Category Archives: teacher well-being

An Inspector Calls

“We are all members of one body,” declares the eponymous inspector in a play that has been a set text since I was taking my O Levels, back in the dark ages. I’m gearing up to teach it again this Autumn. I never tire of it. Every class brings a slightly different perspective and I have developed the kind of expertise and automaticity in teaching it that makes lessons engaging and learning deep. It’s what every teacher strives for.

Teaching is a team sport – and never more so than when we return to the classroom in September. With teachers moving between ’bubbles‘ of students rather than waiting at the door of their classroom to greet their charges and tutoring responsibilities temporarily assumed by the teacher of the first and last classes of the day there is a shared responsibility vibe that can only be good for the profession as a whole. I have long been an advocate for shared resources and collaborative working. Some of the most successful exam prep we did with our GCSE students last year (when the exams actually happened!) was to take the whole year group through scripted walk-through papers in real time, with each member of the department leading on one of the questions on the paper. We also took charge of one of the set texts and ran masterclasses and revision sessions. The feedback from students was really positive. They said they felt they were part of a team effort to get them over the line, rather than working in isolation. For teachers it cut our workload considerably as we only had to prep one set text and one question on the language paper for revision. It’s an idea I want to embed in our approach to A level teaching in my new school – shared resources, collaborative preparation and planning, making the most of teacher expertise, building a team ethos…

One of the negative aspects of teaching from home or only going in to school occasionally when you’re on the rota basis is the feeling of being isolated. There has been so much teacher-bashing in the press recently that we need to build each other up more than ever. There is talk of OFSTED visiting schools in September to ensure that they are getting students back on track after the lockdown. Some of the teachers I know are already dreading this ‘last straw’. But they are marketed as ‘visits’ rather than ‘inspections‘. I hope this marks a turning point where OFSTED acts (and is perceived as) a supportive critical friend who listens to teachers, makes them feel valued, recognises their professionalism and rewards their hard work and flexibility. Inspector Goole championed the ‘hopes and dreams’ of the ‘millions of John Smiths and Eva Smiths’. Let’s hope OFSTED does the same for teachers.

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. 

 

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

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.