One thing I am really passionate about is teacher wellbeing and mental health. Ours is a profession where you never really switch off; the job can extend well beyond teaching hours and it is really important we look after ourselves with adequate time to switch off and recharge. Some days can feel a real challenge to get through. We are giving so much of ourselves to the children we teach and it can leave us feel as though we are running on empty.
I’ve posted a few times about the ‘Sunday Blues’ and it seemed to be something that resonated with so many people. There were lots of replies about feeling worried, anxious or even just a bit sad that the weekend/holidays had ended. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our jobs to feel this way. It doesn’t matter how anxious I might feel on a Sunday, I know that teaching is the career I want and that the kids I see each week make it all worth it. But sometimes, it can be an overwhelming feeling which is one that we need to address and not ignore.
In light of this, I decided to set up #TeacherSelfcareSunday for all those involved in education as a way of highlighting looking after wellbeing, as well as creating a community of people who can share their days and help combat those negative feelings. As well as seeing all the fun things people get up to, it also became a place for people to share when they also didn’t feel great – and get support. For me, the most important part of starting this hashtag & initiative is to build a group of people who can be there for each other and help banish (as much as possible!) those Sunday Blues. I’ve also previously been in situations where I’ve felt very alone in a situation – like feeling dread returning to work! – and having a way to positively interact with others really helps alleviate this feeling somewhat.
This is why, each week, I love seeing the responses. There has been book talk, pictures shared of some stunning locations, food ideas and recipes shared, as well as some positive words being shared. I’ve also been lucky enough to host some giveaways during these posts, in collaboration with some lovely companies, to help boost that positivity even more. Which brings me on to the exciting news…
Teachers Love Stationery.Club are just as passionate about teacher wellbeing as I am and have kindly collaborated with me to sponsor #TeacherSelfcareSunday. Each week, anyone who joins in has the chance to win one of their lovely Self Care Boxes:
We are Ben and Sabrina, the founders of Teachers Love Stationery. Club, and we’re really proud to be able to sponsor Emily’s #TeacherSelfCareSunday initiative. Coming from Science teaching and leadership backgrounds ourselves we know how stressful teaching is, how many hours we all put in, and the emotional toil of knowing the direct effect we have on the lives of all our pupils.
We love both subscription boxes and all types of stationery. We realised, however, that a stationery subscription box designed specifically with teachers in mind didn’t seem to exist. So, over a glass of wine one evening, we thought we would create one and started Teachers Love Stationery.Club as a small project to see if other people would be interested in a monthly box of stationery aimed specifically at teachers. We were blown away by the response and what began as a small project quickly grew into something much bigger than expected, and not just for the reason we thought!! We quickly realised that not only do teachers buy our boxes because they love stationery but also because they cheer them up, it gives them something positive to look forward to and it has created a community of club members who often reach out and support one another. Our boxes aren’t just about stocking up on stationery, our members often say it’s like buying themselves a little gift and the boxes give them a little positive boost when they are feeling the pressures of the job. Feedback from our members has reinforced our belief in the importance of teacher wellbeing and self-care and, as a result, we are even more passionate about promoting this amongst all teachers. It has made us so happy to know we are able to create a bit of joy and brightness with our boxes and we are keen to do as much as we can to spread this further.
(If you haven’t checked out their amazing stationery subscription boxes, it’s something I highly recommend; a little box of joy through your letterbox each week! If you use the code TLSCM0200 you’ll get £2 off your first box, too!)
I hope everyone else loves joining in with #TeacherSelfcareSunday as much as I do. I genuinely look forward to it each weekend, especially the ones where I don’t feel at my best.
As always, for anyone who feels alone, or that they need to talk about a situation at a tricky school, my DMs are open 🖤
After your PGCE, you move on full of hope and optimism to your first teaching post, where you will have your (finally!) own class to impart your wisdom and enthusiasm to. But what support will be useful in your NQT year? Or, alternatively, what support can you offer as a mentor?
Unfortunately, my own NQT year was not a particularly good one, so there isn’t much of an uplifting story I can tell you about it! It began unsupported, with the toxic atmosphere that would eventually have me leaving the school and developing anxiety rearing its head within the first weeks of me being there. To be honest, my one piece of advice from this experience is that you should listen to your gut. Just because you’re ‘only’ an NQT (I hate that term) you will know if you’re being supported correctly. If you’re not, speak up. And if things don’t feel right, explore your options. Don’t normalise negativity in your first year.
But, I won’t go into this now in too much detail, because this is not a common NQT experience. However, if this is the experience you’re having, or do have in the future, then just know my DMs are open for support. In this blog, I want to focus on the positives!
So, with this in mind, I wanted to have a reflection from a teacher who has not only recently been an NQT, but can give a real insight into what helped her feel supported during this time. Another of my previous PGCE students, Emily is now an RQT with a Year 3 class.
As I started my NQT year, I knew I had been well prepared by my PGCE course. My mentors and experience within the classroom helped me with both my pedological knowledge and how to manage my time effectively.
Despite this, the support in my NQT year would be invaluable and I wanted to share what worked really well for me.
A major support system during the year came from my mentor. We had weekly meetings which helped me track my progress effectively. During this meeting, we focused on various things. We spoke about what went well throughout the week (it is always nice to reflect on positives) and which teaching standards I was showing good progress in. I found that starting with the positives helped me realise how far I had come! After, we would go through my next target for the week. Setting one or two targets each week that were manageable really helped my focus. It meant that I wasn’t overwhelmed by too many teaching standards at one time. Those specific teaching standards would then become the focus of my observations in class. This was easy to track and therefore easy to show progress for my NQT folder.
The school that I completed my NQT year in followed various schemes of work for different subjects. However, they understood that every teacher has a different teaching style and needed to adapt planning accordingly. Having that independence in relation to planning was really encouraging for me. It showed me that they cared about what worked for my teaching style and the children I had in the classroom. My planning was checked up on by subject leaders (Maths and English weekly, foundation subjects termly) and termly book scrutinises. Professional conversations were then had about changes I needed to make. Having trust from the school to plan how I would like really helped me take ownership of what I was teaching. However, I found that feedback from teachers was also invaluable. Feedback about my planning and tweaks that I could made really helped me develop the pedological content of my lessons. Don’t let the idea of observations and scrutinies overwhelm you if they’re used appropriately!
Perhaps the most important thing that helped me throughout my NQT was something very simple – asking! Teachers are extremely busy throughout the day and have a never ending to-do list. I was very lucky that my partner teacher and I got on from the very beginning of the year, however I found that also asking other teachers was extremely important. Asking both important and trivial questions to various teachers meant I was able to gain fantastic knowledge that I wouldn’t have had before. It is also an excellent way to build up rapport with others. My NQT year challenged me in ways that my PGCE year didn’t, so having people around who genuinely cared about my wellbeing was so important. It felt like I was constantly asking questions, however everyone was so supportive and more than happy to help. Even in my second year of teaching, I am always asking people so many questions!
Here, you can see that, just as with a PGCE student, support for an NQT is essential. We are all continually learning – it doesn’t stop just because we’ve left University. Being an NQT mentor is all about making sure they know you’re there for them. Weekly (or fortnightly) meetings allow you to discuss targets, focus for observations and give a forum for asking for advice, but alongside this it’s really helpful to be as available as possible for any smaller questions or small niggles. (Obviously, I say ‘as available as possible’ because it can’t be at a detriment to your work/life balance too!).
You don’t just have to be a mentor to really help an NQT. Whilst working with an NQT partner teacher, it’s vital to allow them space to find their own style (if you read my last blog, you might notice a theme here!) but also be on hand for any questions – no matter how big or small.
I loved working with my partner teacher at my previous school when she was an NQT; we marked together (company for me, support for her!) and chatted consistently through the day both as friends, but also as colleagues. This meant there were lots of opportunities to feel comfortable asking for support, without it always feeling like an onerous task to feel like you keep asking questions. And being in classrooms next to each other means lots of chance for informal (agreed!) drop ins to see what each other are up to. A fantastic way to find new ideas, strategies and activities for both of you!
Looking at all the brilliant NQTs I know, and on Twitter, I’ve no doubt that we have an amazing next-generation of teachers coming through. I just hope I can learn as much from them, as I hope they can from me.
For me, being a mentor to PGCE students has been a real highlight of teaching. Alongside the obvious parts of the job we all enjoy (involving those little people in our classroom!) I have always especially enjoyed being part of the next generation of teachers and their training.
My own mentors were really helpful when I was completing my course. I commuted to the University of Gloucestershire, so my placements could be near my home town. My first placement was in a Year 5 class in a 2-form entry school, where there were 2 part-time teachers. There were some challenges with this placement, as I was paired with another student who did eventually leave the course; there were some obstacles which made it hard to really feel as though I could excel myself.
However, my second and third placements were in a small village school (now part of the academy trust I work for!) in a mixed Year 2/3 class where I had a really supportive, encouraging mentor. I arranged this placement myself through a friend; my would-be mentor had expressed to me she had always wanted a PGCE student and there were shortages on my course. It turned out to be an amazing opportunity.
She helped to nurture my own skills by allowing me increasing responsibility, by allowing me to not only excel but to make mistakes and this culminated in me arranging a whole school history day planned around World War Two. I was given enough guidance and freedom in order to find my own teaching style, whilst really learning from her experience. We, eight years later, are still friends.
My own positive experience with my mentor has made me absolutely love having students myself. Seeing them flourish into amazing teachers honestly brings me such joy; maybe even as much as the children themselves. Not only this, but I also learn a lot from them, too. From new ways to teach topics I’ve done to death, to skills in specialities like Computing I don’t have myself.
So, after some requests about how best to help PGCE students within the classroom, I didn’t want to just give advice from myself. Instead, I wanted you to hear it from a brilliant student I had recently. She first had a placement in our primary within KS1, before having her final placement within my Year 6 class. She got valuable experience of SATs week, a trip to Harry Potter Studios and a whole host of chances to be creative with her lesson planning! Now a teacher in Year 4, she continues to apply her inspirational ideas to teaching her own class. Here’s what she has to say about how to best support a PGCE student, and how to get through the year, from her experience:
I am now officially no longer a PGCE student (yay), but a qualified Teacher, which is slightly overwhelming but incredibly rewarding – what a journey it has been!
I remember nervously waiting to start my PGCE back in 2018, and nerves are okay – it means you care! Your PGCE year will be full on but it will also be a great experience, and as someone who has survived, I wanted to share my experience of the best support you should receive/seek out in order to achieve your QTS with flying colours.
Friends, friends, FRIENDS. I know it may seem a little daunting at first, but it is so important to build relationships with your fellow PGCE-ers. Yes, you will feel slightly anxious, but so will the other members of the cohort. You all have a common interest and you will go through the roller coaster of a journey together. You will share stresses, hopes and achievements, and let’s be honest it’s always good to have a place where you can go on a total tangent about how life is stressful! I am still great friends with the people I met on my PGCE. We share resources, ask for help, find it’s a great way to compare different experiences…and of course still have a moanif we need to.
Do not feel reluctant to ask your tutor for help. I did my PGCE alongside working part time Your life will be busy during the year and because your life is so busy, you can start making excuses for yourself and feel hesitant to ask for support. Your tutor knows best, they have worked with students for years (they have seen it all!) and want you to succeed. They’re there for you! The assignments are challenging and so asking for support and making it clear what they are expecting from the essays is a major tip.
Your mentor will be your best friend! My biggest support when completing assignments and making sure I had the right evidence plus reflecting well on my practice, was asking my mentor at school (not the mentor you receive from Uni!). Your biggest relationship will be with them, AND they have been through it all! They too have had the assignments, the reflecting, the breakdowns (the list is endless), plus you will see them every day. My mentor had her old evidence book, which she happily allowed me to go through to see what was expected of me and how best to set my work out. Each mentor will support and teach you different things, it is okay to ask them for guidance and help. They would feel puzzled if you didn’t ask for it! I am still friends with my mentor and I STILL ask for help. They are amazing and have the experience which is what you do not have…yet!
It is okay to have a ‘moment’: you need to be your biggest supporter. PGCE is a tough year, but that is what you need to remind yourself – it is only a year! The assignments, lesson planning, marking, classroom stresses etc. It can be incredibly daunting and all you want to do is hide in a quiet room and eat chocolate – which is totally okay to do (I still do this now as a teacher!). You will get there! The PGCE is very fast paced with a lot different things to think about at once, I had my ‘moment’ when I printed 60 pages of Maths wrong and had a small cry – yes a printer took me down! This will stop you in your tracks and allow you to just take a breather. It will be moments like these that you will look back on and laugh at yourself!
You can follow Rosella on Twitter: @MissMcNally1
I’m sure you can agree that what we can take from this is that support is VITAL for a PGCE student. From this, my top tips would be:
Allow them to not only do things correctly, but also make mistakes. Getting everything right doesn’t mean good learning – we know this from when we teach the children! Allow students to experiment with their own planning and teaching ideas – sometimes they can use it to dissect the lesson and reflect what went wrong…or sometimes they might just surprise you with something that works when you thought it wouldn’t!
Remember that their teaching style might not be the same as yours. Although they need to, as closely as possible, follow rules, policies and routines that keep daily life safe and typical for the children, we also need to again, allow them some space to find their own feet. I sometimes sit just outside the classroom (we were lucky to have a ‘burrow’ to do small group work) so they felt more like they ‘owned’ the classroom – but I was still on hand if I needed to be as I could see and hear what was going on. This really lets the student feel like the class teacher and try out new AfL techniques, behaviour management or to explore their teaching style without feeling your eyes on them!
Most importantly, I think it’s essential to know how confident they’re feeling. I like to ask my student if they’re ready for more than the course says. One student felt confident trying out a whole class lesson before the course would have technically ‘allowed’ them to. I let them have a go! If they’re ready, how amazing is it to give them that confidence early on? If not, well they learn this too. You can step in to team teach (as pre-agreed) or there is plenty to reflect on after to develop them to this point next time. This goes for subjects, too. Ask what they feel most confident teaching and work this into their timetable where possible!
Ask them if they need help. I don’t know about when you were a student, but I – even with my friendly mentors – felt like I was being a nuisance by asking more questions. Or, I felt as if I should already know the answer! Make sure you take time to ask if they’re doing okay, or if they have any questions. Not just in a mentor meeting, or at the end of the day, but when you have plenty of time to talk.
Just be supportive! It sounds simple, but all of the above will help them to feel comfortable in your classroom and really have room to grow.
This might sound cheesy…but learn from them too! I’ve seen some fantastic ways of teaching topics I hadn’t considered myself which were so engaging and had brilliant progress!
Of course, there may be some placements which don’t go as smoothly. Hopefully these are few and far between, but they can happen.
If you’re the student – don’t fret. First, is there another teacher in school who can be a support? Sometimes, popping next door to a friendly face can give you a boost. Just be sure not to undermine your mentor and remember to keep it professional. You can ask them for support – but they probably won’t want to hear negative comments about a colleague! If this still hasn’t helped, then try to have a professional conversation with your mentor; if this isn’t productive then, as a final resort, seek guidance from your University tutor.
If you’re the class teacher or mentor and things aren’t going smoothly then my recommendation would be to be as honest as you can. Don’t just give constructive feedback, but give them support in finding a solution to their weak areas; ask them how they learn best – do they need to observe you more? Other teachers? Plan more for small groups first? If there are still difficulties, then set our clear guidelines using the University support plan. This should give them really clear areas to focus on, with smaller targets. Finally, contact the University tutor in order to pass on your concerns.
However, even with more challenging moments, I’ve always found this to be a really rewarding experiencing that has enriched my own practice. I hope you all have this experience, too!
Good luck to all the students and mentors who are still working their hardest, despite the challenging current conditions.
This week’s guest post is from Tom Brassington, a teacher and soon-to-be author of Bottled Book, which aims to help children understand how to cope with their emotions. Tom is always a positive inspiration on Twitter, who talks about wellbeing and the importance of speaking about how you feel, as well as sharing creative and interesting classroom practice. Here, he shares his own view of lockdown and the impact it has had on his own reflection.
Count the little victories.
During my NQT year, I kept a notebook in the glovebox of my car. This book was for my eyes only. Across the front cover, etched in gold marker pen, were the words ‘Little Victories.’ Inside, I’d pop a note or two at the end of each day about the small wins, the blessings- the silver linings. It allowed me the chance to track when things had gone well in the classroom, to capture and commit to memory those ‘a-ha’ moments and, on those darker days, I’d reach into that glovebox and remind myself that things weren’t all that bad- that there were pockets of joy; handfuls of hope to cling to.
Truth be told, I’d completely forgot the book existed and nowadays I seldom spend time tracking the victories I have in the classroom- that was until we went back into lockdown in January.
Maybe you don’t believe in God, but I’m kind of convinced that it had something to do with Him when I rediscovered my ‘Little Victories’ log during a New Year spring clean. And it turned out to be quite the timely intervention, because January was tough! You only had to scan edutwitter, open a paper or talk to a colleague to know that the thought of going back into a period of lockdown felt impossible this time round. It was really hard to believe how so much had changed within what seemed to be a matter of weeks. (Of course, realistically, things had been changing for a while)
So one Saturday morning, with the pressures of weekday work once more seeping into the weekends, I took another look through my book of little victories.
There were a number of highlights:
‘You taught your first swimming lesson without falling into the pool.’ (The week previous goes down as one of the most embarrassing moments of my life)
J asked you for a pencil. (It was the first time J had spoken to me, so quite a breakthrough.)
Your Maths lesson went really well, even though you weren’t as prepared as you could have been. (I was hard on myself, even in my little victories book!)
And then I came across this from early January 2017:
‘You got through it.’
I can’t recall what the ‘it’ was that I’d got through in 2017. Maybe it was an observation, or a parents evening or even just a tough Tuesday, but it sure as hell wasn’t a global pandemic! It stopped me in my tracks. I was struck front and centre by the mistake I’d made in lockdown 1, and looked set to continue into the 2.0. At the very moment when I needed to be clinging to those silver linings, I was out there searching for storms.
As the pandemic grew and the pressure mounted, I’d slowly morphed from a problem solver, to a problem finder. I’d regressed from the comforting and confident colleague in the staff room to someone who began each day overwhelmed, ’d been sold on the lie the papers were pedalling that we were lazy, we weren’t doing enough and we had to somehow deliver more whilst running on empty. Everything felt harder, heavier and hurt a little more; particularly this time round.
I needed to refocus and remember the real situation we were in; that I wasn’t on my own and that not everything was bad news. In a world that promotes unmatchable standards on social media and, with each scroll through your phone, your presented with the fictional filtered highlights of your friends and families lives, it can be easy to think that big wins are all that matters. But, in fact, when a child raises their hand for the first time in class, when a parent offers another sincere thank you and a warm smile at the end of the day, or when a colleague explains that you saved them some time that week- they are what matter. The small wins, the little victories.
I found writing this blog really difficult, I started and restarted numerous times over the Pat fortnight. Truth is, sometimes it’s hard to find the positives in a year that’s been so marred by pain. But in the end, this writing process has helped a great deal. I’ve been reminded it would be impossible to spot a silver lining if it weren’t for the darker clouds I’ve passed through. This past year has been filled with some of the darkest clouds and roughest storms many of us will ever experience. Sometimes it’s a little easier to spot the small pockets of light than it is to go on searching someplace else for the sun.
So, thanks to lockdown and a reminder of what sustained me in teaching in the first place, the book is back in my glovebox. I probably won’t use it as much as I used to, but it’s there- there when I need to remind myself that I’m doing my best, that my best is good enough and that, sometimes, good enough is enough.
As we charter new waters again, facing further obstacles ahead, I hope you remember that too- you’re doing your best, your best is good enough and sometimes, that’s enough.
Count the little victories teachers, they don’t make you any less of a champion.
Thank you so much Tom for your insightful blog, which has definitely made me think about having my own ‘little victories’ notebook in my glove box! I look forward to sharing another contribution from a familiar face with you all next week.
Transition this year is still up in the air; although we have been told that on 21st June all Covid restrictions will be lifted, I’m sure we’re all still making plans cautiously in case this does, in fact, change again. In an ideal world, it would be fantastic to run traditional Transition Days where Year 6 children get to come to the school, meet their tutors and get a taste of the next educational step in their academic journey. Alongside this, there are some fantastic activities that they can do in their own primary schools which will be greatly enhanced if they don’t have to be virtual!
It is something that is already on my mind and seemingly others too, as I’ve had lots of messages and requests recently to share how I’ve looked at Transition in Year 6, as well as from a secondary perspective now. Here, I am going to share effective ways I have completed transition in Year 6, with a following blog outlining the results of my research and what we will, as a result of this, be implementing in a secondary setting.
This is, by far, my favourite Transition activity to do with Year 6. Not only does it give children a clear taste of what secondary will be like, it’s good CPD for staff, too.
Over the course of a week (or two, if you have enough volunteers and time!) the children went on to a ‘secondary’ timetable where lessons were in different rooms with different teachers, and in a different order to what they were used to. As well as this, children had to remember the equipment and book for each lesson and were responsible for arriving to the right place on time! Instead of a long, rambling explanation of exactly how we did this, here are some FAQs that might be helpful!
Who took the lessons?
The lessons were taken by school staff around the school – it was open to anyone who wanted to give it a go! This meant we had lots of TAs also volunteer to take a lesson, too. Their position, where necessary, was covered by the Y6 class teacher. The local secondary offered a lesson too, as well as an outside dance company.
What subjects were included?
We included most of the secondary subjects – whoever taught the lesson was allowed to pick their specialty or favourite subject. I tried to make sure there was a good balance, but I didn’t specify more core subjects, for example.
Was there homework?
Yes! Whoever took the lesson could give homework as they saw fit. I checked in with teachers to see what had been given and deadlines, to check there wasn’t too much. But they had to keep this organised and make sure it was handed in on time.
Did the children have to do detentions?
In a word, no. We gave ‘detention slips’ for them to see when they would have got one (for forgetting equipment, being late, no homework etc). If a child got LOTS of slips then we made them stay in for some of break on Friday, so they could see there was a consequence and help them learn but essentially that’s what this was: a learning experience!
Was there positive praise too?
Yes! We gave out ‘compliment’ slips as well, for children who did really well. We connected these to house points but wanted something physical for the students to see!
Was it actually helpful to the children?
Yes! The children filled in an anonymous questionnaire at the end of the experience and all of them were really positive. They also wrote letters once at secondary school and mentioned how much more prepared they felt they were than the other children in their year.
If you want any more information on this, I wrote an article for TES which might let you know a little more about the process.
Our local secondary wanted to collaborate on getting Year 6 pupils ‘Secondary Ready’. First, the deputy head came, along with some Year 7 pupils, to do a secondary-style lesson, all about what their next school will be like! This is something I am currently working on creating, which will be available virtually for schools (so watch this space!).
However, something that has already been tried & tested are the Year 7 Ready lessons I have created. These are based around skills that secondary schools felt students needed to be prepared for: organisation, resilience, respect and independence being some of the key focus lessons. Again, there is some more reading on these here, from a blog on Third Space Learning:
I tried to create a more ‘fun’ focus for each lesson, or present it in an interactive, accessible way. They had the chance to write to their MP, play ‘The Cube’ and create an alternative fairy tale ending, all based on the main focus of the lesson. If you are interested in using these lessons yourself, they are available here:
Often, it’s those middle children who go to their next school without much information about them. I think it’s important that, as much as possible, each child is seen as an individual. This pack includes:
A letter written about the child as an introduction to them.
An outline of a person filled with their likes and dislikes which is an overview of them.
I felt that these three things would be a quick-check for tutors to know the child a little better, as well as showing their writing and art skills as a starting point…and a check point when halfway into Term 1 you can show them what you know they can achieve! It was a really lovely day we spent creating these. Once finished, I posted them to all their feeder schools!
If you want a look at the pack, as well as the accompanying slides, use the link here:
These three activities really made a difference in Year 6 transition, and allowed children to feel more prepared for the move up. One or two transition days doesn’t allow them to fully understand what it might be like; often they are so overwhelmed with other feelings to take it all in. By approaching it in a familiar setting where they already feel comfortable, it really enables them to feel ready for the move.
If anyone wants more information on this, I am more than happy to share it. Just drop me a message on Twitter or Instagram (@primaryteachew) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Any IT/Digital Lead in a school will tell you how difficult it is to enact meaningful change. It’s not because of a lack of willingness and/or competence from staff but more due to the fact that digital skills are a long way down the list compared to the importance of English, Maths, Reading etc. Being given the odd staff meeting to highlight/discuss a digital strategy or run through an app/software is the best you can normally expect. Most of a school’s digital development occurs at break times or lunchtimes when there is a technical problem or you recommend using an application as a means to reducing workload. Staff tend to nod their heads, recognise the value in what you’re showing but generally stick to what they know best as they haven’t got the time, or patience, to try something new. Digital change tends to be slow and steady and never at the speed the IT/Digital Lead wants it to be. Nor is it ever fast enough to keep apace with the real world. After all, educators live in their own special bubble and rarely are they put at the forefront of society.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
For most teachers in the UK, the evening of Wednesday 18th March 2020 will be remembered as the day the profession entered the disaster movie equivalent of a ‘mass panic’. Boris Johnson had just announced that schools were to close for the foreseeable future and remote learning was now a ‘thing’. As most of us were running around like headless chickens wondering what on earth remote learning was and what it would look like, a school’s digital strategy now became a key focus. And with it came what all educators are renowned for: adaptability, flexibility, resilience and hard work. It’s part of an educator’s DNA and so the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t going to phase the profession. It was just something different, something that needed a bit of planning but ultimately something that best served the needs of our students. Almost immediately, all educators responded with a WW2 land army type attitude and put aside their own fears and indifference to technology and digital skills.
Ultimately, each school would end up doing things differently. It’s long been a frustration of mine that we all work in the same profession with the same goals for our students and the same national tests (Boo!) to contend with and yet, given that there are 20,832 (a lot I know, I checked) Primary schools in the UK, we appear to have 20,000+ different curriculums and ways to deal with things. But this time it was right. There wasn’t sneering coming from the academy down the road at the school that printed off hundreds of worksheets, bundled them into envelopes and then hand delivered them to their community. Likewise, there wasn’t a reverence and awe at those schools that jumped on to Zoom straight away to deliver live lessons. The digital divide, that we all knew about, was front and foremost at every schools’ pandemic response and they reacted accordingly.
What we did see, despite our different remote learning offerings, was a coordinated, committed and enthusiastic response. Staff did what they always did in a crisis (let’s face it there have been many), they rose to the occasion and continue to do so today as Lockdown 3.0 takes hold. Those same staff, who previously ‘feared’ technology or were afraid of breaking things, forgetting how to do things and wouldn’t/couldn’t ask for help were now at the front of the digital skills queue eager to learn how to use Google (other software providers are available) apps and tools to deliver content to our students. Likewise, other staff stood up to act as digital leads and provide support where needed. If someone needed a reminder on how to record a video or insert an image into a Google Doc then there was always someone to help them. Straight away, irrespective of whatever remote learning plan was offered, school staff were in it together and they were sponges when it came to learning new digital skills and apps/platforms.
In our school, as well as offering print resources, we immediately developed a Google Site to use as our Online Learning Portal. The great thing about Google Sites, although some staff may have initially disagreed, is the depth of digital skills it encompasses. You can simply add text boxes to add content or embed YouTube videos and a myriad of different document types. It’s perfectly set up for people of different technical abilities and you can use as much or as little as you like. This calmed that initial sense of panic and in record time we had, like other schools, put our classroom lessons online. Remote learning was now live and, although we were soon to be baffled by references to hybrid, asynchronous and synchronous learning, it worked for our students. No matter what route schools took they created a system that worked for their students and parents.
That aside, what emerged, and continues to thrive, is the desire to progress up that digital skills ladder and the groups and people that facilitated it. There are simply too many to mention and I apologise in advance to all those that I made use of that I now forget.
Let’s get the elephant out of the room by first mentioning the equally loved and loathed @OakNational which appeared out of nowhere to offer a bank of digital resources and lessons, designed and delivered by teachers. We’ve always been able to rely on BBC Bitesize and the pandemic proved no different. But it was the desire for some to offer free access to content that was previously behind a paywall that made a real difference. White Rose Maths, Zoom, Pear Deck and Google Meet , to name but a few, enabled schools to not only deliver high quality and engaging content but also to meet virtually with students and staff. Suddenly, ‘You’re On Mute’ and waving stupidly at the end of each lesson became the norm.
But the ability to signpost staff to other outside training was the biggest factor for me. Organisations such as @leoacademies (led by @TechMissC & @grahammacaulay) offered a range of online training on Google Tools, Seesaw, Choice Boards etc. Whereas @lgfl offered a range of online training on different learning platforms, Microsoft and Google, as well as many other things, ‘Nice & Slow’ training sessions from Short & Suite gave new learners a gradual introduction into a variety of digital tools. The excellent @CanopyCIC showcased how to use digital tools in each curriculum subject and education staff up and down the country could now participate in @CompatSch community meetings. Daily virtual staffrooms led by @C_learning_net and @paulmfarrell (they’ll be celebrating their 200th event on 25th Feb) gave everyone the opportunity to jump into a Google Meet and ask questions without fear and their 24hr Global Staffroom saw educators from around the world showcase their digital skills and how to use them in the classroom.
In short, teachers and leaders alike, consumed everything on offer and there was always a ‘beginners guide’ to a digital tool should anyone need it. There was something for everyone and there was always a recording to consume if time didn’t allow a live participation. Online PD became a daily ritual for most educators as they sought to improve their online delivery and offering to their students. Even if they didn’t have time to master it immediately, it opened doors to activities/approaches to use in the future. Schools and educators now became outward thinkers, collaborators and sharers of content and knowledge.
A number of providers like WeVideo, EdPuzzle, Loom and Screencastify offered free upgrades for educators and many still do. And we even managed to get some free devices from the Department of Education too…albeit mostly after schools had welcomed students back!
For those of us who had previously dabbled with Twitter once in a while, it now became a daily PD reference tool. For many it acted, and still does, as a form of instant messenger as questions are tweeted out and within minutes a myriad of responses are offered from one man and his dog or an edtech giant with 100k followers. Social media is often derided as a negative entity but Twitter, along with the thousands of Facebook edtech groups, has shown how worldwide collaboration and support can work successfully during a pandemic. But more importantly, it has removed barriers for many diving into this world for the first time. It’s not a cliche to say that everyone is welcomed and first time users can confidently ask questions and be supported. Likewise, the most experienced edtech enthusiasts are learners as well as contributors.
In short, educators have never worked harder or more consistently to serve the needs of their students. So in June/July 2020 when Lockdown 1.0 came to a close there was much hope for the future for digital skills in schools. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to do anything about it.
When Lockdown 3.0 (schools remained fully open during Lockdown 2.0) was announced, with less than 24hrs notice, the education sector simply shrugged its shoulders, rolled up its sleeves and said ‘Here we go again’. But we didn’t rest on our laurels, we strived to improve. Most schools now offered live lessons through Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom or Zoom and now the difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning came to the fore. We now knew where to go to find a suitable app or resource for a particular lesson, we had a bank of video tutorials we could watch to remind us about the features of Jamboard etc but more importantly we made connections online with other educators and facilitators. The kind of connections where you can just email or DM someone a tech question and guarantee to receive a quick answer. We’d long become familiar with the Chrome Web Store and knew which extensions and add-ons we could make use of to enhance an online activity or make a synchronous or asynchronous lesson that little bit more engaging.
Educators are no longer in the digital dark ages and just reliant on their IT/Digital Lead for personal and professional development. Not only have we adapted to online/remote learning but we’ve learnt to reinvent our teaching skills for the digital age and, dare I say it, I think we’ve done a great job of it. Our confidence and competence with digital skills have skyrocketed since that first panic set in on 18th March 2020. Don’t get me wrong, we know we face a huge uphill task to narrow the digital divide but, for once, there is a positive vibe around the future of technology in education and it’s one all educators deserve credit for.
Thank you so much to Stuart for his fantastic guest post today – I have definitely discovered a whole new host of technology that I know I can look into! I hope you all enjoyed exploring how our tech use can be adapted within the classroom after our experience of remote learning!
When you look up the definition of Imposter Syndrome, it’s said to be: the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.
I’ve always felt an element of Imposter Syndrome in my work life, but I think this is something that has been completely exacerbated by lockdown. Our work environment has changed as well as the expectations of our profession being constantly adapted at very short notice. I’m sure there are points where all of us are sat there thinking: ‘How can I do this now?’ or ‘Am I doing my best?’.
It seems to be something that is quite common within educational settings; many teachers I’ve spoken to say they find it hard to accept praise for things they have done well, or keep quiet about their achievements until someone notices it rather than shouting from the rooftops. We are a modest profession, and from some (limited!) research as well as my own experience both in life, and online, it seems to be females who suffer this more acutely and don’t feel as though they can speak up.
Because of this, I’ve tried more consciously to speak up about not only what I’ve managed to achieve, but to make sure what I’ve done is recognised. When there are so many voices it can be hard to be heard; whether this is just within your department, a whole school or a wider community. It’s something I still find really difficult; why should anyone care what I’ve managed to do? Why would my resources be useful to anyone but me? But despite these worries every time, I am making more effort to applaud myself. If I share something, what’s the worst that can happen?
However, one thing I’ve always really struggled with and find difficult to remedy is comparison. Comparison is a huge part of Imposter Syndrome; if you look at what others do it can make your voice feel less important, particularly in the workplace.
I look on Twitter and see the amazing ideas and creations of other educators. Although I have always suffered with my confidence, I have never compared myself with others as frequently as I am now. I’ve even begun to doubt my skills outside of the classroom, in non-educational areas!
We have all heard the quote ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ and for good reason. Comparing yourself is very rarely going to have a positive outcome. I often use Twitter or other social platforms to be inspired or admire others work. I love also sharing my own; part of why I love the teacher side of social media is to support and help other educators as I have been in the past. Collaboration is something we are all so strong at. Collaboration needs to be separated from comparison.
The most difficult part is how to combat these feelings. Deep down we all know we shouldn’t be feeling this way, I don’t know about you, but I have friends who make the effort to tell me how great something I’ve done is, or just generally give me compliments, yet I find them really hard to accept. Not only does my self-confidence sometimes lack, but I also doubt others perceptions of me too. Then, when someone tells you ‘not to let it worry you’, is there anything more infuriating? If I could switch it off, I absolutely would.
I’ve got some really simple ways I try to combat these feelings:
Speak to friends. Is the way I’m feeling valid? (Though the danger with this, is if they don’t agree you can then be sat feeling worse!)
Write down the list of things you’ve achieved in the day. When you see other people being productive, you can see how much you have actually managed to do yourself!
I always credit others when their ideas have inspired me, because I think this is so important in making sure collaboration doesn’t become comparison.
Tell others when I think their idea is great! I know how much this helps me, so I make sure I say ‘well done!’ to others when I can.
If I find there’s things I don’t know, I make sure I research them. Not knowing something doesn’t mean you can’t excel, it means you just have something more to learn to help you improve.
None of these will stop Imposter Syndrome, or comparison, of course. But these small steps can partly alleviate it. I’d love to hear how anyone else might feel, or even how you manage to keep those feelings at.bay or become less over time.
By reducing the amount you compare yourself to others, the more you can see your own worth and the value of the contributions you have to offer. We find it so easy to support others, but the first person we need to support is ourselves.
This week’s guest post is from Sophie Bartlett, a Year 5/6 teacher who I’m sure you’ll all recognise as a supportive member of the Twitter community who consistently produces helpful and long-lasting resources but also is happy to give advice. Today, she is talking about the positive experience of having a PGCE student in lockdown, which I think is such an important insight at the moment. Enough from me: over to Sophie!
When I was asked if I wanted to take on a PGCE student this term (who I shall refer to as M hereafter), my initial excitement quickly turned to disappointment when Lockdown 3.0 was announced. How would I balance weeks of remote learning, being in school with the KW children and mentoring someone completely new to the profession?
We teachers have been getting a pretty hard time in the media lately, but teacher training applications are on the up – or so I hear, anecdotally – so we must be doing something right! (That is unless people really do think we work 30 hours a week and have been sat at home on full pay, which does seem alluring on the face of it…) For people to choose to join the profession during one of its most uncertain times… well that’s commitment! So it’s up to us to prove to them they made the right choice.
Here are five reasons why mentoring a student during the pandemic has been a ray of light for me in what is otherwise a fairly dark time.
A new, and different, perspective
M is a parent, a keen runner and experienced in other careers – all things I am not! When writing emails to parents, or planning activities, it has been invaluable to gain the perspective of someone who has home schooled primary-age children during the first lockdown. The experience and expertise they have brought from other areas of their life has not only complemented what I can offer our class but also enhanced it.
A shared learning experience
One of the conversations I have had with M focused on the difficulty of teaching something that comes easily to you. For example, maths is one of my strengths, but I sometimes struggle explaining a basic mathematical concept to someone who already finds maths difficult; science is one of my weaker subjects, so I have to teach myself everything from scratch – this makes it easier for me to explain the basics, as I have only recently had to relearn them myself. In relation to teaching, explaining the processes that now come so fluently for us to someone else (planning, questioning, assessing, behaviour managing etc.) has made me reflect on the intricacies of why we do things, how and when.
I am also enjoying learning something new with someone else too. I am currently participating in Teaching for Mastery training with NCETM. I have previously struggled with delivering whole-class maths lessons to a mixed Year 5/6 class, but have clumsily persevered. As I progress with the NCETM training, I’m learning more about how I can transfer the mastery principles to such a wide ability range – but still with no children to practise on (yet)! Luckily, M is returning after half-term for their second placement, so I said to them we can learn how to teach maths this way together! I will most definitely be making many mistakes whilst doing so, but M can observe and help me, and vice versa. Knowing that something will be new to both of us makes me so much more confident to try.
Okay, so this is a selfish one. And only attainable at a certain point (we all know there are periods of time where the workload is considerably heavier as a mentor). But I’ve reached the sweet point a few times now where M can take some work off me at school so I can put more time and focus into planning, feedback and interacting with the children at home.
Let’s face it, we’re all a little jaded right now. Uploading the next list of tasks/files for Day 637 of remote learning… replying to the 263th email so full of text speak you can barely translate it… repeating the instructions for the 485th time (even though they were in the email AND in the video AND at the top of the worksheet)… having M join us has been a breath of fresh air.
Our activities in school have occasionally looked different thanks to the ‘innovative tasks’ M has led. Getting to know our KW children revealed that they loved animé, so M planned an afternoon talking about Japanese culture and making sushi; one child was enjoying a book where the character had to look after an egg, so M planned a ‘can you keep your egg safe dropped from a height with only these materials?’ experiment. I have also recently tweeted about another activity M shared with me from their uni lectures (and which M subsequently delivered a pre-recorded lesson for the home learners about) called ‘Reading Rivers’ (thank you Teresa Cremin!). Being stuck to my laptop all day meant that I never would have had the time or energy for researching these kind of activities – let alone delivering them – but the children in school have SO benefitted from M’s enthusiasm.
It can feel ever so lonely doing this job at the moment – you only have to look at Twitter at lunchtime on a weekday to see that! With colleagues shielding or in a different bubble, there are very few different faces I see – or am allowed to spend quality time with – throughout the day. Thanks to the university’s strict rules (multiple tests, a period of isolation beforehand), M has been allowed to join our bubble and provide me with some NEW ADULT CONVERSATION! Not only that, but it’s been so cathartic to rant – and rave! – about the job to someone who wants to understand (as much as I love Twitter, a real face is rather different to a pixelated one).
If you look hard enough, there are many positive things to take away from this ‘lockdown learning’ experience: being part of training the next wave of teachers is one of them, and it is such a privilege!
Thank you so much to Sophie for her guest blog today. I look forward to sharing another fantastic contribution with you next week 🖤
This lockdown has certainly been the biggest struggle of them all so far. I’ve always felt a bit more down in the winter anyway, but this has been exacerbated this year by the fact we are also being told (and rightly so) to stay at home. It’s been hard to ignore all the negative emotions and I’ve found they sometimes completely overwhelm any positive ones.
Lockdown learning in particular has felt like a struggle. There is much less interaction and let’s be honest – it’s not the teaching we all came into the profession for. I’ve felt like it’s actually harder work than being in school!
So, this week I really tried to focus on the positives of lockdown, and lockdown learning too. What is actually enjoyable about the way we’re helping children learn now? What have I enjoyed about remote teaching?
The first thing that came to my mind, is the creativity children have been able to use. There have been technologies and apps they have been able to use at home which have enabled children to really develop their own work and, for some, also created opportunities for more accessibility. I’ve seen self portraits using computer illustration apps; work completed using PP and Word more frequently than writing; a poem writing session where a child rapped their verses.
In school, we often find thatsome of the ways we can use technology are limited. As much as we want to give children a chance to explore different ways of working or to be creative with their answers, there are a number of reasons why we can’t necessarily do this as much as we would want. At home, for some, they have more access to this or they have access to chances to be creative. For example, using lego to display a scene from a battle, or the chance to bake their own jungle scene!
Each day I enjoy looking through the work that comes in and seeing how a child has chosen to present it. It’s made me think about how I can be more creative in the work I set them – how else can we get them enjoying and creating English at home? I know whilst (tentatively!) planning for next term, we are already thinking of new ways we can explore the language.
But I know that there are so many more positives than this! So, I am hoping to turn ‘Lockdown Silver Linings’ into a guest post each week, where someone from a school setting can share their own positive experience of lockdown learning. In a time where things can seem bleak, collaboration and sharing of experiences can really help to keep seeing the light in the darkness.
By sharing our ideas, we can collaborate different ways of helping children both in school and remote learning. We can also share ways we have been ensuring our mental health and wellbeing are being cared for during this time. ‘Wellbeing’ is a very difficult word for a lot of us at the moment and can mean something different for all of us. I for one would love to hear how others have had some time away from their desk to make sure that work stays work, even in a home space.
And beyond this, we can just help to spread a little positivity! I know I love seeing positive posts and it really helps me reflect on my own day, too, and be more grateful for those little moments where things are going right.
I can’t wait to hear your Lockdown Silver Linings. ☁️🖤
If you have something you want to share, drop me an email: email@example.com with your guest post suggestion – I’d love to hear them.
P.S – Thank you Sophie (@_MissieBee) for the brilliant name of this feature!