Letter to Self Dec 31st 2013

Dear one-year younger you,

So that was 2013. Huh – learn much? No, as usual you were too wrapped up in it as you went through it to get any sort of perspective, so this year I’m sending you back your reflections a year early – to catch the post so to speak.

The successes
1. Good work on the SOLO front. After your tentative dips the previous year you rolled it out to all your groups. Admittedly with more success with some than others but it got you to think more about differentiation of tasks – a particular blockage of yours. More than that there were enough staff interested to create a forum within school to take the ideas off in directions you hadn’t foreseen and couldn’t have predicted. As someone said ‘I’ve spent years trying to work out my Learning Objectives from my Learning Outcomes – with SOLO it’s just so much more obvious what we should be trying to achieve each lesson’. And the biggest surprise was the people who bought into it; people you would never have thought would want to know, who got involved and tried out new ways of working in the classroom. Take note from that – don’t be so quick to classify the people you work with no matter how many years it might be. There are lights waiting to be switched on in some of the darkest corners – they just need to know there’s something worth seeing.

2. The International links kept growing too. From the initial skype sessions in 2012 with your fabulous colleague in Guadeloupe who you met on twitter, the pen-pal intiative has snowballed. The languages department says they’ve never seen so many Y10 and 11s voluntarily asking for extra sessions in French to check their latest pen-friend email. Likewise the visit of the Australian students in March gave the chance to make some life-long friendships. The organisation for the fieldtrip out there in 2014 is going well and your students are on-track in their fund-raising. (Pity about the cricket match though – but in the spirit of ‘competitive sports are essential’ it will teach our students some valuable lessons in endurance and robustness in the face of utter humiliation. Next time make it ‘cycling’).

3. Re-define the environment if you want to change habits – which you did unintentionally. Those feeble attempts at work-life balance resolutions weren’t worth the thinking time you gave them. “I’ll only go on twitter after I’ve finished my schoolwork” degenerated after the first week as you deemed it necessary to have an early preview before you left work – and ended up leaving school each night when the caretakers locked up. No, the unplanned success was buying your wife the box set of Breaking Bad – and saying she could determine when the two of you watched it. So – 9.00 pm curfew on schoolwork commenced throughout the rest of winter and spring – and new respect for Chemistry teachers. And drug dealers.

4. And your own professional development? Well after 2012s ‘firsts’ of tweeting, blogging and skype-ing this was the year of turning the electronic contacts into the physical teachmeet, pedagoo-ing and the less-tangible latest enthusiasm ‘holographic tweecher convention’. The ideas spun, the energy revived and new possibilities envisaged. The perennial question of ‘when do we have time to put all these good intentions into action’ was answered with the decision of local schools to abandon traditional CPD training days (why did we ever think they were a good idea? – ever!!?) in exchange for ‘flipped CPD’. We now absorb our ideas from whatever source we find most appropriate (twitter – I’m looking at you) and then devote the budget saved to ‘training time in the round’ times when students are in front of us with trio-coaching lessons (teacher, coach, adjudicator – to feedback on the coach’s performance), participant lesson interactions (coach as student) and cross-subject T&L technique-meets – just so much more effective.

The disappointments
1. You continued to hear of too many good teachers succumbing to the pressures, the stress, the sheer bludgeoning of spirit. You thought it had got as bad as it could last Christmas as you phoned family and friends and heard of tales in schools up and down the land. Good, honourable people forced from posts, badly managed by line-managers with the pressure cascading down to them but without the skills to handle it compassionately and through their own fear transferring it down the line. People on twitter who spoke of ‘worst term I’ve ever had’, and probably worse still, those who didn’t acknowledge it fully but in reading between the lines you could tell, were putting on a brave face. But there are glimmers of light. The resilience in the profession is growing. The taking back of the initiative and the refusal to be dragooned by poorly-evidenced policy-advisor-driven ideology – is stirring ever more strongly. Schools, increasingly, are recruiting Human Resource specialists to help delineate career pathways (yes, twitter – you promoted this move too). And, in the last 2 months, the decision of the doctor and counselling twitter networks to consolidate and publish the results of the numbers of people working in schools with stress-related conditions and who fill their surgeries has led to this week’s announcement of a Commission of Enquiry into why it so outstrips all other occupations in work-related stress conditions. As the Senior Health Official was quoted this week: “What kind of people do we want teaching our children?: creative, kind, imaginative and sensitive to the needs of other human beings of whatever age. Should we be surprised when, in the face of constant deprecation, criticism, impugnment of practice and – yes, contempt, that some find their resources exhausted to daily face this torrent.”

The surprises of the year
1. Well we didn’t see that coming #1 : the summer announcement by Sir Michael that all future Ofsted inspections commencing in September would require inspectors observing lessons to remove their jackets together with the class teacher and take over the teaching of any lesson they considered below floor targets to ensure that no child lost 20 minutes of less than ‘supreme’ progress – had to be abandoned by the end of September. The mass resignation of 95% of Ofsted inspectors on ‘unreasonable work demand’ grounds resulted in Ofsted being wound up by the new Secretary of State for Education. The replacement – local teams of subject-specific ASTs visiting their family of schools, auditing deparmental practice and developing coaching networks to exchange and support good practice has seen dramatic changes to classroom experience of students.

2. Well we didn’t see that coming #2 : the 3-day stay at the Royal Blind Hospital, London by the SofS for Education following his sudden loss of sight was followed by an equally swift recovery. But his subsequent resignation and then application to Teach First to enrol as a media studies teacher confounded most education experts. It had been rumoured that the evening his condition arose he had been reading a signed copy of the King James bible, left open at Acts chapter 9 verse 8, but no confirmation of this was made available. It’s been a tough term for him in the classroom, but your friends on twitter are here for you Mikey. We won’t let them ‘persecute’ you.. as you were apt to repeatedly whisper. (Strange to see a blank front page on the Daily Mail following this – obviously couldn’t decide how this should be spun).

So – that was 2013. That’s what you’ve got to endure, or look forward to. How you deal with it is up to you. Me – I’m looking forward to 2014, Scottish Independence, and the expansion of its borders as far south as Derby creating a Greater Scotland. Get those 6th formers applying for their free university places now!


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