#HeForShe Education Pledge: No Haters


A year ago I published my post #HeForShe, or I am a feminist to affirm my commitment to gender equality publicly. Since that time I have kept to the movement’s four core commitments, to:

  1. Express zero tolerance for discrimination and violence against women and girls
  2. Believe in equal access to social, political and economic opportunities
  3. Understand that taking a stand for women and girls is taking a stand for humanity
  4. Speak up when you see physical, emotional or sexual harassment


I’ve also been inspired over the past year by the growth of WomenEd and other movements such as the Leading Women’s Alliance, Token Man, This Girl Can, and others. It was a catch up on the WomenEd Yammer and StaffRm threads that led me back to the #HeForShe Education page and their suggestions for action that I can take to help further gender equality in my field. 

#HeForShe makes three suggestions under their Be The Change banner: 

  1. That’s not okay: What does it mean to act “like a girl” or “like a man”? Call out gender-biased language from students and teachers alike. Ask the speaker to think about how these comments reinforce gender stereotypes.
  2. No Haters: Online bullies want your silence. Enlist your friends and followers to send messages of support to victims of social media trolling. You’ll help turn the internet into a safe space for everyone.
  3. Teach a teacher: Empower educators to create equality in the classroom. Get the UNESCO Guide for Gender Equality in Teacher Education Policy and Practices, a step-by-step guide for including gender equality issues in teacher training.


These are all great commitments, and I am happy to enact them all. However, I was particularly struck by the No Haters commitment as a really positive step that I can do more to affirm. I see a lot of negative behaviour on Twitter and in other online spaces. There seems to be an increasing proportion of educators who spend their time scanning their timelines for ideas they can attack, criticise, take down, or belittle. They are always ready to say “that won’t work” or “you shouldn’t do that” or “you are wrong.” And these people fall on both sides of the traditional/progressive divide. If you teach at Michaela and share your practice online, it’s time to batten down the hatches for the “you’re damaging children” onslaught – when they quite clearly care very, very deeply about the children they teach. Similarly, if you dare to suggest that an open ended creative project might be a good idea, or that children should enjoy their learning, there are those who are only too ready to tell you that you’re wasting your time. I don’t get involved in these threads too often, as I swear by “don’t feed the trolls” in the online sphere, but I always feel that I’m not really honoring my “no bystanders” commitment to speak up when I see harassment occurring. 


What I do know, however, that it stops people from sharing their practice online. I know it, because it’s stopped me. I am a straight white cisgendered male Headteacher, educated at an all-boys independent school and Oxford, which pretty much fills my privilege and entitlement bingo card. Yet I know that there are tweets I’ve written and deleted, articles I’ve read and saved, but not shared, and blog posts I’ve thought about and shelved, because I was nervous about the reaction. Because I didn’t want the hassle. Because it affects me personally when people are horrible to me – online or IRL. If that is my experience, with my full house of privilege and entitlement, how stifling could the gladiatorial atmosphere of edu-Twitter be to others?

For me, Twitter and blogging should be about sharing practice and discussing ideas, without fear. In that way, it should be like my classroom. Everyone in my classroom should have the confidence to venture their tentative, half-formed idea, to think it through with the help of their supportive classmates who will add to, build on and develop that tiny seed, to see if it could grow into something stronger and more robust. The critique and advice my students receive from me and their peers helps them improve. I would not tolerate someone belittling and ridiculing their idea – and to belittle and ridicule the student themselves would be a really serious matter. On Twitter we are dealing with grown adults, professionals even, and I can’t send them out or put them in detention – I’m not the Twitter police. So instead I send messages of support to those I see being attacked. Not necessarily in the public sphere – I’m still not in the business of feeding the trolls, and I don’t want to add fuel to the flame war – but to make the Internet a safer space. To thank them for sharing their ideas. To let them know that there is positivity and humanity online, and to try and build a constructive web. 

Above all, it’s important to remember that nobody got into teaching to try to and damage the children, to make them less smart, to stop them learning. We’re all in this to do our best. So let’s help one another, not tear each other down. 

The Reality of Headship

It’s been very quiet over here on Teaching: Leading Learning since I started my Headship on January 4th. I have been blogging every week on The Headteacher’s Blog but the first two terms in a new job have left little time for anything else! The Easter break has given me space for reflection and a chance to write a companion piece to The Prospect of Headship from back in July. What’s it really like taking the step up to Headship? 

You’re it

Coming in new, I’ve been conscious of setting the tone. Vic Goddard’s excellent book The Best Job in the World outlines the advice he received on taking up the role: “You make the weather.” Every decision, every interaction in fact, sets the tone for the sort of Headteacher you’re going to be and the sort of school you’re going to lead. There’s an inevitable realignment of priorities and setting of agendas. I’d thought long and hard through my Aspiring Heads course, NPQH and the application process about my vision and values, to the point where I’d almost overdone it. I used this process as the acid test for my approach – is this decision aligned with my beliefs and the kind of Headteacher I want to be?

I’m also conscious of being the voice and face of the Academy in public. It’s made me think harder than ever about what I tweet and blog. Also, of course, it’s been a period of taking stock – my “look, listen and learn” agenda – so there hasn’t been a great deal to blog about…yet. 

Feeling Presidential 

 

Barack Obama weighing up the options

 
Towards the end of term, a colleague and I were having a conversation about leadership and how I’d been finding it. We ended up discussing Barack Obama and the excellent series Inside Obama’s White House on BBC2. To be clear, neither of us were suggesting that being the Headteacher of a secondary school was really comparable with being the leader of the free world, but we did find some common ground! In the series, Obama describes the kinds of decisions that he has to make:

“Most of the decisions I make don’t lend themselves to a clean, crisp, wonderful solution; when they do somebody else typically solves them and they never arrive at my desk.”

                                               Barack Obama

I have been really struck by this in my few months of Headship. On a daily basis, I have been faced with 50/50 decisions with no clear “right” answer; decisions finely balanced and often with potentially negative consequences on both sides; decisions which are all grey area. If a decision reaches the Headteacher, it means that it’s sufficiently problematic, difficult or of such consequence that the Head needs to make the call. Having a clear sense of what I believe to be right has helped guide me here, but this is not a perfect world and it’s often been about deciding which compromise I’m prepared to make, and which I’m not. 

Everything has a cost

Much is made of the importance of financial management as a Headteacher. This was really brought home to me in the first week as I was registered as a director of the Academy at Companies House, and signed up as the chief accounting officer. This was accompanied by a copy of the Nolan Principles – the 7 principles of public life – that all public servants are expected to uphold. I’d never come across them before! They are: 

  1. Selflessness
  2. Integrity
  3. Objectivity
  4. Accountability
  5. Openness
  6. Honesty
  7. Leadership 

 

Seeing the matrix for the first time

 
This was one of those sit-up-and-take-notice moments for me, when I took on board the gravity and responsibility of the post. I’d sat on the Governors’ finance committee as a deputy head, and I came into Headship with a good handle on how school finances work, but that’s very different from being responsible for the delivery of the budget and signing off the multi-millions of public money invested in the education of the young people at my school. Suddenly, I started seeing every decision in relation to the impact on the bottom line. Walking past an empty classroom with the lights still on, or considering whether we could cover a member of staff to take students on a last-minute trip, or how to advertise a teaching vacancy…every aspect of the school suddenly had costs attached. It was like that moment in The Matrix where Neo suddenly sees the corridor in computer code, except I was seeing £ signs. This was perhaps the most unexpected shift in becoming a Headteacher. It’s not one I particularly enjoy, but I suppose it’s inevitable. It’s really come home to me how little I understood about whole-school finances even in middle leadership.

You are not alone

“It’s a lonely job,” I’d been warned. But it’s really not! My senior team have been excellent through the various twists and turns of a spring term in a secondary school. Colleague Headteachers from local primary and secondary schools have been hugely supportive. The admin and support team have been incredibly helpful. I’ve made good use of our SSAT membership and my own membership of ASCL to leverage professional networks. But by far and above the best thing I’ve done is sat down for a one-to-one meeting with every single member of staff at the school. Being able to make a personal connection with every teacher, administrator, teaching assistant or member of the support staff has been invaluable. It has been time-consuming but getting that variety of perspectives and having the chance to listen to what it’s actually like to do their job – and how I might be able to make it better – has driven my planning and helped me clearly to see what my priorities need to be. The corollary has been to enable those passing-in-the-corridor chats and on-duty moments which make working in schools such a pleasure. 

Above all, of course, we have the most amazing students. Tom Sherrington wrote at the end of term about 1200 reasons to love his school, and I know exactly what he means. I have nearly 1500 of course, which makes it even better! I’ve got my own class of Year 7 for English which has been fantastic, and I’ve visited lessons every single day. Seeing the learning that is going on, the pride and the sense of achievement really never gets tired! 

It’s a privilege

In The Prospect of Headship I was looking forward to the privilege of leading a school. It certainly hasn’t disappointed. It’s been a huge challenge and responsibility, and it has definitely been difficult, but I have been thankful every single day that I am doing this job. It’s cliché to say that I got into teaching to make a difference, but I did, and as a Head I feel I can achieve this on an institutional scale. It’s humbling. But the possibilities are awe-inspiring. And I’m only just getting started…

Refining assessment without levels

One of the first things I’ve been involved with in my new post has been the development of assessment without levels. It’s been strange for me to move back to a school still using them! I’m teaching Year 7 English and I’ve had to re-learn (temporarily at least!) the levels system to assess their assignments. What struck me particularly was the way learning gets lost when you hand back assignments with levels on them. I’d been so used to handing work back with formative comments only over the last two years that I was quite unprepared for the buzz of “what did you get?”, fist-pumping triumph when a Level 5.6 was awarded (“I was only 5.3 last time!”) and disappointment on the flip side. I had to work really hard to focus the students on my carefully crafted formative feedback and DIRT tasks – and I know that some of them only paid lip-service only to my requests to engage with the comments in a “please-the-teacher” exercise whilst their minds were still occupied with the level. All I kept thinking about was Dylan Wiliam’s advice about ego-involving and task-involving feedback:

Levels have to go, then – this is not a surprise. It’s also perhaps unsurprising that Churchill have hung on for them, with a new Headteacher incoming (especially one who has blogged extensively about assessment without levels!) My big advantage is in having implemented assessment without levels once, I can refine and develop the approach for my second go. I’m still pretty happy with the growth and thresholds model (originally proposed by Shaun Allison here) which was implemented at my previous school, but there are definitely refinements to make. In particular, a couple of posts have stuck with me in terms of reviewing the way we assess. The first is by the always-thought-provoking Daisy Christodolou, who got my mental cogs whirring in November with Comparative Judgment: 21st Century Assessment. In this post, the notion that you can criteria-reference complex tasks like essays and projects is rightly dismissed:

” [it] ends up stereotyping pupils’ responses to the task. Genuinely brilliant and original responses to the task fail because they don’t meet the rubric, while responses that have been heavily coached achieve top grades because they tick all the boxes…we achieve a higher degree of reliability, but the reliable scores we have do not allow us to make valid inferences about the things we really care about.”

Instead, Daisy argues, comparing assignments, essays and projects to arrive at a rank order allows for accurate and clear marking without referencing reams of criteria. Looking at two essays side-by-side and deciding that this one is better than that one, then doing the same for another pair and so on does seem “a bit like voodoo” and “far too easy”…

“…but it works. Part of the reason why it works is that it offers a way of measuring tacit knowledge. It takes advantage of the fact that amongst most experts in a subject, there is agreement on what quality looks like, even if it is not possible to define such quality in words. It eliminates the rubric and essentially replaces it with an algorithm. The advantage of this is that it also eliminates the problem of teaching to the rubric: to go back to our examples at the start, if a pupil produced a brilliant but completely unexpected response, they wouldn’t be penalised, and if a pupil produced a mediocre essay that ticked all the boxes, they wouldn’t get the top mark. And instead of teaching pupils by sharing the rubric with them, we can teach pupils by sharing other pupils’ essays with them – far more effective, as generally examples define quality more clearly than rubrics.”

The bear-trap of any post-levels system is always to find that you’ve accidentally re-created levels by mistake. Michael Tidd has been particularly astute about this in the primary sector: “Have we simply replaced the self-labelling of I’m a Level 3, with I’m Emerging?” This is why systems like the comparative judgment engine on the No More Marking site are useful. Deciding on a rank order allows you to plot the relative attainment of each piece of work against the cohort; “seeding” pre-standardized assignments into the cohort would then allow you to map the performance of the full range.

At this point, Tom Sherrington’s generously shared work on his assessment system using the bell curve comes to the fore. Tom first blogged about assessment, standards and the bell curve in 2013 and has since gone on to use the model in the KS3 assessment system developed at Highbury Grove. “Don’t do can do statements” he urges – echoing Daisy Christodolou’s call to move away from criteria-referencing – and instead judge progress based on starting points:

 

Tom Sherrington’s illustration of bell curve progress judgments

 

Finally, this all makes sense. This is how GCSE grades are awarded – comparable outcomes models the scores of all the students in the country based on the prior attainment model of that cohort, and shifts grade boundaries to match the bell curve of each cohort. It feels alien and wrong to teachers like me, trained in a system in which absolute criteria-referenced standards corresponded to grades, but it isn’t – it makes sense. Exams are a competition. Not everyone can get the top grades.It also makes sense pedagogically. We are no longer in a situation where students need to know specific amounts of Maths to get a C grade (after which point they can stop learning Maths); instead they need to keep learning Maths until they know as much Maths as they possibly can – at which point they will take their exams. If they know more Maths than x percentage of the rest of the country, they will get x grade. This is fair.

Within the assessment system, getting a clear and fair baseline assessment (we plan to use KS2 assessments, CATs and standardised reading test scores) will establish a starting profile. At each subsequent assessment point, whether it be in Dance, Maths, Science, History or Art, comparative judgment will be used to create a new rank order, standardised and benchmarked (possibly through “seeded” assignments or moderated judgment). Students’ relative positions at these subsequent assessment points will then allow judgments of progress: if you started low but move up, that’s good progress. If you start high but drop down, we need to look at what’s happening. Linking the assignments to a sufficiently challenging curriculum model is essential; then if one assignment is “easier” or “harder” others it won’t matter – the standard is relative.

As with all ventures in this field, it’s a tentative step. What we’ve come up with is in the developmental stage for a September launch. But moving away from criteria-referencing as the arbiter of standards has been the most difficult thing to do, because it’s all many of us have ever known. But that doesn’t make it right.

always done it

Why we don’t allow mobiles in school

New post on the Headteacher’s Blog!

The Headteacher's Blog

First things first – I love my phone. I use it all the time. Lots of the stuff I use it for is practical: it’s an alarm clock to get me up in the morning; it’s a newspaper to read; it’s a weather forecaster to prepare me for the day; it’s my diary so I know what I’m supposed to be doing, when; it’s my satnav to get me to the places I need to be. But I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t acknowledge that it’s also a huge productivity vacuum: social media is lurking on my home screen with those tempting notification bubbles and there’s a little folder called “games” which tempts me away from what I should be doing with a little voice saying “just one more go…” You don’t get three stars on every level of Angry Birds overnight. I know if I want to get…

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Consultation – stuck on repeat

I started this blog on December 12th 2012 in a fit of righteous indignation about the proposals to introduce a new suite of qualifications called the “English Baccalaureate Certificates” in a post entitled ConsultationAt the time, I didn’t think responding to the consultation on EBCs would make any difference; I thought they were inevitable. But I was wrong.

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In February 2013 Michael Gove withdrew his EBC proposal

Of course, many of the original proposals contained within the EBC idea have made their way into the reformed GCSEs – numbered grading, the removal of coursework – but crucially the notion that rigorous qualifications were only for the most able has not. In the EBC proposal students below the academic standard would have been given a “statement of achievement” instead of a qualification. The reformed GCSEs, for all there is to object to about them, are at least accessible to all students within the same spectrum as the current qualifications – 9-1 encompasses the same range as A*-G.

The fact is, Michael Gove listened to the consultation responses and decided that he would back down from his proposals – proposals to which he was ideologically committed and about which he said he would be willing to overrule Ofqual and press ahead if he believed the changes were right:

“If they still had concerns and I still believe it is right to go ahead then I would do it, and on my head be it.” – Michael Gove, December 2012

Following the announcement the EBCs were not going ahead, I felt as though my voice mattered. As though I had made a difference. As though answering the questions which were phrased as if the introduction of EBCs was a fait accompli with answers which rejected that assumption was a strategy which worked.

nicky morgan

Nicky Morgan – new education secretary, new EBacc proposal (source)

And here we are again. A different education secretary this time – and one who has pledged to “listen to teachers and work with them” – and a proposal that 90% of students should follow the English Baccalaureate. I don’t have an issue with the notion that a broad base of academic subjects open doors for young people in the future. I think all students studying English, Maths, Sciences, a language and a humanities subject to 16 is a pretty good idea. But I also think that all students have an entitlement to a curriculum that suits them, and to a broad range of arts and design subjects. This policy seems to me an attempt to re-introduce the two-tier element of the EBC proposal, where English Baccalaureate subjects would be awarded EBCs and “the rest” would remain as GCSEs. This proposal devalued subjects beyond the narrow EBacc parameters, and although in the new system all subjects will be GCSEs the same dangers are present. The implementation of the policy as proposed will have a fairly obvious and catastrophic impact on arts, PE, design, technology and performance subjects, and the teachers who teach them, as they will inevitably be squeezed out of the curriculum and replaced by new humanities and languages teachers to accommodate the increased numbers taking those subjects. And, in these days of teacher recruitment shortage, I have no idea where they are going to come from.

The consultation, which closes on 29th January 2016, is again worded as though the implementation of the policy is inevitable.

It doesn’t matter. Find a way to make your voice heard. Question the basis of the questions you’re being asked. Question the assumptions inherent in the consultation questions if you feel they’re invalid. Make your point. If you don’t respond, your silence will be read as agreement, and your complaints will fall on deaf ears after the fact. But now, they’re listening. Someone in the DfE will read your response. It won’t necessarily make a difference – but my experience of responding three years ago shows that it might.

Respond to the consultation here – no matter what your views – before the deadline on 29th January 2016.

Moving On

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It’s always been a wrench to leave a school. Maybe I’ve been lucky in the schools I’ve worked in, but I’ve never been desperate to leave any of them. For me, moving on has always been about the next challenge and the next step in my career, moving up to new responsibilities in new contexts.

I know that internal promotions can work really well. I’ve had two in my career, firstly with a responsibility point added in my first school and secondly when TLRs were introduced and leadership in my school at the time was restructured. I remember now the trauma of having to re-apply for my job, up against external candidates, and the relief when I was successful. I really enjoyed the new responsibilities and the challenge as I moved on to the leadership spine, but I found it difficult to “re-make” myself in the new role. It seems silly now, but I remember that as a Head of Department my work clothes were shirt-and-tie-with-smart-trousers, accessorised with a nice line in v-necked jumpers. On my first morning of my new leadership spine role, I wore a suit. It was my attempt at signifying that, although I was the same person in the same school with the same staff and the same children, something was different. Navigating that shift in relationships in an internal promotion can be a tricky business!

moving on

In my experience, I’ve always found it preferable to look for my next steps beyond the school I’m currently working in. Arriving somewhere different allows you to re-establish yourself afresh, each time with the benefit of a few more years’ experience and the benefit of knowledge gained from mistakes and missteps in the current role. It’s also, I think, helpful to work in a variety of contexts, seeing how it’s done in different schools with different cultures and ethos (ethe? ethea? ethoses?) I’ve learned so much from every school I’ve worked in, and each one has added to the repertoire of approaches I can use in any given context.

always done it

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s useful quote (source)

There’s a benefit to the school in appointing from outside as well. New faces from other schools bring new approaches and challenge the status quo. Even if this doesn’t lead to change, the process of challenging “the way it’s always been done” has got to be healthy.

Despite all this, it’s still hard to leave. It’s hard to re-establish yourself; every time you start at a new school you remember how much classroom and behaviour management is based on reputation, routine and relationships that you’ve built up over time. A fresh start means starting again. It’s hard to leave the students, from knowing all the names, characters, families and histories to a completely blank slate. And it’s hard to leave the staff, that dedicated group of professionals who pull together for the benefit of young people in the face of sometimes overwhelming challenges. But despite all this, I know that moving on is the right thing to do, the right thing for me – and I’m looking forward to the next step.

#PoetryPromise December: Poetry by Marianne Moore

#PoetryPromise is coordinated through Poetry by Heart with the aim of promoting and spreading the love of poetry. My #PoetryPromise for 2015 is to share a favourite poem of mine every month through my blog. My choice for December is Poetry by Marianne Moore.

800px-Eastern_Giant_Toad_(Peltophryne_peltocephala)_(8573972369)

“Imaginary gardens with real toads in them” (source)

Poetry

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
*****Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
*****it, after all, a place for the genuine.
***********Hands that can grasp, eyes
***********that can dilate, hair that can rise
*****************if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
*****useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible
*****the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
***********do not admire what
***********we cannot understand: the bat
*****************holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
*****a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea
*******************************************************the base-
*****ball fan, the statistician—
***********nor is it valid
*****************to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a*******************************************distinction
*****however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not
*************************************************poetry,
*****nor till the poets among us can be
***********“literalists of
***********the imagination”—above
*****************insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” shall we have
*****it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
*****the raw material of poetry in
***********all its rawness and
***********that which is on the other hand
*****************genuine, you are interested in poetry.


 

What better poem to conclude my year of #PoetryPromise posts, than a poem about poetry? I love Marianne Moore’s playful, enigmatic tone in this piece, which she revised again and again over her lifetime, publishing different versions in 1924, 1935 and 1951. She capped this off by publishing two different versions in her 1967 Collected Poems. The first was condensed down to just three lines:

I, too, dislike it.
   Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
   it, after all, a place for the genuine.

In the back of the same volume she published the version I used here, under the heading “original version.” This is typical of Moore’s tone overall, never allowing herself or her work to be pinned down. This poem wriggles and slips in the reader’s eye and mind, from that initial ironic statement, making the reader complicit in a dislike of the very thing that both writer and reader have set out to enjoy. The rest of the poem renovates this maligned art form, this “place for the genuine.”

I know that poems can “grasp,” can make my eyes widen and the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It is this visceral emotional connection that makes poetry “useful,” not the fact that a “high-sounding interpretation” can be put on it. The craft of the poet, says Moore, is to be a “literalist of the imagination” – to take the imagined, and render it so, as Sylvia Plath says, “it feels real.” To take an imagined garden, and put a real toad in it. The naming of parts, the “the poet uses alliteration in line 17 to…” approach, is not what poetry is all about. It’s the crackling emotional energy, the “raw material of poetry in all its rawness” which gives it its power. This is why I love it, why I read it, and why I teach it – why I am “interested in poetry.”

Read all the Poetry Promise posts here.