Late July / early August usually gives teachers and tutors a few moments to take a breath in and take stock of what just happened. It’s a good time for us to look at the data that we have so far before the panic of September crashes on us. Attempting to juggle evaluative data and prepare for new classes in those first few days of September, I often feel like one of those squishy things in the rock pools on our local beach – I’ve spent a lovely summer in the shallows on my rock & now a whole ocean has just arrived and is being dramatic overhead.
This year, is very different for me as it’s my first September tutoring full time (with writing on the side) instead of dividing my time between teaching, tutoring, and writing. That’s not to say that it’s not a tad overwhelming, but it does mean that my boss has given me some very clear targets to work on.. because I’m the boss.
The genetics of teaching are very strong in this one and it is impossible for me not to use the standard teaching appraisal template on myself. However, the difference this year is that I’m making it public for the world to see and have openly invited both teachers from the wider sphere, other tutors, and my own students to evaluate me and help form my targets for this year. Because my personal appraisal and that of TeachAllAboutIt as a business is intrinsically linked, being entirely transparent can really only be a good thing.
So, without further waffling, let’s get this apprisal underway.
My first task is to look at the feedback, as ultimately as a tutor feedback from students, parents, and the colleagues that we work with is right up there as one of the most important factors in how successful we are. I’ve previously blogged about balancing being a perfectionist with resillience, and it was professionally scary to open myself up to comments from all. Between us, this appraisal took me a while to write as I had to take a deep breath after part 1!
The two areas I wanted to focus on was specific student feedback on my tuition and feedback from CS teachers on areas where tuition could help progress. To this end, I posted a public poll on a well used social media page with the following question:
What are your students up to over the summer? Looking for private tutors apparently! I’ve been really surprised at how many requests have come in over what is usually a super quiet time of year.
This year, one of my personal targets as a tutor is to identify how I can work more cohesively & positively with teachers (after all, we’re both working towards the same goal!).
So, to that end, what can tutors do to make your lives as teachers easier and help support your students better?
I’ve added a few ideas, but feel free to add your own
It is abundantly clear that the vast majority felt that reviewing the summative tests with students is a valuable use of tuition time, and I will be using this as a focused target this coming academic year.
An unexpected result of the poll was a number of hostile responses towards the use of tuition as a whole. Whilst I have left the 13% of ‘other’ responses in here (having chosen not to include the wording of the added responses), I felt that it was important not to skew the data by removing them. Instead, I have used this as a learning and evaluation opportunity around resillience and how we talk to others online in our professional capacity. There’s no such thing as failure – only feedback?
The Teaching standards is something that I hold right up there with being a decent human being. Even though tutors aren’t neccesarily required to provide evidence of these, I can’t imagine why a tutor wouldn’t feel confident in applying these to their everyday practice. Rather than present my student feedback as a set of questions with data with little context, this is why I asked them the questions that I did (student feedback was anonymous unless they wished to add their name at the end).
Teaching & Learning
1. A teacher (tutor) must set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils
There are a number of ways that we could evidence this within TeachAllAboutIt, from the production of the open topic introductions that support students across the UK and beyond, to the private individual feedback pages provided for every student where we link help and show progress. Asking students whether they felt challenged to be independent of my support felt like an appropriate area to focus on here.
Clearly, I would have like to see 100% strongly agreeing. I am after all a perfectionist! However this is encouraging that despite intensive 1-2-1 support, my students feel that they can work independently.
2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils
On an individual basis, this is fundamental to where we are as a company, and also on a personal level. It would be easy for me to talk about what I do to encourage student confidence in lessons, but far more powerful to provide evidence in the form of student feedback. Whilst there have certainly been more eloquent reviews left for me, receiving this feedback from this particular student warms my heart, not solely from the perspective of the improvement in grades, but more so from the increased confidence and responsibility.
Whether all of my students see this challenge as a positive thing, I’m not sure. However, this has cemented my firm belief that by setting a baseline and refusing to acknowledge the ceiling helps my students feel confident to make personal progress.
3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge
This year as been full on in terms of curriculum knowledge. The website has grown to over 100 pages of Computer Science topic introductions that are used by students on a daily basis. Last summer saw me being involved with BBC bitesize as the author of the GCSE AQA Computer Science pages, and throughout this year I have had continued involvement with the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE), helping to develop their training programs for teachers of Computing.
Having completed my NCCE facilitator training this summer (shiny enamel badge on its way), the next step in the new academic year is leading the in person training along the south coast in the UK for teachers.
It would be all too easy to sit back and say that this one is ticked off, in the bag, sorted. However, none of us are ever truly done with education and my own journey will continue this year through embarking on obtaining further Masters credits through the Open University as a means to pushing my Computer Science knowledge further.
4. Plan and teach well structured lessons
This one is really difficult as a tutor. Lessons are individual to students and often take tangents when a misconception is discovered. Tutoring and teaching in this part are entirely different beasts. Taken from a different perspective, the planning and preparation of lessons via TeachAllAboutIt could also look at the longer term planing of topic revision (or individual teaching for home educated students), with the digital resources for each lesson being uploaded to the student’s feedback area.
The resources made available to the students (every tuition student is given a site subscription for the duration of tuition), and the provision of the online learning platform is also a fundamental part of planning for a tuition lesson. Despite many tuition sessions being student-led, a wide range of ‘pick up and go’ activities must be planned and available in response to student needs.
This coming year, I plan to continue improving this through the completion of the summer website upgrade, publication of three new printed revision guides, and development of further resources that can be used both in tuition and on the website.
This year will also see a collaboration with Tutor In A Box, where I will be developing resources for their monthly learning boxes for KS3 and KS4 Computer Science.
5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils
During my transition from classroom teaching to private tutoring, one thing that I noticed about tuition is the intensity is far greater than a classroom. Juggling a classroom of mixed ability students requires a completely different skillset to adapting to the changing needs of one individual child.
I absolutely eat my words after the conversation I had last year with a highly respected tutor who told me that being a great teacher doesn’t always make you a great tutor (and vice versa). They were right, and I am so glad that I took their advice to constantly reflect on the needs of child in front of me instead of having an educational theory focus.
That’s not to say that I ignore educational theory whatsoever, however I am more inclined to trust my educator instincts and run with what I know will work for that particular child. On harsh reflection, stepping away from a school-centric focus and having the space to work intensively with learners and really see what works for individuals has made me a much better educator. As someone who believes passionately in education, this is an evaluation that saddens me.
6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment
Assessment in tuition is often discreet and observed. There is a continuous stream of verbal feedback (my students would certainly agree to that!), and through the use of technology that allows us to collaborate over documents and online whiteboards, written feedback becomes the norm of a lesson.
With that said, within my student voice survey this is the one area that has been highlighted for me to clearly focus on. Whilst a few had commented that they felt neutral as they had no exam to sit (which is fair), I want all of my students to feel confident even if I set them a test out of the blue right now.
Based on this, throughout the next academic year I will be placing a focus on improving confidence in my learners around their exams through the introduction of exam planners and examiner feedback pages where they can attempt practice questions and understand what the exam board are look for in particular areas.
7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment
Behaviour management for online tuition is a world away from classroom management. After a decade of strategies for engaging a room of students and ensuring good behaviour, I’ve moved to working with students across the country via webcam. Behaviour is rarely an issue with tuition, and when it is my strategies are more akin to parenting than teaching (sending a child out of the room when on internet chat isn’t going to work! Nor is there a member of SLT to refer to).
In tuition, behaviour management has much more focus on setting initial ground rules, which in my case are a written contract between me and the student, and talking to them directly when behaviour is not appropriate. This is a real example where 1-2-1 has an enourmously positive impact on students who struggle to feel heard in a group setting.
It will always be a target for 100% of students to strongly agree with this statement, and I will continue to ensure that students are involved in the set up process of their tuition accounts and understand their rights and responsibilities with regards to their personal data, and right to be treated fairly and equally.
8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities
As a classroom teacher, wider professional responsibilities included running of clubs, revision sessions, leading CPD etc. Whilst this is a little different now I am tutoring, I have continued to engage with the wider community in terms of developing CPD as part of a team with the National Center for Computing Education (TeachComputing.org). This year, I presented the plenary at the 2019 Exabytes Conference which pushed me entirely out of my comfort zone!
However, one of the wider professional areas that I have focused on this year as been the pastoral aspects of tutoring. Not only focusing on academic progress, but increasing confidence in students whether they are struggling academically or stressed out by pushing for top grades.
Enjoyment of learning has gone in and out of fashion within observations in education (I’m looking at you Ofsted). However, it is my strongly held belief that when we are enjoying something we learn more and retain more. That’s not to say that lessons shouldn’t be challenging, or tackle tough topics, but there is simply no reason to assume that because something is gruelling it’s more worthwhile than the lesson where you laugh. This is the point where I step down from my soapbox.
Personal & Professional Conduct
As with the teaching and learning areas above, I can’t see why I would want to shy away from the areas below as a tutor. After all, this applies just as much to us as professionals and possibly moreso as there is no overarching professional body to ensure that we meet them.
Teachers (tutors) uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:
- treating pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect, and at all times observing proper boundaries appropriate to a teacher’s professional position
- having regard for the need to safeguard pupils’ well-being, in accordance with statutory provisions
- showing tolerance of and respect for the rights of others
- not undermining fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
- ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways, which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law.
Within lessons, this is a simple case of following my own policies of respect and high standards. I would hope that students feel comfortable in my lessons and any instances of discrimination are dealt with professionally.
We have clear safeguarding policies in place including the introduction of staff badges with a lite version of our safeguarding policy & numbers printed on the reverse, and whilst the probability of there being any issues when tutoring online, we have adopted a policy of never say never. This year, we contacted Ofsted to request voluntary registration as a tuition centre. Unfortunately, as we are purely online our request to register was declined. In response to this, we have implemented the required Ofsetd policies for safeguarding and safer recruitment anyway.
Maintaining an online professional presence has been an area that has required a steep learning curve in terms of marketing and self-promotion (not something that comes easy to me!). Since moving to owning my own business, my personal and professional lives have merged significantly and I am far more aware of how my individual actions as Holly will impact on my professional persona as TeachAllAboutIt. I have been extremely lucky to have assistance this year in the form of Catherine who keeps our admin and social media accounts afloat.
Teachers must have proper and professional regard for the ethos, policies and practices of the school in which they teach, and maintain high standards in their own attendance and punctuality
As a tutor, maintaining high standards, attendance, and punctuality is vital to the continuation of what we do as professionals. Of course, there are instances where I have been ill or the technology has failed – we are human after all. However, the teacher work ethic has really come into play here, and in fact has prompted reflection on my available timetable for this coming year.
I am delighted that my students have wholeheartedly told me that they found the quality of my tutoring was good, but I want it to be great! In order for this to happen, what I am going to focus on this year is creating a balance. In 2018/19 a full time teacher with a full timetable will be in the classroom for 27 hours per week – this allows for planning, and marking etc. Towards the end of this academic year, I was teaching upwards of 35 lessons per week whilst also writing and developing the website. Next year, I have allocated a maximum of 27 hours per week until Easter to allow me time to breathe. In order to accomodate this, I have set a target of taking on an additional Computer Science tutor to work with us this year.
Goodness! That was quite the essay. But nevertheless, a useful reflective task for me personally, for us as a business, and hopefully gives you a transparent insight into where we are right now and how we intend to improve next year.
So, in summary our targets for the coming academic year are:
- Complete the summer website upgrade
- Publish the revision guides for GCSE Computer Science (September)
- Set up physical revision resources through Tutor In A Box
- Develop exam-based learning resources to improve student confidence
- Holly to commence Masters unit of study
- Continue work with NCCE (TeachComputing) to offer in person teacher CPD
- Expansion to allow a second Computer Science Tutor to work with us