I survived 18-19

This is my last post for the school year 2018-19. I will be back in August/September with some new material.

What have I done this year?

I certainly don’t do things by halves. In the space of one year I have moved house, country, and continent with my family, engaging with a whole new culture, paradigm and language.  This involved huge adjustments in life (just going to the supermarket was one!) and parenting routines as well as overcoming significant cultural adjustments. It’s been a hard year to be a parent and husband.

At the same time I have changed schools and jobs, taking on a new senior role involving acting as the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, HS Diploma Coordinator and the University Guidance Officer. My new school had recently moved from A Levels to the IBDP and this year was to be the final year for the first cohort. It was exciting to be a first time DPC, working with a new program: lots of potential for positive change and influence where necessary.

I have also moved back to teaching IGCSE biology for the first time in six years and picked up a year 13 class which resulted in me having to adapt my normal teaching SOW to fit their needs. It has been quite a challenge; having taught the IB Middle Years Program for four years where I had to adapt the biology curriculum on an ongoing basis, I had to start over in planning and prepping the IGCSE biology course.

I wrote my reflections on my first term in this role up in this post, and throughout this year, as I wrote about previously, I have led training on academic integrity, leading to a new policy, coordinated the IB Extended Essay (which was a unexpected surprise) and implemented a development plan to embed TOK in the whole secondary Yr7-13 curriculum.

On top of all of this I have continued to work as a university guidance officer and managed kids applications to universities in Hong Kong, China and South Korea for the first time, alongside apps to Canada and the US. Korean University applications are far from simple!

Finally, I have undertaken significant professional development, through the UK’s National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership via UCL’s Leadership Colab’s cluster group at Harrow International in Beijing attending five Saturday sessions. I am now looking to write up my 5000 word project based on my role as IB DPC and implementing change in the Key Stage 5 curriculum. Added to this I have attended the CIS-EARCOS institute on higher education  in Bangkok and the IBO’s global conference in Hong Kong as well as fitted in university visits to four universities in Hong Kong.

Reflections on classroom practice

The teaching has been enjoyable but frustrating when I haven’t been able to deliver a much loved course in the way that I would like, particularly after I have spent so much time reading, thinking and writing about my ideas regarding life science instruction over the last few years. I am looking forward to beginning a new course with year 12 in August, and further developing my ideas surrounding using stimuli material to help link the course to other subject areas and generate big inquiry questions, linked to real world issues. I have enjoyed the IGCSE teaching, mainly because this has been an opportunity to take a course from the start and really think about how my ideas for the IB biology curriculum translate over to the IGCSE curriculum. I am looking forward to continuing the course with a fantastic group of year 10s soon to be year 11s.

The major problem I have been consumed with recently, both for my own classroom practice and from a whole curriculum perspective, is how to make the learning authentic and meaningful for students. By this I mean is how can we help to students to see how what they are learning links to the real world, and real world, current issues – to help them understand the global narrative that they are their curriculum is part of. I also mean how can we inject more meaning into the their performances and the artefacts that they are producing. I summarised my ideas in this post.

Reflections on leadership

As I wrote previously, this was my first year in senior leadership and this year has been a steep learning curve in that regard. Leadership is a proper marathon. You can’t afford to slacken off – there are always relationships to be built, and the wrong smile or word can undo weeks of hard labour on this front. This has come home a lot for me as we wind into the last three weeks of a very long year. Teachers are tired, I am tired, the leadership team is tired…..what is  the learning from this?

One thing I have noticed is that my sleeping thoughts, those just as I am going to sleep and when I wake up are much more preoccuppied with work. Aside from the occasionally sunday night worries, or worries the night before a new term start, this has never happened to me on this scale that I can remember. This year it has been a constant feature of life. Several nights a week, for most weeks of the year I have found myself thinking about things that I am responsible for and have no direct control over. I wish my waking thoughts were preoccupied with my own kids but no mostly these are do with the administration of the Extended Essay or something to do with Academic Honesty.

Since Christmas a huge amount of my time has been taken up with thinking about exams! First it was the mock exams and then the May exams. The amount of behind the scenes work that goes into running an exam session is truly extraordinary. There is the exam secure storage to sort out, so that it meets new and ever changing standards. There is the exam timetable to put together so IB and IGCSE exams are in one calendar, there is the invigilation schedule to plan and organise, and find creative ways to make this easily understood by teachers. In our case there was a re-rooming schedule to organise. Added to this there is making sure that all the correct exam stationary is present and accounted for, that we have received the correct exams, that the examination rooms are set up correctly and in line with regulations, that the invigilators are briefed and know what they can and can’t do, that the students and parents are briefed. This aspect of the job is highly administrative but still requires learning of new procedure and reflection on how to improve the processes that we put in place last year.

The approach to exams this year reminded me of prior learning. Some of the conversations I have had this year with colleagues have surrounded accountability and quality assurance. I refused to make personalised exam timetables for my students in year 12 and 13 this year. Not only is this a MASSIVE opportunity cost for me, but it means that potentially kids miss out on a massive formative opportunity for development. The argument that we should was basically to ensure that they didn’t miss any exams, but so what if they miss a mock exam? Surely that is going to teach that student something valuable. I know it did when it happened to me at university. Secondary leaders and teachers have got to remember that we are in the business of raising adults, we shouldn’t be taking away opportunities for kids to learn, no matter the cost, because better learn it now, the stakes are only going to get higher.

Aside from exams, I have had to guide the teaching team through their first set of IBDP eCoursework procedures. Making sure that teachers knew which items they were uploading and which of these were meant to graded and annotated and which weren’t. We also had to think, as a team, about good marking and moderation procedures and practices as well as what were consistent annotations on student work. Again I think that there is still room for improvement here.

Because the IBDP has such a large volume of coursework that is both externally assessed and internally assessed, externally moderated, student and teacher understandings of academic integrity issues is paramount. Next year, there is still work to be done in this area, particularly in terms of improving our students understandings, but we have made steps in the right direction this year in developing a shared understanding of the policy and procedures surrounding this.

Another aspect of the IBDP curriculum we have been beginning to look at this year is the narrative and coherence of the curriculum both horizontally, within year 12 and 13 and vertically with the rest of the secondary school. The first step in this was to look at how TOK brings the curriculum areas together. This involves developing subject specialists understanding of TOK and what it brings to their subjects and exploring links between the TOK and subject areas. We have begun this process this year with some training on TOK and P4C and will continue with training in this area next year. I have been much inspired by Mary Myatt and Martin Robinson in this area.

I have continued to be mindful of building positive relationships and a positive atmosphere, as I identified this as an area of development for me coming into the role. Teacher issues and resolving them, has been the real stumbling block here. How do you build trusting, respectful and positive relationships but still hold colleagues to account for the actions or lack thereof. Managing challenging personalities remains an area for development for me, as well as maintaining my own positivity and proactive outlook when stress, tiredness, and difficult attitudes can make it even harder to be empathetic and understanding of others at times. How do you be an inspiring leader and get people on board with your vision when, at times, you have to call others out? How do you do this without allowing others to take advantage of your attempts to be understanding and to empathise?

Even if I don’t pass the assessment, the NPQSL course has been really quite valuable to me. I wanted to take this course because I recognised that I had a lack of leadership training, if you will. I wanted some exposure to the theory behind leadership for learning.  I have taken away something from each of the five face to face session and blogged about four of those sessions; here, here, here and here.

Finally, At the start of this year I expressed some frustration to my boss about my lack of line managing anyone. I was new to SLT in my school and with the new leadership position I had expected to be formally part of the appraisal process for staff. I felt that I had a lot to offer in terms of coaching colleagues etc. I have come to learn over this year that leadership isn’t about being anyones boss. Instead it is about relationships. I am pleased to reflect on the fact that several HoDs have sought me out on regular occasions for advice and support. I am pleased to give it to them and pleased that after 8 months in a school I am at a position where despite the lack of official “line management” in the org chart, colleagues have felt that they could approach me with questions and that I am able to support them. Leadership and management is far more than box ticking appraisal and I now reflect that I am happy being an unofficial coach and mentor than having direct reports.

No wonder I have not always felt the best on an emotional and psychological level this year, it has been a ride. Time for a much needed holiday . Looking forward to celebrating my parents 50th wedding anniversary in Otterburn, Northumberland with all my siblings and their families. Oh, and I better get writing that NPQSL project up….

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