Help! I’m being judged by my fitness app.

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Fitness trackers and mobile phone fitness apps have a default daily setting of 10000 steps. When the buzz of the phone or the vibration of the wristband starts there is a feeling of great satisfaction of achieving a daily target, especially with time to spare.

Fitness trackers are big business, and many will no doubt find their way into the Christmas stockings of many a busy teacher. Tracker apps are often fitted as standard on many smart phones. We started using one on a mobile phone out of curiosity for how active we were. Like much of what is on a phone it has become a bit of an obsession tracking daily steps, distance and calories burned.

The notion of 10000 steps a day dates back to the preparations for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. As the event approached, pedometers became all the rage. Even now, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare recommends “a daily walk of 8,000 to 10,000 steps”. The UK National Obesity Forum says that a person who walks between 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day qualifies as “moderately active”. The 10000 figure as a round number appears less vague than 7000.

At a reasonable  walking pace however, 10000 steps can be covered in at 100 steps a minute in 100 minutes. 700 minutes of exercise a week. Now that sounds a lot; 11 hours and 40 minutes to be precise. Which busy teacher can spare that amount of time in a week to exercise?

Of further issue is that not all steps are equal, as those of us with partners with less lengthy strides would attest to. 10000 steps will differ for everyone, by stride length, pace, gait and frequency. It is quite possible to cover 10000 steps in the course of a school day if not based in class; accounted for by several trips up the corridor each day, playground duty where patrolling rather than being at a central point is the norm and a lunchtime duty on the school field. Classroom based days will produce a considerably smaller step count. A recent day on which the target was hit returned a distance of 9.08 km and a 619 calorie burn for 10651 steps, but when class based 6630 steps , 5.66 km and 398 calories was the result. Were we going to attempt the final 3370 steps? There is a limit to the number of times going up and down stairs can occur without causing great annoyance.

Using a phone based app also requires the phone to be on your person. Does anyone honestly take their phone to bed with them and then on each trip to the loo during the night? If your phone is locked away, tucked in a coat or bag, steps taken won’t count. Not a problem those with a wristband device have.

10000 steps could be achieved daily, but at a push. Are we in danger of relying on these devices to judge our fitness? 10000 steps in bursts of 500 isn’t going to impact on fitness. 10000 in one stretch will, but so would swimming, trampolining, any team sport or a fitness DVD, unlikely to be accompanied by one’s phone.

A slightly depressing addition is how some apps would appear to judge us. During one week where an average of 9000 steps was walked but the daily target not breached the message ‘So: last week was a bit rough!‘ appeared. ‘You were active only for 89 minutes yesterday; why not aim for 99 minutes today‘.

In recent months, an app available on an internationally popular brand of phone launched a monthly international challenge. The aim is to reach a monthly target of 200000 steps to achieve a badge. Not unreasonable, and actually much less than 10000 steps a day. Imagine the consternation at Healthy Toolkit HQ when it was discovered that several people had hit that target before lunchtime on day one and by the end of the month were posting totals over 7 million steps. Over 230000 steps a day? That’s 15000 for each walking hour or two marathons in a day. Some cheating no doubt, placing the phone on a vibrating plate. The core lesson here needs to be not to look at the leaderboard; it’s hardly the Olympic Medal table after all.

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The 10000 steps target is a nice round number, but remember it can be achieved without exercise. We did 10000 steps at BETT last year, testament only to the size of EXCEL, not to a fitness regime. In determining our exercise routine as busy teachers, whilst the 10000 steps represents a measurable target, remember that snaffling that last chocolate biscuit could undo the day’s work, and that other more effective ways of maintaining our fitness exist, alongside a healthy diet and crucially a sound work-life balance.

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#DetoxDecemberHT: Revisited,Rebooted and Revised

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Last Advent we launched #DetoxDecemberHT and much as we did with November we have revisited our previous blog, selected a few prime cuts and added a few more choices and suggestions for the run to the Festive Season. The original post can be found here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/11/28/detox-december/

Many of the responses to the hashtag a year ago drew upon our slightly unconventional approach to the definition of ‘detox’

” ‘Detox’ is one of those words which through slang and ‘text speak’ has been abbreviated from its original spelling. As a noun, detoxification is a process or period of time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances. As a verb, to detoxify means to be actively involved in abstinence or expulsion of toxins. We normally associate detoxification with diet, alcohol or medication, but as we shall explore further, there are other aspects to our professional and personal lives to which the principles of detoxification can apply.”

This was last years eleven point plan to a detoxified December.

  1. Eat healthily.
  2. Drink more water.
  3. Drink fruit and herbal teas.
  4. Cut down or cut out the alcohol.
  5. Make positive connections.
  6. Exercise.
  7. Prioritise
  8. Meditate.
  9. Declutter.
  10. Reconnect with your inner child.
  11. Have a social media detox.

We can all make decisions about detoxing our diet and particularly with what is regarded as ‘stodge season’ on the horizon, healthy choices for lunches and dinners can maintain energy, boost immunity and keep the additional pounds at bay. Likewise the choices with alcohol can also impact upon wellbeing and weight; in the commercial and financial sectors, Christmas social occasions will start on 1st December and run to the new year. Consider the impact upon the vital organs as well as the purse-strings. Is anyone up to the challenge of going alcohol free from 1st December to Christmas Eve.

Last year’s piece included our thoughts on alternative drinks. This year we have discovered some interesting infusions; turmeric tea, liquorice and peppermint, a range of incarnations and flavourings of green tea.

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“The spirit of #DetoxDecemberHT lies in more than simply a change in dietary habits for teachers. If we examine our lifestyles as a whole we can identify other means to bring a more positive tone to our lives at a challenging time of the school year.”

Have you tried a Digital Detox? One day a week. No tweeting, no checking Twitter. No checking your phone ‘for the football results’. Just yesterday as we were picking a parcel from the sorting office, the polite notice not to use phones in the queue was ignored by 75% of those waiting. Can we avoid Facebook, YouTube, emails and texts and maybe just talk?

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“Making positive connections with people is a way to engage the grey matter, broaden our social circle and find new interests. This may be through social media which can enable like-minded individuals to connect in a positive manner.”

How do we really connect? Do you actually connect with your colleagues? Are your conversations about them, or are they about you? Why not file your ego and take up the Reverse Advent Calendar challenge?

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We ran Reverse Advent Calendars in our schools last Advent, with the local Food Bank benefiting from the generosity of our children and parents, and all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ are creating our own this year.

For the #DetoxDecemberHT #ReverseAdventCalendar we suggest that each day has a random act of positivity, some of which may be actions in school and others in your community. We will post a suggestion each day but these could include: taking a playground duty for a colleague and not expecting cover in return; making lunch for one or all of your team- unannounced; leaving a note of appreciation on the desk, computer or in the pigeonhole of someone you haven’t really communicated with this term; buying a few extra Christmas items at the supermarket and dropping them in the Food Bank collection point.

Positivity is infectious; spread it and the school is a happier place. Detox your December with positive vibes!

 

School Wellbeing: a multi-sided dice, not a loaded one

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In ‘Guys and Dolls‘ Sky Masterson wins a dice game having trumped an attempt to play with fixed dice. Loaded dice will be familiar from many films with a scene set in a casino and in literature, Luke Rhinehart’s ‘The Dice Man‘,has the key protagonist, bored and unfulfilled, making life decisions on the roll of a dice.

Wellbeing on the other hand isn’t a gamble, shouldn’t be down to luck and must not be loaded in the favour of any interested party. As we have written before, putting wellbeing into practice requires dedication  and a commitment, personally and professionally, to strong core values.

Working in a team has its challenges, with a diversity of skills, ages, experiences, opinions and attitudes. Interpersonal skills used effectively can enable the staff to forge effective relationships and work together as a team. The loaded dice, the ‘spanner in the works’, arises when the authentic  dedication to values is undermined by the actions and attitudes of those putting self before team. This may come about as an antagonistic act, but equally likely may arise through force of personality or simply by thoughtlessness.

Wellbeing is for every day and for everyone, but SLT need to set the example, model the good practice and make clear their expectations. In being proactive you need to know your staff: recognise who may be vulnerable to pressures; who doesn’t enjoy the staffroom banter; who has things going on in their lives that add other burdens to their load. SLT need to listen and to talk. Perhaps you may even take up the #TeaAndTalk challenge and differentiate between personal dialogue and staffroom chatter.

Please remember that SLT are human too and have been in class until recently. They often bookend the day at school, handle a lot of flack that never reaches the classroom and also have the often emotionally draining responsibilities related to safeguarding. SLT are equally as entitled to their wellbeing as everyone else in the school.

We need our staff to be well and both physically and mentally able to teach their classes to the best standards possible. Good leadership will guarantee PPA; though it should be set in stone, we know of cases where it has been lost and not returned. Equally those leaders may give additional time for test marking, data entry, report writing and monitoring. Many of the recommendations in the workload review into planning, marking and data management are principled and practical.  It is workload that is likely to take teachers out of the profession, but factors such as support around behaviour also come into play.

In considering their wellbeing all staff also need to consider their colleagues. Nobody can help being ill but the impact of even a day of absence has knock-on implications for those who have to pick up teaching responsibility in addition to other duties. Though you should have your release times guaranteed some loss of it will naturally occur. Time will be paid back by good leaders without the need to ask for it.

 

The only stakeholders entitled to have a slightly more loaded dice for their wellbeing are the children. They are entitled to the best, to be listened to as much as talked to, to have their needs met and to build the social, learning and life skills that make them the values centred young people that contribute to our society. Teach them well, train them well, treat them well; they will repay the care for their wellbeing by the shedload.

In rolling the wellbeing dice, we need to ensure that it can fall equally on each side. Each of us needs to play fair and add equal weight to the care of each other and ourselves. The biggest impact on wellbeing is when individuality comes first; if we complain loudly and inappropriately, if we drain the energy of our colleagues through negative attitude or workload contribution. Part of #NurtureNovemberHT is #NoNegativityNovember HT https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/29/nurturenovemberht-revisited-rebooted-and-refreshed/

So let’s keep positive and play fair!

 

 

 

#NurtureNovemberHT: revisited, rebooted and refreshed!

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One whole year has passed since we launched our first monthly themed hashtag. Here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we considered whether we should have a new theme for the next year, but we all agreed that #NurtureNovemberHT was our favourite theme because it  embraced our values and our ethos. Incidentally it was also our most read blog of the year too: you can find it here https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/nurture-november/ 

Rather than simply reblog last year’s work, we have decided to revisit it in the light of experience, reboot it for the current year and refresh it, because we all know the benefits of blowing away the cobwebs.

“November can be the first really tough month of the school year. It is a time when sickness and absence rates can be higher than other months (February is another) as immunity wears down and we start picking up the bugs and sniffles from the children. The hour goes back this weekend and we will be coming home in the dark as well as arriving at school in the twilight. Seasonal Affective Disorder, though not fully understood, is a real issue for some people. If you are in primary, Christmas starts now! Or perhaps it began in September: Nativities, carol services, Christmas parties, added to keeping the curriculum ticking over and keeping up with deadlines can lead to frayed nerves and grumbling tempers.”

This is still true. The bugs have hit early this year, with many of our Twitter followers reporting colds and viruses striking in September. SLT will however need to be very aware that this month is where not only viruses but also stress starts to hit. The best thing you can do for your teachers is to give them plenty of notice on those deadlines, and to ensure you are keeping an eye out on them for their stress levels.

This is one of the reasons we have launched #TeaAndTalk, a simple initiative which if executed effectively can benefit in many ways including team building, boosting confidence and allowing a more free channel of communication than the cycle of briefings, meetings and feedback would allow. Details can be found here:  https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/10/27/tea-and-talk-best-drink-of-the-day-best-time-of-the-day-teaandtalk/ 

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The schools which deliver staff wellbeing the best will nurture it and nurture their staff. If however you work in an environment where SLT haven’t prioritised staff wellbeing or it is undermined by a few cynics, we may need to nurture our own self care, which we explored in October https://healthyteachertoolkit.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/optimismoctoberht/ and which can be found under the hashtag #SelfCareSunday.

“Recently @HealthyToolkit launched #SelfCareSunday, and some suggestions for this included a digital switch off, days by the coast or getting stuck into a good book. Ultimately self-care comes down to self-choice. The choice might be to select Saturday; though many teachers hate the pressures on Sunday evening, others report that they thrive on it. Each to their own after all……We can’t preach. Self-care is a personal choice very much dependent upon circumstances, relationships, attitudes, values and mindset.”

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A key message of #NurtureNovemberHT is positivity: choosing our words carefully to create a positive working environment, remembering to smile, reflecting upon the successes of the day or week and not allowing a perceived ‘failure’ to drag us down.

Again from last year:

“How many conversations begin ‘Can you…’, ‘Will you…’ or ‘I want…’ instead of ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How are you?’. Words are the simplest and most powerful weapon we have. Make them count.”

“If you are a leader, find a success for everyone, everyday and thank them. Not in a sanctimonious way, but genuinely. Watch the recipient smile!”

“Share a positive or inspirational quote. Not for the sake of it though. Live it, breathe it and make it part of your everyday fabric.

Inspirational quotes don’t suit everyone. Positivity posters create some discussion on EduTwitter too. However if they are chosen carefully and reflect a genuine desire to build a positive, nurturing and self supportive environment we believe that they demonstrate the culture and values of a school. Culture is everything!

In one of our staffrooms we will be launching ‘The Pane of Positivity‘ displaying all the positive messages from the staff newsletters together with contributions to the positivity jar.

We would love to hear how you are nurturing the environment in your schools. We are here all month! Please remember the hashtag #NurtureNovemberHT. Thank you,

Tea and Talk: Best drink of the day; best time of the day; #TeaAndTalk

Been intrigued by #WorldCupOfTea? This is what it has been leading to these last few days.

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When was the last time you talked to your colleagues?

Not a passing ‘Good Morning’, ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘How’s the dog?

Not a quick natter over coffee at break time, when minds are on the next lesson, whether we should be on duty or if the PowerPoint saved on your USB last night.

We mean really talk. Have an actual conversation: one that yields facts, knowledge and insights to your colleagues’ thoughts, mindset, drive and belief; into what makes them tick; into perhaps some aspects of their life that they wanted to share but didn’t know how.

Why do we need to talk? Simply because good schools are about relationships and culture and both can only develop where there is a comfortable and open atmosphere.

  • Are the only conversations in your school about learning, targets, behaviour and appraisal?
  • Do staff feel they are only ever ‘talked at’ rather than ‘talked to’ by leaders and their colleagues?
  • Is meaningful interaction the missing element?
  • Is school culture negative?
  • Are there whispers and grumbles in corridors and behind closed doors rather than chatter, banter and debate in the staffroom?
  • Are cliques and self-interest the norm?
  • Are gossip and rumour a drain on self-confidence?

There is increasing stress on teachers and support staff. If we are seriously going to address the mental health issues of our professionals, a channel to voice their concerns to colleagues is vital.

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This is the thinking behind #TeaAndTalk. It won’t solve everything, nor will it be an overnight success. It is however about the twin supports of relationships and culture and of developing both.

  • It is up to the school when you host it: it could last all year; be every term; every month; every week.
  • It can be hosted by a Head, SLT, governors, teachers or teaching assistants.
  • It can be on a one-to-one basis or in a small group.
  • Ban the biros, hide the highlighters, lose the lined paper: this is time set aside for talking and listening. Not ‘talking at‘ but ‘talking to‘, promoting Wellbeing and Mental Health.

Hosting #TeaAndTalk is easy. We will have posters and top tips for you to down load from HealthyToolKit.

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#Tea&Talk is about bringing people together over the best drink of the day.

#OptimismOctoberHT

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

How has a year gone by so quickly? Our twelfth in our cycle of monthly themes rounds off with a topic dear to our hearts. In the pressure cooker that the education environment of 2017 currently is, negative thoughts are easily generated for leadership pressure, fears over performance and behaviour and by the habit of many teachers to be self-critical. This month we urge you to think positive, drive those critical self-analyses away and be optimistic.

Optimism: it is irritatingly catchy. However is not simply a matter of smiling, laughing off the cares of the world and running through wheat fields. Optimism requires considered actions and attitudes that deep down are driven by our core values. How often have we heard ‘get over it‘ or ‘pull yourself together‘? In point of fact neither are easy options to follow, nor is self-care a walk in the park either. Putting ourselves first, particularly where we put family, friends and colleagues before our own wellbeing, offers many challenges in itself. Ultimately, as most of our themes have suggested, individual mindset comes into play.

Recently @HealthyToolkit launched #SelfCareSunday, and some suggestions for this included a digital switch off, days by the coast or getting stuck into a good book. Ultimately self-care comes down to self-choice. The choice might be to select Saturday; though many teachers hate the pressures on Sunday evening, others report that they thrive on it. Each to their own after all.

Whilst discussing this blog over the Healthy Toolkit HQ kitchen table, we had a healthy debate of our own:

When Sunday night comes around, it’s hard not to experience that feeling of dread for Monday morning. You can use #SelfCareSunday to improve your week by doing a few activities that ensure you’ll have more pleasant days to come. Using Sundays as a dedicated day to get your life together can make for a smoother work week, and you may even find yourself looking forward to the end of the weekend.

If you’re trying to avoid the Monday blues, or you’re just trying to find time to fit in all your errands, consider doing these six things every Sunday to improve the rest of your week.

Plan your meals. Motivate yourself. Have fun”

However we had an alternate viewpoint from another member of our team:

“I don’t like using Sundays to sort out the week. I like to use Sundays to forget about work and household chores and reconnect with myself, God, universe, spend time with kids. Why do we use Sundays for chores? Can we do some things on Friday while we are still in a work mode or Saturday morning? Week is for working. We can’t just say that it’s the only way; we must offer options.”

How do you organise your weekends? What works for you?

We can’t preach. Self-care is a personal choice very much dependent upon circumstances, relationships, attitudes, values and mindset. There are nevertheless a few generic points which our readers may want to consider this coming month.

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Reflect

Upon your own week, month or year. Do the successes outweigh the challenges, laughter the tears and smiles the grimaces? Focusing on the negative is a drain.

Recover

Does the alarm sound before 6am at the weekend too? Does your body clock say ‘school’ to you? A lie in is a rare luxury. Don’t save it to half term or you may be totally exhausted before then. We know some of you might be feeling like that now, but believe us there is a difference between tiredness and total exhaustion.

Renew

Your energies: food, exercise, meditation; whatever suits you. Digital switch off helps too. Do you need to be on Twitter and Facebook at 7am?

Respect

Yourself: your body’s best friend is your mind. Feed it, nurture it, relax it.

Others: the loved one you had sour words with, the friend you had a grumble at, the Tweeter you challenged in haste. Sorry isn’t the hardest word.

Rewind

You can’t turn back time but you can learn from mistakes of the past. If you have spent all weekend planning, little time connecting with the family, no time in the cinema, theatre, pub or football stadium, perhaps now is the time to think how that connection can be reforged, even for a few hours.

Reimagine

Reimagine or reinvent? You won’t change yourself over a weekend. Habits take time to establish, but start leading them and they become routine. A Sunday stroll, an hour in the garden, that subtitled French film that you’ve had sat in the sock drawer since Christmas. Some of you may consider reimagining your work-selves. Are you too hard or too soft? Do you live your values, or just spout them? Are you authentic or putting on an act?

Optimism cannot be dictated. Positivity takes a range of forms dependent upon the individual. #SelfCareSunday, whichever day you take it, allows us to reconnect and rechannel energies. Optimism can help us plan ahead too: Do you know it’s Christmas in only 85 more days?

We have also launched #HealthyToolkitMusic to share amazingly positive and energetic music too. Eagle eyed readers will have spotted the song references hidden in this piece. Please use the hashtag #OptimismOctoberHT in you blogs and tweets. If you are a lucky Tweeter with 280 characters, you can be doubly optimistic.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#SimplifySeptemberHT: Our biggest priority is ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.