The Power of Positive

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Last week on Twitter one of our Headteacher followers posted a picture detailing the ‘New, Improved Staffroom’ containing a list of initiatives and actions aimed at the wellbeing of the whole staff. Fruit teas, a breakfast bar, tidy spaces, photocopier and laminator moved out: all actions which will have a direct impact upon the wellbeing of the staff.

One bullet point raised some discussion on Twitter: the staffroom was to be a ‘no moan zone’ with no complaining about pupils, parents and other staff. Some responses were along the lines of staff having a safe place to let off steam or that having such a zone would be hard to achieve. A single tweet does not of course give the complete context of a school and in this case the context was the staffroom was also used by visitors, including parents.

This tweet got us thinking about the power of positive language: in this case the school is actively promoting staff wellbeing and the stated aim of the Head is to make the staffroom a positive place. Those who discussed and debated the original point were not being negative; rather they may have been reflecting upon their own experiences.

In an ideal world we will have no negativity but of course the world is far from ideal and the very nature of social media makes negativity an easy and instant option.When this negativity begins to invade our staffrooms, we then need to be concerned for the wellbeing of our staff.

Staff may need a safe place to sound off. For some people, their wellbeing is served by the ability to have a grumble. They may not agree with every decision made by SLT and they have the right to express this disagreement. How, when and where this is expressed comes down to school culture. A positive school culture will allow for constructive criticism to be given in a non-judgmental and blame free environment. Senior leaders in such an environment will accept reasoned and polite challenge to their decisions.

A toxic environment, where leaders aren’t willing to listen or where it is staff  ‘sound off’ in the staffroom so others can overhear sometimes personal criticism, does not serve anybody’s wellbeing in any way. Leaders need to listen as our good friend Simon Smith tells us here with his usual eloquence. Listening is important; acting upon this, even if it only comes to ‘thank you for your contribution’ is more so.

If we encourage our staff to speak positively to each other then we instantly set the tone, the ethos, that we want wellbeing to be promoted and that if there is be be any criticism, it is valid, polite, non-judgmental and will not undermine the mental wellbeing of our colleagues. Negativity is a drain. Repetitive and constant negativity will undermine confidence. As another friend of ours, Adrian Bethune, clearly states in his new book, available here for every negative interaction with a child there should be at least eight positive ones. Why don’t we repeat the same balance with our colleagues.

Staffrooms can be horrid places in toxic schools; dominated by a small group, ruled by one department, space occupied by the lunchtime markers who are all over the table or with someone repeating conversations ‘upstairs’ so staff are wary of their conduct and in the worst cases teachers scared away from their communal space because of the words and deedsof others.

All staff should be welcome in the staffroom. The positive language you promote will encourage them. If individual staff don’t appear, or if the staffroom is empty, ask yourself why.

It is easy to be negative in our words.Negative words can hurt, can upset and we just can’t see it. They impact upon the mental health in ways that some people don’t understand or appreciate.

That is why we need to keep our language positive, and realistic, to support each other and our whole team in their wellbeing. Accept the odd grumble or too,but let your staff feel safe in doing so. If your ethos is positive, your teachers will be too.

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Start As You Mean To Go On: Sixteen Ways With Wellbeing

Two years have passed since we founded Healthy Toolkit. If you haven’t found us before, we formed to promote values and principles led whole school wellbeing; let’s face it, if the school isn’t committed to wellbeing, teachers are going to be challenged to manage their own wellbeing.

Over the last part of the holiday we ran #WellbeingWorldCup on Twitter, asking for the initiatives that you have seen, or would like to see, in school this year. As schools in England return this week, these top sixteen ways  with wellbeing should be an essential read for everyone in school.

Sensible marking policy

Our runaway leader by a long way. Workload is only part of wellbeing, but it is the most time-consuming intrusion into it. Has the school read the workload reports from the DfE and the blogs promoting the impact of whole class marking? Or are we still on triple marking, multiple pens, responses from the children and replies back from teacher. Are your teachers staying until 6pm and taking marking home? Is the marking making a difference to learning? Probably not; so if it isn’t, why carry on with it? Because ‘OFSTED say so’ (they don’t), because it ‘promotes deeper learning’ (it probably doesn’t) or because ‘it works and we have always done it that way’ (this began around 2003 and built from there)?

A no-brainer; if it doesn’t benefit the children, then sort it so it does, and cut the time your teachers spend marking.

Whole school mental health training

Despite what some voices may say, there is a growing crisis in child mental health but also in teacher mental health. Recent years have seen a lifting of the stigma surrounding discussion of our own mental health and lessons to address this in school are becoming more widely taught. Organisations such as Place2Be and Young Minds offer professional training opportunities and if budget permits, this should be followed up for the benefit of the children and the staff.

Time to Talk

Know your staff. Not simply on passing terms. Not keeping your conversations to the professional only. Really talk, find out what makes them tick. Try our #TeaAndTalk initiative which can be found here and here which is a really simple way to generate conversation which might reveal a little more about your colleagues.

Wellbeing resources

A surprise finalist, the provision of wellbeing resources for teaching is one matter.There is much accessible online for free. Resources for staff are a matter for awareness and accountability.

What do you support your staff with? Do they have the chance to choose a session of mindfulness? Can they access support, such as the Education Support Partnership, where it is needed? Perhaps you provide a space where there is a chance to escape from education talk. Budgets are tight but if you can spare something to support staff wellbeing, then please do so. Retention of staff is as big a challenge as recruitment.

Our other finalists

Workload and marking was a clear leader in our poll. Wellbeing is more than workload as our forthcoming publication will outline in greater depth. Enough of our followers voted for mental health as a whole school issue, time to talk and the provision of resources to support wellbeing as of huge importance too. There were twelve other finalists, all of which are essentials to your entire wellbeing jigsaw.

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  • A Wellbeing Coordinator: if this is a member of staff who isn’t on SLT, it is important that they have a voice and that the voice is respected by SLT. Otherwise the role may simply be washed away as the one that organises social events and Secret Santa. If your lead is on SLT then they need to speak with passion and authority on the issue. Whoever has the role needs to be aware of budget. We would all like an extra person or two to allow for release, but without the funding it isn’t going to happen.
  • Focussed gratitude. School leaders; do you thank your staff enough and do you mean it? Or is it saved to the end of the term or year? Or maybe you don’t give thanks because you feel that someone shouldn’t be thanked for doing their job. Recognition and meaning it can have huge positive impact.
  • Empathy lessons. We are good at teaching this to children but do we show it to each other enough? Is there an understanding of your colleagues’ lives and the things that impact how they work? See ‘Time to Talk’ above.
  • Closer collaboration. Look at your school team. Who works in isolation and who works together? A shared goal shares the workload and the responsibility. Wellbeing is a group responsibility after all, but needs effective leaders to enable it.
  • Greater departmental time. Linked to above and a suggestion from our secondary colleagues. Again this is about collective goals, particularly if you are a department under high pressure with public examinations.
  • Wellbeing lessons. Do you teach your children mindfulness, healthy relationships etc. You probably do but is it wrapped in the PSHE banner or in a more holistic way embracing all of their learning, attitudes and behaviours.
  • A mindful space. Not the staffroom! It could be a garden space, a room with no books or reference to education at all. Mindfulness isn’t the entire answer to wellbeing and there are cynical voices about it but there are enough people who believe in the benefits of mindfulness to allow for a space to be free for it.
  • Staff community building. Staff teams aren’t built on cakes in the staffroom and Pilates every fortnight. Community is built on the mutual respect and celebration of each other person’s worth and efforts.
  • Team building activities. The bane of the INSET day organiser! Stilted and awkward doesn’t work. Some are potentially embarrassing, but well organised and thoughtful activities promoting talk and empathy are the way forward.
  • Wellbeing CPD. Use your staff survey to write your development plan. Do you include some aspect of wellbeing in each staff meeting or do you pepper them through the year? Whichever the option, please make sure it is addressed.
  • Coaching. The most effective impact in the use of coaching is on the language we use. Turning a challenge to a reflection allows for less confrontation and more effective discussion.

That is fifteen ways with wellbeing so far. Not tips for wellbeing, because tips are tokenistic and if you ‘cover’ wellbeing on your INSET days this week, be aware of this in December when flu, deadlines and Nativities strike. Wellbeing is for everyday, not just for INSET.

The last way for wellbeing is a simple one. Be kind. It ties with empathy, compassion and talking to your staff. It isn’t difficult to be kind, but it also isn’t difficult to be critical. Parts of EduTwitter have not been pleasant this summer, sometimes cynical, sometimes cruel. If similar attitudes and language, verbal or written, are shown to our colleagues, then wellbeing is going to be under the cosh. The simplest thing you and your school leaders can do is to put kindness at the top of your wellbeing agenda.

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Let’s have an #AmazingAugustHT and celebrate our #SummerWellbeing

Well! We’ve have made it! All of us are now on our summer holiday and even though some vocal members of the journalistic profession may protest otherwise, we all deserve our time off. So let us take August to celebrate our wellbeing, to separate our education lives from our real lives.

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It is your real life that defines you, makes you who you are, determines your friendships and your relationships and ultimately makes you the teacher that you are.

A few days ago we tweeted this:

Summer Wellbeing in one tweet.

Share the books you have read.

Share the dishes you have cooked.

Tweet your garden pictures.

Meet some friends.

Connect with family.

Tweet positive.

Read: share those amazing books you have been saving for months, amazing fiction, extraordinary children’s books, brilliant biographies. Poolside, beachside, lakeside,in your tent or on your patio. We want to see whatever you are reading!

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Cook: whether it is something new, an old favourite, something from BBC Saturday Kitchen (a Healthy Toolkit favourite) or your meal on holiday, we would like to see it, share it and your never know we might just cook it!

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Garden: are you truly grounded? Connect with your soil, share those vegetables, your amazing sunflowers, the window boxes, pots, beds and allotments that define us as a nation in touch with the earth.

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Friends and family: make sure you celebrate and commemorate both. Connect, or reconnect; it has been a busy year, but these are the people who you love and love you back in equal measure and for every hard day you have survived, they are there for you.

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Tweet positive: keep connected with your community but let’s stick to the good stuff. The world of education will still be there in September!

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So please share your books, gardens, cooking, friends, family and positive thoughts. You are all awesome, because you are in the most awesome role there is!

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Happy Holidays from all at Healthy Toolkit HQ!

Wipeout!

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We recently responded to a tweet from a journalist who called for a shortening of school holidays with these words.

Are you aware of:

1. Crisis in teacher recruitment and retention.

2. Issues regarding teacher workload and wellbeing, especially mental health.

3. Real terms budget cuts.

4. That UK summer school holidays are shorter than other countries.

In December we wrote three pieces on surviving until Christmason tetchiness and misinterpreting words and actions and finally on surviving the holidays.

The weeks before Christmas are tough but increasingly Summer 2 must now be the toughest of the terms; data, reports, OFSTED, inspection follow ups and action plans, excessive heat, grumpy children and maybe grumpy colleagues.

Whoever thought the final weeks of the school year were made up of DVDs, rounders and mindfulness colouring?

Yes we have Sports Day. Yes we do go on school trips. And yes we do take advantage of the sunshine to work outside more than we would in the depths of winter.

We are also still teaching, conducting parent evenings, staying after school for concerts, productions and leavers’ discos, dealing with challenging parents and children and handling safeguarding concerns.

Schools and teachers are a soft target for lazy journalism and stereotypes as we wrote last year. There is the usual assault on the six week break, from those with little understanding of the mental and emotional pressures that teaching in every sector and every age group brings. We are yet to hear from Mr King at Sky and somehow feel we won’t.

We are used as a profession to this lack of comprehension of what we do, but wouldn’t it be just amazing to be thanked for our work?

To every teacher and every teaching assistant, in every school and in every class: thank you. You are awesome.

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#JoyfulJulyHT: You are just awesome! Celebrate it!

Yesterday two of the Healthy Toolkit family were represented at the first Teach Well Fest, a celebration of the drive towards Wellbeing in our schools, organised by the effervescently energetic Georgia Holleran. For such a sizeable group of educators to be gathered at Vic Goddard’s Passmores Academy on one of the hottest Saturdays of the year, avoiding the twin attractions of the World Cup and Love Island is testament to the dedication to Wellbeing that our schools need. Just search #TeachWellFest and you see what we mean.

* * * * *

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 celebrate your journey be it through this past year, your whole career or through life. Tweet them, blog them, share them on  Facebook, 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 two years 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  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. Twitter is the best way to share. Use the hashtags #JoyfulJulyHT 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.

You are all awesome!

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#JukeboxJuneHT: Remixed

Too busy to blog and tweet? Not surprising given that it is exam season, report writing time and the period in which many of us are packing our classrooms for ventures new.

As it is such a busy time, let’s take pleasure in the simplest of things: music. Jukebox June returns.

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“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?

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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.

Trad or Prog? Jazz or Rock?

Mozart or Motorhead?

Stone Roses or Guns’n’Roses?

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

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

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Wasted investment? Why do so many teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years?

Published originally by one of our team in March 2013, some three and a half years before Healthy Toolkit was forged and before workload and wellbeing were in our regular lexicon. Revisiting this piece has revealed that the concerns of five years ago haven’t  been addressed.

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The BBC recently reported that there are a growing number of teachers leaving the profession.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20585457  Likewise The Guardian added that half of newly qualified teachers leave teaching within the first five years.  

Clearly this is a matter of great concern: to schools; to the teaching profession as a whole; indeed to the nation too, because if we can’t staff our schools with good, qualified teachers, what hope do we offer our children.

Why do so many teachers leave the profession so quickly? There is no single obvious answer to this question, but there are a range of aspects to consider.

Let’s take the obvious one first. The current Secretary of State for Education is likely to be judged historically as the most destructive force ever in the state educational sector, particularly if the Government is unseated in 2015 and if we have an extended period of non-Conservative administrations following that. Even simply undoing what has happened so far will reach far into the life of any new Government. His PR standing among the teaching profession is not terribly high, but anyone who witnessed his recent appearance on Question Time would be put off entering the profession. Here he said that he did listen carefully to teachers, but if you analyse his words closely, he actually meant that he listened only to those who agreed with him. It is true that selective soundbites from Michael Gove and other ministers, could be used to their detriment, but the overall message emanating from both is highly negative towards teachers as a whole. 

It is too simplistic to simply lay the blame at the doors of Gove; he has after all been in office for less than three years, and the exit of teachers predates the 2010 election, albeit a recently accelerated process. Constantly shifting ‘goalposts’, diktats about what is ‘good teaching’, changes to curriculum and the National Strategies, and a small rainforest of files, papers, guidance and suggestions poured forth from the Department under Labour, producing a range of mixed messages particularly for new teachers: was it compulsory or a good idea, or something that brought derision from others when it was brought back to school. I have seen many a young teacher confused by this volume of material. It is the younger minds in teaching that often bring the more progressive and creative thinking to the profession. For them to be turned off, and turned out, is going to leave a gap in the balance of professionals in schools.

Many complain of a culture of bullying in schools. This can take a variety of forms but it seems to be a current issue,certainly looking at the Twitter traffic, in making judgements on teaching for Performance Management . These judgements are not easy to make, and many teachers find they are down a grade from previously. How, I do not know, because surely with feedback from an observation a reasonable teacher would at least consolidate if not improve. I do know that a number of ‘tweachers’ feel they have been very harshly judged, and with futures and salaries potentially in the balance, some people will surely wonder why they should put up with such pressures. This does of course depend on the culture within a school. Isolated incidents can be referred elsewhere in schools with good support networks. If the culture emanates from aggressive management however, there would be genuine fear.

I have heard an apocryphal  tale of a male NQT who lived close to his school being pressurised to take on caretaking duties when the site manager took long term sick. The time pressures of this soon spelled the end of a promising career.
Bullying can take different forms, even in matters that some might consider petty. I have heard of schools with a highly specific dress code, with disciplinary action if staff broke this. Most schools have a dress code, but this was an example of sartorial fascism! Petty it may seem, but if Senior Leaders are on the backs of staff for matters not related to teaching, it builds on the pressure of a job where levels of anxiety are heightened as a matter of course.

Bullying exists in all workplaces, and often appears on the social media too. Tweachers enjoy a healthy debate on professional matters on Twitter, but dissent can be quick to descend. Any new or inexperienced teacher facing this may feel intimidated under this barrage. We can’t agree on everything, but Twitter is an effective communal voice for the teaching profession. 

Good induction in schools, and a support network for NQTs, can aid the process of professional development, but some young graduates come to the employment market and to teacher training believing the world owes them a living. Without reverting to a cry of ‘Thatcher’s Children!’ or ‘Blair’s Britain’ it can be said that the change in the political climate since the 1980s towards an emphasis on the individual prioritising working for her/himself as opposed to the greater good of society has impacted on the expectations of the younger generation, in an almost mirror image of JFK’s inauguration speech. A good student teacher is worth their weight in gold, a poor one is a burden on the school they are in. I have sadly seen students drop out during a placement because they didn’t really appreciate the pressures of their task.
Finally, teachers drop out because they don’t always feel appreciated. ‘Thank you’ costs nothing and whether it comes in assembly, in a staff meeting or in passing in the corridor, it means a lot. A lack of recognition, or seizing on the negative despite a wealth of positives, can be a real downer for teachers. For hardened old hacks this might be water off a ducks back, but for less experienced teachers this could tip the balance to them taking another direction in their working life. A plate of cakes at the end of term or after an inspection may not seem much, but every little counts!
I am sure there are many more reasons for the teacher drop out rate, and fellow bloggers no doubt go into more coherently argued cases, but given that it takes three or four years of training and tens of thousands of pounds of public investment for each individual, serious attention needs to be paid to this issue to stem the tide.

Five years on little has changed. Gove has gone from Education but the prediction of the fall of the Conservatives never materialised.

Some thoughts on SATS

Is it coincidental or ironic that Key Stage 2 SATS this week coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week? With concerns for the impact of high stakes testing being raised in 2016 but also last year and again in this assessment cycle with parents expressing their worries so much as to suggest a boycott of this year’s tests.

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Take a scroll through Twitter or Facebook today: search Key Stage 2 SATS and/or Mental Health. Though social media provides a vent for frustrations it is also a powerful tool for the expression of genuine concern. Just this morning we have seen ‘homework’ for Year 6 children being set along the lines of ‘eat an ice-cream/go trampolining/swim half a dozen lengths/don’t injure your writing hand’; which begs the question of what the content of the other homework every weekend since Christmas have consisted of.

We heard last week of schools where the Year 6 children, possibly with parental support or maybe without, protesting to their Headteachers about the pressure of SATS preparation and the failure to have a broad curriculum, missing the opportunities for art, music and design that for many of our children will be their area of strength. We should be providing breadth and balance as a legal requirement and because it will hopefully lead to children with a broad range of interests and talents. Whether you believe in a knowledge led or a skills led curriculum, neither are best served by a regime dependent upon sitting test after test as preparation for ‘the real thing’. Mathematics and reading are life skills, something in danger of disappearing in the reams of paper copies of past papers spilling from the photocopiers of our primary schools.

Let us not forget we are addressing our comments and teaching a curriculum (or not teaching some of it until June) to children in their final year of primary school, nearly one-third of whom will still be 10 years old when they take SATS. Many of them will have had the talk that ‘these tests are important’. Some Heads and Year 6 staff may be transparent enough to admit that the results are important for the school and how it is judged. The children may also have been told that their results will be used by their secondaries to group them and predict targets for GCSE. When we were 10 and 11, the age 16 seemed long distance and the implications for our futures  of confusing area and perimeter and not identifying a relative pronoun passed us by.

To label a child as a success or otherwise at the age of only 10 is surely going to impact upon the mental health of their young minds, regardless of the degree of resilience and self-confidence they may have. High stakes testing is exacting for both children and teachers. The picture under ‘life without levels’ has barely been a focused one, particularly given the perpetual confusion and mixed messages surrounding the frameworks for writing. Schools being honest or cautious are prone to being identified as under performing, schools with a more liberal interpretation of the frameworks, free of the yoke of moderation,  may find their writing scores considerably higher than their reading test scores.

In the week where a further £50 million has been found for grammar school places, at a time where some schools are cutting paper budgets and make glue sticks last a term, it is worth remembering that many of these additional places will be filled, if they materialise, by children who have been afforded the luxury of a private tutor or a tutoring business to guide them through the 11+. Grammar schools in the days of levels were suddenly finding they had children reaching them will Level 3, where realistically they needed to be admitting children with Level 5 or higher. Under our current regime ideally the grammars should be full of ‘Greater Depth’ children but we know that there will be many ‘Working Towards’ children arriving in September. SENDCOs in grammar schools may be finding their registers more full and with a more diverse range of general learning needs to address than previously.

We don’t want to suggest that measures of accountability be removed for Primary Schools, but here is a suggestion. Sit the SATS in November/December of Year 6. Don’t permit cramming, test overload or the stripping back of the curriculum. This will require some careful monitoring by schools and local leadership, particularly through Year 5 and the early Autumn of Year 6. Tie the whole process in to the secondary school application cycle so the secondaries know the scaled scores when places are offered to their new intake. Of greater importance though is taking the pressure from Year 6 and their teachers. Let them have that time from Christmas onwards to develop a really deep and meaningful curriculum experience and to be really prepared mentally for that transition.

The care mental health of our children and of our teachers needs such radical thinking.

#MindfulMayHT: Rebooted and Refreshed.

Is May the most pressured time in UK schools?

Deadlines, assessments, reports and of course the high stakes test of SATS, GCSE and A-Level. Who is more stressed? Teachers or pupils?

It is a year since we launched #MindfulMayHT and the original blog discussed the benefits of being mindful:

“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.”

Fuller details can be found in the original post; however these include for self-care

  • Electronic shut down, digital detox, phone free Friday.
  • Mindful eating.
  • Other eating habits to consider include alcohol free times, avoiding caffeine after a particular watershed, avoiding processed foods and keeping hydrated.
  • Have you considered meditation?
  • Live for now!

A mindful attitude also supports a team ethos, particularly for School Leaders:

  • Trust your teachers.
  • Don’t spring any surprises!
  • Be aware of who isn’t coming to the staffroom at lunch and breaks.
  • Consider your email times. A Headteacher and an education journalist had an lively discussion on this topic this week. Also consider email etiquette; please and thank you, basic good manners, goes a long way.
  • Ultimately your staff need calm, safe and secure space to work. Your good intentions must be concrete not abstract.

For everyone:

  • Appreciate boundaries.
  • Appreciate the sensitivities of others.
  • Think before you post.
  • Have you ever tried a random act of kindness?

Small things: big difference. As that great philosopher says:

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One member of the Healthy Toolkit family speaks with great authority on mindfulness and the #MindfulMayChallenge Week 1 post can be found here.

If you haven’t read Tammie’s work, she is an authority on the use of mindfulness in school and she is in print: here is a handy Amazon link.

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Mindfulness isn’t for everyone, but for those who engage deeply, the impact is appreciable. Please share your experiences on Twitter with the hashtags #MindfulMayHT and #MindfulMayChallenge

 

#AwarenessAprilHT: Rebooted, revised and refreshed.

It is a year since our original April blog was posted, and our opening salvo was on the theme of self-awareness and considering the impact of our actions, words and attitudes upon others in the staffroom and through our classrooms.

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Let us move from education to sport for a moment. Even non-cricket fans will have been aware of the ball tampering scandal in Test cricket this week. The actions of the Australian team were disgraceful and an embarrassment to a nation proud of its sport. The punishments dealt out by Cricket Australia were hard and in excess of what the ICC had imposed. Viewing the press conferences that the players and head coach endured may suggest to some that they have been hung out to dry. They have come clean quickly though it would appear that one person has a few more questions to answer than others. All though have demonstrated a degree of self-awareness of their actions, something which Lance Armstrong failed to do for years.

The sight of Steve Smith in tears, supported by his father, should make Cricket Australia aware of the needs of their player. Crocodile tears? Or raw emotion? We believe the latter. Possibly in a situation over which he lost or never had control,Smith admitted wrongdoing immediately. He has accepted his role and his punishment. There it should end. He is 25 years old, and the best batsman in the world. He now needs the support of his family and the cricket authorities to rehabilitate himself.

David Warner has received a less lenient response on social media, possibly due to his previous reputation and also his previous actions including the mocking of Jonathon Trott for a stress related condition. As we said last year:

“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.”

Even Warner though, despite previous actions, is entitled to the same support and fair treatment as the others. To take the discussion back to our sphere, if a child is sanctioned for a breach of rules they receive one punishment. We don’t return to an indiscretion time and time again. Likewise with our teaching colleagues, one mistake, one poor lesson, one ill-thought email; these should not ever be used to continue to taint their reputation.

Mental health is ‘invisible’ and as part of our awareness of it we need to be able to talk. We have been promoting our #TeaAndTalk initiative here and the leaflet for it is available online here thanks to our good friend Sam at Schoolwell.

Let us be aware of mental wellbeing but also consider other ‘invisibles’; as we said last year:

“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.”

Through the month our tweets will be promoting awareness of issues that are often dismissed, used as a label or sometimes an insult, but most often misunderstood.

“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.

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More importantly use this fortnight, whenever yours begins, to recharge, reflect and rebuild.