Rediscovering Why

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Earlier this week, I got up at the unholy hour of 5am and drove through bright morning sunshine, driving wind and rain, and even snow, to attend the HLTA North conference in Stockton-on-Tees. I am not a morning person so this was a big ask but it was completely worth it because the conference was fantastic.

Facilitated by Dr Tom Robson of TREdu, the day was aimed at teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants from across the North of England, and was centred around reminding us of “the values that made us come into the world of education and to make sure they are firmly rooted so when the winds of politics blow we remain rooted in what we feel is important”. The focus of the day was very timely for me. I love my job. I care deeply about working with young people, making their educational experiences enjoyable, inspiring, relevant, and valuable. I am passionate about developing and supporting engaging, quality education. But, to be honest, over the last few months I have not enjoyed my job as I normally do. I’ve struggled to remain optimistic. I have become more and more tired. I’ve wrestled with an ever expanding work load. I’ve wondered what I’m doing; why I’m doing it; if it’s still where I want to be; and how I can develop professionally in a direction that is right for me.

This last one has been a particular sticking point: I do not want to become a teacher. I know that that role would not be right for me. Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself in a system which, from my experience so far, often undervalues support staff (albeit inadvertently) and seems to see progressing into a teaching role as the only option for professional development. This has left me feeling a little disheartened. I can think of any number of possible routes for professional development for support staff but they don’t seem to exist outside my head! This creates something of a roadblock on the professional path I had in mind for myself. But I’m working on a way around and that’s a topic for another time.

All of these stresses, strains, and worries had become a dark cloud that I had allowed to eclipse my core motivations for doing what I do, and the HLTA conference was just what was needed to blow that brewing storm away (or at least nudge it to one side) and help me regain some perspective.

Within a few short minutes, Tom Robson reminded me why I had come to into this role with a simple question: what have you done today to make that person feel like they can?

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That is why I do the job I do. I want to help those who are often told that they can’t feel like they can. I want to recognise the achievements of the students I work with, no matter how big or small; to make some effort to change a culture which has a narrow understanding of success, often confusing attainment and achievement.

The day was filled with so many pearls of wisdom, thought provoking questions, and insights into how we can support the learners we work with. I’m hoping to develop some of them into blog posts of their own and explore them further but I need a little more time to ruminate on them first. For now, I leave you with a few of the questions I left with, to think on in your own time:

To learn something new we must step up to the edge of the known. When was the last time I stepped up to the edge? How do I encourage my students to do this?

Who is the most important person in my classroom? (hint: it’s not me!)

“A teacher is one who makes her/himself progressively unnecessary.” – What am I doing to make myself unnecessary to my students?

Am I taking too much responsibility for solving my students’ problems?

Is the language I use with our students specific enough? (e.g. What do I mean when I ask for ‘more effort’? What does this look like? Do I make my meaning clear to my students?)

Do my students think they are good learners?

What does education mean for me?

What labels do I display to my students? What labels do I put on them?

 

Feel free to leave any thoughts/responses in the comments. 🙂

 

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Wisdom for the Week

Image found here via Pinterest.

Now coming to the end of a busy second week of the new school year, this quote seems very apt! After the luxury of a long holiday it can feel like a bit of a shock to the system when the working days and weeks are flying by and it seems I barely have time to eat and sleep, let alone anything else. But reading is important. Reading teaches us things and reminds us of things we know but might have forgotten. Reading takes us out of ourselves and helps us reflect on ourselves. Reading is an adventure and a quiet space to rest in. So we must make time to read, no matter how busy life gets.

Off On The Right Foot


It’s August bank holiday Monday which can only mean one thing…the summer holidays are nearly over and autumn is nearly here. For some, this wouldn’t really be a happy thought – no more long, light days in the sun, back to school and work for those lucky enough to have had a break. But it is a happy thought for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love summer but I am an autumn girl at heart and September has always felt full of promise to me. It really feels more like a new year than the New Year!

I’m looking forward to getting back to work; a new academic year dawns with many changes, new challenges, and more opportunities than I can count! I’m excited to get back to a job I love, with people I love, and of course a new term means new stationery! 

In a few days time social media will be full of people lamenting another year without the arrival of their Hogwarts letter, or proclaiming they’re off to platform 9 3/4. Dreaming of joining the famous school of magic is a favourite past time of bookworms everywhere (myself included!). Whilst I wait for my letter however, I am determined to find and create magic wherever I can in the muggle world, and watch with glittering eyes as a new term begins, full of possibility.

I now have two days to get my body clock to readjust to the 6am wake up, and one of the things I want to try and do is find a morning routine that works for me. I am not a morning person. At all. So this will be an interesting goal for me to try and meet. If you have any suggestions please let me know in the comments!

Wishing you a happy end to your summer and an autumn full of promise and happiness. 

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Off On The Right Foot


This seems like an apt quote for this week as in a few days time I’ll be joining the epic team at Smith Goodfellow PR for their next charity event – climbing the Welsh three peaks to raise money for The Wellspring Kitchen and Crash, two charities working to tackle homelessness and support those who find themselves without a home in the UK. 

That’s right, I’m going to climb some mountains. 

Mountains…plural. 😐 

For those who don’t already know I’m not an uphill sort of person so this will be a challenge – but totally worth it to raise money and awareness for a good cause and spend time with some fabulous people.

If you’d like to donate to either of these worthy causes you can do so here and here. ☺️ 

Off On The Right Foot


Hello world! Long time no see.

It’s Monday. It’s the last week of work before half term. It’s MONTHS since I’ve blogged anything. I want to change that. I miss my blog! I seem to struggle to find time for a lot of things at the moment so it’s time to MAKE time.

On a different note, change is in the air…I don’t know what or how or when, but I can feel it.

This Girl Can (and you can too!)

  
I hate running. A lot.

It’s hard work, it does not come naturally to me and I find it boring. Finding it boring makes it even harder work because there is nothing to distract me from the fact that I’m finding it difficult. However, a few months ago I decided that it would be good fun to run a 5km with my hubby. I suggested this to him and we agreed we would go for the Manchester Colour Run 2016. 

At the time I thought this was a great idea because a) it would mean doing something with my hubby (a definite win), b) it would help me keep fit, and c) how hard could it be to run 5km anyway?

As it turns out, very hard indeed. At least it is when you hate running as much as I do.

I started using the treadmill more at the gym to build up some stamina before running outside (where there are hills and roads and stuff – scary). At first I could barely run 1km without it nearly killing me but slowly I could run further and further. I managed 2km…then 2.5km…then 3km…and then I hit a block. I just couldn’t seem to run further than that. 

Mega frustrating.

There was one day during the summer holidays when I’d had a really good night’s sleep, a reasonably long lie in, a good breakfast (and time for it to go down) and decided to go for a mid morning trip to the gym. On this occasion I magically managed to run 5km!! Granted, the last km nearly killed me but I did it and I was so pleased with myself. I thought that would be it then, I’d do it again and again, I’d get faster and it would feel easier.

Nope.

The next time I went I was back to that 3km road block again. And the time after that, and the time after that, and so on for 8 long weeks.

I lost heart pretty quickly; I do not like not being able to do things I feel I should be able to do.

It has been a very long, busy week at work. Every day this week I’ve been in early and left late. So when I got home today, going to the gym was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I moaned about it, pulled faces and posted a *reluctantly heads to the gym* tweet. 

I decided I wasn’t going to push myself too hard (I really was tired) and agreed I would slow my pace a little and just set the treadmill to do a 25 minute run. I would do what I could.

As I was running, I started thinking about all the year 11 students I work with at school. How frustrating it is when they choose not to put in the effort. How maddening it is when they say they just “can’t” do it, when I know that they can, or that they could with just a bit more focus and hard work.

I realised that that mindset really does make all the difference.

[Growth mindset is one of our big ‘things’ at work this year; I’m not going to go into it all now but if you’re not already aware of it you should go and look it up. It’s a simple yet brilliant concept!]

As I was thinking about this and what I could do to motivate these students, to get them to think positively about themselves and their abilities, I somehow, without realising it, ran 2.5km without much effort. (Usually by that point I’m already flagging in a major way.) The treadmill switched automatically to a cool down…but I wasn’t done thinking.

I reset it for another 25 minute run and kept going.

I realised that they way I feel about running is probably how a lot of the kids I work with feel about school; it’s hard work, it’s boring and it doesn’t come naturally. But I know, in spite of these barriers, that these young people can achieve something to be proud of.

I was wracking my brain to think of things I could do to re-engage them with the process of learning. Getting them to understand that making mistakes is part of getting better, and to use those mistakes as tools for improving.

That’s when I hit 5km.

It was a good feeling but, honestly, I was less interested in what I’d achieved and more interested in how I’d done it. By slowing my pace by a tiny amount (0.2km/hr) and keeping my mind busy, I had managed, with relative ease, to do something I had been struggling with for months. Could I find a way to apply this to my students learning? Or rather get them to apply it to their own learning?

I haven’t quite come up with the answer to that one but I’m sure it must be possible. It will certainly be in my thinking when I’m interacting with students from now on.

There was one more thing I learnt during my gym trip tonight. The woman  I was running next to was running faster and had run far further than me. But that didn’t matter. I knew that what I had managed was a big achievement for me. And I need to pass that on to my students. I need to find a way to say: Ignore the person in your form who seems to be getting A* after A* with very little effort ; you don’t know what they put in to get there. Ignore the person next to you who has written 3 paragraphs for your 1; more isn’t necessarily better. Comparing your work to others is unhelpful; compare your effort instead and just focus on putting your very best effort into your work. If you are still struggling, slow it down a bit but don’t stop and don’t give up.

This ended up being much longer and much more convoluted than I intended, but somehow it felt like and important message to share. Because it applies to us all in whatever context we find ourselves. Whether you are training to run 5km, 10km or a marathon; whether you are preparing for your GCSEs, A levels or degree; whether you’re working towards a promotion, trying to keep your house clean, writing a book or raising children (or several of these thing at once), keep going, slow it down if you need to, don’t compare yourself to others and DON’T GIVE UP! Your journey is your own and it’s just as important as the destination.

If this girl can, so can you.

Off On the Right Foot

  
I’m on a bit of a Shel Silverstein trip at the moment, especially since my mum bought me a first edition of Where the Sidewalk Ends (go ahead, be jealous, I don’t mind).

Silverstein’s poems and illustrations are all sorts of special. They’re funny, moving, evocative and often very poignant. I could share his work until the cows come home but I’ll settle for just the one…for today anyway.

I love Put Something In because I just think this is they way we should live! Striving to put something, anything, into the world that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t matter how big or small, how masterful or silly, just bring something to this world of ours. Make your mark, if only temporarily.

Image found here.

Off On the Right Foot

 
I am often awed by the beauty and power of language; it’s amazing to me that although words are little more than sounds in our throats or squiggles on a page they exert such an influence over us. They move us to tears or laughter. They prompt contemplation where there was none. They create images as real as any picture and they speak to our soul.

Truly, if you can find the right words, and get them in the right order, you can nudge the world.

Image found here.