Saturday, 27 January 2018

Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

The EEF KS2 Literacy Guidance document states that "reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies that they can apply both to monitor and overcome barriers to comprehension". It goes on to say "strategies should be modelled and practised to ensure they become embedded and fluent". It concludes that "The potential impact of these approaches is very high, but can be hard to achieve, since pupils are required to take greater responsibility for their own learning. This requires them to learn three things: what the strategy is, how the strategy is used, and why and when to use the strategy. Developing each of the strategies requires explicit instruction and extensive practice".

In order for children to make inferences independently the EEF's gradual release of responsibility model is useful. It describes how greater responsibility for using these strategies can be transferred to the pupil:

1. an explicit description of the strategy and when and how it should be used;
2. modelling of the strategy in action by teachers and/or pupils;
3. collaborative use of the strategy in action;
4. guided practice using the strategy with gradual release of responsibility; and
5. independent use of the strategy.

In my last blog post 'Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making' I concluded that children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.

With this in mind, here are some inference question focuses that might help teachers to structure their lessons and questioning more carefully in a way that allows them to model particular skills which the children can then practise:

Making inferences about actions

Ask questions about:
  • how a character feels
  • why a character feels a particular way
  • why a character acts/behaves in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character says certain things (motives)
  • why a character says things in a certain way (motives)
  • why a character does things in a certain way (motives)
  • what a character thinks
  • why a character thinks/believes/expects (etc) certain things
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children. I suggest this sequence of questions takes place over a series of lessons, rather than in just one lesson, especially where written answers are required:

<quote from text> This tells is that x feels... <multiple choice answers> 

Provide a quote from the text that children can infer information from, provide a description of what is felt/said/done and then give a choice of possible inferences for children to choose from. Questions like this might be used more often with younger children. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below:


Character feels x. How do you know? 

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows the character feels x because _______________________.

Give a description of what is felt and ask for children to locate information that supports this theory. Children will probably benefit from being asked several questions with the exact same question and answer structure in order to practise based on what the teacher has modelled, as exemplified here:



This type of question is also exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the cat is the character and the lack of enjoyment is the feeling and the request for three ways in which the cat shows this is in place of the How do you know? question:


How does x feel? What does x think? Explain your reasons. 

Possible answer structure: X feels ________________. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows the character thinks x because _______________________.

This is more difficult than the previous questions as the child has to do more: they have to find their own word to describe what is felt/thought etc and they have to support it with evidence from the text. Ensure that children are presented with several opportunities within a lesson to answer questions at this difficulty level - keep the lesson focused on this one question type. As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the question asks about thoughts of expectation:


Making inferences about events

Ask questions about:
  • what happened (where details are not given explicitly and retrieval skills can't be used)
  • why something happened
  • where something happened
  • when something happened
  • how something happened
  • why something happened in a certain way
  • what was unusual or different about what happened
  • how something has come to be
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what happened:

<quote from text> What do you think happened? <multiple choice answers> 

What evidence is there that x happened?

Possible answer structure: In the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because _______________________.

In the paragraph beginning... what do you think happened? Find two pieces of evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: I think that _____________________ happened. I know this because in the text it says ________________. This shows that x happened because ______________________.

Questions about why something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its cause. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the causes for each event>

<quote from text> Why did x happen? <multiple choice answers> 

x happened. Why did this happen? Give evidence from the passage.

Possible answer structure: I think x happened because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Questions about where something happened:

Read the story/paragraph beginning... Join each event to its location. <provide a list of events next to a jumbled list of the locations of each event>

Where did x take place? <multiple choice answers> 

Where was a when x happened? Explain how you know using evidence from the text.

Possible answer structure: I think a was _________________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________. This suggests that __________________________________.

Making inferences about state

Ask questions about:
  • what something is
  • what a place or object is like
  • why a place or object is as it is
  • what we know about someone's character (what a person is like)
  • where something is (different to where something happened)
  • why something is where it is 
Questions may be framed in many different ways. Here are some examples, given in an order that might allow gradual transfer of responsibility to children:

Questions about what something is:

Tick two pieces of evidence from the text that tell us that the object is x. <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for the state of x>

The object is x. Find three pieces of evidence from the text that support this theory.

<provide an excerpt from the text> What does this suggest that x is? Give your reasons.


Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What is x? How do you know?

Possible answer structure: x is _______________________. I think this because in the text it says ______________________.

Questions about what a place is like:

The place is x. Which of the options below could be used as evidence? <provide several quotes from the text which may or may not provide evidence for x>

The place is like x. Find supporting evidence in the text.

Possible answer structure: This suggests that x is ________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

What feeling does the character get of place x? What evidence is there in the text?

Possible answer structure: The character thinks the place is ______________________. I think this because in the text it says ____________________________.

Questions about what a person is like:

<quote from text> The character is made to seem...: <multiple choice answers> 

<quote from text> How is the character made to seem x? Explain two ways, giving evidence from the text to support your answer.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below, where the character is the whale and the characteristic (mysterious) is given:

<provide an excerpt from the text> What impression does this give us of the character? Give your reasons.

Possible answer structure: In the text it says _____________________ which suggests that the character is _________________________. It also says that __________________________ which makes the character seem ______________________.

As exemplified in the 2017 KS2 Reading SAT below where the characteristic is not given and information to support the answer has to be found:

Read the whole text. Which aspects of the character's personality change? Use examples from the text.

Possible answer structure: At the beginning the character is _______________ but by the end they are ________________________. I know this because at the start the text says ________________________ and at the end it says __________________________.

This is an example of making a global inference based on understanding of the whole text. This can be more difficult than making local inferences about small parts of the text (as in the previous question examples).

A note on answer structures: the examples given are all full sentence answers - you may want to teach ways of being more concise in order to save time, particularly with timed-tests in mind. Bullet-pointing and more note-like answers are often good for this.

These questions and more can be downloaded as a simplified word document at TES resources.

I have by no means covered all the possible kinds of inferences in this blog post, nor have I exemplified them all. Hopefully what I have managed to convey is:
  • Inference-making can be modelled by the teacher and practised by the children
  • Teachers can ask specific kinds of questions to provide practise of inference-making
  • Children can practise specific kinds of inference-making
  • Children can be provided with structures to help them answer questions
  • There are a levels of question difficulty within each kind of inference questions
  • Children can be given multiple opportunities to practise each kind of question, especially where there is a written answer
For an example of how this might work with a real class novel, please see my planning for the first 10 chapters of 'My Dad's A Birdman' by David Almond. 5 whole lessons are focused on making inferences about characters' motives and a further 5 lessons focus on making inferences about characters' feelings. The first lessons in each section feature multiple choice questions, moving onto questions which require increasingly more writing using an answer structure.

This blog post is the fourth in a series of four:


See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.
How To Write Good Comprehension Questions - this blog post goes into more detail on what else to take into consideration when it comes to writing your own comprehension questions.

Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making


Following on from my blog post entitled 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' this blog post provides practical advice about how inference-making might be taught in a structured and simple way. If you are interested in the research base for what I put forward in this blog post then do read 'Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?' first. 

Based on my reading of research, and on my analysis of my own experience of teaching inference-making, I put forward that when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so. To break that down I also suggest that:

  • Inference-making can revolve around actions such as what is (or is not) said, done, thought, felt, believed, perceived and so on. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these actions take place. These action-based inferences might pertain to actions in the past or the present, or to intended actions.
  • Inference-making might also involve events (or happenings, or occurrences) such as what happens or does not happen. Inference-making is also about why, how, when and where these occurrences take place. There are obvious crossovers here with how the actions of a story's characters, or a text's subject, influence events. Making inferences about events might focus more on things that happen with or without human influence e.g. as a result of natural processes or a sequence of other events.
  • Thirdly, inference-making might be about the state of things. These inferences might refer more to inert, insentient things such as places, buildings and objects and could focus on why things are as they are, what they are, how they came to be and where they are. In a way, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun (see my previous blog post) is actually an example of this. Using the same example, and posing is as a question that a reader might ask themselves: What is breakfast? It is bacon and eggs. In the same way Class 1: Referential is an example of making an inference about a thing's state: What is it? It is a fork.

If at least the majority of inferences that we make whilst reading revolve around a verb, including forms of the verb 'to be', then we have a sensible starting point to teaching inference-making. There may be disagreement about whether or not inference can be learned, but what is certain is that it can be modelled by teachers and practised by children in simple comprehension lessons where questions are posed and answered. Since much of reading instruction follows this process it would make sense to be a little more deliberate about teaching inference-making, especially as it is not always easy to do - the very nature of it means that information is not always explicit and takes more finding.

Reading lessons involving comprehension questions, I'd be willing to bet, often follow one of the two patterns:
  • a sequence of questions that naturally arise from the text, usually a mixture of different reading skills
  • a more deliberate set of questions that aim to allow children to practise a specific set of reading skills
These are fine if your aim is for children to have a complete understanding of a piece of text, or if you are giving children the chance to practise a range of skills after they've had specific skills teaching. What I suggest, at least for lessons where you intend to teach reading skills, is that individual skills are modelled by the teacher and practised by the children. If, for example, you wanted children to get better at making inferences you would model inference-making and then make provision for children to practise inference-making.

But, even this presents a problem: not all inferences are the same. A teacher might model an inference about why something happened and then give children practise questions about how someone feels. This won't allow a child to practise particular skills; only children who are already very skilled in making inferences will be able to answer them and in this case the child would need some more challenging work.

Children will probably benefit best from having the chance to practise specific inferences based on the different types of inference-making listed above. If teachers can provide questions that are of a similar structure, and provide structures for the answers too, then children who are at the learning stage of inference-making might have a better of chance of being able to make inferences whenever they are reading.


This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 1: Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.

Research Findings: Are There Different Skills Within Inference?

In her literature review 'Effective Teaching of Inference Skills for Reading' (https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED501868.pdf) Anne Kispal asks are there different skills within inference? and goes on to define and exemplify the most frequently cited inference types:

Coherence inferences maintain textual integrity. For example, in the sentence 'Peter begged his mother to let him go to the party', the reader would have to realise that the pronouns ‘his’ and ‘him’ refer to Peter to fully understand the meaning.

Elaborative inferences enrich the mental representation of the text, e.g: 'Katy dropped the vase. She ran for the dustpan and brush to sweep up the pieces'. The reader would have to draw upon life experience and general knowledge to realise that the vase broke to supply the connection between these sentences.

Local inferences create a coherent representation at the local level of sentences and paragraphs. This class of inferences includes:

  1. coherence inferences (described above).
  2. “case structure role assignments”, e.g. Dan stood his bike against the tree. The reader needs to realise that the tree is assigned to a location role.
  3. some “antecedent causal” inferences, e.g. He rushed off, leaving his bike unchained. The reader would need to infer that Dan was in a hurry and left his bicycle vulnerable to theft.

Global inferences create a coherent representation covering the whole text. The reader needs to infer overarching ideas about the theme, main point or moral of a text by drawing on local pieces of information (thus supporting my theory that one must be able to make inferences before trying to summarise a piece of text).

In 'Constructing Inferences During Narrative Text Comprehension' Graesser, Singer and Trabasso identify 13 classes of inference:

In all but two (or three) of the inferences in the right-hand column it is interesting to note that each class of inference contains a verb, and therefore is concerned with something being so. We might assume that most inferences are about action, state or occurrence.

The two (or three) classes of inference which appear not be concerned with something being so (or are not about action, state or occurrence) is Class 1: Referential, Class 8: Instantiation of Noun Category and potentially Class 5: Thematic.

These thirteen classes can be linked to Kispal's summary of the most frequently cited inference types:

"The order in which the inference classes are listed in Table 1 is not altogether arbitrary. Inference classes 1, 2, and 3 are needed to establish local coherence, whereas inference classes 3 and 4 are critical for establishing explanations. Classes 4,5, and 6 are important for establishing global coherence. Classes 7 through 11 are elaborative inferences that are not needed for establishing coherent explanatory meaning representations. Classes 12 and 13 address the pragmatic communicative exchange between reader and author." (Graesser, Singer and Trabasso, 1994)

Whilst the authors state that "these classes do not exhaust all of the potential inferences during comprehension" they provide a very good starting point to thinking about teaching inference-making at a primary level.

So, by and large, when we make inferences we are thinking about why things are or are not so.

This blog post is the second in a series of three:

Part 2: Reading Comprehension: A Structured Way Of Teaching Inference-Making
Part 3: Questions To Ask When Teaching Inference-Making

See also:

Scaffolding Inference - my blog post about how first asking vocabulary and retrieval questions can guide children towards answering inference questions.

On The @TES Blog: Job Hunting: How Do You Know If You're Ready To Move Schools?

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/job-hunting-how-do-you-know-if-youre-ready-move-schools

Scouring job adverts, visiting prospective schools, completing application forms and enduring rounds of interviews is enough to put anyone off leaving the comfort of their current job. But there comes a time for most teachers when they consider moving to another school.

And if you are considering moving, then this is the point in the year when you will be weighing up your options and deciding if you are ready to make a leap before next September.

In an age of five-year plans, teachers can often feel the pressure to move on, but this way of thinking can lead you to make decisions for arbitrary reasons. Job hunting is a stressful process, so you want to wait until the time is "right" before throwing yourself into it. So, what are the signs that you really might be ready for a move?

Click here to read the 6 ways to tell you're ready for a move: https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/job-hunting-how-do-you-know-if-youre-ready-move-schools

Thursday, 25 January 2018

60 Seconds With @thatboycanteach

http://jennieadams.co.uk/blog/60-seconds-withaidan-severs-aka-thatboycanteach

Educator. Skater. Blogger. And better known to his 14,000 Twitter followers as @thatboycanteach! Meet Aidan Severs.

How long have you been working in education and what’s your current role?

I've been primary teaching for 11 years - currently in my 12th year working in education. This year, I am working three days at my own school as assistant vice principal and two days between three other schools as Primary Lead Practitioner. Both of my roles centre around teacher development. I am currently LKS2 phase leader and maths lead in my own school.

Carry on reading here: http://jennieadams.co.uk/blog/60-seconds-withaidan-severs-aka-thatboycanteach

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Book Review: 'Night Speakers: Sleepless' by Ali Sparkes


The Breakfast Club meets The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, but for a slightly younger audience. An unlikely trio of youngsters are drawn together by a mysterious commonality: they all wake up at exactly 1:34 am every night. Something strange is going on, and they're desperate to discover exactly what. Together, meeting secretly in the dead of night whenever they can, they are drawn into an adventure as supernatural elements of the world around them are revealed.

A heady mix of the regular teenager's everyday struggles - problems with parents, troubles at school, awkward friendships - and ancient superstitions, beliefs and beings, Night Speakers: Sleepless is an incredibly moreish book. Ali Sparkes expertly tantalises the reader with a gradual release of information that often allows the reader to feel like they are just one tiny step ahead of the book's protagonists. Sparkes lets the reader believe the reality of what is happening before the characters do, making for a very satisfying read. Although this is true, there is enough suspense left too - not every event can be expected; a perfect mixture from a skilful author.

The beauty of nature is brought alongside the clamour of urban life as the three young people discover they have powers and abilities which allow them to communicate with nature. Although pegged as appealing to animal lovers, this is not your typical animal story. In fact, the fauna concerned in this story act quite as they should where other books might have had them too anthropomorphised; this treatment of the animals in the story makes for an almost believable fantasy. 

With the classroom in mind, Night Speakers: Sleepless would be a fantastic book for character study, setting description and creating tension. There are excellent passages which would stand alone as short texts for a variety of different teaching purposes. Year 6, 7 and 8 children and their teachers would enjoy making comparisons between this and other fantasy adventures set in the real world.

A hugely climactic, cinematic ending brings brief calm before a nosedive into an unsettling cliffhanger as the book's surprise fourth main character speaks menacingly, suggesting that the business of this book, the first in a series of five, is not yet done. Sparkes has certainly created an intriguing enough world for the follow-up tome to be highly anticipated by readers of Night Speakers: Sleepless.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Four Tendencies and Teacher Wellbeing

In her book 'The Four Tendencies' author Gretchen Rubin outlines four ways in which people respond to expectations. According to her findings everyone fits into one of the following categories:
  • Upholder - readily meet external and internal expectations
  • Questioner - question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified
  • Obliger - readily meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations
  • Rebel - resist both outer and inner expectations
It is worth noting that Rubin believes that we each fall into one single category and that this is not likely to change. However, the Venn diagram below demonstrates that we may 'tip' into a neighbouring category.

Information taken from the free-to-download The Nutshell Guide To The Four Tendencies (a read-through of this will be useful before you proceed)

In a recent Twitter poll I asked educators to complete The Four Tendencies online quiz and to then vote as to which tendency they were. 696 educators responded and the results were as follows:
  • Upholder - 12%
  • Questioner - 47%
  • Obliger - 25%
  • Rebel - 16%
However, according to a survey done by the author (not just of educators), the biggest percentage of people in general were Obligers (41%) followed by Questioners (24%), Upholders (19%), and Rebels (17%). There are some possible reasons for the differences between my poll and the author's (much larger) poll:

I asked on Twitter. According to Rubin Questioners have the following traits:  Data-driven; interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective; willing to play devil’s advocate or buck the system if warranted; strong-willed; enjoy sharing their findings. Which sounds to me exactly like the sort of teachers who sign up for Twitter. It may be that there are many more Obliger teachers who haven't joined Twitter (which is commonly seen by twitter-using teachers as a place to find new and better ways of doing things).

I asked educators. One trait of Questioners is that they ask questions and then enjoy sharing their findings - most teachers like imparting knowledge in one way or another. Questioners also ask a lot of questions, as do teachers. Perhaps teaching is just a natural career choice for many Questioners. Having said this, the traits of Obligers would seem to make great teachers too: Reliable; responsible; team player; good boss, responsive leader; feel great obligation to meet others’ expectations; willing to go the extra mile; highly committed.

People didn't take the quiz. Twitter polls are usually used to gauge a very quick off-the-top-of-the-head reaction, usually based on opinion. My poll was completely the opposite. Some folk contacted me to say they'd voted before doing the quiz (some of them had picked the right option) but there are bound to be others who voted based on their own opinion without understanding the four tendencies framework. Questioner is probably the easiest category to believe you belong to as it is seemingly most self-explanatory, and after all, all people ask questions.

It's also interesting to note that so many Questioners responded to the poll (and indeed that Rebels did too) - they responded to an outer expectation (from me) with only a brief explanation of why they should do it. Perhaps I have some very dedicated followers who felt like my asking for help with something I was writing was a good enough reason.

Implications of The Four Tendencies for Teacher Wellbeing

In Dr Emma Kell's book 'How To Survive In Teaching' she cites that respondents to her questionnaire identified unreasonable working hours for the reason why they left teaching. She also outlines that the LKMco's 'Why Teach?' report found that workload was the top reason for teachers leaving the profession and that the ATL's survey had 76% of teachers cite workload as their reason for considering leaving the profession. There are plenty of other studies and reports that say the same, not to mention the personal experience of many teachers. Heavy workload is the main reason for poor teacher wellbeing.

After reading 'The Four Tendencies' I believe it might be the case that teachers struggle with workload and therefore wellbeing in different ways, depending on their tendency.

Upholders - they will readily meet the expectations of the government, their school policies, their leaders and their students and will do their best to do what is asked of them but will also respond to their own inner expectations, for example, if they know they need to get rest, or to not work so much. Upholders might struggle to delegate because they believe others aren't dependable enough. This puts this group in a fairly good position when it comes to workload and wellbeing, although they still have the potential to uphold unmanageable expectations and want to do everything themselves. Their reliability also might mean that more is asked of them.

Obligers - they will readily meet the expectations of the government, their school policies, their leaders and their students, potentially regardless of difficult it is to meet those expectations. In addition to this, they won't find it easy to priorities their own needs without some external accountability. This puts this group (a large group) at risk of being over-worked, and therefore of having low levels of wellbeing. If an Obliger feels resentful about the expectations they are meeting then they are prone to falling into Obliger-rebellion. Most Obligers are also known to others to be obliging meaning that this group can often find themselves being asked to do more and more, thus adding to their workload and the possibility of them burning out.

Questioners - they will meet their own expectations and if they can see a good reason for doing what they are expected to do, will find this relatively easy. If the policies they are expected to adhere to are not, in their opinion, based on sound reasoning, they will find it difficult to meet those outer expectations. However, in a school system where teachers are held to accountable for meeting the school's expectations, a Questioner could get into trouble - they may end up missing deadlines, doing last minute work, or becoming subject to the school's accountability processes. Questioners also may dislike delegating, especially where decision-making is involved as they believe others won't make the best-informed decisions - this could lead to an obvious increase in workload. If this is the case, then wellbeing levels could be low for a Questioner.

Rebels - they prefer to do things their way, and will often feel the need to do things contrary to expectations (including to their own expectations). Just as with Questioners, in a school system where teachers are held to accountable for meeting the school's expectations, a Rebel could get into trouble - they may end up missing deadlines, doing last minute work, or becoming subject to the school's accountability processes. If this is the case, then wellbeing levels could be low for a Rebel, particularly if they are frustrated at themselves for not meeting any expectations even if they want to.

Providing Wellbeing Advice To The Four Tendencies

Having read Rubin's work with interest, I came to realise that all the advice being given about wellbeing and managing workload (my own advice included) might not be having the desired impact on particular teachers because of their tendency. Perhaps I only give advice as a Questioner that would have an impact on other Questioners.

Rubin outlines that to persuade someone to follow a certain course, remember:
  • Upholders want to know what should be done
  • Obligers need accountability
  • Questioners want justifications
  • Rebels want freedom to do something their own way
If we want teachers of all tendencies to look after themselves, then the advice we give needs to appeal to all. In the book Rubin writes, "because the tendencies see the world in such different ways, there are no magic, one-size-fits-all solutions for how to influence ourselves or other people" but does suggest that "the winning formula is indeed information-consequences-choice... and best of all, humour".

How then can we help each of the four tendencies when it comes to workload and wellbeing issues?

Upholders - when giving wellbeing advice they want to know what they should do. But, any advice given might clash with other internal and external expectations. For example, you might advise someone to only spend a certain amount of time on marking books, but this might not fit with an inner expectation of marking books to a certain standard.

It's also worth noting that telling an Upholder what to do when you have no power to remove other expectations (such as their school's marking policy) might put them in a difficult situation - whose expectation should they uphold? When giving advice to an Upholder is might also be necessary to be someone who they respect - they're likely not to meet the expectations of someone who doesn't matter and are more likely to meet their own expectations, or those of someone with higher standing.

Obligers - when giving wellbeing advice they need to be held accountable for making necessary changes. Much wellbeing advice hinges around the importance of doing things for one's own sake but Obligers are unlikely to meet such inner expectations - they may want to take action to improve their wellbeing, but will feel bound to meeting the expectations of others, no matter how ridiculous (although Obligers can experience Obliger rebellion, where after time, they rebel against constantly meeting unfair expectations).

It is important for Obligers to have someone to hold them accountable - thus making an inner expectation into an outer expectation which they find easier to meet. So, if you are in a position to give an Obliger some wellbeing advice, follow it up by providing deadlines, oversight and monitoring (which to people of other tendencies sounds like too much) - giving advice without this ongoing support will probably lead to very little change in an Obliger.

Questioners - want justifications, and for them, they might need further justification as to why they should meet certain expectations, such as why they should spend time planning lessons thoroughly or providing feedback to children about their work. As discussed before, their wellbeing might be suffering as a result of begrudgingly meeting enforced outer expectations in a last-minute manner - they need to buy into the reasons behind particular work-heavy policies in order to use their time more wisely to complete these tasks.

Where Questioners have inner expectations which have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing (they could, for example, really believe that triple marking is absolutely the best way to mark and thus spend hours each evening providing this) it will take reasoning, provision of research findings, and plenty of information to help them change - they will also need trust the expertise of the advice-giver as they probably won't take advice from someone they think doesn't know what they're talking about.

Rebels - want to feel like they are doing things their way. Advice to the Rebel is best given as a series of recommendations from which they can choose. If only one way is provided then the chances are they will decide to reject that way, preferring to do something their way, or no way at all. However, Rebels may choose to act out of love, a sense of mission or belief in a cause so if the advice-giver can tap into that feeling, as long as they don't specify what they should do.

Rubin also points out that Rebels "may be easy to manipulate by using their spirit of resistance: “I’ll show you,” “Watch me,” “You can’t make me,” “You’re not the boss of me”". This essentially means that in some situations counterproductive advice might drive Rebels to take productive steps or that telling a Rebel that they probably won't be able to solve their workload and wellbeing issues might be the catalyst they need. However they dealt with, they still might defy convention, finding their own ways of doing things to make improvements to their wellbeing.

Other Implications of The Four Tendencies for Teacher Wellbeing

What I haven't gone into in this blog post is how schools might manage teachers of all four tendencies when it comes to getting them to meet expectations. Clearly, the same principles as above apply, but where wellbeing is concerned schools need to ensure that their own policies and systems aren't demanding too much of teachers before thinking about how to get teachers to meet those expectations. Once a school's leaders are content that what they are expecting is manageable, then they should think about applying Rubin's theory to persuading teachers to follow a certain course of action.

Another implication of the above is that one-size-fits-all approaches to wellbeing won't be very effective. Questioners will never see the point in whole-staff Yoga sessions if they think they could be doing something better; Rebels will just walk out. Obligers might go along with your initiative for a while but if they resent it then they might rebel too and even if they don't, it could just add to the pressure that too many expectations puts on. Upholders would most likely get so annoyed at everyone else for not meeting the expectations that they too would feel unhappy.

The four tendencies framework does not intend to label someone's whole personality. Within each group there are hundreds of other factors - nature and nurture - that makes each one of us unique. Having an idea of someone's tendency is helpful, but their other characteristics, traits and experiences must be taken into account too, when thinking about giving them advice about wellbeing. For example, I'm a Questioner but I'm also very loyal so I am more likely to make someone else's expectations into internal expectations because I believe that if I've committed to something then I should follow through on that commitment come what may. If someone were to give me advice, they'd also have to navigate the fact that I find it very hard not to do what I consider to be loyal, even if it is to the detriment of my own wellbeing.

Many teachers feel powerless to change their circumstances - they believe it is only policy makers at government or school level who can do that. They feel like however much they try to change themselves, it will never be enough to combat unmanageable expectations. But when they consider that the way they are (their tendency) will never change, and that (for the time being) policy won't change, but that how they deal with the expectations in light of their tendency can change, things might become more manageable. They might need to be shown how to set their sights lower than whole system change, but higher than no change at all, in order to identify what circumstances they might be able to change:

Obligers might realise they need to ask for more accountability when it comes to taking up a hobby or starting to exercise more regularly. Questioners might need to see that they can ask their questions constructively to people who can influence change rather than question in an unproductive way to their colleagues, friends and family who can't do anything to change policy. Upholders might just need to understand that they want to meet both inner and external expectations and that in order to do this they could plan their time to ensure this happens in balance. Rebels might need to find their own ways of achieving things.

Sometimes expectations  will need to be introduced - some teachers might have no expectation whatsoever that they can have a good work/life balance, and as such will not try to meet that expectation because it doesn't exist for them! Some will need this introducing as an internal expectation (telling themselves that they expect to have a good work/life balance), others as an external expectation (being told that they are expected to have a good work/life balance). The belief that teaching is a 24/7 job can become an external or internal expectation leading some teachers to put in a dangerous number of hours each week - this general expectation in the profession needs to be tackled, otherwise, regardless of tendency, teachers are going to struggle with being well as they try to meet unattainable expectations.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Pearl

It crept towards her, out of the pages of her diary. Those empty rectangles of nothing. And from where there were entries and to-do lists it swaggered out across the pages, parading past her, jeering. When she did manage to shut out the noise, it whispered derisively instead. Not into her ear, but directly from the centre of her head, engulfing all else, like backwash on a beach rattling her logic, dragging all order away and into the deep.

It wasn’t as if she had nothing to do, and it definitely wasn’t because she wanted to do nothing. It was just that what she did have to do felt like nothing. The sense of urgency and fear that she relished did not make residence in the items on her schedule. It didn’t even really feel like her schedule, and definitely not her agenda. Someone else’s, perhaps. Maybe no one’s in particular. Just a schedule.

Things to do, things to do. Busy, busy. No time. The familiar phrases taunted her. She had once felt that way; she felt that absence keenly. It left a vacuum, now perforated and being slowly inhabited by the swirling grey of a winter North Sea, carrying sand and seaweed, grating and tangling with her thoughts.

When had she last been on the beach? Too long ago. The stretching sands and undulating water reminded her that, despite how she felt, the tumult in her head was only… not imaginary, but… something that could be controlled more easily than she could control the heaving mass of water rushing to meet her feet.

King Cnut. He had been demonstrating that he couldn’t stop the tide coming in. So misrepresented these days. He knew he didn’t have divine powers, and that only God did. She pondered this. Then she pondered her train of thought, wondering why she was now sitting at her desk with her organiser open in front of her thinking about God.

She flipped it shut, decisively. Although, she knew not what she’d decided. Only that she would shut it and that somehow, perhaps, that would change the course of her thoughts. Then she realised actually, that in imagining the events going on inside of her head as something more tangible, she had spent a blissful few untouched minutes – she had fought back, stemmed the tide.

She got up. She knew she should do it more often. She should get out there. The nothing must become something. And it would only become something if she made it so. If she found the purpose in it all.

Feeling the sand between her toes she headed to the shoreline, the retreating surf beckoning. The tide was turning taking with it that which had filled the void. The emptiness returned, but it was welcome – it could be filled. And this time she would curate its contents. The sea was back where it belonged and the pages of her diary remained closed.

Something winked up at her, its lustrous shell reflecting the moonlight. The world had its order – tides would come and go. She didn’t have divine powers, but she knew someone who did. Nothing is nothing, everything is something, she realised. The last sounds of the sea washed away, the corridor seemed a brighter place and a pearl began to form around the last remaining grain of sand.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Transforming Primary School Lunchtimes With Family Dining

Transforming Primary School Lunchtimes With Family Dining
The second phase of our school's building work meant that we lost half of our playground. This meant that we could only safely have half the number of children playing out at any one time which was going to be a particular problem at lunchtime.

Break times were easy - we just staggered it so that only two year groups (we are two-form entry) are out at a time, with the oldest children waiting longest for their morning play. So, years 1 and 2 use the playground 10:15 - 10:30 (school starts at 8:45), years 3 and 4 have it 10:30 - 11:45 and years 5 and 6 have it for the following 15 minutes until 11am. Early years have their own outdoor space.

Lunchtimes presented more of a challenge. But our lunchtimes needed a revamp anyway - behaviour still wasn't as we wanted it, the level of waste food was high and the queuing system was inefficient. Thankfully we had a ready-made solution to hand: family dining, something which several other schools in our MAT already did. All we had to do was to make it fit for us.

Here's what we did:

Staggered dinner times
There are three half hour sittings - Reception, years 1 and 2 at 11:30, years 3 and 4 at 12:00 and years 5 and 6 at 12:30. Each sitting is followed by half an hour on the playground. Children do not leave the dinner hall until the half hour is up. Benefits of this are that children no longer rush their food so that they can get out to the playground and they eat more and appear to waste less (on the first day of doing it we went from five or six bins of waste to less than one).

Staffing
Teaching staff are not required to take part in family dining however they are allowed to if they want (main course will be paid for if they do join in and sit with the children). Instead we employ a handful of lunchtime supervisors and teaching assistants and learning mentors work a full hour at lunchtime - first leading a table inside and then doing duty outside. In order to accomplish this TAs and learning mentors then have a half hour lunch break afterwards once the children are back in class. In addition to this there will be one or two members of SLT in the dinner hall who also sit at a table and lead proceedings. The fact that we have well trained staff outside who know children well and who interact and play with the children has meant that incidents of poor behaviour at lunchtime play are almost non-existent these days - no more afternoons spent dealing with behaviour issues for teachers.

Table lists
Children are assigned to a particular table with a particular adult. Children will sit in mixed-gender, mixed-year group and mixed-class groups (when children had a choice this never happened). Adults who know the children create these groupings based on many factors - this is a good opportunity to help particular children who are struggling with friendships or behaviour by grouping them with suitable children. Because of this children and adults have the chance to build and maintain relationships with the same people. Preset groups mean that transition to the hall is quick and there are no issues with who sits where. These groupings may change during the year. 

Serving
One of the worst parts of the old way of doing lunchtimes was the queuing up both out on the playground to bring children in and inside the hall whilst children waited to be served. Now, once tables are ready, children collect the food (which the kitchen staff have already put in containers onto deep trays along with serving implements), take it to their tables and serve each other - members of staff may aid with this although the aim is to have the children do as much as is possible. Once everyone is served children and adults begin eating together.

Room prep
Lunchtime staff start getting the hall ready for lunch at 11am. To facilitate the quick turnaround between the hall being used for PE and the first lunchtime sitting we invested in new tables. The tables have a built-in bench, comfortably seat 12 people and fold in half in order to be stored much more compactly - we have given over a small office-sized room attached to the hall for storage purposes. Lunchtime staff also set up trolleys containing cutlery, crockery, jugs of water and a cleaning station. Once children have been greeted (usually as a whole group by the member of SLT on duty) the nominated children go and collect the things they will need to set the table from the trolleys; all children will then help to lay the table.

Meal choices
Shock horror! There is not a choice of food. There is one meal per day and everyone eats the same food. And you know what? The children eat it. We constantly review the menu and listen to the children as to what their preferences are. Of course, special diets are catered for and in our school a very high percentage of children are from Islamic communities so all the meals are halal. We have had next to no opposition to these changes from children or parents. I think the kitchen quite welcomed this change once they saw children were happy.

Packed lunches
Children are also free to bring their own lunch in - these children are still involved in family dining in that they sit on the same tables as those having school food and they too take part in serving food and setting tables. They wait until all children are served their food before tucking in - part of family dining is that everyone eats together. On each table there is a mix of children who typically have packed lunches and school lunches.

Cleaning
Cloths and water, brooms, dustpans and brushes and mops and mop buckets are all available for children to use to help keep the hall tidier. The improved cleanliness of the hall was immediately noticeable when we started doing family dining. After the children have eaten they clear their plates into the containers the food came in and one or two children will carry away the waste food and dirty dishes to the cleaning station where a member of kitchen staff sorts the items into various larger containers and the bin. Washing up is done by the kitchen staff, as is the final set down of tables.

PE timetabling
Four class teachers at a time are covered for PPA - part of this PPA cover is the week's recommended amount of physical education. In order to accommodate this both the hall and the playground are used on a rota; we also hire a local sports hall which children and staff walk to. Outdoor PE happens in all weathers - children know to come dressed accordingly. All of this ensures that the hall does not need to be used from 11am onwards as the two hours of PE fits in before that.

Filling the time
Quite often the half hour time slot is easily filled with the setting, serving and eating but there can sometimes be a spare five minutes left at the end before the playground is available for the group of children in the hall. This time is used for passing on messages, times of reflection, conversation (the members of staff on each table are there to encourage conversation throughout the mealtime) and appreciations (where children publicly share things they are thankful for).

All in all these arrangements make for much calmer lunchtimes that allow children to exercise their social skills and eat a good meal. I certainly would never want to go back to the old way of doing things. And the fact that Ofsted referred to our lunchtimes as 'fine dining' must mean something (we did get the report amended to say 'family dining' - we didn't want future children and parents to be disappointed that we weren't serving up Michelin-starred food)!


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Book Review: 'Make Me Awesome' by Ben Davis

In this hilarious send up of self-help guides and larger-than-life celebrity life coaches Ben Davis introduces Freddie, gamer and son of a failed antiques dealer, and Chuck Willard, 'inspirer and giver of dreams'.

Things aren’t going too well for Freddie Smallhouse. His dad left his successful job to set up his own business which failed and now they’re living at Uncle Barry’s but he’s about to kick them out. Freddie enrols on Chuck’s Complete Road To Awesomeness programme and sets about trying to make the family’s fortune. One failure after another doesn’t perturb our hero, not when he’s got Chuck’s AWESOME tips and advice to hand.

In this laugh-out-loud tall tale Freddie learns about friendship, integrity and true success as he muddles his way through his response to his dad’s despondency. Amongst the hilarity (the headteacher is called Mr. Bümfacé – pronounced ‘Boomfachay’) there’s a really touching story of how a not-quite-yet teenager might try crazy things in an attempt to deal with a difficult home situation.

‘Make Me Awesome’ is an easy read yet the age of the protagonist (he’s at secondary school), and a couple of the jokes (reference to the rude channels on TV and perverts, for example), mean that this would be really suitable for reluctant KS3 readers as well as KS2 children. With better, slightly more sophisticated jokes than a David Walliams and more plausibility than a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, ‘Make Me Awesome’ will go down very well with those children looking for a funny, quick read.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Book Review: 'The Light Jar' by Lisa Thompson

The Light Jar by Lisa Thompson That Boy Can Teach Review
Very early on you know something is not right - the nighttime escape with hastily packed bags, the feverish glances in the rear view mirror; Nate's mum's paranoia seeps through the pages. And as soon as you hear of Nate's dad leaving and mum's new man Gary you marvel at Lisa Thompson's bravery: tackling a subject like domestic abuse in a story aimed at 9 to 12 year olds? But she does it so beautifully. And it is important that she does - books should tell all stories.

Once again displaying her knack for weaving intriguing mystery into a story about terrible real life events - one that still has many blindingly bright and brilliant moments - Lisa Thompson leaves the reader in a quandary: they want to know more, but they're scared of what they might discover. Where has mum gone? Why did they leave home in the dead of night and turn up to this decrepit cottage? Why does Kitty avoid her own home? These questions and more make 'The Light Jar' a one-sitting type of book - the urge to read on and on is overpowering.

Brimming with clever imagery and metaphors 'The Light Jar' will get minds young and old alike thinking about the significance of Nate's favourite book, of the chicken and the light jar and the magic fortune telling ball toy. Readers will experience the satisfaction of solving the mystery of Nate's new friend Kitty's treasure and will be left wondering just how real Sam and his friends are. This finely-crafted multi-dimensional story will introduce children to the necessity (and joy) of flicking back through previously-read pages to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

'The Light Jar' is a book that digs deep into human emotion, validating the gamut of thoughts and feelings that children the world over will feel on a day-to-day basis. And with all the current news of young people's mental health issues, books like these are crucial in normalising and validating the responses our children have to difficult life circumstances; 'The Light Jar' will provide illumination in the darkness of some of its readers' lives.

Serious, uplifting, mysterious: a combination I've not found served up quite like this before. 'The Light Jar' is a special book and is certainly a must read for 2018. I can confidently say that not much will top it this year.

'The Light Jar' was published in paperback on 4th January 2018 by Scholastic (9781407171289 £6.99)

Sunday, 7 January 2018

I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue: Oracy Games For The Classroom

Hello and welcome to another blog post on thatboycanteach.blogspot.com, the blog that has done for teachers 'what being hit repeatedly on the head with a large croquet mallet does for small frogs... or so I'm told'. You join me here today as I consider what teachers can learn from the long-running BBC Radio 4 panel game 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue'.

Whilst the chairman always introduces the teams as being given silly things to do, the entertainment is usually derived from witty and clever wordplay which demonstrate the competitors' mastery of the English language. Both the EEF's KS1 and KS2 literacy guidance reports have the development of pupils' speaking and listening skills (or oracy skills) as their first recommendation - in the KS2 document the emphasis is on developing pupils' language capability.

The KS2 guidance specifically mentions the benefit of collaborative approaches to improving oracy skills:
The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive, but it does vary so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to collaborate; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. Effective collaboration does not happen automatically so pupils will need support and practice. Approaches that promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains. The following should be considered when using a collaborative learning approach:
  • Tasks need to be designed carefully so that working together is effective and efficient, otherwise some pupils will try to work on their own. 
  • Competition between groups can be used to support pupils in working together more effectively within their group, though over-use of competition can focus learners on the competition rather than succeeding in their learning, so it must be used cautiously. 
  • It is particularly important to encourage lower achieving pupils to talk and articulate their thinking in collaborative tasks, as they may contribute less.
  •  Professional development may be needed to support the effective use of these strategies.
Now obviously the games that the participants play on ISIHAC aren't research-based but if we apply the principles above, and pay heed to the warnings too, we should be able to use some of them to promote a collaborative approach to improving oracy skills, and as a result improve reading and writing skills as well.

Without further ado, the games:

Ad-Lib Poetry: The teacher (or another child) reads or invents a line of poetry. Children than take it in turns to continue the poem, one line at a time. The focus could be on rhyming words, adjectives, synonyms or telling a story. This game does not have a strong competitive element.

Cheddar Gorge:  Children all start with 10 points. By taking it in turns to say a word each, children should aim not to be the one who completes a sentence. If the word they say finishes a complete and grammatically correct sentence they lose a point. The main tactic is to try to force the next person to complete the sentence. This game has a focus on correct grammar and syntax and might help children to assess whether or not a sentence has been completed. Teachers could record the sentences and model correct punctuation. As an extension to this children could be permitted to name a punctuation mark instead of giving  a word - this would allow for the inclusion of parenthesis and other clauses.

Compressed Works: Children give brief synopses of films and books whilst other children guess the title. Similar to this is Rewind where children explain the plot of a book or film as if everything happened in reverse order. This could be played in pairs, groups or as a whole class and gives children the opportunity to practise summarisation - an important and often difficult reading skill.

Letter Writing: Similar to Cheddar Gorge, children take it in turns to say a word, this time 'writing' as famous or historical person to another such person, usually about something they are known for. This can be played in teams with the two teams taking the roles of the two correspondents. Letter Writing could be a good game to use in history lessons or in response to the class novel with children taking on the role of the book's characters. This could be simplified for any style of writing so that children orally co-create a piece of work prior to recording it in writing. One tactic in this game is to add in conjunctions, adverbs and adjectives to prolong the sentences. Another variation is Historical Voicemail  where children suggest messages that might have been left on the answerphones and voicemails of historical figures.

Uxbridge English Dictionary: Children come up with new definitions of words based on the parts of the words. This is potentially difficult so this game might need some preparation in the form of teachers selecting words that would work well. This is a word play game which requires children to know meanings of other words, rather than the one they are redefining. A health warning exists here: it might be wise to supply true meanings as well so that children don't believe that their new definitions are correct.

What's the Question? Either the teacher or a child supplies an answer to a question. Children then have to make suggestions as to what the question could have been. Plausible or funny answers can be accepted. This game might get children thinking about cause and effect and is a great opportunity for them to ensure that their questions are succinct and linked well to the answer.

Word for Word: Children take it in turns to say a word. The aim is to say a word that has no association to the previous word. If another child can prove, however ingeniously, that the word a child say is associated with the previous word, then they gain a point. This game could develop children's vocabulary as they hear words that others know and by trying to find links children will think carefully about word meanings.

Click here to listen to examples of the show on the BBC iplayer (may not be suitable for children)

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Crowdsourced Advice: How To Find The Perfect School For You

Crowdsourced Advice: How To Find The Perfect School For You
When you looked round your school how did you know it was the one for you? 
What were the tell-tale signs that it was going to be a good place to work?

Those are the questions that I asked a whole host of teachers who love their current place of work. I wanted to find out from people how it felt looking round a school, and being interviewed there, which they subsequently went on to enjoy working at. In their answers there are resounding echoes and although I’ve roughly categorised them there is plenty of crossover in what they say.

So, here’s what to look for when you visit a school you’re thinking of applying to for a job:

A Warm Welcome

"A warm welcome from the staff and happy content-looking students." - @resayer

"As I walked through the doors, the office staff were laughing and joking then I got a really warm welcome. In my interview lesson, the TA offered me a brew first and couldn't do enough to help me then the kids just seemed lovely. Lots of smiles of encouragement from interviewers - overall just making the place seem as welcoming as possible. A 'we want you to do well' attitude rather than trying to catch me out, which is then exactly how it has turned out - a very supportive school." - @fandabbydoz

Just a Feeling

"It was the 'feeling' of the culture. It was how people talked about students and each other. Obviously supportive and genuinely caring." - @terryfish

"It was a feeling more than anything else. The way in which staff (both teaching and non-teaching) spoke with each other as well as how they interacted with the students. You can have the shiniest of buildings and equipment but if you don't have the basic positive human relationships as the main ethos of a school then it's not worth it!" - @SamlouJ

"It was a bit like buying a new house. It just felt right. Very much a family feel." - @diankenny

"It was the feel when I went to visit. It was welcoming and the staff were incredibly friendly. The head was off but it seemed calm and everything was running smoothly. I had a tour by a TA and it just felt very natural. Spent about twenty minutes over a break time chatting in the staff room! It was relaxed yet purposeful." - @kathrynmc77

First Impressions Count

"The first person I met was Amy, in the office. She was so friendly, acted like she was truly happy to help. Almost made me feel like we already knew each other. She's got a real skill and welcomes people to our school with such warmth." - @EmmaValerio82

"When I walked into the foyer there was an explosion of children's creative artwork everywhere, books listing the children's certificates of the week for every class, and an outside environment that celebrated childhood and showed how important play was in both key stages. It is a place where I can still enjoy my childhood as an adult. I'm allowed to. Now in my 7th year!" - @natsbailey1

The Headteacher

"The headteacher gave me her vision; it was clear and simple. I felt I knew what she wanted from teachers. Students were calmer than my previous place." - @Mr_Davies_Eng

"The principal was visible in the school which was a HUGE selling point - he visited classes daily, greeted families in the morning and afternoon and obviously had a lot of respect for and from the staff." - @kaz_phi

"I instantly clicked with the headteacher and I could see massive potential in the double RI school I was looking round. I could see that my experience of working in a school that had been in a similar place would be helpful. All the signs were pointing in the right direction. Best move I ever made." - @jessmann11

"For me it was my conversation with the Head. I'd had a really tough time in my previous school and he was very kind and understanding about it. It was also really apparent that we had very similar values, so I knew I could work for him." - @DaisyMay29

"Primarily it was the headteacher - she was definitely someone I knew I could work with. Hard to quantify, but there was definitely a good vibe and a happy ethos and the other staff seemed friendly. Also, it is in the town where I live, so was going to cut a horrid commute!" - @rcoultart

"I was convinced I didn't want to work there before - I wanted a 2 form entry school but when I visited, the head sold it to me. (Flora Barton). She was so enthusiastic, was clearly so passionate about her school, and the children responded to her really well. Our conversation was entirely based on teaching and learning. I remember going back to my previous school and telling my colleague how blown away I was by her, and that's when he told me he used to work with her too, and confirmed that she was great to work for." - @mrsbarlowteach

Behaviour Matters

"It was the students: positive and calm even at lunch. The older students, I noticed, also mingled well with the younger students." - @TJohns85

"450 children were sat in the school hall while the assistant head led assembly. There were no other adults in the room and year six were NOT mucking around! Then the orchestra played as part of the assembly and I was blown away. Also, the fact that it was a six form entry school and teachers shared planning. It was clear that there was an ethos of respect and sharing which would also ease workload." - @LCRteach

Happy, Friendly Staff

"Staff were smiling (always a good sign!), calm atmosphere (but purposeful - people were 'about' but always on their way to or from something and able to explain what and why), and HT was open and honest about positive and negatives of the school. Just a good 'vibe' for want of a better phrase." - @LCWatson01

"It had a sense of calm, instead of intensity. The staff looked healthy not bedraggled." - @natalee_paice

"Every single communication with every single person was polite and kind and good-humoured: not just between me and the Head, PA, Receptionist, HOD and kids giving me tour, but also between staff. For example, in staffroom when I was waiting for different parts of the interview - watching the relationships between staff as they came in and out of staffroom was really positive. Humour was evident throughout - not mocking, satirical humour but just people having fun with each other and ideas. Short answer: the school felt like it was about people and relationships and high aspirations... and it is." - @teacherwithbike

"Existing staff were friendly and welcoming. I've now been here 9 years and can honestly say that even though we have had lots of changes the staff are still as friendly and welcoming as they were then." - @magpie221

The People

"The way I knew I it was the right sort of school for me was more about the people. When I met who was to become my new HOD I could tell that we would get on and that she would give me space to teach the way I wanted. The two students who took me around the college on my first day were open and honest about the school, both its good points and things that weren't so good, for example the fact they have Saturday school but get longer holidays." - @HecticTeacher

"It was all about the staff for me. So positive and all team players. I'd actually seen them all on a night out at the local pub and said to my mate I'd like to work there. Then a job came up." - @MrHeadComputing

Great Atmosphere and Good Vibes

"For me, it was how open everyone was when I first met them. When I looked around, I was welcomed into classes with the head and children we super enthusiastic. There was a positive atmosphere from the first phone call and just good vibes. However, I did know what I was looking for. I wanted a school who were looking to improve and I wanted somewhere which had a strong link and attitude towards well-being and growth mindset. How lessons were taught were also very important to me; I didn't want too many restrictions and some ownership- which was clear I would be allowed. But the winning point was just how open and happy people looked." - @DanMorris90

"Well I was lucky and looked round on World Book Day when everyone was dressed up so it was good vibes anyway. But it was just little things like, on my interview day I was waiting in the staffroom and everyone would come in, speak to me, force me to eat the cake on the table! Everyone was laughing and getting along so well." - @MrTWC

"I'd left a very toxic environment in another school so I was very wary when I visited my new school. Atmosphere was very important. I've been teaching a long time and my antenna is finely tuned! Atmosphere was very positive. Staff are friendly and a good laugh. Head is open, direct and honest. I looked at their twitter feed too and was impressed with their work with parents too."- @weeannieg

"It was the atmosphere - it felt nice going around. The acting head showed me around and was very honest (it's a tough area and attainment is always an issue) but about the positives as well as the challenges - and my experience has proved that she was telling the truth. As I looked around I could see parts of the school practice or ethos that I identified with and felt comfortable with as well as aspects that were new or challenging but that I was excited by. Staff that we met were friendly and welcoming. I heard them laughing together as we walked around and it sounded a happy place to work (it was the Monday of SATs week as well so quite a stressful time!). I do believe first impressions are very powerful in affecting your decisions." - @KatyVaux

"The feel of the place did it for me. The physical building is shocking but the atmosphere was friendly, inviting and purposeful. The headteacher at the time, the staff and governors all made me feel welcome (both during my pre-visit and the interview day itself.) The conversations were around the children and the aspirations for them." - @bethben92

Reputation Precedes

"It probably started before I looked round as I knew of a couple of people who worked there so was able to find out through them what the head was like and how the school was developing (the head was very new and there were things that needed to be changed)." - @rach_b84

"Firstly I already knew the school by reputation and that they had a very low staff turnover - schools I'd worked in in the past had staff who were desperate to leave and that was reflected in their incredibly high turnover which I never think is a good sign!" - @helen25c

The Children

"Loved the ethos of the school, the children were very proud of their school. Really liked the head - he was old school and a true gentleman!" - @klsacker

"I started as a supply teacher so it just grew on me. One thing that struck me was that there were never any tearful or reluctant children being peeled off of parents. When I asked the children if they'd had a good summer holiday, they said they looked forward to coming back to school more." - @JMPNeale

"The impressions I got from both the head and the HoD were very positive (both left within seven months of my arrival!) and the pupils were honest in the Pupil Panel section which was endearing. I've been at interviews where I have withdrawn because things didn't feel right." - @dooranran

"I went round on a Friday afternoon and the students looked happy and engaged. The school was calm but had a bit of a buzz about it. 6th formers showed me around, I could go where I wanted but they were really proud of their school." - @mrsdenyer

"I had already seen the girls at the train station- very confident and lively girls that I knew I would mesh well with in the classroom. Super welcoming environment and the head teacher popped in to see me to say hi because she was off on a trip and couldn't interview me. Just a really relaxed environment which I knew I wanted." - @MrsHaggerNQT

"The first sign was that the older children were the people showing me around without an adult, their responses to questions and the way they spoke about the school and the staff. True honesty and a clear love for the school and those that worked with them." - @APLByrne

Fair Interview

"A very endearing aspect of the interview was that they gave us questions 15 mins before and encouraged us to bring notes in stating they didn't want to catch us out. Despite the challenges I've faced since joining I am really enjoying the freedom the school offers. We are getting a new Head soon too and I think with a few easy changes the school could be one of the best in Wales." - @davowillz

"At interview we were given the questions before the formal part to prepare answers to show our best. Never had it happen before (or since)." - @littlemrsj

Best Fit

"Many reasons: potential that matched my skill set and previous experience; ethos and culture - albeit untapped to some degree; students - I recognised them; Chair of Governors - felt I could work with him well. It felt like 'me' but also like I could really help lift it to what it could be - very exciting!" - @BarlowCaroline

"Just got a feel for the place, good vibe from the head, her philosophy seemed to align with mine. You've got to be on the same page as the head though I think, because they set the climate." - @MrClarkeY6

"Meeting the head, hearing her vision, realising I could help and recognising that she valued what I could do in the classroom. I had been through a horrible time before and she listened." - @BespokePeter

"The feeling I got from faculty, SLT and students was that my kind of approach would be welcomed and valued - a good fit. The school had academic aspirations but were secure enough in their school status that they would let me get there with my own approaches. Gut feeling was that this would be a good fit and turned out that I was right, even better actually." - @MrDeach27

"It felt calm and welcoming, staff and children I saw were smiling. As I went into interview, it felt relaxed like they knew what they were doing, questions were what I would have asked and showed we were a good fit." - @geordiecat2012

Strong Testimony

"The headteacher introduced me to other staff who pretty much all said that they were either proud to work at the school or that it was a great place to work." - @KateHalfpenny1

"I knew someone that worked there so they could give me an honest view of the school and that made a big difference!" - @LAShaw66

"I had a feel of community and support within the staff. Everyone had something positive to say (and you could tell it wasn't faked) I was encouraged to visit and watch classes." - @MissNP_

"One of my friends from my previous school was working in the department, and I was still in regular contact with her, so she gave me an honest appraisal of what the school was like. It was also an instinct thing if I'm honest. I liked the ethos, the students and the way it felt teaching my lesson (to a mixed ability tricky class) so I felt like I'd had a true picture of what it would be like." - @SusanSEnglish

"When I drove past on the way home from other places the car park wasn’t full very early/late. I didn't look round it during the day but the HOD met me after school and they were really friendly. People speak highly if it as a place to work and a middle leader there recommended the school to me. During my interview lots of what SLT were saying clicked with my ethos." - @JenJayneWilson