Author Archives: Kellie Smith

About Kellie Smith

I am a primary probation teacher in Angus. Definitely the right choice of career for me!

Selection of #PedagooFriday Tweets 27.9.13

#PedagooFriday Selection 6.9.13

Teaching through the looking glass

Following on from Fearghal’s post about reflecting I thought I would have a go at disecting my first year in post and pore over it’s scraps.

So, what did I learn this year? As this was my probation year, I don’t quite know where to start. It wasn’t so much a learning curve as a mountain! I suppose some of the biggest things I learned this year were around children’s behaviour, causes of bad behaviour and how to manage it. Throughout university and teaching placements we were constantly told, consistency is the key. Teaching placements however, are too short to really grasp the difficulty that this poses and the consequences of inconsistency. Being a mother of 2, I thought that this was something I was good at as my own 2 children are usually pretty well behaved. However it turned out I wasn’t so good as I thought I was. The difference I suppose is that with my own kids, there are only ever 2 of them at a time and therefore being consistent is quite straightforward. With over 30 children requiring my attention and all with their own different ways of attracting it, this became more complicated. There were certain children who repeatedly broke the rules, and after a while, I found myself bypassing the first 1 or 2 consequences on the ladder without even realising I was doing it. This was pointed out to me by one of the pupils concerned and after the DHT held a restorative conversation between us, I realised that this had had the effect of making the child feel that I didn’t like him. Since then, I have been very conscious of my consistency. I have definitely improved, as I am mindful of it, but still need to develop further next session.

Next up, collegiate working. I hadn’t really appreciated the importance of it until this year. I now understand that it’s hugely important to work well with your colleagues, but not only for your own professional development. I feel that the children really benefited from my own relationships with other teachers. I feel it gave the children a sense of security to know that their teachers were working well together, particularly in the last term with transition to the next class being on the cards. The children knew that their next teacher would be aware of any sensitive situations without them having to explain them. Most of the informal learning and possibly the most useful learning I have taken on this year has been through collegiate working.

Flexibility is another important aspect that I feel I managed well this year. Flexible planning allowed me to deal with any unforeseen changes to lessons, and to respond to the children’s learning well. I also used success criteria and learning intentions in a flexible way to allow children to choose their own level of challenge to a certain degree. By using “some, most and all” differentiated success criteria, children could and regularly did choose their own level of challenge. Of course there are always some children who would do as little as they could get away with but by having a good relationship with and knowledge of the children in my class, I was able to make sure that children who needed extra encouragement to push themselves received this and those who I knew would welcome a challenge were able to do this. The results were that children who I wouldn’t have necessarily given the opportunity to attempt certain levels of work were able to attempt things that they may not have otherwise had a chance to. This then had a positive impact on their self esteem and encouraged them to increase their challenge in each lesson. It also often surprised me how well children did with work that I wouldn’t have expected them to understand but that is one of the best aspects of the job, being proud of what your pupils have achieved.

Finally, one of the hardest things to manage was the ever elusive work/ life balance. Given that this was my probation year, I was well aware that it would be a tough and very busy year. In most other jobs I have done before now, I was able to leave work at the end of the day and actually forget about it for the evening rather than take it home with me. As a teacher though, this seems to be impossible! I feel that my job is more of a vocation than an actual job and therefore I’m always thinking about things I can do in class, how things I see can be adapted or used to help children that I teach and how to make lessons engaging. I enjoy reading other teacher’s blogs and choose to do this in my spare time (whenever I have some). In my mind, the point where this becomes unacceptable is when it impacts on relationships at home. I am quite lucky that I have the perfect husband (don’t tell him I said that….) who works shifts and is often at home. He does his fair share of housework and childcare duties so this makes life a lot easier for me than a lot of teachers I know who have to juggle family life and work to more of an extent than I do. It also means that on evenings when the kids are in bed and the other half is at work I can indulge in my guilty pleasure without so much of the guilt. At the beginning of the year, I spent most of the weekend planning for the week ahead and marking homework and this did become too much. To counter this I started asking children for homework to be submitted on a Thursday which meant I could mark some of it on a Thursday night and the rest at lunch time or after school Thursday and Friday. This freed up a lot of my weekend to spend with my own children. I also found that as the year went on I didn’t have to spend so much time on planning because as I grew in confidence, I didn’t have to plan in the same minute detail as I did at the beginning of the year. I also made sure that in my non class contact time, I did actually plan rather than being side tracked by other things. This meant that again, as the year progressed and I became more confident and efficient, I found that I didn’t have to bring as much work home with me. I began to feel though that I was maybe missing something as the main concern for a lot of people seems to be time management. If I was managing to do things that I needed to do without feeling too stressed about it does this mean that I wasn’t doing enough? The answer is no….it just means that I was being efficient, dealing with the necessities rather than the luxuries of teaching. We all have a list of things we would love to do (luxuries) but for me the reality is that the bread and butter of teaching, i.e. planning, assessment and classroom relationships are the things that are most important and should take priority. I do of course still take some work home with me and this will never completely stop but the volume has definitely decreased. It does also change with what’s going on in class. In times when there is a lot of work to be done such as report time and work which requires entire class assessment the volume will naturally increase, along with the blood pressure. The point though is that this is no longer a sustained state. Going home at the end of the day knowing that I have given meaningful feedback to children which will help them to improve and spent time working with them gives me with peace of mind that I am doing my job properly. To have this backed up with the support of my management team and mentor in an “excellent” recommendation topped off what, for me, was an excellent, exciting, hard going but incredibly satisfying first year in teaching and I can’t wait for the next 31!

Restorative Practice

I haven’t written a post before about my own practice so please bear with me. This may be more of a story than a helpful post!

Before my cluster began using restorative practice I had heard of it from a friend in another local authority but hadn’t really considered it in depth. At first I was a bit sceptical about it, thinking that it was the latest buzz word. As I learned more about it I began to think that this wouldn’t be so different to my normal practice. I felt that I listened to the children in my class and gave them an opportunity to have their say. I realised that I wasn’t as good a listener as I thought I was.

I went back to class the next day and began to try it out, thinking I may as well go for it. I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it actually would be. To begin with, I thought that it would be easy enough to go through the questions and reach an amicable solution to the problem in hand. However what I found was that there were a lot of elements that I would have to work hard on to make progress with it. At the beginning of a conversation, I would thank the children for coming to discuss the problem and explain that in order for us to resolve the issue, everyone has to be honest about what happened. Next, I would ask the child who highlighted the problem to explain their side of the problem first of all. I found that some children simply couldn’t sit and listen to the others without interrupting. This was the first hurdle I had to make sure that we crossed. To address this, I changed my initial discussion and made sure I explained that each child would be listened to. Again, this took a while to settle in and the children who had regularly been in trouble didn’t believe that they would have an equal chance to speak. However, as time has gone on, the children can see that I am ensuring that everyone has their say and is listened to without being prejudged. I feel that this was a large part of the barrier to children being honest and once they realised that I was being open minded, they became more relaxed about being open and (sometimes brutally) honest.

The next thing I had to deal with was the awkward silence we experienced when I asked the children what we could do to improve things. As teachers we are programmed to help children and offer advice on how to progress, so seeing them at a complete loss for words as to what next steps can be, it is only natural to offer a solution. However throughout the training that was given on restorative practice, we were told that we should not tell the children what they should do to make things better as this is the element of responsibility and personalisation that restorative practice offers. This is one of the areas that my colleagues and I all agree is the most difficult to overcome. Often the children suggest something that I do not feel is suitable or proportionate and I find it difficult to stop myself from offering an alternative suggestion. For example, I came across a situation where 2 boys had been fighting at lunch time. One of the boys is regularly in trouble for fighting and I fully expected the situation to have been caused by him. On discussion it turned out that the other boy had been calling him names and he reacted by pushing and hitting him. After the discussion, I asked what they thought we could do to make it better. The boy who had been name calling immediately responded with an apology. He felt that he had provoked the reaction and he needed to apologise. The boy who had reacted with violence felt that he did not have to apologise because he also felt he had been provoked and was justified in his actions. On asking the first boy if he felt he needed anything in return he said no and that he was happy with the situation. In my own mind, I felt that the boy who reacted violently owed an apology to the first boy and I found it difficult to make him see that violence is never acceptable. I felt that because he wasn’t being shouted at or made to feel ashamed of himself his true feelings came out, raising a different issue that I would have to deal with later.  Both boys were happy with how the situation was resolved. In order to address this in more depth I have undertaken circle time activities on resolving conflict. I also intend to try and address the issue of violence being unacceptable.

The progress I have seen is that at the beginning of the process, I would often spend a whole afternoon dealing with problems that had happened at lunch time. This has now lessened as the children have become more familiar with dealing with incidents in a restorative way. They have increased their emotional vocabulary and are now able to articulate their feelings more quickly and precisely. There is also a much more calm atmosphere in the classroom. Children do not react to each other in frustration as often as they did at the beginning of the year. I still feel that there is a long way to go and much more work needs to be done on making children see the range of resolutions that are available to them. This is something that can continue to be the focus of circle time activities and perhaps even literacy activities. The number of incidents where pushing and hitting is involved has decreased and children are now choosing to address any disagreements in a much more mature and responsible way. One particular child who is prone to shouting out in class if someone annoys them is beginning to make the choice to come and ask me if he can leave the room to calm down instead of shouting. Another boy who was regularly in trouble for hitting others has drastically reduced the number of times this happens. School Assistants have commented on the difference they have noticed in the children in the playground, showing that the change is not only in the classroom. I am not under the illusion that restorative practice has radically changed my classroom already as we have only been using it for the last few terms but I am definitely seeing slight changes. I know that it can take up to 5 years to become embedded and for the school to be truly restorative but I feel that progress is being made in small steps and over time these will amount to a huge change in the behaviour in school.

Synthesis…..but no photos……

Well, that was an interesting day. I volunteered to post the feedback from the last session today for groups 5 and 6 so here I am. We were a bit light on the ground so we joined together to make a composite! I thought this would be a good place to start and would make me write my first ever pedagoo post so here goes.

Our group consisted of Jenni Ewan, Colleen MacGregor, Pat Phillips, Annemarie Weston, Graeme Henderson, Dean Campbell, Annette Iafrat, Julie Sutherland, Joe Wilson and Charlie Thomson. Lots of good contributions came out of the session on the 3 questions Fearghal gave us, i.e. what have you taken from today that you will use on Monday, that you will use 1 year from now and what can pedagoo do to help?

We did a round robin session on each question so that everyone was able to make a contribution. Everyone had something that they were able to take with them to use on Monday and they ranged from speaking to a head about blogging, discussing the possibilities, blogging about what happened at the teachmeet, laminating hexagons to fit ideas together (solo taxonomy), linking blogs to school websites, using Portable Apps, changing mindsets for particular S4 science classes and letting children explore ideas by taking a step back and considering how to move forward. There were ideas from everyone and although some things may not be done on Monday, (as everyone was careful to add the proviso, “it may not be Monday exactly”….) everyone was keen to jump into action.

When it came to discussing what we would be hopefully doing in a year’s time the idea of embracing the ethos of pedagoo by spreading the word and sharing practice and ideas with others was prevalent. Most people want to take ideas from today’s workshops and after coming to grips with them themselves, make sure that others in their schools and local authorities know about them. Another recurring theme was that there is lots of room for CPD and everyone wanted to look further into the ideas that came up from the workshops they were in.  Joe’s aim for the year was to try and push through some policy changes, looking at open licencing and mandating.

The exciting bit for me though was at the end of the session when we discussed what pedagoo could do to help us with this. The main ideas were really about continuing the good work that is already done by pedagoo in sharing practice and connecting teachers. A lot of people agreed though that it would be useful if we could arrange more local events as people travelled far and wide to come today and whilst it was a hugely successful, stimulating and inspiring event, days like this need to continue to happen when we all return to our own authorities. To make that possibly they need to be local  and perhaps on a smaller scale and with a mix of secondary and primary teachers. Any help that could be offered or guidance on where to start organising  a meet would be appreciated. We thought that possibly a directory of pedagoo twitter followers and their area of expertise would make it quicker and easier to find the people we would like to network with and seek out. Is this a possibility?

And relax…..I have reached the end of the first post. Hope I managed to cover the main points of our discussion but feel free to comment away! Thanks to the team at pedagoo for organising a brilliant and inspiring day.