Getting up at 6am on a the last Saturday of your school holidays for a full day of PD is never a kind thing. Lucky this PD was about how to do my job here well, and involved a free lunch and drinks and catching up with the people I met at iDay, so it was forgiveable.
The day started out with collecting our police check, which Engage Education had prepared for us. It is necessary for our schools to have a copy, basically to say we’re ok people to have in a classroom full of children/teenagers. We had been told to get there early for this, and that tea and coffee would be ready and waiting. It was not. We were there for almost an hour before it was brought out – not a hugely successful start to a day, especially as our first activity was an ever-popular ‘ice-breaker’.
We were split into predetermined groups and taken off into separate rooms. Each group was given a different activity – mine was getting into smaller groups and playing a game called Two Truths, One Lie. Basically, you tell the group two true things about yourself and make up one lie, and they have to guess which one is the lie. I find it extremely hard to lie in situations like that, so I went last out of our group. They thought I was lying about breaking my arm jumping off a trampoline, but were perfectly happy believing that some students set my lab on fire during a prac… not sure how I feel about that! As far as ice-breaker activities go, it was nice to not go around in a circle and tell everyone about yourself, and it did allow us to get to know some people, but realistically I didn’t talk to any of them again anyway so it seemed a bit pointless.
After this fun time, we headed into a lecture hall for our welcome and first speaker. It felt so much like being back at university (including someone walking in late, very hung over), that we all felt simultaneously right at home and very uncomfortable. Especially when everyone took out their notebooks/laptops to take notes, and were asked to put away their mobiles.
Our first speaker was a principal at a school I had actually interviewed with. He is such a good presenter and personable person that it made the early start easy to deal with. He talked us through his career, highlights and lowlights and dealing with teaching in the UK. He also gave us invaluable tips on what to expect on our first few days at the school, such as finding out about the school’s priorities and commitments, who the safeguarding person is, and what the parent involvement policy is. Seemingly obvious things that I definitely would not have remembered to do. He also mentioned something I had never put into such eloquent words before, but try to explain to students all the time – A good report card will get you in the door, but other life skills will keep you in the room and ensure success. I think this is something that students, teachers and admin all forget a lot of the time. We do need that balance between academic success and general life well being (insert another rant about overcrowded curriculum here).
After this we had a talk about Engage Education’s social calendar, which looks like it includes many activities I would actually go to! There was one semi-unfortunate one though – their Christmas party being scheduled for the night of my birthday. We will have to see about that one.
We then had some time to talk with our consultant. It was also almost lunch time, so like good Australians we hung around the entrance to the room where the food was being set up until it was ready to go, complaining the whole time about how hungry we were and how it looked like there wasn’t enough food. Sure enough, there wasn’t enough food. Extra food was brought in, but it was still very poor form on behalf of the organisers. We’d been there for 4 hours by this stage, with no breaks and having our brains filled with information – this makes people very hungry. In the end everyone was fed, but it was clear to see not everyone was full. It was going to be long afternoon.
After lunch, we were split into groups again to rotate between a few different speakers. Unfortunately, due to a little bit of poor organisation, our first speaker was reduced from 45 minutes to 15 minutes. In spite of this, he did an extraordinary job of getting across all the points he felt we needed, and we were all furiously taking notes the whole time. He told us about good lesson starters – what they should include and how to make them successful, and gave us a few good examples. Over here, specific lesson starters are a priority, not a fun thing to do to start the lesson while the teacher marks the role. He also talked a little bit about marking and feedback, which again is something that is very explicit and expected here. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ll be doing specific marking on a three-week schedule for all of my 15 classes, so any and all tips were lapped up. He then finished by directing us to a brilliant resource website – theteachertoolkit.com – full of resources, pedagogy ideas, classroom management strategies etc. If you’re a teacher, go check it out!
Our second presenter gave us the tip of changing seating plans every half term (6-8 weeks here), purely to keep it fresh for the students. He suggested that on the hard copy of the plan we should be including student ability level, any necessary medical information, etc, basically anything you may need to know at a glance about particular students. I like this idea, but only as long as that copy isn’t up for display in the classroom, as I feel it would create unnecessary embarrassment for students. He then went on to explain, through the use of a walk-around-the-room activity, that differentiation (oh yes, that word) can be done through organisation, task, support, outcome, questioning and student expertise. I think most of these overlap and don’t see why they need to be separate categories, but I can see how it would be useful to label activities as such so that if any of the higher-ups ever ask, you can explain it very quickly. We were told about what to expect from learning walks (where another teacher, HOD, etc, will visit the classroom to see how everyone is getting along), and to find a good plenary generator for quick and easy content-understanding checks. The top tip I took away from this talk was to question students until they actually have to think about the answer. There is little good in giving easy questions with easy answers, as it teaches the students to memorise information. If they are being asked a question they actually have to think about, it expands their learning in so many ways. I’m going to have to work hard at this one, but I want to become that really annoying teacher who makes their students think laterally about science, and the world, so I’ll keep at it until I’m good enough!
Our last talk was from our payroll company. This was relatively boring in a sense, but incredibly useful as it told us how to get paid, basically. I won’t bore you with the details here though!
After more talks from the Engage crew about social media and the social calender, it was off to Tiger Tiger in Leicester Square for drinks. We decided to head there straight away, as we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stay out. Turns out we arrived as one of the first groups, which meant no cue at the bar for our free drink. We settled ourselves into a booth and chatted for a few hours with various people we knew and met. It was very entertaining to have the lights dimmed and the club music start pumping out loud at 5.30pm. In the end we scored a few free drinks, but no where near as many as some (who got up to 7!) – it worked by a token system, and it seemed like if you were friendly enough to the lady in charge of the tokens, you got more of them. Not fair, but that was that.
In the end we decided to head out for food (dinner was not provided), and found ourselves at the local Pizza Hut. The pizza was delicious, and put us all in the mood for sleep. Back home we headed for a well deserved rest – it had been an incredibly long day.
Fun story – we came across a fox in a garden on the way home! I was about 12 feet away from us, but ran away as we got closer. They’re pretty cute!
Overall, a very informative day. If you’d like more details about any part of it, or about any of the specific information we were given, please let me know!
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About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.