Speak

A speaker should approach his preparation not by what he wants to say, but by what he wants to learn. – Todd Stocker

I hate speaking.

You wouldn’t know it, of course; I teach, after all. My year ten groups would probably jump to tell you how much I love the sound of my own voice. I hate telephone conversations , will text over calling, still refuse to ring for a taxi or a takeaway and have an app for all these things. I like to speak to children, and the smaller the group (number, not height), the more comfortable I am.

I hated speaking to an even greater degree at school. Among even my friends, I would think of things I’d like to say, but very rarely would they become a reality. It wasn’t cool to speak in class, and as two or three kids in my lessons led the way in giving answers, and behaviour was poor enough that teachers would welcome their input and let them lead the lesson, I would answer questions and contribute to conversations internally, trying to then challenge my own ideas, or listening to others to clear up my misconceptions. I became a habitual hypothetical conversationalist, playing out conversations in my head that never materialised to anything more.

It wasn’t until I found myself in a professional capacity that I was forced to make these conversations more tangible. Work meetings, leading recruitment strategy, conference calls all required me to not only share ideas, but lead them. This kind of discussion platform is completely different from a one to one exchange about an idea you came up with, or the pleasantries of every day life, but instead, people are listening to you. Not waiting to respond, but listening to you speak for an extended period of time with the expectation that you will take something away from it of meaning, significance or to action.

Let’s take this back into a school setting. In banking, my position helped to give me (to some extent) a level of credibility to drive those conversations: with students, we’re not so lucky. Students make you earn that credibility and rarely use the judgement of others and hearsay to form their own conclusions. That’s not to say that they are damning by default: they want to want to listen to you speak. It just has to be worth it, and those first few months are crucial with a new class to ascertain that your subject knowledge and ability to impart deserves to be listened to. The teacher as expert makes an undiluted but unspoken demand that you have a place to speak in a classroom.

Teachers speaking are a child’s first experience of talking outside of the realm of everyday conversation. Our delivery in classrooms is a model holding an audience, and sets a precedence for what to do when someone is speaking. There’s a great power in what takes place whilst you speak, and whilst immeasurable, it is these qualities that we develop through instruction in the classroom. You are not just imparting knowledge, but students learn:

  • How to actively listen
  • How to listen to consider as opposed to listen to respond
  • How to mentally rehearse questions or order clarity over misconception
  • How to consider to what extent they agree or personally respond to what has been said
  • When the right time would be to make these final two elements materialise into class discussion following whet has been said

Perhaps if we consider what we are training students to do, and how far removed it may be from the listening (or lack of) outside of lessons, it may help us understand why it’s so challenging and requires repetition of practice.

So we understand the importance of speaking, and how vital it is to our roles within school. In that case, why is it so difficult to do so in front of our peers?

I started this blog with the recent LitdriveCPD events in mind, and my own experience of speaking inside and outside of teaching. So many people have given up their time to do something which requires the ultimate courage: to speak about their subject, and their interpretation of what that looks like in respect to a text, to people they respect, admire and who to them, feel like the experts in the room. Everyone who has discussed speaking at one of our events has said to me, or their audience,’ this is nothing new… you will already know this… you probably do this already… I don’t have anything new to say….’ because they have placed themselves in the position of the student when actually, they are so much more than that.

If we are to learn from one another, and to truly collaborate, speaking to be listened to is what will drive us all forward. To develop the art of appreciation of what someone else has chosen to tell you is powerful in its simplicity. Kathryn Morgan said during a WomenEd event recently that, ‘the relationship is the conversation,’ and the when the conversation is to invite someone else to have an insight into what you know, that can be the start of the most positive of relationships.

And so how do we be at peace with ourselves when it comes to talking to our peers, that we have something that they will want to hear?

    Speak about something you are comfortable with speaking about. You don’t need to claim you have all the knowledge or all the answers, but be comfortable with what you do know.
    This isn’t a matter of hierarchy: you are not the student. What you have decided to say has value.
    Everyone listening to you has come to see you because they believe you have something interesting to say. You have earned that belief just by giving the time to speak.
    The art of speaking rarely has any connection with this misconception of ‘knowing more,’ and is more focused about seeing differently. They want to know how you see things and your interpretation of a concept; it is your perspective that holds value.
    People hold the value of your time in high regard. It is this gratitude that puts additional value to your willingness to speak.
    We always assume that we are speaking out to an echo chamber, but I have never spoken to a group of people where there wasn’t at least one person afterwards there to tell me something that resonated with them. In the same way, I’ve never sat to listen to someone speak and not taken something away to inform what I do.

I hate speaking now when I don’t know what it is I want to say, but when I know that what I do say will be the building bricks of someone else’s conversation, I feel heartened by it.

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Don’t Listen to the 1%: How to outwit your inner voice

This is a slightly more distilled version of my ‘energetic’ workshop session at #WomenEd yesterday. I’m far less predictable when I speak, but I quite like that! I have also attached the Powerpoint that I had prepared, but Dropbox let me down, and so attendees got the dulcet tones of my voice and my voice alone. Lucky souls.

Imposter syndrome is not a medical condition, but the label was coined by Clance and Imes in 1978 to describe feelings of self doubt in our own capabilities, particularly when in a profession that relies upon confidence, leadership or self-assurance as key traits to operate in what you would deem as professionally successful. 18% more likely to occur in women than in men (knowing look), whereas men atypically tackle the symptoms by ignoring them, women prefer to share their narratives in a bid to overcome feeling a sense of inadequacy.

Dancy and Jean-Marie (2014) found that the condition  presented highly in women where the women in question felt underrepresented within their profession, or that they were under fire from bias industry-specific bias; perhaps, this explains why the more senior the position, the more prevalent the syndrome in women. With only 38% of Secondary Heads as female, the ‘chicken and egg’ debate is more than relevant here: are we not progressing as women because we battle the symptoms of this condition, or do we battle the symptoms because we struggle to progress through to positions of leadership? 

With the self-perpetuation of Imposter Syndrome, it seems futile to look at it as something to tackle, or overcome. I have experienced Imposter Syndrome at key parts of every stage of my life, both personally and professionally. Sometimes, it has been the making of me, but in my younger years, I would say that it crippled my ability to achieve or enjoy success. I walked out of the exam hall when sitting my A level literature final exam, after two years of hard work, because the feelings of self-doubt were too much to cope with. I felt that if I listen to those, instead of experiencing the possibility of failure, it would be easier to cope with. Later in my career within banking, I was Area Manager across the North West, responsible for recruiting, training and managing over 300 staff. I was the youngest in my role within the Retail sector, and the only female. As a result, I was regularly told that I wouldn’t understand certain concepts, or lacked the experience to be able to have strategic input at meetings. I repeatedly felt as though I was in my position as a result of luck, or a fluke, partly fuelled by these external opinions, but predominantly because they became my truth, and part of my internal narrative: I was incapable, and pretending to do something that i was not equipped to do- it was just that no one had discovered that yet.

The mechanisms of Imposter Syndrome are complex to unpack, because it requires self-distance and self-regulation, but it is these traits that those with Imposter syndrome seem to master. I have distilled the key features of IS to six aspects, and it is with a level of self-awareness, that we can start to use them to our advantage and not identify with them as hindrances to achievement.

Labels and Language

IS sufferers usually or negative language to describe themselves in a self-deprecating way, to form a barrier of excuses that they believe will then act as sufficient justification for their failures. The failures are necessary, but they don’t recognise that as a positive process, and so will anticipate what they believe is disappoint from others by preparing themselves with such labels. ‘I’m disorganised… I’m tired… I’m not very good at that….I’m always late….I’m awful at maths… I’m bad at this…’ They lose the ability to detach the action from themselves, and it acts as a pre-cursor that they can fall back on should they need to, which they feel is both likely and inevitable.

Limits and Doubts

IS sufferers will set limits upon their capabilities, again to anticipate what they believe others are already thinking. The doubt that they place in themselves as a fruitless bid for perfection results in an unconscious wall that stands between them, and what they would secretly like their future self to achieve. This presents itself again through their own self depiction: they use ‘never’ and ‘couldn’t’ to outline the limits of their skill set, ignoring their potential as a lifelong learner. They often speak in past tense to do so, implying that they are ‘stuck:’ ‘I could never do that at school….I’ve never been able to… I’ve always wanted to…’ They are wistful at the missed opportunities they feel they have let slip by, but feel trapped by thei own self-doubt and consequently see a vast disaprity between their high expectations and their perceive reality.

Silencing and Self Worth

IS sufferers will seldom sing about their own achievements. They have a small group of people that they may occasionally mention a positive point that they wish to celebrate, but a lot of these celebrations happen internally, which results in them being squashed or warped by their voice of self-doubt. They struggle to validate an achievement as achievement, because they do not seek the validation from others, believing praise to be false, well meant and polite, or undeserved.

IS sufferers battle with being able to define their sense of self-worth. They walk into a room and often place themselves on a measuring stick in relation to others, shifting their place to a lower point on the scale, and perhaps on a rare occasion, sparing themselves the indignity of the very bottom because they understand that it is not that they have achieved nothing, just that they’re not sure if it was valid or significant enough. IS sufferers struggle to understand a sense of value, paticularly when there is a colaborative effort or a situation of competition, like interviews for example.

The ultimate result is that by experiencing these as limitations and barriers, we in fact feed the beast. We fuel these by perpetuating the ideas that they create, which creates a meta, self-referential perception of our own sense of self: we become the thing we imagine, and then we imagine the thing that we become. IS eats us up, if we will allow it to. This then results in repeated patterns of coping mechanisms, both in our personal and professional lives. At my most crippled, I would volunteer to speak in public, with a fierce determination to improve at it and battle with my nerves. I would have several internal conversations with myself in the days running up to events, almost cancelling many times, or sitting in the car park psyching myself up. After speaking, and being incredibly nervous doing so, any kind feedback I would dismiss as politeness, and anyone who didn’t come up to chat I would assume hated every word. I remember sharing this innate fear of speaking at PedagooHampshire with Freya some years ago, and it alleviated it, for a second. I also remember Alex Quigley saying never to let people know you are nervous, and dreamed of being able to pass that off as true one day.

By being aware of these traits, it is only then that we can recognise Imposter syndrome as one of our finest tools professionally and personally. IS sufferers are massively reflective, and their own worst critics, and as teachers, this can be a double edged sword- it means that you can successfully predict most feedback coming your way following lesson observations or strategic feedback, and it also means that you welcome the opportunity to improve, should it be offered. I asked the audience at #WomenEd to consider a time that they have encountered IS, and which of the six features they found to be most prominent. I’d like you to do the same, so that we can start to make a positive use of that feature.

Labels and Language

When sharing strengths, recognise them as actions and not an intrinsic part of your personality. You are not always disorganised: your working space can be. You’re not awful at maths: whilst you have successfully calculated data on a smaller scale, you look forward to being able to evaluate whole cohort discrepancies to inform your actions.

Limitless and Aspirational

Repeatedly ascertain to yourself the things that make you limitless: both your successes, and your success yet to come. Speak in future tense, about your future self: there is nothing that you cannot achieve. You would like, you will, you have, you can’t wait to, you wish, you hope, you relish.

Vocal and Valued

Share your achievements with others. It is far from self-promoting; as an advocate of IS, you are far from that! You have chosen to share because it is important to you, and you have deliberated over sharing it first. You don’t share for validation; you share because you want to enjoy these moments with others as they enjoy their moments of success with you. Become accustomed to seeing yourself as of equal value to everyone in every room that you walk into; your input and opinion is no more or less important. In the same strand, the input and opinion of others is no more or less important than your own. Hierarchy has a place within any school system, but it is to drive vision and change, not to dictate or silence, if done well.

My takeaways to drive this change from tomorrow:

  • Focus on the white space, not the black dot (thanks to Claire Hill for chanting this at me at times where I forget). Realise that what your IS will emphasise and caricature for you will always be the minority and not reflective of all the wonderful things you are doing in schools. Celebrate that regularly.
  • Choose your crowd. Not a yes group- that’s not helpful or productive, and in fact can reinforce the perception of a low sense of self-worth, because you feel the feedback is in genuine. Choose to surround yourself with honest yet supportive people, who will recognise the time to praise and celebrate, but also provide a great sounding board for when you are at points of crisis.
  • Maintain a sense of integrity- be true to yourself. That sounds very airy-fairy, but for IS sufferers, it is so important that you decide on a direction, or a vision of what is improtant to you, because IS will try and move you away from that and dilute any clear sense of perspective at its worst moments. Kathryn Morgan highlighted yesterday that, ‘we all wear masks,’ but when you feel as though you are trapped behind one, it is essential that you know what kind of person you are, at your very core so that when it is questioned, you know how to deal with it. It may be useful to write this down, as a reminder to yourself when IS attempts to cloud your judgement.

I discuss Imposter Syndrome and its prevalence in teaching, along with lots of other pragmatic solutions to workload in education in my book, Stop Talking About Wellbeing, out early next year. I have to keep mentioning it so that eventually, it will hit me that I’m actually going to have written a book, after talking about it for 25 years (and letting my Imposter Syndrome talk me out of it, of course). The book uses a range of research and expert case study interviews to consider the key challenges that teachers face in schools, and how we can start to take ownership of our workload through empowerment through knowledge, and self-reflection. You can pre-order it here:https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lets-Stop-Talking-About-Wellbeing/dp/1912906481

You can find my presentation here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gRX694EX3PKjTxMxG4OC_5a1X1qyhC76/view?usp=sharing

References:

http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/ip_high_achieving_women.pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/karenhigginbottom/2018/07/29/two-thirds-of-women-in-uk-suffer-from-imposter-syndrome-at-work/#5a80dd6b6ccf

Dancy, II, T. E., and G. Jean-Marie. 2014. “Faculty of Color in Higher Education: Exploring the Intersections of Identity, Impostorship, and Internalized Racism.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 22 (4): 354–372.

A thought on creating a learning culture

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau

I have an issue with the concept of raising aspirations.

I disagree with the statement in itself: all children have aspirations. Low aspiration doesn’t exist, but a lack of knowledge to take aspirations and transform them into something concrete does exist. I see my role within school as simply that: to provide opportunities for students that they perhaps didn’t know existed. To take what isn’t yet known and present it as something that interests them, and at best outcome, reveal a potential pathway for their future. Not to put a tick in a cultural capital box, but to invite students to participate in a conversation that they may not have found themselves a part of before.

Why does this matter? It should, to you as a teacher, and to the student as an active participant in their own future. To make a dream attainable is the dream, isn’t it?

I’m very privileged to have a dedicated Father who took on the role of Governor for my Primary school. With a classroom teacher, he led the school’s first trip to London from our sleepy Felixstowe town: we visited the Science Museum, Planetarium, and walked up Oxford Street, and my Dad will still comment now on how many children had never strayed beyond Ipswich until that point. Their, and my eyes were opened, and we went to London every Christmas as children to see a musical, or the ballet, preceded by a meal and followed by ice cream and a chat about the performance afterwards. We read to him every evening, starting with Puddle Lane and closing with Lord of the Rings. Radio 4 was my Dad’s first choice in the car (followed by enough Crowded House and Genesis to make your ears bleed), and we talked and talked and talked about everything from literature to history to politics and back again.

During university, I took part in a reading programme and met children that didn’t own books, children that didn’t know what giraffes looked like, children that had never left Leicester or in some cases, their village. Imagine what they might have wanted to know, if they had known about it to begin with?

I believe that my Dad helped to form my love of what I call learning for learning’s sake. Once we show children how door-opening learning can be, how empowering knowing stuff is to so many aspects of their life, it really is transformational.

This all sounds very grand: what does that look like? Day to day, how do we build that into our schools, corridors, classrooms, conversations? Exactly that. By creating conversations about the world that we live in. Here are just some of the ways that I have tried to make aspirations concrete this year (without being in the building!):

  • Run a local university trip at the start of the year for Y11, to attend a conference that not only provides a taste of university life, but talks through the practical side of what is involved. Many students are motivated by the idea of attending university, but are daunted by the idea of debt and this really helped them to recognise the value of the experience, and reassure them that it is manageable through external funding. I ran this initial trip but then have run in-house enrichment and additional days to other local universities, as many of the students didn’t even realise in our central location, how many universities were on their doorstep. It’s useful to plan trips to Russell Group universities, but we need to be realistic in that this isn’t everyone’s dream. I certainly never considered going to Oxford or Cambridge; I wanted to attend a local university to my family after my Dad suffered a heart attack just before I started my course, and I also had a job that allowed me the flexibility to continue working through university. Opening up options should be exactly that- the more the better. Students attended four local universities last year, and we had one in to run a challenge day with KS3.
  • We attended our annual trip to Parliament, but then followed it up by inviting our local MP into school to take part in a series of Q&A with students from all year groups. Students were rigorous in their questions surrounding Brexit, and it was really valuable for them to discuss the choices and strategies that MPs have to make around voting, as well as how they welcome discussion and debate. Alberto Costa did a fantastic job of demonstrating to students that the very crux of his job was encouraging discussion, and their active participation in that motivated him to make change.
  • I made contact with local businesses to explore their career paths and opportunities for our students to see the reality of what a job would look like within that company: students visited Jaguar workshop over at Coventry, and this is definitely something I would like to expand upon next year. A great deal of our students go on to complete Apprenticeships with local companies, but it would be insightful for them to see the direction that they career might take in the future, so they have some sense of long term development plans.
  • I ran a weekly Lecture Programme for KS4, planning out the schedule for the year and sending out to parents to book a place for their child in advance. Speakers were in-house staff, staff from neighbouring schools, visiting academics from local universities and STEM ambassadors. The menu was incredibly varied, as I wanted to provide a combination of enriching the existing curriculum menu and extending beyond it. Our final programme looked like this:

All speakers delivered free of charge, and we had ninety students signed up beforehand. I have all attendees a Cornell notebook, and spent the first session outlining how to effectively take notes, listen actively, and that there would be an expectation to ask questions at the end of lectures. Students loved these, and several Y11 bought their own additional notebooks to use this format for revision.

As the first year closes, I’ve reflected on the format and want to refine a little for next year. We had a lot of drop off (I think some parents were more enthusiastic than their offspring!) and even more so as exams started, and so I would aim for a six month, Oct-Apr programme that avoids clashes with intervention or revision wherever possible. It was also evident that whilst there was a regular bunch of students, others also picked and chose who they wanted to see, and so this year, I aim to run with less lectures, but provide a range of subjects and students can sign up in advance. This will also help the continual process of refining and improving for our setting and context. I also plan to provide students with a certificate and acknowledgement of attending the programme if they sign up to all lectures, as I think it’s vital that this kind of openness to learning is rewarded.

What’s next in starting conversations? I would like to look at what that looks like within classrooms: how we use lesson time to make aspirations concrete and achievable. I feel that as teachers, we are the vital resource to enable students to recognise the options that lay before them, should they wish to take them up.

If you’d like to chat about starting up a lecture programme and I can help out beyond the advice here, please shout! I really enjoyed the whole process and welcome the chance to help others to set up something similar in other schools.

REdRugby: Shared Purpose

I don’t have much time for blogging at the minute, but I think it’s important that I capture a few bits from yesterday that make me think, challenged my ideas or reaffirmed what’s important to me, professionally. This was my second ResearchEd Rugby, and I was delighted to be invited to take part in one of two debates as part of the programme. This is a very distilled snapshot of my takeaways:

  • The wonderful Heather Fearn outlined the requirements of the new Ofsted framework, steeped in research of cognitive science and clarity around the value of knowledge, Heather made the exploration of a school curriculum sound like an exciting voyage of discovery, and not the stone turning terror show that some might still like to adhere to an inspection. It’s about drawing a narrative from your curriculum: what do you want children to learn, how will they learn it, how will you evaluate the process. That simple (and complex).
  • Sam Strickland took us on a tour of Duston, making the hard work and shift in culture sound absolutely seamless, underpinned on common sense and an unrelenting value on staff and student care. Removing multiple needless data drops, death by email and investing in clear boundaries, a strong knowledge foundation for learning and a trusting environment for teaching was a breath of fresh air. Sam is keen to share the school’s journey to show a narrative in action, and I look forward to visiting next month.
  • Session three, I was joined by Karen Wespeiser, Tom Rogers and Andrew Old for a debate surrounding topics of educational interest. We explored the place for teacher voice in expulsion, the overlap between the role of parent and teacher, ofsted as a poor working regulatory model and who is most in a place of ownership when it comes to teacher workload. Tom and I agree to disagree here, but I believe that Ofsted is essential to ensuring that we do good work in schools, and that schools are held to account and supported when this is clearly not happening. Snapshots are useful and help to provide a small tale of a larger narrative, and it is unproductive and does not assist an open dialogue to direct blame at a system that is there to support schools. I shared my opinion that it is not Ofsted pushing the negative narrative, but schools that become misguided by grade- chasing, and it’s those schools that are also generally found to be identified as culprits of off-rolling, putting unnecessary pressure on staff and and with poor sickness/ high retention rates. This led to my statement that workload is a teacher’s responsibility, which I will share in more detail when I’m not stood up on a hot train to London of a Sunday afternoon.
  • I spent the afternoon networking with Kevin McLaughlin, which translated as some interesting conversation with brilliant people. We discussed the abundance of research in education and how it was important as a leader to clarify where your standpoint was , but also remain a critical consumer.
  • I was fascinated by Karen and Richard’s session around educational data, particularly the lack of focus for SEND in ITT. Richard’s enthusiasm for data is infectious, and Karen proposed several questions around how we consider the role data has within the practical setting of a school.
  • Finally, Mary Myatt closed the day with a captivating, uplifting and empowering session around how we need to tell a story with curriculum. She emphasised the importance of narratives, and meaning to learning. Her ability to make the complicated and somewhat daunting task sound actually very human, and something that we have a duty to do for the children that we teach was exactly what teachers need to hear as another academic year draws to a close.
  • My takeaway reflections:
    • There is an open dialogue from Ofsted that bring sense and logic to education, reinforcing my belief that we are not just being regulated, but supported to make informed decisions for children,
      If you have a senior leader that has faith in what you do to the extent that they openly place you as the most important resource, anything is possible,
      The more you learn about something, the less you know, (I’m paraphrasing a Myatt blog here), and all research can be disproved if you look hard enough
      We have a shared purpose, and are honoured enough to be surrounded by encouraging people to help us to achieve it.

    A thought on KIT

    KIT days were really visible and accessible when working in the financial sector, and as a senior manager, something that you needed to be well versed to then be able to direct staff to the ways that KIT time could be utilised. This visibility doesn’t seem to transfer to working in education, and it leads me to wondering why that may be.

    During an #mtptchat back in August of last year, KIT days was mentioned as a really useful way to feel included in work changes, complete CPD that will benefit staff and students when you return, or have key meetings that will outline how your return to work can be supported. However as a general consensus, anecdotal evidence shows that school management, and indeed the staff entitled to KIT, have a lack of understanding around KIT time: what it is and how it can be used as a mutually beneficial tool.

    This issue is only exacerbated by the lack of literature surround KIT time use for teachers. Whilst maternity action and the relevant union bodies outline the legal entitlement of ten days allowance for those on maternity leave, there is minimal literature to support and guide how best to use this time. Instead, you’ll find plenty of policy, and very little practical implementation.

    Why is KIT time of any value? Surely maternity leave is exactly that!

    For some, and particularly in my capacity as an MTPT Representative, making the abrupt shift from autonomous, self- driven teacher to parent is a tough one. Relinquishing control over your own routine, being forced to slow down and take a break from the intellectual stimulation of a classroom, or even just the lack of professional discussion with adults takes some adjustment, which is why the MTPT Project breathes such success; it provides the connection with a professional self that may seem pretty distant for some when they become a parent.

    KIT days provide a bridge at a vital time in the new journey of parenthood ; when sleep deprivation causes you to wonder how you will ever function for a full working day, but you long for a sense of structure, KIT can really instil confidence in your own capabilities and allow you to feel in a position to make a contribution that still fits in with your new role.

    Here are some suggestions as to how KIT days can be purposeful and beneficial for all:

    • Moderation meetings with your department, or even ask for an invitation to the local primary/secondary to see what this looks like in a different setting to your own. Having done this myself, it was eye opening to see what y6 we’re capable of before arriving at secondary.
    • Visit other local schools with a particular focus, to then go back and share with your department. Last year, I came back with loads of ideas from how to challenge and used them in initiatives within school.
      Attend INSET or other local training that will be useful to share with colleagues. This doesn’t have to be formal; FutureLearn have some fantastic online courses with a specified hourly completion time to help to support with how much KIT time to claim.
      Go in to support revision sessions, or take a regular intervention slot- much like tutoring, the one-to-one or small group dynamic of intervention is a really rewarding way to reflect upon your teaching approach during your time out of school.
      Attend a return to work meeting – this doesn’t have to be formal- to outline any potential flexible working requests, adaptations to your working day that you may need support with for nursery drop offs etc. If management know in advance and can see that you are creating strategic solutions to potential issues, that’s a really positive starting point to negotiate flexibility.
      Finally, just to clear your emails and classroom. I don’t know about you, but six months at an average of 40 emails a day is a pretty big mountain, and if you are feeling a little apprehensive about going back with a new baby to juggle on top, it’s nice to go back with a clean slate of an inbox at the very least.
  • Having become a maternity leave veteran (two in two years!), I have blogged about my experiences during maternity leave numerous times. Please do get in touch at @saysmiss on Twitter if you would like to chat!
  • A thought on reading to your children

    After seeing this story do the rounds this week, it saddened me for so many reasons.

    It’s sad because over a quarter of parents aren’t reading with their children, one moment of childhood so precious and short that even now, my ten year old will linger at the door as his little brother is read to (although he would refuse to admit to it. Of course).

    It’s sad because whilst I applaud the brilliance of audiobooks, having only discovered them in the last five years (and they still send me to sleep instantly, but I persevere) , nothing can replace the pages of a book in your hands, particularly when the pictures tell a multitude of stories to the one written on the paper. The best narrator in the world cannot capture what you see as they read.

    Most of all, it’s sad because if Alexa was a thing ten years ago, perhaps I would have been in that 28%. As a single parent, keeping my eyes open until seven pm was a torturous task some days, and during my PGCE, I would sit my son on the floor to watch In the Night Garden to get us to bedtime, dangling my hand over the edge of the sofa and lie down, stroking his head to reassure myself that he was there, and I was conscious. I would groan internally as we sat upstairs at bedtime, as he poured over a book far longer than my endurance levels permitted, turning it back to the start as soon as we reached the end. Before he was old enough to follow along, I would recreate the story, shaving parts out and wondering if Stephen really needed to bump into a pig, kangaroo AND elephant on the way home. He always caught on. We always had to restart the book for my sins.

    We associate a lack of reading at home with the term, ‘disadvantaged’ family, a term that still gets referred to in the media as the good, old-fashioned poor. A term that always made me uncomfortable because as a single parent, I was in the ‘poor’ bracket, but this is a different sort of poverty; this time, we are way off the mark.

    If anything screams middle class, it’s Alexa, the static servant in the corner of the lounge, the Edna of the modern day, ordered to tell jokes and commanded to retrieve information that we cannot set about to retrieve for ourselves. And now, she’s looking after our children. The shame of it. So why is reading to our children so hard?

    In a world where you have the option to never switch off, it seems we find it more and more difficult to not be working ahead of time, behind time, or simply out of time from the present moment, taking ourselves out of our time to a different point in time through social media, watching how other people’s days have panned out. We don’t see operating in the present time to be something of benefit; present time holds us up in a race against time that isn’t veridical. It doesn’t feel productive to us.

    I’m not here to preach to anyone about reading to their kids, because I get it. Days rush away sometimes and it’s old hat to be told that ‘they grow up so fast.’ I’m just going to tell you the things I noticed when reading three books to my son tonight:

    • He counted without knowing the numbers, because he knew the game of hide and seek. He counted ‘two’ and tapped the page with authority, because he knew he was right. In the world of a toddler, you must spend very little time being right.
    • Although he is my least affectionate child (I joke that I’m not sure he would keep us on as parents sometimes if we didn’t feed him) he will always hold my hand when I read to him.
    • He nods a refrained sign of approval as I turn the pages, which means at least once a day, in his eyes, I’m doing ok at Mumming. Even if it’s been one of those days where he has heard no a lot.
    • He always picks the books that we read, and although Room on the Broom is top of the picks right now, his favourite changes every week because he knows as well as I do, there’s so many good books.
    • If I didn’t stop reading, I think he would sit and listen to me read forever. After spending all day finding the adrenaline rush of circling the dining table to be the highlight of your day, there must be something special about reading that makes you want to listen for that long.

    A note of clarification

    I want to give some context to choices that have been made recently regarding Litdrive, so that members have a full understanding of our position moving forward.

    The site that I built with very little professional input last year was only designed to serve what was at that point less than 1000 members; we now stand at over 12000. With over 100 new resources a month, and over the same amount of new members a week, it’s safe to say the site was no longer fit for purpose. It crashed, and whilst the member base and resource bank were salvageable thanks to a back up system, the site was not. This was the final outcome after over 60 hours spent on the phone working with a technician and our hosting company to try and resolve the issue.

    There is also the matter of donations not meeting our costs; of 12200 members, 450 have donated financially. Less than 200 have donated resources.

    I have explored numerous avenues for sponsorship, but this comes with its own challenges. 1) it isn’t a sustainable option long term, as Litdrive would need a number of sponsors to operate the various provisions and. 2) multiple sponsors wouldn’t allow us to operate as a self sufficient project. It ultimately means setting up as a marketplace to sell to our members, and there are only a select number of companies that I would want to associate with the Litdrive name. I have sought advice from many individuals that have had similar experiences, or have their own resourcing provisions and have the same operational considerations. Their advice in every single discussion was to offset the overheads with a service charge.

    As a result, I have sought member consultation with a proposal to go to a £5 annual service charge to keep the site going. The service charge will contribute towards all of the associated costs involved with running the website, our newsletter subscription, an accountant to publicly report finances as we have now sought charitable status, and a web developer to build a website that’s fit for purpose. Any funds remaining will go towards funding further CPD events, analytics with the support of an unnamed research body and developing the services that we offer, which includes working with external agencies to provide services to members. The time that I have put into Litdrive so far has not been paid to myself at any point and has been recorded as such on our last financial report. I do not intend to fund a salary from this.

    The £5 service charge will not be passed onto those people that have already donated financially, or our top 20 contributions. In an ideal world, a service charge would not exist, and I hope that in comparison to the traditional subscription sites and the laughable price of resources elsewhere, this is a minuscule service cost to help to build and sustain a community, as opposed to throwaway resources. It is an attempt to demonstrate just how modest the cost can be to fund a provision, and how anything more substantial is unacceptable. I would like to actively encourage budget holders and HODs to fund this centrally for your team; CPD and resourcing IS a cost that should be funded via school systems, and not impact the individual teacher. That is not my intention and the wording on the site will reflect that.

    I have deliberated over this decision for in excess of a month, and will be funding the cost of the site myself. After consultation, 96% of our voting members want the service to continue, and that’s who I want this to be led by. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me reach this decision, who will be aware first hand of how challenging it has been, and thank you to Litdrive members who will allow me to continue to develop a service that I am really proud to coordinate.

    I welcome all feedback, comments, suggestions and sponsorship remedies, so please do drop me a line at litdriveuk@hotmail.com for a discussion or any further clarification around the service charge changes. A launch date for the new site, along with a more comprehensive FAQ will be published in due course.

    Kat