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?

#JukeboxJuneHT

“How soon is now?” asked one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

“Not soon enough!” reply all those teachers with report and exam marking deadlines looming.

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Unless you are in a school which has moved the bulk of written report writing to another point of the year, we can’t do much about the deadlines apart from ensure they are met. Public examinations and end of year testing are at this point of the year because it has always been the case!

If you have been following the  #MindfulMayHT and #SayYes2Wellbeing hashtags, we hope you have found some useful advice and support which schools can embrace to support colleagues at this pressured time and which individuals can adopt to aid their focus and boost their self-confidence.

This month’s hashtag recognises the workload, so we ask only that you think of music!

Primary schools will often play music as the children enter assembly or as they come to class in the the morning. It is intended to be calming and sets the mood for the day and activities ahead.

Music, and singing in particular, can be unifying, team building and at the heart of a community. Do you include your parents in the songs in celebration assemblies?

Music can be regarded as healing; a couple of links with more expert opinion are http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22553467 and http://jamesclear.com/music-therapy.

This June we ask you to do no more than select some great tunes. Do they inspire or relax? Do they play in the background as you mark or do they blast through the car stereo on the way home? Do you ‘air grab’ or are you more of an air guitar person? Do you belt out ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the traffic lights?

The team at Healthy Toolkit HQ have each selected one song to kick #JukeboxJuneHT off.

Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding. An emotive reminder of lost heritage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjUkjpJa6bY

Kings of Leon: The Immortals. Freedom, possibility and be brave to yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lICjZB-rp0w

The Jam: Going Underground. For the General Election. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE1ct5yEuVY

Labi Siffre: Something Inside So Strong. Peaceable struggle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7B-4Lsrx8IA

Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World. ‘I see trees of green..red roses too.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water. ‘When you’re weary…feeling small.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_a46WJ1viA

Luke Britnell: Think Positive. Because we all should. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_aH1z8f6Hk

Primal Scream: Come Together. We are together, we are unified. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3vvn2qOh58

Joe Cocker: N’oubliez jamais. Never forget what is at our heart and in our hearts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Xa_1KxR-8M

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It makes a difference if you want it to make a difference! Music can inspire, motivate, unite and build. Just look at the communal singing of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ in response to the events in Manchester.

If you join in this month, add the hashtag #JukeboxJuneHT and  add the link your tune using YouTube or whichever other music sharing site you use.

Punk or Puccini?

Mozart or Madness?

Bach or Bon Jovi?

Elvis or Elgar?

Rachmaninoff or The Rolling Stones?

It doesn’t matter! Nobody judges you by your musical tastes.

We look forward to hearing your tunes. Let’s cheer up Morrissey!

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Revolution or Evolution? Ways forward for Wellbeing

Amongst the debate about the reduction and management of workload and the place of wellbeing in our schools we sometimes hear a call for wholesale system change; reduce the workload by reducing the work. How likely is this to happen? As much as a class of twenty-four, all the resources we could wish for and a whole day out of class a week would be ideal, the health and social care sectors of public services would want to see the same level of investment.

Regardless of the outcome of 8th June, we aren’t going to see this. This is Britain 2017, not Tsarist Russia 1917. There isn’t a balding, bearded man in a crumpled suit about to disembark at Waterloo station to lead the revolution. We are far too polite; even the most momentous national decision of recent years was down to some 33 million or so people marking a cross on a piece of paper.

So we won’t have a political revolution, nor a revolution in our profession. Yet we have a crisis in retention and recruitment that requires urgent attention, and it is workload and wellbeing that seems to lie at its heart. Teachers leaving within five years of qualification, more experienced and hence more expensive staff ‘encouraged’ on their way and three reports on workload of which a number of schools and teachers are not aware; was this envisioned in the call ‘Education, Education, Education.’ twenty years ago?

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Change needs to be made. Not by revolution but through evolution. As we have blogged before, development needs to be driven through an alteration in culture. Whilst wellbeing is for everyone, and needs to embraced by everyone, leadership needs to be the driving force that moves wellbeing forward.

Without repeating what we have said before, we believe wellbeing needs to be principled https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/putting-wellbeing-and-workload-into-practice  and driven by solid core values https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/healthy-values-what-drives-our-team and should never be viewed as a bolt-on attachment or a tick-box exercise https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/wellbeing-it-isnt-a-tick-box-exercise

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What this culture will look like cannot be dictated, as every school context will differ. The small village primary is a different beast from a large inner city secondary. It will be intriguing to hear how a shared culture develops within MATs, especially those which are cross-phase and others with a wide geographical spread. Principles and values however can be shared.

Wellbeing needs to grow within the context of the school and needs to be considered holistically as ultimately it will benefit the whole school community. Happy, healthy teachers should mean happy, healthy and successful learners.

Tonight we at @HealthyToolkit host #SLTChat and we are looking forward to hearing how this culture is growing and developing in UK schools. See you at 8pm!

#MindfulMayHT

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How did we reach the cusp of May already? Spring has most definitely sprung, despite last week’s wintry intrusion, the blossoms are out, the evenings are drawing out and the teaching profession finds itself in the midst of exam season. At this high water mark of the academic year it is important to keep ourselves grounded and healthy for ourselves and for our learners.

Today we launch #MindfulMayHT, our theme to accompany the #SayYes2Wellbeing campaign. Through the month we would encourage you to be mindful of yourself and for yourself, as you would be mindful of others and for others. Please share your thoughts, ideas, links and motivational quotes through this challenging but ultimately rewarding month.

The benefits of being mindful are many fold. In a role which by its very nature is pressured, stressful, increasingly target driven, it is easy to lose sight of our personal priorities and of those of our loved ones. Poor sleep patterns, irregular mealtimes, lack of exercise and failure to remain hydrated may all result from work-life imbalance. Being self-aware is a challenge and often we are more aware of the needs of others than we are of our personal needs.

Being Mindful of Ourselves

This is far from a comprehensive list but here are a few strategies that school staff can try for themselves.

  • Electronic shut down, digital detox, phone free Friday; call it what you will but devices do intrude on our lives and interactions with our peers in a face-to-face environment. Twitter won’t fall down without you!
  • Eat mindfully. Do you take the time to appreciate the flavours or textures of your food? If not, you may as well live on those gels the riders in the Tour de France consume. You may munch on a sandwich in your classroom while wading through marking. Even if you take just twenty minutes at lunch break, eating with your colleagues is a social interaction which can be good important for your wellbeing. Of course not everyone is comfortable in the staffroom situation, which we address in the section below.
  • Other eating habits to consider include alcohol free times, avoiding caffeine after a particular watershed, avoiding processed foods and of course remaining hydrated. We have also been looking at the health benefits of particular foods and would like to hear what you are trying this month or have adopted into your diet on a longer term basis. We have been particularly interested in the benefits of mint. mint-info
  • Have you considered meditation? There is a huge difference between ‘mindful meditation’  and full meditation. The first may take a few minutes and apps such as ‘Headspace’ and videos that can be found on YouTube support this, the latter would require an expert practitioner and a greater time commitment. However in our experience we have found positive impact from both.
  • Live for now! You are amazing, you are in the best and most rewarding profession that there is and what you do is for the good of others.mindful2

Being Mindful of Others

Particularly for School Leaders:

  • Trust your teachers. You employed them, so you know they will plan and deliver.
  • Don’t spring any surprises! Plenty of notice for all key events and deadlines is essential. Emergencies aside, nobody will appreciate ‘lastminute.com’ style leadership.
  • Be aware of who isn’t coming to the staffroom at lunch and breaks. They may be getting the job done, but there may be other reasons they aren’t joining their colleagues. Take the time to make sure they are doing alright. They may just be quiet; they may be managing their time; equally they may be masking something that may need some support, counselling or intervention.
  • Have a rule about emails that you model and set the example for. Have a cut off time, lets say 5pm, after which there is no expectation of emails being read or replied to and make sure this extends to weekends. You want your life; your staff want theirs.
  • Ultimately your staff need calm, safe and secure space to work. Your good intentions must be concrete not abstract.

For everyone:

  • Please appreciate boundaries. Don’t expect all of your colleagues to be the life and soul of the party. Respect their personal and professional privacy. It is ultimately up to the individual what they share about themselves in conversation.
  • Think about what you say before you say it. Appreciate the sensitivities of others. Some people can give as good as they get in staffroom banter, but others may feel uncomfortable.
  • Think before you post. Texts, emails and tweets composed in haste may upset of offend. ‘Send’ or ‘enter’ is a trigger without a withdrawal function.
  • Have you ever tried a random act of kindness? Do you make a pot of tea for your colleagues? Leave them a note to say ‘well done for….’? Leave an anonymous thoughtful gift in their pigeonhole or one their desk? Do you know the names of your colleagues’ children, what their partners do or ask after the health of their elderly parents? Small things: big difference. As that great philosopher says:mindful3

Please join us this month in #MindfulMayHT. Remember being mindful is about yourself and others. We look forward to you sharing what you are doing for yourself, for your colleagues and in your schools. Thank you.

Be mindful and help us all to #SayYes2Wellbeing.

#SayYes2Wellbeing

Since our foundation, the team at Healthy Toolkit HQ has promoted the importance of wellbeing in education. Wellbeing is high on the education agenda and, as we have identified before, it is on the development plan of many schools across the UK. As the Summer Term began, the Times Educational Supplement dedicated an edition to the subject, to which we made a contribution. We believe that wellbeing needs to remain in this prime position as its importance cannot be underestimated. It is from this premise that we announce our new hashtag #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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There is a significant issue, some call it a ‘crisis’, with retention and recruitment in the profession. Whilst recruitment is one particular challenge (persuading NQTs to relocate to the capital with high housing costs or to some coastal locations) retention is another matter. With some sources suggesting 30% of teachers are leaving the profession within five years of qualification https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/teachers-leaving-profession and others identifying which subjects will be left wanting for staff http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/teachers-crisis-education-leaving-profession-jobs-market-droves-who-would-be-one-a7591821.html retaining our teachers has to be a priority for all schools.

And how do we retain them? By looking after them and by helping them to look after themselves. That is why schools, leaders, governors and especially teachers, driven by shared healthy values teaching assistants and other staff need to #SayYes2Wellbeing .

Culture and Principles

Do we want to see Hard Wellbeing or Soft Wellbeing?

Wellbeing is best promoted in schools where there is a positive culture, one in which everyone in the school, children and adults alike, can thrive, perform at their best and be happy. Happy. Key word that one. For many of our children, school offers the most stable part of their lives. They are going to be best served by teachers who are satisfied in their own environment, not by those who are grim-faced, snappy and stressed. Only this week children in the UK were categorised as ‘some of the unhappiest’ https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/uk-pupils-among-worlds-unhappiest

A positive and energising culture in a school has to be a starting point for any wellbeing process. Wellbeing can’t be ‘done to’ staff. It is a shared and egalitarian process which has to be there to benefit the whole school community equally. Generating this culture cannot be a top-down process, though leaders do need to set the example and take the lead in planning. A model of ‘sideways-in’ to which everyone can contribute is a way forward in developing and maintaining the appropriate culture.

Wellbeing also needs to be principled, which we have blogged about before https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/putting-wellbeing-and-workload-into-practice/. Alongside developing an energising culture, principled wellbeing can actually determine direction and processes. Core principles and deeply held values can really demonstrate how committed the school is to the concept of wellbeing.

Culture needs to be driven by everyone; principles need to be bought into by everyone.

Hard wellbeing is driven by principles, by culture, by values and by planned actions and interventions. Soft wellbeing is characterised by gimmicks, fads and a tick-box approach to the care of staff.

Leadership

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The most committed leaders will know that wellbeing isn’t a simple concept to lead or manage as the graphic demonstrates. However modelling a sincere commitment to it demonstrates an empathy to our colleagues. Knowing what makes them tick, what their strengths and areas to support are, alongside showing that we wish to support our staff in their career path; these demarcate leaders with deeply held values and an ethical approach to their role. School leaders should be there to nurture their staff and children and to act in alignment with their healthy values so they can #SayYes2Wellbeing.

If the culture is one of ‘buy them in, burn them out, replace and repeat‘ such a cyclical approach does not allow for continuity, consistency or stability. Again from the press this week this piece https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/older-teachers-careers-destroyed-sake-saving-a-few-bucks is a concern. We face financial cutbacks, but playing games with experienced teachers careers also pays games with their mental health, with their financial wellbeing, with their mortgages, with their families and their relationships.

Another link on Twitter and Facebook this week brought up one school where plans had to be emailed to SLT by 5pm on Saturday and were returned by 7pm on Sunday with suggestions for improvement. This is too much. Weekends should be email free times. Teachers are not lazy. Each and every teacher will do what is best for the children in their class and that will involve a number of different strategies. To fret over an entire weekend will bring stress, burnout, anxiety and probably absence.

If as a leader you haven’t yet done so, we urge you to read and act upon the recommendations about workload. Planning, marking and assessment are addressed, and though far from perfect they do provide an excellent starting point for a professional conversation in school about the necessity and impact of some of the tasks we have to do.

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The best schools work on a good team culture. Staff support each other, step up when there are problems and leaders support them. If you are in such a school, celebrate it. Perfection does not exist. There will always be cause to evaluate, improve and to recognise mistakes.

Whether you are in such a setting or not, this graphic clearly demonstrates how positive thinking can help us as individuals to #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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Look after yourself. Seek support if you find things a challenge. The best colleagues and most supportive leaders won’t be judgemental and they will listen.

Take time for yourself, look after yourself.

Promote Healthy Values in your thoughts, words and actions, in the real world and on digital platforms.

Sleep well. Eat well. Teach well.

Show yourself, and your colleagues, some love.

#SayYes2Welleing

 

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Watercooler Wellbeing

We are delighted here at Healthy Toolkit HQ to launch our latest initiative which reflects our busy schedules but which allows us time to escape and share great ideas.

We are pleased to announce: WATERCOOLER WELLBEING!

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Watercooler Wellbeing: microchats which will run through the day but at given times, so we can look at Twitter, read and engage as much as we want to.

The idea is very simple. One theme will run each day, with each microchat of five minutes at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm; each one a Watercooler Moment, hence Watercooler Wellbeing.

Starting on Wednesday 5th April, and running on occasional days over the next two weeks, we will host the microchat at these times on a topic which will link with our current #AwarenessAprilHT campaign. We have a few questions in mind, but would be pleased to add your suggestions to the list.

Our first few topics include:

  • How can teachers destress during the Easter break?
  • Ways to use your ‘down time’ without planning or marking.
  • How do we support a colleague with their mental wellbeing?

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Microchats are ideal for our busy lives: log in, Tweet, log out and go! Just like we would do at the Watercooler, because we haven’t got the time to be on Twitter all day.

Who is with us?

Don’t forget to add the hashtag #WatercoolerWellbeing.

#AwarenessAprilHT

Depending upon where you are in the country, we have a week or two until the Easter break and one thing is for certain: every teacher will have half of April as a well earned break. With lengthening days, rising temperatures, blooming daffodils and delicate cherry blossoms, the emergence of Spring can be energising but it may also be enlightening and give us the opportunity to reflect.

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So to support our theme this April, why not take the chance to be reflective and make yourself more aware of others, their needs and their motivation. Use this opportunity to consider what happens in your classroom, your staffroom and in your life outside school. Take the time also to be more self-aware and to think about what you read, what you say and what you post because this will promote our own and other’s wellbeing.

Mental health is a good starting point, because it one of those great ‘invisible’ issues and one which is often taboo in conversation. As a topic, its extent is often denied and sometimes subject to furious debate. To use the terms ‘mentally ill’, ‘mad’ or ‘insane’ as an insult or criticism actually demonstrates an ignorance of what mental health is. These are also terms which so called informed people should not be making use of.

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In labelling someone in this way, just consider this. They may have a diagnosis and they may be living with it and coping with it within their own support network. Inconsiderate words and actions might just trigger a crisis or undo weeks or months of progress. Likewise, the recipient may just have an undiagnosed issue and such criticism may tip the balance of an already fragile state of mind. Lastly, such terminology is very much a ‘playground insult’ and not a sign of an enlightened mind.

Stress is a major factor in our mental health. There is probably no escaping the stress of the role of teaching; data and deadlines won’t go away. What we can do is lead and manage in ways that alleviate stress for our colleagues, think about the workload initiative, be aware of the times of the term where there is more to do (parents’ evenings, Nativity plays) and to help our workmates manage time so they don’t make themselves unwell. Self awareness is crucial here too and is probably something comes with experience. Knowing what to drop, what can wait and what isn’t essential can allow us to manage our own stress and wellbeing.

As a modern digitally aware society with such instant access to media we tend to use ‘labels’ a great deal, particularly in a reactive way. Some responses on social media to the events in Westminster this week are an indicator of such labelling or stereotyping. Being so instant, such responses are not always considered and thought through.

Are we too quick to label children as autistic or demonstrating ASD? Is ADHD too easily applied as a term to explain negative behaviour, or are there deeper underlying factors that we don’t always consider? Diagnoses of these conditions are difficult to make and as autism is on a spectrum it is impossible to stereotype. There will be a lot of adults who have grown up without a diagnosis. Their words, actions and attitudes should not be subject to a judgemental response. Instead we need to be aware of how such minds work. There is a plethora of blogs and academic work on the subject, but there are two wonderful works of fiction which illustrate autism and promote it positively. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ and ‘The London Eye Mystery’ are both great reads, the latter especially suitable for Upper Key Stage 2.

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Autism, ASD, ADHD are ‘invisible’ disabilities. If anyone is judgemental they tend to be so based upon the outward indicators rather than actually be fully aware of such conditions. Dyslexia is another such ‘invisible’ condition. Who remembers the days of it being described as ‘word blindness’? Dig a little deeper and you will understand that it is more than a visual issue and there are more challenges than finding reading and spelling difficult; personal organisation and task completion may be more difficult, but it doesn’t impact intelligence or innate ability. If we have colleagues who are dyslexic, awareness and understanding are essential for their wellbeing.

As part of #AwarenessAprilHT we would urge you to read and share your findings about such ‘invisible’ disabilities, but also be aware of ‘visible’ matters too. Much of society can be judgemental or ignorant of physical disabilities and of the abilities and intelligence of those being judged.

Also this month we would urge our readers to be self aware and to consider their own words, actions and opinions. Sometimes you might just be wrong! It is so easy and instant to be critical, to hide behind a keyboard or tap into your phone and be immediately dismissive, negative and cynical, or to simply react by blocking which is effectively a form of censorship. As teachers we promote tolerance and respect of the opinions of others so be aware of what others may think.

Be aware of others but also be aware of your own wellbeing, because ultimately this will impact on the wellbeing of our colleagues and of the children in your school.

Be mindful of your words and actions. Be in control of your life rather than controlled by the events that happen. Be aware of your attitude, your motivation, your ability to bounce back and to persevere. Be aware of your personal values. Do you act in line with them? Or is your response always reactive?

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Lots to think about this coming month, but we have a good two weeks to reflect,rebuild and re-energise. Please join us in #AwarenessAprilHT and add the hashtag to blogs, articles and quotes that promote our theme.

WomenEd: #HeForShe

Yesterday it was our privilege and pleasure to present at the WomenEd West Midlands Regional event in Coventry. Massive thanks are due to @DaringOptimist and @TheHopefulHT for organising, hosting and directing an event which was inspiring, engaging and informative.

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For any readers unaware of WomenEd, where have you been? Over 10,000 Twitter followers gained in less than two years and a network of regional leaders and events is testament to the dedication of the founding team and to the chord struck by their message.

“#WomenEd is a grassroots movement which connects existing and aspiring leaders in education. Even though women dominate the workforce across all sectors of education there still remain gender inequalities, particularly at senior leadership level. The situation regarding BME leadership is even more dire considering the fact that the student population is becoming increasingly diverse. This situation is clearly unacceptable and rapid change is needed.  #WomenEd will therefore campaign and use its collective power to make improvements, so that there is a more equitable balance in terms of gender and ethnicity at leadership level across all sectors of education.” http://www.womened.org/

As it says on the tin, #WomenEd is pro-women, women leaders in particular. The movement is most definitely not anti-men. We provided two of the male attendees at the ‘unconference’ and we were made to feel most welcome and valued.

Any negative attention that #WomenEd has attracted has focused upon statistics about percentages of women reaching headship in the primary and secondary sectors. Whilst we can all quote statistics, the oft misused quote attributed either to Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli raises the point that to actually impact upon those statistics what really needs to change is attitude and culture, in a large part that means male attitude and culture.

Much of British society is still inherently sexist, and in some cases misogynistic,  with a combination of long-held and unchallenged tradition, a ‘lad’ culture, assumptions about childcare and an element of gender stereotyping. As Jill Berry told us yesterday, in her experience a fellow candidate  boasted that he had never failed to be appointed to a post for which he had been interviewed. This is indicative of a shocking level of arrogance and entitlement. Even though the reasons for the barriers and challenges that hold women and men back are complex, in a profession staffed in the majority by women, there are a lot of alpha males out there with attitudes that need to change.

Though representing a minority in education, particularly in the primary sector, our male teachers need to be positive role models, challenging gender stereotyping, promoting positive and appropriate conduct and demonstrating the value of respect. Our male leaders and governors in turn also need to be aware of the values they project and the culture they promote.

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As Claire Cuthbert told us yesterday, she learned to be 10% braver in applying for her roles. Claire and Jill, together with the other keynote contributions from Christine Quinn and Dame Alison Peacock gave everyone inspiration, hope and a few good laughs too as they recounted their personal journeys to leadership.   Sue Cowley’s message is embedded as a clarion call for #WomenEd.

So come on chaps! Be 10% braver to change too!

World Book Day: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

It is strange how an event aimed at promoting one of life’s simple pleasures seems to stimulate argument and World Book Day 2017 featured on social media and heavily this week, to a range of responses.

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The most common line of discussion is on dressing up as a book character and the impact that it has on the appreciation of books. The intrinsic value of dressing up is probably little; children will not become more skilled or knowledgeable readers by dressing as Willy Wonka, Matilda or The Cat in the Hat. Nor will decorating a potato as Little Miss Messy, Wally or Thing 1&2  necessarily motivate a child to pick up an unfamiliar text.

The fundamental point is that World Book Day is a celebration of reading, of authors, of the lives and settings they create and of the pathways to the imagination that they generate. Walk into any good primary school on any given day and the importance of reading will be evident through book corners, displays and, most crucially, children engaging in reading. On their own, completing online book quizzes, in pairs or groups, with the adults, with parent and volunteer readers; it is in the very fabric of the school day. World Book Day is just one day a year to mark reading in a slightly different manner.

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The costume aspect of World Book Day can of course be a challenge to parents, financially as well as creatively. For every parent with the time and resources to create sparkly red slippers for their little Dorothy or a tail and ears for Fantastic Mr Fox, there will be some for whom a purchased costume will be necessary. This has become a commercial opportunity particularly for the supermarkets, and in the vacuum between Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day the racks were filled with dressing up items. Just one look last weekend revealed that alongside Horrid Henry and The Gruffalo sat Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, several Imperial Stormtroopers and a sizable force of Disney Princesses. If anyone from the main supermarkets is reading this please think of the impact financially on parents, but also think about the difference between a film and a book.

World Book Day has become part of the cyclical routine which is at the heart of the familiar pattern of the year; Harvest, Nativity, Carol Service, the Easter Egg Hunt, Sports Day. Parents and children like this routine; it is safe, comforting and expected because primary schools have at their heart a sense of community, belonging and teamwork. And of fun… don’t forget that; that’s why teachers dress up too! At their heart though, schools and teachers are promoting the love of reading in itself as well as a means to future progress. Do you share your favourite books with your classes?

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Books aren’t just for World Book Day, they are for life. They are a healthy habit, and here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that escaping into a good book is just as important to our wellbeing as exercise, good food and sleep.

Whether you like World Book Day or not, the best activity to promote reading is to read a book. Why not share your current and favourite reads or inspirational book quotes as part of #MagnifyMarchHT?

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“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx