#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,

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#SimplifySeptemberHT: Our biggest priority is ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#JourneyJulyHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s our journey. What’s yours?

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

 

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#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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Joyful January

januaryAs the year draws to its end, the Christmas tree begins to look limp and lifeless and the mere mention of a turkey sandwich sends even the most ardent carnivore to the pages of a vegetarian cookbook. The New Year will inevitably bring resolutions: cutting down, cutting out, and changing of ways. With equal inevitability these may last a few days before the cold, dark and damp sends even the most zealous promises back from whence they came. Resolutions are all well and good but here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that if a change is going to be made it need not be hostage to the calendar but made when the need to do so is recognised.

Incidentally until 1752 we marked New Year on 25th March, Lady Day, to mark the Annunciation. Spring would be a more appropriate time for a change given the lengthening days, warmer temperatures and signs of new life in the gardens and fields. However we digress.

January can be a challenging month. Though ‘Blue Monday’ is largely dismissed as pseudoscience, the third Monday into a long month can feel dark with a long break between paydays with the December salary often paid in well before Christmas and probably largely spent by this point. Add in dark mornings and evenings, often bitterly cold, seasonal sniffles and bugs and the feeling that everything is bare after the decorations are removed.

For those of us who have worked elsewhere before teaching, the scenario of the directors attending long business lunches and most evenings at other Christmas social events may be familiar. Heavy drinking does little for a good mood and dictating that the office will have a dry January makes it little better. One person is able to kill a mood in a meeting; a grumpy recovery from a month long hangover can make this uncomfortable for everyone else.

The ability to stifle a mood doesn’t always result from a sore head, but often from a particular mindset. This can be witnessed across a range of workplaces including our staffrooms. The most effective staffrooms are ones where a positive mindset builds an ethos of teamwork and consistency, and it is from this basis that we are proud to launch our next campaign #JoyfulJanuaryHT.

Joyful January, like Nurture November, is all about positivity, but this time rather than simply looking out for our colleagues; spread a little happiness through your actions, words and communication.

We will be tweeting regular content throughout the month, but here are a few things that you can be doing to promote the health and wellbeing of your teachers, teaching assistants and other colleagues, and hopefully your students too.

  • Words are our most potent weapon. Make them count. Don’t begin a conversation with ‘Can you…’, ‘Will you…’ or ‘I want…’ How about ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How are you?’ Choose your words carefully.listen
  • Try setting up a ‘Joy Jar’ in your staffroom to which you add one positive and happy thing that has happened that day. Open them up and read them at the end of the month, or the end of the year, to reveal just how much positivity there is in our schools. This is a great idea for classrooms too, to share the positivity with our young learners.joy-jar
  • Keep a Joy Journal. This is more personal but again is a way of reflecting and evaluating more positively on our experiences. Ignore the negatives and record five to ten things which have gone well, however insignificant you may consider them to be.joy-journal
  • Set up a Gratitude Tree. Again a really simple device which can be used with children and adults. A homemade one with a few fallen twigs is just as good as a commercially produced one. Alternatively using a display board with a two dimensional tree works just as well. The actions are the same whichever method is used; the ‘leaves’ are thanks to individuals and groups for particular actions or general attitudes that enable us to share and grow positively.gratitude-tree
  • Find the joy in everyday things. It is amazing what we ignore in a digital, instant and throwaway society. Appreciate some art, read a book, find a favourite tree, plant some bulbs, bake a favourite cake. The simple things are often those that offer most comfort in challenging times.
  • Have a digital detox day, and make it regular. Ignore Twitter and the incessant negativity from some quarters. Turn off the email, Facebook and digital interaction. If you are serious about this, try ignoring the television for a whole day too. And if you can’t avoid the smartphone for a day, try using it positively by capturing positive images from your experiences.
  • Don’t complain! It wears others down!complain
  • Create positive routines- morning and evening. Organising your clothes and tomorrow’s lunch, spending time with your children, reading the next chapter of your book and cutting off work thoughts at a given time all bread positivity and add to a settled and happy mindset.jan-happy

Like we said there is much more content to come this month and as in our previous themed months we are looking for you to share how you have been promoting positive attitudes into the New Year.

Don’t forget the hashtag #JoyfulJanuaryHT

Happy New Year from all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ!

 

Happy Holidays? Reassessing where the breaks should fall

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We ran a poll at the outset of this week asking who had broken up for the Christmas Break already. 29% of respondents were still at school this week. Simon Mayo’s Drivetime show on Radio 2 asked a similar question on Tuesday, expecting most teacher callers to say they were finishing on Wednesday. However he soon received messages from Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire with teachers continuing until Friday 23rd December. This amounts to a term of fifteen full weeks, and an eight week run from half term, in what for primary phase teachers is often the busiest period of the year as well as one of the most sickness prone. A number of tweets have reported ‘limping over the line’ or words to similar effect.

A quick search for term dates reveals a wide disparity across the country and sometimes within the same LA. At one of our schools, we received an invitation to a rounders festival in the Summer Term. We had to decline as we had already broken up. Our would-be hosts, part of a MAT, still had a further week and a bit, taking them to the last weekend in July, the school website listing 1st August as the start of the holiday. The reason for this difference lay in the two week half term break Autumn Term and additional days at Easter. The staff still worked their 190 days but for families with children at the local secondary school there were more than two weeks where school holidays didn’t coincide, compounded by all five INSET days being taken before October in a block of three and two days bookending the half term. Interestingly whilst most of us had a seven week half term, those children had five and a half, immediately after a six week break. Given also the early Easter this year, the second half of Spring lasted just twenty four school days.

In a time where we have teachers burning out after a handful of years is it not time to consider a more radical approach to term times for the sake not only of their wellbeing, but for that of the children? Despite efforts to reduce workload, there are still tasks that need to be completed each term particularly in terms of teaching and learning, assessment, reporting and, especially in primary, in creating great displays. Last year’s Autumn term was fifteen weeks, Spring term was one day short of eleven; twenty one days less to complete just as much.

There have been suggestions for balancing out term dates which until recently had been largely dictated by the local authority, that is people not at the chalk face. Easter was always presented as a barrier, with a formula relating to the cycle of the Moon agreed in the Fourth Century deciding when Easter Sunday fell. At one of its latest possible points, we can recall a Summer half term beginning the day after May Bank Holiday and lasting only four weeks which included a training day, a polling day closure  and SATS week.

There was a brief experiment with balancing the Spring and Summer Terms with a two week break for Easter, where it most commonly falls. In 2008 Easter fell two weeks before this, resulting in a long weekend and hasty rearrangements for schools which always ended this term with an Easter service.

Easter is a more important festival than Christmas for many of the Christian faith and unlike Christmas it is not as lost in the commercial and gastronomic maelstrom of the holidays. It was made no less significant in 2008 falling before the school break and that year did offer more balance for teachers in meeting deadlines.

Our suggestion for rearranging terms lies in maintaining our thirty nine working weeks but splitting this into five terms, four of eight weeks and one of seven but also in reconsidering the breaks in between. After a tough seven or eight weeks, one week break may recharge the batteries but a second week will allow for preparation and planning too. Colleagues in academies with the two weeks in October tell us they feel more refreshed and ready for the run to Christmas. How about if each break was two weeks until the Summer?

For many teachers in England, not working in August is something of a sacred cow, but whilst holidaying in Scotland we have seen children returning in the middle of that month. Colleagues in Leicestershire have historically also returned in August too. If we were to begin in August, there would be brighter evenings, more time for sporting fixtures at the outset of the year and opportunities to see those plants we started in the Summer which have often withered and died by September.

Here is a potential model to consider, dated as if in place for this academic year.

Term 1 8 weeks 22nd August-7th October (Two weeks break)

Term 2 8 weeks 24th October to 23rd December (Two weeks break)

Term 3 8 weeks 9th January to 3rd March (Two weeks break)

Term 4 8 weeks 20th March to 12th May (Two weeks break)

Term 5 8 weeks 29th May to 21st July (Four weeks break)

Bank Holidays in August and May would need to be accounted for, as would Easter 25th/28th March. INSET days could be shared one per term rather than covered en bloc.

Four weeks in the Summer might cause some stir but remember this is about balance, wellbeing and keeping teachers in the profession as well as maximising the learning opportunities for our young people too without burning them out either. Eight weeks is a long haul but the prospect of two weeks recovery may sell this as an option. Remember also that people in other jobs with only four to five weeks holiday entitlement do resent what we have and aren’t always appreciative of the pressures teachers face.

Realistically this is unlikely to happen in the near future but we would welcome thoughts on this suggestion.

Putting Wellbeing and Workload Into Practice

Since Healthy Toolkit HQ set up operations we have blogged and tweeted extensively about wellbeing in schools. We have however also been working behind the scenes in our real jobs at making wellbeing a workplace priority and been examining ways of addressing the issue of workload through a practical model which recognises the pressures schools face in an era of cutbacks. Today we present how one small primary school has seized the initiative and addressed the issue so far.

wellbeing

Principles

Wellbeing is not a tick box exercise. Nor is it a bolt-on attachment to the running of the school, a feature of the School Development Plan merely to address a perceived need, only to be forgotten about after a token ‘Wellbeing Day’ and  some half-hearted INSET. It cannot be treated as a mere hashtag, nor can it be allocated to a less experienced team member ‘to give them some experience’ and then expect them to know all the answers.

Wellbeing needs to be in the very fabric of the school. It has to be lived and breathed by all stakeholders. Wellbeing may well be an abstract concept, but to deliver it effectively it cannot be woolly and ill-defined. It needs to be hard, realistic and practical. Wellbeing is not a ‘top down’ or ‘bottom up’ process; rather it should be ‘sideways in’ with every person contributing. With this in mind we have six core principles at the heart of our Wellbeing program, defined below with examples of initiatives in place: initiatives not

1. A Culture of Positivity

Good schools have a culture where there is respect and trust, shared purpose and clear channels of communication. This culture is driven and shaped by senior leaders who recognise that good mental, physical and emotional wellbeing is central to the best performance. If everyone is appreciated and valued, engagement and commitment  should follow.

  • All communication is clear with a weekly email containing staff newsletter and diary, a quick diary briefing once a week and personal communication of individual matters.
  • A positive atmosphere in the staffroom. Negativity and gossip is absent because of a team culture. If staff members have issues they approach SLT and matters are discussed in an open and non-critical forum.
  • Ten thousand things or more need to happen in a school each day. If one thing doesn’t, then it isn’t a crisis because one or more will always step up to the mark.
  • There is no culture of ‘I..I..I’ or ‘me..me..me’, nor do we allow the loudest people to always get their way, because if this did exist, this would undermine trust and respect.

2. An Environment to Energise Everyone

The environment in which we work contributes to how we feel supporting us to be relaxed, focused and at ease or alternatively irritated, lethargic and disengaged. This includes everything from the classroom and office space we work in, formal and informal networks of support and efficient resourcing under a tight budget.

  • A ‘team lunch’ to which everyone can contribute extended from an end of term buffet to a simpler weekly event. ‘Team salad’ on a Friday, with each participant bringing one ingredient transformed into ‘Team baked potato’ as the weather cooled with turn taking for the spuds and a variety of fillings provided. Great to bring everyone together.
  • A Friday ‘Team Breakfast’ initiated by our younger staff. Croissants, fruit and bacon rolls add to our diary briefing.
  • Clutter is minimised, be it a surfeit of classroom furniture or unwashed cups on the stafroom draining board. Clear spaces enable clearer thinking.

3. Highly Effective Leaders and Managers

The best leaders know their team well and recognise when they need help and support. They also model healthy working habits, feedback to their staff effectively  and appreciate the strengths within their team. They genuinely care for the wellbeing of those that work for them as well as themselves.

  • Appraisal is a supportive process designed to enhance career development , not something that is ‘done to’ staff nor, as we have witnessed in previous experience, should it be used as a stick to beat staff who actually need support.
  • Behaviour issues are addressed and supported efficiently and consistently. Behaviour management strategies are modelled and support given to less experienced staff in a non-critical and supportive manner.
  • All communication is clear and deadlines are given with plenty of notice. Key deadlines such as data, reports, parent evenings and major events are known at the outset of the year and no meeting or event comes as a surprise.
  • Leaders shouldn’t appear in class just for observation and discipline. Using Mary Myatt’s model of ‘Management by wandering around’ means leaders can be found in classes as much as their office.
  • PPA is guaranteed. This should be a given principle but if you have worked in a school where the attitude is flippant  and this precious time is lost because of an absence then we share your frustration.
  • The most approachable leaders are trusted, and respected. They can take being the butt of a joke and know they can be a non-judgmental shoulder to cry on.

4, Excellent Working Relationships

Central to wellbeing and resilience, strong working relationships build trust and respect. The strongest relationships thrive on a healthy mix of support and challenge, they celebrate success,  resolve conflict quickly and allow colleagues the  responsibility to look out for one another during pressurising and demanding times.

  • Wellbeing buddies. These are secret, supposedly. They are not expected  to give a gift each week, but to be there with a kind word, a supportive comment and to look out for their buddy.
  • Staffroom banter is jovial and part of a good team but it is recognised that it doesn’t suit everyone. If someone oversteps the mark, a quiet word is usually sufficient to deal with it.
  • Everyone knows their role, supports each other and steps up where needed.

5. Career Satisfaction

Being in education is a calling as well as what pays the bills. Having the right stretch and challenge, training and support  to develop  skills and fair reward for the job are crucial. Feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures  breeds stress and erodes resilience.
Staff who are content with the pace they have to work and feel confident in their ability to get the job done they are more likely to be engaged and performing at their highest level.

  • CPD opportunities are available equitably across the school regardless of experience.
  • Appraisal meetings allow staff to consider their future career paths and how they can gain experience, qualifications and confidence.
  • Leadership opportunities are available to all staff, including support staff, be it a school wide initiative, a special curriculum day or otherwise. Everyone is valued equally.

6. Healthy Lifestyle

We cannot dictate what ‘healthy’ looks like  but we do know that  healthy lifestyle is a can determine our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, both inside and
outside work. Poor sleep patterns and bad eating habits can arise during challenging times it is often evident that people work long hours and have little time for any physical exercise, time for family and friends, and even less time supporting themselves. This risks burnout.

  • Encourage staff to have no more than two hours non contact time in school, and senior leaders no more than three.
  • Email switch off in evenings and at weekends other than to read weekly communication. If something is vital, then a phone call or text will suffice: how much however, medical emergencies aside,  is that vital that someone needs to be contacted out of school hours.
  • Modelling of time management strategies.

Workload

Alongside the principles above, the school has addressed the workload challenge, and have read, interpreted and implemented the three reports. Though there are no precise figures informal questioning including two surveys run on the  @HealthyToolkit Twitter account suggests that many schools have not implemented these reports and the majority of teachers and also senior leaders are unaware of their existence.

Planning and resourcing

Subject to OFSTED myth and detailed examination in observation, planning need not be the bane of a teachers life.  Who is the plan for? Not the Head, not a subject leader, certainly not OFSTED; it is for the teacher and the class. We have experience in the past of plans being criticised for ‘not differentiating the questions’, ‘not making assessment opportunities clear’ and ‘not being detailed enough’ and of lessons being judged according to the plan and not the lesson content. Detailed evaluations: are they really needed? Good teachers know their children and know what went well or otherwise in their lessons.'Error Lesson plan needs clever retorts for class hecklers,'

Detailed planning and detailed resourcing, these days largely in the form of flipcharts on the interactive whiteboard take time. The report suggests use of published materials which can be annotated and adapted. As a school we make use of a range of sources that we have bought into or are freely available. Time on planning is reduced allowing focus on the resourcing and activities which promote learning.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511257/Eliminating-unnecessary-workload-around-planning-and-teaching-resources.pdf

Marking

marking-image-clipart-picture-2

There is no real getting away from marking. It needs to be done and is an expectation of the role. Developments in recent years though with triple marking, extensive comments, multiple pen colours, stamps and stickers might mean three hours or so to mark one set of books. What is the use in writing ten lines of comments only for the child to ignore it, not be able to read it or take another five minutes for the teacher to explain it?

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511256/Eliminating-unnecessary-workload-around-marking.pdf

In our interpretation we have decided that marking is only really effective in the form of feedback. We follow-up in Maths with Task 1, Task 2 and Task 3 on the board at the outset of the lesson which reflect whether a child needs support, consolidation or challenge. Marking in writing may sometimes need other approaches, but the use of simple symbols indicates spelling, grammar and areas for improvement. We still employ the pink and green highlighters as the children fed back that they found this useful . Self marking, peer marking and simple self assessment also form part of our strategy.

Assessment and Data Management

Once upon a time there were levels. Levels that should only have been used for Key Stage 1 and 2 assessment. Then levels became fixtures in each year group. Levels begat sub-levels and sub-levels begat APS. APP emerged as the illegitimate offspring of levels. The report recognises this confused picture which grew from rumour and misinterpretation as much as from the plethora of materials. Too much data was produced and crucially it wasn’t used effectively for the benefit of the children and their progress.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511258/Eliminating-unnecessary-workload-associated-with-data-management.pdf

We have cast aside our complex web hosted recording system in favour of term by term testing of reading and maths using a long-established and reliable set of test material. Using standardised scores is a trackable system that does not differ too greatly from scaled scores used in new statutory assessment. Teacher assessment alone would not provide this reliability and also burdens the teacher in tracking down evidence or designing activities which provide evidence rather than promote learning.

Our core assessment principles are: data needs to be useful and needs to be used to support outcomes; teachers  need to have autonomy and accountability; formative assessment does not have to be formally recorded and the teacher has autonomy in the use of their own data.

The Story so Far….

The above is the result of many months of work. It is not a perfect solution but it suits our school and the needs of our children and staff. Wellbeing and workload are not easy subjects to cover and manage and there will be challenges on the way. Evaluation and monitoring, particularly of the extent to which teachers are marking, needs to be in place and we need to be mindful of everyone in our team.Team spirit, standing by and standing up for colleagues, a positive culture and leaders who want to make this work provides the best foundation for a school where the wellbeing of the staff, and therefore of the children, is valued and prioritised.