Sunday, 13 May 2018

Learning - My view so far

I have been continuously learning for the last 39 and 3/4 years, a teacher of my own children for the last 12 years,  and I have been a professional teacher for the last 6 years. Sounds pretty impressive when you think about it that way and yet I would consider myself far from being an expert. In fact, I am still scratching the surface of teaching & learning, so recently I joined a book club at work that was focusing on the book Make it Stick, which was looking at strategies to help learners learn.

The book was a fairly easy read, and in my opinion, lacked any real empirical research and spent a lot of time looking at a few specific incidents rather than large case studies. What I did get out of the book was a sense of testing skills and knowledge in a non-stressful but informative way, and that learners "make it stick" when they have an emotive connection to what they are learning. These two things I guess underpin my thoughts about developing my own practice, and I have tried this year to create a calm classroom where we students can come in and feel relaxed but know that they are going to learn topics to a high level.

I don't believe for 1 second that this has been 100% successful but I do know that for some classes and in particular some students feel that my classroom is a sanctuary away from all the exam pressure that is around them.

I do really worry about what pressures our children are under at school. I am not really talking about from their peers, although this would be a post in itself, but from the system of having to be successful and that success is measured from the grades or "progress" that students back from year 6 to year 11. I have been really worried about a number of my students this year that have struggled with mental illness and anxiety and the root causes of this are far from obvious and I am not pointing the proverbial finger at any individual part of education and growing up, but really there is a need to look at what happens to our children during the first 16-18 years of their lives.

It isn't just the students that are suffering in our education system either. Teachers are struggling with the amount of work that they are doing and the hours a week that they put into their roles. Last year in our school we were surveyed about the number of hours a week we work and it was something of an eye-opener. I spent the best part of 70 hours a week on work and sadly the least of that was on planning lessons!

I have been really lucky this year and have visited a couple of schools in other countries and looked at what the education system looks like for them and also talk to students about their interactions with education and how different things are especially as they are really engaged because they have a vision of what they will become in the future. I'm not sure our students have that vision and desire which comes back to my idea of the need for an emotional connection with whatever it is that they are learning.

This for me rings true from the book with the desires of the case studies to become doctors or pilots etc and with my own learning too. The desire to succeed overcomes the barriers put up when we fail and the instead of seeing a failure we see a chance to rebuild and be successful. My wife and I took dance lessons together for a number of years after our first son was born as a way of getting some me time together once a week and it was amazing. I was emotionally connected to the dancing because I was doing something fun but also doing it with my wife too and we would practice in the kitchen and anywhere we could find a space big enough to do it. This was highly successful learning as we had to stop a couple of years ago due to our every growing family but we still have some of our dance moves in our heads despite not practising them for years.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

I'm proud of you - My open letter to my year 11 students

To my students that are about to sit their GCSE's,

I wanted to write to you all to let you know how proud of you all I am. I have taught some of you for just this last year and others for a few more years and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all how very proud of you I am.

I know that it hasn't been easy taking on the new GCSE and the new grading system. I know that at times you sit in my lessons listening to me drone on about something abstract that I have been trying to teach you and I may have been talking double dutch as you haven't picked up on something that I said but I want you to know that all year I have been teaching you not only to be good at maths but skills in order to tackle problems that you may face in later life.

I have tried to make my classroom as friendly and relaxing as possible as I know this year you have been hearing lots of messages about working harder and planning revision sessions but I hope that you heard my message about spacing revision with time to switch off, relax and let your mind and body rest as I believe that you need to give yourself a chance to demonstrate how amazing you are.

I also want you to remember that life is more than your exams will ever assess you for. There is no test for friendship, loyalty or honesty. Your exams will be over in a couple of weeks and then you can enjoy your long holiday before whichever sixth form you have chosen to go to.

Life throws situations at you which you either tackle by yourself or get some advice from friends and family to help you along your path and I hope that we have helped you to develop these skills during the last few years at school.

At the start of this year, I took on the biggest group of year 11 students I have ever had. I have seen you all develop over the last year and I know some of you have really struggled with the pressures this year and I hope that I have helped you to manage the exam stresses so that you are as comfortable as possible in the run-up to exams.

Good luck with your exams, I wish you all every success in them and in the future and I am so very proud of you all.

Mr C

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Inspirational People

This year I have been thinking about people that have inspired me and it has made me think about firstly who has inspired me and what was it that they did that makes me hold them in such high regard. So my list is people that I have had direct contact with rather than famous people that have been brilliant in their own field so a real personal list for me. The list I have come up with shows the different forms inspiration can take and that you don't need to be famous or be in a position of power to influence the lives of others around you.

So I guess going back to when I was a child and thinking about my Maths teacher Theresa Chapman. In most people's eyes, she was just a secondary Maths teacher at an independent school that taught me GCSE and half of my A-level maths. At the time of being at school I guess it wasn't anything specific that she did but when I saw her a few years ago at a school reunion, she was just retiring, and she immediately knew that I had become a Maths teacher and she always knew I would. Reflecting on this conversation that I had with her and the method I took to get where I am today she knew and had faith in me far beyond the faith I had in myself. To me, this is an inspiring quality that I hope my students get from me. I have faith and belief in them and I hope that they aren't just thinking that I am just pushing them to achieve a better grade. I have really tried this year to give them a space to learn but also feel comfortable and I know that a few of them have really been feeling under pressure and are suffering from anxiety from all of the exams that they are about to take.

So moving through to more recent times the next person that I remember feeling inspired by was a former CEO of Barclays. Not the most obvious of choices I know but when I went to one the corporate events and he stood up and spoke it felt like the whole audience was hanging on everything he said. Roger Davies, was a former tank commander in the Army before being in charge of one of Britain's largest banks and I guess he was one of the last figureheads that stood out as in banking that hadn't come through finance but had been appointed as a great leader. Shortly after listening to him and chatting with him about his tours in the bar he was moved on and replaced by 'a suit'. This became someone that was driving the business rather than a leader of people. Strangely I knew which one I prefered working for.

Next came not 1 person but a group of people that I owe my world to. The amazing people that work in Worthing hospital's maternity department. Not just the midwives but all the staff that do such an amazingly challenging job. We have been into the department 4 times. The first 2 were perfectly normal births and Isaac and Cameron arrived without a hiccup. The third time wasn't so straightforward. We found out that our son Noah would be born sleeping and I can't put into words the impact this had on our world. This horrific situation that I wouldn't anyone else to go through was made worse as during his delivery we had massive complications and I nearly lost my rock too! We went from a midwife and nurse to the whole team and being rushed into surgery. These amazing

people managed to save not only my wife but also our world. The two consultants that we saw afterwards were the most amazing people that gave us so much care and attention and the community midwives that came and looked after us for months and months deserve far more than can ever be repaid. Sarah, who is a community midwife and now our friend, helped us get through an enormous barrier to venture back for our fourth visit and our beautiful daughter Hattie was born.

Easter this year I went on a trip to Kenya as part of my school's charity trip that we run each year. This year I am leading the trip and went out to have a look at the schools that we were going to build at this year and also some of the other parts of the town that we can take our students to visit. This was where I met a lovely and selfless person Jedidah. She runs a baby rescue centre and orphanage in Kitale. She has been running this for the last 5 years and whilst she is only in her 30s she feels that this is what she has always wanted to do and that she hasn't made any sacrifices to follow her dream. She looks after 22 children in the home and another 20 in the community. She works really hard to get the children back into their own family or into a foster family and provides them with not only a safe home, education but also inspires them to dream about their future. I asked some of the children in the home what are their hopes and dreams for the future and they replied by saying they wanted to be an air hostess, doctor or a surveyor. They knew that they had to work hard in school to go to college and university and that they were determined to get there. I'm not sure the 12-year-olds in my class have such a clear vision! 

This is a diverse list and has made me reflect on what it means to inspire someone and that these people have made an impact on my life and I hope that it has not only moulded me to be a better person but also that some of the things I do have helped to inspire others.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

3 Months to go

In just over 3 months I will be 40 years old and I have started writing blogs this year for the first time in earnest. I tried to do this years ago but lost interest and wasn't really able to keep it going regularly but this year so far has been different. For those reading this that don't know me, I am a Maths teacher in a secondary school in the UK and this year I will be going on a number of school trips so I started to write these travel blogs whilst away. The blog's that I have written are about my personal thoughts and feelings and the things I have encountered rather than the activities that our students have been up to! Here is the link to these if you want to have a read.

I guess up until now I have really ignored the idea of getting older. I guess I don't act or really feel that I have been on the planet for 40 years and still kind of ignore the idea that the 90's were 20 years ago! Whilst being away over Easter there have been a couple of times when I have stopped to think about what I am doing and where do I want the next 30 ish years to take me and I guess like a lot of people I am just working my way through work and life and the weeks just roll past. Sunday is the start of the stressful part of the week and Friday comes so quick that another week disappears.

So far this year I have met some amazing people and I guess they have added to my thoughts about what am I doing and what would my legacy be? How would people remember me, not that I am ready to go anytime soon but have I left a mark? So since leaving the Netherlands last week, I have decided that I need to get into shape and look after myself and my family and be someone that does rather than be an "in a minute" kind of person. It is a bit difficult at the moment as I am planning 3 school trips and Cub camp and also getting 62 kids through their Maths GCSE. Some of the inspiring people I have met are older and some are younger than me but I hope that I can be inspiring to someone.

This week has been a start. I took my kids out for a bike ride on Sunday. A run on Monday and then managed to squeeze in my first Park run this morning. I have cut down on the amount of tea that I drink and reduced my carb intake and I am pleased that I have lost 2 kilos this week already. I need to keep going, I want to get into shape and not think about getting old but thinking more about this being the start of something. I really want to get fitter. I am not totally out of shape in an athletic way but I need to shed some pounds and take better care of my body if I want to continue being as active as I can for my kids and hopefully one day my grandkids, not that I am expecting these for at least 10 years but I need to start now.

This week has also been another opportunity for me to apply for additional responsibility at work. I'm not going to lie I have been knocked back a number of times and been told really nice things like "you are really appointable" but you know that really doesn't help. So this week I have been interviewed for a couple of positions that would allow me to work with our support staff and teaching staff together. I really like working in a team and one my professional traits, in my opinion anyway, is that I always try and keep everyone sweet. I haven't always been successful and I know of at least 1 teacher that I have failed at this with but I don't believe in the teaching/ support staff divide. I used the word superior in an interview and the reply was senior came back as a better suggested but really I refute both words. In

any industry, people need to work together in a team and people have different responsibilities. Some have a more decision making role and get paid for this. Other people are really happy not to have that responsibility and therefore don't get the same pay. I totally agree, but in a school or business you need everyone working together and I am a work with people kind of person not a work for kind of person. Teachers would find teaching really difficult if the support staff didn't come into work! So I will wait and see the outcome. So far I have labelled myself as a successful failure with interviews over the past few years so I wait and see what happens this week. I have got to the point where I the ounce of hope that you hang onto after an interview is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller.

I am going back to University and do a Masters in Education. I have been teaching for 6 years and I think it is about time I reflected on my practise and belief about education. I am planning on using my interest in educational technology which I have some responsibility for this year although it is quite a challenge moving anything along as it needs to be on someone else's agenda too.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Netherlands - Day 7 Going Home

Final day in the Netherlands and being without a bike wasn't going to stop me getting out in the fresh air and enjoying the view of the amazing town, so I decided to go for an early morning run. I had brought my running stuff as I thought I'd get a chance to get out and enjoy a run on the flat in a different country. Having had the bikes had meant I didn't need to before that.

The final morning was beautiful, the sun was out and it was perfect conditions for a brief 5 km around Harderwijk. I'm so glad I did as on my run I spotted a market that was being set up. I thought, at the end of my 5km I would walk back to have a look before going back to get ready and packed up. What a stroke of luck as the market was a mixture of local produce, flowers, cheese, bakery, other foods, and clothes. We decided to have a breakfast from the market and enjoyed a pastry from the bakers and then sampled some of the cheeses and olives from one of the sellers.

A short walk to the beach for a cup of tea in the sun and we managed to say another goodbye to a couple of the other teachers that were leaving for Italy. It was a nice lazy morning after my run and after checking out of the hotel we sat and had lunch at Valhalla. A shack right on the beach made out of a couple of shipping containers and a central bar area that was really atmospheric. I can imagine in the summer months with a live band playing that this venue is packed both inside and out. Lunch here was really enjoyable and the staff were really attentive but also happy to let us sit and read rather than constantly ordering food and drinks. Definitely somewhere to come back to.

Then it was time for the last leg of our adventure, the journey back to the airport and the short flight home. Like our journey from the airport a simple train ride with one change that was far less daunting than the arrival journey as we were now really clued up as to how simple the trains were. The rest of the journey home was a nice time to reflect on the week and think about how a country so close to our own had such a different feel to it. I was immensely proud of our students and how they had changed in the week. I was also incredibly grateful for having the opportunity to go on this trip and especially for the staff that hosted us each day and how welcome I was made to feel. Could I consider changing and teaching in the Netherlands? If the opportunity came up I would have to consider it!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Netherlands - Day 6 The Escape Rooms

The Penultimate day of the trip and our last day with the bikes. This is the first time in ages that I had spent so much time on a bike in a week and covered so many miles. As a family, we usually take our bikes to Centre Parcs when we go but this isn't the same sort of distances that we covered this week and I was sad that this was the last day of my bike. I will try and get mine out on a more regular basis but the 17-mile commute over the south downs is probably a step too far each day!

This was also the last day for our students to create their escape room. They spent the morning beavering away creating their themes and puzzles for the rooms that were going to be tried out that evening by the Dutch students' parents. I was really impressed with how well they all come together during the day and after lunch, they were all making lists of the things they'd need to bring from home or pick up in order to complete their rooms.

The students were given the freedom to go early and get these materials if everything else was completed and this was another example of the trust given to the students to complete the task without following strict rules about times in and out of school.

I also had a chance to sit in on another Maths lesson. A younger group this time but again looking at linear equations and a recap of what we would call order of operation questions or BIDMAS. Interestingly the Dutch used a staircase approach but it all amounts to the same. The linear equations were interesting as they didn't use the same notation and it got me thinking, why do we use the letter m for gradient? Having taught maths for 6 years you'd think this wasn't the first time I'd thought about it but it was. So a quick Google search gave me no conclusive answer. It would appear that there is some people suggesting it comes from French monte meaning slope and others for modulus of slope but neither seemed totally conclusive from the small part of research that I was doing so when I spoke to the teacher about the difference in notation we both agreed that we liked the c for the constant but the 'm' was a mystery! The group of students was happy for me to answer their questions but they were a little nervous about asking me the question in the first place.

After school and the final bike ride to return the bike was slightly emotional. This was starting to signal the end of the trip and I had had such a lovely time that returning the bike was the first sign of the end approaching. The week so far had seemed to fly by but also felt far longer than a week. I returned the bike in mostly the same number of pieces to its rightful owner who kindly took us off to see some Dutch tulips in the fields and also a quick pit stop to pick up some Dutch created waterbottles. It was really kind of her to do this for us and this echoed the amazing hospitality that we had received all week.

Back at school for the final revealing of the Escape rooms and the parent's had also prepared some traditional Dutch food too. I was really impressed and proud of the student's work. I thought that one of them may have been too mathematical to complete in the time available but the parents got stuck in and tried them all out. We all knew it was a great success when one group of parents let out a great big cheer when they had completed the room. Definitely a successful activity and week for the students. Great credit to the teachers that came up with the idea! The Dutch food was delicious but not quite enough for everyone as a dinner which left us going back into the town centre for another lovely dinner with some of the staff.

After dinner meant some goodbyes as we were all going our seperate ways the following morning with us leaving last the others had a fairly early start to their journey's home. The week was a fantastic experience and I have made some more friends in schools in other countries.

Day 7

Netherlands - Day 5 Texol

Today was a chance of a day trip to the Island of Texol, pronounced Tessol. We had an early start to get a coach to the ferry which was a 2-hour coach ride and gave us a chance to see more of the countryside and canals that litter the country.

We then crossed the dam that separates the Markermeer and Ijsselmeer lakes. This dam is 25 km long and has a 2-way road on top. This seemed like a desolate road on top of a thin line of rocks separating the lakes. Once off the dam, it was a short drive to the ferry that makes the crossing to Texol.
Off the bus and a quick run to the terminal building to get aboard the ferry that makes the short crossing to Texol. 20 minutes on board and we pull into the port. The ferry had a small refreshment area, toilets, and a nice sun deck. The ferry takes cars, vans, and passengers across to Texol which has approx 13,000 inhabitants on.

The next leg of our journey required the hiring of bicycles for all of us. Being a beautifully sunny day again this was music to my ears. The bike hire place is right next to the ferry, so easy to pick up 30 odd bikes for students and teachers and then off. The bike hire place had a good number of bikes and also had electric bikes, tandems, bikes for kids, and bikes with child seats or trailers.
What we hadn’t been prepared for was the distance to our first stop. About 10km from the port we came to a shipwreck and beachcomber museum, which had an amazing collection of things that have been washed up on shore. I wonder how much has also been picked up from obsolete shipping equipment too. The colour displays made great photographs but I wondered if I was looking at a museum collection or just a junk pile.

From the museum was a short ride to the lovely sandy beach, with a couple of shops and restaurants with large outdoor areas perfect for the glorious sunshine that we had been lucky enough to enjoy. Also, a chance for our students to play in the sand, a paddle into the sea or pick up some souvenirs.
Journey back to the ferry was a little more interesting. Disaster struck a student’s bike as the straps used for holding things to the back got tangled in the wheel and gears. A couple of us sent the student off with a teacher’s bike so that he could keep going whilst we fixed the bike. The untangling process, unfortunately, wasn’t the only issue as in the whole process the gears had broken leaving the bike useless. So the issue was now 3 teachers, 3 bikes one of which was useless and 11km to go back to the ferry! The broken bike was juggled back to the ferry by one of the Dutch teachers and I had the other teacher on the back of mine! It was quite a journey and the back wheel of my bike was far from prepared for the work we made it too. The whole journey back was interesting for all 3 of us! We definitely earnt a beer from that!

Once we close to the port we could see our ferry pulling out of the harbour so we had an hours wait which wasn’t ideal but allowed for a rest in the sun. It was interesting to see the staff and students from the Mediterranean countries taking shade whilst those of us from the North were quite happy to soak up the sun.

The ferry took us back an hour later and then we went to a local pizzeria for dinner before the drive back to Harderwijk. The return journey was via Amsterdam but with all major cities, there was a fair amount of traffic around it which delayed our return. I didn’t get to see any of the Dutch capital on our trip as the airport was to the south of the city. I’m not sure what I missed as I don’t remember the last time I went through the city and it will have undoubtedly have changed.