Showing posts sorted by relevance for query busy. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query busy. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Why I Never Use The Word 'Busy'

It all started when, every week, an unemployed friend would ask me how my week had been, to which I invariably replied 'Busy!'. As time went by, he began answering the question for me: 'Busy?' I felt mightily uncomfortable as I highlighted the major difference between my week and his: I was 'busy' and fulfilled, he was largely at a loose end as he applied for job after job, consequently feeling very unfulfilled. I decided to stop saying I was busy, instead telling him some of the things I'd been doing instead, making for much more interesting conversation.

I decided to completely stop using the word - not to colleagues, not to my wife and not to my friends. By definition I was, and still am, busy, but I ceased to describe myself so.

Apart from boring people with a one word answer when they genuinely enquired about my week, there has been another benefit too:

In telling others that I was busy, I was telling myself that I was busy too. And in telling myself that I was busy, I told myself that I didn't have enough time to do everything that I needed to do. I found myself writing things off before I even had a chance to look at my schedule - 'How could I possibly fit that in? I'm way too busy.'

Now that I don't label myself as busy, I am finding that I have a better attitude towards the additions to my to-do list. Now I think 'I can do that. I can fit that in'. And I do. I've also found (as previously mentioned here under 'Routines and Busyness') that when my schedule is full I work more efficiently; knowing that there are other things lined up for me to do means I get on with tasks.

On a practical note, there are three things that have really helped me with fitting lots into my day:

  • the apple calendar (there are other calendars available) which syncs between my ipad, iphone and icloud. I use this instead of a paper diary these days and I plan jobs into consecutive blocks of time. The calendar reminds me when it is time to do something; it's a bit like having my mum around and is very effective - I have to do it if the calendar tells me to.
  • the apple reminders app which again syncs between devices. Both this app and the calendar app allow you to schedule and set reminders for jobs - this is almost the key to all my organisational success! Naturally I'm quite forgetful, but with these apps, you'd not be able to tell. I am now in the habit of reaching for the nearest device and making a note on my job lists (in the reminders app) or booking something in to my calendar, meaning that I don't have to remember to write it down later. If something doesn't end up getting done, I just change the date and time of when I'm going to do it.
  • an actual notebook, you know with paper pages. I have no scraps of paper. Everything goes in the notebook: CPD notes, planning ideas, answers to maths tasks that I need to mark, observation jottings, SLT meeting notes... everything goes in!
So by being busy, but not thinking of myself as busy, I find myself maximising the time I have and using it much more effectively. It's been a very simple change, but one that psychologically seems to have had a big impact on how I work.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Working For The Weekend

Some might say I labour under the illusion that, as a teacher, one doesn't have to work at the weekends. Except it's not an illusion because I don't work at the weekends. There are others like me. Working at the weekend at home would be problematic for me as three under-five-year-old girls also live in my house. They are looked after all week by my amazing wife and by the time Friday night comes around I have to flick the 'work' switch to off and the 'life' switch to on. My wife needs me to, the girls need me to and I need to, too. To take it further, my colleagues need me to, my class need me to, my boss needs me to - if I haven't recharged my batteries at the weekend then work suffers as well.

So, how is this possible? 

Firstly, I recognise that I work in a supportive school with leaders who I know I can talk to if things are getting too much. When I was at interview for my post, I made them aware of my family situation - they took me on knowing that my whole life wouldn't be committed to the job, and they weren't empty promises. I am provided with a good amount of time to get work done within school hours, but just as all teachers find, it still isn't enough.

However, analysing my current situation, I think, could perhaps help one or two others. For example, I know weekends are out-of-bounds. My deadline for the week is Friday home-time, and all being well, work won't resume until Monday morning (apart from those times when I re-plan a whole lesson in the shower on Saturday morning). What might help you to avoid weekend work?

Deadlines
Deadlines are widely acknowledged to be an important aspect of productivity. What would happen if you set a similar deadline to the one my family dictates? If you've ever known an event was going to stop you from working at the weekend, then you probably got done what needed doing during the week, then enjoyed your best friend's wedding or your partner's birthday weekend away, possibly even returning to work on Monday feeling relaxed (even if you did get that Sunday-night feeling as you thought about another busy week ahead).

Routine & Busyness
I recently visited a physiotherapist who prescribed a few exercises which are to be completed three times a day. In the week, at my busiest times, I do every set of exercises. At the weekend, when I have loads of time to spare, I do one set at best. What's the difference? Routine and busyness. When I'm busy, I get more done as part of my daily routine. At less busy times, like the weekend, I am less productive. Using up those spare bits of time during the week can reap you the benefits at the weekend. You're probably more likely to be productive in those short time slots, in amongst the busyness of doing other jobs, than you might be at the weekend after you've had a lie in, a leisurely coffee and have neglected to get dressed!

Focus
I have to focus in order to be productive. To get more done in less time I have to do one task at a time. If other things are going on then I am distracted and take far longer to do things. Many teachers plan with the TV 'on in the background' (guaranteed not to be in the background, but in front of them!) - this one, I'm sure is down to personal preference, but removing all distractions (such as the TV) may just help you to cut down on work time. I'm convinced the work/life balance doesn't mean doing both at the same time, rather it means doing one, then the other: some work, then some play. 

My pastor always says 'If you don't book it in, you book it out!' and it is true; booking in time on the life side of the balance is a better way to ensure you get it. By making deadlines you are carving out time for 'you' (and your family, friends, hobbies etc), which is essential for your wellbeing. By using time during the week whilst you're already caught in the momentum of busyness you will achieve more. And by dedicating time to work without distractions you will be more productive. Any one of these time-saving methods could be employed alone, but together they are a powerful formula for beginning to avoid weekend work.

This video (The Science of Productivity) has some more great tips for how to get more done in less time:

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Pearl

It crept towards her, out of the pages of her diary. Those empty rectangles of nothing. And from where there were entries and to-do lists it swaggered out across the pages, parading past her, jeering. When she did manage to shut out the noise, it whispered derisively instead. Not into her ear, but directly from the centre of her head, engulfing all else, like backwash on a beach rattling her logic, dragging all order away and into the deep.

It wasn’t as if she had nothing to do, and it definitely wasn’t because she wanted to do nothing. It was just that what she did have to do felt like nothing. The sense of urgency and fear that she relished did not make residence in the items on her schedule. It didn’t even really feel like her schedule, and definitely not her agenda. Someone else’s, perhaps. Maybe no one’s in particular. Just a schedule.

Things to do, things to do. Busy, busy. No time. The familiar phrases taunted her. She had once felt that way; she felt that absence keenly. It left a vacuum, now perforated and being slowly inhabited by the swirling grey of a winter North Sea, carrying sand and seaweed, grating and tangling with her thoughts.

When had she last been on the beach? Too long ago. The stretching sands and undulating water reminded her that, despite how she felt, the tumult in her head was only… not imaginary, but… something that could be controlled more easily than she could control the heaving mass of water rushing to meet her feet.

King Cnut. He had been demonstrating that he couldn’t stop the tide coming in. So misrepresented these days. He knew he didn’t have divine powers, and that only God did. She pondered this. Then she pondered her train of thought, wondering why she was now sitting at her desk with her organiser open in front of her thinking about God.

She flipped it shut, decisively. Although, she knew not what she’d decided. Only that she would shut it and that somehow, perhaps, that would change the course of her thoughts. Then she realised actually, that in imagining the events going on inside of her head as something more tangible, she had spent a blissful few untouched minutes – she had fought back, stemmed the tide.

She got up. She knew she should do it more often. She should get out there. The nothing must become something. And it would only become something if she made it so. If she found the purpose in it all.

Feeling the sand between her toes she headed to the shoreline, the retreating surf beckoning. The tide was turning taking with it that which had filled the void. The emptiness returned, but it was welcome – it could be filled. And this time she would curate its contents. The sea was back where it belonged and the pages of her diary remained closed.

Something winked up at her, its lustrous shell reflecting the moonlight. The world had its order – tides would come and go. She didn’t have divine powers, but she knew someone who did. Nothing is nothing, everything is something, she realised. The last sounds of the sea washed away, the corridor seemed a brighter place and a pearl began to form around the last remaining grain of sand.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

A Bike Crash

And that's when it hit me.

Main Street, usually busy at that time, was quiet. The residents' parked cars were, for once, not causing an obstruction to the traffic which had long since outgrown the narrow village road. On the morning run it's a long gradual ascent, meaning that at home time, on a day like today, you just let gravity do it's work. Always covering the brakes, mind.

She was waiting to turn in. A silver, boxy car. It says something about my mind state immediately post-accident that I don't know the make and model - he who can identify cars at night just by the position of the rear lights in relationship to the number plate recess.

There were two other cars behind her. One or two others waiting to turn onto the road that we all were, at that point, sharing in accordance with the normal rules and considerations. A good number of pedestrians around too: at the bus stop, going to the shop, clearing rubbish from a garden.

They all saw her turn. They all heard me shout - if they hadn't seen me coming before that, they saw me then. But she didn't. They all saw her turn. They all saw what happened.

I'd pulled on the brakes and had begun to turn the bike so that I wouldn't hit her head-on. I managed to unclip from the pedals and, to the best of my memory, neither I nor the bike hit the ground. I was stopped in my tracks but she wasn't sticking around.

I found the pavement, and a kindly passerby who checked I was OK. He chatted about his own similar experience and commented on how he liked my bike. No physical damage to me or bike so after a few minutes I got on my way again.

Down hill. Up hill. Up big hill. Down hill. Home. Grapes. Nuts. Sent informative and 'reassuring' text to my wife. Shower. Cuppa. I really am OK.

Later on, lying in bed with headphones on, listening to a favourite album, my eyelids began to droop. A pleasant drowsiness overcame me. My eyes closed.

The car sped towards me and there was nothing I could do. I jolted awake.

And then, as I settled down to make a good go of getting the night of sleep my body (always weary after even a accident-free cycling commute) needed, the vision repeated: again and again and again. Fragments of torment pierced the thin stuff separating subconscious imagination and reality. I woke. I slept. My brain, desperate to process, projected scraps of its footage: a turning wheel, slow-motion; a brake lever, depressed, but not by enough; the back end of a disappearing car (silver). I woke. And repeat all night.

And that's when it hit me: I wasn't OK. The car had left its mark. That's when it hit me.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

From the @tes Blog: The Myth of Pupil Data Groups


Once upon a time there was a spreadsheet and on that spreadsheet there was lots of interesting pupil data.

Very helpfully, the spreadsheet had made some calculations so as to inform the teacher of how well the children were doing with their learning. The spreadsheet told of how many pupils had: made expected progress, achieved age-related expectations, achieved accelerated progress and who were sadly working below the expected standard as a result of making slow progress.

"Thank you, spreadsheet – that is very useful," said the busy teacher.

"But that's not all I have, teacher." replied the spreadsheet. "I can also provide for you this very day some group data."

"Indeed?" asked the teacher. "Do show me more of what you have to offer."

Click here to read more on the TES site: https://www.tes.com/news/you-cant-reduce-child-spreadsheet-number

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Diary of a Deputy - Week 3: Happy Tired


On Wednesday night I had the realisation that starting at a new school in September is way more tiring than returning to a school you've been working at for a while. I checked in with people on Twitter to see if this was a common experience and yes, it seems that it is:
After an accidental lie down and after being uncharacterisitcally useless at the children's bedtime (bless my wife for her understanding) I did some reading (finished off potential The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe replacement: Pier's Torday's There May Be A Castle and cried a fair bit at it) and then fell asleep half way through catching up on the Bake Off.

Many of the good folk over on Twitter pointed out that the cognitive overload that comes with starting at a new place of work can indeed be quite exhausting.

There are so many new people to meet and get to know: colleagues, children and parents. And it is more than just meeting them - I want to make a good impression too, and trying to be that aware of oneself all the time appears to be mentally draining. But in a job that I do believe has so much of a foundation on relationships, it's so important and worthwhile to make that effort.

And then there's all the new routines, strategies and systems to get used to: playtimes, schemes of work, the way that finance works, who does what, how to log into this, that and the other... the list would go on and on. Couple that with the fact that as a senior leader you're supposed to be the one who knows everything and you find yourself saying the same things a lot of times:
The other tiring thing is that when you enjoy a job so much you work hard at it. The whirlwind of senior leadership in a primary school is an exhilarating ride. It certainly makes me appreciate all the senior leaders I've been under before - it's as if the backdrop has fallen and I can suddenly see all the behind-the-scenes work that goes on. And for teachers taking the main stage with the children this is exactly what is needed - they need to be unhindered in their most important task. Certainly a learning point for me this week: I'll be donning the all black outfit of the stagehand and doing my best to make sure the show goes on uninterrupted.

I also must mention my last school - it has been nice to bump into old colleagues as a few of them have been at my new place this week. I also received word of a mention of me in their staff meeting this week:

Teacher 1 (new literacy lead): So obviously you all use the Reading Roles which was started up by Aidan, who's no longer with us.
Teacher 2: May his soul rest in peace. Amen.

Gone (even if slightly cruelly killed off) but not forgotten, which is always nice to know. I walked past there this afternoon on my way to a meeting at another school and the familiar sight of the place where I spent the best four years of my career to date did warm my heart. Although I'm rather too busy to think about it very much at the moment I know I will never forget what I learned and acheived alongside a really brilliant team whilst there.

Nostalgia over; back to now. It's Thursday night - one more day at school containing PPA with the year 5 teachers and then coaching/mentoring with them in the afternoon whilst they take their NQT/leadership time. Must remember not to overload them - they're new too AND have a full teaching timetable so are bound to be even more tired than I am!

---

The end to the week was great. A good friend of mine has started working at a school just down the road so we arranged to meet to catch up and debrief about new jobs, summer hols and building work. Between us we visited three cafes (all closed) and a pub (no card machine) before finding somewhere that was neither closed nor living in the past. It's this sort of thing that helps to make sure that work and life are balanced.

Plus, on the way home three of my most favourite songs were on the radio: Concrete Schoolyard by Jurassic 5, Goddess on a Hiway by Mercury Rev and Tell Me A Tale by Michael Kiwanuka. That makes for real good feels, even when you've just done a £50 shop in two hand baskets because you forgot a trolley pound. Music is my aeroplane.

The working week rounded off nicely with more socialising at our friends' house down the road - food, friendship and an ongoing game of guess the 90s tune and artist. After a tiring week being with people I love is as restful and revitalising for me as stopping at home.

Saturday morning breakfast is being cooked, the tunes are on (our summer anthem Saturday Sun by Vance Joy) and the Yorkshire Dales are calling us.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Diary of a Deputy - Week 1: False Start?

It's Friday, I'm on the coach on the way back from year 5's first trip - the first trip I've organised as Deputy Head. We are coming back early because it happened. That thing we all fear will happen did happen.

I booked this trip back in June. But when we turned up today they didn't know we were coming. In fact all of the staff who work at the facility were on annual leave. The facility in question is housed within a local college building and, hats off to a variety of college staff, we managed to make something of the morning. Whilst I tried to work out what on earth had gone wrong and how we were going to make it all right the children had an enjoyable hour and a half learning. Next job: reschedule and work out how to explain it to the parents of the class who certainly won't be making the afternoon visit. Oh, and work overtime to remind myself that this wasn't my fault.

- - -

I'm now sitting in the waiting room of the doctors' surgery. It's Friday afternoon. This week promised to be difficult from the off, I suppose. 

I set off on my bike on the first day and, two minutes away from home, realised that cycling one-handed on account of a shoulder problem I developed on holiday was not going to cut it. These Yorkshire hills require a whole-body approach to cycling. 

I headed back home (where my wife was busy broadcasting live baking on BBC Radio Leeds) to think through my options. I couldn't take the car - the lease company were picking it up later that day. We weren't getting a replacement until the day after. Public transport requires multiple vehicles and lots of walking and a journey time of over an hour (it takes 15 minutes in the car). Taxi it was. After setting off in the wrong direction I set the driver on the right course and once I'd handed over the princely sum of £13 I was through the school gates for my first day as deputy head.

After 12 minutes on hold to the doctors' (during which time I was informed that I'd moved from caller number 6 to the heady heights of caller number 5) I walked into a dead zone (the HR office) and lost my connection. My lovely wife, now finished with her brush with radio stardom, then spent a further half hour on the phone to secure me a physio appointment, hence my current location.

But, looking back, it's not at all been doom and gloom. In fact, I've been able to see the 'amusing' side of the less desirable events of my first week in post. It's been a brilliant week.

The first day, once I'd managed to get myself there, kicked off, predictably, with a whole staff meeting. My new school is a through school: nursery to 6th form = huge student body and a large staff. One apparent tradition is to welcome new staff at these well-attended meetings. When my name was called (and I wouldn't usually share this kind of thing for fear of sounding arrogant) the whole of the primary staff gave a huge cheer - louder than they had for any other. So, as long as they weren't taking the mick, and this wasn't some cruel joke, that welcome meant more to me then they might have intended. And the feeling of belonging it gave me has carried me through the week, even providing comfort when I turned up with 30 children and 4 members staff to a trip that wasn't even booked (wasn't my fault).

And it's not just that that means I'm finishing my first week as a Deputy Head feeling elated. My new year 5 team is showing all the signs of gelling and the children arrived glowing and smiley on Thursday morning, positive and ready to learn. We are trying out some new things: an out-of-class studio area where children have permanent access to a wide variety of resources, ways of teaching and timetabling that respond to the exact needs of the children and a holistic approach to learning that goes beyond the typical upper key stage two focus on maths and English, and beyond a focus on academic results. And the children have responded really well, particularly in how well they have used the studio to practise and demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways. The teachers too have demonstrated adaptability, filling me with confidence that we will absolutely make a success of this year.

- - -

False start? Not really. Barely even bumps in the road. It'll take a lot more than that to make me downhearted! Plus I now have a long piece of stretchy stuff, a suite of exercises for my possibly torn supraspinatus and a follow-up appointment in three weeks - hopefully I'm on the mend.

Lessons to be learned?

Phone ahead to make sure the trip venue know you're coming, preferably a few days in advance.
Don't be too optimistic about health - you might actually just need to admit you can't do certain things and that the advice of a professional needs to be sought (this is a told-you-so moment for my wife).

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Book Review: 'Illegal' by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin & Giovanni Rigano

Every now and then a graphic novel appears which pushes itself into the consciousness of the mainstream. Readers unaccustomed to reading pictures and text together suddenly find themselves exercising a muscle that has been resting since their childhood. It would seem though that it takes something pretty special to break this boundary. And 'Illegal' is special.

The death of Alan Kurdi in 2015, and the heart-rending photo of him that shocked the world, brought a crisis to light: those escaping war and poverty were being trafficked in unseaworthy vessels resulting in many lives lost. The media began to report further stories of similar tragedies, but as is the way, these stories soon became old news. But it is still happening. Google 'migrant boat sinks' and you'll see much more recent instances of these horrific events.

Rather than seeking to cash in, as the media did for a while, Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano seek to humanise the stories from the news reports. Human beings respond well to narratives and by telling the story of Ebo and Kwame, two brothers attempting to make it from Africa to Europe, the creators of 'Illegal' succeed in making real two of the nameless, faceless victims of whom we read in our newspapers.

As is the way with graphic novels, readers need to exert some effort into imagining the characters' feelings - with an economy of words comes more work for the reader. However, Rigano's bold illustrations, simultaneously classically-styled yet original and contemporary, do an exceptional job of conveying meaning - a picture really is worth a thousand words when its as carefully drawn as this. The storytelling of the combined text and pictures is accessible even to those who might normal find graphic novels too visually stimulating and busy - the illustrations are clean, detailed yet uncluttered, and colour palettes for each sequence are carefully chosen to evoke a sense of place, atmosphere and mood. Here, engaging with the images is crucial if the reader is to empathise with the plight of the world's humans in flight.

Although the demands of the text are low, the subject matter is emotionally involving making this book a certificate PG. Teachers, librarians and parents should consider how they present this book to their child - it is one that should be framed by good conversation with trusted adults. For anyone desensitised by the news, or for one who has a hard time knowing how to respond to terrible events in the world, this book will provide an alternative way into grappling with the issues.

In 'Illegal' horror and hope sit side by side, necessary bedfellows in a book which portrays the world we live in as it really is. Essential reading.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Book Review: 'The Elephant in the Room' by James Thorp and AngusMackinnon

This surprising and striking book appears to stand alone in today's picturebook market - there certainly aren't many books like it, illustrated in an psychedelic style reminiscent of The Beatle's Yellow Submarine film but with an even trippier colour pallete. This is a book which aesthetically stands out a mile and its eye catching design will draw children in, keen to know what this strange-looking book is all about.

Featuring a rhyming text (and a rather nice, but perhaps not always child-friendly Art Deco typeface) the story gets as bizarre as the illustrations themselves. But this bizarre story will be all too familiar to adults who, with a wry smile, will read this aloud to children and recognise the narrative: something gets broken and the culprit makes up all sorts of excuses in order to escape punishment. This story concludes however with a stronger moral message for adults as Father Giant realises that maybe he had been too busy and the accident had happened because he hadn't been with the children. It is certainly food for thought for the grown up who might be reading this to younger children.

However, subtext aside, children hearing the story and taking it face-value will laugh uproariously at its silliness and witty wordplay - lots of lovely alliteration and rhymes (rowdy cloudiness, yucky yakkiness) and made up words (squinching) will delight young minds ready to soak up new and imaginative language. They will identify with the protagonists and the feeling of guilt that comes with accidental misdemeanours and might even begin to question the folly of not telling the truth in such situations.

The Elephant in the Room, a title which bears multiple significance, is like one of those brilliant children's films which is clearly intended to entertain adults just as much as the kids. As C.S. Lewis said “A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”. James Thorp and Angus Mackinnon have produced a good children's story. Highly recommended.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Independent Reading With My Children

I often try to catch my children unawares in order to film them carrying out their day-to-day activities without the inevitable showiness that occurs once they know the camera's on them. This holiday we have instituted 'reading time' before bed - a perfect opportunity to sneak up on the children and catch them going about their business in a natural way. Before filming this I had checked that all three girls were busy reading on their beds, but when I actually came to video them, other things happened:


First of all, my eldest (who has just turned 7 and will be entering year 3 in September), got up as soon as I entered the room. But this was not because I had come in, it was because the Mr. Men book she was reading (Mr. Mischief) had told her to get up and look out of the window! She engaging with the text so much that it prompted her to respond physically. As I had intended to film them without their knowing, I didn't interact verbally with her when she explained what she was doing - I later broke this vow of silence.

Then, as I entered the room of the younger two children, the youngest (aged 3, about to begin a second year in Nursery) noticed me and broke off from her activity. Prior to my arrival she had been reading the very well known 'The Tiger Who Came To Tea' by Judith Kerr. For her, reading means orally retelling the story - this is a book she is very familiar with. She proceeds to exhibit that showy behaviour I mentioned before by showing the camera the book she had been engrossed in - again, I elect not to respond verbally (although I can assure you, I communicate very well with my face, and I did so at this time).

Upon my entrance, my middle daughter (aged 5, and due to start in Year 1) was in the process of climbing from the top bunk to get a new book, having just finished one (which she had thrown on the floor - some work needed on the treatment of books!). She immediately requested that I take a picture of her - that showiness again - but fairly readily engaged in a brief conversation about what she was doing (my plan to surreptitiously film them now aborted, I elected to speak to her). Despite forgetting which book she'd just read (laziness I think - she couldn't be bothered to even try to remember) she was able, once prompted, to talk about why she liked the book she'd just read - 'Mr. Seahorse' by Eric Carle. Normally, this would have evolved into a longer conversation, but I was conscious both of the video length, and her desire to get on and read another book.

This little episode has had me reflecting on the reading habits of my children, and what they might teach us about young children and reading in general. Let's take each of my daughters in turn:

Daughter #1 (aged 7): This holiday she has read a real range of books. Not averse to longer 'chapter books' (she has read things like Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree books, Dick King Smith's Sophie books and some of the Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown, amongst others) she has actually spent more time reading shorter picture books and non-fiction books. She has particularly liked the Kingfisher 'I Wonder Why' books, 'What I Believe' by Alan Brown and Andrew Langley (published by Ted Smart and well known by primary teachers) and 'The Usborne Children's Encyclopedia'. This thirst for general knowledge does not surprise me - whilst watching an episode of Blue Planet together (watching nature documentaries is one of our daddy/daughters activities) she already knew lots about the featured animals as she had 'read about them in a book'. She has also partaken enthusiastically in a Mr. Men/Little Miss craze (as seen in the video) that started with a charity shop haul of Roger Hargreaves' comical little books.
  • It is generally thought that children, particularly girls, are less likely to read non-fiction texts - perhaps this is untrue, and perhaps we need to ensure they have better access to these books, and that we look for opportunities to encourage the reading of non-fiction books when the desire is there?
  • We should allow children to follow their preferences when it comes to reading at home - they don't always have to be engaging in reading long books bit by bit because other types of reading can be just as valuable.
Daughter #2 (aged 5): This time last year she was probably annoyed that she couldn't yet read sufficiently enough to read alone - now she can read almost anything without hesitation, and always with excellent intonation - a big thank you to her excellent reception teacher! Once she starts reading, or being read to, she feasts on books, but she doesn't always elect to read at times when she could. However, once she gets started (usually at bedtime) it is very hard to get her to stop! She has especially enjoyed the Mr. Men and Little Miss books (these have been a boon on car journeys as we can stuff tons of them in the pouch on the back of the car seats) and they have brought her independent reading freedom. She has also particularly liked reading family favourite picture books, as well as some new ones such as 'Oi Dog!' as she really enjoys rhyming texts and poetry, and often learns large sections by heart - 'Toddle Waddle' by Julia Donaldson was one of the first books she could 'read' by memorising it. Most of her choices this summer have been fiction books, unlike my eldest daughter.
  • Having just observed Daughter #2 reading over her breakfast, I am prompted to ponder how we can encourage children to read of their own accord - I might've been tempted to stop her reading whilst trying to eat a bowl of cereal, but perhaps it is worth allowing her to just get on and read when she wants to? Just as we allow children to follow their preferences when it comes to book choice, maybe we need to think more about how we can allow children to read when and where they want.
  • For younger children it is worth having a good idea of the types of text they enjoy - this helps with borrowing and buying new books for them. The question is, can this knowledge help us to search out books from other genres that might appeal?
Daughter #3 (aged 3): After a year in nursery she can read and spell CVC words, and some CCVC words with initial blends such as 'sh'. As mentioned before, her mode of reading is orally retelling stories that she knows well - her favourite for this during the holidays has definitely been perennial favourite 'The Hungry Little Caterpillar' by Eric Carle. Although she does like the occasional new book, she is much more likely to choose a book that is well known to her, for example, during a week away, she wanted 'Zog' by Julia Donaldson to be read to her on three separate occasions (we acquiesced). Most of the Julia Donaldson books that we own fall into this category of 'books to read and read again' - daughter #3 is also very fond of rhyming, as are most children of her age.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition - even if it gets a bit monotonous as an adult! Daughter #3 can 'read' by telling the stories in her own words, using the pictures to guide her - this is a real skill and is not to be looked down on! She can do this because she returns again and again, both with adults and on her own, to high quality and age-appropriate texts. An EYFS classroom should reflect this - it may only need a handful of carefully curated books with a focus on high quality not quantity.
Although my children have been reading for pleasure this holiday, they have no doubt learned things - new words, new facts, new stories, new ideas - and they've certainly given me some food for thought. I wonder, if you're a parent, have you made any observations of your children reading that have got you thinking about how you teach and encourage reading?

And to finish, my youngest daughter orally retelling 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar':

Thursday, 24 August 2017

3 Books That Introduce New Vocabulary To Children

Discovering new vocabulary is one of the most exciting parts of reading, but children don't always know what new words mean. Of course, children can be taught methods of finding out what new words mean - morphemic analysis and contextual analysis are the techniques that come in most handy in the primary classroom - but some books do the job for them. Whilst these books are not a substitute for learning the skills needed to decipher new vocabulary, they are a great way to get children into the habit of actually finding out what unfamiliar words mean. Some children are quite happy to skip over unknown vocabulary, which leads to a lack of overall understanding of texts, and one of the most important jobs of a teacher is to enable children to have excellent comprehension skills; if a child can read with understanding they can learn almost anything.

There are several children's books out there which in one way or another creatively and cleverly give definitions for words that children might not already know:

The Great Cat Conspiracy by Katie Davies


This particular book encourages the use of dictionaries - something which some children appear to be allergic to! Perhaps by using this book with children they will catch the passion that the main character has for understanding new and difficult words.

The best way to share examples from this book is to show you some pictures of the book's pages where illustrator Hannah Shaw has done a sterling job of communicating Katie Davis' desire to help children to learn new vocabulary:




Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

'On the second day there was nothing to do. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Which is why, when his father said, 'Ah there you are. I was just thinking of going for a brief perambulation. Would you like to come too?'
Stuart answered, 'Oh all right, then.'
By 'brief perambulation', his father meant a short walk. That was the way he talked all the time...'

Stuart's father writes crossword puzzles and as such prides himself in the use of words that most people don't use. It's up to the narrator or Stuart's father to explain what the words mean. Here's another example:

''When I was a youngster,' his father told him as they walked, 'there weren't any houses in this part of Beeton at all. This whole area was sylvan.'
'What's sylvan mean?' asked Stuart.
'Wooded. And there was a stream running through the middle of it.''

Stuart appears to be used to the way his dad speaks so sometimes there are no explanations for words such as 'mechanisms' and 'diversified', (although a sentence containing 'conflagrated', 'incediary' and 'armaments' is translated by his father as Stuart has no idea what he is talking about!) meaning that children will also have opportunities to discover some word meanings for themselves.


A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket

In the most well known of the books here, and representing 13 books in all, the narrator often interjects with definitions of more unusual words. Take this example from the first page of the first book 'The Bad Beginning':

'Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley - the word “rickety,” you probably know, here means “unsteady” or “likely to collapse” - alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner.'

Another example where one of the characters, rather than the narrator, explains what a word means:

'“‘Perished,’” Mr. Poe said, “means ‘killed.’”
“We know what the word ‘perished’ means,” Klaus said, crossly. He did know what the word “perished” meant, but he was still having trouble understanding exactly what it was that Mr. Poe had said.'


Of course, if you've read any of the Lemony Snicket books, then you'll know they celebrate learning and the reading of books, and the vocabulary used reflects this - there are plenty of other words used that children can discover the meanings of themselves. And hopefully they will be inspired to do so by the way some definitions are included in the text.

All of the books I've chosen are also well-written, exciting and original stories which, apart from their entertainment value, have many other qualities. 'The Great Cat Conspiracy' provides teachers and parents with an opportunity to discuss senile dementia and how we care for the elderly as well as introducing younger readers to the crime/mystery genre. 'Small Change for Stuart' encourages problem solving and could provide great links to books like 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. The 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' books contain an alternate view on what it's like to be an orphan when compared to, say, Disney films - there are also opportunities for comparative work between the books and the film adaptation and the Netflix series.

So, if you find your class, or individual children, unwilling to engage with new vocabulary, perhaps one of these excellent books could inspire them to become a vocabulary detective.

This blog post has the potential to be an ever-changing beast with your suggestions - have you come across any books which take a similar approach to the ones mentioned above? Please comment below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Relight My Fire: Advice For Teachers Who Need To Get Re-inspired

To be honest, I wasn't asking theoretically, or for a friend, when I tweeted this recently:


Thankfully, plenty of my Twitter friends had some great advice to share. As I'm sure loss of inspiration, a certain amount of boredom and sometimes even unfulfillment is a common experience amongst those who work in education, I thought I'd pool together the advice for future reference.

"Reflect, stay neutral and get curious. All of this helps come back to your WHY." - Jaz Ampaw-Farr @jazampawfarr (see the video she recorded inspired by my tweet: The Importance of Why)

"Remember WHY. Why is more important than what. Then go and look at the faces in front of you. See them older and happy. That's why." - IWilson‏ @linainiwos

Many find that inspiration comes from spending time with the children, and rightly so. As educators, the children are our 'why' so it stands to reason that in order to feel reinvigorated we should go to them:


"So much inspiration depends on the children. I think it must be harder to get mojo back if you're not in classroom. Take class and have fun!" - Janette de Voil‏ @Janetteww

"Go back to the basics. Spend time with the kids. Do the things you like to do with them. Find the positives." - Mister Unwin‏ @misterunwin

"Ignore adults for a while, have fun with the kids. Remember how enjoyable their company is, then teach them something (anything). Feels great!" - Kymberley‏ @open_door_teach

"Sit and talk to the children. Not just fleetingly but proper talk. They will inspire you." - Suzanna C‏ @sing0utsue

"Talk to children. Sit in the playground, watch, listen and then talk to them. Always inspires me to get on with it." - Simon Smith‏ @smithsmm

"If I’m having a dodgy time I always go and soak up the good vibes from the playground!" - Rebecca Stacey‏ @bekblayton

"Sit down and be in the moment with kids." - The Trainee Teacher‏ @TrainingToTeach

"Spend a day in reception - but... take your 'teacher head' off and just inhale the joy and energy and play, play, play." - Maeve‏ @MaeveBeg

"Being out of the class is tough so I go back into class; I also spend some time in Early Years! Watching and learning from others-inspiring!" - StJamesChurchPrim‏ @church_prim

"Work with children with special needs - always something to reflect on that will make you remember why!" - scatti1‏ @scatti1

Others advised doing something linked to the job that we know we will enjoy:


"Choose a topic to teach that YOU love not just one the kids will or that needs covering." - Emma‏ @HeyMissPrice

"Plan projects that excite you. A blog series, a club, a unit of work, a display. Anything that you can throw yourself into." - Sam Daunt‏ @samdaunt

But many respondents talked about other ways of feeling re-inspired. Whilst some identified Twitter as a means for regaining inspiration, others advised having a break from the potential overload that Twitter can generate:


"Twitter. And writing. And looking at old keepsakes from parents and children. And Twitter." Mr. Phillips‏ @Mr_P_Hillips

"Meeting other teachers, listening to inspirational workshops and even conversations on here [Twitter] have reignited my passion. I think you take it with a pinch of salt but reading blogs like yours and others and seeing #whatItaughttoday makes me miss classroom teaching." - Lisa C‏ @Elsie2110

"Take a Twitter break. It's good for you. I'm looking forward to turning my Twitter off over the summer. I put a special Twitter break avi up. What I find it does is it reinforces the physical IRL relationships I have. The other thing is the significant number of mood hoovers on the edu-Twittersphere. I am constantly inspired by my children and my partner." Mark Anderson‏ @ICTEvangelist (Mark went on to write a whole blog post about this idea: https://ictevangelist.com/have-a-break-have-a-twitter-break/)

Rebecca Stacey sums that contrast up well:

"Spend time in class with inspirational teachers. Read. Use Twitter wisely." - Rebecca Stacey‏ @bekblayton

Many teachers recommend stepping out of the comfort zone and trying something new:


"New challenge outside of your comfort zone." - Joe O'Reilly‏ @Edu_Wellbeing

"Take risks. Ignore the curriculum. Turn a drinking game into a classroom one. Think about experiences you want for your pupils first." Parky_teaches‏ @Parky_teaches

"Try to carve out enough time to study something new. Often gives a new frame of reference to defamiliarise what may feel stale. Self care. Varies from person to person. My recharging usually comes from new knowledge but there are are different roads." - Diane Leedham‏ @DiLeed

"Refocus your attention onto a new pedagogical idea or project to trial and then implement or roll out." - Steven Fox‏ @SteveFoxAST

"What worked for me was moving age groups, working with new people and a new HT who didn't micro-manage." - Just Teaching‏ @RunningToLearn

Sometimes, its not even a risk or a challenge that is needed, only a change:


"Change the way you do things. Just mix it up a bit." - Kat Schofield‏ @PearlOchreRose

"Swap year groups, move school, change subject lead, take a risk, take a student, visit other schools, go on residential... Be a grape not a raisin! Grapes are engorged, juicy, sweet - full of ideas. Raisins are dried up, shrivelled, hard. We start as grapes and if we are not careful we end up as raisins." - Kate Aspin‏ @etaknipsa

"Do something completely different in school, dump an afternoon you'd planned and do big art work, plan topic on the wall using marker pens then do something like that at home like let the kids choose everything for a day. Don't over think it." - Dorastar1‏ @Dorastar1

Many turn to books, conferences and personal learning to revitalise their teaching mojo:


"For me, continuous learning, being a student again, e.g. doing my MEd." - Dr Vincent Lien‏ @fratribus

"I found the #NAHTConf really got me re-fired up. As does #TMSussex & reading edu-books. I hear there's a new one out for primary teachers..." - Jo Payne‏ @MrsPTeach (Jo, alongside Mel Scott, has just had published her book 'Making Every Primary Lesson Count')

"I have been in a slump since January and going to a wellbeing conference the other day reinspired me. It was obviously the right content. But also the right time. Sometimes life can combine with school and make one or the other challenging. I think sometimes a slump ends when it ends but we can try to speed it up. It took me being surrounded by people and ideas."  - Mr Wiltshire‏ @secretsforabuck

"I've been listening to a lot of the TED talks on Youtube. Some are absolutely brilliant. Lots are not about teaching but still relevant!" - James Heeley‏ @lhpHeeley

"Attending inspiring courses/CPD, which fill you with ideas, that you just can't wait to try out in class!" - Mr Mclugash‏ @MrMclugash

"Twitter, Conferences and Teachmeets, reading books. Trawling the internet for ideas I can adapt. Talking to other Teachers." - The Hectic Teacher‏ @HecticTeacher

Then there's Nancy Gedge's (@nancygedge) suggestion: "Take a break." It might seem counter-intuitive to stop when we should be seeking to remotivate ourselves but it is very possible that an overload of work (including using Twitter, reading blogs and books and going to conferences) is what leads to a lack of inspiration. Some more ideas which expand on Nancy's straight-talking comment:


"Attempt to switch off from all the logistical stuff during holidays, but still spend time recharging the creativity and imagination. I don't honestly switch off in the holidays; I feel I 'switch back' to the reasons I wanted to do it in the first place." - Jonny Walker‏ @jonnywalker_edu

"Lots of the time it's less inspiration required and more feeling burned out. Making time for myself is key. That can be as simple as putting leave-in conditioner on my hair & watching Netflix all of Sunday, or going out with friends/family/boyfriend. Nice to recharge. If it's genuine lack of inspiration, talking to other teachers helps. At school or Twitter etc. Sharing ideas and triumphs is important." - Arithma-ticks‏ @Arithmaticks

"Can I respond with a rhetorical question: what fills your tank? Do more of that! Different for each of us. Tank not being filled = imbalance." - Anita Devi | FRSA‏ @Butterflycolour

"Spend time with those who inspire you and motivate you to be better than you ever thought possible. Relax. Refocus. Go again." - Charlotte Briggs‏ @missb_teach

Focusing on the positive difference that we have the potential to make in the lives of others, and indeed the impact we have already had, was one of m particular favourite responses to my question:


"Take a step back, look at the positives you're making in 30 lives. Failing that I look through my teachers memory box!" - Alex‏ @MrCYear5

"Think about the children, the difference you have made and continue to make and the impact it has." - Nicole Moore (Anand)‏ @MooreNixie8

"Look back at some of the things that have gone well, and look to the future and know I have to make a difference for them." - Beckie‏ @beckie_edu

Connecting with other professionals in different ways seems also to be a popular activity to get inspiration, an understandably so:


"Visit other schools." - Katharine Elwis‏ @KElwis

"Great colleagues re-energise me. Their enthusiasm, drive and willingness to take risks curbs any complacency in me." - Lee Card‏ @eduCardtion

"Go and visit other schools!" - Dan Nixon‏ @pruman21

"I go and observe colleagues teaching. Seeing their enthusiasm in the classroom usually brings back my "mojo"!" - Jess @jrmdola

"Team teaching with other colleagues, collaborative planning sessions, Observe colleagues and letting my students lead the learning." - Bethan Schofield @1Bethanlouise

"Observe others teaching, that ALWAYS inspires me. We'll all work with some amazing professionals but are too busy to see this sometimes." - Laura Jackson‏ @MrsJacksonMusic

There were many more replies to this Twitter thread, and more replies keep being added. To read everything, and to keep up-to-date with it, here is the link: https://twitter.com/thatboycanteach/status/877262764905041921

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dogs & Sledges: Harnessing Action To Clarity Of Vision

Inferring information from a text. Vocabulary building. Mental recall strategies. Written methods for calculations. Reasoning. Test skills. Attitude to learning. Accelerated progress. Improved combined ARE scores. Mastery. Greater depth. Inclusion. Just a few of my priorities this year. All things my team and I are working full-throttle to ensure are embedded in our lessons and culture. We look for as many opportunities as possible to address these issues, always trying to safeguard the children from feeling the pressure of all this. And I work hard to shield my team from all of the pressure, too, even when I have a sleepless Sunday night because it's all turning over in my mind. 

Imagine these 'priorities' as husky dogs running amok in an Alaskan landscape, wild-eyed, full of energy but lacking in purpose. Some of them are gainfully employed, hunting, rearing their young, but others are tearing around aimlessly, chasing their own tails, never achieving much of any use.

Simon Sinek encourages us to 'start with why'. His main idea is that leaders and organisations can inspire others by being clear on their purpose; by having clarity of vision. According to his website 'Simon Sinek believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together.' But without a clear purpose and a shared vision it is very difficult for collaboration and teamwork to take place, let alone building together for a bright future. And this is particularly difficult in schools where it is often perceived that everything is a priority. In schools we can be spinning so many plates that it's hard to tell which ones are actually contributing towards the vision that the school has. Patrick Lencioni's book 'The Advantage' (click here for a summary) proposes that organisations, and that can include schools, should think through the answers to six questions. The first of these is 'Why do we exist?': start with why. 

Suppose we see 'why' as a sled. A team of husky dogs properly employed will be guided by their leader from the seat of the sled. The purpose of the dogs comes from the sled and its driver, but the dogs are the ones who do the work, pulling the sled to its destination. All our actions to improve the issues outlined earlier should be harnessed to a purpose, otherwise they are just actions; actions which may achieve something, but are never destined to definitely have specific outcomes.

Patrick Lencioni recommends that once that first question 'Why do we exist?' has been answered leaders can then go on to ask themselves 'How do we behave?', 'What do we do?', 'How will we succeed?', 'What is most important, right now?' and 'Who must do what?'. In schools, we often have deeply entrenched answers to these questions and we carry on in those ways regardless of whether we know our 'why' or not. Look at my list in the opening paragraph - we definitely know what we do! We are also fairly clear on how we behave and who must do what, but often none of this is aligned to a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve. As a result we perhaps lose sight of what is most important right now - it's hard to tell if all the things we are doing are actually useful and having an impact.

We must start with why. We must start with our sled and its driver. In schools we have to think 'What is the end of the journey?' Where does our sled need to go? Steven Covey cites the importance of planning backwards: 'Begin with the end in mind.' Without a sled a distant arctic destination would be very difficult to reach; without the 'why' an aspirational goal will similarly be a struggle to achieve. And Lencioni does recommend that when answering the first question we have to be 'completely idealistic' and that the 'why' that we arrive at should be 'grand and aspirational'. We should be setting an optimistic vision initially.

Lencioni also outlines six possible categories for the question 'Why do we exist?': customer, industry, greater cause, community, employees and wealth. There are some of these categories that we can rule out right away: we don't run schools to make money, our schools don't exist simply to give employees a job and although many consider teaching to be vocational, we don't do it because we love the industry of teaching. That leaves three categories: customer, greater cause and community. The 'why' of the community category is making 'a specific geographical place better'; I'd argue that to be an indicator of success for a school, but not it's main purpose (although for some schools, this might be their main purpose). Which means the 'why' of a school is either about our customers, the children, or a greater cause. The greater cause of education might be seen as, rather than educating for education's sake, focusing on the reasons why we educate - and those reasons are many, depending on who you are. So it is possible that a school's 'why' is probably a mix of existing for the customer and a greater cause. 

Once an optimistic vision of the future has been set, once the sled has been prepared, it is then time to begin to harness those huskies: which dogs would work best towards a common goal? Which ones would work together well? Which ones would pull off in another direction? Which ones would be too weak to provide enough pulling power? Which ones would require disproportionate amount of sustenance to their output? Our analogy points towards a reassessment of all the things that we do just because that's what we do. Schools need to work out whether the things they are madly doing actually contribute to achieving their goals. They need to decide whether the overall vision is being realised by all the actions that are taking place: the interventions, the CPD, the focus of planning and teaching, the conversations SLT are having, etcetera, etcetera. It might be that some of the dogs have to be turned loose - sadly, as arctic explorers know, there is no allowance for sentiment. There is no point in doing things in schools simply because we love doing them - everything must have a purpose greater than tradition or romance.

During the summer I attended the Teaching Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) residential as a fellow of the programme (only having to complete the second year of the two-year programme). I was challenged by some inspirational leaders to ensure that I was clear in my vision. Steve Radcliffe, coach to powerful and influential figures the world over encouraged me first to think of the future before engaging others in that vision of the future. Andy Buck told me to focus on one thing in order to gain clarity. Baroness Sue Campbell reiterated the need to be clear on where we are going, asking me to consider if everyone gets my vision and wants to follow me. She also caused me to consider whether my targets were good enough and whether or not I knew what great looked like. James Toop discussed creating culture - my key piece of learning from that session: 'Be clear on what my vision is', I wrote in my Moleskine - I knew that without a clear vision I would struggle to create a culture within my own team. Sir David Carter issued a performance challenge, the first point of which was to 'de-clutter' - cutting loose those dogs which are not helping to pull the sled in a common direction in huge pursuit of a common destination.

Walt Disney said 'Of all the things I've done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.' And so, I have come to a place where I have an analogy to help me to begin to think through my answer to the question 'Why do we exist?' Perhaps if I were opening a new school I might find that question easier to answer but as it is I'm working in a fully-functioning school complete with it's embedded practice and so I have to begin by ignoring what all those dogs (remember the dogs are the things we are busy doing, not the people themselves!) are doing for the time being and focusing on what they could achieve if they were harnessed to just the one sled. My current thinking needs to revolve not around what we can do next, but around what we want to achieve by doing all the things we are doing. Once I have clarity it will be my job to communicate that clear vision and to begin to de-clutter and streamline, letting go those practices which don't contribute to the vision and carefully implementing new ones that truly align to the goals we set.

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:

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

What Does Pixar's 'Inside Out' Teach Us About Teacher Wellbeing? Part 2

Riley: I... I know you don't want me to, but... I miss home. I miss Minnesota. You need me to be happy, but I want my old friends, and my hockey team. I wanna go home. Please don't be mad.
Mom: Oh, sweetie...
Dad: We're not mad. You know what? I miss Minnesota too. I miss the woods where we took hikes.
Mom: And the backyard where we used to play.
Dad: Spring Lake, where you used to skate.

This is the finale of 'Inside Out'; the dialogue is accompanied by many an animated sad expression, a healthy number of tears and it culminates in a big family hug. Apparently Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, 'helped revise the story by emphasising the neuropsychological findings that human emotions are mirrored in interpersonal relationships and can be significantly moderated by them.'  However, the film heavily emphasises how we self-regulate our emotions and focuses less on the part that human interaction plays in influencing how we feel. For the purposes of the movie's concept this is forgivable but in real life if we shunned social interaction and relied on self to keep sane, I dare say we would find ourselves in a mess.

There are enough moments in the film where Riley and her parents help each other to overcome difficulties: sometimes by being 'goofballs' and acting like monkeys, and other times by playing hockey with a screwed up ball of paper or suggesting shared experiences to cheer each other up. And these are the moments I'd like to reflect on with regard to our own wellbeing.

I'd like to direct your attentions toward Benjamin Zephaniah's poem 'People Need People'. There are three verses, but here is the first:

People need people,
To walk to
To talk to
To cry and rely on,
People will always need people.
To love and to miss
To hug and to kiss,
It’s useful to have other people.
To whom to moan
If you’re all alone,
It’s so hard to share
When no one is there.
There’s not much to do
When there’s no one but you.
People will always need people.

In my previous post about 'Inside Out' I discussed how the exercise of a full range of emotions is good for our wellbeing. If this is happening then it is inevitable that there will be visible manifestations alerting others to our feelings. And when we spend time with friends, colleagues or family most of us hope that they will respond to the visual clues and ask us how we are feeling. And if you don't display your emotions, and the people around you don't notice when you do, then your wellbeing is in peril.

Benjamin Zephaniah suggests we need people 'to cry and rely on' and to moan to! 'Inside Out' shows us that once you have allowed emotions like sadness to manifest that healing actually begins when other people respond to it. Don't be afraid to let others see you in what you perceive to be weakness. There is actually great strength in admitting to others that you feel weak. Only when you admit it can you begin to become stronger, and so often that happens with the help of a best friend, spouse, partner, sibling, mentor or work mate. In those around us there can be found a wealth of experience, knowledge, and most importantly kindness, care and love. And we all need a bit of that, don't we?

For teachers it is important to identify those people in all areas of your life. Who knows you well? Who knows how much energy your pour into your job? Who has perhaps experienced the strains of the changing face of education and made it through the other side? Who do you know who appears to have a good work/life balance despite having a busy job? Who do you know who will just give you a cuppa and then sit and listen to your woes, without belittling them or waving them aside? Find that person. Actually, find a few; one in each setting you find yourself in. Find someone at work, find someone at home, find someone at the end of the phone line, and on Twitter. Wherever you are, know the people who can help you. And then talk. Make them aware of your emotions as part of day-to-day life. Not just when all comes crashing down. It's probably worth reminding yourself when you find those people that your range of emotions should come into play: if you feel happy, talk about happy things. If you feel scared, talk about what's scaring you. If you feel calm, tell them. Don't just moan. Or cry. Or rely.

And then there is your part of the deal. A relationship is two-ways. When the family's removal truck doesn't arrive, Riley cheers her parents up. When Riley sets out for her first day at school, her parents cheer her up. No matter how broken you are, you can still be a support to others. At times you might take more than you give, and vice versa. Who are the people in your life who need you? As teachers we are expected to care for the wellbeing of the children we teach and we can't escape from that - they need us. We all have colleagues; for those who are leaders it is part of your role to see to their wellbeing. We are duty-bound to moderate the emotions of those around us at school and if our own wellbeing isn't in check, we risk being ineffective in this area.

Benjamin Zephaniah reminds us in his poem that we need to live our lives with other people, sharing food, relaxing in company, learning from and playing with them. He says that other people can put us at ease and make life more appealing. 'Inside Out' reminds us that family and friends help us to deal with difficulties better than we can on our own.

For a case study in how talking about feelings helps, please read Numpty Teacher's blog post How I Stopped Drowning

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Great Expectations

I alluded in my last blog post to a previous version of said post which included a surfing metaphor. Prompted by this TES article by Professor Colin Richardson I thought I'd post it as he and I had some similar thoughts. 

My prediction is that the Prof's article will not go down well. The main argument will be along the lines of "But we have no control over the pressures put on us by the government, SLT, governors and Ofsted inspectors!"

And it's true, we don't on the whole. But we can control our approach to the workload we are lumped with, and in a controversial move Professor Richardson actually makes some good points.

But first, here was what I began with:

You're lying on your board, eyes cast over your shoulder scanning the waters for the next wave. It appears and you squint, gauging its size as it rolls closer, gathering momentum. It's a big one. Mentally, you fear both riding it and being overcome by it, but those are the options. Better to try and chance success than to be pummelled. A keen surfer at this point is almost unaware of the choice - there is no option for them but to catch the wave and go for it. A stressful situation no doubt, if one lets it become so. But are surfers typically tightly-wound balls of stress? No! We consider them to be the most chilled out, relaxed people around.

I wonder if the knowledge (no doubt compounded by social media's endless brainwashing) that teaching is indeed a demanding and busy profession leaves many-a-teacher quaking in their boots as they anticipate the deluge. When the workload gets heavy they're already resigned to the fact that they won't be able to deal with it all. I wonder if many of us never get on top and ride the wave because we think the wave is just too big to be conquered.

Even a confident surfer knows that any wave might just conquer them, and that an attempt may leave them gasping for air, fighting the undertow. But they also know that they can get back out there and wait for the next swell. They're relaxed about their chances, knowing that perfection is not always guaranteed. 

A lot of teachers are perfectionists - this is not a bad thing, it means they care and want to do a good job. It also means they will inevitably think that their job is never done. And it isn't. There will always be something more to do, something that could be done better. Subconsciously many teachers attempt perfection even when they know it is unachievable. We must begin to realise that we will have a bad observation, we will get the wrong end of the stick with the marking policy and we will struggle to assess without levels for a while. But we also must realise that none of those difficulties spell the end of our career. We must see them simply as opportunities to learn. We must be willing to swim back out to sea, ready and willing to get back up on the board and try again.

And I couldn't have summarised better than Professor Richardson:

"The vast majority of teachers expect too much of themselves. They aspire to unrealistic goals. They always fall short – and deep down they realise that they do. They know there is always more they can do for their pupils. They know that what they and their schools provide can never be good enough for the young people in their care. They acknowledge that their schools can never be perfect. Inevitably, they feel guilty about their shortcomings when they fail to meet unrealistic aspirations.

Consciously or unconsciously, they try to assuage their guilt through hard work and long hours. And they succeed, at least to a limited extent, but at a vast cost to themselves."

I urge you, stressed and overworked teacher, to at least give this article some credence. Could it be that you could make some changes in your self-expectations? Might it be a good idea to put a time limit on your work next week, finishing at a given time rather that 'when the work is done'? They might be piling it on, but fight back by admitting that a teacher's work will never truly be done.

Further reading: Addressing The Balance - 5 tips for sorting out your work/life balance