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!

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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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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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