The Teaching Realm: An interview with the DynamicDeps #11

The Reading Realm Blog Series: Educators doing extraordinary things

“Reading for pleasure takes you away from your current world and into another. It means getting at you deeply and tugging at your core…”

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Find out more about Russell and Steve here!

Name: DynamicDeps – Russell and Steve (Make An Impact Education – Facebook)

Twitter handle: @dynamicdeps

Link to blog/website:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/240493086618541/

What is your current position? 

 Both Deputy Headteachers – based in Devon and Kent

When, how and why did you get into education? What did/do you want to achieve?

Steve:  I have always wanted to be involved in education, particularly as my mother worked in the primary school setting… I just took a long time to get there!  I was torn as a school student and wished to study law and education, so I embarked on my first career to be a solicitor in criminal and family law. Having gained the necessary qualifications, I practised in law for almost 4 years before trying my hand at teaching, going down the PGCE route and then gaining my job – and I have never looked back!

Russell: I got into teaching straight after doing an English Literature degree. I’d been doing some youth work and, with the encouragement of my wife, I got onto a PGCE. I started teaching in a really tough school and that’s where I grew a passion for helping those pupils from particular tricky backgrounds. I love my job and just want to make a big difference to children’s lives.

How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?

Steve:  In my 8 years in education it has changed for sure, and not all changes have been positive.  The job is quite simply very tough and I admire all in our profession.  Only through great collaboration either in school, or with other schools, can we achieve the best.  Obviously the hits to funding have been major of late and I only hope we can ride it out, see better funding one day and retain our excellent professionals. In the meantime, we have to continue to work extremely hard and gain satisfaction from being in such a fantastic career… easier said than done sometimes.

Russell: I think accountability has perhaps got even more intense – although it has always felt tough, as I started my career in a school in special measures! I think funding is tighter than ever and the academisation ‘world’ remains interesting. In the southwest, many schools are part of MATs and there’s certainly a feeling that you have to be able to remain strong as an LA school if you’re to avoid being forced to go that way too. I’m not anti-MATs at all, but think we should still have choice.

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“At secondary school, a determined English teacher got me into The Diaries of Adrian Mole and I thought they were hilarious.”

What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?

Steve: Hating it! As a boy with ADHD, I found reading and writing tricky.  However I had an excellent Year 4 teacher who took an interest in me, found me the right books to read that I could access and enjoy and this set my imagination free.  I ended up writing spooky stories for fun and that ignited in me a desire to be a writer and enjoy it.

Russell: I wasn’t an avid reader at primary school (I find this embarrassing to admit) but James and the Giant Peach was the first book I remember loving. At secondary school, a determined English teacher got me into The Diaries of Adrian Mole and I thought they were hilarious. Writing-wise, I quite liked poetry and found writing lyrics for a band in my teens a great outlet.

How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?

Steve:  By engaging them in every way possible.  Creating a loving and well thought out reading area to attract them over, having a wide range of different books to read for all abilities and interests, being a role model for reading by loving it myself and promoting the love of reading, not simply reading because school says so.

Russell: I love reading to children and with children. I try to get into some of our younger classes in particular  and do storytime with them. I hope this will really encourage young lads who aren’t read to at home to like books. I also try to make time to read with some reluctant readers across the school.

What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?

Steve:  I believe in full immersion in any lesson and so I remember using all the senses to fully understand a text and model it to the children before asking them to write. I used pictures, sound buttons, a closed box to feel objects, smells in potion jars and this really got the imagination flowing. As a result they had so much to go from to write about their story.  It was a great result!

Russell: I once did a nice Minecraft-inspired writing lesson which went down well. I used some images from the game, alongside some banks of vocabulary for a one-off piece. But, without a doubt, the best writing I always got out of classes was writing from the perspective of Theseus entering the labyrinth to meet the dreaded Minotaur. Such an evocative piece, where children would describe stepping over mice-nibbled bones, hearing the Minotaur’s sinister grunts and seeing his steamy breath in the distance. Chilling!

What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading? 

Steve:  Please never give up.  Be a role model and go slow.  Visit the library, go to a book shop, really explore books with your children.  There is a genre out there for everyone, it’s about just finding it. Have time and patience and really sit together and explore books together, you will get there!

Russell: I agree with Steve! Keep it natural, too, and don’t feel the need to force it all. My eldest has gone through phases but now she’s in Year 3, she’s finding the texts a lot more exciting and is dead into chapter books.

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James and the Giant Peach was wonderful and the first ‘longer’ book I became totally immersed in.”

What books do you remember from your childhood? Do you have a favourite?

Steve:  I think most people would reference Roald Dahl and that goes for me.  I also liked Enid Blyton books, but as I grew up I took much more interest in autobiographies – and still do.  A joy from teaching is continuing to read children’s books and I love the range out now and being able to explore them myself as an adult who is still a child at heart!

Russell: The first picture book I remember loving was Funnybones. James and the Giant Peach was wonderful and the first ‘longer’ book I became totally immersed in.

What was the first book that made you cry?

Steve:  Call me emotionless, but I can’t remember crying at books or films as a child!  I did, and still do, cry at the book Marley and Me even though I know what is coming.  The film is a blubfest!

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“I did, and still do, cry at the book Marley and Me…”

Russell: Hmm… I honestly couldn’t tell you!

What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel/book?

Steve: For me it’s Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae.  It is a must for ALL children; I just absolutely adore it and could read it time and time again.

Russell: While there are texts I prefer to David Walliams’ books, I think some people can be a bit snobby about his work. I have a pupil for whom The Boy in the Dress absolutely hooked them in and engaged them in some amazing conversations about gender, bullying, family and so on.

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” It is a must for ALL children; I just absolutely adore it and could read it time and time again.”

Have you ever experienced reader’s block?

Steve:  Certainly.  When I studied law I got lost in all the ‘serious’ reading I had to do and reading began to feel like a chore.  I hated it.  But I am glad to say I recovered my love of reading and it’s back in my routine.

Russell: Definitely. Tiredness is a barrier for me. But currently having a Year 6 reading group has got me feeling like a “proper” reader again!

Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres? 

Steve:  Autobiographies are still a big hit for me, as well as mystery books.  I also like quiz and sports books as part of easy reading – and trying to improve my knowledge!

Russell: I also love an autobiography as I am naturally interested in people and their pasts. But I also love children’s books and am keen this year to brush up on some of the books I’m hearing recommended on Twitter. That’s why I chose Podkin One Ear for my Year 6 group at the moment – I read 100 pages in my first sitting – it’s brilliant.

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The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood. 

What book are you currently reading?

Steve:  Leadership for Dummies…a Christmas present from my other half!

Russell: The Legend of Podkin One-Ear by Kieran Larwood.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

Steve:  In bed or on a sunbed on holiday with the sun beating down, the sound of the sea or pool and a nice cocktail in hand.  Perfect!

Russell: At school with the kids.

Which three books would you recommend to primary school aged children and why?

Steve:  Giraffes Cant Dance, Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different and Be Good Gordon.  They are just genius!  I love the structure and the ease of  Giraffes Cant Dance and the illustrations. For Be Good Gordon it is similar; it is so expressive, different voices, pace and an unusual story children don’t always know.  Stories for Boys I have been reading with some boys in Year 6 and they love it.  The way we can relate to people who grow up to be a success and how they overcame battles.  My Year 6 have been so immersed in it!

Russell: Anything by Anthony Browne, the Harry Potter series and Podkin One-Ear.

Finally: what does reading for pleasure mean to you?

Steve:  It means grabbing a book and reading it without a second thought.  It means taking you away to a place you can just smile and turn over a page.  Nothing can beat just sitting down with a good book and ignoring the world around you.

Russell: It means reading something that takes you away from your current world and into another. It means getting at you deeply and tugging at your core.

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