Category: Reflections

A baptism of fire.


The new year is often a time of reflection and review. Many of us took part in the Nurture posts and the Teacher5aday pledges. Promising to make big or small changes to our routines or lives that hopefully will make life better for our families and work life balance. Make us feel happier more fulfilled or just different.

I did the same and made a major change. A new job; what’s more a January start.

Now people told me, yes the dreaded ‘they’. It would be hard. A mid year start. Not only did I have to battle the weather, the dark mornings and nights; Its that hard slog term, where the reality of exams is starting to rear its head for year 11, pressure is mounting for  departments. SLT’s are getting twitchy. Staff are getting tired, sick, sick and tired.

I also took on a promotion as well. Not one for doing thing by halves as you all know, I included  a 55 minute commute to a brand new area, to a school that was in RI.

Hey if I’m going to give myself a challenge then why the hell not. I was in desperate need of a change. New scenery, new perspective. One where I would be utilised to my potential. Where I would be stretched, forced to think beyond what I thought I could do.

They had A levels.

First day starts with me ending up presenting at the end of the CPD mini teachmeet style on my classroom practice, don’t know whether this was by design or just me being too keen but what the hell, I’ve arrived. New girl on the block. But I’ve already realised that I’ve got my work cut out for me with my department and haven’t even met the kids yet!.

So my plan of attack is first half of term, easy my self in, play is low key (for those that know me pick yourselves up) get to establish myself with the kids. I take the great advice from Amy Jeetley and Patric Ottely-O’Connor who gave up their time on the phone to talk me down off the ceiling one evening when I had a melt down realising that I thought bit off more that I could chew over the Christmas holidays. Put that into practice. Set about establishing my routines. Follow my plan and learn as much as I can as quick as I can about the school from as many different sources as possible.

First week done. Blur of meetings, tutor groups, seating plans, all the usual. Monday passes, Tuesday arrives and then an urgent email, calling for all staff to meet after school……

Can only mean one thing…..  O F S T E D. Yep they were arriving on Wednesday. You are kidding me. I’ve been there all of 7 days and they are going to descend on us for not only a full Section 5 but there will be 7 inspectors on the team.

An inspector to inspect the head inspector, and a trainee inspector to watch this inspection plus the other 5 in the team. Well talk about the school moving into overdrive.

The school was ready, they were prepared like a well oiled machine the new head was incredible, inspiring, she just asked the staff to do what they do best, no panic, no long lecture, no edicts or demands. Appreciation for what was to come, free lunch laid on every day because she knew we were working late into the night.

All support staff stayed every evening including TA’s secretaries, reprographics, data team, printing off sims data, seating plans, SEN data, photocopying for us teachers, so we could focus on writing the lesson plans, annotating seating plans if not done (i.e. me as I’d only just go there), making sure resources were ready for those that needed extra colours, over lays, etc.) Caretakers stayed to lock up when we were ready to go, the school was open from 6am nothing was too much trouble. To feel like the whole school was pulling together was incredible.

I was checked on by numerous teachers who I had no idea who they were but were just passing and asking if I was ok, did I need anyone to do anything. What could I do, just make sure I taught the best lessons I could under the circumstances. Preparation was key.

The wonderful Crista Hazel, supported me through the Tuesday evening with wise words and encouragement even telling me off when it was time to go home, and eat and sleep.

Wednesday arrived and so did the inspectors to introduce themselves and to say they looked liked ’50 shades of OFSTED’. Did they really all have to wear grey!! and all start with “HI I’m a HMI Ofsted Inspector,” yeah I think we worked that one our for ourselves!.

Anyway to cut it short, I was finally observed on Thursday P3 a double lesson with year 13 which has 4 students in it a Btec lesson where none of them plan on following a science career, they are so quiet you wouldn’t know they were there. I won’t bore with details. But it was OK suffice to say I have to inject more enthusiasm for science into the students. Yeah good one.

I must just say one thing our head sent out an email on Wednesday night just to keep up focus, again it one of pure encouragement, reminding us to take care of ourselves, eat, sleep and keep working as well she knew we were. No long missive of what we weren’t doing. No damning reports of what went wrong on that day. It was such an uplifting email to get at 8pm as I was still writing out my lesson plans for the next day, it renewed me with even more determination not to let the side down, not matter that I’d only been there a few days.

Needless to say we got through and the report was GOOD and we have moved forward and everyone was happy. Well almost.

Science didn’t do so well overall.

Hence there went my quiet intro to the job. Here was me thinking I would be able to get a handle on the characters work out what my role would look like and get a grip on some of the big jobs and small ones, in my own way. NOPE. SLT not happy so my new role began with a vengeance.

I am conducting learning conversations twice a week, book monitoring’s, coaching of a member of one of the more difficult members of the team, (thanks gang) plus head of department about to go on maternity. A Science week to organise, a school trip to organise for disadvantaged year 9s. Intervention tracking for year 10. ISA planning for year 10 at some point. Getting my head around PiXL and start using it. Rewrite the new curriculum for year 9. Support the new ingoing head of department.

Get to grips with under performing year 11 classes and triple year 10 class and get them back on track. Plus teach Physics and Chemistry to both year 11 and 9 which is out of my subject. Ensure new marking policy is being implemented across the department. Pick up some of the primary liaison work from the outgoing head of department possibly if the timetable works. Liaise with new HOD to ensure that when the part timer who has also just told us that she is now pregnant leaves we manage to replace her with a qualified scientist as the impact of not having specialist is major and one we cannot afford to impact our results.

Sort out my tutor group who currently hate me (and that is true). Deal with some very low self esteem year 9’s who believe that they can’t do anything so there is not point in even trying.

Oh amongst all this almost forgot, we had the departmental performance review in the last two weeks of term. Which is your performance observation. So you have a 48 hour window where SLT can drop in and observe any lesson you are teaching during that time. My lessons were the exactly the same ones that OFSTED were here.  I had 9 lessons to prepare for. Last two days of half term. Wednesday and Thursday. No pressure there then.

My first official observation with SLT of the school since interview. Luckily for me they choose my underperforming, low ability year 11s, period 1, Wednesday morning. One pupil just returned after 5 weeks in a pru! ( So nice don’t you think)

Previous lesson they all had a test just had results,  not a happy bunch as realised how much I was pushing and expecting them to work. Data drop just been done, not happy with their levels or commitment to learning I’d given them either.

But we’d had a chat and were moving on as he’s walking in (by the way he’s Head of Maths). Lesson went well I think. Pupils up taking part, asking questions, completing work. That was up until I stood on my desk, and was ready to do a demo. I’m saying to kids, goggles on else I can’t do the demo. I’m waiting, they are looking around, and notice Sir doesn’t have his on, so they all shout at him to get his on. I hold my breathe, he gets the goggles put them on.

Result….. nailed it. Routines established…. Sieve my custard over the Bunsen,  flames hit the roof, nearly loose eyebrows, kids in hysterics, whopping, oohing, respiration and combustion, compared, more group worked carried out. Questions asked, answered. No funny business; troublesome lad, brought into line by others. Job done.!

End of first half of term has come. Who knows what next term has in store. But if this one is to go by. It will be just as exciting.

And breathe.




“The time has come” the Walrus said ….


As I head into the weekend thoughts of school now are raging in my head and I’m looking at the time table and realising that the next two weeks will be given over for my year 10s and 11s for revision in preparation for their mocks.

Part of me struggles with the concept of dedicating learning time to revision but then the other part of me says ” if I don’t do this will I be disadvantaging the students in my class?”

In the dark ages when I was a pupil in a very strict all girls Catholic school run by the nuns with steel ruler; it was expected that revision was done in our own time. We were supported with creating revision timetables and suggestions on how best to revise but that was the extent of it.

It was assumed that we were motivated and knew the importance of revision to ensure our success in our ‘O levels’ at the end of the year. When tests or exams were given, there was no two weeks notice, we were given a day or two to prepare, with the expectation that we wouldn’t need that much time as we were continually revising.

As a student I remember my teachers stressing the importance of independent revision, reading around topics and generally expanding our understanding of the topics we were covering. While all the while keeping our eye on the prize of ultimately achieving good grades to take us to the final step of university entry. Often to the exclusion of discussion of other opportunities or avenues to follow after school.

As a teacher now, I hear myself extolling the virtues of independence and intrinsic motivation and the importance of continued revision. I stress that the more you revisit a topic the stronger the synapses become and the more chance you are of transferring that knowledge into your long term memory. However sadly, this advice is falling on deaf ears. With faces looking blankly at me wondering why this will be an issue.

I tested my theory like all good scientists do, with running a trial, after teaching three modules in a unit, the school policy is to test; so the first time I gave them notice of the impending test, spent a lesson doing revision and then delivered the test. No moans or complaints they were ready and happy to take the test. All doing OK as things go.

Did the same for the next three modules with constant reminders to revise and its importance. Lesson given over to revision again eating into vital learning and teaching time. But date of the test not given out. A few days later gave the test without warning, and you’d have thought I’d asked the class to donate their kidneys. Much moaning you didn’t tell us etc, After the complaining had finished I reminded them, of the procedures, they’d been following for the last year and a term and this should be no surprise as we did the revision lesson so that was a clue! Again all being equal not bad. Some better than others though this time.

Finally reached the end of the unit with the inclusion of the last two modules and I told them to revise ready for end of module test which unbeknownst to them I would give on the Wednesday before end of term. This I did…. well the rumpus that was created on delivery of the test was even worse than before. Plus the results weren’t that brilliant with some apologising saying they weren’t prepared, didn’t have enough time etc.

So does this mean all my advice, warnings and routines are falling on deaf ears? Am I not making my self clear in my expectations, or do these kids really expect me to do the revision for them?

So with that in mind knowing that they aren’t revising on a regular basis, and the school worried about the results. I am forced in to the position of giving up teaching time to revision.

Is this to cover my back to make sure that the mocks reflect a true picture of the ability of the pupils? Is it to ensure that my data looks good for the me and the department especially as we are under intense scrutiny? Or is it because we have got so wrapped up in the fear culture of accountability we can’t let the pupils fail?

Hence, the upshot is I am scheduled for a two hour after school session for revision in the lead up to the mocks. This session I know will be attended by the more conscientious students, the ones who have been revising already through their holidays. Plus it will be the ones who feel that by turning up they are revising (not necessarily taking part but can say they were there) and that is enough for them. But, the ones who for no fault of their own, be it home circumstances, lack of quiet space, availability of IT, or the demands of caring for others don’t get to do their revision will miss out .

Therefore I will hand over numerous lessons where I will have to find ever more inventive and exciting ways to encourage students to revisit the material, to make sure I have given every student the same opportunity to revise. Also because everyone in the department is doing this, I feel I have to do it otherwise I’m letting the side down. I’m putting these students at a disadvantage.

This is the rub, I feel that in my lessons, students are all given the opportunity to succeed and thrive, I teach slowly so that they gain depth of understanding, not racing so that I have plenty of revision time. I provide opportunities for them to speak to me if they are struggling with concepts, have specified drop in times at lunch time where they know I will be in my room. But do they come? No.

Therefore when do we step back and say enough guys, it’s your turn now. Take responsibility for your own destiny, achievements, life and just get on with it or is our role to make sure that they never feel that sense of failure.

I worry that without they will never understand the feeling of true success of never giving up, trying again, and that feeling that you did all you could do no matter what the grade.

So the time has come… Revision it is……


I promised myself I would do this before the end of 2014, so here I sit and reflect on the year gone by again, far to fast for my liking.

This one will be a hard one to write. Some of you are aware of the tough year I’ve had personally and it still isn’t resolved. I think I won’t reflect on last years post but here goes for the best bits in no particular order.

My Best Bits from 2014.

When I read ChocoTzars blog about children who needed a holiday I joined in with the Twitter conversation with Carol Webb and some how agreed to send in a picture for her calendar to raise money for the Family Association,  I convinced a couple of other willing victims, Sarah Wright and Emily King to contribute and finally after much procrastinating and weighing what I might say is my heaviest for a long time, contributed my picture taken by my ever patient husband. It was fantastic to see it finally in print and feel in a small way I have contributed to a bigger cause. Plus it spurred me on to losing two and half stone, which is mostly been kept off.

I also attended this year as a representative of the amazing Nina Jackson the launch of Rachel Jones’ amazing Don’t Change the Lightbulbs collaborative book. I felt humbled to be among such leading lights in the education sector and is often my way felt out of my depth especially when people kept asking me what did I write, to which my reply was nothing sorry!

However I had my celebrity moment with Vic Goddard who was charming as ever and got to spend quality time with Christa Hazel, Gwen Nelson, ChocoTzar, Kev Bartle and of course the fabulous Hélène Galdin O’Shea. This was then followed by an amazing dinner with my special friend Sally Thompson. I felt especially grown up that night.

On an aside I am also grateful in assisting Crista Hazel in a very small way becoming an Independent Thinking  Associate.

Educationally I had fantastic results with my first cohort of Biology triple scientists, they excelled and I attended the results day with great pride in all they had achieved. On the back of this I was amazed to find out this December that I went through threshold and am now UPS1 which isn’t bad for 4 years teaching I guess, I feel that my school has supported all my madness and even though I have applied for two jobs outside of Dawlish am happy that I am still there.

On a personal level I have struggled this year with a visitor that I hadn’t seen for over 20 years but the #blackdog has been a constant companion since Easter (well maybe before) but I acknowledged his existence finally after a very traumatic time with my eldest. Unfortunately the situation with eldest deteriorated even further, but thanks to the support of some very special people both on Twitter and inside and outside of school. I have been able to deal with the situation and have remained somewhat stable, ( if I ever was!)

This situation went to show me how much friendships mean and those who truly care for you are there through good and bad. It was and still is a time where I asked for support and got it. Thank you, you know who you are.

Finally family. Jack turned 18 this year, Charlotte 15 and even though they have their moments they are my reason along with their Dad that I work,worry and laugh so much. My parents are still healthy and doing their own thing, my 95 year old Nan is still going strong. And finally a new addition to the household arrived in August in the form of Bentley the latest in a long line of German shepherds, he is absolutely adorable, (even though after the last three I said I’d never have another dog) he gives me hours of pleasure when I’m alone at home marking and preparing and it’s totally unconditional,I can’t imagine our home without him. (Don’t tell Alex!)

My Wishes for 2015

Gosh where do I start, as this is where I find it hard to consolidate all my thoughts. But here goes.

I want to say goodbye to my companion in the shadows, however we have a few obstacles to overcome with eldest first, so not sure that will be all that easy. But as long as it doesn’t impact on work then I can manage. Our relationship needs work and I hope that no matter what happens he know that I love him.

Again the work life balance is always an issue, I start with great intentions, spinning was going great but then illness took over at half term and I haven’t really got back on the bike since. So come the New year and new resolutions I will climb back up and see how long I can keep going for this time. It will be important to ensure I keep at it as I want to keep off the two and half stone I lost in September and October. I also want to be more available for Charlotte as she is in year 10, quite highly strung with dramas that only 15 year olds have. However with events of last year overshadowing her needs. I want to be there when she needs me either in time or tissues. She is a very special young lady and needs nurturing.

I want to make sure that my next teachmeet at Dawlish goes off with a bang so save the date for Monday 2nd March 2015 for some #TMPicknMix. We are very lucky to have the amazing Vic Goddard to be our keynote this year.  On the back of that I want to attend and present more this year at Teachmeets, Pedagoos and TLT’s having attended all three last year. It pushes me out of my comfort zone and I learn more from these events than I do from other formalised CPD.

My tutor group have been with me since I started at Dawlish in year 8 and they are year 11 now and I want to make sure that they all leave in the summer happy with their achievements, for some it will mean making it through a whole week at school, for others it will be the receipt of a string of A’s, but for all of them I hope they remember me with fondness and madness. I hope that I can be the quiet in the storm for them this year as pressure at home and in class builds, I want to provide an oasis where they can come and chill, cry, laugh and eat chocolate as each and every one has touched my heart in a positive way.

Finally I want to be a better me both teacher and person, as earlier stated, I applied for two new roles this year outside of my school, neither of which I got. However I do want to have more of an impact in the teaching and learning with in a school not just in my subject, so in order to do that I need to be the best me I can be; so think, another year of practice and risk will help.

I’d like to play a bigger role in the success of Dawlish Community College but not sure what that will look like,  maybe that will mean I will have to leave and in doing so I will be looking for that next step so any advice will be gratefully received.

So there it is folks, not as mind blowing as some but never the less important to me.

I wish you all a Happy, healthy New Year and well done for staying awake.



Reflections on #Nurture1314.

I thought it was about time I revisited this post as the 6 month mark has passed and we’ll be at the end of the year in a blink of an eye.

If I was to write my own report for the last nine months, it would read something like this:-

Karen is a hard worker who always tries her best, with perfection being her main priority, however this is also her weakness and it puts pressure on her when it isn’t needed. She needs to learn that good is good enough and know when to take a step back.

She has made significant levels of progress with her classes and her results from the summer GCSE’s reflect this. But there is still room for improvement on some of the topics she taught and she needs to reflect on her teaching style for some of those units.

She is a valued member of both the science team and the pedagogy team with the revamp of the CPD having an interesting reaction among the school staff.

Targets for the coming year are she needs to continue to refine her teaching skills, and keep smiling, because she is doing well.

Right lets see how it stacked up…..

1. To get a handle on the parenting of two teenagers. I need to realise that my eldest is almost a man who is flourishing and doesn’t need his mother as much as he did before, except to wash dirty rugby kit and have bottomless cupboard of food. For my special lady accept that at the moment her friends are her haven who she now shares her secrets with and wait patiently for her to come to me when she’s ready. Acceptance is the key that my offspring are needing me in a different way but I will always be there when they need me.

A work in progress is how I would describe this one. My eldest broke his leg in February very badly and spent 13 weeks in plaster and for a very active young man, this caused major issues in the household both from the physical point of view of being in plaster up to his hip and mentally for him. It has resulted in some issues that are too long to go into here, but the stress that this has brought to the family by his choices he has made has brought it almost to breaking point. Daughter hasn’t responded well either, and spent even more time with friends so now working on that. However on a happier note, we have worked through many of them and he has now started his Level 3 course at college and has some direction back to his life, hence on going. Plus daughter in year 10 and seems more settled. Lets hope so.

2. To get back to spinning and make sure I keep going for the whole year and not let work get in the way. To stay slimmer, keep juicing and try to keep my chocolate addiction under control. This will require me taking more care of me, which I often neglect. I am happy to support others often to my detriment so need to give me the same care. 

Opps! is all I can say to this, health and well being took a back burner this year with issues at both work and home, resulting in me having to stop spinning, eating more chocolate and generally not looking after myself until about May, when I realised I had forgotten about me and have now started back on my own road to health again. So still working on it.

3. To provide a safe place for the pupils I teach. To be consistent, fair, supportive and provide them with the best chance I can give them, to ensure they are able to open every door they need to, ensuring they lead successful and fulfilled lives. To be there for my tutor group who are turning out to be wonderful young people who I am proud of more and more each day.

This one is happening I am happy to say, my tutor group are now in Year 11 with more of them coming to me for support, even those reluctant boys who feel I am harsh by setting boundaries and sticking to  them. Most have realised that they haven’t got much time left and it’s now time to step up and be counted. I will sad when they leave.

4. To accept compliments gracefully. I am still struggling with my daemons who often get the better of me. The person who looks back from the mirror isn’t always the one I see when looking at her.

Ongoing, is all I can say.

5. To keep learning, practicing the art of teaching, I still think that someone will come and catch me out and say that I really shouldn’t be in front of students. I really love my job and just want to be the best I can be.

Totally a work in progress and loving it more each day.

6. I want to develop my pedagogy leader role and make teaching and learning the buzz of the school where our teachers engage in conversations about their practice by becoming more open to sharing their successes and failures of their classrooms.

Mmmm, working on it but baby steps, I have the wonderful Sarah Wright to work with plus the amazing Nann Stimpson who provide me with challenge and keep me grounded often. Here’s to this academic year. We are focusing on ‘Growth Mindset’ and ‘Challenge’ within the lessons and the CPD will be based around those two concepts, plus many more ideas, poached from other great leaders around the country.

7. I need to blog more to share my own practice and accept the great and good who hopefully will comment and help to develop my practice making me a better teacher.

OK not done!

8. Get a school blog started to share our practice and pedagogy. It needs a catchy and informative name suggestion appreciated.

Blog started but needs more work.

9. Push myself further out of my comfort zone and present at more Teachmeets, hopefully will do Pedagoolondon with the wonderful Lucie. Plus have volunteered to help Mark Anderson with a Pedagoo event in the South West and along the way get to spend time with more of the people I have met with through twitter.

Managed to present at# TMTaunton, #Pedagoolondon and #TLT13 plus own #TMDawlish, attended #Pedagoosw however haven’t done as much as wanted due to number 1.

I’d like to work with Nina Jackson @musicmind, if she could put up with me, on what I don’t know, open to suggestions.

Still waiting for that chance.

10. This is a big one to admit to but I’d like to further my career, I have come to teaching late and feel that time isn’t on my side and I want to be able to develop, encourage teachers to be the best they can be. I want to see more openness between departments, celebrate innovation, encourage creativity, allow teaches to take more risks within their classrooms, support, motivate and help shape the future of the young people we have the privilege to teach every day.

Applied for a leadership role focusing on TnL but wasn’t successful, down to the simple point I taught a ‘pants lesson’ a little too left field I think, however I took away a lot from the experience and will keep looking.

11. I still need to dance more, have done some in class much to the embarrassment of my pupils. But need to do it more with friends, family, children.

Definitely dancing more, but more is needed.

12. Be a better, wife, friend, sister, daughter and in order to do this I need more balance between work and the rest of my life. think I had that last year as well.

This this will on every year, although I completely disconnected from teaching over the summer and we all had a wonderful time. Rested and ready for the new year. Best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time.

13. I need to worry less about money, housework, teaching, am I good enough, will I be better, well just everything.

Still worrying.

14. Finally I need to look upwards enjoy the sunshine, splash in the puddles, kick up the leaves and surf more.

Definitely done, I grabbed the bull by the horns a volunteered to be part of the 2015 Sweet Dreams Charity calendar so have submitted a picture; yikes! (you can make a donation at, this was created on the back of @ChocoTzars blog on sending pupils on holiday.

Also I have done more of this this year especially enjoying the sunshine and surfing, will splash in more puddles this winter as bought a puppy in August so this will keep me outside more. Mad I know, as if I don’t have enough to do.

Hence on reflection not bad!