Teachers and Time

Tittle: White Rabbit (Alice in wonderland) Tool: Prismacolor, opaline About: My first color illustration, I forget how long it late but I had forgotten to upload. I hope your critics http://spoiltgraphicdesign.daportfolio.com/ http://.facebook.com/spoiltdesign http://shadowness.com/spoiltgraphic

There are so many saying about time we can have it on our hands, be running out of it, be in the nick of it, it can fly, it can heal and it can certainly be a-changing.  In schools it is a precious commodity, it is actually a place where time costs money.  Our lives are so regimented by time in education, we even have a different year to the rest of the world – they have a boring old calendar year and we get to have an academic year.  Within that we have that time neatly divided up into terms, that gets divided up into half terms, weeks and if that isn’t enough we then divide our week into lessons. Our time is planned for us so it is no wonder that many teachers feel that they don’t have enough time.  ‘Where will I find the time to do this?’  Ownership of time is taken away from us, it feels like everyone else gets to decide how we spend our time.  Terms become whirlwinds and we spin around from INSET day until we are waving off our pupils and collecting thank you cards.  It is something that I have thought about a lot throughout my career and now find myself speaking about with teachers during training sessions.

At one point in particular, nearly twenty years ago, when I was a very busy Head of Department teaching in London, I thought a lot about time.  School days were long, it was a busy school with lots of events and then added onto that travelling to and from school, time seemed to disappear quite easily.  I came across a book called ‘Ten Thoughts about Time’ by the Swedish physicist and philosopher Bodil Jonsson.  Probably one of things that had attracted me to the book was the connection to Alice in Wonderland.  The cover then featured the White Rabbit who, like many teachers, spends they existence running around chasing time.  The next thing that appealed to me about Jonsson’s approach was that he said we had to begin our thinking about time by not being so ‘depressed about it’.  Certainly the years since I first read his book have brought a focus on growth mindsets and now it makes even more sense to apply this to our thinking about time.  If you think you will never come to the end of your To Do list then you probably never will.  If you think you won’t have enough time to achieve work/life balance then you will probably end up being right.  Negativity about time can eat away at you and with current focus on staff well-being it is important to recognise the damage that this can do to you.  Much to my delight Jonsson quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see my blog on Bonhoeffer here) on the power of optimism.  If Bonhoeffer can write this as he was imprisoned awaiting his execution it is a challenge to all of us about our ability to be positive about time.

In essence, optimism is not an evaluation of a given situation, but a life-force.  A force that enables you to hope when others have resigned and gives you strength to endure disappointments.  A force that will not let go of the future and leave it hands of the pessimists, but annexes it in the name of hope. (p156f, Jonsson, 1999)

Jonsson goes on to categorise time and gives many practical approaches to developing a better relationship with time, for example, thinking about ‘set up time’, ‘thinking time’ and how we like to sometimes work with divided time and at other points prefer undivided time.  I would warmly recommend this book still today, nearly twenty years later, as a thought provoking guide to aid reflection on how we use time.  When I first read the book it did not stay as a nice set of interesting ideas, instead I applied them to my context, taking into account the kind of person I was and how I felt about time.  For example I am definitely a morning person, my brain functions far more efficiently earlier in the day.  I’m afraid I could never be someone marking into the wee small hours because it would look like a child’s scribble across the page, so I looked at how i was using my day.  The book also made me consider the value of thinking time, especially at times when we feel we have no control over our day, for example invigilation!

The bigger impact of reading the book at that time was that I was one of the school’s timetablers and I realised that perhaps the timetable itself was something that could take account of the differences amongst teachers.  I was lucky to learn how to do timetabling from scratch from an expert (thank you Helen!) and we used software to aid our thinking and not the other way round.  This is something I am going to speak about more in depth at the @Dragonfly_Edu Independent Schools’ Conference – 9 November 2016 at @EpsomCollegeUK (https://t.co/gMFxYK9LHe – this should be an amazing day and really good value for money in terms of INSET – ask me about a discount too at @imisschalk).  Even if you have never been a timetabler yourself I think its vital for Senior Leaders or those aspiring to leadership to understand the process, as it still one of the best ways to get to grips with the workings of a school.  Not least because it is through that process you have a clear understanding of the financial cost of time in schools.

Finally something everyone appreciates in schools is when people make time for you especially when we recognise its rarity as a commodity.  Feedback is more meaningful, thanks feels more sincere, listening is more valued.  To be the recipient of someone spending time with you can make a difference to our own development and progress as teachers.  Sometimes wasting time can be just the tonic you need in our stressful world.  There is so much to consider when it comes to our own thoughts about time.  Don’t miss out on the benefits of pausing to reflect on what time means to you because you are the white rabbit running around in a state of perpetual lateness.  Or to put it another way:

Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity. Jean de La Bruyère

I hope to be able to share more thoughts about time with some of you at Epsom College and the Dragonfly conference in November!

Jonsson, B (1999), Ten Thoughts about Time, Robinson, London

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How do ‘Back to School’ signs make you feel?

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One thing you can be certain of is that, within seconds of schools breaking up, shops will be taken over by huge advertising campaigns proclaiming that we should all be thinking about going ‘Back to School’. What this means in reality is piles of neat white socks, Teflon coated indestructible trousers and pinafores, endless rows of new highlighter configurations and, of course, new ranges of pencil cases, my bet for this year – Minion inspired yellow will feature heavily. But how does it all make you feel?

Perhaps you are a parent and have managed to switch roles smoothly, thinking only now about the needs of your own offspring for the next impending year. Perhaps you wave an angry fist at the advertising hoardings berating them for stealing the joy of those early days of summer from tired teachers, ‘just let me have my five minutes of freedom!’ Perhaps you are one of those creatures who has already put the stresses of a frantic summer term behind you, a now distant memory and you already gain a heady sense of anticipation about all the wondrous possibilities of the new academic year.

Maybe the signs cause a sense of queasiness thinking about the big hurdles between now and the start of September – results days. Will you achieve your goals, will the students get where they want to go. ‘Back to School’ signs often prompt the teaching equivalent of resolutions, whilst thinking about the academic year ahead. What must I do to improve; what changes do I intend to make? This is particularly true if the prospect of another year at the chalkface causes butterflies in the stomach – good or bad ones. These are some of the ‘Back to School intentions I have had over the years.

  1. I will not get behind on marking. Interesting one this, given our political leader’s instruction to not do it after 5pm (but to focus on teaching more – I mean if marking has nothing to do with your teaching, surely you know you’re in trouble!). Personally, I have found that a teacher must respond to their own body clock about this. If you are late-into-the-night person, then that can work for you. I haven’t been, hence I often had early starts & other strategies to try not to fall behind. This is an area where teachers can get their own kind of ‘teacher’s block’. Marking becomes harder to do the longer you leave it. Eventually it becomes a giant monster blocking your path, the black cloud that lingers and impossible to ignore. Along with picking the right time, making sure you don’t do the – I’ll do this first because I like this set and it’s easier- route. Personally I think that’s a big mistake, because you have to face the hard stuff sooner or later. I found that if I imposed the discipline of chronology on it, it at least began to chip at the teacher’s block before it took hold.
  2. I will not have an untidy desk/pigeon hole/inbox. This is an area which often reflects the teacher’s character. I’m sure we’ve all heard people say, ‘My desk is untidy, because I’m generally an untidy person!’ There is undoubtedly truth in this, but I found it often just became my excuse. Personally I tend to ‘nest’ – I will happily build piles of paper/debris/rubbish around me, claiming I might need it shortly. I’m not a neat person, but because of that I had to keep a clean desk, because I knew if I gave that notion even a moment to take hold I would have piles of rubbish permanently covering my desk. So, every night I would temporarily clear my work-space/desk, because coming into a clean desk is far less depressing. The same went for pigeon holes – clogging up with endless bulk mailings. So I forced myself to clear it once a week, if possible on a Friday so that coming in on Monday morning was that little bit easier. Didn’t always happen, but was great when it did.
  3. My lessons will be amazing. We tend to review the year and reflect on the highs and the lows, the real achievements we have made and those frustrating brick walls we have faced. The reality is that some of our lessons will be amazing, lots we hope, but it’s worth remembering it takes two, or in a teacher’s case about 30 to tango. An amazing lesson is about synchronicity. Sometimes everything clicks into place and our amazing planning, activities, resources and assessment works. Other times it doesn’t and that’s not always down to us – let’s face it, it could be something as simple as the weather being a bit blustery. Intention and planning can be amazing, and hopefully it will work, but we can still learn a lot about our classes and ourselves when it doesn’t so we should cut ourselves some slack.
  4. I will keep up to date with what’s happening in education. Well if you’re reading this then you are probably already doing one of the best ways to make this happen – using Twitter. Someone once told me you should always have more followers than follow people, but I’ve never managed that. There are always so many interesting accounts to follow, from the headliners to many teachers sharing their resources and displays. Keeping up with the headlines is fairly easy to do via Twitter, but look out for the people who don’t appear on every #ff list, because there are some amazing accounts, blogs, pictures, experiences out there.  If you are a leader and want to dip your toe in the whole research stuff that is going on then I whole heartedly recommend joining BELMAS (British Educational Leadership, Management & Administration Society). The first year is FREE to join and you get two different research journals sent to you during the year (10 a year!), you get book discounts and you attend one of the warmest, friendliest conferences (organised by the wonderful @DrMeganCrawford), which overlaps with a #SLTeachmeet! Where else would I have been able to discuss #WomenEd with the amazing Vivienne Porritt (@LCLL_Director), female leadership in Cyprus, becoming a Headteacher in Chile, the perils of Social Media for leaders (@plurivocal), and Ethics in leadership with the brilliant Rob Campbell (@robcampbe11). Someone recommended it to me when I first took on a leadership post and it’s the real deal, genuine collaboration between research and schools. 
  5. I will have a life outside school. This is something I’ve always been passionate about. We know people who sign up to a lot, not just the classroom stuff, but it’s so important to protect the non teaching bit of your life. I’ve admired the whole #teacher5aday trend on Twitter as teachers at all levels share their time off with others. Our emotional well being is so important for us to function well in the classroom and with colleagues. If things are not right, talk to someone. As a deputy I took the care of staff as a major part of my role and would like to think they knew they could come and talk whenever. Sometimes I think the phrase work/life balance has been hijacked to mean being a parent to your children. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that’s essential, but I think we sometimes reduce the word ‘life’ in that phrase. It’s about our lives, whatever path we have taken, our identities and its that I believe needs looking after, because our school communities can be so overwhelming that we lose sight of that.

My list isn’t comprehensive and it most certainly isn’t true for everyone, I’m certainly not telling people what to do!  I love the good intentions of September, even if it gets hard as Autumn slips into Winter. However it’s worth noting that reaction to the next ‘Back to School’ ad you see. How do they make you feel and perhaps more importantly why. Do they make you think over your resolutions? Butterflies are always a good thing when September approaches, so if you’re a PGCEr or NQT starting out with a tummy full of them do not fear, because I think it’s a good sign. I have them still after over twenty years as a teacher. What’s on your list of good intentions for the next academic year?

Life outside the Forest: one year into research

I wonder how many of you have been watching the series of The Island with Bear Grylls, one episode with the men’s group and the other with the women’s. As soon as it began it was hard not to compare the performance of the two groups according to gender.  Would stereotyped behaviour emerge or would our expectations be challenged?  I was certainly shocked how easily half of the women’s group, venturing out to discover a site for a good base, were lost in the wilderness. They spent days without proper food and drink looping in circles through the trees trying to find, firstly their way to the sea, and then to find their way back to camp.  Watching their struggles, Bear informed us that, without the ability to see the sky or any recognisable landmarks, us humans have the tendency to walk in circles. As teachers we can easily relate to the idea of been immersed in the forest, especially with the way our lives our governed by the academic calendar.  We take great strides into the trees in September and emerge in June or July, blinking at the brightness of the sun.  In between we trek well-worn paths and sometimes discover new ones.  We often think we are in a new place, only to realise we have been here many times before.  Our worlds become a life under the canopy.  We listen to the twittering of the birds, but even these can be deceptive.  We think we hear distant sound of those cutting down the forest only to discover that some tweets are mimicking chain saws, causing alarm about supposed new government initiatives, deceptively convincing.

About eighteen months ago I had a difficult choice to make: to make a move to another deputy role, go for some headships, or to carry on with the research I had enjoyed so much as part of my Masters, by starting a doctorate.  I had juggled the Masters work with life as a Deputy, but knew that for me this would not be possible, if I was to keep going with the research.  So I decided to step outside of the forest.  This would allow me to carry on with the research, but also continue some of my favourite aspects of work as a deputy.  I could work with teachers, as they worked through the PGCE process and write material to deliver to teachers through training encounters.  At the end of my first year of research outside the forest, what I have learnt so far about the process?

  1. There is always so much to learn.  I never thought of myself as a great writer, but I didn’t think I was terrible either, but I have learnt so much about the ways I can improve my technique through the superb, critical feedback I have received from my supervisors.  They have challenged every aspect of my thinking process and we don’t get that enough in our working lives.  Teachers are usually such a supportive community that we tend to praise our peers rather than truly critique them.  It’s understandable, given morale at the moment, that the common approach is one of wanting to encourage others.
  2. There’s a lot to learn about the forest whilst being outside of it. Of course I’m not suggesting that it isn’t important for teachers to share good practice with each other. As a deputy I was passionate about learning together as a community, so much good can come from it. However, I’ve been surprised by many colleagues’ quick dismissal of what can be learnt from outside of the forest that can inform and enhance our day to day practice.
  3. Inspiration comes from many places.    I have learnt an awful lot from a host of different sources including the twittering birds of Twitter.  Through my research I have enjoyed the inevitable journal surfing, one journal leads to its references and then that takes you to the next article and so on.  Like many here I’m sure, my Amazon wish list runs into hundreds.  I have also learnt that sometimes we don’t get the chance to encounter some great sources of inspiration.  This can be seen when people share their reading lists, as often the same dozen or so books are there. It’s an argument for access to research, but certainly if there are staff researching in your school it’s a bonus for them to share the good stuff with colleagues.
  4. Life outside the forest isn’t always easy. The regularity of the academic year can make you feel like you are living on a hamster wheel at times, but take that familiar regularity away suddenly and it can really throw you out of kilter.   Teachers often say that the intensely structured life following the timetable of an academic year makes the years fly by. I’ve learnt that’s true, but also that there’s a lot to love about regularity, enjoy the support it gives you and that you always have the freedom to change.
  5. There’s a great view of the forest from here and I actually can see the wood for the trees.  It’s all about a different perspective. Sometimes having the opportunity to step outside can help to see new things about the forest. Just like the women on The Island, with no chance to see the sky or recognisable landmarks, I know there were times when I could not see where I was.  That is why I still see value in the away day INSET, because for that day you step outside of your usual routine. I’ve always felt that the chance to acknowledge the bubble we operate in and to be able reflect upon it is essential.
  6. Some people don’t value my time in the forest.  This really shocked me. I’ve been teaching for over twenty years, but for some my move to senior leadership was enough to push me to cushy forest fringes where I sat in the comfortable visitor’s centre (drinking tea all day apparently).  That was bad enough, but now I’ve basically been asked to leave the forest, because I have no idea of what it’s like to live there. I can, of course relate to there being different experiences of the forest. It’s very different being a lumberjack to say being a botanist. However, I do know what its like. I have learnt a lot from twenty plus years in the woods and I continue to learn from others who share their forest experiences. I have been trained as a teacher, have worked hard as a teacher and I continue to be proud to see myself as a teacher as I continue to teach. Why are some so quick to dismiss that?
  7. There are always new things appearing in the forest. This is one of the most exciting aspects of this life and yet at the same time this can also be a source of frustration. This is why it is important to always remember…
  8. There are many things that do not change. I can recall recently encountering the phrase ‘graphic organisers’ and being excited to discover this new development. I then realised it was essentially structured, i.e. with boxes or trees, etc., handouts. People were raving about their value and it made me laugh given that these have been part of my experience for well over twenty years.
  9. The more questions you ask, the more interesting it gets.   For a number of years I have been fascinated by leadership theory and the impact it has on practical matters.  I am amazed and saddened by those that teach for a living, but are so quick to dismiss any theoretical study of educational leadership.  How does that inspire a love of learning?  The more I study issues of leadership, headship, identity and gender the more I realise these questions definitely still need to be asked.  Another reason why I am a passionate believer in the professional development of teachers.
  10. The forest looks amazing from here. Perhaps it’s because I am not trekking through, looping in circles. In the thick of it, with no break it’s easy to see the forest as some kind of prison, trapping us and sapping our energy. From here, it looks diverse, broad, huge, full of life and energy. New shoots are springing up all over the place ready to be nurtured. I’m hoping those inside don’t build too many fences because being able to go in and out of the forest I think does everyone some good.

Will I return to the forest? I’m not sure. I actually get to spend more time in classrooms now than I did as a deputy, but who knows where this new path goes, for me it’s undiscovered countryside out here.  This weekend I saw three women from The Island on television talking about their experiences of reintegrating back into society, with all its comforts and excesses.  Despite this and despite their lack of food, water, energy as seen on The Island, they were asked which would be their preferred choice – here or there.  For all three it was easy, they wanted to go back there. It’s amazing what perspective can do for us all.

20 things you should do if you are applying for a leadership job in education

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/ad7/56592178/files/2015/01/img_0879.jpgI’ve interviewed a lot of people, hundreds and like many deputies I’ve read through hundreds and hundreds of application forms. By all accounts I’m quite a tough interviewer, but I like to think I’m fair. I’ve also been interviewed a lot over the years. Some have been great interviews, some make me shudder at the memory of them, some awful. I’ve also learnt a great deal from interviewing alongside some impressive leaders. There are always lessons to be learnt from the experience, whether you’re the interviewer or interviewee.

I’m currently researching the recruitment process and learning a lot about what happens to our identity when we go through these experiences. As an interviewer I’ve been amazed at some easy mistakes that some people have made that have hindered their application. Perhaps people think they don’t matter, but they usually do. So as it’s that fun time of year when minds turn to TES jobs pages, so I thought I would gather some of my thoughts together with leadership jobs particularly in mind.

  1. As soon as it start going for leadership jobs it stops being about the best teacher and it becomes about being what the school is looking for. You’ve got to fit in with their set up and because of that…
  2. Do your research about the school, it always amazed me how few candidates could talk knowledgeably about the school, or found some way to connect to the school.
  3. Do what they ask you to do, if they ask you to fill in their form, do it, if they ask for a letter, write it, if they ask for a CV include it, but DON’T your own thing, it won’t impress despite what you think.
  4. Take time over an application. If you can’t be bothered to fill in an application form well what will the rest of your paperwork be like once you’re in the post?
  5. Get your timeline right and don’t leave gaps, if you leave gaps they will ask about the gaps
  6. If you need to write a letter or an accompanying piece really take time over this. It’s so important to get it right and without sounding too Goldilocks about it, it needs to be just the right length, no more than two sides.
  7. If you’ve got to put a CV together, really think about layout, font, don’t stick with the same format you’ve used since school. Think about how it’s going to look in a stack of paperwork, but don’t go for gimmicks either. The chances are you’ll just come across as a bit weird. If you’re not sure you’ve got it right, ask someone you trust. A leadership CV can look very different to your first CV.
  8. Be prepared to answer the obvious questions, but don’t just give stock answers, for example, if you’re going for a head of department, don’t just say you want to raise the profile of the department, say what that means, how you’re going to do it and in what timescale.
  9. Be prepared to answer really tough questions. If you’re going for a headship or a deputy position they aren’t going to go easy on you. Start building up a list of tough questions you or your colleagues have been asked.
  10. With the questions, it’s important to get the balance right of talking about your achievements and then also talking about what you would do in their school. The more you can connect the two the better, people often talk a lot about their own experiences and drift away from the question.
  11. Don’t be critical either of current colleagues, colleagues you’ve worked with in the past or of anything you’ve encountered at the school. Even if you bumped into a late pupil who let a door slam in your face don’t pick that moment to bring it up.
  12. However, despite the last point remember that a massive part of leadership is change management and so think about examples you’ve can talk about of you implementing change and if you can’t think of an example…
  13. Make sure you are already looking out for leadership opportunities or whole-school opportunities in your current role. Internal roles not coming up is an excuse, you don’t just have to take on paid roles. I’ve interviewed a lot of people who say the reason why they haven’t had that experience is their current school’s fault. Look for any opportunities, such as leading working groups, that will take you into different parts of the educational world. If it is really impossible to find something in your school, look outside to examiner work, or subject associations.
  14. Really think about the extras – the in-tray exercise, the lesson, the problem solving, the presentation – do not just prepare these, or for these, last minute, because you can tell when someone does that. Practice bits that you feel are your weakest aspects.
  15. With regard to presentations, use a format that will enhance your presentation. There is nothing wrong with PowerPoint, it’s just that the reality is that most people use the programme really badly with no thought to design, content or delivery.
  16. Remember to look and listen as much as you talk. Firstly because you can pick up a lot from staff and students about the school’s priorities and secondly if you don’t then you’ll probably not be answering questions precisely. Listening allows you to make connections. Looking around gives you opportunities to reference what you have seen in answers. At one interview I was asked if I was Head what would I spend £250k on (after being on a tour).
  17. Remember that anything you say to anyone during the day is likely to be fed back to your interviewers, so watch for odd jokes in reception, the ordeal-by-meal, or during the tour led by the sixth former. They might laugh at the time, but it’s going to be reported back.
  18. Don’t worry about being nervous. Most decent interviewers account for nerves with applicants, just don’t let them overwhelm you. If you feel that happening ask to use the bathroom and just take a few deep breaths, think of the last time you laughed a lot and then head back out.
  19. Do make an effort over how you look, it definitely is worth it, but have your own style, because you need to be as comfortable as is possible.
  20. This might sound remarkably cheesy, but you really do need to be yourself. If there is any sense of pretension in your approach you are ultimately doing yourself no favours. Remember you are applying to be a leader there day in, day out and so if there is any pretence in your manner it will be impossible for you to maintain. It’s not about being the best person for a job, it’s about being the right person for this particular job. If it’s not a good fit no one will be happy.

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Next Nurture 2014/2015

IMG_0875One of the great things about writing a response to the nurture theme that bobs around at this time, is that it makes you look back at where you were this time last year. I gain a lot from reading other’s responses, sometimes I feel quite envious of all that they seem to have achieved, sometimes I feel quite excluded from the world they present, but am not sure why I do, or if it matters that much. Often I feel inspired to get on with achieving my goals, although I think I’m lot more flexible as to what those goals might be these days, perhaps that’s a sign of getting older. When I look back at what I wrote then, I see, through my words, someone living with uncertainty, not sure what lay ahead. So it’s been a leap of faith, but I’m not sure I’ve landed yet, but that’s OK, I can live with that.

 

So how did I do?
Ok, so last year’s goals, how did I get on and what lies ahead?

Continue to read and write, but more so. Continue to work with teachers, trainee teachers and mentors, but more so.

Yes I am and yes more so than I was last year. It was a joy and it continues to be so.

I work really hard to prepare quality materials for the teachers I work with and I want to keep doing that. I love that I am getting to visit so many schools, watch so many lessons, talk with so many teachers. I want to continue to push expectations with training, professionalism in education is not just what happens in the classroom. I’m more convinced than ever that it’s worth investing in teachers.

Research leadership in education.

I was accepted to start my doctorate in April and have been busy with it since. It’s even better than I thought it would be.

The more I read, the more I’m sure of the value of research in education and that it’s too important to try to cut corners or take short cuts with it. I want to be better at it and somehow start to share some of my ideas at a conference? Yikes.

Try to paint more.

Ahem, well I have drawn more, but the paints are still in their box.

Definitely need to do more of this. Paints, sketching, iPad, who knows. I’ve been inspired to do more not least from watch Sky Art’s Portrait Artist of the Year.

Stay true to my guiding values and vision.

Have definitely tried to do that

Believe it in this more than ever. It doesn’t mean an easy ride, but I think you have to be true to yourself

Be happy.

More than I thought I would be

Be smart enough to enjoy the highs of the year ahead
Be strong enough to endure the difficulties
Be thoughtful enough to share my time with others
Be wise enough to savour every moment
Be happy

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What kind of reception are you?

1st Floor Lobby Welcome DeskStarting a new term can be a daunting prospect. It could be because you are starting a new school or it could be that you are taking on a new responsibility. It could be that you are starting a PGCE in school or are a keen, but mildly terrified NQT. You might have had to move to a new part of the country and be experiencing all kinds of new feelings about your surroundings. It could just be the usual butterflies that come just before a brand new academic year begins. Whether well established or brand new it could be quite normal to ask yourself I wonder what reception I will receive. How you interact with colleagues can make such a difference to your working experience. Staff still genuinely worry about using the wrong mug, or sitting in the wrong chair. At one school I actually had my pile of books, planner and diary moved because I had put it on the ‘wrong desk’. The reception you receive is important.

 

If you’re new to a school then you might be hoping that people will be friendly and warm; that you can get to know others and feel at home very quickly. You might be smiling endlessly as you’re introduced to new person after new person, their names evaporating before your eyes as soon as they’ve been uttered. If you’re well established, you could be wondering about new colleagues, what are they like and will they fit in? Perhaps you’re still pining for colleagues that have just left and find it hard to believe that these ‘new ‘uns’ are ever going to be as fun. For the couple of weeks of term there are a lot of new people to meet, adults and children. How people treat us, and how we treat other people, is very important at the start of this experience. The reception you receive makes a difference.

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When I worked in London I used to go back into the City after a summer away to an ever-changing landscape. It wasn’t just the children who had grown up and changed, but the buildings had too. Many of the big City banks and companies would constantly invest vast sums of money in refurbishing their reception areas. Schools have also picked up on the importance of this, particularly in recent years. Twitter has even had proud head teachers post images of their refurbished receptions ready to welcome hoards of visitors to their school. When I walked around the City, I would nosily look in through the glass walls of these companies to catch a glimpse of what went on inside. A favourite company that I recall had the most spectacular chandelier that mirrored every colour of the rainbow on a sunny day, emphasizing the opulence of the surroundings. From outside it looked very pretty, but if I’d had to walk in there on my first day at work it would be hard not to feel intimidated and a little daunted at having to match the heights of the company I’d have just joined. The reception you receive can change your perceptions.

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Some of the reception halls try to incorporate pieces of art, like the huge, impressive pieces in the entrance to Deutsche Bank. Would seeing a work of art put you at ease; many schools proudly display the best of their students’ art, would that give you something to focus on rather than the reality of your nerves? There are other reception halls that might be vast in scale, but rather sparsely furnished in a minimalist way. If you walked in there on your first day you could try to sit as neatly as possible in their designer chairs being sure not to knock their delicate orchids. If a school reception were furnished in this way you could image the well placed spread of school literature on the table in front of you, tempting you to see just how amazing the schools’ achievements really are. On a school trip to a school in Manhattan I had to wait in the school’s special reception room having just come in from a downpour. I can remember wanting to disappear into a hole as I sat on the most perfect sofa, dripping quietly, opposite the most perfect, glamorous Manhattan couple smiling with their beautiful teeth. Sometimes the designer approach is impressive in terms of its designer status, but might not necessarily be the warmest of welcomes in its clinical minimalism.   You can imagine your voice, echoing around as you announce your arrival at the reception desk. Perhaps they want you to know for certain that they are very, very important and you better be on your best behaviour. Or maybe they are suggesting they are serious about their work and so you should be too. The reception you receive creates an impression.

 

Plasma screens with news stations showing can be a feature of reception halls in businesses and now in schools, showing that not a thing passes them by and they are as up to date as you can possibly be. Although in one entrance hall I went into they had three giant plasma screens, two showing different channels of news – maybe to indicate that they are not biased in any way and are open to different ways of looking at things, but the third one showed a film of a tropical fish tank. Needless to say it was the fish film that mesmerised me. Balanced with the news channels, I wondered whether they were showing me that on the one hand you can be stressed with the news, but on the other the fish would relax me. Or maybe I would think they were serious about current events, but the fish showed their fun and creative side too. Some school receptions have vast trophy cabinets filled with every kind of cup, shield, chunk of glass and block of Perspex. These perhaps want to give future parents and pupils the impression that if you come to this school or work in this school you area winner, you will succeed, you will reach the top. The reception you receive can make you think.

 

Thousands and in some cases millions of pounds are spent on creating the perfect reception. Perhaps this is money well spent when so much can hinge upon those important first impressions. The environment around us can affect the way in which we feel, particularly when we are in a new and unfamiliar situation, but what about us as people what kind of reception do we give others? Have you spent the first week bouncing around catching up on everyone’s news? If you are going into a new school or if you ‘part of the furniture’ what impression do you give? Are you warm and fluffy, the one who tells you where everything is? Are you somewhat reserved, everything looking great, supremely efficient, like the minimalist showpiece, but no warmth and comfort? Do you show your fun and creativity, or is it empty and hollow sounding and lasts for the first few days. Are you the one that invites everyone to the pub that first Friday? As I’ve said before I was known to have a new bag, notebook or pencil case to show and tell, something new or different for the start of term. Do you make others feel at home? Or do you make them feel intimidated? Welcomes can take many forms and some can last for an afternoon, others for years. The reception you give to another can really make a difference.

 

It is a wonderful feeling to be made to feel welcome. I always appreciate the welcome I get every time I arrive at schools. I’ve been lucky enough to work in schools where the reception was one where you were looked after and it often made those early mornings more bearable. I was lucky to be greeted with smiles and kindness. We appreciate that in the places where we work and go to school. This seems to be a great opportunity to apply the Golden Rule: we should treat others, as we would want to be treated. How would you like to be welcomed to your school? There are many different styles of reception hall around busy cities just we as individuals are able to welcome people around us in countless ways. It is not just about welcoming people to a particular building, but also about how we make people feel when we encounter them. To make someone feel welcome or to be made to feel welcome is tremendous.

 

So what kind of reception are you?

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The way you make me feel: why teachers’ emotions matter

20140401-150510.jpgIt would be an understatement to say that, on the whole, the morale of teachers is not good. Never in my experience of teaching have I been so aware of so many colleagues considering leaving the profession. This can be for a range of reasons, but many seem connected to the combination of being overworked due to a level of bureaucracy that seems unconnected to pupil progress and also a general sense of being undervalued. I have read comments from numerous teachers who feel that their managers contribute to their despondent feelings. This combined with the public perception that teachers cause problems for parents by striking, or are seen as whinging despite their ‘long holidays’, means that emotion is interwoven into the professional experience of being a teacher these days.

Most teachers, including myself, can recall times when colleagues and managers made us feel terrible. This could be directly, through managers being unfairly critical or disrespectful.   Or  indirectly; the lack of appropriate praise after a big venture, the lack of recognition of the effort that is being put in. Some have argued that teachers need to ‘grow up’ and not be so sensitive about such things, but does it really matter how you feel when you are working as a teacher.  I would argue that it makes all the difference.

There have been some amazing studies over the past few years looking at the importance of emotion as an aspect of educational leadership. Not least the developments of recognising Emotional Intelligence, pioneered by Daniel Goleman. This recognises that some have a better awareness than others of the emotions of other people. It also then goes on to show why you can gain a greater understanding of people through picking up on the emotions of others. The irony is that this work is almost taken for granted as part of teaching when it comes to recognising warning signs with pupils, but can often be sidelined with colleagues. 20140401-150627.jpgMegan Crawford (@DrMeganCrawford) has written a seminal work, ‘Getting to the Heart of Leadership: Emotion & Educational Leadership’ (2009), challenging leaders to reflect on their values and looking at the dynamics of the range of different relationships within school. I suspect her forthcoming book will also pick up this theme as well. Even in the last week my trusty ‘Educational Management Administration and Leadership’ journal from Sage (@Sage_EdResearch), the amazing publication, part of the membership of BELMAS (@Belmasoffice), covers a variety of aspects looking at Educational Leadership and emotion.  All of these references and more suggest there is no reason why leaders should not be reflecting on the emotional dimension of their leadership and in particular the way they make others feel. As an aside here, I would argue strongly against those who suggest that educational research must only be about pupil progress for it to be of any worth or relevance. Here is a case in point where the excellent research being done can have a direct influence on teachers’ working experiences, and therefore indirectly can influence the experience in the classroom.

Despite this work, there are still leaders who feel that they do not need to consider the feelings of their staff, or colleagues who feel it is acceptable to treat others badly in the professional context. Ask most teachers and they will have a ‘horror story’, or two, about something someone has said or done to them, perhaps to undermine them, to belittle, to be unsupportive, to fail to acknowledge their work, or worse still, take credit for others’ work.  We spend countless time in pastoral training sessions recognising the importance of developing listening skills when dealing with pupils and yet very little time and money is invested in staff to develop mentoring skills. Really listening to someone is a skill and one that matters a great deal in education, because we are dealing with people. People are complex, unpredictable, and multi-dimensional.

So what can we do to respond to the problem of low morale. Leader or not, we should be supportive of one another. Even on Twitter with educationalists it is depressing and frustrating when debates turn into point scoring, or worse still, sniping or deriding. Twitter is an opportunity to be supportive of others who are miles away. In schools so many teachers offer practical support through peer observations, through collaboration, sharing of work load, giving time and recognition when others don’t. Emotion doesn’t mean a lack of professionalism, instead it should be embraced as part of an on-going dialogue between teachers. Emotion can make things happen, can prompt a creative force and can reveal truths. Working in a school can be an emotional experience and events can occur that provoke emotional responses, so it’s good to embrace that there will be times when we need to talk. Being able to express our emotions and recognise our own emotional triggers also helps us to recognise that in others. The butterflies at the start of a term is a good thing, caring about the results your pupils get is a sign that it all still matters. Of course, the classroom itself is not necessarily the place to experience a full emotional crisis, but I know that I have benefitted hugely from the support of colleagues when having to deal with something particularly challenging.

Rather than seeing emotion and professionalism as mutually exclusive, we should embrace that our humanity means that emotion has a place in our work.  So even when morale is low we can comfort ourselves with a few of important points. Firstly, that even feeling low is an emotion, that shows we are still passionate, feeling creatures and that can only benefit our work with pupils and alongside colleagues. Secondly, being emotional creatures can help us deal with the nature of our work in education, which is with nurturing and developing the next generation. People are wonderfully complicated and the emotional dimension is an integral part of that. Finally, our terms are intense working experiences and yes we do have holidays and that means the holidays are for living fully to ensure we are well balanced human beings. So I hope everyone has a wonderful Holiday ready for the summer term ahead.