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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some thoughts on SATS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#AwarenessAprilHT: Rebooted, revised and refreshed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

The tabloid press churn out ‘The Beast from the East’ once more, gritting lorries are prepared for the 3am shift and through the length of the nation thousands of Headteachers look anxiously at the forecast and at the leaden skies and pray that the creaking boiler holds out at least until the end of the budget year. Meanwhile children await the ping on their parents’ phones that the school is closed and the mythical ‘Snow Day’ at last becomes a reality.

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However, where does that leave our teachers, teaching assistants and other staff? Whilst the idea of a snow day and an unexpected day out will be celebrated for many, for others it is a time of dread and anxiety.

During the last few mild winters closures have been rare in the South East of England, though earlier this winter closures hit the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland. A glance through teacher social media reveals a range of school responses; some close completely whilst others remain open for staff.

This is where stresses and anxieties can be heightened. Are you in a school where there is an expectation that staff must make every effort to arrive, regardless of weather conditions? Closures are usually there for the safety of the children, but how about the safety of the staff? In one of our former schools we once had two members of staff lose control of their cars on the same day on  same patch of black ice mere yards from the school. Both were written off. Both staff had been asked to come to school because they lived nearby, though not close enough to walk.

Then we have the ‘work from home’ expectation. In another case we have been made aware of, one member of staff had a day’s pay docked being snowed into the village where they lived, yet another on SLT escaped without penalty. In this case the snow was unexpected and the class teacher had not taken work home the previous day. We have seen more arguments over snow closures than many other school issues.

Freezing weather brings other concerns too. Chionophobia is the extreme dislike or fear of snow. The word originates from Greek chion meaning snow and phobos meaning fear, aversion or dread. It is a real fear, often with causes going back to childhood memories of being injured by an icy snowball or a hard fall on a slippery surface. Driving on untreated roads can heighten this anxiety.

Snow is a political ‘hot potato’ in school and something for school leaders to be aware of particularly in regard to the mental wellbeing of our staff. While a time of great joy, exploration and an opportunity to see if the skeleton bob is for you for others it is an occasion of fear, stress and anxiety, particularly with the pressure to come to school or work from home.

Good leadership will already have considered alternatives for this week, rearranging meetings, trips, plays or assemblies, for the safety and mental wellbeing of their staff. An unhindered week is not a realistic expectation.

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Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Culture is Everything: Where do we turn for Wellbeing solutions?

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In the week that saw the announcement of another new Secretary of State for Education, there has been the expected raft of articles with top priorities that Mr Hinds faces in the departmental in-tray. Whilst some pieces that we have encountered have made mention of recruitment and retention, we have yet to see the term ‘wellbeing’ appear to date.

When we read articles such as this revealing the numbers of teachers on long-term leave from stress we question why journalists haven’t given higher profile to the issue of teacher health.

  • One in every 83 teachers being absent for a month or more compared to one in 95 three years earlier.
  • 1.3 million days of absence over four years for stress related conditions.
  • 312,000 days of absence in 2016/17 alone.

With limited budgets for supply cover, costs of staff insurance and limited numbers of options for covering classes, there is a level of stress for members of SLT juggling a whole range of other matters in addition to staff illness.

Where is the stress emanating from? Whilst it would be easy to lay responsibility at the feet of those in authority,  this article outlines the stress that micromanagement and a perceived lack of trust has. Though the work of one teacher, we suspect this is replicated on a much wider basis. Add to this the responses we often hear of schools to local sourced ‘OFSTED Myths’ and new initiatives introduced sometimes with little strategic thinking.

Where does the answer rest? Though responsible ultimately from 450,000 or more teachers, the new Secretary of State, with all the best will in the world is not going to know what makes our teachers tick. We are in a profession that relies almost in its entirety upon personal relationships to drive our ‘end product’ and it is those personal relationships in our schools, between our staff and between teachers and SLT that ultimately determine our wellbeing.

If there is going to be an approach that supports the mental and physical wellbeing of all our staff, it is individual schools and MATs that need to drive this. It is a matter of school culture.

It is all down to culture.

Culture is everything.

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As we have written before wellbeing is a ‘multi-sided dice’ but neither is it a tickbox exercise.

Self-care is an core part of  wellbeing. However self-care is going to look different for everyone. For each person that takes a digital detox there will be someone who may ‘live’ on social media yet see it as part of their self-care. Meditation and Mindfulness exercises are felt by many to be highly beneficial while others might feel more uncomfortable. For every person who may spend Saturday lunchtime at a local hostelry, there will be another hiking over moors and mountains. Every teacher with their nose buried in a book will be matched by others digging an allotment or chasing a ball of a variety of shapes and sizes around a field. Many readers may be pursuing #SelfCareSunday but other days are available. Remember also to ensure your self-care during the working day too.

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Self-care is an entitlement, an equal entitlement for all members of the school. Do we however provide the means for our teachers, our teaching assistants and our other staff, including SLT, to exercise self-care. This is where school culture is vital. Is your school values driven, principled, and strategic? Or is wellbeing undermined by short deadlines, ad hoc solutions, inconsistencies or rreactive decisions. Do the actions or words of some individuals impact upon the wellbeing of other staff.

It is all down to culture.

Culture is everything.

This has been the core message of Healthy Toolkit since our inception. Solutions to wellbeing matters from a whole school, strategic perspective should enable our staff to have time for their self-care. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, no ideal solution; nor will there be a solution that is 100% perfect but we can aspire to this. Ultimately having staff who are as physically fit and mentally well as possible benefits our children and the quality of the education they receive.

We would like to hear more from our readers and from schools as to  their experience of supporting staff wellbeing. We would to hear both positive and negative experiences: for every school that might expect planning emailed to SLT over the weekend there will be a school with exceptional support for staff experiencing bereavement or family illness; for each establishment where PPA is uncertain, others will guarantee it regardless of circumstance. Do you know what makes each other tick, or do you only ever ‘talk shop’? Maybe you work in a school which is using a version of our #TeaAndTalk initiative.

Please use our contact form or DM @HealthyToolkit on Twitter. Confidentiality is assured.

Ultimately it is down to culture.

Culture is everything.

 

The Shortest Day

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The shortest day, with no sense of irony, ends the longest term, and is an appropriate point for us to round of our loose trilogy of wellbeing blogs under our #DetoxDecemberHT hashtag. The first two parts can be found here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/in-the-bleak-midwinter-surviving-the-last-days-to-christmas-at-school/ and here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/17/the-best-week-of-the-year/

Some of you are well into your first week off and others still have tomorrow to negotiate too. We have raised the issue of where school holidays fall in the past and one of our team discussions in recent days raised the question of whether a three week shutdown over the festive period might be appropriate. The traditional shutdown period undertaken by many in commerce actually overlaps the break for many teachers. Whilst we don’t want to be thinking about the return to work, the children in many of our schools will be resuming their studies whilst the decorations are still up.

Wellbeing during the holiday is as key as wellbeing during the term, and whilst many of us may have limped over the line having started in August in some cases, teachers and school leaders need to recognise that this holiday is only a staging post in the academic year. Here we will consider a few simple but practical strategies to keep wellbeing focussed and to cut stress to a minimum.

School Leaders

Look after your staff and they will look after you! We do hear of schools where there is a stack of emails for staff to address and from the days where inspections had a longer notice period, an expectation to come to school between Christmas and New Year to prepare the classrooms and planning. A few simple guidelines will help to cement goodwill.

  • Communication; keep it to a minimum. Diaries and dates, data analyses, reminders; yes they are important but keep it all in one email.
  • Avoid the most pervasive feature of email: the read receipt! It is intrusive and adds unnecessary pressure.
  • That amazing new initiative or the essential change you want to see from January; it can wait until January or should have been rolled out before term ended.
  • Respect the fact that your staff have families and loved ones, or may have lost loved ones.
  • Respect the fact that some don’t or may face as challenging a time as some of our families.
  • Any communication with staff you do have needs to feature the simplest and most uplifting words in the wellbeing lexicon….

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Teachers

  • You are going to have things to do. Don’t fret through the holiday over your work. Choose a day and time to get it done. If returning in the first week of January get it done now and free up the festive days. This is a staging post in the year and no headteacher want to see a teacher exhausted by the end of the first week.
  • See email advice for leaders above: why not do the same?
  • If your school email comes to your phone, delete or disable the app until January.

For everyone

  • Though you may be tempted by the wine and chocolate gifts from parents and children, don’t lose yourself in an alcohol haze. Christmas can be a time of excess but do look after yourself. A pre-Christmas detox or a break between Christmas and New Year are too simple diet and exercise strategies to consider.
  • Catch up! Old friends; neighbours; that book you started in October; those withered plants in the garden; the Scandinavian crime drama on BBC4. Why not give these your attention.
  • Have a digital switch off or at least save Twitter for pictures of your Christmas dinner or new socks. A Christmas row on Twitter is almost as traditional now as a repeat of Morecambe and Wise. Is it really necessary?

How about this one, found by a dear friend.

Jólabókaflóð: the Christmas Book Flood

The Icelandic Tradition of gifting books on Christmas Eve includes the whole family reading their new books together, tucked in bed with a warming hot chocolate or a suitable tipple. How beautiful is that!

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Think Positive

You have made it to the end of another year. You are in the most rewarding and uplifting profession that there is and every single one of us makes an impact on the lives of young people and their families.

It may be dark, it may be cold, Australia might have regained the Ashes (temporarily on loan) but from today, the nights lengthen, the light improves and summer is coming!

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The Best Week of the Year!

Last week we published our simple guidance to surviving the last days to Christmas https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/in-the-bleak-midwinter-surviving-the-last-days-to-christmas-at-school/ and a big thank you goes to all our readers who have made it our most read post of 2017.

During the week there have been a few grumpy messages on different social media outlets. Tetchiness in school or tetchiness at other tweeters; either way, a step back, some deep breathing and some mindful thinking might just help ease us through to the end of this long term.

From @HealthyToolkit Twitter timeline, we took the quotation below from last week’s blog post and shared it on Friday evening. Over 14000 impressions, 150 likes and 95 retweets from one simple quote, one sharing a positive and inclusive message. Thank you to everyone for sharing and responding so positively to the tweet.

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Yet this message had two negative responses, both from tweeters who don’t follow Toolkit. The intention of the tweet was purely to celebrate what teachers do whilst acknowledging our utter exhaustion at this time of year. What this demonstrates is how easy it is to read a single message out of context and to draw conclusions based purely on one sentence. Our values at Healthy Toolkit HQ are not to respond to negativity and certainly to always read in context. Some tweeters are of course talented in the act of the provocative post and a button-pushing blog. It is a well known strategy of social media entrepreneurs, media savvy politicians and a few journalists and not an invention of EduTwitter.

Best advice for avoiding Twitter tetchiness: ignore. Don’t read, respond, like or retweet; just leave it. Don’t block, as that is a form of censorship denying access to your thoughts, but mute. Remember the strategy we give to children about bullies: ignore them, they are looking for a response.

Some tetchiness arises from when the break begins. Our recent Twitter poll suggests some 20% of respondents finished last Friday, with a roughly even split between those finishing in the middle or the end of the coming week. If you are off already, think of those with a week to go. In contrast, you may be back very early in the New Year, while others have 8th January pencilled in!

Long terms, deadlines, sickness, covering classes, in addition to the change of routine and the excitability of the children, can raise tensions. Nobody wants to see torment over the glitter, tinsel tantrums or competition over Christmas party games.Tensions don’t arise from these alone. If we are mindful of our colleagues and of ourselves, a few simple thoughts might just help  us all.

Not everyone will want to come on the staff social. They aren’t being anti-social. There may be reasons for this, something we explored in this post from last year https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/the-big-night-out-not-everyones-cup-of-tea/

Just as many of our children might be going home to an uncertain Christmas, some of our colleagues might be too. Your NQT colleagues might have relocated far from home and maybe have a long haul back to family and possibly put little thought to their Christmas preparations so far. Someone might be going through a tricky time in their relationship or may be recently separated or divorced. Others will have worries about their own children. Recent house moves, bereavements, financial concerns and worries about loved ones all impact on every one of us.  Whilst some people will discuss their life in minutiae, there are many who won’t betray any emotion. Depression and Mental Health is not something most of us would drop into a conversation about festive preparations, but we would urge you all to be aware of your colleagues. Do you know your colleagues? Really know them? Ask yourself this.

Christmas is not a time to fall out over a misplaced tweet or the Nativity, nor is it a time to be judgemental. It is a time of reconciliation, peace and forgiveness.

This is the best week of the school year. And so it should be too! Enjoy it and have the best Christmas you possibly could.

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‘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.

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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