Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How do we place students in their class?

It is that time of year again- when we need to place students into classes for the next academic year. When I first started at Bradbury, classes didn't change. The peers you started with in Year 1 were the peers you graduated with in Year 6. This was a great system assuming that no child left, all in the class were friends and that the class was well balanced to start with! Of course this was not the way it worked in reality. Students left, others were admitted and with a system of admitting where there is a vacancy, there was no possibility of placing a student to ensure a balance. So, classes ended up with a huge gender imbalance, or ability imbalance or a social one. Those who came in in the senior years found it difficult to 'break in' and make friends, those with social difficulties never did and so it was six years of unhappiness for them.

So now we change classes each year.
When we make up class lists, we look to balance
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Learning needs
  • Social behaviour
  • Ethnicity
Friendship groups are not a consideration.  Apart from complicating a fairly simple process, in our system, children are with 25% of their current class.  If a child has been at Bradbury since Year 1, they should know most of their peers in their new class anyway and have no doubt been placed with them at some stage before. One of the aims of our school is to ensure our students have the opportunity to hone and refine their social groups,their ability to communicate and make to friends.

How it works is like this:
The individual class teacher splits their class into four groups using the above criteria. Then, the four teachers of the current year group get together and again, using the above criteria, make up four class lists from the current four individual teacher lists. This list is then run past Phase Leaders, who may suggest changes. It goes back to the teachers again for refinement before coming to me for sign off. Of course, I do not have the in depth knowledge of each student that the teachers have, so I tend to assume that the mix is one that will work.

Sometimes,a parent has spoken to me about a type of placement they believe their child has and if I support this request, I will pass it on to the class teacher. A request for a particular teacher is never passed on, for a couple of reasons, one outlined  below and another being that the parent has assumed, sometimes mistakenly, that the teacher will be in the same year group next year. Or maybe I am aware of a learning or social need that a student may have and so I have some input at the beginning stage of the process. At this stage, no teacher's name is attached to the list. Once the list is signed off, teachers are then assigned to the groups, fairly randomly, unless there is a particular student/teacher mix that is seen as beneficial.

It is interesting to hear the myths that spring up around the whole process! I have heard for example, that it is Bradbury practice to place siblings with the same teacher as their brother or sister had. Unfortunately, not true.

It is a complex process, one that takes quite a while to perfect, but I can say hand on heart, that every single child's placement is individually considered in this system. It is for this reason that class lists are final and no changes are made once they come out.

Ultimately, our goal is to create balanced, heterogeneous classes, which makes for the most productive learning environment for all students and for the teacher, a class that is a joy to teach!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Do teachers still need to learn?

I became a teacher when I was 20 years old. Fully qualified and with my newly printed 'Trained Teachers Certificate', gained after three years of intense, full time study, I entered my own classroom and so my learning journey really began!

I am not only a very different person to what I was all those years ago, but I am also a very different educator. The world has changed, ideas about how education should be has evolved and new concepts such as 'global citizenship' has taken root and become at the forefront of our strategic vision of what a well rounded education offers. Great! It should be changed and it should be different!

None of these changes happen by chance. The shift in my thinking has been caused by exposure to different schools of thought, different opinions and often, as a result of my personal reflection on the gaps in either my pedagogical or curriculum knowledge, which then cause me to seek out answers.

I have met teachers who believe that once they have qualified, that was it, their learning was done, no need for any professional development. Eek! Scary thought that such a narrow minded view is in front of a classroom of students, many of whom model their own thinking patterns on the adult authority they see everyday. No, Continued Professional Development (CPD) is a vital part of the life of all educators and it is a process that is never complete while you are in the profession. 

So how do we at Bradbury meet this need? Each year, a pedagogical and two or three curriculum foci are identified. This may be through a variety of means- standardised test results may indicate an aspect of the curriculum that needs attention - next year for us, this is mathematical literacy. It may be through a growing awareness of a groundswell area in education that deserves attention, such as our staff identified need to focus on student well being next year. It may be as a result of some development that has already happened but needs further attention- our focus on differentiation, for example, which we looked at this year and will be continued next academic year. 

We then look at how we can meet these needs. In ESF, we have five contractual CPD days, which are added to the calendar, so that teachers are working 190 days, while school is open for the required 185 days for our students. In this way, we have the time built into our calendar for in depth PD without compromising student learning. Some of these days are whole ESF days, some are school based. Often, I will look at getting in an expert in a particular field to work alongside our staff to develop their 
understanding and most importantly, support them as they apply the new ideas into their classroom.

Teachers are also able to elect to attend specific courses that occur during the year that are relevant either to our school foci or to previously identified areas of personal development. Our staff meetings are PD focussed, as opposed to being administration meetings and our teams work closely in collaboration with each other - after all, some of the most powerful learning opportunities may be occurring the room next door.

Personally, I think teacher PD is one of the most effective ways of ensuring high academic standards, innovative practice and inspirational teaching. I have always said that a great teacher can teach with only a brown paper bag for a resource and the students will learn, but it is never the other way around, a poor teacher will still not be effective even  in a resource rich school.

So we put a lot of time, effort and finances into continually upskilling our staff. To me,it is one of the best investments I can make. Oh yes, I try to lead my example...I have just been accepted onto a PhD programme, so I'll be learning for quite a few years yet!

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Speechless

It is always fascinating to me how the extraordinary quickly becomes ordinary. I panic when I think I have left the house or school without my phone and yet I have lived most of my life dialling up a land line number. When mobile phones came into common use, they were called 'bricks'(and for good reason), seriously expensive and really just for high fliers- if you had one, you had obviously 'made it' ! Now though, they are such a part of our ordinary, everyday life that it is unthinkable to leave home without it and we probably don't even think about how commonplace they are. Having a mobile phone has gone from being extraordinary to very ordinary.

Interestingly,  our whole bracket of social behaviours has changed due to the extraordinary becoming commonplace. I went out recently, to a beautiful restaurant with amazing views over Hong Kong. At the table next to us was a couple out for what was obviously a romantic date. Beautiful clothes, champagne in the cooler next to the table, candles, white table cloth and a bouquet of a dozen red roses on the table. What did the couple spend most of the evening doing? You guessed it...texting! Very little conversation or social interaction took place the whole evening.

You may have in read my previous blog about what some of our students told us their parents did while they were reading. When one of our teachers sent the link below out to staff to watch, I couldn't help but reflect on that date, what our students told us and my own behaviour at home when I eschew conversation in order to get back to surfing the net!

Effective communication is such an important tool for our students and I guess many of us, including myself feel that digital literacy is a vital part of that. Well, yes it is, but not at the expense of talking to each other or  learning to listen, you know, the ordinary means of communicating- or is that now extraordinary?

So, please give 100% of your attention to your child when they read, maybe start a board game after dinner, cut down on screen time and like the clip says, look up!

Here is the link but please do note that contains some strong language,  but it is such a powerful message, it is worth blogging about and definitely worth a moment to watch and reflect on.