‘In the Bleak Midwinter’: surviving the last days to Christmas at school.

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The longest term; it always was, is and forever will be thus.

Workload, deadlines, tracking; all juggled with Nativities, Carol Services, Christmas lunches, parties. Add to the mix the traditional festive coughs and sniffles and, if you are really unlucky as one of us can attest to at Healthy Toolkit HQ, a spectacular outbreak of norovirus during a Christmas performance.

We have carried out a Twitter poll but could probably have written the results before publishing this piece. Over three quarters of respondents are drained or dead on their feet already, and some have a full two weeks to go.

Whilst our children are full of Christmas spirit anxious teachers may not be. Cultures and leadership at school may dictate the course of celebrations. We heard this week of schools who have nothing to mark the season until this coming week. One of us worked under a school leader who ensured all Christmas celebrations, bar the Carol Service, were done and dusted by the penultimate week; parties, plays, Christmas lunch. The justification? So the children didn’t get overexcited. Children, excited at Christmas; who knew?

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Snow

Snow can be a hot potato! School leaders can be criticised if they do open and equally under the cosh if they don’t. To clear the snow or not: leave and you risk slippages; clear it then you have piles of snow ideal for snowballs but possibly becoming lumps of ice.

Snow causes staff anxieties and sometimes argument, particularly if some staff can make it in and others can’t. Claiming ‘I worked from home’ whilst Facebook posts show snowball fights in the garden can also be thrown back by some colleagues.

Safeguard the Safeguarders

Any DSL will tell you the worst day is Friday, the worst week is the week before the holidays and the worst holiday is Christmas. Usually in the last hour or so of the day. Our most vulnerable and anxious children recognise that being away from the safe space that school represents may be a threatening place to be and disclosures may be made very close to the end of term. To deal with any disclosure and subsequent steps is emotionally draining. Awaiting social workers or the police into the evening tests the resilience and if we are on the last day of term when the rest of the staff are safely at home or maybe in a local hostelry, anxiety levels rise with our concern for the child.

So please be aware of your DSL and look out for them.

Self Care and Team Care

So what we do for ourselves and our colleagues to prevent feeling anxious at this time of year?

Plan ahead

Individually, you need to know your deadlines and key dates. Know how and when you are going to get things done. Last minute work will put you under pressure and add to anxieties. Think also about simplifying and streamlining your planning. It doesn’t require the DVD and making Christmas cards route, but activities allowing for self marking and peer assessment will save some workload.

Give Notice

SLT: Involve staff with plenty of warning of any changes to school plans. Ideally this is all in place at start of term. Anything you drop in now that wasn’t in the diary earlier will rightly draw a few grumbles.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork

We would emphasise team work, listening and talking. Communication is so important. It’s as important as ever to make time to talk to your staff about how they are feeling in the lead up to Christmas. Some will be full of the joys of the season, whilst others will grimace at the forced festivity. Know your colleagues!

Pace yourself.

Routines are helpful. We all led different lives. What works for you might not for someone else.

Take care of yourself.

Get enough sleep, eat and drink sensibly, exercise when you can. Spend time with friends and family.

If you would like to talk to somebody about mental health or wellbeing please contact a healthcare professional such as your GP. You can also access information or support about mental health from: Samaritans on 116 123 and Mind on 0300 123 3393

Don’t forget: you’re awesome

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Don’t forget to laugh

Think positive. Everyone has a funny tale or three of Christmas in school. Why not share them under the hashtag #SayYes2Christmas. There’s even a funny side to the volcanic vomiting story!

Stay positive, look after yourself and enjoy the season.

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Help! I’m being judged by my fitness app.

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Fitness trackers and mobile phone fitness apps have a default daily setting of 10000 steps. When the buzz of the phone or the vibration of the wristband starts there is a feeling of great satisfaction of achieving a daily target, especially with time to spare.

Fitness trackers are big business, and many will no doubt find their way into the Christmas stockings of many a busy teacher. Tracker apps are often fitted as standard on many smart phones. We started using one on a mobile phone out of curiosity for how active we were. Like much of what is on a phone it has become a bit of an obsession tracking daily steps, distance and calories burned.

The notion of 10000 steps a day dates back to the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. As the event approached, pedometers became all the rage. Even now, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends “a daily walk of 8,000 to 10,000 steps”. The UK National Obesity Forum says that a person who walks between 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day qualifies as “moderately active”. The 10000 figure as a round number appears less vague than 7000.

At a reasonable  walking pace however, 10000 steps can be covered in at 100 steps a minute in 100 minutes. 700 minutes of exercise a week. Now that sounds a lot; 11 hours and 40 minutes to be precise. Which busy teacher can spare that amount of time in a week to exercise?

Of further issue is that not all steps are equal, as those of us with partners with less lengthy strides would attest to. 10000 steps will differ for everyone, by stride length, pace, gait and frequency. It is quite possible to cover 10000 steps in the course of a school day if not based in class; accounted for by several trips up the corridor each day, playground duty where patrolling rather than being at a central point is the norm and a lunchtime duty on the school field. Classroom based days will produce a considerably smaller step count. A recent day on which the target was hit returned a distance of 9.08 km and a 619 calorie burn for 10651 steps, but when class based 6630 steps , 5.66 km and 398 calories was the result. Were we going to attempt the final 3370 steps? There is a limit to the number of times going up and down stairs can occur without causing great annoyance.

Using a phone based app also requires the phone to be on your person. Does anyone honestly take their phone to bed with them and then on each trip to the loo during the night? If your phone is locked away, tucked in a coat or bag, steps taken won’t count. Not a problem those with a wristband device have.

10000 steps could be achieved daily, but at a push. Are we in danger of relying on these devices to judge our fitness? 10000 steps in bursts of 500 isn’t going to impact on fitness. 10000 in one stretch will, but so would swimming, trampolining, any team sport or a fitness DVD, unlikely to be accompanied by one’s phone.

A slightly depressing addition is how some apps would appear to judge us. During one week where an average of 9000 steps was walked but the daily target not breached the message ‘So: last week was a bit rough!‘ appeared. ‘You were active only for 89 minutes yesterday; why not aim for 99 minutes today‘.

In recent months, an app available on an internationally popular brand of phone launched a monthly international challenge. The aim is to reach a monthly target of 200000 steps to achieve a badge. Not unreasonable, and actually much less than 10000 steps a day. Imagine the consternation at Healthy Toolkit HQ when it was discovered that several people had hit that target before lunchtime on day one and by the end of the month were posting totals over 7 million steps. Over 230000 steps a day? That’s 15000 for each walking hour or two marathons in a day. Some cheating no doubt, placing the phone on a vibrating plate. The core lesson here needs to be not to look at the leaderboard; it’s hardly the Olympic Medal table after all.

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The 10000 steps target is a nice round number, but remember it can be achieved without exercise. We did 10000 steps at BETT last year, testament only to the size of EXCEL, not to a fitness regime. In determining our exercise routine as busy teachers, whilst the 10000 steps represents a measurable target, remember that snaffling that last chocolate biscuit could undo the day’s work, and that other more effective ways of maintaining our fitness exist, alongside a healthy diet and crucially a sound work-life balance.

#DetoxDecemberHT: Revisited,Rebooted and Revised

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Last Advent we launched #DetoxDecemberHT and much as we did with November we have revisited our previous blog, selected a few prime cuts and added a few more choices and suggestions for the run to the Festive Season. The original post can be found here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/detox-december/

Many of the responses to the hashtag a year ago drew upon our slightly unconventional approach to the definition of ‘detox’

” ‘Detox’ is one of those words which through slang and ‘text speak’ has been abbreviated from its original spelling. As a noun, detoxification is a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances. As a verb, to detoxify means to be actively involved in abstinence or expulsion of toxins. We normally associate detoxification with diet, alcohol or medication, but as we shall explore further, there are other aspects to our professional and personal lives to which the principles of detoxification can apply.”

This was last years eleven point plan to a detoxified December.

  1. Eat healthily.
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Drink fruit and herbal teas.
  4. Cut down or cut out the alcohol.
  5. Make positive connections.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Prioritise
  8. Meditate.
  9. Declutter.
  10. Reconnect with your inner child.
  11. Have a social media detox.

We can all make decisions about detoxing our diet and particularly with what is regarded as ‘stodge season’ on the horizon, healthy choices for lunches and dinners can maintain energy, boost immunity and keep the additional pounds at bay. Likewise the choices with alcohol can also impact upon wellbeing and weight; in the commercial and financial sectors, Christmas social occasions will start on 1st December and run to the new year. Consider the impact upon the vital organs as well as the purse-strings. Is anyone up to the challenge of going alcohol free from 1st December to Christmas Eve.

Last year’s piece included our thoughts on alternative drinks. This year we have discovered some interesting infusions; turmeric tea, liquorice and peppermint, a range of incarnations and flavourings of green tea.

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“The spirit of #DetoxDecemberHT lies in more than simply a change in dietary habits for teachers. If we examine our lifestyles as a whole we can identify other means to bring a more positive tone to our lives at a challenging time of the school year.”

Have you tried a Digital Detox? One day a week. No tweeting, no checking Twitter. No checking your phone ‘for the football results’. Just yesterday as we were picking a parcel from the sorting office, the polite notice not to use phones in the queue was ignored by 75% of those waiting. Can we avoid Facebook, YouTube, emails and texts and maybe just talk?

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“Making positive connections with people is a way to engage the grey matter, broaden our social circle and find new interests. This may be through social media which can enable like-minded individuals to connect in a positive manner.”

How do we really connect? Do you actually connect with your colleagues? Are your conversations about them, or are they about you? Why not file your ego and take up the Reverse Advent Calendar challenge?

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We ran Reverse Advent Calendars in our schools last Advent, with the local Food Bank benefiting from the generosity of our children and parents, and all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ are creating our own this year.

For the #DetoxDecemberHT #ReverseAdventCalendar we suggest that each day has a random act of positivity, some of which may be actions in school and others in your community. We will post a suggestion each day but these could include: taking a playground duty for a colleague and not expecting cover in return; making lunch for one or all of your team- unannounced; leaving a note of appreciation on the desk, computer or in the pigeonhole of someone you haven’t really communicated with this term; buying a few extra Christmas items at the supermarket and dropping them in the Food Bank collection point.

Positivity is infectious; spread it and the school is a happier place. Detox your December with positive vibes!

 

School Wellbeing: a multi-sided dice, not a loaded one

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In ‘Guys and Dolls‘ Sky Masterson wins a dice game having trumped an attempt to play with fixed dice. Loaded dice will be familiar from many films with a scene set in a casino and in literature, Luke Rhinehart’s ‘The Dice Man‘,has the key protagonist, bored and unfulfilled, making life decisions on the roll of a dice.

Wellbeing on the other hand isn’t a gamble, shouldn’t be down to luck and must not be loaded in the favour of any interested party. As we have written before, putting wellbeing into practice requires dedication  and a commitment, personally and professionally, to strong core values.

Working in a team has its challenges, with a diversity of skills, ages, experiences, opinions and attitudes. Interpersonal skills used effectively can enable the staff to forge effective relationships and work together as a team. The loaded dice, the ‘spanner in the works’, arises when the authentic  dedication to values is undermined by the actions and attitudes of those putting self before team. This may come about as an antagonistic act, but equally likely may arise through force of personality or simply by thoughtlessness.

Wellbeing is for every day and for everyone, but SLT need to set the example, model the good practice and make clear their expectations. In being proactive you need to know your staff: recognise who may be vulnerable to pressures; who doesn’t enjoy the staffroom banter; who has things going on in their lives that add other burdens to their load. SLT need to listen and to talk. Perhaps you may even take up the #TeaAndTalk challenge and differentiate between personal dialogue and staffroom chatter.

Please remember that SLT are human too and have been in class until recently. They often bookend the day at school, handle a lot of flack that never reaches the classroom and also have the often emotionally draining responsibilities related to safeguarding. SLT are equally as entitled to their wellbeing as everyone else in the school.

We need our staff to be well and both physically and mentally able to teach their classes to the best standards possible. Good leadership will guarantee PPA; though it should be set in stone, we know of cases where it has been lost and not returned. Equally those leaders may give additional time for test marking, data entry, report writing and monitoring. Many of the recommendations in the workload review into planning, marking and data management are principled and practical.  It is workload that is likely to take teachers out of the profession, but factors such as support around behaviour also come into play.

In considering their wellbeing all staff also need to consider their colleagues. Nobody can help being ill but the impact of even a day of absence has knock-on implications for those who have to pick up teaching responsibility in addition to other duties. Though you should have your release times guaranteed some loss of it will naturally occur. Time will be paid back by good leaders without the need to ask for it.

 

The only stakeholders entitled to have a slightly more loaded dice for their wellbeing are the children. They are entitled to the best, to be listened to as much as talked to, to have their needs met and to build the social, learning and life skills that make them the values centred young people that contribute to our society. Teach them well, train them well, treat them well; they will repay the care for their wellbeing by the shedload.

In rolling the wellbeing dice, we need to ensure that it can fall equally on each side. Each of us needs to play fair and add equal weight to the care of each other and ourselves. The biggest impact on wellbeing is when individuality comes first; if we complain loudly and inappropriately, if we drain the energy of our colleagues through negative attitude or workload contribution. Part of #NurtureNovemberHT is #NoNegativityNovember HT https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/nurturenovemberht-revisited-rebooted-and-refreshed/

So let’s keep positive and play fair!

 

 

 

Seeds

Seeds are powerfully symbolic.

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They are simple, yet complex. From the tiniest dot can spring forth the most beautiful, scented and delicate creation, such as nicotiana sylvestris.

Nicotiana

Seeds are nature’s powerhouse, its life force and its memory. They represent renewal and rebirth. They bring joy, surprise and colour. They deliver nutrition; sustenance for the body and the soul. They educate.

The Great Storm of 1987, still unromantically monikered 87J, wrought destruction across the woodlands of the South of England. Yet in the place of those ancient oaks there sprung new life. Long dormant seeds, safe and warm in the leaf mould and topsoil, took advantage of the greater light as the tree canopy fell away under the hurricane’s gusts. Similarly, forest fires generate new life as seed pods burst open in the heat of the flames.

On this Remembrance Day, as we wear our poppies with pride, we remember the fallen and what grew on the very places they were taken. Scarlet corn poppies, papaver rhoeas, grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe. The destruction brought by the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th Century transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers. In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were once again ripped open as World War One raged through Europe’s heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.

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Seeds are precious. We spread them as we sow. Some fall on barren ground and are pecked by the birds. Some stay in the soil, forever dormant, no warmth providing sufficient stimulation for them. Some grow, are nurtured and grow; they build strength, roots and stems, only for a horticultural vandal to rip it out of the ground: wilful destruction through jealousy of the grower or contempt for nature.

Yet sometimes we take a chance. We recognise potential opportunities. The possibility that the ground we have surveyed is fertile, loved and treasured. We plant our seeds with care, still recognising that we may be gambling with the unknown. Our fellow gardeners are however with us. They water our seedlings in our absence, they add canes and twine for support. Together we add the fertiliser, prune and shape and dead-head when necessary. We create something of beauty, of substance and the acts of the horticultural vandal are forgotten.

We take something so small, so delicate and cherished, and we grow it with love.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sowing+the+seeds+of+love+tears+for+fears

Seeds are a marvellous metaphor for life and the people we encounter. As we trim and tidy our gardens for winter over the coming weekends we will sow more seeds, yet others will fall unexpectedly on our fertile ground and bring us great pleasure when our nurture and love supports them. If you love the concept of nurture, please read our #NurtureNovemberHT blog too https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/nurturenovemberht-revisited-rebooted-and-refreshed/

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Call it out!

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A fortnight ago our blog ‘Man Up!’  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/man-up-men-need-to-stand-up-and-challenge-sexism/ urged men to stand up to sexism in our staffrooms and to challenge those who blocked the careers of women over gender, maternity or simple minded prejudice. It also called for men to set an example to the young men in their classes with regard to healthy and positive relationships with women. Since then events at Westminster suggest a number of our male politicians need to heed this message too.

We were perturbed however this weekend to hear that on EduTwitter there had been sexual harassment of female teachers via tweets and DM. Whilst details are scant it would appear to relate to suggestive comments and more seriously the sending of images of male genitalia.

This issue needs addressing. It would appear that more than one man is involved and that it may have taken place over a long period. Whilst we should not speculate about those involved, this being a matter for the law, there are valid points to raise now, especially if you are a perpetrator of these acts and are reading this on the phone or computer from which the offending material was sent.

You are men. You are men in a responsible position. Maybe leading a school or department, maybe a consultant. You have responsibility for safeguarding. Maybe you have thousands of followers and that gives you a sense of entitlement. If you’re reading this, here’s news for you. You have zero entitlement.

You are an embarrassment to your gender; our gender.

You are a threat to our daughters, our wives or girlfriends, our sisters and mothers and to our female friends and colleagues. You are a threat to men too: men can also receive such vile communication, but also you are potentially sowing the thought ‘Is this new follower a potential offender?‘ in the minds of those who have received such repugnant treatment or who may be feeling vulnerable.

You are predators, seizing on what you perceive as a vulnerability or weakness. Your conduct revolts, disgusts, turns the stomach. How in a thousand years could you consider this normal, acceptable or likely to succeed?

You should be hanging your head in shame not massaging your ego. If you defend such behaviour  in others you are equally to blame. You have no place on Twitter and no place in teaching.

The good men out there: let’s have some affirmative action. ‘Call it out’ if you see it or hear it. Challenge it, report it. We stand with WomenEd – “We’re just not going to tolerate it.” If anyone behaves inappropriately report to Twitter. Block them.

Signed: the decent men of EduTwitter.

#NurtureNovemberHT: revisited, rebooted and refreshed!

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One whole year has passed since we launched our first monthly themed hashtag. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we considered whether we should have a new theme for the next year, but we all agreed that #NurtureNovemberHT was our favourite theme because it  embraced our values and our ethos. Incidentally it was also our most read blog of the year too: you can find it here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/nurture-november/ 

Rather than simply reblog last year’s work, we have decided to revisit it in the light of experience, reboot it for the current year and refresh it, because we all know the benefits of blowing away the cobwebs.

“November can be the first really tough month of the school year. It is a time when sickness and absence rates can be higher than other months (February is another) as immunity wears down and we start picking up the bugs and sniffles from the children. The hour goes back this weekend and we will be coming home in the dark as well as arriving at school in the twilight. Seasonal Affective Disorder, though not fully understood, is a real issue for some people. If you are in primary, Christmas starts now! Or perhaps it began in September: Nativities, carol services, Christmas parties, added to keeping the curriculum ticking over and keeping up with deadlines can lead to frayed nerves and grumbling tempers.”

This is still true. The bugs have hit early this year, with many of our Twitter followers reporting colds and viruses striking in September. SLT will however need to be very aware that this month is where not only viruses but also stress starts to hit. The best thing you can do for your teachers is to give them plenty of notice on those deadlines, and to ensure you are keeping an eye out on them for their stress levels.

This is one of the reasons we have launched #TeaAndTalk, a simple initiative which if executed effectively can benefit in many ways including team building, boosting confidence and allowing a more free channel of communication than the cycle of briefings, meetings and feedback would allow. Details can be found here:  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/tea-and-talk-best-drink-of-the-day-best-time-of-the-day-teaandtalk/ 

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The schools which deliver staff wellbeing the best will nurture it and nurture their staff. If however you work in an environment where SLT haven’t prioritised staff wellbeing or it is undermined by a few cynics, we may need to nurture our own self care, which we explored in October https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/optimismoctoberht/ and which can be found under the hashtag #SelfCareSunday.

“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……We can’t preach. Self-care is a personal choice very much dependent upon circumstances, relationships, attitudes, values and mindset.”

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A key message of #NurtureNovemberHT is positivity: choosing our words carefully to create a positive working environment, remembering to smile, reflecting upon the successes of the day or week and not allowing a perceived ‘failure’ to drag us down.

Again from last year:

“How many conversations begin ‘Can you…’, ‘Will you…’ or ‘I want…’ instead of ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How are you?’. Words are the simplest and most powerful weapon we have. Make them count.”

“If you are a leader, find a success for everyone, everyday and thank them. Not in a sanctimonious way, but genuinely. Watch the recipient smile!”

“Share a positive or inspirational quote. Not for the sake of it though. Live it, breathe it and make it part of your everyday fabric.

Inspirational quotes don’t suit everyone. Positivity posters create some discussion on EduTwitter too. However if they are chosen carefully and reflect a genuine desire to build a positive, nurturing and self supportive environment we believe that they demonstrate the culture and values of a school. Culture is everything!

In one of our staffrooms we will be launching ‘The Pane of Positivity‘ displaying all the positive messages from the staff newsletters together with contributions to the positivity jar.

We would love to hear how you are nurturing the environment in your schools. We are here all month! Please remember the hashtag #NurtureNovemberHT. Thank you,

Tea and Talk: Best drink of the day; best time of the day; #TeaAndTalk

Been intrigued by #WorldCupOfTea? This is what it has been leading to these last few days.

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When was the last time you talked to your colleagues?

Not a passing ‘Good Morning’, ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘How’s the dog?

Not a quick natter over coffee at break time, when minds are on the next lesson, whether we should be on duty or if the PowerPoint saved on your USB last night.

We mean really talk. Have an actual conversation: one that yields facts, knowledge and insights to your colleagues’ thoughts, mindset, drive and belief; into what makes them tick; into perhaps some aspects of their life that they wanted to share but didn’t know how.

Why do we need to talk? Simply because good schools are about relationships and culture and both can only develop where there is a comfortable and open atmosphere.

  • Are the only conversations in your school about learning, targets, behaviour and appraisal?
  • Do staff feel they are only ever ‘talked at’ rather than ‘talked to’ by leaders and their colleagues?
  • Is meaningful interaction the missing element?
  • Is school culture negative?
  • Are there whispers and grumbles in corridors and behind closed doors rather than chatter, banter and debate in the staffroom?
  • Are cliques and self-interest the norm?
  • Are gossip and rumour a drain on self-confidence?

There is increasing stress on teachers and support staff. If we are seriously going to address the mental health issues of our professionals, a channel to voice their concerns to colleagues is vital.

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This is the thinking behind #TeaAndTalk. It won’t solve everything, nor will it be an overnight success. It is however about the twin supports of relationships and culture and of developing both.

  • It is up to the school when you host it: it could last all year; be every term; every month; every week.
  • It can be hosted by a Head, SLT, governors, teachers or teaching assistants.
  • It can be on a one-to-one basis or in a small group.
  • Ban the biros, hide the highlighters, lose the lined paper: this is time set aside for talking and listening. Not ‘talking at‘ but ‘talking to‘, promoting Wellbeing and Mental Health.

Hosting #TeaAndTalk is easy. We will have posters and top tips for you to down load from HealthyToolKit.

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#Tea&Talk is about bringing people together over the best drink of the day.

Man Up? Men need to stand up and challenge sexism.

A values driven school will use those values as principles that guide behaviour. These behaviours need to relate to the lives and actions of the whole school community: the adults need to live and model the values as much as the children do. As adults we set examples which are often determined by our experience and social background, our beliefs, culture, faith and also by our gender.

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When we see such shocking reports as this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41499243  and with child-on-child sexual offences on the increase as reported here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41504571 and here https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/huge-rise-alleged-sexual-assaults-under-18s  there is clearly an issue which needs addressing in terms of sexualised behaviours by children and young people at an early age, particularly relating to the conduct of boys.

In the wake of the revelations into the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein, some professions and businesses have been considering the extent of sexism and misogyny within their staff. Questions are being asked within the Football Association in regard of the conduct of Mark Sampson and others. Education is not exempt from this debate. Just this week this article https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/schools-are-not-immune-virulent-sexual-harassment referenced the conduct not only of our male pupils but also of some male staff.

‘Lad culture’ is probably something that has evolved since the dawn of humanity but the growth of popular culture and of social media has promoted stereotypes and not actively discouraged certain behaviours. Briefly in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in our universities, there might have been some awareness raised of sexist attitudes, but just this very morning on BBC Breakfast a recent undergraduate admitted that in his student days he was part of the ‘rugby club culture’ and that he participated in ‘leering, chanting and ‘not taking no for an answer‘ the latter part of which he felt uncomfortable in developing further.

As male teachers in education, we are often told that we have to be ‘role models’ for our young male pupils. Whilst we have enough on our plates already and could never be ‘substitute’ fathers or brothers, in many cases we are the only positive male presence in the lives of our boys.

Men therefore need to be able to challenge sexist and other inappropriate behaviours in school. We have heard, even with primary aged children, of boys groping female staff and pupils and these would need to be dealt with as safeguarding concerns. Sex education lessons sometimes raise questions that even broad-minded adults may blush at. We know that these behaviours were challenged and dealt with, but the matter of how a primary aged boy thinks any of these as appropriate begs the question about his actions and attitudes as an adult.

A recent episode of Educating Greater Manchester featured Year 7s in a relationship, ‘dating’, breaking up and making up. Both had been ‘dating’ in their primary school. Are children of this age really ready, emotionally or socially, to say they are dating? Are they ready to cope with the emotional impact of a ‘break up’ and the way it will affect their mindset, friendships and academic work? The boy, the less mature of the pair, seemed quite possessive.

Likewise, any boys who think it acceptable to strike a girl need to be challenged. Any violent act needs to be addressed but this aspect should be especially acted upon not only for the act itself but what it implies in our society.   The boy, and equally as likely the girl,  may have witnessed domestic violence themselves. The cycle of DV needs to be challenged and broken.

Whilst all of these matters will be dealt with by anyone in school, there is a moral obligation upon our male staff to stand firm with the example set and to challenge the stereotypes that this infographic illustrates.

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Do our male teachers always act in the appropriate manner? Many do, but these are some examples of what we have heard from some schools.

  • Overheard from a neighbouring room after school: male staff ‘ranking’ the female staff by ‘desirability’. The actual terminology used is inappropriate for this medium.
  • Overheard in a staffroom; ‘The trouble with the female staff here is that they are only interested in chasing boyfriends, getting married and having babies’.
  • A male teacher giving the name of an adult film actor to a child to include in a story.
  • One male teacher challenged by a male member of SLT about sexist comments to and about female colleagues: ‘Some people are offended by the comments you have made’; ‘Well send them to me I’ll have a word’; ‘Actually, it’s me!’. The offender had the good grace to leave the school shortly afterwards.

Challenge. This is the key word. Challenge: because it isn’t acceptable. Challenge: because it’s wrong. Challenge: because if you joined the profession to make a difference, here you can make a difference!

The revelations about the conduct of Weinstein suggest that this has been known about for years but fear has been a factor in keeping his behaviour hidden and to allow it to continue. The Sampson case suggests that some degree of cover up or an inherently sexist culture within the FA. Fear, for career prospects or of social exclusion, may have been a factor in the lack of challenge of such incidents detailed above.

Social media and the internet is a powerful tool to challenge but also to reinforce negative cultures. Male tweeters can be passive-aggressive in their tweets and selective in their use of language and quoting statistics about the numbers of women teachers and the numbers reaching leadership positions. This is dismissive of the experience of all of those women who have had their career paths diverted or scuppered because of attitudes about gender or because of stereotypical assumptions of pregnancy and maternity.

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Wednesday 11th October 2017 marked International Day of the Girl, and though unable to contribute to any of the speaking events we wanted to contribute to the agenda of the day and to do this particularly by challenging sexism, both in attitudes and in inappropriate behaviour. We began drafting this blog last week have added and edited  after recent events and revelations.

We also shouldn’t forget men who are victims of sexual assault, but who might not feel able to speak out/up as openly as women do. And by creating the divide: women are victims and men are predators, we are not giving them the chance to speak up. We feel passionately that it is not about gender, it is about human rights, it is about men and women coming together to fight against what is morally and legally wrong.

The term ‘Man Up’ is regarded as offensive, with implications that men should behave in a certain manner, not express emotions or display any sensitivity. Let us reclaim the term. The #MeToo and #IHearYou hashtags have allowed women to speak of their experiences without fear. They can be used by men too to call out what they believe to be wrong. We have the skills to challenge the culture. ‘Man Up’ and use them!

#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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