Living through a pandemic
It seems crazy to think that we are now entering into week 3 of our new normal. After a delayed start, due to positive serological tests, pupils returned and life, with a few exceptions feels fairly normal. One of these exceptions is the fact that we are masked up for the entire day with the only exception being when we eat, sip from water and at break outside. In the 32 degree heat, this is hard going. Climbing stairs is exhausting lol and you can physically see everyone struggling in the warm classrooms – most of which don’t have air con – during the afternoon sessions. And yet there is this positive resilience in everyone because no one in the building wants to go back to online teaching and we will, therefore, do all that is required to prevent that from happening for as long as possible. Temperatures are, however, set to drop this week and I think this will make a real difference to our day to day experience.
For part of this year, I am seat-warming for my HOD whilst she is seat-warming for an Assistant Headteacher on maternity. Ultimately, there wasn’t anyone else in the dept who could seat warm and whilst I wasn’t totally reluctant to take on the role, my relationship with leadership is a bit fractured after I worked myself into the ground in my last school.
Stepping back into the role has been somewhat seamless – due in part to the fantastic team we have here at St George’s. It is like getting back on a bike again. Knowing that the role is very temporary, I make sure I am in constant communication with the HOD as a matter of respect and this gives me greater confidence to lead and in the decisions I am making. As yet, I don’t have any Key Stage Co-ordinators so I am carrying the can alone at the moment but so far this has been manageable.
One of the things I had forgotten about leadership is the lasting effect other people have on you. When you are simply a colleague you listen, chat away and then go back to your day without so much, often, as a second thought. However, as a leader, I think sometimes you carry your colleagues weight with you because you want everyone to be happy and thriving in their roles. In part, you feel responsible for how everyone is feeling and if people aren’t feeling happy – and their unhappiness might not even have anything to do with school – you carry this a bit more. I’m trying to navigate this at the moment and ensure that I listen well, am supportive and help where I can whilst also ensuring that I keep my own energy topped up. I am also super happy that people in the department feel they can open up to me and be their true authentic selves.
The organizational side of leadership is probably the easiest part and I have spent time this past week gutting the English cupboards, which were in a real mess. We now have two separate cupboard spaces – one for stationery and one for resources. And although this is seemingly an unimportant task, organising space really helps form a more productive work environment.
Resourcing is something that is a bit of a struggle here. There are no schemes of work per se. It is pretty much ‘Teach An Inspector Calls’ for coursework and off you go. The reason for this is because of the vast experience in the department which means people simply crack on. There are a few resources on the google drive but no real medium term planning at the heart of it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. We have two new staff this year and I know it has been overwhelming for them. If you come from the English system, everything is very ordered and very well-planned. And to go from being given everything to being given much less, whilst liberating, can really feel uncertain, especially if you having to get to grips with new courses. This is coupled with the fact that I am reflecting upon the fact that we have just become a COBIS training school and will be in a position at some point to take on PGCEs and newly qualified staff and therefore there is a need for greater guidance to be in place.
Resourcing, therefore, is a big priority of mine and ensuring our cupboards are full of resources that are beneficial to the units we are teaching and the texts we are teaching will be something I focus on in the coming months. I am also working with the department on the curriculum (more below) and am mulling over the creation of a Medium Term Plan / Guide to ensure core content coverage and consistency across the department.
Finally, I received our budget and have been very excited about bringing visualisers into the department – a great step in building in more metacognitive strategies in the classroom.
My one strategic / developmental area that I am working on with the department in my short time as HOD is on our curriculum with two key priorities: 1. Re-writing our KS3 curriculum so it is more academically rigorous and 2. Ensuring greater cohesion between key stages. We offer three distinct programmes if you like – KS3, IGCSE and IB and ensuring there is alignment and clear progression between each is really key for me.
We are really fortunate in that we have a department meeting built into our timetable fortnightly which gives us a really good space to work on the curriculum. In our first meeting, I presented to the department about good curriculum design (which I believe is a triangulation of conceptual understanding underpinned by knowledge and skill) and the key questions we need to consider when working on our curriculum:
- What skills do our level 7 students in year 13 need to be able to demonstrate and how do the previous years’ learning enable that to happen? (Priority 1)
- What knowledge do we want to impart to our pupils? Both in terms of the curriculum we offer but also in terms of the knowledge we think is essential for our students to become excellent language and literature graduates. (Priority 2)
- How can we use the IB concepts to foster a greater level of cohesion between key stages? (Priority 3)
Our work has started on skills progression first because we need to be able to assess our pupils at KS3. Last year people were using a variety of mark-schemes at KS3 and this wasn’t sufficient for me in that I believe everyone needs to assess using the same criteria. I had already created a reading progression map and presented this to the department. My HOD suggested adding a strand for intertextuality which I thought was interesting and did and now we have the final draft of that progression map (you can find this in the KS3 resources part of this website). This week, in our department meeting, the department are populating our writing progression map. And then before Oct half term, we will also write our speaking and listening progression map. The challenge is, again, in aligning the three quite distinct programmes but also going beyond specific qualifications to think about skill development. For example, we don’t assess speaking and listening at IGCSE but do at IB and believe it is an integral part of what we do as an international school so want a progression map that reflects this in all years.
We are making good progress with this and I have been energized by the team’s enthusiasm and focus to get this completed.
What’s on my mind at the moment?
- Reading ages – whilst the majority of our pupils have English as a second language, our reading levels still appear quite low. Over the next two weeks I want to cross-reference with NGRT and I am pondering what effective intervention there can look like for us.
- I really want to develop a subject network here in Rome. With multiple international schools, I think there is a real opportunity to connect and share good practice. Yes, there is an element of competition in terms of pupil places but I don’t think this should be a barrier to us working together.
- I really want to develop our links with our two primary schools. I think we can learn a lot from each other and really see this relationship as crucial to the development of our curriculum.
- I want to develop an English Youtube channel – this will be a year long project – that is populated with videos covering core content that can be used in a flipped learning way or as a revision tool for our pupils. I was really inspired by a Maths teacher who presented at one of the Research conferences and just think this would be an awesome resource.
- CTeach. When I signed up to CTeach, I was just a teacher and had a lot more space to work with the course. With an essay due in a couple of weeks, I am beginning to feel more nervous about managing this alongside the HOD role. I met with my mentor this week, who was fab and now need to build in regular time to work on this withing my working week. I am also going to be working with the incredible Hannah Wilson who will be coaching me to ensure I stay on track.
- We are organising the RISA conference this year and I am really excited to be a part of this.
What am I reading?
Currently, I am reading the Early Career Framework book by the Chartered College. This is a really easy read but packed full of useful information for new entrants to the profession.
What am I proud of?
I continue to be proud of contributing to the ResearchEd Assessment book and really pleased that I am putting into practice what I outline in my chapter with the department.
I am also really honoured to have contributed a tiny part to Generative Learning – a new book by Mark and Zoe Enser. I am very excited about this book and see myself spending a lot of time with it.