In case you were wondering… believing me to be sickly, saccharin and bordering on Julie Andrews sweet in my posts (think the optimism of Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp,)… I am actually not the worlds chirpiest or most optimistic of people. Not naturally anyway. That is not to say that I don’t spontaneously burst into song sometimes, most days, any place. Last week Year 6 discovered the word Flibbertigibbet– and I couldn’t help myself but sing back ‘A Flibbertigibbet, a Whil-O-the Whisp, A Clooooown!’ (If you haven’t seen the Sound of Music you may think I’ve finally cracked up. Stick with me!)
I am known to be a panicker, a worrier, an obsessor! I over think and over analyse. When the exemplification materials came out last month I felt like Chicken Licken!! “The Sky is Falling!” But instead, I started to write. So far it has taken me on an exciting journey. I have seen the positive change in my own teaching practice and the small ways it has changed the mind-set of those closest to me. I am lucky though. I’m fortunate enough that on my ‘Chicken Licken’ days I am surrounded by a family and school family who are always optimistic; always cheering each other on; always picking each other up. They are the ones who cause me to have optimism to have hope. They are my inspiration.
When I went to look around my current school, ahead of an interview, the part that made me want to work there wasn’t actually the kids or the learning or the classrooms, although all were lovely. It was the staff toilet! Yes, a little weird I grant you. In the toilet was a noticeboard and on it were jokes, witty anecdotes, funny pictures. It was unexpected and made me laugh out loud. It made me think- I want to work here! I wanted to work in a place where the staff made each other laugh, where people made the time to boost and bolster each other. To hold each other up. It continues to be one of the things I love most about my school. There, I’ve said it. My secret is out.
Little did I know when I got the job 8 years ago the impact that it would have not only on my career but on me as a person. I have gone through some of the most stressful times in my life there: engagement, wedding planning, wedding, 2 babies, 1 kitchen renovation and 2 house moves. Likewise I hope that my colleagues can say that I have been there for them. It hasn’t all been plain sailing. In all of our lives there are peaks and troughs there are highs and lows. However I know that we will weather the storms together. We pick each other up, we look out for each other. There is ALWAYS a hug and some cake if it is needed.
I didn’t know that this was rare. Speaking to colleagues from other schools, they don’t necessarily feel this way. I have heard stories of people out for what they can get, claiming credit for others work and ideas, lack of sympathy and support from management. I couldn’t’ believe it. I felt sad that during these turbulent times not every teacher has a ‘school family’ to support, guide and protect them.
When I was an NQT I was told to move on after two years. ‘Don’t stay if you want career progression!’ ‘To be a good teacher you need to experience different schools.’ Maybe there is some truth in that, I don’t know. I feel that I continue to grow and develop as a practitioner despite working in the same school. I feel I would have a lot to offer another school should I ever choose to leave. However, if I had heeded that advice, if I had kept moving, then I believe I would have lost far more than I could have gained.
There is something special about our school. It is an old village school. Most of our children live in the village. We have members of staff who came to our school. Parents aspire to work with us. We have home grown both TA’s and teachers from the community. We have had TA’s who have returned to us as teaching staff. I met my best friend at work, she is now my son’s Godmother and I am Godmother to hers. We are neighbours, friends, colleagues and family. I think we are special. I think we are rare and I think we are worth celebrating.
I too have changed. I have been moulded, influenced and shaped by the people I have worked with, the children I have taught and the parents I have met. Like a family they celebrated with me, commiserated, laughed and cried with me. Supported me in the tough times and been honest with me when I have sought advice. At times there has been tough love- I needed it- it made me better. At times there were kind words- I needed it- it made me stronger. At times there was cake- I needed it- but it made me fatter.
I was watching the film ‘Up’ with my Mum and children the other day (actual offspring; I don’t take my Mum to school with me.) It was the part where Russell and Mr Fredrickson have landed after the storm and realised that they are on the wrong side of Paradise Falls. Keeping the house with them, tied up and weighing them down they trudge slowly towards their destination. The old man has his eyes firmly set on where they are headed, and at times is distracted by where he has been, or the weight of the house he is carrying or the crushing weight of his grief for his beloved wife. Russell’s interjections and observations go largely unnoticed, or brushed to one side as a distraction from the ultimate aim- which was to get to paradise falls. My Mum thought it was interesting that the old man was focussed on the future and the past, while Russell (the child) was wholly and entirely in the moment.
It got me thinking… as adults it is inevitable that we get burdened and bogged down in our own lives to some extent. We don’t have the luxury that children have to be ever present and living from moment to moment, do we? Perhaps it could be too easy to become Mr Fredrikson in the classroom some days ploughing on with our own cause and not open to the path or direction the child would prefer to be on. What does this say about us as teachers? The following poem explores the conflict between the direction of the child and the teacher that can sometimes occur in a data driven classroom:
“I’m being a leaf, I can float in the sky,
Look at me dance, watch me fly”.
“That’s nice dear but please take heed,
You must sit down, it’s time to read.
You haven’t achieved what the plan is for you,
I must intervene and dictate what you do.
There are phonemes and graphemes with action and sound;
Segment them and blend them and prove what you’ve found.
It is our responsibility to make sure that we don’t lose sight of the little companions by our sides, the explorers in the classroom with us. After all, it is their adventure that we are on. We are merely the guides. They have a voice too and where possible we must try to incorporate moments in the day or week where they can take the lead and direct their own learning. You may be amazed what comes of it.
I had a child last week who was really struggling with arrays. I had demonstrated it, we had rehearsed it, we had discussed and explored them, but for some reason it just wasn’t clicking and I could see that she wasn’t secure in what she needed to do or how the array was helpful to solving multiplication problems. In the afternoon I gave her some time to direct her own learning. She decided to learn in the role play corner, which is currently a Bakery on Pudding Lane. Can you guess what our Topic is? About ten minutes later she asked me if I would like to buy a chocolate muffin (as she presented me an empty baking tray.) ‘Of course!’ I exclaimed. ‘My favourite! How did you guess?’ She asked me how many I would like and so I asked her how many she was selling. Then her face fell as she looked at the tray and I could see she didn’t know what to do. I encouraged her to look at the tray and remember what we were talking about in Maths that morning. Her face split into such a wide smile I nearly chuckled ‘It’s an array!!’ So I asked her again how many cupcakes she had. She looked at the tray, counted 3 and 4, then said 3 x 4 is 12!’ All morning I had been pushing her towards the outcome that I wanted for her, but it wasn’t until I let her go, that she came to the learning by herself.
It can be easy as teachers for our minds to become full of the things that we need to achieve in the day; the resources that need preparing; that meeting after school; the conversation had on the playground with a parent at the start of the day and that’s before we even get into the classroom and start filling our brains with lesson objectives, differentiation, collecting evidence, marking and oh don’t forget to send the homework out!! However, the children aren’t bagageless either, okay it may not be the size of a house, it may be the size of a Wilderness Explorers backpack, but it burdens them all the same… My new baby brother woke me up last night, I’m tired. I wish I had eaten all my breakfast like Mummy said I should, I’m hungry. I miss Mummy. Hmmmm Isabella has a nicer headband than me. I wish I had a pink headband. If I had that headband I’d look like a popstar. When is break? I’m sad that my hamster died! (two years ago!) Ohhh this chair is wobbly. Is that a rainbow? Both sets of baggage, both ours and theirs interfere with the process of learning.
It can be hard when we are under pressure to deliver results not to see the little distractions and deviations as a little frustrating at times. However, stay in the moment, be mindful of what is happening in the moment. If the child is hungry, cold, tired, bored then they can not learn. If we are mindful then we are more likely to be aware of the needs of our children. These can then be fixed and the lesson can continue. Or their needs might preclude the lesson taking place at that time.
Practising mindfulness, that ability to stay in the moment isn’t just important for us but it is also an important life skills for our pupils to learn. MindBodygreen.com have some excellent ideas on how to bring Mindfulness to children. If you are looking to help the children calm down and be present then I love the idea of Breathing Buddies (little toys that you place on your stomach to watch as you breathe deeply) and Squish and Relax (the process of tightening and relaxing sequences of muscles in the body to promote relaxation.) The following clip, as suggested by Emily Drabble in How to Teach…Mindfulness, is a great way to introduce the concept of staying present with your class.
For effective learning to take place it is essential that we all learn to put our baggage down, and mindfulness is certainly one way to support that. So let go of the House, grab a balloon, let’s go and explore together!
I feel like the world has completely shifted since I wrote my first post. This time last week I was a knackered, apathetic teacher dreading the start of another term. This term is short, and it leads up to the dreaded Assessment Term- May was looming large on the horizon. Questions were buzzing round my brain, Maths equations for weeks ahead divided by pupils, divided by objectives, multiplied by lessons lead to numbers I’m pretty sure were never going to add up… and so it went on in a nauseating tea cup ride of Assessment, Expectations, Evidence, Moderation, Ofsted…. STOP!!
I began to search, without knowing what it was I was searching for. Another way, another career, another life. I came across a movement in America called #LoveTeaching. Suddenly I realised the problem: I had fallen out of love with teaching!!
Now don’t get me wrong, you might be sitting there thinking, well sure, it happens! Well, it shouldn’t! I teach in the most amazing school. I have been there since I was an NQT and watched it turn from a cosy and loving, albeit a slightly disoragnised and chaotic establishment into a hive of creative, supportive, nurturing and organised individuals working tirelessly to do the best for our wonderful children; exploring and sparkling together! In this environment no-one should be falling out of love with teaching!
Perhaps a career in teaching is like a Long marriage, there is the honeymoon period; the fresh doey eyed enthusiasm of the NQT. Full of Hope, new ideas and energy. Over time this mellows into a confident familairity of the more experienced teacher, now as I see this analogy through I am struck by the fact that perhaps what I was actually experiencing was the Seven year itch!! The change of curriculum and assessment have acted like a house move or bereavement, upsetting the equilibrium and forcing me to reassess. Perhaps I’ll go out and flirt with other schools, see what else it out there, what am I missing? Decide to pack it in all together and look at a different profession. No. If you want a long happy marriage then don’t look elsewhere. Look carefully at what you have got. Appreciate it, cherish it, find the joy in it. Change something, try something new, but do it together.
So thats what I have done. I changed my focus, I reassessed, I looked within. What was really important. What could I live with and not live without? I can live with the chopping and changing, the ridiculous expecations and pressures put on us and the children, as long as when I leave them at the end of the day they can say ‘Today has been a good day!’ When they look back on thier time with me in the years to come I want them to remember all the fun and interesting things that we learned, explored and discovered. I want them to remember me as crazy, happy, kind, patient, inspiring… but please not Boring!!!
I wish there was a tick list for Independence Skills, Resilience, Empathy, Kindness, Tolerance, Perseverance, Creativty, Problem Solving and Communication…. beacuse these are the skills that the children in my class are going to be leaving with.
For those of you struggling and feeling alone, be reassured. You are not. I have been staggered by the support I have recieved from other like minded professionals as I embarked upon this journey. We are not alone. There are others trying hard to remain positive, keep smiling and soldier on. So try not to dwell, get the paper work done, stop moaning in the staff room and make someone laugh. grab a cup of tea, give someone a hug and keep things in perspective. What is important to you? What can you live with? #OptimisticEd
So, it turns out that starting up a blog is harder to do than I thought!! The world needs more positivity, thought I. I have a happy voice that needs to be heard, thought I. Getting it up and running is another thing… Now there is something you must know about me. I am crap with computers. Hmmmm, I know, not a great start for someone who wants to start a Blog!
During ICT classes at school I was the one who constantly had my hand up. I am the girl who keeps the same phone until it completely dies: trying to learn what all the buttons do on a new one is a long and confusing process. At school our Tech Support Officer rolls her eyes when she sees me walk in the room, as no doubt something, mysterious, unexpected and unexplained has happened to my work, files, laptop etc. I am also the girl who placed her laptop on top of her car and drove off only to see it fly off into the road in my rear view mirror while driving at 40mph!!
So to say I am computer savvy, even computer literate would be a big overstatement!! Yet here I am trying to navigate the seas of the Blogosphere (yes, that’s a new word I learned yesterday) to try and bring Love back to the classroom, Hope back to the Staff Room and Positivity back to the Profession.
Today I have been spending time researching Blogging Platforms. I have no idea which ones meet my needs as a writer, or will be most accessible for people to read. I have no idea how to write links, attachments or inserts. I don’t really understand what a Strapline is, or a Tagline; or are they the same thing?! I have never been on Twitter, Tweeted or Twittered in my life, and can’t help but think of Mary Poppins when I do (sounds like a fabulous way to clean a nursery!)
I am hoping that it will all become clear to me as I persevere along this journey…
I have been teaching in one capacity or another for the past ten years. It was not something I grew up with a passion for. It is not something that I felt called to do. I fell into teaching. I didn’t mean to be a teacher. I didn’t actually particularly want to be a teacher to begin with. But like with any great love sometimes it chooses you, you don’t choose it.
I fell in love with teaching. I loved the fact that each day was different. That I learned as much each day as I taught. I got to use all of my skills and talents to inspire, motivate and instruct. I got to have fun. I could create, design, invent and all the time broadening horizons and bursting wide opportunities for my students.
I loved the fact that each day I woke up happy to work. I looked forward to going in and seeing those little faces and I could sleep at night knowing I was making a difference. I know that sounds cheesy, but teachers certainly don’t love the job for the pay or the thanks!
This year has been the first year that I have begun to drag myself out of bed. I’m angry about my work. I have come home feeling deflated, confused and anxious. The New Curriculum has meant I have had to push children even further than before to reach evermore seemingly unobtainable objectives. The goal posts have moved and moved again. My teaching has become increasingly test driven, test orientated, and the creative and balanced curriculum I once thrived upon has been squeezed and squished into the corners of the term. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about other ways to get SPAG objectives into lessons. I wake up worrying that I am crushing spirits and creating robots.
I have moaned. I have complained. I considered quitting- on several occasion. But what else could I do? What else would I want to do? What I want to do is feel like I’m inspiring my pupils. Building their confidence and watching their talents grow. Helping them discover the amazing qualities that make them unique. I want to reflect upon each day and think that I have done my best, been the best teacher that I can be. I want to Love it again!!!
It’s the end of half term and I have read article after article of teacher rants, Union complaints, group chat tirades about the assessment system this year and the lunacy of the New Curriculum. I could join the debate, I could fuel the debate or I can accept that ultimately I have little power to change the process, change the tests, change the curriculum. However, I can change my attitude. I can refocus on the children, not the tests. I can look to squeeze creativity, wonder and fun into each day and focus on our successes and our dramas. The children’s stories.
Too many teachers, great teachers, are completely fed up. We need to look again. I hope with this blog I will learn to Love the job I never wanted to do, but never want to leave.