Saturday 1st July marked the first ever Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. I went along with a fellow teacher, who also happens to be my childhood friend, and was blown away by the prominence of invigorating themes such as optimism and well-being. But first thing’s first…
Upon arrival, I had a flashback to my secondary school days because the first person myself and my friend recognised was our old English teacher now known as Helena Marsh. Being my classic self, I made the social faux pas of asking, “So what is your role for today?” to which she politely responded, “Well, I kind of organised it!” Amazing. I love that the people who inspire you in your childhood can reappear at unexpected times to give you another motivational boost. I’ve since followed her on twitter, and her bio reads “busy juggling & smiling.” She was certainly kept busy yesterday, ensuring that everything was running smoothly but she certainly delivered with the smiles too.
It was also lovely to see a number of other teachers who’d I’d trained alongside on the PGCE course at the Faculty of Education. Throughout the day, one of the key themes of collaboration was (quite rightly) highly promoted. It was great to meet with these practitioners again to remind myself of the importance of connecting not only within your own school but across schools, too.
Rachel Snape, headteacher of The Spinney Primary, National Leader of Education, prominent figure in The Kite TSA and clear winner of the not-yet-existent Bubbliest Person Alive award, introduced the themes of the day. She has the incredible skill of being able to champion those around her to the highest degree without ever giving any sense of being anything less than 101% genuine. She oozes energy that makes you want to be her best friend and, after calling her Bae Snape rather than Rae Snape on twitter, I’m hoping I’m fast-tracked towards this particular honour. But seriously, within her ten minute speech, I was captivated by her optimism and this made me so pleased that I peeled myself out of my bed on a Saturday morning to spend a whole day with such inspirational people.
Opening Keynote – Vic Goddard
I never watched Vic Goddard, headteacher of Passmores Academy, when he featured in the popular series Education Essex. Having witnessed him speak yesterday, however, I want to search through the Channel 4 archive to see him crack more jokes and discuss more of his behaviour management strategies. What struck me the most about Vic Goddard was that he was not one of those headteachers that only got involved when the children had pushed bad behaviour to the extremes. He explained how he and his SLT visit classes each day in a positive capacity and how he leaves pencils inscribed with ‘caught doing good’ on the desks of pupils exhibiting excellent behaviour. Bare in mind that Vic is the headteacher of a secondary school and Year 11s were still thrilled by the notion of receiving a pencil. This is clearly because they really respected Vic and sought his approval but also because Vic and his team smash the myth that the higher up the leadership ladder you rank, the less positive contact you have with the children.
Keynote 1 – Natalie Scott
TES Blogger of the Year 2016, Natalie Scott, delivered a heartwarming speech reminding us all that the path to success is rarely easily laid out. She detailed her journey as a teacher with particularly powerful highlights being her struggles to rise above negative perceptions whilst on the Isle of Wight and also her humbling experiences educating in a refugee camp. The thing that struck a chord with me the most about Natalie, however, is the fact that despite her experiences of imposter syndrome, anxiety and depression, she was still strong enough to relive them with us. She did this purely for the selfless act of making our own lives better. Suffering from anxiety and depression myself, I am more than aware of the difficulties of sharing these experiences. I feel comfortable discussing these things behind the safety of a computer screen but Natalie was incredibly and ridiculously brave to bare her vulnerabilities with a crowd of strangers.
Workshops and TeachMeets
My friend and I attended two workshops and a TeachMeet during the day, too. First, we discussed the importance of play with Dr Sara Baker. Our group were all in agreement that scaffolded play was an effective way of learning. We had a very interesting discussion unpicking the challenges of implementing play and considering how these issues could be resolved. I can’t wait to focus more on an explorative way of learning when I return to the classroom. Dr Baker always backed up her research with statistical proof, which made her ideas even more compelling and exciting to implement.
Our second workshop was lead by Victoria Hewlett who stressed the importance of feedback NOT marking. She confided in us that she wasn’t comfortable leading talks but my friend and I thought she was incredibly engaging. We spent our break after this workshop searching for a number of the exciting assessment resources she’d discussed. One that struck a particular chord with us was the idea of a whole class marking sheet which allowed her to efficiently and effectively provide feedback rather than just write ineffective comments in a child’s book. The main benefit that struck me about this approach is the time available to dedicate towards future planning and intervention.
During a coffee break, we listened to a few speakers briefly talk about their experiences and interests in education. Serdard Ferit displayed an exciting, immersive computing programme that had great potential to develop children’s empathy and encourage their curiosity. Alexia Charalambous’s speech on wellbeing said what we were all thinking: staff wellbeing isn’t improved by the provision of chocolate in the staffroom. Wellbeing is cultivated through genuine positive relationships amongst all staff. Wellbeing is improved through addressing policies that are ineffectual or even detrimental for staff and their pupils. Wellbeing is simply listening to all opinions and allowing everyone to feel comfortable to have their own opinion. Finally, we learned about the year long Young People’s Puppet Theatre project. I didn’t manage to catch the name of the speaker but she made the project sound absolutely irresistible. I’m not wholly sure it’s something that would work until we had straight Year 6 classes, as opposed to mixed age classes, but it is something I am very interested in exploring in further years of my practice!
Keynote 2 – Dr Rob Lowe
Dr Rob Lowe deftly weaved research statistics with personal anecdotes to reveal how good relationships can achieve great student outcomes and great staff wellbeing. This was a refreshing notion in an educational world that is sometimes all too keen to point out flaws in practice rather than highlight the effective nature of building effective relationships and working together. Sometimes I feel the forging of relationships is often neglected or forced, whether it’s between pupils, between staff and students or between staff themselves. I feel this is the case because either people don’t realise the value of good relationships or they do not know how to truly establish and maintain these good relationships. Having discovered Dr Rob Lowe’s website, relationalschools.org, I look forward to delving into his research further to see how I can implement these ideas as my colleague and I embark on our exciting social project next academic year.
Keynote 3 – Professor Dame Alison Peacock
Professor Dame Alison Peacock aka Queen of Education predominantly spoke about bringing power back to teachers, schools and students. (Too right!) She shared the values of the Charted College of Teaching (CCT) and I particularly loved her argument that politicians who know nothing about education should have their decisions vetted through teachers. Unfortunately, my friend and I had to dash not long into Professor Dame Alison Peacock’s speech, but she interweaved all the key themes of the festival together perfectly within the ten minutes we were able to stay. She was an optimistic leader who actually made me feel like an empowered teacher despite the fact I’m not even a year into my teaching career. The values of the CCT promoted a collective identity and community amongst teachers, which seems truly vital to the continued positive provision for our students. She shared an incredible example of creativity in education through the celtic roundhouse that The Wroxham School had constructed. Finally, she put some of my anxieties towards the education system at ease by promoting the value of connectedness once more. She made me realise I was not alone as a teacher and reinforced the significance and impact of building educational networks for the sake of wellbeing, among other benefits.
PHEW. Well, I feel incredibly inspired for my next year of teaching and I can’t wait for the next Cambridgeshire Festival of Education. Teachers and others in the education sector need to band together more often for days such as these.