DISPLAYING ITEMS BY TAG: WELLBEING

Online and in print, there is a lot of idealising about nurturing niceness and educating ‘the whole child’. But at the sharp edge in schools, when teachers are busy and pressured to provide results (test scores that is), what can realistically happen? Values and ethics reduced to a snappy slogan on the walls of the hall? Positive characteristics and traits referred to in a school mission statement but never in lessons? Sanctions imposed for negative behaviours but little recognition for positive? Rewards reserved for classwork and achievement?

In the same way that children need to be taught how to hold a knife and fork, tie shoelaces or do long division, so too are empathy, kindness, benevolence and charity traits that need to be taught. Yet where do we reward students for being kind and not just clever? Where do we praise schools for educating hearts and not just minds?

When asked “What is education for?”, the answer “passing tests” is not always at the top of list. Instead, teachers often cite ‘holistic outcomes’, citizenship development and rich understanding of knowledge in context - not just a list of rote-learned facts - as key ambitions.

But there is little reward for schools or students who achieve these holistic aims. Although evidence of healthy SMSC and British Values provision contributes to an inspection outcome, Ofsted’s criteria largely hang on exam results. Progress 8 looks at points from qualifications. SATs tests define a child’s Primary school achievements. Teacher assessment and reporting to parents leans heavily on levels.

How can we turn this system on its head? By innovating our routines and protocols. Happy children achieve more, kindness breeds kindness. Although ‘behaviour’ can be a key concern in school development plans, there is a difference between students not being naughty and being actively kind.

One method I’ve implemented had me standing up to present an assembly in front of Years 7, 8 and 9, playing a YouTube video called ‘random acts of kindness’ and then challenging students to conduct their own over the six-week half term. Media Studies students also created a video to show in form time.

The next half term we went a step further. On the first Monday back after the holidays, the school council and I went into school two hours early in order to (in the words of executive principal Dave Whittaker) “batter the school with kindness”. ‘Thank you’ notes left for cleaners and caretakers. Flowers in the reception. Fifty pence pieces sellotaped to the vendors, sweeties left in the staffroom, compliments stuck to windows. Free umbrellas for the rain, new pencil cases for the new starters, ‘you’re the best’ badges for the dinner ladies. Balloons dropped off at the nursery, handing Murray Mints to the arriving bus drivers, and a car cleaning service offered in the car park. The list was extensive, and I’ve forgotten a few I’m sure, but the buzz was tangible.

With the school council driving the agenda, students let their imaginations run wild with the kindness drive. A school charity was formed - ‘The Helping Hand’ - and projects dreamed up. Age UK and Yorkshire Air Ambulance visited the school, collections and visits to local food banks were run... It was a beautiful blooming of positive deeds, and served to remind staff and students: ‘It’s nice to be nice’.

Other projects/ideas to promote kindness in schools:

  • Create a kindness award: Regular and visible recognition for acts of kindness.
  • Secret Gardeners or Cake Club: Under the cover of home time, revamp school spaces with flowers, pot plants, herb gardens and vegetable patches. Alternatively, anonymously deliver buns and cakes to pigeon holes and classrooms.
  • Chatting and coffee morning: Contact local charities and invite them into your school / arrange visits in the community.
  • Care Home Christmas Choir: Sing for the older people as a Christmas treat.
  • Culture Cures Hospital Postcards: In Art or English, Tech or PSHE, make positive postcards with messages to be posted to hospital wards.

The results were striking. There were 100s of recorded and rewarded acts of kindness. Students could see them, staff could see them, and we could all feel them.

Here are just some acts of kindness by students recorded by staff over two half terms [this is a fraction of the acts Paul sent in! - Editor]:

  • Handed in a lost £10 note.
  • Reassured a friend who was obviously upset.
  • Helped a classmate around on her crutches all week.
  • Gave a fellow student who was diabetic his Double Decker chocolate bar as her blood sugars were low and she could have gone into 'shock' state.
  • Often offers to carry bag upstairs for me.
  • Stood up to a bully and lost friends over it. A brave student!
  • Assisted a student who had a bad nose bleed, cleaned him up.
  • Knew my nephew was starting football sticker book so brought his swaps in.
  • Lovely, genuine “How are you? Did you have a good weekend Miss?” upon entering the lesson.
  • Holds the door open for other students. Has consistently good manners, and very polite and respectful to everybody.
  • Helped at a traffic collision in the village.
  • Doing great work for her chosen charity.

Where is the kindness in your curriculum? Make this year the year to be nice. World Kindness Day is November 13th 2018, and Random Acts of Kindness days can be run throughout the year, so get planning!

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An NUT survey in 2015 found that over half of teachers were thinking of leaving the profession in the next two years, citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this. Research also shows that one in four teachers will quit the profession within the first five years of teaching. Yet, according to a Gallup survey in 2013, teaching was still voted number two out of the top 14 careers - beaten only by physicians.

Why did you go into teaching? Most of us came into it because we had a vision of how we thought education should be. We loved children, believed that we could affect change, had an enthusiasm for our subject, and we wanted to make a difference. Sadly, many of us have lost sight of that vision.

Consider this: On a scale of 1-10, how stressful is your job? Too often, we do not listen to our bodies, ending up with distress, which manifests physically as pain, muscle tension, injury or disease; emotionally with symptoms of jealousy, insecurity, feelings of inferiority, inability to concentrate, poor decision making, mental disorientation, depression, anxiety and so on.

In this article, I’m going to outline five steps to create delicious habits that will make you positively flourish at work!

1. Put your own oxygen mask on first

I am sure you will have heard it said, in the preflight demonstration, that if there’s an emergency, to put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. The idea is that you don’t become so preoccupied with trying to help secure everyone else’s oxygen mask that you forget to secure your own. You are not going to be much help to anyone, let alone yourself, if you’re in a pre-comatose state!

Teachers and school leaders often tell me they have depleted themselves for the sake of others - pupils, management, staff, family, friends. It’s important to take the time and care to secure your oxygen mask, then when the challenges of school life come hurtling towards you, you will have some foundations with which to deal with them.

2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Drink water throughout the day. By staying hydrated you'll be taking care of your most basic needs first. Water is also essential for cleansing the body, so try to drink at least four to six glasses a day.

Cut down on all refined and processed foods, sugar, fried fatty foods, additives and all stimulants like tea, coffee and alcohol. Instead, eat more whole grains, vegetables, fruit, whole wheat pasta, seafood, free range/organic poultry and dairy products. Make sure to eat enough to ensure your blood sugar isn't crashing. Have healthy snacks around, especially when you are ruled by your school breaks and busy schedules.

3. Start an exercise programme  

Walking, running, swimming, aerobics, dancing or yoga. Exercise regularly at least twice a week. There’s a lot of research out there that indicates the better shape you are, the easier you will find it to handle stress.

4. Take time off from the digital screens

While screens may feel relaxing, and allow you to turn "off", try and find a sans-screen activity to truly take time for yourself. Skip the TV and enact even the smallest self-care rituals, like:

  • A bath
  • Time to clean and moisturise your face
  • Legs up the wall with eyes covered for 5-10 minutes
  • A five-minute foot massage
  • Listening to relaxing music with a cup of tea
  • Journaling

5. Say “NO!”

This is the hardest word for a teacher to say! Most of us are kind and caring individuals, high achievers and hugely diligent. We teach because we want to make a difference, and the word ‘no’ is so hard to say. But we MUST say it if we are to survive in this culture of an ever-increasing workload. Try saying: ‘Not now’, and then give a future time frame.

Take Nottingham’s Education Improvement Board as an example. They have come up with their own fair workload charter. In brief, the charter defines what ‘reasonable’ means in terms of the additional hours teachers are expected to work beyond directed time each day. They say that school policies should be deliverable within no more than an additional two hours a day beyond directed time for teachers (and three hours a day for those with leadership responsibilities).

Schools adopting the charter receive the Education Improvement Board fair workload logo to use on their adverts and publicity. This reassures potential applicants about the workload demands that will be placed on them in choosing a charter school over one that hasn't adopted it. Read more about the charter at: www.schoolsimprovement.net/what-exactly-is-a-reasonable-teacher-workload.

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Every September, when greeting my new class, I would follow the same pattern for the first two weeks to settle them in. I don’t think there is anything magical or mysterious about how I settle children and classes, so I am going to share it now, so that anyone can pick up the bits they think they would find useful. I should also give props to my mum here, as I learnt about routine, expectations, and consistent boundaries by watching her as a childminder to toddlers!

Some of you will read this and think “Well, she has never taught in a challenging environment if that works”, but I can assure you that, having worked at inner-city London schools, this settle-in routine was a necessity - not a ‘nice-to-have’ - and there were certainly some very challenging cohorts who I thought this would never work for. But I always persevered, and it always came good in the end!

For me, settling a class is about four main things:

  1. Creating an environment conducive to learning for all students.
  2. Building a sense of community and shared, as well as individual, responsibility.
  3. Cutting down low-level disruptive behaviour to near enough 0.
  4. Making time for those who need extra support - behavioural or learning.

Getting this right in September means not having to be strict all year. I was known for having very high behaviour expectations with my classes. But also, anyone visiting my class to observe during the year could not actually pinpoint what I was doing that they would consider ‘strict’. The reason is very simple: I had done all of my settling back when no one was watching! So now there is nothing to see. They know the rules, and I know what they are capable of.

The introduction

The first thing I would do with my new class is a little speech. Here, I explain that I have three jobs. ‘Teacher’ is my job title, but it is actually my third job once I have completed the first two. The first job I have is to keep them safe. At the very least, your parents expect them all in one piece at hometime each day. Being safe is about the safety of everyone. Individual and collective responsibility. Running around in the classroom = unsafe. Holding scissors aloft while chatting = unsafe. And so on. So any behaviour such as that would stop any lesson immediately (anything which stops a lesson causes a sanction).

My second job is to ensure everyone is happy. This is not to be confused with my job being to MAKE people happy. It is not about having fun or being entertained. Happiness is more a contentment - it means that we care about everyone around us, and show everyone respect in their classroom and learning environment. Someone crying due to someone else ruining their drawing = I need to intervene. Someone upset or angry due to being annoyed by someone else in class = I need to intervene. Again, intervention by me means learning time lost, so could result in sanctions.

The other part of happiness looks at my commitment to intervene - and support/help - if a child is unhappy due to circumstances outside of the classroom. No need to labour this point, but it is worth the pupils knowing that, say, if they arrive angry after a fight with siblings, they can sit and calm down in the book corner before register, to get happy for school.

Once my first job (safety) and my second job (happiness) are done, I can then teach. Those conditions mean we can learn loads. We can discover exciting facts. We can learn about interesting places or words. I commit to always making lessons as engaging and interesting as possible, but making sure pupils learn from them is the main objective. Pupils must commit to working hard and listening, and I will then support them as much as a I can to help them succeed.

Once the speech is done, we usually spend that first lesson drawing up a class agreement based on my speech outlining the above. The rules come from them based on the “safe” and “happy” criteria, ie “We need a rule about hurting people, because that could make things unsafe AND make people unhappy.”

Time to get to work

The next two weeks are carefully planned to include lots of independent working. The reasoning is threefold:

  1. To establish my expectations for any time I ask for silent working.
  2. To spend time with each child while the rest of the class are working silently - to hear them read, to talk a bit with them and find out their likes/dislikes, to assess any additional needs.
  3. To figure out the relationships between the students and any clashes or positive working partnerships.

For each of the independent task lessons (at least two a day in the first two weeks) I would, of course, do some teaching up front. After this, I would have various tasks which were very low-challenge or significantly differentiated, so that everyone could access them without support. The tasks quite frankly would be considered, at any other time, to be a total waste of learning time. I make no bones about this. But at this stage in the term, it is vital for me to do this so that for the rest of the year my learning environment allows us to have extremely high expectations.

So during the silent lessons, I will pick up on every single issue of behaviour. I mean every single one. In each case I would never call the child out publicly. While the class works I sit at the desk and work with individuals. I call them over, ask why they think they did the right thing. I will explain my expectations. If it is something a previous teacher allowed but I will not, I explain to the whole class that I understand they were allowed to do that before, but in my class I don’t allow it - and I always explain why, referring to the rules (being careful, of course, not to undermine the previous teacher, but just to say we are different). We set up agreed new routines as a class so that expectations going forward are clear.

Once we have done a few silent lessons the majority of children are now on board and understand that you mean what you say - this is the first turning point. They now start to remind others of the expectations. They start to keep each other on track with other teachers (PPA time) too. Then we can start to spend more time with the more “spirited” children who need a lot more support in settling.

You might even end up spending a lot of time with one or two key characters who seem to be always at your desk during silent working, having been called up for one misdemeanour or another. This time is really key. It gives you a chance to give them attention they clearly need, without it interrupting your main curriculum later down the line. I have had cases where, even right near the end of the two weeks, there is just one or two children I cannot seem to get the right connection with. Some of these go on past the two weeks. But by then, the rest of the class is 100% onboard and actually enjoying how settled and calm their class is. So they do not mind you spending extra time with one.

And this time with the more disenfranchised pupils really works. They eventually realise you mean everything you say. They see you start to loosen up with the rest of the class, and that you really won’t be strict forever if everyone does the right thing. They see you being fair and consistent with everyone. They see you wipe their slate clean and start again every single day. So eventually they trust you, and order is established with everyone. The side effect is also a more cohesive class who work together calmly.

As I said, this may not work for everyone. And in a short article I have had to speed up the explanation, but hopefully the intention is clear and the tips will help some new teachers. Get in touch if you want to find out any more ([email protected]), or discuss any challenges you are facing when settling your class - I am always happy to help!

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There were two turning points for me that I distinctly remember. The first was in September 2014 on our INSET day. We’d just hit 85% 5A*CEM in the summer, been awarded Outstanding in every category in July, a far cry from Special Measures and 28% three years previously. Behaviour had been described regularly as ‘feral’ but was now brilliant. I announced as much to my staff, then followed with the line that would change our strategic direction:

“But is anyone having any fun?”

I didn’t regret the sledgehammer approach we’d had to take with the school to turn around engrained and endemic inadequacy, but I knew things had to change. Regional Harris director Dr Chris Tomlinson once told me that a head’s job is to make themselves redundant and this principle resonated strongly. If I got hit by the proverbial bus, the school would be stuffed. It was therefore not sustainable.

My question, and challenge, to staff was to begin our journey to create a school that the staff truly wanted to work in, where we could feel the buzz of burning ambition and professional success, the warm glow of helping the most vulnerable in our society change their lives, the pride of being part of a story that is changing our part of South East London. But with no burnout. Ever.

We started by collating all the reasons why staff wanted to work here, in our school, rather than anywhere else. I’m a big believer in your internal brand matching your external brand - by this I mean what you SAY you do, you ACTUALLY do. Staff can sniff out spin a mile off and it truly stinks, breeding cynicism and resistance throughout the organisation.

To avoid this we spent lots of time making sure our ‘20 reasons to work here’ was actually real for staff. I asked them to rate the three reasons that were most resonant and the three that felt furthest away. I then gulped, and shared it with all the staff; one of my mantras being “no elephants in the room”. We then openly discussed the issues and what to do about them. Only when we were completely sure about them did I have them branded for our recruitment strategy.

I regularly review these 20 reasons to make sure the school has not drifted away from what we say we do. We place huge value on integrity and ensure it runs through every decision, every conversation. Holding ourselves and each other to account does not have to involve being needlessly brutal - when you do it with integrity and honesty suddenly, it is much more powerful and does not corrode trust.

Three years later the school was in a great place. Staff morale was high. We were ‘bringing ourselves to work’, another of our mantras; great banter and belly-laughter was encouraged; the hierarchy was flatter.

And this leads me to the second turning point, shortly before we broke up for summer holidays last year. Speaking to my coach, I realised something else was missing.

Life.

I was talking to her about how I hadn’t seen my kids for four days as I kept missing their bedtime, and that I was going to leave early that night at 5.30pm so I could see them for half an hour. But I was filled with anxiety about how I could make that happen and what example that set - would the staff think I was lazy and not earning my salary? My coach asked what time I'd arrived that morning: 7.30am. She asked me if I’d had a break: of course not, I’m SLT. Then she asked the killer question:

“At what point did working ten hours a day stop being enough?”

The penny dropped. And this might be controversial. You see, while I am indignant at successive governmental failures to recruit enough teachers, I do believe that too many schools have not done enough to ensure that teaching remains a fun and highly rewarding profession. Often, we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied, to become scared of Ofsted and the DfE and bad press. It’s therefore totally understandable that, on occasion, we’ve wielded the sledgehammer approach for too long, too hard, too often, too carelessly.

Don’t get me wrong. Headteachers should hold people to account. Those who are completely incompetent should be drummed out of our proud profession by all of us. We should drive high standards for ourselves. We should expect the best for our children. They deserve the best. But we don’t have to run cultures of fear and we don’t have to break our staff.

It so happened that John Tomsett, a headteacher I very much admire, was getting some well-deserved attention for the great work his school was doing on addressing workload. I took his list of ways to reduce workload to my SLT and we realised that we were doing nearly everything on there, and more. Just not consistently or mindfully enough. So again, like we did with the ‘20 Reasons’, I now took the ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ to the staff to ensure they were resonant. I also set them the challenge for this year: “If you’re still here after 5.30pm, something in your own system, your department’s system or the school system has failed. Then let’s fix that.

By being open and honest about the challenges we face, getting the systems right, being efficient and streamlined in our approach, we’ve been successful in changing the culture: the vast majority of staff in a recent survey said they had a healthy work/life balance.

So what needs to change across the school system to make our working lives more productive, more meaningful, less frustrating and less exhausting? Read our ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ and let me know what you think. Share your ideas to make them even better. We’re really trying to make it happen at Harris Academy Greenwich and I don’t believe our results will suffer.

It has been an eight year journey to lead the school to this point where the systems are tight, the staff are slick and well-trained, the school purrs. We have fun, we laugh, and we don’t break. Ever.

I love teaching. I love life. It’s possible to have both.

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With the exponential rise of technology, the popularity of social media platforms and the ubiquity of smart devices, ‘online health and safety’ has never been more important. The benefits of edtech are enormous, from individualised learning and mixed realities, to the instant global connectivity that social media provides. But we need to balance these rewards by addressing the risks of being online - from cyberbullying and loss of privacy, to concerns around the mental health of social media users. So how should schools go about ensuring this?

There is a parable about two woodcutters. Determined to prove their superiority, they decided to have a competition to see who could cut the most trees down in one day. One woodcutter chopped on relentlessly, spurred on by the intermittent silence of his competitor whom he assumed was exhausted. But when the day ended, he discovered to his horror that his competitor had felled twice as many trees! His competitor had triumphed, simply because every-so-often he had taken time to sharpen his axe.

I write this at the start of April, whilst enjoying a view some may call “paradise”: sat on Long Beach, in Pulau Perhentian Kecil, with the South China Sea lapping up against my toes. It’s been a well-needed ‘switch off’ after the last three-to-six months (the last three in particular). The added benefit of five days without working WiFi was not lost on me. Whilst naturally there were those who worried about my radio silence, being blissfully ignorant of literally everything going on outside of a 1km stretch of beach has been quite refreshing! So how has this benefited me as an international educator?

The usual school grading system rewards and highlights academic success, but as educators, we have a responsibility to prepare our pupils to be responsible, active members of the community, with a moral and social responsibility to improve the world they live in and to fight discrimination and reduce inequality. As teachers, we know that theory is one thing, but to embed a thought behaviour, or an action, one must practise it regularly in a hands-on manner. So how best to go about this in 2018/19?

As we approach towards the new school year, the ongoing issue of loneliness is often far from our minds. Parents rush around buying their children new pencil cases, school bags and various other essentials for the first day back. Students are busy getting excited about seeing their friends again and sharing the adventures and experiences they had over summer. It is an exciting time of year for all. Or nearly all.

Q: What’s going to enable students to make smart choices as they prepare for their journeys after school - and aspire to become leaders of tomorrow?

A: Great, creative schools that cultivate a culture of leadership and smart, outward-looking teachers who instil passion in all their students.

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