Tomorrow I’m returning to work after nine and a bit months off. For all sorts of personal reasons, it’s been the best experience I’ve had of maternity leave. I’ve been blessed with a reasonably easy going baby (though heaven forbid she should wait any time AT ALL for food), have a supportive fiancé and lots of family nearby to help us out. But it’s also been the best experience I’ve had of maternity leave for professional reasons too.
It’s fair to say that when I was off on maternity leave with my two sons (nearly a year with the first and about five months with the second because he was a bit of a terror and almost broke me) I barely thought about work. I definitely don’t think that’s a bad thing and I think women must think about work about as much or as little as they want when they’re on maternity leave.
So, whilst I’m reflecting on my own professional development over the past few months, I’m in no way suggesting that this is something all women should be doing. However, it’s clear from projects like #MTPTproject that lots of women (and men out there who are off on extended paternity leave because of shared parental leave which is a great thing) are keen to maintain their professional development whilst doing one of the most important things we’ll ever do in our lives: looking after the littlest ones.
So what have I been up to these past few months?
I’ve been thinking deeply about some important things.
KS3 curriculum design has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot for the past few years. Back in 2015 I wrote a couple of posts about it here and here as I embarked on a redesign of KS3 for a school I’d just joined as a Lead Practitioner. Since then it’s a topic I keep coming back to and I’ve presented my journey a few times at ResearchED Rugby in 2017, ResearchED Birmingham in 2018 and CurriculumED and ResearchED Rugby this year (blog to follow on this).
When I left at the end of September, I was reasonably happy with the curriculum we’d put in place for KS3. Being away from the day to day pressures of teaching and leading a department has given me the space and time to think about our curriculum offer some more and I’ve realised we’ve got to make some changes. I won’t go into too much detail here but I’ve been spurred on to make changes because of the further reading and thinking I’ve been doing about schemas, sequencing and powerful knowledge.
I’m really excited about where we’re going with KS3 in September and I’m thankful that I’ve had the time to think really deeply about what we should be doing. I’d have probably reached the same conclusions at some point but I think there is something powerful and useful about taking a step back and really interrogating things from a distance which maternity leave has allowed me to do.
I’ve learnt so much from the presentations I’ve been to and the conversations I’ve been lucky enough to have with some inspirational professionals.
I’ve managed to attend and speak at a fair few events. The work that goes into organising these can’t be underestimated and the fact that speakers give up their time for free and teachers are motivated to give up their free time to hear what others have got to say makes me very proud of where we’re at as a profession.
I’ve been to a couple of once a year events: CurriculumED (organised by the best hugger in the land: Stephen Lane), The Educational Festival and TLLeeds19 (organised by the fantastic Anne Williams). However, I keep coming back to Researched events and I thank Tom Bennett and Helene Galdin-O’Shea for making ResearchED such a success and to all the organisers of the Researched events I’ve been to whilst on maternity leave: Claire Stoneman, Simon Cox, Shaun Allison and Jude Hunton.
Some highlights from the events I’ve been to and the discussions I’ve had (as I write this I realise how lucky I am to have a fiancé who supports me in my endeavours):
Heather Fearn’s presentation at ResearchED Birmingham back in March about curriculum and the new inspection framework. I welcome Ofsted’s attention on curriculum – it’s the core business of what we’re doing. If schools are brave enough to truly embrace the curriculum as the progression model it should help move us as a profession away from pointless KS3 data tracking systems etc. As Heather said, ‘Progress is when the children have learned what was intended’. So what do you want students to know and do they know it?
Sarah Barker’s presentation also at ResearchED Birmingham back in March on building students’ schemas. She illustrated her point beautifully when she discussed teaching the poem ‘London’ to her class and that they needed to build their schema of London itself before delving into the poem and unpicking words like ‘chartered’. Sarah’s a constant source of advice, wisdom and knowledge and I’m very lucky to be able to call her my friend.
Meeting the shady Mark Lehain the night before ResearchED Blackpool. I’ve learnt a lot from the discussions we’ve had since (although his sourdough mentoring left a lot to be desired) and I think PTE are doing great things.
Tom Needham’s presentation at ResearchED Blackpool was a tour de force. It’s incredible to see what he’s doing in his department with Direct Instruction. I came away buzzing from his session and it gave me direction for my reading about how we’re going to sequence analysis in KS3 from next year. If you haven’t read his blog yet, you must: here.
Spending time with the wonderful Amy Forrester at ResearchED Blackpool and hearing about the things her school are doing about performance management (she co-presented with her head Rob Petrie). I love that they’ve moved away from data targets and their focus on teachers taking ownership of their own professional development. You can read Amy’s blog on the topic here. I’m so proud that Amy’s going to be Tes Behaviour columnist next year and proud to be her friend.
Seeing Daniel Muijs’ keynotes at Birmingham, Blackpool and Durrington. He always speaks with such clarity about the importance of our profession being research informed – that it’s a moral duty. I also enjoyed having the chance to chat to him more when we caught the same train back from Blackpool.
Ruth Walker’s blogs, chats and presentations (I’ve seen her speak twice this year: ResearchED Blackpool on Legitimation Code Theory and CurriculumED on Powerful Knowledge). She’s one of the cleverest women I know and writes so persuasively about the intellectualisation of our profession. She inspires me to better and to think more deeply. Possibly my favourite post of hers this year has been the stunningly beautiful ‘Gold’ which you can read here.
Stephen Lane’s amazing CurriculumED conference. What a privilege to hear so many amazing people talking about curriculum and to spend the day with one of my favourite men. It was so well-organised. I really enjoyed Christine Counsell’s closing Keynote. I love her blogs on curriculum and it was great to finally hear her speak. I’m super excited that Christine will be coming to our MAT conference this Autumn.
Grainne Hallahan’s presentation at ResearchED Rugby on The Batman Effect was ace. Something I’d never heard about and something I’m keen to learn more about. As a fellow mum of three, I look to Grainne to see what’s possible when you’re juggling a profession you love with raising children. She’s absolutely smashing it. She’s doing amazing work at the Tes and I love reading her pieces which are not only beautifully written (we’d expect nothing less) but well-researched and really thought provoking. I’ve also appreciated Grainne’s advice and support with my own writing for the Tes – I’m so lucky to have you as a friend, G.
Tom Rees and Edward James’ presentation at the Education Festival on substance over style – developing expertise in school leaders was great. It’s really interesting to see where the Ambition Institute is going with this and I welcome a move away from nebulous qualities of leadership like ‘dynamism’ and ‘visionary’ to the nuts and bolts of what leaders really need to know to be effective.
Chatting with Stuart Lock at the Education Festival about leadership was great and he’s been very patient with some follow up questions via DM. I’d love to visit Bedford Free School to see what they’re doing but I’ve learnt a lot about what really brave, forward thinking leaders do. Servant leadership is something I want to learn more about – doing what’s necessary to allow teachers to get on with the most important job in school sounds exactly like what senior leaders should be doing.
Spending the day with my pal Sana Master at TLLeeds19 was awesome. Despite the fact we chat most days, we’d never managed to meet in person before. She was as funny and warm as I knew she’d be. You’re amazing, Sana, and thanks so much for all your support as a friend. I’m lucky to have you in my life.
Matt Pinkett and Mark Robert’s presentation at TLLeeds19 was brilliant. They’re a great duo and they shared some really important research about how we can do better for the boys that we teach. I’m returning to a school that now has boys so it was a timely presentation for me (after a couple of years of only teaching girls). I finally got my hands on their book and I’ve been dipping in and out already.
Adam Boxer’s blogs and chats. He has been on fire recently with so many powerfully persuasive and important blogs. He’s brilliantly clever, funny and a half-decent conference husband. When I was writing my new department handbook I realised just how much influence he’s hand on my thinking. If I had to just pick one must-read blog of his from this year it’d be this one on what to do after a mock exam here.
Last but not least, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with my partner in crime Claire Hill this year. She’s the best co-presenter I could ask for and she puts up with an awful lot working with me. Thanks for tolerating me, Claire. I love that I learn so much from her about English, leading English and curriculum design. Her blog post on Curriculum as Tapestry is a real beaut here.
I’ve been appointed as host of the new Tes Leadership Podcast.
I’m so excited about this opportunity and you’ll be able to hear the podcasts from September. It’s allowed me to interview two incredible leaders already: Clare Sealy on managing change and Claire Stoneman on how schools can support new senior leaders. These women are an inspiration to me and it was a real privilege to spend an hour with each of them talking about leadership.
I chatted to both women after seeing them present. Clare Sealy’s presentation comparing curriculum to a box set was so incredibly clever and the more you think about it the more you realise how powerful thinking about it like that is. Claire Stoneman’s presentation about supporting new leaders was also really clever – it makes so much sense to give new leaders concrete examples and access to the knowledge they need to be successful.
I’m so excited about the next few interviews I’ve got planned…
I’d like to thank Jon Severs for his support and for giving me several opportunities to write for the Tes whilst off on maternity leave.
I’ve had the opportunity to lead training in other schools.
This is something I’ve not been able to do before – it’s a bit tricky when you’re teaching full time. So it’s an opportunity I’ve relished!
In February I was invited to lead a session at Putney High School. Bea was just three months old and it was my first presentation since September so I was more nervous than I’d usually be. I loved being able to speak to the staff body about research-informed practice and to be part of the journey they’re on.
Last week I was invited to IES Breckland to work with the English department on redesigning their KS3 curriculum. What an experience. Talking to other English teachers about English and guiding the process of their redesign was a real honour; I’m excited to see where they’re going with their curriculum.
I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot.
There’s nothing like being up at all hours to increase your reading opportunities. Thanks to all those people blogging and tweeting – you were a welcome distraction at 3am on those long, dark nights of Winter!
If I had to boil my reading down to the best thing I’ve read this year it would be ‘Knowledge and the Future School: Curriculum and Social Justice’ by Michael Young and David Lambert. I’ve never been more convinced about what the purpose of school is: to give all of our students a foundation of powerful knowledge.
I’ve been appointed as an SLE.
A few weeks back I was interviewed and appointed as an SLE. I’m so excited about the role next year and working with teachers in other schools. Preparing for the interview was a great opportunity to bring together a lot of the thinking and learning I’ve been doing over the past few months.
I daresay this was my last maternity leave and I’m really happy with how I’ve spent my time. I’ve loved spending time with my gorgeous little girl but I’ve also loved having the time, space and opportunity to think deeply, read widely and engage with a wide range of educational professionals.
Now I just need to prepare myself for the next three days on a residential on the Isle of Wight with year 7s and 8s. What a thing to return to, eh? Ha!