Friday, 1 January 2010

Arrested Development? Part One

I said in the previous post that I have somewhat struggled with the notion of raising my profile. I wondered if this had had an impact on my delivery on our Development Plan latterly, and as I said, when I look back on the year, I felt that I had pretty much kept to the plan. However, perhaps this is a space where I can be a little more reflective on the impact of those initiatives and think about their successes and failures.

School Link (Malawi)
About a year and a half ago, I started a link through Plan-Ed with a school in Malawi. In the previous school term, I managed to start some link activities primarily with the s1 year group. We exchanged school information, worked on similar activities around a climate change theme and involved the s6 in being interviewers of groups of younger students to collate responses for a return.We also used poetry/extended writing as a way to represent our place/ lifestyle, and the English department sent a number of haikus where students had written about their home area or a place in Scotland which meant something personally to them. On reflection, I thought that, although we had established some working contact with the partner school, I personally had not been able to devote the time I would have liked to something which was very important to me. I also think that part of the reason for this was a reluctance to delegate/ involve others for no other reason than I viewed it as my responsibility.
One of the things I have tried to do this year in all aspects of my work is involve other people with enthusiasm, expertise and interest and use this as a way to take forward aspects of development. I have realised that it's impossible to do a job like this without help- its whole school, should impact on more than just a pocket of students and therefore should involve more than one member of staff. I have been very fortunate this year. We have been able to link the work with Malawi with ASDAN students skills development. We have given ownership of the link to the ASDAN group and the ASDAN teacher and I have played a supportive role in helping those students take it forward with the partner and within their own school. I have been pleased at the subsequent direction that the link has taken. Our students have just sent a meaty pack to Malawi aimed at encouraging a celebration of Robert Burns Day this year. The students were keen to help the school in Malawi understand a little more about our cultural heritage. They have collated Burns Supper Menus, Recipes, Flags and tartans, a CD of music and readings, translations, a camera to record the events and a challenge for the school to design a tartan of their own which we will display back here. During their preparations, awareness of their work was raised through an appeal via the school website for items to send and I was pleased to hear several staff ask about their progress after this. We have also asked for a display area in the school forum, an area where pretty much all student traffic passes through.
In return for the pack, the ASDAN group have asked for details about any similar celebrations of culture in Malawi which they can then organise events around themselves within our school. What pleases me most is that, although progress has been quite slow, it is the students themselves who have driven this. In doing so, they have gained knowledge not only of other cultures but their own and have had to develop organisational skills to develop their work. There are other more collaborative ideas which they have for the coming year which I look forward to seeing grow. I am also pleased that their efforts have been recognised by others, including the headteacher.

Work Experience
I will be honest and say that there are many aspects of this which I do not look forward to. At times, it becomes a paper chase- parental consents, self-found placement forms and so on, and I feel as though I am simply being an administrator. The feedback from both students and employers continues to make me think that there is a worthwhile place for it in the school. We are on our second year of using the WorkIt database to help students source their own placement and this worked significantly more smoothly thanks to the help of one of our office staff in phoning potential placements prior to my initial work experience assembly. I also felt that I had significantly more contact with students this year and was able to keep work experience on their agenda. As ever, when you have 300 students going out , some drag their heels, and I was again fortunate to have a team of teachers who had volunteered to shadow a class in preparing for Work Experience. This, I reckon, gives others an opportunity to develop leadership skills, which really should be part of what I am doing as well. I also liaised closely with the year head. One aspect of this job is that although I have a line manager, I also have dealings with all of the depute heads. It is interesting to see the different approaches that each have and I learn from the way in which they handle similar situations with varying tactics. I would love to hear about alternative approaches to work experience in other schools as I am sure this is something which could be refined and improved.

School Radio
At the beginning of the year, I was approached by a group of s6 students who wanted to do radio in the school. They initially wanted to do live broadcasting, but we decided to create a podcast. This has been some time in the making but requires just a little editing now. I have really enjoyed being part of this. I was pleased to give the students some direction as well as a plan for their broadcast, and have been able to give effective advice about some of the technical side of things. They have edited all of their interviews together through audacity and have an extensive bank of material to put out, including an interview with one of the 'originals', a member of staff who has worked in our school from its inception right up to this years silver jubilee. Other sessions include a slot with a student band, interviews with the school film club, the worship group and the enterprise group. The quality of the interviews is fantastic and have been linked together very well too, sounding pretty seamless. We hope to publish this on the school website some time in the coming month and the people involved are keen to now make a shorter monthly version of their podcast. I think the quality has been dictated by the potential audience and I think this is a great example of students taking the initiative with staff in a guiding and supportive, rather than controlling role.

Young Enterprise
This is one of the aspects of my role which I find most challenging. We have participated in Young Enterprise before, but have been hampered by poor experiences with business advisors. This year we had a fantastic and dedicated business advisor, but a group who couldn't agree on a product or their vision. I find it frustrating as a link teacher that I can't really get my hands dirty as the initiative is supposed to be driven by the students themselves. I have probably had a verbal input when I shouldn't have and have probably unfairly criticised the commitment of some of the group. As a result of internal wranglings and a changing group membership, decisions have been slow and meetings lacked organisation despite the advice of myself and the business advisor. As a result, we have streamlined the group, there is a definite product which the group have presented to SMT, but the scope of the product is school based and therefore, the group have withdrawn from Young Enterprise events. The group now seems settled, the meetings have a better structure, although at times can lapse into other chat, and the New Year will hopefully see the students finally selling their product with charities benefitting. I don't have a solution to this. At times I think I should be more directing, but it goes against the principles of Young Enterprise and would be my success or failure, not theirs. Perhaps these setbacks and failures provide a good lesson? I would be interested to hear others thoughts on this.

This is something for our senior students to help them prepare for potential career paths and is pretty light on students and mentors time as it is all conducted by email to and from the students school accounts after an initial face to face meeting. I don't think I would change anything about this and feel that over the past couple of years, students have indicated the worth of the relationship, even if it helps them decide not to follow that path. The one thing that I would like to do would be to source more mentors, and I think this could have very positive impacts in other areas potentially, such as work experience, careers fairs and the PSHE programme in the school.

School Newspaper
The school newspaper was previously a quarterly addition which was sold around the school. The group wanted to go paperless and to make contributions more regularly or at less set intervals. I have helped in the set up of a blog with the newspaper group as multiple authors and have helped with the settings for aspects like commenting, as well as meeting with the group to discuss the operation and set up of the blog. I think this is a far better way to publish for the students, although it could be argued that the deadlines and layout of the quarterly editions had a positive impact in terms of students learning to work to time and template. The blog is here

Learning and Teaching Group
This is what I view as the most important development for the coming year. I wanted to set up a forum for staff to share practice and standards. I tried this before with an online forum across the cluster, but think that it is much more useful if people share their experiences by meeting. We have now got a representative from each subject department as a member of our group and intend to work on themes at various times in the year, for example assessment. We have kicked off the group with a literacy theme. It follows on from a presentation at an in-service by our PT English who stressed that literacy is not only the responsibility of the English Department, but an explicit responsibility of all classroom teachers under curriculum for excellence. I had been lucky enough to have been involved with something through the SQA looking at potential texts and also had a keen interest from a subject point of view. I have set up a sharing document for members of the group to contribute ways in which their subject promotes literacy, and a colleague from the English department is looking at how we set school standards for literacy e.g. through the correction code etc. The presentation below is a shortened version of the one I used at a recent meeting of the group to encourage people to think about different ways to encourage students to read, write, talk and listen. Fuller explanation of some of the slides can be found here in a version I shared with Geography colleagues

I hope that the group becomes an open place to share ideas, although I think it would be highly beneficial over time to widen it to the school cluster. The representatives are to take the discussions we have back into subject departments, but I'd like to be involved at that level too. This will hopefully raise the profile of the group across the school.
In my next post, I'll look at things that I've been involved in this year at a subject level which will hopefully help me realise my goals this year with respect to my next career step. If you aren't sleeping by now (aplogies about the length), have a Happy New Year :)

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