Northern Rocks 2016

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How do teachers regain their strength to teach in a profession bombarded by nonsensical policy?

What do teachers do on a damp Saturday?

After 3 years of being asked to attend and speak at Northern Rocks, I finally jumped in the car after an unusually long, 55-hour week and drove 200 miles north to the magnificent city of Leeds.

Waking up on Saturday at 7am, I was shattered. I arrived to the conference feeling far from strong.

Reclaiming Pedagogy:

Despite this feeling, meeting colleagues I had spoken to via Twitter – some for over 3 years – soon forced the tiredness away. It was great to finally meet some of my peers, teachers and educators who along the way, have also inspired me with their tweets, blogs and thoughts, as well as countless conversations in private on education, employment, trolling and writing publications such as blogs and books.

Within the first 15 minutes of the conference, my mouth had already hit the floor:

… those most keen to hide the reality of their poverty, will hide in plain sight. (21 year-old, Chris Kilkenny)

Northern Rocks 2016

500 teachers reclaiming their profession … on a Saturday.

Attending teacher-led conferences in your own time and on your own terms, is like meeting a group of long-lost friends. Connecting virtual relationships into physical ones with a ‘hello’, hug or a handshake. Repeated and affirming conversations about the hundreds of conversations you’ve had elsewhere, before finally re-connecting all the dots and placing those thoughts to faces and personalities.

In many ways, you realise you’re not alone and your views about the profession and its current issues are manifested.

There was a superb atmosphere. Teachers were free to speak without reprisal and colleagues young and old came together to network and share. Northern Rocks really was what it said on the tin: Reclaiming Pedagogy.

Apparently it always rains, but this time the downpour held off and 500 teachers gathered to reclaim their profession, to stand up and say that whatever policy makers do and think; to carry on working on behalf of children.

Northern Rocks 2016

There was a fabulous line-up and I wasn’t disappointed.

What did I hear?

Looking through programme, I went for a ‘straight flush’, choosing to opt for the same venue throughout the entire day. This has *nothing to do with the fact that I had forgotten my presentation and needed to use the room at lunch to prepare. Below you can read my own highlights.

Workshop 1:

I’ve been following John Tomsett and Alex Quigley online for years and this was the first time I had met Quigley. As a double-act, their approach to how they lead their school from a pessimistic and optimistic stance was fascinating. For years, I watched and read how both have formed pedagogical approaches to the work in their school and it was great to hear them finally in person discuss this.

Quigley reminded us about being determined and optimistic. He joked about how ‘it must be wonderful to work with Tomsett’ and it was entertaining to see them both banter. Proof that the best school leadership is formed on strong relationships and frank discussions about decisions made in school.

Northern Rocks 2016 John Tomsett Alex Quigley

Quigley reminded us about our moral compass and that the most important thing we can do, is raise expectations of students and staff. That with effort and with the right tools (not just optimism) we can get better.

Tomsett in his wiser years simple said this about headship: we try to do what’s right for us, not promote or push the latest fad or headline ideology and then implement them into our school. We analyse everything meticulously, then ask the naysayers to critique our ideas before we introduce anything. And even after we have, we conduct a pre-mortem to see how we have done.

It is our constant efforts to eliminate the negativity – insecurity, uncertainty, failure or sadness – that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain or unhappy.” (Oliver Burkeman)

In a nutshell, it was refreshing to hear Tomsett: “I don’t care, they can sack me!”

Workshop 2:

Again, I’ve been reading and following Sue Cowley four years. In fact we first met at a conference last year where we were both presenting, but I’ve known Cowley for longer. She just doesn’t know it. I was one of many young teachers to the profession, who first read her book: Getting the Buggers to Behave when it was first published in 2001. Like any great book, the content reminds you that you are not alone and offers a plethora of classroom strategies that work.

In her session, Cowley was sublime. She entertained a room full of teachers, providing us with strategies for rewards and sanctions in the classroom.

Cowley posed the audience a series of questions: why do we break the rules? what motivates us?

  • peer-group approval
  • gratification
  • consequences

Northern Rocks 2016 Sue Cowley

In my notepad I wrote to myself:

I feel as though I’m in a lesson.” Shouldn’t all teacher-training sessions make you feel like this? Cowely’s session was like you are actually learning something, no matter how experienced you are.

Cowley said she could never be a headteacher because she would find the rules too difficult to maintain. Instead, she’d allow her students to wear ‘coloured socks’ and turn up to school with ‘whatever haircut they fancy!’ Now, wouldn’t that be a sight?

Some of my take-aways include:

  • ‘Ask me about my day’ badge.
  • ‘Get out of homework’ for free card.
  • Simple objects for inspiring classroom dialogue. For example, hand-cuffs, ‘Do Not Cross The Line’ police ticker tape and a toy-spider.
  • … and the over-ridding message was this: know the children.

You can follow Cowley on Twitter at @Sue_Cowley. His website and teacher-training resources are here.

Workshop 4:

I’ve worked with Paul for several years and I have seen him present a few times to staff I have worked with. However, this was the first time I’ve sat back to a collection of people without a pre-conceived goals organised by a senior leadership team. His presentation was raw and passionate and was Dix’s first time at Northern Rocks. These are my take-aways from his brilliant (non-Powerpoint) presentation:

  • How heavy (weight) in your behaviour policy?
  • Do you understand it inside-out?
  • Do your colleagues?
  • 3 rules are often enough to ensure consistency: Ready, Respectful, Safe.

Northern Rocks 2016 Paul Dix

  • Emotion is the wrong response.
  • Bind parents together.
  • Trust is what children need, every single day. (drip, drip, drip …)
  • Kids follow people (they trust), then they follow the rules.
  • Visible consistencies. For example, Meet and Greet.
  • Positive conversations in public (the classroom), difficult conversations in private.
  • Don’t reward minimum standards: Reward over and above
  • Every parent should have a ‘sunshine file’ (contribution from the audience).

Dix doesn’t know it yet, but his presentation gave me my ‘tear moment’. His personal story as a 14 year-old reminded us all, that we too as adults have the same stories from our own childhoods.

You can follow Dix on Twitter at @PivotalPaul. His website and teacher-training resources are here.

What did I say?

In my presentation (workshop 3), which was a re-draft of Cutting Through The Waffle, I said the following:

Northern Rocks 2016 Ross McGill @TeacherToolkit

I explain the context of the school that I work in, the challenges that we are facing, as well as the risks in teaching and learning we are taking to encourage risk and creativity; this is despite the external pressures of working and being judged in a specific category.

I explain the differences between an open and closed accountability model, as well as experienced and new teachers needing to move with the times in order to work smarter, not harder.

Twitter Presentation Feedback Northern Rocks 2016

I just about managed to whizz through 160 slides in 40 minutes!

Resource Download:

You can download my full presentation here. Before you do, please click a tweet of thanks.

Cutting Through The Waffle SSAT Conference Workload

Thank you to Debra Kidd and Emma Hardy for a great event.

As I write this, I’m feeling stronger. I just wish the event was for a weekend (*hint), not just for a day. We have much to do to reclaim our pedagogy …

The postcards to Nicky Morgan were a great touch too.


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7 thoughts on “Northern Rocks 2016

  1. Thank you – as ever – for providing sensible food for thought and some strategies too!

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