#BeKind

This message has been displayed across social media extensively this week, for obvious reasons. The effect of being kind and choosing words carefully has been more prominent now than it ever seems to have been before.

It’s been well documented that I’ve been through a really negative experience before where unkind words and bullying really affected me. I was at the point of nearly leaving my career and, even now, I still struggle with having confidence in myself. One comment can still sometimes be enough to make me think that I am not good enough.

This being said, however, it’s easy to forget that people have different versions of what they think is being kind. It’s very easy for context to be lost on social media – nuances of conversation can be lost in written word and cause offence where it wasn’t intended.

I try really hard – especially given my past experiences – to be really kind and positive to everyone I interact with. As a few people who I confide in know, I’ll often worry about what I reply sometimes in case I come across mean or rude. They’ll get redrafted tweets and messages with me needing some confirmation that what I’m saying is okay! One of the things I dread most in life is upsetting people with what I say as I know the impact it can have.

But Twitter can be a total minefield. I’ve seen – during my 4 years on the platform – a range of different conversations that probably would have been totally avoided if they’d been had in person. A lot of us are very in touch with how we feel ourselves and although we like to think we’ve thought about the impact on others, we haven’t. Not really. Because our own view of what kind is has blurred what the experience of others might be.

For example, I tweeted an opinion about a certain author. Not once did I say I didn’t let children read him, or that they shouldn’t (for the record, I have two of his books in my classroom!) but people made this assumption and then jumped on my tweet criticising me for this very thing. It blew up bigger than I ever thought when I posted the tweet!

Luckily, other than the usual ‘do I sound too mean in my reply?’ I navigated it okay and actually learned I can defend myself without being seen as ‘mean’ (my eternal worry). But there will be other people that, when this happens to them, withdraw into themselves and become affected by what they’re being told.

We never know what anyone else is going through and small acts of kindness, forgiveness and tolerance can be the difference between a positive and negative experience for someone else.

Our views are different: some we will agree with, some we won’t. But we do need to embrace that our differences are what make us each unique – do I agree with everything I read? No. And some people absolutely open up some much needed discussion. But sometimes it’s okay for others to disagree!

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is an outdated proverb. One we should ignore.

So this is just a reminder to take a minute to think about what you say to others before you type or speak.

Words do hurt. Words can kill.

New Year, New You?

It happens every year. We see numerous people stating their New Year’s Resolutions with cries of: New Year, New Me!’

(And yes, for the record, I am one of them!). We look at the year ahead excited about things we already know will happen, as well as the prospect of the unknown. What will be waiting for us in 2020? What does the future hold?

But let’s focus for a moment on the past. I hope I’m not alone, but I for one know I’m awful at looking back at the year and seeing what good things have happened because I made them happen.

Teachers are often first to be self-critical. We suffer imposter syndrome and question our own ability; it seems to be the way a lot of us are wired. Yes, we are reflective but, and again I hope this isn’t just me, it’s much easier to reflect on the negative than step back and say, ‘You know what? That was great.’

So I took time out by myself to sit down and look back on 2019. What had I achieved? What three things was I really proud of?

1) I’ve been very open with the struggles I had leaving a toxic school. It made me anxious and paranoid, constantly worrying if I was any good at the job. This year (although I’m by no means at my full confidence again!), I’ve made huge leaps in developing my own self-belief. Ive started to see that some things I do can make an impact on the children, staff and people I interact with.

This may sound simple, but having a better understanding of my own self-worth has been the biggest impact on my year. I’ve felt 10% braver and asked for things I wanted to do, something I never would have had the confidence to do this time last year.

I get to review books, which I love. I write articles for amazing publications and companies. I have the confidence to put my own views out in a blog. None of this would have seemed possible to me a year ago.

2) My favourite part of the year was ‘Secondary Week’ which we put on for our Year 6 cohort in June. Before any of them went to their secondary move-up days, we had nearly 2 weeks where their timetable was as close as we could manage to secondary.

They moved classrooms; had different teachers; a range of all subjects; homework assigned on different days with different deadlines.

I was really lucky my school let me do this idea (because I had enough belief in myself to ask to do it!) and it worked amazingly! Children felt more confident going to secondary as well as having time to adjust to what will be expected of them. Because it went so well, it’s something we will repeat this year!

3) Reading more children’s books. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, despite being a huge reader, in the past I mostly stuck to adult books. This all changed & in 2019 I discovered even more amazing children’s literature! I believe reading these books has had a real impact on my teaching.

I can recommend books to children, have a range of incredible options in the book corner (I put all the books I buy in there!) and, most importantly, I’ve discovered some new favourites for myself!

So, if you look back on 2019, what would your Top 3 moments be?

What did you do that had the most impact on others?

And, importantly, what had the most impact on yourself?

For me, 2020 is going to be more of the same. A year of worrying less, putting myself forward for more things I want to do or believe I would be good for and to continue being 10% braver.

Small changes can have big results!

HNY x

I love social media but…

Anyone who follows any of my profiles can see that I love social media.

  • I love the discussion, ideas and resources you can get through Twitter.
  • I LOVE a selfie (and have no shame about it!).
  • I enjoy keeping in contact with lots of different people.

But the bit I don’t love is the anxiety that can sometimes come with it. Most of the time, it isn’t there or may vaguely niggle in the background. Other times, it can become something bigger.

I’d love to say I don’t compare myself to others but I do. I’ll see things happening for people and think, ‘If I were good enough, it’d happen to me too!’ or wonder if I’ll ever be confident enough to put myself forward for things I’d really love to do.

I know for me, this is still partly a hangover from my previous workplace: if you’re told you’re not good enough often enough, you’ll start to believe it. But it’s something I know also happens for other people too – it isn’t just a product of the workplace.

Twitter is full of amazing ideas by amazing people, as well as the chance to network with colleagues you’d otherwise not meet. It’s full of chances for CPD and Conferences which you’d otherwise not hear of. But it can look all to positive when your own day, or week, has gone wrong.

It is in no way big enough to stop me using Twitter – or any other social media – the positives hugely outweigh this one negative. It has, however, deterred me from writing more blog posts. Or asking for opportunities I want or feel I would be good for.

It’s something I think lots of people feel, but it isn’t discussed widely enough for them to know others feel it too. This will all have been said before – I won’t be the first to blog about this and I’m sure I won’t be the last.

But when the anxiety creeps in, it’s nice to know you’re not alone.

No New Books November

I’ve got a bit of a book buying problem.

I find myself looking the numerous books on my shelf, many languishing at the back of my TBR pile as I constantly put new titles in front of them, and find I never actually pick them up to read.

Books I was desperate to read a few months ago, or even last week, have been replaced by the next book I just had to have. Any bookshop I pass I seem to enter and come out with at least (and it’s usually more!) one book.

And it’s getting ridiculous.

My ‘To Be Read’ pile is in literal piles near my bedside table, as I run out of any other room to put them.

So, following on from Mr B Reads (@MrBReading) ‘Operation Bookshelf’ I’ve been inspired. I am not going to buy a single new book for the whole of November and read some that have been waiting in my TBR pile (some of them for nearly a year) instead.

The first thing I’ve done is got myself down to my local library and updated my membership! I plan on not only getting books out for myself but also some which are useful for my topic at school.

I’ve also decided to join in with the ‘Believe in the Impossible Readathon’ (@Believeathon) which has also been a great help for my problem; it gives you 10 categories to read from during November (e.g a book with magic, a book with a real world issue). I managed to find a book for each of these that I already had.

My only potential problem with this is I always join in on the Primary School Book Club (@PrimarySchoolBC) each month…so I’m just hoping that the book that wins is one that is already on my shelf or available at my library!

Wish me luck…

To read, or not to read…

If you asked me at the start of 2018 if I read children’s books, my answer would have been a resolute ‘no’. Of course, I would read the occasional book for school to check it was suitable for my class, but to be honest, most of the time I used the blurb, other teacher recommendations and the theme of the story to help me select what to use in my classroom.

Finding the time or not wanting to pick up books wasn’t the problem. I am an avid reader and always have been. In 2018 I read 80 books; so far in 2019 I have read 89 books.

Reading is something I love to do to relax. But, prior to this year, I was reluctant to read children’s books for my own enjoyment.My favourite genre of book is crime: if there’s a few grisly murders and an ‘I didn’t see it coming twist’ I’m happy. I did read other genres alongside this (there isn’t much I won’t read!) but my TBR pile was so big, I found myself shying away from children’s books which I was unsure would have the complexity of plot I was after.

Of course as a child I read the big classics: Harry Potter, Roald Dahl or Worst Witch. I was obsessed with Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner when they hit the shelve. But when thinking of recent children’s books, I often immediately thought of David Walliams – and I wasn’t interested in reading them.

And then, over the last academic year, I started picking up books my class were reading and finding exciting plots and story lines (even a few murders!). I started reading them not just because I felt I had to, but because I genuinely felt I would enjoy the book.

I found a few that kept my attention gripped; I read some of them in one sitting. I started to realise that we are lucky enough to have a rich, exciting variety of children’s books being written for us: Storm Keeper’s Island, Brightstorm, House with the Chicken Legs and Beetle Boy just time name a few.

Now, this year, I can’t get enough of children’s literature. Being able to recommend books personally to members of my class; knowing what texts would work amazingly with topics and discovering new stories that will enhance their enjoyment of reading. My reading corner is solely full of my own copies of children’s literature.

Alongside this, I am lucky enough to be reviewing children’s books and discovering new, quality reads every month.

There are still times I use recommendations from Twitter or from other colleagues about what book would be suitable for my class instead of reading it myself. Sometimes I don’t read a book before using it with them as our class book (outside of Whole Class Reading) because I like to discover the story with them.

But now, unlike last year, I’m hooked on reading children’s books.

Emily x

NQT: One Small Step…

You’ve done it! You’re finally stepping into your own classroom, which is probably one of the best feelings you’ve had in life. It feels like all your hard work has finally culminated in having your own class!

It can be easy to let work overwhelm you in the first year – and it’s absolutely okay to spend as much time as you want preparing! You’re excited; there’s loads of ideas firing round your heard; your bookmarks on Pintrest, Twitter and Instagram have grown out of control and you want to create it all.

But it’s super important to make sure your wellbeing comes first; a tired, burnt out teacher cannot give their best to their class; no matter how many fabulous resources you create. The best resource in the classroom is YOU.

TOP TIP 1: BALANCE

It may take a while, but finding balance for yourself between work and home life is always so important. A burnt out candle can’t glow, which you will need to in both aspects of your life!

Make sure (minimum!) an evening a week you go home early and spend a day at the weekend (minimum!) relaxing. Of course, some find work relaxing – but you need time to switch off or it will become hard to draw the line between the two.

TOP TIP 2: ASK

It’s absolutely okay to ask someone for help. Yes, we mean about lessons, planning or subjects – don’t struggle when there are experts all around you – but also when you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Don’t suffer in silence; find a colleague who can be what you need. It might be just a listening ear, a helping hand or someone who can help you make a change.

Believe us, we know how hard it can be to ask someone for help if you’re finding things difficult. It can take lots of courage! But in the long run, it will have a much better effect on your mental health. If there is no one in school who can be there, then remember you can always reach out on Twitter. It’s a great support network.

TOP TIP 3: SELF-WORTH

Too many times NQTs (or even PGCE students!) walk into a classroom and think they don’t know best because it’s ‘just’ their first year of teaching. Know your own worth!

You will have fresh eyes, enthusiasm and new teaching strategies that other members of staff might not have seen before, or be able to see in the same way as you. Many a student or NQT has come up with a totally amazing way of teaching something! Don’t fill yourself with doubts – you wouldn’t have been chosen for the job if you hadn’t shown a real flair and love of teaching.

And in the future…

As you develop your own teaching style further, you’ll find tips and tricks to make things quicker. Less resources to make; more ideas to fall back on; trial and error of different strategies.

Just remember: do what works FOR YOU where possible.

B & W x

We’re all going on…ANOTHER holiday.

The same debate rears its head most holidays.

Why are we working in the holidays? Why aren’t we looking after our wellbeing more?

But every year it’s frustrating that people forget that the key here is choice.

If you are in a school that expects you to go in during the holidays, or gives you so much work that you feel you have to do work during the summer then absolutely, break the mould and make it different for yourself. Being told we have to do work in the holidays is not acceptable.

But.

And it’s a big but. If we are, ourselves, choosing to do the work because we want to, then why can’t we? Personally, I find it more relaxing to go back to school knowing a lot of my work is already done; 6 weeks is a long time to be off with not a lot to do!

If you have families your priorities may be different- but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I pack things into Summer Holidays: 2 weddings (one in Ireland!) my birthday, 2 Welsh rugby games, a trip to Cornwall. But alongside this, there’s elements of my work I enjoy doing during the break because I have more time to do them.

What does not help wellbeing is people filling you with guilt.

You shouldn’t be doing work.

You should be doing work.

We are all professional adults who are capable of making decisions about when we choose to do our work. Let’s keep it that way!

B & W x

@primaryteachew