#JukeboxJuneHT

“How soon is now?” asked one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

“Not soon enough!” reply all those teachers with report and exam marking deadlines looming.

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Unless you are in a school which has moved the bulk of written report writing to another point of the year, we can’t do much about the deadlines apart from ensure they are met. Public examinations and end of year testing are at this point of the year because it has always been the case!

If you have been following the  #MindfulMayHT and #SayYes2Wellbeing hashtags, we hope you have found some useful advice and support which schools can embrace to support colleagues at this pressured time and which individuals can adopt to aid their focus and boost their self-confidence.

This month’s hashtag recognises the workload, so we ask only that you think of music!

Primary schools will often play music as the children enter assembly or as they come to class in the the morning. It is intended to be calming and sets the mood for the day and activities ahead.

Music, and singing in particular, can be unifying, team building and at the heart of a community. Do you include your parents in the songs in celebration assemblies?

Music can be regarded as healing; a couple of links with more expert opinion are http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22553467 and http://jamesclear.com/music-therapy.

This June we ask you to do no more than select some great tunes. Do they inspire or relax? Do they play in the background as you mark or do they blast through the car stereo on the way home? Do you ‘air grab’ or are you more of an air guitar person? Do you belt out ‘Nessun Dorma’ at the traffic lights?

The team at Healthy Toolkit HQ have each selected one song to kick #JukeboxJuneHT off.

Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding. An emotive reminder of lost heritage. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjUkjpJa6bY

Kings of Leon: The Immortals. Freedom, possibility and be brave to yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lICjZB-rp0w

The Jam: Going Underground. For the General Election. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE1ct5yEuVY

Labi Siffre: Something Inside So Strong. Peaceable struggle. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7B-4Lsrx8IA

Louis Armstrong: What a Wonderful World. ‘I see trees of green..red roses too.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3yCcXgbKrE

Simon and Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water. ‘When you’re weary…feeling small.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_a46WJ1viA

Luke Britnell: Think Positive. Because we all should. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_aH1z8f6Hk

Primal Scream: Come Together. We are together, we are unified. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3vvn2qOh58

Joe Cocker: N’oubliez jamais. Never forget what is at our heart and in our hearts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Xa_1KxR-8M

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It makes a difference if you want it to make a difference! Music can inspire, motivate, unite and build. Just look at the communal singing of ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ in response to the events in Manchester.

If you join in this month, add the hashtag #JukeboxJuneHT and  add the link your tune using YouTube or whichever other music sharing site you use.

Punk or Puccini?

Mozart or Madness?

Bach or Bon Jovi?

Elvis or Elgar?

Rachmaninoff or The Rolling Stones?

It doesn’t matter! Nobody judges you by your musical tastes.

We look forward to hearing your tunes. Let’s cheer up Morrissey!

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#MindfulMayHT

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How did we reach the cusp of May already? Spring has most definitely sprung, despite last week’s wintry intrusion, the blossoms are out, the evenings are drawing out and the teaching profession finds itself in the midst of exam season. At this high water mark of the academic year it is important to keep ourselves grounded and healthy for ourselves and for our learners.

Today we launch #MindfulMayHT, our theme to accompany the #SayYes2Wellbeing campaign. Through the month we would encourage you to be mindful of yourself and for yourself, as you would be mindful of others and for others. Please share your thoughts, ideas, links and motivational quotes through this challenging but ultimately rewarding month.

The benefits of being mindful are many fold. In a role which by its very nature is pressured, stressful, increasingly target driven, it is easy to lose sight of our personal priorities and of those of our loved ones. Poor sleep patterns, irregular mealtimes, lack of exercise and failure to remain hydrated may all result from work-life imbalance. Being self-aware is a challenge and often we are more aware of the needs of others than we are of our personal needs.

Being Mindful of Ourselves

This is far from a comprehensive list but here are a few strategies that school staff can try for themselves.

  • Electronic shut down, digital detox, phone free Friday; call it what you will but devices do intrude on our lives and interactions with our peers in a face-to-face environment. Twitter won’t fall down without you!
  • Eat mindfully. Do you take the time to appreciate the flavours or textures of your food? If not, you may as well live on those gels the riders in the Tour de France consume. You may munch on a sandwich in your classroom while wading through marking. Even if you take just twenty minutes at lunch break, eating with your colleagues is a social interaction which can be good important for your wellbeing. Of course not everyone is comfortable in the staffroom situation, which we address in the section below.
  • Other eating habits to consider include alcohol free times, avoiding caffeine after a particular watershed, avoiding processed foods and of course remaining hydrated. We have also been looking at the health benefits of particular foods and would like to hear what you are trying this month or have adopted into your diet on a longer term basis. We have been particularly interested in the benefits of mint. mint-info
  • Have you considered meditation? There is a huge difference between ‘mindful meditation’  and full meditation. The first may take a few minutes and apps such as ‘Headspace’ and videos that can be found on YouTube support this, the latter would require an expert practitioner and a greater time commitment. However in our experience we have found positive impact from both.
  • Live for now! You are amazing, you are in the best and most rewarding profession that there is and what you do is for the good of others.mindful2

Being Mindful of Others

Particularly for School Leaders:

  • Trust your teachers. You employed them, so you know they will plan and deliver.
  • Don’t spring any surprises! Plenty of notice for all key events and deadlines is essential. Emergencies aside, nobody will appreciate ‘lastminute.com’ style leadership.
  • Be aware of who isn’t coming to the staffroom at lunch and breaks. They may be getting the job done, but there may be other reasons they aren’t joining their colleagues. Take the time to make sure they are doing alright. They may just be quiet; they may be managing their time; equally they may be masking something that may need some support, counselling or intervention.
  • Have a rule about emails that you model and set the example for. Have a cut off time, lets say 5pm, after which there is no expectation of emails being read or replied to and make sure this extends to weekends. You want your life; your staff want theirs.
  • Ultimately your staff need calm, safe and secure space to work. Your good intentions must be concrete not abstract.

For everyone:

  • Please appreciate boundaries. Don’t expect all of your colleagues to be the life and soul of the party. Respect their personal and professional privacy. It is ultimately up to the individual what they share about themselves in conversation.
  • Think about what you say before you say it. Appreciate the sensitivities of others. Some people can give as good as they get in staffroom banter, but others may feel uncomfortable.
  • Think before you post. Texts, emails and tweets composed in haste may upset of offend. ‘Send’ or ‘enter’ is a trigger without a withdrawal function.
  • Have you ever tried a random act of kindness? Do you make a pot of tea for your colleagues? Leave them a note to say ‘well done for….’? Leave an anonymous thoughtful gift in their pigeonhole or one their desk? Do you know the names of your colleagues’ children, what their partners do or ask after the health of their elderly parents? Small things: big difference. As that great philosopher says:mindful3

Please join us this month in #MindfulMayHT. Remember being mindful is about yourself and others. We look forward to you sharing what you are doing for yourself, for your colleagues and in your schools. Thank you.

Be mindful and help us all to #SayYes2Wellbeing.

#SayYes2Wellbeing

Since our foundation, the team at Healthy Toolkit HQ has promoted the importance of wellbeing in education. Wellbeing is high on the education agenda and, as we have identified before, it is on the development plan of many schools across the UK. As the Summer Term began, the Times Educational Supplement dedicated an edition to the subject, to which we made a contribution. We believe that wellbeing needs to remain in this prime position as its importance cannot be underestimated. It is from this premise that we announce our new hashtag #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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There is a significant issue, some call it a ‘crisis’, with retention and recruitment in the profession. Whilst recruitment is one particular challenge (persuading NQTs to relocate to the capital with high housing costs or to some coastal locations) retention is another matter. With some sources suggesting 30% of teachers are leaving the profession within five years of qualification https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/teachers-leaving-profession and others identifying which subjects will be left wanting for staff http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/teachers-crisis-education-leaving-profession-jobs-market-droves-who-would-be-one-a7591821.html retaining our teachers has to be a priority for all schools.

And how do we retain them? By looking after them and by helping them to look after themselves. That is why schools, leaders, governors and especially teachers, driven by shared healthy values teaching assistants and other staff need to #SayYes2Wellbeing .

Culture and Principles

Do we want to see Hard Wellbeing or Soft Wellbeing?

Wellbeing is best promoted in schools where there is a positive culture, one in which everyone in the school, children and adults alike, can thrive, perform at their best and be happy. Happy. Key word that one. For many of our children, school offers the most stable part of their lives. They are going to be best served by teachers who are satisfied in their own environment, not by those who are grim-faced, snappy and stressed. Only this week children in the UK were categorised as ‘some of the unhappiest’ https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/uk-pupils-among-worlds-unhappiest

A positive and energising culture in a school has to be a starting point for any wellbeing process. Wellbeing can’t be ‘done to’ staff. It is a shared and egalitarian process which has to be there to benefit the whole school community equally. Generating this culture cannot be a top-down process, though leaders do need to set the example and take the lead in planning. A model of ‘sideways-in’ to which everyone can contribute is a way forward in developing and maintaining the appropriate culture.

Wellbeing also needs to be principled, which we have blogged about before https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/putting-wellbeing-and-workload-into-practice/. Alongside developing an energising culture, principled wellbeing can actually determine direction and processes. Core principles and deeply held values can really demonstrate how committed the school is to the concept of wellbeing.

Culture needs to be driven by everyone; principles need to be bought into by everyone.

Hard wellbeing is driven by principles, by culture, by values and by planned actions and interventions. Soft wellbeing is characterised by gimmicks, fads and a tick-box approach to the care of staff.

Leadership

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The most committed leaders will know that wellbeing isn’t a simple concept to lead or manage as the graphic demonstrates. However modelling a sincere commitment to it demonstrates an empathy to our colleagues. Knowing what makes them tick, what their strengths and areas to support are, alongside showing that we wish to support our staff in their career path; these demarcate leaders with deeply held values and an ethical approach to their role. School leaders should be there to nurture their staff and children and to act in alignment with their healthy values so they can #SayYes2Wellbeing.

If the culture is one of ‘buy them in, burn them out, replace and repeat‘ such a cyclical approach does not allow for continuity, consistency or stability. Again from the press this week this piece https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/older-teachers-careers-destroyed-sake-saving-a-few-bucks is a concern. We face financial cutbacks, but playing games with experienced teachers careers also pays games with their mental health, with their financial wellbeing, with their mortgages, with their families and their relationships.

Another link on Twitter and Facebook this week brought up one school where plans had to be emailed to SLT by 5pm on Saturday and were returned by 7pm on Sunday with suggestions for improvement. This is too much. Weekends should be email free times. Teachers are not lazy. Each and every teacher will do what is best for the children in their class and that will involve a number of different strategies. To fret over an entire weekend will bring stress, burnout, anxiety and probably absence.

If as a leader you haven’t yet done so, we urge you to read and act upon the recommendations about workload. Planning, marking and assessment are addressed, and though far from perfect they do provide an excellent starting point for a professional conversation in school about the necessity and impact of some of the tasks we have to do.

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The best schools work on a good team culture. Staff support each other, step up when there are problems and leaders support them. If you are in such a school, celebrate it. Perfection does not exist. There will always be cause to evaluate, improve and to recognise mistakes.

Whether you are in such a setting or not, this graphic clearly demonstrates how positive thinking can help us as individuals to #SayYes2Wellbeing.

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Look after yourself. Seek support if you find things a challenge. The best colleagues and most supportive leaders won’t be judgemental and they will listen.

Take time for yourself, look after yourself.

Promote Healthy Values in your thoughts, words and actions, in the real world and on digital platforms.

Sleep well. Eat well. Teach well.

Show yourself, and your colleagues, some love.

#SayYes2Welleing

 

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Watercooler Wellbeing

We are delighted here at Healthy Toolkit HQ to launch our latest initiative which reflects our busy schedules but which allows us time to escape and share great ideas.

We are pleased to announce: WATERCOOLER WELLBEING!

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Watercooler Wellbeing: microchats which will run through the day but at given times, so we can look at Twitter, read and engage as much as we want to.

The idea is very simple. One theme will run each day, with each microchat of five minutes at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm; each one a Watercooler Moment, hence Watercooler Wellbeing.

Starting on Wednesday 5th April, and running on occasional days over the next two weeks, we will host the microchat at these times on a topic which will link with our current #AwarenessAprilHT campaign. We have a few questions in mind, but would be pleased to add your suggestions to the list.

Our first few topics include:

  • How can teachers destress during the Easter break?
  • Ways to use your ‘down time’ without planning or marking.
  • How do we support a colleague with their mental wellbeing?

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Microchats are ideal for our busy lives: log in, Tweet, log out and go! Just like we would do at the Watercooler, because we haven’t got the time to be on Twitter all day.

Who is with us?

Don’t forget to add the hashtag #WatercoolerWellbeing.

World Book Day: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.”

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

It is strange how an event aimed at promoting one of life’s simple pleasures seems to stimulate argument and World Book Day 2017 featured on social media and heavily this week, to a range of responses.

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The most common line of discussion is on dressing up as a book character and the impact that it has on the appreciation of books. The intrinsic value of dressing up is probably little; children will not become more skilled or knowledgeable readers by dressing as Willy Wonka, Matilda or The Cat in the Hat. Nor will decorating a potato as Little Miss Messy, Wally or Thing 1&2  necessarily motivate a child to pick up an unfamiliar text.

The fundamental point is that World Book Day is a celebration of reading, of authors, of the lives and settings they create and of the pathways to the imagination that they generate. Walk into any good primary school on any given day and the importance of reading will be evident through book corners, displays and, most crucially, children engaging in reading. On their own, completing online book quizzes, in pairs or groups, with the adults, with parent and volunteer readers; it is in the very fabric of the school day. World Book Day is just one day a year to mark reading in a slightly different manner.

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The costume aspect of World Book Day can of course be a challenge to parents, financially as well as creatively. For every parent with the time and resources to create sparkly red slippers for their little Dorothy or a tail and ears for Fantastic Mr Fox, there will be some for whom a purchased costume will be necessary. This has become a commercial opportunity particularly for the supermarkets, and in the vacuum between Valentine’s Day and Mothers’ Day the racks were filled with dressing up items. Just one look last weekend revealed that alongside Horrid Henry and The Gruffalo sat Batman, Spiderman, Hulk, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, several Imperial Stormtroopers and a sizable force of Disney Princesses. If anyone from the main supermarkets is reading this please think of the impact financially on parents, but also think about the difference between a film and a book.

World Book Day has become part of the cyclical routine which is at the heart of the familiar pattern of the year; Harvest, Nativity, Carol Service, the Easter Egg Hunt, Sports Day. Parents and children like this routine; it is safe, comforting and expected because primary schools have at their heart a sense of community, belonging and teamwork. And of fun… don’t forget that; that’s why teachers dress up too! At their heart though, schools and teachers are promoting the love of reading in itself as well as a means to future progress. Do you share your favourite books with your classes?

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Books aren’t just for World Book Day, they are for life. They are a healthy habit, and here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that escaping into a good book is just as important to our wellbeing as exercise, good food and sleep.

Whether you like World Book Day or not, the best activity to promote reading is to read a book. Why not share your current and favourite reads or inspirational book quotes as part of #MagnifyMarchHT?

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“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx

#MagnifyMarchHT

Negativity comes easily to many. It is quick, simple and painless to deliver. A put down, a gesture, an ill-considered text or tweet; they fuel the ego but hurt the recipient. Negativity about ourselves comes equally easily. When we are negative about ourselves we don’t fuel egos but we can drag ourselves down.

Teachers are sadly very good at being negative about themselves and it is easy to see why. Teaching can be a lonely task at times. If you have had a tough day and it comes to 3.30 on a cold, damp and darkening winter afternoon, the children have gone and you might be alone with only a pile of books and your own melancholy to keep you company. We tend to be very self -critical as a profession and if we don’t self-manage workload or deadlines we can add to this.

Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we like to accentuate the positive and in our latest themed month we urge everyone out there to be aware of what you and what others do well. Welcome to #MagnifyMarchHT.

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As we have outlined in previous posts, positive thoughts and comments can impact the mood of a whole staff in a way that can genuinely make someone feel good about themselves. However this does need to be authentic and reflect the integrity of the person delivering it. We all recognise the stilted communal praise that might come at the end of a term largely punctuated with criticism and may question the authenticity of it. Consider the difference that an aside, a note, card or even a simple gift can make. It becomes personal, real and memorable.

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This is where magnification comes into play. School leaders need to know that by identifying success and raising its profile we can boost the confidence and self image of the recipient. Authenticity is important here. Finding one nugget in a poor lesson shouldn’t divert from the priority of challenging the quality of teaching, but it may be a way into developing that teacher’s skillset. In a wider context, ‘thank you‘ and ‘well done‘ cost nothing, are polite, demonstrate good human values and they become habit forming. Creating and maintaining this positive culture in the school will show everyone is equally valued and encourage them to be positive about their own successes.

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Most importantly, we should also magnify our own successes, as Honest Abe tells us. Find a positive in day and praise yourself for it. Even better find five or ten different things that went well, note them and refer back to them at the end of the week, month or year. Tweet it or blog it but not to the point of inflating your ego; we can all teach well, but we all do it in our way. Magnify your core rather than your ego because your core spirit and values, as well as our physical core, upholds you as an individual.

So this month we would love to see you sharing your successes: great displays; individual examples of progress; wonderful shared experiences like performances or school trips; the child you’ve helped all year suddenly showing independence. Share what you do outside too: climbing; baking; fitness. If it’s important to you, make it count and be proud of it.

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If we are authentic in our praise of others then we can be genuine in reflecting upon our own successes. In a successful team, a diverse range of talents makes the collective whole run smoothly. You might be the creative one, the philosophical one, the practical one or the organised one. Recognise yourself for what you do well as well as acknowledge the role of others.

Be you. Be brave. Be fabulous. Be kind. Be grounded. Be real. Be authentic. Be ordinary. Be extraordinary.

Just be…..

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We find our inspiration from normal people who go out of our their way to help other people and make a positive difference and who promote positive thinking. If you are an active user of social media, why not #FF your positive influences this month?

Negativity is lazy, instant and gratifying only to the perpetrator. It’s like a sugar rush leading to craving for more. Positive thinking is the complex carbohydrate of wellbeing; slowburning and ultimately more satisfying. Negativity is a drain on wellbeing but positivity promotes it.

The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.‘- Winston Churchill

So in #MagnifyMarchHT why not dare to be optimistic?

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We can be Heroes….

A few days ago our inbox contained an invitation to consider nominations for the TES awards. One of the most intriguing was the Lifetime Achievement award.

The entry form can be found here. http://www.tesawards.co.uk/tessawards2017/en/page/entry-form

‘This award will reward someone who has made a significant contribution to education. It could be a well-known figure or a local hero. In your submission, explain exactly what the individual has achieved in their career and why you feel they deserve the trophy.’

‘… significant contribution …’

‘… well-known figure …’

‘… local hero …’

‘…exactly what the individual has achieved …’

Picking out the key phrases provides much food for thought. Few teachers are given the honour of being a dame or a knight outside a small group of leaders. Some are awarded other gongs, but of the tens of thousands of teachers in the UK, most will go unrecognised beyond the confines of their own school or setting.

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So who may deserve the lifetime achievement award? ‘Lifetime’ being the key word in this title.

The secretary of the local sports council who has held the post since 1972, run district teams every Saturday in the football season, single handedly ran cricket in the summer and who still organises everything despite retirement?

The school crossing patrol who has turned up in wind, snow, hail and blazing sunshine for thirty years and then pitches up in school to support readers?

The SENDCO who was a SENDCO before they even existed, who has literally as well as metaphorically given blood, sweat and tears for their children.

We can all think of someone who is truly committed and deserving of recognition for their tireless devotion, selflessness and refreshing lack of ego.  It is worth taking the time recognising them, even if they don’t reach the final stages of the process.

Maybe there is someone in Special Education deserving of recognition. We are in awe of the patience and professionalism shown in this sector. Meeting such complex needs; facing the daily challenges that can include verbal and physical assault; planning for and achieving the tiniest but most significant of steps; managing and challenging behaviours that even the police would find demanding; keeping these children, happy, safe and nurtured. If anyone is deserving of unsung hero status, look no further than the staff who work with those children with the most severe needs, behavioural and mental health concerns.

Primary teachers often receive some unfair criticism through social media, usually from someone who hasn’t been in a primary school since the age of 11. The groundwork that the primary sector provides, in social skills, behaviour for learning, manners and values is invaluable, as we are often told by Year 7 transition teachers. Primary education is not all glitter, glue, finger painting and discovery learning. There is plenty of direct instruction, rigour and firmness of discipline. Ask any adult to choose their best teacher. Chances are the majority will choose someone from their primary days.

So if primary school teachers are some of the heroes of education, don’t forget the ‘shock troops’ of the sector; those in EYFS. In Nursery and Reception classes these wonderful people are dealing with tears and snot, pooh and wee, tantrums and traumas. When you are three, and the firefighter’s outfit isn’t there, this is of lifestyle challenging significance. If you are in primary, go and visit your Reception and Nursery classes. Those aren’t painted smiles; there are no gritted teeth; this is dedication to love of learning in its simplest and purest form.

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The real heroes of education will stand in front of a whiteboard, not sit behind a keyboard. The vast majority will never appear on an award nomination list, the New Year Honours board or even have a bench with their name on. They are there on the frontline every day and for this their best reward is recognition of their strengths and acknowledgement of their wellbeing.

Are you ready for #ForteFebruaryHT?

In English forte has two meanings, depending on the number of syllables used. With two syllables, forte is an adverb meaning ‘loudly’ or a synonym for ‘loud’ derived from the Italian adjective familiar to musicians. With one syllable forte means ‘strength’ or ’talent’, from the French fort meaning ‘strong’.

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It is the latter of these which is the theme for this month. #ForteFebruaryHT recognises talents and strengths, rather than volume and intensity, and is our opportunity to celebrate our own strengths and gifts as well as those of others.

Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we are no great fans of ego. As we have discussed before, it is possible to be ‘loud’ through social media through tone, through semantics, by means of intimidatory language, by butting into threads and by sparking a response from a large following. If we take ‘loud’ in its traditional context, it is frequently the loudest people who are actually the least tolerant, most closed minded and less well informed and who use their volume as a defence mechanism.

Let us however put ego and the decibel count aside. This month is about strength.

Good job applications balance the ‘I’ with the ‘we’ particularly where a team environment is required, as we are in teaching. It is a skill to draw upon one’s own strengths without sounding self-centred. If we consider self-confidence though, and the positive approach we encouraged through our January campaign, then we are able to recognise the strengths we have by picking the positives from each day.

Sometimes however our colleagues and friends will need a confidence boost, not because they are down but because their natural demeanour isn’t one that exudes or promotes what they are good at. They may be the strong but silent type. The power of a ‘thank you’ or a smile can transform a day. Little asides recognise gifts and can give a timely boost to resilience: ‘What a great display!’; ‘I really admired the way you dealt with that situation!’; ‘Thank you for standing up for me!’. Don’t forget there are many qualities that go unrecognised or unacknowledged; when was the last time you told a colleague what a great parent they were, how grateful their partner must be to have them or what an example they set through their conduct.

Don’t forget that it is Valentine’s Day on the 14th. Use this to really recognise the strengths of your most special person. Think outside the staples of ‘card, chocolate, flowers and champagne’! We are however reliably informed that these items do help!

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This month we ask you to recognise and acknowledge strength and talent and to share it using our #ForteFebruaryHT hashtag. Bring this concept into your school through your ‘Shout Out’ boards and Positivity Jars.

Recognise others for their talents and tell them. Remember that talent might be on the sporting field or the stage, but equally that talent might be through a kind word, a welcome hug or simply through the confidence that this person is there for you.

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Showing off our own talents is tough, but please celebrate your inner strength. We don’t want to be demonstrating an inflated opinion of ourselves. However self-esteem, resilience, strength of character and a positive sense of self is something to promote and be proud of. By the end of the month let us all tweet just one great thing about ourselves, but use the first 27 days to build that character and recognise others.

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There is much more content to come this month and as in our previous themed months we are looking for you to share how you have been promoting strength and talent in your setting.

Don’t forget the hashtag #ForteFebruaryHT

 

“I’m sorry to have to tell you…”

On the training day she was not her normal bubbly self, a sore throat talking its toll. ‘Take a few days off,’ we told her.

Fast forward a week. The Head put the phone down: in tears. Our colleague’s husband had just called. She had passed away in hospital that morning.

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We have a bereavement policy as many schools do, but our reactions over the next two days were very much instinctive and driven by emotion and human values.

The first reaction was ‘How do we tell the staff?’ We didn’t want them finding out through social media, so I took an early morning assembly while the Head held a briefing. This hit them hard, obviously. They were just getting over the news that the Head was leaving at the end of term so this was a double blow. An hour and a quarter later I was still taking assembly whilst my colleagues were still consoling each other and trying to come to terms with what had happened. The children, even the little ones, were superb. They must have sensed something: I can do 15 minutes to the second. I was indebted to my bank of memorised stories.

The next obstacle was how to tell the children. With advice, we wrote to the parents of both the classes she worked in, explaining that we would tell the children tomorrow, though if they wanted to tell their children themselves we would understand and appreciate that. The letters went home in sealed envelopes. Most of the children in the older class were told by their parents; most in the younger class, mine, weren’t.

The next morning I faced the hardest thing I’ve ever done in teaching; tougher than any interview, lesson observation or OFSTED inspection. Though supported by our SENCO, our other TA, the school counsellor and two other staff in the room, I had to tell the children straight. There was no easy way. I simply had to tell the class that their beloved Teaching Assistant had died.

Silence.

Then the first tear.

Next the eye contact.

That was it.

More than twenty four hours of holding it all in for everyone else took its toll and the emotions just flowed despite every effort to hold it all together. I have never appreciated a hug from a colleague as much.

The children for once had few questions.

“I can’t expect you to work today,” I told them. They could choose what to do. There were adults and each other to talk to or if they preferred a solitary and contemplative moment they could take that too.

The rest of the morning absolutely demonstrated why strong values are of such importance in a school; compassion, love, respect, care, responsibility, courage, loyalty and hope were all demonstrated by the children that day.

A number of children sat alone under the pergola, sobbing quietly. Others just hugged. One or two were beside themselves and sought out the comfort of the staff member they had known the longest or the opportunity to offload to the counsellor. The boys cried more than the girls. Some children chose to draw, some chose to write. Their immediate instinct was to draft letters and to design cards for her family. Three of the girls played their flutes in one corner.

The most beautiful and touching moment came with the creation of an impromptu shrine. Leaves, flowers, little cairns of gravel, notes, cards, pictures and letters appeared in a pure expression by the children of their feelings and emotions.

For the teacher and TA this morning was exhausting, though the first we realised was when we were whisked away to the staffroom and given hot tea and crumpets whilst the class was looked after by others. We hadn’t worked together long and this gave us the first chance to talk, to realise how much we shared and to forge a lasting friendship. We were eternally grateful that we were being looked after too.

These events were nearly two years in the past. It has taken much contemplation to compose this piece. The children moved on quickly but they still remember her fondly. It hit the adults harder; she was younger than some of us and many of us had family the same age. The funeral was five weeks later, so our goodbye words had much longer to be composed.

On reflection and given the passage of time, there are a few words of advice that could be shared with others that may have to face such a loss.

  • Be honest with the children. Neither ‘special place’ nor ‘star in heaven’ was the advice we were given. It was hard, but it had to be factual.
  • Let everyone express their emotions. Know your children though. Some had lost grandparents that year and the counsellor was sat closest to those children. They sought her succour.
  • If anyone suggests ASD children lack empathy, then think again. One, who had been prepped by mum on our advice, consoled and hugged others with a heartfelt “It’s going to be ok!” whilst another really sobbed thinking all his adults were now vulnerable. A third child asked “Can she go to the doctor to be mended?” and he did need some one-to-one intervention.
  • Some people, children and adults, are more resilient than others. Some hold it together while others show their emotion immediately. It doesn’t make anyone less strong, less compassionate or sensitive if they express themselves differently from others.
  • Grief is exhausting. If you are leading, look after yourself; if you are looking out for your colleagues, give them a break too.
  • Know your children. Know your staff. It makes it easier to manage.

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We would all hope that this is a moment we wouldn’t have to encounter in our professional careers and though another establishment might approach it differently, it worked for us because of our core values, trust and teamwork.

Collaboration or Competition?

At Healthy Toolkit HQ our thoughts, words and actions are guided by our values.

We set out our core values in a previous blog. Here you will find the seven central principles which detail and guide our personal and professional behaviours and which determine our mission statement and fundamental beliefs. https://wordpress.com/post/healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/635

In the coming weeks and months we are going to explore these values in turn and consider each in a practical and realistic way that will support wellbeing, beginning with “Collaboration”.

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Why Collaboration?

There is no ‘I’ in team, but there is in ‘win’, to quote an oft used motivational quote.

This weekend sees the third round of the FA Cup, and those of us who still regard this stage of the competition with the misty eyed romance of our youth look back at Wrexham dispatching the mighty Arsenal or Manchester United being unceremoniously dumped by a then lower league Bournemouth. Surprise results in league fixtures are less common, though not impossible as we know, but every third round weekend the football press is full of speculation at the surprises and shocks that might ensue.

Why is this? Perhaps in some ways we shouldn’t be surprised. For every aging centre forward with creaky knees there is a young whippet of a midfielder with boundless energy. Everyone plays to each other’s strengths, plays as a unit and supports each other. Maybe the arrogance of status, wealth and reputation weighs too heavily on the shoulders of giants. Ultimately though the success of the underdog comes down to collaboration and the greater good of the team.

The relevance of this to our environment?  Successful schools have a culture of collaboration at the hub of their operation.  Even the mavericks would subscribe to this ethos.

Competition: the antithesis of collaboration?

In making the FA Cup analogy, we are also considering a competition. The underdogs don’t merely turn up to make up the numbers and take the monetary reward. The attention they receive from victory guarantees interest in years to come, even if it is just nostalgic. Competition drives them to succeed, but this is healthy competition.

Healthy competition drives improvement. The vanquished may be sore afterwards, but it is fair, accepted and ultimately part of life’s learning processes. Unhealthy competition however can result in more unpleasant and undesirable consequences.

This week we carried out a poll through our Twitter account and though we can’t claim it to be especially scientific the results were interesting.  Only 3% of respondents felt that they thrived as teachers in an environment of competition. 60% preferred a collaborative atmosphere and the remainder a balance of both. We would hope that this represents a degree of healthy competition.

Developing Collaboration

Collaboration enhances creativity. Within a collaborative work environment, ideas are born and developed. The most recent changes to the National Curriculum and to statutory assessment have very much pushed collaboration up the agenda. The amount of stationery produced by the DfE under this incarnation is much less than the days of multiple folders, but this has resulted in less central guidance and in theory more autonomy. Given the confusion over moderation standards, particularly with KS2 writing, many LA consultants were caught out and seemingly in the mindset of the ‘old money’ assessment. The schools who were most successful in the transition (and we don’t mean those with the ‘best’ results) didn’t panic, pooled the rational thoughts of their staff and collaborated with non-judgemental moderation with other schools.

Diversity is recognised and appreciated through collaboration. We all come from different backgrounds and with different experiences.  Compare the teacher with twenty years of experience but  with a “It’s worked this way for all this time and I’m not changing it now” mindset to the one with an equal length of service who is always willing to change, adapt and to say how much has been learned from a younger and less experienced colleague. Do you recognise these people? The open minded teacher here is recognising a degree of healthy competition.

Collaboration promotes innovation. In an atmosphere which is non-judgemental, where the potential solutions suggested by everyone are considered, suggestions can be developed and questioned, trialled and evaluated. Failure isn’t considered as a judgement but as an opportunity to develop further. This may manifest itself in development of workload solutions, homework policies or reporting procedures. It returns to the ‘sideways in’ rather than ‘top down’ model of developing school practice.

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Collaboration makes people feel valued. Their opinions are heard and taken on board. The best CPD sessions and staff meetings are held in environments where people are unafraid to express themselves and question appropriately. The extremes, neither of which is acceptable, are either one where only SLT speak and opinion is either discouraged or repressed, or one in which cliques dominate and an atmosphere of backstabbing and self-promotion has subsumed the ethos of a school. If you have lived through this either you have escaped it or, more positively, one something about it.

True collaboration does make staff feel valued. They can see their actions and opinions acted upon by others, manifested in policy, classwork or display. Everybody contributes in some degree to the success of the school. Have a think about your staff photograph board in the school entrance. Is it hierarchical? Head at top, then Deputy, SLT and probably cleaners at the bottom? Or is it presented alphabetically or in a circle? Ask yourself which model values staff more equally.

Competition

How healthy can competition be? This is a tricky question, perhaps best answered by what healthy competition doesn’t look like.

For some people competition might boost one person’s self-esteem, but it might damage someone else’s confidence. Take a two form entry primary school for example. If we were to look at one year group and filter the results of one class from another there may be a significant difference in results. How is this used? Professional development opportunities for the teacher with the lower scores may result; maybe the teacher is young, inexperienced, and unfamiliar with assessment systems. Or maybe those are the accurate results and it is the other teacher who has overestimated the scores. Too often we see results used as a stick to beat a teacher with.

Accuracy needs to be central to any assessment and each year the guidance for Key Stage 2 makes it clear that maladministration is unacceptable. Yet each year there are an increasing number of cases reported and a good deal of rumour among schools about the accuracy of the results of others. League tables and results may drive competition, but when that leads to children leaving primary school with results that don’t reflect their actual ability, is that competition actually helping them.

Within schools themselves, there needs to be a recognition that end of Key Stage results are the result of the efforts of everyone, not only of the teachers in Years 2 and 6. Unhealthy schools with a cliquey atmosphere may be aware of a sense of favouritism towards these staff. Secondary colleagues might relate to situations where one department seems to be more favoured than others. Either situation erodes self-esteem and doesn’t promote collaboration effectively.

Collaboration and Competition in the online world

Twitter offers the best CPD ever in our opinion. The fact you can ask a question and someone will answer it whatever time of day or night and that that teachers have taken the time to set up professional chats on a regular basis to discuss subjects, phases, leadership, SEND and more general education matters both show that collaboration is alive and well in the digital education world.

There is an unpleasant side though. Phonics, SEND and mental health seem to produce near apoplectic responses from some people online, as does labelling ‘the other side’ as ‘traditional’ or ‘progressive’. Jumping into others conversations to berate, belittle and expose another leading often to a mob response is too often a feature of tweet exchanges. Mocking the well intentioned campaigns of fellow professionals or the practice in some schools also appears on our timelines. Blocking often results, as does complaints about being blocked as if it is somehow ‘unfair’.

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A few things to bear in mind. The ‘Trad/Prog’ debate may exist in the minds of some teachers and in higher levels of academia, but ask in most staffrooms and most teachers couldn’t identify as one or the other and probably employ a mixture of both because, let’s face it, the majority of teachers know what they are doing and know what is best for their classes.

Another: most teachers aren’t on Twitter, and most teachers who are on Twitter don’t partake in mudslinging and impassioned debate. They support each other and share ideas and concepts that benefit themselves and their classes.

Finally, would you tell another teacher how to teach? Otherwise it comes out as “You’re rubbish- do it like I say”. Telling another teacher how to teach? The words of the admirable Professor Hattie ring very true here. https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-news/telling-another-teacher-how-teach-its-a-sin-says-leading-academic …

 

Collaboration or Competition?

Collaboration will increasingly be a necessity between schools as Local Authorities start to disappear and schools increasingly join a MAT issues that may arise may help shared CPD, shared moderation and pooling resources, but may equally lead to competition about results, teachers being over competitive and a hierarchy within the group of schools. Time will tell.

We all have talents. Some we know because we have to demonstrate these on a daily basis. Teaching and leadership requires skills, knowledge and aptitude. We all have hidden talents too; do you know who in your staff is a gifted artist, award winning figure skater, talented writer or potential chef?

We choose collaboration because it can create and nurture community spirit. It’s about sharing and empowering others to grow rather than keeping everything for yourself and gaining a false sense of power. Collaboration is the way we all become part of a learning community and it is the learning community that ultimately determines all our futures.