July 27, 2014 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
As I started to think about the content of this post, I realised what a difficult task it was to try and summarise the type of year it has been. It has been a year of a few ‘firsts’: the first year I worked part-time (4 days a week) – the benefits of which I have written about here – and the first full year in my role of Deputy Head of Science (and my last as it turns out, but more on that later). There have been many highlights, many low-points, many lessons learnt and many, many days where I have questioned my ability and wondered if I was completely out of my depth!
How far we’ve gone…
I started the academic year in my new role of Deputy Head of Science with enthusiasm. My key responsibility is for KS3 and with the implementation of the new KS3 Science curriculum on the horizon, this year was a great opportunity to have a lasting, positive impact on the department. I have written about the work involved with the KS3 re-write in depth here. We are still tweaking the final products of this work, but I can confidently say that Year 7 pupils in our school in September are going to have a fantastic start to their secondary Scientific careers.
Monitoring the progress of the KS3 rewrite has been one of the trickier things I have had to manage this year. I have had to learn when to enforce deadlines and when to allow a somewhat fluid approach to completing tasks. As tempting as it is to see the areas of the department that you are responsible for as being the most important, I have had to learn that it pays to have a good overview of everything that is going on within the school. Having this knowledge should ensure I do not place unreasonable demands on colleagues. Adding to colleagues already heavy workload is a decision that has to be made carefully, and it is important to ensure that: clear reasons are given for what you are asking colleagues to do, ultimate aims of the work are clear to colleagues, and colleagues have all the resources/training/knowledge they need to complete those tasks. I haven’t always got it right in this role this year, but I have definitely learnt from any mistakes I have made. Performing in this role has also made me realise that my skin wasn’t as thick as I had previously thought, but it is definitely developing.
I have been involved in an incredibly interesting project this year that has looked at pupil transition between primary and secondary schools, and in particular the transference of skills and best practice between teachers in these schools. The project was a pilot study organised by my own school in conjunction with Camden Council and the Institute of Education (IoE). It was a great experience. The project was structured around ‘Lesson Study’. Lesson Study, in its simplest form, is a process that involves a group of teachers (three in our case) identifying a focus for study, and then use this focus to choose case study pupils within each teachers’ class to observe. The teachers jointly plan a research lesson aimed at meeting the needs of the case study pupils. The pupils are then observed by the teachers whilst one teacher in the group is delivering the lesson. These observed lessons are discussed and analysed and recommendations are made as to how lessons can be improved in the future. More information on Lesson Study can be found here.
The project was an incredibly worthwhile experience. I worked with two colleagues who teach in local primary schools. Working with them gave me a fantastic insight in to how Science is taught at KS2, something I am afraid to say I have been out of touch with for far too long. The level of engagement I observed when working with the primary classes was incredible. It was wonderful to see whole classes buzzing with excitement about learning. Carrying out joint planning sessions helped in a number of ways: the observing teachers acted as ‘critical friends’ ensuring that all parts of the lesson had purpose, and it was also a safe way to take risks and try out new ideas that had been planned by the group. The observations fell less pressurised than a lesson observation being performed by OFSTED or SLT. if anything didn’t work in the lesson we were all responsible as we had planned the lesson together. The focus of the observation was also not on the teacher, but on the case study pupils. It was interesting to discover that some of the assumptions I had about my case study pupils turned out to be correct, be equally they at times surprised myself and the rest of the teacher group. The whole Lesson Study structure is one that I would like to oursue further. It has huge potential to improve CPD in schools and it will be interesting to see how my own school fitsitin to our CPD programme.
How far we’re going…
One of the highlights of the year was a trip to CERN in Geneva. For those who do not know, CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research) is a centre for research related to the structure of the universe. Thousands of scientists and engineers collaborate daily on hundreds of experiments. As a Biologist I felt like an imposter going on the trip! Luckily the 12 A Level students who made up our working party also had the company of two incredibly knowledgeable and passionate Physics teachers, as well as myself. I learnt a HUGE amount about Physics on the trip and the trip has inspired me to learn more about the field.
The CERN trip made me think a lot about one particular area of my practice. I was incredibly impressed by a researcher who gave us a tour around a facility at CERN. She spoke about the work she and her colleagues were carrying out with so much enthusiasm and passion that you couldn’t help but hang on every word she was saying. The content of her talk was incredibly difficult, especially for a tree-hugging Biologist like myself, but I walked away from the tour realising that everything she had talked about made complete sense – I had actually ‘got it’.
This researcher came to mind again the other night in a completely different context. My brother and I went to see the band The Temper Trap in a small club in East London last week. The band isn’t hugely famous, but they have achieved a large amount of worldwide success in a relatively short space of time, so it was fantastic to be able to see them play in such a small venue. It struck me part way through the gig at how much the band seemed to be enjoying themselves. They seemed relaxed and confident and as I looked around at the crowd it was clear that we were all having a great time too. It was great to see a group of people living their passion, enjoying their ‘work’.
These experiences have really caused me to think carefully about what image I display when standing in front of a class. How do I show my pupils the enthusiasm I have for my work? How can I demonstrate to pupils the benefits of hard work and the joy of continually striving to be better? This is definitely an area of my practice I would like to examine and improve next year.
I have written during the year about the work I have been doing about marking and feedback. This is still an area I need to develop further. I am still not happy with the processes I currently use and that are currently in place at the school where I work. I will be looking to Twitter and the various teacher blogs I follow to get inspiration and construct a more formal plan for September.
Next year is going to be a huge challenge – possibly the toughest year in my career. My fantastic Head of Department has left to take on greater responsibility in a new school and a new Head of Department has not been appointed. As a result it is being left up to myself and the other Deputy Head of Science to ‘steer the ship’ for the first term of the academic year at least. We have had to fight long and hard to ensure the support we will need is in place, and also that the responsibilities that we will be expected to take on are clear to all involved. I have had to learn very quickly how to navigate the politics of middle leadership. I have developed an acute awareness that not a great deal of faith can necessarily be put in to the words that are used to reassure you, and that it is actions that need to be used as an indication of what progress is being made in any particular situation. It has been a frustrating period but I feel that we have laid the foundations for a smooth transition. The lessons I have already learned will definitely help me in the new year…
From January 2015 I am challenging myself even further by moving on to pastures new and taking on a Head of Biology role. I am incredibly excited about this opportunity. The school I am moving to has a strong Science focus and it is a popular subject at all key stages. It is going to be a tough start in January but I feel that, after 8 years and 3 schools, I may have found the place where I can settle and become the best teacher that I can be.
Overall, it has been a rollercoaster year, which I suppose is fairly typical in teaching. I have learnt a huge amount and am able to recognise the many areas that I have still alot of room for improvement in…but isn’t that why teaching is such a great profession to be in? We never stop learning, never stop trying to be better!