Saturday, May 2, 2015

Going for interview - Square pegs in round holes

This isn't a blog about getting your first teaching post, this is really about that next step up the ladder, the leadership post. I recently had an interview for an Assistant Headship post. I wasn't successful but the process I went through was. I learned a lot about applying for the job and want to share that experience.

You want to move onto the next level. You've been a teacher for a few years and you're ready to move into leadership. You've had a taste of it with your Core Curriculum involvement and you scour the TES and ETEACH websites looking for the right post. You nod your head at a few and decide to apply. You download the application form and you discover your first problem. You are a Mac/Linux user and the Doc file format doesn't show correctly on your screen. Some parts work and others just refuse to do what you know they are supposed to do. If you're a Windows user you're laughing, everything works. But no matter what OS you have we all face the inevitable question - just how do I ensure the different sections I have to complete are not replicated in my covering letter?

Completing the application form
Look at the bullet point loaded personal specification that the school has included in their application pack. Use the sections in your application to answer every bullet point. There may be a skills and knowledge section where this fits right in. You could use bullet points to answer every bullet point the schools is looking for or divide the section into headed paragraphs that do the same. Just make sure you tick every box the personal spec is looking for. If you don't, your application is as good as dead. Complete every part of the application, leave nothing unanswered unless it specifically advises you to do so. Once you have completed it, check it through. Then check it at least 10 times and ask someone else to check it. Any mistakes found by the school means death to your application.

Covering Letter
Your covering letter is about you and how you fulfil the needs of the school you're applying to. Use this to answer the job description and how you fit it. Make sure you are all over it. Highlight why you are the best teacher for the role, forget modesty - the school has put out an ad looking for the best applicant and your letter should answer that call. Keep it to two pages and only go to three if you are absolutely certain that the last paragraph requires a third page due to its absolute brilliance. Do not waffle. Keep everything succinct yet detailed enough to make the panel sit up and take notice. Always think "What would they say when they read this part of my application?" 

If you haven't gotten shortlisted then email the school and find out why. Some schools will reply and give feedback, those that don't you can blacklist. If you have then dance your victory dance then sit down and prepare for the onslaught of interview. Shortlisting may be a foot in the door, but take heed, most of your body is still outside.

The Interview
Interviews for leadership posts are a tough; headship posts run for two days! Get prepared. Spend the time from your shortlisting notification to the night before the interview preparing. Read the school application pack through, note everything they ask for. Read through their latest Ofsted report and note down anything that requires further reading. You will try to do everything you can to make sure you are completely prepared but you will realise that you can only do so much. The night before should be spent switching off from the interview. It's difficult but try to forget you have an interview the next day. Turn up for the interview in good time, it's better to be early. Settle yourself, meet the other candidates and focus on your day ahead not theirs. Ask questions, look closely, be polite and courteous at all times - the whole day is part of the interview process. If you have been given time to visit the school then make sure you visit it. Go into every classroom, talk to every teacher and TA, talk to children, look through books, look at displays, talk to the office staff, canteen staff and caretaker. Take everything in whilst containing energy for the main event - the interview itself.

You will probably have a data task and/or in tray exercise to complete in 30 minutes or less. This is not based on real life so focus on the most essential and glaring points. If data based then hone in on what needs improving and what is working. Focus on safeguarding issues first if it's an in-tray exercise. You will probably meet the school council who will ask you carefully vetted questions that will help decide on the successful candidate. 

The interview itself is a minefield of questions. Do not under any circumstance try to search for 'interview questions for SLT' as these will lull you into a false sense of security. You can read as many exemplars as you wish, you can learn as many possible answers you think your brain can take but nothing will prepare you for the variation of questions an interview panel can come up with. Here's one for future reference - "What do you think your most recent reference said about you as a leader and what do you think your next reference with this school will say about you in three years time?" 

Answer everything truthfully, do not waffle. If you don't know then tell the panel. Keep answers short and to the point. I have always found this part hard as I can talk but talking is different from answering a question succinctly. You will be provided with a water, drink it as it will help you calm your nerves and compose an answer when you need to think. Questions will be tough but are not asked to catch you out. The school want the best teacher for the post so every question, no matter how ridiculous, has been put in to find the best candidate. 

The wait
Keep in mind that the school will have a good idea of the type of person they want. You might have ticked every box on the panel's form but if your personality doesn't fit with the school then you will not get the job. If you haven't been told of the school's decision before leaving you will have to wait for the phone call. It will usually come before 6 but prepare yourself for a longer wait if the panel haven't reached agreement. If you are unsuccessful do not be afraid to ask why. The points where you have fallen can be worked on for the next application. If you're successful, accept the offer and wait until you say goodbye before jumping around shrieking. 

I have been through many interviews and no doubt I have more to come. As I said, I wasn't successful in my most recent interview but I have learned what I need to focus on to get me closer to a successful outcome. During an interview you can ether play the game or be yourself. I have always chose to be myself as I want a school to know what they are getting. I have told panels that I am a maverick, independent in my thinking, I research good practice and question everything that management and government ask of me. I do not hold back with my viewpoints and I have no doubt lost out to other candidates because of this. You have to decide for yourself where your principles lie. I wish you well in your endeavours. 

Resources for Interviews

Applying for the post

Questions (please keep in mind, these are for your information rather than learning answers by rote)


Interview Technique
STAR situation - task - activity - result

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Teaching younger children to code

I've started my current Foundation Stage class on their coding journey and I used the following method as an introduction. All it needs is a white board and pen.

Write the following commands on the left side of a whiteboard and go through each with your class providing everyone an additional phonics lesson too. Explain to the children that these are commands, instructions that have to be followed if written them down in the program section of the whiteboard.

It's basically Simon Says without having to say Simon Says. If there are no commands written in the program section then nothing happens. Get your class to sit quietly awaiting their commands.

Write the command Hands up and show it to the class. They should put up their hands and perhaps a few will soon put them down again. Bring their attention to the program and ask if it says Hands down. Ask what needs to be put into the program to put their hands down. Rub out the WB and try another command, making sure your class do it and then ask which command will get them back to their sitting position.

The children should quickly realise that the program controls their actions. I had originally written the jump command three times and my own followed this correctly. But I wanted them to offer a way to put the three jump commands together so I didn't have to write it three times. If you are four or five the words you might say are 'do it again' which a great answer. Explain that to do it again a program needs the repeat command. Ask how will we make sure the program is repeated three times? And what needs to be repeated three times? Without including the jump command at this point then nothing gets repeated three times. Programs follow a logical order and without logic the program is liable to go wrong, or have a bug in it.

Write a mix of commands in the program section and then using your finger, point to each command and your class should perform the action. It's quite a straightforward way to introduce coding to your early years class without having to worry about providing everyone a computer, tablet or other device.

I followed this lesson up with the brilliant Daisy the Dino app for the iPad. If this has helped you to start teaching coding to your own Early Years class then take a look at another post I wrote where I used Kodable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grading the teaching profession - can lesson observation be useful?

Lesson Observation help or hindrance

I posted this lesson observation template on Twitter and within 24 hours it had been seen by over 1,200 users and counting (Tweet activity via Twitter analysis tool) - it has certainly left an impression judging by the interactions I have also received, and the many comments and suggestions of how it could be improved. One follower went as far as saying it was "frankly rubbish".

The template has been created using Ofsted's 2014 grade descriptors from its School Inspection Handbook. Ofsted makes a point that its grade descriptors should not be used as a checklist, instead favouring a best fit model (p.38) however it would appear that schools do use them as a checklist during lesson observations with teachers facing the dilemma of not knowing how many ticks have gone into which column until they receive their feedback. I am also aware that Ofsted have made a point that their grade descriptors should not be used as a way of making an assessment on individual lessons.

Ofsted's School Inspection Handbook is actually quite a useful document - pages 15 and 16 are of particular importance as they clearly layout Ofsted's current thinking on lesson observation. The following statements should be printed out on A1 and put on every headteacher's door and staffroom in every school.
  • The key objectives of lesson observations are to inform the evaluation of the overall quality of teaching over time.
  • When inspectors carry out observations in lessons, they should not grade the quality of teaching for that individual session or indeed the overall quality of the lesson.
  • Inspectors must not advocate a particular method of planning, teaching or assessment. They will not look for a preferred methodology.
  • Inspectors will not expect teachers to prepare lesson plans for the inspection.
So how do we make lesson observation useful?
  • Lesson observations are here to stay but how they are conducted can be changed. The following suggestions were offered on Twitter.
  • No feedback should be given.
  • Don't ever use that template, it's demeaning.
  • Only two boxes - strengths and improvements
  • Feedback that has questions to provoke discussion
  • Peer observations
  • Management only conduct one observation, the rest are carried out with peers
  • Video lessons. Reflect and discuss in teams afterwards.
  • Visit other schools and observe teaching there.
  • Definitely do not use this template. Ever.
  • Improve the knowledge of the observers

Unfortunately, when a school decides to ignore Ofsted's advice and concentrate on 'what they think Ofsted wants' they end up creating a system of lesson observation that is more to do with accountability than improving teaching and learning.

I would advise that you now read the brilliant "Life without Lesson Observation Grades" by Deputy Headteacher Shaun Allison.