Coming on the back of last week’s post, this super blog post about teacher well-being links to school values. A school must value the people within it. Of all ages. Working to ensure that the effort to support each other is balanced is one of the increasing challenges we face…

Originally posted on 20 years a teacher:

On Thursday night I presented at the Specialist School and Academies Trust (#SSATNC14) Teachmeet. The theme of my 5 minute presentation was on the issue of staff well-being. This was a mini version of the presentation Mark Healy (@cijane02) was due to present at David Fawcett (@davidfawcett27) and Jen Lud’s (@MissJLud) TLT14, which myself and Tania Harding (@taniaf77) delivered on his behalf.


It is a theme which I have returned to this half term (at our TLT14 tea party last week) which links to my theory that a happy staff equals happy students. Simple but who knows!

I often wonder if the job of leadership is to look after the staff. The teachers you have in the building. The ones who look after your students. It appears as though the recruitment crisis will (is starting) start to bite sooner rather than later. If we continue…

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Introducing Fundamental British Values

I’ll start with a caveat.  I believe “fundamental British values” are no different from fundamental HUMAN values.  The only difference is perhaps an ability to form an orderly queue and grumble politely!

Inspiration for the weekly blog can sometimes be challenging, however this afternoon an email from the Independent Schools Inspectorate dropped into the inbox.  An update to schools and inspectors on the long awaited non-stutory guidance, outlines the latest changes in regulations which require independent schools:

To actively promote the fundamental British values of:

  • democracy

  • the rule of law

  • individual liberty

  • the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs

There is certainly nothing new nor earth-shatteringly different in this for what the vast majority of schools would believe they already “actively promote”.  However, it is this phrase – “actively promote” – that creates both a barrier and an opportunity.

Following regulations as a tick-box exercise could be relatively successful.  The opportunity now presented to schools is one that will continue to ensure that we embed the “behaviours and ethos” (as ISI point out) that will have a more profound impact on the culture within our communities.

It is very hard to relinquish the traditional “command & control” model to which some of us still cling.  And although we wish it to be different (and I count myself among those who would aspire to a more enlightened model of school organisation), the best example of democracy in action is too often encouraging children to learn to comply with those in positions of authority.

While it could be argued that this ability to comply (think queuing, not complaining about poor service or council tax payments) may be a fundamental British value, deep in our hearts we know the world we are preparing our children for is vastly different from that which we were prepared for.  Yet despite the differences, our children (my own children) will still need to be tolerant, caring and empathetic; able to live, study and work with people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures.  They will need to posses the self-control and self-esteem that will enable them to harness the incredible technology at their disposal to continue to work for a more generous and just society.

When I was at primary school in the 70’s, the values that I absorbed did not hinder my ability to grow up in the 80’s in a world that introduced us to the marvels of new technology (Sony Walkman, BBC Micro & Space Invaders), the threat of nuclear war or global exposure to the plight of the world’s poor in Ethiopia through Band Aid.  We weren’t taught democracy, given a budget as a school council or suggestion boxes.

And yet, as educators we now have at our own disposal tools – pedagogic and technological – that equip us to establish the values that remain “fundamental” to being an effective human being in a world that requires of us greater empathy.

The taught curriculum will provide a foundation for values education.  For instance, themes around Anglo-Saxon laws and justice, the significance of key historical figures in movements for social justice or the distribution of natural resources, will all offer the opportunity to deepen knowledge around democracy, liberty and equality.  However, it is the opportunity beyond the taught curriculum, and a school’s commitment, through its ethos, that will develop lasting and profound understanding to the lives of our children.

If we want to “promote” values, British or otherwise, there has to be an experiential learning that mirrors it.  Without this experience, the “promotion” of values, actively undertaken or not, will have little or no lasting impact.  So here is a list, by no means exhaustive, that perhaps would get closer to the heart of how promoting values will have significance.

  1. Embed a mindful approach to communication.  Empathy emerges from taking time to listen and communicate effectively.  If adults show that we listen to children, they will listen to adults.  By the same token, adults need to listen to each other.
  2. Relentless support for positive relationships and encouraging perseverance.  Not all relationships run smoothly whether between staff, parents or children.  Admitting that and aspiring for better must be the norm.
  3. Give everyone a voice; listen and make the invisible visible.  Seeing an idea you have had take shape and flourish is empowering.  Allowing someone else’s idea to flourish is good leadership.
  4. Failure, resilience, call it what you will, not everything works and you won’t always get what you want.  Rigorous monitoring and fair appraisal will ensure that there is support for all and everyone has a turn.
  5. Recognition is not for everyone. Some crave the limelight; others gain greatest satisfaction from ensuring others are treated fairly.  Saying thank you is one thing; behaving in a thankful way is more complex.  Tell the story of everyone’s contribution.

Black is not the new Advent

There is an elegance in simplicity.  The fast-paced, rapidly changing world in which we live constantly threatens to overwhelm us.  We feel compelled to jump onto the juggernaut that is a consumer-focused lifestyle; surrounded by media in so may forms, we are bombarded with messages to acquire “stuff” to make us apparently feel better, look better, be more satisfied.  Therefore it is ever more important to retain a focus on those things in life that are simple but most effective.

Ultimately, we know that well-being brought about by having things does not fill us with that warm glow of deep satisfaction that we obtain from being loved, loving someone, helping others or being surrounded by friends and family.

We are approaching the first Sunday of Advent and it is time to turn our attention to all that this amazing season brings.  Having a family that comprises a 5 year old and a 13 year old, we are far from losing the magic of what Christmas means to children and I am grateful for it.  There is much to be done, but the traditions are something that my children (especially the older one) crave and we see our love of the season mirrored in her.

And this is where we return to the idea of simplicity.  Whether one is of faith or none at all, Christmas has that elegantly simple message: peace on earth and goodwill to all.  Surrounded by black Friday as we are today, we must remind ourselves of the pleasure of those things that make us happiest of all.

To admit a guilty secret, I do love to listen to Ella Fitzgerald.  At Christmas, this song in particular sums up a better, more simple way to live our lives even beyond this time of year.  Cheesy, perhaps. Important, definitely.  Simple, absolutley.


A little inspiration

IMG_3785It’s a tough ask, but a cross country run (just short of a mile) for 7 to 11 year olds is a part of our school’s year of sport.  And this year’s house cross country came at the end of a very busy week of sport at our school which has included winning a local U10 prep school netball tournament and having all of our Junior year groups involved in hockey, netball and football.

One of the more bitter-sweet aspects of our lives as educators and as parents is seeking to encourage children to push themselves up to and beyond their limits – physical, intellectual and emotional.  It is not easy to watch a child get angry, frustrated, exhausted, disappointed, upset or otherwise have to wrestle with their physical and emotional state.  And it is a challenge for us to allow it to occur yet support them in the safest and most appropriate way that will allow them to learn and understand how to cope with that physiological and psychological pain.

Elsewhere it has been called “grit” or resilience – the ability to cope, learn and remain positive in the face of challenge and adversity.  Whether it is learning to sing a new song in the choir, learn your first 100 hundred high-frequency words or face the competition in examination hall for entrance to senior school, possessing the skills to be able to recognise how you need to behave at times of high stress is essential in overcoming these obstacles.

And there is no other way to learn these skills than to experience those moments hand-in-hand with the support that is aware of the learning that is taking place.  So back to our cross country for a moment: There are lots of staff and vocal parents on hand to support every child, to give encouragement and to will everyone to do their utmost.  Each child is competing for their house and every effort counts towards the final total and end result.  Everyone belongs, everyone is congratulated yet everyone has to try, many get exhausted, most get muddy and wet and only one girl and one boy get to be victorious as individuals.

As one parent commented to me after the race, of all sports in which her children compete, cross country is by far the most emotional.  I feel that this is precisely because we have to witness our children pushing themselves to those limits that, as parents, we often feel that we have to protect them from.  But by using the vocabulary of effort (try, have a go, attempt, courage, dig deep, etc…) and praising the process rather than the outcome, the aim is that our children will recognise that they are able to get up to and even over the limits that they perceive.  Next time, therefore, those limits will be that much more challenging and overcoming them more eagerly sought.