Half Way

It’s February and we are (as I keep telling myself) almost half way through our training year with Mid Essex ITT.

As I pack up my files and empty out my locker at my A Placement school, ready to start all over again at my B Placement, I am minded to reflect.

Looking back to September, I feel as though I am standing half way up a mountain, peering down at myself in the far distance.


Yes, there I am, small but determined, taking my first tentative steps. I remember the path was steep, and sometimes I would stumble. There were a couple of times, I have to admit, when the terrain got so difficult that I wondered whether it wouldn’t be easier to just run back down the valley; back to the old, familiar ways. Of course, it was my fellow travellers who kept me going, and the feeling that it would not do to let them go on ahead without me. Every time I fell down, someone hauled me to my feet again, and set me back on the right path. It would be a lonely journey without them, and I am certain I would not have come so far.

That’s quite enough of that metaphor… must be all the creative writing I’ve been doing with my Year 9s this term!

So, how far have I really come since September? I am certainly a more competent teacher now. I think that comes through so many hours of observing other teachers, teaching classes myself, and receiving targeted feedback. And with competence, comes confidence: yesterday, my heartbeat didn’t even flutter, as I calmly instructed my Year 8s to leave the classroom and line up again ready to “come in sensibly this time”. It worked a treat, but it’s not something I would have been confident enough to suggest even a couple of months ago.

Thinking about my B Placement, I find that I am excited and nervous in equal measure. A whole new school-site to get lost in, over a hundred new student’s names to muddle up, new texts, new exam board, new colleagues, new parents! But, it’s all part of the journey… and I think, if I look up, through the clouds, I can almost glimpse the summit.

Scaring Them Silly

theatreOn Thursday 11th January I headed straight from my SPS (Subject Professional Studies) session in Drama, back to Moulsham High School, in preparation for my first ever school trip as a member of staff. At 5 o’clock myself and four (dare I say ‘other’?) teachers met at the front of the school to see the students onto the coach. After a bit of a delay caused by awkwardly parked cars and tardy year 11s, by 5:30(ish) we were on our way to London with 43 GCSE drama students.

The trip in question was to see the infamously terrifying play The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End. The students have to write about a live performance as part of their GCSE exam and, for the first time, this year’s year 11 cohort were accompanied by the year 10s for this annual night of theatrical terror. Having seen the play twice before, I was able to avoid screaming in front of my students and was instead able to observe them jumping, hiding behind coats, sliding down in their seats and holding onto whomever was nearby, all before the inevitable declaration from at least one student of ‘I wasn’t scared Miss’.

Petrified teens aside, it was a brilliant opportunity to really feel part of the school community and in a way served as a bit of a bonding exercise for all concerned, even if a small but determined group did fail in their mission to convince one of us to take them to Starbucks (other coffee shops, to quote the BBC, are available).

Most importantly of all, the students were able to demonstrate in proceeding lessons that they could remember an impressive amount of the production, particularly when you consider how much must have been viewed their hands over their eyes.

Juliet, Drama trainee teacher, Moulsham High School


Feeling like a proper teacher

With Christmas over, I was really looking forward to getting back into the classroom and seeing all my classes again. I had spent most of the holidays thinking of new activities we could do and preparing ways to boost the year 10’s confidence in time for their speaking and listening assessment. Going back into school, I felt organised, primed and ready to go.

However, on returning, I found that my subject mentor was absent. She and I share her year 10 class and I had been preparing multiple lessons leading up to the recording of their speeches, so I wasn’t panicked. It was quite nice being left ‘alone’ to deal with this class as if I was their regular teacher and I had received great feedback from the cover supervisors who was assigned to the lesson.

The head of department was also enormously supportive even down to giving up her own time to guide me through the assessment process. As parents’ evening was approaching, I went to the Deputy Head Teacher to see if I should do the appointments solo. He said if I felt comfortable then of course.


So I did.

And I loved it.

It was such a pleasure to meet the parents of some of my favourite students and spread some positivity about their participation in class, their mocks results and my time with them. The whole of the English department came together to prepare me for the evening and I came away feeling like a proper teacher!

I saw the Deputy Head at the end and he asked how the evening went. I rattled on for a while about how much I enjoyed it to which he replied, “you weirdo!”

I suppose the novelty will wear off eventually!

Georgina – English Teacher

Primary School Visits

Last week, our secondary trainees visited a primary school local to them.  Here are two reflections from Juliet and Liane about their experiences:


“Last Thursday I made may way through the light snow fall to my primary school placement. It’s a school that I have looked around previously when looking for a place for my daughter and, whilst she ended up at a different school, I still consider it among the best in my area. The Head is warm and welcoming; the staff professional and approachable; the pupils bright and confident. There is also something rather unique about this small village school: it has two places in each class enhanced provision pupils. The result of this is that the mainstream children work everyday with children whom have varying degrees of need, ranging from those whom you would have to work with closely to know that there is anything ‘different’ about them, to those with profound difficulties.

The pupil that will always stick with me is one whom I recall seeing back when I looked around the school in 2015. He is wheel chair user with limited upper body movement and no verbal communication skills. He has an LSA with him at all times and, with her help, was able to participate in a whole class activity which, whilst he did struggle with it, did at least demonstrate that he is as much a member of the class as any of the other children. At his request, I sang him a few nursery rhymes and let him touch my jumper which he found fascinating. I then watched him use his eye-gaze – an extraordinary piece of equipment which allowed him to access a computer using his eyes.

My placement was both eye opening and rewarding, and now more than ever I appreciate all the hard work that LSAs do to provide the kind of support that teachers don’t have the capacity to provide.” 

Juliet, Drama trainee teacher, Moulsham High School


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Learning beyond the classroom

So, this week I had my first experience of being part of a school trip!

Despite being nervous about what to expect, I had every faith in my students that they would behave responsibly and do the school proud… hopefully!

The week beforehand we had all been briefed on what to in the unfortunate case that something was to go wrong, particularly as our trip involved travelling and being in a conference centre in central London.

As Monday came around, we were finally off on our trip to the Psychology Conference at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster. Students chatted (and sung!) as we made our way to the conference. I don’t know who was more excited, them or me! Throughout my own time in school, I never felt that we went on a trip that was particularly insightful to what we were studying. I think we once went to Stansted airport for a geography trip! So, I was really excited to see what the day would bring.

As we arrived at the conference, we were greeted and treated amazingly by all the staff at the Emmanuel Centre and were made to feel really welcome. The lectures began with a morning session talking to Professor Simon Wesseley a leading psychologist in the world of medicine, which was followed by quite the comedy performance of Den Burnett who spoke to the students about why our brain does stupid things. The variety in talks continued throughout the day as the students were spoken to by one of the country’s top forensic psychologists, Kerry Deynes who had worked in the notorious Wakefield Prison.

Psych blog

Whilst the day ended with a rather theatrical performance by Peter Lovatt who explained why we experience certain moods based on the rhythm of life, and got the students up dancing and performing the New Zealand Haka!

As we were driving home I couldn’t help but have a huge smile on my face. The students had behaved impeccably throughout the day and all expressed their enjoyment of listening to the variety of talks the conference had to offer. It also hugely benefitted my own subject knowledge and understanding of the world of psychology.

Most importantly, my experience of going on my first school trip as a trainee, has proven how beneficial enrichment visits can be. And really, education is not just confined to the four walls of what we do in the classroom, but all the experiences that come with it.

Safe to say, I cannot wait to go on one again!

Chloe, Psychology Trainee at Plume, Maldon’s Community Academy

Chess Club

A couple of times each week I leave the familiarity of the English team room and run the gauntlet across the crowded lunchtime playground to go and help out at the Chess Club.

Pupils from all year groups are welcome to attend and the laid-back club leader fosters an ethos of mutual respect, healthy competition and peer learning, with more advanced pupils coaching the beginners. As a result a relaxed and friendly atmosphere pervades the library.

Students from different forms and year groups enjoy coming along either regularly, or just once in a while. Here they can escape the November chill, give their brains a work out, challenge themselves (and me!) and make new friends. My role as helper is to match students up with suitable opponents, address any misconceptions they have about the rules and, above all, foster their enthusiasm for the game. It is a lovely way to get to know them outside of lessons as well.

My Dad taught me to play chess as a young girl. I’m not sure how old I was, but I remember driving him mad by calling the pawns ‘prawns’, the knights ‘horseys’ and the rooks ‘castles’. I never played it at school, but enjoyed it a little at University and later, teaching my own children to play. It has been an unexpected joy to be able to come back to it during my school placement, and brings back fond memories of my Dad.

Some of the students at chess club arrive with the confidence of playing it from an early age, while others are just learning the moves. The beauty of it is that once they are secure in the basics, they are equipped for a lifetime of enjoyment. Whether they go on to develop a serious interest in chess, or see it just as a stimulating hobby, it is something they can come back to again and again.

As I look around the room, it seems to me that the chess club is as much about developing social skills as it is about bettering one’s game. It is a safe haven where pupils can come and be themselves, away from the pressures of the playground. Sitting across the table, eyes down, fingers poised above the pieces, the complicated demands of social and verbal communication are diminished. It is all about the game.

And yet, at the same time, the etiquette of chess gives social exchanges a clear structure; they provide a map for learning to navigate the social world. The well-worn rituals of choosing your opponent, carefully setting up the pieces, drawing to see who will play white, all give a reassuring rhythm. Conversation is intimate, and focuses on the match in progress. For half an hour, at least, the only pressure is deciding what move you will make next.

The year 7s tournament has just begun and there is a buzz of excitement in the library as the names are drawn and the competitors learn which group they are in. With everything to play for in the weeks ahead, I think I may find it hard to stay away!

Jenny, English Trainee Teacher, Greensward Academy

Growth Mindset Musings


What if Professor Carol Dweck hadn’t written “Mindset”? An obvious answer might be that we would have one less motivational tool to enable children and students to visualise a way to try to succeed through extra effort.

Now may be a timely reminder that – in spite of David Didau’s scathing comments about Growth Mindset and despite my initial scepticism – reflecting on effort, improvement and achievement does prove useful.

Therefore, my blog looks back to a Growth Mindset year 9 assembly in school that was – coincidentally or intentionally – reiterated in more detail at our Thursday 28th September Growth Mindset GPS morning session at Notley. At a time when I’m struggling to persevere and implement some control, it’s pertinent for me to reflect on what happened immediately after the sessions.

My self-reflection feedback form notes as follows: –

“I’d read about Growth Mindset theory, watched the You Tube video and read David Didau’s responses but I didn’t have the implementation tools to incorporate (the concept) into lessons. I’ve begun thinking about PP and GAT assumptions and EAL achievements. I’d like to develop challenging students’, teachers’, parents’ and teaching assistants’ assumptions on what can be achieved by all using some aspects of this theory.”

My target for myself reads: –

“Focus on praise for effort; incorporate into marking and lesson planning. If brave enough, ask for honest feedback from students; continually focus on perseverance and improvement for myself and pupils.”

As a response to being offered an opportunity to create a board for the upcoming open evening, I looked at the “additional job” as a chance to visibly be part of the team; I did the extra work and then realised I’d made a slight error and self-corrected it. I was working late, after hours, to get the board finished before a school open evening. The Headmaster walked past and positively commented thereby recognising my efforts. As a “student” that comment from him was all the recognition I could have hoped for (thankfully, he didn’t notice the error). I had achieved another “baby-step” but overcame the challenges of time and somehow got it done! It was a prime example of how Growth Mindset can help everyone.

It’s satisfying – now and again – to see a student looking at the boards. I hope it helps them consider that they can improve their skills through hard work; that challenges can be embraced and be seen as an opportunity to become stronger and more persistent; that effort can lead to mastering a subject; that criticism can lead to learning; that setbacks can be seen as a call to work harder next time.

My only addendum to the reflection would be a cautionary one: – students who may be lacking in confidence may take time to adjust to the challenges in changing thinking and behavioural patterns so…… Use encouragement and make time to allow a little time for a lifetime’s development!

Francesca Ballerini

Teaching Standards Evidence: MADE EASY

All my life I have been aiming to make life easier. Sometimes that means taking on a challenge, increasing resilience each time we overcome a hurdle and subsequently basking in the joy (even if time is short before the next challenge) of success.

I know many of us are mid piles of paperwork, lesson plans, reflection and Teaching Standards !!! All of these areas are very important and so is a little rest and recuperation. Time is limited so I thought I’d blog a couple of ideas that I developed and others have found useful. If you’re doing them already, ‘Great minds think alike’ and if not you may find them helpful:

  1. When you have a piece of evidence that you may want to use for Teaching Standards, just pencil on the back or use a post it (love the variety of colours and shapes), the date produced, Standard number, Substandard and a quick note (highlighted) to say why you’re using it as evidence, if this is not obvious.
  2. Use plastic fixed plastic wallet folders to keep evidence safe and current tasks in. You can write on the front and wallets in sharpie pens for a quick easily accessible filing system. They are light to carry and great to keep potential evidence separated in until checking them against standards and marking up as in 1 (and no I don’t have a vested interest in any company!)
  3. This is my favourite and latest idea to make life easier. Each time I prepare a lesson, I gather information, ideas and resources in the form of a PowerPoint. I can then develop these slides from the lesson plan into a presentation, use some or all of them in the lesson (remember, nothing is set in stone so skipping a slide is still an option). Now for the time saver; at the end of the lesson, feeling chuffed, elated, thoughtful, okay or disappointed, I add a ‘Reflective’ slide. Quickly typing in reflections seems just easier than pen on paper as I can adjust and add content and add colours to highlight different areas. Thoughts are typed, along with any feedback given from (ST) or (M) and changes I want to make to the lesson/Powerpoint.

Liane post it 1

Liane post it 2

Later I add the appropriate Standard to each reflection (usually with a cup of tea and biscuit, yes just the one!). I add this one slide to a Reflection powerpoint. Now I have a record of my thoughts, action I can take to improve, ideas I’ve had and importantly evidence for and record of Standards that I can use now or find easily later if a Standard is lacking evidence.

All the above take just a few minutes, help keep you organised, learn the standards and most importantly can be done while relaxing with a cuppa, the obligatory treat and if lucky, with your feet up.

Liane, Maths Trainee Teacher, The Sandon School

Switching Off

Since we’re all teachers here, we know how tricky it can be to switch off during the holidays – especially when things move so quickly at work!

Here are some top tips for moving from 100 mph to a speed that is much more suited to the holidays…

Whatever you are doing this half-term, remember to take some time to doing something that is well away from work.