New horizons….

I am no longer a MEd student, in fact I haven’t been one of those since the end of October 2015. So, I’m not sure I can continue to call myself a MEd-dler, which was part of my twitter handle while I was doing my MEd at Cambridge.

Having moved to pastures new, I am now considering blogging under a new name and invite you to join me for my “mindful musings.” I intend to write about my journey as a newbie PhD student. Eeek! Four months in, I am finding my feet and defuzzing my thinking. Fuzzy thinking is definitely a thing – I’ve been pretty good at that so far. But the fuzz is starting to lift (that should read “fog” really) and my specific research focus is starting to emerge.

Huge thanks must go to my MEd supervisor and MEd pals at Cambridge, because without you wonderful folks I wouldn’t be embarking upon this new adventure. It feels exciting and daunting in equal measure.

Wishing you all well.

Suzanne

http://www.musingmindfully.wordpress.com

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A Return to Love….

This was one of the readings from the retreat this weekend. It made me cry. 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of the Buddha –

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of Enlightenment that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Adapted from: Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love.

Retreat or Renewal? My alternative to #BELMAS2015….

While my prinicpal, my MEd supervisor and many other teachers, leaders and education researchers made their way to the #BELMAS2015 annual conference this weekend, I had other ideas. The theme of that conference was fascinating: “Time for Retreat or Renewal in Education Leadership”; but for me, the weekend held different plans. Retreat would feature, as would renewal.

Let me explain…. I have just returned from a Buddhist retreat, held in Newmarket and led by members of the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. The theme of the weekend – “Facing Yourself: the Challenge of Buddhism”. I’ve been on a number of retreats, and am always amazed at how different they all are whilst containing many similar components. Vegetarian food is standard, as is early morning meditation and porridge for breakfast. Helping out with “duties” and some free time. Sharing a room with a stranger, and tiptoeing along the corridor to the loo in the night, too.

But this retreat was different for me. I have recently had what I am calling a “Buddhist epiphany”. I am now committed to being a vegetarian, I am trying to abide by the “Right Speech” element of the Eightfold Path, and have started attending Sangha (community) meetings more regularly. When I placed the booking back in April I didn’t realise how far I would have travelled in the lead-up to the retreat itself.

So, I was approaching the weekend with positive emotion, feeling inspired and motivated! Within the first couple of hours after arriving on Friday afternoon, I was being encouraged to think of becoming a “mitra” (friend) as part of my ongoing journey. I enjoyed talking with other retreatants about their respective motivations and found myself intrigued about what had inspired the “newcomers”, in particular, to come along. Watching them participate in meditations, periods of silence, Buddhist rituals (pujas / mantras) was both a joy to see and also illustrated to me how much I have developed over the years.

I usually try to switch off completely during a retreat (first thing I do is turn off my mobile!), but during “down time” this weekend I did dip in and out of the book “The Way of Mindful Education” (Daniel Rechtschaffen). With heightened awareness and focussed attention (these are the “objectives” of a retreat, in my opinion), I found myself enthusiastically noting down ideas for introducing mindfulness more widely at the school where I work. That might sound like work, but it wasn’t, honest! I had put work out of my mind completely; this was something bigger. Over the past 48 hours or so I have realised that in order for mindfulness to be successful at school, I need to feel secure in my own mindfulness practice and to model it day in day out. I have taken a step closer to that this weekend.

On reflection, then, I have learned more about awareness, of myself, of others, of the environment around me. I have engaged with my practice. I have discussed with others. I have contemplated in silence. By retreating, I have learned about renewal. So, I might not be any wiser about the wider #BELMAS2015 views on a similar topic – other than via a few tweets I’ve been catching up on since reintroducing myself to the digital world – but I have found a renewed vigour and determination to bring back into my everyday life. I am grateful on so many fronts.

With metta (loving-kindness).

PS Thanks go to my former step-father (it’s complicated) and dear friend, Mike Kelly, who could not possibly have known the influence and power of introducing me to the “Friends of the Western Buddhist Order” (FWBO – now known as Triratna) back in the 1980s. That’s when the seed was sown. After a period of drought, it might now be time to blossom….

The Great Turning: Meditation, Mindfulness & Meaningful Ecology

Yesterday I spent a day at Cambridge Buddhist Centre http://www.cambridgebuddhistcentre.com/ at an event which challenged my thinking and has become a bit of a turning point for me (no pun intended, but one of the key principles of the workshop was called The Great Turning!). Originally, I hadn’t planned to attend this particular event – a workshop called “Work That Reconnects”, based on the work of Joanna Macy http://www.joannamacy.net/  – but the energy healing one I wanted to attend was already fully booked. So, I booked onto this one, for two of us. I thought my friend – a vegetarian, Green-party-supporting and volunteer-for-many-great-causes type of person – might be interested in coming along. But she’s on holiday and so I travelled to Cambridge alone, with a veggie sharing lunch in my bag, not sure quite what to expect.

Within minutes of starting, there were tears in the room, people were talking about very personal experiences and expressing their strong views on the damaging effects of modern life on the environment; the existence of the planet was in question and I felt a bit out of place. I don’t (or at least didn’t) consider myself particularly “green”, although I do try to recycle, avoid waste, reuse, etc as much as I can. Much of the way I separate my household rubbish is informed by my experience of living in Germany in the late 80s and 90s, when I had about 6 different bins and Saturday mornings involved a trip to the market place to deposit my various recyclables. But I’m no ecowarrior in the making!

Part-way through the morning, we did an exercise which involved connecting with our emotions; we were encouraged to share our feelings of anger, fear, sadness, emptiness, confusion and hope. I found myself making an impassioned statement about “waste” in this consumerist, throwaway society of ours. I hadn’t realised quite how strongly I felt until it was unearthed in the confines of this intimate, trusting circle (Mandala).

After a delicious vegetarian lunch in glorious June sunshine, we set to work on “seeing things with new eyes” and learning more about the interconnectedness of our lives, actions and effects. During this session, I discussed at length a project that I believe could actually become a starting point for a way forward. I’m not the first to think of this, and acknowledge that there are movements such as Mindful Education http://danielrechtschaffen.com/mindful-education/ and Non-Violent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dpk5Z7GIFs ). Having felt overwhelmed by the enormity of “saving the world” before lunch, I now realised that small steps would be the way forward, I could make a contribution and I felt galvanised to make a start. It may not be a traditionally “green” project but it might make the world I inhabit a nicer place to be, and so, in my mind that’s environmental.

Building on my experience of mindfulness, meditation, Buddhism over the years and my passion about languages, interpersonal communication and the impact and power of the language we use, I feel moved to at least try to make a little difference. So, I want to talk at the school I work at about introducing mindfulness more broadly than “just” in my lunchtime sessions for a few students and staff who turn up on a Thursday. I want to encourage (some) colleagues to read some of the principles of non-violent communication (perhaps in a teachers’ book club?) with a view to piloting some ideas with some of our students next academic year. And most of all, I want to talk as openly and regularly as I can about the power of just being nice to each other, noticing the present moment and ceasing to strive for the next new object that will momentarily satisfy some need in us.

Wish me luck!

Thesis Abstract – starting at the end….

I attended a MEd session some time back where we discussed the purpose of an abstract. Within two hours I did a complete turnaround in my thinking! It makes sense to write an abstract sooner rather than later, so I became determined to not leave it to the last minute….

An abstract serves as an “amuse-bouche”, an appetiser to entice readers to want to read the whole article, or in my case my thesis. It has been very useful trying to construct my abstract today; I now see it as my calling card. It has helped me frame my research within the context of the literature. Trying to condense a 20,000 word thesis into just 300 words is a skill – I’m not saying I’ve got it completely right, yet, but I have learned much from the process. I hope it gives you a flavour of what’s to come. And if it doesn’t then let me know while I still have the chance to get it right!

Lesson observations continue to form a key element of monitoring teaching and learning in classrooms. Much has been written about the reliability of observing teachers as a means of monitoring their performance, competence and effectiveness. Currently, in England, there seems to be a shift away from using lesson observation grades to judge teachers and their teaching; Ofsted’s Framework clearly states that individual lessons will not be graded during an inspection. Some schools around the country are moving away from providing grades for lesson observations.

Feedback regularly features as an integral part of the lesson observation process, be it in writing, verbal, informal or formal, graded or ungraded. The wider literature suggests that feedback is ‘a complex notion’; it can be welcomed, accepted, rejected, ignored, acted upon, and much more. Much depends on the extent to which feedback constitutes an interplay between the two feedback parties, the giver and the recipient.

Self-efficacy is emerging as an important theme in educational research; the extent to which teachers feel confident about their ability to teach affects their ability to function effectively and to view themselves as successful teachers. The way lesson observations are conducted and the manner in which feedback is given and received can determine the extent to which teachers feel able, willing and confident enough to take risks in their teaching.

This survey is designed to investigate whether teachers reported differences between their perceptions of the published theory and research into lesson observations feedback and their personal experience.

A particular focus of this research is the extent to which observers are able to influence how lesson observation feedback is received; furthermore, I am interested in looking at ways in which the recipient reacts to the feedback and how the process might become more dialogic, interactive, supportive, non-judgmental and developmental.

#TwitteratiChallenge

Thanks to @thosethatcan for nominating me for the #TwitteratiChallenge . We have never met in the “real world” but I feel a real closeness to her. And we are both Germanists!

My nominations are as follows:

Vincent Lien aka @fratibus – Vincent has really supported me with my MEd studies, providing critical friendship and encouragement online. Unfortunately, our one chance so far to meet up non-virtually was scuppered by a pesky flu which stopped me from attending #rEDCamb this year.

Beth Kelly aka @imisschalk – again, a MEd-related twitter “friend” who contributed regularly to #MEduCHAT back in the day and whose encouragement and support has been greatly received!

Nick Newman aka @newmanswords – a true advocate of Careers Education, we met virtually and are soon to meet face-to-face. Nick’s encouragement, support & advice online and over the phone has recently helped me secure a post as lead teacher for #CEIAG  from September.

Simon Warburton aka @Simon_Warburton – I first “met” Simon via #SLTchat debates a couple of years ago. I was looking to step up into a SLT post and Simon’s blog advice really helped me revamp how I approached applying for jobs. In return, I offered to proof-read his blog, once or twice. We now work together, which is kind of cheating but I don’t care 😉

Richard Spencer aka @richspencer1979 – similar to Simon above, I “met” Richard via #SLTchat some time back. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to a job interview last June to meet someone I follow on Twitter in person! Richard may never know what his words meant to me – emerging from a dark period of my life, and lacking in confidence about my teaching abilities, Richard kick-started my journey to recovery! I got the job, worked with Richard until Xmas, but he has moved on and I so, officially we don’t work together!

@teachertoolkit ‘s rules are: 

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post

What to do?

  • Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly go-to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge
  • If you’ve been nominated, please write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm
  • The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are. However, as I am a rebel, I nominate everyone. You are not the last to be picked in PE again.

Webinars: the way to go for Professional Learning….!

Embedding Formative Assessment: my review of Dylan Wiliam’s webinar (8pm, 25 February 2015)

efa wiliam

“The best teachers benefit students for years after they stop teaching them” Dylan Wiliam, February 2015.

I am, of course, familiar with the work of Dylan Wiliam from back in my PGCE days in the early 2000s and then more recently during my MEd studies, where inter alia my research is looking at whether Wiliam’s ideas on formative assessment and comments-only feedback for students can be applied to the context of feedback for teachers. In a previous school, I led a Teaching and Learning Community (TLC) group of teachers from a range of subjects, using the 2011 edition of “Embedded Formative Assessment” to shape the sessions. I have recommended the book to numerous trainee teachers, NQTs and others more established in their teaching careers. As Dylan Wiliam himself says, “teachers need to be the best they can be”.

As many of you know, I am a prolific Twitterer and one of my Twitter highlights was when I received a direct reply from @dylanwiliam himself back in November 2014. So, when I saw a webinar advertised on Twitter on the not-yet-released new edition of “Embedding Formative Assessment” delivered by Dylan Wiliam, I just knew I needed to sign up! Early evening on 25 February I logged on to my laptop, signed in and sat waiting eagerly with headphones on and my phone close by so I could live-tweet throughout.

I am familiar with many of the techniques advocated by Wiliam, and this book will no doubt be equally successful in highlighting techniques teachers can use to communicate with their students on how they are doing and where they can improve further; the title indicates that it is full of “practical techniques”. Lots of Wiliam’s techniques are now truly embedded in my teaching practice, for example traffic lights, wait time and no-hands-up. Wiliam himself during the webinar: “Hands up gives us a distorted view of what’s going on in the classroom – don’t let the quickest dominate”; we can all benefit from allowing students some wait time; the best answer in the room might otherwise go unheard. Further, “Red-Amber-Green can work well in pair- or small group work as a signal to the teacher, and allows the teacher to manage their time more effectively.” The success of this technique lies, in my opinion, in the fact that it is all about the students communicating and signalling to the teacher, thus enabling the teacher to make appropriate adjustments to their teaching, if need be in real time. Flexibility within our lesson plans is key!

One very important message coming out of this webinar was, however, that “techniques (like these) are less important than the process of how to change as a teacher. Teachers are not clones but need to be the best they can be.” I guess this means it is important to understand the why and the how of teaching as well as the what; as I have said numerous times before, it’s more about the “nuts and bolts” of teaching than whichever “bells and whistles” we choose to employ. Importantly, Wiliam emphasises the need to focus on a few small changes in teacher behaviour, possibly even just one element of our teaching practice which we want to improve, allowing it to become truly embedded in our practice before moving on to improving the next thing; Wiliam speaks of the need for things to become “second nature” and for teachers to be allowed to choose what “to focus on that will make the biggest impact on their students”. As lifelong learners ourselves, we need to be mindful that whilst “teaching happens in time, learning happens over time”. There is no quick fix!

Forty minutes on and I felt truly invigorated having listened to the wise words of the man himself and with an endorsement from our principal, that I could buy a copy of this book for the staff library. I think we might actually need more than one copy!

The webinar was recorded and the audio file and accompanying slides can be found at:

http://www.dylanwiliamcenter.com/webinar-embedding-formative-assessment/

I’m quickly becoming a bit of a webinar junkie (if you can say that after just two “hits”?) and in the next few days I’ll be writing up a review of a webinar from earlier this week (Monday 23 March, 4.00-4.30pm), delivered by Stephen Tierney:

“Assessment without levels: key principles”

What is assessment for? What matters most, and what should you focus on?