A Design for Life

I’m just back from a fantastic Performing Arts trip to Holland.

We travelled to Valkenburg, a lovely town near the German and Belgian borders. We have taken students there previously but not for three years. When we have gone before, we took our excellent school band but these students have moved on and left and the band no longer exists as it once did.

The performers we took this time were very different. 2 groups of dancers, several vocal soloists and a small group of singers. Many were first time performers, or emerging performers. All, with the exception of one or two have only performed in front of a small, classroom audience and no more. Would they manage 2 concerts in public?

On the coach journey to Valkenburg, I was re-reading the amazing “Leaders of their Own Learning”,

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leaders-Their-Own-Learning-Student-Engaged/dp/1118655443

taking advantage of the long journey to refresh memory. I had initially read this in February but wanted to re-read it to clarify and consolidate what I had read, especially in light of the developments in our school in that short period since.

As I was reading it I became very encouraged, warmed almost, inside. I knew the students I had with me very well, I know all the ups and downs they have been through in their performances and we have been all working together to develop growth mindsets, confidence building and taking small steps towards the bigger goal. It made me realise I had an amazing opportunity to really see them thrive over the next few days.

The performance programme was the key. Each set of performers had to be placed in the concert at a point where they would feel the most comfortable. I also had an excellent opportunity for self critique and instant improvements as there were only 2 hours between concerts so changes could be made quickly.

The youngest of our performers were a group of fresh Y8 students. A set of 7 lovely girls who had been rehearsing hard after school since the return in September. Despite their hard work on their performance and choreography, they were yet to perform to an audience other than myself. I decided they would be the first performance, as they wouldn’t have time to get too nervous. This would then allow them to watch the rest of the performers without having to worry about their own performance.They performed excellently, smiling and happy in both concerts. In the second they were definitely more at ease. Job done.  I was proud of them and they were excited to have performed.

The second performer was a gamble. A wobbler. The student is a lovely singer but can be crippled by nerves. She had to go second to again, get it over with. In the first concert the nerves appeared…words were forgotten and the tears appeared. Fear not! A lady in the audience walked over, told the student that her voice had touched her heart and that she must start again and sing all the way. This was enough for this student, the backing track was restarted and she nailed it from start to finish. The lady in the crowd had tears in her eyes when she finished and so did I. Mindset. She didn’t even falter in the second concert, she took to the stage with confidence and performed with ease. In a way I was glad it went a bit wrong in the first concert, as the security she will now have after this failure and then the fact that two subsequent successful performances were better, will help her in activities I can’t help her with. I can help her prepare for her college audition but I can’t be there with her. Hopefully the memory of her success will be there with her, reminding her how to succeed.

Performer three is an edgy Y8 singer. She brims with confidence and bravado. She was visibly nervous and forgot to count the bars at the start of her song, meaning she was out with her track. She realised this and tried to correct it but it wasn’t right. I was proud of her grit- she carried on, fearless. After the performance she asked if we could go through the track during the break in the concert to re count her bars in the introduction and between verses. I was proud- she wanted to fix her problems without me even suggesting this. She knew it needed to be better for the next concert. We sat together and counted the bar patterns and sang the song through together. In the second concert I didn’t even need to count for her. She held her head high, looked straight into the audience and put the earlier errors to bed.

After seeing this, performer 11 wanted to go through his backing track before his first performance to make sure he knew what he was doing, making sure he was confident. He is a lovely singer but can also be a nervous performer. In the first concert, he probably performed better than he had in any concert in school. He loved it, he said. He was looking forward to the second concert. In the second concert, many of the audience members joined in with him which gave him a boost and he smiled instead of looking scared, looked around instead of fixed. Afterwards he was “buzzing”, I’ve never seen him so happy. I can’t wait to record his next performance as I know he will use the confidence he has gained and will develop his performance further.

One by one, the performers took to the stage and performed their best in concert one, but in concert two they lifted the lid. Fixed their mistakes, encouraged each other with specific feedback, looked that bit more confident and felt that bit more at ease.

I want these students to remember these performances and what they learnt in the short space of time between performances. How they upped their game, looked the part and sang their hearts out.

Clearly not every one of these students will go on to be professional performers or dancers but the whole point is to prepare these students for real life- A Design for Life. If at a college or job interview they falter, hesitate, go blank, even crumble, they are developing skills and strategies to help them overcome this, to rectify this and to bounce back stronger.

I have never felt prouder of students making mistakes as I know and they are beginning to realise that making mistakes is the best way to fix them.

My Growth Mindset

I can run. I love to run. I am improving all of the time. I can get better. I need to run more to improve. I need to challenge myself to improve.

At the start of the year, I was a non runner. One of my goals this year was to get back into running. 13 years ago, I was a runner. I was a good runner. I had great 5 and 10k PB’s, regularly ran half marathons and my biggest challenge, completing the London Marathon, remains one of my greatest achievements.

Fast forward to 2014 and I was a non runner. Living at the top of a very steep hill on all sides, being “too busy” to run, having a baby and the challenges on your time that brings all meant I had reasons not to run.

excuses pic

After gaining a ballot place for this year’s Great North Run, I had a reason to run. My first run was horrific. 2 miles felt like 20. I had to stop and walk more than once. I felt devastated, frustrated and ashamed. It would have been easy to give up, to think, “I’ll never do it” but I didn’t.

In the last 6 months, I have found solace in my running. It gives me time to clear my head, to reflect on the day that has passed, or the day approaching. Time to consolidate, challenge or change my thoughts and decisions. It has also made me more certain than ever, that instilling a growth mindset in my students will break down so many barriers to their learning.
I am a slow runner. I will never break any speed records. I joined a lovely running club to help me improve. I’ve met some amazing people who encourage and most importantly motivate and inspire me, mirroring my colleagues at work. I’ve entered races to push me out of my comfort zone and the most challenging, difficult races are the ones I’ve enjoyed the most. I can keep going, I can improve, I can do it.

I have goals at work to motivate me to improve, to push me out of my comfort zone, to help me move towards where I want to be. Just like running, not all the skills are there yet, the confidence is growing and the desire to improve is there so I know what I need to do and where I need to go. I know who to ask, to speak to, to look towards, but also more importantly I know when other people may also need me to encourage, consolidate, help and instil the confidence they seek too.

dreams

Making sure my students develop a growth mindset is one of my priorities this year. How can they improve if they fear failure, when this is the feeling that will give them the desire, knowledge and skills to improve? Failure is a good thing as there is always room to improve.
This year has been fantastic for me as I’m running times I know I will beat next year IF I do the work, IF I put the effort in, IF I challenge myself. This is the way I want my students to think and I know if I can give them the confidence to fail, then they will soar back up. I am on that journey with them and will continue to challenge them with our amazing new curriculum in our Performing Arts lessons, to raise the bar in my GCSE class, who have impressed me SO much with their grit and determination to tackle some very difficult work already.

The harder the challenge, the greater the improvement, the better the mindset, the more satisfying the achievement.

try

6 months in…..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNhXIeYVKTg

When I was running today, I was thinking about my #nurture1314 post I did at the very end of last year, to try to focus me on specific goals. I thought I’d do a “mid year review” to see where I am up to!

1- Do not be late with gifts!

  • This was going well until I ordered flowers for my mum’s 60th last weekend and was in such a rush I didn’t check the delivery address, needless to say I ended up with a lovely floral display which was meant for my mum…bad daughter.

2- Practise what I preach.

  • Continuing to do this, with a smile. I have had a few wobbles along the way but someone always reminds me MINDSET! So continuing with this one and I need to think carefully and ensure I do practise what I preach.

3- Eat better.

  • Hmm. I am eating better, I have to say. I also gave up Pepsi Max for Lent and haven’t had any since so I suppose this is

continuing too.

4- Have more cherry bomb cocktails in Madame Koo’s. They’re the best!

  • I have sampled plenty of these, but my new “best” is Aperol Spritz at Rockliffe Hall. They ARE the best!

5- Attend as many TeachMeets as I can- and be brave enough to present at some of them too!

  • I have been to plenty and have made some lovely “teachmeet” friends. Not only have I presented at them, I have also encouraged others from my school to share their ideas which I have loved doing. I think I have also gained a lot of confidence presenting at these events and no longer feel the fear/ dread/ nervousness I did in January when I presented to my own school staff. I think this goal has really helped me also fit into my job role at school better and has also made me realise I speaking in public is nothing to fear and that it is a great opportunity.

6- Switch all devices off at bedtime…

  • FAILURE!

7- Gardening- sort it out!

  • This needs work- I intended to do loads this week but I need the nasty rain to stop…

8- Fun days out- have as many as we can, including weekends away.

  • My weekends and holidays have been one non stop fun day out, this is why my garden needs doing…. I feel like I am barely in the house sometimes as I make the most of the weekends and school holidays, visiting friends, relatives, hotel breaks, cabins, farms, park, beach, seaside and best of all, garden antics. My little boy has just turned 2 so we have many fun memories to look forward to.

9- Remain calm and organised.

  • This is another one where I feel I have made massive steps. I had a few wobbles last half term, but managed to keep afloat and keep the calm. Mon 19th May was a day etched on my brain for so many reasons. Y9 reports due (7 classes!!), Y7 Creative Arts Evening (which I organised as there was “nothing” on that day….) BTEC Music Unit 1 Exam and I also presented at an internal teachmeet. The weekend before was spent in a remote lodge with intermittent WIFI and no phone reception but the careful planning I had put in before the weekend meant despite being a stressful day on paper, it was actually really enjoyable and I really felt like I’d achieved something when I got home at the end of the day.

10- Rehearse my piano pieces I enjoy playing- for pleasure.

  • Continuing to FAIL on this one too…

11- Keep trying new teaching ideas I find and like.

  • Yes, definitely doing this but also consolidating the ones that are working well and embedding them properly.

12- TRY to get back into running- living at the top of a massive hill is the biggest deterrent to this!

  • Massive success with this, so feel I don’t mind that I am totally failing on my piano goal (although I do really). I am running the Great North Run in September after getting a ballot place, running 3/4 times per week and up to 8 miles in my training runs. I have also joined a running club and relish my run time as time to reflect, think and devise. I have seen some amazing views of Durham, enjoyed running in the rain and have signed up to do proper event runs again, something I haven’t done in over 10 years. My neighbour is also an avid runner and keeps me motivated with little tips like “EXCUSES ARE NO EXCUSE”. My lovely friend Natalie is also a similar speed runner to me so we use Sundays to run a bit longer, chat and enjoy it! I am loving my running again and I am glad I took the first steps to get back into it again. Maybe I will do a marathon next year….

13- Keep smiling no matter what.

  • I have had a few tears and wobbles but I always smile for the better, in the end.

14- Read, read, read, read, read!

  • Because of number 11, I have more time to develop and plan and also READ. I am always looking for more reading time, this time is valuable. I have learnt so much from what I have read this year so far, and I’m about to unleash it onto my department next week. So much to read, so little time.

Well, so far so good. If I can get some piano playing in then I will be a bit happier but all in all, 6 months in, it’s looking and feeling pretty good!

How are YOU doing?

The Rising Tide….

This is a follow up post from Monday, where I wrote about how a change in planning, a shift in expectations, a lot of confidence work and a great deal of self-belief has transformed the learning that takes place in my classroom.

I have many “case studies”- I teach almost 500 students a week. I have gathered pages and pages of “evidence” and tried out many different ideas, tweaks and methods in order to improve my own teaching, but most importantly to improve the skills of my students.

Around three years ago I visited one of our local primary schools to see how work was differentiated there but also what students with low reading ages should be able to do. This was my focus, to help prepare more appropriate work for lower ability learners.

I’ve been back at work just over a year from maternity leave, and have tweaked, tweaked and tweaked my differentiation even more. Currently, I have almost gone full circle back to where I started, but with most students now completing the most challenging tasks rather than most students completing the mid level challenge task.

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This is work of one of my Y9 students in September. I teach in mixed ability forms in music. This particular student is a “set 3″ (out of 3) student in set lessons. As you can see he has not answered some questions, used limited vocabulary and is not particularly neat.

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This is the same student’s work in November, a different task but we use similar methods for listening to embed the processes and skills into each task so it becomes easier. Sentences with musical vocabulary are developing and in the venue answer, he has justified his choice, although no full sentences there.

This is work from the same student from last week. This is his first draft. He has been back at lunch times on Monday and Tuesday of this week to re-draft his work for my “excellence” wall.
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100

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The only thing that has changed in this student is HIS belief. He believes he is capable to produce good work and has become more and motivated by his achievements.

Just to highlight once more- the next photo is of one of the most able students in the group. Neither student has instrumental lessons or any other musical input apart from one hour a week in KS3 music lessons.

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The hand written task from the first student is the same task as the student above has completed.

When talking to the first student when he (volunteered to) come back in his lunch time, I asked him what had changed to make him want to produce this work. After all, it has to come from them, I can’t physically write it for them. I can give them the tools but I can’t carve their work.

We looked through his book, to the first task. He was appalled. “That’s rubbish, I can’t believe I put so little effort in”. It did make him realise just how good his last piece of work was though, in comparison to his first one. He said he knew he could do it. That is the only difference. He also knew he had the skills and tools to do his best, and he knew if he had difficulties, he was confident enough to overcome them with the help of his newly found resilience, his peers and his ever growing skill base. He went on to say he had been trying harder BMX tricks recently, ones he thought would be too tricky.

“If I fall off my bike, I just try it again. It takes ages to get better but it’s worth trying because it will work one day”.

By expecting more from ALL of my students in ALL tasks has meant that ALL students have raised their game, improved their grades but in my eyes, most importantly improved their skills and confidence.

The rising tide WIL lift all ships. Fact.

13 weeks of growth….

I’ve been waiting to post this for weeks, but needed the climate to be right, the right pictures to go with the posts and most importantly the cycle of work I have been doing to be finished and completed to verify my thoughts and predictions and also to reflect on the term.

I started the new academic year full of gusto, full throttle and tackling the challenges that faced me in my new job, head on. One of my colleagues @BelmontTeach recommended I should read Carol Dweck’s “Mindset” and straight away, it made total sense.

mindset

This, combined with Ron Berger’s “Ethic of Excellence” have totally changed my teaching this year.

excellence

I began to “take off” with this work in November after changing my methods of lesson planning and delivery by planning for the top, most able and differentiating down, rather from the bottom upwards. Although each student had tasks that were appropriate, my shift in focus really has lifted all students and also increased motivation, particularly in students who were my “hard to reach” group.

I shared this strategy with my students and because of this I know they understand why I changed the focus. They know I believe in them and because of this, I know this is why I have seen the improvements in my department that have happened since.

The biggest improvements I have seen has been in student motivation. I believe in them and also in their ability. because of this they seem to be more resilient, more willing to try and less willing to be defeated easily. Don’t get me wrong, I still hear the odd “Miss, I can’t” but I have also developed strategies to combat this- ask a partner/ neighbour/ or repeat the demonstration again if it is a performance based task. Believe in yourself.

I have photographed examples of work which I consider to be “excellent” to display on my wall of excellence, which the caretaker kindly painted Belmont purple. Students are proud their work has been selected, and congratulate each other. It is good to do well!

I have books of evidence showing student journeys from September, which is one of my most powerful tools. Each little landmark a student makes- using vocabulary to explain using full sentences, to adding their own opinion, to justifying their examples and answers, is logged in their own books for anyone to see. For some students, this has been their lightbulb, when I show them work from September until now, they can see their achievements and see their improvements, which then motivates them to do better next time. They want to do well.

I have a series of posts for this week which I am so excited to share and they prove what I believe in. All students can achieve in the right climate.

Watch this space………..

Flying higher, like a plane.

The Aviators

I have used this video and music clip with my Y8 classes this week. I love the video but the music for me, makes it. I love the story it tells and the way the music makes you feel, think, absorbs the listener and connects. Some students were reduced to tears, “the music made me cry”.

“The music made me reflect on my achievements and successes.”
“As the planes got better, stronger and higher, the music grew stronger too.”
“I love this piece, it makes me feel every emotion.”

We are talking about mood music and how different pieces of music can make people feel different ways. I love teaching listening, especially at the moment when my students are so motivated to be good listeners.

I showed a Y7 class the same video as part of a started activity and one student put his hand up, his answer almost reduced ME to tears.

“Have you showed us this Miss, because we are the inventors of the plane? So we try and it is a bit wrong, then we try again and it gets better. Then we’ll keep doing it and we’ll be like the planes at the end, because you want us to always try our best and we do, so we will fly higher?” (Y7 student- Belmont Community School, 6th March 2014

We had a lovely visit to our department from our link governor this week. She commented that one of the student panel said about our department “It’s where you can be who you want to be, not who you should be” and this also almost reduced me to tears. I feel proud my students can articulate themselves to visitors and also be so precise about their feelings.

image

I actually did have tears several times this week- I am becoming more and more of an emotional wreck at the moment- after asking SLT if I can host an alternative parent’s evening for Y7.

As a musician and a music teacher, I am so, so passionate about my subject and I know I can pass this, and have passed this onto my students. My Y7 classes are working at the highest standard I’ve EVER had, no lies here. I am so proud of them all, they are proud of themselves and each other. We held a celebration lesson this week in each Y7 class to congratulate each student who had made progress in this topic- The Beatles. Most students have made exceptional progress- more than a level higher than the end of the last topic. Many of them have reached or exceeded their end of year targets. I explained to the though, I don’t want them to get too concerned about numbers and levels, it was more about the skills they have developed. Some students can perform a melody and chords confidently on their own on the keyboards, some of them can write a detailed comparison between pieces of music, some can justify their confidence levels articulately, skills they have all developed since Christmas.

I want their parents to come and SEE what they can do, to see their books and to see their skills. SLT agreed I can do this and I actually can’t wait. I want the parents of my students to feel the pride that I do, to look through their child’s book and to say “Wow, look at his work, it’s amazing!” I want the students to perform their pieces they have learnt and for their parents to show them what they do in lesson. It will be so much more powerful than me telling them.

I had a bit of a flat week last week, a few dilemmas and decisions made that I was unsure of and combined with a busy week meant I didn’t feel at my best last week, but I know this week has top-trumped ALL weeks so far.

NURTURE update

I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my #nurture1314 goals so far.

1) Don’t be late with gifts- so far, so good!
2) Practise what I preach- I’m getting better at this, and more and more every day I think what would I do, am I leading by example, do I make them believe. I am starting to feel that I can push my comfort zone more and more and in turn, understand how my students feel when I push them from theirs.
3) Eat better- still the same, need to make more of an effort here.
4) Madame Koo cocktails- plans are afoot…
5) Attend as many teachmeets as I can- and be brave- Yes! Real progress on this one. Signed up for several and some to present too. This fits with number 2. I am developing confidence by doing this but I think this is also important for my students to see. We were discussing performance anxiety today and I shared my fears and “blips” with my Y10. They need to know I feel the same things as them, and that I’m also prepared to go through the same journey as them too.
6) Switch all devices off at bedtime…..errrrrr…
7) Gardening- weather has prevented much progress on this.
8) Fun days out- yes! Fab times rule Sundays!
9) Remain calm and organised- Yes. A few blips but I’m much much better at this and by being methodical then eases stressful situations. I think this is one of my biggest strengths at the moment.
10) Rehearse piano more- oops. Fail here. Need my books out of the attic. Maybe if I put them on the piano I will feel more inclined to rehearse.
11) Keep trying new teaching ideas- YES, in fact I gave a stack I want to try but there’s no time, I am working my way through them but once I try one new thing, four more come along the next day and I want to try them! I am currently tweaking ideas that work and developing them further to imbed them and make sure they are exactly how I want them.
12) Get back into running- I’ve entered the ballot for the Great North Run so hopefully I will get a place and this will mean I will need to train.
13) Smile no matter what- I am a smiler so this is easy!
14) Read- trying my best and making progress with this!