Importance of Music

With the negative attitude towards the Arts at the moment where the government are concerned I felt it necessary to write about my day today.

I teach in a comprehensive school and Fridays begin with a lesson with my Yr7 Induction class. This is a small group of students who, for whatever reason, need a more primary approach to their schooling with one teacher for the majority of their lessons. Subjects like mine who need specialists to teach them are taught by the subject staff instead (please note that I have said that specialist teachers are needed – I could probably teach History at KS3 (in fact I have), but very few History teachers could teach Music).

I love this class, but in order to manage their behaviour you really do have to teach differently. I’m not saying that you have to change your expectations, but you have to approach each student in an individual way. Among others we have a number for whom English is a second language, 2 who are with foster parents and others with either severe additional needs or who have very little support at home. My approach is lighthearted with a can-do attitude.

Anyway, at the moment we are learning to play Frere Jacques on the keyboard adding in an accompaniment with our left hand. A task that even some in my top set find challenging. This class have really risen to the challenge, but it is very busy in my classroom as they all need 1-2-1 support and I have one TA in with me.

One lad in particular had no drive at all. Everything was too hard and therefore he gave up. Thanks to @Thelmatopia I bought a positive pants badge and wore it on my lanyard. After a lot of individual support he finally managed to play with both hands last week declaring ‘I can play it properly now’. He asked if I could write the letters down so he could take it home and show his foster mum what he could do.

This week he caught me outside to tell me his foster mum had a keyboard in the loft and she was going to get it down for him to practice on and could he be assessed next week so he had time to get it right. He came in and got straight down to work and practised and practised. For the first time ever he asked to perform in front of the class – something he never does!

This sense of achievement meant I had a completely different boy in my classroom today. The TA went to try and find the Head of Year, as this class are more known for getting it wrong than right, and came back with the Vice Principal. He stayed for half an hour or so and listened to every student in the class as they all wanted to show off what they could do. He then went to find the Assistant SENDCO and the Assistant Head of Year and the kids all literally bursted with pride. They were working at the same level as some of my top set students. Goes to show that when reading or writing is necessary everyone is on the same playing field. Not only that – they actually listened to each other in silence showing respect and consideration, clapping after every performance.

I later found out that he had also arranged for a text message to go out to all of their parents telling them about the fantastic work they had done. I can only imagine what that will do for their self-esteem!

And the government seem to want to curtail the Arts…….

Oooops, we did it again…..!

We’ve had a really settled period of time at home recently. No big issues at all. Met the foster carers with no problems, got through Mother’s Day unscathed along with a few other family birthdays, so when my birthday arrived I was quite laid back about it all….dare I say complacent.

Over the course of the day we had 23 or so family members in the house/garden and the BBQ on permanently. There were 6 kids around for most of the day and they kept themselves entertained and seemed to be really well behaved. As per usual the big kids joined in with the smaller ones and a number of balls went over the fence to be returned later by our very understanding neighbours after a few games of football and cricket.

After my grandson (step-son to my step-son) got hit in the face by a ball he disappeared for a period of time and the perpetrator of the kick started to get a little concerned that he had really hurt him. It turned out that that incident then brought about a necessary conversation with the 7 year old and his step-dad. He was worried that no-one would want to play with him any more because he cried as apparently this is what happens at school. I really feel for him, but at least his parents know about the situation at school now and know why he isn’t always keen to go.

Play continued after the accident, with the kids dipping in and out of the house, playing with various indoor and outdoor toys.

After a few gins and a lovely day the girls were falling asleep on their feet and so we put them to bed.

The next morning when my youngest step-daughter was getting ready to go out (she’s 20) I heard her moaning about the fact that someone (turns out it was 8 – no surprise there!) had fiddled with her make up, smearing it everywhere and mixing up the eyeshadow colours.  Later that night I also noticed that some of my toiletries that I had been bought for Mother’s Day had been played with – the evidence was stuck to the inside of the toilet bowl.

The problem was it wasn’t 8’s fault. Well, not really. If we leave things around that will entice her to fiddle with them she will. Last year we spent an awful lot of time talking to the school about not testing her and setting her up to fail after we found out she was stealing food. She was being let out of lessons to go to the toilet and having to walk past lunchboxes full of chocolatey goodness, even though they suspected her of being the thief. You set her up to fail and she will never disappoint you!

So, her big sister couldn’t really tell her off as she had to accept that her extensive make-up selection should not have been left in one of the rooms where the children would be playing, just because it was too much effort for her to take it all upstairs.

I have subsequently removed my toiletries out of the bathroom because I know, even though we’ve had words, if I leave them there they will continue to be squirted by small hands. Has 20 learned her lesson???? Don’t be stupid – the make-up is still downstairs even though we’ve asked her to remove it. So when she goes to use it and finds some is missing, or damaged she has no one to blame but herself!

I hate knowing that 8 has got in trouble because we’ve set her up to fail, but I doubt this will be the last time and we will accidentally do it again…..images

Farm, Friends and Foster Carers

So, today we met the foster carers of our 2 daughters for the first time. After 2 and a half years it was a day I had no hesitations about organising.

I told the girls in advance and they coped remarkably well with the news. 8 was initially worried, but after explaining to her it was just a visit and she would be coming back with us she came round to the idea. 5 was just excited….she even spoke to one of the foster carers in advance on the phone while we were firming up plans.

8 struggles to contain her emotions and can subsequently lose control, so we kept them moving today. First we did the Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt, then nipped to Subway for lunch, before going to meet at a farm halfway between our houses.

We couldn’t have timed it better. We both arrived together and exchanged easter gifts. The girls reacted in an opposite manner to how they had been leading up to the event. 8 went straight to them for cuddles, but 5 clung onto me like a limpet. It didn’t last long…after 15mins or so I lost my 3rd leg and she started to interact with the other adults. After 30mins she didn’t want to know me at all!!!!

I thought I’d be more apprehensive than I was, as during introductions I did feel a little patronised at times (although now I think about it this was because they knew the girls so well and they knew we needed to parent them differently from our other children), but it all felt so right and we all got on so well. Although the kids did pull them around somewhat we also found a few minutes to chat as adults. They were so pleased to see the girls again and couldn’t believe how much they had grown up. They also said how happy both they and we looked. That was the best compliment anyone could have given us!

We spent 2 and a half hours mooching around, looking at animals, going on bouncy castles, browsing the shop and eating ice creams and towards the end 8 turned round to one of them and said “We aren’t coming back with you you know, we are going home with mummy and daddy!”

Before today I guess I was a little worried that the girls would kick off or I would feel like a spare part, but I was more than comfortable with watching them all hold hands and get to know each other again. At one point 8 ran off and couldn’t find us. When she did it was me she ran to for a cuddle and reassurance…..

The adults were a little teary when saying goodbye. It turns out that 6 months after the girls came to us they had decided to take a break from foster caring and had moved house; hence why they didn’t reply to my Christmas cards etc. They said they wanted to step back and allow the girls to settle, but we all agreed we need to meet up much more regularly. It’s important for the girls as they were a massive part of their lives.

The girls coped remarkably well. There were no tears and although I was expecting 8 to be a little difficult when we got home she seems fine at the moment. As we have always been open with them and chat about their past with them whenever they want to talk about it I hope we have created a safe environment for the girls where they can come to terms with why things are as they are.

The reunion might have been slightly later than expected, but with hindsight it was the perfect timing for all of us.

We even got a photograph of the girls with them (one of them has always refused photos in the past) which we will proudly display and hopefully they will too.

A perfect way to celebrate Easter and now I firmly believe I have 2 more friends for life!Unknown

It’s their day, not mine (apparently)!

Today is 2 years since our celebration hearing took place.

You feel it needs marking, but how should you do it? Essentially, on that date 2 children legally became part of our family, but on the other hand were ‘removed’ from their birth family. For all of us it is a day to be remembered, but a big celebration doesn’t seem warranted.

Good job really, seeing as though my husband is playing in a show this week and so has only been seeing them at breakfast.

We broached the subject a few days ago and the girls were keen to mark the date – “it is our celebration Mummy, not yours!” – which was a lovely thing to hear, although I would like to think I can celebrate a little tooimages. At the moment (and I’m under no illusions that this may change) they see being adopted as a positive thing, so I’ll embrace it while it lasts.

So our celebrations will be very low key, but we will mark the date in the following ways:

  • It’s the last day of term so they have a wear anything day – bought them a new t-shirt to wear that can be associated with the date
  • They chose the cereal they wanted while shopping tonight to have breakfast with Daddy before he left for work
  • McDonald’s for tea
  • They then have a dance show, so I may even treat them to a McFlurry afterwards

We will also talk about things if they want to. It’s funny how they differently they react. 8 will shut down any conversation I start about her birth parents and rarely talks about them herself. 5 started talking about going to live with them a year or so ago, but since we’ve covered some basic life-story work with them she has changed her tune, but she can remember very little, if anything, about life before the foster carers.

I imagine we will chat about the day in court where the judge hid chocolate in his wig for them to find and how they played with the toys in his chambers.

All I do know is that 8 in particular is so proud of her new name. She can’t remember (or says she can’t remember) her previous surname and asks for her ‘new’ middle name to also be put on any document she can, including her gymnastics certificate last week. Everyone else had just their main name on, but she insisted on her full name being written.

So proud of my girls!

Granny Pants

I wish I was more organised, but what do you do when you realise you haven’t got white pants for their dance show and they don’t have the right size in Morrisons? Buy a bigger size, that’s what! Because otherwise the wrath of the dance teacher falls upon you. I already have an irrational fear of the girls’ ballet buns having to be redone as I’m not good enough at doing them, let alone being chastised for having the incorrect underwear.

I don’t remember my ballet lessons being so strict on pants when I was a girl. How times have changed? It was my mistake, of course. I thought we had plenty of white pants, but turns out the elastic around the legs is coloured and that is a big no no apparently….

So, with the clock ticking and my blood pressure rising 5 had to make do with pants far too big for her, but at least they were white. Why that mattered when her leotard is pink and her other costume was brown (she was Moana and a bear!) I don’t know, but WHITE was in capital letters on the ‘Remember to bring…’ sheet.

I have to say that the dance show was exceptionally polished and the girls were very good in it, but would it have been any worse if she was wearing pale pink knickers???? Would this have caused her to be less focused, or would the shame if she fell over be too much for her dance teachers to bear if the audience was exposed to a pair of coloured pants?

With 6 shows I thought I’d better buy a pack of 9 so we had a few spares in case, to add to the multitude of coloured pants in their drawers. Heaven forbid we aren’t prepared for the 3 shows at the end of this week….

But I did have to laugh when 5 shouted out of her bedroom door this morning….

Mummy, I’m wearing my granny pants to school!images

Letter to my Mum!

Mum

This is the 10th Mother’s Day I’ve had without you and I just wanted to update you on what you are missing (unintentionally of course!).

If you’ve been watching what’s been going on over the last decade you will know that much has changed. So, just to fill you in:

I’m sure you’ve noticed the two bundles of fun who have been with us for two and a half years. They are as mad as a bag of spanners, but they are the most wonderful, loving children. I know you and dad would have fallen in love with them straight away. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you guys at birthdays and Christmas, where I’ve had to remove all of the tags from their new toys, where I know you’d have done all that for me, setting everything up in advance probably so they were ready to play with straight away. I’m just never organised enough to do it….

You can’t imagine how much I’ve wanted to give you a call to take them out for half an hour so I can wind down and put things in perspective when it’s all got a little too much for me. Although, if you were still with us I’d probably be getting annoyed with you for taking them out too much and not leaving us alone!

We’d always talked about adopting or fostering children with special needs and I hope you are proud of me for going partway to achieving that, but without you around I don’t think I could have managed the additional needs of the children we were hoping to look after. Saying that, I know you’d love the girls and I imagine you and dad would have been in the garden with us this afternoon, watching them play (although you’d have been on the trampoline with them and dad would have just been winding them up).

My step-children are now grown up and have lives of their own, apart from the youngest, who we can’t get rid of! They still talk about you (and dad, of course) and I’m glad you got to see them grow up being as though you missed out on playing with my children and those of my sister. You’d be proud of all of them. They have all come through so many difficulties and I’m so in awe of them. You would also be a great-grandma now too. The boys have both taken on step-children and the eldest has had one of his own.  The fact that you welcomed my them into our family 16 years ago, with no questions asked, has led them to do the same to their partners’ families and to accept the girls as their sisters without feeling any sense of resentment. You’d have loved seeing everyone play together in the garden today.

So, hope you are looking down on us all and smiling and are proud that I have become the person I am. I know I don’t always get it right (and you’d be the first to tell me), but I’m doing my best, based on everything that I learned from you. I am the mum I am because you were the mum you were, and I miss you dearly!

So, have a glass of bubbly, relax and get ready to watch the show, because my mad, crazy family are going to be entertaining me and you imagesfor many years to come.

Love you, mum.

Tooth Fairy Troubles!

8’s teeth have only started to fall out within the last year or so, a lot later than those of her friends due to her poor diet in her early years. Her full mouth was a real problem for her at school as everyone else had gaps apart from her. Even her nephew (always makes me laugh!!) who is younger than her lost his teeth well before hers first started to wobble.

So, when they did begin to wobble we had to look at her wobbly teeth pretty much 12 times a day. Her first tooth was worth £2 and the next 6 have dropped to a steady £1 a tooth.

Remembering to switch her tooth for a coin has always been an issue. Firstly because I often forget and secondly because we have made a rod for our own back through creating Peggy.

Peggy is her own personal tooth fairy. She always puts the coin in an envelope with a message on the front and seals it with a sticker.

However, on waking this morning and finding the envelope on her desk I realised I had been a bit slack this time. I had used the squiggly writing I always use, but the message didn’t make sense. I planned to write ‘Another one so soon?’, but I missed out the vital word – so!

I covered my tracks by saying that Peggy must have been really busy, but then 8 noticed there was no sticker on it either. ‘I don’t mind,’ she said ‘she must have been really busy!’

A few minutes later, with a mouthful of rice krispies, she pointed out that Peggy hadn’t written the message wrong. ‘She must have known I had another wobbly tooth, mummy!’ she said. ‘That’s why she’s asking if she will get another one soon!’

 

So, disaster (and subsequent mini meltdown) were avoided. Not by me stepping in, but by her trying to work out what had happened in her own brain.

I have to say, this is a massive step forward….images

RADY

Thought it was about time that I let you all in on the project I am working with in conjunction with Challenging Education.

We began using it in our school in September 2015 and have seen amazing results.

RADY stands for Raising Achievement of Disadvantaged Youth and is based on the findings of Dave Hollomby in the Wirrall, where he realised that students who were in receipt of pupil premium tended to underachieve in comparison to their peers. Fewer of them achieved ‘good’ GCSEs, less achieved ‘good’ A levels and the number that went on to top universities was even smaller.

When he looked at the data it was obvious why this was happening. PP students were falling behind at KS2 and then KS3 and KS4 data was based on the KS2 results. Therefore the gap just widened as they continued at school as their aspirations were a lot lower and subsequently a number of them were being placed in lower sets and becoming even more disillusioned with education.

Therefore the solution was simple. Inflate PP students KS2 grades to be on a par with non PP students (and subsequently set them targets from this inflated score) and put in intervention immediately to address gaps in knowledge, rather than waiting until Yr11 and then throwing the kitchen sink at them to ensure they achieve highly, often putting them under a great deal of stress.

So, this is what we started 18 months ago. In the old level system we inflated their KS2 levels by 2 part levels and with the new structure we inflated their results by 4 points. We also used MidYIS to look at their innate ability and if the two correlated then they were placed in a higher set than they would have been in based on KS2 results alone.

Obviously just doing this is not enough, so every teacher is expected to know who these children are and plan for them within their classroom. Simple strategies include, asking them simple questions first in order to engage, marking their books first so they get effective feedback, taking an interest in them as a person, checking why they haven’t done homework before issuing them with a sanction etc… Simple things, but really effective!

Without going into facts and figures, which I can if you want to know more, we have achieved great success with this new project, with many of our PP students working above and beyond what would have been expected of them otherwise.

The project forces teachers to look beyond the facade of the students, to find out what makes them tick and work with it to try to increase their life chances. Boys who had social issues recently took part in a media event where they made videos based on homophobic bullying and were rewarded with a trip to the cinema….most of them had never been before, let alone been treated to popcorn!

So, we try continue to spread the word to other counties and encourage them to give it a go. One of the parents at our school is a foster carer who has a national role (along with a county one) and she has put 2 children through our school – one with the RADY initiative and one without – and is keen to gain support for this project where LAC children are concerned. Her youngest son has had a much more positive school experience thanks to staff taking the time to work out his barriers to learning and encourage him to have a much more aspirational approach to his learning.

Aspiration and support. It’s not rocket science!!!

I know we need a different approach….

These were the words I was overjoyed to hear when I went to 8’s parent’s evening this week!

As a teacher myself I’m not a fan of giving ‘bad’ news to parents, but I’d rather be doing that than be on the other side of the desk…..

We were set to see both teachers this week. 5’s was first, but I wasn’t too concerned there. Her teacher had been 8’s teacher 2 years ago so she knew all of the background. As 5’s the youngest in the year group sometimes the work can overwhelm her a bit and she does switch off, but apart from that we haven’t had any major issues with her this year. If I ignore the fact I got called in because she pulled her pants down in the dinner queue last year, we have had a pretty easy ride so far with her!!!

As for 8, that is a different story. We have seen an improvement, but you never know what goes on out of your sight. All we knew was that she hadn’t received any yellow or red cards this year, which in itself was a massive achievement for her. That meant no fighting or bullying and no stealing, so that was progress as far as we were concerned So, we waited outside the room nervously….

The first thing we were told was how much he was pleased with her progress – not just academically, but also socially. Her ability to concentrate was improving and she had benefitted greatly from the extra maths sessions that they had provided thanks to PP+ (which we had asked to be put in place at the last parent’s evening).

The nice thing for us was that, apart from showing us some extended writing she had done recently that he knew she was proud of, he didn’t get bogged down in exercise books, or the age she was working at. He understood that it was more important for us to know about 8 the girl, rather than talking to us in facts and figures.

As usual other parents were putting the usual bragging stuff on Facebook. How their child was a pleasure to teach, how clever they were etc. But, when I dropped them off at school the next day some of the parents who’s children were in a different class were disappointed about theirimages meetings as they were told how well their children were doing academically, but they didn’t feel like the teacher knew their child at all.

This will never be the case for us as both of them are so full of character and even the lunchtime supervisors know who they are (hopefully for the right reasons), but I feel really blessed that 8 has a teacher who cares and knows he has to support her differently from other children.

His parting shot was that from what he has seen, he firmly believes that 8 will catch up with her peers during the next 3 years. I just hope she has teachers who care about their students as much as he does….

She’s 8!!!!

This week has been the most hectic ever – mainly because 7 turned 8!

We’ve been on a countdown for what seems like forever and last Thursday saw her birthday arrive. She really struggles to cope with excitement, so one strategy we used was to let her choose her own birthday presents to take away some of the unknown. This was one of the reasons anyway; the other was because she (and therefore we) don’t really know  what interests her yet as she has a tendency to just copy the likes of others.

We got up early and had cake for breakfast. probably not the best idea, but her big sister had decorated it and it was the only time she would have been able to have a piece that day. Then her cousin came round before school like she does every Thursday and she had chance to show off a lot of her presents and open the ones from my sister and her family.

‘I’ve been really spoilt!’ was a phrase I heard several times that day.

After school (where she had to take the obligatory sweets for the class) my auntie popped round and it was time to open her presents. Then off for a birthday meal….

This was our biggest mistake. 8 expected to go out for a meal as we do this for everyone’s birthday, but to be honest they were exhausted (it had also been World Book Day at school that day). With hindsight we should have stayed in and had a takeaway, giving them time to chill out and play with their toys (5 had had some unbirthday presents too), but if we had done this then 8 would have thought we weren’t celebrating properly. Think that during the course of the year we will stay in on some of our birthdays – changing traditions can be hard, but at times necessary!

Then two days later, on Saturday,  it was party time! 10 girls making and decorating cupcakes….

This was where I did get it right. A company came in with all the equipment, party food etc and set up the whole thing! I was able to enjoy the party with the girls without having to worry about keeping them entertained or washing up/keeping everywhere clean. Ten minutes after the end of the party the house was back to normal and we were able to get on with our day.

I shall be booking the same company for 5s birthday party later in the year – someone else running it in your home is definitely the way forward!!!

 

When I say the rest of the week was hectic, we also had to fit in:

Tuesday – Gymnastics for both

Friday – I was at work from 7:30 till 18.30 then my stepdaughter put on a concert in the evening

Saturday – dance before the party and a housewarming and a visit to the mother-in-law afterwards

Sunday – supporting my stepdaughter at a singing competition all afternoon, getting back just in time for bath and bed!

I’ve gone back to work today for a rest!img_2607