9 things teachers simply must do in the school summer holidays

Teaching isn’t an easy profession. It’s definitely rewarding, but pressure and demands are high. One of the biggest perks for teachers though is the summer holiday. With the school summer holiday break stretched out in front of you, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have all the time in the world to enjoy it. Start your school holiday without any plans and your summer break could pass you by in the blink of an eye.

There’s nothing more unsatisfying than feeling like valuable time off has been wasted. Plan your summer break well, with a mixture of pro-active tasks, leisure time, relaxation and thinking time and you’ll be able to go back to school after the summer hols with a spring in your step. Here are 9 things you simply must do to make the most of the summer break:

1 – Sleep – catch up on those zzzzs. After a long school year of early morning starts and late night marking, you deserve some extra zzzzs. Allow yourself a few late starts and some early nights, but don’t get into bad habits and waste the holidays doing nothing. There’s a balance to be had here.

2 – Meet your 9-5 friends for lunch (because you can). It’s payback time. Think of all the times your friends have taken days off during the school term for lazy lunches, while you’ve been stuck in the classroom.

3 – Make the most of the outdoors (but on rainy days catch up on the box sets). You’ve just spent the best part of your year cooped up in the classroom. It’s summer. Go for walks, get to the beach, spend time in your garden. Make the absolute most of fresh air and sunshine.

4 – Catch up on DIY. You’ve got plenty of time to tackle some of those bigger projects you haven’t had time for at weekends. Getting your house in order might feel like a chore, but when those tedious jobs are finished you know how good you’ll feel.

5 – Get back into an exercise routine – there are health benefits, and it will give you energy. Of course you’ll feel virtuous too!

6 – Shake up your menus and practise recipes for healthier snacks to get you through the next school year. When work takes over, menu planning and healthy eating can fall by the wayside. Now you have the time to give your diet an overhaul. Spend time enjoying cooking. Invite friends over to share in your newfound culinary delights.

7 – Delve into your personal development plans that have been shelved throughout the school year. The summer break is the perfect time to think about you, not the classroom.

8 – Don’t leave the next school year’s lesson planning until the last minute. Factor in a few hours a week over the summer to keep on top of the workload. Set yourself small targets and stick to them. You’ll be so pleased you did when your colleagues are stressing out a few days before the start of the next school year.

9 – Do some proper classroom research. With your head focused on getting through the workload all year, you’ve been literally paddling like crazy to stay afloat. Give yourself some breathing space and research some of the ways you can make your next school year work better for you and your pupils. Think outside the box for a change.

Renew your resources, your energy and your health.

The 7 brilliant benefits of teaching chess in primary schools

Chess is becoming increasingly popular in schools. Nine out of ten private schools promote it in some way, and state schools are beginning to cotton on to the benefits. A recent report in The Guardian indicates that chess has taken off as a way to lure pupils away from their phones, and improve concentration levels in the classroom. Park End Primary School in Middlesbrough is one of 800 primary schools to add chess to its curriculum and it is having some surprisingly great benefits.

Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC) is a charity which aims to improve children’s educational outcomes and foster their social development by introducing them to the game of chess. A recent meta-study carried out by the Educational Research review found that chess instruction does have a positive influence on both academic and cognitive abilities.

Here are just some of the benefits of teaching chess to our primary children:

1 – Playing chess encourages a digital detox

Kids live in a world of screens. Our classrooms are filled with electronic devices, smart screens and interactive whiteboards. Chess creates the perfect opportunity to unplug from all of those devices.

2 – Chess improves attention span and increases the ability to focus

When playing chess you have to stay focused at all times, otherwise your opponent will make a move to punish you. Continued practice at the game of chess improves attention span too.

3 – Chess tournaments boost children’s esteem

Winning a game is a great confidence boost, and learning a new skill is a definite boost to any child’s self-esteem. Even losing has a positive influence giving children the grace to accept defeat and the tenacity and grit to try again.

4 – Critical thinking

Chess is a quite complicated game involving a great deal of critical thinking. The ability to solve a problem is a skill needed in all subjects and in daily life. It is in fact the number one skill that employers look out for in the adult world. Conceptualising, analysing and evaluating a game plan in chess helps to improve the life skills of observation and reflection, and draw reasonable conclusions.

5 – Reasoning and planning ahead

The game of chess involves the ability to develop a strategy. It requires planning and logic. Children have to think one step ahead when playing chess and that’s a great skill to learn at such a young age. Chess also teaches children to reflect on the consequences of their actions.

6 – Chess is a universal game with no barriers

There are no boundaries to play chess. Whatever your faith, age, gender or ethnicity, and whether or not you are disabled, chess provides a level playing field for all. School sports day is a nemesis for those children who loathe sports. Chess gives your non-sporty children an opportunity to shine.

7 – Confidence in decision-making

It’s up to the player to lead his or her chess pieces to the best possible outcome. The game of chess relies on constant responsible decision-making. Poor decisions result in pieces being captured, and ultimately loss of the game. Playing chess kids learn how to make tough decisions without the help of an adult.

What makes a great teacher? Pupils have their say

A ‘get in to teaching’ advert by the Department of Employment in The Guardian took the unusual approach of including interviews by pupils about what makes a great teacher. More and more studies indicate the most important factor in determining the quality of education a child receives is the quality of his or her teacher.

Teaching is a vocation and most of those entering the profession do so because they want to make a difference. Being a great teacher though requires more than a desire to make a difference. There are a number of additional qualities that come naturally to the best teachers.

Here are 5 attributes and skills pupils at one London High School say make a great teacher:

1 – Enthusiasm and support

Good teachers are enthusiastic and supportive, and can make a big difference to how well you do”, says Tayla-Rae, 15. She went on to say, “when you get a teacher who inspires and really cares about you, then it makes a big difference.”

2 – Passion

When teachers are passionate about their subject it invariably rubs off. On support and passion, one pupil says “I never used to like maths, but Mr Datta has given me a lot of extra support at lunchtime and after school. He is really passionate about maths, which is infectious.”

3 – Respect and trust

Great teachers have to have a connection with their students. In the Department of Employment’s advert, Joe, a 15 year old pupil from the same London High School says there has to be a symbiotic relationship between teachers and students. Another pupil went as far as saying really good teachers are almost like a friend.

For teachers to engage with children about how they were feeling was also seen as important by the pupils. Another pupil said “I feel I can talk to Ms Berry about anything, about academic work or things that have happened in school. I trust her as a mentor.”

4 – Praise

Teacher praise is a powerful motivator for students if used correctly. Praising effort and accomplishment using specific examples does help students to see a direct link between their effort and the outcome of a task. One pupil who had given up playing the piano was inspired to take it up again when her music teacher told her how good she was at it after the class were all asked to play a piece on the piano as part of a music lesson.

5 – Engagement

A great teacher can make even the most boring of subjects interesting. One pupil interviewed said of her teacher “Mr Jones gets everyone’s attention by the way he moves. He doesn’t just stay in one spot, but he’s all around us. His lessons never get boring.” Sometimes it can be something quite simple that makes a teacher stand out. Ultimately, teachers who can get the whole class engaged in the lesson have a much greater chance of making a difference to the outcomes of all, rather than just a few.

Is kindness the answer to poor behaviour?

Could it be that a chat during the school day would serve a child better than a detention at the end of it? Recent letters to The Guardian in response to Tom Bennett’s report for the government on behaviour issues in schools, suggest a kinder approach is a much more powerful tool for changing behaviour than punishment or ignoring the problem.

Bennett’s latest report accuses head teachers of covering up behaviour problems in order to paint their schools in a better light for Ofsted. Bennett came to this conclusion because of the striking difference between Ofsted reports and the experiences of school teachers, some of which he put down to the differences in recording of data. Some schools he noted mark lateness as poor behaviour while others don’t.

According to the Guardian, “The report – Creating A Culture: How School Leaders Can Optimise Behaviour – concludes that there is no silver bullet to tackling disruptive conduct.”

In response to Bennett’s report review in The Guardian, one reader wrote, “We need our schools to foster respect for others and this involves getting people – children, teachers and parents – to take responsibility for their actions and make amends for any harm caused. Such a restorative approach has been shown to be far more powerful in creating a positive school ethos than dishing out punishments.

Talking things through takes time, but if we are to address bullying, racism, vandalism, violence, rudeness and lesson disruption in schools, children need to understand the impact of their behaviour on others. This is rarely achieved by staying late at the end of the day.”

Prince George will be starting school in September at the Thomas’s Battersea School, which proudly states its most important rule is to be kind.

Punishment doesn’t work. It’s been proven. You only have to look across the water to the US to see that zero tolerance policies are failing in schools. Isn’t it time we shifted the moral compass back towards kindness? Teaching social responsibility can only be a good thing and that includes how we treat each other.

How to write a stand-out personal statement for your next teaching job

Whether you’re a newly qualified teacher or one with experience, when you’re applying for a teaching job, you’ll need to make your personal statement the heart of your application. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate your skills, your experience and show how well-suited you are to the role you are applying for. It’s your ticket to an interview or selection day.

We’ve put together some top tips for completing a stand-out personal statement for your next primary school teaching job. We’ve put together X tips for making your personal statement stand out from the crowd:

1 – Do not exceed two sides of A4, unless instructed otherwise.

2 – Re-write your statement for each role you apply for.

3 – Follow the structure of the person specification and consider the government’s Teachers Standards.

4 – Have a strong opening statement. It’s the first thing selectors will read. Avoid cliché statements such as ‘I love children’ or ‘I have always wanted to teach.’ Lots of applicants will say that. Think about why you have always wanted to teach and demonstrate that in your opening sentence.

5 – Be clear about why you are applying for that particular job at that particular school (you’ll be surprised at how many applicants don’t!).

6 – Write clearly and succinctly. Don’t use complicated language or overly long sentences.

7 – Be specific with your experience and strengths for the role you are applying for. Detail what have gained from your experiences in schools and working with children. Give evidence of your ability to teach.

8 – Let your enthusiasm for teaching and working with children jump out in everything you say.

9 – Consider the following questions:

  • What has inspired you to be a teacher?
  • Who or what has influenced you on your journey to become a teacher?
  • What appeals to you about working with primary age children?
  • What have you gained from working with children?
  • Have you worked with children outside of education?
  • What other skills can you offer e.g ICT, music, sports, hobbies?

10 – If you are applying for a job in a different area, explain why.

11 – If you’ve worked in a different sector write about transferrable skills, but don’t give irrelevant ones (i.e. you spent the summer working behind the bar at the student union).

12 – Be honest! Don’t be tempted to change qualifications to show yourself in a better light. If you get the job, they will check.

13 – If you only have training experience, include all of the schools you trained at.

14 – Show not just how you fit the person specification by what you have already done, but also by what you’d like to do next. It shows you have vision.

15 – Finish your statement with a summary of what you have to offer and why you are perfectly suited for the role. Leave your selectors with a clear understanding of your suitability for the job.

16 – Check formatting, grammar and spelling thoroughly. Ask someone to proof read it for you.

Good luck!

13 habits of highly successful teachers

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When kids tell you how well they’ve done in a subject, they’ll more than likely also mention how great their teacher is. Successful teachers are able to instil a passion and inspiration for learning. So how do they do it? We’ve put together the top 13 habits of highly successful teachers to inspire you.

1 – Have clear objectives – making a plan and having a framework in which your creativity can flourish is as important as your creative input.

2 – Be reflective – it’s a powerful way to plan and teach future lessons. You’ll be able to modify your vision and long term plan along the way for the better.

3 – PMA – a positive mental attitude zaps negative energy. Positivity and enthusiasm breeds creativity.

4 – Great expectations – expect your pupils to succeed. Your pupils need someone to believe in them. It’s not just about reaching potential, but exceeding it.

5 – Give emotional support to your pupils – sometimes your students will need emotional support rather than learning facts. Be accessible to students and available to spend extra time with them when they need it.

6 – Have fun in the classroom – it’s easy to get carried away with the serious side of getting on with the job. Use humour to make classroom life more interesting.

7 – Be a master in your subjects – know your craft, be prepared and lead by example.

8 – Foster curiosity – to create lifelong learners you’ll need to instil a sense of curiosity. The real art of teaching is in awakening a student’s curiosity.

9 – Keep learning – never stop. Independent interests will enhance your teaching.

10 – Welcome change – don’t hang on to old ideas. Frequently change wall displays and even rearrange furniture and desks in the classroom. Change can bring a breath of fresh air to the classroom.

11 – Communicate with parents – collaboration with parents is essential for a student’s success. Create openness so concerns can be voiced by yourself and by parents. A united front is crucial.

12 – Perseverance – you have to continually try. Moulding the knowledge base of pupils is something that takes time and perseverance.

13 – Look after yourself – you spend so much time looking after the interests and needs of your students that it becomes easy to forget about looking after number one. Proper sleep, healthy nutritional habits and a healthy love of life outside of school will fuel your energy and enthusiasm. You’ll be talking the talk and walking the walk for all of your students to see.

Ten-year old applies for Lego professorship at Cambridge University

A 10-year old boy from Aylesbury was listening to his local radio station, when he heard the news that the University of Cambridge was looking to recruit a Lego Professorship of Play in Education, Development and Learning.

He immediately set to writing a letter of application and heart-warmingly described himself as the ideal candidate for the job. He wrote, “Dear Sir/Madam, I am the best candidate for the job of Professor of Play in Education because I am 10 yrs old and I love to play especially with Lego. I also am very good at explaining things because I love to talk.”

In his application letter he also explained he was good at ‘hyper-focusing’ and that despite having dyspraxia, he was still ‘really good at Lego.’ He summed up by sharing his vision of one day owning a gaming company and ‘making all children happy.’

Perrett Laveur, the company dealing with the recruitment for this position, were so impressed with the application that they sent this fantastic reply which the 10-year old shared with his local radio station.

Dear Aedhan,

A thousand thanks to you for sending to us your application for the Lego Professorship at the University of Cambridge. There was so much which was impressive about your application. We loved:

– that you are so good at Lego

– that you can hyperfocus and yet also explain things

– that you have shown that you can read about research into a subject like autism so thoroughly

– that you have such a clear vision for the future and especially that you have the entrepreneurship to want to own your own gaming company AND yet that the reason for that is to make all children happy.

Thank you for your inspiring letter.

I’m sorry to say that the University has told us that they want the Lego Professor to be someone who has a PhD and who has already published books and lots of articles and all sorts of things like that. There were about 200 people who wanted to be the Lego Professor and the University will only interview 4 or 5. So I think that this time you probably won’t be invited forward to be interviewed.

BUT let me promise you two things and say a third:

  1. When we have had our meeting with the “Board of Electors” at the University, we will send you a formal letter so you know for sure. (I’m sorry that the letter may be a little dull but we have to do this as part of our work on the job process.)
  2. We will also send a special note to the Lego Foundation to tell them about your interest. Who knows? – they might want to stay in touch with you for future possibilities.
  3. You are just the sort of ‘future leader’ that Perrett Laver likes to know about – this is very exciting! You spotted an interesting job opportunity and you were willing not just to think about it but to DO something about it. This is EXACTLY the sort of thing which will be great for you as you become a leader yourself. This is the way that you will find a job where three things come together:
  4. What you love doing
  5. What you’re really good at and
  6. What will help other people.

And when you do that, then life really is worthwhile.

With many thanks for your interest and with very best wishes,

David and all at Perrett Laver

On receipt of the letter the 10-year old said, “I’m inspired, and I’m going to try again when I have a PhD I guess!”

Wearing slippers in the classroom improves grades

Children are wearing slippers in the classroom at Findern primary school in Derbyshire. A report in The Guardian confirms a decade long study by researchers at Bournemouth University found that by following the custom in Scandinavia of allowing pupils to remove their shoes has had a calming effect in the classroom. Shoeless children are finding it easier to engage in lessons.

Staff at Findern are already noticing a change in the pupils’ behaviour. In a report with the BBC, Head teacher, Mrs Tichener, said: “we are noticing that the children seem more relaxed and calmer than usual.” Even some teachers have brought in their own slippers. While not compulsory, the forward thinking primary school are looking for different ways to improve the experience of their students.

The BBC report also refers to West Thornton Primary Academy in Croydon Surrey, where shoeless zones have also resulted in positive behaviour changes. They’ve noted that noise levels have gone down and behaviour is much calmer in the shoeless learning zones.

Professor Stephen Heppell from Bournemouth University is responsible for the ‘Learnometer’ project, which examined the physical conditions of classrooms in 100 schools from 25 countries over a period of 10 years. The study examined the impact on academic results and noticed marked improvement.

Heppell accepts no-one really knows why it works, but argues that shoeless learning spaces do work astonishingly well. Shoeless learning is common in Scandinavia as a result of the weather (snow, slush and ice). Maori schools in New Zealand also work with shoeless learning.

Professor Heppell outlines some of the gains of shoeless learning as:

  • Better behaviour
  • Cleaner carpets
  • Reduced wear and tear on furniture
  • Reduced bullying
  • Reduced noise levels, including circulation noise
  • No conflict over the ‘right’ kind of shoes

Heppell says every culture has their own explanation as to why this works. In China, shoeless learning benefits are associated with reflexology and the direct contact of the foot with the floor. In India, shoes are naturally taken off out of respect, so this level of respect is transferred to the classroom. In England it’s thought to make the environment feel more like home, which has a relaxing effect on the children.

The limitations come with safety in school workshops, and hygiene when visiting the toilet. Heppell reports that The Jesmond Gardens primary school in Hartlepool leave pairs of Crocs outside each cubicle for children to slip on. The only other issue Heppell highlights is that of moving between buildings, but no schools embracing the shoeless system seem to have reported this as a big problem.

Charities bridging the gap in narrowing curriculum

A recent report in The Guardian has highlighted the crucial role charities are playing in the education system. As well as the associated fundraising in schools raising the profile of social issues outside of education, charities are now “forging partnerships with schools and having a huge impact on students’ educational and social development.”

From offering the chance for pupils to learn new skills to educating children about wellbeing, charity partnerships are opening up opportunities that have been closed off in an ever narrowing and results-based curriculum. Squeezed budgets are making it difficult for schools to form mainstream collaborations, and many aspects of social development beyond the academic remit aren’t getting the attention they need.

According to The Guardian report, in terms of developing the teaching profession and addressing inequality in education, charities are popping into the fray. Greenhouse Sports is a charity committed to using sport to help young people living in the inner city of London realise their full potential.

The charity assigns sports coaches to work full-time in mainstream schools in the most deprived areas of London. The coaches act as mentors, as well as sporting experts. The project is proving extremely successful using sport to deter children from expulsion and joining gangs. Coaches are even having an impact on grades as they sometimes sit in on other classes. Kids it seems are much less likely to misbehave if their favourite football or netball coach is sitting at the back of the classroom.

While Greenhouse Sports targets secondary education, there are plenty of other examples which feed into primary schools too. City Year UK is a leading youth and education charity offering the opportunity for young people to work as volunteers in schools to support children from disadvantaged communities. It provides great support to those struggling in the classroom and enables the volunteers to develop leadership skills and confidence to go on to make transformational changes in their communities. The charity currently has more than 70 volunteers in 9 different primary and secondary schools across Greater London.

And it’s not just those with learning or behavioural difficulties who benefit. The City Year UK volunteers at Morningside primary school in Hackney work specifically with people in the middle, who don’t stand out and just drift along. The head teacher, Janet Taylor, has reported “these pupils are beginning to shine.”

3 Top tips for productive communication with parents

Going into the New Year you are sure to have made some resolutions about managing behaviour in your classroom. One of the most effective ways to resolve disruptive behaviour is to interact with parents. Speaking with parents presents an opportunity to make sure a pupil’s positive behaviour is praised and any problematic behaviour is addressed quickly. We’ve put together 3 top tips to help teachers improve communication with parents.

1 – Communicate with parents when things are going well

Opening up a line of communication with parents concerning difficult behaviour is never easy. If you’ve managed to establish a positive relationship with parents when their child is doing well they are less likely to respond in a negative way when behaviour slips. Simple postcards home to acknowledge positive behaviour work well and don’t take too much time.

Try to have had some contact with parents prior to review day or parents’ evening. Even a quick phone call to keep parents updated can save the shock of a behavioural bombshell at reporting time or parents’ evening.

2 – Build trust

Some parents won’t have had a positive experience at school so they won’t be onside when you are trying to resolve any issues with their child. They are likely to perceive school as a threatening place and may not be willing to co-operate. You’ll need to build up a relationship of trust with them to put them at ease. Letting them know that you want to help can be enough. Here are some simple phrases which may be helpful:

  • I understand you are concerned and I hope I can help in some way
  • We are here to support your child. How would you like us to do that?
  • Please tell me how you feel about this situation.

Effective dialogue develops out of a growing trust and a mutual concern. Having a solution-focused approach based on a pupils past successes can help to alleviate blame and move forward with an intervention plan. If parents realise you have their child’s best interest at heart, you should be able to build a positive and trusting relationship with parents. Make sure you always get back to parents when you say you will.

3 – Make parents evening a positive experience

Ensure that you are organised and consistent. Have a standardised way of recording discussions with a section for targets, areas parents can help and parents’ comments, as well as any PSHE issues. Be sure you have a pen and paper so you can write down your email address if any parent wants to contact you. You can also write down essential bullet points you would like the pupil to learn and any homework that still needs to be completed.

Drink plenty and be prepared (make sure you’ve eaten beforehand – it can be a long evening). Sandwich any criticism between positive comments. It makes it easier for pupils to accept your advice, and for parents to get on board too.

Smile at parents when they approach. Make them feel welcome.