Working with children means I have to keep up with the latest “fads” and crazes. Teaching music means I can usually manage this fairly well, as keeping up with new musical trends, or ones I’d sometimes rather avoid.

When completing listening tasks in class, I often find students lack some depth of answers when writing about the mood or the atmosphere created by the music. Usual “happy”, “sad”, “scary” or “exciting” tend to be the most popular adjectives used and when there are so many beautiful words out there to be used, I always try to find ways to develop and integrate some different adjectives into these musical activities. 

Last week I saw an excellent post on StaffRm Emoji Obsession by Leah Sharp. She writes about how she used Emoji icons to help develop writing techniques in her classroom. This got me thinking about how I could use them in music to help improve the mood and atmosphere answers. 

I already use emoji icons in performance tasks to help students justify their confidence and comfort levels when performing but I had never thought to use them to help build a better musical language in the classroom. 

I decided to incorporate this with a technique I magpied from Lisa Ashes (@lisajaneashes) which can be used in a variety of different ways. I use balls from a ball pool with holes cut in them to add a bit of variety in lessons sometimes- too often and it wouldn’t have the same impact. I saw Lisa use these as “thought bombs” at a teach meet and instantly thought of ways to use them in different ways in my department. I will come back to the different ways I have used them near the end. 

Ball pool balls- stolen from a toddler’s bedroom….

I decided to download a variety of different emoji icons and use them as a starter activity, folded up and put into a ball to avoid the initial discussion and excitement I was sure the appearance the emoji icons would have. The purpose of the starter was to think about the different sounds the students would expect to hear to match the emoji they had in their ball. 

 Emoji icons- copied and pasted from Google images.

Emoji balls waiting to be opened!,

I asked the students to open their image without talking or discussing it with the students sitting near them, and gave them one minute to write down what they thought they might hear or what sounds they would create to match their image- we are about to begin a composition task to create music to match their drama and dance work which will be played as they perform, so mood and atmosphere created is vital in this task.  Once the minute was up I asked them to move to another student’s desk and add to or develop what they had written- they had 30 seconds. I repeated this process twice more, cutting the time down twice more to ensure pace and urgency was kept. This is a Kagan based technique I use often in discussion tasks and also in peer assessment of student work. 

When I looked at the student responses I was very pleased and when I asked the students they also admitted that it would probably help them expand their adjectives when discussing or writing about mood or atmosphere. 


What I also found that was when we completed a listening task straight after, there was an improvement in the vocabulary used to describe the mood of the music. 

My next steps- 

  • To create an “emoji adjective” sheet for students to use as prompts during listening tasks.
  • To build on the discussion work to ensure we re visit the adjectives and the usual happy/ sad etc become rarer each time.

Other ways I have used #ashesballs-

  • Colour coded questions- also easy to differentiate with colour too.
  • Heads and tails.
  • Images to prompt discussion.
  • Number order for performances.

Obviously the addition of the ball doesn’t improve learning, but the task suddenly becomes a bit more exciting as students are eager to see what is in their ball. I don’t use them constantly, so the novelty factor isn’t worn out and I see it as an enhancement to an already useful task rather than a tool to make a dull task seem more exciting. 

#Nurture 1415

I absolutely loved doing this last year and enjoyed looking at other people’s, as well as checking back on my progress several times throughout the year.

I can’t remember a year that I have enjoyed so much, both personally and professionally and I really hope that I can continue my happy way of life into next year. 2014 has been an amazing year!

Reviewing last year first, this may take some time as those who know me know I like to talk.

1- Do not be late with gifts- MOSTLY MANAGED. I think on the few occasions I was late with gifts, it was acceptable, compared to before. @JulieRyder2’s present at Christmas was the most annoying, thanks Royal Mail!

2- Practise what I preach- MOSTLY MANAGED. I try my best to give other people the advice and help they need and I have had some amazing and also some very difficult conversations with colleagues this year. I find myself learning something about the person I’m conversing with and also myself every time. Every day is a learning day and I do try my best to practise what I preach but I’m also very self critical behind closed doors and really think about things too much, so perhaps I could improve this still.

3- Eat better
I start the week full of good intentions but by the weekend it’s all gone wrong. FAIL- This still remains the same as last year. Sadly, I like eating nice food.

4- Have more cherry bomb cocktails in Madame Koo’s. They’re the best!
MANAGED AND EXCEEDED- Ebony Cham69 cocktails top trump the cherry bomb ones so my aim is to find the next best cocktail,

5- Attend as many TeachMeets as I can- and be brave enough to present at some of them too! MANAGED AND EXCEEDED- I was tasked by SLT to organise our first ever TeachMeet. I loved the challenge of this as it was something different to my role in school in my department and I got to work with people I don’t normally day to day. It also made me realise what a strong team of staff we have currently in school and also how many people are willing to go above and beyond their day to day work to help other people achieve their goals. Attending all the local TeachMeets I could last year, plus events like Northern Rocks and Cramlington Festival of World Class Learning, and more recently the Whole Education Conference have really enthused, inspired and motivated me and my whole outlook so, so much. We are in an amazing profession and I feel so lucky to have been given the chance to attend these events with the view of changing the lives of the children who are lucky enough to attend our exciting, vibrant and inspirational school.

6- Switch all devices off at bedtime…this one I will struggle with but I think it will help my sleep. I end up reading The Times in bed then trawling twitter and before I know it, it’s midnight! I’m just lucky my boy sleeps or I’d be a zombie! FAIL.

7- Gardening- sort it out! Our garden is massive but I didn’t get half my jobs done this year. FAIL.

8- Fun days out- have as many as we can, including weekends away. I had loads this year so need to create more new, fun memories with my boys.
MANAGED AND EXCEEDED. These days remind me why it’s so important to work hard during the week, so I can play hard at the weekend. We have made so many happy memories this year.

9- Remain calm and organised MANAGED. I’m SO much better at this even compared to last year. I think I have had the biggest pressures on my time this year in my job so far but I’ve dealt with most of them fairly calmly and methodically and as long as I continue to do this I am confident I know my limits and how to deal with problems in an effective manner.

10- Rehearse my piano pieces I enjoy playing- for pleasure. This is a time constraint issue so I need to find an extra 15/20 mins per day to do this. FAIL. I’ve definitely played more for pleasure than last year but nowhere near as much as I’d have liked to and to the standard I’d have wanted to.

11- Keep trying new teaching ideas I find and like. MANAGED AND EXCEEDED- also shared with department staff and other people. I know these things have had an impact in both my classroom and in my department. I had some lovely feedback from a recent lesson observation (we don’t grade lessons) and some of the ideas I have embedded into my classroom and shared with others have really helped student engagement, enjoyment, progress and achievement in lessons.

12- TRY to get back into running- living at the top of a massive hill is the biggest deterrent to this! MANAGED AND EXCEEDED- I am a runner. I completed the Great North Run, many 10k, 5k and parkrun and trail events, as well as a cross country, and also joined a running club this year. This is probably the thing I am most proud of in the last year and know I will continue to run. It helps me have some think time, some time to reflect on the events of the day, time to cry get it all out, time to meet with friends and gossip at running club, time to push myself out of my comfort zone, time to feel exhilarated. I love it.

13- Keep smiling no matter what- I’ve been great at doing this this year! MOSTLY MANAGED. This links really well to number 2- practise what I preach. Sometimes smiling is easier than reacting to a mood Hoover, then I use number 12…

14- Read, read, read, read, read! MOSTLY MANAGED- I’ve read loads in the last year but there’s always room for more.

So, for the coming year I want to…

1- Listen more to others- I like to talk so I tend to listen then join in, rather than listen and digest. I was conscious of times this year when I should listen more and talk less. I want to be better at this.

2) Digest then react- I can sometimes react quickly to situations without thinking the whole thing through and then afterwards think I could have or should have dealt with things differently. I never give a flying off the handle type reaction but I can certainly take more time to digest and react possibly in a better way.

3) Use Skype more- we Skype an amazing group of students in Canada and I love the reaction from both sets of students. It is an amazing learning experience for all, teachers included. I want to involve this more in the work of the department and use this tool to bring amazing people into our exciting classrooms.

4) Improve- my department at work to make it more amazing than it already is, and my running times set from last year. The level of work, dedication, disappointments, training and effort I put in will lead to the improvements I want.

5) Not to be so self critical- I will really struggle with this. I even don’t take compliments well as in my head the things that didn’t go well/ disappoint/ slipped/ are the things that I remember the most. I really do over think things too much sometimes so perhaps need to learn to brush things off better too?

6) Be brave- I’m so much more confident than I was this time 2 years ago but I still become a nervy wreck in some situations. I need to be braver than I am currently.

These are the ones I think I should tackle this year, not quite the 15 but the ones that are most important for me. I might add a few more on at a later date just for the craic.

KS4 Music- Excellent courses?

Firstly, I feel I need to point out that this blog post is based purely on my own views, not my department or my employers. I feel I have to get this out though. As the weeks go on, I drive myself mad ranting to various peripatetic staff, colleagues, students and parents. Once it’s written then I can direct interested parties here, and not have to mention it again unless specifically asked. Also- apologies if it IS a rant!

Believe it or not, my frustration at KS4 courses was born out of preparing our KS3 curriculum. In school we were fortunate enough to be given planning days off timetable as a department to plan, prepare and create a new, exciting KS3 curriculum for “Life Beyond Levels”.

Our most advanced threshold- beyond- should be of the highest standard- the students that are “beyond” what you would expect at KS3, the students who are the most able, the shining stars and beacons of talent. The students who need the highest degree of challenge. It was when I was looking at Beyond, and working back that this frustration started.

What do you expect your beacon students to be able to do at the end of KS4? This is where my threshold search began. I looked at the BTEC First Award in Music specification, which we currently offer in Y11 and the AQA GCSE Music specification which Y10 are currently embarking on this year in our department. As I picked out the vocabulary, the language I wanted to use, the skills being assessed, it occurred to me that neither of these qualifications satisfied what I wanted them to be, nor did they provide suitable challenge. We were looking for Excellence and Beyond. Do these courses prepare our students for excellence? This is something I had to decide.

Before continuing, I am not saying that either of these courses are easy; the opposite in fact. They do offer challenge, rigour and prepare students for different roles as musicians, performers, facilitators and give them different learning experiences throughout the qualification. What I do find difficult is the way in which they are assessed, and what is assessed.

4 years ago, we changed from the GCSE Music to the BTEC Extended Certificate in Music as the profile of the students opting for music had changed. Since the 40% of the GCSE coursework was based on performance, and 40% was composition, it immediately put students who didn’t perform with a decent level of skill at a disadvantage. Given that a lot of students in my school were interested and enjoyed music but may not have been grade 2-5 instrumentalists or confident singers, BTEC offered different optional units meaning they could access the course without being at an instant disadvantage. It also gave a good level of challenge for the most able students, which was also important.

Due to the changes I made to the KS3 curriculum over the last 2 years, listening and performing standards have improved massively and during the curriculum review of last year, we decided to offer GCSE once more as the profile of the students had changed again. They are excellent listeners and can analyse music with an extremely high level of skill. They have had much more experience of performing and composing to allow their confidence and understanding of these processes and skills to develop and continue.

The new BTEC First Award on paper seems very similar to the “Extended Certificate” we offered only last year, however due to the inclusion of a compulsory examination, it has put many students taking the course at an automatic disadvantage. Unit 1- The Music Industry. I really struggle to believe that this is a unit which should be assessed through an exam. Why not listening? Why was the listening optional unit removed? Why have a music course where listening is not assessed whatsoever? This is the problem I have with the BTEC. I love the hands on opportunities our students have. They can collaborate with each other to create fascinating and exciting project work. They can work alone to create inspiring portfolio, they can use the recording studio and other classmates to create multi-track recordings, they can organise and set up for a live event, they can develop their own compositions but they are not assessed on listening.

Although I know it is not the be all and end all, and I can and do include it in lessons, I really struggle to believe that assessing students on different job roles in the music industry is a good or even fair test. It is a very difficult topic to keep students “inspired” with, believe me we made games, cards, dice, top trumps, revision videos, good old memorising, matching, discussion work, mock tests and any other method I could think of to prepare for an exam that I found odd and awkward. We covered every job on the spec list, roles they were related to, used scenario after scenario but there are only so many ways you can present the same information, especially when many of these jobs were unknown or students would not have any interest in these prior to, and afterwards. Exam results from June were pleasing but I feel it’s a lost opportunity for musical skills to be developed.

Part of being a musician should be developing a love for music, a knowledge of different genres, performers and how these people shaped the musical development for their contemporaries and those yet to come. Being able to list 3 responsibilities of a sound technician or describing the role of a musical director/ publicist/ distribution company are not some of the skills I would consider “essential” as a musician, but something that should be learnt by taking on that role or responsibility in a group task, or by asking or interviewing a visitor or on an educational visit. It should not be examined by being able to write these things down.

On the other hand, not having to prepare students for a listening exam for a few years and then preparing the Scheme of Learning for the new Y10 cohort has given me time to reflect on how I taught GCSE previously. Looking back, I clearly prepared students for the listening exam by teaching for the exam. I limited their musical knowledge and development by teaching them narrowly, exam style questions and we worked on developing exam style answers.

I now find the demand of the listening paper hard to swallow. From the outset in Y7, students in KS3 are encouraged to explain what they can hear using musical vocabulary, using full sentences and also justifying their opinions and decisions they make about the music. High expectations mean quality answers and detailed writing about what they can hear. When looking at the GCSE Music Exam paper from last year when preparing threshold statements, my blood ran cold with some of the “one word, one mark” questions and “circle the correct terms” questions. Was this excellent?  The majority of my students could access most of the paper and although there are more tricky theory based questions, granted, many of the questions do not give students a chance to demonstrate their deeper musical knowledge and this is something I find difficult to settle for either.

Also, students are assessed on their performance on one solo piece (grade 4/5 standard will get full marks for demand) and one ensemble piece. Although good practise is to create and build a portfolio of pieces, or even a working record to show development, recording pieces to show how much improvement is made from one week to the next (we have options in double lessons, once a week), this is not essential. One piece of each is required. I am unsure that this prepares students for life as a musician, performer or even for an occasional “open mic” performance. Most students will opt to take music at KS4 and beyond because they love playing their instrument or singing and I would love these students to get more credit for the skills they love. Surely a portfolio of pieces submitted, giving an overall grade would be a more musical way to assess these performance skills?

I’ve decided to teach my own course. To rack up the challenge in listening work to mean that the GCSE paper should then be straightforward, rather than teaching for the exam as I’ve been guilty of before. I’ve told my students that we will be including a high level of analysis in our lessons to ensure they are prepared for the next step, whatever it may be. Indeed, in our new KS3 curriculum, “listening” is called “analysis” as that’s what I want students to do. By creating a recorded “working diary” of performance and composing work, it will allow students to be reflective performers and composers, being proud of their accomplishments and helping them hear how their pieces develop step by step and what they could improve on rather than recording the “final final” version and moving on to something else.

I’m not sure that the KS4 course I want actually exists, and clearly this is only my own view and opinion. I would welcome any feedback, suggestions, discussions with anyone who would like to engage in this topic further as I feel the only people getting a raw deal in music are the students with their current course offerings. What do you teach and why, and are you happy with it? Get in touch please!

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”,


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.


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.


6 months in…..


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…


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.