#52books2017

In true (absolutely never) earlybird fashion, I came in at 53 as at last week, so I’m quitting whilst I’m ahead. The majority of this year’s list has been borrowed or recommended via Twitter and as consequently, I am finding it more and more difficult to start a book without it receiving endorsement from someone else. I used to pick a book based upon what I  now view as the most frivolous of reasons: cover design (this was the basis of my decision for quite easily a decade- too much charity shop shopping led me to just lose patience and buy the pretty book), the same author over and over, learning to recognise their style and then becoming furious at myself for knowing it so well that I would guess the ending, or simply because it looked like the type of book that would hold my somewhat sketchy attention span. As I reach my fifth year of 50+ books, or at least formally tracking them, my tastes have changed to a degree, but I think the remnants of my twenty something self still remain; a pretty cover, desperately lacking in a reading of non-fiction or classic literature, manoeuvring towards the apocalyptic over a laugh-out-loud. However, in my defence, I read to teach (Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths was a head scratcher), I have learned to persevere with the more difficult reads because sometimes, it’s worth it (Dear Amy was not but hey, I finished it didn’t I?) and I’m learning to stretch out beyond YA fiction from time to time.

The complete list:

  The Kites Are Flying Morpurgo, Michael
The Power Alderman, Naomi *
Alex As Well Brugman, Alyssa
The Girls Cline, Emma
Before I Fall Oliver, Lauren *
One Crossan, Sarah *
The Muse Burton, Jessie
This is Not Your Final Form O’Brien, Richard
Anna and the Swallow Man Savit, Gavriel
Dear Amy Callaghan, Helen*
Dreaming the Bear Thebo, Mimi *
Hot Milk Levy, Deborah
The Iron Man Hughes, Ted
Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite Kim, Suki *
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Out of the Hitler Time, #1) Kerr, Judith
Brother in the Land Swindells, Robert
Bone Room Cassidy, Anne
The Girl of Ink and Stars Hargrave, Kiran Millwood *
All the Little Animals Hamilton, Walker
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Konigsburg, E.L.
My Brother’s Ghost Ahlberg, Allan
I Let You Go Mackintosh, Clare *
The Dead Fathers Club Haig, Matt *
The Buried Giant Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Giver (The Giver, #1) Lowry, Lois *
How Texts Teach What Readers Learn Meek, Margaret
The Light Between Oceans Stedman, M.L. *
My Name Is Lucy Barton Strout, Elizabeth
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Harold Fry, #1) Joyce, Rachel
The Nest Oppel, Kenneth*
Salt to the Sea Sepetys, Ruta *
Boy In The Tower Ho-Yen, Polly
Bed Whitehouse, David
Lie With Me Durrant, Sabine
Once (Once, #1) Gleitzman, Morris
Everything, Everything Yoon, Nicola *
The Bone Sparrow Fraillon, Zana
Red Sky in the Morning Laird, Elizabeth
Shtum Lester, Jem *
Paperweight Haston, Meg *
Wolf Hollow Wolk, Lauren
American Gods Gaiman, Neil *
The Tobacconist Seethaler, Robert
The Graveyard Book Gaiman, Neil *
Drop Everson, Katie *
Delirium (Delirium, #1) Oliver, Lauren *
Seven Myths about Education Christodoulou, Daisy
How to Stop Time Haig, Matt *
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers: The Michaela Way Birbalsingh, Katharine
How Not To Be a Boy Webb, Robert
Never Let Me Go Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Radleys Haig, Matt *
Turtles All the Way Down Green, John *

 

 

The Highlights:

Robert Webb, How Not to Be a Boy: I know that some will disagree, but I found this not only to be incredibly entertaining in an endearing yet sardonic fashion, I also found Webb to be well researched in his opinions as to what hinders boys throughout childhood to what can certainly be a well-founded contributor to our male suicide rate within the UK. If nothing else, one to ponder over.

Matt Haig, How to Stop Time: Haig is writing slower than I am reading. After discovering the author rather late in the day, I believe that I am all out but this (along with Reasons to Stay Alive) is a firm favourite. A delicious concept for a novel and Tom is such a likeable yet tormented individual to fall in love with.

Walker Hamilton, All the Little Animals: I came across a pile of these for 50 pence each in a second hand shop and wish I had scooped up the lot. Bobby is Lennie, and the novella tosses around the ideals of good and evil in this quick read.

Jem Lester, Shtum: I wept, a lot. Knowing a family that have been caught in the ridiculous, illogical cycle of meeting criteria to enable their child to be educated in a way that meets THEIR needs, not the needs of a piece of paper, this was a tremendous way of opening up that world to any reader.

Kazuo Ishaguro, Never Let Me Go: Because I resisted it for so long after my disappointing experience of Buried Giant, and now wish I had the opportunity to teach it. I loved the ambiguity that the characters journey through, not relentlessly but without option because after all, that’s kind of what life offers up.

I like to attempt optimism, but I think this may be my last smash at 52 books in a year for a while. The incredibly small person currently strapped to my body is the only reason that I can write this blog to you, but there are also other priorities for this year and I don’t do well with a target that seems unreachable. With this in mind, I’m aiming for 12 books for 2018 (piece of cake), but with specific criteria:

  1. One MUST be a classic. There really is no excuse.
  2. One MUST be a book that I own but have not yet read. This may or may not be as a result of bagging up five bags for life with books and still possessing an entire shelf of ‘I’ll get round to that’ books.
  3. One MUST be explicitly to aid with professional development. I want to really link this to subject knowledge as I do feel that my historical context could do with a Spring clean.
  4. One MUST be poetry. And it MUST be annotated as a result. Strict, but I read so much poetry and then instantly forget it, which means that I don’t make use of it or even remember it in a sense of personal value.
  5. One MUST be to help with grammar. I really want to take a more traditional approach to teaching grammar when I return from maternity leave and as with all things requiring memory, knowledge fades when it is not used.
  6. One MUST be a funny book. I read far too many books that end in death or despair and that’s all very well but Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van was one of the best things I had read in years and it reminded me of how therapeutic it is to laugh out loud at a book.
  7. One MUST be finished in a day. A pretty contradictory approach to the restrained twelve books over fifty, but this will force me to sit still for at least one day of the next 365 and relish the act of reading.
  8. One MUST be written by an author of a book that I teach. This one is off the back of reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant; there is so much value in exploring the rest of a writer’s brain when teaching their work.
  9. One MUST be a recommendation of my son’s choosing. I get passed so many books by him and often (this is awful, I know) say I will get around to reading it and don’t. This is admittedly because I’ve read the back and the plot line makes me want to weep- I do not want to spend my precious time finding out about the highs and lows of Captain Underpants, apologies- but I think I can stretch to one book.
  10. One MUST be more than ten years old. Weaning myself off all the amazing new YA fiction that comes out every year.
  11. One MUST be from the Carnegie List- because just writing the last stipulation brought me out in a cold sweat.
  12. One MUST be written by an author I have met or at least spoken to on Twitter. Because one of them had to be bloody near-on impossible (or alternatively, opens up a whole heap of brand new conversations.

Big thank you to @thatboycanteach, @afardon, @fkritson, @mrlockyer, @ralston_h, @happysadcross and anyone else who has endured my Twitter book chat over the last year, but also to @RemusLupin for disagreeing with every book choice I ever make, but always reading double my figure to spur me on. For anyone interested in setting themselves a #52books2018 challenge, @fkritson runs a group via Goodreads that helped tremendously with recommendations, alongside the hashtag on Twitter.

Please feel free to get in touch to chat books, make recommendations or dispute my choice for this year’s highlights; I recently tweeted here regarding the eleven books that I dug out in my book-purge and could not bring myself to get rid of.

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The #Litdrive Way of Life

After receiving a vast amount of interest about my ambiguous spouting on about #litdrive on Twitter over the weekend, then sharing the original post (here if you are interested https://saysmiss.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/the-little-acorn-litdrive/ ), I have realised that there are already several things about #litdrive that are outdated. One, we shifted from googledrive to dropbox (mainly because my ICT skills leave a lot to be desired and my lack of organisational skills could do with an entire post of their own). We have also grown from the original concept that I posted about; what started in my mind as a resource for literacy has inevitably grown wings, sprouted heads and transitioned to a heaving bank of resources for all sorts.

Change is good! We are now sitting at 350 contributors (primary and secondary) and with lots of shared drives floating about, I hope that the variety of resources will add value to any teacher, anywhere. A plethora of ‘stuff,’ #litdrive offers schemes of work, exemplar work, marking ideas, reading lists and initiatives, written literacy support, literacy across the curriculum and a whole heap in between. I usually have a monthly re-arrange/clear up/back up to ensure that resources shared are safe and easy to find.

What next? I thought it may be beneficial to outlinethe purpose of the drive but also put a few guidelines/pleas in place to make it great for everyone. Excuse the bullet points (some people may not have wanted to read the rambly words above and just get to the good stuff):

 

  • DM your email address with the #litdrive hashtag for me to send over an invite for you. Alternatively, send to my email (Katherine.howard@hotmail.co.uk) and #litdrive world is your oyster.
  • Once you have access, please do share how you have used someone else’s wonderful resource, using the #litdrive hashtag! It may be that you have tweaked a resource or used it in a new way which would be invaluable to any teacher. You may just make someone’s day after an hour of pulling glue sticks out of a child’s hair. Make someone smile.
  • Please, please, please do add your own resources- the top folder entitled wittingly, ‘I have something to add!’ is the place to pop it. I get heaps of messages from people saying, ‘I don’t really have anything great,’ or, ‘what type of thing would you want?’ Nonsense to the first- you’re an ace teacher, joining an online community to collaborate and share resources. You’re resources must be awesome. To the second- if you’re sharing a resource, I will find a folder to put it in.
  • Final gigantic plea- please do not delete or modify files. By all means, download it- stick it on your usb but other shared drives are really suffering as a result of this. It’s never deliberate of course, but if your Dropbox is heaving and you want out, just let me know and I will remove you from the drive.

Thank you so much for getting involved with #litdrive- I have had teachers from all over the world say thank you and would like to pass on that thanks to the people that deserve it. Enjoy!

#teacher5adayread: a little room for you

Reading is the only way I can sit still. If I’m not submerged in a story, my mind will wander to food (always food!), plans that week, what’s left to do, what I could be buying on the internet- my partner Ben says it is the only way to get me to attempt to relax most of the time. I write this after being told that there were no plans today, and so took it upon myself to redecorate the bathroom. I need reading more than reading needs me!

It is with the lounge-worthy days of Summer that #teacher5aday came about; national libraries were challenging children to read six books over the summer break and @martynreah quite rightly mentioned, why can’t we do the same?

The discussions and recommendations that have taken place as a result of #teacher5aday have been a pleasure to see- I now have several books winging their way to me because I could not resist after reading a tweet that gave a snippet of the synopsis or seeing a beautiful cover that would fit nicely on my bookshelf. After all, it is all about the shelfie…but reading is always the surefire way to #connect, #learn, #relax and #notice, and what a perfect time of the year to do just that.

It really is that simple. Use the #teacher5aday hashtag for a multitude of recommendations, update the spreadsheet as you go with a mini review to share with others, tweet your reading spots or get involved by sharing your top three books of all time, or perhaps the book you would pick if you had to read one forever (kindly shared by Stagecoach- what a crisis! One book!). You’ll find the document here https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1z6skfijOB0qFBOT4iVVQtHZmSQJpqcnSLg8f_Qan1b0/edit?usp=sharing

This will be the fourth year to attempt fifty books as part of the #fiftybookchallenge that I shared a few years ago- if you like a challenge- and it always is for me- then please do get involved. I’ve shared my list so far (currently at number 38 and counting) here:

https://www.librarything.com/catalog.php?view=SaysMiss&collectionname=fiftybookchallenge2016&collection=415140

 

Happy reading!

Bring Your Milk!Developing Healthy Habits

On the back of a massively successful week over the Christmas Break, #teacher5adayslowchat is set to return over Easter. Over the seven days, @martynReah, @MsHMFL, @SueRoffey, @naomi7444 (founder of the #teacher5aday journal, a fantastic crowd funded project), @MrsPert1, @EnglishHOD , @formationpeople, @GilchristGeorge (a man of formidable knowledge within both education and improvement) and @robfmac contributed to blogs in the run up to the week with differing approaches to the same overarching theme: how can we tackle wellbeing, both individually but also on a vaster scale, within schools and communities?

I often tell this story to my students, after my Mother telling me the same story when I was young about individual impact.

There once was a small, insignificant village with a multitude of giving and compassionate people. One day, Hero, the local messenger arrived to announce that the Emperor was coming to town- their town! Who would have thought such a great man would grace them with his presence. As a result, the Mayor proclaimed that the fountain that greeted all the village’s visitors would flow with milk on the day itself, as a mark of gratitude to the Emperor.

It was very simple: every household would need to bring one pint of milk to the fountain early that morning to prepare for the great event. Easy.

The morning finally arrived, with locals gathering to see their great National leader as his procession began to flow down the hills towards the village. The mayor waited until the horses had just reached the gates before commanding his men to reveal the fountain of milk for all to see.

The villagers held their breath, eagerly awaiting this gesture of appreciation…… but nothing burst from the cherubs that sat at the precipice of the fountain. The fountain lay dry and dormant. The mayor stammered his previous words, his face a twisted ball of anguish, but again, nothing. A single drop failed to appear.

You see- this is why ‘teacher5aday is so important to me, and many others, for two reasons that you can draw from this story. One is that the small, simple acts that you carry out in a bid to maintain your own wellbeing, thanks to the use of Twitter, are reached by so many other people, that you may make more of an impact to simply you’re own. The second, is that whilst some may consider wellbeing as an individual issue, like so many other social and economical issues that are present in society today, I do not. If we want people to succeed, to thrive, to simply find contentment on a day-to-day basis within schools, we need to recognise that mental and emotional wellbeing is not something that will get better if we do not do something about it.

To re-vitalise and reaffirm the priority of wellbeing within schools, #teacher5adayslowchat is making a comeback! Join us over the course of the week, from 4th-8th April, as we look at developing healthy habits. I’ll be starting on the Monday- which coincides with my first day at a new role so @martynreah will be tweeting my questions and sharing ideas until I can drop in later that day. We’re going to start with your own wellbeing; I want to consider the different strategies that we can develop to recognise our own capabilities and limits, whilst sharing practical ways of maintaining levels of focus and keeping wellbeing a key priority overall.

Opening on the 4th, I want you to consider the following questions to start:

How do you measure your wellbeing? What are the warning signs?

Why keep #teacher5aday top priority? Why is work/relax simply not enough?

What has helped you to maintain the focus?

I look forward to you joining me over the course of the week as we discuss Developing Healthy Habits- please feel free to get in touch before April with any thoughts you may have.

stanpac-glass-milk-bottle

 

#FiftyBookChallenge- 2015

For the first year EVER, I ended with time to spare. Granted, it was only a day but progress is progress! As ever, my exhaustive list followed by the highlights:

  1. Robert Graves- Goodbye to All That
  2. Patrick Ness- More Than This
  3. Jonathan Coe- The House of Sleep
  4. Pierre LaMaitre- Alex
  5. Very British Problems
  6. Michael Grant- Light
  7. Anonymous- Go Ask Alice
  8. Charlie Higson- The Enemy
  9. Ray Bradbury- Fahrenheit 451
  10. Lara Williamson- A Boy Called Hope
  11. Sabine Durrant- Remember Me This Way
  12. Brothers Grimm- the Robber Bridegroom
  13. John Williams- Stoner
  14. Carol Dweck- Mindset
  15. David Almond- Savage
  16. Tom Baker- The Boy Who Kicked Pigs
  17. Tim Bowler- Night Runner
  18. Tess Sharpe- Far From You
  19. Ann Kelley- Runners
  20. Anne Holm- I am David
  21. Gillian Flynn- Sharp Objects
  22. Sophie McKenzie- Girl, Missing
  23. Siri Hustvedt- The Sorrows of an American
  24. Banjamin Zephaniah- Teacher’s Dead
  25. Matt Haig- The Humans
  26. Sarah Crossan- The Weight of the Water
  27. Jessica Kane- The Report
  28. Mary Kingsley- A Hippo Banquet
  29. Marcus Sedgewick- Cowards
  30. Albert Camus- L’etranger
  31. JP Cavafy- Remember Body…
  32. Glen Duncan- The Last Werewolf
  33. Piers Torday- The Last Wild
  34. Dr Seuss- There’s a Wocket in my Pocket
  35. George Taylor- 1 4 Sorrow
  36. Paula Hawkins- Girl on the Train
  37. Paint me Like I am- Poetry for Young Adults
  38. E.Lockhart- We Were Liars
  39. Keith C Blackmore- Mountain Man
  40. Jay Asher- Thirteen Reasons Why
  41. James Thurber- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  42. Natalie Babbitt- Tuck Everlasting
  43. Diana Hendry- The Seeing
  44. Jennifer Niven- All the Bright Places
  45. Gillian Flynn- the Grown Up
  46. Jasmine Warga- My Heart and Other Black Holes
  47. Andy Weir- The Martian
  48. Michael Acton Smith- Calm
  49. Neil Gaiman- How the Marquis Got his Coat Back
  50. Matt Haig- A Boy Called Christmas

It seems the overarching themes for 2015 were war, YA fiction, dystopia, poetry and a couple of wildcards in between! I will pick out some highlights for those that want to take something useful from this list. I would like to start by saying I did persevere with a couple of books even after my initial enjoyment waned, but I won’t dwell on these. In the same way that I would not introduce someone by saying, ‘he’s not my type,’ it would be rude of me to sway your opinion of a book. It is simply not fair.

YOU MUST READ The Martian by Andy Weir and Humans by Matt Haig. I have been standing on my soap box to anyone who will listen about both and they show a completely alternative insight to our existence as humans. They question the importance that we place on what we perceive to be extraordinary and open our eyes to the wonder of the ordinary.

ONES FOR THE BOYS if you teach are 1 4 Sorrow, Teacher’s Dead and The Enemy. Charlie Higson’s sequel has been on my shelf for a month now and is on the list for 2016. Michael Grant’s Gone series is another fantastic set that will keep anyone hooked for a considerable distance.

NOT FOR CHILDREN’S EYES but definitely worth picking up (on the basis that you are not easily offended or squeamish) are Sharp Objects and the Last Werewolf. Brutal, brash and unapologetic, Glen Duncan tells a convincing tale of the supernatural.

GOOD FOR WAR IN THE CLASSROOM are I am David and Sedgewick’s Cowards. Holm tells a story equal in poignancy to Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and places emphasis upon the impact that adults have upon children. The Report also shows the conditions that people faced in the aftermath of the war, based on an original news report of a tragedy that took place in Bethnal Green in 1943.

IF YOU ONLY WANT ONE, read Pierre LaMaitre’s Alex. It warped my brain cells in the same way that Under the Skin bent them inside and back out again.

Interested in a reading challenge for 2016? Join me (and my school!) in #fiftybookchallenge. No rules, no list- most of my reads are YA fiction as the library is free in school and kids often recommend books to me. Anything goes- as Dr Seuss demonstrates- non fiction, fiction, self help, educational… you name it. Our students started this September and one is leading on 36 books so far! For the fifty book pledge resources, please email me for access to #litdrive. Happy New Year!

#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?

The type of week that I have survived: allow yourself a little self indulgence

I ran my first Teachmeet (and learned that my self-induced expectations are ridiculous).

I spoke passionately and honestly about the teaching climate today, with emphasis being on to be a better teacher for students, you have to protect yourself.

I pulled off a guest speaker with @thefixupteam for Y9 that had a HUGE impact on students.

I gave a merit to my severely autistic boy for his bravery and confidence. He cried.

I found out that some children actually like having me as their teacher.

I have let my illness change my teaching so that the students ran the show.

I have witnessed some of my most reluctant learners celebrate their success through our long term homework pilot.

I have refocussed my efforts for preparing GCSE stuff that has been on my to do list FOREVER- I may actually contribute more than a Ppt stuffed with animated GIFs.

I tinkered with Powtoons. I love it!

I met some inspiring new teachfolk that will be invaluable.

I got to watch @PivotalPaul in action again and remember how emotionally attached I am to teaching.

I received several comments from staff about how absolutely GORGEOUS my small person is.

I cracked on with that heap of marking. Efficiently.

I used student voice to get clarification and confirmation that they do actually not only recognise the value of homework, but enjoy it.

I shared some positivity with many different staff, and got to know some a little more.

I changed my teaching and experimented again with approaches that I know have worked.

I emailed year 9 to let them know that I am here for them before their exams and that I had every faith in their efforts and capabilities.

I set up Film Club.

I compiled a list of books for the library including some fantastic young people’s poetry to inspire!

I sat with kids at lunch every day to work with them or share my love of literature with them.

I talked to three girls in tears (separate times, no en masse!) and told them it would be ok. And meant it.

I sat down with a very isolated young man and made a plan.

I created beautiful poetry.

I got brave and sent off the poetry for judging!

I judged some fantastic stories for the @bbcradio2 500 words competition.

I took some work off people’s hands.

I did as much as I could pre exams before taking to reins off.

I took time for myself in between.

It’s amazing how much you can fit into a week- I bet you’ve managed to squeeze in a whole heap of amazing bits.

#Teacher5aday- Making each day a prettier version of itself

I was truly inspired by @martynreah’s #teacher5aday blog, and it really helped me to provide a structure to so many goals and aspirations that I had marked out for the next year. As we approach the end of the second month of 2015, whilst fresh in y mind from the piece that I have put together for the #teacher5aday exhibition, I thought it would be nice to document the work I have put in so far to preserving my own well being in the hope that it might help others to embed their own #teacher5aday changes. And of course, the even better ifs.

#connect 

I have shed a lot of friends as a teacher- I think finally finding my vocation in life helped me to identify the type of people that I wanted to surround myself with and the people that fulfil my life in the same way that I try to do for them. A social networking lecture at the start of my PGCE course prompted me to purge my facebook and it is next to dormant other than the usual abundance of pictures of my child. As I get older, my friendship group grows smaller but stronger, with people that understand the way that I work, and appreciate that when I am emotional or angry, what I say and what I mean are not usually the same thing. My friends are now those that can celebrate in my successes, listen as I self-sufficiently put the pieces back together and share my interests or key fundamental ideas. As a result, I have been to the theatre, made new friends at work, and made a wonderful and memorable trip to Iceland this month. This year, I am embarking on my first holiday alone (meeting people out there!) and have so many amazing trips and events booked that force me to maintain the work/life balance that is ultimately key to the self preservation essential to any attempt at longievity in my role. 

Keep this up- I’ve bought a wall planner ONLY for non work stuff- if the planner is empty, I’m in trouble. 

#exercise 

I’ve joined a gym! Not only did I join a gym, which in itself is not a feat- a gym has always featured in my routine- but I managed to find a non-poncy, spa-like gym that feels like a mini retreat every time I visit the gym. I am also joining a running club this week (watch this space- I’m hoping the race bug comes back) after running my last half marathon 2 years ago and then allowing teaching to sink my PB without a trace. I bought a bike when my son learned to ride his own in the summer and it is such an instant fee-good hit to dump the bikes in the boot and head out to the park. In addition, my diet has had a complete turnaround. I have always eaten fairly healthily (evened out with my own weight in chocolate of course) but then in early January, watched a rather disturbing but eye-opening programme about the fact that our bodies are able to self heal if we would allow, but that we are denying the body of essential nutrients as a result of our diets. I switched to a vegetable smoothie and beetroot juice for my breakfast and after two weeks, felt an immediate difference. I was awake, my thoughts were clearer and I felt very little requirement for caffeine to keep me going through the day. After researching further into raw food diets, I am now adding chia seeds and spirulina, foods known to be rich in B12, iron and antioxidants. I have had a fair share of funny looks and shaking heads as I drink my green goo breakfast, but I feel fantastic and notice such a difference to my energy levels and mood. I know it isn’t for everyone, but it is a simple way to feel better- eat more veg. 

Keep up running club. Enter a race for the next six months.

#notice 

This is where the age-old good thing jar comes in. I have kept a yearly good thing jar since the start of my PGCE, using post it notes to record tiny moments that make me smile and make me happy. It could be a joke that I shared with a colleague or friend, the view from my classroom (my entire back wall is a window- I’m very lucky), or something that a child brings in to show me. With the same mindset, I have extended this to use with my form group- each week we have ‘Celebration Friday’ where we write a small note to share the thing that we are proud of or want to remember from the last week, or alternatively nominate a moment that they think someone else in the tutor group should be proud of. Students vote and we add the top two voted moments to our celebration board, but I have collected in all moments to collate for an end of year display. The whole process of noticing for me is to being able to reflect and retain the moments that seem at the time quite ordinary but in fact, it would be quite a shame to let them slip from memory. I keep a diary to monitor moments on a more personal level, which allows me to look back and consider where I was, and what I have experienced since that time. 

Eat lunch outside in the nature spot at work when we get to after Easter and there is slightly less danger of hypothermia.

#learn 

I am eternally grateful to Twitter for the fact that I am continually informing myself and improving myself as a teacher. I am now about to embark on Twitter Coaching (set up by @furtheredagogy and @ASTsupportAAli, the little geniuses) and love an opportunity to get involved in extra projects. However, #teacher5aday caused me to consider my interests and curiosity outside of work. I’ve made some fantastic new friends over the last few months, who have forced me into different projects outside of school that have been completely outside the box- drama workshops, creative writing, shooting! A blessing And a curse, I need a project to get my teeth into to keep me feeling like I have a direction. To do this outside of school instead of sinking into work related projects has been fantastic.

Look into the LP accreditation or an equally recognised qualification- not a masters. Not yet!

#volunteer 

 I have made a concerted effort to spend much more time with children during school hours- setting up a newsletter club, a poetry club, organising trips to get Y9 thinking about their next steps as we move towards GCSE, carrying out student voice beforehand to ask the kids what THEY wanted from their time in school- even down to the days that would suit them best. I find that this one is on a much more personal lebel- I have learned to habitually give without expectation- a compliment, an enquiry into how someone has found their day or how they are feeling; I’m consciously ending anything I say with a question. This sounds so simplistic, but when we are busy, it is so easy to use time with others to fill about our own rants and frustrations. Questions equal out the balance and offer the support that other people may need, just like you do at times. For me, volunteering up your kindness is the greatest gift.

Make up wellbeing bags for my department.