The North Does Indeed Rock…

And though he never would wave goodbye,
You could see it written in his eyes
As the train pulled out of sight

The Dream Academy – Life in a Northern Town

So there is is. Finished, ended. Northern Rocks is sadly no more. Before I look deeper at the themes that ran across #NRocks18 it is only right and proper to give a public thanks to Debra Kidd and the gang for providing 5 years of quality Saturday CPD. Giving people access to speakers that their schools couldn’t normally afford to have in on an INSET day and giving people choice in their own development.

2018’s iteration seemed determined to go out with a bang. Whatever flavour your politics you couldn’t resist nodding with agreement at parts of the opening panel discussion. Even the inclusion of (in his own words) a “Tory Trad” on the panel didn’t allow it to descend into anarchy and what I saw and heard, even at it’s harshest disagreement, was clever and articulate discourse that seemed to suggest that we have more in common than that which divides us. Mark Lehain took his role as the agent provocateur in good humour and I found myself nodding in agreement (as did other school leaders around me) when he suggested that leadership is one of the biggest issues in schools at the moment. Toxic accountability was the buzzword of the discussion though and I feel that we need to maybe look closely at what Amanda Speilman and Sean Harford are saying about accountability measures in school and challenge inspectors if they are not following the inspection handbook to the letter.

In my previous career I was also an instrument of government policy. However there I did not have recourse to unions and the like and some great points were made about how unions could be part of the problem instead of the solution. Maybe a unified voice is called for here in the very near future. The profession needs to work with instead of against government if we are to make any quick progress on any of the issues raised. This might be a chance for the Chartered College of Teaching to claim back the middle ground and move us into sensible discourse (I have no doubt things will change again should the ruling party change at the next general election so I’m not holding my breath here!)

On to the workshops and, if nothing else, Northern Rocks has always thrown up an incredible smorgasbord of choice here. I’m about to start on my teaching leadership journey, soon to be embarking on the NPQSL so I was keen to look at workshops that both interested me and could help in my personal development as a potential school leader.

First was Daryl Egan-Simon talking about using short animations to teach citizenship. I’m a massive fan of using film in my classroom and we quickly saw the power of using video to link to world events and to help children form opinions that they can articulate in meaningful ways. I can see plenty of potential cross-curricular links to this and will definitely include in a literacy topic in the future.

Second was Lynn McCann from Reachout ASC. I first met Lynn at Lead, Learn Lancs last year but hadn’t had the pleasure of one of her workshops. From her initial description of autism and autistic behaviour to meaningful strategies to use in the classroom (and I’d wager all pupils could gain from some of the suggested strategies) it was a boon of ideas. I now have some clearer ideas in my mind about autism (and perhaps some of my own autistic traits make a little more sense)

Lunchtime was a chance to catch up with friends – people who I’ve met through Twitter and then at real-world events. Each week they help me become a better teacher (and Mike Watson makes me buy playground chalk!)

After lunch I had decided to see Jan Dubiel. This was at the expense of missing what sounded like a standing room only session from Debra Kidd and Howell Roberts (worth the ticket money alone!) but my knowledge of EYFS and early child development is limited. Jan talked about the importance of how young children learn, using ‘play’ to transfer knowledge in their minds. I’ve always respected the work of EYFS practitioners (I’m married to one) but I’ve never really “got it” until this session. Lots of food for thought and lots of strategies again for children that may be missing parts of their education.

The final workshop session I chose was Tom Sherrington. Tom is someone I’ve followed on Twitter for some time but I’ve never had the chance to hear him live. A stunning session where he talked of all the missed opportunities we have in our classrooms to ensure learning is happening. His postulation that we ‘air the learning’ and never really check that things are remembered was so interesting and has given me the impetus I needed to really work on my questioning in the classroom. “Practice remembering” will stick with me for the rest of my teaching career.

Then back to the sports hall, where we began the day. Emma Hardy did a fantastic job of chairing the discussion with two young women from Manchester. What quickly became apparent is that, as a school system, we don’t always listen to our customers. A discussion on setting, glass ceilings and opportunities arose – a perfect introduction to what would come next…

I previously had two people in mind in the teaching world who I labelled ‘a force of nature’. Firstly the brilliant Hywel Roberts (his book Oops changed my outlook when I was training to be a teacher) and secondly the equally talented Nina Jackson. I now need to add a third to this list, Jaz Ampaw-Farr. Jaz spoke from the deepest place in her heart when she told her story, weaving tragedy and comedy in equal measure until she hit paydirt – her belief in teachers as a force for good. For one person to hold an audience like she did is amazing. You could have heard a pin drop at times but equally there was hoots of laughter for her infectious delivery style. I cannot wait to hear Jaz speak again (although I do want to see pictures of her husband in his new t-shirt!).

All good things must come to an end though and this was no exception. We were treated to an excellent comedy piece by the incredible crew of Mick Waters, David Cameron (no, not that one!), Hywel Roberts and Debra Kidd before Hywel and Jaz took the floor once more for a slanted look at teachers who seek development on a Saturday.

Then it was time for Rythmical Mike, written off at school, to weave his lyrical magic. Again, one person, holding the room in silence. Just amazing.

Northern Rocks is more than just a day-long conference though. It’s a space for professionals to meet, make contact with virtual friends and really engage in some meaningful conversation. Whilst travelling back I was engaged in a twitter chat over some of the themes discussed on the day. Behaviour is seen as a big issue at the moment, with what seems like an amazing rise of ‘no excuse’ behaviour policies in schools, particularly secondary. Where we seem to be failing as a profession is in engaging children and seeing all behaviour as a form of communication. This isn’t to say we just ignore the unwanted behaviour and don’t deal with it using appropriate sanctions, but we must engage with the child to see what they are actually trying to communicate to us. In just two teenage children we heard stories of being ignored, that their opinion doesn’t matter; that education is all about test results that keep the wolf from the school’s door.

This has to change. We need to see the children in our class as future world-changers, not just statistics that will keep us looking good (or bad) come performance management time. Maybe my own story can help a little in my own little part of education. You see, I was one of those disengaged children. My opinions didn’t matter and I was left aside when I didn’t achieve my projected grades in the (new at the time) GCSEs. However, I went on to something different and eventually, when I was ready, went to university at 42 to start on this teaching journey.

You see, the message is simple. We need to listen more…

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