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.

    Ten ways you know it’s the start of term.

    Feeling a bit disoriented after that lovely holiday? Here’s my top ten list of things that tell you the new term has started!

    1. You breathe out a sigh of relief that the waistband of your work clothes still fits – and a button pops off.
    2. When you finally find your lanyard again you realise that the age gap between your staff ID photo and reality has widened yet further.
    3. As a result of the ‘holiday IT update’ your computer crashes when you try to log in.
    4. There are now 247 emails in your inbox.
    5. Some one asks’Sir?’ / ‘Miss?’ And for a moment you wonder who they’re talking to.
    6. The bells, the bells! Your life becomes Pavlovian again.
    7. At least a dozen new educational acronyms (NEAs) seem to have been invented since the end of last term.
    8. You scald yourself with your coffee, not having time to let it cool down.
    9. You spend more time with your legs crossed as you can no longer just pop to the loo when you need to.
    10. After your busy day, you realise that you have to get up at THAT TIME again tomorrow…

    So, how many did you score out of ten at the start of this term? Remember, though, what you do makes a real difference and at least there’s no time to be bored!

    Anything I missed? What would you put in the top ten?

    Engaging with parents: making time for what makes a difference

    In recent months I’ve been thinking about what really makes a difference at school. Inspired by a post by @leadinglearner, I wrote this post In January on ‘brass tacks’. At the same time I have also been trying to improve my organisation and time management. My recent posts on this include getting to grips with email and achieving a better work-life balance. 

    One of my ‘brass tacks’ was about parental engagement. I believe that supportive and engaged parents and carers are key to children being successful and happy. Through tracking the goals that I had completed each day and those which were unresolved (originally as part of a technique to detach from work at the end of the day), I came to realise that the thing most likely to derail my carefully scheduled plans was an interaction with a parent. The meeting about a behaviour issue that overruns, the referral from a Head of Year, or the unexpected phone call or email that reveals an important issue, can all suddenly take precedence. This is, of course quite right, but it got me thinking why I wasn’t building more interaction with parents and carers into my schedule in the first place?

    I took a look at my calendar and decided Thursdays would be a good day. We already calendar most parents’ afternoons / evenings on a Thursday. It’s also the day for Governors’ meetings so when there isn’t one the time already feels like a bit of a gift. For me it’s a good day too because I’m not teaching first or last thing and have no regular morning meetings. This means I am likely to be free at the times most parents are too – before and after the school day.

    So, I have reserved these times (but clearly not just these times) for parents. Where I can, I am arranging meetings then. So far I’ve scheduled discussions about attendance, a behaviour concern, and a matter referred to be by a colleague. When I’m not doing this, I use the time to contact parents about their children’s achievements, either by phone or email. I use this as an extension to ‘Feelgood Friday’ when each week we encourage each teacher to make at least one positive call home. I contact parents about things I’ve seen that have impressed me. This is also something I can include in our school ‘pupil premium first approach. I edit the newsletter which goes out on a Friday, so I can also alert parents to look out for it when their child gets a mention. For example, this week I called home with news of students who had produced impressive ‘six word stories’ in tutor time for World Book Day. Sometimes these calls lead to wider conversations. It’s good to have a talk with a parent when the initial cause hasn’t been something that has gone wrong.

    I have recently read Sir Tim Brighouse’s ‘Five time expenditures’*, the first being ‘sit on the wall, not on the fence’ – heads who make sure they are around at the start and end of the school day to be available to parents. Far fewer parents come into our secondary phase regularly, compared with the primary, but I think I might just try being around in reception at the start of the day when I can.

    Comments are always welcome and I’d value any suggestions for working with parents & carers, particularly those who find it more difficult to engage with us.

    *In How Successful Head Teachers Survive and Thrive by Professor Tim Brighouse, RM  Education, 2007.