Why do we do what we do?


Why do we do what we do?
Over the last week I have been reading posts on social media sites from extremely stressed teachers, a lot of them NQTs, who are worrying about the beginning of term and the academic year. As I sit in the sun in my garden on the last day of August I am thinking about my training day tomorrow. I will ask my staff the question in the title of this piece ‘Why do we do what we do?’ and also ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What is our moral purpose?’
30 years ago tomorrow I started my first teaching post, I was excited and nervous in equal measure but I knew why I was there. I wanted to make a difference to children’s lives. I loved children and was fascinated by how they learn, I wanted to provide the best I could for every child to be able to face the challenges of their future and lead successful, happy lives and make a positive contribution to society. None of that has changed, that is my moral purpose.
In 30 years I have got to know a lot of children, there are faces, names and stories that I remember. For those of you starting out it is often the most challenging children who touch you the most and who can be the most frustrating but also the most rewarding. I remember William, who was 4 years old and in my first reception class. Thinking back William would probably today be classified as somewhere on the autistic spectrum, however in 1984 I was told that William was a naughty boy who wouldn’t listen to the teachers and so was ‘behind’ with his learning! I discovered that William could name every planet in the solar system and had a fascination with space travel. I took a child centred approach to William’s learning and he was soon reading non-fiction books about space from the junior department library. There were Patrick and Seamus, brothers from a large Irish family. Patrick was in my class and Seamus in the next year group. Patrick and Seamus only came to school on alternate days and rarely came on Friday at all. It seemed to be accepted that this was just the way of things and of course Patrick was missing such a lot at school. One lunch time when Patrick once again wasn’t in school I decided to make a home visit. I was welcomed in and offered a cup of tea and had a chat. There were 6 boys ranging from Seamus at 6 down to a baby and it turned out that Patrick and Seamus shared their school uniform and shoes so could only take turns coming to school! A simple solution, some second hand uniform was found and both boys were in school. Friday took a bit longer to sort as they went with their dad on Friday to help sell towels on the market! There was Veronica who had become selective mute at the age of 3 having witnessed her dad stab her mum to death in the kitchen. The day Veronica smiled and spoke again is a day that I will never forget!
There are many more children that I could tell you about and there will be many more before I retire and that is why I am as excited about the start of a new term as I was 30 years ago. I am now in the privileged position of being a Head Teacher with the opportunity to influence the lives of many more children and hopefully guide and mentor my younger staff to do the same. Over the last 30 years governments have come and gone, there have been many education secretaries, policies have been introduced, scrapped, reintroduced but the constant in all this is the children. The children will be there at the beginning of a new school year waiting to be educated, nurtured, loved in the same way as they were 30 years ago and that is why I do what I do, that is my moral purpose.
I will finish with the words of Pablo Casals. These words are going up on my staffroom wall.
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again and what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”
Remember you might have the next Shakespeare, Michelangelo or Beethoven in your class and you can be the person to discover them!



Story Stones!

 image image image image image

I’m not sure where I saw the original idea, I’ve seen lots of versions on twitter, Pinterest and various blogs. But these will be appearing in my classroom next week to encourage some quality language and story-telling. So easy to make and the possibilities are endless!
Simply collect some smooth rocks and pebbles. Make sure you wash them and brush off any dust/sand. Mix some poster paint with PVA glue to paint the background colours (or you could use acrylic paint if you have it.) Choose your openers, connectives, characters, settings, and go to town! Once the paint is dry, write/draw on your words and faces with a permanent marker. A layer of varnish will make them last longer. I’ve yet to varnish mine but I’m pleased with the result so far!
If you have made some or are planning on making some story stones we’d love to see them! Send us a photo of your finished product and we might feature it on our facebook page!



All I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten

We love this, and think you will to.

All I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten
by Robert Fulghum

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand box at nursery school.
These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you are sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw some and paint and sing and dance and play and work everyday.
Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out in the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why. We are like that.
And then remember that book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK! Everything you need to know is there somewhere: The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation, ecology, and politics and the sane living.
Think of what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.



It’s worth it. Right?


I am always fascinated by people’s stories of why and how they got in to teaching. For some it seems to be an intrinsic desire that they are born with, others seem to find their passion as they go along or they have an ‘ah ha’ moment in which the light bulb suddenly flicks on and they see their path.

For me, although many keep saying they knew I would end up being a teacher, it was a gradual process. But there is one key moment that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Several years and life times ago I ventured out to the states to work on a camp for children and adults with disabilities. I had never worked in any kind of care or education setting before and I was in for a steep learning curve.

My first week I was placed to work with a small group of middle aged men. I think it is incredibly rude and disrespectful to refer to people by their ‘disability’ but for the sake of this story and to give you slightly more context I will just tell you that they were a great group of guys with so many qualities, all medically classed as having complex learning disabilities and required 24 hour one-to-one care.

I spent a lot of my week working with one gentleman in particular, who I will refer to as ‘S’.
S loved going for long walks and singing songs (the list is endless). S also had quite limited communication skills and used a few basic makaton signs to make his needs known.
S was extremely sociable but his urge to be around people sometimes could be perceived negatively by others. Especially when he would shout ‘come on’, beckon with his arm and grab the person he wanted without warning.

Being the true English gent and being a stickler for manners I attempted to teach ‘S’ to say please by using the simple makaton sign. Why? I hear you ask. Well rightly or wrongly I believe it could and did help change people’s perceptions towards him. It also gave that slightly longer sentence structure of either ‘come on please’ or ‘please come on’ and this meant that the person being grabbed wasn’t always caught quite so off guard. It by no means happened all the time and he used it sporadically to say the least, but in turn the amount of positive interactions that S had that week increased. This was such a driver for him and because of the increase in such interaction, it appeared that he was happier.

At the end of the week S’s caregiver came to pick him up. As we walked through the car park to the vehicle he was going home in, we walked arm in arm singing his favourite song. I stood back as he was getting strapped in and he beckoned me shouting ‘come on’ repeatedly and I had to say ‘no sorry, it’s time for you to go home.’ Then as the door was closing I heard one last desperate ‘please?’ I smiled and waved as best I could, holding back the watery eyes as he drove away signing the word please repeatedly out of the car window and it is at that moment that I knew working with people was for me. I hadn’t changed the world, I hadn’t made a difference to the masses, but for a small moment I had had a positive impact on someone else’s life and taught them something, which they admittedly needed more practice and perseverance at, but may have a small positive impact on their life.

My journey to the present day; a student teacher wanting to work with children in early years, was still many years away and over the years I have been privileged to work with many different children and adults, but I have never forgotten S and the time I spent with him.

You may think to yourself ‘he’s only a student, what does he know?’ You’re right; I have a lot to learn about teaching. But if I can give you one piece of advice it is this. Find that special moment or something that keeps getting you out of bed in the morning because no matter what job you are in things will get tough. I am in no way deluded about the amount of work and stress that can be involved in teaching (a job involving those is not new to me) but surely if we can make even a small difference to just one person no matter who they are, it is worth it. Right?



Fairy Houses and Literacy

This was a really successful project I did in literacy with my Year 6 class. We started by watching ‘The Silence Beneath the Bark’, a short film on YouTube which helped to hook the children into the project. We then went outside so that the children could build the creatures a home in our nature area. I have done this in all weathers and it works well each time. Following this (and still outside) the children created designs and wrote a whole variety of genres of writing; stories, estate agent descriptions, fact sheets and letters to the creatures.
To help facilitate the writing I hung Year 6 appropriate modelled vocabulary in the trees around the area in which they were working. I also spent time looking at each house with the children and talking and describing them encouraging the use of ambitious vocabulary. On returning to the classroom the children wanted to make clay models of the creatures and read stories they had written to the creatures. Following this piece of work our Reception class used the houses as a stimulus for their own work involving fairy houses.

You might think ‘Fairy Houses’ would turn off year 6 boys but because the lessons were so active and free the opposite happened and some of their best pieces of writing were stimulated by this project.


image image


Go away, I’m busy!


Go away I’m busy!

As a trainee teacher I was always taught to ask questions as much as possible, make sure they are open, make sure they are probing, sit with a group of children and guide them through their learning, through effective questioning.
I took my son, William, to a local park where he spent an hour or more playing in the rather wet sand pit, busily putting sand into the water bottle he’d found.
I was fascinated by what he was doing and went over to discuss it with him. After some rather short answers to my beautifully structured, open questions, he looked at me, sighed and said,’mummy go away I’m busy’.
Following this comment I thought, do we really have to be questioning children until they are totally sick of it, and it made me think about my role as a facilitator not a teacher. I had ‘facilitated’ the opportunity for William to learn by taking him to the park, my questioning of him didn’t give him anything more at this point. I believe that giving children the space to try things, think and learn on their own is important. I know in the early years there is an understanding of letting the learning develop independently and that it is best practice on occasions to step back and observe from a distance. I think this is equally valid in KS2.
On the way home we talked at length about the sand and what he was doing (making a sand timer) and he loved answering my lovely open questions!
Questioning can be highly effective and is necessary in the classroom but sometimes children just need the space and time to be busy!




A Mud Kitchen for less than £10?

How I built a Mud Kitchen for less than £10!
image I am sure the majority of us have heard about the magic of Mud Kitchens, yet how many of us out there have a bottomless pit budget and can afford to a buy one that is beautifully and professionally built? Teachers are known for their skills in keen-eyed scavenging and this skill was perhaps more essential than the basic DIY skills needed to make the kitchen.
Let me just make it clear that I am in no way a DIY expert. I just about understand that a nail goes in sharp end first and I have been known to recite loudly the rhyme ‘righty tighty, lefty loosey’ when using screws!
So bearing this in mind, here we go!

Step 1: Wood – Pallets are fantastic. Try contacting local builder’s merchants or take a quick trip round local industrial estates. Quite often these companies have to pay to get rid of the pallets when they are finished with them. I got mine from an electrical engineering company who gave me as many as I could fit in my car for free.
Bear in mind they may have nails and screws sticking out so grab a hammer and bash any you see or pull them out with pliers. They will also need sanding. Sand paper is really cheap and it is of course a lot easier if you manage to charm someone in to lending you an electric sander.

Step 2: To fasten the pallets together I made a stack of four that were the same size and then using spare planks from another pallet I simply screwed them together down the side. Then I stood a larger pallet on it’s end and screwed/nailed it to the stack to create a splash board to the work surface. (Awful instructions, I know, but hopefully the photos below will help).
I repeated this process three times. The only exception was that on one stack I used a jigsaw to cut out a gap to set the sink into. The sink was a big investment for the future, a whole 99p from our budget was spent wisely after finding a local advertisement on eBay. I also decided that all three units should remain independent of each other so that the layout can change to meet our needs.

Step 3: Resourcing – This is where your scavenging skills come into play. So far I have managed to get everything for free, or through charm and cups of tea managed to persuade people to lend me tools and give me nails and screws.

I love charity shops and car boots sales. I know not everyone shares my passion, but where else would I have got some of these things so cheaply?

I tried to avoid plastic and concentrated on wood and metal items and setting myself a limit of £10 I hopped off to the local car boot sale. Baking trays and shallow wicker baskets make great shelves and storage. Utensils of all shapes and sizes are great and easy to hang along the back of the units. My favourite and most expensive item was small earthenware pots for £2. Ok, they might get smashed, but they are great for keeping precious items and treasure. If we model how delicate and special they are then the children will follow.

A chalk board was the final essential item for writing down all those delicious recipes and after some digging round the school cellar I found one that was going unloved.

And that was pretty much it!

I know that this instruction guide is not perhaps IKEA standard, but hopefully after reading it you think “well if he can do it, why can’t I?”

(Feel free to email me if you need a translation of anything I have written!)


image image image


Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

We are very pleased to feature a guest writer this evening. Freya, an experienced teacher, kindly sent us an article she has written about a book which was mentioned on previous threads. 

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! How do you encourage your children to think?

I have been lucky enough to have been taking part in an amazing teaching programme which really encourages us, as practitioners, to think about how we teach. Sounds simple, but it has really tested me and made me realise, what am I doing to encourage my children to think?

Yes I can teach them addition, how to count, write in beautiful handwriting, but what am I doing to ensure they are life long learners who will question and test everything they are ‘told’?

Being a lover of books, I was drawn to remember a wonderful book by Dr Seuss called Hooray for Diffendoofer Day. A quick synopsis of the story is the children are taught to think and they love learning. They are taught by wonderfully eccentric teachers, leading to all the children loving attending the school! When presented with the standardised test, the children don’t panic, they know they are equip with the skills to approach questions, even completely new ones, because they have been taught and encouraged to think, rather than the skill of taking a test.

With all this in mind, I have tried ensure I teach the children in my class to think and question. I will ask them questions which encourage them to think about the ordinary in an unusual way. For example (this has been my favourite so far), “what colour is Tuesday?” At first, the children answered ‘red ‘coz it’s in red writing Miss’, but once they were given time for thought and discussion the answers were MUCH better. One child answered, “I think Tuesday is a rose pink, lemon yellow and standing out green because I think Tuesday is a joyful day.” Other answers followed: ” I think Tuesday is orange because Monday is a sleepy day and by Tuesday everything is waking up”. Now it may not sound much, but for children who are always trying to give the ‘right’ answers and are scared of being wrong, I was blown away. This is something I now do on a weekly basis with my children and they are much more inquisitive and will happily argue and discuss their ideas. It has had a positive impact across the curriculum.

I actively encourage my children to think, rather than just be passive learners and I am very excited about having my new class in September to see how far I can push them, and how far they will push themselves, to ‘think’.




What is play?

1. Engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.

As educators we are constantly hearing and talking about ‘the value of play,’ and throughout the decades numerous people have attempted to define the meaning of this all-important word. The definition above is taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. And I have to say, I’m not in total agreement with it. Enjoyment? Definitely. Recreation? Absolutely. But the lack of serious or practical purpose doesn’t sit right with me. Anyone who has seen children exploring a mud kitchen or building junk models will know that there is an awful lot of purpose in their activity!
I would say that the majority of teachers nowadays would not dismiss the value of play. It forms a major part of the teacher training programs. But all too often we are quick to fall into the routine of “you can play when you’ve done your work.” A classroom with play in does not necessarily mean that the play is being valued. And by teaching our children that what we value is the work they do when they are with an adult is directly devaluing their play and discouraging independent learning.

For me, play is a wildly subjective matter. What could be considered engaging and enjoyable by one could be seen as bland and tedious by another. As facilitators of learning it is up to us to find what play is for each individual chid that we encounter. Having a classroom with well-structured and open-ended areas of provision allows the child to decide how they play and ultimately, how they learn.
An experienced colleague of mine recently described a good-quality, provision-based classroom as “feeling like a chocolate box.” I love this analogy as it conjures up ideas of an environment full of irresistible provocations with endless possibilities for the children to choose from. (And having seen her classroom full of happy and fully-engaged children I know that she has it!)

Everyone will have their own definition of play. (I know I have dozens on a Pinterest board to which I regularly refer!) But what I think should be our aim as educators is not to define play as one specific thing, but to constantly change and adapt our definition and understanding of play in order to best suit our current children.

And who better to ask than the players themselves? I did this with my very first class and I was shocked by some of the responses. The answer that stuck in my head was,

“Play is what we do when the teacher says we can.”

I was mortified! I thought that I had it sussed. I had areas of provision and had read countless books and articles about how to set up a play-based environment. But I was so busy setting up what I thought would be a good classroom or what a book told me would make a good classroom that I’d forgotten about the most important opinion of all: the children.

Taking the jump and setting up a completely play-based learning environment is scary. Especially if like me you are in the early stages of your career. But before changing a single thing, we have to be clear about this ‘play’ thing and what it will look like. And that will be different for every school, class, teacher and child.

If I can give you just one thing to take away from this article, it’s this. If you want to know what play is, talk to a child. Ask them what they think play is. Observe their play from a distance and see what it looks like. Because ultimately they’re the ones that define play, not us.




Role play in Year 6, surely not?

An igloo tent in Year 6, surely not?

This is my Year 6 classroom featuring role-play areas.

The children love the opportunity to act out roles and I have tried to structure each area so that they are linked to the Key Stage 2 curriculum. The children use the areas to inspire writing, develop communication and collaboration and also enjoy interacting with each other in role.

I have recently been part of a project where teachers have been sent to see creative teaching in our school. This is a quote from one of them

“when I first saw the role play I thought, this is year 6 and they are in an igloo tent – how is this going to work? When I talked to the children they explained ‘well when we looked at our APP we noticed that certain aspects were missing. We thought about the genre that would tackle these gaps and we agreed diary writing would, so we are pretending to be the receptionist, the paramedic and the injured climber and then we will write our diary entries in role'”

As a teacher, it is obviously a big tick that they were taking control of their learning and investing in their writing – I was smiling ear to ear !


image image image