Are Your Students Remotely Learning?

Remote Learning

The move to remote learning has been a limited success, but it also carries a great risk, both to students and to teachers, unless we focus on the right things.

Remote learning was and is a noble idea. It promises flexibility, independence and encourages resilient learners. Remote learning has also forced teachers to update their technological skills, enabling them to share, collaborate and use content in a much more efficient way.

This, surely, bodes well for the future of education and it prepares students for the real world, where companies increasingly encourage remote-working arrangements.

But, let’s be honest here. It’s not working, is it?

Consider all of the hours you put in: uploading new content, making sure your tasks are both classroom and home-friendly, checking homework, looking to see who the latest self-isolating students are, not to mention the CONSTANT emails/comments/messages from students and parents.

We can add to that, the fact that this increase in workload, coupled with the idea in the back of your mind that a parent could be “observing” you teach, can be panic-inducing and exhausting.

Then, there’s the additional pressure of student progress. Students who are at home tend to fall behind. That’s quite natural. After all, they haven’t had face-to-face lessons with their teacher. Joining in from home on some sort of “live link” just isn’t the same.

Not to mention the fact that they’ve had to share the family laptop with all of their siblings, who also need it for their own lessons. (Of course, this also assumes a best-case scenario, where there IS a family laptop.)

I’ll not even go into the problem of healthy, but self-isolating students who fail to attend morning lessons, simply because they’re still in bed.

So what can we do about it?

In complex situations like this, I find it useful to go back to first principles.

What is it that we truly value?

For many of us (and in no particular order, before this starts an #edutwitter pile-on) it is:

  1. The health, wellbeing and education of our students.
  2. Our own health, wellbeing and development, not just as teachers, but as human beings.

Simplifying our teaching, to address these two areas, can narrow the range of choices we need to make and will help us eliminate activities that take us further away from these values.

What should we prioritise?

  • Pastoral care of our students
  • Developing students’ subject knowledge, as far as we can, given today’s constraints

What should we not do?

  • Expect our students to be independent enough to cope without our help
  • Hold ourselves to unrealistic standards

This period won’t last forever. One day we might even look back on it like we do when we had that amazing “snow week” back in 2010.

Back then, we were cold, worried about our safety, we hadn’t seen our parents for a little while and we were more than a bit concerned about the panic-buyers in the shops.

Now, we just say “Remember when we had that snow week? That was weird, wasn’t it?”

So…

Stick to what you value: Keep yourself healthy and teach as well as you can.

Remember: You aren’t in the same situation as you were in last year, so be kind to yourself and try not to compare your current teaching to how you used to do it or how you would like to. You can’t control everything (and you’re not meant to).

Some students aren’t remotely learning right now. We can help them by breaking down some of those barriers to learning, but we can’t force it to happen.

You are right to be optimistic though.

Teachers are good at optimism. It’s what drives us.

Just don’t let it drive you round the bend.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Leave a comment or send me a message @guruteaching on Twitter.

Andy

Returning To School After Covid-19: What’s The Plan?

Filling in the Gaps

Do you know where to begin, when schools return?

We’re living through unusual times. Students, parents and teachers alike are trying to navigate the brave new world of education, while at the same time dealing with illness, isolation and new working arrangements. Not only that, the mental toll that this all takes is immeasurable.

But one day, it will end. So what then? Do we just go back to normal? I highly doubt it. As the days go by, a new “normal” seems to be emerging across the country and beyond. Companies who once ran large offices have successfully moved almost entirely online. Household shopping habits, panic-buying aside, have adapted with more and more people opting for online delivery. And schools have begun, finally, to adopt more remote-learning practices, emulating to varying levels those of other countries such as South Korea, China and the US, although in fairness this is much more tailored to university-based rather than school-based courses. Will it become the new normal for schools? Who knows. I suspect we will see more of it when we return to school. Watch this space.

It’s entirely possible, likely even, that schools won’t formally return until September 2020. When that happens, teachers will have a battle on their hands. Students will not all have had equal access to home-learning. Many students have their own laptops, of course. But some have very little in the way of IT facilities in their household beyond, perhaps, a smartphone.

Similarly, some families will have been proactive in pushing their children to make progress through the work set by their teachers. Obviously this will not be the case for all families, with some families being crippled by their health, education, or socio-economic conditions, regardless of their willingness to engage with schoolwork. For some (generally privileged) families, this will be the first time they have experienced anything like hardship. As Emily Maitlis recently mentioned on Newsnight, Covid-19 is not the “great leveller” that some politicians would have you believe. It has hit the least privileged the hardest. However, there are outliers, both positive and negative and we need to be particularly mindful of that, when planning our next steps.

There will be knowledge gaps. Chasms in some cases. So, when students return to school, teachers will need to spend far more time ensuring that missed milestones are hit, essential knowledge is covered and that each of your students can access what they need.

We’ve always done this, of course, but this challenge will be far greater, as entire topics may have to be retaught to groups within your classes. Below is something I will be doing to help diagnose the weak points that each of my students may have, on their return. It’s a work-in-progress and I’d love feedback on how you might improve the model, so please leave a comment on this article or tweet me @guruteaching and let me know what you think.

The 4-Step Plan for September

Step 1 – Assess Students’ Confidence

Using a Google Form (or something similar), I will create a list of topics that would normally have been covered and ask students to rate their confidence on each one. I’ll just be using a scale of 1-4:

  1. “I expect to perform extremely well on this area when assessed”
  2. “I expect to perform quite well on this area when assessed”
  3. “I’m not sure how well I will perform on this area when assessed”
  4. “I expect to perform poorly on this area when assessed”

I’ll then send this out to students, using Google Classroom. If you don’t use Google Classroom, you could just share the link via email, Class Charts, Class Dojo, or whatever platform you normally use.

N.B. It might be useful to send this out to students in July and then again in September, just to see how the summer break has affected students. This might be a bit of an ask though!

Once I have the responses, I can begin to prioritise which topics might require more teacher-input than others. Now I should point out that just because my students are “confident” in a topic, it doesn’t mean that they will definitely perform well when assessed. The two do tend to be loosely linked though, and in the absence of robust assessment data, I find that “confidence” is a useful starting point.

Step 2 – Teach the Essentials

We need to make sure that students cover the breadth and depth of their courses that they normally would. This is important for fulfilling National Curriculum and exam board commitments, but also because students have an entitlement to this information irrespective of our statutory duties. The problem we will face in September is that we will have an increased volume of content to cover in a short space of time. I’m working at the moment on identifying the most useful* pieces of each topic, such that if not everything can be covered adequately, at least students will still have a good chance of attaining well in their GCSE, A Level, or end of year examinations.

*By most useful, I mean pieces of knowledge that may be useful in a number of different assessment topics, rather than just in one topic. This could include specific principles, quotes, scholars, or broad themes and will differ depending on the course or subject.

Step 3 – Assess and Analyse

Assessments need to be particularly thorough. Standard mock papers won’t suffice, as they cover only a small proportion of what should have been learnt. Instead, I’ll be giving my students a series of short-answer questions to determine what they know and what they don’t, covering the breadth of the whole course. The questions won’t necessarily need to be in the style of the exam that students are preparing for, it might depend on what I (or you) want to draw from the students.

Some questions might even be multiple-choice Google Form quizzes that I can use to quickly ascertain where strengths and weaknesses lie, with next to no workload generated on the marking end. I can also keep these quizzes to be used by future cohorts.

Managing workload is going to be an even greater challenge than usual in the upcoming autumn term. September to December is always busy, but with the potential for Covid-19 to re-emerge after the summer (according to some experts), we need to be especially mindful of looking after ourselves and our colleagues as much as possible.

Step 4 – Personalisation and Filling in the Gaps

Ideally, the results from the assessment will be uniform across the class, with my students performing similarly well on some topics and similarly less well on others. But it’s more likely that students’ results will be less homogenous than usual. I will be ensuring that students keep a record in the front of their exercise books of their performance in different topics. This will help them to see at-a-glance how well they are performing. It will also, hopefully, provide parents and carers with some form of feedback on their child’s progress in between termly reports and progress evenings.

To personalise the learning, I will be compiling a list of go-to resources, with accompanying self-marked (Google Form) quizzes, so that students can independently fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Students will be asked to continue to update their assessment tracking sheets, to reflect the progress they make on their weaker areas. I expect that monitoring this personalisation system is going to be quite time-consuming at first, but as gaps are filled and students’ strengths and weaknesses become more uniform, the effort required should (hopefully) reduce.

Final Thoughts

My plan for September (or earlier) isn’t set in stone and may have to be adapted depending on the situation we find ourselves in when we return to school. Not only that, but we will also have a myriad of other non-academic issues to address, which in many ways are far more important. Relatively few of us will get through the next few months unscathed, but if we keep supporting each other with ideas and by sharing resources, we will all edge closer to where we need to be, wherever that is.

Stay safe.

Andy

You can also find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

The Performance Related Pay Timebomb

Guest Post written by Bruce Grieg

performance related pay

Performance related pay policies are starting to unravel…

Performance related pay progression for school teachers has been around since 2014. Over the next year or so I think we are going to see this policy quietly unravel.

Why?

Lots of teachers who were starting off at the bottom of the main pay scale back in 2014 will likely have now received their final performance related pay increase. All the problems with performance related pay will now start bubbling up to the surface.

What problems? Surely performance related pay is a good thing? If people do a good job, they should be paid more, right?

That’s the superficial and trite justification for performance related pay rolled out by the DfE at the time of its introduction.

The DfE and the School Teachers Pay Review Board trotted out lots of “evidence” supporting the introduction of performance related pay. But the evidence they relied on fell broadly into two categories. Some of it demonstrated that performance related pay didn’t work at all; or wasn’t really evidence at all, but just anecdotes about how the private sector used performance related pay (STRB 2012, Chapter 2).

What was glaringly missing from this evidence, for anyone (like me) with a cursory knowledge of the field, was the academic research into performance related pay.

There is a large body of research looking at what happens when you pay people more if they do a good job. And that research tends to show that the more money at stake, the worse people perform.

For example, Professor Daniel Ariely at MIT has carried out many experiments which all fall into some variation on this theme: subjects are asked to perform a challenging intellectual task and are paid money if they perform that task well. A control group does the same task, but is just paid for their time regardless of how well they perform.

In many different variations of these experiments, people tend to do worse if their reward depends on how well they perform. Even in rural India, where the amount of money on offer for top performance was equivalent to six months of household expenditure, people did better if they were just paid a fixed amount for their time. You’d think that if you offered someone a small fortune for completing some demanding cognitive task to a certain standard, they would try really hard to earn that money. But no: if you just pay people a fixed amount to do the tasks, they do it better than those who are offered a huge reward for doing it well.

(Source: http://www.bos.frb.org/economic/wp/wp2005/wp0511.pdf)

So what’s the explanation for the performance-related pay results?

One explanation is that having a lot of money at stake creates too much stress on the participant and they just perform less well. If they can relax knowing the money is guaranteed, even if there is less on offer than the “performance pay” group is getting, they do a better job of the task.

Does this sound familiar? Teachers under stress? Linking pay to performance surely increases teacher stress, even for the best teachers. And that might well make them perform less well in the classroom.

A more nuanced explanation is that once you make money the prime incentive, you lose the other incentives which were there before. The greatest reward for completing challenging work is really the intrinsic satisfaction it creates. Whether that’s solving a scientific conundrum or getting all of your bottom set in maths to pass their GCSE. But once you start introducing a financial reward for doing a better job, you lose the intrinsic reward.

I think that’s what we are likely to see soon. There is a cohort of teachers out there who have had five years steadily working up the main pay scale. Each year they’ll have been told that they have earned extra money because they have been doing a great job. Next year they’ll be again told they’ve done a great job. But they won’t be paid any more for it.

This probably won’t lead to newspaper headlines and strikes and resignations. It is very hard to complain loudly about people supposedly being paid more for doing a better job. But I think school leaders will start to see quiet discontent seeping into staff rooms in schools around the country, as this performance related pay policy slowly unravels.

Author Bio:

Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up SchoolStaffSurveys.com after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them. He has previously built businesses in property maintenance and technology sectors.

Website: www.schoolstaffsurveys.com

Twitter: @schoolstaffsurv


How To Do “Teacher Wellbeing” Properly

Teacher Wellbeing

Teacher Wellbeing Isn’t Just Staff Yoga

There probably isn’t a bigger topic in teaching right now than the recruitment and retention crisis. NQTs and experienced teachers alike are leaving in droves, largely down to one of two main issues, as cited by teaching unions: pay and excessive workload. In this article, I’m going to try to explain what I think could be a solution to the teacher wellbeing issue.

It’s not a set of “sticking plasters” (thanks go to @mrbakerphysics, @Mr_JTyers and @JamesTheo, amongst others, for your input on Twitter), but it’s more a holistic way of addressing what it’s like to be a teacher in your school. It encompasses everything that a school can (or should) ‘control’ and hopefully will provide a blueprint to start useful discussions about how to improve and maintain teacher wellbeing, so that our schools can attract and recruit like we used to do in the not-so-distant past.

Simply having an extra couple of staff nights out, free biscuits or a staff yoga session isn’t enough (even if they do add some fun to your week).

Seriously though, we have to think bigger and confront the main reason for the reduction in teacher wellbeing: workload and the unnecessary and excessive pressure that comes with it. I’ve written about aspects of it before. You can read them here and here.

What’s Really Important…

The main reason I wanted to write this piece was not to help recruit and retain staff.

My concern is that many colleagues across schools throughout the UK are now starting to crack. A brief look through my Twitter timeline regularly shows people taking to the internet to share their fragile emotional states, whereas a few years ago they were just sharing selfies and photos of their dinner. Things have gotten worse and for the sake of peoples’ physical and mental health, we can’t afford to spend any more time navel-gazing before putting it right.

Within 5 years of being a teacher I felt this way. Whether you’ve been teaching for 1 or 20 years, no one should ever be made to feel like this because of work. @BBCNews – A teacher’s story: Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat. #breakthroughNotBreakdown https://t.co/BITxjHgK9N— 𝕄𝕣𝕤 ℍ𝕦𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕖𝕤 (@MrsHumanities) 4 January 2019

I have to say though, I’m not an expert. My own work-life balance is often less than optimal, despite what I try to implement. But that’s precisely the issue. I, as an individual teacher, can’t do this on my own. Many of the workload problems that I face are beyond my control. They are systemic or boil down to decisions that others have taken.

So, what can we do then?

Successful Teacher Wellbeing Ideas

In all the conversations I’ve had with teachers, these are by far the most popular responses:

  • Time given to share departmental planning
  • Reduced number of data drops
  • No more written reports
  • A clear and consistently followed behaviour policy
  • Centralised detentions
  • Replace morning briefings or lunchtime meetings with an email bulletin or an online noticeboard
  • Email ban between 5pm and 7am
  • Social activities, eg fitness classes, nights out, ‘secret friends’ gift giving, etc
  • Supportive SLT, who take the pressure off at least as often as they put pressure on

What do these ideas have in common? Well, most of them reduce workload. However, these decisions tend to be outside of a typical teacher’s control. They are policy decisions that are either put in place or rejected/ignored by school leaders. Fortunately, school leaders (as far as I can see) are beginning to implement such ideas and share their positive experiences with others. With any luck (and by sharing this with school leaders yourself) the tide should turn a little quicker.

Ultimately, it has to be prioritised by senior leaders and headteachers. Not everyone is fortunate to work somewhere that takes notice of such things. The results are predictable. Staff sickness levels increase and those staff eventually leave, often with a view to ruining the school’s reputation on the way out, making it difficult to recruit. It’s also a false economy to put teachers under this stress, in order to save money. A multiple of the money saved is then spent on external cover agencies. It’s unnecessary, ludicrous and potentially even illegal in some cases.

Most schools/teachers in the UK are inadvertently or otherwise breaking basic UK employment law… pic.twitter.com/NshX5VQPoV— Tom Rogers (@RogersHistory) March 21, 2019

Successful Schools Who Address Teacher Wellbeing: What Do You Do?

As teacher wellbeing is still quite a fledgeling concept, there isn’t yet a lot of data to draw upon, beyond the odd anecdote. So, send me your anecdotes! I’d love to know what teacher wellbeing ideas your school has implemented successfully (you can stay anonymous if you like). The more we share these ideas, the more they will become a prominent feature of the education system and the less we will have to rely on “luck”, when moving between schools.

What Can Teachers Do Themselves To Improve Their Own Wellbeing?

The video below gives some interesting insights into how we as professionals can look after ourselves. What do you think?

Teacher Wellbeing Resources

Teacher Wellbeing Survey

TeachWellFest

Young Minds – Resilience Course

Where To Go For Help…

Sometimes, reading a blog article isn’t enough. If you have reached a point where you feel as though you need to speak to someone about your mental wellbeing then do not hesitate.

Teachers tend to put themselves through hell before seeking help, out of embarrassment, fear or any number of rational or irrational reasons. Below are the numbers of two organisations who CAN help.

Mind:

0300 123 3393
info@mind.org.uk

Samaritans:

116 123
jo@samaritans.org

Education Support Partnership:

08000 562 561
support@edsupport.org.uk

Final Thoughts…

Teacher wellbeing is such a crucial problem to solve. We owe it to ourselves to do all we can. Please share this. Or share something. Just keep spreading good ideas.

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hello!

Andy

Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload

 Reduce Teacher Workload

Teachers: Are You Too Busy? (Then Reduce Your Workload!)

Reduce teacher workload!” can be heard up and down the country, in staffrooms and online. The truth is it’s one of the simplest things that schools can do to help retain staff and maintain their wellbeing.

That being said, however, some schools aren’t doing all they can to remove unnecessary burdens. Those who have done so, enjoy rave reviews on Twitter and elsewhere, which of course doesn’t do them any harm when it comes to recruiting and retaining excellent staff. The best staff know their worth and will inevitably leave the school earlier than they would’ve done if they feel that another school would trust them and let them just get on with the real job of teaching. Even the Department for Education has begun to take note of the issue, identifying some key areas where schools can reduce teacher workload.

Some of the ideas I’ve listed to below are things that individual teachers and departments can do to reduce teacher workload. Others require Senior Leadership Teams to make brave decisions. But they are decisions that pay dividends for schools with the courage to take those simplest of steps. Take a look and see how many you could decide to do right now.

Seven Ways To Reduce Teacher Workload

1. Collaborative Planning

This is a no-brainer. Too many teachers get caught up in the trap of creating their own resources when others have already created ones that they could use. One way to avoid this is by deciding which parts of the course that you will resource and who will resource the other areas. This way (providing that everyone pulls their weight), a broad and deep course can become much more manageable and will take much less time to plan for.

When planning collaboratively, you should take care to establish a common set of standards for the resources, so that no matter whose resources are used, students are guaranteed consistency of quality (and so that no teacher has to work harder than a similar colleague, unless of course, they’ve agreed to do so).

Standards you might want to discuss with colleagues include:

  • Technical vocabulary list
  • Key figures, scholars, theories, quotes, formulae, etc
  • The format of resources used (presentations, worksheets, online content, wider reading, homework)
  • Assessment tasks, mark schemes, success criteria, etc
  • Permissions to edit resources
  • Potential enrichment activities such as trips, guest speakers, clubs and competitions

2. Ditch Written Reports

This one is controversial for some schools, but not where I work. We ditched written reports as we didn’t see the value in them when the same information was given throughout the year in data reports to parents and in a yearly parents evening. The hours that were saved by not having to write reports, especially those with generic or copy-and-paste comments (don’t pretend you haven’t done it!) mean that not only is teaching workload reduced but staff morale increases. A huge part of the aim to reduce teacher workload is not that teachers don’t want to put in the hours, it’s that often they are forced to put hours into things that make no discernible difference. This is a quick solution that, in my experience, has absolutely no downside.

3. Reduce Data Drops

Many schools still require teachers to submit assessment data too frequently. Some teachers I’ve spoken to (thankfully at other schools) are required to submit assessment data once every half-term. That’s six times a year. Per class! I would ask why that is necessary.

As I’ve written before, we know that the progress made by students isn’t linear. So if a data point showed that a student had dipped, then that often means nothing at all. It’s the pattern over time that counts. If a student had dipped in their efforts or attainment, either in class or in homework tasks, the teacher doesn’t need a classful of assessment data to intervene, they just need a short conversation with the student. Reduce the data drops and you also free up time that was used analysing instead of planning better, or giving feedback, both of which are far more useful. Stop “weighing the pig”, just fatten it up, as you might say.

4. Promote Student Independence

The ability of students to work and learn independently is vital. Not only for courses that demand ever greater breadth and depth of knowledge but in life too. For too long, teachers have been forced to spoon-feed students in order to ensure they gain good grades. This can’t go on. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t do the students any favours in preparing them for life beyond school, it is completely unnecessary. We need independent and resilient learners.

Instead of giving students the answers immediately, you could set them a wider reading list, as I’ve done in Religious Studies and Law. The list of sources includes hand-picked textbook chapters, press articles, YouTube videos, and academic journals, covering the main themes to be studied over the year, broken down into termly sections. I show students where the resources are kept, but I ask them to find, read and comment on each source themselves, ideally in advance of the lesson where it will be taught. This Flipped Learning approach makes such a difference to students of all attainment levels and can be customised for any student to access.

Oh, and you only have to create your list once. It pays off for years as students become more confident in their own resourcefulness and require less and less guidance from you. Click here to read my Three Top Tips for Independent Learners.

Wider Reading

5. Only Create Evergreen Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Just modify and refine it. When choosing a topic to create resources for, make sure that you would be happy teaching this topic in this way for the next five years, regardless of who you are teaching. That way, once you’re planning is done, you can “bank” that planning time next year, the year after and the year after that, etc, in order to focus on something else of use. (This includes valuable family time or having a well-earned rest!)

Also, to ensure that your resources are suitable for next year, don’t just make them specific to your current class. Include a range of activities that you would use with a different class too so that you have to do as little tinkering as possible next year.

6. Give Whole Class Feedback

I mark a lot of essays. I used to frequently lose evenings and weekends every month. That was a time that I could (and should) have spent with my family and I regret not moving to this system much earlier. Here you can read more on why I think Marking Doesn’t Work.

When giving feedback on a classful of work, quickly read through a number of answers, without giving written feedback on them. Instead, jot down on a PowerPoint slide a list of common mistakes, misconceptions and missing pieces of content. Then, read through each piece of work and only comment on things that are unique to that piece. You will find that this reduces workload and it also provides you with a “response to feedback” resource for your class when you hand their work back. They can then learn to look for errors, with the guidance you’ve produced. With enough practice, they will need the teacher less and less, as they develop the ability to self-edit, rather than waiting for lots of feedback.

Top Tip:

To enhance this further, you can use the whole class feedback slide you produced the following year. This will be used to prepare your new class attempting the task. That way, students should make fewer mistakes and which reduces the number of comments needed in your feedback.

7. Reduce Meetings To An Email

Do you ever find yourself meeting with colleagues to discuss something, only to find that the meeting took an hour and the issue could just as easily have been resolved via an email? Well in future, reduce teacher workload by using email instead of physical meetings in the first place. It won’t work for everything and some things are done far better in person, but it works for a lot more than you might realise.

Final Thoughts…

Feel free to share your experiences of reducing teacher workload below. Any extra tips will be much appreciated!

Oh, and share this post too. Hopefully, your teacher friends won’t be too busy to read it.

Andy

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