Adjusting to Life as a Parent and as a Teacher

“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.

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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.

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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.

Pillar to Post

“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.”
– Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito

It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).

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A rough representation of how I feel.

I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.

 

I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.

Ugh.

Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.

Take care of yourself, especially in light of the 2015 Principal Health and Wellbeing Report which was published recently.

Education Nation | Day One Session Four | Teresa Deshon

We often use words like loyal, respectful, wise, steadfast etc. with our Grandparents, but not, it seems with today’s generation.”
– 
Teresa Deshon

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

The fourth and final session for day one of the Rethinking Reform stream at Education Nation was rather full, as it contained both the Rethinking Reform and the Digital Dimension streams. Teresa Deshon opened the session by speaking about People of Character – Your Best Self which was a focus on the pastoral curriculum that often appears to be ignored or subsumed by the focus on the academic curriculum and what that looks like at Kilvington Grammar. Teresa began with a series of back in my day… sayings and then related that it often appears as if the character traits and virtues which were taken for granted in generations gone by, resilience, steadfastness, loyalty, persistence etc. appear to be largely missing in the current school-bound generation. This, Teresa commented, was played out in (uncited) OECD data where Australia appears in the top third of many welfare concern issues tracked.

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There are significant issues facing parents in the current age and it feels like, for many teachers, that more and more of what was traditionally the domain of the parent is becoming the domain of the teacher. This has led, Teresa contends, to an increase in the need for socio-emotional skills teaching at schools. Teresa related to the audience the RULER program from Yale University which is utilised in her own school as part of the wider Character Initiative which focuses on explicitly teaching character traits and socio-emotional skills.Capture

Teresa spoke about how there are three climate types and that all three play a significant role at Kilvington grammar and that students are able to utilise to three climates to be their best self. Within the Character Initiative, the focus is on helping students from Kindergarten to Year Six set goals based upon the character trait being explicitly taught that term, whilst in Year Seven to Twelve students, they set the goals based on the character traits, complete quizzes to measure the engagement, understanding, and appreciation of the character traits whilst engaging in an analysis of the character trait as it is portrayed throughout various types of media including news, books, and movies.

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Teresa also noted that in Years Nine and Ten, students had the choice of undertaking the ethical leadership elective subject which focuses on three areas:

  1. Sustainability, resourcefulness and lateral thinking,
  2. Diversity/Celebrating and Respecting Difference, and
  3. Values in Action

It was here that Teresa made a brief reference to a flipped curriculum, and even showed a stock flipped class graphic, however, the terminology was being used in a context that was not flipped learning. Teresa was actually referring to the flip made from focusing on the academic curriculum to the pastoral curriculum as opposed to flipped learning of the type I have written about previously.

Teresa’s presentation timeslot was brief and it went by very fast. There was not, for me, any particular takeaways from the session. There were no tools or strategies talked about in depth that could be applied, but anecdotal discussion of how a program was working in a particular context. The move from focusing on the academics to the pastoral side of things intrigues me, especially when you consider that the academics do still need to be attended to, however, I do agree that the pastoral issues need to be addressed. Teresa’s opening point, about the shift of pastoral concerns being from a parental burden to a teacher burden, is an issue, and I think it goes back to the need to establish the purposes and goals of education, and whether it should include pastoral issues, or whether they need to be the domain of the parent (which is in itself another debate).

As always, thank you for reading, and I would appreciate any feedback you care to offer in the comments below or over on Twitter.

Education Nation | Day One Session Three | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson

Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.

Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.

They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently, the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it being very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students.

IMG_1780We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.

The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.

They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.

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The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.

They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.

CaptureThe school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.

Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.

The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.

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In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch,  which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.

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One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.

At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.

  • Safety and basic needs need to be met – relationship to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • The ability to take appropriate risks.
  • Opportunities to try, experiment, fail and reflect.
  • The ability to drive their own learning.
  • Hopeful of the future.

Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.

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The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.

They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.

We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.

Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”

I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.

As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can find the consolidated list here.

Collegiality and Food

“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.

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Sharing a meal with colleagues can be refreshing. Image retrieved from tinyurl.com/jvbexe4 on 29 April 2016

 

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.

Student Mobility, Wellbeing and Academic Results

“Mobility can be really difficult for children and can often interrupt their learning, so it is important that we focus not only on their education but also their well-being…”
– Lila Mularczyk, President of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, as reported here.

In early March of this year, I stumbled upon an ongoing Twitter conversation (storified here) about student mobility and its impacts on student learning that stemmed from this article published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author, Alex Smith (@alexsmithSMH), wrote an article with the summary of “Students who change schools several times do worse in NAPLAN than their peers and are more likely to drop out of school” and the ensuing Twitter conversation made for interesting reading, with the opening tweet in the conversation being this:

I agree with Alice, in that the reasons behind why students move schools are typically completely out of the realm of influence for schools and teachers, yet the impression that is left after reading the article, for myself at least, and I suspect some others in the conversation, is that the schools are to blame. It is an interesting article to read, and the statistics (based on enrolment data from 2008-2014) are not that surprising, in many ways.

  • Approximately fifty-four thousand students (representing approximately seven percent of the total student population) in NSW alone change schools each year.
  • Just over half of those moves occur during the school year, as opposed to during the holidays.
  • One in four students changes schools at least once during their school lives.
  • Around one in twenty change schools four or more times during their school lives.
  • Based on NAPLAN data, students who change schools three or more times between Kindergarten and Year Three typically return reading results around eighty points lower than students who do not move schools.

The reasons behind why students move schools are myriad, and are, indeed, often outside the sphere of influence of teachers or schools. Speaking personally, I attended six different schools (East Tamworth PS, South Tamworth PS, Orana Heights PS (Dubbo), Inverell PS, West Tamworth PS, Tamworth HS) in three towns (Tamworth, Dubbo, Inverell and back to Tamworth. I wrote five towns in my Tweet, however, I am not sure where I managed to pull five from). The moves, for my family, were mostly related to my father’s occupation, where he would be transferred from one office to another, across towns. The moves within the towns were typically related to the fact that we were renting and the house would be sold, or we needed to move to a bigger house as my siblings were born and we then grew up and needed more space.

There are so many other reasons for student mobility, as alluded to in the above tweet, more than can be covered in this article, but there is no way that any school or teacher would have been able to influence my mobility as a student. There are steps that can be taken by schools and teachers to help students settle into a new school, however, and that was the focus of the majority of the conversation.

Alice’s above Tweet provides an interesting insight into the importance attached to developing strong relationships with students from refugee backgrounds. The tweet implies that developing strong relationships, including characteristics such as mutual trust and respect,  plays a key role in the student’s ability to integration into the school community, form social bonds, and see academic success.

I do not believe I would hear too many opposing voices if I put forward the notion that those ideals form a key part of any teacher-student relationship, and that any student who joins a class after the start of the school year will require assistance. My recollections of changing schools during the year are rather hazy due to the passing of time, however, I do not recall any particular teacher who spent time with me to determine what gaps I had in my knowledge based on what the class I was joining had already covered.

I managed, I completed my HSC (poorly), found myself a job and worked for ten years before returning to undertake my initial teacher education (which I completed with far superior results in comparison to my HSC). I feel confident in saying that any teacher would tell that NAPLAN does not represent the students in their classroom accurately, that Student A gets incredibly anxious with time pressures, that student B struggles to articulate their thoughts in writing, or that Student C is living with a messy divorce, or came to school without having eaten that morning any one of a dozen other emotional, psychological or wellbeing issues that teachers see in their students each day.

The point was raised that teachers invest time and effort and heart in their students who need it, in order to support them, bring them up and the growth that is achieved, across a range of domains can be immense, yet at the same time they are being questioned about NAPLAN or HSC results.

I have a few students in my class who are new to the school, and I am fortunate that my class is very welcoming and supportive (the whole school is incredibly supportive of each other in general, to be honest) and I feel confident that if a student transferred tomorrow, that they would be made to feel welcome by their new classmates, and that myself and my teaching partner, Mrs. W, would also be able to support them and build a positive relationship with them as we have with our other students.

The questions implied in the original newspaper article, or what I see as the questions being implied, is what can be done to better support students and the families who are considered mobile vis-a-vis changing schools after the commencement of the school year, and beyond that, is reducing the need for families to change schools, something that can be impacted?

I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on this complex issue and the variety of factors that play into it.

Finding your mojo

 “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.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hjnt48h 24th February 2016

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.

Reflections on Teacher Life and Resilience

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio

What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?

I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.

This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/z44hnvk 22nd February 2016

 

In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away.Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.

Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though  things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.

At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being  granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.

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How I feel this term. Retrieved from tinyurl.com/hlsjwn9 22nd February 2016

I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.

As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis.  I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?

There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?

I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.

On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.

I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.

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Retrieved from tinyurl.com/guodvkf 22nd February 2016

 

Today did actually well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.

I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.

That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year.

As always, thank you for reading.  I do have photo of my new classroom to update the header of this blog, I just have not had time to upload it yet.

Teacher Work-Life Balance

“Teaching is an emotional practice: it activates, colors & expresses people’s feelings.”
-Attributed to Andy Hargreaves

As you read this article, please consider what you believe to be normal or acceptable in regards to the amount of work done at home.

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Retrieved from http://www.maverickstella.com.au/#!The-balance-in-worklife/c218b/553029f50cf2784deabf19d3 23/11/15 Originally written by Scott Adams.

Last week was an incredibly topsy-turvy week, professionally, for me. I went from feeling overwhelmed and time-poor, to a day of ups and downs, to finishing off my teaching week with a Eureka moment for a student that brought a genuine smile to my face. I spent quite a significant amount of time thinking about this issue last week. As a young teacher and husband, I need to get the work-life balance issue sorted out in some fashion as I do not want to be struggling with this in the same way that I am currently when the family starts arriving (and no, that is not a pregnancy announcement).

The ever-helpful and patient Corrine Campbell (@corisel) reached out and we arranged to have an actual voice-to-voice conversation over the phone, where we would not be restricted to one hundred forty character thought-bites. I spent nearly an hour and a half speaking with Corinne, getting to know a bit more about each other, learning about each other’s journey through the work-life balance minefield, discussing strategies that Corinne either uses or knows people who use them to help manage work-life balance and find the corners that can be cut and the responsibilities that can be dropped without any adverse impacts, and it was useful, very useful.

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Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/segfault/15752766 on 23/11/15 Originally written by Scott Adams

We worked a few things out. Most of the time spent outside of school hours working on what I place in the school work box is only indirectly related to school insofar as it is part of my personal teaching identity and who I am and want to be as an open-source teacher; these blog articles, the FTPL videos, some research I am in the process of working on, reading for professional development, Twitter chats and TeachMeets are all things that take up a significant amount of time, which I am not required to do, that I am adding onto my plate willingly.

One of the strategies that Corinne mentioned was the setting of hard boundaries vis-a-vis when work stops and personal time begins. I find it very easy to spend a whole weekend in front of the computer as Mrs. C21st works Saturdays and every second Sunday (her weekend is Monday and Tuesday), and I often continue working when she arrives home. My new boundary is now 3 pm on Saturday when I know she finishes. This gives me an hour to switch off from work and to make sure than any housework I have not completed gets done. In addition to this, I am wiping Sunday from the roster and keeping it as a personal day. On those days when Mrs. C21st works, I will use it to get things done around the house, or just to unwind and relax, and on the Sundays that she has off, we will get to spend some time together and visiting friends.

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Retrieved from http://wowpersonalconcierge.com/us-women-entrepreneurs-motivated-work-life-balance/work-life-balance/ 23/11/15

It did feel a bit odd putting that into practice this weekend just gone, but I do feel better for it. I spent Sunday cycling between Star Wars: The Old Republic, FIFA16 and Star Wars: Battlefront, as well as getting housework done and dinner ready. Mrs. C21st and I went to a friends for dinner and a swim on Friday night, another no-work timeslot in the future.

I do still need to reduce the load, however. As there is no point reducing the time spent working if the workload is not also reduced. To that end, I will not be continuing the book review series for the time being. As much as it is useful for me professionally (and hopefully for some of my readers as well), I do not have the time to read in depth, make notes and then write an article each week. I do want to come to resent writing these articles, as I do find the process useful for reflection, however in order to prevent that, I need to cut something.

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Retrieved from http://www.wrightexecutive.com.au/would-you-pass-the-work-life-balance-test/ on 23/11/15

I will not be replacing it with anything, Tuesday’s will remain an empty slot. I will be maintaining the current schedule of an FTPL video on Monday afternoon, and then other articles Wednesday and Thursday, however that, from what I gather, is still significantly higher workload than some others in my PLN. That said, if there is somethign going on or that has happened then I will use the Tuesday slot.

I do still believe that we (teachers) need to engage in a dialogue about work-life balance and examine why it is considered normal or acceptable to work as much as what I know many teachers do, and I would appreciate your thoughts on this topic in the comments section.

 Read the previous article in this series here.

The moments that remind you why you teach.

“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Attributed to Alexander the Great

Recently I wrote an article talking about the issue of teacher work-life balance, and my current lack thereof. It has generated some interesting discussions and I have had some helpful conversations with members of my PLN who have reached out, for which I am grateful. It seems that the conversations I have had face-to-face where it has been indicated that the hours I keep currently are somewhat normal have been somewhat supported by conversations on Twitter.

A conversation with one Tweacher indicated they kept similarish hours to myself vis-a-vis time spent at school but allowed a longer break between the end of the school day and resuming work at home, and with more frequent breaks over the weekend when working at home. Another Tweacher noted that for them, involvement with professional associations and Twitter allowed them to blend their social life with their educational life, acknowledging that  they were unsure if this constituted having a work-life balance.

When I first began this blog, I wrote about why I teach and why I joined the teaching profession in a time when there is intense scrutiny of men professing a desire to work with children and men are seemingly avoiding the teaching profession. In my own Initial Teacher Education (ITE) cohort, there were perhaps only ten of us out of around one hundred and fifty.

Despite how I was feeling in general, I was still excited to be in the classroom. I have some great things going on with my students, particularly my Stage Three classes and this morning reinforced that. I had one of my Stage Three classes, and we have been learning about the Cornell note-taking strategy. To be able to take good quality notes is a very handy skill and something that I wish I had had in high school, or even in my first two years at university.

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I was open about that, as well. I showed them some of my notes from a first-year course and we talked about what was wrong with them and why those notes were not as helpful as they could be. We then talked about the projects that they had completed that year with their classroom teacher and the research they did as part of that and how having useful notes would have made things easier.

I have been really proud of the way they have engaged with the learning process for this topic. We have spent a considerable amount of time practicing using the strategy and are now at the point where it is time to wrap the unit up with a summative assessment task.

Part of my professional development recently has included conversations about student choice, prompted, I think, by a comment that Jon Bergmann made during one of his keynotes at FlipConAus recently when he asked the audience “Why do we make our students demonstrate what they learned by making them take a test?”

I had heard something similar previously, though I cannot recall where, and I decided to try it out. So I had a conversation with each of my Stage Three classes and asked them “what do you want to do to demonstrate to me that you know how to use and can use the Cornell note-taking strategy on your own?” We discussed that, and then I asked them “what does success look like in your chosen strategy?” which prompted a conversation about what would be expected in each method that demonstrates understanding. The students loved it and were genuinely engaged with the process of developing their assignments.

It was a “so this is why I teach” moment for me. The students were genuinely engaged, poring through the notes they had taken as we learned about Cornell note-taking together to help them put together their own demonstration. Some of my students were filming a video where they explained it and then demonstrated how it was used, some of my students chose to take some notes on a self-chosen topic and submit those with annotations, and some have chosen to put together a powerpoint presentation. There was creation, there was analysing, there was collaboration, group work, individual work, peer support as one of a more advanced students worked closely with a student who required some additional support, going through the same steps that I would have to support the students. I was cheering inside.

I told the students this during the session-end reflections. I also asked them how they felt about being able to direct their own learning in this way and as a whole group, they felt empowered to own their learning and show off what they actually knew in different ways, rather than in the same way as everyone else.

It was a great morning.

Then things returned to Earth and I ended up wandering down to our Deputy Principal’s office and asking her for some advice on an incident, which in and of itself, was very minor, but which in the larger picture of the students involved could merely be a stepping stone to something larger.

The afternoon was much better, I had another Stage Three class, who are one session away from finishing the current unit of work, after which I have said we will explore green screen technology using VeeScope Live.

Oh, the roller coaster of teaching! I wonder if students are truly aware of their impact on us, as teachers.