How to Home School.

This blog also appears here. This piece is from Prof. Colin Diamond of the University of Birmingham.

As the schools close for all but the most vulnerable children or those with parents and carers in key jobs suddenly you are the teacher. And your new job could last for many months. My guess would be that in England, we won’t see schools re-opening before September.

So, this situation raises lots of anxieties for adults who are staying at home and teaching. What’s the best approach? How can I be mum or dad and switch to being teacher? How can I become the best teacher I can be? Will I be good enough for my kids at perhaps a crucial stage of their education with tests and exams in the year ahead?

At the same time, our children are confused, frightened, disappointed and angry by what’s happening and you are likely the people they will look to both vent their frustrations and be supported and loved at the same time. Teaching in one-to-one or small group situations is intense. When pupils and students are in a normal class there is space for them to self-regulate their learning just as we do as adults. So they will have lots of mini downtimes, go for a walk in-class, talk with friends etc. And the class teacher is constantly scanning to make sure that everyone is on task for most of the time – that’s key, ‘for most of the time’.

Classes aren’t (or shouldn’t be) production lines. The best learning comes when the children are relaxed and they don’t learn in a linear, mechanical fashion.

For those with teenagers, there are a whole extra set of issues as they ‘individuate’ from parents and become young people in their own right whilst still needing enormous dollops of unconditional love. Their mood swings are likely to be intensified by feelings of confinement at a stage in their lives when they want to stretch their wings and leave the nest.

And those teenagers will probably know a lot more about the subjects they are studying than you do. There will be specialist areas that you won’t be able to help them with – don’t try! They have subject teachers whose professional lives are all about that distillation of knowledge.

Plus, things may have changed since you were at school. It’s not just about Google being the default to answering any question. Teaching and learning have become more sophisticated with the kind of performance metrics that you might associate with athletes and football players. It is all much more scientific.

Your children’s school will most likely be offering on-line learning activities and be guided by them in the first instance. They know your children best and will offer a balanced range of things to do based on the syllabus they are accustomed to in class. There’s lots of ‘celebrity’ content out there with some real quality but best use it as a back-up or reward after the school’s work is done.

Be wary of commercial on-line activities that may claim to turbocharge learning. In most cases, they won’t. There are snake oil peddlers in education just like every other walk of life. The commercial companies are seeing this as a huge business opportunity and social media is already awash with the ‘best ever’ products.

Finally, teaching is bloody hard work and it’s most stressful when you are learning your craft as a newly qualified teacher. Expect to feel tired, with highs and lows every day. Give yourself ‘me time’ and reward yourself if possible as you have taken on a professional job with 3 days notice.

Good luck – we might be signing you up for training at the end of this if you get an appetite for teaching. And you will certainly appreciate what your children’s teachers do day-in-and-day-out in school.

Twelve Top Tips
Here are some tips that should help your job induction: congratulations – you are now the teacher!

1. Routines are really important and your children will need them as the structure of their lives has suddenly been altered in a way they won’t have experienced before. Work hard to establish and stick to routines. Without turning your home into a military-style regime, start times, breaks and end times will help everyone. And they will become important boundaries for the months at home together. This will be a long haul.

2. Be clear when you are in your job as teacher – this will help. You can play the role with young children in lots of fun ways and negotiate with the teenagers, just like you do on normal boundary setting.

3. Set up a weekly timetable to get going. If you have printing facilities get it up on the wall so everyone can see it and you can take your children through what’s planned. Give it a week and review what’s worked and what didn’t. Build in a balance of the core subjects of English and Maths with other subjects, if you are confident. The school should provide the basic guidance here but you can find lots of model lessons online for free – many teachers are busy right now recording activities you will find on the school’s website.

4. Make sure your children have some physical movement during your lessons and when you change activities. It’s so important to keep the kinaesthetic movement going, even in the smallest of spaces. This means some level of physical activity to complement table-based learning. Dancing along to YouTube videos will work for both of you.

5. If your children are doing GCSE courses or similar, for most of the time they will receive detailed guidance from schools. Your role in most subjects, unless you are a physicist or geologist, will be limited. But you may be able to help with the quality of written tasks, testing out ideas and opening up to learning from them. You are a captive audience!

6. Praise, rewards and sanctions – we know that the golden rule is lots of praise and little criticism to motivate children in most circumstances. You can incentivise your children by praising their efforts and perseverance as well as the work they produce. Invent rewards that will work according to your children’s ages – from simple things like star charts you can print or draw to whatever works best with your teenagers. They will need to feel a bit grown up and definitely part of the solution when it comes to deciding what constitutes a fair reward and isn’t perceived to be childish.

7. Space – give your children space to learn within your flat or house. This means literally if you are able to set up class in one part of a bedroom or the kitchen, and also psychologically. Teachers will be working their way around the class like a honey bee seeking pollen, with a stop here and a stop there. So your children will not be accustomed to high levels of individual attention.

8. Rites of passage – your children may feel cheated because they missed out on that Year 6 trip in June or the school prom. There will be lots of emotional pain because they didn’t expect to say goodbye to their teachers and classmates so quickly. This is not an area for the timetable you set up, but one to be aware of as it will surface, sometimes at unexpected times. You can plan for the future with your children when there will be opportunities to pick up some of these incomplete threads in their lives.

9. Learn together – you will do this instinctively with your children as they grow and it’s one of the best things about being a parent. Now you have the opportunity to build it into your teacher routines when you have set a project that will last a few days or weeks. Choose a topic that interests both of you and go for it!

10. Screen time – keep it under control exactly as they do in school. The internet is a tool for knowledge and learning, but not the end product. It’s technology that we teach children to navigate at school to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, also what information can be trusted and how to use it. Your children may be more sophisticated users of PowerPoint than you but they won’t necessarily have the skills to filter out the information they need.

11. Homework? This might sound like a bad joke in the circumstances but it’s a serious point! Your older children will be accustomed to long spells of working alone, particularly in the run up to exams. For those who have examinations in 2021, maintaining this habit will be important to build up more knowledge and deep analysis that modern GCSEs and A levels require.

12. And don’t forget fun. I always found that cooking easy dishes like pizzas and fairy cakes worked a treat with small groups. They enjoy the physical contact with the raw materials, can see it cook and there’s instant gratification when they eat the end product. Definitely something to have on your timetable, Miss or Sir.

Honestly, Honesty or being Honest with Yourself

Let me be honest; leadership is hard, I’m not referring the work, the hours or even the pressure. It’s the emotional burden it takes, rarely do school leaders talk openly about this element of the game.

Leadership is about direction, change and a relentless drive for something bigger than ourselves and more significant than the sum of the team. Change is hard, even if the environment is in disarray organisation will resist change because change brings uncertainty – and who knows it may get worse. No one said any of this is rational. 

Organisations will follow the path of least resistance (Fullan 2004) when any change process causes resistance; this risks leading to a stagnant static collective mindset. However, inaction is an action in itself, creating capacity and the act of change management are covered elsewhere on this site. 

I want to focus on the unease caused by leaders on their followers. Yes, this is sometimes necessary; however, leaders use the experience to foster a feeling of safety through an environment of trust. After numerous conversations with peers (including Kathryn Morgan who has a wealth of knowledge on this subject) about professional discourse (I’ll write about this later), I’ve come to the salient conclusion that trust is built solely through dialogue and communication.

As a leader, you steer and point the organisation toward its destination, the decisions you make are based on the information and experiences we have. This week has been hard for every level of school life, including our pupils. Uncertainty breeds anxiety, and when you don’t know, you create your own reasons in your head. To ameliorate this, leaders keep people in the loop, and you tell them the direction persistently, you let them know where you are on the journey, you build a common language, you create a familiar sense of safety.

Here is the question I want to really ask though:

Are leaders ever honest with themselves?

In the US and indeed, the UK, the idea of transformative leadership is a dominant feature; a leader presents a vision and manipulates the culture and builds sustainable change in schools (Grint 2008). Grint goes on to describe systemic level issues with this apparent model leader are often entirely out of the remit of the leaders’ control (more here).

How many times have you recognised that unease and pressure, that buzzing behind your eyes is not the coffee, it is not just the high powered job, but that it is anxiety? This week I have seen some incredibly brave decision in the absence of vision from above. Arrangements have been made through a necessity for followers; this is bravery; this is leadership. This is leadership at its best; making decisions based on your purpose, your experience and the information you have is all done to put your followers and vision right.

Back to another version of the question.

What do leaders do to put themselves right?

I will come back to this at some point. 

Have an awesome weekend everyone. I think we all need it.

Leadership – Raising Aspirations

This guest piece is from Executive Headteacher Stever Baker

Kilgarth and Gilbrook Schools are a hard federation of under-funded, maintained SEMH schools for children who are often coping with complex learning difficulties and distressing personal circumstances, in an area among the most deprived in the country.

In order to break the cycle of aspirational deprivation we often have to contend with, we set out on an ambitious project; we wrote to inspirational figureheads from around the globe, asking them to send us a signed photograph and some words of wisdom. We hoped to show our pupils that they do not need to face the challenges of the future alone and that they should aspire to achieve great things.  With the support of some local companies we collated the remarkable responses that we received and created a book; a copy was given to each student, with the hope that it would raise their personal aspirations.  Staff and governors were also given copies, recognising the important role that they play in developing better outcomes for our school family and wider community.  Our award-winning ‘Aspire’ project became the inspiration behind the naming of our new federation of schools.

Taking the learning from our project, my top five tips to raise aspirations, and promote well-being, amongst young people would be:

  1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision

We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families, governors, psychologists, and members of the local community.  The result of our efforts can be seen in our mission statements.

1. Have high aspirations at the heart of your vision We spent over 12 months developing a mission statement, vision, and values for our schools and engaged all stakeholders, including students, teachers, families,… Click To Tweet
  1. Develop students’ resilience

Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood.  To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we have a number of positive quotes adorning the walls in our school, one of which is: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  The design of the displays was produced with the help of the students so they ‘bought into’ these values.

2. Research has shown that the skills involved in resilience are almost as important as cognitive skills for achieving educational qualifications by adulthood. To raise awareness of the importance of resilience we… Click To Tweet
  1. Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance

Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance.  When challenging behaviour is displayed we should be very careful not to label children; we should not be asking ‘what is wrong with you?’ rather we should be asking ‘what happened to you?’ and ‘how can we help you overcome these challenges?’

Create a culture where young people are offered a second chance Who are we to judge? When our students make mistakes we always allow them the opportunity to have a second chance. When challenging behaviour is… Click To Tweet
  1. Promote solution focused conversations

A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health.  They reviewed gender differences and their findings suggested that increased testing and academic pressure in schools are likely to have a negative impact on mental health (particularly in girls).  Their report also indicated that children’s experience of school may be critical to the onset of mental health problems.  To promote a positive outlook, staff at both schools have embraced a coaching culture. This was originally introduced to support the emotional resilience of staff working in challenging environments, but we have also researched the positive impact that coaching has had on pedagogy.  Professor Walter Mischel, creator of the famous marshmallow test, suggested that using goal oriented thoughts helps us to develop levels of self-control which also further develops our resilience.

4. Promote solution focused conversations A recent study from the Manchester Institute of Education explored the links between academic attainment and children’s mental health. They reviewed gender differences and… Click To Tweet
  1. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all

Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences.  During these times of high stakes accountability, I believe that we should focus on delivering as many positive experiences for young people as possible. The latest research into neuroplasticity shows that the brain remains plastic throughout our entire lives and that by explicitly rewarding specific, positive behaviours we want to encourage, we are able to ‘hard-wire’ them into the young people we work with. Psychologists call this ‘The Matthew effect’ and it is based on accumulated advantage, namely the happier you are, the happier you will become and that by sharing happiness, you will be able to boost others’ well-being.

5. Celebrate success and promote well-being for all Professor Roy Baumeister researched negativity bias, i.e. the fact that we tend to remember and focus more on negative experiences. During these times of high stakes… Click To Tweet

We absolutely must commit ourselves to raising children’s aspirations but should also be mindful that with a reported ‘child mental health crisis’, emotional well-being should also be at the front of our minds; it should not be an optional extra.  I will leave you with the quote from the inspirational Liverpool boxer, Natasha Jonas, who personally handed out the books to our boys, following a series of boxing masterclasses she led for them:

“You have three names in life.  One you are given, one you inherit…and the other you make for yourself.”

Your Voice Matters.

I have spent most of my life feeling silenced, unable to utilise my voice for various reasons.

I have found my voice; thousands of people visit this site weekly. 

Now sharing and amplifying our voices feels like the right thing to do.

I have spent most of my life feeling silenced, unable to utilise my voice for various reasons. I have found my voice; thousands of people visit this site weekly. Now sharing and amplifying our voices feels like the right thing to do. Click To Tweet

My topics usually fall into three sections by no means is this constricted.

  1. Race, Equity and decolonisation.
  2. Mental Health of teachers and pupils.
  3. Leadership.

If you* have an idea, a view or story head over to the contact form here and let me know.

stock-photo-wisdom-power-words-talk-concept-behavior-perception-language-influence-9b99a8b8-f540-4ae4-90de-0ccfcf5cb604

*I would welcome responses from people who possess protected characteristics in redressing the balance.

Help Must Be Given To People Suffering Mental Illness at Work.

Having suffered from bouts of depression, anxiety and sleeplessness throughout his life, Patel revealed he had to take periods of time off work due to his mental health struggles.

He added the amount of support he received at work “differed”.

Patel, who is from Wolverhampton, had been advised against looking at senior roles in his profession as he could be perceived as “weak”.

“I’ve been told: ‘If you want to be a headteacher, chairs of governors and trustees, will think you are weak of character’,” he told Eastern Eye.

“I have worked in organisations with differing levels of support – from feeling like I was truly valued to feeling like I was a burden on the school.”

He believes the acceptance and support concerning mental health was dependent on the experiences of the leadership team.

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In one instance, when Patel reached out for help, he was told he would be going for an assessment to organise further support.

“This actually turned out to be a fitness to work interview,” Patel recalled. “I wasn’t even told [this would be happening].”

This is an extract from an interview by Eastern Eye, The rest of the article is

https://www.easterneye.biz/help-must-be-given-to-people-suffering-mental-illness-at-work/

Action Research – What works?

I have long been a fan of action research, I first engaged in action research in the classroom in the mid-2000s. As a leader or a practitioner, this piece is well worth a read.

The following is written by Mark Quinn.

It can also be found here. https://markquinn1968.wordpress.com/2019/09/20/what-works-teacher-action-research-works/

What was the Teacher Action Research Project?

Between October 2018 and June 2019 I delivered a Teacher Action Research Project – TARP – to a group of 8 secondary school teachers from across England, meeting on three occasions at UCL Institute of Education (IOE), where I work. The project was funded by UCL Widening Access and Participation, whose remit is to increase the uptake of places at leading universities by students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The teachers chose themes and interventions that they judged likely to make a substantial difference to their own students: some focused on aspects of their classroom practice that they wished to adapt; others conducted their action research on an element of their wider school responsibility. The only stipulation was that they must concentrate on outcomes for their disadvantaged students.

The teachers chose themes and interventions that they judged likely to make a substantial difference to their own students: some focused on aspects of their classroom practice that they wished to adapt; Click To Tweet

Summary of the interventions and outcomes

Three were interested in the process of student learning; they were keen to increase their students’ awareness of how they learn, and to see the extent to which this would contribute to their academic progress. These projects may be labelled metacognitive strategies. The self-regulation of learners was a feature across several other projects. One hypothesised that, to address the demands of new linear exams at A level, teachers needed to address the metacognitive skills of their students and could best achieve this through explicit modelling of written responses; two English teachers conducted projects which focused on boosting subject-specific vocabulary in Key Stage 4. These three enquiries can be loosely grouped as language and literacy. One teacher, whose whole-school role embraces Careers Education, was interested in the link between students’ self-efficacy and realistic career choices; the project of the final practitioner-researcher saw her department take a range of new evidence-informed approaches to teaching Geography at Key Stage 3. These last two come under the very broad heading curriculum development but, like the rest, are complex interventions concerned largely with students’ self-regulation.

There were many common findings across the eight action research projects. Many saw student confidence as a prerequisite to progress; others saw that increased confidence was an outcome of their projects. The same could be said for the issue of teacher-student relationships: some saw them improve, while others identified them as a continuing threat to successful outcomes. Teaching strategies that placed an emphasis on student self-reflection, their metacognition and self-regulation all had promising results for disadvantaged students and others. Likewise, modelling of exemplar answers, emphasis on appropriate subject vocabulary and the embedding of strategies which force students to retrieve prior knowledge: greater focus upon these pedagogical approaches did bear fruit for many of the disadvantaged students whose progress was tracked. Not all projects succeeded on their own terms. Those where the number or complexity of interventions were greatest found it difficult to implement change or to track the impact of the changes they did implement. In some few cases, the participating teachers speculated that their innovation may have in some way hampered the progress of the students they were trying to help, but this was a minority finding. Others were able to reflect upon the extraneous factors which continue to impede the progress of their disadvantage students.

What TARP has to say about innovations that make a positive difference to disadvantaged students

Modelling

Modelling happened in several ways across the projects. In some cases this involved the use of a visualiser in class to highlight features of exemplary practice; in another it included the repeated use of model answers provided by exam boards; one teachers referred to the ‘talking aloud’ strategy, whereby the teacher models their thinking as they construct an answer ‘live’ in front of their class. One found that ‘it was clear that all students, disadvantaged or not, wanted to see what excellence looked like and had a genuine thirst for knowledge.’ The progress of her High Prior Attaining Pupil Premium students improved, but so did that of most of the rest of the two Year 11 English classes in her study. Another – who had analysed the planning and teaching of A level subjects that had performed well since the reintroduction of linear exams – wanted to see what lessons could be learned by those departments whose results had dipped. A student survey identified more modelling of exam questions as the area that would help them improve the most. Teachers in two subjects agreed to a six-week implementation of explicit modelling – specifically of exam board answers and typically within homework – and to track the impact upon the bursary students through internal assessment and mock exams. In maths half the bursary students in the set improved their grade while the rest remained as they were. The picture was similar in economics, where one bursary student improved their grade while the other remained static.

Building good relations and a culture of trust

One teacher contended that ‘establishing a culture of trust within a class is central to students making progress.’

Some participating teachers pointed to the trust that was an outcome of involvement in the project. One (who did a lunchtime group intervention focused on the students’ knowledge retrieval skills) saw that ‘as the interventions progressed, the girls started to become more and more accountable for each other and encouraging one another to meet the demands of their courses.’ She spotted a relationship between that burgeoning culture of trust in the group and their regard for themselves as learners, which (for all but one of the group) improved also. Another noted that, the more familiar his Year 13 English Literature students were with simple cognitive processes and the rationale behind the approaches to feedback he was taking, the more they trusted him and the tasks he was setting.

 

Student confidence

For this teacher, this trust in him and his teaching was a contributory factor in the students’ growing confidence going into their exams. One of his students said she had begun to ‘trust my own thinking’.

Among one teacher’s Year 10s, after the four months of her careers and options guidance programme

‘82% of the students felt that they were now more confident to make decisions related to their career paths highlighting that the project has been somewhat successful in breaking down the barriers to career self-efficacy and increasing student confidence.’

She concluded that it was the early and structured nature of the intervention which helped the students be more confident in their decision-making.

A geography teacher, implementing a new Key Stage 3 curriculum, explicitly measured the confidence of her students using ‘feedback circles’ in the lessons. She and her colleagues were alarmed at the high rate of students describing themselves as within the ‘panic zone’ when they were asked to think hard. But, persisting with their innovations – and in particular the demand that their students ‘speak like a geographer’ – they found gradually that ‘most of the students moved out of the panic zone and into the stretch zone’.

Teaching which boosts vocabulary

An English teacher noticed that students, who were unfazed at the prospect of producing two to three pages of work would still feel anxious about giving ‘the right answer’, and this stopped them writing. A ‘heightened focus on relevant terminology’ was one of the factors leading to improved progress for Pupil Premium students with higher prior attainment. The geography teacher’s students, as they moved out of their panic zone, began to expand their discipline vocabulary.

‘This started to finally pay off and after a few weeks teachers and students started to use these words as a matter of course (in the interviews this is something teachers referred to again and again and were quite amazed by.)’

Another English teacher delighted that some of her students had become ‘word hungry’ – asking for vocabulary and prepared to use the thesaurus – but she sounded a warning note too.

‘Students accessed and used a range of complex and higher level vocabulary that they would otherwise either not have the tools or confidence to access… Students are empowered when given tailored vocabulary – however students do not have the skills to be able to build upon this independently.’

They remained reluctant to source higher level vocabulary for themselves, or to transfer the new vocabulary they had learned to other subject areas.

Metacognition and Retrieval Practice

Several of the TARP teachers used their enquiries to test their supposition that students make better progress the more they are aware of the processes of learning. As noted already, an A level English teacher found that his students trusted him and his methods the more they recognised that they had some basis in cognitive science. He concluded that placing subject knowledge at the heart of the curriculum yielded significant benefits that seemed to go beyond simply recalling knowledge.

‘The ease with which the students retrieved information decreased cognitive load. It seemed that being able to retrieve knowledge with relative ease freed up cognitive space to concentrate on structuring essays and writing well.’

The teacher of the lunchtime intervention group found that they began to bring in examples of dual-coding they had produced in Science and discussed flash card examples for their humanities revision.

‘It was evident that they had not only taken a more independent approach to selecting and using appropriate recall and retrieval strategies but were also open and willing to share these with their peers.’

Caveats

These were small studies, a few conducted across a department or between two or three groups, most confined to a single class. Within that, the teachers tracked the impact of their projects on the much smaller number of specifically disadvantaged students. It is an advantage of action research that it allows participating teachers to spot the often very small, yet significant, changes that can occur when a modification is made to teaching. The methodology is essentially qualitative, which allows the teachers to report on the attitudes and behaviours which are both factors in and outcomes of learning. But the datasets are necessarily tiny, and the measures of attainment – short of public exam data – are assessed by the teachers themselves. (TARP concluded before the end of the Summer term, i.e. before the release of the 2019 public exams.)

The teachers on TARP were clearly invested in the successes of their interventions, and they were mindful of the pitfalls of bias. Several, in their own reporting, speculated upon the possible negative consequences of their study. One teacher’s English department colleagues undertook a lesson study into the expanded use of higher order language to enable their students to express perspective. She noted that they enjoyed the ‘safe’ bank of vocabulary they were given and asked

‘Are we inhibiting students by providing them with too much? Do we over-stimulate or confuse students with SEN? Some students feel they have to use every new word, which then makes their written responses convoluted.’

The geographer in the group also expressed a residual concern for her lower prior attaining students. When she and her geography colleagues rewrote their Key Stage 3 curriculum, they found that their higher and middle prior attainers responded well. But the lower prior attainers – especially those deemed to be at Levels 1 or 2 – did not. She remained confident in the approaches taken by her colleagues but was cognisant also of making too bold a claim.

Final comments

The Teacher Action Research Projects have made a positive difference to disadvantaged students in the eight schools. They have also affected the teachers themselves, their confidence as practitioners and their sense of their place in the profession. All intend to continue with the practices they innovated this year, and several have expanded their plans.

Reflecting on TARP, one commented

‘I think that to be effective educators, we need to be able to process, explore and consider the research before it is implemented, so that it can have a more positive impact on our students.’

The final word should go to another, for whom the project has made her think about

‘how small changes can have an impact without adding to workload and that sometimes it is doing more of what already works rather than incorporating something completely new.’

The full version of this report will soon be available on the UCL website at:

www.ucl.ac.uk/widening-participation/TARP

We all have ‘Mental Health’ – it’s what you do with it that counts

This is a Chapter from James Hollinley’s book which is available on this site.

 

Within the media, there is a growing awareness and publication around ‘mental health’. Over the years, the terminology has changed and, more recently, so has perspective. As such, it is important to understand the link between history and present when looking at mental health.

A very, very brief history and why it is important

For the larger part of history, those with poor mental health were treated very poorly. In medieval times, it was linked to witchcraft and demons – mostly leading to attempted exorcism or burning at the stake. The scientific approach was through the drilling into the skull (trephining) to release the spirit. Before these times of ‘medical’ practice, it was linked to making gods angry.

The 1600s saw the growing introduction of lunatic asylums e.g. Bedlam, that saw the vulnerable removed from communities and kept in dismal, prison-like conditions including shackles and beating – seemingly a refuge for them with a focus on keeping them in. The 1800s started to see treatments such as rotation therapy in which a chair was suspended, and the patient was spun in a circular

We all have ‘mental health’ – it’s what you do with it that counts

Motion until they promised the staff that they would get better. Over time these changed from being places in which those less affluent could be watched by visiting public to being redefined by the early 20th century as ‘mental hospitals’ with a more medical approach – the most common being electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomies being brought in within the 1930s until popular banning in the ’50s.

In the 1970s many of the asylums or mental hospitals closed in growing favour of therapy, converting to what is now commonly known as short-stay hospital placements – this was aided by the development and popularity of anti-psychotic medication and further understanding of therapeutic support. In both the UK and US, the percentage institutionalised decreased in 40 years by 90%, between 1950 and 1990. However, we are still in an age in which some generations of society experienced the large stigma of asylums and institutions – many of those most affluent would pay for these services in secret. Those who could not afford private placements would make up stories of holidays and visiting family. No wonder there is such mystery and stigma, only now beginning to be challenged – this will take anything from a decade onwards to educate society and convince communities and employers that it is okay to have a mental health condition.

We have a very long way to go. Last week, I spoke to a lady from Africa who hides her epilepsy from her family because they believe she is possessed. It has cost her a marriage and her children. Her medication is hidden from her family in fear of further isolation. In turn, this has brought on depression and anxiety. If a very common medical issue such as epilepsy is still misunderstood within some British communities, then a person with a mental health condition that is even less understood – such as bipolar, psychosis or Schizophrenia – will certainly face a tougher challenge to feel complete within society, hold employment or a successful relationship.

Schools

In schools, teachers, support staff and school leaders all have their own experiences of children with a wide range of issues that they can recall – usually stemming around ‘behavioural difficulties’. The prevalence of mental health in social media states astronomical situations. You will see statistical headlines such as:

  • The Mental Health Foundation (2003) stated that over ‘450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem’.
  • Time to Change stated that ‘1 in 4 people will have a mental health problem this year, but too many people are made to feel isolated and ashamed as a result’.

The Mental Health Foundation (2003) stated that over '450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem'. Click To Tweet

With ‘mental health problems’ being so apparently prevalent, it can be clearly stated that having poor mental health is all part of the human condition at some point in many people’s lives and, due to its commonality in humans, should have no stigma attached. It is an unfortunate but perfectly natural thing to happen to any person at any point in one’s life. As Harris (2017) states: ‘If we stop assuming that good mental health throughout a lifetime is the norm, we can get a much sharper idea of why those who are fortunate with their mental health are able to stay well.’

Teachers would benefit, therefore, from taking a child and looking at whether they show signs of good mental health. This is detailed by Gunnar (2017), at the Institute of Child Development:

  • They are curious and interested in the world.
  • They are willing and wanting to learn.
  • They can sit and reflect at times about what is going on.
  • They have the ability to experience love, affection and emotions.
  • They get upset when things are upsetting them and bring themselves back to a level state without needing intense intervention. Nature and nurture
  • Mental health impairments can develop in early childhood. Shonkoff (2010) stated that it is scientifically proven that ‘at a molecular level, ALL aspects of brain function are the result of interaction between genetics and experience’. As such, it is our genes, together with experiences, that set up the operating systems in our brains.
  • The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University refers to three kinds of responses to stress. This is very clear for practitioners and can aid school professionals to understand the workings of the brain.

Stress response system

Examples of situations

Effects

Positive stress

Positive stress response is characterized by brief increases in heart rate and mild elevations in hormone levels.

  • … First day with a new caregiver
  • … Receiving an injected immunisation

Positive stress response is a normal and essential part of healthy development.

Tolerable stress

Tolerable stress response activates the body’s alert systems to a greater degree as a result of more severe, longer-lasting difficulties.

Toxic stress

Toxic stress response can occur when a child

experiences strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity.

  • … The loss of a loved one
  • … A natural disaster
  • … A frightening injury
  • … Physical or emotional abuse
  • … Chronic neglect
  • … Caregiver substance abuse
  • … Caregiver mental illness
  • … Exposure to violence
  • … The accumulated burdens offamily economic hardship …without adequate adult support.

If the activation is time-limited and buffered by relationships with adults who help the child adapt, the brain and other organs recover from what might otherwise be damaging effects.

Without reducing instability quickly and effectively through the correct support, the above situations can weaken developing brain architecture and cause ‘early adversity’ in which the body’s stress response systemis permanently set on high alert. This can have lifelong effects on the person’s physical and mental health.

How should Schools Perceive ‘mental health’?

It is easy for schools to get lost in the whole ‘do they or don’t they have poor mental health’ debate. Instead, it would be easier for schools to develop a ‘mindset’ that there are three types of poor mental health. The reason we should do this is that schools can potentially tackle poor wellbeing, whereas ‘mental health problems’ and ‘major psychological disorders’ they certainly cannot and need specialist support. You can split ‘mental health’ into three main subsets – please note that the extensive list of mental health conditions is far larger – however, these tend to be the most prevalent in schools and provide a firm example for discussion:

Type

Condition

Initial response

Major psychological

disorders

There is suggested evidence that these are traceable to the same genetic variations.

Autism – early*

ADHD – early*

Clinical depression – late Bipolar disorder – late Schizophrenia – late

*Autism and ADHD are more commonly diagnosed in the primary years and have a heavier involvement with the SENCO, whereas those ‘late’ are more prevalent in secondary schools and in need of clinical help.

Mental health problems

Needing referral

More likely to be a result of environmental factors**

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Eating disorders

Anxiety

Depression

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Paranoia

Self-harm

Suicidal thoughts/tendencies

Referral to Lead for Wellbeing who should refer this to EWMHS – previously known as CAMHS.

Wellbeing

Actions and states of wellbeing as a result of events

Loneliness

Panic attacks Low self-esteem Stress

Anger

Also referral to Lead for Wellbeing – wraparound meetings with parents and other professionals. These can be tackled within the school environment with professional advice where needed.

Nationally, those needing ‘clinical’ support (referral to EWMHS, doctors, clinical psychologists) are those not being able to access quick support, and are occasionally rejected for support due to not ‘meeting thresholds’. This debate aside, schools are placed in ever-increasing circumstances in which they have to provide support within their establishment. Onsite bought in counselling services (later discussed in this book) are growing to become a more popular solution.

Nationally, those needing ‘clinical’ support (referral to EWMHS, doctors, clinical psychologists) are those not being able to access quick support, and are occasionally rejected for support due to not’ meeting thresholds’. This debate aside, schools are placed in ever-increasing circumstances in which they have to provide support within their establishment. Onsite bought in counselling services (later discussed in this book) are growing to become a more popular solution.

Teachers are there to teach…

The primary role of a teacher is to educate and deliver lessons. In many ways, an effective teacher will ensure that the pastoral care and emotional wellbeing of a pupil in their care is also high on their agenda – that is why so many schools are good and so many children and young people feel safe at school. The question is not regarding the role of the teacher (as this is to teach, role model and care for those in their school), rather about the role of a school itself. Teachers and schools are not mental health specialists and must stay clear of diagnosing or trying to solve mental health problems. Schools also vary widely in regards to ethos, focus and expectation of pupils and staff.

The primary role of a teacher is to educate and deliver lessons. In many ways, an effective teacher will ensure that the pastoral care and emotional wellbeing of a pupil in their care is also high on their agenda Click To Tweet

A successful school develops an ethos and structures that encompass the proactive development of the whole child. Some primaries look after pupils very well but do not necessarily look at what is needed to make them well rounded or are often stretched to cope with academic pressures. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the ethos of a school focuses on the development of the whole child with a purposeful focus on academics and, equal to this, wellbeing for later life.

It is not just the children

Staff can also find themselves in a situation in which they have poor mental health – this is increasingly prevalent as more practitioners find the courage to actively speak out. It is also important for teachers and school leaders to be aware of what makes a school a successful and encompassing environment in which those struggling are supported and given the necessary help and understanding.

The creation of a positive working environment not only helps staff but filters down to the pupils. This must come from headteachers and governors to carefully consider the work-life balance and the culture of the school – those that do not, risk not only the wellbeing of staff but that also of children and young people. Adults who model positive working relationships and communication are essential in building a community that enhances and embraces positive wellbeing for all. 

The first, large step

In short, embrace wellbeing, together with increasing resilience, as this will aid in developing positive mental health now and later in life. When it comes to immediate mental health problems – always seek guidance from professionals. How schools do this will very much depend on their specific intake and need against financial ability and priorities.

A positive step for schools would be to look at individuals, question what they need in order to be well-rounded persons able to cope with what life will throw at them e.g. are they shy, withdrawn in group situations, in need of seeking too much attention, lacking in social circles, fearing failure, grossly overweight and so on. Plan how to provide individuals with the necessary experiences or tools and then execute these in the same gusto as many execute booster classes for academic development. Aim for successful individuals in all aspects and the common purpose will not only make a significant difference in future years but also will have the buy-in and support from staff.

References

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2017): Toxic Stress. Available at: developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/ (Accessed 29 July 2017).

Gunnar, M. (2017): Center on the Developing Child. In Brief: Early Childhood Mental Health. Available at: developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief- early-childhood-mental-health (Accessed 20 June 2017).

Shakoff, J. (2010): Building a New Biodevelopmental Framework to Guide the Future of Early Childhood Policy in Child Development. Washington, D.C.: The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. Vol. 81, no. 1, p. 357-367.

Time To Change (2018): Be in your mate’s corner and change a life – men urged in new mental health campaign. London: Time to Change. Available at: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/news/be-in-your-mates-corner (Accessed 1 January 2018).

WHO (2003): Investing in Mental Health. Geneva: The World Health Organisation.

It’s OK to be Anxious.

Written by @Joanner79Jo

Originally posted here https://mymusingsoneducationcounselingandcreatingafairersociety.wordpress.com

I have never blogged before but having seen a number of tweets expressing anxiety about the new academic year I thought I’d give it a go.

I am prompted to write my first blog after reading a number of tweets expressing anxiety and nerves about the new academic year. I too experience anxiety at this time of year, despite 20 years of teaching and entering my seventh year as head, so I have been thinking about the reasons why.

I guess really I want to reassure. I honestly believe that being anxious is fine! Our job matters. In some ways it should give you sleepless nights, not because you are worried about your school’s position in the league tables or because this year is an OFSTED year but because you are being trusted to educate young people. It doesn’t matter whether you are teaching in Nursery or Year 13, the job comes with a huge amount of responsibility so if you are going to survive it you need to care. I hope though that your anxiety is also tempered by excitement whatever your current role in school. I can’t wait to get to know my new Early Years Children and their families but am also excited to work with my NQTS and further develop ethical leadership at all levels. Of course alongside the excitement is anxiety but isn’t that the point?

Although it might appear flippant to suggest sleepless nights are okay, I want to make it clear. I do not want anyone to feel so anxious they cannot sleep and their long term health to suffer, but I do want everyone involved in… Click To Tweet

Although it might appear flippant to suggest sleepless nights are okay, I want to make it clear. I do not want anyone to feel so anxious they cannot sleep and their long term health to suffer, but I do want everyone involved in education to be motivated not by their personal ambition but by the desire to make the world a fairer place for all children. This means there will be times when you spend hours thinking and pondering on the child you are finding it most difficult to reach or even how to bring in a balanced budget without yet another restructure. You will occasionally wake up at 3 am in the morning worried about the child with a Child Protection Plan, or with what you think is an amazing idea for a whole school street party, (not realising that that alone is enough to give your long suffering Deputy her own sleepless nights) and the night before results day, whatever level, is likely to be pretty tough. However, what I have learnt and what helps me generally sleep at night is knowing that I generally have done my best. I cannot fix everything and nor can you. I cannot fix affordable housing for my families living in overcrowded and temporary accommodation but I can listen, make phone calls and adapt my policies to recognise what an achievement it is for some children to get to school at all let alone on time. I can’t overcome every challenge and barrier faced by my children with SEND but I can listen to them and their parents, I can try and walk in their shoes and if this means changing my uniform policy to accommodate a child’s hypersensitivity to certain fabrics or bringing in whole school training on attachment and trauma to better understand our Looked After Children, then I will.

I will do all I can to reduce teacher work load but not at the expense of the children. It is a hard job – there are different points in the year when we are all on our knees, but it is also the best job. If my staff come to me with ideas for reducing planning I will of course listen, but nor will I just go down the route of doing something because it is easier for staff. Our curriculum needs to be responsive to my community and relevant to their experiences and interests. This year we are working on children seeing themselves in the books they read and the history they study and this has of course created work for class teachers and subject leads. I make no apologies for this. I do all I can to provide time for leaders to lead and teachers to teach but ultimately, well our kids get one shot at this so it needs to be the best it can possibly be.

I guess in conclusion, what I am trying to say in my clumsy way, is that it is okay to be anxious and nervous. I’d be pretty surprised if you weren’t. However, find ways to live with yourself and look after yourself. You’re anxious because you are in a profession that cares passionately about getting it right for our children. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed talk to someone, anyone. But also, embrace the nerves and the worry, it’s what drives us all to keep getting better.

Losing A Pupil

This is by no way professional advice, a substitute for therapy or a ‘what to do when’ article.

This, unfortunately, is almost inevitable in the life of teachers, through your career you will lose a pupil, I have lost many pupils, to multiple different causes including suicides, road traffic accident, violent crime and illness. It hurts until a numbness envelops you.

This, unfortunately, is almost inevitable in the life of teachers, through your career you will lose a pupil. Click To Tweet

The teacher-pupil​ relationship is really complex, to some of these pupils you are the constant in their lives and although this is ‘work’ for us I would argue that our whole profession is predicated on the basis that we care for those we serve.

After losing a pupil, the intrusive thoughts of ‘should I have said something’ and ‘done something’, No matter how irrational these thoughts are, I call this the ‘what if’ phase, then for me comes the I don’t care phase. The world is so cruel why am I even playing this game and slowly the acceptance game. Everyone goes through feeling pupils similar to these, teachers, staff, the community I mean everyone.

We are trained to be the pillar of strength. We are strong for the kids, our colleagues, we are trained to be the adult. I am going to admit, I have cried many tears over my pupils, being the pillar of strength may be​ the right thing professionally but we need to recognise this takes its toll.

A pupil’s death is rarely an event that can be compartmentalised. This trauma can take months, sometimes years to deal with. Personally,​ I used to have a feeling of dread every year pre-holidays, with no idea of what and why I was feeling that way. Until I did. The community, teachers, our pupil, and the school family should be supported throughout these times.

I have no real answer to what this support looks like. Yes, I could suggest ​various things but like I said earlier I am not a professional. I would state again this is support is important and should not be pushed on to anyone other than the appropriately trained professionals.

Losing pupils to suicides is the hardest thing I have ever faced in a school. Every feeling described in the earlier paragraph is heightened. The hardest part is acceptance. Only once I accept that at that point it’s what that pupil wanted where I could move past rationalise any of it.

I’m going to leave this here. I will add to this. Just not today.

Edutwitter. A Dangerous Place?

Every so often, I get an email, a DM or a phone call, from someone that wants, no, needs their voice heard. Guest Blog.

TW: Online grooming.

As I am about to write this, I already feel like a fool. I start typing, read, delete and repeat. I’m not a blogger or a writer, I don’t use long, flowery words, so please forgive me. This experience is extremely difficult to articulate and write about.. but I will try my best and here it goes.

About a year and a half ago, I had a twitter account that I set up a few years ago when I was an NQT. I wasn’t a huge Twitter user at the time and dabbled in and out of Edutwitter although never became heavily involved with it. Over a couple of years, my account shifted from being focused on education to my personal account, posting photographs of what I was cooking for dinner, photos of my friends and I, rubbish jokes and puns as well as making fun of my horrendous dates from Tinder.

One day a message popped into my inbox from someone, let’s call him… Paul. Paul wrote to me ‘Hey, your tweets are so funny, they really make me laugh, how are you?’, before I reply to any message the first thing I do is suss out the person’s profile, I scroll through their tweets, look at the number of their followers, who they are following, I check to see if we have any mutual online teacher/education friends and look at their photos. Paul, quite clearly knew his stuff, a Head from London, all tweets where SLT/school-related, this was someone who had a thirst and a passion for education, however, there was one thing I did notice in particular, he had no picture. So what? Many teachers keep themselves private on Twitter. Headship is a lonely place, Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me.

Twitter was a safe place for him, after a few months of this first message, I found out Twitter wasn’t a safe place for me. Click To Tweet

I politely replied, small talk, chit chat but did not ask any questions. He messaged me again the next day, asking about my job and hobbies. This time, I tried to imagine how old Paul was, I assumed much older than myself given his position in school and/or married. After a couple of friendly messages exchanged I decided to ask him outright about his age. He told me he was thirty-four, whilst that is a young age for a Head it is possible, my previous Head was younger than that. After a few weeks of messaging, he asked for my number. I was hesitant, I didn’t know what Paul looked like but he seemed so interested in me, my job and I suppose after a while I became interested in him.

I gave him my number and immediately he sent me a Whataspp message, he sent me some photographs of what he looked like, one photo was of him standing in a school playground, suited and booted surrounded by secondary school pupils with a proud smile on his face. We Facetimed and chatted about each other’s day, he said I looked beautiful even though I was exhausted. We would speak on the phone for hours each day over a couple of months, Paul told me all about his interview for his Headship, he told me about his deputies and how two of them didn’t get along with each other. One day he told me about an NQT in the English department who was struggling so had a meeting with her and had gone to support her in her lessons. I enjoyed finding out about the ups and downs of his day and that he could vent and offload to me. I remember him telling me that a student had dislocated his shoulder and that the parents wanted to take the school to court.

Meanwhile, I was having a difficult time at work, I felt frustrated with my Head of Department for different reasons. I’d ask Paul for advice and he suggested a few things, my Head had asked to see me about my issues with my Head of Department and of course, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to. Even though I hadn’t met him yet, Paul had given me lots of support, he had run through what I should say to my Head. I’m definitely not the most diplomatic person so always tend to get flustered in situations like this but I felt confident what to say as Paul had advised me. I was getting text messages from my Head of Department and abusive messages from my ex-boyfriend, Paul told me to change my number, so I did.  Nobody had my new number apart from family, very close friends and Paul.

With a whirlwind at work and having just come out of a difficult relationship I felt that the best part of my day was talking to Paul. Every time I put the phone down I felt full of confidence and self-belief, he oozed enthusiasm and positivity. After a few more weeks, Paul said he was going to be visiting the city that I live in for a Head’s conference and asked if I’d like to meet him for a drink. I felt nervous, we had been talking every day for months and I agreed. We arranged to meet in the city and he was already there waiting for me, I slowly walked towards him and he turned around and beamed and wrapped his arms around me.

We went to a bar, it was busy but we managed to get a table, we were chatting away and he put his hand on mine and said he had something for me. The bar staff bought over a bunch of flowers, they were beautiful.  We spoke a lot about my job and that I needed to move schools, he suggested looking for a job in London and that if I could work in a London school I could work anywhere, I’d progress quickly if I wanted to work up (I hate London so that would’ve never happened). My phone ran out of battery and I had no cash on me so I used his phone to order an Uber for myself, he jumped on the train back to London. At the time, I was living with my parents, as soon as I walked through the front door with a bunch of flowers a barrage of questions followed which I avoided answering! I started to think and realised that even though I had been speaking to Paul for a few months, there was still a lot that I didn’t know about him.

Paul called me the next day and we had our usual chat however I decided I would dig a little deeper into his history. He had grown up in the city where I live and I was eager to know where and how his teaching career started. I asked him where he did his training and he would reply but not actually answer my questions. We met for a second time and he came to visit me from London, he took me to a lovely Italian restaurant which he told me it held happy memories before his mother passed away. So after our dinner, we were drinking red wine, I asked him about his school, I still didn’t know the name of his school or his second name, we had only met twice (I also wanted to read the OFSTED report for his school!). He couldn’t look at me directly in the eye and I knew something was off. He took his bank card out of his wallet to pay for the bill, so I played detective and managed to read the name on his bank card, let’s call his second name.. Smith (very original).

When I arrived home, I opened my laptop and my Google search began. No Head called Paul Smith, nothing. Not one single thing. I remembered I had the photograph of him and the students from our Whatsapp messages. I reversed searched the photograph (I had watched the programme Catfish many times!), nothing. So I turned into a ghost and vanished from Paul, I wouldn’t reply to his messages. Gut instinct is so powerful and usually, it is always right.

One evening Paul called me in desperation to talk to me again, I answered and told him I knew there was something that he wasn’t telling me. Then there were a few seconds of silence.  He said there was something but he couldn’t possibly tell me what it was. I told him if he didn’t tell me what he was keeping from me, he would never speak to me again. The first three questions I asked him were “Are you married?”. No. “Are you engaged?” No. “Do you have a family that you’ve not mentioned?” No. I remained calm although in my head my conscience was shouting “WTF” over and over again.

Now if I reveal too much detail here,  his identity will be exposed. After he told me his secret, he had been lying about his name, Paul Smith was the name on his bank card (remember Paul Smith is the name I’m using for this blog), he told me that he had legally changed his name. I asked what his previous name was and he told me. I Googled his original name and my mouth dropped open, there were articles published in the national press with his photograph and his original name. Although what he had been accused of wasn’t illegal but definitely a case of breach of trust and I’m pretty certain that no school would want him working them if they knew this information, true or not, his name and photograph had been dragged through the media with a pretty serious accusation.

I stared at his previous name, printed in bold. I felt angry at him and myself. There was no way this guy was a Head, it was all a lie. He had told me so much about his job, a complete web of lies over a few months. For someone to be able to manipulate and lie to this extent could potentially be dangerous. I changed my number, even a couple of colleagues made a comment about how much I changed my number. He knew what school I worked at, I was worried he was going to turn up outside the school gates or even turn up at my parents’ house (I remembered using his phone for an Uber). I felt like I had been groomed, even as a grown woman. I deleted my twitter account and completely disappeared. I was at work and had an email sent to my work address from a teacher who had been following me, he had guessed my work email address, I could see the numerous attempts in the ‘CC’ bar of the email. He guessed correctly and asked why I vanished. This was getting weirdier.

I moved out of my parent’s house and did move school. After a year, I made a new Twitter account, I wasn’t frightened anymore. After I gained a few followers, after a few months it became a few hundred and then thousands. My tweets occasionally get retweeted hundreds of times and I went to check Paul’s account only to find he had already found me and blocked me.

Twitter can be a great place for many, I’ve met some great educators from there and even friends and they are the people who will know my identity because they have heard my story already. However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Male or Female, Look after yourself.

However, it can also be a dangerous place. I’ve not spoken to Paul since he doesn’t deserve to be anonymous but I do. Look after yourself. Click To Tweet

Me x