#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‘.

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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.

 

 

 

“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’.

07-ernest-hemingway-quotes-nobility

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.

 

Joyful January

januaryAs the year draws to its end, the Christmas tree begins to look limp and lifeless and the mere mention of a turkey sandwich sends even the most ardent carnivore to the pages of a vegetarian cookbook. The New Year will inevitably bring resolutions: cutting down, cutting out, and changing of ways. With equal inevitability these may last a few days before the cold, dark and damp sends even the most zealous promises back from whence they came. Resolutions are all well and good but here at Healthy Toolkit HQ we believe that if a change is going to be made it need not be hostage to the calendar but made when the need to do so is recognised.

Incidentally until 1752 we marked New Year on 25th March, Lady Day, to mark the Annunciation. Spring would be a more appropriate time for a change given the lengthening days, warmer temperatures and signs of new life in the gardens and fields. However we digress.

January can be a challenging month. Though ‘Blue Monday’ is largely dismissed as pseudoscience, the third Monday into a long month can feel dark with a long break between paydays with the December salary often paid in well before Christmas and probably largely spent by this point. Add in dark mornings and evenings, often bitterly cold, seasonal sniffles and bugs and the feeling that everything is bare after the decorations are removed.

For those of us who have worked elsewhere before teaching, the scenario of the directors attending long business lunches and most evenings at other Christmas social events may be familiar. Heavy drinking does little for a good mood and dictating that the office will have a dry January makes it little better. One person is able to kill a mood in a meeting; a grumpy recovery from a month long hangover can make this uncomfortable for everyone else.

The ability to stifle a mood doesn’t always result from a sore head, but often from a particular mindset. This can be witnessed across a range of workplaces including our staffrooms. The most effective staffrooms are ones where a positive mindset builds an ethos of teamwork and consistency, and it is from this basis that we are proud to launch our next campaign #JoyfulJanuaryHT.

Joyful January, like Nurture November, is all about positivity, but this time rather than simply looking out for our colleagues; spread a little happiness through your actions, words and communication.

We will be tweeting regular content throughout the month, but here are a few things that you can be doing to promote the health and wellbeing of your teachers, teaching assistants and other colleagues, and hopefully your students too.

  • Words are our most potent weapon. Make them count. Don’t begin a conversation with ‘Can you…’, ‘Will you…’ or ‘I want…’ How about ‘Good Morning’ or ‘How are you?’ Choose your words carefully.listen
  • Try setting up a ‘Joy Jar’ in your staffroom to which you add one positive and happy thing that has happened that day. Open them up and read them at the end of the month, or the end of the year, to reveal just how much positivity there is in our schools. This is a great idea for classrooms too, to share the positivity with our young learners.joy-jar
  • Keep a Joy Journal. This is more personal but again is a way of reflecting and evaluating more positively on our experiences. Ignore the negatives and record five to ten things which have gone well, however insignificant you may consider them to be.joy-journal
  • Set up a Gratitude Tree. Again a really simple device which can be used with children and adults. A homemade one with a few fallen twigs is just as good as a commercially produced one. Alternatively using a display board with a two dimensional tree works just as well. The actions are the same whichever method is used; the ‘leaves’ are thanks to individuals and groups for particular actions or general attitudes that enable us to share and grow positively.gratitude-tree
  • Find the joy in everyday things. It is amazing what we ignore in a digital, instant and throwaway society. Appreciate some art, read a book, find a favourite tree, plant some bulbs, bake a favourite cake. The simple things are often those that offer most comfort in challenging times.
  • Have a digital detox day, and make it regular. Ignore Twitter and the incessant negativity from some quarters. Turn off the email, Facebook and digital interaction. If you are serious about this, try ignoring the television for a whole day too. And if you can’t avoid the smartphone for a day, try using it positively by capturing positive images from your experiences.
  • Don’t complain! It wears others down!complain
  • Create positive routines- morning and evening. Organising your clothes and tomorrow’s lunch, spending time with your children, reading the next chapter of your book and cutting off work thoughts at a given time all bread positivity and add to a settled and happy mindset.jan-happy

Like we said 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 positive attitudes into the New Year.

Don’t forget the hashtag #JoyfulJanuaryHT

Happy New Year from all of us at Healthy Toolkit HQ!

 

Four Yorkshire Teachers

 

Our Christmas Eve Blog! For light entertainment in the form of a script. Please read in a Northern accent with a hearty amount of tongue in cheek.

With apologies to Monty Python. For those too young to know who Monty Python was, here is the original!

 

 

Mr Hutton:                   End of t’ school day! There is something magical about seeing all those little kiddies with smiles on their faces, rushing out to their mams and dads isn’t there Mr Boycott.

Mr Boycott:                 Aye Mr Hutton. That and t’ looks of abject horror on t’ parents faces when they see all the reading, and times tables, and words in French, parlez-vous Francais, that they have to learn by the end of t’ week.

Mr Hutton:                   I asked mine to learn ‘clairvoyant’.

Mr Boycott:                 They didn’t see that one coming.

Mr Hutton:                   I’m just making a brew. Would you like one?

Mr Boycott:                 Aye Mr Hutton. Best drink of t’ day! Very gracious of you! I said very gracious of you.

Mrs Close:                   And if you’re doing a pot, don’t forget me and Miss Trueman.

Mr Hutton:                   Will do Mrs Close, will do!

Mr Boycott:                 You’re looking glum lass! What’s bothering ye?

Miss Trueman:            I’ve been trolled on Twitter. I posted a picture of some lovely creative work in groups and some triple marking in green, pink and purple. I had thirty people I don’t know telling me they should be sat in rows while I imparted t’knowledge and mared everything with a big tick.

Mr Hutton:                  Folk with too much time on their hands lass!

Miss Trueman:           At least I didn’t send that picture of us hugging trees. That would have sent them apoplectic!

Mr Boycott:                 In my day we had to troll by pigeon!

Mr Hutton:                  Carrier pigeon?

Mr Boycott:                 Aye!

Mr Hutton:                 Luxury! We had to read t’message, slaughter t’pigeon in cold blood, roast it over an open fire and carry on trolling with smoke signals!

Mrs Close:                   A real fire! We had to send our smoke signals with damp matches and a rolled up Daily Mirror.

Miss Trueman:           What’s really getting me down is t’work. Having to get this class to Expecting t’expected standard just to get my pay rise.

Mrs Close:                   Fair play lass! You don’t get owt for nowt in this game.

Miss Trueman:            I know that Mrs Close, but I’m already working 21 hours a day and paying t’ Head teacher for t’ privilege.

Mr Hutton:                   I was reading that we are only going to get more cash if t’ whole school results improve.

Mrs Close:                   Not a problem Mr Hutton. I haven’t got any more of those ‘Working towards Working up to Developing of the Expected Standards’ in my class this year!

Mr Boycott:                 What have ye done with them? Locked them in t’ cupboards like t’ last time?

Mrs Close:                   No! I’ve moved them?

Miss Trueman:            Moved them! What on earth do you mean?

Mrs Close:                   Not actually physically moved them per se! My youngest son Richard the third (pause) of my children is a genius on t ‘interweb. He hacked int’ t’ database of t’ local authority and gave them all a new post code. They’ve all had to leave, and all get bussed of to Manchester!

Mr Hutton:                   Best place for them I say! I said best place for them.

Mr Boycott:                 But your class is full Mrs Close.

Mrs Close:                   Aye Mr Boycott it is. Of ‘Exceeding t’Development of ‘Greatest Depth’ children. Our Richard hacked t’ details of t’ posh school up t’ road. All those kids from t’ private estate at top of hill have got to come here now.

Miss Trueman:             You mean with t’ dads who speak like William Hague and t’ mums who sound like Dame Judi Dench.

Mrs Close:                   That’s them pet. All in my class now. Boosting standards and meeting targets. My pay rise is in t’ bag lass.

Mr Hutton:                   You’re a canny one Mrs Close! I said you’re a canny one! Wouldn’t you agree Mr Boycott?

Mr Boycott:                 Aye you’re right there Mr Hutton. Is that why we haven’t been turned into an academy yet?

Miss Trueman:            Has teaching always been like this Mr Hutton?

Mr Hutton:                   No lass! I remember when we didn’t have to set a target for t’ number of times a child used the –oo- sound in a book.

Mr Boycott:                 That’s nothing! I recall when there wasn’t a National Curriculum and we could teach whatever we wanted. I remember teaching nothing but the works of The Brontes and Alan Bennett for a whole year.

Mrs Close:                   In them days I would keep a field trip on t’ moors for two weeks without a worry for risk assessments or Health and Safety.

Mr Hutton:                  In a tent!

Mrs Close:                   Aye!

Mr Hutton:                   You were lucky! I once re-enacted t’ Battle of Marston Moor on the playground in a force 9 gale, in full battle dress and with replica weaponry.

Mr Boycott:                 Me too. Battle of Wakefield! Wooden replicas?

Mr Hutton:                   Aye!

Mr Boycott:                 Luxury! We had original axe heads! And a pot of glue to stick t’kids ears back on!

Mrs Close:                   Right! I remember when I could get in here at 9 o’clock just as t’ kids were arriving, have a fag in t’ staffroom, meet t’ inspectors for a pie, a pint and a game of darts, not fear for your job, give t’ kids a clip round t’ ear for being cheeky, just give a big tick for your marking, and go home at the same time as your class.

Mr Hutton:                   Aye! Them were the days!

Mr Boycott:                 And you try and tell the young teachers of today that ….. they won’t believe you.