Thursday, 22 March 2012

2nd in Faculty Interview

Before I go any further in this blog post, I should say that I have never been successful in a second in faculty interview. I have had many though, and of those I have come close.

I think that the second in faculty is a difficult position. You are trying to forge your own path with respect to the area you are responsible for, yet you have to stick closely to the vision set by the head of faculty and stay loyal for the sake of the cohesion of the faculty.

That begs the question "what would you do if you disagreed with the head of faculty?" I have had this experience twice now. Once I had a major and very public strop (I got into trouble but I got my own way, and it was for the best of the students). The second time I supported what was decided and just had to be there to pick up the pieces when it did fall apart. I think I made the wrong choice, I should have fought more. Any other decisions I have either gone along with and things have been fine or gone along with and what was decided has been forgotten about anyway. So my answer: You have to pick your battles. Knowing what I know now, I would always fight for what I believe is right and I promise to never let something happen again that will have a detrimental affect on the students and school. But this approach in interview is honest, yet would it get me employed?

I believe that the role of the second in faculty is to be supportive of the other members of the faculty. Mentoring people and supporting those who are struggling with certain students or topics. "How would you support a colleague that is struggling?" In most of the schools I have been to interview in this question is about showing you have empathy and can be sensitive. The most important thing is that colleagues want to go to you for support. How do you build up that kind of relationship? Not be being a know-it-all, not by making out you are superior to others.

The job of the second in faculty is often to bring enthusiasm to the faculty. Bring in and lead on innovative and new ideas, organise trip and clubs. Do the things that the head of department struggles to do as they are bogged down in paper work and the demands of senior management. So a question may involve enrichment activities.

Every department I have worked in has had issues with a member of staff. Someone seems to be the "worst". What do you do if it is you that the parents/students/LSAs/other staff complain to? In these situations I don't like to work alone, but seek support. You need to see a the any issue from all angles and an alternative voice helps that. But how do you phrase that in an interview without looking weak and indecisive?

Other questions I have been asked involve my role as a form tutor; why I want to be a teacher; describe yourself in 3 words; describe your strengths and weaknesses; give an example of something you have lead on; how do you use afl in your teaching; how does ICT impact on your work as a teacher; how can you best utilise a VLE; how do you get over your passion for science to your students; should science be compulsory at key stage 4?

A classic question is describe an outstanding lesson you have taught. But a less familiar question is describe a less that didn't go well and what you would do about it.

The big question though is why do you want to work at this school? Can you engage with the staff and students enough to show you would fit in?

Remember that being a second in faculty is about fitting in, and it is probably for the best if you get the job if you wouldn't fit in.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Differentiation, how practical and possible?

I have been talking to my partner during the course of this year about the "struggles" he is having with his classes. He is an AST (and his teaching skills and understanding are advanced beyond anyone else I have met, but I am biased), and part of those "struggles" is that he has very high standards for himself and his students.

His opinions and concerns are very interesting to me as he tries to mould an unruly bunch of students disinterested in science into a group of students who will engage and think for themselves. In order to to this he has had to use differentiation.

I suppose these days what he does is called personalised learning.

My partner knows all the students in his class very well. He makes it his business to engage with them and find out their interests. He has a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things so is easy to talk about subjects that the students have an interest in and link the science he is teaching to the things that the students can relate to.

Using this knowledge and his experience he is able to tailor the activities that the students in his class carry out to their specific needs. He can do this in such a way that the students don't look to another group and ask "why can't I do the same as him".

How does he do it?

Firstly he doesn't teach GCSE, he teaches key stage 3 and BTEC. Personally I find that these courses allow for a lot more flexibility than GCSE and are therefore more open for personalisation.

At key stage 3 he uses the APP grid to get students to set personalised targets for themselves. They can chose the level they want to work at and the outcomes of the activity are ones that they have set for themselves. He does this through questioning and using the conversations he has to empower his students.

He has also built in projects to his lessons. During the rocks topic he asked the students to produce a presentation about "why are rocks so special?" They could talk about or share on the web, but they couldn't use PowerPoint. The students' work ranged from an essay by one student to posters, to online mindmaps.

He has been using the reporting system within his school to support this. Asking students to demonstrate during his lessons that they are resilient, resourceful, reciprocal and reflective. It is difficult for the student to do that if the lessons are structured to the nth degree.

Within science it is always difficult to take a more personalised approach when the learning involves practical work. However, it is possible when you have a good knowledge of the curriculum, assessment levels and your own students by setting personal targets and better still get students to set their own targets based on something tangible.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Appointing a Head Teacher

How much do you really learn about a candidate during an interview? As I write notes for this blog post I am listening to the candidates for our headship in the whole staff interview.

I am wondering what I am to take from the session. Is it about personality or what they say? Will the questions give the opportunity to differentiate between candidates? What can I find out about someone when they are "on their best behaviour" like this?

The first question is: Would you rather have no hearing or no sight? Interesting, but what does it allow us to find out? One candidate has gone with sight and the others with hearing.

Second question: How would you ensure that individuals within the staff reach their potential? Interesting to hear heads talk about leadership potential but not teaching and learning potential. I actually think this is a major concern because we can't all be leaders, and in my opiniion our school would benefit from more concentration onto being proud of what is happening in the classroom and not about who can get promoted the quickest. One candidate talks about using the teaching school, but we would be part of the teaching school, so my question would be how do you use it to develop your teachers when your teachers are the ones that should be leading it?

Workload is a big issue at out school as we teach 2.5 hours longer per week and 5 days longer per year than maintained schools. It was enviable that someone wold ask: Give an example of how you have looked at workload. Answers involved: Duty, meetings, valuing the contribution of staff, teaching happiness, reducing cover and decreasing absences. Only the candidate that talked about reducing cover seemed to have a coherent idea, but I wasn't convinced they could bring that to or school.

A question that I would have loved to answer is: Which Olympic event best describes you as a leader? Marathon - long time to prepare you for a leadership - looking at drive and determination, resilience and barriers. Decathlon - variety, and looking at everything to make sure it takes you across the line. Gymnastics - balanced, agile in mind. I was very disappointed with all the responses, I would have liked to have seen one candidate at least light up at the thought of the olympics, but the answers lacked passion and imagination.

An interesting question was: How have you used local and international firms to support learning of students and staff? Only three of the candidates could answer that question. One of them seemed to have great ideas of how to make links and use industry to help prepare students for the outside world. Other candidates talked about links with other schools, and using universities to support their work.

The big question. The question that if you watch the apprentice you know you have to be able to answer. The question that I have been asked (in a slightly different way) in every job I have applied for: Why do you want to be the head of this school? So why were all the answers vague and lacklustre? The candidates wanted to make a difference to people's lives, by improving and making things better, but not really touching on how. They are keen on federations and the teaching school, one said because working within a federation means we can pool resources. Why would you put yourself though all the hoops you do for a headship if you are not convinced about the positive reasons for working at that particular school?

How would you like the school to develop in the next five years? And where would you see yourself? Most of the candidates talked about making the school world-class. None defined what that would be except one who said he wanted to see a school that exceeded its targets for all the students. One candidate did mention retaining staff, and another showed his cards as being very ambitious, he wants to be a national leader in education. I just thought: you don't need to be a head to do that. The most impressive answer of the night was in the section when one of the candidates mentioned that they wanted the staff trained to the highest level possible with respect to teaching and learning.

Last question of the evening was How emotionally intelligent are you? There is only one answer to this: Highly. That is what they all said in various different ways.

To be honest I will be very interested to see how things turn out tomorrow and which one the governors appoint, if any. I hope that at least one of the candidates can show more personality and imagination tomorrow though.

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Using online conferencing software to engage in CPD

I have recently been involved in a CPD trial with the science learning centre using online software to connect with and speak to other teachers. We have been using adobe connect. From the end user point of view I really like it because it just works. The host sends a link, you click on it and it opens a user interface that allows you to see the other contributors, a presentation and contribute to a chat box. There is also a section that lists the contributors and allows you show symbols to agree/disagree, laugh, applaud or put your hand up to indicate that you want to make a contribution.

It is a very interesting experience to have a meeting online using adobe connect. It isn't possible for everyone to have their microphone open at once because the feedback from computers to microphones means that you hear echoes of the person who is speaking. This means that the meeting is ultra polite; we even have to raise our virtual hands to get a chance to speak.

The chat box is useful. It is like passing notes in a meeting but so everyone can see; a much more professional version of the bingo we might play during whole school in-service. It can get distracting for notes to go up on the screen while you are talking or listening, but we are now taking time at the end of each agenda point to read back over the written comments. After the meeting written comments (and a video of the meeting) are stored so we can refer to them, this is more useful than a normal meeting when you either have to make your own notes or remember what has been said.

Most of all though I like using the online video conferencing to meet with people I would never normally engage with. It is much easier to communicate face to face, even over the Internet, than by written format on a forum or in twitter. There is less room for misinterpretation I believe.

Our host Emily structures the meetings very carefully, and invites us all to contribute on each agenda point. Which I really like. It means someone like me can't push themselves forward and do a lot of talking at the expense of others. I can imagine that the success of using adobe connect depends a lot on the ability of the chairperson.

I don't know how easy adobe connect is to use as the presenter/host/chair, but I do think that there are a lot of positives, enough that if I had a group of schools spread out across a federation or LA I would use it to help connect the teachers and spread good practice.

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Saturday, 17 March 2012

What makes a good science faculty? (ofsted related post)

I wanted to write up my notes from the 2011 ofsted report about science education in the UK. This should help me gain an idea on how I need to lead my new faculty towards being a strong unit educating our students to the best of our ability.

According to the Ofsted subject report for science, high performing schools have:
i) clear priorities for raising standards
ii) rigorous monitoring and evaluation of performance
iii) challenging target setting for individual pupils (I read this as high expectations of pupil performance)
iv) strong focus on the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning
v) staff planning together and sharing practice

To me this list makes perfect sense. The evaluation is an important part. Do schools and departments really look at what they are doing and the impact it is making or do they hope that it is happening? What does it take for something to genuinely be embedded and how can you tell?

Good evaluation means that clear priorities can be set and monitoring means that we can work towards reaching them and not going off target.

In terms of working together and sharing practice, I have seen this happen and know what it can look like. Staff planning together formally because they team teach or are teaching the same topic and also informally as they sit in the staffroom and discuss lessons. However, not all of the schools I have worked in have had a culture of discussing teaching and learning. And I do have a question mark hanging over what makes the difference.

The ofsted report goes on to discuss the curriculum of an outstanding science department.
- The curriculum will be planned collaboratively using the best ideas from the team and there will be a forum for sharing practice.
- There is a 'plan, do, review' cycle of the curriculum plans
- There are cross curricular elements of the schemes of work, allowing students to see the uses of science in society
- Clubs are used to engage students with less focus and confidence in science
- Key stage 4 curriculum options are best suited to the students

It is interesting that the clubs can be used to engage less focused students, when often they are targeted at gifted and talented and/or students. This is something I plan to bare in mind. But it poses a challenge, how do you engage students in science during their own time when they won't engage in lessons?

The leadership and management of an outstanding science faculty has a long list of characteristics:
1. There is tracking of the progress and attainment of students
2. Intervention and planning is informed by this tracking data
3. There are clear roles and responsibilities within the faculty
4. A clear standard of the quality of teaching
5. Any evaluation takes into account the views of all the major stakeholders
6. There is a vision for the inclusion of all Learners, breaking down the barriers to engagement
7. Leadership will have good links with parents and other outside agencies
8. Departmental training is focused on areas that most teachers find problematic
9. The departmental handbook has (i) clear guidance on teaching and learning and (ii) procedures for assessment for informing planning
10. "How science works" is a significant part of the schemes of work
11. Management must challenge the performance of less effective teachers
12. There is a balanced view of the strengths and weaknesses resulting from systematic monitoring of standards
13. Tracking of students will focus on HSW as well as knowledge and understanding
14. Information on the progress of students should be passed on to the next teachers
15. Training of teachers gives subject leaders a better understanding of the issues effecting standards

From this list my main issue is with taking the views of stakeholders into account. I have managed to build relationships with parents in my current role by making myself available to them so I hope to do that in my next role.

The teaching in good science departments is described as having variety of activities such as presentations by students, investigative work, research, projects, use of models, demonstrations, use of video clips and other media resources, card sorts and group discussions. Teachers don't talk for too long, they manage time well and provide sufficient challenge in lessons. The departments also have lively and enthusiastic science teachers who are reflective and keen to improve. There is also good assessment, peer and self assessment as well as marking of work.

I will use this when I review what is happening in my science faculty. How enthusiastic are the staff and how creative are they in the types of activity they are using.

All of the comments made in the ofsted report make sense. But seeing them written in one place help to focus be mind and give me a vision for the development of my own faculty in the future.

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Friday, 16 March 2012

Science Week

This year I decided to make a real effort and have science week events in the school. Now in the middle of it I feel like a music teacher must during the Christmas concerts, and I am not even the person doing the most work!

Before the week started I wrote a news letter with various information including some descriptions of what was happening that week; some "on this day in history" facts that are science related; links to science websites that would be useful for young people; and some "did you know" facts.

On Monday and Tuesday we had science fairs for year 9. This was great for the students who engaged with the activities. Three weeks before they had started an independent enquiry project to present at the fair. I was very impressed by the students' ownership of their projects and knowledge of the scientific method according to science teaching.

In year 7 we usually run a CSI project over the time period of a few weeks. This year I instigated this starting during science week to give both the project a fresh boost and add a little bit of depth to the activities we do in science week without much effort on our part. The students investigate blood splatter, hair types, fingerprints, unknown white powders, chromatography, witness statements, phone records amongst other things.

We had a visitor from Bristol University who spoke on the topic of bioethics to a group of year 10 students and also Pete, the Big Bug Bag Man, brought his large invertebrates to school in his voluminous ruck sack who amazed some year 7s and 8s. Both visitors were cheap enough for our faculty to afford without affecting the overall budget.

We also gave five copies of the official science week quiz to tutors for them to use in tutor time. Quite a few have given them back.

Assemblies have been big hit across the school during science week. Our Head of Chemistry has been delighting the students with the properties of dry ice. The climax of the performance is him pretending to smash his thumb. The gasps from the students say it all.

I also set up and ran a treasure hunt of Einstein images. Anyone who came to me with the locations of all 20 images of Einstein could have chocolate from me. About 10 students went on the hunt, but everyone I spoke to knew about them and that it was Einstein's birthday on 14th March.

In year 8 lessons we gave the students "our world in motion" posters to research and design. This is an official competition with the deadline of 2nd April. The students have to design an all terrain vehicle that will allow competitors to race in a world wide race. Engagement has been good in the project.

The week ended with a trip to the Big Bang Science Fair. I really didn't know how it would work with all the timings and students involved. But the students had a great time and we didn't lose any. It was very busy, but we enjoyed it despite that. 40/40 students said that they would go back again next year.

Through all of this I can really see the value in National Science and Engineering Week and I can't wait to set something up in my new school.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Being a good head of faculty

I start as a head of faculty on May 1st. I am excited and terrified in equal measures. I know that I have the knowledge required of me to be a head of science and also the support network in #asechat and my partner. However I want to do a really good job.

We have just had a new head of faculty this year and he has split the faculty and lowered morale. The two previous new heads of faculty that I have known have also struggled to hit the ground running. Hiding in the classrooms instead of leading from the front.

So what does it take to have a good start? I am massively lucky because I am going to have a light time table for the first term. I hope this will support me in finding out the strengths and weaknesses of the team and establishing myself as the leader of the team.

What makes the perfect head of science? Alessio recently asked this on the TES forum. The thread is here: and my specific response is:
"Communication is really important [to be a good head of science]. Someone who talks to their staff and is aware of how they tick. A team is a group of individuals who use their strengths and interests to work together, a leader must facilitate this.
The head of faculty must be friendly and approachable, but not one of the lads/girls and certainly not have obvious favourites. Opportunities, responibsilities, top groups, praise etc need to be shared fairly.
Strong knowledge about curriculum matters and current thinking regarding pedagogy. The head of faculty doesn't need to be the best in the faculty if they have good people skills and a strong knowledge.
Most of all though a head of faculty needs to have a vision and direction for the faculty. That vision needs to be the best for the students whilst also taking consideration the work life balance of the staff."

I suppose this leads me to the question "what is my vision for science education?" which I might not be able to answer until I know more about my specific group of students and their aspirations.

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How do you learn to plan lessons?

We have a GTP student working with us at the moment. She is reflective and caring. My Year 12 students get on with her well and she has a very positive way of interacting with the students.
However, she is thinking about leaving the profession. The reason for this is the time that it is taking for her to plan. It seems to be taking all her time and getting harder not easier as she progresses through the course.

However, I am finding describing how to plan very difficult. I just know what I want to do. How did I learn?

I can remember struggling to plan lessons I left to the night before during my NQT year, but I always came up with something. What happened in the transition between the struggle and now when I have a clear idea what I will do in lessons up to three weeks in advance?
Is it simply experience?

Aside: it would probably help if we had complete schemes of work available to plan from and the wikid scheme is not easy for experience teachers to follow, so I can understand why a student teacher would struggle.

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Sunday, 11 March 2012

Organising a teachmeet

The ASE west subcommittee have decided to organise a teachmeet. This is doesn't seem that interesting as a lot of people do this and there is a teachmeet somewhere in the country at least twice per week in the term time. It does get quite interesting when you consider that only one of the organisers know what it is and what it entails. That organiser is me, and I am not one of the main ones responsibilities.

I heard about teachmeets where I hear about most things, on twitter. The first one I went to was at Clevedon School. It was a very positive evening with a wide variety of ideas shared by the presenters. I wouldn't say my world was set alight, but it was great to be in a room with so many positive people and that is something different.

So how do you get the idea of how a teachmeet runs and how to market it across?

In my case badly, firstly my colleague didn't use the teachmeet section on the wiki website to create the pages, he made his own wiki. Secondly we all struggled to make a logo naff enough to go on the teachmeet wiki and make it into a link to our pages. Thirdly advertising seems to have been forgotten and even our own committee members haven't signed up for the event yet!

Luckily, one of the other Field Officers has come to my rescue and sent a "how-to" document. It has included things that I haven't even thought about, like who to contact at the ASE to get the email around to members that it is happening, and to make sure there are signs directing visitors.

I have to take my hat off to everyone who manages to organise a successful teachmeet: It isn't straightforward or easy.

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Sunday, 4 March 2012

Physics education vs Science Education

I am a member of the Institute of Physics, have a physics degree and I mainly teach physics, however I consider myself a science teacher. I would say that my love of teaching is greater than my love of physics. Although I find that science principles and laws just work intriguing and that physics underpins everything interests me greatly. My students look at me strangely when I get excited by physics when principles "just work".

On Saturday I heard the President of the Institute of Physics ask for members to investigate the state of physics teaching in their local school. He indicated that he would like all members of the IoP support physics education.

During the talk we were shown facts about how there is an ever increasing number of students doing physics and a record number of physics trainee teachers, but these numbers are not enough. The upshot is that the IoP believe that there is still work needed to improve the headline figures like the number of schools with physics graduates working as teachers and ensuring all schools offer physics A-level as quite a few don't.

Sir Peter Knight would like to know:
How many students at your school sat As and A-level physics last year?
How many of the students sitting A-level physics are girls?
How do you encourage students to think about choosing A-level physics?
How many specialist physics teachers does your school have?

Once members have answered these question we are to email the answers to

The message behind these questions, or at least the one I heard, is that we need more physicists in the UK and the way to achieve this is to have more physicists teaching in school.

I think that it is absolutely vital that we have well trained, knowledgable teachers. However, I am not convinced that using physics graduates is the only way, and I am certainly not convinced that a good grounding in university physics makes for a good teacher.

As a teacher of science I see physics in the context of science. I want my students to see science in everyday lives. I don't teach physics because I passionately believe that everyone should love it and want to study it. Do I owe it to physics in the UK to shift my views?

When I consider the ASE presidential address and Robin Millar's points on "science for all" I am conflicted between teaching and encouraging the physics graduates of the future and teaching scientific literacy for the masses. Are the two possible and/or compatible? Maybe they should be, but I don't believe we have achieved it yet in the English education system.

Having said all of this I really appreciate all the work that the IoP are doing to support physics education. I never regret paying my £100 per year membership fee because I know they are doing good work. And since I started teaching in my school we have had 3 students apply to do physics at university, so maybe I am already doing what the IoP would like.

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