Saturday, 6 February 2016

They who must not be named...

    Last week the 'Big O' rolled into my school - an event we had been bracing ourselves for since May. That's right. We'd been on high alert for an eye watering seven months (something akin to slow torture). Now I'm going to contradict the title of this post by mentioning them.
    That wasn't so bad and in fact, the whole experience can be summed up in this way too. For my overseas readers, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) carries out school inspections. If you're a good school, you are inspected every three years. They come in with the expectation that you are still performing at the level of the last inspection. However, if they see anything that suggests otherwise, it turns into a 'full' inspection. In other words, they come back the next day with more inspectors (gulp). We were notified half way through the day before and what ensued in between was a flurry of activity, preparations, tweaks and pure panic!
    Their job is to improve standards in education and this can only be a good thing. However, you can't help the anxiety that comes with something like this. The grading you are given has wide implications; it will impact staff morale, parents' perceptions (present and future) and the wider community.
   Thankfully, the Ofsted inspectors saw all that they needed to see in one day and were very impressed by the young people in our care. The inspector that observed my lesson gave me some pertinent feedback, though we must remember that they only see a snapshot in time. We teachers know the contexts of our learners, their backgrounds, barriers and challenges. We know what real progress means for them and it isn't always reflected in black and white data, statistics, figures or a twenty minute observation.
    So the school breathed a collect sigh of relief. Until the next time...

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Start as you mean to go on...

The new year always heralds new habits and this year I'm trying better breakfasts. I've never been one to skip this crucial meal of the day and by 'better', I simply mean more sustaining. Teaching is exhausting at the best of times and eating well is one way to secure good health. I've really got into hot porridge that has been 'accessorized' with fruit and/or honey. This keeps me comfortably going until lunch and I must say, my energy levels are much better at the end of the day. As well as this, I'm unable to have wheat in my diet so I sourced some Pumpernickel bread to try out as a breakfast food. The taste was a bit of a shock (it is really dense and heavy) but with some peanut butter and resilience, I came to like it. Porridge and Pumpernickel are low G.I. (Glycemic Index) which means they release their energy more slowly. They leave you feeling fuller for longer and prevent those 'sugar highs' that are often followed by energy slumps or crashes.
A bowl of hot porridge...

A little honey...

An explosion  of fruit!

Pumpernickel - it tastes better than it looks!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Nutty about this roast!

Okay, so 4pm on Christmas day is not the best time to cook a dish for the first time (ready to be served at 6pm!). However, this was the situation I found myself in. Unbeknown to them, my converging relatives were the guinea pigs for a nut roast recipe that I had my eye on. It was my way of giving the vegetarians a mainstay, while the meat-eaters feasted on their bird. The ingredients involved an onion, grated carrot, a clove of garlic, brown rice, cheese, 2 eggs, sliced mushrooms, breadcrumbs, chopped mixed nuts, sage, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. The whole concoction was then packed tightly into a loaf tin and cooked for an hour (if you really want to brown it, keep it in longer). I'm delighted to say that the gamble paid off and my humble nut roast received no end of compliments. It was tasty, meaty and filling and the real seal of approval was people taking slabs of it home in doggy bags. I'll definitely be going back to this next year!
Before it headed to the oven...

The finished article...

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

No soap and drama here...

    If you've read my earlier posts, you'll know I'm a fan of natural soap. I recently stocked up (I like to buy in bulk) and thought I'd blog about my latest purchases.
    The packaged bar on the left is the one that I use on my body (banana and honey). Typical soap dries my skin out and makes it itchy and flaky. This is 100% natural and contains other nourishing ingredients like Shea butter and coconut oil.   The one on the right is my hair soap. It's a Butter Bar that contains mango, Shea, cocoa butter, almond and Jojoba oil. The company says that it's ideal for dry and coloured hair. The ingredients sound so divine and nourishing - almost edible!
    If you're curious about what it's like to use a product like this, I can say that it takes a bit of getting used to (in a good way). Typical shampoo from a bottle lathers up a storm. However, this natural hair soap produces no lather whatsoever. That's because it's free from chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate. This seems to serve no purpose, other than to create the foaminess that consumers wrongly equate with effectiveness. This is more about changing a mindset though. I also like to leave the product in my hair for a few minutes, to boost the positive impact. As well as this, your hair won't feel silky to the touch after it's been washed out. Typical bottled shampoo contains silicone that coats and lubricates your hair so there is still product left in after the rinse. When you have washed the natural shampoo from your hair, it feels clean. I mean really, really clean of product and gunk.
   The final points in favour of my Funky Soap purchases: less hair disappearing down the plughole and the value for money. One hair bar goes much further than a bottle. So I dare you - make the switch if you're brave enough!

Saturday, 12 December 2015

(Un) stuck on you...

It can be a challenge to foster independence and resilience in students. How do you equip them with the tools to seek out solutions for themselves, rather than raising their hands at the first hurdle? In my school, we have a system where we encourage the learners to seek help from three other sources, before coming to the teacher. It's a fantastic way of making pupils more autonomous and they feel a real sense of achievement when they've worked things out for themselves. Here's an example of my 'I'm stuck' station. It is linked to a unit of work that I'm delivering on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream:
In order for it to be used successfully by students, the suggestions have to be pertinent and tangible. For that, you need to put yourselves in the students' place. In other words, if I were a student, what would be a useful source of help in this particular unit? I use the help stations more frequently with the younger students as they tend to be needier. By cultivating their ability to overcome their own blocks in learning, we're fostering important life skills. I'm not saying it will free you up to sit at your desk with a hot drink but it does allow you to target the lower ability learners in the class.