Archive for the ‘Behaviour For Learning’ Category

To anyone in the middle of the “battle”. It’s worth the fight.

December 13, 2012 Leave a comment

This effectively sums up how I now reflect on my arrival as Curriculum Leader for Performing Arts at the city centre high school I work at.

So many parts of this strike a chord. Pupils, obviously talented, lacking the discipline I felt they needed to really effectively achieve greatness. Pupils smothered in an sometimes overly supportive Performing Arts Department which forgave their misdemeanours in favour of focussing solely on anything that could be claimed as a win. It truly was a bird course – pupils found they really did “fly, right through it”. Today the bird officially has flown.

To put a bit of context around this there is a history. In the 18 months leading up to September we secured some key victories with pupils and had the beginnings of a Performing Arts culture within the student community of the school. 6 months after I arrived, we successfully put on a 3 night production of Hairspray after several colleagues commented “pupils would never stay behind after school for rehearsals”. It was a rocky road, and true, we lost many participants along the way. However the performance was a success, with a live band and a cast of over 40 pupils.

September 2011 dawned and our target for our first major success as a new department was to build on the momentum of our school production. Our popular key stage 4 courses seemed unwilling to engage in this style of performance so we made it compulsory for our BTEC dancers to perform in the school production using it as an assessment opportunity. As a department we had confidence that the initial change would be greeted with hostility however the pupils would ultimately enjoy the experience and thrive academically so therefore this would be a worthwhile move. The resulting pupil opposition was carefully navigated and resulted in a much increased appetite for this year’s school production “Grease”. Pupils who once argued over how horrible I was making them take part now cheerfully asked “when are we learning the dances for Grease?”

September 2012 loomed and proved to be the most important test of my Leadership of Performing Arts so far. The department moved into a new, purpose built, Performing Arts department with a specialist music room, practice room, larger ensemble room, recording studio and new spec back stage facility as well as a refurbished dance studio. The school hall now officially became a Performing Arts learning space and we ploughed a large amount of our capitation into new equipment to match the brand new spec of the department.

However, get this launch wrong and we would miss the best opportunity to re-launch Performing Arts the school would see in a generation. We had to reach out to the wider school community and create an excitement around learning within the Performing Arts. We needed to shift an appetite of doing into an ethos of performing. We needed to shift the principles of Performing Arts from copying to creating. This needed a bigger push than I or any of the team I lead had ever participated in before.

In our initial September meetings we made three commitments:

  1. We were going to expect the very best behaviour for learning and respect for equipment and sanction anything that fell short of this.
  2. We were going to open and honest to each other about our successes and short comings and support each other to develop these as much as we could.
  3.  We were going to adopt a principle of trust and be disappointed with any sanctions that needed imposing rather than a principle of suspicion and delight at anything that excelled.

The journey from September onwards was hard. I am teaching dance lessons for the first time in my career as a non-specialist, leading the introduction of a brand new key stage 4 course in year 9 and fostering a brand new ethos within the department I lead. My team features colleagues who hit their own challenges. We targeted passive learners and challenged their behaviour to learning in order to establish higher quality learning. This proved draining as often whole classes were seemingly being sanctioned and asked to return to the department in their own time to redo rehearsals and they couldn’t understand what they’d done wrong. They had of course not been “naughty”. Our no kit no lesson policy in dance resulted in one of the biggest struggles of my career. As the battle, and it truly became a battle, continued, pupils would run away from lessons, become verbally abusive and rally their peers against the new “regime.” On top of this we opened the department at break and lunchtimes to any pupils who wished to come in and rehearse something. This was something I’d passionately pursued in my previous role at another school and had been the key to so many curricular and extra-curricular successes.

Tonight I sit reflecting on one of the highpoints of my career. Today year 11, potentially our most frustrated cohort after the September 2012 changes were introduced, had their “mock.” 6 hours off timetable to complete key evidence that was missing, never covered previously or that would help move grades from Pass to Merit, or Merit to Distinction. The planning for two hours of written evidence that we needed involved a series of 5 minute activities. Our cohort know a lot more than they think they do about Performing Arts but would they engage with a 5 minute mind mapping exercise naming different career paths within the performing arts industry? Would they spend 5 minutes developing notes on their short term goals within the Performing Arts? This was writing, scrapbooks and all delivered by “him” – me, the reason Performing Arts is so “tight” this year. This was made potentially worse by the fact we had the whole cohort in one room and instead of 3 members of staff it was just me. A massive audience mixed with the Performing Arts equivalent of the Grinch. Surely a recipe for disaster?

However, to my delight I have never been prouder. The session was hard. The session probably required a lot of improvement had the big O swooped in. The session was also the most productive 2 hours of my teaching career. The pupils revelled in seeing their progress. They excelled when given limited time. Pupils were shouting out answers to each other’s questions, listening intently to brief explanations. Strangers shouted idea’s to each other, challenged misconceptions and supported each other. A pupil recently excluded for verbal abuse towards me screamed “sir, go quicker because if I stop I’ll be bored and then I’ll mess about”.


The “battle” had been worth every last late night re-planning. Every last minute spent ringing parents, sat in detention and talking to staff over next steps. Every last second chasing a pupil down who was proving to be rather elusive in attending their Performing Arts lessons had come to fruition. Every doubting look from colleagues who began thinking maybe I was the problem with so many behaviour incidents to be dealt with was worth it. Every last moment of dread walking into school wondering if today someone was going to tell me to stop the battle I believed so much in was worth it. It also is truly a team effort. I could not have achieved this without the backing of so many colleagues. Form tutors who mentioned they knew information; Year Leaders who agreed with me in the ability of the pupils to work to such high standards; Senior Leaders, some of whom very much had their arm twisted, who backed me up while improvising their knowledge around the assessment criteria notes I gave them when removing pupils; Parents who came in to meet with me and pupils in order to ensure they accepted change had to happen.

Today showed that pupils who are the most hostile to change can embrace a much more efficient, productive and challenging way of learning. Any pupil has the potential to become a star pupil with the right interventions at the right time delivered in the right way. The behaviour for learning demonstrated today produced more work in 6 hours than a whole term has in previous years.

I believe young people always have the capacity to thrive and are only limited by our expectations of what they can achieve. I know it’s true. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt how hard it is, how tiring, how stressful, how upsetting, how frustrating and how bloody brilliant it is in the end.

To anyone in the middle of the “battle”. It’s worth the fight.


The Expectations Game

June 4, 2011 1 comment

When I arrived at my current post one statement was said to me more than any other. “You won’t get students to stay late or come in during the holidays”. As a Performing Arts Specialist these two things were crucial to the extra-curricula programme I had been planning for the school and left me with a very simple question: Do the students not come because they don’t want to be involved or do they not come because the teacher’s tell them they won’t?

It’s an interesting idea, my former head of department introduced me to the idea that praising a pupil with a specfic behaviour related statement, for example, “you’re always very good at putting you’re hand up” will mean even if that kid doesn’t always do it they will eventual do it because that is what they do for you. They take the praise and will wear it like a badge of honour. I was sceptical, but it works, and continued to work when I moved from a rural back ground to an inner city school. Kids is kids.

Here is a short video I found that sums this up quite nicely:

The model for behaviour is summed up in another video here from Supernanny. Forget Jamie’s Dream School – get Jo Frost on the case. She, with each family, set’s clear expectations for behaviour (sometimes these include the parent’s behaviour as well) and then follows through with them. She has expectations of a 4 and a half year old that sometimes I perhaps forget of a teenager…

To quote a work colleague – pupil’s are capable of making the right decision, if they don’t then there is a consequence.

This for me stretches into all forms of school life. I recently set a homework integral to the lesson pupils were in. They had to go home and print out a chord and lyric sheet form ultimate guitar for a cover versions enquiry. Groups who didn’t complete the homework could not play instruments as they did not know what chords they needed to learn. It was that simple.

Pupils without a pen for an exam, should they be lent one? Why? They are capable of remembering a pen, they remembered their mobile phone. They are capable of buying a pen should they forget.

Unfortunately from wanting the best for our kids I fear the expectation of the pupils delivering the best for themselves is diminishing.

Pupils must face the consequences of the decisions they make otherwise we are failing the facilitation of guiding them to achieve their all.

I’m 4 weeks out from the school production and as it’s a challenging and rewarding experience for the pupils involved and I expected commitment and showed I gave it myself, the whole cast arrived on time for a 3 hour half term rehearsal, with lead parts having been there for 2 hours before the main cast arrived. It just goes to show how if we raise our expectations the pupils will raise their’s.

We’ve gotta stop giving the kids the fish (or letting them borrow it):


Online Stopwatch & Timer

April 5, 2011 1 comment

This may be an obvious one, but I have found many teachers who’ve never come across this! It’s basically exactly what it says on the tin – a countdown timer or stopwatch. I found myself constantly giving pupils an amount of time to complete a task, often then changing it when it took them a while to get going or if I got distracted etc. This resource enables me to keep my pace swift and a really odd thing occurs in that behaviour usually improves dramatically as soon as the clock is ticking…. It’s a brilliant pacing tool and depersonalises behaviour for learning – you can’t argue with a ticking clock like you can with a teacher!