Workable Wellbeing 3

Last Sunday, the #SLTchat topic was wellbeing, hosted by @ottleyoconnor, a topic this Twitter discussion forum has addressed before. The irony of teachers tweeting about work-life balance on a Sunday evening notwithstanding, I have always found theses discussions really useful and they have inspired these earlier posts on wellbeing.

Workable wellbeing

Workable wellbeing 2

Returning to wellbeing seems more relevant than ever. What struck me about the discussion was the number of participants writing about modelling wellbeing for others. This had been mentioned previously, but it seemed to me that it was a dominant theme of the most recent forum. @pickleholic, @issydhan, @chrisedwardsuk, and @AsstHead_Jones, among others, all stressed the importance of school leaders modelling behaviours that foster positive wellbeing.

How can we model what wellbeing looks like? Here’s my completely unscientific sample of elements grabbed from the blizzard of comment that is #SLTchat:

  • It’s ok to leave early sometimes, especially when other days have been late.
  • Touching base about family, interests, hobbies, books, films or music is normal human interaction. We’re here to get a job done but relationships are important.
  • Share the things you do to foster your own wellbeing. I hope I haven’t bored anybody about #teacher5aday or the Fitbit I got for Christmas!
  • Admit mistakes, talk about times when you got it wrong, and what you learned. OK, there’s a time and a place for this. There are many occasions where colleagues need leaders to lead, modelling calm and decisiveness, but being superhuman isn’t realistic and pretending to be can harm oneself and be off-putting to others. 
  • Ask for help. We need to be accessible to our teams, so we should model that it’s OK to ask for help. Teachers shouldn’t feel isolated and asking for help will show others that it’s ok to do the same.
  • Smile. I’m terrible for getting lost in thought, presenting a blank gaze to others in the corridor, but a smile at the right moment can be just what someone needs.
  • Make talking about mental health everyday and normal. I think this was another strong strand in the discussion, quite rightly.

So what I have taken away from last Sunday’s #SLTchat is the need to model behaviours that lead to wellbeing. I’ll be trying to do that more at work from now on. What was my contribution to the discussion on work-life balance? Leaving the chat early to pick my son up from youth club!

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    Snow Joke: Severe Weather Planning

    Earlier this week (w/b 9/1/17) an off-the-cuff comment about snow became my most ‘liked’ tweet ever:

    Today I made sure our severe weather closure procedures were in place. Absolute guarantee that not a single snowflake will fall on school.

    I’m glad that so many people liked it but, joking apart, here’s what some of that planning actually was.

    Verifying our priorities for partial closure if necessary. We’re an all-through school so we would prioritise nursery and primary pupils where parents would find it difficult to organise childcare or time off work at short notice. The next priority is students in exam years. We would redeploy staff as necessary. We also check which colleagues are most likely to have transport difficulties in the event of severe weather.

    Checking the communication cascade for staff. We use a text/phone cascade to communicate quickly to all colleagues if we have to partially or fully close. This uses our line management structure so we checked that everyone had the up to date details they needed. Better to check before the weather turns!

    Checking contractors. We have a contract in place for snow clearance on campus. Worth checking they were ready for a possible snowfall. Similarly checking our own provision – salt, grit, etc.

    Parental communication. Checking and where necessary updating draft messages ready to be sent out by text, email and website. Just as well we did, version we had was dated 2013 and from previous Head! We also checked that procedures for contacting the LA and local media were up to date, including current code words for local radio stations.

    Snow Rules. Check what advice and rules need to be in place for snowfall, in addition to our code of conduct, so we can enjoy snow safely.

    Update work for students in the event of snow closure. This is our current advice which would be posted on our website and emailed out in the event of a closure. We like to think it is both productive and fun:

    Work in the event of a Snow Closure

    You should aim to gain at least 16 points from a mix of the following activities.

     Individual work:Please check Show My Homework and Doddle to see if your teachers have set you individual or class tasks. 1 point per 15 minutes

    Art:​​ 3D Sculpture. Keeping warm and working safely, build a snow sculpture to a design of your choosing. You can work on your own or with others. Take a photo of your completed sculpture or draw it. If there isn’t enough snow, sketch a design for a sculpture. 4 points

    English: Persuasive Writing. The decision to close schools because of heavy snowfall is sometimes controversial. Write an argument for or against closing schools for this reason. You must consider both sides of the debate. 6 points

    Points to consider:

    • Health & safety of pupils

    • Ability of pupils and school staff to travel to school safely

    • Impact on parents of having to miss work to look after children

    Faith in Action:Snow can be a lot of fun, but for some people such as the elderly, it can create real difficulties. Design a poster, leaflet or radio/TV ad about helping elderly relatives or neighbours during winter. If you can help out someone in need, please do, but only if you know them and with permission of your parent/carer. 4 points.

    French / German:​ Linguascope. Please log at least 30 minutes of Linguascope activity. 1 point for every 15 minutes.

    Maths:​ Mymaths. Please log at least 30 minutes of activity on MyMaths. Your teacher will receive an update of your progress. 1 point for every 15 minutes.

    PE:​ Aerobic exercise. Keeping warm and staying safe, do at least 30 minutes aerobic exercise including any of the following activities:

    • Snowballing

    • Sledging

    • Building snow sculptures

    • Making snow angels

    If there isn’t enough snow for this, design a 30 minute winter aerobic exercise workout. 4 points

    Science​: Use your knowledge of states of matter to predict the volume of liquid produced from a volume of liquid snow. Use a measuring jug, old drinks bottle, etc. to test your hypothesis. Record your results. 4 points.

    ICT​: Tweet a message about your work using the hashtag #stgregorysnow or email a message to Dr Caseby: r.caseby@dbmac.org.uk with ‘stgregorysnow’ as the subject header.1 point each, max 3 points.


    Postscript

    14/1/17. After all that planning, as I predicted in my tweet, we didn’t have any significant snowfall last week; what there was quickly turned to slush. I am now being blamed by several colleagues for ‘jinxing the snow day’!

    10/12/17. However, at the other end of 2017, it all turned out to be worthwhile, because on Monday we’re having to close because of… snow!

    Comments are always welcome. I’d be interested to know what work or activities other schools set in the event of a snow day.

    Chalking the doors: the importance of a welcome

    This Friday we started the school day by marking Epiphany with the Christian tradition of chalking the doors. Each lintel or door was chalked with:

    20+C+M+B+17

    This isn’t a mathematical formula, but a blessing on all those who enter, ‘CMB’ standing for Christus Mansionem Benedictat – may Christ bless the house – and also the traditional names of the three wise men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

    I work in a Catholic school and this is a tradition particular to some branches of Chritianity, but it felt very special to offer a blessing to students as they entered a classroom, or to colleagues in an admin area or office. Relationships are at the heart of any school community and the first step in forming positive relationships is making people feel welcome.

    We encourage all teachers to welcome students into classrooms each lesson, trying as much as possible to timetable each colleague into one room. As well as a verbal greeting, welcome message on the board can also be a nice touch. Displays featuring children’s work shows them they are valued, as well as providing exemplars. Several colleagues rotate work on a continually updated ‘wall of fame’.

    This welcome becomes all the more important for new pupils arriving mid-year, especially those who don’t have English as a first language. We have an orientation day for new students and our EAL department will work with them and their family or carers on an initial programme to support their language needs. This enables all staff to receive a single-page profile of the pupil before they commence classes.

    One of the many advantages of being a very diverse school community is that whatever first language a new pupil has we can usually ‘buddy’ them up with someone who speaks it. The new pupil is placed in a tutor group and, where possible, classes with their buddy. Staff are informed who the buddy is on the new student profile.

    We need to be particularly aware when pupils have experienced trauma before arriving, such as being refugees.  I have written about supporting children who are refugees, and the problems they can face once in Britain here. One thing we always do is warn staff to be careful when using media such as news articles and films that depict conflict.

    These are some of the ways we extend our welcome, from the planned induction of a new pupil to the daily interactions across the whole community. We hope this makes coming into class feel like a blessing, not just at the start of the year but every day.

    Constructive comments are always welcome. I’d particularly like to hear about other ways of extending a welcome in school.

    Reverse Calendar for Advent

    I wrote this post at the start of Advent 2016, then followed it up with an update when the project finished at the end of term.

    This is a seasonal post for Advent. I want to share the work of a couple of my colleagues at St Gregory’s, Fran Walsh and Grant Price. They’ve put together a great a fantastic programme for tutor groups during Advent. It’s easily adaptable should others want to use the idea.

    For several years we’ve raised money for the Oxford Food Bank in the run-up to Christmas, linked to a ‘Follow the Star’ activity where pupils follow clues to find the location of a star within the school, picking up instructions to complete a task. This has proved popular but feedback this year was that KS4 students wanted a change. 

    Fran and Grant have worked to produce ‘reverse’ Advent calendars – instead of getting something out of them each day, you put something in. This originated (we think) with an idea posted on www.muminthemadhouse.com as a seasonal activity. KS3 tutor groups will be making a Jesse tree, building it up each day in Advent. They will continue to collect for the food bank, as in previous years. Each tutor group has one of these sheets. Pupils commit to bringing in one of the items so that as a group they collect them all.

    KS4 students will be focussing on work being carried out by CAFOD to help those most in need, especially refugees. They will be collecting teenage items for a local charity, Stepping Stones. They work with vulnerable and homeless people and have requested particular help in collecting care products for teenagers, so the reverse calendar includes these.


    Fran introduced students to this on Friday 25th November, in preparation for the start of Advent this Sunday and the launch of the activity on Monday. The initial response of students has been really heartening and full of generosity:

    “But Miss, you can’t have pasta without pasta sauce. I’m gonna bring both!”

    “What do you mean by ‘bag of rice’? My parents only buy 10kg bags, can I bring one of those in?”

    “What sort of sweets should we bring? Probably best to get gummy, we don’t want an old person to break their first teeth.”

    “We don’t just want to get the cheap brands because we want people to feel special.”

    “I live right next to Sainsbury’s; I don’t mind bringing more in.” (Other supermarkets are available) 

    I hope you’ll agree that this looks like an excellent start to our focus on giving this Advent. Please feel free to pick up on any of these ideas. It would also be great to learn about what other schools are doing for Advent and Christmas.
    Update – 19th December 2016

    The project went extremely well with students and staff all pulling together to collect items for both charities. The idea really caught the imagination of the wider community: several families decided to put together a whole box themselves and the appeal received coverage in the local press including this Oxford Mail article

    The happy end result this generosity was that we collected far more than we had originally anticipated. In fact we had to make two runs to the Oxford Food Bank to get everything there! It was truly heartening to see the way that students took a lead in demonstrating a practical response to our school value of compassion. We’re pleased to have been able to support two charities whose work is needed more than ever. 

    Fantastic Four: A fourth year of inspirational education quotes

    I collect inspirational education quotes. I use these for ‘quote of the week’ on our staffroom notice board. This is the fourth year of quotes – 38 are listed in each collection, enough for one for each week of the school year. You can read the collections from previous years here:

    Quote of the week – inspiration for Monday mornings

    Quote of the week 2 – more inspiration for Monday mornings

    Quote of the week – a third year of inspiration

    As with the previous collections, I have done my best to ensure that each of the quotes below is accurate and attributed correctly. My apologies if I have made any mistakes – please let me know of any errors and I will rectify them. I hope you find these quotes as inspirational as I have.

    1. Your attitude is as important as your aptitude. Tanya Accone
    2. Music is an element that should be part and parcel is of every child’s life via the education system. Victoria Wood
    3. There is no system in the world, or any school in the country that is better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. Sir Ken Robinson
    4. Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement. Matt Biondi
    5. Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. Muhammad Ali
    6. If you want the best out of life you have to be ready when the opportunity comes. Heimir Hallgrímsson
    7. Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. John D. Rockefeller 
    8. Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Dylan Wiliam
    9. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why. Bernard Baruch
    10. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. Isaac Asimov 
    11. Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. C.S.Lewis
    12. I wasn’t one of those kids destined to be a champion. It was a slow, steady slog. Sir Chris Hoy
    13. There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Beverly Sills 
    14. Amateurs call it genius, masters cal lit practice. Thierry Henry
    15. You’ll never see a video game advertised as being easy. Kids who don’t like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. It’s because it’s boring. Seymour Papert
    16. You can’t teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it. Seymour Papert
    17. In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. Abraham Maslow
    18. Skill is only developed by hours and hours of work. Usain Bolt
    19. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Dr. Wayne Dyer 
    20. Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. Marcel Proust
    21. Success… Is the result of continual preparation, hard work and learning from failure. Geraint Thomas
    22. True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but the refusal to acquire it. Karl Popper
    23. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul. Joseph Addison
    24. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life. Albert Bandura
    25. Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of people entrusted to your care. Pope Francis
    26. Teaching is a wonderful way to learn. Carol Dweck
    27. The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters. The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matter every day. Todd Whittaker
    28. A prudent question is one half of wisdom. Sir Francis Bacon
    29. Ask at the end of each & every day: “What Went Right Today?” Angela Maiers 
    30. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi
    31. Education is transformational, the force that erases arbitrary divisions of race and class and culture and unlocks every person’s God-given potential. Condoleezza Rice 
    32. The answers you get depend on the questions you ask. Thomas Kuhn
    33. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Henry David Thoreau (via @AbdulRazaq_DPH)
    34. I find the quietest times of my life speak the loudest. Regina Dugan
    35. If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children. Confucius
    36. By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before. Edwin Elliot
    37. Children have to want to learn. So give them the love of story first and the rest will follow. Michael Morpurgo via @Booktrust
    38. A river cuts through rock not because of its power but because of its persistence. Jim Watkins

    I hope you find these useful. Comments are always welcome and Ibalways appreciate hearing about words of wisdom that inspire you.

    And now for something completely different

    We spent last week at school doing things that were completely different. We do this every year, using gained time from years 11 & 13, and year 10 being on work experience to suspend the timetable for years 7, 8 & 9 so we can challenge ourselves to work in different ways, try something new, combine knowledge and skills from different areas and hone our skills.

    This year we had trips to Germany and France, we put on Macbeth in a day, we fought to survive on Mars like Mark Watney, built a WWI museum to commemorate the Centenary of the battle of the Somme, painted portraits, then designed and made frames for them, sang our hearts out, pitched products to dragons, ran year quizzes entirely composed of student questions, hosted a fantastic art show will all years represented (Y7 Terracotta Army in photo) and held a brilliant sports day, the best one ever (although I tend to say that every year). We may not be able to do it again.

    Why not? One reason is that Year 10 work experience looks increasingly untenable. There are now whole fields such as healthcare where you need to be over 16 to get a placement. Work experience at KS4 is based on an idea of leaving education at 16 which is no longer true. Maybe this is a local issue, but it seems to be harder than ever to get quality placements – and we appreciate all the employers who do provide them – and more expensive to complete the process. This year more placements seemed to fall through at the last minute, sometimes because of the employer, sometimes because of the student or their family. We are thinking of moving it to year 12. They would be over 16, more likely to have a career in mind, and we could link it to their A Level / BTEC subjects. This change would make our alternative week more difficult, but we would still have some released time and could probably adapt.

    The second problem is workload. Traditionally the people organising the week have to spend the next one lying in a darkened room. We made changes last year to ease the load, and this year to distribute leadership to year teams and clusters of subjects. My colleagues were their usual brilliant, enthusiastic creative selves, but they are also tired. As well as the ‘usual’ of improving standards, we have all worked hard to help disadvantaged pupils make better progress, introduce our new KS3 assessment model, we have had new GCSEs to learn, plan and implement, and the same for post-16 qualifications. Meeting the challenge of these changes will continue over the next few years. It’s a simple fact that something has to give.

    The third factor is attendance. Last year our attendance fell dramatically during this week. We took steps to counteract this, flagging it, simplifying the programme, explaining it and, to be blunt removing some elements that were less aligned with the core aims. At the start of the week this seemed to have worked; attendance was 3% on same period the previous year. I looked at the figures for Friday in despair, however. They dragged the week to worse than the year before. We had to close partially because of the strike on Tuesday. We had been expecting Eid on Wednesday & Thursday, we know the proportion of students who will be celebrating. The attendance codes that concern me aren’t ‘Y’ or ‘R’ but ‘I’ and ‘N’. I know the jump in ‘I’ isn’t all illness, and the number of as-yet-unexplained absences on sports day was just dispiriting. It was a joyous event. The triumphs, large and small, the enthusiasm, the encouragement & support, the achievements, the enjoyment, ‘This Girl Can’ ambassadors proudly wearing their pink t-shirts, the camera dearie, the celebration of community – all of it lifted the heart. I’d really like any help readers can give about how to engage those families who think that all that is just pointless and not worth their children coming to school. My point here, however, is we just can’t afford a drop in attendance like this. We’re RI and while our last HMI letter was very positive, attendance remains a key issue.

    I know that we created memories last week that will stay with students for the rest of their lives, helping form the ‘what’s left when we’ve forgotten all we learned’, but I wonder for how much longer we can afford to step away from the timetable and do something completely different given the constraints we face.

    Values, Democracy and the EU Referendum

    Like many educators in the UK, I found myself disconcerted by the demographics of the vote. The first news article I read about the result, pointed out that the single best indicator of voting choice was level of education. It was also apparent that young and old had voted very differently. Roughly three quarters of young voters supported remain, about the same proportion of over-65s voted to leave.

    My school has done a lot of work on democracy this year. We encouraged students sixteen and older to register to vote in the spring. The council hosted events on the importance of local and national representation and kindly lent us actual voting booths, ballot boxes and polling station signage for a school mock election. 

    I heard more spontaneous political and economic discussion between students on Friday than in the last twenty years put together.

    This clearly had an impact on our sixth form students in particular because they were keen to run a school EU referendum. They did this with style and professionalism. Unlike the mock election. There was no campaigning but they hosted a debate (which frankly was better informed that most of actual national campaigns) and ran the election. Tutors also used materials derived from the booklet from the Electoral Commission that was sent to homes. We asked students to think about the following questions surrounding the claims made by the two campaigns:

    • What do you know already about the European Union? What do you need to find out? 
    • Each side (Leave / Remain) makes claims about the advantages of either leaving the EU or remaining in the EU. What is the evidence for their claims? 
    • Many of the claims made by each side (Leave / Remain) have been contested. How could you find out if a claim is reliable?  
    • The Remain campaign says the NHS is better protected if we stay in the EU. The Leave campaign says the NHS will be better off if we leave the EU. What sources of evidence could you use to decide which side might be right? 

    There was considerable excitement on 23rd June, with voting taking place throughout the day. The results gave a large majority vote to remain in the European Union:

    • Remain 73%
    • Leave 26%

    As we all know, this wasn’t how the national vote turned out, but it mirrored how young people voted nationally, and this certainly wasn’t the end of the referendum as far as our students were concerned; Friday 24th June turned out to be an extraordinary day. The first thing the Principal said to me that morning was about a conversation she’d heard two year 7 students having. “52%” said one “you can hardly call that a mandate!” Not the average 12 year old conversation.

    This theme continued throughout the day. I heard more spontaneous political and economic discussion between students on Friday than in the last twenty years put together. A year 9 student informed me that the prime minister had resigned. A year 10 student asked me if I had seen the stock exchange figures, then showed me a graph on his phone. Another asked me if I was worried about my pension! (I am: have you looked at the AVC fund?). Break and lunchtime was full of discussion about the consequences of leaving the EU. The most frequent question was much broader, though. As several year 12 students put it “Why have they thrown our future away?” Who are “they”? The students have seen the statistics too. Their view is quite clearly that pensioners have made a decision that the young didn’t want but will have to live with. 

    I voted remain. I am very disappointed with the result and extremely concerned about the future, but I know that it’s likely that a deal will be brokered with Europe. The divisions in our nation concern me even more – economic, geographic, educational and age. I believe that however we voted as individuals, we all need to work to overcome these. One thing I am sure of: the quality of discussion I and my colleagues witnessed among students was truly inspiring. Sixteen year olds deserve the vote.

    I’m interested in the results of school mock EU referendums. Those I have heard about so far all had at least 70% of students voting remain, but so far these have all been Oxfordshire schools, so from an area that voted remain. I’d appreciate it if teachers could let me know their school results. I always welcome constructive comments, whether you agree with me or not.