Making space to listen: Teaching well-being and mindfulness in the classroom.

For too many years, our society lived with a
view that children should be seen and not heard. Without listening to children and understanding children’s own views about their quality of life – how can we ever expect to improve the lives of children and young people?

The Children’s Society. 2015. The Good Childhood Report. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/sites/default/files/TheGoodChildhoodReport2015.pdf. [Accessed 16 March 2017].

 

Well-being and mindfulness are discussed more frequently now in the media and in education and educators are more aware of the benefits teaching these can have to students. However, curriculum commitments and school timetables can sometimes allow little room for teaching these soft skills and so they can sadly be the first thing to drop off the timetable when times get busy.

In my classroom I try to commit to supporting student well-being by setting aside one lesson a week which focuses on something linked to well-being and mindfulness. This does mean that a curriculum lesson gets put off another day, but my opinion is that student welfare and happiness is more important than teaching them the next lesson on the plan. My weekly sessions stem from the Worry box I have in my classroom. Students can anonymously write in this box, sharing a worry they have or a problem which is going on, knowing that I will read them and then we will discuss them as a class together in order to find a solution. The problem remains from an anonymous writer (although as a teacher you can tell who wrote the note from the handwriting!) and it means that everyone benefits from helping to solve the problem, creating a sense of togetherness and a community approach. It also means that the students effectively do my planning for me and I am supporting them with exactly what they need at the time they need it.

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The structure of these sessions varies but usually looks something like this:

  1. 5 mins mindfulness meditation using a YouTube guided meditation video.
  2. Warm-up game linked to what we will be talking about.
  3. Present the problem. Either just verbally, with a teacher let drama or a video.
  4. Paired/group discussions for solutions.
  5. Share ideas and evaluate the successes of each.
  6. Role play out the solution.

A recent document from Public Health England pointed to the value in a whole school approach to well-being, and noted the usefulness of a combination of taught skills as well as those learnt through the ‘hidden’ curriculum (Public Health England, 2014). I agree that values of honesty, happiness, being healthy etc., are often touched on in assemblies and expectations within school, but teachers should also be addressing these explicitly within the classroom too. The problem is, teachers experience pressure to keep on top of curriculum requirements, testing and assessment, which can lead to dropping lessons which are viewed as less important to a child’s attainment. It would be nice to see schools protecting a set amount of time each week specifically for teaching well-being and mindfulness to students, in addition to the planned PSHE lesson for that week. A top down approach is needed in order for teachers to be able to fulfil this important need, without worrying about how it might impact on their timetable or other lessons.

I am still new to mindfulness and am learning as I go, so I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got experience in this area and can point me in the direction of any other resources which could help.

I’ve found these few resources really helpful:

 

References:

 

The classroom of the future

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By Tcodl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Whilst reading ‘Weaving creativity into every strand of your curriculum’ by Dr. Cyndi Burnett and Julia Figliotti, I was drawn to a question which they used as a hook for activating creative thoughts in students.  

What things in the classroom might be missing in a classroom of the future?

As this question rolled around in my mind, I began to think about how teaching is changing and how the way I teach now, just 6 years after qualifying, is so vastly different to my training year. We have quickly moved from being teachers who provide students with the information they need to learn to providing students with the skills they need to find this information. As facilitators of learning, our role as teachers has dramatically changed. So then, it is almost inevitable that the environment we create for our students to learn in also changes.

 What I can do to facilitate this change? 

  1. Technology.  Developments in technology has led to some inspiring new apps and products on the market for education. Whilst not all schools and teachers have the funds or means to use all of these new technologies in their practice, some are free or nearly free. This blog post highlights some of these new technologies such as Augemented Reality and game based learning.
  2. Flexible classroom environment. Check out my previous blog post about how flexible seating works in my classroom.
  3. Student choice. Your next topic is the Vikings. The curriculum states what your students need to learn.  Your planning guides you in what you need to share with your class and how they will demonstrate their knowledge. Or should it? Why not let your students choose? In my classroom, I allow my students an element of choice in how they demonstrate their knowledge to me. Whether it’s humanities, history, Science or Maths, it is really empowering watching students plan and design their own way of showing you their understanding. I’ve had student rap facts about the Anglo-Saxons, groups make Anglo-Saxon clothing in order to hold a fashion show, and even students produce a reenactment of an important event  in history. The key here is, choice. The quality of the learning outcome is higher when students are more engaged and enthusiastic about their projects. Granted, it takes a whole lot of guts as a teacher to allow 30 students to choose different projects, but I promise, the outcome is well worth it!
  4. How we measure learning. Ultimately, if there is to be this big paradigm sift then we need to revolutionise the way we measure attainment and progress. Many of the ways we currently measure attainment are content focused and not interactive or involve problem solving. You cannot reform the way we teach without also changing the way we measure learning. I am not sure what the solution is to this yet, but it is something I am currently researching. I’ll keep you posted on what I find!

 

For more on this topic, I recommend reading this blog by Rebecca Rosen.

Teaching abroad easier than in the UK?

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Travel the world monuments concept” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by SalFalko

As many teachers begin to unwind and enjoy the start of their holidays, for some it is the end of a chapter. Many teachers are losing faith in the education system in the UK and newspapers are continuously reporting worrying figures about the mental health of teachers in the UK. If the papers are anything to go by, they are leaving the profession in search of something less draining on their emotional and mental health and in the hope of a better work/life balance.

So, could teaching abroad be the answer?
When I left the UK for Thailand, I went under the notion “how bad can it really be?” Back then, I was sharing a house with 5 other random people, having been forced out of my home due to a relationship break up. I couldn’t afford the monthly costs of living on my own; rent, running a car, food, as well as having enough to enjoy some sort of a life. I endured a miserable year in a shared house in the Midlands before throwing it all in for the sunny beaches of Thailand. Or rather, Bangkok. And I have not looked back since!

That was 4 years ago and since then I have lived in Dubai as well and now am in the process of moving to Singapore.

Here are some of the realities I’ve experienced whilst working in an international school abroad.

  1. You will work hard. Standards are usually very high, as are the expectations on you to perform well and give 110% to your job. If you like to leave early from work and do the minimum workload, international teaching may not be for you.  However, a work/life balance is possible! I have worked in schools where managers would actively encourage you to leave promptly on a Friday and enjoy a work free weekend. Although many international schools have a campus which is accessible all evening and weekends, which can make it easy to just ‘nip in’ and end up spending all of your day off there!
  2. The parents can be challenging. Paying for an education means that parents expect a lot from you. This can mean you experience some tricky parents with a lot of demands. Usually these parents just want to an open door of communication and so are reassured quickly by establishing this communication early on in the year. However, you aren’t on your own and line managers are there to support you. Ultimately, an understanding of the culture and of the school will certainly help you to relate to the parents you will encounter.
  3. The holidays are amazing. I enjoy more holidays than I did when I worked back in the UK. Usually speaking, in addition to 13 weeks you have in a state school in the UK, I enjoy an extra 2 weeks. These vary from school to school but they tend to fall in the summer and at Christmas. And there are always those lovely public holidays where a nice 3 day weekend can be enjoyed on a beach somewhere!
  4. The wages are better. Disclaimer- they have been for me but wages differ from country to country and school to school. Overall though, I earn maybe twice as much abroad as I did in the UK, as well as enjoying some added extras as part of the benefits package provided by the school; Private medical insurance, end of year bonus, housing allowance, shipping allowance and an annual flight allowance. You very quickly get used to a better lifestyle and enjoy eating out, holidaying and many teachers are able to save for the first time in their careers. This is certainly one of my reasons for being abroad.
  5. It’s an opportunity to travel the world. One of the main reasons for moving away for me was to see the world. And I have! It’s easy to nip to another country for half term or to a beach for the weekend, and cheaper too! If travel is one of your motives for moving abroad, consider where you’d like to visit and perhaps consider a country nearby. That way flights are cheap and short.
  6. I’ve developed a lot as a teacher. I have learnt so much from working alongside outstanding teachers. It really has been fantastic to share ideas and learn from a wealth of experience. International schools tend to be much bigger than UK schools and so have more staff. Some of the best CPD I’ve had has been through learning from all of the fantastic colleagues both within my department but also school wide. I have also worked in a school where they have paid for external PD opportunities, such as having Paul Ginnis visit the school. However, a PD programme is worth asking about at interview, as schools work very differently from each other.
  7. Resources beyond belief.  I remember being in the UK and trying to make glue sticks last for a whole term (no mean feat!) So when I moved to Thailand and my department had a whole resource cupboard, it was like Christmas had come early! What’s more, I could actually request more pencils, glue sticks and even Blu Tak. It would appear a few days after. Wow! I’ve worked in schools where students could work with wood to make moving models, used canvas in art and had some great IT resources. However, not all schools work in the same way and whilst some have plenty of resources, other do not. It depends on a variety of reasons, some being whether the school is for profit or non profit making and if year groups have their own budgets for resources or if they are dealt with centrally.

I have loved working internationally and as I begin my third post abroad, I am in no doubt that this is the right thing for me. I work hard for my students, and I do work some long hours occasionally, but I also enjoy much more of a life. When I’m sitting on the beach during a long weekend, I know that I’ve made a good decision! I have already booked my first long weekend away and am planning my October half term. Priorities!

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Flexible Seating

Looking around my classroom this year, I was struck by a thought. Education has changed dramatically over the years. Classrooms of today look dramatically different to those in Victorian England. Or do they?

Yes, education has come a long way; research has focused on the different learning needs of students and innovative ways to help students to develop the skills they require in today’s world. Differentiation has been a buzz word for a long time and teachers have spent many hours and PD sessions learning about how best to differentiate their lessons to suit all learners. Yet we still expect all students to sit for long periods of time on chairs and at tables, regardless of their needs or learning styles. There is zero differentiation there.

This prompted me to do some research of my own. I came across a few blogs which got me thinking about the set up of my classroom and how I could adapt it to suit the needs of my class. On a basic level, designing a classroom which is comfortable and allows for student choice, will enable students to select an area which they will be able to focus in. Being focused and comfortable will help students to be better engaged and foster better outcomes.

Flexible classroom environment

Redesigning the classroom

Effective Learning Environments

Rethinking classroom design –Comfortable classrooms—physically and psychologically— promote a sense of well-being, keep minds focused, and limit distractions.” 

This fourth website really made me think about the way I planned my lessons. I began to ‘flip’ my classroom in order to make the most of my new classroom design and things really began to click into place. I’ll talk more about my flipped classroom in my next post.

In order to achieve my new classroom design, I had to beg and borrow as much of the furniture as possible! I have been really happy with the outcome so far, but as many of you can probably empathise, I continuously want to change and upgrade things.

 

This is the start of my classroom redesign journey. 

Students love the standing tables! They really enjoy the freedom of movement which comes with not being confined to a seat. The standing tables were simply created by putting old wooden creates underneath the tables. I have seen other teachers use bed raisers too, which is something I will be using in my new classroom. The bouncy balls are great for students who need to move constantly and find sitting still challenging. DISCLAIMER – they are a challenge when you first put them in your classroom! I know teachers who have given up on using these very quickly due to behaviour management issues. However, please do persevere, as when students understand that they are seats and follow the rules for using them, they will calm down and use them appropriately. I personally love lying down on the large cushions as I work with a group of students who are doing the same.

The outcome? Well, it’s only been 4 months of this layout and I can honestly say I’ve seen an increase in the engagement of my students. They love learning and feel proud of their classroom. Students who previously found it challenging to stay focused are actually the ones who are considering where they will work best in the classroom the most. My classroom is often used by other teachers and other students come into the room too. It’s been fantastic to see my students explaining the new layout to others and encourage them to make good choices about where they learn best and not just sit next to their friends. Proud teacher moment!

Many teachers and members of senior leadership have shared positive comments about my classroom and the innovative design. I know that for some it may seem a bit too far outside of the box, but honestly, teaching and learning is something which is always moving forward. It’s exciting to try new things and adapt your practice. We can’t continue to teach like we always have as we educators need to move forward with the times.

I am excited about starting the year with my new class and have already begun to redesign the classroom to allow for plenty of seating options.

If you’ve tried redesigning your classroom or have any great ideas to share on this, please do comment and share!

Speed dating CPD!

I recently read an interesting blog post by te@chertoolkit which could change the way professional development is delivered by schools. I don’t know about you, but I have experienced some great training sessions, sat through some average training and also endured some utterly useless ‘development’ sessions. Some of the best were actually delivered or shared by colleagues.

Te@chertoolkit suggests a simple strategy for sharing best practice among staff. Each staff member brings an idea to the meeting which they can explain in 30 seconds. Teachers then move around the room sharing ideas and soon the room will be buzzing! You could even add music and a countdown buzzer for added atmosphere. With a large staff group, perhaps you could split into departments/categories and then have each group feedback to the larger group with a summary of the ideas discussed.

Staff led development is highly under used in schools, in my opinion. Teachers move from school to school gathering ideas and training along the way and are then often made to sit and listen to someone else train them on the latest teaching strategies. When was the last time you were asked if you already had that specific training? Have you ever been asked if you’d like to share some ideas with your colleagues? Hand on my heart, I can honestly say that I could count on one hand the times I’ve been asked either of those questions.

I know that I have sat through ‘training’ sessions which have been completely useless to me since I was already applying those theories in my daily practice. One particular session was so poorly planned by the leader, that many of the application suggestions were actually not relevant to our school context, meaning much of the content was rather useless. I sat there and thought about how I would have ran the session, had I been asked to.

I can draw two conclusions from this:

  1. The training delivered to teachers needs to be appropriately differentiated.
  2. Leaders should know the skill set of their teachers and actively encourage sharing amongst staff.

Yes, leaders need to ensure that all of their staff have a certain level of training, but they should also allow opportunities for teachers to choose their own PD sessions. Where I have seen CPD work exceptionally well, is where teachers are given the autonomy of choice. In one of my previous roles, staff were actively encouraged to run a session, in any area of teaching and learning that they wish, and colleagues could ‘sign up’ for the session. This session was then added to their online portfolio of professional development as a record of their training. Staff leading staff empowers teachers to share their best practice and is often delivered in a very teacher friendly way! It was these sessions that I learnt much of what I do today in my classroom today.

I am an advocate for schools developing a ‘menu’ of PD opportunities from which teachers and other staff members can choose. This menu should allow for teachers to have regular and useful training which can be put into practice, reflected upon and then thoughts shared back among colleagues. blackboard-677578_1920

 

Flipped Learning

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Ente”The Flipped Classroom” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by AJC1r a caption

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Flipped learning seems to be the buzz word in education right now. Everyone is talking about it. This was enough to grab my interest and give me the enthusiasm to try it out in my classroom.

Essentially, flipped learning is turning the traditional idea of teaching on it’s head. In this way, teachers spend their time not teaching, but facilitating application of the learning which has happened prior to the lesson. This can happen in many different ways, but the popular way is through online tutorials uploaded through YouTube or Vimeo. Students would watch these tutorials, learn at home and then bring that knowledge into the classroom so that the teacher can then set up tasks which allow students to demonstrate their knowledge.

EDPuzzle (1)In my experience, I have used EdPuzzle to send tutorials to students which they have needed to watch before the next lesson. Using this application, I added questions to the video which pause the video at certain points and ask for an input. This is a useful added extra to just sending a video to students and hoping they watch it. For a start, you can see which students have watched the video as well as what their answers were to the questions you set. EdPuzzle works best if your students have Google logins, although I did manage a way around this by asking parents to sign up (for free) to EdPuzzle.

The projects which students chose to complete in lessons to demonstrate their learning vast exceeded my expectations. And then I realised something. My expectations. I had already put students into boxes. The lower abilities, the middles, the more able, the gifted etc. That way of thinking needed to be thrown out of the window! Yes I need to plan for challenge and ensure that every student is pushed and challenged well, but I should throw out all my original expectations of what students could achieve in these lessons. It was one of my ‘low achievers’ who taught me this when she shared her x-ray machine which she had made to demonstrate the differences and similarities between animal and human teeth. I was astounded. Had I given her a worksheet to fill in, or another written activity, the outcome probably would’ve been a lot lower. Yet here, given the opportunity to demonstrate her learning in any way she desired, she blew my mind!

Moving around the classroom, freed up to discuss projects with the students in my class, I was able to really get a good understanding of what the students had understood by the tutorial I had set for them. I had the opportunity, and more importantly time, to spend with each student/group to challenge them with their thinking. It enabled me to extend those students who struggled with the creativity side by asking ‘What if…’ questions. What’s more, the students loved the lesson and learnt a lot!

Now, inevitably you will have the odd student who doesn’t watch the tutorial or try the task at home. In these cases, you will have to plan in for allowing them to access that digital material during the beginning of the class.

Since that first lesson, I have experimented with delivering the content at home through YouTube videos I have made myself in the classroom, EdPuzzle tutorials and websites linked up to a Google Form to complete afterwards. I have only just begun my ‘flipped classroom’ journey but I am loving the outcomes so far. Please tell me about your flipped learning journey below.