10 Highlights From My Education Travels

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What are your teaching highlights from the term / year?

Over the past 3 months, I’ve been supporting teaching and learning in schools all over the U.K. This post shares the highlights from my journeys – 5 things I’ve learnt and 5 things that have surprised me.

What I’ve Learnt?

1. Long hours:

Teachers all over the country are working hard under difficult circumstances. I knew this already, but it has proven to valuable insight from the 23 schools I have visited. School leaders must reduce workload, but at what cost if budgets are stretched?

2. Passion and pride:

The moment you walk into a teacher’s classroom, the subject knowledge and professionalism ebbs from their classroom displays, the students and the teacher. Visiting hundreds of teachers in the classrooms has also reminded me of how ‘isolated’ being a teacher is. Teachers rarely get a chance to visit other schools, let alone the time to walk the corridors of their school! Let’s try to facilitate this and unlock their learning – try Stand Up Meetings?

3. Culture:

Communities ooze typicality the moment you walk through the door, but it also starts on the streets outside of school or with a simple phone call to reception. These habits often replicate the attitudes and ethos of the school and is a good indication of what is to come. I’m conscious I am starting to sound like an OfSTED inspector – my worst nightmare – which is never my intention, but a lesson to learn from here, is how often do your school leaders test these aspects of your school? Do they walk the site before and after school hours? Do they pick up the phone or listen in when a parent calls? These small details make a difference to the day-to-day rigmarole.

4. Workload:

Teachers everywhere are citing ‘marking’ as the greatest driver for workload. Schools must take action or nothing is going to change in terms of recruitment and retention. If your making policy insists that teachers have to mark X number of times or use red, green, blue and purple pens – as a teacher I will be concerned about how many times I am marking and in what colour, rather than focus on the quality of assessment I am providing the child. Don’t beat teachers over the head with unnecessary policies.

5. Teaching and Learning:

Regardless of setting, whether it be state or independent, primary or secondary, or even children or adults, learning is learning. It’s complicated and there is no one way to teach and/or learn. I’m watching more. I’m learning more and I’m reading much more than ever.

My top reading recommendation at the moment is The End Of Average, by Harvard graduate and author, Todd Rose who highlights the work of American psychologist, Edward Thorndike. He singlehandedly defined education as we know it and very few of us know anything about him. His definition of the purpose of schools and education was to sort students by talent; to predict how a student will perform. It’s standardisation as we know it – thee world over. This book, or at least the work of Thorndike should be read widely by all, particularly by those who still believe we can measure children/schools and rank them in standardisation. You cannot measure an individual and then rank them by an average which is based upon individuality – it’s two separate methods which we have been using for a century. The same applies for teachers.

Trainee Teachers
With Chris Fletcher (far-left) and 40 trainee teachers, Sirius Academy West SCITT, Hull.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos over the past 3 months, you can view most of them here on #TTkitCPD, but without doubt, the number one photo was one taken in September 2017 – my first project shown.

What Has Surprised Me?

1.  Headteachers:

Headteachers are superheroes in my view. I didn’t want to step up to this challenge and I am in awe of those who do.

On my travels, every headteacher has been well-established on in their first term! Yet, having worked with many, what sticks out is this: in the private space away from colleagues, family and OfSTED, I have been shocked to discover that two colleagues have told me that they are taking pills to help them sleep / reduce stress to help them get through the day. This is not acceptable that the accountability and workload within our education system is doing this to individuals. It’s no wonder we have a headteacher shortage.

We must support those at the top from all angles.

2. Environment:

Who said school buildings did not make a difference to outcomes? I have worked in some dilapidated buildings in my career and have worked in relatively new schools on and off. It is always surprising how many of our school buildings are not fit for purpose, simply because the building is 40-50 years old and is freezing and/or leaks when it rains. How on earth can this be conducive for learning, never mind motivate staff/kids to turn up and work their everyday? I know a building doesn’t make a school, the culture and ethos does, but having worked in a new building, it certainly does puts a spring in your step.

3. Graded Lessons:

Despite the research and evidence, I find it absolutely crazy that some schools are still grading teachers! And although some may have moved away from graded lesson observations, one or two – particular in large MATs – have now replaced this with graded book looks to keep teachers on their toes. What is wrong with people? This is simply used as a tracking tool for observer purposes to drive consistency, fair enough, but at what cost? So that ‘we said / they do’ can then be shown to OfSTED inspectors? We know grading books is flawed, so why are we doing it?

I encourage you to stop it now. Mark less, mark better and stop creating methodologies for judging something you simply cannot gauge. To think you can do this in isolation without triangulation or teacher conversation is foolish.

4. OfSTED

Very early on into September, I met with Mike Sheridan, OfSTED Regional Director for London. I was reassured that OfSTED were listening, but I don’t think change is rapid enough or that there is enough brave leadership at the top. On my travels, those schools which have been placed into Special Measures, this headline significantly impacts on teacher morale and retention. I know, I’ve lived it twice.

I’ve visited three schools where this has happened (not identified in logos below) and the impact is clear. Let’s remove the OfSTED grades and start supporting one another. It’s not helpful and there are many colleagues who are choosing to work in these situations, who are choosing to put their careers at risk.

5. Self Belief

Finally, what has surprised me the most is how busy I am and how tricky it is to ‘just turn up’ to various schools. You rarely know anyone and you have little or no time at all to build up a relationship. If folk know of ‘Teacher Toolkit’ or at least of ‘my story’, they at least get to hear the real reason I do what I do. It’s refreshing and on the whole, my work has been well-received so far(!). I’ve even had people come up to me in tears after I busted a few myths and challenged schools – even when I am working in them – to pull down their OfSTED banners and put teacher wellbeing first. It’s reassuring to know I am on the right track and my vision and message for a louder teacher-voice for the profession is being heard. More in the footer below …

Teacher Training Travels

This table is to track the various teacher training commitments per month and the potential impact.
MonthMiles Travelled Countries VisitedSchools VisitedCPD WorkshopsTeacher Impact
TOTAL:9,330 miles!4 countries23 schools56 training sessions2,975 teachers
December 2017671England, Wales26300+
November 20173,054England, Wales11201,125+
October 20171,412England3171,200+
September 20174,193England, Wales, Spain, Scotland713350+

Partners:

To all the brilliant schools that I have worked with (or who have hosted my events) – you know who you are (all your logos are shown) – as well as ASCL, Sixth Form Association, A New Direction, the University of Buckingham for allowing me to become a ITT tutor and a visiting lecturer; to eTeach and GL Assessment, Osiris, Scottish Council for Independent Schools, Laude San Pedro in Malaga, Spain; to Angel Solutions, Hackney Teaching Alliance and ePraise.

This online preview shows you the range of schools and organisations I have worked with.

You can view my live online diary and contact me if you would like to work with me. You’ll have to be quick though – I took a booking last week for November 2018!

If you are still with me, what I can promise people, is that I am working as hard as ever behind the scenes to keep this website going, to be better informed with research and evidence so that I can continue to stay one step ahead. I’m also ensuring I keep tuned in to schools and teachers, as well as education policy by placing my own professional development first. I’ve thought about starting my PhD or looking for some part-time think tank or policy work of sorts, but for now I’m enjoying the freedom. Only last week, I had my first teacher training confirmed for Dubai in February, so that really is exciting to be able to develop my international perspective.

In return, I hope that I can widen the impact I have on others rather than just within one school and my voice through this website. I have the rare opportunity to use this platform I have developed for the past 7 years, to put my words into action, and for that, I count myself very lucky indeed. I just wonder how many more teachers have been ousted because of unreliable OfSTED inspection and incoming ‘preferred partners’. I suspect tens of thousands …

There are many highlights from the past year, but I could not finish off by saying thanks to a few people for embracing my work in the last 3 months. To Tom Sherrington, Dr. Tim O’Brien and Chris Moyse for their partnership and trust in collaboration on many successful training days. Thank you.

Have a great holiday everyone.

@TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, a simple Twitter account which rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK'. He is an award winning teacher and an experienced school leader and as @TeacherToolkit, curated this website you are now reading as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in the Britain' by The Sunday Times and one of the most influential in the field of education. He is the only classroom teacher to feature. He is a former Teaching Award nominee for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London' and has also written 3 books on teaching. Read more here.

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