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. 🙂

 

What Are We Doing?

I am disheartened by the state of the world.

When I find myself explaining to 11 year olds why rape is not funny, or why it worries me that they are joking about drunkenness and drug use, I begin to truly wonder what on earth we are doing? How do children think these serious issues are things to laugh about?

Our young people are exposed to so much ‘stuff’ it is unreal. Too much of what they see and hear is adult in nature. They have the world at their fingertips and we have little control over what they are exposed to; but we do have control over what we put out there. So who is putting this out there?

We all have a friend who is a funny drunk and probably many stories of our own or others experience that make drunkenness amusing. We all have our own opinions about drugs and drug culture; what should be legal and what should not? The merits and risks of trying something ‘for the experience’. However surely it can’t be denied that whatever positives or amusement can be derived from these things, there are risks and damage that go along with them. If our children are growing up only believing in the ‘funny’ side of these things then we are putting them at risk of harm.

If a child is exposed to the word ‘rape’, I can think of no possible circumstance in which that child should walk away thinking of it as something funny. Terrifying? Yes. Horrendous? Yes. Criminal? Yes. Funny? No. Flipping. Way. How can anyone think this is funny? There are just no words to describe how atrocious this crime is, to convey how much is stolen from the victims. If we allow our children to think that violent acts such as this are funny then I fear for our future and the harm that will be tolerated or perpetrated.

So seriously, what are we doing?

I feel like there are a million more things to say about this; like I should have some sort of solution or talk more poignantly about how we could protect our children without smothering them. It’s a tough one and there’s definitely a lot to say on the subject (and all the many others that connect to it), but right now I can’t. Because, honestly, it just makes me too sad.

Battling the Cloud

Image found here.

 

I was so saddened to hear the news of Robin Williams death. Aladdin’s Genie, Peter Pan all grown up, and the brilliant, funny, talented man who was Robin himself sadly gone from us. Almost a year ago one of the brilliant young volunteers I worked with also had his life stolen by the terrible illness that is depression. And what makes the whole thing even sadder is the accusatory responses that some people feel are necessary in these painful circumstances.

“What did they have to be depressed about?”

“How could he do that to his family/us/ME?”

“How selfish.”

Please, try and understand that depression is an illness not a choice. Please, try and understand that the person with everything they could dream of, everything they wanted, could still be struck down by this appalling, black shrouded thing. Please, try and understand that these are questions that sufferers have often already asked themselves. And the guilt is terrible. The belief that you have no reason to feel the way you do. And having that knowledge not make the slightest bit of difference. Please, try and understand the herculean effort that goes into trying to function from day to day. Like a ‘normal’ person. Like everyone seems to expect. Please, try and understand the fear that is felt. The fear of how bad it will be today, and if it will be better or worse tomorrow. The fear of being found out, of being judged, ridiculed, avoided, blamed, talked about. Please, try and understand that this is not something that can be snapped out of, or shaken off. That it’s not a case of “pull yourself together”. If it were that easy, we would not be having this conversation, and no lives would be lost to this silent, stalking thing.

Please, try and understand. And if you can’t, then keep your judgements to yourself. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle. Some are harder than you can know.

If you would like to understand more this video is a good starting point:

For more information or support around depression have a look at the website for Mind, and for more on ending mental health discrimination visit Time to Change.

In Defence of Youth: Quick Activity

I have been working with young people in various paid and voluntary roles for about eight years now, and there are countless issues I’ve been faced with and resources I’ve used. I also know there are countless issues I’m yet to face and resources I don’t even know exist! I always intended to share some of the things I have found useful and inspiring in my work here on Thrive in Chaos, so here is my first youth work related share!

Something that affects too many children and young people (and adults in fact) is bullying. Things are said and done in the dog-eat-dog world of the playground that individuals then carry and live with far longer than anyone might think. Sometimes the term ‘bullying’ can seem to be applied where, as adults, we might think it too harsh. But it’s so important to remember that what might seem like “just a bit of name calling” can be much more to the person on the receiving end. Words hurt. Even if only said once.

So here is a fantastic, and quick, activity for getting children and young people to reflect on bullying behaviour. First shared with me by a colleague it has had a lot of attention already, you may have already seen it. But it is so simple and effective I think it’s worth sharing again and again. Below is an abbreviated version of the original lesson shared on a American talk show, accompanied by a link to the blog on which I found it.

“The teacher gave each student a clean crisp sheet of paper. She then instructed the class to crumble up the piece of paper, toss it around, get angry with it, and stomp on it.
 
After which, she told the students to return to their seats (with their piece of paper), flatten it out on the top of their desks, making it as flat and perfect as they can, and finally, apologize to the paper.
 
When all the students had done their best to iron out the paper and apologize to it, the teacher picked up the paper on the first classmates desk, held it up so the entire class could see it and said:
 
If this piece of paper had been another person, and you had done all those things to him or her, by making them feel less than perfect (through your words or actions), these are the scars you would leave. That person would never be the same, no matter how many times you tell them you are sorry, no matter how many times you try to smooth things out…”

 

Found here, this activity is worth doing yourself as well, to reflect on the impact of our words and actions. After all there are, unfortunately, some people who don’t seem to grow out of bullying. Have a go and let’s make a conscious effort to speak words of good, love and comfort to everyone we meet.

Please feel free to share any other links/resources to combat bullying in the comments.

Organised Chaos

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This is what my desk looked like today. In fact this seems to be what it looks like most days at the moment. I would like to think it is organised chaos.

It’s not.

At the moment I work in a big secondary school, in a pastoral support role, and boy is it hectic. I like to think that I’m good at prioritising and organising myself, but this role has been a whole new challenge. How do you prioritise when everything is a priority? Staying organised is a constant battle when every task seems to roll into another until my brain is a big jumbled mess of half remembered to-do’s. Combine this with the fact that 99% of what comes through my door is negative and that leaves me wanting to scoff a chocolate bar the size of my head by about 8:45am every morning. Maybe 9am on a good day.

It’s tough. Much harder than I ever would have anticipated. It’s challenged me personally as well as professionally, and I’m still working out how I feel about it and where I want this to go.

But for all that it’s challenging and frustrating and sometimes upsetting, I know that what I’m doing is important. Our young people have such huge and varied expectations to deal with and it seems to get tougher all the time. Occasionally I hear comments about young people not knowing how lucky they are, and I get where this comes from, I do. In many respects young people today are privileged. But they are also facing new challenges every day. And I tell you what, I wouldn’t go back to being a teenager if you paid me!

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One of the things I’m hoping to include in my little blogging adventure is sharing some resources for working with young people. If there are any issues/areas you’d particularly like to see resources for, or if you have any suggestions for specific resources leave a comment and I’ll do my best to include them!