In the depths of night, you awake with a start in your dusty room at the top of the Grand Nautilus Hotel. You’re exhausted from a full day of beachcombing, yet you can’t shift an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. Something’s not right… why do you feel like you’re being watched? There’s movement in the corner of your eye, yet when you look there’s nothing. Was it your imagination, or did that shadow just move? Was that a sound by the door? Best turn on the light so you feel safer…
Wait! Don’t turn the light on!
I am delighted to be part of the Shadowghast blog tour. I loved Malamander and Gargantis, so much so that I renamed my class Taylor class! We also added Malamamder to the ‘Our School in Books’ section of our website.
Now, Shadowghast has materialised from the darkest recesses of Eerie-on-Sea and I am absolutely delighted with Thomas Taylor’s latest offering. As a reader, I am always worried when a sequel to a book I love comes out as I don’t want to feel disappointed. Gargantis was a huge relief – I loved it just as much, if not more, than Malamander. The further development of the core characters alongside unpicking more of Eerie-on-Sea’s mysteries with Thomas’s marvellous wit and phrasing made for a corker of a book. Then came the worry of a trilogy…
So many books and films fail with the third installment in my experience (let’s not talk about Jurassic Park 3 and The Matrix Revolutions!) and I had my fingers, toes, arms, legs and eyes crossed that Shadowghast would live up to the expectations of the first two books. Yes, I got some funny looks trying to teach like that, but it was worth the wait: this is more of a Lord of the Rings: Return of the King type of trilogy!
Shadowghast is a real adventure, with just the right amount of scare thrown in. Thomas’s trademark wit is back again and he chucks us right in with my greatest fear: missing breakfast. From there, we are dragged kicking and screaming into the deepest, darkest shadows of Eerie-on-Sea. We revisit old friends – like Mrs Fossil – for a cuppa and cake and Erwin makes a very welcome return for a scratch on the chin. The Mermonkey continues to lurk hairily and scarily in the background and Dr Thalassus’ eyebrows are wigglier than ever. Herbie and Vi’s friendship has more storms to weather and Herbie finally has a chance to find out more about who he really is.
I was reading Malamander in class whilst reading this to myself and it was really interesting to see how Thomas’s storytelling has refined and matured. He seems to have really settled into a writing rhythm here and the opening chapter of book 4 at the end of Shadowghast shows he has really hit his stride. His unique world has grown alongside his characters and the subtle hints throughout each book suggests there’s so much more to come.
I always struggle to write reviews as I hate to spoil stories. I’ll leave it here with a simple summary, then you can check out part of Chapter 2 and decide for yourself.
Shadowghast is a fantastic third visit to Eerie-on-Sea. It’s darker, scarier and filled with even more danger than its younger siblings – yet there’s plenty of light shining through to make you chuckle. It’s perfect for the Halloween season and it belongs on every Year 5 and 6 bookshelf.
Below is a section of Chapter 2, make sure you check out the rest of the first three chapters from my co-bloggers below:
This is best read with a streaming pile of Seegol’s chips in hand.
Throughout the pandemic, one thing I have really missed in my personal professional development is visiting other classrooms and schools. Seeing how other educators do things is such a great way to learn and magpie new ideas and unfortunately this hasn’t been possible for a while now. Towards the end of the 2020-21 academic year, with this in mind, I launched the #ClassroomTours project with the aim of encouraging people to share their environments and ideas to create a bank of diverse, unique videos that would help others. We launched with the fabulous trailer below:
11 videos were compiled from a range of schools. We have lovely libraries, cracking classrooms, powerful provision and awe-inspiring offices included. There’s baths to hunker down and read in, more books than you can count, American diners to explore and forest schools to stomp through.
If you would like to share a #ClassroomTours video, then all you need to do is get in touch with me (@MrHtheteacher on Twitter). A short intro or walking commentary would be lovely – or just a nice, clear video of your learning spaces. I shared mine first to show that we’re not looking for anything in particular; I’d say my classroom is very normal, with a few different ideas thrown in, so I hope it helps you to feel more intrepid about sharing your own. We aim to add 10 more #ClassroomTours videos by Christmas 2021.
This blog has been created to compile the video collection in an easy-to-peruse format. Huge thanks to Penny (@pennywpennyw) for the tech support and encouragement. The 11 videos are below, so take a look and start to magpie ideas for your school spaces! Please remember that classrooms are ever-changing, so these spaces will be different in the future to meet the needs of the learners. Huge thanks to everyone who has shared so far.
Video 1: Christopher Harrison @MrHtheteacher
Video 2: Janet Malik-Aziz @JMA368
Video 3: Monsieur Durrant @DHTDurrant
Video 4: Lucy Griffiths @LucyGriff76
Video 5: Toria Bono @ToriaClaire
Video 6: Kyrstie Stubbs @KyrstieStubbs
Video 7: Penny W @pennywpennyw
Video 8: Gemma Davis @edadventuresm
Video 9: Dr Clare Campbell @ClareCampbell7
Video 10: Paul Hume @TeacherPaul1978
Video 11: Claire Filtness and Lily Cambridge-King @Oaklands_Autism
Welcome to the Back To School Bonanza 2021! This blog launches the giveaway and shares the 3 prize bundles. Terms and conditions are at the end of the blog.
So what’s the deal?
It’s super simple: I wanted to organise a huge back to school give away to kick off the 2021-22 academic year in style. It all started with a Tweet:
How do I enter?
All you need to do is like, retweet and/or be tagged into the main Twitter post. Winners will be chosen and named throughout the day on Monday 6th September, so keep your fingers crossed and your eyes peeled!
There’s only one catch really: you must work in a school. As the prizes are so heavily focused on education, I’d like to send them where they would have the greatest impact. If you’d like to enter, but you don’t work in a school, then why not tag in friends who do or the schools your children attend? I’m sure they will be incredibly grateful! If you are selected as a winner, then I will check your bio to see if you work in a school. If you are anonymous and it does not say, then I will contact you directly to check.
Who will choose the winners?
It would not be fair for me to select the winners as I will have friends entering the draw. Therefore I have asked three incredibly kind individuals to select the winners at random:
John Magee (@KindnessCoach_) is the UK Kindness Ambassador for Schools as well as a mentor and author. He will select one person at random from the list of ‘likes’ on the main Tweet.
Richard O’Neill (@therroneill) is a story teller, writer, co-founder of Diverse Book Week and founder of National Men’s Health Week. He will select one person at random from the list of ‘retweeters’ on the main Tweet.
Rashmi Sirdeshpande (@RashmiWriting) is, in her own words, a ‘lawyer-turned-storyteller’ with a real drive to champion diverse authors via social media. She will select one person at random from the people tagged into the main Tweet.
That means you have a number opportunities to give yourself a chance of winning. As there are three prizes, if the same name is selected twice then we will contact that individual, ask which prize they would like, then redraw for the remaining prize. There will be 3 different winners in total!
How will I know if I won?
I will contact you directly on Monday 6th September to give you the good news. You will also be tagged into the thread on Twitter, but I appreciate you might miss these so I shall keep nagging you until I get in contact! Prizes will be sent directly from the donors, therefore they will come within a number of weeks after you are notified about winning. Please contact me directly via Twitter (@MrHtheteacher) if any of your prizes have not arrived within 30 days.
I donated a prize. What do I do now?
If you donated a prize, then I will send the email address or postal address of the winners directly to you via DM so you can send things directly to them. If an individual is anonymous on Twitter and does not want to share their contact details, then I will ask them to nominate a friend to collect their prizes for them
What are the prizes?
Prizes have been generously donated by approximately 40 individuals and businesses. Below, I have listed the prizes in 3 bundles (1st, 2nd and 3rd prize). It’s hard to put a financial value on the donations, however it totals well in excess of £3000 so it’s a cracking opportunity! I have listed business names, donors and Twitter handles next to the prizes, so please give everyone on the lists a follow if you’re here:
Prize bundle 1, drawn by John Magee
£70 voucher from IRIS Connect @IRIS_Connect
£50 sports voucher from ActivAll @ActivAll_
£30 voucher from Strength Cards @StrengthCards_
Three 1 hour coaching sessions with Matt Dechaine @mattdechaine
Free primary dance CPD from Eve Murphy @dancetoschool
Signed copy of Kindness Matters book from John Magee @KindnessCoach_
Big Dance, Roller Coaster Ride, Bea by the Sea and New Shoes, Red Shoes books from Child’s Play @ChildsPlayBooks
Signed The Man Who Was Different from Tagtiv8 @tagtiv8
Ultimate membership from Twinkl @twinklresources
Annual subscription from Picture News @HelpPicture
Skywake book and 30 minute virtual visit from Jamie Russell @JamieRussell_74
100 ways your child can learn through play book from Georgina Durrant @senresourceblog and JKP Books @JKPBooks
Personalised teacher bundle from World of Personalisation @worldofpersonal
Solo subscription to fredsteaching.com from Fred’s Teaching @FREDsTeaching
Online self-care and wellbeing course from Nic Owen @sphoenix78
Are We There Yet book from Lucy Griffiths @LucyGriff76
Subscription to the WelbeeUK Survey Pro from Welbee @WelBeeUK
Prize bundle 2, drawn by Richard O’Neill
£50 voucher from Accelerated Reader @AccReader
£15 voucher from Strength Cards @StrengthCards
Extra membership from Twinkl @Twinklresources
Lost Homework, Ossiri and the Bala Mengro, Yokki and the Parno Gry and Polonius the Pit Pony books from Child’s Play @ChildsPlayBooks
Mentoring in Schools and Cooking Club Detectives books from Rich @Richreadalot
Autumn term subscription with unlimited staff and student access from Mark Nicholls @MarkNichollsMP at Literacy Planet @LiteracyPlanet
Author visit from Karen Stanley @kstanleywrites
12 months subscription to YouTeachMeToo.com from @peteryouteachme and You Teach Me @YouTeachMe
This is a Dictatorship book (following upcoming publication) from Book Island @BookIslandBooks
Bespoke A5 recycled notebook from Andi Best @AndiBDesign
Teacher survival kit bag from Miss K A Collins @MissKACollins
Subscription to @Opti_Me well-being app from Bethany Ainsley @BethanyAinsley of @NuvoWellbeing
50% off subscription to fredsteaching.com from Fred’s Teaching @FREDsTeaching
Transition Talks magazine next issue from Ellie Grout @ellie_grout
Personalised bookmarks from Steph Kimble @MissS_Kimble
Prize Bundle 3, drawn by Rashmi Sirdeshpande
£20 voucher from Rani Tiwana @fidsta77
£15 book voucher from Vicky Hassall @VickyHassall
£15 voucher from Strength Cards @StrengthCards
Core membership from Twinkl @twinklresources
Good News and Castle of Tangled Magic books from Rich @Richreadalot
Best Friends, Busy Friends, Max and Xam, I’m NOT A Mouse and Astrid and the Sky Calf from Child’s Play @ChildsPlayBooks
Subscription to mammoth primary musical resources and training community from The Musical Me @TheMusicalMe
Free historical visit from Virtual School Visits @curriculumwow
Nen and the Lonely Fisherman from Christopher Harrison @MrHtheteacher
Personalised ‘greeting from’ Christmas cards from MsFB-Edu @eduMsFB
EYFS Mini Mats set from Action Mats @Action_Mats
Personalised tumbler from Miss Kray @KrayMiss
25% off subscription to fredsteaching.com from Fred’s Teaching @FREDsTeaching
Poetry book from The Headteacher Poet @duncanmrt
Resilience workbook from Sam Clark @open_youngminds
Epic Year book from Rob Crossley @RobCrossley4
Bottle and string bag from Pro Strike Fundraising Events @ProStrikeEvents
Terms and conditions
The promoter of this competition is Christopher Harrison (@MrHtheteacher)
No purchase is necessary to enter the prize draw
This prize draw is open to UK residents aged 18 years or over, with the exception of the Promotor and their family. Friends and colleagues of the Promoter are eligible to win due to the use of external prize selectors, as detailed in the release blog
Schools and individuals nominated must be in the UK
Entries must be received by Sunday 23:59 GMT 5th September 2021. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that fail to reach the Promoter by the relevant closing date for any reason
Entry is only via the main Tweet shared on Thursday 2nd September
No entrant may win more than one prize. Those who are selected more than once will be contacted directly by the Promoter to select a prize
The prize draw will take place on Monday 6th September 2021
Other prizes may be drawn at the discretion of the Promoter
The prizes are a selection of donated items detailed in the launch blog
Prizes are subject to availability. In the event of unforeseen circumstances, the Promoter reserves the right (a) to substitute alternative prizes of equivalent or greater value and (b) in exceptional circumstances to amend or foreclose the promotion without notice
The winners will be notified via Twitter by Tuesday 7th September 2021 and must claim their prize by Friday 10th September. If the prize is unclaimed after this time, it will lapse and the Promoter reserves the right to offer the unclaimed prize to a substitute winner selected in accordance with these rules
By entering this prize draw, all entrants consent to the use of their personal data (Twitter handle, address, name and email address – or those of a nominated friend) by the Promoter for the purposes of the administration of this prize draw
The promoter may disqualify any entrant whose entry does not comply with these terms and conditions (in Promoter’s sole opinion) or who, in Promoter’s sole determination, has acted in a manner that is fraudulent, dishonest, or unjust to other entrants including, without limitation, tampering with the operation of the prize draw, manipulating or rigging votes, hacking, deceiving, cheating or by harassing or threatening other entrants or a representative of Promoter
By entering the prize draw each entrant agrees to be bound by these terms and conditions. These terms and conditions are governed in accordance with the laws of England and entrants to the prize draw submit to the jurisdiction of the English courts.
We’re at that time of year where people start to get the dreaded back-to-school jitters. Many of us are starting to have broken sleep or extra early mornings and some will have already blown the dust off their work laptop as they mentally prepare for the new academic year.
We all work very differently. I like to get everything cracked immediately as I can’t shut off or rest with my mind ticking over constantly. Others prefer to enjoy their break before getting stuck in when they’re refreshed and ready. Many like to bounce between work and break. However you choose to work (and please make sure you consciously choose, rather than doing what simply fits in with others!), these 5 cracking classroom commandments will help you to get the best out of your learning environment from day one:
1. Know thy children
Every decision made in the classroom should be underpinned by two key questions: how will this benefit my children? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Your classroom environment should reflect the needs and lives of the learners within it: they should see themselves fitting in and they should feel safe, welcome and valued. With this in mind, our classrooms should change with our learners and therefore neither are ever the finished product.
As Dylan Wiliam so eloquently put (minus the cheeky typo):
Every school has its own unique context. What works in one setting might not work in another – again, as Dylan Wiliam said:
“Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.”
Yes, you might see snazzy photos of classrooms with hessian boards, fairy lights, funky furniture, motivational quotes (I have all of these!), but that might not work for you and your class. Knowing your children is critical: the essential oils my class loved this year might be hated by my class next year, so I have to reflect and adapt constantly – as we all do.
2. Know thy policies
It’s all well and good asking what other people do, but at the end of the day you will be measured and quality assured against school policies and expectations. Adhere closely to these documents, such as the behaviour policy and display policy, and this will give you a great starting point when creating your learning environment. Some schools will give more creative freedom than others, so I would recommend familiarising yourself with key documentation and expectations before accepting a job in the first place.
If you disagree with a policy, then ‘manage up’. Stick to the guidelines set and support them publicly, but share your feelings and challenge ideas professionally in private from a research and experience-based perspective.
3. Thou shalt beg, steal and borrow
Why take the time to make something that already exists? So many of us dedicate precious time to making and prepping resources, however 99% of the time you can get hold of something as good – if not better – for free! Try it: ask for something on Twitter and tag in some larger accounts for a greater reach. You’ll be generously inundated with awesome ideas in a matter of minutes. I always give people this golden rule: “If you don’t ask, then you don’t get.” By this, I mean you might as well try asking because, who knows, you might save yourself a lot of time and work! Just remember to credit the original maker though, especially if you go on to share what you make as a result. If you post it on TES, pretending it’s your own so you can make a few quid, then shame on you. You’re off my Christmas card list.
Visiting other classrooms is one of the best ways to bank ideas – hence why I started the #ClassroomTours YouTube channel (available here: https://youtube.com/channel/UCZ9efPXYrEEeOGjO5I-2-eA). I love having a good nosey at my colleagues’ classrooms because there’s always something I can take away and use – in your own school, they’re also highly likely to conform to school policy already, so that’s an added bonus! Twitter is also a great place to collate ideas, as are other social media platforms, and with some careful curating you can bank heaps of cracking ideas and resources.
To put it simply: there is no shame in asking for help.
4. Thou shalt do what thou enjoys
You should enjoy being in your classroom. We spend a huge chunk of our lives at work, so we might as well like the space we’re in! Classrooms often reflect their teachers, especially in schools with more creative freedom, and we should encourage our colleagues to feel seen and heard in school as much as the children are. A carefully constructed hybrid classroom, where the children and adults enjoy spending their time there, is a wonderful outcome that inevitably improves wellbeing all round.
5. Thou shalt start with less
I’m a big believer in ‘less is more’, especially at the start of the academic year. Firstly, this helps to avoid sensory overstimulation, however your classroom should also be a growing, evolving entity that you add to over time. As you get to know your children and as you explore curricular tangents, your learning space should reflect this journey. If it doesn’t, and you have simply filled the walls and spaces as early as possible, then in my opinion you are creating white noise rather than learning opportunities / reflections. Personally, I’d much rather have too little and keep adding to it than have too much and bin or remove things I’ve taken a lot of time to put together. I guess I’m kind of repeating the first commandment in a way here, but that’s because it’s so blummin’ important!
I suppose my blog title is kind of click baity… these aren’t really commandments – they’re more like suggestions. They weren’t inscribed on a tablet discovered under a shaft of light in the school attic, I thought of them whilst watching my two-year-old son push other children over at a soft play centre. I would strongly suggest giving them a go though (my ideas, not pushing children over at soft play).
Whilst reading recently, I stumbled back across one of my favourite quotes. Michelangelo, arguably one of the most famous sculptors in history, said this when asked about his sculpture of an angel:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
It got me thinking about how we view children and our role around educating them. In my experience, there are two types of educator: those who want to add what they want to children and those who want to discover who each unique child really is under the surface. Whilst I agree that it is important to impart wisdom and knowledge, I feel that it is vital to help children to explore who they are beforehand.
One example where this can be applied is within the behaviour debate. Should we bombard children with expectations and routines, or should we unpick their choices and chip away their challenges? Obviously, this isn’t a binary conversation and a combination of both can work very well, but I worry that we can fail to see the wonderful individual who is often shrouded in a cloak of conflict and challenge. Relentless routines might hide some of these difficulties, however truly dealing with the underlying processes will help children throughout their lives. If we can help them to process, understand and explore their trauma, then they stand a better chance of coping with it in the future – maybe they could also find themselves able to help others in similar situations.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
I view my role as an educator and parent rather like the quote above – also from Michelangelo. It is my job and my duty to help children to discover who they are, not to tell them who they should try to be.
It’s just a short blog today. A musing I suppose. I’m left wondering if I always do my best to see the angel within the marble: do I always look past the presented behaviour as I strive to find the wonderfully unique individual hidden within? What will I do to be better at this in September?
#Edutwitter is as divisive as it is useful and you’ll see regularly that new Tweeters are cautiously advised to take the rough with the smooth. There’s always some sort of argument going on in the background, usually revealed by cryptic subtweeting and blatant screenshots, or sometimes argued out in the open. The nastiness that can often bubble up – especially during the holidays when we have more time to be cross – can be really upsetting to be around and it has let to great Edutweeters leaving the platform. Twitter’s character limit often reduces discussions to binary arguments that get increasingly heated, often leading to blocks and pile-ons that can go on for days or even weeks, and it’s such a pointless allocation of time and energy – especially when we’re all absolutely exhausted.
Every educator is different. They bring their own unique skills, experiences and prejudices to the table and as a result, no two teachers are ever exactly alike. Also, every educational establishment has its own unique context and challenges that make it completely different to any other teaching environment in the world. With this in mind, there’s bound to be disagreements along the way as there’s simply more than one way to skin a cat.
When I was learning to drive in my dad’s knackered, old Toyota Avensis, my mother kept giving me the same advice: every time I started to flap or get upset about what someone else did, she used to say “Forget about the idiots in front and behind; worry about the idiot in the middle.” She was trying to tell me to focus on myself and not worry about what other people are doing: whatever they do, I am my own self and I need to navigate my own way down the road.
I believe we can apply this same advice to education and Edutwitter. Firstly, let’s look at things numerically:
– There are 8.9 million pupils attending 24,400 schools in England in 2020/21
– There were 548,078 teachers in the UK in 2019/20
– According to Unicef, on any given school day, over 1 billion children around the world head to class.
– There are estimates that there are between 4 and 7 million schools in the world.
– UNESCO estimates there were approximately 94 million teachers in the world in 2020.
Based on these numbers and my prior statements about teachers’ uniqueness, that means that there are 94 million different sets of educational opinions around the world – and that’s not factoring in the huge number of people who work around education, from TAs to admin staff, teacher trainers and consultants. A conservative estimate would be that there are more than 250 million people working in and around education and all of them will have their own opinions and ways of doing things. I appreciate they aren’t all on Twitter, but even if 1% of them are then that’s 2.5 million collections of ideas and experiences rattling around a free-speech, public platform. As soon as we begin to appreciate this, we can see where the arguments and falling out come from.
Before we weigh in on an argument, I believe there’s a few things we should consider:
– Is this worth my time or energy?
– Are our disagreements rooted in our differences?
– Have I experienced the exact same context as the person I’m talking to?
– Can I fully express myself with a character limit? Can others?
– Do I speak for my 250+ million colleagues? Do they speak for me?
– Does the person I disagree with represent my 250+ million colleagues, or are they sharing their unique views?
– Am I worrying more about what other people do instead of accumulating ideas and strategies to implement myself? Am I ‘worrying about the idiot in the middle?’
Every single statement on Edutwitter is an opinion, not a fact. Opinions are like arseholes: everybody has one and some of them are bound to be full of shit. Debate and discussion are really healthy, however there’s absolutely no point in being drawn into unproductive arguments. Our families and friends deserve that attention far much more. There will be some outliers – I appreciate some people might try to bait you and some people love the attention and the spotlight, but saying your piece and moving on (or ignoring them entirely) is far more healthy than giving them a platform if they do this. If it’s simply a disagreement or a divergence of opinions, then recognising this in the conversation makes a huge difference.
I guess, in a nutshell, what I’m trying to say is to look after yourself. There will be people out there who agree or disagree with every single thing that you do and you’ll do the same with the opinions and actions of others. Don’t let yourself be hammered with the opinions of others and don’t force your opinions on them. Remember: don’t worry about the idiot in front or behind, worry about the idiot in the middle.
So here goes: my first blogged book review and my first blog tour…and on my birthday no less – what a treat!
I came across Ian and James on Twitter via the #Edutwitter and #BookTwitter circles, within which there seems to be much of an overlap. Back in April, Ian asked if I would like to be part of the book launch blog tour and, to be honest, I was a little bit worried. I really wanted to, but what if I wasn’t keen on the book?! I know both Ian and James are wonderfully talented and kind, however it’s always a risk saying yes to something you have yet to read.
When Nen turned up in my pigeon hole at school, I ripped the packaging open and ran up the 8 (yes, 8!) flights of stairs to my classroom. I hunkered down on the sofa in my reading area with some pastries, crossed my fingers – which is tricky with a croissant in hand – and cracked open the book…
Needless to say, my worries were completely misplaced: I put my snorkel on and dived into the pages filled with colour and heart and I loved every moment. I was angry at times, seeing real-world struggles interwoven in and amongst true love and care, yet I smiled from ear to ear when love was allowed to flourish and I was left with a full heart and a feeling of hopefulness. Luckily for me, I had arrived at school extra early and I had time to reread Nen again and again – although I must admit I might have spilled pastry crumbs on some pages as I excitedly scanned through. This book is beautifully crafted and the accompanying illustrations by James Mayhew create such a wonderful level of colourful vibrancy that you really need to pause on each page for a moment after reading, just to enjoy the artwork. The two-page, sideways spreads were particularly stunning and I loved how they showed the depth of the ocean alongside the depths of the story. The seas are such a powerful metaphor for life: stormy at times, calm at others and capable of being endlessly beautiful. Via this metaphor, I really felt the struggles and pride pouring from both Ian and James: this may be a fictional story, however it felt deeply rooted in real life.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. With books, however, we teachers can see them live on endlessly as children discover them. The very next day I had the absolute joy of watching a young learner see himself in the pages after I left the book near his table (the children saw me reading it the previous day and there’s always a mob trying to get hold of my latest page-turner!). Nothing is more valuable to me as a teacher, and as a parent, than children feeling seen and heard. This young chap came to me afterwards, glowing, and asked if his parents could borrow it as he was having some challenging conversations with them at home. “Of course!” I said. He lingered for a moment and said, “Mr Harrison, did you know that this is really similar to what The Little Mermaid should have been?” I could see the parallels, but I asked him to tell me more as I wasn’t sure what he was talking about yet. “Did you know that it was originally meant to be a story about same-sex love?” he continued. Well, I must admit that I was completely oblivious to this fact (discussed in greater detail here: https://www.pride.com/movies/2019/7/08/little-mermaid-was-originally-metaphor-unrequited-gay-love) and I was delighted to learn something new.
All in all, this is a delightful book with a powerful and punchy message underpinning it: everyone deserves to feel loved and everyone has a right to give their love freely to those who deserve it. The way that same-sex relationships are normalised and beautifully celebrated in this book creates a powerful platform for young (and older!) readers as it helps them to see the world without their blinkers on, which is something so sorely needed in today’s society. Books like this give me hope, as an educator, that my children will see and love themselves for who they are, not who they are told to be.
I’ve been looking back over my blogs and I’ve noticed a pattern: a lot of my journey and learning that I have shared tends to have somewhat of a negative undertone. My blogs often share the challenges I have faced and what I learned throughout those incredibly tough times, however I feel I need to more effectively communicate the huge, overwhelming positives I have experienced along the way. I was once accused of being ‘sickeningly, unendingly positive’ by someone I worked for in a previous life, many moons ago, and I lost that along the way. I’m starting to rediscover it now.
I’m a big believer in silver linings. Every challenge has a positive side – often something wonderful we can overlook whilst we’re wading through the muck and bullets. For me, the greatest positive has been the people I have met on my journey. The staff, the children and the wider community. I’m going to share who and why below and hopefully – especially if you’re having a tough time – it might help you to find a silver lining or two to hold onto.
Every single negative experience I have had in schools has centred around poor leadership. Heads and Executive Heads who bully, manipulate, threaten and intimidate have sadly formed the bulk of my experience, despite them being hugely outnumbered by wonderful leaders around the world. Alongside these workplace thugs, however, I have met incredible staff teams who truly go the extra mile as they pick up the pieces in incredibly challenging circumstances. I have taken lifelong friendships with me as I left schools and I will forever be thankful to the teams I was lucky to collaborate with.
Why did we all enter the profession? We want to work with children: it’s as simple as that. Teaching the next generation of world leaders and game changers is a huge honour and I think it makes our chosen profession as noble as it is challenging. I have laughed and cried with my classes and we have grown together, forming those bonds where every year we classroom practitioners are convinced that each class and each child we work with is our favourite. I have done my best to see my classes through to the end of the year, despite my personal changes and circumstances, because I know how hard mid-year changes are for us all – especially children. I have loved every child I have had the pleasure of teaching, bar none, and I miss each and every one of them terribly. They brought smiles, colour and magic to my rainy days.
I have worked with some of the most diverse, deprived, wonderful and challenging communities in the country and I have learned a huge amount about what it means to be human. The school communities I have worked alongside have made me a better person, teacher and father. I have made mistakes along the way and I have met my fair share of challenges in the community, yet we all share the same common value: we want our best for the children in our care.
I heave learned far more than I have taught: I have learned that people are wonderful and they will always surprise you if you give them a chance; I have learned that every cloud has a silver lining if you look closely enough.
Recruitment is a two-way process: not only are schools looking for the right people to join their team, you are also looking for the school in which you can flourish. Interviews work both ways, where the candidate is interviewing the school as much as the school are interviewing them. This, in my opinion, is really important to remember when you are looking for the right school for you. It’s also important to remember this if and when a school don’t appoint you: if you weren’t the right fit for them at that time, then they weren’t the right fit for you either. I want to explore – via my personal experiences – why it is so important that we find the right school for ourselves; why we should carry out our due diligence in the job hunting process rather than pushing for anything and everything. I have chosen to share this now as the Summer term is peak season for job hunting, so please listen to and learn from my experiences if you are currently looking for – or considering – a new school or role.
Bad experience 1: out of the frying pan and into the fire
I left my first teaching school after three years. There’s a whole story behind why I left that I might share in detail one day, but it was a really hard time and I was deeply hurt by the process. At this time, a friend signposted a position at a ‘outstanding’ school within my commute range. Interestingly, this job required no observation as I was told I would not be class-based, the interview was carried out at my current school and they wouldn’t let me visit when I asked the Executive Head if I could. Alarm bells should have been ringing, but I really liked the Head and the Associate Head was a friend and mentor of mine, so I took a leap of faith. In the September I started, Ofsted came in and the school slipped from Outstanding to Special Measures. Then, everyone started to leave. I was the Deputy, 100% in class teaching Year 2, EYFS lead (despite there already being a fantastic EYFS lead in post), KS1 lead, phonics lead and leading a range of subjects that weren’t my main strengths. The Head and Associate head left by the January due to the horrendous bullying from the Executive Head and Standards Lead, both of whom were cruel and opportunistic. The subsequent Associate Heads left for the same reasons and the full force of bullying and harassment was directed at me in an effort to shift the Ofsted grade blame (despite it landing the September I started), as it had been with all the other staff who had left. It was brutal. My union were blown away by the illegal actions carried out by the Executive Head and they told me to do an exit interview, cut and run to save myself. I did so after seeing my challenging class through an awfully tough year – I’ll never abandon a class during the school year if I can help it. The Executive Head hid from any form of challenge, so I dealt frontline with scared and angry parents and carers alongside shocking behaviour and a terrified staff body. Luckily, the Executive Head and Standards Lead left soon after I did, however both were congratulated by the Trust on a job well done – despite both sister schools being in Measures as they departed.
Bad experience 2: overload
In my haste to leave, I intended to apply for anything and everything I could find. There was only one job on the market, so I jumped in and went for it. My first alarm bell should have rung when the Head told me in interview that he didn’t want a Deputy, but that the trust had told him he needed one so he could support more schools. My role was vast: Deputy Head, EYFS lead, KS2 lead, curriculum lead, maths lead, phonics lead, teaching 100% of the week in Nursery, Reception and two Year 1 classes due to staff loss, assessment lead, mentor to three (wonderful) student teachers and the head was out 1-4 days per week so I was head of school in their absence. I was forced out, told that I had failed my probation despite being 4 months past it finishing and passing everything, as the head needed to save money. I also found out subsequently that the business manager had told the head I did nothing in his absence and that she ran the school when he was out – he didn’t bother to ask any other member of staff about it, or me! When Ofsted came in, 2 of their 4 key lines of enquiry were for me (EYFS and Phonics) and the team smashed it. They did the same in the Local Authority moderations and EYFSs consultancy and were heavily praised. The head came to see me afterwards and offered me a job: the exact same work commitments, but on lower pay and demoted to Assistant Head because I “couldn’t handle deputyship”. I politely declined, yet he told the staff I would be “back very soon” when it was announced to the full staff that I was leaving. He even winked at me when he did this, so that was the final nail in the coffin! It quickly became apparent that he hadn’t expected me to land a new job so quickly and that he had assumed, because it was late in the year, that I wouldn’t find a new post. He had gambled on me being desperate to stay so he could keep me for £10-15,000 cheaper, however his gamble did not pay off.
One problem when you’re searching for jobs is that if you move around too much, then potential employers are going to worry. They might think you don’t stick with things or they might assume you’re not good enough to handle the positions you’re trying to apply for. After leaving one school and doing one year in two schools back to back, I needed to be really careful with where I went next. Three years of school jumps in a row would not look good on my CV, so I needed to take a big step back and think about what would be best for me. I’ve detailed my decision here in my first ever blog post (https://mrhtheteacher.wordpress.com/2020/02/23/im-still-standing-just-a-little-further-back/), so I won’t go into it too much now, but I want to share the benefits of finding the right school – the school that I found next:
The right school
This time, I had a few options. I went with my heart and I chose to step back and build myself back up. I chose a school based on the kindness and empathy that I saw and I am delighted to work in the same school over three years later. I work with a Head who seeks out people’s strengths and loves, then asks them to lead on things they genuinely enjoy so they can thrive. This, coupled with the wonderful team and school community, is why I have jumped into my reading journey so heavily this last couple of years: because my school actively encourages me to be me. I’m Assistant Head and KS2 lead, I lead on English and I have asked to take on curriculum design. Our head looks after the team and he constantly worries about overload and wellbeing, so he will not let the team take on too much (although I do worry that he takes on too much at times whilst trying to protect the team – I make sure I nag him regularly!) He understands that letting people do what they love significantly boosts morale, work quality and wellbeing alongside the hugely positive impacts on pupils and their learning journeys. My own health, happiness, teaching and leadership qualities have grown significantly, as have my confidence and self-esteem.
Those who have followed me on Twitter for a while might have seen the shift. I’m much more open and my obsessions for reading, writing and curriculum design are coming through more and more. That’s because I’m encouraged to do what I love every day at work by a team in which I feel valued and loved – the feeling is mutual!
Why am I sharing this? It’s deeply personal, but I have no shame in where I have been. These examples are the tip of the iceberg and I have come through an awful lot. It has made me appreciate what I have now so much more. I don’t believe in pretending to be perfect, I believe in sharing a real picture of my journey – warts and all. I’m sharing this because I want everyone to find the school in which they can thrive. Learn from my mistakes: don’t take the first opportunity that comes, make sure it is the right choice for you. Dont fret that other people are getting jobs and you’re still searching; some people just need longer to find the right match. If there isn’t something for you out there yet, then working on supply is a wonderful alternative where you will learn so much – you might even stumble across the perfect school!
Recently, I have started sharing more and more of my resources via Twitter, Dropbox and email. Why? Well they’re nothing particularly special, unusual or amazing: often, I share simple documents and lesson sequences (although I am super chuffed with our curriculum model, help yourself https://www.dropbox.com/sh/njmylzbgossab6u/AACgv7zChrekIPZCpaLj3IXJa?dl=0). I have a couple of reasons behind my sharing and I’m going to share them with you (see what I did there?) with the hope that more people feel that they can share as well.
So why do it?
Time. That’s my simple answer. If I’ve put the time into making something, the chances are that someone out there is hoping or needing to make something similar. If I can share my documents and save time for the other person, then that’s wonderful. I tried to calculate some shares a while back, bear with me as I’ll make some sketchy assumptions within it:
I shared a set of phonics support resources to around 250-300 people (available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mb8trknfdij5wa6/AACGi0odT2ZAKdkGBzoysfU3a?dl=0). They took me around 8 hours to create and collate. If everyone uses them, then that’s 1,250-1,500 cumulative hours saved. More realistically, 50 of that original group might use the resources (and some will most likely cherrypick what they need or use it as a starting point), but even then we could be looking at hundreds of hours saved cumulatively. All from about 3 hours of me emailing. Now I use the free version of Dropbox, so it’s even quicker and easier.
Time saved has a huge bonus: more time avaliable = more time for things you want = happier people. Even if my resources make one person’s day easier then, in my opinion, it is well worth sharing. Time is a currency shared by us all and it is in short supply, so clubbing together makes a lot of sense.
It doesn’t need to be amazing
As I said earlier, my resources are nothing special! I’m not charging for them and they work well for me and my class. I share them with the hope that they give others a starting point from which they can create their own resources. Take this science unit for example, available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/lklbgve0j7nugtd/AAAE9s3UMmsjwedHUXVoUG5sa?dl=0. It’s not going to be used as a nationally scrutinised lesson on Oak Academy, but I worked hard on it and I think my cohort will enjoy it. My 3-4(ish) hours spent putting it together were enjoyable as I boosted my subject knowledge whilst researching – sharing this will hopefully give others a useful starting point, even if they only use bits and pieces.
When I shared our new curriculum model, our Curriculum of PRIDE (available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/njmylzbgossab6u/AACgv7zChrekIPZCpaLj3IXJa?dl=0), I hoped the maths would stack up even more as this key document was backed by around 30 hours of hard work – not counting the additional hours of reading and research behind it. Imagine saving someone even half of that time, I’d be delighted if someone did that for me!
Here’s a couple more links with resources you might find helpful:
Many people found this report writing script useful when I shared it on Twitter. Using a template like this can save you heaps of time when you’re writing reports:
Loads of people on Twitter have told me that they don’t want to share resources because they worry their ideas are not good enough. I hope more people feel brave enough to share so we can club together and help each other out. I think of Twitter not only as a staffroom (thanks to Mia @MissBTeaches_), but also as being like a huge shared drive full of treasures waiting to be explored and shared.
Give it a go
Try asking for something you need after reading this blog and see what you get. Make sure you credit the original maker and see what time you can save!
Pay it forward: if you’re feeling intrepid, why don’t you try sharing something you’ve enjoyed putting together or using? Saving time for even one person is a success in my books.