Showing posts with label #OptimisticEd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #OptimisticEd. Show all posts

Monday, 13 February 2017

Education Has Reached its Lowest; it's Time to Love it More


"When do you think it's time to love something the most, child?
When it's successful? And has made everything easy for us, huh?
That ain't the time at all.
It's when it's reached its lowest and you don't believe in it anymore.
And the world done kicked it in its tail enough that it's lost itself!
Yes, that's when: when nobody cares."

That's Jill Scott's introduction to De La Soul's latest album 'And The Anonymous Nobody'. Words, which when applied to education, should cause one to stop and think.

When we're talking about education we're not just talking about pedagogy and assessment. We don't just mean lessons and homework. It's not about behaviour management strategies or whether or not we set or stream or teach in mixed ability groups. Education isn't only about the distinction between early years, primary, secondary, higher or further. It's not about any of the arguments that rage on social media or the issues debated by academics. It's not even solely about the teachers, lecturers, classroom assistants or school leaders. You know what's coming: it's about the learners, be they children, teenagers, young adults or 'mature' students. 

And when education is on it's knees, crippled by lack of funding, ever-changing curricula, recruitment and retention crises and workload problems the ones who suffer are the learners, most of whom are children. The children suffer. Education needs some love right now - these children need some love right now. Now is the time for education to be loved the most - it has reached its lowest and so many don't believe in it any more. The world has kicked education in its tail and it has lost itself.

The love revolution must come from those who are closest to education. The vows need to be renewed by those already involved in education. If anyone knows what there is to love about education then it is us - the teachers, the school leaders, the classroom assistants, the lecturers, the lunchtime supervisors and everyone else who gets into work everyday and does so much more than 'a job'. Educator, you are in the best position to show education the love it needs.

We must not allow our profession to be dragged through the mud - we wouldn't allow it to be done to our partners. We must stand up and speak out for it. We must show others that education is worth caring about - we must sing its praises. We must love it. Until we do, those outside of education won't. 

Even when it seems that education doesn't love us back. Even when the relationship is rocky. Like anything, it's not always going to be easy. There are times when the loving takes more effort. But could it be that with a little bit of love, a spark will be reignited? With a little bit of proactivity and creative thinking, could the flame be rekindled? Could it be made to work? Is it just the particular school that's not working out rather than education as a whole?

It's not even that education demands a hopelessly devoted to you type of love - it doesn't demand infatuation or obsession. It just needs love, respect, nurture. And it needs all these for the good of the learners and their future.

It might seem like nobody cares - the government, the media, the general public, even your SLT -  and that is precisely why you, educator, need to care. You know what to care about and why caring about it is worth it. Educators, education needs our love most during these precarious times - can you give it the love it needs despite everything?

Two excellent responses to this blog post:




Monday, 9 January 2017

Book Review: 'Hopeful Schools' by Mary Myatt

Recently I've been wondering how all of my educational ideologies hang together. I often experience the discomfort of feeling like some of them are at odds with each other. I'm the sort that likes to have all my ducks in a row; I like to to understand my own thoughts with great clarity but rarely is the bubbling surface of the witch's brew calm enough for me to divine the meaning of the concocted ingredients.

Mary Myatt's latest book 'Hopeful Schools' has joined the dots between many of my pre-held education-related beliefs and ideas thus forming a far clearer picture in my head of how I think schools (and those who work in them) should operate. 'Hopeful Schools' has shown me that I am a hopeful teacher and leader working in a hopeful school and that most, if not all, of the ways I operate are precisely because of that - Mary makes it clear that my ideologies do hang together well. The book also provided me with further food for thought: areas of practice that would hang together well with my current philosophies.

Reading through, my highlighter went into overdrive as I found phrase after phrase which spoke words of affirmation to me (I had to refrain several times from just writing 'YES!' in the margin). But these same words, to someone less hopeful, are words which have the potential to transform thinking and promote positive action: the chapter on scarcity and abundance is particularly helpful when it comes to shifting mindset. And despite writing that 'hope cannot be forced on others' Mary Myatt makes such a clear argument for why educators should be hopeful that she is sure to win many sceptics over.

Part of the winsomeness of the book is that it acknowledges that negative feelings and thoughts should be taken into consideration and that being hopeful doesn't equate to blind optimism. It also takes into account the fact that many of our base human instincts might initially lead us to focus on 'sad, bad things' but the book then gently pushes the reader on to consider how these instincts might be overcome. 

There are recurring themes and ideas throughout the book, often looked at from slightly different angles in different chapters, but which sometimes feel a little repetitious. The short chapters are great for dipping into but to get a sense of how all the aspects of a truly hopeful school work together to create an environment of hope I'd really recommend that the book is read through as a whole in a short time frame. Reading it in this manner will leave the reader with a melting pot of simmering ideas allowing the brain to refine the showcased ideas into clear, actionable points that are relevant for their setting.

A highly recommended read.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

TBCT Interview @ Schoolwell.co.uk

SchoolWell, a school staff wellbeing directory, asked me a few questions about wellbeing, marking, Twitter, reading and #OptimisticEd; the full interview is posted on their site at: http://schoolwell.co.uk/exclusive-interview-thatboycanteach/.

"I am always conscious of how hard the work can be and that part of my job is to ensure that my own colleagues’ wellbeing is prioritised"

"I’ve found it really beneficial to read before I sleep: it takes my mind off all the things I’ve been doing during the day. If I don’t read I often have vivid dreams about those things which leads to a restless night and tiredness the next day."

"What schools should focus on is their expectations of teachers: of the amount of planning, marking, preparation that is explicitly expected. Every new initiative needs to be passed through a filter to ensure that it is purposeful and efficient"

To read the full interview, click here to be taken to the SchoolWell website.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Teachers! Be More Batman!


You'll be unaware, but across the internet a debate rages: is Batman a superhero or not? The first result from a google search adamantly suggests that "In the strictest sense, Batman isn't a superhero because he has no "amazing" powers (e.g. powers that are magical or pseudo-scientific)." 

Superman was born with a whole range of amazing powers: super-human strength, the ability to fly and X-Ray vision to name a few. Spider-Man was imbued with powers by a radioactive spider, mutating to possess precognitive spider senses and the ability to cling to most surfaces, among other capabilities. But Batman is just human like the rest of us; perhaps why he has probably enjoyed so much success as a fictional character.

If Batman doesn't have powers, what does he have? Abilities. He has genius-level intellect, peak physical and mental condition, is a master martial artist and hand-to-hand combatant, a skilled detective and he utilises high-tech equipment and weapons. Yes, his vast fortune helps with the last one, but otherwise his abilities are all realistically attainable to a certain extent.

Teachers often have very high expectations of themselves. This may result from the pressure put on them 'from above' to perform. But it often comes from a personal sense of responsibility, stemming from the same emotional place that led them into education in the first place. Teachers expect themselves to be superheroes, amazing powers and all. And it is unrealistic and damaging to their health. A superhero without actual superpowers who tries to behave like he has wouldn't last long. If Batman flung himself from the top of a building (without a gadget) he'd meet an unfortunate end: if Superman did the same, he'd swoop off into the horizon, a silhouette passing the setting sun. When teachers try to live life as if they are super-human, the consequences are potentially disastrous for themselves, their families and their pupils.

"With great power comes great responsibility" is a true enough maxim. But how true is "With great responsibility comes great power"? Not true at all. The responsibility we are given doesn't come with a free helping of superpowers, yet so many of us are pushing our human abilities to the limits, expecting to be able to do what only super-humans could.

Yet we have a job to do. An important one and a difficult one. Whilst Batman battles to clean up crime in Gotham City, we have our own dark enemies to face as we protect the innocent ones from their influence. And we must do it all with human ability only.

So how can we be Batman-like teachers? What are those shortcuts to becoming a superhero teacher without actually having superpowers and without killing oneself in the process of trying? Let's revisit his list of abilities:

  1. Genius-level intellect - perhaps we don't quite need to be geniuses but a good amount of knowledge and understanding are key to operating as a teacher. As JL Dutaut once put it so eloquently: 'We need to be knowledgeable as teachers, not just about our subject, but also about pedagogies, not just about practice but about policies. And the knowledge we as a body have and create every day in classrooms should be heard, and should inform those that make the policies, because teaching is an informed profession.'' There is no need to expect yourself to innately know everything about how to teach but there is a wealth of information out there which will begin to inform your practice. Read the blogs, the articles, the magazines, the books. Listen to your colleagues, your boss, the guy doing the training day. Consult the research that's already been done for you.This is your first step to becoming a Batman-like teacher.
  2. Peak human physical and mental condition - at risk of sounding like a broken record, I must reiterate in the context of this article that these things are important. We need to be doing all we can to ensure that we are well. And yes, our leaders must ensure this too. Being rested and alert can make or break a lesson, regardless of time spent planning it (in fact if you've stayed up late planning it, chances are it'll go to pot if you're tired as a result). As difficult as it may be to prioritise wellbeing it is absolutely essential that it is top of your list: without being well you'll struggle to teach well. Even Batman takes time off from fighting crime in Gotham when he gets a bit bashed up; when you're feeling a bit worse for wear the best preparation you can do is get a good night's sleep then reassess in the morning. Getting rest, eating well, exercising regularly, spending time doing things you love and with family and friends are all essential to your success as a Batman-like teacher. I've written about wellbeing a lot - follow this link to read more.
  3. Master martial artist and hand-to-hand combatant - right now, many teachers feel they are in the midst of battle. Our colleagues the country over are feeling oppressed. Whilst some would advocate political engagement, I think quicker gains can be made by challenging the status quo in our own schools. We have much more chance of changing policy and expectations by directly petitioning the leaders in our own schools. Sometimes it won't even take a battle - sometimes your senior leaders just need to know that one of their edicts is difficult to put into practice, or that you are struggling to complete all your tasks and that you'd appreciate some extra time. Many teachers are afraid to be honest about these matters - if they were willing to stand up for themselves, fighting hand-to-hand (however peacefully) they could effect personally beneficial change. And if they fight with stealth and patience, as any martial artists would, suggesting solutions to problems, showing willing and a positive attitude and perseverance, they are even more likely to win over their leaders in order to bring about improvements leaving you with more time to focus on what really matters: the children. Perhaps a tenuous link, but there are many who would testify to the success of this type of combat. For more on this read my post 'Rise Up! (Being Militant Teachers)'
  4. Master detective - there is nothing more like sleuthing in teaching than assessment. Putting more effort into assessment allows a teacher to spend less time on planning. If you are making effective use of time in lesson to continually assess children's needs then their next steps become more obvious; you won't need to agonise over what to do in the next lesson, you will just know. Keeping a record of all this - nothing more detective-like than a notebook - can make following steps in the teaching cycle much simpler. More time spent assessing and giving feedback in lessons also means less time spent marking books after school. This one works well with the first point: the more you read about your subject and pedagogy, the easier it will be to recognise the clues which will help you to work out what children need and how to teach it to them. If Batman were a teacher he would definitely know his data!
  5. Utilises high-tech equipment and weapons - I have to be careful here; no way am I wading into the debate about the use of tech in classrooms. Nor will I speak on any kind of pedagogy. We all have our weapons - our go-to tools - and successful teachers have a particular tried-and-tested arsenal of methods which ensure children learn, time is not wasted and behaviour is managed well. These Batpeople of the classroom will also have tools which make their lives easier too: the ones that keep them in peak condition. In order to survive, and have the appearance of a superhero, you will need to build your own batcave and fill it with equipment (physical and metaphorical) that you know supports the way you teach and the way pupils learn. It's worth remembering that with every new Batman incarnation comes a bigger and better car, the addition of helicopter or whatever else: our arsenal can always be improving, especially if step 1 is followed.
Teacher, no matter how great you are, you are not a superhero with super powers. You are a human being with great responsibilities who, admittedly, might often be expected to deliver super-human results. You do not have powers, but Batteacher, you have abilities - don't be afraid, or ashamed, to use them. Please don't kill yourself in the process of trying what is humanly impossible - your citizens need you in one piece. 

And they won't quibble over whether you have super powers or whether you simply have abilities.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

SATs Results - My Experience and an Optimistic Response

I'm not a stranger to SATs result day nightmares (read about it here), and if it wasn't for my past experiences I dare say today would have been a different experience for me. Our SATs results this year are alarmingly low, not approaching anywhere near the national picture.

We were expecting it really. Under two years ago, our school was placed in special measures and subsequently academised as a result (read a bit more background here). Whilst the academisation has brought about many changes it would seem that there is only so much underachievement, bad behaviour and poor attitude to learning that can be tackled in a short space of time. This year's year 6 cohort have suffered in a school that previously had low expectations and inadequate teaching, along with a whole host of other issues (really, there are many!). We have a large number of SEND children, many on the register due to behavioural needs, who have not had their needs catered to in the past. We knew we'd take a hit.

Coupled with all the changes to primary assessment arrangements this year, we were under no illusions: children who had been taught very little for years and then had been taught a new curriculum for less than two years had a long way to catch up, especially when they had to meet two sets of criteria (the NC objectives and the interim framework objectives) and sit new and more rigorous tests. The word omnishambles has been used to describe the government's operations within education this year; it's not a bad way to describe it. We knew what was coming our way.     

Despite being saddened by what has befallen these particular children, my natural optimism kept on fighting me. After calculating our dire percentages I looked for all those who nearly made the magic 100 mark - there were so many. Then I looked at all who had achieved 100 or over and felt proud of their achievements. I scrutinised the spelling and arithmetic test results and found great successes there. Comparing our SATs scores to our teacher assessment data I found that we had been very accurate in our judgments: even where we had said EXS and a child hadn't achieved the pass mark, they were always very close. This led me to the conclusion that if the SATs results tallied well with our teacher assessment (so, for example, a child with 98/99 scaled score who has been assessed as Year 6 developing) then the phenomenal progress our children have made this year (as shown by our in-house data tracking system) is something worth celebrating.

Yes, I briefly went though the feelings of self-doubt (Did I do enough? Could I have done it better? Is it all my fault?) and my mind has been full of things to try differently next year, but I remain optimistic (perhaps you think I shouldn't). I know that my team and I have done a great job this year - the progress proves it, as do many observations, book scrutinies, pupil progress meetings and external reviews (my phase working at 'Good' 18 months after the school received its 'Inadequate' Ofsted judgement). I know that the kids have worked incredibly hard; they're exhausted, bursting with new skills and abilities and actually, their conduct and learning behaviour has steadily improved - even acknowledged just last week by our MAT's executive principal. These are children who really have learnt so many things that the tests just can't test - we have set them in much better stead for their high schools, and indeed for the rest of their lives. And did I mention that their progress has been ridiculously phenomenal?!

I don't know if you can find the silver linings in your results, but I would urge you to try. There are schools out there who have done exceptionally well his year despite the changes - I intend not to resent them, only to learn from them; for the sake of the children I'm willing to humbly take any advice going and I hope you are too. Perhaps you just need to cling to the fact that our government ministers have stated that these results are non-comparative and that Ofsted should not pay much heed to them (read more about that here).

I know there will be some teachers out there who feel terribly unsupported by their school today, and I sympathise with you - perhaps next year is the time to try to move one to somewhere with leaders who care a bit more or perhaps you need to fight your corner and present the case for why results were low (there is plenty of universal evidence out there). There is definitely a time for mourning too - I'm definitely not saying suck it up and get on with it. 

And I still think we need to be optimistic about the future; maybe next year will be more settled. We'll know the curriculum better and we'll know the height of the expectations (let's face it, that sample reading paper really didn't prepare us for the hardcore-ness of the actual one). I also know I'll be receiving a much more settled year group next year - a group who've also had one more year of new curriculum teaching - that's got to count for something, right? 

If you've experienced poor results then you're not alone - please get in touch, even if just to offload - I really don't claim to have all the answers but am an open (and anonymous) ear.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

I Thought I'd Lose My Job.

A few years ago I really thought my career had come to an end. It was definitely an overreaction but for a few days I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach 24/7. In my more rational moments I was sure that at least my being trusted to work in year 6 was over.

It was July and my first set of SATs results had come through. I'd been teaching a really high-achieving and compliant (if not a little boring) year group in what might be considered a leafy-lane school. They'd worked well and had aced practice tests. But the results arrived and calculations were made and there were disappointments. Enough disappointments for it to be a problem.

I went into overdrive: worrying, gathering evidence, mentally phrasing and re-rephrasing my defence. I met with the senior leaders and with my partner teacher and the School Improvement Officer was drafted in for a special meeting. Nothing else occupied my mind; I sat glued to my computer compiling page after page of reports based on the year's data (which thankfully I'd kept a good record of). I only remember one moment of peace: I'd cycled home and, in an attempt to clear my head, I lay in my garden listening to a favourite album from my youth: Kula Shaker's 'K'. 'Hey Dude' still reminds me of that time.

"Smell the rose, the sweet, sweet rose,
Catch the sun, find where it grows,
Smell the rose, the sweet, sweet rose,
That grows on castle walls in heaven."

Things were not smelling of roses and my experience did not seem like anything approaching heaven.

In short, the finger was pointing squarely at me. Well-meaning leaders tried to attribute the perceived failure to some difficult family circumstances I'd had that year. The problem was that they had all occurred after the SATs - they were clutching at straws, perhaps because they didn't want to say I was a bad teacher. They couldn't say that anyway as they had no evidence from their own monitoring that would suggest it were true. My carefully collected (and subsequently curated) practice papers and assessment grids were proof that there were no real issues in the achievement and progress throughout the year. I'd been successfully observed, my books had been scrutinised and there had been no issues with my data; pupil progress meetings had gone well and I always followed through with any interventions or changes that were suggested.

All this made it worse because it was so hard to put a finger on what had gone wrong. I doubted myself but at the same time was the only one being proactive about explaining the differences in the data. My confidence was shot yet I had to repeatedly defend myself, having to appear confident in what I had been doing for the year. 

In the end we put it down to an increase in challenge in the tests - these were the 2013 tests, the first year of the SPAG tests and the first time we began to see Tory ideals creeping in (inclusion of an excerpt from classic literature). Many perceived the tests to have already begun moving towards assessing principles from the incoming National Curriculum.

The agony I felt was prolonged until I'd been told which year group I'd be teaching the following year. I knew there was deliberation. I wanted out because I didn't want that pressure again - and my confidence had taken a severe blow. I wanted in because being ousted would have been proof (in my mind) that they thought I was incapable. In the end I was asked to teach year 6 again - that was probably the best outcome. And I've never taught another year group since.

The following year we had a visit from Ofsted. The previous year's data (which I'd had sleepless nights over- not to mention the terrifying days) did not stop the school from getting 'Good' overall (with two areas of 'Outstanding'). I was observed twice - SLT directed the inspectors back to me on the second day so they could see my cross-curricular use of ICT. An SLT member and an inspector told me there were no points for improvement in my lesson. It was noted in the inspection report that provision for reading (the test in which we'd suffered most) was 'Outstanding' - I'd led on reading for a year and a half. I'd already secured my current job by that point - assistant head at another school. The School Improvement Officer conducted a book scrutiny and affirmed that from what she'd seen in my books I'd make a good Maths leader in my next school. Those awful few days from the year before were long forgotten. We had a successful set of SATs results through that July. All was well. 

And I've learned something from all that; something I'd like my readers to learn too. There's probably a cleverly-worded, pithy quote somewhere which will better express this next point, but here it is in my own words: the things we worry about rarely have any lasting impact. A month, term, year down the line they are all but forgotten. Now, whenever I'm worrying about something work-related, the memory of this event reminds me that it probably won't have any lasting consequences. I do all I can to make things right and then let it go - it's a very freeing way to be but if it wasn't for the described event I wouldn't have learnt that lesson. 

Although at the time I was certain I'd lose my position as year 6 teacher, or even my job entirely, I didn't. Even though I worried that it'd harm my chances of procuring a leadership role, it didn't. All that you are most afraid of may never came to fruition - don't worry unnecessarily. Don't allow your fears to limit your potential. That thing you're living in fear of? It'll probably never happen. 

At least, that's how I see it.

"Smell the rose, the sweet, sweet rose,
Catch the sun, find where it grows,
Smell the rose, the sweet, sweet rose,
That grows on castle walls in heaven."

PostScript: It must be said that throughout this whole experience my wife constantly reminded me of what I ended up learning for myself. She reminded me too of the comparative insignificance of the event and of the principle laid out in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". Her support was, and is, invaluable to me.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

#OptimisticEd: An Analogy

The storm rolls in. Skies darken. Seas toss and turn; sleepless, restless. Ships flounder in the squall, doing all they can not to founder. White-crested waves prey on sailors who are all too aware of their possible fate. Winds whisper threats and the ocean bed cries out for destruction. Peril lurks just beneath the surface too: rocks lie in wait, ready to rent asunder any vessel unfortunate enough to stray there.

Yet in the darkness, piercing formidable clouds, shines a light. A beacon of hope. A promise of safe haven; a place to drop anchor and to set foot on solid ground. And the lamp atop its tower guides weary mariners, not quite home, but to a place of security. A harbour in which to weather the storm. Sailors who know their voyage must go on amidst the tempest, find courage and strength in the knowledge that though the gale, somewhere over the raging waters, warmth and rest will be found. The lamp, as it cuts through the gloom, serves as a reminder that there is a way and indeed, it shows the way.

Captains, spirits buoyed by the light its prospect of shelter, radiate confidence and crews unite to bring ships safely in with their precious cargos intact. And there, amidst the howling deluge, there is calm. The familiarity of the tasks stills inner turmoil, and the necessity to improvise stirs passions and hardened seafarers and cabin boys alike work patiently but passionately to reach sanctuary. A peacefulness extends to every deck on which the lighthouse casts its watchful and friendly eye. A peacefulness that says "There is yet hope."

And when the gleaming radiance of the lighthouse has guided them safely through treacherous shallows, and when the ship is moored, lashed safely, docked securely, then the crew will know that the hope they held, promised by the light, was justified. That their confidence, born of the experience of many-a nightmare passage, and of the knowledge of adequate preparation, was rational. Then songs will be sung, and drinks will be drained in memory of those less fortunate; the ones who saw the light yet scuppered, convinced that to swim for shore, or to drown and have it over with, was all there was to be done.

Photo Credit: y.caradec via Compfight cc

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Wellbeing x Optimism

 Thanks to February I've racked up a fair few blog posts now and in looking back over them I can see there are definite recurring themes. This, of course, is deliberate; I want my posts to have a united focus and I want my blog to have consistency. But in review, I was left asking myself a question:

'What does wellbeing have to do with optimism?'

I've written a lot about achieving a good work/life balance and its obvious link to wellbeing. I've also written a lot about being positive and optimistic about teaching (here, here and here, for example). But what's the link?

In a nutshell I propose that the better your work/life balance and the better your wellbeing, the more positive and optimistic you'll be. Stands to reason, doesn't it? But could it be the other way round? If you are more positive and optimistic could your work/life balance and wellbeing be better? Let's explore.

Apparently (and almost certainly unsurprisingly) negativity is one of the key indicators of fatigue. And we've all experienced that, haven't we? When we're tired it's very hard to look on the bright side of life. And teachers are tired, tired people. Especially the ones who for one reason or another have a poor work/life balance. A lack of clearly-defined boundaries between work and personal life leads to emotional stress and even anxiety and depression. And it's hard to feel positive at times when you're experiencing stress.

Interestingly, a quick google search of 'negativity and stress' reveals much about how stress can be caused by negativity. There are several articles suggesting that conditioning yourself to think more positively can reduce levels of stress. Of course, I would never prescribe positive thinking on its own; it has to be accompanied by practical doing. So if you took a few practical steps to improve your work/life balance and began to engender positive thinking at the same time, research and experience shows that you would feel less stressed. And if you were less stressed? What then? Well it would surely lead to more positivity and a snowballing optimism.

But that doesn't necessarily lead to better work/life balance and wellbeing, does it? Well, effective and dynamic optimists will look for solutions in difficult circumstances. Yes, there are arguments that pessimists identify problems and therefore make contingency plans but in the heat of a moment one with an optimistic outlook will be more likely to believe there is a way forward and to find it. Optimists won't look on workload and believe it is all externally governed, they will take ownership and find ways to make it manageable. In my own experience, dynamic and proactive optimists are more likely to take personal responsibility, ensuring that their wellbeing is factored into the way they organise their life.

So, when optimism is a key characteristic of a person they will experience greater wellbeing as a result. This will perpetuate their optimism which in turn will lead them to seek out more efficient ways of working to ensure their work/life balance is good. Which will make them more optimistic... the whole thing is cyclical. But what if you're not already running in that wheel? Jump on at any point - good habits can be formed. The cycle can be entered at either or both points: practical doing and positive thinking.

What could practical doing look like? See my blog posts:


What could positive thinking look like? See my blog posts:

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Blaze Your Trail

The word 'autonomy' comes from the Greek 'auto' meaning "self" and 'nomos' meaning "law", so together the word means "one who gives oneself one's own law".

But I know too many teachers wanting autonomy who are waiting around expecting to be given it. But if the definition of the word is anything to go by, that's not how it works.

For example, many teachers who are bogged down with work are not willing to speak to their leaders to ask for some extra time. They worry that the answer will be no. Or they believe there is no point in asking because someone else once did and their request was rejected. My answer to these objections is that you don't know until you've tried. If you are a hard worker and have a good reputation then most heads will be inclined to listen to your concerns and find solutions. And what's the worst that could happen? I can't imagine many headteachers who would start capability procedures just because a teacher asks for a morning out of class, even if they do turn down the request.

Being an autonomous teacher means being a go-getter. Go get that extra time you need, go get the help from a colleague, go get that next job if your boss really is that bad.

In the business world employees are much more used to autonomously blazing their own trail, whereas many teachers expect to be led down a well-trodden path. My wife, who worked in the private sector before we had our children, and who is much more savvy than I am when it come to employment, has shown me another way. I have written proposals asking for TLR awards, I have suggested that a role be created for me after pointing out a need in school, I have asked for the advice and training I've needed in order to further my career. After a few years of waiting around for things to happen, becoming an autonomous go-getter was the only solution.

Even the best heads need signals from their staff before they can cater for their needs. Start sending out those signals - and make them obvious. Make your signal as obvious as walking into the office and explaining your problem and suggesting your desired solution. Go get what you want - blaze your trail.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Being a Celebrity Teacher


In this burgeoning age of celebrity teachers, is it OK to just be a teacher? 

Teaching is a profession full of ambitious individuals but career development opportunities are limited. Some innovative teachers are now opening doors for themselves with social media being an important proponent in this process. Teacher bloggers and journalists, self-appointed consultants and even practitioners with thousands of followers on Twitter are pushing forwards and making a difference from a grassroots level. It's akin to Grime artists appearing in the UK pop charts. In the face of criticism from the media and the government, teachers are rising up - Pulp's 'Mis-shapes' springs to mind:

"We're making a move, we're making it now,
We're coming out of the sidelines."

And largely, these new celebrity teachers represent us well. I'm all for them. But it does leave little old me feeling like a Heat magazine reader - wishing for the finer things in life as they see non-celebrities become minor celebrities just because they went on a reality TV show once. I just teach a handful of kids and work with a small team of people - is that enough? 

Well, the obvious answer has to be 'Yes!' Remember that time you saw little so-and-so in Tesco and they shouted "Look, it's Miss Thingumajig!" and then acted all shy when you said hello? You are a celebrity to the kids you teach. Remember when you found your colleague upset and you took the time to chat with them? You matter to her. You see, we all have our little sphere of 'fans', and on them we have an influence. And the reach of your influence is far greater than you might think - your colleagues' partners, your pupils' parents will benefit too from he work you do; the ripple effect is in play. Year on year you influence more and more children - there will be young people all across your district who have memories of you. It's up to us to make sure we're famous and not infamous!

You may never reach superstar teacher status in the eyes of the entire profession but to those you work directly with, you could be a superstar teacher. On whichever platform you stand, it is your responsibility to represent yourself and the profession well - you have the power to make a difference, even in, or perhaps especially in, the most difficult of circumstances. 

Your impact is needed. Even if your name isn't up in bright lights, even if your face isn't on the cover of a magazine, even if you're not the talk of the town, you are a superstar celebrity teacher to someone.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/90544929@N02/24642416444/">Annouchka.Supervielle</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Music To My Ears



When it comes to acknowledging the effect of music, research is barely necessary. The fact that music has power to change is universally and historically accepted - that's why it's been made by people from every culture, in every land, in every decade and century.

If you're a regular reader you'll know I love a good quote - here are some good ones about music:

"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything." - Plato

"Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." - Berthold Auerbach

"I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music." - Billy Joel

"Music can change the world because it can change people." - Bono

"Music is my aeroplane." - Anthony Keidis

Music is that lift; music makes us fly. It doesn't even have to be happy music to do that; listening to sad songs is like crying on the shoulder of an understanding friend. 

A couple of years ago it was my practice to arrive at work and do YouTube battle with my colleague who had the adjoining classroom. Our tastes were pretty similar - funk and soul classics got the most spins but our musical appetites were pretty eclectic so anything went. One year Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' soundtracked the SATs and the next it was Pharrell's 'Happy'. My end of year gift to my colleague was a mix CD of all our most regular plays. Those YouTube sessions really buoyed us in the morning - we were pretty chirpy in class after that.

This morning, I broke with tradition and listened to music on my way into work. I had tweeted a link to 'Good Day' by Nappy Roots ("You know today I just woke up and I said, 'You know instead of waitin' on a good day, Waitin' around through ups and downs, Waitin' on something to happen I just  say: We're gonna have a good day'") and I wanted to hear it in full. A quick search on my iPod revealed I didn't have it but turned up some other great tunes to soundtrack a positive start to the day: Good Vibrations by Beach Boys, Good Times by Chic, Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles and Good Times by Roll Deep (odd one out but played at both my brother's and my sister's weddings so a bit of a family anthem).

All possible dust, as a I drove into the remnants of a beautiful sunrise, was washed away as I enjoyed the music. I walked into school with a smile on my face, a bounce in my step and music in my soul.

Get some music into the start of your day - it could transform your attitude and it might make you feel better.

Photo Credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/44124372363@N01/13927396724/">swanksalot</a> via <a href="http://compfight.com">Compfight</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Where Hope Grows (About Me)


After reading an excellent and uplifting blog post by @BridgemaryTL it occurred to me that not all hopeful and optimistic people are walking in pastures green; on the contrary, many are traversing what the Psalmist might have termed 'the valley of the shadow of death'. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but it does seem, to put it crudely, and in the words of Dwight from the US Office, that 'Hope grows... in a dump!'

The insecurity inside of me, usually well-tamed by my confidence, sometimes suggests that my optimistic slant on education has many detractors. Self-doubt rears its head and trips my self-assurance, telling me, amongst other things, that passing readers of my blog will automatically think the grass is greener on my side, writing off my ideas as the idealism of the privileged.

Well they're not and @BridgemaryTL has inspired me to finally write my 'about me' spiel to debunk the theories my imaginary foes might have about me only being so optimistic because I've got a cushy job. I'll attempt to be brief and I hope it won't come off as whingey or boastful.

I am a husband and a father of three girls aged 5 and under (I make it a point to be home for bath time and bed time most nights). I hold a practical leadership position at my church (Sunday and some midweek commitments). I am an assistant head with a responsibility for maths and UKS2 (a team of 4 other teachers). I teach a 70% timetable in year 6 focusing on maths and English (with all the planning, preparation, marking, assessment and analysis that goes with it, not to mention SATs). Prior to starting this job (last September, my first leadership role) the school was inspected and rated 'Inadequate' (and the report was kind!) - I took the job knowing this. As a consequence, the behaviour of the children who have spent the longest in the school is challenging and their learning behaviours are improving but not yet consistent. Across the school, percentages of children at ARE are very low, although progress is rapid. There are still many areas of weakness in the school despite rapid improvement and my responsibilities include observing lessons and coaching the members of my team, as well as leading their PPMs, in-phase moderation and the like. I commute in and out of the centre of one of the UK's top 10 biggest cities at the beginning and end of each day.

I've tried to be matter of fact about my roles but if it is not clear, I have a jam-packed schedule and I work in a challenging setting. My optimism and positivity abound despite the every-day pressures of my job and my home life. Perhaps my optimism is what led my to my current school. Perhaps my increased positivity is as a result of working on such a challenging environment. Whatever the case, even when times get tough (and they do), it is possible to be optimistic and positive about teaching.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Optimism and Positivity in Education


The most recent incarnation of the standards for headteachers centres around the skills and personality traits that excellent headteachers will possess. As I did my yearly self check (the first time I've done it with this new framework) one of the key characteristics jumped out at me:

Excellent headteachers demonstrate optimistic personal behaviour, positive relationships and attitudes towards their pupils and staff, and towards parents, governors and members of the local community.

Optimism and positivity - my two favourite words when it comes to education. I've written about them both before, and defended their relevance too. In an increasingly jaded profession where, in some quarters, pessimism and negativity abound, if our leaders aren't optimistic and positive, then what hope do we have?

I'm not a headteacher, yet I find the qualities outlined in the standards document a list of characteristics to aspire to. All teachers are leaders in some capacity - they lead children, support staff, some lead other teachers - and so we'd all do well to strive to display the characteristics outlined in the standards of excellence for headteachers.

And a great starting point would be to begin to cultivate a spirit of optimism in the way that you speak and act. This will inevitably lead to the development of positivity in working relationships - optimism rubs off on others. And most of the time you can't wait around for something to naturally make you feel optimistic, like SATs being scrapped, or Ofsted telling you they're leaving you alone for four years. Optimism is a choice. Optimism is something that can be learned - this blog post has some great tips on how to become more optimistic.

If you became that little bit more optimistic, who might you affect in a positive way? Who could you lead into optimism, just by being optimistic yourself? Could you lead yourself into optimism? Try it, I think you might like it.

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Monday, 22 February 2016

Reading for Pleasure

Today we are roughly 14% of the way through this year. I am currently at 12% of my way through reading the fifty books that I've challenged myself to read this year. I love reading, and as a child I remember myself to be voracious when it came to books, but as an adult I've allowed all sorts of other things to push books out of my routine. I've always liked reading but for about two thirds of my life I have not been actively enjoying books. There has been a gradual ascent as I began to realise that I should just read the books that I want to read rather than attempting to read the books that I thought I should read. Now I truly read for pleasure and I really enjoy it.

And it has been my attempts to generate those same feelings in ten and eleven year olds that have simultaneously kindled them in me. I'm not ashamed to say that I read a lot of books intended for children or young adults. Two series of books particularly grabbed me: Philip Reeves' 'Mortal Engines' books and Rosemary Sutcliff's trilogy of books about Roman Britain (beginning with 'The Eagle of the Ninth'). Out of all those books I only read one to my class yet it was the start of something good for me.

Last year, at school, we invested heavily in class sets of 'real' books and, as such, the beginning of this academic year saw me and my class reading the excellent 'Noah Barleywater Runs Away' by John Boyne (of 'The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas' fame, a book which I subsequently devoured because I loved 'Noah Barleywater...' so much). 'Noah...' was a triumph ("sick book, innit, sir?"). After reading one magical novel my children were hooked ("What we reading next, sir? I bet it's not as good as 'Noah Barleywater'"). We picked up 'Tom's Midnight Garden' which they couldn't get into (I think largely on account of the fact as city-dwellers they don't understand the concept of having a garden) so we exercised our right as readers not to finish a book - something I do regularly ('We Need To Talk About Kevin', Jo Nesbo's 'The Redeemer'). Then, after reading it myself (in an evening, no less), we started 'Hitler's Canary' by Sandi Toksvig, and once again they're captivated (I've caught them trying smuggle copies home, and even worse, trying to skip to the end); it's their new favourite book. I read 'Carrie's War' last week, and whilst I love the book, I don't think it's for my class - they need their next favourite book, not just the next book. As teachers we need to make wise choices (which to pick up, which to put down) and to do that we need to know the kids in our class(es). I'm hoping to get a class set of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'; they've been enamoured by World War Two, of which they knew very little about, and I'm keen for them to find out more without actually having to teach a topic on it: the beauty of a good novel.

Now, the children in my class, after years of disinterest, are in the initial stage of what I hope will be a life-long relationship with books. They're discovering new words, new worlds, new ideas, new people and old history. I've seen it clearly impact on their writing; vocabulary, idioms and other turns-of-phrase magpied and used as their own. I use these books to teach whole class sessions, but the less I say about that the better, although I'm a strong advocate of it and a disliker of traditional guided reading. If we want children to love reading, then the first step in my experience is to read to them - speak aloud the thoughts and questions you have, the links you're making and the delight you find in particular phrasings. Read with expression; bring the book alive. Starting the day in this way does as much for me as it does the kids: win/win.

This week my wife, who is beating me in the Fifty Book Challenge, gave me a copy of John Green's debut YA novel 'Looking for Alaska' and whilst it's definitely not one I'll be reading to my class, it's such an amusing read - definitely more appealing than most of those a Penguin books the government want to flog to secondary schools. I suppose reading is rather a personal thing - I don't usually read based on recommendation - a well-designed cover, a familiar author or a decent bit of blurb is enough to pique my interest. Many of the books I've read on recommendation are ones I've not finished.

If there's any point to this post it is this: everyone can enjoy a book, but a book won't be enjoyed by everyone.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

All Aboard!

In 'All In The Same Boat' I touched very briefly on today's subject matter and after a couple of conversations after yesterday's post it became clear that more needs to be said. Previously I wrote "Make sure your leadership are taking responsibility too - don't let them allow you to be alone in the boat" and I'd like to say a little more.

I am going to address this post to year 2 and year 6 teachers, but if you are a senior leader reading this, it is your responsibility to make sure that everything I suggest they do actually happens.

Most leaders will naturally want to be on board - it's their school and their data. Most leaders won't be leaving year 2 and year 6 teachers to hoist the mainsail themselves. Many leaders will now be adopting an 'all hands on deck' approach, but even the best captain needs to know from his crew what is happening in each area of the ship's life. He'll need the quartermaster to inform him when the ship is low on supplies, and he'll need the boatswain to tell him if such-and-such a part is in need of repair. Head teachers, and other members of SLT, will need feedback from teachers in order to understand what the needs and priorities are. And that's where this blog post comes in.

At the earliest possible opportunity, call a meeting with phase leaders (UKS2 and KS1), class teachers (Y2 and Y6), the head and any other SLT members. At the meeting discuss the new assessment arrangements (if you have not done so already) and its implications. If you have new thoughts and feelings after last week's revelations then it will be worth having another meeting anyway. It might be a good idea to take some assessment information with you so that you can identify the areas of greatest need. It'll also be good to approach it with some ideas already - if you go with only problems and no solutions the meeting will take longer, plus leaders always like to see a bit of initiative. Arm yourself with a list of questions you'd like to ask too. The meeting then needs to become a practical planning meeting with decisions made on what your school approach will be to this year's assessments. It's also worth considering as a team how you are going to keep a balanced curriculum instead of just doing maths and English (read this excellent blog post on the matter).

Even if you don't get to have a proper meeting, it'd be wise to ensure that the leadership of your school knows the course you are deciding to take with your year 2 or year 6 class. I would also involve them in any changes you're planning to make. Even when you begin to feel like you're pestering them, keep on asking for advice and informing them of your decisions.

The point of all this?
  • So that you're not alone in the boat at your school. 
  • So that you are supported. 
  • So that collective wisdom, and the wisdom that comes from experience, influences decisions.
  • So that you have the chance to suggest that more manpower might be needed. 
  • So that when the data eventually comes in, it is data that represents a team effort. 
  • And so that no leader can make accusations of you, blaming poor results on you alone. This should not be about taking one for the team, but taking one AS a team
It's a sad state of affairs that I'm even suggesting safeguarding yourself against these eventualities but I know it goes on - there are plenty of disheartening stories out there of teachers stuck in schools with leaders who absolve themselves of these responsibilities and then point the finger at the ones who have slaved all year to make as much progress as possible with each child.

In short; make sure everyone is on board with everything that will end in assessment this year. Do everything you can do get the support that you need - even the best leaders need proactivity from their team.

 Photo Credit: Eje Gustafsson via Compfight cc

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Revealing True Colours

I entered into the #teacher5aday29dayswriting challenge knowing that time and inspiration might be obstacles but feeling confident that I could overcome them. Even so, I've been surprised at how, by evening time, something has inspired me everyday to write. I go through the day alert, waiting for a glimpse of the next spark: the one that will ignite and eventually become something more.

Today I've been reading 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini; a quote caught my attention:

"Children aren't colouring books. You don't get to fill them with your favourite colours."

This spoken to the father of the book's protagonist with regards to the father's disappointment that the boy has not followed in his footsteps as he would have liked.

Remember those 'colouring' books you had as a child? The magic ones where you'd simply brush over the outline with water and the colours would mysteriously appear. I think possibly children are those. The colours are all there already, hidden, and we educators have the responsibility of revealing the already-present hues. We have the task of coaxing out the in-built characteristics, the ones that their DNA have gifted them with. The tones that make them who they are. Not all of the colours will be beautiful to every beholder.

My daughters love colouring books. But often, once the picture is satisfactorily coloured, they will add flowers and trees and sunshines and rainbows to further enhance the image. I think as we are drawing out a child's natural skills, abilities, feelings and preferences we will, to some extent, impart some of our own. Some of these will stick, some will fall by the way. But through interaction with parents, teachers, friends, peers and others, the image of a child will also feature some of those embellishments that my daughters love to add. Not all of them will make the picture look better in everyone's eyes

We can't treat children like a fresh sheet of A4 - we don't have to start from scratch. Nor are teachers required to take a Dr. Frankenstein role, creating cut-and-paste collage children from a mish-mash of educational theories. If we decide to approach children as we might a colouring book then at best by the end of each year we might have classes of mini Miss Smith clones, for example, rather than a class of individuals. Children are individuals and (in the cheesiest moment of this whole blog so far) we, to paraphrase Phil Collins, should want to see their true colours shining through. Once we see them, and understand who they are, then we can begin to make suggested additions: Rahim is really good at drawing, so perhaps I'll show him how to use a painting app on the tablets so he can easily share his images online. Ayesha always brings in really tasty baked goods; let's also develop her instructional writing so she can write recipes. Knowing a child's uniquity and interests will give us the opportunity to add more colour to their palette, but never should it be because they are our favourite colours. Just because you're football-mad, it doesn't mean that you can foist that on your class. Not all children (not even all boys) are football-coloured.

The illustration of the magic painting books falls down when it comes to wielding that watery paintbrush. As a child it was simple: dip paintbrush in jam jar of water, brush on page. Job done. With teaching it's not that simple; it takes an artist. We are all artists. And it's all about our brushstrokes, and our choice of brush, and the temperature of the water. But remember, the colours are all there somewhere and we have to get creative in order to reveal them.

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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Pedagogy of 'Zog'


"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert fliers by the time you're fully grown."


That's the pedagogy of Madame Dragon in Julia Donaldson's 'Zog'. Every time I read it I wonder if teaching really is that simple.

At a recent Talk for Writing training session it was said that "If you're not modelling reading, then you're not teaching reading" and I agree. I am strong advocate of whole-class reading where the teacher models aloud the thoughts of a reader - why did he say that? What does that word mean? I wonder if...? In writing too: if the children haven't seen how a writer works, its hard for them to be one - they need to see how a writer re-reads and edits, considers word choice, sentence structure and so on. So in a sense, Julia Donaldson is right to portray the model-then-practise approach to learning.

But in maths I often take a very different approach. At the end of this half term we had an in-house 'teach meet'. It was a really positive way to end a half term and was enjoyed by all. I challenged my colleagues to begin lessons not by standing up and 'teaching' (by which I suppose I meant modelling) but by giving the children an activity to complete first without any input. My reasons are simple: you find out quickly who can do it and who can't. In this way no child is sitting listening to something that is either too hard or too easy for them. In this way you can very quickly see who is applying previous skills and strategies and who is struggling to make links. As a result you can very quickly start making learning more bespoke: if you are prepared with extension activities then the ones who find it easy can move on, some children you will decide need to continue working, for others it will be clear that you need to intervene, and it is at this point, for these children, that you model in a small group.

In writing I like to employ the 'cold write' technique. Although more time-consuming than taking a similar approach in maths, it does, again, mean that you can tailor the subsequent learning so that you you know what to model and to whom.

So, Madame Dragon in 'Zog' was right to model how to fly as she had no doubt already assessed whether or not the young dragons could fly. I'm sure she started her lesson by saying "Good morning dragons, I'd like to see, who can fly up into that tree," and upon finding that none of them could, embarked on modelling the flying process before sending them off to practise.

I challenge you in the same way I challenged my colleagues: begin more lessons by just giving the children the task, making assessment the first job you do. Use the first five minutes to decide who needs the modelling, who needs to continue applying their skills and who needs challenging further. And then get on with the modelling but allow for plenty of practise time too.

"Now that you've been shown, you can practise on your own
And you'll all be expert ??? by the time you're fully grown."

Monday, 15 February 2016

>10%? (PPA Time)


A popular call as a solution for teachers' workload is for teachers to be given extra time at school within working hours to get more of the 'admin' done (throughout this post I will refer to planning, preparation, assessment, moderation and the like as admin). And it's not a bad idea. In fact it's something we do.

Guidelines suggest that a minimum of 10% of teaching time is given to teachers as PPA (planning, preparation and assessment), and it is a statutory right (more info here: http://www.tesfaq.co.uk/ppa#TOC-How-much-PPA-time-should-I-be-getting-). So, let's take a rough estimate of teaching time to be 25 hours meaning 2.5 hours of PPA time should be provided. Our children have 27 hours 5 mins of teaching time so our PPA time should roughly be 2 hours 45 minutes.

The first question to ask is, are you getting what you are entitled to? If not it is worth querying it with your leaders. Many teachers won't even stop to work out how much time they are owed.

The second point to consider is, is even 10% enough and what would happen if you were given more time? 

Our PPA time should be 2 hours 45 minutes, in actuality we get 3 hours 30 minutes. 45 minutes more than 10% of timetabled minimum allowance. As per guidelines this extra time is best referred to as non-contact time - it isn't protected in the same way as PPA time and as a result is designated for other meetings such as Pupil Progress Meetings and Appraisals. However such meetings occur only once or twice per term, leaving each teacher, most weeks, with the extra time to use for their own benefit. Phase Meetings take place during this time also but since all teachers in the phase plan together in one appointed room I find that the meetings become part-and-parcel of the PPA session, therefore taking up little extra time. Our PPA sessions are covered by a combination of senior leaders and HLTAs who teach PE, PSHCE and French lessons.

It's anecdotal but many of my colleagues have mentioned that they prefer to work in the mornings; it's when they feel most productive. Our long PPA sessions can only take place in the mornings. I use the hour before it starts and some of lunchtime to make the session even longer and I complete a great deal of work.

Our extra non-contact time is a gesture which is indicative of our leadership team's commitment to reducing workload. Obviously it still isn't enough time to get EVERYTHING done, but it's a helpful kickstart. The structure of our PPA time encourages collaborative working and the sessions are attended by senior leaders - our staff are vocal about how supported they feel by this set up. If you are a senior leader in a primary school I'd urge you to consider a similar scheme.

Oh, and don't forget the cake.

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Sunday, 14 February 2016

Broken Hearted (On Vulnerable Love And Finding A New School)

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”


- C.S Lewis, The Four Loves

It's probably worth reading the quote again before I go on. In fact, it may be worth reading it again, then closing this window on your browser - what am I going to be able to add to the words of a literary great? Well, perhaps I can elucidate on how the quote might pertain to teachers.

It's that second sentence - 'Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken' - that rings so true for teachers at the moment. Hearts are being broken; hearts once in love with teaching, in love with being so instrumental in the lives of so many children, in love with the creative nature of the job, in love with the fact that no two days are ever quite the same. The pressures placed on us by the ever-changing demands of the government, the fear of Ofsted and poor leadership (in some schools), not to mention the workload generated by all of this, are wringing hearts dry. Teachers are losing the love, many against their will, because the job does not love them back.

And Lewis' suggested solution? Don't love anything. Don't love teaching. But the consequence of that? Your heart will become 'unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable'. Lewis is saying that love is worth the risk of being hurt.

We must love teaching despite its riskiness. By loving teaching we will weather the storm, even though it'll be difficult. By not loving teaching, and by trying to protect ourselves by becoming indifferent, our heart for the job will grow cold and we will enjoy it less and less. We must go on loving the job, exposing ourselves, being vulnerable, but so that love itself continues. So that children go on being taught, nurtured and shaped.

It may be that working in a particular school is, in this analogy, like being in an abusive relationship, but this doesn't have to mean never loving again. A new school or situation and a fresh start can reignite love, and through making oneself vulnerable again, great love can be found. The job can love you back; it is the experience of many. I know a few teachers who, having considered leaving the profession, rather than 'locking away their hearts', have moved on and found the love again. One told me:


At my old school I felt unsupported... I felt angry about new things which were rashly implemented in the school and which I strongly disagreed with... I felt like my opinion didn't matter and an overwhelming fear that I would be the next teacher bullied and forced out of my job. There was a severe lack of organisation which strongly impacted on workload. We were often given pointless time consuming tasks and ridiculous deadlines such as the next day or a text message on a Friday night with a deadline for Monday. This created unnecessary stress.

I did consider leaving the profession as when I spoke to some teachers at other schools they too were unhappy but I felt that it was not to the extent that I was. I wrote my letter of resignation before even applying for any other job as I knew I could no longer work there. It was the first time I had ever applied for another teaching job. 

My initial impression of my new school was that the head teacher was much more personable and the teachers appeared much happier and said things like 'You'll love working here, it's a lovely school'. From day one I was given the chance to develop my career in the area of my choice and have had so much support. I also feel that I am greatly appreciated and the head often sends emails or personally thanks me for things such as putting on the harvest play - which to me means a lot! It is nice to belong to a school that I feel proud of again. Good organisation from the management means that I have a much better work/life balance and less stress as I am given plenty of warning about deadlines and I'm always given help and support if I'm unsure about anything.

Moving school is the most drastic of solutions, aside from leaving teaching altogether. If you are seeking a love of education, and your current school situation isn't loving you back then maybe extreme action is needed; another school could be reciprocal in the love you give. Another school could mend your broken heart. 

If you feel like leaving your current job would be too radical, then I wonder if some of my other blog posts would be of use to you. I have found ways to remain in love with the profession and I'm desperate to share them - I mourn the fact that so many feel unloved by this job and long to help others to a place where they are once again feel like they're in a loving relationship with teaching.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Date Night

Tonight is date night. I say that as if it's a regular fixture in our calendar but it's not. It should be though. My wife is a stay-at-home mum of three and has recently set up her own baking business. Our evenings are taken up with book marking, macaron making and house cleaning, amongst a whole host of other chores.

Evenings out are what works for us - getting out of the house is important as it stops us thinking of all the jobs that could be done and we are less likely to be distracted by technology if we're in the pub or at a restaurant. We consider going out for a meal a luxury as we can't always afford it, and it means finding a babysitter too. Tonight we're benefitting from a kind Christmas present of Zizzis vouchers and my sister is doing the honours with the children. We're really looking forward to enjoying some good food and quality time together.

Even though we don't always get to go out, we ensure that we have a weekend night together to watch a film and have a glass of wine. We also try to spend the last half an hour of each day together, just to catch up and wind down. We've learnt that if we don't do this things get strained between us and communication breaks down. The time together is essential.

If you are a teacher in a relationship then you have to prioritise time with your significant other. Thankfully I have a super-supportive wife who understands the time requirements and the pressures of the job and she enables and encourages me to use time at home effectively. But this understanding is part of a give and take relationship - sometimes I have to put the work down  clear the schedule and make time for what's important. If I never did this I don't think my wife would be inclined to be as supportive, and she'd have every right not to be! 

Having said this I know that this is the first time in five months we'll have been out for a meal together - that is not good enough. This half-term holiday I pledge to make time for more regular date nights during term time - we can't always wait for holidays! Who's with me?

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