Category Archives: student well-being

Creative thinking

Pembrokeshire coast

I’ve been caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of too much schoolwork and all the home chores I wanted to catch up with in the first week of the summer holiday – achieving not very much in either sphere. No surprises there! When you’ve been working from home since late March, the lines become somewhat blurred. It’s hard to know where to focus the limited energy you have left after spending hours on Zoom. Time to get away and give myself space to recharge and rethink. Cue a few days away beside the sea in Pembrokeshire, walking, reading and spending time with those I love. Yes, the very ones I’ve been holed up at home with for three months.

I never fail to return from a holiday with some ideas for lessons, a determination to maintain a healthy work-life balance and renewed vigour with which to tackle the pile of work which is waiting for me. Usually I have an idea for a novel too – but that’ll have to wait until I’m retired. This time I took a break from my phone too and social media, with which I have had a less than easy relationship of late.

Twitter has provided the most marvellous group of people for me to get to know over the years – gardeners and teachers mostly. I’ve magpied some fabulous resources for lessons. Since lockdown I have indulged in hours of really useful professional development – all free of charge. But I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the rise of the edu-celebrity tweeter. By this I mean a group of teachers (or ex-teachers) who are never short of an opinion (or a book to market), retweet and recommend each other as experts and have lost a little humility and kindness in the way they engage with other teachers, especially those who hold different opinions and have different ways of working. Perhaps it’s a given when you have part-time celebrity status on the echo chamber that is Twitter? having Saudi that, the gardeners I follow – professional and amateur are never less than generous and humble in their interactions. I know that gardening brings happiness whereas teaching sometimes does not. It’s true!

A break has allowed me to curate my Twitter feed – an excellent idea on a regular basis. Muting the white noise has given me space.

Space to be creative is just as important for students as it is for their teachers. I’m so glad that summer school is not a ‘thing’ around here. After weeks of Zoom teaching and work packs from school and the media-hyped idea that the current cohort were the ‘lost generation‘ blighted by three months of home-learning in its various guises, these students need a break too. Just as I encourage my daughter and her friends to continue with netball training on a Tuesday, even when there is a test the next day, the summer holidays is a much-needed time to recharge the batteries, organise yourself for next term and approach your courses with a more creative mind.

Here are my top tips for students who want to be more creative In their approach to their studies when they return to school.

  1. Establish some rituals. If you get up at the same time every day, check your emails or instagram feed at certain times, exercise on the same evenings every week, this will become second nature and you’ll free up time to be creative.
  2. Have fun, connect with others, especially those who have different ideas to you. Be open-minded and kind.
  3. When thinking about solutions to problems believe that there are no bad ideas. Don’t self-filter. Jot everything down as viable. Then think through the options.
  4. Watch films and read books – especially the read books bit.
  5. Exercise and do it alone, without music and your phone at least some of the time. Silence and exercise = creative energy.
  6. Practice devotion not discipline. The former has more of a positive vibe.
  7. Learn to love lists. Unloading your cluttered mind onto paper is another beneficial way to shift a creative blockage.
  8. Know when your peak work moments are. These are the times when you are at you most creative. Leave the mundane jobs for when you’re more tired.
  9. Create something every day. Practice makes perfect. Sowing a seed which will become a beautiful plant, making the best scrambled eggs on toast you can, knitting -yes, I know. Me recommending knitting – anything you’ve made is beneficial to your mental health and your creative confidence. If you can do something small then the next step is much easier.
  10. Do it now. This is about having the confidence and an open-minded approach to allow you to take risks, have a go, avoid the shackles of perfectionism.

I’m going to follow my own advice starting today.

Work-life balance

 

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It’s been hard to get the balance between work and home life right in lockdown. And as this has eased, many teachers have continued to do most of their teaching online from home right up to the end of the Summer term. Being a teacher means I seem programmed to work really hard for a few weeks at a time – often putting in 60+ hours a week – and then refuelling during the holidays. In the topsy-turvy world of COVID 19, I’ve had to change the way I teach entirely. It’s nigh on impossible to keep a healthy balance when your home is also your classroom and there’s SO MUCH to do. Even now that term has ended I am still finding it difficult to switch off, knowing that there is a lot of planning to do for the ‘new normal’ back in school in September – whatever that will look like. The same seems to be true for some of my students.

If we’re all to return to school refreshed and ready to move forward rather than exhaused and burnt out, maintaining a healthy balance is vital. One of the better outcomes of enforced home-working is that I have been able to spend time every day in the garden growing flowers and a few veg and go for walks. Usually it’s confined to a snatched hour at the weekend or the school holidays. I am also far more efficient about my marking and should be able to give myself at least two evenings a week away from schoolwork.

It’s only taken me thirty years of teaching to achieve that. I love teaching and it is all-consuming but it is also a job. I was in danger of forgetting that. 

 

Not going out

Dear Quaran – teens

Wouldn’t we all love to pop up a mountain like Julie Andrews on a day like this? There has been a lot of talk in the press and on social media about people breaking the lockdown and the social distance rules, getting out an about in the glorious weather this weekend. It won’t surprise you to hear that much of the criticism is levelled at young people. Hardly fair.

My own daughter is bemoaning the fact that we can’t do our usual picnic and jaunt round Stourhead on Palm Sunday today.

Another friend who was planning a family trip to New York and Washington over the Easter hols has come up with an ingenious way of going on their trip. Their entire itinerary (all first class of course) is posted online from their settee. Museums, art galleries, monuments, even restaurants and shops are posting virtual tours online and these are going up for us all to share in the trip with them, along with one or two photoshopped prints. Yesterday they rode down fifth avenue in a pink limousine. Like I said, boredom fosters creativity.

How you cope with the strange world we are now living in is up to you. Where are you on this diagram? I’m in the learning zone heading straight towards growth.

Keep in touch.

Mrs S

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Dear Quaran – teens,

It’s hard to get my head round that this is supposed to be the first week of the \Easter hols at my school. I’m typing from the garden wrapped up in a big scarf and admiring the cowslips. Still no word from the exam boards about what kind of evidence will need to be provided so for now it’s best to keep working on any assignments set by your teachers – including me. Thanks to the members of my GCSE classes who have already sent me their work today. Incidentally if you have papers from your mocks or marked assignments to hand, it might be a good idea to put them altogether in an envelope to send to your teachers, should they need them.

This limbo phase is particularly hard but you have some control over it.

Yes you do!

You can choose to make it easier for your teachers when they have to award assessment grades.

How?

By providing them with the evidence rather than going to ground and hoping for the best.

Once the evidence collecting has happened you’ll be able to move on and choose whether to expend your energies revising for those optional exams in the Autumn (possibly) or preparing for sixth form or college (definitely more fun). Don’t worry. I have plenty of help to offer you when that time comes.

Other classes – have a holiday and prepare yourself for some exciting project work at the end of April. Those of you who missed the deadline for last week’s work. Where were you? I hope you and your families are well. keep in touch especially if you are struggling with the inevitable upheaval.

Members of the Lower Sixth? Yes, it is the Easter vacation and yes you deserve a holiday too. You’ll be coming back to remote lessons for a few weeks afterwards remember, so keep your work ticking over. You’ll never have a better opportunity to fully immerse yourself in a genre of literature during the whole of your A Level course. Read, watch films, check out documentaries, share ideas, keep in touch. Make the most of it.

So let’s move onto today’s mini-victories. No coughing or high temperatures in the house, successfully avoiding spring cleaning the bathroom for another day by pottering around the garden, sowing some beetroot, making a delicious soup, marking essays on duplicity in Macbeth and clearing out my work bag. Small achievements to be proud of.

No, of course I didn’t complete everything on my list.

What have you been up to?

Mrs S

Home Learning – the new normal

Dear Quaran-teens,

Week two of lockdown.

I’ve done a lot of gardening and a lot of school work. It’s been great to hear from all my GCSE students and a fair few others. It’s pretty clear that trying to replicate the school day, whilst initially a good idea to establish routine in the midst of uncertainty, is not a long-term solution. Factor in the inevitable uncertainty about what happens now about calculating your grades (for Year 11 and 13) or exactly when you’ll be back at school (for everyone else) and it’s nigh on impossible. If I’ve taught you anything, it’s that too much screen-time is never a good thing, a little bit of what makes you happy is essential and that a teacher’s role is to light the touch paper whilst you fan the flames. With all that in mind, here are a few thoughts on how to handle the next few weeks, ace your independent learning journey and keep yourself and your families sane.

  1. Routine is important but make it flexible. So replicating the school timetable is a step too far, especially if you have intermittent internet connectivity and a shared pc, a number of siblings, parents who work from home and limited space. What you can do is get up at around the same time every day (trust me on this one!), create your own weekly timetable taking account of work that must be done, household chores, time to relax and be creative and time to catch up with friends or grandparents. Work in blocks, which could be moved around if circumstances change. When else are you going to be in charge of your own time? Step up to the challenge. Be proactive. Your parents will be delighted.
  2. Set manageable goals. These can be small but if you know what you want to achieve by the end of the day, you are likely to achieve it. Start with making your bed. If you can’t do that, how are you going to change the world?
  3. Teach yourself something then apply what you’ve learnt to your school work. When was the last time you wanted to get better at something? Learning to play the guitar, completing a Rubik’s cube in less than 30 seconds, sculpting a six-pack – whatever it was, you probably practised day after day, hour after hour. Back in the day I was a champion hoolahooper. Hours of surreptitious work after dark in my bedroom and popping down to the park with friends to hone my technique long before the days of YouTube videos. That’s the kind of behaviour to apply to your studies. Try to identify one area where you want to improve and apply the same strategy to that. Take some time every day to devote to improving in this one area.
  4. Stay connected One of the most challenging aspects of studying from home is feeling isolated. Keep in touch with your friends, classmates and teachers. Share the experience, ask questions, compare notes, divide up tasks between you and share the load.
  5. Be creative Creativity is one of the most underrated skills fostered in schools. These lockdown days are the perfect opportunity to right that wrong. Make something – it could be art, music, writing, cooking. Whatever it is, it’s good for you. Here’s why.

Until you know more about how teacher assessment is going to work for GCSE and A Level grades keep doing the work set by your teachers. If you are in other years at school, don’t forget to make a distinction between weeks when you would have been on Easter vacation and those when you would have been at school. Everybody needs a holiday but a permanent holiday is no good thing. Balance is everything.

Keep in touch.

Mrs S

Home learning – sink or swim?

Dear Quaran – teens,

So here is the benefit of my experience to help you get off to the best possible start on home study. It would be selfish of me not to share it with you, right?

Let’s face it – we may have longed for the Easter hols to come and the revision to be over but we never expected to be at home right now twiddling our thumbs and wondering what the next few weeks would bring. I hope you’ve settled into a new kind of normal at home. At Smart HQ we held a family meeting to plan our route through the next few weeks. It’s a mystery tour now that GCSEs, A Levels and University exams have been cancelled.

For many of you – even my GCSE and A Level classes – it’s important to keep working on something. Until you know exactly what kind of evidence your teachers need to provide to the exam boards to help them decide on your grades, then that should be your studies. There was a time, before I became your teacher that I worked from home every day. It was an adventure. My friends used to drop by for a coffee; it was easy to become distracted by the radio, the housework, the refrigerator or the garden. Nobody would know if I spent the whole day in my pyjamas. Guess what? On some days not a lot of work took place. That should not happen to you.

Here are my top tips.

  1. Stick to your timetable. When it takes three weeks to establish a new habit or routine, why wouldn’t you stick with your school routine? Hockey may be off but kicking a ball in the garden, walking the dog or going for a short run is not. If Chemistry is first lesson on Monday then spend that time doing Chemistry. Take 5 minute breaks between study sessions. Have a proper mid morning break, a lunchtime and a mid afternoon break.
  2. Sleep. As Lady Macbeth informs us, it’s “the season of all natures”. Whilst I wouldn’t hold her up as a role model, on sleep she was bang on.
  3. Eat properly If you’re going to feed your brain you need decent food. I’m sure your parents will help if you have an attack of the munchies but fuelling up with good food at mealtimes is THE way to go.
  4. Spruce up your work space Nobody wants to work in a dingy space. You may have a lovely desk and a beautiful view in your own private space. Or, like me, you may be working in the family kitchen. Wherever you’re based, make it somewhere you want to be.
  5. Replicate your school environment Studying is easier if you have your familiar things around you. Set your workspace out the way you do at school. The more things stay the same,the easier it will be to focus on what matters – your studies.
  6. Get dressed I have a friend who used to work from home in clothes that made him embarrassed to answer the door to the postman. I have another who gets dressed in her work clothes every day, leaves the house, goes for a short walk and then returns to her house 15 minutes later, ready for work. Extreme I know, but way more productive than the one who had to hide behind the sofa every time the doorbell rang.
  7. Have a goal Have an aim, a place you want to get to by the end of a study session, the end of the day or the end of the week. If a teacher sets you a deadline, stick to it. Even project work should be chunked into achievable tasks so that you know you’re keeping everything afloat without the daily checks, merits and demerits of your teachers. Give yourself a reward if you achieve your task. It will keep you motivated.
  8. Keep in touch Studying from home can be lonely. If your teacher hasn’t set up a Skype lesson then you’ll miss the business of the classroom and the opportunity to collaborate with friends, discuss your opinions or compare your answers. Set up a way of keeping in touch with classmates about work. Maybe FaceTime everyday at a set time. Set up a WhatsApp group. You won’t feel so alone
  9. Make studying active Before a remote lesson, think about what you already know, do some reading around the subject and after the lesson, evaluate and reflect on what you’ve learned. Try to add to your notes. That way you gain maximum benefit from the teacher contact you have. You can ask questions to clarify any points and move your learning on.
  10. Plan ahead Although you don’t know when home studying will end, plan ahead to the next holiday. Know what you’ve got coming up next week and the week after, just like you do at school for every half term. It will keep you focused.

Let me know how you get on and look out for my next postcard.

Mrs S

 

School’s Out

I may have wished for my independent learning program to have a real impact but I NEVER expected most of the children in the UK to have to develop their independent learning skills quite so quickly.

What a week! In the strange world of Social Distancing,this is my classroom for the foreseeable future whist I am teaching remotely. School’s out for now – for me, the students I teach and my own three children who have returned home early from Uni or had their A levels and GCSE exams cancelled. But the learning can’t stop.

This blog started as a way of documenting my school-based project but I’m repurposing it into a way for me to stay in touch with my students and offer some support to them through the uncertainty of the next few weeks and months. I’m going to try to offer hints and tips for any ‘quaran – teens’ to make the most of learning independently. So spread the word if you feel it helps.

Let’s do this.