‘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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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!

#SimplifySeptemberHT: Our biggest priority is ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must try harder. See me after class.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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The Headteacher

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

Ms Keane: English Teacher

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

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

Mr Bell

Where to start?

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

Other issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Arrogance and Insolence or Authenticity and Integrity?

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

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

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

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

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

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Democracy

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

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

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

The Rule of Law

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

Individual Liberty

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

Mutual Respect and Tolerance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

Self

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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WomenEd: #HeForShe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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