The Best Is Yet To Come

When in doubt go to the standards. If you have read any of my blogs previously you will know of my eclectic music tastes. Just now Michael Buble and Harry Connick have been gracing the iPod. Being end of session it is always hectic but of course this one has added ingredients! Thus a more soothing selection has been my selection of weekend music recently.
I have been really lax in writing my blog for loads of reasons both school and family based. However, this is the very last one ever because I am not returning to school for the first time in 53 years after the summer break. I went in to my primary school in the Easter intake, being 5 years old in the spring and I have stayed ever since. The 38 years spent as a teacher have been everything I hoped for and so more. There have been highs and lows, tough times and lots of fun. The central thing has always been my enjoyment and commitment to my job. That has never changed and remains just the same now. It is funny that when I told people I was taking early retirement some thought I was ill and others thought I was unhappy. Those who really knew me knew that it was just the right time to start the next chapter.
Things change and that is as it should be. We should never want it not to. I do believe that the best is yet to come, a different set of goals and experiences, not just for me but for our school.
I believe that with teams within the school of teachers, parents, children, support staff and auxiliary staff along with colleagues and friends we have been on a positive and developing journey. We are like a family; we fall out, we go in the huff and then we make up and start again- no matter what age we are. People ask about the changes I have seen and been involved in over my career and of course there are many. Some were great, some were not all we had hoped and some are in the very early stages. However, the constant component has always been the children and the community. The things that can be barriers or worries don’t change much. End of session is always hectic. Christmas is always exhausting and fun. Report writing is always stressful in terms of time and technology. However, I do remember have just as much stress with my carbon paper when I started writing reports – who knew there was a wrong side! The way we find out about things has changed tremendously. Social media and the World Wide Web are amazing tools for information sharing and communication but oh, the layers it can add to things. The misunderstandings, the misinformation and the confusion that can take hold within minutes. I am of that age when, as a primary school pupil my mum shouted my name to tell me to come in for tea; she didn’t text me. My relaxation space was all around me- it was the local community. It was different, it was a different time but I was a child and a young person with all the hang-ups, dreams and fears of any young person today. That is why schools and their communities are so important because we look to the future. Our school is going to be going through a huge period of change in the new session. Every August is a new beginning but for us we have the start of a huge refurbishment, a new management team and a new education service. Exciting and challenging but we aren’t looking back; that’s not the way we are going. We are all going forward. The awfully clever DHT is going to be an illustrious HT in another authority and I am going to find a sunny spot in a garden or on a couch, just within reach of a coffee or any other liquid depending on the time of day, and a book. I am going to take holidays out with term time and have long lunches on a week day! I will stay up late on a Sunday night not caring a bit that a film is starting at 9 o’clock! The awfully clever DHT and I are so lucky. As Winnie-the-Pooh will tell you, we were lucky enough to be part of something so good that it is sad to leave. But leaving we are. People have been incredibly kind in so many ways and for everyone, especially ourselves; we firmly believe that the best is absolutely yet to come.

Tis The Season To Be Jolly!

The nativity performances have just finished! As ever they were fabulous, tremendous and just lovely. Every year we worry that things won’t come together and every year they do! However, as wonderful as this time of year is, this is such a busy time for school. We start on the 1st of December with our pantomime visit (oh yes we do!) and from then on everything is glitter, fairy lights and very excitable young people (and the not so young too). It is a wonderful time of year to be in school but it is full on – and there is still the learning and teaching going on too.
As a teacher I have struggled to convey the wok that goes into a nativity performance of any kind. We are fortunate to have a stage, sound system and lights to say nothing of a bank of costumes and lots of craft-minded staff in the early years. Getting our youngest pupils to sing, act, dance, take stage directions, learn everything off by heart and wear costumes takes organisation and team work akin to the D-day landings! Words always fail to convey the goodwill and support from everyone and the true team effort that makes this so wonderful each year.
Next week the older children have our annual Cakes and Carols event which is a wonderful community gathering with lots of organisation and planning behind the scenes. The P4-7s get on stage and sing a wonderful variety of seasonal songs as everyone enjoys being together for a festive catch-up.
Behind the scenes though planning, forward thinking about next term and the general core business of learning is still going on as ever. We are open for business as usual we are just a bit more shiny! This time of year always makes me think of how fortunate we all are in so many ways. This does not mean that we don’t have concerns or challenges but, considering the Christmas that some face we are fortunate. Listening to the story of that first Christmas over two thousand years ago I am struck by the similarities facing families today; displaced people, war, unrest, prejudices and unhappiness. I hope that in-between the heartache families in crisis wherever they are can find the hope, love and kindness of others that shone through our nativity story today.

I Love Paris

I have an eclectic music collection but the “standards” are never far away so listening to Ella Fitzgerald on a very rainy Sunday is always ideal. This morning one of my favourites came on about one of my favourite places-Paris. Given the dreadful events of Friday I stopped and didn’t start working again for several minutes.
How do you make any sense of the actions taken on Friday? As a teacher how do we protect, guide and support our young people in the light of such actions? The awfully clever DHT and I were out and about last week. We went up to Perth to be part of a national conversation with other colleagues from primary and secondary education. There were HTs and DHTs from several authorities and we were there to listen to speakers; including the Minister for Education talk about Social Justice. We chose to go because equity, equality, inclusion and just doing the best for our young people and their families, are at the heart of what we do in our school. As I often write; we are in the business of improving people. The Scottish Government has Social Justice running throughout their education programme we were interested to hear what was being said. To be honest it wasn’t anything new, but, as always talking with colleagues was interesting, reaffirming and challenging. We dissected, discussed and the DHT muttered as he does, on the journey home.
The message from everyone was we are doing our best for our learning community. The issues, challenges and successes were all very similar. There was a shared ethos in the challenges of budgets, training and hard-to-engage families. There were some tricks of the trade shared. The theme of helping our young people to use the opportunities we can source, to help enable them to be successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens is alive and thriving in our schools. Talking to colleagues from across Scotland, sharing our progress with staff, and working together as we will next week in our in-service days renews our sense of purpose. These four capacities are at the heart of our Scottish education system and they are real and tangible. Against all this hard work, compassion and commitment we then have to think about what events such as the tragedy in Paris means to our communities. We are global citizens, we are part of this. For me it makes me square my shoulders and renew my focus, along with everyone in our learning community, to do our best for our young people and count our many blessings.

All Over The World

What brilliant weather we have been enjoying this week. Everyone just seems to have a bit more bounce about them when the sun is shining don’t they? I can’t believe we are almost at the October break already. As ever, there seems so much to do and so little time to get it all done in!
I am watching the rugby while listening to ELO singing, working and occasionally shouting at the two teams battling it out on the screen. My son plays rugby and I have spent many a Saturday in the wind and rain and sometimes lovely autumn weather watching games. I have also spent several hours in various A and E departments of hospitals around the country too! I like autumn weather. As I am singing along to All Over The World I got to thinking about our world, the world of the school and how we try to give our young people a sense of belonging and being part of a community. I also considered how we try to widen our horizons and try to give our youngsters a sense of their place in the wider world.
Our P4/5 class have had a great time watching Newsround and other types of reporting to find out about how we find out about things, find information and, importantly, what is happening locally, nationally and internationally. We successfully supported a national charity last week (cakes still being sold this week) and next week our Harvest focus is on helping our local community through our support for one of our local foodbanks. It can be challenging to bring the wider world into school and have opportunities for us to venture out into it. The obvious constraint of time and budget can be challenging. Sometimes things are just too far away for us to visit but we are quite open to visitors coming into see us. Luckily, the world of technology has made it so much easier to see the wider world and interact with people form near and far. We are quite comfortable with Skype and Facetime in our lives and the GLOW network allows schools to link up and be part of a wide range of experiences. At school we are fortunate that the awfully clever DHT (recently proven by his successful completion of the post graduate Scottish Qualification for Headship) has always pushed us to use technology to help us all be better connected and informed. This term he has coordinated, plugged in, muttered and mumbled at us, fiddled with wires and plugs as we have become connected on Twitter and Class Dojo as well as relaunching a new and improved school web page.
As the dinosaur that was heard to mutter “ I don’t know why I need a computer in school and what is a log in anyway?” many years ago, I continue to be surprised by how much I rely on technology to do so much of my job. The children are always at the centre of everything we do but with technology I can connect with parents and carers and associated professionals easily. Getting information or support can often be a phone call or a couple of clicks away. It is something we take for granted but actually when you think about it; it is pretty amazing. Notwithstanding the odd blip when everything shuts down on us, we use technology to enhance, challenge and engage our learning community. We use it to bring the world the world into our school; the beautiful sights such as the autumn colours, the news, the past, songs and rhymes and everything in-between – and don’t even get me started on the joys of online shopping…………………….

I Don’t Have To Be Me (till Monday)

I like this song from Steve Azar. I like a lot of his songs. The title of this one makes me smile. I am, like a lot of us, so many different people in my life. For the last six weeks or so I have mostly been a wife, mum, sister, daughter and friend. I have not been a Head Teacher. That all changed on Monday when it was time to start the new session.
It is too easy to say that during the summer I am not a Head Teacher, of course I am. This job is a way of life! Things pop into my head at all sorts of times of the day, situations prompting me think of things and people at school. However, when I return it is always the same; although I feel as though I have never been away I take a few days to remember names, conversations and where I left things! (Always put in places for safe keeping then never found). This session we are up and running with some new faces to the team and the welcome return of the awfully clever DHT. Our young people are back and have started with an enthusiasm which we will work to harness positively! The school was full of chatter and smiles and laughter as people got caught up with news and events. For lots of our young people it is a chance to see friends again who they may not see often out of school. We all swapped stories of things we’d done and although those of us who stayed at home didn’t have the best of the sunshine, there were lots of examples of great days out and about.
I was lucky enough to be away for most of the summer where the weather was sunnier. I have to say that I really enjoyed doing very little and letting the days drift along. That is a real luxury for any working person. No bells, deadlines or meetings. No hard questions either! The title says that I don’t have to be me till Monday and I think that is a really good philosophy. I am trying hard to strike balances in my life and also supporting the balances of school and home for the people I work with and for. I know that it can be hard, and balance is about juggling and prioritising time and tasks. You can’t manage time but you can manage what you do with it. We are having our first collegiate time of the new session tomorrow as a staff. Our focus areas and developments were all decided before the summer so we knew where we thought we’d be going on this stage of our journey. We always allow for diversions and the odd pothole, but we do all need to be involved on where we are going to. We involve our young people and we are getting better at sharing the learning, the steps, the pathways with them and using their ideas and opinions too. This session one of our focus areas is continuing to increase the number of parents and families who continuously engage with the work of the school through a variety of strategies. On Monday at our first working together session we will be discussing ideas and plans more fully and agreeing strategies and timelines. It is going to be a challenge but it is going to be interesting and engaging. One strategy we are taking is rolling out class dojo for all classes. This has already proved successful last session when a couple of senior classes trialled it. It is only one aspect of a busy session but it is exciting to see the possibilities and how these may evolve and support our learning community.
However, this is my out of hours work finished for this weekend and I am off to do some cooking and maybe even catch some tennis. School will begin again tomorrow.

We Can Work It Out

When I am feeling a bit over whelmed I find that some of my favourite songs can just help me take a breather – along with coffee and tennis at the moment. End of term always hurtles towards us at an alarming rate and, each year we know it is coming and each year we get through it somewhat battered and bruised! Just now the back catalogue of some Beatles tunes are helping me on my way.
This session has been no exception. In fact it is to our credit that I believe the school has continued to progress and work and improve, and importantly, have fun as a learning community. We have had illness, redeployment and a mixed bag of minor issues that have kept us on our toes as ever. Change is never easy- it isn’t meant to be but we work hard as a team to make it nonthreatening and not overwhelming. However at this time of year when lots of things have to get done and can only get done within this short time frame everyone begins to feel the strain.
Technology is a marvellous thing and it has permeated all sorts of aspects of life. I am typing this at home watching the start of the French Open Tennis, listening to music having just finished chatting to my friend in Australia. All good stuff! The fact that some school stuff that usually takes an hour or so on a Sunday morning has dragged on a bit due to “technical issues” is a minor irritation. It is done, I am back on track. However, the erratic nature of technology at school this week did have me reaching for the Ginger Nuts more than I should have, and the absence of the awfully clever DHT (redeployed for this final term), was sorely felt. Having said that, it was technology that came to my rescue in the guise of several slightly panicked text messages to said DHT!
All this got me mulling over the balance between technology and human interaction. Education is a people business and rightfully the people should be at the centre. We must use technology, and use it productively but we must never take away the personal contact, the time taken to get people together in a room not just on the telephone, to meet, to talk to support and challenge. We have, as a team, always paid close attention to our communication procedures and strategies and encouraged the conversations throughout the day and importantly realised that they are important. The fifteen minutes spent with colleagues as they go back to class at the end of the day after seeing the children out is invaluable and has as much importance as our planned collegiate times. The ten minutes spent each morning as we “check-in” for the day before school starts is so important to set us up for the day, share last minute changes and, really, really importantly share moments that make us laugh.
Having formal meetings with parents and with associated colleagues is an important part of us getting it right for every child. It is also the times that can be most concerning and challenging. Often there is a sense of working together and moving forward and I am always grateful that this is by far and away the majority type of meetings we have. However, I have, like many, been in stressful and worrying meetings both as a parent and as a professional. That is where the ethos and collegiate approach is so important. Time and again, shared information, snippets, memos and in our case regular confidential evaluation blogs between class teachers and myself and the awfully clever DHT , have proved invaluable . It has allowed us to support and work though options of support for everyone. It isn’t always easy, it isn’t always straightforward but it is always something that we strive to do with compassion, professionalism and care. That’s what I believe is at the heart of moving forward for everyone. That’s what gives each school its community. Time for another Ginger Nut!

Count On Me

I like Bruno Mars . I like listening to his songs and shoogling around much to the horror of other family members. This song is particularly nice and I really like the lyrics about counting on folk, being there for them and knowing that they are there for you. It came on my playlist as I sat down to do some work and I quite fancy the idea of us bringing it into our school songbook. Pity I can’t sing or carry a tune but that’s where the teamwork will come in!
Team effort is a big thing for any group of people and in many ways our school community is just like our family. We know each other, support each other, fall out, argue and then get on with things again. That is human nature. This week I was asked what I was proud about our school. Well, I explained that the answer was never ending but, actually at the heart of it for me, since we didn’t have all day, the first thing that came to my mind was our team. Everyone in our school is respected and listened to. That doesn’t mean to say that we all get on and agree- far from it. For me though it means consistency and shared goals. WE have been focusing this session on Pupil Voice. We adults in school had no doubt that our young people had a pupil voice however, it wasn’t consistent and, more importantly we didn’t think that the young people themselves actually knew that they had a voice in our community! The awfully clever DHT set about exploring this more involving all sorts of interested folk (even if they didn’t know they were interested at first). We have been on a really interesting journey that has helped shape the future journey of our learning community. As with a lot of things we do, it is a journey and we don’t see an end point. We will continue to journey on and use experiences and knowledge to make us an effective place to grow and develop.
We looked at our planning and worked on ways to show the young people their part in what we do. That was really interesting and informative. How the different ages and stages perceived the way in which we learn, what we learn, what is learning and how we use different learning in different ways was exciting and challenging. For us as facilitators and learners ourselves we were taken by surprise by the twists and turns the discussions took and how indispensable sticky note s and coloured pens could be! Then we made some sweeping changes that seemed to happen overnight because we had a collective “lightbulb” moment over planning/tracking and evaluating that took us further along the road. For me, I was struck by how the fear factor diminished because we were all involved and, most importantly, people were comfortable enough and felt supported enough to question, disagree and just say “I don’t see that” (that was usually me). Are we finished? No way, but we never expect to be. We have goals and milestone checks to ensure that we continue on the journey and if we take a wrong turn or come to a dead end we can work it out and reroute.
We staff are already thinking about next steps, ways to engage more of our friends, families and colleagues. We are so aware of all the demands that life puts on us all so we need to be innovative and solution focussed to involve more of our stakeholders and we are open to all and any suggestions so if you are reading this and have some ideas let us know. Thanks to the awfully clever DHT there are loads of ways to get in touch with us if you aren’t actually near our building and able to do my favourite things- talking and listening! Ways such as this website! And now we have a twitter account where P7 were tweeting last week. We are all in this together! Join in!

Ventura Highway

The first song I clearly remember form the group America was “Horse With No Name” and from there I started my enjoyment of the music from this group which has lasted over four decades. Ventura Highway was on as I sat down to do this blog and that got me thinking about the band. It also gave me the title for these points to ponder.
When I hear these songs along with Steely Dan, The Eagles, Doobie Brothers and the likes I am immediately back to the 1970s when I left school, went to college and started my journey into the world of education. I always get such a jolt when I realise just how much time has passed! I am hearing my memories played in the “Golden Oldies” section! Ventura Highway sounded like a good song to use this time because it always reminds me of a summer spent with my best friend who had just passed her driving test and bought a car! Great excitement as we trundled all around the place – sometimes as far as St Andrews! She was working and could afford to buy a car. I was a student and couldn’t afford the lessons so this was a great adventure. How our parents put up with it I only now wonder. No mobile phones, instant messaging let alone Satnav! They must have wondered if we were ever coming back when we took off to “somewhere” and arrived back hours later. It makes me think of the unknown and how we just shrugged when we had taken a wrong road (that happened a lot – still does even with Satnav) and how we never gave a thought to the passing time. That’s what memories should be I reckon. I once read that someone said “don’t cry because it is over; be glad that it happened” and that was true in school this week. One of our teachers left to pursue a career in behaviour support. It is an aspect of education that she has always had an interest in and so we were all supportive when she decided to look for a position within this sector. Therefore we couldn’t term it a “sad” day because we knew how excited she was to be starting this new part of her professional journey. That’s where the memories come in and the things that trigger those memories. Sounds, smells, places and especially music, can all send us back in time to a memory, often long forgotten. Hopefully these memories come with a smile and a fond remembrance; sometimes we’d rather not be reminded of it at all!
When I hear those songs form the late 1970s I think about my first classes and I am amazed by the changes that have taken place- and how right at the heart everything is still the same- the children. It can be argued that society has changed, the world is a more connected place, our planet is struggling with environmental issues and so on but right at the heart of it all are people and right at the heart of education you find people. Our schools are made of adults and children who are the same as the adults and children who were in school four decades ago or fourteen decades ago. Our methods, our thinking, the needs of our societies may have changed but not the fact that education is a people business and people are at the heart of it. We are so lucky in education because we work with young people who are curious and interested. Some may need more support than others, some may find what school is all about really engaging, some may not. Isn’t that true of everyone everywhere? The great thing about our job in school is that we can see the differences we make. We see it in our everyday conversations and everything that we do. Often we wish we could do more, do better but we have the privilege of being part of someone’s memories. Just as I am sitting here now listening to Free and thinking about listening to Radio 1 in art class in college as I worked – how casual we thought!!! Our young people will think of the teachers at our school and have memories of their experiences with them and the people they worked with. The teachers they enjoyed working with, the awfully clever DHT and me- will they smile? Time will tell- but the memories will be there.

Let’s Go Round Again

As the Average White Band plays along I am sitting thinking about where the month of January disappeared to! I know that we are all busy and we live in 24/7 world but I need things to slow down! I suppose that is an element of Curriculum for Excellence that I feel we should utilise. We have the freedom to design our learning with our young people for them. Yes, we have the elements of learning to cover but the main components that I appreciate are the flexibility, personalisation and choice.
There could be a train of thought that thinks great, we do what we like, when we like but of course it isn’t that simple. Designing the curriculum that best supports and challenges the young people we work with is complex and multifaceted. However, it is key to all we hope to achieve. In our school we continually revisit, discuss and debate where we are going as a learning community, why and how and where are we going next? Learning is a journey and, as yet, I have found no end point. Learning is for life and that is an important way of looking at learning. It is one we hope to practice and exemplify by all we do in our school. That is why I always smile when I hear the “teachers only work until 3.00pm each day and then have loads of holidays” cropping up in conversations. I have learned over the many years of being in the profession to not get into any discussion about it. Working with our young people is only part of what we do; albeit the heart of what we do! Our own continuous professional learning sits alongside it and is vital to our effective contributions to the development of all our young people no matter their age or stage. We have the advantage of the awfully clever DHT who keeps us interested and engaged with the wider world of education (SQH has a lot to answer for as someone muttered with a smile the other day). We agreed with staff to include professional reading and debate in our collegiate calendar this year. This was partly because it has steadily become part and parcel of our routine in school as HT and DHT as we have worked together; but also because more and more staff were talking about wider issues, our own focus areas and these snippets and chats at the end of the day or over coffee really needed a platform. It has been very successful and the participation levels have been high. As a staff we like to talk (show me a bunch of teachers that don’t!) and we are sociable and humorous, supporting each other through the rich tapestry that is a primary school! It is a long held view that if a teacher writes their memoires it would be put in the fiction section because folk wouldn’t believe half of it! The awfully clever DHT has harnessed this engagement to widen our horizons and make us really think about our key roles and vision for our learners and ourselves as lifelong learners. The inclusion of sweeties has helped too. Looking at our next session priorities we would hope to continue this collegiate professional debate aspect and build on it; it can only make us stronger as a learning community.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

Here we are again! How did that happen? One minute it is all new uniforms, shoes that hurt and school jumpers/skirts/trousers that are too big (and that is just the staff) and then suddenly we are in the most hectic yet magical time of the year for schools- Christmas!
I love the festive season and I admit to being one of those irritating folk who get organised early (still doesn’t stop me buying those wee “last minute” things right up until Christmas Eve) but, the bulk of the presents are bought and the bulk of the cards are now written. I am, by nature fairly organised; schools are always in the present but thinking weeks/months ahead. Schools are always looking forward and seeing what needs to be done, changed, tweaked so being organised is a bonus when things come flying in like Santa’s reindeer without satnav. We have just had three days in-service days which seemed, in the run up, a great opportunity to get things done, make milestone checks of how things are progressing and developing and generally have time to check that we are all still upright and breathing! However, as the Bard would say. The best laid plans……..
We had a busy schedule organised with the emphasis on working together with our Learning Community; the schools that feed into the same secondary school. In our case there are seven primary schools and our colleagues at the academy. We Heedies get together every month but our wider staff don’t get lots of opportunities to get together to talk about what we are doing. Talking things over is good. Teachers like to talk, and most like to talk education and especially their class/school. We had the opportunity to get together and find out about more about the RAFA strategies which we are involved in. Now, you may have perked up thinking, as I did, Nadal, tennis and all sorts of things that make you (me) smile but in actual fact it is Raising Attainment For All. A Scottish Government programme aimed at doing just that – making things better for every child in Scottish education. We then went on to science and staff had the opportunity to work together, try out scientific experiments and discuss how we raise the profile of science in our learning and teaching. There were lots of other learning opportunities going on too and actually, as a staff we had very little time all together in the same place doing the same things! We’ll have a bit of catching up to do when we get back into school for the final three weeks of term. For the awfully clever DHT and I it was a wee bit patchy as always with our time set aside for things we had to do disappearing quicker than Santa up a chimney. Mostly this had to do with a JCB digger, brickwork and fences but that’s another story!
While all this learning, debating and catching up was going on the Christmas decorations were going up around the school. After the children left on Tuesday last week, staff got together and put up all the decorations that had been made for our hall and the nativity banner went up over the stage. Christmas trees appeared in all our main areas and boxes of decorations were brought from dark, cobwebbed places by the janitor. On Tuesday we are all off on our annual jaunt to the pantomime at a local theatre. The camels have been half way to Bethlehem for about a week now and the rehearsals are building! Costumes are being fitted and altered; we had to substitute our lead camel one year due to illness. Unfortunately our understudy was a good half metre taller than our original person so on the day the camel costume legs had more of a Knickerbocker look than we had intended! I always marvel that our very youngest pupils do such a wonderful job of learning lines, songs, actions and where to walk on stage without falling off (though we have had a couple of near things). Staff tend to get more and more frazzled as December approaches and glitter, tinsel and the sound of staplers abound. In amongst all of this you have the awfully clever DHT mumbling and muttering usually while surrounded by microphones that have stopped working, packs of batteries that don’t fit and children who are shedding said glitter and tinsel all over him! He may take some convincing but I do believe that it is the best time of the year in school – I concede that this view may be coloured by the festive food and beverages though!

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