No Hugs & Kisses

Guest blogger Russell Brown presents his leaving speech for you all to enjoy.  What a fantastic career and a wonderful man – we will miss you so much (but I suspect we’ll also see you in school soon!).

How many end of year leaving day speeches have you had to sit through? Now it’s my turn and there isn’t going to be one! So let’s blog it! Quite good really as you don’t have to laugh in the right places, you don’t even have to read it and certainly no hugs and kisses at the end.

I have worked in 8 schools in 4 countries, the last 26 years in Southampton and probably about 20 years at Regents Park.

I say about 20 as I started as a supply teacher, so no real starting point, and ended up as part of the leadership team. That’s not because I’m ambitious, but because I wasn’t very good at saying no. As part of the LT team I now know that “Why don’t you go for that job, you’d be good at it” means “we have a vacancy and you could fill it”.  I started at Regents Park covering science and German.  I have been curriculum leader for languages, then second for business and enterprise when we were a specialist business and humanities school. I then became a progress leader for KS4, Sam, who wasn’t our head then, said “I’d be good at that job” – you know what she meant – and that led to a data role and I guess the person who does the data gets to be part of the leadership team.

So what have I achieved? I did design an assessment scheme after KS3 levels were abolished and it seemed to work really well at the time, but one thing I have learned is that nothing lasts for ever in education. I have heard it said that ideologies and methods move in circles, but I think it is more finding out what works well in the circumstances you find yourself in.  I don’t think teaching is about achieving anyway, it’s guiding young people and helping them develop. Most of the results a teacher will never know about. Maybe an idea or thought is planted that comes to fruition years later.   Hopefully I have helped some people, not just the young people I have taught, but also the staff I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside.

A blog I read on this site claims that teaching can be a lonely job. I get the bit that you can sometimes be the only adult in a room, but I ‘ve never found it lonely. On the contrary it is being part of teams that I will miss. Sometimes that team is me and a class trying to make progress or be successful in an exam, my department team, my leadership team and the whole school team. Perhaps those colleagues who coerced me into different roles were being better team players than I gave them credit for. Although I ended up teaching more business studies I will always say I am a language teacher, I wish Emma and the MFL team all the best. The team that I felt closest too was the B&E team, but that team went its separate ways years ago.   The hard bit for me will no longer being a part of any team RPCC.

Thanks for the memories

No Hugs and Kisses.

The one you feed…

Wolves

I was recently recommended a podcast (‘The One You Feed’) and it’s got me thinking…

There is a parable and it’s about a grandfather walking with his grandson.  The grandfather tells the boy about the two wolves that live inside us all and they are always in battle with each other.  One wolf represents kindness, bravery and love and the other wolf represents greed, hatred and fear.  The boy asks; “which one wins?” and the grandfather replies; “the one you feed” …

In the days since I’ve found myself able to apply its meaning to my approach to work and life.  It is now easier than ever to focus on the fear of uncertainty and without familiar friendly faces, colleagues and friends around us, easier than ever to sustain the wolf who feeds on negativity and fear.

I can recall countless days leaving work and dwelling on the negative thing that happened that day frowning and white-knuckle-gripping the steering wheel whilst replaying alternative reactions or decisions that could have changed outcomes and thus completely ignoring the many amazing things, however small, that happened that same day which left the kind brave wolf starving hungry!

How many times have you arrived home and been asked how your day was and provided an automatic negative response simply because you are physically tired?  Greedy negative wolf wins again and before you know it he’s getting massive and taking up all the room!

Everybody manages their wolves differently, of course. What works for some would simply be an additional point of stress for others.  I recently tried writing three positive affirmations at the end of each day but then only got stressed that I’d forgotten a couple of days which kind of defeats the object!  So I need a new plan and I am determined to starve the angry wolf!

The reality of our jobs is that it’s really hard!  Physically and mentally we are challenged all day each day.  I always tell baby teachers in training that what makes our job amazing is the same as what makes it exhausting and frustrating!  The highs are really high and lows can be very low if you are not kind to yourself.

However, we are surrounded by bravery each day at work: brave teachers facing a dreaded class again after a gruelling lesson yesterday – brave students coping with adult worries – brave parents asking for help.  We are also surrounded by kindness: we all look to help each other because we really care and because if we didn’t all care we couldn’t do this job.  And love – you might not like to admit it but you love teaching because it’s amazing, fascinating, funny and clever!

We should all go to and leave work each day and celebrate by feeding the under-fed brave wolf – we should focus on all that is good and with kindness consider how we will help each other – the big bad wolf can be managed but only if we don’t give him any snacks!

The girl in the short skirt…

The teacher I most remember from school is my French teacher.  He was absolutely terrifying.   His curriculum domain was right at the top of the school…a realm occupied by a triumvirate of the oldest most fearsome teachers we had.  We would never go there unless it was for a lesson or a dare…we were never invited.

Mr Harris stood at the top of the stairs at the start of each lesson and enforced silence – not with shouting, cajoling or insisting…just by looking…right at you…right in the eyes until your chatter froze in your mouth and his will was imposed.  We knew this and expected this – I don’t think he ever took a day off.

I had French on Friday afternoons – a double.  The dreaded climactic part of the week.  On Friday lunchtimes Mr Harris and his teacher-friends left in a Ford Sierra to go to the pub…for lunch.  Imagine (this was the 80s though!). We would watch him drive past willing him to forget about Period 5 & 6 and stay in the pub all day – but he always came back.

Like many of my friends I endured two torturous years of train-track braces starting when I was 14 and while the orthodontic appointments were painful and long, they were made sweeter if I could get my Mum to book them on Friday afternoons!

Mr Harris’ classroom was oppressively small and quite dark made all the more claustrophobic by the haunting piles of books from students-past stacked against every wall and weighing heavily on every shelf.  There was always a pungent stench of coffee because he swigged from an array of filthy coffee mugs littered on his desk. We sat at single desks and did not speak to each other at all.  I sat in the same seat in that classroom for 4 years.

The learning started immediately and he never spoke in English – it was an adrenaline-fueled experience during which no one dared to lose concentration.  An incorrect response was poorly received and he used nicknames that he had invented for us…never our names.

On the day I collected my GCSE results I saw Mr Harris first as I edged in to the school hall and even with the passing of time and the relative freedom of leaving school the impact on seeing him again was the same, but he smiled right at me.  That GCSE grade is still 1. The most surprising of the bunch and 2.the one I am proudest of.

I don’t think that fear should be a factor in any classroom and we were scared of Mr Harris but no one knew why.  There were rumours that he’d dangled someone’s brother by the ankles out of his classroom window which was on the fourth floor and rumours that he’d made a notorious boy actually cry in front of the class…but we never saw any of this.  Looking back, I remember the times he afforded us some praise and it was always a glorious moment in time – addictive, really.  It was something we all wanted and when we got it it could sustain you for the whole day!

I’ve been teaching secondary school students for a long time now and as I’ve developed in this profession my students will often comment that I can be ‘scary’.  I tell them ‘that’s just my face’ and I suspect it is!  After all, when my amazing Mentor taught me the old adage ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ I’m afraid I definitely ignored her believing (at 23 years old) that I could control teenagers in my classroom with humour and chat!  Latterly I realise that an aging face helps convince some students that you mean business even though you may only be looking in their direction!  I don’t want students in my class to feel fear and it amuses me that what they believe to be a fierce teacher now is nothing compared to school in the 1980s!

I’ve recently been looking at the feedback I give my students – easy to do at the moment as we area all working remotely and on-line.  It struck me that my comments in feedback are littered with the pronoun ‘we’.  I hadn’t really considered this before but it seems I consistently use this pronoun to demonstrate my support and to let each of them know that we are in this together and that they can rely on me and it’s a small thing but, every comment contains a name so that they know that I know them and that I am encouraging them.

Should teachers be scary – no.  But it’s hard graft to develop an ethos in your classroom where the students know you have high expectations and it’s harder still to prove to them that you work hard for them so they should do the same and that ultimately we know best!

So, to all you baby teachers out there: until your face gets old you may need to develop a laser-eye-look-of-steel and stand your ground!

Is silence really golden..?

Since schools closed and my working world got much quieter I consider one of the greatest pleasures in my new routine is to listen to music all day.  Although it is a distraction for me…there’s the song-shuffle…the memory-jolts…the inclination to do a little desk-dance! All of this is a head-turn away from work and in to the world of daydreams and reminiscing – so I have been considering the disadvantages of listening to music whilst trying to concentrate on work and this is what I have learned…

“I live my daydreams in music…” Albert Einstein

In a recent T&L Briefing I was extoling the virtues of Ross McGill’s sound-bite examples of verbal feedback (they are very interesting listening indeed) and in the background I can hear the music that he is playing in his classroom.  It’s just about audible above the productive and busy learning atmosphere that you can hear and the students discussing their work with their teacher – it’s idyllic and exactly the learning environment you’d hope to achieve each day!

But does listening to music hinder learning?

Our school has a no-headphones policy (for all the sensible reasons you would expect) and our students are not permitted to zone-out and listen to their own music in school and they are often not very happy about this!  The beneficial reasons for bending this rule that our students usually offer up include:

  • it helps me to concentrate
  • I do more work
  • it stops me from chatting
  • I don’t get distracted

And of course we say:

  • it’s a health and safety issue
  • you need to be able to hear my instructions
  • you are learning new and complex information
  • you should not be using your phone in school

I know that Ross McGill is a DT teacher and so I have bothered our Creative Arts team with questions about music in their classrooms and this is what I learned:  they’re all at it! I have often slid in to the back of a Creative Arts classroom and the atmosphere is always amazing…there is a sense of purposeful calm.  Our students are at their most creative and therefore more forthcoming in their desire to share and discuss their works in progress…and in the backdrop there is very often some carefully selected music.  Now, we’re not talking Katy Perry sing-along-pop or the heavy vibrations of some Drum and Bass variety but instead some soothing background Jazz.  Even our headteacher gets the tunes out when she’s in her classroom!

But what does the research say?

A study conducted at Cardiff Metropolitan University found:

  • Students who revised in quiet environments performed more than 60% better in an exam than their peers who revised while listening to music that had lyrics
  • Students who revised while listening to music without lyrics did better than those who had revised to music with lyrics
  • It made no difference if students revised while listening to songs they liked or disliked – both led to a reduction in their test performance
  • Students who revised in silence accurately predicted that they would achieve better results in subsequent tests.

“Music comes to me more readily than words” Ludwig Van Beethoven  

I am an advocate for listening to music in most situations because it can lift a mood and it can motivate and it can inspire but it does make sense to me that listening to music does not help people learn new skills (unless the skill is to learn the Beyoncé moves to ‘Single Ladies’..!) and this is confirmed by a series of studies linked to the ‘Mozart Effect’ which found that students performed better in a series of cognitive tests if they listened to 10 minutes of Mozart. However, further research found that really the only benefit was listening to music before a task because it can lift mood and spirits but listening to it whilst trying to learn something new does not help at all.  This is because music (especially music with lyrics or music that evokes a strong emotional reaction either happy or sad) takes up processing space in the brain and therefore creates a conflict with the new information that a student is trying to learn.

“Nobody seems to worry about the kids listening to thousands of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss…” Nick Hornby   

So what does this mean for the classroom?

It’s time to get the Jazz out!  Immersing students in an atmosphere that promotes quiet talk in a volume lower than the music playing will not only promote productivity it will improve their mood and enhance their cultural capital – win win!

N.B.  Have I been listening to music whilst writing this blog…of course not! Do you know what happens to English teachers if they make even one tiny spelling error! I’ve been concentrating whilst Spotify’s Top 90s playlist waits moodily in the corner for me to finish!

Introvert teachers in an extrovert world…

Empty vessels make the loudest sound – Plato.

I think I am in the wrong job!

I have wanted to be a teacher since I was 11 years old and before that I wanted to be an ice-cream lady and drive around in my ice-cream van (actually, I still think that’s a pretty good back-up plan). Standing up and talking to lots of people (adults) didn’t seem like a thing I would need to do as a teacher so the fact that I was often silent with shyness at school wasn’t going to stop me. At college and university my courses required me to listen (I have got better at this with age) and take notes and absorb clever things – they did not require me to say my opinions out loud, battle to be heard in a room full of people and they thankfully didn’t require me to stand up in front of crowds and ‘perform’ – so I didn’t. I was very quiet. I had no problem spending time on my own. I liked peace and quiet. And I am the same now.

Yet – I love to teach. I love everything about it. I recall my training as if it was yesterday (it wasn’t – it was 21 years ago…) and the absolute certainty I felt about wanting to teach from the moment I was let loose on ‘small group work’ in my mentor’s Year 10 class. From that point on I have worked to fight what comes naturally to me and challenge myself to say yes to speaking in assembly…yes to leading parent forums…yes…yes…yes to all the big brave performing that is so often required of teachers. And what’s so strange is that people in the ‘outside world’ don’t know that there is a cavernous difference between teaching in your classroom to an audience of 30 students versus speaking in your school hall to an audience of 100 of your colleagues! It’s utterly terrifying! Why is this?

I have recently read ‘A Quiet Education’ by Jamie Thom – an insightful and completely brilliant book that seeks to shine light on the introverts amongst us. I was interested to learn a new word (always!): Maskenfreiheit which is the German word for the idea that courage comes when you wear a mask and it makes real sense to me. The mask that introvert teachers wear to enable them to perform all day long is invisible – you would never know (hopefully) that trembling is happening when a teacher stands up on inset day and speaks for an hour. But the exhaustion that that naturally introverted teacher feels in the after-math of relief and sheer elation that the experience is over…for now, is both torturous and rewarding. Is it the adrenaline – the ambition – the professional pride that forces introvert teachers to abandon their natural state and put themselves firmly in the lime-light – I would say it’s all of those things (and a stubborn steak a mile deep!) but the price we pay is high. I recently heard a speaker describe teachers as the original ‘lone workers’. Funny when the perception is that we spend all day surrounded by hundreds of teenagers and many colleagues – but actually we are a lonesome bunch. It is possible to spend an entire school day in your own classroom not exchanging a word with another adult and then spend a couple of hours in your room after school’s finished alone doing your teacher-things and then home to mark books which is another solitary activity…

Jamie Thom is honest in his reflection that introverts may be challenging company – especially introvert teachers who come home exhausted from wearing their teacher-mask all day and want nothing more than to just be silent…and sit…and not say things…bliss!

Ours is an extrovert world – we revere the qualities of extroverts and measure success by its demonstration. We are able to communicate with people 24-7 and there is an embedded sense that if you are not doing that, you are somehow missing out: go home – go ‘on’ Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp groups – when does the mask come off for the introverts who just want to stop..? What part of the day is reserved for them to just be…

But how many teacher-introverts are we talking – maybe it’s just me who battles a natural quiet state when I go to work? Not so. My colleagues leapt at the chance to try the Myer-Briggs Personality Type test (we can argue the quality/validity/reliability of this test later – there has to be a starting point!) and the results were surprising. Naming no names (I have promised I won’t write about them!) the majority of my colleagues are in the introvert category – surprised? The extroverts are far fewer in number and not always the people I would have pegged – so there is some amazing Maskenfreiheit going on!

‘A fool is known by his speech; and a wise man by silence’ Pythagoras

I feel relieved – I am in the right place but what will this change for me? Nothing. When I go to meetings and listen to people who just like to say things because they like people to look at them/listen to them I will continue not to feel pressure to speak inanely for the sake of sharing the attention. When I stand up to speak to my colleagues I will remember that I have thought hard about (and probably practised) what I am going to say and believe it to be of some value. And when I go in to my classroom I will continue to be the cartoonish version of myself that seeks to perform to engage my students and show them that having a voice is very important…even if that voice goes away after a long day to rest for the next.

‘The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear’ Rumi

Guest Blogger! K O’Brien: Boys Don’t Try? In-house Research @ RPCC

‘Make sure you include some gruesome content for boys’ is a phrase I have heard a lot over my teaching career, coupled with ‘make it a competition so that the boys will do some writing’. As a young teacher I adhered to this stereotype but did it really work? National statistics show that overall girls perform better than boys at SATs level and GCSE. The gap is narrower in post 16 education but research suggests that is because of course choice (which has its own gender bias) and maturity. So, what can we do to close the gap? How can we understand boys’ behaviour at a deeper level? A delve into the psyche of boys and education could give us a starting point.

With an increasing number of boys at our school and increasing challenging behaviour, it was clear that as teachers, we needed to investigate how boys really do learn and how our teaching has an impact on their progress and school life. The starting point was Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts’ book ‘Boys don’t try?’. This book, supported by research from around the world, investigates the various stereotypes and experiences of boys in education, starting from early years to secondary school. There is a focus on behaviour and the impact it has on learning but also how stereotypes play a major role in boys’ educational outlook.

The initial findings from the book were:

  • Boys do not mind which gender teaches them but prefer to talk to their own gender when discussing problems.
  • Boys feel that they are conditioned to be violent
  • Boys like ‘thinking time’ on behaviour
  • Prefer to be praised quietly.

It would have been easy for me to implement all of the strategies that the book offers and presume that our boys feel the same way about education as the research studies in the book, this was definitely not the case. I needed to action some raw data specifically from the boys that we teach at RPCC.  Of course, the boys at RPCC would not agree with this research as I quickly found out from across the year groups.

Initially I started with a sample of high profile boys from key stage 3 and gathered their views. All of the boys questioned agreed that they did not mind what gender teachers them but over half disagreed that they preferred their own gender to discuss their problems with. This is favourable to our environment because we have more female teachers.

The majority of boys from both year groups agreed that they like ‘thinking time’ as it gave them a chance to evaluate their behaviour and try to rectify it. They were adamant that their ‘best’ lessons were with teachers that had clear and calm approach to consequences. An interesting find was that only 30% of year 7 boys agreed with quiet praise. It was clear that the high profile boys liked everybody to know or hear their achievements which could indicate that they wanted the positive acknowledgement to rectify unwanted behaviours or use a tool to improve behaviour.

The most interesting data was the violence aspect. 80% of boys from both year groups agreed that they were conditioned to be violent. ‘You have to show you’re not a wimp’ ‘It’s for protection’ were some of the justifications for acting in a violent way. This was not surprising information. However, the most insightful and astonishing comments came from the boys who disagreed with the statement. ‘I am not strong enough to get involved’.  I can honestly say that this was one of the very few times in my teaching career that I have been speechless! It suddenly opened up a whole new rationale of how some boys at RPCC were seeing themselves and how stereotypes were still very apparent.

With this data, discussions with teachers, the ever challenging behaviour especially from key stage three boys and a whole school focus, I wanted to implement positive changes. The first action was setting up a boys mentor group. I choose 15 boys from year 10 that were approachable, capable of taking part in discussions and responsible enough to take it seriously. These boys were not necessarily ‘perfect’ but they had the knowledge to mentor and direct positive behaviours. The key stage three boys were chosen based on effort in classes and their risk of becoming high profile. These boys met once a week during tutor time to take part in various activities and discuss the weekly positive reports the key stage three boys had. These reports tracked their achievement and behaviour points with discussions on the reasons for an increase/decrease.

I then turned my attention to staff. It was evident from the staff survey from the start of the academic year that as a whole we agreed that boys were as capable as girls but believed boys were their own worst enemy in education that often lacked motivation. The data also shows from this survey that sexist language and toxic masculinity is apparent in the school and it was often a challenge to tackle it. From this I decided to collate a staff survey focusing on the curriculum content we teach students – do we add to that toxic masculinity? Do we break down stereotypes? From the surveys I received back we have a very balanced curriculum and most subjects have aspects of breaking down these stereotypes. So what did we need to do about the sexist language? The teachers involved in the working party are keeping a tally of the sexist comments they hear in their classrooms and we are collating strategic questions to ask those boys when it is heard. This is so we have a whole school approach to tackle it and the focus is on their justification rather than us shutting it down with ‘That will be not be tolerated’ or ‘You shouldn’t say those things’.

With all of this in mind, we are heading in the right direction. The data has been collected, a working group of targeted boys with mentors, staff analysis and curriculum content assessed. We are a very progressive and the willingness from staff to implement strategies and contribute to data has been staggering. The school closures have paused the research findings from the groups at school but I am still researching methods and strategies that would benefit us and the boys we teach.

I still very much want to take this research project further. Not only continuing the mentors but promote a profile of positive boys around the school – including running some tutor times, lunchtime activities and assemblies. So in all corners of education there are boys promoting the positive values in our ethos. I also want to study boys in primary school and how the transition process affects boys and research deeper into the pedagogy of how we can affect various types of boys – high achievers, boys with low self-esteem and issues surrounding mental health. Given the vast scope of boys in education, I wanted the first focus to have a specific and direct impact on our teaching environment with the opportunity to build further.

I will end with a quote from Dalai Lama, which in these uncertain time seems more applicable than ever ‘When educating the mind of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts’.

Mansplaining and Toxic Masculinity in schools…

I’m in a right mood with Dua Lipa!  There, I’ve said it.

I have been a secret fan of her Pop!  Admittedly these days from the safety of inside my house and my kitchen-dance floor…however, things have changed!  Dua Lipa is now marketing herself as a feminist and this is tricky for me to accept particularly in light of her latest tune: ‘Boys will be Boys’.

This is what I have learned…boys don't try

One of our T&L foci this year at RPCC is BOYS.  We’ve dedicated CPD time to exploring the strategies used to engage boys in our school and attended Matt Pinkett’s presentation of his book ‘Boys Don’t Try?’ which inspired long involved discussions.  We are an honest and transparent bunch and so when I asked everyone to complete an audit: Teacher Expectations – Engaging BOYS at RPCC I am confident that the results are accurate and reliable:

I draw your attention to slide 3 which, for this purpose, is the most pertinent of the 8 statements I put to our teachers.  I think the interest piqued for this result more than any other because as a group of teachers we were trying to uncover whether any of us was inadvertently guilty of phrases that could be labeled Toxic.  Toxic Masculinity is defined in Pinkett’s book and so many of us have read it but what about real examples from within our school…how many of us had dropped this bomb and did we actually know what constitutes Toxic Masculinity?  I put these examples out for debate:

  1. Don’t be such a girl!
  2. Man up!
  3. That’s too girly for you!
  4. Grow a pair!Toxic 6
  5. Man Flu
  6. Mansplaining
  7. Don’t get your knickers in a twist
  8. Boys will be boys
  9. Be a man!

But how many of these are really up for discussion?  When listed as stand-alone exclamations there is little grey area – these are examples of Toxic phrases the we all agreed were not acceptable for use in our school (Results analysis/audit/CPD September 2019).  Why are they not acceptable?  Because we know that our job is to educate and stand as role models and that we must ideally model the behaviour of intelligent, tolerant and open-minded citizens. To put it plainly, we know that these antiquated utterances stigmatise and limit the emotions of boys and men!

Of course this discussion continued past our CPD session (as all good CPD discussions should!) and teachers were reporting a heightened sensitivity to Toxic phrases heard around school – this can only be a good thing!  Teachers at RPCC challenged students in their classrooms when they were heard using Toxic language ‘at’ each other and here’s the important thing:  teachers challenged boys and girls…  Our female students (who may or may not have been mimicking adult role-models) were just as guilty as the boys when throwing around damaging labels aimed at their male peers and always excused in the same way… ‘but I didn’t even swear Miss!’  I could argue that a Toxic use of language designed to disintegrate male egos and fuel insecurities is much more harmful than a quick swear!  Mrs. O’Brien launched a Working Party and its purpose: To conduct in-house research in to Toxic Masculinity.  Many of our teachers joined and they continue to explore not only the way that we teach boys at RPCC and the strategies which will afford the highest levels of progress (both pastorally and academically) but also the abolition of Toxic language in our setting.

In addition, I happened across some lessons imbedded in to the curriculums in our school which promote the safe discussion of Toxic Masculinity in society.  This is an example from Miss Donovan’s English class which unearthed some very interesting insight from her Year 9s:

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When schools closed I decided to send a video link of our usual T&L CPD Briefing via LOOM (a daunting and not completely un-embarrassing venture!) wherein I discussed the things I learned from John Tomsett’s amazing book: ‘This Much I Know About Love Over Fear’.  I was particularly inspired by his chapter on ‘Teaching Cheeky Lads’ which detailed some very sensible and respectful strategies for teaching boys. It was when I was preparing for this session that I happened across Dua Lipa’s song on the radio and it made my ears bleed!John Tomsett

Is Dua Lipa supposed to be a role model?  Does she have a social responsibility?  I think the answer is yes and yes  – with the trappings of fame and success I am afraid these are the burdens she must bare.  Dua Lipa claims to be a feminist now.  In an interview entitled:  “Dua discusses feminism and man-hating… “she claims ‘feminism to me is not man-hating, it’s just being like we deserve the same opportunities”  then she does lots of angry swearing about men before going on to explain that when she eats too much pasta she hates her body…blah blah blah.  It’s angry petulant nonsense given status because of her status.  It is completely irresponsible.

The title of the song I am referring to is ‘Boys will Be Boys’ – you’ll notice the immediate link with number 7 on my list above!  This is an idiomatic expression used to say that we should not be shocked or surprised when we see boys/men behaving in violent or unacceptable ways – implying that this is the way that nature programmed males to be.  Thank you Dua Lipa – this is hugely unhelpful.

Dua Lipa’s lyrics go:Dua

“Boys will be, boys will be boys

But girls will be women…”

Some will argue that Dua Lipa’s lyrics are her feminist objection to the idiomatic expression – I’m afraid I am affording her no such excuse after all, how many school children will understand the difference between using this Toxic phrase ironically or as an insult designed to patronise and demoralise?

It’s impossible not to find this song insulting, in my opinion.  The lyrics suggest that men will forever be immature and that girls will transition from immaturity to maturity (women).  This is a damaging message for young women who look to examples of feminists in society and it is an obvious insult to boys/men.  Dua Lipa claims that she intended this song to be ‘a conversation starter and an eye-opener’…I’m afraid it is an eye opener, but perhaps not in the way that she had hoped – this irresponsible Toxic language stunts our progress and damages young minds and her proclamation that ‘her intentions weren’t to offend anyone’ are frankly unbelievable as she croons “if you’re offended by this song you’re clearly doing something wrong…”.  This conversation (she refers to) had already started and all this song achieves is throwing us back in to the dark by linking males to all that is violent and anti-social.

‘A feminist is an advocate and supporter of the rights and equality of women’.  We don’t need to say bad things about boys/men and we certainly don’t need to be heralding this Pop song as a feminist anthem!

Guest Blogger! K Griffiths: Curiosity and Coronavirus

So, week one of Coronavirus shutdown arrives.  I go about setting work on Google classroom for all my classes. Check.  Reply to emails.  Check.  Eat lunch (important).  Check.  Finish a project that I had been working on.  Check.  And… now what?

As I look ahead at the vast expanse of the week ahead, I feel lost.  My norm is staring at my page long ‘To Do’ list and clamour for time so that I can start ticking things off this list.  And yet, now I have all the time… and very little to fill it.  So, I think to myself, how can I make this time valuable?  The lightbulb goes on – I can finally catch up with all the TES magazines that I never have time to read.

So, I start reading a relatively recent edition (you don’t want to know how big the backlog pile is) and am instantly intrigued by the editorial by Ed Dorrell.  He talks about how during the cholera pandemic in 1854, it was down to curiosity by John Snow (the physician, not of Game of Thrones) that breakthroughs were made in tracing the outbreak of the deadly disease.  If he had not been curious, thousands more would certainly have died.  He revolutionised the field of epidemiology (which we must be grateful for now, more so than ever what with COVID-19 spreading so quickly) because of curiosity.  And when I reflect on my own subject, where would science be without curiosity?  Nowhere.  We rely on curiosity for all advancements and progress.  It will be our students today that we are relying on to become the next John Snows (again, the physician).  Further, I reflect – do I think that all of my students have the curiosity and resilience to achieve this?  Hmm, perhaps.  I scoot along to the research article written by Chris Parr.

At first, I find myself despairing as I read that researchers and psychologists struggle to even agree on a definition of curiosity.  Definitions such as that from dictionary.com citing curiosity as ‘the desire to learn or know about anything’ don’t cover the scope required in education.  It doesn’t encompass how this can be measured or impacted.  If we can’t even say what it is, how can we foster and nurture it?  I falter even more when I read that research suggests that a child’s ‘trait curiosity’ (natural inquisitiveness) may already be heavily influenced by the age of 4 – long before they arrive to me.

However, some things provide me with food for thought.  Here are my 3 nuggets:

1.Information-gap theory

Curiosity often stems from wanting to resolve a gap in our knowledge – which surely works out great for us as we are constantly showing students the gaps in their knowledge, right?  Wrong.  Whilst some students may be exhilarated and leap at the chance to fill in that gap, others will not – the gap is too daunting.  Students prefer different size gaps, with different levels of scaffolding provided in order to cross that gap.  For some, if the gap is too large or too little support provided, they become anxious and switch off.  What’s more, the article reminds us that a student will not be curious about all things – someone who delves into a new concept in science may do the opposite in history.

2.The unintended impact we have

Parr cites research from Engel who says that a common mistake by teachers is to expect all students to become curious about the same things.  It just won’t happen, but if we can help breed curiosity within each student about a few things then we are on the right lines.  However, we must also reflect as educators whether teaching practise naturally smothers curiosity.  If a child shows evidence of curious behaviour, do we tell them to stop and sit down?  Possibly regularly.

3.Curiosity fostering

So what can we do?  We want to build an atmosphere where it is encouraged to ask questions and that actually it can be really enjoyable and rewarding to find out new things.  We are warned by Jamie Jirout to avoid a “short-lived spark of curiosity”, but to have this built in as more of an attitude in our classrooms.  Teachers need to consider who may need some scaffolding for crossing the gap (not giving information/answers, but support for how to get there).  We as teachers need to model curiosity for the students and show them that we enjoy finding out about new things.

Offering students regular opportunities to investigate, experiment and ask questions about multifaceted or mystifying concepts is a good start point for fostering curiosity but we await further research to give us more useful implications for teaching.  I found the image below on Twitter (thank you @MrCleator) which turned the science curriculum into a series of questions instead of knowledge statements, which I think could be a brilliant resource to encourage curiosity.

We just need to make sure that we help the students ‘mind the gap’.

Curiosity

Stop Talking About Wellbeing

I suppose it’s an odd time for this post but I had started…so I’ll finish!wellbeing

Like so many other wonderful plans our recent Professional Development Day was cancelled and as yet not re-scheduled.  The right and sensible thing to do was to stop and re-group to make plans for the situation we all find ourselves in now – working from home and getting through this.

But…

We had great plans!  The amazing staff at RPCC had written CPD sessions, organised resources…purchased more than 90 Cadbury’s Cream Eggs! There were interactive sessions…there were wellbeing goody-bags…there was to be massages and a quiz and dog walking!

I have since been considering the presentation I was to deliver on this day and am convinced that most of it still applies now, even in this new working normal.  So, this is what I know…

Kat Howard’s book ‘Stop Talking About Wellbeing’ was a revelation to me – not only because I am a big fan of the slightly satirical and ambiguous title but also because even from my once-cynical standpoint I am completely engaged by her straightforward and very sensible approach to this ever-popular and important subject.

“Wellbeing is fulfilling our why, our purpose and of being in a workplace that allows us to build productive relationships that make us feel we have accomplished a balance between satisfying all of our life roles.”

Although we are now facing unprecedented times in Education what I have learned is that the teaching community offers support and reassurance and familiarity even in this strangeness.  My plan was to talk to the staff of RPCC about the value of each other…this still applies of course.  Although we can’t see each other we are in contact remotely and strangely the remoteness has brought a newly defined camaraderie as we seek to take care of each other and our students from behind screens and phones.

A manifesto? Everything else is superfluous

Kat Howard suggests a sensible manifesto and I like it!

  1. I don’t send emails late at night because I don’t want to read them
  2. I resolve conflict by the end of the day so that I can go home (*continue to stay home!) in peace
  3. I don’t write long to-do lists because they make me feel inadequate
  4. I invest in my professional self – I want to feel like I’m becoming better
  5. I don’t accept that my purpose should be compromised.

This manifesto can still be applied to the lives we are leading right now we just need to realign our approach and we are proving that this is a thing we can do each day …our teacher planning is re-defined, our marking and feedback, moderating and pastoral support are all newly defined now and we are doing it!  The new danger is that we forget about ourselves.  I am (irritatingly) optimistic but I see the opportunity here for us to prioritise the importance of a manifesto for our new normal – 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 still count!  You just have to do them whilst wearing slippers!  Ask yourself – what will you do to take care of your own wellbeing today?  Now, make a commitment each day at a time.  (I am using daily post-it notes because…teachers love post-it notes more than any other human beings and why change this now!)

The unique characteristics of working in Education are also unchanged by this enforced way of life.  Kat Howard reminds us of the pertinent research that explores our particular community of workers:

  1. The complexity of working in a school has a psychological impact that is underestimated and misunderstood (even by those in school-based roles)
  2. Working in a school receives lower prestige than ever (in society) – only WE regard our work highly because only WE know the incredible hard work that goes in to our jobs…

I would suggest the validity of number two has altered in the last few weeks.  We know that it is valued that teachers are going in to school to care for children of ‘essential workers’ and we know that parents value our efforts in conquering the steep learning curve that is remote-teaching/marking/guidance/support and we know that our students are gratefully gobbling up the work that we are providing for them to do at home.  So perhaps as a result of this very difficult period there could be a realignment in our ‘societies’ that will re-evaluate the importance of education and seek to appreciate more the people that work in Education.

We want to feel a sense of belonging but…”our own contentment can only be defined by us (Freya O’Dell)

Nigel Marsh presents a powerful case for taking responsibility for your own wellbeing in his TED Talk.  What I take from his insight is the following ‘guidance’:

  1. Have an honest debate about your wellbeing with those that you know and love
  2. Design your life
  3. Build realistic time frames for your day
  4. Be balanced in the following four areas:

Emotional

Physical

Intellectual

Spiritual

What was startling as an observation was when I asked RPCC staff to plan their time away from work with the same due diligence that they planned their lessons and time in work-mode many could not do it! There is a lesson here that we could take some time now to re-think the way that we organise our lives and the structure of your new working day – this is going to be vital now more than ever.

I am newly interested in looking at the ways that wellbeing is being discussed in educational establishments around the world and this data throws up some interesting insight:

Happiness

(The top 20 HAPPIEST countries)

The release of the 2019 World Happiness Report confirms that Nordic countries are in the top five happiest nations and this data concludes that happiness may NOT be linked to even distribution of wealth…Not be linked to seasons…Not be linked to limited aspirations…BUT linked to effective work/life balance. Surely we don’t all have to apply for teaching posts in Finland – that would be silly! But we can take from this that there is room for discussion and some gentle change?

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us JR Tolkien

I did love a bit of Tolkien (or at least from my vague A Level memory I thought he was alright!) but I have to disagree with him on this front – we have to take time, claim it for our own and spend it in the bests ways possible. In this current situation when there is none of the usual clocking in/out we must define our days for ourselves and be mindful of the importance of doing this.

(See! Not a single cheesy Yoga reference in the whole wellbeing piece (not that there’s anything wrong with Yoga…I’m just jealous of the bendiness!) )

Take Care.

Guest Blogger! Ms T Ruberry: Supporting Independent Learning

Supporting independent learning in the classroom…

I have recently started to reflect upon and review how I get students to start a task and then support them with independent learning.  My usual method, up until now, has been to issue instructions, say ‘off you go’ and then charge into their midst (armed with a coloured pen) meanwhile shouting out helpful hints.  I will then single out a student to support which I will do using a loud voice in the hope that I will not only help that individual but all of the students in the class.

Having read Jamie Thom’s ‘ Slow Teaching’ I realise that I wasn’t helping the students work independently but actually hindering them by not allowing them take up time and ruining the quiet learning environment myself.

Now I have adopted a different approach.  I ensure that all instructions (and helpful hints) are issued at the beginning of the task one at a time.  I give students time to follow each of the instructions, ask questions, (leave any helpful hint on the board) and then stand to one side and watch to make sure each student starts work.  If a student needs support I work alongside them individually otherwise I give them time and space to begin the task.

Then I will ask each student (or pair) if they need support with any aspect of the task.  If they do I crouch down alongside then (or pull up a chair) and work quietly through the problem with them.

Following this approach, I have noticed students are now much more focused and used to working in silence.  Consequently, I am able to target more effectively those students who need support to start a task and then those who need help throughout the activity.

T Ruberry