Primary Rocks Live 2019

It’s time for the only blogpost I write each year. Yesterday was the fourth PrimaryRocks Live event, and I’ve been lucky enough to have tickets to all four now.

PrimaryRocks Live now feels like a homecoming. Entering that school is wonderful because it’s filled with likeminded people. There’s a buzz of energy and positivity in the air. I spent the first half hour hugging and chatting to people who I now only get to see at PrimaryRocks. I’ve come a long way from the first one when I sat on my own in the hall and cried.

After Gaz’s welcome (amazing as always,) the first keynote was Graham Andre, a legend in a shellsuit. Graham’s keynote was heartfelt, poignant and also really thought provoking. I loved hearing him talk so openly about that feeling of being at a crossroads, as it’s a feeling I’ve been having too. Also, I have to salute his commitment to staying in that shellsuit all day…

I think this year I struggled more than ever to decide on workshops because they all sounded so amazing. So for the first one I followed my heart and went to @parky_teaches workshop “Get your Geek on.” I’m often described as a geek by others, sometimes not in the most positive of ways, but lots of what was said in this workshop rang true with me. I’m definitely going to look for ways to bring my passions into the classroom.

Session 2 was an easy choice for me. I went to see Colin Grimes’ talk. I’d never met Colin before but had many conversations on twitter. His talk was amazing and was one I really wished members of my school’s SLT could have heard. He made some excellent points about new ideas and initiatives, about direction; that I think more leaders could do with listening to.

Session 3. I was intrigued by the title of Maaria Khan’s workshop (I’m not a fan of twee things like “Chilli Challenge” anyway) so found myself in her talk. Maaria spoke with obvious passion about the teaching of maths and I loved her point about raising self-esteem in mathematics. I have taken away some ideas for my maths lessons and am even more committed to get as far away from 3 way differentiation as possible. Maaria was really engaging and I would definitely recommend people see her speak.

The final keynote was Simon Smith and Chris Dyson who took us on a whistle stop tour of their schools and their passion for storybooks and mathematics. Both of these heads have achieved amazing things at their schools and it was brilliant to hear them speak together. Hearing two heads speak so passionately about staff well-being was amazing too, as often it feels like something that is paid lip-service. The singing was a great way to end the day on such a high too.

This year I ended up not going for #primarybeers afterwards as my house was in danger of flooding with the bad weather. Thankfully it’s fine now. I did miss that opportunity to keep talking to people though.

Oh well, maybe next year… 😉

Holidays and the Black Dog

I suffer from depression and anxiety. I had a major breakdown about 10 years ago, and have been without antidepressants for over two years. I’ve had occasional periods of mild depression since, but I’ve never quite got to the depths of about 8 years back.

One time of year tends to make things harder though, and that’s the summer holidays. I’m a person who copes better with life in routine, take that routine away from me and that allows those thoughts to take over. Every year I try to plan things to do to fill the time, and every year it isn’t quite enough.

I spread out going into school, so that it gives me something to do over the weeks, I spend time writing, reading and playing music. I have a dog who needs to be walked daily, so that gets me out and about a bit, though he’s recently decided he only wants to go as far as the pet shop around the corner.

The one thing I lack over the holidays is human contact. I don’t have many friends outside of work – the result of too many times cancelling plans with people, so don’t really have people I can call on.

I try to involve myself in discussions on twitter, but the back dog makes me feel like I’m an outsider there, that my contributions don’t matter and people wouldn’t notice if I wasn’t there. Holiday photos and comments from work colleagues just hurt, so I’ve muted all conversations. My long suffering husband is working at his school during the holidays, and is only home in the late afternoons.

The thing is, I know I need the holidays. I need the break from work, physically I’m exhausted. But mentally I struggle with it. I struggle with feeling trapped at home.

There isn’t really a point to this blog post, other than to allow me to air these thoughts, to acknowledge how I’m feeling currently and hopefully move forward.

PrimaryRocksLive 2018

Yesterday saw the third annual PrimaryRocksLive in Manchester, and I was lucky enough to be one of those attending for a third time this year. This year, after me “banging on about it” I also brought two colleagues with me for their first time. PrimaryRocksLive is starting to feel like some massive, lovely family now, up to and including hugs for various people and going back each year is like a reunion.

The morning Keynote, Nina Jackson (@musicmind) was a hilarious and energising opening to the day and really struck a chord with me about “fizz” and awe and wonder.

Workshop 1: @MrHeadComputing and @bryngoodman delivering a workshop on how to teach the computing curriculum without computers. As computing lead at a time when budgets are squeezed, this was a workshop I was desperate to attend. I got loads of really useful, practical ideas that I look forward to sharing with my staff.

Workshop 2: @ClareSealy delivered a workshop about getting learning to stick. This was standing room only. (My colleague was a bit star-struck and standing next to @theprimaryhead) A really interesting and thought provoking session with lots to change about my practice.

Workshop 3: @chrisdyson giving us a look at his wonderful approach to running his school. An inspiring man, whose love for his school and community is obvious, anyone who gets to work with Chris is lucky.

Final keynote/performance: @theprimaryhead and @oldprimaryhead1 delivering a talk/discussion/argument/gameshow on “Authentic Leadership”. Hilarious and brilliant, but I now have the word “leadershit” stuck in my head and am left wondering just how bad Beryl was…

Then came #primarybeers at The Garrat, which was brilliant, even if I did drink a bit too much and go home because the snow was getting worse!

The biggest, and most unquantifiable thing about PrimaryRocksLive is also what pulls me back to it each year. On paper, it’s just useful CPD which takes place on a Saturday (and I know people have strong feelings about that), but the reality is it’s so much more. PrimaryRocksLive is like someone pressing a recharge switch, and I come back on a high for the job once more – we all do, judging by the steady stream of posts on twitter over the day.

I fear I might do myself out of a ticket for next year by saying this bit everyone should attend PrimaryRocksLive!

Massive love to @MrsSetto as always, for being the best PrimaryRocks bestie, and to all the PrimaryRocks team for making this day possible every year.

What I taught last half-term…

Last half term, my class topic was Ancient Greece. This has always been one of my favourite topics and I was really looking forward to it. I wanted a single story to hang various writing outcomes from and opted for The Siege of Troy.

Last year, I’d attended PrimaryRocksLive and been in Tim Taylor’s Mantle of the Expert session so decided I would put the class in role as experts in the story. They were King Priam’s counsellors, making decisions that would affect the course of the story.

In short, the class absolutely loved it. And from them I got persuasive speeches, descriptive writing, Elegies for Prince Hector, debates, and ultimately a narrative of their escape from Troy.

The other thing that struck me was how I was able to contextualise the knowledge they were picking up – we were debating what to do with the horse when some children decided that not taking it into the city would anger Poseidon, and he was a god who was quick to anger. This was something we had discussed through reading other myths and legends, and yet it had a major influence on the decisions the class made.

As a side point, the class voted that the horse should be brought into the city. When they learned of the consequences of that decision, their faces were incredible. It mattered to them what happened.

Going back to the writing, that mattered too. A description of Achilles was important because the Trojan soldiers had to be able to identify him on the battlefield. Persuasive writing had to be really persuasive because you were trying to convince a king. The Elegies were all full of sadness and anger over the death of Prince Hector. All in 4 short weeks. It was utterly magical.

This half term we move on to the Romans, who knows where that will take us.

On social media

Social media. It’s everywhere and I think most people nowadays are on one platform or the other. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (I have an Instagram account but rarely use it).

I used to use Facebook for purely social, private life stuff. Over the last couple of years, I have joined various teacher groups on there and found these to be useful sources of advice and resources. Recently, I’ve noticed a worrying trend with them. The same questions are being asked all the time (books which link to space being the most frequent example) and there’s a lot of bandwagons being jumped on.

Twitter was generally more of a professional thing for me, a way to connect with others, to discuss issues and share practice. #PrimaryRocks became a useful weekly chat and through it I made contact with many more teachers. However, I’ve been losing faith in that platform as well. My reasons are personal, and probably my fault. You see, despite being on twitter for years, I sometimes might not tweet for a few days at a time (life, you know) and therefore I’m on the edge of edu-twitter. This has the effect of feeling like you’re tweeting into the void (most of my tweets barely get a response) and if I join in an already established conversation I feel like I’m interrupting a group of friends who all know each other and who don’t necessarily value my input.

I’ve had my battles with clinical depression also, and think that social media can be damaging to teachers like me. We see teachers sharing resources, planning etc that they have created; teachers engaged in conversations both serious and light-hearted that we just can’t get into, and judge ourselves against them only to find ourselves wanting.

This is in no way meant to be an attack on those people, hell, I’ve probably used an idea or resource from them in class. I’m glad they exist.

But this is me right now. Stuck between irritation at Facebook and a sort of isolation on twitter.

Infrequent blog post: on class websites

My school is expecting our Ofsted friends at some point this year.  I’m sure most people know that a school’s website has to contain certain statutory things for our visitors to look at, but I’m interested in how it can also be a tool for learning.

Our setup for the website is that we have a flashy thing set up by our tech support as our main school webpage. Attached to that, the junior classes maintain their own pages. 

I’ve been trying to engage the children in my class website more than previous years. So this year, following a blog post from Sophie Merrill (@MissSMerrill) in the summer, I added a blog page of picture comprehensions. The children write their answers as comments on the post, which they do either at home or as an activity in guided reading. Reading is a huge focus for us this year, so we have a page where children submit book reviews to “sell” a book to others in the class. We now also have a blog page discussing the book I am reading to the class.

Using Explain Everything, I create videos explaining the focus for maths that week, again encouraging the children to comment and tell me how confident they feel about the topic.

Feedback from parents so far has been overwhelmingly positive, but I want it to do more. 

What are your must-haves for a class webpage?

End of year

I warned you I was terrible at this. 

We’re now into the second week of the summer holidays. I’ve been reflecting on things from this year and thinking about next year.

I started using more active learning this year, following Bryn Llewelyn’s talk at Primary Rocks Live. It’s been the biggest change to my teaching in the latter half of the year. I was worried that it might be gimmicky, but the positives have been amazing. Getting the children up and moving really helped some of them to process problem solving etc. I’ve been concentrating on using it for maths, running about and jumping while practicing recall of facts etc. Now I want to use it in other areas of the curriculum. I’m thinking about spelling especially.  The children I am receiving next year respond better to more active approach so I will be continuing to work on this.

My big challenge next year is to really get all the staff skilled up and on board with computing. I’ll be negotiating time for training practically, and working with other members of staff to support them. 

My other challenge: Google Classroom. We had to get rid of our IT suite this year as numbers on roll are increasing and we needed more space. We’ve replaced with chromebooks. So I want to really get into how to utilise these, again so I can support the other members of staff in school. (I was happy to find that they connected to my ProWise screen though).

Last thing: to try and keep up with this blog next year.

#PrimaryRocksLive – a review

Yesterday, I went to the second PrimaryRocksLive event, held at Medlock Primary School in Manchester. Over 200 primary educators came together for a day of workshops, networking and fun.

I just got there in time, sitting down just as @gazneedle opened the day, with knob gags and innuendo, but also with massive thank yous to the PrimaryRocks team, and to all the people who came along yesterday and joined him for a chat on a Monday night. Gaz spoke about the thousands of little things we all do for our children, and how we make a difference. The buzz and positivity on that room was a reflection of that message.

The first keynote was Paul Dix who spoke about behaviour, and about teachers finding the behaviour they wish to see. He presented each and every person with a wristband saying “over and above” – with the message of praising behaviour that is over and above the normal, because the normal should be an expectation. He talked about not naming and faming negative behaviour. He was a brilliant speaker, lively, passionate and funny – everything that #PrimaryRocks is all about.

Next came the first workshop. I headed to Tim Roach’s (@MrTRoach) workshop on writing.  Tim is a brilliant Year 6 teacher in the same authority as me,  with a real passion for writing, and for the works of Stephen King. He used Stephen King as a prism to look at children’s writing and how we can develop writing within our classes.  It was a talk that I got loads from, and will be putting into practice.

Lunch came next, followed by free ice cream. This is just such a great touch, and brought even bigger smiles to people’s faces. Next came Stan Cullimore- formerly of the Housemartins and now a children’s author. He entertained us all with songs and a gentle teasing Q+A. I’d love to have him visit my class!

For my second workshop, I went to see Tim Taylor (@imagineinquiry) talk about Mantle of the Expert. I’ve read Tim’s book (which is excellent) but actually to work through session with him was amazing. It felt like magic being woven over us as we all stepped into the imaginary scenario of discovering an Egyptian tomb. I am so excited to try this approach with my class – it was clear to see how it would support amazing pieces of writing on loads of topics. 

My final workshop was Bryn Llewelyn’s (@brynll) talk on Active Learning.  I went along to this one as it is about to become a focus at my school (my TA is also our sports development staff member so we had already been trialling things in school). His simple ideas for times tables and basic number facts were amazing, and the Tagtiv8 things look like a really powerful resource.

The final keynote of the day was Michael Tidd. He talked about marking policies as a retention tool. He made some excellent points, and was very funny about it all too. This was a talk I wish members of my SLT had been party to, in fact, I wished my whole staff could have heard it.  The main thing that I keep thinking about is “of marking was banned, what would you do, secretly? Do that then.” If I think about that, maybe most marking policies are just wrong.  I also liked, “Sometimes you don’t need 30 comments. Sometimes just one will do: This is all shit.  Granted, if it’s shit, that’s my fault, but still…”  It’s an excellent point. 

The thing I loved about PrimaryRocksLive this year was meeting so many people (the least said about last year when I panicked and hid at the back the better) and the general atmosphere of positivity and humour about it all. We were all together, on a Saturday, and it felt good. Nobody was negative, everybody was simply loving the atmosphere.

I wrote something down while Paul Dix was speaking in the morning. To me it sums up what PrimaryRocks is about:

“Unite, and we’re unstoppable.”

New Tech Tuesday

It’s half term and I’ve got a new toy. I wasn’t intending to go into work, but towards the end of a 5 mile walk with the dog I got a phone call from our friendly technician. He explained that a screen bought for the head’s office was now going to be going into my room, and I should perhaps come in because due to its weight it can’t go on the wall that was previously occupied by my SMART board.

So, it’s a 70-odd inch ProWise screen. 

It connects to my laptop via hdmi and USB (for the interactive features). Image is HD quality and sound level is easily comparable to the speakers I had for my smartboard.

The ProWise software seems to be a far more modern and beefier version of smart notebook. All the usual tools are there, including a handwriting to type feature, protractor, ruler and various backgrounds including isometric dots, grids of various sizes etc.  I love the fountain pen writing. 

As a left hander, I often struggle to write on smart boards, but honestly on this my handwriting was beautiful. 

An additional feature is the ability to search YouTube and watch videos from within the software and minus those pesky adverts.

The software also enable devices to “join” to play games and work collaboratively.

This is off a very quick “play” with the board and the software. I’ll be able to write in more detail after using it with my class. Plus, I had 2 hours after the technicians finished to sort out my classroom so that was the priority.

I’m really excited to explore this bit of technology further.

Safer Internet Day

So, this Tuesday is Safer Internet Day. My school, like many others will be undertaking tasks to mark this (as well as children’s mental health week, which takes place this week also).

E safety runs as a thread through our computing curriculum and classes learn about e safety all year round.

This year I’m also delivering parent workshops about e safety, working alongside our school counselling service to support parents with their concerns regarding the internet.

I wanted to write about those pictures that have cropped up across my social media this weekend, asking people to share them so children can see how far a picture can travel.  This pictures are misguided, in my opinion. 10 years ago, it might have shocked children, but most children nowadays are digital natives, they’ve grown up in an increasingly connected world. They are used to seeing YouTube videos with multi-million views and comments in the hundreds of thousands from all over the world. They are far more savvy about the viral nature of the internet than I think most teachers are.

Where I think the teaching comes is with the idea that children don’t see the risks around content they upload; they don’t see that a photo of them uploaded along with their name can provide a window into their online lives, and with geo-tagging, a location as well.

its such a loaded topic, so complex, that it takes more than a day or week annually to go into.