I am sitting in the garden with a pint of something cool in my new Paternal Day pint pot (thanks son no 3 – perfect gift via the PTA), reflecting on a busy few days.
This was my second visit to Sir Anthony Seldon’s Festival of Education at Wellington College. Last year my deputy and I visited for the day; this year we took the SLT for Thursday and I sneakily headed back on my own on Friday when I heard of the fantastic Friday line up – ticket upgrade! (Upgrading wasn’t as easy as it sounds though, taking many an email over period of weeks!) This is fantastic value CPD – the highpoint of my year and although Sir Anthony told us that this was the biggest festival yet, I am amazed that so many of my colleagues haven’t heard about it.
An early start on day one for the SLT, two of us meeting at the Station at 6am and one other joining with us on the tube – an SLT reunited at Paddington. Feeling smug about getting there early we caught the first train to Reading only to find that it was a slow train, missing our connection to Crowthorne by 2 minutes! Smugness wiped, we missed Nicky Morgan’s opening address (shame!): my question about faith schools will just have to wait! We did, however, arrive to see her jump into her chauffeured car and slip away with her security. What? She’s not staying to hear some of the fantastic speakers?! Missed opportunity to spend some time with those enthusiastic professionals who will be delivering her missives. Hmmmmmm!
And so to our first session, which might not have delivered exactly what we were expecting, but gave us a chance to reflect on the creativity and imagination that our teachers put into almost every encounter with their children in our school.
We’re lucky – it isn’t unusual to find a group of space explorers in my office wearing colanders and home made breathing apparatus, nor to find them the next day pouring through books about space and making a change to their equipment and then to return half a term later to find that they still remember what they had learnt long ago! That’s creativity and enquiry at its best and it goes on with growing complexity from Nursery to Year 6 in this place thanks to committed and enthused staff who are happy to take risks and go with the flow.
One of the great things that I love about this kind of CPD is that you go in to a 40 minute input slot with an expectation which has has pulled you towards it and you can leave with a nugget or an affirmation that is not why you were drawn there in the first place! Gold dust for the mind!
Now I had been looking forward to Stella Remington’s spot for a good few weeks since I had first heard of her involvement in the line up and I wasn’t disappointed. I could have listened to her for the rest of the morning! Leaving the session, I was reflecting on all sorts of things not least the mums of young families that I rely on to deliver a creative curriculum and an awakened sense of the tensions that many working mums (and dads) face as they balance a hectic passion for school life with the commitments of family life. Stella made me face a few home realities and the dependence that I as a head have on my fantastic wife who as well as being key to so many of the creative and outdoor opportunities at school also is ultimately focused on the three boys at home; her focus means that mine can slip whilst I’m working on this or preparing for that, or at a late meeting here or there (or at an education festival in Berkshire!); how she manages it I am not sure, but without it, I am helplessly hopeless! Thanks N and sorry x
Stella Rimmington was followed by Michael Wilshaw – HMCI (not HMI as he was keen to correct!) of schools – Head of the Big O. Now I’ve heard him speak before and even if I haven’t agreed entirely with with his sentiments, the lyricism is usually good … and there were a few good soundbytes today! Speaking on the challenges of teacher recruitment, I had hoped to come out of the session with a few new ideas even if not with an outstanding year 1 teacher to fill the last of three vacant positions for September, the jigsaw not yet being complete. Sadly not! In fact, I left feeling somewhat downhearted. I appreciate the difficulty of remote coastal schools in recruiting but attracting staff to an outstanding New Town school isn’t easy either! 2 applications for 1 job at the last count and no appointment. It doesn’t help either when a few miles up the road you can get a fringe allowance with your salary too! We’ve tried many recruitment strategies but I’m still waiting to appoint and no doubt will see a supply teacher in post until a January appointment now. So it is a recruitment crisis!
As an ouststanding school (March 2013) there are local expectations and I have to make it known to candidates that this comes with a window of the local world on the school, something that I need all staff to want … and if you don’t want that privilege as an exciting development opportunity, then this really isn’t the place for you! We have spent much time as a staff of the past three years supporting other schools in difficult circumstances and I really can not understand how Mr Wilshaw can see how a school trying desperately to get to ‘good’, even with a new amazing leader, can spend time and focus on training its own teachers; eye off the ball and all that?! Don’t get me wrong, Teaching Schools are great – we’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming one ourselves – but the effort that is required in transforming graduates into teachers can not be underestimated! I’m not quite sure that Mr Wilshaw’s response to deputies went down too well either – ‘have courage and do it for the good of your soul’ – I’m not sure that he’s got his solution to the headteacher recruitment crisis right either?!
Lunch involved queuing for a fantastic burger before joining a second long queue to pay for it (a situation that wasn’t so bad on Friday I have to say – maybe they were all eating elsewhere or had bought a packed lunch). Fantastic burger though in a classy ciabatta bun! And having eyed up the salmon, decision was made for the following day too!
Gareth Thomas captivated us as we were challenged about attitudes towards sport, education and LGBT issues. Fascinating stuff and a chap that spoke from his heart. A great story also about waking up on Christmas morning that anyone who was there will remember!! Gareth was followed by Steve Wheller who, with standing room only, enabled me to reflect on what’s next for ICT and to consider why I’m setting aside £xK for the summer ICT project. Yes – I do want to be ahead of the ‘school down the road’ but there are also valuable reasons for this major investment in ICT and the main one being efficient learning gains.
There followed a chance to pick up a few more freebies (glue sticks, mugs, sun glasses and lanyards ready to be distributed at home on my return. Its always good to come bearing gifts!!!) before expecting Al Murray but finding John Culshaw in conversation David Aaronovitch. A lighthearted end to a busy day before a train journey home. Managing to catch the early train (as it was delayed), surrounded by many others clutching their Sunday Times goody bags, we found ourselves unpacking the day whilst having an impromptu SLT meeting on the train. By the time we’d reached Paddington the leadership issues for September were solved and a plan was in place. Its funny how a day away from school with colleagues really focuses you, isn’t it? Great to spend some quality time with those that make it all happen too!!! And no phone calls from school and I didn’t even ring in for once which really helped!!!!
Friday – up early again – this time with a different mindset. Whereas Yesterday was about the team, today was about me – headspace time as I think @JohnTomsett calls it. I’d already done my homework and circled those talks to select from – how difficult was that as Friday’s line up was fantastic?!
Getting into Paddington early, I didn’t take the first train (yesterday’s mistake) but waited for the fast one … which was cancelled and threatened me missing the first session again. However, Great Western Railways didn’t let all of the festival twitchers on the platform down and arranged for another train to make extra stops for us. Arriving on time in Crowthorne, this time I managed to catch the courtesy bus which wasn’t stuck in traffic for too long. Talking to an interesting character on the bus, I soon came to realise that she was a good friend of Sir Michael Wilshaw – thank goodness I’d held back on the true story!!!
Alistair Stewart kicked off the day, interviewing Coral Jones (brave mother of April Jones) and promoting the fantastic work of the Missing People charity. I’ve since downloaded the Child Rescue Alert App and have informed all of my friends to do so too. Information ready to be passed on to the rest of the staff, the parents and my feeder secondary colleagues. Great for the Festival to be involved with this key charity who really need supporting. And I will forgive Alastair for the jibe about open toed sandals – it had been a hot day on Thursday and I wasn’t going home with soggy feet on Friday (even if the look wasn’t great!!!???!).
Andy Griffith’s session ’21st Century Thinking’ had a bit of the cringe factor about it as the simple technology of showing the video didn’t quite work which mucked up the whole presentation (we’ve all had that moment – the best teachers can always think on their feet and use it as an opportunity though) and made for itself the really valid point that we’ve all grappled with – until we can get faultless technology and simplified solutions (or maybe learn to utilise expert digital technicians in our pupils) there are some who you won’t be able to convince with the wow of technology. Visiting the Samsung stall later, the technology did work and opened me up to some great future possibilities for digital learning. Maybe we are ahead of the game but I think that we may already have the digital classroom of the future that Samsung are experimenting with … our only difference is that we haven’t thrown out the pencils, with young people making choices about when and how to use the technology to suit their learning. One size definitely doesn’t fit all!
I’ve heard Guy Claxton many times and he is always inspirational. Having read Educating Ruby prior to this event I was coming to this seminar to check that we were still on the right track with Building Learning Power and I think we are. Most recently, end of year reports have been changed to reflect 17 learning habits and targets have been set in relation to these. I wish I was able to hear how the Barrowford pupils were translating Ruby into action (great feedback from others who were there) but I had to head off to hear from Rob Coe, David Didau & Paul Black on ‘What makes great teaching’. An interesting debate and lots of pointers towards further reading; I shall be following the marking thread – yep I’m sure that reducing this workload could increase the quality of teaching particularly now that Ofsted aren’t looking for anything specific other than the impact on learning and progress. Time for a further discussion on the marking policy back at school – something for the 15/16 Development Plan.
And some new reading matter to keep me going ….
Alain de Botton spoke brilliantly about the impact of culture on living and, although from my faith school perspective I sat a little uneasy with some of what he had to say, I agree that we can learn so much about how to be the best we can be from a creative approach to the Arts. A fascinating speaker!
Now I had been told by my SLT that I was not to miss Tinie Tempah; I was tempted to simply escape and have a quiet coffee when I saw the queue to get in (fantastic that they let the youngsters in first) – but I couldn’t let my SLT down and needed to tweet a picture for the front page of the website…
Tine didn’t disappoint, speaking such sense and translating grit, determination and resilience into reality for those listening to him. I was a little disappointed that he didn’t treat us all to a rap sort two – some of us oldies there needed to hear his talent!!!
Who could fail to be inspired by the great Ken Robinson who made us all laugh whilst thinking deeply at the very same time? Grounded and realistic, he can be on my Governing body any day and certainly needs to meet up with Nicky Morgan pretty soon! I’d love to be fly on that wall!
The big question of the day … it’s 5.10pm … do I stay to hear the great Carol Dweck … or do I just catch that early train and tell everyone that I heard her anyway – we all know what she’s talking about so it wouldn’t be hard to pretend I was there. No – decision made and I’m staying as others depart and her familiar tones are accompanied by a rather unusual powerpoint. But nothing new (except the false mindset which I’d read about the day before!) – what was I expecting – it would be hard to be in education today and avoid Dweck’s theories and practice, wouldn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I sits right there in my school alongside Claxton’s Building Learning Power and is a key mover and shaker in learning no doubt. But I was expecting a new slant, an invigoration, a sit me up moment at the end of a day and what we got was Homer Vs Einstein.
I wouldn’t have minded if we’d been sent out with a gift of a crispy cream doughnut to make that learning moment stick! Having waited for the esteemed Carol Dweck to speak, what will I remember her for? Well, Carol is the one that made me miss my train from Crowthorne to Reading and the further connections that didn’t get me home until after 9pm after a long day!!! Maybe though that’s my fixed mindset in action (or is it a false growth mindset?)!!!
A fantastic two days of brilliant CPD and so much to come back to school and unpack. Great value and a wonderful environment in which to learn. I’m looking forward to next year’s already! See you there maybe?