At this time of year I like to reflect on the previous 12 months that are being left behind and begin to look forward to all that is to come. Last year’s blog was titled “Thank You 2019” and when I read it back as a precursor to writing this year’s blog, it was clear that 2019 had been optimistic and exciting.
2020 has had a very different tone, and whilst it has undoubtedly thrown challenge after challenge at the education sector and schools, there are still some worthwhile take-aways and opportunities from which to learn. But, yes. It wouldn’t be right to use the words “thank you” in the title of this blog – we’ll donate that term to key workers, particularly teachers and school leaders since we’re in the education game – and instead opt for “Goodbye 2020.” Here is my personal review of a year like no other…
Mindfulness for good mental health and well-being was on the agenda in January – I didn’t realise then just how timely this would become with the year playing out the way that it did. We welcomed @hopes49 into @DhoonSchool to deliver six weeks’ worth of PawsB sessions which took our Year 5 / Year 6 children on an incredible mindfulness journey and gave them all some tools, skills and knowledge for lifelong learning, some of which played a part in our remote learning offer later in the year. A great way to start 2020.
Laura Pierce delivering PawsB Mindfulness at Dhoon School
2020 offered so much potential at this early point in the year. Exploring and thinking about new ways to offer staff training and CPD was high on my agenda and I was delighted to get my hands on the excellent “Talk For Teaching” book from @PaulGarvey4. Ultimately the year played out differently to how any of us had expected, but this is a great book and I will be returning to the themes within it in 2021!
Talk For Teaching by Paul Garvey – signed copy dedicated to the Dhoon / Laxey Federation
January also saw some important Union meetings take place. At the Isle of Man NAHT AGM I was re-elected as President for our branch, and we were shown incredible support from the national union with the then National President @judyshaw4 and NW Regional President @clemcoady in attendance. Later in the same month, a joint union members meeting was held as the ongoing dispute with the Department for Education, Sport and Culture continued. Once again, NAHT Isle of Man received strong support and it was a pleasure to welcome General Secretary @PaulWhiteman6 and National Secretary @rob_kelsall to the Island to speak to our members. This meeting actually led to a defining moment in the crisis, with the majority of Isle of Man teachers showing a vote of no confidence in the Department of Education, Sport and Culture and in the leadership of the Department.
NAHT IOM Branch Secretary Carol Walsh takes her place with General Secretary Paul Whiteman and National Secretary Rob Kelsall at the massive Joint Unions Members Meeting which was attended by around 700 teachers
And in more Union business, I travelled to Manchester for the NW Regional Conference – little did I know then that this would be the last time I would be able to venture beyond the Manx shores. The conference was excellent; fantastic to meet @AndyBurnhamGM and see @Jimnich1 become the new Regional President. It was also lovely to see @simonkidwell again and catch up over a few drinks.
January was also the month in which I was able to welcome the excellent @Mr_AlmondED to the Laxey / Dhoon Federation to work with me and my staff team. Neil offered us a great insight into “Curriculum” and finished the day by leading a twilight training session for both schools. If you haven’t read his blogs on “Box Set Curriculum” or listened him to him speak, I would whole-heartedly recommend that you do so at your earliest opportunity.
Neil Almond delivering staff training in the Isle of Man to teachers from Dhoon School and Laxey School
In February I was delighted to welcome Handwriting guru @sue_smits from @MorrellsHand to @LaxeySchool to work with pupils, and later in the day to lead a workshop for parents. We also ran a large-scale art project across the whole school to produce some big display pieces and I am grateful to ArtReach Studios and @IOMArtsCouncil for their support with facilitating this educational work.
In March, I was delighted to send my senior team over to the wonderful Kensington Primary School in London to meet with @mrlev and his staff. I first met Ben as part of an @IQMAward assessment in 2018 and his school had an instant and inspirational effect on me. The school is simply incredible, and I couldn’t wait to get back to the Dhoon / Laxey Federation and set to work on our #LaxeyLearners programme which was directly influenced by what I saw at Kensington. Ben and his team reciprocated that initial visit and came to see Laxey School and Dhoon School in the back end of 2018 as part of their “Project K” work and I was delighted to be able to give something back to them. Our collaboration continued with this trip of senior staff and when they got back to the Isle of Man they were buzzing. Very proud to have a collaborative association with Kensington and huge congratulations to all of them – staff, pupils, parents, governors and community – for picking up the 2020 Primary School of The Year Award from @BBCTheOneShow
A significant development in Manx education saw previous Minister for Education, Graham Cregeen MHK, replaced by Alex Allinson MHK. In February, NAHT IOM lobbied for people to sign a petition requesting the Chief Minister to intervene in the dispute between NAHT and the Department of Education, Sport and Culture as a way of breaking the deadlock. The Chief Minister eventually stepped in and commissioned an independent review into education which was announced in early March along with the change in Minister. It was a vital first step towards putting things right in education in the Isle of Man. So many of my followers on #EduTwitter and LinkedIn signed the petition in support and solidarity, and I am grateful to each and every one of you who did so which helped bring about a significant and positive change here in the Isle of Man.
Only days into his new ministerial appointment, Alex Allinson had to ask all schools in the Isle of Man to close in response to the growing #COVID19 crisis. Schools in the Isle of Man were notified on Sunday 22nd March that they would close indefinitely at the end of the day on Monday 23rd March to all but those children who are vulnerable or have parents who are key workers.
The notice period was exceptionally short – shorter even than that in the UK which had been informed of their school “closures” on the Wednesday before. What happened since that announcement was exceptionally difficult and easily the most challenging period I have worked through in 17 years as a teacher. The speed, logistics, emotional pressures, and adaptations were as swift as they were extreme. Our Isle of Man Government decided that we would operate a “hub system” so the vast majority of schools were completely shut. This applied to my schools, and at one day’s notice my entire staff teams needed to be redeployed to one of two hub schools to work with different staff, different pupils and in unfamiliar buildings. Setting the alarm and turning the key in the doors on my schools and walking away from them was like a dagger to the heart – the sudden and intense emotions of that moment is not something I will ever forget. So many thoughts swirled around my head – “will we all come back?” “will we ever open again?” – big thoughts which suddenly felt all-consuming. We invest so much of ourselves in our schools, in our school communities, in our colleagues and of course, in our pupils. It is so much more than a job. And in a period of a little over 24 hours, all of that was seemingly taken away. On top of all of that was a genuine fear – fear of the unknown virus, fear of the stories we had heard about it, fear for our loved ones and fear for our lives. It is a moment in time that I will never forget.
I blogged throughout the “first wave” of the #COVID19 crisis and all of my reflections and thoughts from that time can be found here:
I also worked on a plethora of documents from risk assessments, to business continuity plans; from safe operating guidelines to remote learning plans. I’m certainly not suggesting that they are perfect or that they fit every school and every circumstance, but I offer them here in the spirit of #sharing in case any of this is a useful reference point or starting point to anyone out there. I am eternally grateful to colleagues on #Twitter who did similar for me, and I want to thank @MrARawlings and @Manxnette1 for doing the groundwork and sharing some of their templates which helped me out at a very busy and anxious time:
April was a tough month, but the challenges were professionally stimulating and very rewarding on a personal and emotional level. Having closed down my two schools, I found myself redeployed as a team leader at Onchan School, one of the Island’s Hub Schools. It was a surreal experience as this was the school I had attended as a boy all those years ago. To be back there under these strange circumstances was an experience that will live long in the memory. Working with different staff, different pupils, different families in a different building and in a very different way – social distancing, reduced numbers, enhanced cleaning etc – was all very intense.
Working at Onchan School during the COVID19 crisis
I referenced earlier in this blog about the “fear” that we all lived with during the original lockdown and the first wave of coronavirus. Working in a hub school so that vulnerable children were safe and key workers could get out there and do their jobs was absolutely the right thing to do, and I wanted to play my part. But the dilemma of living with a young daughter in need of an operation and at a heightened risk of (a) catching COVID and (b) being additionally susceptible to the symptoms meant that I had a big decision to make. I ended up moving out of my family home for the best part of three months so that I could work in the hub school and not put my own family at risk.
I still managed to find sometime for some CPD, and in April attended some online courses. One of the best was delivered by the superb @gdmorewood on the theme of Low Arousal and helped keep me refreshed in this space following Gareth’s visit to the Island last year.
I was asked by @ManxRadio to comment on the challenges of Remote Education, and in May I provided the following interview to their news reporter @WilliamKingIOM. We also held our first online assembly across the Federation. This was a big achievement for my team. We were self-taught on Zoom as our Department of Education had offered no training in online platforms during the lockdown; and we trained ourselves remotely due to the restrictions which meant we could not physically meet. I am still astounded that we pulled it off as professionally as we did – and for our first go at something educational, remote, online and live, we had somewhere between 150 and 200 people logging in with webcams which was incredible. We’ve gone on to offer live lessons, live webinars and live meetings in the time between then and now – skills which we have now mastered and are tweaking and refining: skills which at the start of 2020 we had no idea would be required. We hadn’t even heard of Zoom!
The summer months saw aspects of normality creep back into everyday life in the Isle of Man. By June we had re-opened Dhoon and Laxey School to all pupils, and by July had offered five weeks of normal schooling – restriction free – to our community.
It was wonderful to link up for the day, remotely, with @Mr_Nic_HT and his colleagues at @N_O_P_A as part of the Inclusion Quality Mark family. Craig and his team do a tremendous job and their remote learning package is undoubtedly world class. This school is a genuine inspiration to me and I am so fortunate to know it.
As the Summer Holidays dawned, I reflected on an extraordinary year, where learning had been disrupted, and decided that Laxey School and Dhoon School would make a daily opportunity available of live online video lessons to all pupils throughout the summer holidays.
In doing so I still recognised that it was a holiday period for children and staff, so the offer was entirely optional to families and pupils. Children were able to attend the online lessons every day, every now and again, or not at all. I made the offer in recognition of the fact that the previous school year had been heavily disrupted and some parents and children may wish to have used part of the six-week summer holiday break to do some extra learning. I personally delivered the lessons.
The lessons were broad brush and were not tailored to individual children nor were they billed as catch-up lessons. They were offered as an additional set of optional lessons for all children to access. At 9am each day I led a live online session for around 30 minutes. The first fifteen minutes were targeted at children in Reception and KS1, the second fifteen minutes was geared towards children in KS2. Each session involved some direct input from myself followed by suggested follow-up activities for children to complete. Each week had a different subject and concept focus.
In addition, the schools offered daily email support to all children and families throughout the summer. This option included opportunity to feedback on specific examples of work, suggest next steps in learning and to keep in touch with families over the long summer holiday. This service was available between 09.30am and 10.00am each morning.
Here is an example of the live online lessons that were offered each day:
Demand for live online remote learning over the summer holidays was not high: in a way, it proved that some of the clamour which called for an extension to the school term over the summer holidays, was, in fact, from a vocal minority of “keyboard warriors” rather than from pupils and parents themselves, who, when given the opportunity, actually decided to use the summer period for rest and a break from learning.
I was personally very pleased to see that this was the case. For the small number of children and families that did make use of the summer lessons, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to practise using the technology and to become uber familiar and more “expert” in using the Zoom platform to deliver online learning. I felt that this was particularly useful in case schools were asked to close or partially close again in the wake of a second or third wave of COVID19. Should there need to be a shift towards online remote learning going forward, schools would not be given the same latitude in terms of saying “it is an unprecedented time and we’re learning how to respond.” Instead, schools would be expected – and rightly so – to roll out an extensive live/real-time lesson offer, remotely, and from day one. I saw the summer period as the perfect moment to trial such a response; a chance to iron out the final flaws and an opportunity to refine lesson structure and online teaching methodology. The first INSET day in September 2020 was devoted to reflecting on the experience with my staff team, training them up in delivering online lessons themselves, reviewing recordings of my lessons and critiquing them so that we could draw on the best bits and improve those aspects which didn’t work so well. Then, should we ever need to in the future, the staff at my school would be ideally placed to roll out a full remote offer of live online lessons. It was a win:win scenario, and even though by the end of the fifth week of the summer I had started to wind down the online lessons due to falling demand and the rapidly approaching new term, the benefits of doing it had definitely outweighed the negatives.
Max Kelly leading staff training in planning and delivering live lessons remotely via Zoom
September heralded fantastic news for both of my schools with @IQMAward recognising @DhoonSchool as a Flagship School for Inclusion and @LaxeySchool becoming an inclusion Centre of Excellence for the first time. You can read the report here. My thanks to @joeinclusion and @IQMClusters for their continued support.
IQM also allowed for some beneficial links with @OutwoodCity @Newyorkprimary #TheLinkSchool and @ECPSCOLL
The NAHT National Conference took place in October, albeit “virtually”, but the opportunity to address Conference and speak was fantastic and I am proud of myself for doing so. I spoke in support of Motion 18 which sought to recognise the courageous and tireless work of the Manx Committee and the wider union staff and members in bringing about positive change in the Isle of Man. It is the first time that the Isle of Man has brought a motion to the National Conference. It was also marvellous to listen to new National President @lindseyruthd speak to Conference. Ruth has been a huge help to the Isle of Man offering fantastic support and I am personally grateful to her for the time she has taken to attend our branch meetings and involve us in meetings with colleagues in Northern Ireland and Wales such as @drgrahamgault
In November I took receipt of some brilliant books from the one and only @GrandadWheels These books are a must for schools – they build the repertoire of diversity in characters represented in your school library and they are funny and accessible to children. Plus they raise awareness and money for @spinalinjuries and @backuptrust which is absolutely vital. Brian Abram, the author, had been due to visit Laxey and Dhoon in 2020, but the global pandemic had other ideas. In the “Visits That Never Were” we can add names such as @authorPJMurray and even @ChrisDysonHT … but watch this space as they say. I hope to reschedule once the vaccines start to work their magic; Brian is moving into the virtual world and I’ve already secured @BlandPoet for the summer of 2021 in an optimistic move!
Grandad Wheels latest books arrive in the Isle of Man
This wasn’t an in-depth blog about the trade dispute in the Isle of Man or the COVID pandemic – both huge events which have overshadowed the education landscape in the Isle of Man this year – but I couldn’t conclude a summary of the last 12 months without saying that in December the NAHT ended its dispute with the employer by accepting a deal which recognised the historical injustice of the 2018-19 pay round and has the potential to help re-set the relationship between the Department for Education and schools by addressing a range of issues not linked to pay.
Summary of the deal which NAHT members overwhelmingly voted to accept which ended our long running trade dispute with the Department of Education, Sport and Culture
The publication of the Independent Review into the Department of Education also had significant outcomes with the CEO joining the Minister in moving on. NAHT also lobbied hard during the year to prevent a new Education Bill passing into law which would have legislated for custodial sentences for headteachers in respect of school inspections – just one of a large number of concerns which have thankfully been stalled for now. It has certainly been a year like no other, but with the Isle of Man being COVID free in the community; a new structure and leadership in place at the Department of Education; and the end of the long-running trade dispute; a brighter tomorrow is a genuine possibility and 2021 feels much more optimistic.
Whenever I write something that name checks a lot of people I am always concerned that I will have forgotten to give a mention to absolutely everyone who deserves one. So please do not be offended if I’ve omitted your name by mistake – as you can see, 2020 has been a very busy year, but rest assured, if our paths crossed, you certainly added to the rich melting pot of ideas and inspiration that helps shape my thinking and my schools.
I dedicate this blog to all the teachers and headteachers working in schools in the UK – what a year you’ve had. And I know you’re not through it yet. You are all heroes to me.
So, see you next year, fingers crossed!