Alex Gazi Writes – First Term at Michaela
Michaela Community School, Wembley


Alex Gazi Writes – First Term at Michaela

08 Nov 2017, Posted by admin in Michaela's Blog

First term at Michaela

In September, I started teaching at Michaela Community School. This last term has been a brilliant introduction to a warm and happy school that has learning at its very core.

I started at Michaela after completing the Teach First LDP, where I spent two years teaching Maths in east London. Lessons were frequently disrupted by poor behaviour. Teachers were bogged down in time-consuming marking policies and the data collection of anything and everything in the hope that this would please Ofsted. We were not giving pupils the academic education that would enrich their lives and enable them to access universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

I wanted to be part of a school that was genuinely enabling upward social mobility, and that fulfilled the ultimate test – would I send my own child there? I had been following Michaela for a while and loved everything I heard. Joining the school felt like a natural step.

The on-boarding process of becoming a Michaela teacher begins long before September. I was given plenty of reading material immediately after accepting the position, and throughout the year. I visited and observed lessons, and received advice on how to embed the routines.
At Michaela, we talk about staff “singing from the same hymn sheet” and “rowing together”. The reason the school works so well is because there is such a high degree of consistency in what everyone does. Everyone’s vision is aligned with that of the school. The on-boarding process ensures that this is the case.

The teaching at Michaela is excellent. I am regularly amazed by the history our pupils know, the complexity of the mathematical problems they can solve, and the French they speak with aplomb and perfect accents. Part of the reason every teacher is so good is because our observations and feedback system are so unusual. In my first two years of teaching, I remember spending days poring over powerpoints, hours writing incredibly elaborate lesson plans and creating resources, and countless more hours marking books…and then marking pupils’ responses to my marking. The whole process was stressful and not always helpful.

At Michaela, I am observed at least three times a week. We have an open-door culture where anyone can walk into any lesson and give feedback instantly via email. When I am observed, the feedback is always swift, practical, and something I can act upon instantly. It isn’t stressful because it is entirely low-stakes. There are no grades awarded. If observations in schools were truly about improving people’s practice, they would always be entirely low-stakes and there would be no need for grades.However, at too many schools, observations have become a performance management tool, rather than an opportunity to actually improve teaching. At Michaela, we are never told to do something because Ofsted (supposedly) want to see it. All feedback is given because it will genuinely improve pupil learning.
Two weeks into the term, I remember thinking I’d already learnt more than I had in the last two years.
After seven weeks, my teaching already looks so different to last year – and my pupils are better off for it. I’m now keen to be observed as much as possible.

Since starting, I’ve realised it is possible to enjoy CPD! We have CPD every Monday, and new staff have extra CPD with Katharine every Wednesday. This is an opportunity to discuss a thought provoking topic, such as grammar schools or candour. The atmosphere during CPD reminds me of my university days. It has a similar scholarly feel because it is an informed discussion with people bouncing off each other’s points and ideas, in the same way we would do during Cambridge supervisions. The pursuit of knowledge is not limited to pupils at Michaela – there is clearly a culture of learning among the staff too. Everyone loves to read and engage with educational ideas.

Starting at Michaela has been made easier because so many of our systems are centralised. Gone are the days when I would have to give up time to run my own detentions. As resourcing is also centralised, I no longer spend evenings trawling through TES in the hope of finding a good resource (or spend time creating it myself). Now, my lesson planning involves looking through the relevant booklet, thinking about the exercises I want pupils to complete, as well as potential AFL questions. I have not created or even tweaked a single powerpoint this half term. The booklets that departments have created are of extremely high quality. The Maths booklets are infinitely better than any textbook I have seen. There is so much consideration given to the sequencing of topics, the writing of questions, or designing good AFL questions.

This term, one element of my practice I’ve focused on is economy of language. I had developed a bad habit of repeating myself because I was accustomed to pupils not always listening. I would repeat myself to ensure they had heard it, but I was reinforcing the notion that they did not have to listen to me the first time around. This is a habit I’ve been trying to break. Additionally, I grew accustomed to using lots of unnecessary words when a few would suffice. This makes explanations more cluttered and the key points less clear for pupils. The aim is for everything we say to be as efficient as possible, for the purposes of clarity and saving time. For example, when giving instructions, we might say “Books out. 20 seconds. Go.” or “Rulers on page 15. Line 3. Go”. Whilst I have made improvements with this over the last few weeks, I’ve still got a long way to go.

Finally, another aspect of Michaela I have quickly grown used to, and think is fantastic, is the culture of gratitude. As well as our lunchtime appreciations, pupils occasionally have the opportunity to write postcards to members of staff. Encouraging pupils to share their gratitude in this way strengthens the warm and positive relationships that exist in the school. Below are some examples. Receiving a stack of postcards on the last day was very touching, and a lovely way to end a brilliant first half-term.

If you’re interested in visiting the school and having lunch with the pupils, get in touch here. We’d love to have you see our school for yourself.

Interested in joining? We’re hiring a French teacher!

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