#Nuture1516 Time

It is that time of year again: I have two days to tap out my fifty book challenge review and look back on the last year. It took me a little while to identify with the ten plans I have laid out for myself at the end of 2014 because they were so work orientated. In my quest to reach a more balanced and nourished sense of wellbeing this year, I am not sure how on the mark I have been to these ten things in the meantime. However, I simply see this as a good thing and a clear and wise indication that things change. Change is good. It has taken me an incredibly long time to realise that contentment does not always need to be at the end of a to do list or a sense of accomplishment in something that you set out to do; contentment can simply be a moment of existence. Don’t let me waffle- I do that a lot.

1. Running a teachmeet without it falling apart at the seams like a poor man’s super sweet sixteen. Cake everywhere.

I did it! It was easily the most stressful point of my career so far- I don’t fare well when I set a huge amount of expectation upon myself and I was so very keen to make this a success that I fell into an all too familiar trap of looking at the negative outcomes of TMLeics rather than the amazing benefits that running a teachmeet offered to others. The drop out rate was high, tech was not on our side and we ran very late- needless to say, I am still not sure I can look at it as a success, even nearly a year on. I don’t feel ready to run another one single-handedly next year and am focusing on attending teachmeets rather than tackling that challenge again just yet. However, my growth mindset pocket of the brain kicked in and I have learned a lot from the process- maybe maybe room for a TMLeics17? We shall see.
2. Identifying possibilities and not waiting for opportunities.

I applied for a Head of Department role, managing to secure an interview and being one of the two final people in the running for the position. It didn’t work out. What filled my perfectionist head with some comfort was that my feedback was, ‘it was who was there on the day,’ and the school offered me an alternative role, stating that I had ‘intrigued them.’ In all my eccentricity, I really enjoy the interview process and relished the challenge that the day brought(I blogged about it here) . I ultimately decided to stay at my existing school within a new role but the day encouraged me to assess where I wanted to be within my career at a particular point. My biggest mistake at some point is thinking that I have nailed reflective thinking and that I manage to avoid the negativity that comes with thinking of failure as an obstacle rather than an opportunity to change direction, realign and learn from the experience. I believe that the fact that I applied in the first place raised a few eyebrows, with mutters of the small matter of my only teaching for two years. I ignore eyebrow raising in most instances now unless the eyebrows come with valid, constructive advice or debate. Any other eyebrows do not help me to achieve.
3. Running and coordinating a teaching and learning programme within my own school.

This is always going to be on the to-do I think. Running literacy on a whole school level has made me realise that my way of working- big, fast and at times, all guns blazing- is not always the best way. Teaching and Learning has gone from strength to strength in my current school, with a small group of staff signing up for an ‘open door week.’ Staff shared their observations to all staff over email and another week will run next term. There were no expectations, no judgement and the whole experience was invaluable to me- discussions since have included the possibility of running staff twilight sessions to develop their practice as an enrichment to the existing initiative.
4. Not yet knowing where I want to be- that’s exciting! I have constantly toyed with my next steps within my career and where I want to be- I am hoping that this becomes more apparent as new opportunities present themselves to me.

It is not that I care less about my direction, but that I have realised that there is more than one direction and that I do not need to worry too much about this. I say yes to the things that get me excited about teaching and avoid the things that excite me less (or make them exciting). It tends to work.
5. Becoming more informed in my practice- I need to fit more stuff into my brain to understand and implement certain ideas.

I have been reading so many blogs! I wanted to use this part to list all the wonderful things that I have read this year that had aided my practice but I truly would not know where to start. @Teachertoolkit and @mfordhamhistory speak a lot of sense with well-evidenced approaches.
6. Making plans- both in and outside of school.

What a year! I visited Iceland, Barcelona, Palma, Hong Kong and have so much in the pipeline for next year ( we will get to that). I have a wall planner at home. Its a real party piece.
7. Wanting to collaborate and share beyond my own Teachmeet.

Beyond blogging, this has taken a back seat with my new role. I attended Ashmount’s teachmeet where I discussed Literacy, an developed the idea of #Litdrive, a collaborative effort of literacy based resources for use within primary and secondary schools. I think that I could definitely market #litdrive better and whilst we have over 50 contributors now (and I hope to some extent sparked the lovely @JulesDaulby to start up her collaborative blog, Literacy Liaisons, I feel that this is something that needs a little TLC in the new year.
8. Organise myself but at my own pace, and within my own capabilities.

#teacher5aday keeps me well and truly in check. Ted Talks Life Hacks are a bit of a new obsession. I meditate when I can, I eat properly (I put my first Autumn term virus free down to the sheer amount of vegetables that I have consumed), and I know when to stop because I now listen to my body. Not being exhausted is my priority over all other jobs- what kind of illogical world would we live in if our physical health took second best to our workload? Anyone that knows me knows that I am a chaotic mess of post it notes and to do lists, half done tasks and deadlines but it works for me. I get stuff done.
9. Complete action research, looking at what I believe to be the detriment of interdependence and how to react to that within secondary education.

To do! I spoke at #ReadTLT over the summer about the link between playing upon personality strengths within students and success and I only wish that I had the time to dedicate to researching this in more detail. If anyone can recommend individuals that have already published work that examines the detriment of interdependence within education, I would be really interested.
10. Providing a real-life context to my teaching, so that students can recognise the importance of holding and justifying their opinions and views.

This is now a regular go-to for me. In their shoes, what would you do, would you rather and holding personal response and opinion at the centre of learning are now key features of my teaching. I have recently developed a new scheme of work for both non fiction and poetry that lead with personal response and opinion over formulaic approaches. It is all too easy to want to teach to an exam, to tick the boxes and ignore the fact that students already have an opinion as a starting point.

Right then Katherine, shall we get cracking on next year?

  1. Get outside. My one gift request for Christmas was National Trust membership and I am determined to also get back to running club now that the busiest term is behind us. Fresh air makes me happy.
  2. Spend regular, quality time with my small person. He had an incredibly rocky year and felt the full force of that in no way that a six year old should. The side effect of working full time is always feeling that you could be there  more and I have certainly felt this way at times. We have set up a regular spot each week to chat over our week- number one should help!
  3. Make fifty book challenge for the fourth year on the trot! I do blog about this every year ( it is next on the the to-do; last year’s can be found here) and the majority of my books are recommendations.
  4. Quit sugar! Don’t laugh. Ok, you can laugh a bit. But this was a plan of mine before the new year guilt kicked in and I feel that it is an achievable one. I don’t think I will be completely at zero sugar- eating out is a minefield- but after buying Madeleine Shaw’s book at the start of the year, my approach to eating has changed from eating thin to eating to nourish. For me, this will be the next step in that change.
  5. Work on my fear of talking in front of adults. For those that have read my blog over the years, my imposter syndrome is in full swing when speaking to a group of adults. I have continued to deliberately put myself in positions that force me to share ideas (Teachmeets are fab for this, as everyone is so encouraging), but I always walk away mumbling at myself for how I repeated myself, ran over, and generally resembled a bag of damp nerves. I have booked myself to speak at Ashby Teachmeet, am performing a follow up poem at TMBehaviour and have offered myself up to running CPD at a local primary in addition to a parent workshop to support with reluctant readers. Can’t blame a girl for trying.
  6. Don’t worry too much about the direction.I have always been incredibly work orientated, before and during joining the teaching profession. I get anxious about sitting still and as a result, often put myself into a position of perpetually over committed to ensure that I don’t get bored. As you can imagine, this was not the best advocate for #teacher5aday! The discovery of wellbeing along with meeting someone who is now incredibly important to me has allowed to me lose a bit of the crazy outlook I have towards my career. I’m 33, not 53 and love the current role that I am working in. You never know what may happen and that’s a good thing rather than a hindrance to ‘the plan.’
  7. Write a book.Expect to see this one for a few years. I haven’t even decided on the type of book- last year, I drafted a plan for a non fiction and fiction book. Then a children’s book. But don’t forget number 6! I was inspired by @behaviourteach’s own Nuture post and it reminded me that I had this idea about a decade ago!
  8. Ditch the waste. The friends that I now surround myself with both in and out of work are like family to me. The more I read about mindset and the habits that we fall into, the more keen I am to choose to spend my time with those that don’t fall back on negativity as a reflex action. I watched Julian Treasure ‘s Life Hack where he outlines the ten deadly sins of noise- one being negativity. As people, our measurement of worth is as a result of finding someone who, in our opinion, is in a lesser position than ourselves. I’m babbling so let me put a little context to this. A friend of mine came to teaching and started her NQT year this year. After seven weeks, she felt that she had no option but to quit the entire profession with no plans to return- this was after a few years working in schools, her training which she thoroughly enjoyed and some fantastic observation feedback. She took four days off to consider her options and came back fresh and ready to continue in a career that she loved. Why? Because she had simply listened and surrounded herself with individuals that bred negativity and cynicism. In the words of Paul Dix, radiators rather than drains. I will listen to the people that love and encourage me over the ones that may have other motivations.
  9. Continue to blog, regularly, about more than simply musings. I do tend to carry out a lot of student voice, student reaction and student led learning within my teaching, document with pictures and data and then forget to blog about it. This is another thing that has taken a bit of a back seat this year and I would like to aim for once a month or at the very least, once every half term.
  10. See other teaching in action. Whether this is at teachmeets, visiting other schools, lending out my services locally in exchange for observing classes (I have organised a series of literacy masterclasses for a Y6 group, alongside a Y5 active literacy day for all of our feeder schools), signed up for an RQT course- anything that means I can see other teachers do their thing! It is the best thing for CPD and I always come away with so many ideas for my own practice.

I struggled a little this year to come up with my ten things. I don’t think it is because there are less things, but simply because my direction keeps changing and I want to see where I end up.

Why We Are Shouting about Wellbeing

In the lead up to @martynreah’s Slow Ed Chat, wellbeing has been top of my ‘this time around’ for the new academic year. Nearly a year ago, I blogged about how #teacher5aday had prompted me to not only slow myself down, but to develop a sense of awareness both inside and outside the classroom (see https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/teacher5aday-making-each-day-a-prettier-version-of-itself/ ). So, where am I now?

Wellbeing has become more than simply promoting growth and development to students through self-fulfilment, but #teacher5aday centres me to an entirely new approach to my teaching, the way I deal with situations and breaking habits that I was not even conscious to during my previous career. Instead of reacting, I am proactive. Instead of pushing myself to such a point that it brings negative results for not only my health but also to the detriment of others around me, I listen to my body. We hear the term ‘wellbeing’ tossed around so frequently, but how easy is it to truly embed #teacher5aday into our day to day lives? Here is a little insight into how such a simple little mantra has featured within my Autumn term and the significant impact that it has made.

#connect

Twitter seems to have taken a little bit of a back seat for me this term and yet I feel that I have focussed my need to connect a little closer to home. Turning my attention to my school community has not been something that has come as second nature- in the daily bustle of lunchless, breakless school life, it is easy to feel a sense of isolation within school, but due to my new role as Literacy Coordinator, my role if nothing else has demanded that I form relationships with staff across the school. To ensure that all staff felt a sense of buy-in to my Fifty Book Pledge, I personally delivered staff ‘Now Reading’ cards, stopped to talk books with others after reading their cards in classroom windows- emailed recommendations in response to my findings. I visited the library more often to work my way through student recommendations and prompted reading exchanges over email by including my ‘now reading’ within my signature. Remembering a simple yet effective rule from @beingbrilliant, Mr Andy Cope, I go out of my way to say hello to everyone I pass during my school day. Now, both actions may sound rather small and not quite as grand as they could be, but both have had a significant impact upon me. You see, I’ve never been the person that offers up a conversation- the concept was terrifying. Talking to a stranger at a bus stop would have filled me with fear. I’m a changed woman; the straightforward act of connecting with other people, checking in on how they are, how they may be feeling has warmed my day more than I can describe. In the Winter months, twenty ‘mornings’ can be sometimes the best way to warm up your chilly days!

The other thing? Our TV ariel broke five months ago. We’re not replacing it. I enjoy telling people just for the look of pity that I receive in response. We read and talk. It is absolute bliss.

#relax

For anyone that follows my blog, I have been preaching about my ‘no work at home’ rule since my NQT year. It works for some, it is impossible for many not to I know, but it simply doesn’t work for me. My brain refuses to function after 7pm (spot the grammatical errors for proof) and I am at my least accurate and creative when I am that tired. Awesome, you say! Work life balance you say! Hang on there. The additional problem? Your brain switches off but your thoughts do not. Too tired to work but not too tired to think is an all too familiar state of the Autumn term teacher. Make a list? Nah. Doesn’t empty my brain to the point that I can sleep easy, free of crazy dreams about My Deputy Head and I planning to set up a theme park or an evening of grand plans as we get involved in a whole-staff effort to refurbish a haunted house to sell on to unsuspecting first time buyers. I have instead discovered Calm app, a new way for me to switch my brain off in the evening or to centre myself a little in the morning in an attempt to set myself up with a little resilience for the day ahead. Meditation is not for everyone, my previous self included in the mix, but I feel more able to tackle whatever is thrown at me- beyond that, I look forward to the things thrown at me (furniture being the exception to the rule!).

#volunteer

This is the area of #teacher5aday that I always struggled with the most. However, I have discovered that it was simply my perception of the word itself rather than the act that I was having difficulty with. Again, I started to look closer to home to see if I could help others without the expectation of help in return. I now proof read the school bulletin every month for one of the admin team. In the absence of a 2ic this year, I have taken on tasks to ease the workload of the department. I have shared my resources in a timely fashion to aid others’ planning. I have joined a twenty-strong team to share teaching and learning across the school through week-long incentives of non-judgement based observations (more on this later). I have shared the jobs at home. I have helped in small ways to make other people’s lives a little easier at times. And even in sharing all this, it feels a little self-promotional which is I think where I always found the difficulty. Although, sometimes it is the smallest of things that make a difference and in the same way that I have tried to do this, I have also tried to be more aware and appreciative of the small things that others have done for me.

#learn

Piano is still going strong, girls and boys. It is a year on and I know half of many a song. Some weeks, it seems impossible to fit in half an hour of a time-filler that isn’t sat in front of a computer, but after buying myself an old veteran of a piano for home, I have never looked back. I even take pleasure in the sound of playing scales! Nothing calms me more than going through the motions of what is now an well known tune and nothing develops my empathy with students as trying to learn a new one.

I have learned about myself over the last year, in my own capabilities and achievements. I have learned that I am only terrible at speaking in front of others as a result of my own fears and misconception that I am not entitled to know stuff. One of the aspects of teaching that you must face head-on quite early on if you are to progress as a teacher is that you are never done. I realised this some time ago, but it is only in my third year that I am truly accepting of the fact that I am always exposed to the possibility that things can be smarter, slicker, better. To open yourself up to the concept of being always-learning, without a standing point or moment of true mastery is both terrifying and liberating but I can honestly say, I have never looked back.

#exercise

Now here, we have a stile in our path (I love a metaphor, obviously). After falling on the postman in the Summer, my ankle withdrew my ability to run on a regular basis and I struggled to find an alternative that left me with the same sense of satisfaction. so instead, I looked to improving the quality of my diet and how this could impact upon my sense of wellbeing overall. I bought @madeleine_shaw_‘s book, ‘Get the Glow,’ read the first few pages about quitting sugar, chuckled and then flicked through to a recipe or two that I would like to try. Now whilst I am far from kicking the sugar drug, I have managed to stick to honey in my coffee and my breakfast is now entirely vegetable based from the fruit bars that punched me into life in the morning. Swapping vegetable oil for coconut oil when cooking(also fab for hands, hair, face!) , spending Saturday afternoons whipping up thai soup much to the delight of a previously fussy child, including ‘superfoods’ such as chia seeds and fennel within my meals, or scattering pomegranate seeds on top of stir fries (much to the confusion of my partner) have all made me feel a little healthier. Whether this is simply down to the fact that I get to switch off in the kitchen, or that my body is eternally grateful in Winter for something that isn’t a potato I don’t know, but this is the first Autumn in a long time that I have not been ill. Not even a sniffle. I take that as a win.

This is all well and good……. but what does it have to do with teaching? Pedagogy? Improving wellbeing within our schools? Because, to put it simply-which is the driving force behind improving wellbeing- starting with people is the key. You cannot drive a concept without the small acts. It is the kindness of others, the act of humanity that drives a, ‘ghost of an idea’ as Dickens whispered with his tongue in his cheek. It is simply that I am a better person for reflecting on my own wellness. In turn, this means that I improve the wellness of others. In turn, this improves the wellness of others beyond the others that I connected with. There is such little need to extend our understanding beyond the straightforward. Steve Jobs stated,

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

It really is just that. Wellbeing is the simplicity that is essential to then move mountains within education.

Do As I Say: The Practical Implimentation of Growth Mindset

The spark of this blog came to me after an interesting week of obstacles. It seems that my teaching year demonstrates a certain rhythm to it; the beginning of the year is focused upon displaying your boundaries, developing relationships and choosing your battles in what feels relatively similar to that of a chess match in order to get the best out of the individuals in front of you. The second part of the term, I always encounter a battle of a different kind- the I Cants.

The students that I refer to are the ones that finished the previous year on a high. Their achievements were impressive on both a personal and school-wide level, their successes were celebrated in public and they left for the Summer with a well-earned and undeniable sense of pride and fulfilment. However, starting a new year with new challenges results in a feeling that they have not experienced in a time that they remember because the experience does not happen as frequently as their sense of achievement. I am referring to the concept of I can’t; this is the state of being where the student is unable to visualise the completion or success achievement of a task coupled with an inability to liken the sensation to another experience that they have had.

This is not the case, of course- they have reached obstacles (and overcome several) since they were born and during their educational journey. So why is it that these students seem to demonstrate the most resilience to believing that the can do the same with a new challenge, in a new situation?

The students are no stranger to Growth Mindset- they have carried out intervention sessions with our Most Able Coordinator, they are motivated by the very feeling of achievement itself, often with very other incentive because they can quickly recollect the emotions that come with success. They are intelligent, independent learners that will challenge, inspire and even compete with one another with regards to their learning. Consequently, I am always surprised when this point of the academic year arrives and I find that students experience a significant dip in self-belief that presents itself (in my experience) through either anger, anxiety or distress.

My opinion? That perhaps in the journey to success for these students, they have spent somewhat less time in developing their resilience to failure. Angela Duckworth outlines that the top players in their field are those that have worked hardest for longest, but also those that have additionally experienced failure along the way. In order to truly feel embodied by a sense of triumph, a student must be exposed to the reality of failure first. Now, there seems to be a very fine balance between managing a child through the psychological tightrope of success/failure ratio as a teacher. This must be personalised to the child’s own experience of resilience and developing that is incredibly difficult. You cannot simply tell someone that they need to be not so good at something in order to be good at it. You cannot merely outline the journey of learning- they need to not only be able to cope with the scenario, but also believe for themselves in 1)the necessity for failure but also that 2) it is temporary and that every student will go through a similar journey as their own.

This leads me to the speculation that whilst we challenge and motivate children so that they understand the importance and practical measurement of success, we are not preparing them for the emotions that they must experience or develop a certain level of flexibility to understand how to manage their emotions along the way, particularly with more able students. Additional support appears to be lacking for this group of students because of their ability to perform academically, however, I’m not sure that this means that they are at the same level to be able to ‘perform’ in response to their own mental wellbeing.

I will finish with this; a strong mental state is one of the most important factors that a child can develop during their education because with such an asset as this, the rest will follow. Flair and talent is inconsistent- hard work, application and a positive mindset to tackle and improve would always be my first choice. And so how are we equipping children with this level of self-awareness? If their mindset is one of the more vital factors that we have a significant chance to contribute to, how do we ensure that we develop strong, perseverant learners?