Work Life Balance

It’s been a funny old year. The press, and especially the satirists, will bemoan 2016 for Brexit, Trump, the death of every celebrity you ever loved and generally for being crap.

And most teachers would probably say that the workload has gotten worse, that balance has gotten further out of kilter, that DfE meddling has added more stress and I know that I’ve found it increasingly difficult to keep all the plates spinning.

I’ve not done as much CPD / CAS / outreach work as I’d have liked to, I’ve still not updated any of my YouTube revision videos for almost 4 years now(!) and my long term plans to tidy up and add to my various resource collections have utterly stalled. Not to mention the frequency of these blog posts.

BUT

In the last year I’ve been to France with my family (twice), seen performances of Mary Poppins (professional), Spamalot (amateur), Goodnight Mr. Tom and Blue Stockings (school), been to see racing cars, spent 3 awesome days at a music festival, attended a variety of gigs (the highlight being the Chili Peppers last night) and even run a successful Raspberry Jam for 10 months out of 12. I’ve had a great year. My daughter has started secondary, my son has flourished at college, I’ve had opportunities to spend time doing fantastic things with my fantastic family.

I’ve also lost a friend, had a health scare and am shortly to lose my eldest to university – all of which helps to add to the perspective.

Work life balance has never been so important to me. So while I struggle to get everything done, I’ve accepted that – despite being one of the good kids – I will occasionally miss deadlines. I will sometimes miss out entire tasks. I will prioritise what I can – but I will do my best by accepting my own limitations and not burning myself out.

So this Christmas I will take my to do list, I will take my marking and some of it will get done. And some of it, inevitably, won’t. But I will have a good Christmas.

And I hope you do too.

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Positivity

The Poke

Today I am not leaving teaching.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts lately; from the secret teacher, primary teachers, secondary teachers, senior leaders and more. I even wrote one myself 4 years ago (and it has been by far my most read post). The stories are all heartfelt, familiar and somewhat painful. Education under the Tories has gone to hell in a handbasket, the levels of accountability have become oppressive, the pressure to hit targets can feel suffocating and autonomy feels like it has all but left the building.

But I am not leaving teaching.

Those who have left talk of having an actual work-life balance, better physical and emotional health and in conversation I’ve found not a single ex-teacher who tells me they feel they have to work as hard now as they used to do just to stand still.

And yet this is not a post about leaving teaching.

I have good days and bad days, but today I had some great fun with my Y10 class that involved a bit of winding them up, a bit of having a laugh and, by heck, it involved them producing a big chunk of work.

I had a difficult chat with a pupil – the details of which I can’t and won’t go into this morning. And this afternoon I got a subtle smile from said student as I passed by their classroom on my way to firefight 3 other issues.

My Y12s worked for almost an hour in near silence, producing work demonstrating that the lessons I spent last week trying to re-teach them about flow charts and IFDs had actually made a difference.

I could go on (and perhaps I should). The point is that even on those days where I feel totally ineffectual, fail to solve the problem I’m having with their progress and go home with a knotted ball of stress in my stomach and in my legs, there are still those moments where I’m making a difference.

Teaching is an awesome job, and it’s a privilege to have those moments. Moments that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t in education.

There is a cost, of course. I’m increasingly having to find ways to step back, accept my limitations (they can’t all make 5 levels of progress!) and switch off. Last weekend I didn’t mark a single piece of work. I did, however, take on a couple of extra dog walks, clear out a nest of super mutants, caught up with a couple of films and just generally tried to be a human rather than a teacher for a change.

So I’m trying to be positive. To rationalise the problems I find challenging, to decompose the difficulties and to be a supportive rather than whinging voice around my colleagues. With mixed success, of course, but then this is a career that can easily take the best of you and spit you out if you’re not careful.

And I’m staying a teacher for the foreseeable future.

A fresh head and a new state of mind

4868893727_3bd6f4d34e

https://www.flickr.com/photos/victius/4868893727

I hate the whole ‘New Year’ thing. Calendar wise it’s completely arbitrary and it feels like a solution looking for a problem to have to generate a new resolution each January.

So it is completely coincidental that this January I find myself in need of a fresh start.

For the last two academic years I’ve been trying to steer a department through various challenges – new curricula, changes to exam structures, a shift towards computer science, having staff poached by other departments and an increasing pressure to be accountable for all things at all times (and the inevitable paper chase that goes with it).

I’ve noticed that my positive, jovial demeanour most of the time has been strained. I’ve become more cynical, pessimistic and generally unhappy. In the run up to Christmas I found myself trying to support a large group of students through ECDL, and I put myself under far too much pressure and that ultimately put strains on the strongest professional friendships I have as well as my personal life.

I have no scientific backing for what I’m about to say, no double blind studies or journal citations. What I do have is 11 years of experience at the front of the classroom and about 18 years at the back. A stressed, cynical, unhappy teacher makes for stressed, cynical, unhappy students. I’ve found myself snapping at students for not knowing something that I do or, worse, for not knowing the thing that I taught a different class last week.

So I’ve made a deliberate effort this Christmas to take a proper break. No school emails, no marking, no planning, no reports or even a stray thought for school work for about a week and a half. Yes, it means that I’m a bit behind now but, you know what? I will get done what I need to and the rest of it will just have to do. Ultimately I’ll return a happier, more productive teacher and middle leader – which I hope will lead to more interesting and engaging learning experiences for my charges. I’ll continue, in fact redouble, my efforts to teach them things ‘for the sake of learning it’ rather than because it might turn up on an exam paper. And I’ll trust that the results will bear out their learning rather than being the sole objective.

Ask me in a week how well it’s working…

On being a hard-ass

Strict rules

Originally uploaded by Craig A Rodway

This is an issue that’s plagued me since the start of my teaching career and it’s something I’ve never quite gotten to grips with.

As a child I had a lovely upbringing, but it’s fair to say that my parents had clear and high expectations of my behaviour and general attitude. I had to ask permission to leave the dinner table, I had to listen when I was spoken to and I apparently didn’t know what a good hiding was (or so my mum used to tell me).

I happen to think I turned out OK. I consider myself to be well mannered, respectful of others and I seem to do pretty well for myself in life. Seeing that this model certainly worked in my case I’ve adopted a similar approach with my own children. As my children’s dance teacher once said to me, she knows what each parent is like. Some kids they get 3 chances, some get twenty, mine get told once.

Translate that to a classroom and some kids have recently told me that I like to argue, that I need to lighten up or that they wish I wasn’t their teacher/form tutor. It’s easy to laugh that off as just kids, or say that it means I must be doing something right, but I do wonder.

As a child you make mistakes. You do things and you might or might not realise that it wasn’t a great idea. It might be how many times you can tell the same joke (any parent of a 4 year old will know that they never tire of “knock knock – Doctor Who”), how far you can go with a bit of banter before you cause offence or whether you’ll get away with playing Google Pacman instead of finishing the 3D model of a house you were asked to design.

Yes, we need to steer the youngsters right and help them to make the right decisions (in this case once, not as far as you think, probably not), but we also need to make sure that we create positive relationships built on trust, respect and safety. I worry about how much of a barrier I put up by being too strict, and have expectations about behaviour and attitude that are perhaps not realistic.

As usual this is really an opportunity for me to reflect on my own teaching rather than being aimed at an audience, so I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I do think I probably get the balance a bit too far to one side and wonder how I can bring it back a little while still being me.

Life moves pretty fast

F Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Originally uploaded by eddidit

Work-life balance is a funny thing (unlike a teacher banging on about work-life balance, which is neither funny nor original). As you might have gathered, my blogging has been suffering of late, as have many other things on my to-do list.

Revision videos for computer science, a unit of work on infographics, Mukoku courses, sorting out a new domain for Mukoku, Raspberry Pi stuff, a computing club, robotics & physical computing, Digital Badges, Digital Leaders and much more have all slipped and slipped.

Part of me feels guilty about all of that, but then part of me feels less guilty than it used to. A couple of months ago we lost Chris Allan (@infernaldepart). Suddenly, and without warning all the work-related things that Chris was concerned about stopped being important. And all the things I had been slipping behind with stopped being important, at least in relative terms. It’s impossible to do everything, and I accept that. But I find it too easy to focus on getting done as much as humanly possible.

That’s a really stupid thing to do.

The most that is humanly possible is more than is humanly sustainable, and if I don’t get the infographics unit written and I don’t update Mukoku as often as I should (currently around once annually!) then it doesn’t matter. Meeting up with @stevebunce, @simfin, @dominic_mcg and @hairysporan for a catch-up at Blakes is (frankly) more important. Occasional post-work visits to the pub next door to the school are more important. And with that balance comes the time and the frame of mind to start reflecting on things again.

So my infographics unit still isn’t written. Mukoku still remains domain-less and slightly out of date. But I’m looking after myself a bit more. Making sure I get some social downtime (even if it is mostly with other teachers). And I suspect my overall productivity might even rise as a result.

Sssh… it’s a secret!



Whisper

Originally uploaded by daniel_pfund

I had a tutorial lesson today. Or maybe citizenship. Or PHSE. You get the jist…

The aim of the lesson was for the students to understand the concept of budgetting. In addition to the central aim I wanted them to appreciate what their finances might be like in the future and to compare their expectations with harsh reality.

So, printing off a semi-random budgetting sheet found on letting agent’s website we proceeded to fill it in as a class. It took the full hour.

We discussed the cost of renting vs buying, shopping at different types of supermarkets, repayments on loans for different standards of car and, with some degree of shock for the students, the difference between gross and net salaries!

At the end of it we packed up, threw the paper in the bin and went to lunch. I didn’t formally assess their work, they didn’t produce evidence of having completed tasks or showing progression in their knowledge and understanding. I would have been graded as Requires Improvement, or probably Inadequate.

And yet, I’m absolutely certain that EVERY student in that class learned something. They might not remember the figures, but they were surprised by how inaccurate their preconceptions about incomes and expenditures were, and they bought into the lesson really well.

I could have built in more activities – learning checkpoints, scaffolding, differentiated resources and mini-plenaries. And in many cases those tools are incredibly useful. But every once in a while I like to just spend the full lesson exploring something and not necessarily weighing the pig every 10 minutes to see if it’s gotten fatter.

But I’m in the middle of my appraisal, so sssh… it’s a secret! 😉

Y7 Self Evaluation

I’m just doing some marking and had to post this somewhere. My Y7s have spent 3 weeks using PowerPoint properly (as in Slide Master, consistency, etc.) followed by 3 weeks of using Prezi to meet the same project brief (a GCSE Astronomy revision guide). They then had 20 minutes to complete an evaluation and comparison of the tools.

This is the best piece of Y7 written work I think I have ever seen in my classroom:

I think my PowerPoint Presentation is consistent and organized.I think this because my presentation uses the same layout throughout each slide and it is neat and orderly instead of being messy,unorganized and lacking punctuation.

I made my presentation suitable for the audience because I did not use fun,exciting fonts with animations because this would not suit Year 11 revision. I used consistent colours throughout every slide so that the audience is not to busy checking the slide colours instead of reading the actual information to revise.We used several tools including buttons to add links to other pages so the students don’t need to look at all pages to get to the required information.We also used Slide Master to make sure all of the slides look consistent.For example,if you used Slide Master the background,font and button will remain the same throughout the Slide Show.

I think my Prezi Presentation is imaginative and creative while still learning information.I think this because my Prezi Presentation is using the right amount of information to keep the audience engaged while still using some animation but not using to much to keep the audience completely focused on animation.

I made my Prezi Presentation suitable because I used suitable colours and fonts throughout while still using engaging features.For example,I used a zooming in feature which will still intrest the audience,but not too much to drive them to completely focus on the animation.I used many tools,including Path, too choose the direction the Prezi will go,and Theme Master, which helps make a fun,interesting backround and it also makes the fonts remain consistent.

I think that Powerpoint still remains the best revision guide because the animations could still put off the audience even though the animations are subtle.But,I still think that Prezi is the most engaging presentation due to the various fonts and animations whereas I find that PowerPoint is the most useful due to the Home Buttons and Links to send you directly to the required slide.

I found that Prezi was the easiest to use due to the simple layout of the options. This is because everything is set out well because of the simple shapes used.I also found that I enjoyed using Prezi the best because it is a new way to present ideas instead of using a bland,traditional presentation.

I would probably still use PowerPoint due to experience on it,but if I wanted an appealing,engaging presenation,I would choose Prezi.