat Stanley
Our final project in our English lessons was based on Flat Stanley. It was probably my favourite project of the whole year and I could easily have planned more on it. But it kept the children focused and working hard right up until the end of the year. @purplelady1979's class exchanged letters with my class, using Flat Stanley as a reason for writing. This was the first time I have tried something like this. I just wish we had started this earlier so that we could do an even better job!

School University
The school's university project, which I organise, came to its conclusion with a graduation assembly in which all course leaders are invited to speak about what happened on their course. It went very well!

Football and Sports Day
A colleague and I organise various football competitions and they were finally finished in July. Our sports day took place on the day it was supposed to this year. This was the first time in three years that this has happened!

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre
We had a brilliant visit to the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes. It was a great day, and it helped keep the children working hard.

Falling behind
The backlog of things I need to do has now grown significantly. I need to sort out: my new classroom, my office in school, my office at home, emails, my desktop, the garden and the garage. It's going to be a busy summer!