Reflection on preparation

I hope everyone has had a good summer break, a well deserved summer break in fact.

Preparation before starting school in September is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong way of doing it…or doing it at all.

For me, having worked in 4 schools so far (5 if you count my second placement in training year), I’ve built some strategies that have worked for me on meeting the students for the first time and what I do prior to meeting them in September, especially when starting a new school.

I have reflected and tweaked things every time, as different schools have different cultures, ethos, values and students, I thought I’d share some things with you, and more importantly what I will tweak/add in this year as I start my new school.

Please bear in mind, these are my reflections and what have done, and worked for me. Please feel free to use, or not to use 🙂 As I was writing this, I have realised there is a lot I try and do before meeting the students, I find as long as I am well organised and prepared it leaves me some head space to start managing my classes to get them off to a good start.

The evidence of how important this was for me came when I started a new school mid-year, where I had no data, no lists, no timetable…which came through late and the night before I was due to start the school… 7pm I was contacted to say where the students were with their topics and what I was teaching. No doubt I was up most of the night preparing. The timetable went through several changes, room changes, mix ups, poor communication, lack of communication of where I was meant to be as a new member of staff. My stress levels went really high and for the first time ever I found myself becoming anxious on a daily basis with this lack of organisation. However, I did learn some very important lessons and I grew out of the challenge. My preference is to return to being organised and prepared as much as I can…and that, to a certain degree depends, on how organised the school is. It is interesting when I ask for a lot of the information up front, how people are surprised and don’t actually understand why I need that information. Hopefully it will be clear now 🙂

Some teachers are hopefully still on summer holidays so enjoy as much as you can!

Pre-organisation 

As I teach science, I tend to go into school and clear the lab I’m working in and change the backing paper for displays so they’re ready to go. I’ve been into my new school already.  I had some help to do this. I used sprays, multi surface cleaners to get rid of dust and arranged tables the way I want to.

All the cupboards were full, I had no one to ask where to put stuff so I’ve piled it into 2 cupboards to create some space.

The books will go into allocated trays with labels not too far from the door and as students enter, books will be staggered and laid on the side so they put their bags/coats on one side, pick up their books and be seated, ready to learn.

Trays are ready so I  know where assessments will be placed when they are done, there is a cupboard to put work in that may be in progress.

My tea/coffee/chai tea and mug (need to get priorities right) are in a cupboard next to my desk. I know where my folders with resources will go, and folders for observations etc. will be locked away as they may contain sensitive information. (once I’ve ordered the key!). Drawers with stationery, paper, graph paper, glue etc. are ready and just need topping up.

I’ve checked the notice board in science to get an idea of year groups, last year results, it’s given me and idea of weak and strong cohorts, and a topic map has been stuck up for GCSEs so I have an idea of what the topics are for the new GCSE’s as I am moving from OCR to AQA now (though traditionally I have taught AQA).

I had already visited the school and have a clear idea of what I’m doing for KS5, however KS4 was not that clear. As I needed to know, I went in on results day, found the KS4 coordinator and now have clarification.

Standards and expectations 

This was highlighted to me in my GTP year. The department at the time used the same PowerPoint (PPT) created by a colleague (now a friend), and the dept. was consistent in its use. To this day that is still one of the strongest depts. in the school.

I suggested this idea to one of the new departments I worked in previousy, even to share my PPT with staff, to which the answer I was met with was, “You can do that if you like, we don’t do that here.” The idea was teaching time was very important and they could not take up time setting standards and expectations. Needless to say, behaviour was a massive issue. I’m not too sure why you would not make your standards and expectations clear to classes and students you have never taught before? I suppose that’s a personal choice.

In my NQT year I saw a great Teachers TV programme and the person said “If you don’t show the students where the boundaries are, they’ll look for them.”

Schools have different coloured marking/feedback pens. Once I have checked the coloured pen/feedback policy, I will order, and fund myself, the appropriate coloured pens for each student I teach. My rationale for this is in one of my schools there was so much time wasted in handing out these pens I made it clear to students it’s their learning time we are making more efficient, would they rather waste time with pens (as students mixed them up) or have me give one to one attention in that time instead? Once set, the standards very few forgot the coloured pens for feedback, more importantly, it saved a lot of learning time when doing peer/self-assessment and feedback.

So, I have my own standards and expectations PPT I create which I ensure sit in line with school policy. Due to the changing nature of students these days compared to 8-10 years ago I’m going to tweak it to explain WHY I’m asking them to do this and HOW it will benefit them. Don’t ever be afraid to raise the bar. Set expectations really high, and be highly surprised when students don’t meet them (apparently a colleague pointed out that is what I do). The students do come round (most of them do.). I’ve worked in two schools where SLT & departmental leaders have said my expectations are too high that I need to “adjust my expectations for their students.”  Another school said the students were very special and that I need to be aware of them as students will tend to blame teachers for all sorts.

I have therefore raised my bar even higher, because it I feel it needs to be.

Most schools (not all, in my experience), tend to have a long term (LT), medium term (MT) and short term (ST) plan mapped out, though I’ve not yet received it for KS4 in my new school, I have for KS5. Even if a school provides one, prior to me starting I map out my own LT, MT and ST plans, which I know may and will be subject to change. They key thing is it highlights for me is  where the difficult topics will appear, where more time is needed, can I set more homework/flipped learning for some areas and allows me to set a pace in my mind that is required. This year I will be teaching more Chemistry (my specialism is Biology) so it gives me an idea where I will need to prepare more . This helps me map out timings and clarifies things, as in a new school there is so much other stuff to get my head around.

Once this is clear, I will plan lessons for a couple of days, not much more as they will need adjusting depending on the students skills, levels and abilities  in each class.

INSET/Training day 

Ensure all stationery is topped up, glue, scissors, paper, A3 paper.

I’ll have all books ready, in the trays for each class.

Just incase there are any changes to the timetable, I will double check on those and double check what I’m teaching…again.

I have really learned a lot by working in schools not only in challenging contexts, but challenging times for an ever changing leadership team and policies (another reflective blog later). So double, triple check is what I need to do.

It is important to know where the groups ended up last year before I pick them up, though I’ll have a new HoD/AP, I’ll try and get a spreadsheet of results or access to the shared area and find out the PP & the focus groups for school. Furthermore, I need to know the LACS, and SEND children and any plans they have in my classes.

Once I have the list of pupils they will go into my planner at this stage, colour coded.

I’m better with pen and paper (I know some of you will cringe at that) I will draw out a seating plan for the classes, and my initial seating plan is alphabetical. The students love the game I play that by the end of the lesson I will try and learn all their names. It is amusing when they see me struggle and I forget. A class of 30 takes longer than one lesson to learn! I’ll pencil in the students as there may be some dynamics which are a no go so I can change them around on my seating plan.

Enter the students

They’ll be lining up outside in a straight line in silence. This time I’ll request they have their equipment in their hands ready to learn before they enter my classroom. The new school is a 6 lesson a day school with 50 minutes per lesson, so I don’t want learning time wasted.

They will experience the model of how I want them to enter so I’ll have books laid out on the side they put bags/coats to one side, pick up a (blank) book. Sit down and starter is ready on the board.

The initial starter is always questions to get to know them, their aspirations, hobbies, what they want me to know about them, the style of learning they like (at this point they have a selection like group work/independent/quizzes) etc. It is personal preference what questions you ask. It does give a good insight especially when the quieter ones say they want to be doctors, nurses, or teachers (yes…teachers!  very rare now but I’ve had some), others are into games and want to design them, some play football for the under something ages. It gives you talking points and in science when explaining a concept you can relate it to some of their interests. I recall I was told about behaviour in a particular new class in a new school in September. A year 8 class. When I read their aspirations I knew I had to raise the bar because there were some really ambitious students in there and I couldn’t afford for them not learn due to a minority. Hard work but it was rewarding when even the reluctant learners turned around. One of them thanked me at the end of the year as he was then placed into top set, which is what he wanted, yet at the start his behaviour was dire. So when doing this kind of activity, decide on what you want to know, but more importantly how will you use it to positively impact learning, relationships and atmosphere in the classroom.

Now I’ll deliver the standards and expectations PPT. In the past I’ve related it to Usain Bolt and how he trains for the Olympics. Based on the idea that he has 4 years to train and a 10 second or less window to prove he is the best in the world. Students however, have from year 7 five years of schooling and on average a 1 hour slot for an exam or two, to show what they’ve learned for their GCSEs. I have to think about how I’m going to do it this year as I have mainly 9’s 10’s and 11’s. Once I’ve done it if anyone wants a copy just DM me I’ll send it over so you can use/tweak. One thing I always include is how time wasting builds up.

In a 5 lesson a day timetable, 10 minutes wasted per lesson would build up to, if I recall correctly, about a terms worth of learning missed out in science (that’s off the top of my head, I haven’t done the Math on that for this blog), however it’s a lot of information they would not have learned if there was persistent disruption.

In light of the huge content for the new GCSEs I’m going to include something about flipped learning as homework and why. I did flipped learning for homework in my NQT year without knowing it was flipped learning. It was a failing group and I had to get them to do something, initial basic research at home, otherwise we were not progressing to higher order thinking, as every lesson was simply the basics every time. Yes there was moodiness, sulks, especially when I rang home and the homework was not done and they had to do more science in detention ….they thanked me for the results (at that time they’d done their GCSEs in year 10) and one very reluctant lad commented on now he understood why I was relentless with it. So I know it works.

What do the students expect from me?

Finally, they’ll make a table in their books with 2 columns. One labelled ” What Miss Jeetley expects from me” and the other “What I expect from Miss Jeetley.”

They need to put down 5 things for each. It’s fascinating how students can list what the teacher expects, however, when asked “what do you want the teacher to do for you” students get stuck. Some prompts help here when I say “What if I did not do xyz…” like marking, feedback planning lessons….and it gets them thinking. Even more so, these can be referred to at a later date if I have given the support they wanted, and they haven’t behaved the way I expected. Also, I can give clarification on some points and requests as I go around checking their books. Again, a good relationship building tool.

Students, in my opinion, should know where they were last year and where they need to be this year just so they have an idea of where they are heading. Again, that’s an assumption the targets are available, not all schools will have the targets clearly available at this stage. They’ll write this in their books if I have access to them.

I then will look at the books that night to get an idea and either make a comment or suggestion. Like some students will put ” no homework” and I have to adjust that .., usually by saying “that won’t happen” and explain why.

My tweaks this year based on reflections 

So, there was always an issue with the time it took handing out and collecting in glue sticks, scissors etc. Also, in my last two schools, it was a challenge to get students to my pace of settling down within 3 minutes of entering and start the starter. I was up against a culture as there was so much cover that some students would have had cover all day then come to me, sometimes the only permanent teacher in the day for them.

So upon reading something by @Doug_Lemov a while back, a teacher even practised  routines for collecting in and handing out things at the start of term.

Some of my tweaks are:-

*practice in first lesson passing glue sticks across the rows and collecting them in. Time them and do it 2-3 times to see the best they can do. I’ll give them some things to stick in, one of them being some useful websites with GCSE information.

*practice collecting books, put in trays on their way out.

*practise coming in, picking up their books and starting the starter immediately (I’ll change the slide to have a science starter now).

I’m sure I’ll think of more, as this is a work in progress of constant reflection, and it’s a lot to fit into the first session, so it may go over to the second session.

The next 7 weeks and term 

Be relentless in following up what standards and expectations were laid out. This is very tiring, however, the long term rewards far outweigh the initial tiredness. It’s good for relationship building, shows students the teacher is serious about having a good, engaging learning environment and the teacher cares about everyone’s learning.

School behaviour policy needs to be followed, and I use professional judgment if things need to be nipped in the bud by ringing home, having honest and frank conversations with students. Get pastoral teams involved if needed. Usually asking ” how can I help you to focus, what can I do to help” and if you show you care, the students are quite willing to work with you. It’s either they don’t get it, or they’re next to a person that irritates them. Or they’d like to be moved but doesn’t want anyone to know. There may be other things going on too though that are not so simple.

May sound obvious, plan for their learning journey in their lessons. I read this somewhere, and again I didn’t realise that’s how I plan. When something is inherent to you, you don’t know anything different. I like my PowerPoints, with each slide I look at what do my students know now by this stage…what else do I need to get them to know…how can I get them to understand it…then I look at the activities that fit. I don’t ever look at the activity first, it’s not a case of keeping them busy for me. It’s got to match where I want them to be by the end of the lesson so I can build on it. However, if I see or hear of a good activity I will see how it fits into the concepts I am teaching so my lessons flow. If it doesn’t, no matter how good or exciting it is I won’t use it. My teaching is no where near perfect..its always a constant reflective process that changes topic by topic, day by day seeing what works and what doesn’t as every class, every year, every cohort is different. My teaching has to match that.

For me, every day, planning well thought out lessons with a logical flow (I don’t always get this right especially in the early stages while I’m getting to know my class) is really important. If students see the effort I put in, they’ll be more inclined to want to learn. After all, they are giving me an hour (or 50 mins) of their life, I am giving them also not only an hour or 50 minutes of mine, but also the planning time that went into this.

What will I make happen, what do I want to make happen in that time I spend with my class? Learn knowledge? Be inspired? Build confidence? Every student needs to have walked away feeling they have progressed in some way. It may not always be the knowledge, sometimes it’s just feeling secure to have a go at answering a question even if the answer is wrong. Whatever happens in the lesson, the time once spent will never return. It is important for me and them to invest in it well.

However, be relentlessly consistent so they know exactly what you expect. My classes are not perfect by any means either. However, teachers tend to comment on how they’ll work, or majority are engaged .., yet they don’t see what went on when I first had them to get them where they are. It’s always a reflection and work in progress.

I don’t ever worry if I’ve spent two of the first lessons setting standards, expectations and routines. What I get in return will far outweigh what was put in and the students are thankful for it. I’m sure some teachers/leaders I’ve worked with, including @ottleyoconnor would have some comments to make about this.

Bear in mind, on reflection though this is what works for me, and how I like to work. If you start a school mid year, or pick up classes that have had constant supply, though this will still work, you’re up against a culture so some tweaks or other adjustments may be needed…longer time and patience being one of them along with pastoral team work and improved school behaviour policies.

I was in two minds whether to share this or not, however, some staff I’ve worked with in the past have asked me what I do at the start of a new term. So here it is, and I’d like you to reflect, share and collaborate on Twitter:-

  1. What has really worked for you in the past with new groups or starting a new school?
  2. What will you be changing/tweaking this year?
  3. Is there anything new you would introduce this year and why?

Have an amazing new academic year and I hope all your students are inspired to learn.

Regards

Amy Jeetley

@amyjeetley

Teacher of Science; T&L within dept/whole school

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