#OptimismOctoberHT

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

How has a year gone by so quickly? Our twelfth in our cycle of monthly themes rounds off with a topic dear to our hearts. In the pressure cooker that the education environment of 2017 currently is, negative thoughts are easily generated for leadership pressure, fears over performance and behaviour and by the habit of many teachers to be self-critical. This month we urge you to think positive, drive those critical self-analyses away and be optimistic.

Optimism: it is irritatingly catchy. However is not simply a matter of smiling, laughing off the cares of the world and running through wheat fields. Optimism requires considered actions and attitudes that deep down are driven by our core values. How often have we heard ‘get over it‘ or ‘pull yourself together‘? In point of fact neither are easy options to follow, nor is self-care a walk in the park either. Putting ourselves first, particularly where we put family, friends and colleagues before our own wellbeing, offers many challenges in itself. Ultimately, as most of our themes have suggested, individual mindset comes into play.

Recently @HealthyToolkit launched #SelfCareSunday, and some suggestions for this included a digital switch off, days by the coast or getting stuck into a good book. Ultimately self-care comes down to self-choice. The choice might be to select Saturday; though many teachers hate the pressures on Sunday evening, others report that they thrive on it. Each to their own after all.

Whilst discussing this blog over the Healthy Toolkit HQ kitchen table, we had a healthy debate of our own:

When Sunday night comes around, it’s hard not to experience that feeling of dread for Monday morning. You can use #SelfCareSunday to improve your week by doing a few activities that ensure you’ll have more pleasant days to come. Using Sundays as a dedicated day to get your life together can make for a smoother work week, and you may even find yourself looking forward to the end of the weekend.

If you’re trying to avoid the Monday blues, or you’re just trying to find time to fit in all your errands, consider doing these six things every Sunday to improve the rest of your week.

Plan your meals. Motivate yourself. Have fun”

However we had an alternate viewpoint from another member of our team:

“I don’t like using Sundays to sort out the week. I like to use Sundays to forget about work and household chores and reconnect with myself, God, universe, spend time with kids. Why do we use Sundays for chores? Can we do some things on Friday while we are still in a work mode or Saturday morning? Week is for working. We can’t just say that it’s the only way; we must offer options.”

How do you organise your weekends? What works for you?

We can’t preach. Self-care is a personal choice very much dependent upon circumstances, relationships, attitudes, values and mindset. There are nevertheless a few generic points which our readers may want to consider this coming month.

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Reflect

Upon your own week, month or year. Do the successes outweigh the challenges, laughter the tears and smiles the grimaces? Focusing on the negative is a drain.

Recover

Does the alarm sound before 6am at the weekend too? Does your body clock say ‘school’ to you? A lie in is a rare luxury. Don’t save it to half term or you may be totally exhausted before then. We know some of you might be feeling like that now, but believe us there is a difference between tiredness and total exhaustion.

Renew

Your energies: food, exercise, meditation; whatever suits you. Digital switch off helps too. Do you need to be on Twitter and Facebook at 7am?

Respect

Yourself: your body’s best friend is your mind. Feed it, nurture it, relax it.

Others: the loved one you had sour words with, the friend you had a grumble at, the Tweeter you challenged in haste. Sorry isn’t the hardest word.

Rewind

You can’t turn back time but you can learn from mistakes of the past. If you have spent all weekend planning, little time connecting with the family, no time in the cinema, theatre, pub or football stadium, perhaps now is the time to think how that connection can be reforged, even for a few hours.

Reimagine

Reimagine or reinvent? You won’t change yourself over a weekend. Habits take time to establish, but start leading them and they become routine. A Sunday stroll, an hour in the garden, that subtitled French film that you’ve had sat in the sock drawer since Christmas. Some of you may consider reimagining your work-selves. Are you too hard or too soft? Do you live your values, or just spout them? Are you authentic or putting on an act?

Optimism cannot be dictated. Positivity takes a range of forms dependent upon the individual. #SelfCareSunday, whichever day you take it, allows us to reconnect and rechannel energies. Optimism can help us plan ahead too: Do you know it’s Christmas in only 85 more days?

We have also launched #HealthyToolkitMusic to share amazingly positive and energetic music too. Eagle eyed readers will have spotted the song references hidden in this piece. Please use the hashtag #OptimismOctoberHT in you blogs and tweets. If you are a lucky Tweeter with 280 characters, you can be doubly optimistic.

 

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Wellbeing is for Life, not just for INSET: an essential read for SLT

The return to school, which for most English schools is this week, is a time of expectation and anticipation; change and new beginnings; hopes and fears.

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Many of us will begin with INSET days before the children arrive later in the week. Maybe it will be on a school priority, reading , writing, behaviour or SEND will feature somewhere tomorrow. Perhaps one of your days will be on Wellbeing; if it is, then a look back at our previous blogs https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/wellbeing-it-isnt-a-tick-box-exercise/ and https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/putting-wellbeing-and-workload-into-practice/

Wellbeing can’t be ‘done’ in a day. It needs to part of the school culture and needs to be embedded and embraced by everyone. Principally however that culture needs to be led and developed to enable everyone to benefit most fully from it. After all, we want our teachers, teaching assistants and other staff to be at ‘peak wellness’ through the year. Here are a few thoughts that SLT might want to bear in mind not only tomorrow but through the year.

  • Don’t spring surprises! Ideally everything should have been in place at the end of the summer; draft timetables, policies, curriculum maps, class lists. Change brings stress and anything new announced in the next day or so will add to that. Hopefully you haven’t been sending long emails with multiple attachments. A diary, agenda and newsletter surely would suffice.
  • Keep this as your mantra for the year. Nothing should be a surprise! Sports Day, Nativities, assessment and display deadlines should all be known now. The only short notice event should be OFSTED.
  • Ensure your communication shows your priorities; if you talk for as long on teacher dress code as you do on student behaviour for example, this can lead to questions about prioritisation.
  • The most precious resource your teachers have is time, so don’t waste it. Unnecessary and lengthy meetings, tasks with little perceived purpose and no discernible outcome and unscheduled assessments eat into teacher time. If it can go into an email of staffroom notice, then put it there.
  • Do you protect PPA and set it in stone?
  • Are you addressing workload initiatives and concerns?
  • Are you still collecting and inspecting plans on a weekly basis? Why not trust your teachers? If you have a new teacher or someone struggling, then monitoring but also helping planning is a necessity, but does your most reliable teacher with fifteen years in post need the same scrutiny?
  • What is your email etiquette? Curt or chatty? Do you have a ‘no mails after 5 or at weekends’ protocol?

If we really want to model what we would like to see in a true wellbeing culture, then perhaps we need to consider a few points about our own conduct. All simple, all effective.

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  • Are ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ prominent in your vocabulary? How about ‘well done’? Words are our most potent weapon. Don’t underestimate the power of words to build confidence and show appreciation.
  • Do you publicly acknowledge your staff’s achievements? Fairly, equally and with conviction?
  • Do you know where your staff have been on holiday; the names of their children or partners; the health of their parents? If you don’t, then any conversation with them will only be about school and education, which we love, but to be honest can be a little dull. Do you want to be labelled a ‘soulless automaton’?
  • Are you aware of the physical and mental wellbeing of your staff? Can you identify changes in mood and behaviour that might indicate some level of stress related to work or to personal circumstance?
  • Do you prove that you can step up in a crisis?

There is much more we could add, but this is a ‘think piece’ aimed at developing more discussion. There will be further blogs relating to how Governors can support wellbeing, how NQTs can support their own and how the whole school can contribute to the wellbeing culture.

#SimplifySeptemberHT: Our biggest priority is ourselves.

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September of course marks the start of the academic year, though our friends north of the border will have three weeks under their belts by the time English school children come through the gates.

As we return all of us, whether class teachers, teaching assistants, business managers, NQTs, school leaders and actively engaged school governors , will be looking to ensure that we avoid burn out and avoid the familiar stereotype of the frazzled teacher.

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How many of us have felt like we are on our knees by October half term or spent the Christmas holidays recovering or catching up on sleep?

There are wider issues relating to school cultures and of school leaders having the fullest awareness of the wellbeing of their staff which we will pursue in other pieces, but the theme for our next hashtag is a simple one, a simple blog for #SimplifySeptemberHT.

If we have over complicated and complex lives we may struggle with prioritisation and personal organisation which can fell to feelings of stress and anxiety. Our message is to simplify your life, use the mantra ‘less is more‘ to focus on your mental and physical health.

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Everyone will do this in a range of ways and this is what we want to hear from you over the next month. Perhaps you are a ‘stationery junkie’ with your weekly planner, highlighters and sticky notes. Are you embarking on a new physical routine or organising your lunches a whole week ahead? Perhaps you are simply cutting out some deadwood that hindered you last year.  Clearing the mind will help when it comes to the more pressured times of the school year.

Please share your experiences, thoughts and quotes in tweets and photos using the hashtag #SimplifySeptemberHT.

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When is a story not a story? When it is born from lazy journalism.

Last week we wrote of the lazy stereotypes, of teachers and pupils, portrayed in Channel 4’s Ackley Bridge https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/lazy-stereotypes-schools-thrive-on-relationships-but-not-like-these/ where the theme of our blog was on the promotion of healthy relationships in schools. This was of course a programme produced with entertainment as its aim.

It was with some dismay that this week this article appeared in the press https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/bored-teachers-sign-cheat-partners-during-holidays

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If this had appeared in one of the tabloid newspapers, especially one of those that delights in criticising schools and teachers, then we would not have been surprised. We regularly see tales of schools banning haircuts, usually accompanied by a picture of a grumpy parent and child. Schools banning chips and parents making deliveries through the fence makes good copy for editors. Teachers caught drunk and abusive on a night out sometimes makes the news too.

This piece however was published by the TES, an esteemed publication we believed that is not prone to feature sensational or provocative journalism.  We take issue with a number of points in this article.

The gist of the piece is that 30,000 teachers, 6.6% of the workforce, are signed up to a website to arrange encounters to cheat on their partners and that there has been a spike in new registrations by teachers this summer, with 300 of them supposedly surveyed and 80% of these saying they were cheating because of “boredom and loneliness” during the holiday.

  • More than 80 per cent of newer registrants to the site were female.” Why draw attention to this? It is sexist to do so and to suggest that females are more likely to cheat than males.
  • More than 59 per cent of the maritally frisky teachers came from small towns and rural areas.” What does this term ‘maritally frisky‘ mean? It seems to have been extracted from a politically incorrect 1970’s sitcom. What is the writer trying to suggest about “small towns and rural areas” that makes the morals of inhabitants of these places any different from those who live in cities?
  • The mention of “boredom and loneliness” during the holiday period suggests some people have no control over their libido and that they are unable to wait for a few hours for the return of their partner.

Marriages and relationships break down for a variety of reasons, of which infidelity is only one. Some of us will know of a teaching colleague who has cheated on a partner, but the stark reality for a teacher is that managing workload and a stable relationship, perhaps with children too, is enough of a life challenge. Anyone who can fit in an affair too is probably not entirely dedicated to their role.

The article goes on to quote a spokesman for the website, someone perhaps qualified to speak for his clients but not one who could honestly speak with authority about teacher workload and stress. Reference to teachers being “too consumed … to notice the cracks appearing in their marriage” and only noticing that their relationships are damaged during the holidays is a patronising and sweeping statement and  “It’s only a matter of time before the itch to cheat kicks in” suggests many of our colleagues are morally corrupt.

Exception will be taken by many to the photograph accompanying the article; a scantily clad and provocatively posed pair who were young and slim. Is it only youthful and slender people who are adulterers?

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What the article fails to point out is whether we actually know that these 30,000 are actually teachers. It is only two years since the hack of the Ashley Madison website, one set up similarly for married people to have adulterous encounters. There was a fear amongst clients that their details would be leaked and their life partners discovering their infidelity. It is likely, is it not, that some people may alter some of their personal information online to protect themselves. These ‘teachers’ may actually be civil servants, accountants or even unemployed.

Teachers are not going to lead blemish free and blame free lives. Some will have affairs, but that is the nature of society, not of teachers. Many though will have strong moral values and a sense of self-control which means they would never do such a thing. Teachers are just as entitled to join online dating sites as anyone else and indeed we know of teachers who have met their partners through such means.

This article though is sensational, falling as it does during the ‘silly season’ where serious news is often short on the ground. We would ask what the purpose of the article is and what it is aiming to achieve: To belittle teachers? To raise a cheap laugh? Don’t forget that in August our secondary colleagues have two results days to concern themselves with, primary teachers are setting up new classrooms and planning and our senior leaders are concerning themselves with data analysis and the year ahead. Time for an affair? Think again!

In short this is lazy journalism, not befitting the reputation of the TES.

Must try harder. See me after class.

 

 

 

 

Lazy Stereotypes? Schools thrive on relationships but not like these.

How many great films about schools and teaching come to mind? Dead Poets Society? The History Boys? To Sir, with Love? The Breakfast Club? Each film has an ‘edge’, and an issue as the hook to its plot line: curriculum content, teaching styles, race, peer pressure

Television frequently uses the education setting too in serial drama (Teachers, Waterloo Road, Grange Hill), in comedy (Bad Education, Big School) and in reality programming (Educating Essex/Yorkshire/Cardiff) Each of these, like the films, at its heart is about the strength and impact of relationships in a school between and amongst teachers, pupils and parents.

It was with interest then that we looked what had been saved on the Healthy Toolkit HQ Digibox in the Summer Term. Ackley Bridge, a six part drama about the merger of two schools in a fictional Yorkshire town was shown on Channel 4 at 8pm, not their usual time for drama but a primetime slot aimed perhaps at a generation of viewers who as young teenagers might have watched any of a number of popular soap operas.

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As a vehicle for the undoubted talents of Jo Joyner and Adil Ray as well as a showcase for a range of terrific young actors, the programme certainly appealed to an audience who liked to see a few hard edged and real life issues. However there were, from an education perspective, a number of lazy stereotypes and a poor communication of the relationships that would be at play in a typical school. In fact much was unrealistic and in the realms that would have a school closely scrutinised in real life.

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The Headteacher

  • Mandy Carter (Jo Joyner) married to another member of staff Mr Bell (Paul Nicholls). Relationships between staff members develop in any workplace, not just in schools, but surely there would be some kind of expectation that a senior leader of a school would not be in a relationship with another staff member. Accusations of favourable treatment and of confidentiality would inevitably arise in such a situation. Codes of Conduct might discourage this, and a quiet sideways move to save professional integrity might have been in order. Kissing in the staffroom though? At least the laziest stereotype, the stationery cupboard was avoided.
  • Mandy has an affair, possibly a one night stand, with the school sponsor, Adil Ray. The lazy line of ‘it was a mistake, it was only once‘ is trotted out. His role however is portrayed as wealthy businessman with a sense of entitlement. He is outed, publicly, by his daughter and seems to pay the price at the hands of the Governors and his golf club. Ms Carter’s future remains unclear at the series end.

Ms Keane: English Teacher

A central role, Emma Keane (Liz White) would have been suspended or sacked several times over.

  • Emma arrives late for briefing on the first day of term, in flip-flops, straight off the plane. It is revealed that she missed the training day. Her friendship with Many saves her a telling off.
  • Estranged daughter arrives, drunk, at school and vomits in class. No school in their right mind would let her past reception. The bottle of fizz was a clear indication of her inebriation.
  • Said daughter takes mum’s phone, finds a topless picture from holiday and posts it on mother’s Twitter account with hashtag #AckleyBridge. Predictably picture goes viral. Emma escapes with little more than cosy chat with Ms Carter. Bringing the school and the profession into disrepute anyone?
  • The grandmother and carer of the key student character Missy Booth dies and Missy maintains a sense of normality for the sake of 15-year-old sister Hayley to stop her going into care. Once Emma finds out, no safeguarding procedures are followed; she takes on the matter herself. Once again when the correct authorities are involved, little more than a metaphorical slap on the wrist ensues.
  • Emma openly tries to pursue a relationship with another member of staff, Samir Qureshi, until his revelation of his engagement.

Mr Bell

Where to start?

  • Has already had an extra-marital affair resulting in a pregnancy. Great moral fibre!
  • Hit’s a boy and essentially acts to protect and support him to prevent being reported.
  • Same boy appears to have fathered a child, which he has in school in a sports bag! Mr Bell helps him keep the child safe (safeguarding) and to find the truth about the actual parentage of the baby.
  • I’m Mr Bell‘ he calls out on day one; insert your own response from the boys, it is that predictable a script.

Other issues

  • One teacher begins, then halts a relationship with a pupil. At least one pupil knew of this. No response has been apparent so far. We know these relationships occur and we know what the consequences of them should be. Here is an opportunity in a future series to explore this theme, fully and accurately.
  • Emma’s would be boyfriend reveals that he has been in jail for drug offences. The production company, The Forge, and Channel 4 must surely be aware of DBS. A jail term, and it must have been recent, would discount the teacher from a post. What school, in its right mind is even going to entertain the notion of employing somebody with any known link to drugs, user or dealer?
  • There is a stereotypical ‘school stud’ who chances his arm with any number of the young women students. Whilst again there will be characters like this, he had no depth other than an awareness of his image and at a different level from the school sponsor, to a sense of entitlement when it came to relationships.

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There was much to recommend the series though. It explored developing aspects of sexuality, cultural traditions in a changing society, social and class interaction as well as the integration of two school communities who we were led to believe were polarised.

The series has been commissioned for a further run of twelve episodes. Someone at Channel 4 must appreciate it.

The crux of the matter is that relationships are the key to the culture of a successful school. Get it right and the school will be a harmonious and trusting environment; get it wrong and toxicity reigns. Only this week Natasha Devon commented on how schools are getting the ‘S’ right in SRE but now need to focus on the ‘R’: well worth a read https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-are-making-good-progress-s-sre-now-we-must-focus-r

We are teachers, not television executives, and we appreciate that teachers arguing makes better TV than teachers marking or answering emails. But if you are reading this at Channel 4 or The Forge, think about the importance of healthy relationships in a school and making them work to the advantage of everyone, not just to the viewing figures.

#AppetiteAugustHT: reflections upon our relationship with food

The most important relationship you would ever have is with yourself. This relationship can be displayed in many ways – in your thoughts and words, and in your actions. Wellbeing is a complex term that can not be reduced to a tick box exercise. Moreover, every single one of us will have a different understanding of what wellbeing actually is and what it means to us. In August we are launching a new hashtag – #AppetiteAugustHT to start a conversation about our relationship with food and look at how we could embed healthy eating habits and attitudes. Appetite can be defined as ‘‘a natural desire to satisfy a bodily need, especially for food.’’ However, how often are we satisfying our mental need through food.

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My relationship with food hasn’t been straightforward.  During challenging times, I used food as a satisfying treat. Everything around me might have been falling apart, but the taste and smell of a coffee and walnut cake somehow made things seem much more manageable. Other times, when I was running low on energy, I would convince myself that eating a cake would give me the desired sugar high to cope successfully with daily tasks. On both occasions, I was eating to satisfy my emotional rather than my physical hunger. During some grey periods of my life, I would stop eating and develop an unhealthy relationship with sport as the physical exertion and exhaustion would stop me from overthinking as I would literally be too tired to think. At other times, when things got really tough, food was there to make me, without fail, feel nauseous and generally unwell. I experienced a complete loss of appetite—a common anxiety food trap. When I was invited to join a modelling academy, I had to drastically reduce my food intake and follow a ridiculously restricted diet plan in order to meet the expectations shamelessly imposed on us by society. For weeks I would survive on a diet plan given to me by one of the ‘dieticians’ working there that suggested that one egg, one sausage, a couple of pieces of fruit and a yoghurt washed down with water would help me achieve the desired modelling weight. This is the photo of me when I was about 18-19 after graduating from the academy.

August Maria

Instead of following a straight path of healthy eating choices, for years I fluctuated between overeating and not eating enough as a reaction to my circumstances, or more importantly, to my mental state at the time.  Was it self-harm? Yes, definitely. The truth is that when someone mentions self-harming, the immediate reaction is to assume that the person is referring to cutting. When I was depriving my body of food and working out to the extreme, I was self-harming. I was trying to gain control of one area of my life when I lost it somewhere else. When I was comfort eating, I was self-harming too. I was trying to silence the chaos in my head by distracting myself with treats. It is only when I embarked on my coaching journey that I started to notice how the positive changes in my mental attitude were having a lasting effect on the food choices I was making. I made a conscious decision to make friends with food and take control of 50,000 of my daily thoughts. The fact is that 95% of our thoughts are repeated daily, so there is no surprise that, soon enough, we start believing all the negative things we are saying to ourselves.

I was introduced to NLP for the first time at some stage in my coaching journey. NLP stands for Neuro-Linguistic Programming and reinforces the link between the mind (neuro) and language (linguistic) and how they affect our behaviour (programming).  Although I wasn’t convinced at first, the simplicity and effectiveness of some suggestions made during the course truly won me over. It is not about changing everything you are used to and feel comfortable with.  We can’t change in one day and imposing unreasonable expectations on ourselves plants doubt and fear in our minds and convinces us that we are nothing but miserable failures. It is about a gradual change—the aggregation of marginal gains. In this blog post, I would like to share three practical strategies that can help us on our journey to a healthier diet.

  1. Re-programme the way you think about food.

How do you think about food? Do you imagine how it tastes or smells? Or do you visualise how appetising it looks? The trick is to replace these unhelpful thoughts that make you want to eat with more helpful thoughts that will encourage you to care about your body. For example, try thinking about your stomach and its reaction to the food that you consume. What is this food doing to you? How would your stomach react to the food? Would you feel bloated?

 

  1. Pay attention to the eating process.

I found the TATE (Trigger/Action/Target/Exit) eating model helpful.

Trigger –  the positive trigger for food is hunger; feeling angry or anxious are negative triggers. Be aware of your hunger triggers.

Action – is what we do once the trigger is activated. Enjoying food; chewing it slowly or eating the food fast; eating while watching TV. We make the choice.

Target – this is a very important step. This is when we make the decision to stop or carry on eating. What is your target? To empty the plate, to feel full or just to stop feeling hungry? Don’t overlook the difference between feeling full and not feeling hungry.

Exit – so what do you do when you’ve finished your meal? Do you start searching for a dessert, do you sit around or do you move on to something else? Plan your exit wisely.

 

  1. Be aware of and create your own anchors.

Anchoring simply means pairing and anchors are the stimuli that provoke certain feelings, thoughts or emotions. For example, I associate the smell of fresh bread with my childhood. It brings back memories of my grandmother letting me eat warm bread straight from the oven; it reminds me of the feelings of pleasure and fullness I had once I had eaten the bread. There are many different anchors that can make us feel hungry or want to eat.  Anchoring is often used in advertising.  For example, fast food chains might link their food to celebrations, family time, fun and enjoyment. The good thing is that we can also set our own positive anchors. For example, we can visualise how we’d like to look, what clothes we’d like to wear and link these positive visualisations to healthy food.

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In August we encourage you to share your tips and stories that could help us nurture positive relationships with food as well as healthy recipes that could help us stick to a healthy diet throughout the year. Please use the #AppetiteAugustHT hashtag so we could collate all the information at the end of the month.

 

End of Year Teacher Gifts: It isn’t a competition!

As the end of the school year approaches like on oncoming train, the thought of many parents are turning to an end of year gift for their child’s teacher.

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This year this story has appeared http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/education-40503048/what-do-you-gift-a-teacher linked to a survey on a well known parenting website. Past articles suggest that gifting has become increasingly competitive among parents http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8585605.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8588733.stm

Should teachers expect end of year or end of term gifts? At this time of the year parents’ and pupils’ wellbeing might suffer due to the pressure to comply with the expectations of parents and children. What can we do as professionals to relieve this pressure?

We know that in some schools parents will organise class collections and that in some cases there will be social pressures on parents and children to comply. A £5 contribution from every family will result in a substantial gift for the lucky teacher. Think back to that social pressure. The very nature of society isn’t equitable and unless you are in a school in a Stepford Wives kind of community, unanimity among parents is unlikely. There are those who will contribute to the collective gift and to an individual present. On the other hand there are parents who will not purchase a gift for their child, not from ingratitude but because they don’t believe teachers should receive a gift for doing their job.

The class collections tend to come about in more affluent areas. If you work in an area of higher socio-economic challenge, talk of Mulberry handbags and champagne hampers will be unfamiliar. Here though we see the most heartwarming examples of generosity. In one of our schools, one mother made extraordinary sacrifices to buy the departing Headteacher a bouquet as thanks for the years of support she had given to her and her daughter; a touching moment that brought more than a tear or two. Handmade cards or cakes, made from love and not with any competition in mind: those are the gifts with the greatest value. Like the old woman who gave her last coins in the temple, families in these circumstances give more than those with the designer label aspirations.

We know also that the gift profile will vary dependent upon teacher age and gender, between class teachers and school leaders and most markedly between sectors; primary teachers are more likely to be recognised at the end of term than their secondary counterparts, having spent 90% of the school year with their class rather than 90 minutes a week.

Whether we receive a gift in any of the above circumstances, we should show our appreciation and gratitude for it. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we have received over 100 ‘Best Teacher in the World‘ mugs over our combined careers. In recent years some teachers on social media have been caught out making disparaging comments along the lines of ‘How original: a best teacher mug!‘ and then we saw this in The Guardian from 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/jul/22/teachers-end-of-term-gifts-the-good-the-bad

Now think about this. In the primary sector in particular, you are this child’s world outside of home. You have metaphorically held their hand, wiped their nose and been the consistent and reliable presence in their learning. They want to say thank you. They are not to know how many boxes of Maltesers, smelly gel pens or key ring fobs you have received in the past. This one is for you, the special one, meant with every ounce of their little heart and with every drop of feeling they can muster.

If you receive something from your class, however large or small, expensive or otherwise, it has been bought with genuine feeling and been chosen just for you; even if next year’s teacher is ‘The Best Teacher Ever‘ it is your title for now!

Remember, it is the children’s way of saying this!

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#JourneyJulyHT

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Life is a journey and for those of us in education we look forward to the breaks in our travel. July is upon us already and with three weeks to go for most of us in England, thoughts turn to the summer break and beyond: new challenges; new post; new direction perhaps.

This month the team at Healthy Toolkit invite you share the tales of your journey be it through this past year, your whole career or through life. Tweet them, blog them, share them on Staffrm but most of all appreciate and celebrate them.

Our experiences are what motivate and make us, engage and energise us. Maybe sometimes they may try to bend and break us, but ultimately our experiences shape us. They guide our values, they help us in choosing our friends and associates and determine the paths that our personal and professional lives take. We owe our journeys to those we love and care for. Our parents and partners have held our hands and helped along the way. We should celebrate every step of our journeys, for good or otherwise.

So let us begin with the Healthy Toolkit journey. We came together as a group through Twitter, through a shared love of healthy, homemade and sometimes homegrown food. However we soon realised that we shared much more; values to be precise. Our shared values have guided the way we have moved forward as a team and they mark not only how we work as a group, but represent what we believe are the authentic values that the most effective school leaders should be promoting.

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Our concept of ‘Healthy’ has grown with us, from our initial thoughts about healthy eating and proper hydration, to healthy attitudes to colleagues, to healthy use of social media and digital interaction. We are absolutely dedicated to developing effective wellbeing not only in our own schools but in modelling it for others too. We believe that wellbeing needs to be real, hard and practical and based on genuine need because it impacts upon real people with a diverse range of strengths and abilities.

There is more to wellbeing than group hugs and motivational posters, though both have their place. Wellbeing thrives on relationships and culture. A culture of trust, equality, personal liberty and development where staff feel safe needs to be cultivated. Where culture promotes collaboration and celebration through shared values, healthy professional relationships will develop and be maintained. A culture of blame, of criticism and of sniping at the tiniest perceived affront, even down to semantics, is most unhealthy and would undermine any wellbeing initiative.

We have grown over the past year to believe that wellbeing is for everyone, led by everyone, for the benefit of everyone.

In a few sentences, this sums up Healthy Toolkit. We have grown, bonded, laughed and cried together in the last twelve months and have become genuine friends.

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That’s our journey. What’s yours?

Please let us hear how you have grown in life, in your teaching career or in recent months. Blog your journey or share using the https://staffrm.io platform.  Twitter is a great way to share. Use the hashtags #JourneyJulyHT and #SayYes2Wellbeing and to promote the influential Twitter friends you have made use #FFInspirational and tag in those educators who have truly inspired your journey. Thank you.

 

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Pulling our weight? Did the ‘New Man’ ever exist?

A couple of weeks ago our attention was drawn to this article in The Guardian, set out as a comic strip but with a serious message at its heart: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/26/gender-wars-household-chores-comic?CMP=share_btn_tw alongside the question ‘How would you make this work?’ It may be appropriate to consider this topic on Fathers’ Day.

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In the UK equality legislation was enacted within the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and most recently the Equality Act 2010. Common sense would dictate however that the true impact of equality comes not for the power of the law but from personal and societal attitudes and values. Nowhere is this more powerfully demonstrated than in the home and in a family environment.

Two weeks after the birth of the youngest child of one of the Healthy Toolkit team he was introduced to a new member of staff as ‘our token New Man’. This was in the late 1990s for those unfamiliar with the phrase. It was a term he was entirely comfortable with, our colleague asked the DHT why she had described him so. ‘You’re a man who knows his way round a kitchen, you read, watch sub-titled films, wear pink without being self-conscious, don’t flirt with your female colleagues and you cry. But most of all you’re a great dad.

Though anecdotal, this does reflect upon the place that living by decent values has. Fairness and equality would feature in the values spectrum of any man, particularly one who has become a father. Fatherhood isn’t a status symbol; is a role with great responsibility.

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Responsibility doesn’t stop at conception! Though men will never know the discomfort of morning sickness and the pain of childbirth, but they should be there to support in much more than a tokenistic manner.

It is after your baby has arrived that you really show your mettle. Gentlemen reading this may have taken their fair share of night feeds, nappy changing, washing soiled clothes at unearthly hours. Equally there will be plenty who don’t. Have you sat up all night cradling your unsettled offspring to allow your wife or partner to rest? Have you taken the car out at 3am and driven up and down the bypass until the little one drops off?

Or do you come home and expect your dinner to be ready and the house spotless with the children already tucked up in bed? Do you play the ‘I can’t work the hoover’ card? Or play the ‘kitchen buffoon’ gambit? Even if you are no Jamie Oliver, any fool can fry an egg, make an omelette or even cook a ready meal or a tray of oven chips.

Parenthood is an emotionally and physically draining experience, but it is one which needs to be shared as equitably as possible. Both partners have lives, both have careers, both have responsibilities. Are the men making sure the balance of life, career and responsibility is equal? Aforementioned offspring barely slept the night for 18 months. She has grown to be a cultured, sensitive, intelligent, creative and progressive young adult, because we got the balance right.

Rights to paternity leave have changed in recent years. Gone are the two day limits. https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave/overview provides more information and parental leave can be shared https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview though we still have a long way to catch up with the Swedes who have 40 days of paid parental leave to share.

We know in our profession that many of our children do not have a stable male role model in the home. Many of them will have a father that indulges in macho posturing at Parents’ Evenings, at the school gate or on the sidelines at Sports Day. Some of our children have absent fathers, through marital breakdown, domestic violence, substance misuse or simply through a denial of responsibility. Many of us will know of at least one child who has never met their father and others who don’t have the father’s name on their birth certificate.

Male teachers aren’t substitute fathers, but they do for many children represent the only stable, reliable, consistent and responsible male presence in their lives. Our conduct sets an example to them: in not fulfilling macho stereotypes; in the respectful way to treat women and girls; in settling conflict with words not fists; in our responsible conduct online and on social media.

Any fool can make a baby. Responsibility is much more than blood type and DNA. You have created a life. You have created that life with someone you love, and that life needs to embody the values, culture and responsibility that both parents hold dear. To be a father takes time; takes dedication; embraces a mindset to share the role and to take on more than a fair share of responsibility.

It takes heart, it takes soul, it takes spirit, it takes a real man to be a daddy!

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Happy Fathers’ Day  to all fathers, near or far, gone but not forgotten.

 

 

Arrogance and Insolence or Authenticity and Integrity?

Egg on face? On the 18th of April the election was announced with a reported twenty point lead in the polls, with the intention of delivering a mandate for Brexit. Seven weeks later there is no clear mandate and a chaotic and uncertain situation in Westminster.

For the second time in twelve months a British Prime Minister has had the arrogance to assume that the British people would do as they were expected. For the second time we have been left with uncertainty, instability and a lack of clarity. ‘Strong and Stable’? ‘Pale and Pasty’ would be more pertinent.

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As the Prime Minister returned from the Palace on Friday, her words to the press barely acknowledged the result. The fact that a projected hundred seat majority had overnight returned a minority administration, dependent on a minority party in a part of the UK that the ruling party has paid lip service to in recent times, barely seemed to register in the facial expression or tone of voice of the Prime Minister.

Of course as the largest party, the Conservatives have the right to the first attempt at forming an administration. If you aren’t aware, the first Labour Government in 1924, resulted from an election where the Conservatives were unable to form a ministry and Ramsay MacDonald as leader of the second largest party was invited to step up. Reliant on the support of the Liberals, the Scotsman was ultimately undone by fatigue, by having only 191 MPs, and by fears of the ‘Red’ threat culminating in the forged Zinoviev letter. A further election was called, ten months after the previous one. Political arrogance and sly trickery are nothing new.

As teachers we are required to teach British Values. Of course they are not uniquely British. If they were they would also include queuing politely and grumbling about the weather. They are fundamentally universal human values, applicable in a range of contexts. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we strongly advocate values and authenticity in education, especially in leadership. The five British Values are good values at heart. These were contained within a government publication published in November 2014 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/guidance-on-promoting-british-values-in-schools-published . Schools live by them; so should the politicians!

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Democracy

Whatever the issues with first past the post, this was a democratic election with the people able to make their choice and express their opinion. However  we heard Crispin Blunt saying “Like everyone else I was astonished. Some people say the electorate never get it wrong, clearly they have got it wrong. They’ve made it clearly tough for any party to form a government.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/election-results-hung-parliament-tory-mp-voters-got-it-wrong-crispin-blunt-conservatives-exit-poll-a7781216.html

Well excuse us Mr Blunt for our sheer impertinence as an electorate but we will not be told how to vote and if we choose a hung parliament that is what you are going to have to deal with. We teach our children about ‘one person, one vote’ and how we respect each others opinions.

Calls for a second referendum, be it for Scottish Independence or over Brexit, likewise impacted upon the SNP and the Lib Dems. The electorate spoke once. We don’t need to be asked ‘Are you sure?’ whether as individuals we agreed with the outcome or not.

The Rule of Law

The Fixed Term Parliament Act was designed to firstly ensure some stability for the Coalition, but also to prevent the game playing about calling elections that the Thatcher and Blair administrations played. This election need not have happened until May 2020. Although the letter of the law was applied, the spirit was not. The game playing has backfired.

Individual Liberty

We teach the children that they can’t do whatever they want, but they can do what is right. Is it right to allow advisers more say in policy than ministers? Is it right for these advisers to reportedly abuse and bully cabinet ministers, democratically elected ministers? Perhaps this value should include an element of accountability.

Mutual Respect and Tolerance

Will these two erode under the proposed arrangements to keep a lame duck ministry in office? The days and weeks ahead will be intriguing.

If you lived through the 1980s you might concur that the prevailing political mood impacted on attitudes in society. It was the decade of self above society, individual advancement ahead of the collective good. The period from 1997 to 2008 was broadly similar in tone. Politicians have it within their influence to impact upon societal attitudes.

The last few weeks and days however would indicate that the electorate cannot be swayed by marketing and that the use of the printed, visual and digital media to promote or to demonise is not as convincing as might be thought.

What was supposed to be a single issue election was far from that. Education fell high on the agenda as the reality of spending plans became starkly apparent.

There is a funding crisis in schools. There is a staffing crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers and in finding effective school leaders. However many millions of pounds were spent on this election, and however much is supposedly being spent on education, it does not address the issue of schools with leaking roofs, with worn out resources, with decisions about staff deployment to deal with over the next few years. There are children in infant classes who should have the support of a teaching assistant as well as a teacher, but whose schools have had to restructure to balance budgets. There are schools with children who need EHCs but are unable to provide the support needed because funding, expertise and local support is no longer available. Schools are having to pay for services from their authority, previously available within support packages, and authorities are top slicing greater percentages of budget shares from their schools which haven’t yet decamped to academy status.

This is an unusual post for Healthy Toolkit. We are here to promote wellbeing in schools but in truth, and politicians of all parties need to listen to this, we will not deliver wellbeing alongside the best quality education without the appropriate funding to do so.

Do we want to see leaders of our country and of our schools who are Arrogant and Insolent, or those who have Authenticity and Integrity?