ADHD and…organisation

It’s not been long since I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, aged 31. Now, as I turn 32 and start thinking about a new school year I’ve reflected a lot about how my ADHD – without me knowing – affected a range of different areas of my life and how I now need to adapt my behaviours to be more successful. I have had lots of DMs since being diagnosed asking me how this affects different areas of my life and any strategies I may have developed – either consciously since the diagnosis, or unconsciously prior to it – so decided to write an ‘ADHD and…’ series to help anyone else in a similar situation.

Obviously, ADHD is different in each person who has it. Generally there are three types of ADHD: 

  • impulsive/hyperactive
  • Inattentive 
  • Combined 

For me, I display traits of being combined – which can feel like a total contradiction. For example:

  • When it comes to money and decisions I can be impulsive; I talk fast which shows a sign of hyperactivity; I always need more than one thing on the go to keep my brain happy which can make it hard to get a list of jobs done. 
  • I struggle to focus on one thing; I can zone out when people are talking to me if there isn’t enough to focus on; I struggle with tasks over a long period of time. 

The most frustrating thing I’ve found is some days I am so productive – I can smash my entire to-do list and then some. Others, I really struggle to even do one task (ADHD paralysis) and there’s really no telling what each day will bring until I wake up. 

The first area I wanted to focus on is my workload at work as this directly impacts my day-to-day life. I’ve always found it difficult to organise myself effectively, and now I have knowledge of the ‘why’, I can change my mindset and actions when I go back to make this easier. 

It’s taken me time to adapt, and I know I’ll still need to find coping strategies to help me along the way, but I wanted to share a few things that work for me, in the hope that they might help you too – even if you aren’t diagnosed or don’t have ADHD yourself!

Chunk your time.

When you have a job to do which takes a longer period of time, chunk this down. I will do each task either in a time chunk (usually 15 minutes) or by lessons (finishing Monday’s maths slides, for example). When I am completing my work, there are no distractions allowed – no phone, no additional tabs open (bye Twitter) and no snacks or books nearby. These are all things I ‘reward’ myself in during the break. 

The break is relative to the time I have chunked my work into – if I am doing it per lesson, then a 10 minute break is acceptable. Only a 15 minute time chunk, then only a 2 minute break to quickly check socials. This, for me, has been my best way to complete tasks – by cutting off all my usual distractions. 

Do it ‘there and then’.

Once an email has come through asking me to do a task, I try and do it there and then if I can. So, part of this is not opening emails which will need additional work until I have time to not only read them, but to respond – lunchtime, after school or during PPA. Once I’ve opened an email and read it, I probably won’t remember that job unless I get another email reminder! 

Often the heading of the email will be a giveaway as to whether it will need further work than just reading, but, if it doesn’t, then keep a pack of sticky notes next to your laptop. If the email does require follow-up, write it on the post-it and stick it to your laptop where you can’t miss it!

Reward yourself.

Once an email has come through asking me to do a task, I try and do it there and then if I can. So, part of this is not opening emails which will need additional work until I have time to not only read them, but to respond – lunchtime, after school or during PPA. Once I’ve opened an email and read it, I probably won’t remember that job unless I get another email reminder! 

Often the heading of the email will be a giveaway as to whether it will need further work than just reading, but, if it doesn’t, then keep a pack of sticky notes next to your laptop. If the email does require follow-up, write it on the post-it and stick it to your laptop where you can’t miss it!

Be vocal.

If you know it’s a long task which needs to be completed by a certain date – such as inputting data, or finishing reports, then ask for reminders of these deadlines, even if it just two days before. This will jog your memory as often with ADHD it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and you will have no recollection of it…until the deadline has already passed.

If you have asked for a reminder then it doesn’t shift the onus from you – after all we are professionals with a workload – but it is akin to asking for help, so there’s no harm in requesting a reminder. If I had a pound for every time I’ve completed a task there and then, only to have not sent it in…I’d not need a job!

In the past, before I found which strategies work, I’d be so hard on myself. I’d think I was lazy, or distracted, or forgetful. I know others will have thought this of me too, in and out of work. But now I have found ways to make it work for me, I can not only be more productive with my workload, but more positive about it, too.

Emily x

One small step for an ECT, one giant leap for your class…

Being an ECT is an extremely exciting time in your career. Not only are you bright-eyed and enthusiastic about entering the profession, but you essentially have a clean slate to begin showing your school, and yourself, the teacher you want to be.

It’s been a fair while since I was an NQT myself, but I wish I had read some tips and wisdom about how to approach my first year of teaching; it might have stopped me from over-complicating a lot of things or doing work I really didn’t need to! So, here are some small steps towards a more balanced preparation of your first year:

  1. Don’t overspend!

As tempting as it is to buy lots of lovely things for your classroom, it’s always best to set it up first before you do! See what the school has in the resource room; the space (and storage!) you have available; the policy the school has for decorating and displays. Once you have done your classroom with as much as you already have available, then start thinking about anything additional you might like to include. Some teachers will tell you not to spend any of your own money on your classroom and, realistically, they may be right. I wouldn’t say this, though, as even now I’ll buy a few little extras to brighten it up or get it to my own taste! For example, I bought some cheap faux-ivy for my reading display and I always love having wipeable maths and English walls (check out @mattpayne22 for these!) to enhance the provision and aesthetic of displays.

2. Enjoy your summer!

And speaking of classrooms, please don’t spend a huge portion of your summer preparing it and putting up displays. First, ask your school what time they are giving to do this. Is there a possibility you can go in the last week of term and start backing displays? Is there the opportunity to do any on the training days before children come in?

Then, make a reasonable plan. Yes, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to work in the holidays – after all, we aren’t paid for them – but especially in your first year or if you’re moving classrooms, the necessity to do this outside of term time will be there.

  • Set aside between 2 – 5 days to do this and stick to this.
  • Write out a list of the things you need to do and tick off the jobs as you go; it keeps it manageable!
  • If you can, take someone with you to help or ask a new colleague if they can help you back boards if you’re both in. You’ll get the work done twice as fast!
  • Check expectations before you start – what boards do you need, for example?

But it’s so important that beyond sorting your classroom and resources you enjoy your summer! Make sure you set days (or weeks!) aside when you switch off and relax. I developed #TeacherSelfcareSunday to ensure this happens in term-time, but this is especially important in half terms and holidays. We can only do our best for the children if we’re feeling our best selves – as they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup…so spend the summer filling yours!

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel!

I know I still enjoy making resources; the chance to be creative is often one of the things which draws us into the profession and definitely shouldn’t be lost. But there is no point creating something which already exists! Always check if someone else has made it before you (and is sharing for free; buying resources should be through school!) and then, if they have, adapt this if it’s not right for you/your class.

If it isn’t already out there – then this is the time to make it! Even better, share your work when you’re done. I personally never charge for any one-off resources I make for my class – if I needed them it’s likely someone else will too and we spend enough money as it is to expect people to pay for them. However, this is entirely down to you!

Finally, if you do adapt someone’s else’s work, or are inspired by it, and then go on to share it – credit the original poster. Teaching is all about networking and working together; the idea of collaboration isn’t just one we should consider in schools, but outside them, too.

4. Use Twitter!

Twitter is invaluable to me, even now, for ideas, advice and resources. Here are my top tips to help it work for you:

  • You can ask any questions you’d like answered. Don’t worry if you don’t get many answers to start with; as with any social media you can’t expect a large response when you first start out. Which leads me to tip two…
  • Engagement! It’s about networking – make sure you interact with others through comments and likes. The more you do this, the more likely it is someone will see your question when you would like some advice.
  • Use the hashtags to also build your network. You can find #FFBWednesday with @DeputyGrocott and, on a Monday, join in with #PrimaryRocks (@PrimaryRocks1) where lots of different primary topics are covered.
  • Don’t just show the positives. It’s a safe, supportive space where you can reach out and ask for help so don’t feel you only need to post what goes well (though we love to see it!).

5. Make the most of the help around you!

Finally, don’t be scared to ask for help – whether that’s someone in school, or an online community that can offer advice. Often, we muddle through comparing it to our training, but being in charge of your own class can feel extremely different. It’s much easier to get through if you have support beyond family and friends. From someone who has been in your shoes and knows how to overcome the challenges you’re facing.

When I was an NQT, I was in a difficult situation and felt embarrassed to ask for help. I felt I should know what I’m doing and didn’t realise that I wasn’t being adequately supported at that time. I wish I had known that it is absolutely okay to ask for help and get not only advice, but a different perspective on the challenges I was facing. It’s okay not to get everything right first time – you’re still new and experienced teachers still get things wrong! – but it’s not okay to feel as though you’re alone. My DM’s are always open, and I know a number of others on Twitter who would offer this support, too.

These tips may all seem simple but can make a huge difference to your workload and wellbeing as you start teaching. It’s one of the most amazing jobs where every single day we get to walk into a classroom and feel as though we have made a difference. We do this for the children and yes, of course they are extremely important. But ultimately, the best resource in that classroom is you.

(ECT tees available from www.teachappy.co.uk – use ECT10 for 10% off!)

Enjoy being an ECT and welcome to the profession 🖤

Emily x

ADHD: later in life as a teacher.

All my life, I’ve known I have certain flaws and traits which can make life more difficult. Having never had ADHD suggested as a child, or even as a teen, I just accepted that it must be part of who I am and I needed to find ways to overcome these obstacles in order to ‘fit in’ with the standard being set by others. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) was something I hadn’t even heard of until in my early 20s, when I was volunteering in schools and training to be a teacher.

However, when I hit this age, SENCOs in the schools I was working in began to ask me if it was something I was diagnosed with. All these ‘flaws’ I had put down to just being ‘me’ had started to catch the attention of others around me. Finally, over a year ago, a doctor (the third, in fact) asked me if I had ever been diagnosed with ADHD as I had so many traits; when I said no, she strongly suggested I do so.

So I did.

Symptoms and traits vary hugely from person to person, but for me, I found:

  • I have always been forgetful and lost things. Tickets for events, presents when seeing friends or attending celebrations, my phone, my driving license. It sounds so simple but was causing me huge inconveniences – like when I went to see the Spice Girls with my friends and forgot my tickets and any form of ID.
  • Constantly changing task, or having trouble focusing on tedious or time-consuming tasks. At school in particular, I loved exams as they were time-short, high-pressured situations which meant I had to focus for a specific period. Coursework, on the other hand, was something which I found endless. It brought my overall grade down, every time.
  • I have huge difficulty prioritising tasks. If you tell me you want it at the end of Monday, you will get it at the end of Monday so don’t expect otherwise. Also, don’t tell me three weeks ahead you want something and then don’t remind me nearer the time. It won’t happen – I’ll have forgotten! With ADHD, it’s often ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – with physical and abstract things! It’s not on purpose and it isn’t through laziness.
  • I talk quickly and excessively. I have to be really conscious to slow myself down and concentrate on listening to others. I often miss key information or instructions if I can’t doodle or there are distractions.
  • I’m very impulsive…especially with money. Despite working my whole life I’ve struggled to save a significant amount of money over long periods of time. Budgeting doesn’t happen despite my constant efforts to. It makes living alone really tricky.
  • Interestingly, anxiety and depression are linked with ADHD, two other MH conditions I suffer from.

This is not a comprehensive list; I sleep only a few hours a night, I have always been on the go and struggle to focus on just one thing. Getting lost in ADHD Tik Tok found me nodding along to every video. It has always felt like my brain moves too fast for my body. However, these have always been the things which I’ve found really hinder my life and progress the most: they have the biggest impact.

When I shared the possibility of getting a diagnosis on Twitter, I was met with support. So many people were happy to share their experiences either by commenting or sending me a helpful, friendly DM. I decided, with all of this information, it was definitely something worth pursuing despite ADHD being much less commonly diagnosed for girls and women. I went through the NHS ‘Right to Choose’ option, through the Psychiatry UK website. The whole process took a long time (don’t expect an appointment within a year!) but was easy to complete. The people I spoke to were friendly and professional, making me feel at ease.

Once I had my first session, I was told I would not need the next one. I had ADHD, but had managed to cope in life due to my ‘charm and intelligence’ and therefore it would now be about how I chose to manage it going forward. My initial feeling was relief – that all these parts of me I found had such a negative impact were a part of me, but a part of me for a reason. It would no longer be put down to being chronically disorganised or laziness, but because I had a diagnosed disorder.

A few days later, I felt sadness. That it had taken so long to be recognised. All the different paths my life could have taken if it were diagnosed sooner. The increased opportunities I might have had. I felt lost. It took a few days for me to shake this off and remember the opportunities I have now are because of who I am, ADHD included. I have worked hard my whole life to be where I am, despite the challenges. I can say ‘what if’ all I like, but maybe the life I have now is even better than the straight As I might have worked for, or the savings I could have had behind me. I’ve still achieved.

Now, going forward, I will have access to more understanding and strategies to help me in the workplace and in life. I’d love to hear any top tips from people reading this, too. It’s only the start of my journey, so I have lots more to learn!

When I shared my diagnosis on Twitter, I had so many comments and DMs asking me more about the process. I hope this blog helps anyone who is feeling the same. Anyone who follows me knows I try and be open and honest about my life so that others feel less alone, or can feel there is someone they can talk to. I am by no means an expert, but having lived with anxiety, depression and ADHD, I hope that I can show it is possible to live with these and still be somewhat successful.

If you want to get in touch, please use the blog contact form or DM me on Twitter.

Emily x

Guest Post: Twinkl – Getting Ready for Y6 SATs

Blurb – 

Daniel Robertson is a Content Executive for the education publisher Twinkl UK. Prior to this role, he has worked in a wide variety of school settings acting as both a curriculum lead in English Literature and Language working closely with a broad range of age groups, as well as mentoring trainee teachers and NQTs to obtain their teaching qualification. He has worked closely with early career teachers to improve teaching and learning and has since been writing for Twinkl UK.  He graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with an English Literature and Creative Writing degree, whilst working with inclusion in higher education. 

Getting Ready for Y6 SATs

It’s that time of year again where SATs preparation is at the fore of most teaching and learning plans for year 6 children. With the countdown very much underway, time is of the essence when it comes to making this experience a comfortable one for our students, despite the pressure of demonstrating what they have learned throughout their primary journey before transitioning to secondary education. 

With the SATs of 2020 and 2021 very much disrupted by the pandemic, it has never been more important that we make this journey a smooth one for our Year 6 students. 

What do Year 6 SATs look like?

SATs are the compulsory standardised assessment tests that students will take towards the end of their primary education journey, before embarking upon new secondary education experiences and learning. The most significant that we must first know, is that these standardised assessments are designed to check educational progress in comparison with the KS1 data collated at the end of Year 2.

In May of this year, your children will be assessed on core educational skills across both English and Maths and in some cases, their speaking and listening skills will be tested and Science knowledge, too.

The key skills that your children will need to be prepared for are:

Reading

Writing 

Grammar 

Punctuation

Spelling 

Maths

With this in mind, it is essential that we provide children with the appropriate levels of preparation, whilst not overwhelming them with the broad range of skills they will need to demonstrate. What’s more, it is key to remember that SATs are not solely designed to check progress and penalise areas of the learning that a child may have found difficult. Despite these assessments playing a key role in how secondary schools will look at setting and grouping students in terms of ability classes, it also highlights development areas. So, class teachers can better identify where a child needs further support and enable students to progress further when they meet the challenges of secondary education. 

What can we do to help students feel prepared?

Revision for tests with younger children can at times create its own set of challenges. But, there is plenty that we can do to make the process run smoothly. Here, we look at some ways we can help our Y6 cohort feel more confident and ready to demonstrate what they have learned throughout their primary education journey.

What can parents do?

  1. Breakfast is always a good place to start. Make sure your child receives the right nutrition and has access to brain food. This is a great way to start the day and gives children the resources they need to perform at their very best. Your child’s school may also have a breakfast club available for them to attend if time is short in the morning.
  2. Be positive. Make sure to offer compassion and understanding if your child is feeling the pressure. Don’t criticise their approaches to revision, as this can lead to them having a negative connection with their learning. By offering advice, and scheduling specific times with achievable incentives, you are sure to foster the passions of learning from home alongside their classroom preparation. 
  3. Create the appropriate learning environment from home. By making the home environment conducive to learning, you will be able to maximise concentration and focus. You can do this by teaching your younger children about the importance of revision, too, and encouraging them to understand that revision time should not be interrupted. 
  4. Make sure they have the right equipment to achieve their best. It is so important that your child has the learning instruments they need to revise effectively. This can also alleviate last-minute stress, too. 
  5. Incentivise their commitment to studying. Giving your child something to look forward to at the end of the week, like a family trip out or going to see a film they have really wanted to see, can really play a positive role in how committed they are to their schedule. Make sure you give them choices, though. By allowing them to choose their revision prize, you are sure to keep them motivated.

What can we, as education professionals, do in the classroom?

  1. Provide effective revision opportunities for your class. Nobody knows your class as well as you do, and with that in mind, it is now time to capitalise on your understanding of their development areas. Identify where holistic knowledge gaps are, and focus specifically on re-teaching these areas across the subjects they will come across in their SATs papers.
  2. Make use of previous papers. This is a great way to expose your students to the kinds of questions they are sure to come across. By giving them the opportunity to explore what a SATs paper looks like, you are sure to make them feel at ease when it comes to the real thing. 
  3. While we are on the topic of making students comfortable, now is probably a good time to introduce SATs timings to your AFL questions and revision tasks. With practice, students will be able to approach questions under assessment conditions much more effectively and with more confidence. 
  4. Start to implement examination techniques. Sometimes we can underestimate the impact of preparation when it comes to embedding exam techniques. With this most likely being the first official exam they have had to sit, go through these techniques explicitly with the children, so they can practice how to approach questions successfully. Examples of exam techniques could be: underlining key information, crossing out irrelevant information, checking for units of measurement and zooming/highlighting important figures before evidencing their working out.
  5. Encourage them to take their time when reading through the question. So many students across a range of age groups and levels make the mistake of not reading the question correctly. Combining this with the previously mentioned examination techniques will make sure that your students approach each individual question correctly. Therefore, limiting the possibility of misreading questions and drawing the wrong conclusion. 

Most importantly, it is critical that we remember that most children will never have come across this kind of educational pressure before. It is essential that we rationalise this stress for them by consistently reminding them that SATs and explain that there will be ample opportunities in future to demonstrate their skills and knowledge, too. And Finally, don’t forget to celebrate their successes so far. It has taken their entire lives to get to this point in their educational journeys, and that is something worth acknowledging.

Thank you so much to Daniel for a fab blog post – with Y6 Mock SATs week happening for my school next week, I know that I need to start thinking about May and how I can best help my class not only academically, but pastorally too. Hopefully, reading this post helps you to reflect, just as it did for me!

Emily x

No Title.

I’ve found it difficult to write blogs this year about teaching. Our profession has been going through a period like no other. Not only are we battling with the challenges of teaching during a pandemic which was completely unpredicted and unprecedented, but we are up against negative media images – more so than usual – and often more disparaging opinions of our careers by the public.

On top of this, we have had to deal with our own personal challenges and struggles caused by lockdowns, Covid and general life. I know for me personally this has been a very hard year. From the outside, it’s been great. I got my house, my kittens and a new job back in Primary after a year exploring the world of secondary teaching. I get to do lots of things I love outside of school such a blogging, reading and baking as well as being lucky enough to have a great group of people supporting me both on and offline.

But what people can’t see if on top of my previously diagnosed anxiety, I was formally diagnosed with depression during the summer, too. I’m not writing about this for sympathy but rather to show people that they are not alone with their feelings. The pandemic has left my MH in the worst shape it has been, and over the summer it took all my energy to get myself off the sofa most days, so anything beyond this I had to mask my feelings and, in turn, felt exhausted for a day or two after.

Going into work, as you can imagine, was difficult after this. Especially starting somewhere new and unfamiliar. Now, add to this the pressures of teaching in a pandemic and the comments from the public and even, in some cases, friends or family, about ‘having 12 months off’, ‘having a break teaching online’ or even that ‘teachers have had it easy’.

I’m not saying other careers haven’t had it just as hard, or harder. The NHS have been working themselves to the bone during this time. Some people were furloughed or had no job to go to during this time. But remember, it’s all relative. Just because this was happening doesn’t mean our own experiences are invalid. Hearing that I was supposed to be enjoying this ‘easy’ (lol) time of my career and struggling made it all the harder. I have experienced panic over the last few months – year, really – about whether teaching is for me anymore. Can I hack it?

And this is where I’ve had to start thinking of ways to balance my wellbeing with work. I love my career; I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I love doing all the extra things alongside it – blogs, articles, webinars – that I am so lucky to have the opportunity to do: I often see these as my ‘down time’. But I became stuck in a negative cycle of imposter syndrome and a negative image of myself. My self-esteem – believe it or not – is low after a couple of years of constant change. One negative comment can ruin my week, never mind my day.

So, to combat this going into the new year I have decided to focus more on the positives. Each day, I write down something good which has happened in my positivity journal. I’ve started also adding in comments from people which are praise or thank yous – a reminder of how we’re viewed positively by others can be such a boost.

Alongside this, I need to become more organised by using a diary or calendar. Things I’m doing outside school often become second thoughts. I am going to write them down in a visible place to have things to look forward to. But, and importantly, I am going to schedule time to work, too. Instead of sitting on my sofa waiting to find the energy to pick up my laptop after a long day, I am going to put that time in my diary. And sit in my study!

Finally, I am going to stop feeling guilty for how I feel. I often feel as though I shouldn’t be down, or feel flat. I try and be open about my emotions – I used to be awful for bottling it up – but it’s still something I feel bad for. For not replying to messages or emails. For needing time to myself. For having to say no to things. But as we go into next year, I want to accept that this isn’t just okay, it’s normal to have times when we might feel this way.

We are under enough pressure to keep our classrooms ‘normal’ (which we all know is hard enough, without a pandemic involved!) and keep dealing with all the changes being handed to us without putting additional pressure on ourselves on top of this. I guess this blog is just about being kind to ourselves and each other. To create a support system that’s so good, public perception and media coverage doesn’t infiltrate our experience of the education system. To create a community which can ensure classrooms are as consistent as they can be for the children we teach. And to create an open forum where we make MH the norm to discuss.

Hopefully by sharing this, even one person might see they are not alone with their feelings. As always, my DMs are open if you want or need to talk 🖤

Emily x

#TeacherSelfcareSunday

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 🖤

Emily x

Acorn Soft Seating

*not an Ad!

Recently I was lucky enough to win 5 beautiful, bright bean bags from Acorn Soft Seating (part of Willowbrook Education) and I absolutely love them!

Not only are the colours bold (although they do also have a range of more muted tones) but they’re a super cute size perfect for any book corner or library.

I also recently saw on their Instagram that they are made of recycled polyester and therefore are adding to the sustainability of the world, which is enhanced by the leaf shape of the design.

They are really comfortable to sit on, too, as you can tell from the happy staff in these photos – we now have one in our work room for when we need a relax!

I can’t wait to use them for ‘comfy reading’ during our individual reading time in class. I know these bean bags will be the first choice of all the kids!

Thanks so much Acorn for a prize that enhances my classroom aesthetic & experience for the children! 👍🏻

Emily x

Next Steps: From PGCE to NQT

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.

@miss_lafford

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!

Some of Emily’s displays in her NQT classroom.

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.

Emily x

This blog has been included by Twinkl among their blogs that all trainee teachers should be following.

PGCE: Time to teach and learn…

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 mentor and I (no, I’m not a giant – but my heels were!)


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:

@MissMcnally1

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 moan if 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

One of Rosella’s recent classroom displays.

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.

Emily x

#Lockdown Silver Linings – Tom Brassington

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.

Emily x