"Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways."
Mental health is a topic that we a society do not seem to like talking about. There is so much stigma around it which continues despite the high-profiile people who have come out expressing how they are battling with it, the high-profile suicides on the back of depression that have occurred in recent years, and the work that organisations such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue, and The Black Dog have done to raise awareness of the legitimacy of mental health.
When I sat down to write my presentation for FlipCon during the week after EduTech it was all I could think about, was mental health and the impact that student-teacher relationships can have on our students' mental health. There was nothing else coming to mind, every idea that came up ended up leading back to mental health and so I worked with that and delivered a speech that I am, content wise, quite happy with.
It generated some very interesting discussions about mental health that I do not think would have come up otherwise and I wonder how many teachers would like to be able to do more about this issue but do not know where to start.
Abraham Maslow's 1943 article A Theory of Human Motivation was the world's introduction to the now famous Hierarchy of Needs and it changed the way many people, especially educators, understand of childrens' socio-emotional development and is still a core component of many educational psychology courses.
There are many resources available to educators to help understand how to deal with mental health challenges in their students, how to appropriately teach strategies for working through mental health issues, and for pointing students towards appropriate help. BeyondBlue have a Secondary Schools program; and as part of the masterclass with Jane Burns, we spent time talking about a range of options available to both students and teachers that can support mental health strategies, which you can read about here.
If you know someone struggling with mental health, please do not delay in helping them seek treatment. Give it the same consideration you would a physical illness.
"Apps now let us manage mental health and the gives clinicians tools to help individuals"
- Jane Burns
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 was througha media pass provided by the organisers.
The afternoon session of a conference can often be a challenge, as the combinatin of lunch, sitting down, and a warm room can be quite soporific. I was ok with the first part of the session, as it was active and in our table groups, were workign on developing our toolbox of tools and strategies for helping students with mental health challenges. My table spent some time talking about the framework around which we were going to base the toolbox and decided upon the Flourish model used by Geelong Grammar School which is itself an adaptation of the PERMA model. We went through our notes from the day and added different tools into relevant sections of the framework that we had mapped out until we had a number of options within each component.
After this activity, the discussion moved to Participatory Design and the research that underpins it in the mental health space. Jane spoke about her work with Young and Well and spoke abuot the process they went through in setting up a Youth Brains Trust. Each year for five years they recruited five young people from a diverse background of gender, age, heritage, and other considerations; young people who would not ordinarily be considered bright and shiny students to contribute to discussions on mental health. As part of that process, the Youth Brains Trust identified and recommended that a separte First Nations Youth Council be set up to advise on the same from an Indigenous peoples perspective.
The participatory design process is long, however, is seems as if it would be a fantastic tool to gain consensus across multiple stakeholder groups and individuals through an iterative process of discussion, questioning and agreement over the goal and purpose before talking about the specific processes and strategies.
The conversation again turned to apps and we looked at the MARS App Rating Scale which was developed by the Queensland University of Technology in conjunction with Young and Well. It was an interesting process as we were asked to go through and rate an app using the MARS process. Many people simply went through and rated the Facebook app or YouTube and they scored highly throughout the various categories. I rated an app that I use everynight, called Sleep Cycle which analyses your sleep patterns based on either the accelerometer or the microhphone (depending which setting you choose) to recognise your sleep cycle. I have been using it for about four years now yet it did not rate highly. So there are some flaws it would appear. That process and discussion of the apps that different people rated and how they fared took us through tot he afternoon break.
The final session of the day was where I really started to struggle with focus. We were looking at Project Synergy and the discussion was around the impending explosion in the need for digital mental health solutions in an increasingly digital society. There are, as we discussed in the previous session, a range of digital solutions currently available that are valuable tools for clinicians to recommend to clients to assist in managing mental health concerns.
Jane then spoke about the Review of Mental Health Services report which was published in December 2014. Jane spoke about how that report helped drive community partnerships between service providers, local communities, Government bodies and medical practitioners.
The final component of the day was analysing a website from a user perspective to give feedback on what could be improved, what design elements might cause issues for different users (i.e. students, compared to teachers compared to different aged or cultural backgrounds) and how the site could be modified to personalise it. The conversation was around how personalised it could be without logging in and whether different groups would want to identify themselves and share their information by logging in. It is these sorts of services and online chat services that have changed the landscape of digital health and the conversation for the remainder of the session focused on that.
That was the end of the masterclass day. For me, Jane's masterclass was the most important masterclass on offer (though of course that is personal perspective) and it was a very interesting and also a useful and practical session. I now feel better equipped to suport students with mental health issues, I still do not feel properly equipped, just better equipped.
That is the end of the Masterclass day review series. I still have reviews for the conference itself to write and will continue to post those over the coming days. If you have missed any of the storify's or articles from this EduTECH 2017 series, you can find those here. Don't forget that if you or a loved on need support there are lots of options such as Beyond Blue, LifeLine, Black Dog Institute, Mind Blank, and Headspace, among many others. This is an important conversation that we need to have as a society. Engage in the online conversation through twitter, Jane is @JaneBurns and there are a range of hashtags on Twitter such as #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthawareness and many others.
"Youth experimenting with new things as a behavioural pattern has not changed since the 1960s. What they are experimenting with is the thing that has changed."
- Jane Burns
My attendance at EduTECH 2017 is through a media pass provided by the organisers.
After the morning break, we resumed our conversation around mental health and wellbeing, chatting about the societal from non-technology driven to highly technology-driven, with lives now revolving around social calendars managed on FaceBook ro Google, and the need to respond to social media immediately, the keyboard warrior attitude, and the proliferation of misinformation and poor research by the ability to very simply share it. There is potential for incredible levels of support for those who need it but do not have easy access to it for one reason or another, however, there is also the potential for increased levels of bullying; because rather than simply ocurring in the playground or on the bus to and from school it can continue all day and through the night due to social media access.
That is not the only downside to the technology-driven society. Increased access to technology has resulted in poor sleep hygiene, with young people going to bed later, and sleeping poorly as a result of having their phone in their hand or under the pillow. It is setting up an addiction that is affecting our students and changing the way they get their dopamine highs. When stressed, rather than turning to alcohol, there are those who now turn to their phone and the internet.
The discussion turned to the classroom and the point was made that if a student has no formal diagnosis, then no additional fudning for support for that student is available. The process to get that diagnosis can be long and arduous for the family and the papework to then submit the details to get the support is also a long and frustrating process. Community links can help in this area. One person related about inviting a mental health support organisation, Headspace, into their school as students were not going out to the organisation. The have someone in the school on a regular basis and that person works with self-referred students and is able to make the link back to home where appropriate. It means that even if the parents are proving to be a roadblock and are taking te attitude that there isnothign wrong with their child, the child can self-refer and get the help they need.
The use of technology came up and the statistic is that 95% of Australian youth (16-24) are online everyday for two to four hours a day, and about twenty percent of those are online for five or more hours a day. It is not necessarily the amount of technology use, screentime if you will, that is an issue. The purpose of the screentime is a highly contextual issue.
Technology can provide hope to families struggling to deal with disability in the household. A student who cannot communicate verbally has the option of communicating through technology such as a tablet which they can type into and communicate with. It also allows families separated by distance to stay in touch. My wife and I regularly FaceTime my parents who live fours away so that they can see their granddaughter and she can hear their voices and see their faces. At nine months old, this means that when we do get to see them in person, they are not complete strangers. There is so many rich and meaningful uses of technology that the question of how much is too much is far deeper and more complex than simply the amount of time spent using technology.
One of the main challenges in schoolmental health is help seeking, and engagement with mental health and this is where the right care at the right time attitude to care comes in and then the challenge is the workforce. There are not enough people with expertise and training in dealing with mental health issues on schools.
It was at this point that we were all evacuated from the building. There was the automated announcement over the PA and we all casually filed outside, congregating about two or three meters outside the main door of the ground floow as it was raining. It is interesting that despite all being educators and having, naturally, been through many evacuation drills in at schools, there was absolutely no urgency or hurry at all. I saw many people casually picking up all of their belongings and slowly making their way out and down the escalators. The workers who were putting up signage of maps of the EduTECH conference and where different rooms were did not even go that far; they kept working. We were only outside for about ten minutes and then it was back in with no explanation of what had happened. An interesting interlude to the morning.
Jane drew upon a Malcom Turnbull quote from April 2016 (which I have not been able to find online) which was that the most important resource in Australia is not underground but inside the heads of our people. This is an interesting perspective given the attitude that we see in the media from our policiticans around mineral resources versus education and the legislation that is enacted.
The discussion turned to a more practical line of thought, and we were asked to brainstorm various tools and strategies that we already knew of to support mental health, which were then shared around the room. The VIA Character Strengths survey came up a few times. This is apparently a tool for self-assessment of character traits. There were a few people who indicated that their school runs a subject called health, which is separate from PDHPE, wherein students receive extra time for physical movement. This is important as there is a body of research that find a link between physical activity and mental health (such as here, here, and here). I also remember a TV ad from (I think) the early 1990s which had a tagline along the lines of kids who play sport do better in school and the clip was of a female gymnast running towards camera, jumping off a trampoline, doing a twist or something and then landing (now in her school uniform) in her chair in class with a huge smile on her face.
We then heard about a tool called High Res which is aimed at veterans, however, is based on cognitive behaviour therapy and so could be adaped for students' use.
The next resource we heard about was Secret Agent Society which is aimed at primary school students. It was originally developed to teach students with social and emotional difficulties how to recognise emotions in themselves and others, express their feelings in appropriate ways along with a range of other social skills. Next, we heard about Seven Habits of Mind and The Brave Program. The Brave program is not one that I had heard of before, however, it is an online tool that allows students to get support and some strategies for dealing with anxiety, based on cognitive behaviour therapy. ReachOut (@Reachout_Aus) is a highly useful website with a range of tools that can help students manage and understand mental health issues.
One strategy that was discussed to increase awareness and understanding of tools for managing mental health was to turn it into a design task. Ask students to analyse mental health websites and what works well, what does not work well on that website. It turns it into a design task, however, as part of that, they will take in content and tools that are listed as part of the analysis process.
Jane then quoted Jackie Crowe who said that the bar is set too low for what is acceptable. There is not an expectation of high quality care, despite the crying need for it.
This lack of available support has driven the development of apps that are available to help fill in the gap. The app scene was what we focused on next and the first app discussed was the Recharge Sleep app which offers a six week program to help bring your sleep hygiene back to healthy standards. ReachOut Breath App focuses on the physiological impacts of stress and offers simple practical exercises to manage those signs and bring them back to healthy levels and slowly bring your stress back to manegable levels. Music eScape is hunged on the fact that there is no stigma around music as therapy whatsoever. It creates a mood map of your music library based upon the beat cadence and will help you to change your mood through physiological and psychological responses to music. The Check In App by Beyond Blue was developed to help provide building blocks for how you can start a mental health conversation with a friend and it provides links to professional support.
Break Up Shake Up is an app designed to help young people move on after a relationship break up. As a teenager, a relationship ending is the end of the world. This helps by providing strategies to help let go and move on. ReachOut also offers The Toolbox; a site that helps you to determine your mental health goals and then suggests a range of apps for you to select from that are appropriate to achieving those goals.
The morning started our rather depressing, talking about the statistics around youth mental health, which are quite horrific, but this session I feel was quite positive and gave us some practical tools that we can use and suggest for students that we know are dealing with mental health issues in our own lives.
We moved out to lunch at this pont, so I will end this article here. Thank you for reading and if you have any of the storify's or articles from this EduTECH 2017 series, you can find those here. Don't forget that if you or a loved on need support there are lots of options such as Beyond Blue, LifeLine, Black Dog Institute, Mind Blank, and Headspace, among many others. This is an important conversation that we need to have as a society. Engage in the online conversation through twitter, Jane is @JaneBurns and there are a range of hashtags on Twitter such as #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthawareness and many others.
"A theoretical model or framework, no matter how amazing, is usless unless you can put it into practice."
- Jane Burns
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 was through a media pass provided by the event organisers.
There were a number of masterclass to choose from (see my preview of Masterclass day here) and for me, Jane Burns' masterclass around digital wellbeing was the one that stood out as being genuinely important, not just for education, but socially as well. The day did not, however, start out particulalry pleasantly.
I did eventually make it to EduTECH and found that I was with around thirty or so other delegates to hear Jane speak about digital wellbeing. Overall, the day was very interesting. The statistics were largely depressing, however, not surprising; and we were provided with a range of options, tools and strategies for workign with students to deal with mental health and wellbeing through digital tools.
Jane was upfront in that she did not want to spend the whole day talking, and so after introducing the PERMA model to us, she asked us to brainstorm about words, ideas, emojis that come to mind for each of the keywords that make up PERMA.
This was a very interesting excercise and the ideas that the group I was with were quite varied.
The PERMA model, we were told, was developed by Martin Seligman (watch a TED Talk he delivered on the concept here) and provides a way of thinking about issues that arise. as we went around the room, sharing our ideas on each of the keywords in PERMA, an underlying theme emerged; generally, there seemed to be a theme that accountability, when coupled with appropriate support, created an environment where mental health was more achievable consistently. However, Jane pointed out that PERMA is a theoretical framework and that irrespective of how good/nice any theoretical framework is, unless it can be put into practice than it is useless.
Jane then moved onto Paula Robinsons's Mental Fitness framework, which was something that I had not heard before. Jane spoke about the language around mental health and that rather than mental illness we should talk about mental health as mental illness carries a rather negative connotation and also carriess with it some help-negation history as well, wherein the more that you need help, the less likely yo uare to seek help. The conversation then shifted to considering what has changed in society that has made suicide such a prevalent option. One of the statistics that was spoken about was that one in ten students ina Year Twelve class have attempted suicide. When I look back at my classes from the last couple of years and consider that statistically, if they were in Year Twelve now, that three of them would have attempted to take their own life, that is a rather horrifying thought. You can read some statistics about youth mental health on the Beyond Blue page here. The discussion that the group was having was all predicated on the stereotype of young white male, the statistics for at-risk groups such as the Indigenous, LGBTQ, rural/remote populations are even higher.
Jane commented that having mental health issues is still seen, by and large, as a weakness. THis is despite widespread acceptness of the validity of mental health issues. Jane was asked why this is and she replied that we do not know, there are so many factors, not least of which is the historical attitudes of buck up and men don't cry that completely decry mental health as being valid. The below video has done the rounds on social media recently and it applies the language that we use about mentla health to physical health. I challenge you to really watch and listen and consider the langauge that you use and how you conceptualisemental health issues. It is quite confronting. I actually scrolled past it about halfway through the video the first time I saw it (and it is not a long video) because it was uncomfortable to watch, highlighting the inadequacy of our attitude towards this significant problem.
One of the challenges aroud mental health that Jane spoke about is help-negation theory because there is a body of research that indicates early intervention and helps significantly increases the chances of recovery. You wouldn't delay the treatment of cancer by saying I can deal with this myself so why would you delay seeking help for something else that can severly cripple or even kill you? A stark thought, but true. The attitudes of society and individuals around mental health have changed, there is more acceptance of mental health as a valid concern, however, our actions around mental health have not necessarily changed; people still do not seek help often until very late and people still receive disparaging remarks if they open up about having mental helth issues.
Jane noted that we have reached a point of saturation around awareness. The statistics have changed as awareness has increased, hwever, therewe are now at a opint where we won't see a further change, a reduction in suicide numbers for example without a change in actions. It is our actions which now need to change. Research like the Growing Up Queer report highlight that there is still a sgnificant problem with discrimination and bullying around mentla health; our actions need to change.
In 2009 over nine thousand youths (16-24 years old) were admitted to hospital for injuries resulting in self-harm.Women are admitted at two and a half times the normal rate, and Indigenous youth at five times the normal rate. If these kinds of statistics were applied to motor vehicle deaths, there would be an outrage socially, politically, and across the media, however, mental health gets a modicum of media airtime.
The conversation changed to talking about sleep hygiene and the role that technology can play in supporting mental health needs at odd hours during the night, however, I will cover that in the next article.
Thank you for reading through this, and don't forget that if you or a loved on need support there are lots of options such as Beyond Blue, LifeLine, Black Dog Institute, Mind Blank, and Headspace, among many others. This is an important conversation that we need to have as a society. Engage in the online conversation through twitter, Jane is @JaneBurns and there are a range of hashtags on Twitter such as #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthawareness and many others.
If you have missed any of the articles in this series on EduTECH 2017, you can find them here.
The storifys of the Masterclass day can be found below:
"Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important."
- Attributed to Bill Gates
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTech 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
EduTech 2017 is nearly upon us! I am feeling rather unprepared and am only just looking at the timetables and agendas to work out my movements now (with a sleeping nine month old daughter on my chest). I am very much looking forward to EduTech, however, as I have not attended in the past due to it being held in Brisbane. I have of course heard that it is a huge event, with a large number of vendors (I encourage vendors to read this as they prepare for EduTech), educators from all sectors and many big names on and off stage. This article will examine the nine Masterclass timetable as I work out which of those I will attend. Days one and two of the EduTech agenda will be looked at in the next two articles.
Masterclass A: Teaching Kids to Code
This masterclass is being facilitated by Bruce Fuda, Nicky Ringland, and Associate Professor James Curran, all of whom are from the Australian Computing Academy at the University of Sydney. This masterclass appears to be focused on coding within the context of the new Digital Technologies syllabus. The agenda indicates that delegates will walk away with knowledge of resources, tools, pedagogical practices and ideas enabling them to implement the syllabus in their classroom when they return to school.
It feels like the Digital Technologies syllabus is about ten years too late in arriving, that we needed it to be in place before the explosion of coding, STE(A)M, robotics, makerspace etc. to give them a solid grounding in curriculum. Additionally, I feel that there has been a dearth in pedagogical development opportunities for teachers to allow them to grapple with this fast-changing area. The EduTech website indicates that this particular masterclass is nearly sold out, so if you are planning on attending, I suggest you register quickly.
Masterclass B: Setting Up A Maker Space
This particular masterclass has been sold out already, and I have spoken to a number of educators in the last few weeks who have indicated they are attending this particular masterclass. Amber Chase and Lisa O'Callaghan are both from Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, NSW. I was there recently (though did not get the chance to meet either of them) and chatting with teachers during a workshop I was running, there are some exciting things happening.
This masterclass is aimed at providing delegates with some practical ideas to set up a makerspace in their school including low-tech and high-tech, relating it back to the curriculum and a chance to plan the implementation of a makerspace. IF you've not registered for this masterclass already, then you are too late and will need to watch the #EduTechAU back channel and storifies which will pop up.
Masterclass C: Student Acquisition - where does your market reside?
Facilitated by Roger La Salle of La Salle Matrix Thinking, this masterclass is focused on understanding the market that your institution is targeted towards and how to maximise your marketing return. This sounds rather cold, however, reading through the agenda for the masterclass, however, there seems to be a real focus on understanding your institutions why. Why should families engage with you and developing strategies to really get a handle on that.
Masterclass D: Digitally Young and Well
Professor Jane Burns of the University of Sydney is facilitating this masterclass with a focus on youth health and well-being, including mental health. This masterclass will provide an update on the current status quo and a range of resources and strategies for promoting better health and well-being across all sectors of education, including how to develop a person-centred approach to creting, designing and developing support in online and offline contexts.
Masterclass E: Cyber Security / Information Security
Dr. Elena Sitnikova and Cecil Goldstein, both of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security. The core aim for this particular masterclass is to provide delegates with an awareness of the vulnerabilities and threats that face K-12 institutions and strategies for mitigating the impacts thereof, walking away from the masterclass with guidelines for formulating a strategic plan within their specific context.
Masterclass F: Mind Mapping in the Classroom
Bill Jarrard of Mindwerx International is facilitating this masterclass which aims to provide delegates with an understanding of Tony Buzan's Mind Mapping and its application in the classroom. I have not heard of Mind Mapping as a formalised process in this context, so I am curious to hear from those who attend this masterclass as to their thoughts.
Masterclass G - BYOD
Martin Levins, President of the Australian Council for Computers in Education is facilitating this masterclass providing delegates with an analysis of network and device management based on the latest research. Best practice across all relevant areas will be discussed and delegates will leave with an action plan to identify considerations for their specific contexts, building a road map with broad milestones for a successful BYOD implementation.
Masterclass H - Managing School / Campus WiFi
Mark Morgan of SpectroTech will be running this masterclass, focusing on all areas of planning for, setting up, maintaining and securing a WiFi network. Delegates will gain a thorough understanding of WiFi technology, guidance in planning the setup of a network, wireless LAN security intrusion techniques and how to mitigate those strategies and industry best practice.
Masterclass I - Create with Makeblock
Abdul Chohan is running this practical masterclass that provides delegates with an opportunity to get hands on with Makeblock. This is one of the many ways to get involved with coding in school and Abdul will be be helping delegates wrap their heads around how to use them as well as how to leverage them as a genuine part of their pedagogy, linked to the curriculum.
Where will I be?
Each of the sessions is intriguing for various reasons, however, I feel that the youth well-being masterclass with Professor Burns (Masterclass D - Digitally Young and Well) is of particular importance given some of the disturbing statistics that have been coming out in recent years, with these statistics seemingly getting worse. I will be live-tweeting that masterclass and will provide a storify of the event as well. This is an area which, as a teacher, I feel woefully ill-equipped to deal with and make a meaningful difference to students suffering from mental health problems.
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
– Attributed to Viggo Mortensen
Welcome back to Term Four, the downhill run of the school year and what I am discovering on Stage Three is an incredibly busy time. I have not written an article for some time for a huge variety of reasons. The primary reason, of course, being my amazing now eight-week-old daughter. She arrived on August 25, at the end of week six of term three. The timing could not have been better. I took four weeks off which lead into the two weeks of school holidays and thus was able to spend the first six weeks of my daughter’s life being there. I became incredibly used to spending time on the couch at four in the morning with her sleeping soundly on my chest after an hour of crying, or having had a feed but not wanting to go back to sleep.
I will be honest. I did not want to return to school for term four.
It has not, as any parent can attest to, been easy. It has been very tough at various points and Mrs C21 and I have battled through the lack of sleep, the incessant worrying, the fear that we had done something when she was diagnosed with developmental hip displaysia, the frustration and resentment and anger when we could not settle her down after two hours of hysterical crying and the worry about returning to work and not being able to support Mrs C21 and Youngling as I return to work full-time (my job share partner has gone off on maternity leave herself!). There have, truth be told, been times where I have wanted to put my daughter down and walk away. You can only take hysterical crying at two in the morning for so long before it gets under your skin and you are crying yourself with a mixture of each of the neutral and negative emotions. But as a team, Mrs C21 and I got through it. She is a rock, though she does not see it, and is far stronger than she gives herself credit for.
It has been a stressful return to school and there are so many interruptions to the week it is amazing anything is achieved and I am finding that to be incredibly stressful. I took some maths diagnostic tests home to mark on the weekend, something I could do while Audrey slept in the ring sling on my chest so that Mrs C21 could go out and have some time out from being a mother. I got my marking completed, but it took the whole day. Mrs C21’s mobile phone stopped working last week, so a new one was in order. She asked if I wanted to go out with her (I had literally not left the house since arriving home on Friday at this point) and I responded with I need to get x and y done, sorry.
It was a powerful moment for me.
My wife wanted to go out and spend some time with me, something we are finding difficult to do now that school has returned, on a Sunday afternoon and I said no. There was a moment of disappointment and hurt and I realised that I was falling into the trap of burying myself in work, in I need to get x done. I felt horrible for being the cause of that and realised that I was falling into the trap of just burying myself in work. As a teenager, I had a friend with a father who did that and it destroyed the marriage and his relationship with the children. I do not want to be that kind of father.
I was two minds while I was on paternity leave. One part of me was excited by the prospect of the time off and the thought of how much I would be able to achieve vis-a-vis planning, programming and developing of resources. Another part of me wanted to completely disconnect with work and just focus on my daughter and my wife. In the end, I got nothing done for school until the second week of the school holidays. Part of me resents teaching for taking away even that small part of the precious time with Youngling. Part of me wants to resent Youngling for taking away from what could have been such a productive time.
As teachers, we often put our students before everything else. I know that my personality is the type that will do that without even realising. However, family comes first. Specifically, my family comes first; before my students and before anything else to do with school.
I do not know how often I will be posting now, certainly not every day as I was doing. I do have some other, positive news to share and a range of other things I wish to write about. However, my priorities have shifted slightly and I need to rebalance myself accordingly.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
― Attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien
There is something to be said for the positive impact that sharing a meal with colleagues in a non-work context has upon your mental state, your happiness, and your stress levels. Term one was eleven weeks long, and by week eight, I was feeling mentally and physically drained. My goal at the start of the year to maintain a healthier balance between work and home life was not going particularly well, and I felt like I was not achieving enough in the classroom.
I and a few other colleagues are what you might term early birds in regards to when we arrive at school to begin our preparation. I am typically in my room at 0600 and the others not long afterwards. Wanting to actually spend some time having social conversations with them as opposed to purely educator conversations, I suggested that we all meet for breakfast one morning at a cafe which is a comfortable five-minute stroll away from school in the last week of the term. There was immediate acceptance and “oh, what a great idea!”
We met up at 0615 on the Wednesday of week eleven for breakfast, and I cannot overstate how enjoyable it was. The food was great and very well priced, and the company was excellent. I learned more about my colleagues over the course of the meal than I have in the last twelve months. We banned any shop-talk and after enjoying our breakfast, enjoyed a very casual stroll back to school in the beautifully warm sunshine, enjoying a nice relaxing and fun start to the day. For me, that short meal changed my mental state. Whereas I had arrived at school that morning a tired and frustrated teacher looking forward to the end of the term, I arrived back in my room an hour later feeling refreshed, invigorated and excited for the day.
As educators, we underestimate the importance of taking time out to socialise with each other, and get to know our colleagues without the pressures of listening for the bell to the get to class or playground duty, without the hustle and bustle of students knocking on the staffroom door, or the phone ringing, or trying to contact parents, or complete the never-ending marking.
We are looking to get together for breakfast again in week five of this term, before the insanity that is report writing begins, and I am already looking forward to it. If you have not shared a meal with colleagues, make the suggestion that you all meet up for breakfast, or go out for dinner together. When I was on internship, the Stage Three teachers banked all of their release time for a week into one day and took the day as a collaborative planning day. It was incredibly productive, collegial and relaxed. Share a meal and enjoy getting to know your colleagues. It is good for your mental health and you might just have fun.
“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Attributed to Michael Jordan
Recently I have been writing about the struggles, the frustration and the challenges that I have encountered to this point in the school year. Yesterday, however, I wrote, very briefly, that something had changed, and that I was feeling much more positively about things. I was unable to expand on what I felt that was as I had to go to a referee fitness test in Newcastle. The good news on that front is that I hit the goal I had set for myself for the test in order to be eligible to be appointed to a particular level of match during the season.
I made the decision on Sunday, after having a stress attack, that I would go to bed, get up early and get started with a clear mind. Accordingly, I was in my classroom at 0600, and I found it to be an incredibly productive two and a half hours until the bell rang for the start of class. I began that day with a better idea of what I needed to achieve in my teaching, which meant that my teaching was clearer and more concise, with less waffle.
I made the decision to be at school nice and early, again, for Tuesday morning, and began teaching on Tuesday with a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, how I would achieve it and what I could afford to drop if there were time constraints or unexpected interruptions.
Today, I was again in my room at 0600 preparing for the day ahead I feel like I have turned a corner. The key, rather obviously, is my planning. I have a very clear idea of what I want to get done today, what I can afford to drop if there are time issues, and what the learning goal is for each session., and it is showing, both in my teaching and in the way the students are behaving and engaging with the tasks they have been asked to complete.
Last year, as I mentioned in a previous article, I was tasked with teaching digital literacy skills; skills that I could utilise standing on my head whilst asleep. Having been thinking about it, I believe that I allowed some bad habits to creep into my planning. Whilst I had a program that I had put together, I was rarely looking at it, making decisions about next learning steps based upon what I felt made sense from where the cohort was, how they had coped with learning a particular skill or piece of knowledge, and what fitted around the multitude of interruptions that we were experiencing in the school.
This is not the way to teach. I was utilising the seven-step planning process (that is, planning what you would be doing in the seven steps before you reach the class door) more regularly then I care to admit, and I allowed those poor habits to carry over to this year, in conjunction with struggling to wrap my head around all of the extra responsibilities and tasks that go hand-in-hand with having a class.
A colleague who habitually arrives at school early each day commented to me this morning that they had noticed I had been in early the last few mornings, and when I replied with how productive I had been finding it, they gave me a knowing grin, and replied that when there is no one else here, there is no onto distract you but yourself, and that having a clear plan can create incredibly productive mornings.
The key, I believe, is that my planning has been more focused. Rather than focusing on what I want to achieve, I am also allowing myself to consider how I will achieve that, how I will check for understanding, what aspects I can afford to drop if we run out of time, or there are interruptions and also what resources I need to achieve the goal.
Today was, for the year so far, the most productive day that I believe I and my students have had, and that was with losing essentially the whole middle session to scripture. Tomorrow is my day off, however, I will be back in here at 0600 tomorrow morning as it is school photo day and if I need to be in here (I do not, of course, but I want to be here for my first school photos with a class of my own), then I may as well make it a productive day.
As always, thank you for reading, and I hope that your day has been as productive and left you with the same sense of achievement as mine has.