Showing posts with label positivity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label positivity. Show all posts

Friday, 27 September 2019

Prioritising Positivity in Leadership

I used to write a lot about optimism and positivity. And I used to write a little bit about leadership. Back then I was in a really tough school as an assistant head and had been incredibly inspired by my time on Ambition’s Teaching Leaders programme.

Now I’m a deputy head in what I think is a less tough school but I think I’m a lot busier, in work and in life in general. I’ve not written as much and I’ve certainly not thought about positivity and optimism as much.

Not that I’ve not been positive or optimistic. There have been trials and tribulations which haven’t got me down and about which I’ve always thought ‘We’ll get through this and all will be well’. But I’ve not been very deliberately positive or optimistic. I’ve just been getting on with it all.

But by not deliberately thinking positively and optimistically, I’ve allowed some of my natural tendencies to get the better me: namely, that I am always on the look-out for things to improve, change or make better. I’m a problem-solver by nature and I like making little tweaks to things to optimise them.

Because of this, I’m way more likely to pick up on development points than to celebrate successes, especially when I’m walking around school. In turn, this can pollute my mind, making me believe that there is so much to do, rather than looking at all that has been achieved. And I’m sure, that if I’m commenting more to staff about development points, they will potentially get bogged down in thinking that nothing is going well and that everything needs to get better and that simply isn’t true.

In Mary Myatt’s ‘Hopeful Schools’ she writes about Hopeful Leaders. She says , ‘…it only takes one person to shift into a hopeful mode and it eventually spreads.’ From what I can tell, focusing on the positives, for example, what teachers are doing well, is a great motivator. I’m sure that science backs up the fact that a compliment really does go a long way, and, rather than making someone feel complacent about their work, spurs them on to do more.

This has inspired me to make a few promises to myself about how I will tackle my propensity to only focus on what still needs work:

1. Deliberately look for the positives and celebrate them – perhaps a quick comment, a short email, a public thank you during a PPA session. But I’ll really have to force myself to see all the excellent stuff that is going on around me.

2. Ensure that the positives are the focus of more of my feedback – this can even be linked directly to the ‘next steps’ part of the feedback: ‘You did really well at x – how can you use the same ideas to improve y?’

3. Prioritise HARD – what needs addressing right now? What can wait? I might even start writing things that can wait for later (so that I don’t forget them, but so that I feel I’ve done something about them). I reckon there might even be value in refraining from giving any development points as feedback at some points and just allowing someone to revel in their successes awhile.

4. Use knowledge of past myself to calm my fears – ‘What if I don’t try to solve this problem now?’ That’s my fear. But in the past, I’ve left things a while and things have turned out OK. I need to remember that.

5. Look at the big picture – the points for development are minor in comparison to all the amazing stuff that is already going on. I need to take a step back more often to see all the positives at play.

6. Share the impact – I often squirrel away positives very quickly so that I can get back to solving more problems. If I deliberately share the impact with others, then it might become more deep-seated in my mind. Besides, the impact is often the work of someone else anyway and they deserve the recognition.

7. Focus on the input as well as the output – when I think of impact, I think of a finished product. But actually, impact can be seen all the time. Not always in the form of hard data, but often in many other ways. Many positives occur on a daily basis just in how much work people are putting into a thing. This input must be celebrated too.

8. Remember what is valued – as mentioned before, it’s not all about cold hard data, it’s about all the other successes too. Being a school that values a broad curriculum and celebrates children’s creativity, for example, I should also be looking at the impact in these areas too, where there are plenty of positives to celebrate.



"On the more personal level, what this research means to me is that you have to work to see the up-side. Literally, this takes work, this takes effort. And you can practice this; you can train your mind to do this better. There's research out at UC Davis, showing that just writing for a few minutes each day about things that you're grateful for can dramatically boost your happiness and well-being, and even your health. We can also rehearse good news and share it with others... I think we can also work in our communities to focus on the upside. We can be more aware that bad tends to stick. One mean comment can stick with somebody all day, all week even, and bad tends to propagate itself, right?"  - Alison Ledgerwood

Sunday, 26 March 2017

People Can't Be Radiators If Their Leaders Drain Them And Give Them Nothing To Radiate


I'm not really sure where it came from but the idea of an organisation being made up either of radiators or drains is fairly well known - it's even made its way into the vernacular of school leaders.

If you've not come across it, it's very simple: radiators radiate positive energy and such like, whereas drains drain said energy. It's not a bad analogy really - we can all identify certain teachers we know within the two categories. Most teachers, in reality, will probably flit between being a radiator and a drain depending on the circumstances(I know I do). And there probably is some sort of middle ground too - it just doesn't have a straightforward parallel in the world of plumbing.

So, a reflection as a leader who hopes that his team will all be, for want of a better phrase, radiators: I can't expect people to be 'radiators' instead of 'drains' if I'm draining them and giving them very little to radiate.

It's funny what leads to these ruminations: a couple of mishaps with removing radiators during some redecorating got me thinking about how radiators work.

Radiators do not create their own heat. They only radiate heat which is generated in the boiler. Middle leaders are often referred to as the 'engine room' of an organisation. For the purposes of this analogy they are actually the 'boiler room' of a school. And not just middle leaders, senior leaders too. It is leaders who must be generating the heat, or the positive energy, for their staff to be radiating.

Leaders must set the climate - whatever they themselves radiate will be what their teams radiate. If a leader is a drain then their teams will feel drained and will have nothing to radiate - just like a radiator which has just fallen off its bracket and has spurted putrid water all over the newly-fitted carpet.

There are many ways that, as a leader, I might drain my staff. I might have unrealistic expectations of how they plan, mark, prepare or teach. I might fail to support them enough to enable them to cope with changes. I might not provide the necessary emotional support or foster the kind of relationships that are conducive to good teamwork and good teaching. There are a million and one ways I might drain my staff - every choice I make will have a knock-on effect, either positive or negative. As a leader I have to constantly evaluate how my actions will impact on my team, and whether they will drain them of energy or energise them.

Valuing having a team of radiators means that as well as avoiding draining them, I also must give them something to radiate. In order for me to have that positive energy (a loose term, I know) I must ensure that my boiler is fully-serviced and running efficiently. In short, I have to take care of myself in order to set the climate. The balance is a fine one though: I shouldn't ensure my own wellbeing to the detriment of the wellbeing of my team members. For example, when delegating a job I shouldn't just offload it to someone else if it means my load is lightened and theirs is made heavier. All the same, I see good levels of my own wellbeing as an essential part of enabling my team to be radiators.

It is my hope that my enthusiasm for the privileged and exciting role we hold in shaping children's futures will be conducted to the teachers who work with me. But there is no such thing as wireless plumbing, or osmosis, in a heating system - it takes some careful and deliberate pipe work to connect each teacher to the boiler. It will take a great deal of my thoughtfulness to enable each member of my team to radiate the positive energy that makes education possible.

The brilliant thing about creating a heating system like this is that (and here's where the analogy totally falls apart) anyone can then be the boiler creating that positive energy. The energy is generated exponentially as each team member begins to contribute, enabled by the initial example of their leader.

Even if this whole analogy leaves you cold (sorry), there is merit in its basis: leaders can either be radiators or drains, and whichever one they are, their team will most likely follow suit. Turn up the thermostat, keep that pilot light burning and bring the heat to your classrooms this week!



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.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

At The Portal: Optimism and Positivity for a New Year

As we stand at the portal of an opening year we are wont to reflect and prepare; like Janus we look both backwards and forwards as we assess what has been and what is to come. With a panoramic view of past and future we experience myriad emotions, our minds an ever-changing sky of sunshine, rain, storm clouds, rainbows, bright stars and dark nights.

2016 has been characterised (and in some ways victimised) as another annus horribilis (politics, education and celebrity deaths spring immediately to mind) but the practice of ruminating on a year just gone is least effective when looking at it in a negative way. Conversely, identifying the positive aspects of the previous 12 months and remembering the events and people one is grateful for allows for more optimistic forecasting.

Scientific studies show the many benefits of practicing gratitude: more and better relationships, improved empathy and self-esteem, reduced aggression, higher quality sleep and increased mental strength. And it stands to reason that if someone can look back on a difficult year and still find the positives that they will also be able to look optimistically through the gateway into the unknown of another year.

Winston Churchill said that 'an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty' but it's not necessary to wait for difficulties to arise in order to be optimistic. In fact it's easier to generate optimistic thoughts and feelings in less challenging circumstances which will stand one in good stead when one comes up against the inevitable struggles that life (and teaching) present: the workload, the work/life balance, the behaviour of the kids, the new GCSEs and their results, improving on last year's dire SATs scores - your personal list will no doubt go on.

But 2017 is year for optimism, hope and positivity. How do I know this? Because it is inevitable that it is a year that will bring many stresses, strains and worries, as any new year has the potential to bring. But why does that mean it's a year for optimism, hope and positivity? Well, because, really, it's the only feasible option for coping with what's to come. Dealing with difficulties negatively usually leads to a downward spiral in which further difficult situations arise. So when tough times do occur, a positive viewpoint and an optimistic response is all that will give one hope for the future; it's all that will allow one to continue when travelling the road ahead seems impossible. Without optimism there is no resilience, there is no willingness to continue, there is very little point to the future. Without optimism what's to come can only be met either negatively or neutrally, neither of which really allow for a response which will make the best of each and every situation.

I'm not encouraging an uber-macho taking of the year by the proverbial horns, nor a passive acceptance of come-what-may, but a measured, calm and determined approach to where life's road will take you this year. I'm not saying it'll all be hunky-dory either - realistically all of us will experience stormy times in 2017: some will just be caught in a shower, for others it'll be a relentless deluge. But no matter the scale, an optimism which acknowledges and embraces hard times, which seeks practical ways to overcome them, and which recalls and is thankful for the brighter times, will see any of us through the darkness.

As Big Ben chimes in the new year allow that first step across the threshold to be hope-filled. Set your sights on making the best of every opportunity you are given. Open your eyes to the possibility that positive things may be happening all around you, indeed some of them may be happening because of you. In 2017, as you continue on the undulating paths of life with its vicissitudinal weather, allow positivity and optimism to direct you. 


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Leading With Optimism and Positivity

C.S. Lewis once wrote a reply to a letter from a girl named Joan Lancaster. In it he offered her some valuable writing tips. One piece of advice he gave has always stuck with me:

'In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."'

This week a member of my teaching team messaged me saying 'thank you for... keeping me feeling so optimistic and positive this year'. Receiving feedback like that is reassuring; I often worry my online persona does not align with how I am in real life. Upon reflection, I can probably count on one hand the number of times in the last two years that I've actually spoken the words 'positive' or 'optimistic' to them.

My colleague hasn't had the easiest of times this year and has come to me as phase leader for help many times. Had I have responded with something amounting to 'just be positive' or 'try to be optimistic' I don't think I'd have been much use - it would have seemed like I was fobbing them off with empty platitudes.

My reflection of my meagre two years in leadership is that I have somehow, despite all the challenges I myself have faced, managed to lead in a way that has made others say 'positive' and feel optimistic without my having to use those words. After spending time under my leadership my colleagues have themselves labeled my leadership style as optimistic and positive; if I'd have labeled myself as such they'd always have been looking out for when I didn't live up to my own standards. Using the words, as Lewis pointed out, would be lazy and unhelpful but acting with optimism and positivity as core principles has made my ethos clear without putting people's backs up; the very real danger of telling struggling people to be optimistic or positive is that they immediately write off the advisor as unrealistic and, quite frankly, a bit naive and stupid. As a leader you have to show that something works, in this case: positivity and optimism.

At this point another blogger would write a handy 10 step guide entitled 'How to lead with positivity and optimism' but I can't even figure out what I've done to ensure that I have been a positive and optimistic leader. I'm not even sure that those qualities are ones that can be gained in a self-improvement system - perhaps I am only positive and optimistic because I am naturally like that. I'm not even suggesting that everyone should try to lead optimistically and positively but if they do, it's not about what is said explicitly but what is implied by what is said done.

'Where there's a will, there's a way.' That is my motto, not that I ever really say it out loud, or try to force it on others. But having deep-seated convictions like this are the only thing I can identify as reasons for how and why I lead with optimism. In another recent affirming moment my wife reminded me that when we met, it was my optimism that ensured that 10 years later we are very happily married: I told her 'I think it will be really good' when she expressed concerns over conducting a long-distance relationship with a guy everyone thought wasn't intellectual enough for her. She obviously bought into my natural positivity then and mostly she still does! Acting and speaking with implicit optimism is key, especially when anticipating someone else's pessimism.

You see, optimism is for life, not just for clichéd quotes pasted over a photoshopped sunset. You have live it to be it - you can't just say it.

Which leaves me in a quandary. Is there actually any point in my blogging and tweeting about optimism and positivity in light of my musings here? Isn't writing about optimism and positivity akin to flippantly telling someone to look at the brightside? If my day-to-day actions can't be seen by my readers then do I stand a chance of them ever being able to truly say 'thank you for... keeping me feeling so optimistic and positive this year'? Perhaps I just have to heed Lewis' advice and become a better writer, ensuring that I don't simply write about optimism and positivity but write with optimism and positivity, avoiding the words completely. Now there's a challenge.

PostScript: I am aware that this blog post probably comes across as self-congratulatory but it's not supposed to. I often worry that my actions don't match my words here on my blog so, if anything, this is just a record of my relief at the fact that others do recognise that I practice what I preach (even though they don't know that I preach it here on the internet!). It has been quite personal, which I admit I don't always do (I usually try to write in order to help others), but I still hope it might help someone in some way. I would love to hear the reflections of other leaders who consider positivity or optimism as a core value of leadership.

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.

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:

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.

Photo Credit: mambonumberfive via Compfight cc

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

#OptimisticEd

Another example of what optimism isn't to kick things off: on the way home, the shuffle function on my iPod selected Go West's 'King of Wishful Thinking' (don't ask, please) for my listening pleasure. The lyrics are thus: 'I'll pretend my ship's not sinking, And I'll tell myself I'm over you, 'Cause I'm the king of wishful thinking.' That is not optimism. That is insanity. I know Messrs Cox and Drummie were speaking metaphorically about a ship, but pretending something awful isn't happening when it is, isn't optimism.

Ernest Shackleton (yes, OK, I do love him a bit) never pretended that the Endurance wasn't stuck in the ice, and when the ice finally crushed the ship, he admitted it was happening, retrieved all their supplies and made new plans. Optimism is not wishful thinking; wishful thinking would not have saved the lives of the Endurance crew and wishful thinking will not protect teachers from struggling with their jobs.

Admitting his ship was scuppered did not mean admitting defeat for Shackleton. He faced the changes, embraced them and made changes in his own plans. The cruelest forces of nature were against him yet he wouldn't submit - he found a way to be successful and to survive.

If you haven't spotted it already, the ice is crushing our ship. Constant changes in syllabuses, curriculums, testing and data reporting have the teaching profession in an icy grip. There is officially a teacher shortage, seemingly due to the pressure coming from every angle. But should we just abandon the expedition? I hope not. Maybe, if the ship represented the way things once were, we have to abandon ship, but hopefully not the entire mission. We must endure. We need, somehow, to find an optimistic view of the future and fix on it.

In my post entitled Optimism vs. Realism I summarised that Ernest Shackleton could be realistically optimistic because:

He had prepared
He planned ahead
He was pliable

Is there any wisdom in this for teachers?

On a long-term scale, what can we do to be prepared? What do we need to plan for? We must be prepared to be, and even plan to be, pliable. We must be ready to weather the seas of change, though they may be stormy.

If we are prepared with all our good practices, the ones that have stood the test of time, and if we are ready to pull together, sharing ideas and resources, then we can be optimistic about the future of education, even though things seem impossible now. If we begin to make plans, asking ourselves, perhaps, how we can make the best of a bad situation, if we begin to formulate schemes for how to teach what is required, or how to make assessment slick and simple, then we can be optimistic about how things will turn out for teachers and pupils.

If we admit defeat and opt not to be adaptable, there is no hope. If we determine to be flexible, even when we don't agree with the changes, then we can be the change that's needed - we are the ones at the chalk face. I suppose I'm talking a quiet grassroots revolution. A revolution of optimism. Yes, we'll have to comply to some of the external pressures; the ship's going down. But we must not bow out of the operation altogether. Whilst teaching their new curriculum, and assessing in who-knows-what way, and knowing that data might take a dip as a result of changes, we must soldier on. Not thinking wishfully. Or being wildly optimistic. But preparing and planning and being pliable, always with survival in mind.

Determined. Confident. Optimistic.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Optimism vs. Realism

I was asked recently why you'd want to help anyone to be optimistic when you could help them to be realistic. The questioner, I think, assumes that optimism is a wishy-washy 'It'll be OK!' sort of principle. People who are optimistic in this way we'll call 'wildly optimistic'. My brand of optimism isn't like that though; I'm 'realistically optimistic'.

In the example of the 'unfailingly optimistic' Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance expedition we see that:

He had prepared

Underpinning each of these three statements is the fact that Shackleton had prior knowledge of exploration. He drew on this when he prepared for his expeditions. When Shackleton was seen to be optimistic it was because he had confidence in the preparations he had made; he knew, come what may, that there were plenty of the right supplies available. Knowing he had prepared well, based on his prior knowledge and experience, Shackleton could be optimistic about his team's chances of survival.

He planned ahead

In addition to making preparations (he had what he needed), Shackleton also planned ahead. Each stage of the intended journey was carefully scheduled and each crew member had specific roles. Shackleton and his crew knew what they would do during each phase of the expedition. Because of this, Shackleton was optimistic about what the future held.

He was pliable

Even when plans changed, Shackleton was un-phased and pliable. His experience taught him how to respond - he was adaptable and would quickly re-plan. Due to his prior experience, Shackleton was confident of his own ability to do that, and his crew were confident of it too. Shackleton did not go to pieces when faced with change; he was optimistic because knew that his where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way attitude meant that he would find practical solutions in order to ensure future success. 

Optimism doesn't have to be based on nothing - it can be based on reality. It can be based on having confidence in the reality of good planning, preparation and pliability
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Photo Credit: Uriolus via Compfight cc

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Wellbeing Hymn

'Liturgy of the Hours' is a Roman Catholic practice which I've not time to even begin to really understand. In brief, though, it's a supporting structure designed to aid priests in focusing on God throughout the day. Modern hymn writer Stuart Townend, however, has written a song I do understand, and I'd like to share some parts of it with you, suggesting that it contains a good framework for wellbeing:

With ev’ry morning I will kneel to pray,
To be a blessing in this coming day
In ev’rything I say and ev’rything I do,
To wholly honour you.

Beginning the day with the remainder of the day in mind is helpful. Considering the manner in which you hope to say and do things before you get a chance to say or do something thoughtless, reduces the chance of speaking or acting without careful judgment. If you are mindful of being patient and kind from the outset, you're more likely to succeed in being conducive to the happiness and welfare of the children you teach and the staff who you work with.

At noon remind me through this day to give
My full attention to the ones I’m with,
Be mindful of those things around and those within,
And fully enter in.

In these days of mobile devices and addictive social media, it's easy to forget to actually interact with those who are physically present. Every single person who reads this will have been guilty of this. Face to face communication and the sharing of joys and fears, is crucial to our wellbeing - a problem shared is a problem halved. 

It is better to 'fully enter in' to the job than to do it half-heartedly and at lunch time, when you're losing the will to live yet know you've still got two hours of teaching to go, it's a good time to refocus and get ready to give yourself selflessly again to the kids who need you.

And in the evening as my thoughts retell
This passing day let me remember well;
So that no bitterness takes root within my soul,
Help me to let them go.

Reflecting on the day once you're home from school can be constructive or destructive; it depends on how you reflect. 'Count your blessings' is a twee idiom, yet many would testify to its benefits. What was good about your lessons? What did you learn? Who did you help? Finding even the smallest of positive events can alter the perception of a tough day spent in school. 

And if there really was nothing good, then considering how you will learn and move forward from your experiences can have the same effect. On the other hand, it's helpful to chat (with a friend or loved one) about some of the difficult scenarios you've encountered so that you can 'park' them and move on.

And in the night-time may my mind be free
To truly rest and be refreshed in sleep;
And by releasing every worry, every strain,
Be free to start again.

A great 'Amen!' goes up from teachers here. A night free of dreams about field trips gone wrong or exam results or that awful year 10 class - what we wouldn't give for that! Be it prayer, be it list-making or some other practice, having a technique for clearing the mind before bedtime will lead to a better night's sleep. Different things work for different people. 

And even though we know in a few short hours we'll be considering hitting the snooze button yet again, with a routine of mindfulness such as outlined above, as your head hits the pillow, the knowledge that a day can be bearable and even enjoyable, will further relax your mind, readying you to gain from sleep's healing properties.

This hymn assumes the singer will be calling on divine power to answer the prayers contained within. In my analysis of the contributing factors to my own wellbeing I often conclude that, were it not for my faith, I would not have as healthy a way of dealing with a teacher's workload. In short, I remember that work is not the be-all and end-all and that there are more important things in life than my job.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Good Evening, Bad Day

When you've had a bad day, don't exacerbate it.

I covered an ill colleague's class today and let's just say they didn't quite live up to my high expectations. Poor behaviour, and having to constantly remind children of the standards they are expected to conform to, is something that puts me in a bad mood. I like it when children are learning, even if there is a 'buzzy' atmosphere, and if that happens I have a good day.

Maybe I need to be more resilient in these situations. And I'll reflect on that and hopefully be a little more prepared for next time.

But tonight I did the right thing. I got in my car and cranked up the Red Hot Chili Peppers (well, as loud as my ears would allow before they crackled). Once the kids were in bed my wife and I watched Liar Liar (it's on Netflix now) and had a laugh. Jim Carrey. I'm still in awe of his lunacy - my teenage obsession has not worn off. I was reminded of how in life's most serious situations there is a time for silliness. Laughter may be the best medicine, especially when shared. We drank wine. We made bacon butties. We watched a fairly thought-provoking episode of House. We did what we wanted, and felt fully entitled to it.

I also turned to Twitter this evening for advice about a work situation, knowing that if I didn't have some sort of plan of action, I'd turn it over in my mind all weekend. Because some great colleagues were willing to engage and share their thoughts, I was able to park the problem and get on with enjoying my night; the evening I deserved.

When you've had a bad day, be kind to yourself. Constructively offload and actively seek pleasure. Don't make things worse, do your bit to make things better.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Room With A View

I go up, pull open the blinds, set up the little fold-out table and just sit, looking out over the city. It's not a particularly picturesque view, but essentially it's not the inside of a school; it's the outside world. And that's where I go to work interrupted (mostly). Witnessing the weather, watching the cars and cats go by - it calms me and focuses me, or sometimes just takes my mind off it all for a moment.

It's the best place I've found in the building to work after my afternoon teaching duties. It's a bit makeshift but it gives me space: physically and mentally. And a place like that is important to most of us. Our environment affects our mind, which in turn affects our ability to work. And if you can keep your hidey hole fairly secret, you'll not be disturbed that often  either!

Have you found your hidey hole yet? Your little oasis of calm within the walls of the school? I'd really recommend finding it and using it on those occasions when the office or your classroom just isn't doing it for you. 

A place with a window is ideal - a reminder that out there is a world which doesn't depend on what you're doing, a world which won't come crashing down if you don't get your work done. A window gives perspective. Reminds you that school isn't the be all and end all. 

The cats who cross the road, back and forth, back and forth, will go on doing so. The city will continue in its frenetic activity, never really sleeping. Your world can be a bigger place than your job; a room with a view will help you to remember that.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Unfailing Optimism: Does It Work?

Like damp rising within I've felt a fear: the fear that everything I write will be sneered at as idealistic, unrealistic, patronising and platitudinous. The very people I wish I could influence (not for my gain but theirs) are predisposed to believe that change for the better is not achievable. Indeed I've had such comments; other people simply refuse to engage.

Some have interpreted my content as advice that we teachers should just shut up and get on with the job resigning ourselves to the fact that we have to work 90 hour weeks (probably). They think positivity and optimism in the face of turbulent times in the profession are worthless and pointless qualities to be advocating. Despite the fact that I constantly try to back up the calls for positivity and optimism with practical advice, I'm sure there remain naysayers and detractors. 

"He was unfailingly optimistic, and disapproved strongly if anyone showed a long face," wrote a Frank Hurley of Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton's second-in-command on the harrowing Endurance expedition to the South Pole. After months of being stuck in pack ice, losing their ship, sailing through icy seas with set back after set back along the way, Frank Wild, when left in charge of the majority of the crew on Elephant Island whilst Shackleton pushed on to find help, still expected his men to be positive and optimistic. And it saved their lives. Of course he ensured, as Shackleton did also, that many practical steps were taken to make sure that pessimism, hatred and depression didn't set in after braving the polar seas in life-threatening conditions.

Perhaps, if being 'unfailingly optimistic' can save lives, then maybe it can change lives too. Positive thinking might seem wishy-washy and unscientific but in survival scenarios it has been seen time and time again that positivity wins the day. For Shackleton and his crew, where expeditions such as Scott's ended in fatality, optimism was key: no matter how bad things were (and things were bad) Shackleton never gave the slightest sign to his crew that he thought they were going to die. He optimistically believed that they would make it out alive, and against all the odds, they did.

It is interesting that the Endurance crew members' diaries reveal that throughout the ordeal they felt well-led, looked-after and happy, and in turn most of the crew members, most of the time, were optimistic too, never doubting their leader and his optimism.

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to be positive in our thinking in order to effect change. Waiting for a situation to alter before you can think positively and feel well and happy is the wrong way round. If Shackleton had waited until he'd reached the whaling station where help lay he would no doubt have reached it with many of his crew members dead, that's if he wasn't dead himself. We must rise above the difficulties of a situation, think optimistically and let that steer our thoughts, ideas and decisions if we are to survive the wilds of teaching right now.

To finish, a quote from Shackleton himself, when asked to give some advice to some school children: "...in trouble, danger, and disappointment never give up hope. The worst can always be got over."

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Perpetuating the Stereotype: Teachers

Who is devaluing the teaching profession? The government? The media? The public? Or teachers themselves?

Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see..." but many teachers are doing the opposite. They're living up to the stereotypes and allowing the labels put on them to become self-fulfilling prophecy. By acting unprofessionally they are perpetuating the negative views of the media, government and public.

This is perhaps seen most clearly on Facebook - the platform that gives us a voice within our own social sphere. On Facebook most of us tend to only be 'friends' with people we're actually friends with, creating a melting pot of employment backgrounds (as opposed to platforms like Twitter where we follow a 'tribe' of the more like-minded).

Facebook users have an impact on a personal level. People will form opinions based on who they know. What do our non-teacher friends see? A great deal of negativity. A lot of complaining. A lot of memes suggesting that we work longer hours than them, have a harder job than them, take more work home than them (we don't). Is looking down the nose creating a good impression? They see a lot of sharing of articles about teachers who have left teaching, often without any explanation as to why they are posting them. Non-teachers, no matter how friendly, can be left with the belief that all teachers are work-shy whinging wannabe martyrs.

Maybe we forget that on Facebook many of us (30 or over) are complaining directly in the face of the non-teachers who care about teaching the most: parents. They see a teacher complaining, think 'all teachers must be like this, including my little Jonny's teacher' and they worry. It's no wonder that the general public's perception of teachers is unhealthy. Take this one step further: people who are parents are influential in both media and government. It's also no wonder that something so close to their hearts as education is constantly being paraded through parliament and the papers. 

The negative posts on Facebook only attract interaction with other teachers. I've never seen a sympathetic comment from a non-teacher - negativity does not draw positivity from them. This negativity only ever seems to draw more negativity from other teachers, too. I suspect that the more shares these posts get, the wider the circle of discontent becomes as teachers wallow ever deeper in their own perceived miserableness, dragging others down with them as they cement their self-made position as a time-poor, worn-out minion.

Rarely have I seen posts of a positive nature being made on Facebook about teaching. The response of many teachers to any positivity is usually a sarcasm that seems to arise from an inability to see the job in a positive light (they're often in the form of 'jokey' comments which only thinly veil a teacher's true negative feelings). I am sure much of this is as a result of the largely-negative nature of the online social interactions teachers experience - some teachers just can't help themselves now; complaining is ingrained.

The negativity that appears to prevail, I regard as unprofessional. I know teachers who have worked and suffered in difficult schools under terrible management for years who have not once complained online. They remain quiet to maintain their own integrity, and that of the profession.

We are responsible at a grass roots level to have a positive impact on society's view of our profession. If each one of us, in our own sphere of influence, remains professional, we can bring about change. Stop the whining; no one will champion our cause as a result of it. Stop reposting the articles and memes. Be proactive about this; start to write positively about your job, even if it is in the context of the hard work we do and the pressures we are under. Start to think about the impact you could have on those outside of teaching if you behaved more positively (whilst still raising the necessary issues) and act accordingly.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Addressing The Balance

addressing the balance teacher workload wellbeing work life thatboycanteach
I was marking books during my lunch break when a colleague approached me asking for advice on work/life balance. She'd been sent to me by a fellow member of the SLT because apparently I'm the expert. My qualifications? Managing to teach a year 6 class, lead UKS2 and maths school-wide, attend to other SLT-type duties and still get home in time most nights to bath and put to bed three under-fives. (I suspect it's also been noticed that I rarely answer emails at the weekend.)

So, what did I say to my colleague?

Prioritise - what really needs doing and what can wait? This weapon has been longest in my arsenal. Maybe it did stem from a fairly lackadaisical attitude but it is now fully grown as an effective tool (can I get away with such mixed metaphors?). The simple idea is that on any given day there are some things that you just can't give two figs about. Those things will have to wait. Concentrate on doing one or two things well that day - the ones that obviously need doing soonest. You can't do everything all at once. I often find that as a result of prioritising, the odd thing drops out of the in-tray and straight into the bin - it would have been wasted time and effort doing that particular job anyway. Admittedly this way of existing runs the risk of becoming last minute.com but there's something else to combat that...

Organise - make time by planning ahead. Although it may not feel like it, you are the master of your own teaching destiny. if you know the week will be heavy on one particular job, ensure that you aren't piling more on yourself. Don't plan 5 days' worth of independent writing which you'll have to mark and level to the nth degree on the same week you know you've got a trip, parents' evening and your mum's birthday meal. Be wise. Similar to 'organise' is...

Maximise - make the most of the time you've got. It's a hateful saying but there's an element of truth to the maxim "Don't work harder; work smarter." Where was I when my colleague found me? Eating sandwiches with one hand and brandishing my green biro with the other. Using those little bits of time in a school day, even just to make one of your five phone calls, is worth doing. Sitting straight down at your desk once the kids have walked out the door without giving lethargy the chance to kick in will reduce the number of maths books you take home. Even better, and super-effective, is making time to sit down with individual children to mark their work with them.

Collaborate - nurture a good working relationship with other teachers. Those of you blessed with a year group partner (or two) are sitting on a gold mine of opportunities. Even if you aren't, there will be other members of staff for you to tap in to. Mention what you're doing, maybe they'll have a resource ready prepared for that. Ask for help if you don't understand something - better to admit a weakness and be enlightened quickly than to remain resolute and struggle through, thus wasting time. Don't underestimate the time-saving effects of this one.

Rest - productivity relies on rest. I could scour the internet for scientific evidence for this but we all know it from experience, don't we? Teaching has a rhythm - some weeks are less busy than others. At the same time as planning ahead and using the time you have, you should also think about using the natural breaks - and make the most of them. Different people find rest in different things. Ensure there is something else (on the life side of the balance) that takes up some of your time - something that isn't easy to get out of. Make a commitment to an extra-curricular activity and get some 'you time' (I would suggest that even family commitments fall in to this category, I didn't say 'alone time'!).

Finally, it's worth pointing out that with a job like teaching there are, as mentioned already, particular points in the year when the workload gets heavy. At these times taking the above advice will help to alleviate but not eradicate. For example, this half term (summer 2), when everyone else thinks we're winding down for the summer holidays, the cumulative effect of that final push for the highest possible levels (or whatever your school has decided to call them now), assessment and report writing, impact reports (if you have an area of responsibility), end of year productions and all those last minute trips actually can take their toll. When that's the case it's worth reassuring yourself that you'll have five or six weeks of mostly-life and, that for the time being, work might just have to tip the balance.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

How I've Stayed In Teaching

What if the key to job satisfaction was not in a change of external expectation but in an altering of internal attitude? Could it be that it's not them who need to change things, but you? At the risk of sounding like an X-factor contestant's deluded parent, I suggest that employment enjoyment (catchy, huh?) is down to a positive mindset. And, yes, teachers - I'm talking to you.

Education - the way we think about it, the way we do it - has changed. What started off in the UK as a sort of people-factory to supply the British Empire with able workers is now something very different, and rightly so. As governments come and go, national pedagogy changes, some Education Secretaries don't really seem to be up to the job, politicians throw the baby out with the bath water (remember Labour's new National Curriculum 5 years ago?) and teachers try to keep up with the developments.

These developments may not always seem like advances but it is up to us to push forward regardless. We must make the best of a set of guidelines we might disagree or struggle with - for the kids' sake as well as our own. Yes, we will have to work hard - but what did you expect?

With an optimistic outlook one can search for solutions to the problems we face. The workload may seem heavy - how can you efficiently lighten the burden? The curriculum content list may seem a drag - how can you uplift it? The hours may seem long - how can you shorten them? Asking this kind of question is the start of your journey to loving your vocation. And just to be clear: I'm talking about making changes in the way you do things as a result of changing how you think about things.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers to those questions however, upon reflection, I can truly say that asking them has been fundamental to my happiness and success. I've not always been successful, I've found many things difficult (like lifting my lessons from 'satisfactory' to 'good' and beyond) and I have learned to be happy. Along the way I've gleaned invaluable bits of advice from colleagues and bolted them together into some sort of Scrapheap-Challenge-pedagogy that really works.

Find the teachers in your school who genuinely seem to enjoy what they do. Adhere to them. Avoid the mood-hoovers and the drains and find the radiators. Learn from them. Find out how they answered those questions - believe me, they will have asked them and found some answers already. For some teachers the answer may be moving to a different school.

Very well, Ofsted inspectors, senior leaders, local authority bigwigs, media men and the rest do affect the possibility of being so positive. As do the kids. There are factors which make it very difficult for us to do our job but there really is only one choice: adapt or die. That sounds harsh but it's true: roll with the punches (sorry, I don't mean to sound like an Apprentice candidate) or leave the profession. And for most of us the second one is not an option - we've invested so much time in our career and we remember a time when we loved it; when we really think about it we still care passionately about the education of children. And let's be honest: our livelihood, and that of our family, relies on us remaining in teaching. We can't leave. So we have to change.

I've often thought of teaching as having an acting job - our roles can be so varied. But let's not get ourselves typecast - let's be adaptable. Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!", Robert DeNiro's " You talking to me?", Roy Scheider's "You're gonna need a bigger boat." - all improvised, all oft-quoted, all examples of how the screenwriters were shown how the script should really go by the ones having to actually deliver it. Pick up the script and improvise - make it your own. Show the director how the part should be played - that's how you will make difference, that's how your voice will be heard. That's what will make education great. It'll also make your job more enjoyable.

In Education today, adaptation of self is essential and it is only made possible by having an up-beat perspective. We can't sit around waiting for the perfect alignment of politicians and policies to begin to enjoy our work. Problems are only problems until they're solved - don't allow them to remain as problems. Ask those questions. Find those colleagues. Make some changes. And above all think positively.

There are many issues mentioned only in passing here that I intend to write on in the near future. The short shrift I've given to particular things is not because I haven't thought about it enough!