Jon Tait is an experienced senior leader and current deputy headteacher working in a large and diverse secondary school in Middlesbrough. As a classroom teacher, he has experience of working in 3 different North East schools for over 15 years. He's also an author, speaker, coach, and consultant, with an impressive list of contributions to the education sector. Joining us as a keynote speaker for Lead LIVE Darlington, we caught up with Jon to discuss his work and new book, "Bloomsbury CPD Library: Senior Leadership".
Taking on an ‘acting’ role can be a great way to try out a new role with the safety of knowing it is for a finite amount of time. If you are thinking about moving into leadership, then it can be a perfect way to dip your toe.
The thing about acting positions is that their timing is rarely predictable. In my career, I have acted up twice and gone on secondment twice. The first time, my phase leader damaged her knee and was unable to walk for a term. The most recent time, my head gained a much-deserved role as an SIP (school improvement partner) in a neighbouring county. I was tasked by the governors to take the helm while an experienced replacement could be found.
The main differences between a secondment and acting up are that with a secondment you are able to choose whether to apply. It will be in a different school and usually takes the form of a fixed term contract. With acting up, you may not have a choice! If you are in school leadership and your line manager is absent for any reason, then tag - you’re it!
It’s June 2018, and we’re due a teaching and learning observation week. Gauging the temperature in the staff room, after a hectic year, I felt that another round of observations from senior and middle leaders would have finished our teachers off! I wanted to boost morale, to create a feelgood factor in our last month. I wanted to encourage all to take risks in the classroom, to observe one-another, and come away with something tangible to use in our lessons the next day. This is how the BDB Dollar Challenge came about here at Bishop David Brown School.
Staff needed to feel empowered. In discussions with Darren Gould, my deputy head of school, we developed the notion of a low-threat, rewards-based system: Staff highlight an area they want to showcase, develop resources, plan the lesson and advertise their activities. In a staff briefing, everyone was given the opportunity to sign up to attend each other’s lesson. If cover was required, a member of SLT would cover for them.
The week arrived and we all visited one-anothers’ lessons, armed with our BDB dollars (pictured top). It was up to each individual to determine how many dollars they would pay in response to the lesson they had seen. Staff observed the delivery, looked at resources, and questioned students about the activity. The impact was palpable across the school, with 75% of students questioned highlighting that they felt lessons were more engaging. Additionally, many students responded to a survey stating they enjoyed the fact that other classroom teachers were showing an interest in their lessons.
#BDBDollarChallenge underway... active and collaborative learning with yr8s. Post it’s, info gathering, independent practical work with differentiated support, it’s all go today! @BDBSchool #ProudOfBDB pic.twitter.com/EXIHbvE8J2— BDB Science (@BDB_Science) June 21, 2018
“The Dollar Challenge helped me to focus on and showcase the strengths of my teaching. For me, it was an opportunity to display elements that I believe are fundamental to the foundations of 'outstanding' teaching, and share that vision with my colleagues. As a viewer of others, I saw it as a chance to witness lessons that are completely different to English, like Food Tech, and 'steal' ideas from the more practical subjects. I'm actually looking forward to doing it again!” - Jamie Foster, head of English
When we reflected on the week we knew we had made the right decision to change our practice. The whole school was really feeling the effect of a busy year, and that was not my aim in September. The Dollar Challenge created a buzz in the staff room, one which carried us right through to the end of term and made everyone excited for what was ahead. I was proud and hugely impressed by the level of creativity displayed, and the feedback from students and staff alike was great.
So what have we learnt? The key lesson, for 2018/19 and beyond, is that we need to do more to empower staff to visit each other’s lessons, encourage them to take risks, and give them the confidence to know that if it fails, no judgments will be made.
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Take a moment to think about an ideal school environment.
You might imagine a calm, well-operating and friendly, happy school, where:
Embedding regular singing into school life is a way of ensuring that these attributes develop over time. At Sing Up we have seen countless examples and collected many case studies where the school community themselves believe that singing that has transformed their school.
Looking at it the other way around, it is uncommon to find schools where these ‘ideal’ factors are present and where there is no school commitment to singing, music or another art-form.
A singing school is a place not just where singing happens regularly, but where singing is right in the middle of school life rather than on the periphery. It is a school where singing is an everyday activity for all children. It is a place where the whole school community knows and can describe the imact singing has in their school.
But changing or developing a school’s culture first requires a change in beliefs and attitudes. Then a renewed focus on music can begin.
For children and their parents
Children and young people are typically more inclined to engage with an activity they enjoy and can see a purpose to – they want to know, what’s the point? So, to truly engage children we could help them further to see the lasting value of pursuing singing and music.
Chorus America’s Choral Impact Study documented the connection between choral singing participation and children’s attainment in the classroom. The study found that children who sing in a choir tend to get significantly better grades than their classmates who don’t take part in choir. A real driver for children of today, who are under high levels of pressure to achieve, could be the fact that taking part in music can have a lasting positive impact on their success in life, whichever career path they wish to follow.
If children understand the continued value of participation in singing and have access to quality provision they’ll quickly become your best advocates for music.
For teachers and school leaders
There is frequently a lot of impassioned discussion about whether the reasons for encouraging and supporting children to sing regularly are fundamentally intrinsic or extrinsic. I would argue that they are both, and that the extrinsic and intrinsic benefits are deeply connected to one another.
Extrinsic benefits might include things like:
While intrinsic benefits might include:
The creative arts – music in particular — are known to have a powerful positive impact on a school environment and on learning outcomes for pupils. And of the musical activities that you can embed in your school most readily and inexpensively, singing is the most accessible of all, and the most adaptable and versatile. Becoming a singing school motivates the school community to work together towards a common goal while taking part in an activity that everyone can do and enjoy.
The quality of the artistic output itself of course cannot and should not be completely disregarded. But as children and young people have a varied natural ability; diverse cultural references and backgrounds; and relative privilege or deprivation, it can be unhelpful to set firm benchmarks of the level they should be able to achieve in their singing or music-making.
What is important is the journey. That you begin in one place, able to do certain things, and then progress to a point where you can do those things better and learn to tackle new challenges with enjoyment and a sense of achievement, rather than anxiety and pressure.
Members of school staff can’t be left out of the picture either. Pretty much all of the best singing schools have some sort of staff singing. The benefits of singing with your co-workers are enormous; it helps you bond, boosts your confidence as a vocal leader, and helps to give all staff the confidence to sing in the classroom.
For all of us – singing is for life!
Singing regularly in a group is beneficial at all stages of your life. Possibly the best evidence for this is that successful people from all industries take time out of their busy days to sing as part of an amateur choir. They’ll spend hours every week rehearsing and will even use precious annual leave time for concert days.
I was fortunate to sing with a wonderful school choir in my teenage years which, clearly, has had a major impact on my career and life-choices! Singing is both a fantastic escape and requires intense focus, which can ease away any stresses from the working day. Mobile technologies and an always-on mentality mean that it’s all too easy to end up working through your evenings, and to not take time out; a choir gives you a ready-made community to spend time with. The bond of singers in a choir is an extraordinary one and friendships made within a choir can be a gift for networking.
Let’s give children opportunities to sing regularly from early years onwards – then not only are we potentially preparing musicians and singers for the future, we are giving them a source of enjoyment, connections, health, and wellbeing for life.
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As I’ve only just dipped my toe into school leadership, I was surprised at just how difficult it has been this year. Simply managing your class, or leading a subject, is a full time, stressful job all year round. Throw the demands of leading a core subject - or the day-to-day demands of managing a school - into the mix, and ‘stressful’ doesn’t describe it. Thankfully, there’s a great, highly-accessible resource to hand: music.
How exactly can music can inspire leaders? To find out, we first need to discuss how it can make a difficult job easier. I am a musician and play a number of instruments. Playing an instrument, even when you have lots of experience, requires your full and complete concentration. Playing the piano, as I do, requires you to engage so many different elements of your body, both physical and mental that any other thought goes quickly out of the window.
That sheer level of concentration is how I destress. The only place where thoughts of school go fully out of my mind is sat at a piano stool. Any school leader, or teacher for that matter, needs something that completely frees their mind of school - be it exercise, meditation, and so on. This is definitely a vocation rather than a job; you simply can’t walk away at 3.30. However - and this is vital - you MUST be able to compartmentalise in order to survive.
The other way that music helps me with wellbeing is singing. I sing in a community choir once a week. Whilst the levels of concentration are different, this is another oasis in a busy week, one which frees my mind from thoughts of school. Music, and singing in particular, has so many physical and mental benefits.
A review by Chanda and Levitin (2013) highlighted the positive impact of simply listening to music in a variety of ways. The review showed that listening to music releases dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, whilst also increasing the body’s immunity by supporting the production of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that works through the mucous system. One of the studies reviewed also found that listening to music resulted in a decrease in cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.
Singing has also been found to have major physical impacts upon the body, particularly the respiratory system (Vickhoff, 2013). Singing, especially in a group, produces a coupling of heart rate variability to respiration, a process called respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA). Singing produces slow, regular and deep respiration, which in turn triggers RSA. RSA is a benefit of activities such as yoga and tai chi, so singing can be seen as an alternative to these, as well as having other physical and emotional benefits.
So music is good for you. Listening to music and singing along, whether in an organised way with a choir or simply in the shower, or in the car, on the way to work, can have a positive impact on your body - both mentally and physically. Music can provide a moment of calm in a busy, stressful day. It can help to clear your mind, allowing you to de-stress.
So where does the school leader inspiration come in? Well, if all the things above work, then you are better able to do your job. If your whole outlook has changed, if you are calmer and your body is tuned and able to function, then you will do your job better. I could write a whole article on how music inspires me and others, but first we need bodies and minds that are healthy and able to work. Listen to music, sing along (well or otherwise) and arrive at work with an opportunity to have a positive impact on the children in your care. This year, the doctor subscribes a burst of ABBA, Queen or Ed Sheeran on your journey into work (possibly not on public transport...).
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Your own continuing professional development (CPD) is absolutely vital to you as a teacher. Working in education is not a job that you just turn up and ‘do’: with ever-changing examination specifications, curriculum re-mapping and emerging research that causes us to revisit the way in which we teach, you cannot afford to disregard the importance of self-investment.
But training costs, right? Wrong! Granted, the squeeze on budgets grows tighter by the year, and schools often look to larger organisations to host or run their INSET, but this often has a whole-school focus, which may not always completely match up to or accommodate for your own professional development goals. However, there are a range of time-effective approaches that you can use to direct your own professional development this year.
Read for impact
I aim to read a small number of books with an educational focus each year, and this number has lessened with each year that I teach. I also look back and feel that perhaps a great deal of what I have read was simply wasted time. Why? I was not as focused, and I didn’t embed certain ideals or concepts within my own teaching as a result. In addition, some of the books that I picked up were perhaps not relevant to my role at the time. For instance, reading a book about leadership may be interesting at best, but if leadership is not an area that I want to pursue in the near future, is that the best way to spend my time?
Meek's take on reading is fascinating. Would be brilliant to collate a list of books based upon narrative experimentation for this alone: pic.twitter.com/aVr5LEpcvD— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) February 15, 2017
Now, I try to use two strategies when selecting reading for professional development: What is the focus? How will I use it? Read with a specific aspect of your teaching that you want to improve upon in mind or become more informed towards. Consequently, consider the practical ways that you will implement what you have read. This doesn’t need to be a monumental change; it may simply be a resource created that uses a particular model. Evidenced-based teaching need not be a laborious piece of action research, but can just take the shape of trying something out then reflecting upon it afterwards. You will find that you have made the purpose of your reading meaningful, additionally weighing up how effective it is on a day-to-day basis within your practice.
When seeking out ways to improve as an English teacher, particularly when it comes to subject knowledge, I have found a secret treasure-trove of outlets locally to assist me. From visiting National Trust properties for contextual knowledge, to public lectures at local universities to broaden my authorial understanding, there are a range of ways to grow your learning bank without straying far from home or attending a large, costly conference.
Over and above that, setting up visits to local schools is a fantastic approach to specific CPD that will reap reward in both budget and time; in my experience, the professional discussions and relationships that evolve from such visits are so valuable. You may go with a particular focus related to the professional goals outlined by yourself at the start of the year, and walk away with so much more than that, with someone at the end of an email for guidance and support to boot.
Build a network
Working as a teacher lends itself easily to working in isolation: losing your days to planning, teaching and marking, with the interactions with colleagues being brief greetings in the corridor or directed meetings that have a specific agenda. However, collaboration is key to successful to personal progression, and if you have a particular goal in mind for the year ahead, share it with those around you. This will act as a starting point to exploring if others would like to team up in working on a project or research over the year ahead.
Collaboration will save the teaching profession! More here ⬇️ https://t.co/FIiqNlu3JK— Kat Howard (@SaysMiss) July 20, 2018
For example, as an English teacher, I enjoy connecting with Maths or ICT teachers when piloting a new idea; usually because their skills are useful, but to have a cross-curricular view of how a strategy or approach would work outside of my own subject is really beneficial when evaluating.
Alternatively, you may coordinate a whole-school role and would like to support in how others in a similar role approach certain challenges or obstacles. Twitter was a fantastic place to seek out other literacy coordinators when I first took up the post; sharing action plans or discussing how we could collaboratively work on initiatives was fantastic for time-saving, mutually advantageous CPD.
Source a coach - and coach in return!
Peer coaching is quite possibly the most valuable method of professional development that I have undertaken during my time as a teacher. As a result of the fantastic coaching provision that the MTPT Project provided to me during my maternity leave, I am nearing the end of my first year as a coachee and will shortly receive accreditation that I can then use to direct appraisal discussion for this year. When setting up LitdriveCPD, a free coaching tool for the approaching academic year, my inbox was full of nervous-yet-enthusiastic teachers, excited and willing to sign up but worried that they didn’t have the required skills. Yet, as teachers, we coach every day: students, feedback provided to colleagues, ourselves even.
Find someone, either within your own school or one that you may network with locally, and see if they would be interested in informal peer coaching for the year. This could simply be three discussions over the year, with the focus upon you both forming your own goals, then exploring how you may work towards achieving them. The coaching role could be as detached or involved as both parties feel is necessary or appropriate, but the process of sounding out ideas with someone else working within the teaching profession could be really powerful to aid both your growth as a teacher, but someone else’s as well.
Why do you need to know about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) for the school year ahead? It is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK for students and staff. 21,000 children and young adults in the UK have the condition. You will have encountered an ME sufferer in your working life as an education professional, but do you understand what ME is?
To fully support students and fellow staff members achieve their potential, you need to understand that ME is a unique condition. Unlike many other disabilities, ME patients are unable to ‘push through’ or do ‘mind over matter’. Our bodies are lacking the essential life source that is energy. As hard as we attempt to fight against it, our bodies simply don’t cooperate because we don’t have the energy required to function properly.
What is ME? It is an invisible, severely debilitating neurological condition that affects 250,000 people here in the UK and 17-30 million people worldwide, and there is no effective treatment. ME is also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The name given to each individual patient is purely dependent on who the GP is or where they live in the world. It is exactly the same illness. Personally, I refuse to use the name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. as it doesn’t adequately represent my condition. Extreme fatigue is only one of over 60 symptoms that come under the umbrella of the condition. In the same way that you wouldn’t call Parkinson’s Disease ‘Chronic Shaking Syndrome’, I don’t believe our condition can be summed up as fatigue.
Symptoms include: post-exertional malaise, pain, cognitive issues, brain fog, memory loss, inability to control temperature, skin rashes, painful glands, and ‘flu-like’ symptoms. ME has a spectrum of severity ranging from mild to severe. This means that it is hard to judge what each individual sufferer is capable of. In addition to this spectrum, ME fluctuates. Our fluctuations can change by the month, week, day and hour. What we can manage at 10am may not be possible at 3pm. We don’t know when these fluctuations will happen, and that makes planning anything incredibly difficult and frustrating. This makes the condition very easy to misunderstand and disregard.
To the best of my knowledge, when a school encounters a student with ME they contact the school’s GP to ask for advice. The problem with this is that GPs receive zero medical training on ME. This was discussed by Parliament in June 2018 MPs agreed that training was urgently needed as students - and the M.E community as a whole - are suffering due to the inadequate knowledge of ME of healthcare professionals.
GPs are currently likely to recommend that students be encouraged to push themselves and attend school. This advice comes from a ‘treatment’ known as Graded Exercise Therapy (GET). GET has been proven to be extremely damaging to the health of ME patients, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have declared they are reviewing their guidelines in 2020. GET was debated in Parliament in February 2018, and Ms Carol Monaghan SMP, a former Science teacher, told how “the impact [of GET] on those with ME has been devastating” and her view that “when the full details of the trial become known, it will be considered one of the biggest medical scandals of the 21st century.”
GET is currently still recommended on the NHS Choices website. This is the website GPs use when researching ME and advising schools on supporting students with the condition. The ME community as a whole are heaving a sigh of relief that these guidelines are being reviewed, however it is worrying that so many more sufferers will be told to push themselves between now and 2020.
This notion of being able to ‘push through’ has caused students to be expelled, been told they are not allowed to go to the end of year prom, and fail qualifications because of the amount of school absenteeism and lack of appropriate support.
I have been an ME advocate for four years and have spoken at length to headteachers, heads of departments, and teachers who are worried that they are not offering adequate support to their students. Do they send work home? Would the student be able to attend school one day per week to keep up personal contact and relationships? How much work would they be able to cope with? Should they be given extended deadlines?
I can’t offer definitive answers. Only the ME patient can say what they can and can’t manage, and even then they may have unexpected bad days when all symptoms flare and make them bedbound. I have recommended offering a tailored approach. Flexible learning is a necessity, and allowing a student to work at their own pace is the only way they will leave school with qualifications.
I had ME myself aged 13-15. I was never diagnosed but - with hindsight - after contracting ME a second time aged 30, I know I had ME during my school years. Luckily, my school were very understanding and sent work home every week for me to complete. It was extremely difficult, but fortunately I am self-motivated and was happy to work with minimum instruction. I walked away from Secondary school with 9 GCSEs over grade C. I believe that there are many ME patients who are currently in school but are underachieving because their school isn’t as supportive as mine was, and who are having to battle for additional support when they should be concentrating on their health.
Post-exertion malaise is the defining characteristic of ME. Any activity can cause our symptoms to worsen - ME sufferers often call this ‘payback’. Our bodies are paying us back for using energy we don’t have. This could be an afternoon out with friends, or simply sitting and chatting over a coffee. It takes a lot of cognitive energy to hold a conversation; only people with limited energy understand that. Perhaps you have a student in your class whose parent has just called in to say their child is too sick to come to school, but you know they met up with their classmates socially the day before. This would be due to ‘payback’, but it is understandable that many would find it hard to believe that the student was genuinely sick.
It takes an incredibly long time to get a diagnosis if you are an NHS patient (mainly due to waiting lists). Patients undergo years of tests to rule out other conditions before getting a diagnosis. ME is basically what’s left at the bottom of the barrel. You may well have a student who has been ill for over 18 months and has high levels of school absence without knowing what is wrong. This is very common with ME. Our fluctuations and levels of severity make the condition incredibly difficult for GPs to diagnose.
My advice to teachers who this year have a student, or students, with long-term fatigue and long-term sickness absence is: support them, as soon as you can, irrespective of whether they are diagnosed or not. Quick and effective support increases the chances of ME patients going on to recover - or at least be able to maintain - a manageable level of severity. So many students have battled to attend lessons but have ended up making their health worse. Why battle to attend classes to get exams if you are so sick once you leave school that you are unable to work or are bedbound?
You can read more about Myalgic Encephalomyelitis on the ME Association website: www.meassociation.org.uk.
School children are constantly engaging with their peers on digital technology and social networking sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly. While it is sometimes harmful - reports of cyberbullying cases are increasingly commonplace - digital technology also comes with considerable benefits. Below are some of the top e-health tools that enable pupils, and those supporting them, to access mental health and wellbeing advice at the click of a button.
1. Chat Health
This school nurse text messaging service was developed by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. ChatHealth is a confidential text messaging service which enables school children aged 11-19 to connect with their school nurse for help and advice on health and wellbeing issues, such as depression and anxiety, bullying, self-harm, alcohol, sex, drugs and body issues. Students will generally receive an instant confirmation message followed by a full response within one working day.
This is an anxiety management app created by the University of the West of England, Bristol. SAM helps users understand the causes of anxiety, monitor their anxious thoughts and behaviour, and manage their anxiety through self-help exercises and reflection. The app also allows users to share their experiences with the SAM community, and fellow anxiety sufferers, through a ‘social cloud’ feature.
Find it at: www.sam-app.org.uk
Created for Primary school children dealing with anxiety and worry, this app allows children to send a written or recorded message to one of four Worrinot characters: Chomp, Shakey, Rip and Stomp. The pupil’s message is then forwarded to a designated person at the school. The app can also be used by teachers as a tool to monitor their pupils’ wellbeing and provide early intervention where necessary. Worrinots was developed with the help of child psychologists, school staff and counsellors, and is Ofsted compliant.
An app for London-based 12-25-year-olds, this guidance and information resource contains details for accessing more than 1,000 local support services for mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and smoking. Through the app, young people can also blog about their own experiences, read FAQs, jargon busters and information about rights and advocacy.
This platform and app, which offers ‘a voice for your students’, is an alternative way for students to report incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, racism, radicalisation, sexism, mental health and self-harm straight to their school, when they are unable to do so face-to-face. The app can be used by students (to report concerns directly to teachers), by school staff (to record incidents and behavioural concerns) and by parents (to report any concerns to school staff) Tootoot provides students with 24-hour support.
Find it at: www.tootoot.co.uk
Developed with Childline by teenagers, this wellbeing app is aimed at children and young people, up to 19. Features include: access to self-help articles and videos on topics such as body issues, exam stress, emotions, bullying, abuse, mental health and self-harm issues. There is a message board where children can chat to others about what’s on their mind. Children can keep track of their daily mood through the app and tailor content that’s relevant to how they are feeling. If a child needs more support, the app will content them with a Childline counsellor for a phone or email conversation.
Find it at: www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/for-me
The year for progress
With teachers’ workloads persistently increasing, technology will continue to play an important role in enabling schools to screen for, and monitor, the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. Apps and websites are essential in making effective use of teachers’ busy schedules and maximising their time with children: allowing face-to-face contact to be as targeted and beneficial as possible.
Access to digital mental health support also comes with an array of benefits for children, such as the ease, cost-effectiveness and swiftness in which these services can be tapped into. Additionally, digital technology provides an opportunity for pupils to share experiences with a group of like-minded people, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
While professional face-to-face services are still an essential part of supporting young people with mental health and wellbeing issues, digital support may be able to reach children who are unlikely to engage with mental health services. According to a 2016 Centre for Mental Health report, entitled Missed Opportunities, children are waiting on average 10 years for effective mental health treatment. Lastly, digital technology brings with it a level of privacy and anonymity - key for young people who are not comfortable to voice their concerns in person.