Agony Aunt: Using film and negotiating a job role

Nic Ponsford

Nicole is the digital leader of @WomenEd, leader of @WomenEd_Tech and founder of @gendercharter. Previously, she was an award-winning AST in Media and New Technologies. Nicole is passionate about gender equality being the ‘new normal’.

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Innovate My School agony aunt and TechnoTeaching co-author Nicole Ponsford takes a look at the challenges facing teachers today.

Many people are thinking about Easter eggs and sprucing up their garden furniture at this point of the year. However, for us in the teaching world, things aren’t quite as sunny. It is, after all, the peak of the interview season (for September ‘15 starts), the time when it hits you that the exam timetable is a bit too close for comfort and if you haven't had your inspection yet, you know that you are running on borrowed time (mainly due to all of the last minute LT requests for data).

This all leads to a slightly anxious holiday season for us educators - with more questions than answers, and definitely more piles of marking than piles of ridiculous packaging and ripped foil wrappers. Well, here at IMS HQ, I hope to bring you that balance and provide the answers to the questions that have been troubling you over the last few weeks of this Spring Term. This month I am looking at a common teaching issue and a specific management query - and hope the answers relate to a few more of you out there.


Anonymous Teacher: “How do I tread the fine line between using film well and 'just sticking a DVD’?”

Good! I love a film question. Here are two strategies to make sure you not only tread the line, but you can do a couple of somersaults and self-5s along the way. ACTION!

1. Ask Questions

The main difference, I would say is that you screen a film and you watch a DVD. What is the difference? Attitude mainly. Screening a film means that, yes, you do stick a DVD on, but you have a clear teaching focus for your students. This is established by asking students to make notes / comment / analyse different aspects of the film before you press play. It could be a whole film or an extract. But by ‘screening’, you are asking the students to look out for cinematic techniques as they are watching it. This is so they can look at the representation in this moving image text (film or television show). Rather than to be a mere passive member of the audience, you are asking students to interact with the text and be analytical. That is the difference and all you had to do was ask. It is that simple (no meerkat impression here, folks).

So,what do you ask? Two questions normally do this job. The first question I would normally use is “Why has the Director decided to include X?” Everything in a film is constructed - the props, the sound and the acting. So why is X there? Why has X been constructed in this way? What does X represent? The second question would be “What is the effect of X on the audience?” This query allows students to understand that all of the elements are created for effect.

X can mean different things - and could be influenced by your subject or topic. If you want to pull out separate elements of a film you can. This could be one of the following (but not limited to):

  • How has technology impacted on this film?
  • Casting - Whom has the director cast in these roles and why? Do you relate any genres / elements to this actor (comedy, romance, action)? How is gender stereotyped in this film?
  • Use of sound - either the soundtrack or dialogue, the pace or the reason for including sound or not.
  • Use of lighting - When is it dark? Why? Is there a filter on this extract? Why?
  • Editing - Are the transitions fast or slow? Why and what is the effect?
  • Camerawork - What do you notice and what effect does this have on the action/speech/scenery?

2. Language

The next strategy you can use is to include media and film language when referring to the film (text). Make sure that you underline all DVD time with subject-specific vocabulary. ‘Screen’, for example, is one of these words. To ensure students detach themselves from watching a ‘movie’, and start to analyse a film, the trick it to get them to be more distanced in their viewing. How? Well, your approach will be the lead on this. If you just pull out a DVD and press play, this invites students to view a text as they would at home; for escapism, enjoyment and to pass the time. But is that really appropriate in lesson time? As an ex-HOD for Film and Media Studies / English AST, I BEG you not to do this! There is learning to be had here and it needs to be teacher-led. It might mean that you need to up-skill yourself here. You can do this by visiting your Literacy / Media buddies and see if they have a handy glossary that they are asking (your) students to use in lessons (I am always surprised that schools don’t share key vocabulary across subjects / year groups so this could be the start of that for you). If they do not have one, ScreenOnline have a huge online glossary. Have a read through and see which terms you could use with your students.

If you use correct language and give students the opportunity to distance themselves from the text in order to analyse it, you are then furthering both their literacy and analytical skills (Nice). END SCENE.

Advanced Skills Teacher in Bristol: “How do I negotiate a job role with a new principal, who pigeonholes me in a specialist area that I don't want to work in?”

As an ex-AST who has worked under three headteachers in this role, I have definitely learnt a thing or two about tricky conversations with your ‘boss’. Here is my advice - and get ready to roll your sleeves up…

1. Get Organised

You get your job descriptions (old and new) and ask for a meeting. As an AST you do not necessarily need anyone in with you as the head / principal should be your line manager. You need some face-to-face time - emails will not help. Ask their PA (you do not even have to plan this with them) for 20-30 minutes and no more. I would also look at what is on the day of the meeting and judge when may be a ‘good’ time for you to have this chat. By making it a formal meeting, you can have more control than a chat in the corridor outside of their office.

2. Opposition

In advance, you work out what they are asking from you - what you could compromise upon and figure out why they have asked you to do this. Make notes all over your job description, last Ofsted report, RAISEOnline and the school improvement plan. Do your research and go armed with highlighted scribbles.

3. Proposition

Identify what you want. Which aspects / areas do you want to improve / progress? Then analyse your reasons. What outcomes could you guarantee? Make notes and use evidence. Consider their vision for the school and what you can help them work towards. Also ensure that no-one else is doing this work or that it is an area you know you could leapfrog someone else.

4. Last Minute

If you are confident, email them an agenda in advance and any documents you want them to read. Allow enough time for them to print these off and read them.

5. Treat Yo Self

I would then go and buy a new outfit for confidence, but you might enjoy a workout at the gym or indulging in some comfort food for after the event.

6. Be Zen

Attend the meeting (with said notes). Be calm. Spend more time listening at the beginning and, when it is your time to talk, go through your notes. Allow time for them to respond - and be aware that this first response is not always the final one. Listen more. Be professional. Put your side across and then try to have a compromise at the end. Leave in good time and on a positive note.

6a. If it has gone well, ask for the details to be put in writing - or offer to rewrite the job description including this yourself (I have done this in the past!). Be quick to act on what you have agreed to illustrate that this was the correct decision. You may also wish to plan a follow up / review four-to-six weeks later so you can discuss the next steps. You need to keep them involved, but show you have leadership qualities.

6b. If is does not go well, leave the meeting and give yourself time to reflect. What happened? Why did they not agree? Why is this reasonable / unreasonable? Do you need union support or just time to calm down? If you are leading on a whole school strategy, and this is a bit of a U-Turn you may consider if this is the right place for you.

Either way, let me know and I will help with the next steps!

If you have any management queries, or need help with your current work situation, please contact me and I might be able to help you next month!

Get in touch with editor James Cain at [email protected] if you have questions for Nicole.

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