Tuesday, 12 May 2020

@thatboycanteach on The Well Teacher Podcast

Teacher and author Jamie Thom invited me onto his podcast to discuss all things teacher wellbeing - I had a great time chatting to him and would like to thank him for the opportunity! Listen in below:

From: http://www.slowteaching.co.uk/2020/05/11/take-control-work-life-balance/

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One thing I know I have been notoriously bad at in my teaching career has been finding a balance. I have always struggled with switching off from the all-consuming nature of teaching, and in proactively managing work demands.

This week’s episode of ‘The Well Teacher Podcast’ is for anyone else who has struggled with this perfectionism strand that haunts so many teachers. Aidan Severs, who writes the very popular thatboycanteach.co.uk blog has made teacher wellbeing one of his major focusses as a deputy head and a writer.

In this episode we unpick how to step away from technology and become a digital minimalist, we explore how minimalism could be applied to teaching in general, examine what it takes to say no and push back on the demands of teaching and discover why Aidan will no longer be teaching lessons dressed as an elephant.

If that isn’t a reason to listen, I don’t know what is! It is an episode packed full of practical and easy to implement tips, I hope you find it helpful!

Sunday, 10 May 2020

#DailyWritingChallenge: Dreams

This blog post doesn't really belong here, but here it is anyway.

Hannah Wilson's #DailyWritingChallenge theme for Friday was 'Dreams' and this is a version of the strange dream I had last night:

He is late down again. I call up for him, as usual. He comes down, dragging his blanket with him, yawning and rubbing his eyes Рlike a just-woken child from a cartoon. The full clich̩. The sight of him simultaneously annoys me and fills me with an overwhelming feeling of utter devotion.

It is just me and him now. Inseparable, others say. But there is a greater truth to it than that. There is no choice in the matter. He is there with me, and we have grown to like it that way.

I sit at the table, writing. Writing is my way of making sense of this world and these things that have happened. He drags himself to the bench and sits down. It’s what I wanted. I can’t stand him staying in bed, lazily. I can’t stand being down here on my own.

Today is the day – we can’t stay here longer, really. I think through our itinerary – always worrying that I’ve got a time wrong, that connections will be missed, that the destination won’t be everything I’ve built it up to be.

We’re all packed and ready to go. I take a last look around – I’ve been taking last looks around for a week now, thinking of all that I will miss about this place. About the memories that cling to the furniture and haunt the dusty corners. He isn’t there in all the memories, but I’m the one who tells the stories round here so if I want him there, he is.

Walking to the station, dragging bags behind me, I lose myself in daydreams. Daydreams of how we’ll thrive and prosper in the new place. Of how we will find friends, family even. Of how we’ll be taken care of.

Sitting back in the rough, prickly seats of the train gives me chance to write again. He sits next to me wittering on about what he sees out of the window and asking a million questions. All the things he wants to know about everything and nothing. Are we there yet? Can we have the snacks now?

Later on, we arrive. I slump down on the bed, exhausted. The bags left strewn around.

I get up to unpack – there are drawers and a wardrobe. I tell him to do his too because if I didn’t his stuff would stay in bags forever. He unzips the holdall I’ve been humping around for him all day, opens it up and begins to pull out his things. Except they’re not his things. They’re mine, and they’re useless. All the things I knew to leave behind. The things that wouldn’t be useful here. What’s more, they are the things that would drag me back, time and time again, to the old times.

I snatch up the bag, pulling item after item out of the bag. I fling them across the room, not caring where they land. “Where are your clothes?” I scream. “What do you expect to wear?” I ask. He stands there, not saying anything, voiceless.

I turn away, snatch up my journal and begin scribbling away, my pen scratching across the page, ink blotching and faltering. How could he be so stupid? Why did he do this to me? Doesn’t he know that if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t even be here?

And when I turn around again, calmed by my scrawling, he is gone. And I know he isn’t coming back. I know I’ve written him out, that in my anger I’ve severed the ties that bound us. Those comforting cords that formed my safety net.

I also know that trying to bring him back into my life is fruitless – miracles don’t happen anymore. He was real to me and it was a real life that was lost. Just because I am the author of it all doesn’t mean that I can defy the laws of nature.

I am alone now, and it was my own anger, my own lack of love that made it that way. My fault. The pen is mightier than the sword, they say – and it might be true. Certainly, the one who wields either should be exceedingly careful: violent and regretful actions can be executed by both.

However, should I have had only a sword, I would still have him. He’d still be here and I wouldn’t be all alone again.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Being A Reading Teacher 2020


Back in the summer of 2016 I blogged about how I'd become a Reading Teacher (with a capital R and T, as Teresa Cremin says). I reflected on how prior to that year, and therefore for quite a huge chunk of my career as a teacher, I had not even been able to class myself as a reader, let alone a Reading Teacher. I went on to outline the benefits of being a Reading Teacher that I had experienced in the 8 months since I had taken up reading again.

I re-read that blog post today, maybe for the first time since 2016. So complete is my transformation that I was shocked to even recall that there was a time when I was not a reader, nor a Reading Teacher.

Back then, I recommended that anyone wanting to develop a reading habit should join Goodreads, and I'd echo that today as it has been a boon to my development as a reader. There's a part of my character that really likes the challenge of trying to read a certain number of books and another part which likes to document my own progress.

Over the years my reading interests have meandered but never waned. Sometimes I read a lot of picture books. Other times I read a string of Middle Grade novels. After that I often get MG fatigue and read something a little more grown up, a little more factual, a little different, at least.

I've tried to read outside of my comfort zone without running roughshod over my rights as a reader. I read what I want (but not when I want - life dictates otherwise) and I follow my fancy: the next book on my TBR pile is not always the next book I read. If I get into Viking-themed children's literature then the next few books might just have to be along those lines too. Invariably this kind of activity causes me to side-step into reading of adult non-fiction related to the subjects and themes of the children's books I've been reading. One book inspires the next in one way or another.

I'm writing this as a reflective and celebratory post, so I am sorry if it comes across as smug and showboaty. But I'm also writing it because in the intervening years I think I have noticed a problem.

I have been fairly vocal about my love for reading, not only on social media but in the schools I have worked at and have worked up a reasonable reputation as someone who loves reading (I won nerdiest teacher award the year I left my previous place and my #shelfie was easy for the children to guess because it contained many children's books). But I think I may have given a false impression: namely that I have always been a reader and that it comes naturally to me. Children and colleagues do not know that I consciously transformed myself into a reader. I suppose I suspect that this makes going from zero to being a full-on reader is unattainable - that in some ways my obsession and fervour is actually a stumbling block to others.

I need to rectify this. I need to be brave enough to share my story - to show that changes can be made to one's habits. I think those who feel like there is no time in life to become a reader might need to hear my experience of how changing habits can make more time for reading. Or perhaps I'm just assuming too much that I can change other people? Even if I don't need to explicitly share these things, I certainly don't want to act in a way that puts other people off finding their own obsession with reading.

Another point of reflection for me is that, since writing, I have become class-less. I now no longer have so many opportunities to speak to children about my love for books. Sure, every day that I sit in the canteen and eat with the children I ask them about the books they are reading and engage with them on the subject. I get down on my knees at the bookshelves when children are choosing books and pick out a few recommendations - some children even know to come and find me for this purpose.

If my school is to be one where Reading Teachers lead in the classroom then the school needs a Reading Deputy to lead it. A Reading Deputy who finds and creates more opportunities in the day to share the book love with the children. If you are a class-less teacher who still manages to do this I'd be very interested to hear from you - Simon Smith and Karl Duke, I'm looking to you guys as I know you are doing fantastic things. But I know that there will be many other SLT members and other non-class-based members of staff who manage to take a lead on reading - please get in touch with your tips and advice for me!

There is a part of me which is satisfied that I managed to bring myself on this journey, regardless of whether or not others join me. But there still remains the desire to share this passion - and it will be this desire, this passion, that wins over the satisfaction of knowing that I myself am a reader. I understand the benefits of reading and I want other people to experience them too - that's no bad thing. So forgive me once more if this post was just some self-congratulatory tosh, but I can't stop talking up reading and trying to get other people on their own journey as readers.

Must dash - there are books to be read.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Book Review: 'Survival In Space: The Apollo 13 Mission' by David Long

I've read quite a lot of children's non-fiction books about space, and whilst many are excellent, they can usually be put into one of two categories: easy-to-read but fact-light or fact-heavy but harder-to-read. This book, 'Survival In Space: The Apollo 13 Mission', sits very nicely in the middle: packed with astounding facts but extremely simply written - and that is by no means an insult. To be able to convey such information in such a way that young children (or older ones who struggle with reading) can understand it is a rare skill.

Beginning with a few chapters of background information - the space race, the Apollo 11 moon landings - the book then gets into the real story, one that is less often told to children: that of Apollo 13 (more recently of Tom Hanks film fame). The story contains everything that fiction has and more: the narrative non-fiction writing is woven with straight non-fiction, providing those amazing titbits of information that will make readers gasp aloud and then find someone to tell the fact to. For example, did you know that 'when a spacecraft re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it is travelling at nearly seven miles a second'? Wow! Perfect for information-hungry young minds.

David Long's story-telling takes a very conversational tone which will make the reader feel like they are talking to someone they are familiar with - an enthusiastic teacher or a knowledgeable relative. (example: You might think the easiest thing would be for them to just turn the rocket around and fly back to Earth, but things are never that simple when you’re this far out in space.) The writing prompts questioning and provokes a level of engagement that other books lack. What's for certain is that this is not a boring book.

The book is brilliantly illustrated by Stefano Tambellini. Some of the illustrations are in the form of diagrams, others depict events from the story - both serve to enhance to the text as well as to break it up, making this 80-pager a far less daunting read. The book is split into super-manageable chapters too and the story is well-paced to ensure that readers are nothing but gripped.

Perfect for KS2 readers, as well as some expert readers in KS1, the book is being published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 13 mission. This is a perfect time to learn about the bravery of the crew and the initiative taken by NASA staff, ultimately ensuring that no lives were lost - and as your children might be too young to watch the film, 'Survival In Space: The Apollo 13 Mission' by David Long is the perfect resource!

Read the first chapter now on Barrington Stoke's website: https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/books/survival-in-space-apollo-13/

https://issuu.com/barringtonstoke/docs/survival_in_space_the_apollo_13_mission_chapter_sa

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Book Review: 'Now or Never - A Dunkirk Story' by Bali Rai

It's hard to write an enthusiastic review about a story so terrible. Terrible because the horrific events which inspired this telling are true. Not terrible because it is told badly - not at all.

The evacuation of Dunkirk took place in the May and June of 1940. It saw the evacuation of over 330,000 troops to Britain as Nazi German forces closed in, however 68,000 men were captured or killed during the operation. Bali Rai's tale of Private Fazal Khan, a member of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, and his journey to Dunkirk is an enlightening but sadenning one. He, his company and their mules, under the leadership of the wonderful Captain Ashdown, trek across France, braving one of the worst winters on record and the constant terror of German airstrikes, not to fight but to flee.

However, despite the awful circumstances of that first year of the second world war, there are incredible moments of light in this brilliant book. The fact that this story is even being told - how men from all over the then British Empire signed up, feeling like they were doing their duty - is a major positive. There's also the flashbacks to a young Fazal's life when lessons he learnt from his grandfather come in handy as he deals with death and destruction at the hands of an enemy. Then, when you are expecting racist antagonism from all quarters, you read of kind, humane characters who accept the Indian soldiers as equals and who treat them with great respect.

There is, however, a realistic depiction of prejudice and discrimination coming from individuals and of systemic racism coming from the British government. Yet, again, there are some lovely moments where Fazal and his best friend Mush get the opportunity to teach the British soldiers a little more about the culture and religion (both are Muslims) giving this story a spiritual backbone that isn't always found in children's books.

This is a frightening story, one which doesn't avoid the horrors of the war. Nor is it gory, thus making it an appropriate read for children in upper key stage 2 and beyond. It is the sort of novel, however, which shouldn't be read lightly - there are serious issues to discuss here and I'd expect most children who read it would want to talk it through during and after reading. This would be ideal as a class read for those studying WW2 at school - especially as it presents a very different perspective of the war. A totally recommended read, just not an easy one.

This book is the first in Scholastic's Voices series. Click here to read my review of  'Empire's End - A Roman Story' by Leila Rasheed, the latest book in the series.