Take it easy on yourself: A teacher’s guide

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Stress” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by Firesam!

Disclaimer: This is as much for me as for anyone else. I hope that in writing this, I learn to listen to my own advice and give myself a break sometimes too!

  1. There is never, ever enough time in the day to get everything done. 
    Teachers continuously have a never-ending list of things to get done and deadlines loom almost all year, but learn to be realistic. Don’t beat yourself up for not marking those last few books or creating that Smartboard you forgot to do. You will never achieve everything you want to do but you will  achieve everything you need to do, everything else can wait. Try thinking about the impact of your actions, e.g. if I don’t do xyz, will it have a negative impact on my students? If the answer is no, then leave it until another day. Acknowledge that you won’t get it all done and learn to be at peace with that.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others. I am terrible for doing this. I continuously compare myself to my colleagues thinking I’m not working hard enough or marking thorough enough or sharing ideas enough. You are not the same as your colleagues. You might handle situations differently, react to things in a different way or feel more emotional about something, and that is OK. Don’t compare yourself to others. No-one else has got it all together either, no matter how it looks from the outside. Some people have a great skill of being able to portray an air of serenity whilst being insanely stressed out. A lovely lady I used to work with was fantastic at this, it turns out. It was a really busy time at school and she appeared to be really calm about it all. I was envious of her relaxed attitude! When I told her I wished I was as calm as her, she revealed that really she was actually like a swan – serene and calm on the outside but kicking like hell underneath to stay afloat. I’ve never forgotten that honesty and it’s definitely how I feel about 80% of the time! But it just goes to show that everyone else is also busy, worried and trying to keep on top of things, so you are not alone.
  3. Prioritise you to-do list. A couple of years ago, a wonderful colleague (actually the same one as earlier), showed me her strategy of prioritising and I’ve used it ever since. This might not work for you, but ask around and find a strategy or a tool which does. Remember to put a few things on there you’ve just completed – it feels great crossing them off straight away and gives you the motivation to get going on the next items.
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  4. Talk about it. I cannot stress how important this has been for me. For the last couple of years, I have suffered with anxiety and a period of panic attacks. This was an utter nightmare to deal with as a teacher, especially when your anxiety can kick off at the most unhelpful of times, in front of 30 students! Not to mention going all guns blazing into a panic attack! (Thankfully, I’ve always managed to remove myself from the class before either of those have occured.) But the one thing which has really helped is seeing my psychotherapist. I am not ashamed to say it has been the best thing for me, talking through my emotions, my day and any issues which are worrying me. It might not be a therapist you need or want to talk to, but a good friend or family member can be just as helpful. Often just being open and honest is enough to help you feel better, the other person need not do more than listen and be there for you. If like me, you do suffer with anxiety, it might also be helpful to share how you’re doing with a colleague whose classroom is near to yours. That friend can be very helpful if you need 10 minutes out of the classroom to calm down.
  5. Learn to ask, Is it in my control? If it’s not in your control, then let it go. Waste no time worrying what other people think about you – easier said than done, I know. But it’s true. A lot of my anxiety comes from a constant battle with my inner self doubt and second guessing what my line manager thinks about me, if my colleagues think I’m being lazy or if my head of school is concerned about my teaching. All totally ridiculous worries because I cannot control a single one of them. Switching your focus from pointless worries to something you actually can control, puts the power back in your court.
    Self doubt is a tough one as a teacher because you have to find your own validation in thankful emails, happy students, progress, data etc. The times you are told you’re doing a good job are few and far between, but they’re there, you just need to look for them. I’ll come onto that in point 8.
  6. Be mindful. In a busy school, with your never-ending list of things to do staring right at you on your desk, it is often difficult to stop and make some time to just breathe and be. Find some time, even just 5 minutes, where you take yourself away from your desk and away from your classroom. At my current school, we have a rooftop garden I enjoy sitting in for 5 minutes at lunch time. Take nothing with you, no phone, no laptop. Just sit. Listen to your breathing. Refocus yourself. And when you’re ready, go back to the classroom. If possible, don’t eat your lunch at your desk. Try to find time to stop and eat with colleagues in the staffroom or canteen. Give yourself some you time away from the marking, emails and assessments you have to do.
  7. When at all possible, leave work at work. We all know teachers don’t actually work 9am – 3pm – wow wouldn’t those hours be amazing if we did! It can be tempting to bring your work laptop home, fire off some emails after dinner, finish off your planning or hunt for some resources whilst watching TV. I’m not saying any of that is bad, but it can lead to burn out. If you tend to do this every night, be strict with yourself. Give yourself a time cut-off, e.g. at 8pm, my laptop turns off. Or set yourself just one task to complete and focus on that, rather than doing 4 things at once. It comes back to, if I don’t complete xyz tonight, will it impact my students negatively? If the answer is no, then don’t do it tonight. Give yourself your evening back and don’t feel guilty about it. You could work every evening and still never get anything done, but you may well burn out and make yourself ill. Then that will have an impact on your students.
  8. Count the positives. I love this one but it is a tough one to do on some days! At the end of each day, take a few moments to take stock and count the positives moments you’ve had that day. They could be as simple as:I woke up straight away without snoozing 5 times.
    One of my students thanked me today for helping them.
    My ECA went well today.When you’ve had a bad day, you can sometimes get bogged down with the negativity and forget about the successes you’ve experienced, however small they might be. Try it. I bet if you think really hard, even on a rubbish day, you can find at least 3 positives.
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  9. Pass on the love. How happy do you feel when you receive an email from a colleague or a parent thanking you for helping them with something? It feels great right? Pass on that love yourself. Make someone’s day by thanking them for something they’ve done above and beyond, or thanking them for helping you with something you were struggling with. It feels great to say thank you and make someone’s day!

Professional development for teachers: Where do you find it?

Image by Karalee 

Looking for some tips and tricks to put the ‘zing’ back into your teaching? Or perhaps you just want to stay ahead of the game and keep your teaching practice current. Either way, it can be a minefield finding some good quality resources to help you. Not to mention finding the time to look for and then read them! So I have gathered some resources which I find useful below.

(Thank you to all those contributors who I have cited!)

Online articles:

Edutopia

Education World

Guardian Education 

TES

EdTech Teachers

Online PD:

These come in the form of either online courses, which you can dip in and out of at your leisure, or webinars, which you can join online. Online courses and on-demand webinars have the advantage of being available whenever you are, whereas some webinars are virtual meetups online, so you need to join on a certain day and time. 

Online courses and webinars on demand:  

UDEMY  I love this website as you can search for a wealth of teacher-led courses. Some are free whilst others are only $19. There is some great content on there and lots of keep you going, if you’re happy to pay the small fee. What I love most about this website is that many of the deliverers are teachers themselves. 

TeacherToolkit Te@chertoolkit also run a range of online courses. 

TurnItInA great variety of online webinars to watch and listen to for free on demand. ASCD webinars are on demand and so are also available all the time. “Founded in 1943, ASCD (doing business as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is the global leader in developing and delivering innovative programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner. The association provides expert and innovative solutions in professional development, capacity building, and educational leadership essential to the way educators learn, teach, and lead.” (“About ASCD”. Ascd.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.)


Blogs:

I try to read as many blogs as possible, written by other teachers, teacher trainers and PD providers. Check out the list of blogs I follow to the right of this page. There are some great ones out there. I love reading about other teachers’ adventures in the classroom and their learning journey. I fully encourage you to do the same and even start your own blog, if you’ve not done so already! 

Books:

I really try to read as much as possible so that the choices I make about my teaching, the tools I use in the classroom, are founded in research and purpose. I might hear about a book from a colleague which is a good read and when you go searching on Amazon, you can see the “others also purchased…”. This is where I often end up clicking through and stumbling across some other great reads. Take a look at my Good Reads list on my home page. 

YouTube:

There are some great videos out there which can up-skill even the busiest teacher in a matter of minutes. YouTube is a great resource for this. Here are a few videos I have come across which I have found useful. 

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Image by Elon University

I’ve just finished watching this on-demand webinar on the SAMR model of using technology in the classroom. Even as a teacher not new to this concept, this webinar was very useful in clarifying my understanding and giving me even more ideas. Check it out!

https://cc.readytalk.com/cc/playback/Playback.do?id=5ecx6o

 

Further reading

http://www.edudemic.com/professional-development-setups/

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-quality-professional-development-teachers-matters-ben-johnson

http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml

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