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.

#AwarenessAprilHT

Depending upon where you are in the country, we have a week or two until the Easter break and one thing is for certain: every teacher will have half of April as a well earned break. With lengthening days, rising temperatures, blooming daffodils and delicate cherry blossoms, the emergence of Spring can be energising but it may also be enlightening and give us the opportunity to reflect.

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So to support our theme this April, why not take the chance to be reflective and make yourself more aware of others, their needs and their motivation. Use this opportunity to consider what happens in your classroom, your staffroom and in your life outside school. Take the time also to be more self-aware and to think about what you read, what you say and what you post because this will promote our own and other’s wellbeing.

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

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In labelling someone in this way, just consider this. They may have a diagnosis and they may be living with it and coping with it within their own support network. Inconsiderate words and actions might just trigger a crisis or undo weeks or months of progress. Likewise, the recipient may just have an undiagnosed issue and such criticism may tip the balance of an already fragile state of mind. Lastly, such terminology is very much a ‘playground insult’ and not a sign of an enlightened mind.

Stress is a major factor in our mental health. There is probably no escaping the stress of the role of teaching; data and deadlines won’t go away. What we can do is lead and manage in ways that alleviate stress for our colleagues, think about the workload initiative, be aware of the times of the term where there is more to do (parents’ evenings, Nativity plays) and to help our workmates manage time so they don’t make themselves unwell. Self awareness is crucial here too and is probably something comes with experience. Knowing what to drop, what can wait and what isn’t essential can allow us to manage our own stress and wellbeing.

As a modern digitally aware society with such instant access to media we tend to use ‘labels’ a great deal, particularly in a reactive way. Some responses on social media to the events in Westminster this week are an indicator of such labelling or stereotyping. Being so instant, such responses are not always considered and thought through.

Are we too quick to label children as autistic or demonstrating ASD? Is ADHD too easily applied as a term to explain negative behaviour, or are there deeper underlying factors that we don’t always consider? Diagnoses of these conditions are difficult to make and as autism is on a spectrum it is impossible to stereotype. There will be a lot of adults who have grown up without a diagnosis. Their words, actions and attitudes should not be subject to a judgemental response. Instead we need to be aware of how such minds work. There is a plethora of blogs and academic work on the subject, but there are two wonderful works of fiction which illustrate autism and promote it positively. ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ and ‘The London Eye Mystery’ are both great reads, the latter especially suitable for Upper Key Stage 2.

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

As part of #AwarenessAprilHT we would urge you to read and share your findings about such ‘invisible’ disabilities, but also be aware of ‘visible’ matters too. Much of society can be judgemental or ignorant of physical disabilities and of the abilities and intelligence of those being judged.

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

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

Be mindful of your words and actions. Be in control of your life rather than controlled by the events that happen. Be aware of your attitude, your motivation, your ability to bounce back and to persevere. Be aware of your personal values. Do you act in line with them? Or is your response always reactive?

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Lots to think about this coming month, but we have a good two weeks to reflect,rebuild and re-energise. Please join us in #AwarenessAprilHT and add the hashtag to blogs, articles and quotes that promote our theme.

WomenEd: #HeForShe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Professionalism: ‘It’s knowing how to do it, when to do it, then doing it’

There was a flurry of Twitter activity this week with the inaugural conference of the Chartered College of Teaching. Much of the traffic came from within the QEII Conference Centre and some came from those not in attendance.

Predictably however many of these tweets from non-attendees, including some from the other side of the globe, were cynical, negative and sneering in tone. The point of contention here? That #collectivevoice began with some community singing.

Pure marketing genius!

Community singing is something that will be familiar to most teachers, particularly in the primary phase. Anyone who has mumbled their way through ‘All things Bright and Beautiful‘ or ‘Go tell it on the Mountain‘may have felt a little self-conscious at their flat, low and tuneless efforts. However many of us are fans of the beautiful game who have unashamedly belted out ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles‘, ‘You’ll never walk alone‘ or ‘Niall Quinn’s Disco Pants‘. Community singing is all about togetherness, belonging and ‘taking ownership’ of the situation.

However cringeworthy it may have seemed to some participants, the singing was aimed at bringing everyone together at the start of the conference. Furthermore it drew attention to the Chartered College through the social media platform as it began its role as a body to promote the professionalism of teaching professionals.

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We all leave our teacher training institution with a level of skill and knowledge that enables us to teach. CPD, subject leader conferences, leadership courses and further academic study promote and develop our skills and knowledge. Do they however promote that third vital element of professionalism?

Does professional behaviour receive any more than a passing mention in initial teacher training? We can recall a mention of ‘be aware of the policies of the school’ before a teaching practice began but little else beyond that.

Are we familiar with eye-rolling during staff meetings? With  smirks and sniggers during INSET being delivered by a visiting speaker? With the voice that rudely interrupts the person leading the session- thirteen times in an hour, the longest interjection being over eleven minutes- is one we have heard.

Discussions that can be overheard because the door is open? Staffroom cliques? Inappropriate language in emails? Berating colleagues in public?

How about the termly meeting organised by the LA where the delegate from one particular school would arrive ten minutes late every time, and instead of offering his apologies would shower the tables with chocolates and sweets to the clear annoyance of the person leading. ‘Oh isn’t he a character!’ announced one attendee. ‘No, he’s an egotistical …..’ muttered another after three years of this each term, loud enough for the table to hear, followed by barely suppressed giggles.

Rudeness is clearly unprofessional. Egotistical and attention seeking behaviour isn’t either. Though the above incidents may be isolated, they will be in the experience of many.

Use of social media by teachers as we have discussed before is useful for professional contacts, advice and support. There is often healthy debate and discussion but also there can be a very negative side.

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Is it professional to berate another teacher for their opinion? Is it appropriate to criticise someone for being ‘progressive’, or ‘traditional’? Is it professional to block someone then announcing it for all to see? Is the act of blocking, other than for obvious abuse, professional in itself, censoring and silencing a voice in your timeline?

Is it professional to be critical of the conduct of a meeting which you haven’t attended?

The voice of the late, great Steve Jobs speaks volumes.

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The Chartered College of Teaching is there to promote professionalism and the profession.

And Dame Alison, if you are reading this, if you really want a social media reaction to your next meeting, rather than have everyone singing, make them do Country Dancing!

Qu’est-ce que l’amour?

In the words of Burt Bacharach and Hal David ‘What the world needs now is love sweet love‘ and from another philosophical piece ‘What do you get when you fall in love; a boy with a pin to burst your bubble.

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On this Valentine’s Day, if we were to look beyond the commercial aspects of the occasion but consider instead the nature of love itself, we would discover there is no ‘toolkit’ for love, no manual nor guru to show the way. It lies in our experience, our culture, our mindset as much as in the minds and deeds of those we encounter.

Can we teach ‘love’?

If we can teach ‘happiness’, then we can teach ‘love’. Through moral values, through modelling decency and responsibility and through a positive culture, we can hopefully guide our young people towards a path of respectful behaviour. We know that many of our children do not come from an environment where loving relationships are not the same as our own, that they witness and experience things that would cause us concern for their wellbeing.

Ask any primary age child about love and the first reaction will be an attack of the giggles. Dig a little deeper though, and their philosophy is enlightening.

‘Being loved can make you happy.’

‘Sharing love is like having a big bubble inside that never bursts.’

‘Love is one of the things we need to survive: like food, air and water.’

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Must we love ourselves first?

We must love ourselves and be kind to ourselves. In our digital and high pressured world world, self-doubt can easily erode our confidence, undermine our abilities and prevent us performing as we should. We are all talented, dedicated and resourceful.

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Do we need the approval of others, particularly the confidence drainers of social media?

If you are in any doubt, the answer is a resounding ‘NO!!!!’

Who needs our love?

Love is a great theme for assembly. If you are in a values based school, the opportunity to model, promote and share loving values brings appropriate language and considered actions onto the agenda and into discussion. In our experience the use of such language is positive in approaching issues such as bullying and understanding the behaviour of others.

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Love isn’t just for Valentine’s Day: it’s for life! Take your time with your special ones today but remember, love is a life skill. If you can genuinely show love it is demonstrated in all your behaviours, in real life and through social media.

Love is a strength, one that we are celebrating through #ForteFebruaryHT.

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

 

Farewell then, Mr President

American Presidents often disappoint whilst in office. George Washington is an obvious exception, but then he had the dual advantages of being first and kicking the Brits out. Lincoln pulled the country back together, was a gifted and talented wordsmith and embodied the notion of ‘keep your enemies close’ with his rivals for the nomination holding high office in his administration. However he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet before he could complete his vision as was John F. Kennedy, whose reputation has been somewhat glossed over. Kennedy did after all authorised a disastrous invasion of Cuba, sent the first military advisors to Vietnam and was a serial womaniser. He was the first president to embrace the power of the visual image and of the soundbite, though ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ still amuses those in the German capital as they tuck into a jam filled doughnut.

The real impact of past presidents comes in their legacy and their post-presidential life. For every Harding and Coolidge, there is a Hoover and Truman, two men who brought their talents to bear in other fields in their time out of office. The Iran Hostage Crisis haunted the last 444 days of Jimmy Carter’s administration, but he has rebuilt his reputation as a great humanitarian in his later years.

So what then of the now departed Barack Obama?

In his final days he was reflective about his eight years. He recognised his achievements alongside his failures. He was a President who did focus primarily upon domestic affairs having been left a huge financial mess by the Bush administration.

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If we look not at Obama the politician, but at Obama the person, we see a man with values and integrity. He is a genuinely loving father and husband. In paying tribute to Michelle in his final speech in Chicago the tear in his eye was a true indication of the feelings for his wife. He is a man of humility, integrity and respect. Obama was very much a team player. He moved his Vice-President to tears with his words in presenting Joe Biden with the Medal of Freedom, honouring a man who brought life to a role which to those of us in the UK often seems anonymous and empty. Biden’s letter to his staff, though two years out of date, indicates the values of leadership and decency were shared.

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A President bursting into song may appear cheesy or contrived, but look again at his performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ at the funeral for the victims of the Charleston shooting.

He composes himself. This is genuine and heartfelt. Obama will be remembered as a man able to express his emotions. Real men do indeed cry.

He could play the soundbites, he could provide the inspirational quotes, he could use social media to his advantage and he knew the power of image. He used each though in a positive manner.

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Barack Obama is still a young man at 55. He will build on his legacy in the coming years and we will see plenty of him in other roles.

His legacy as it stands now is one we in education can draw much from. His values are integral to his every action. His honour, fidelity, sense of humour and honesty are what we would like to see in anyone we encounter, child or adult. His words will inspire many a PSHE lesson and assembly. The Obama team spirit embodies what leadership really needs to look like. The transition period was not a ‘lame duck’ ten weeks, but a time to demonstrate and share why he was in the trusted position he held. One of his last actions as President, as he escorted his successor, was to take Michelle’s hand and kiss it . This wasn’t for the cameras; it genuinely reflects the qualities of Barack Obama the man.

Contrast the above though with his successor. A man unafraid to express opinion that many consider offensive and discriminatory. His misogynistic attitude to women in general shown through the comments made about his opponent in the election and towards female journalists, are disturbing in the least. The allegations made against him of groping are appalling, but what is worse is the casual dismissal of these. During the election campaign this man offended the families of fallen American soldiers. He was also dismissive of PSTD sufferers in the military accusing them of not being ‘strong‘ and that they ‘can’t handle it‘.

GOP 2016 Debate

This is a man who has the smug arrogance to take to Twitter to aggressively support and defend his actions, adding a ‘shouty’ tone in this communication to his words behind a microphone. He will hold a grudge and keep on for days and not see his errors. We are possibly going to see the grudge against journalists and intelligence services rear their head at the slightest opportunity as a diversionary tactic to the real truth.

Shouting down with ‘You’re Fake News!’ may become a regular call out in the next term. Many cannot abide him as the protests show, but we have seen no acknowledgement that he recognises this. As his press secretary accused the television networks and journalists of dishonestly reporting the numbers present at the inauguration. Anyone who makes such controversial comments is going to have a few cheerleaders defending him, seemingly blinded to the opinions and feelings of others.

‘History will absolve me’ said Fidel Castro years before he came to power. Although he claims to speak for the people, history may judge the new American president as only thinking of himself.

Good sound moral values are at the core of good schools. Barack Obama has provided values that we can draw upon for many years to come, regardless of how successful history regards his presidency. His successor may provide less useful sources of inspiration.