Holidays and Health

Image: pixabay

I have written a number of posts about things teachers can do to stay well in the face of the demands of the job (which you can find in these posts about wellbeing), but I haven’t previously considered school holidays. 

Are school holidays good for our health?OK, that might seem like a daft question! Like most teachers, I believe that school holidays are good for my health. Much as I love teaching, they are a chance to relax, recharge and spend time with friends and family. That’s got to be good for me.

This year, thanks to a Christmas present of an fitness tracker, I have been able to look at some quantitative evidence to back up my subjective feeling.  One of the things it measures is resting heart rate. Generally, the lower our resting heart rate the better (although clearly zero isn’t something to aim for). I have quite a slow heart beat. I’d like to claim that this is because of a rigorous athletic regime, but it is in fact something I’ve been fortunate to inherit.

“It seems to have taken all six weeks of the Summer break for my resting heart rate to recover.”

This graph shows my average resting heart rate from the start of 2017 to the last week of the school Summer holiday.

As you can see, we weren’t long into the spring term before my resting heart rate rose, and it stayed high for the rest of the academic year. What interests me though is that it seems to have taken all six weeks of the Summer break for my resting heart rate to come down to the point it was at the start of the year. I did try to get all the school work I needed to do completed in the first two weeks of the holiday, but the recovery seems to start pretty much from the end of term. 

The graph also seems to indicate dips in testing heart rate for half term breaks in spring and Summer, and for the Easter holiday at the start of April, but it doesn’t recover to the original 52bpm it was in January. My heart, it seems, needs those six weeks!

I appreciate that a study of one person doesn’t mean much in the wider scheme of things, but doctors agree that it is worth each of us keeping an eye on our resting heart rate. This is because several studies, including this one by Nauman et al (2011) of over 29,000 participants, show that increases over time are a significant risk indicator for coronary heart disease. It occurs to me that many teachers now wear fitness trackers (if my own school is any indication) and it would be possible to collate data from these devices. You don’t need one of course: you can measure your resting heart rate by taking your pulse at the same time each day, ideally just before you get up in the morning.

Heart rate and Ofsted? Just for a bit of fun, see if you can tell when Ofsted were in, just by looking at the graph. If you give me your guess as a comment below, I’ll tell you if you’re right!

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Lessons from a Ransomware Attack

This isn’t my usual kind of blog. It’s about how our school responded to a ransomware attack and what we learned. As it turns out, not everyone talks about this so malware attacks on schools may be more of a problem than many of us realise. 

We first noticed attack on The morning of 17th July when we found that several documents on our fileserver were encypted. It seemed at first that only some files on one server were affected, then it became apparent that files on another were also encrypted. We decided to shut down all our servers to halt any spread of an infection. This of course meant that the school had no ICT facility: teachers had no acesss to lesson resources, and there was no access to our information management system.

Our excellent ICT team identified the ramsomware as ‘.Aleta’ and discovered that the infection had occurred at around 6.30am on the previous Saturday, 15th July on a server used by all the schools in our academy group, despite our use of security software. The finance serWe later learned from the police that this type of malware is most frequently spread by remote desktop access protocols.  Our ICT team worked all that day and the next to wipe the system clean and restore files from a full backup made on Friday 14th July. As a result we were only without ICT for a day, although some facilities were only restored on the second day. 

We warned the schools in our Multi-Academy Company and other local schools. We weren’t using email, so we did it the old fashioned way, by phone. It was quite hard to talk to a human being at some schools!  We reported the incident to Thames Valley Police who also urged us to report it to Action Fraud, who coordinate with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. In reporting this attack, I learned from the police that not everyone does so, or chooses to report the details to Action Fraud. I can only speculate as to why this is – perhaps they don’t want adverse publicity, or to indicate that there may have been a vulnerability in their systems. Presumably a proportion of victims pay, or why would such attacks continue?  It seemed to us that adding our small piece of the jigsaw to the database of such attacks was the only way we could help tackle them. Action Fraud told me that the perpetrators would undoubtedly be based overseas and there was little chance of bringing them to justice in the short term, but thanked us because every piece of additional information helps build a picture of this type of criminal activity, providing insights into how to counter it. Reporting the details of the crime also enabled the police to give us specific advice on how to deal with it. We didn’t need this help because we had a recent backup we could use to restore our system, but the police do have a database which can be used to decrypt many files affected by such attacks.

We did not contact the authors of the malware and we certainly didn’t pay a ransom, nor would we. Quite apart from the obvious moral argument about paying criminals and so helping fund and encourage their further activities, to do so seemed foolish in the extreme, We didn’t open any of the ‘ransom’ files placed on our network, but found screenshots of the instructions they contained on the internet. We weren’t asked for a specific amount but told that the fee, in bitcoin, would depend on how soon we responded. In exchange for payment, we would be sent a file to unlock the encrypted files. Deliberately launching an executable file sent by criminals didn’t sound like a good idea!

  

Lessons we learned

  1. This is what a critical incident plan is for! It’s essential to have a plan in place to cover the network going down – for example hard copy contact details for pupils, so you can contact home, and of the timetable so you know where everyone should be. Think about how often you access school information on a computer – how would you get that same information without a network?
  2. It pays to back up your network. For our school, a regular backup protocol meant that we could restore our systems and suffered only minimal loss of data. For teachers, the message is to also back up your own files, and keep the copy away from the network and the school premises. We all know this, but do we all do it?
  3. Remote access is used by many schools and can be a real help to staff. Remote Desktop Protocols are a known chink in the armour of network security, however, so how confident are you that you are protected? It’s worth checking.
  4. If it happens, it’s really worth reporting it. It helps tackle this kind of fraud, assists others, and also allows you to access help and support.
  5. We were fortunate in having a team with the expertise to deal with this situation. Are your IT team prepared? Is there any training you need to provide?

I hope that this doesn’t happen to your school and there’s no reason to think schools are particularly being targeted (who would think schools have money?!). It’s best to be prepared though, so I also hope this account of our experience will help others. I’d be interested to hear from other schools who have had similar experiences.

    Action Fraud can be contacted on 0300 123 2040 or via their website www.actionfraud.police.uk which also has a wealth of up to date information on Fraud and cybercrime.

    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!

      Ten things to look forward to in the Spring Term

      Christmas may be over and the New Year welcomed in. Long, warm summer days may feel a distant prospect, but don’t despair, there’s plenty to look forward to at the start of the Spring term in 2017. Here’s my top ten list:

      1. Christmas isn’t over until 6th January (twelfth night) – and this year that’s a Friday! I’ll be keeping my decorations up till then!
      2. If that isn’t enough for you, Orthodox Christmas Day this year is on Saturday 7th January.
      3. You may have just exchanged cards or greetings with friends or family you don’t see much. You could take up the opportunity of the new year to reconnect with them. Why not arrange to meet up?
      4. If you’re like me, you may have received books as Christmas presents and can look forward to reading them. I really enjoy just a few minutes of reading for pleasure at the end of each day. Why not get together with some colleagues and start a book swap in the staff room? This is just one of many ways to achieve workable wellbeing.
      5. On our return to work both pupils and colleagues will arrive with their presents from Santa. Why not exploit the entertainment value here and  play ‘Spot the new jumper/tie/shoes’, etc? (I don’t know why this is, but there seems to be an invariant rule that whenever I wear any thing new it gets noticed, but only the third time I wear it). With pupils you can use pencil cases or stationary to monitor trends in popular culture – which comes out on top, Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts?
      6. You may have to set off for work in the dark to start with, but from now on the days will be getting longer. Getting outside in daylight each day will help beat the winter blues. Even if the sky is overcast, that natural sunlight will do you good.
      7. While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the little signs that spring is on it’s way and take notice of small changes – already you may see some leaves of bulbs poking through the soil, or some buds on trees or shrubs swelling before they blossom.
      8. The start of a new year is an ideal time to commit to your own wellbeing. Why not take a look at the #Teacher5aday from @MartynReah for some ideas? You can join in with teachers all over the country. I was slow to catch on to this but found it really helpful over the past year.
      9. It’s not all cold wet misery in winter – there are plenty of feasts, festivals and holy days. Here are some dates in 2017: Burns’ Night – 25 Jan, Chinese New Year – 28 Jan, Valentine’s Day – 14 Feb, Shrove Tuesday – 28 Feb, St David’s Day – 1 Mar, both Holi and Purim are on 12 Mar, St Patrick’s Day – 17 Mar, Mothering Sunday (and the start of British Summer Time) – 26 Mar.
      10. The best thing about teaching in 2017, and every other year, is knowing that what we do makes a real positive difference to the children in our classes. For some of them, the holidays can be difficult and, although they might not always show it, they’ll have been be looking forward to the new term. Make it a good one.

      So, what are you looking forward to this Spring? Have I missed any key dates from this list? Why not share with a comment? 

      Happy New Year!

      Hi-Vis SLT

      In a discussion session on our school improvement plan, several colleagues commented that they would like senior leaders to be more visible around the school. It became clear that there were some different perspectives of the role of SLT.

      Our SLT has a support rota during the day so somebody is on duty during each lesson. We generally choose an area of the school to visit, popping in to classes. Part of our reward system is ‘spot awards’  – giving out awards on the spot to pupils nominated by their teachers. They get a couple of achievement points and a mention in the newsletter that week. Of course, while out and about we may encounter pupils who need some encouragement to engage/re-engage with their learning or who need to work elsewhere, so everyone else in their class can get on with their learning! 

      I have to say it’s something I enjoy – not dealing with naughty people so much but having the chance to visit lessons (always a privilege) and reward students who are working well. It became apparent in the discussion that a few colleagues rather saw this as a primary role of SLT members. My job does entail a bit more than that (but if anyone wants pay me a deputy head salary just to walk round and pop into lessons, please do let me know) and while colleagues wanting school leaders to visit them more is a good thing, I was concerned about a perception of lack of visibility. 

      Clearly we can’t be everywhere at once, but perhaps we were missing areas, or colleagues, out. I decided to introduce a simple tick sheet to check which classes we were visiting. Before the start of each weekly SLT meeting we check off where we have visited. After the first couple of weeks we could see that there were some areas missed out: we weren’t visiting each other much,  or making it frequently to the top floor of one building, or to the furthest part of the campus – the sports hall. We’d also missed out a couple of other colleagues. We are now using this checklist to make sure we see everyone at least once every fortnight. Hopefully everyone will feel supported, and with a couple more extra flights of stairs to climb, I might even lose a couple of pounds.

      As for all my posts, I welcome constructive comments. I’d also like to hear how SLT in other schools support colleagues throughout the teaching day.

      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.

      Workable Wellbeing 2: more ideas inspired by #SLTchat

      My first ‘Workable Wellbeing’ post was inspired by the @SLTchat discussion on 6/9/15 and updated a month later to mark World Mental Health Day. You can read it here.

      This latest post was inspired by the lively #SLTchat on wellbeing held on 2/5/16 hosted by @ottleyoconnor. Several ideas I included in the first post featured again. Considering timing throughout the school year was mentioned by @ictlinks, using mindfulness courses with staff was brought up by @chrisedwardsuk, and cake featured prominently once again, with @pickleholic tweeting about ‘treat Friday’ where staff sign up to share their bakes.

      My contribution about giving ‘I liked this’ cards to colleagues visited during learning walks received a lot of interest. Many contributors pointed out that it’s the simple things that can make all the difference, including thank-yous. My mention of staff dressing up for ‘Back to the Future’ Day last October seemed to capture the imagination of many and @Ed_Tmprince commented on the Easter egg hunt she puts on for her colleagues. I was interested in the Danish concept of Hygge described by @Graham_IRISC – a blend of warmth/comfort/belonging and how certain individuals in an organisation seem to generate it. I must add it to my list of Positive Phrases for which there is no direct English translation.

      I was also struck the tweet by @MagnaCartaHead about the role of partnership working, something I had not considered at all in my original post. I know that I and other school leaders in the Oxford East Partnership find it a useful support network. We regularly share good news and challenges, and specific work like the recent moderation of Year 2 and Year 6 writing was particularly useful to all who took part. We have had several conversations about the role of wellbeing on recruiting and retaining staff and we all include membership of this supportive partnership in our recruitment advertising.

      #SLTchat is itself a kind of partnership and those 30 minutes each Sunday evening certainly improve my sense of wellbeing and set me up for the week ahead. 

      I’ve written a few posts now on wellbeing and worlkload and I’m thinking of how I can draw all these together, perhaps as a post on how school leaders can model behaviour that values work-life balance – something mentioned by several contributors to the #SLTchat discussion. Any comments or suggestions you may have would be very helpful.