Welcome to my blog! I’m a Primary Teacher based in Aberdeen, Scotland, currently teaching Primary 6. I enjoy reading books about Education, engaging with other educators on Twitter, and reading Education-related blog posts. I hope this blog leads to further professional dialogue, challenges my thinking, and allows me to develop as a teacher in the process.
This academic year, I am also taking part in the first virtual Google Certified Innovator Academy, #VIA20, hoping to tackle the challenge:
How might we overcome barriers to increase parental engagement in schools that is representative of our school communities?
In July 2020, I had recently started reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown and happened upon this PixL Leadership Book Club podcast episode where Rachel Johnson, Nav Sanghara and Aziza Ajak discussed their reactions to Dare to Lead, Brené Brown’s latest book. I was so inspired by the episode and the examples shared that it prompted a further conversation with my own head teacher about armoured leadership among other things! I decided that I’d finish Daring Greatly then read Dare to Lead.
A few months later, Steven Hopetweeted that he had purchased Start With Why by Simon Sinek and Dare to Lead by Brené Brown for his team at Leeds City College. Having just finished an online book club reading Sinek’s Start With Why with my colleagues, I suggested we read Dare to Lead next (although I still hadn’t finished Daring Greatly). As a lesson for others in why we should always think before we tweet, somehow this led to running a joint book club across our teams!
Collaborative Online Book Club
Thankfully, there are a wealth of resources for running a book club available on the Dare to Lead Hub. We had our first meeting over Google Meet in the middle of December then met fortnightly from January for an hour each time. Recognising that everyone is busy (eg. navigating remote learning, working from home, partial then full return to school buildings, etc!) participants were only expected to read the set pages and attend the fortnightly meetings to share their thoughts in whole group activities and smaller breakout room discussions. Using trust-building strategies from the book, such as Permission Slips and Container Building, helped to foster an (online!) environment where we felt able to share honestly, reflect, ask questions, and develop. If we hadn’t managed to get through the reading material or had to miss a meeting, it was okay! Due to the structure of the book, discussion topics, and non-judgmental support from the group, you could still take part. An open invitation was sent to team members across both settings which meant the participants varied in positions, some leaders of people and others leaders of learning within their classrooms. Despite having never met in person, I looked forward to these sessions which offered a safe space in which to reflect on the reading and how we live our values in our professional lives.
As the participants shared their experiences and thoughts with the vulnerability that Brené Brown advocates on the trust and understanding that “what’s said in book club, stays in book club”, the rest of this blog post focuses on my own reflections of reading the book.
Part One – Rumbling with Vulnerability
“To feel is to be vulnerable. Believing that vulnerability is weakness is believing that feeling is weakness.”
Part One is slightly different from the rest of the book as it is separated into five sections:
The Moment and the Myths
The Call to Courage
Shame and Empathy
Curiosity and Grounded Confidence
Reflecting now, I think the section on Shame and Empathy has stayed with me the most. Prior to reading, I wouldn’t have identified “shame” as something I spoke about or felt often, choosing more to describe it as “embarrassment” instead. Brown writes about this, saying “we’re all afraid to talk about shame. Just the word is uncomfortable.” During this book club meeting, we really had to lean in to what shame is and how it shows up in our lives. We considered and discussed the following prompts:
When I hear the word shame, I think of…
If shame were a colour, it would be…
If I could taste shame, it would taste like…
If I could smell shame, it would smell like…
I physically feel shame in / on my…
My shame symptoms include…
I know I’m in shame when I feel…
When I’m in shame, I feel…
When I talk about shame, I feel…
I can talk about shame with…
Unsurprisingly, this isn’t something I’d ever done before and it led to a really interesting conversation around what shame is and how it shows up in our schools and colleges.
We discussed each of the ways that shame shows up, as shown in the above photograph taken from the Dare to Lead Read Along Workbook. It was interesting to discuss how shame shows up among the adults, then reflect on what this looks like for our learners. Something that really stood out for me, and I continue to reflect on, is the need to link self-worth with productivity. I’ve written in previous blogs about my attempts to find a better balance and reading this caused me to pause and lean into why I find myself working a lot.
I also really loved the discussion around empathy, what it looks like, how we practise it, and if it’s different now we are interacting more online.
There’s something really powerful about working in a team led by leaders who practise Daring Leadership rather than Armoured Leadership. This is the main thing that stood out from the podcast episode I mentioned at the start of this post. Leaders modeling that it’s okay to be human and that being vulnerable is encouraged creates a culture where team members feel safe enough to be themselves, admit when they have made mistakes, and ask for help when they need it.
Part Two – Living Into Our Values
“Know my values = know me. No values = no me.”
We talk about school values a lot with our learners, but I’ve never specifically reflected or written down what I feel my own values are. As part of a book club meeting, each of us spent ten minutes reviewing the list of values provided in the book and decided on two that represent who we are. We then identified behaviours that supported our values and slippery behaviours that are outside our values. I found this a really challenging exercise. There were hundreds to choose from and lots resonated. Eventually, I thought about past experiences when I didn’t feel I was being true to myself and reflected on why. Based on this, I’ve identified the following as my core values:
I could write a whole separate blog post about each of the above but, for now, I’ll just leave them there. I wasn’t sure whether to even share them here but decided to be #TenPercentBraver and practise the vulnerability I’ve been reading about!
Another part of the book that has really resonated with me is the “assumption of positive intent” where we “presume people are doing the best they can.” I found this section uncomfortable to read as this is something I often struggle with. I can be a bit of a perfectionist about certain things but I’m working on it!
Part Three – Braving Trust
“What boundaries need to be in place for me to be in my integrity and generous with my assumptions about the intentions, words, and actions of others?”
I read this section after writing a previous blog post about boundaries and was then annoyed about the timing! In it, Brown shared the BRAVING inventory, a conversation guide and reflection tool based on seven elements or behaviours:
I’m currently listening to Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game audiobook and there’s a chapter in that called Trusting Teams. So much of that chapter resonates with this part of Dare to Lead. Lots to reflect on, not just as leaders, but also as members of teams. How do we show up? How do we practise our values? Lots of personal and professional reflection prompted by this part of the book.
Part Four – Learning to Rise
“Creativity: Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. And just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change it’s worth or ours.”
Reading this section reminded me of what Mary Myatt said at NewEdLeaders that I wrote about in my last blog post, “Humans first, learners second. Humans first, professionals second.” Discussing Brown’s six “offloading strategies” we may use when we are being driven by our emotions led to an interesting conversation about context, so many of our decisions depend on the context and situation we are in. That being said, I gained so much from reading this book with passionate education practitioners within my own setting as well as those in a completely different one. At first thought, you may not think that a primary school in Aberdeen, Scotland, and a Further Education college in Leeds, England, would have much common ground to discuss but that turned out to be very wrong! Ultimately we are all working towards improving outcomes for our learners. By doing this work internally, the hope is that this then ripples out into our wider teams and the learners in our care feel the benefits. I’d thoroughly recommend book clubs with settings different to your own, and am looking forward to the next one. For now, I think I might actually focus on finishing Daring Greatly!
There have been a number of professional learning events over the last few weeks that I’ve engaged with that have challenged my thinking. I’ve summarised a few of these within this blog post.
DiverseEd – World Book Day – Thursday 4th March 2021
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Hosted by Hannah Wilson, this event showcased diverse authors sharing their journey to get published and they talked about some of the barriers to getting their voices out there. I didn’t take many notes within the session as I found it really inspiring just to listen in. The common themes of courage and defeating imposter syndrome came through here. I don’t remember which panelist said it, but when asked about getting over the fear, they spoke about how important the message is. The message was too important for them not to share! I’m reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek at the moment, reading about organisations having a just cause which keeps its people going, these authors have a just cause. Karl Pupe shared the story of one of his students learning that he’d written a book and how proud this made him. It really highlighted the power of representation. Whilst I’ve really tried to ensure a diverse library in my class, Andrew Moffat made me reflect on what I’m doing with them. It’s not just about having the texts, it’s about the lessons and discussions that go along with them. I have used picture books, such as Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker, to prompt discussion around aspirations for people of colour and the girls in my class, and regularly choose whole class novels which promote kindness and celebrating our differences, such as Wonder by R.J. Palacio, but I have more work to do in this area.
Whilst I’m probably not the intended audience for the event, I felt I had to attend because there were so many people I wanted to hear from! Hosted by Emma Turner and friends, the event was aimed (as the name suggests!) at new leaders within education, but as the saying goes “teachers are leaders of learning” so there were definitely a number of sessions I found inspiring. In her session “Curriculum: the good, the bad & the ugly”, Mary Myatt encouraged us to question why we are teaching what we are teaching and what specifically we want the children to learn, whilst also driving home the message that we are all humans first. I also loved Alison Kriel’s session where she talked about the “unmeasured curriculum”, which highlighted the importance of a strong health and wellbeing curriculum. She referred to meetings with large companies about the skills and competencies they were looking for in future employees, lots to consider with our Developing the Young Workforce work.
Unsurprisingly, I am really interested in professional learning and I have recently taken on a new role to develop this further within my school. With this in mind, I was looking forward to Tom Sherrington’s session, “Does your QA culture support Professional Learning?”. Tom shared the need for systems to support a professional learning culture, whilst highlighting the importance of teacher autonomy here. Teachers don’t need to attend CPD sessions that are irrelevant to them or their practice. We are fortunate, within Scotland, that a large part of our CLPL hours are self-directed. Whilst I know there are times when whole-staff / authority-wide professional learning is necessary and beneficial, identifying our own areas for development and actively seeking out learning opportunities, with the support of our SLT, is really empowering. This session then led on to Tom, Emma, and Kathryn Morgan discussing distributed leadership and delegation. I found myself reflecting both on how my own SLT practises this within our school, where we are trusted to develop our practice and work on collegiate projects, and also on how I work with my stage partner, who is an NQT. I forget who stated that giving teachers’ responsibility with parameters makes this work better. It really is powerful to know that your leader trusts you to do something, but it definitely helps to know what the parameters or expectations are before you start. I find delegation difficult, particularly in areas where I feel passionate. Reading Dare to Lead by Brené Brown has also prompted me to reflect on this and I’m working to develop here.
Hosted by Kiran Sunray, this @WomenEdBookClub event featured the authors of the second WomenEd book, Being 10% Braver, sharing their stories. When the second book came out, I decided I couldn’t buy it until I’d finished the first one… I ordered it as soon as this event ended.
Similar to the DiverseEd event, I didn’t take many notes during this event, preferring to listen and reflect on points that chimed with my own experiences and those I’d never considered before. Many of the panelists talked about confidence, imposter syndrome, the power of mentorship, authenticity, mental health. There really was a lot to reflect on. I found Ruth Golding’s contributions about ableism and the experiences of people with disabilities really thought-provoking. She recommended Alice Wong’s book, Disability Visibility, for those who wanted to learn more which I’m now looking forward to reading. I’ve heard Penny Rabiger speak at a few different (virtual) events and I loved what she said about being a catalyst for change. “It’s not all about you. Get the ball in the air, then pass it.”
I felt really inspired by the whole event, especially after hearing Bukky Yusuf’s call to action, “Okay, you’ve read the book. Now what?”. I’m excited to find out.
Northern Alliance Innovative Approaches to Curriculum Delivery – Thursday 11th March 2021
A series of sessions facilitated by Audrey Buchanan, this professional learning group offers an opportunity for practitioners across the Northern Alliance to connect and share best practice. The focus of this series is retrieval practice and how we can utilise digital technologies to embed retrieval practice in our teaching. Having recently attended an online event by Kate Jones (recording available here), I have really enjoyed being able to discuss retrieval practice theory and strategies with teachers across different stages. I left this session inspired to start a new practitioner enquiry when we return to school. My plan has also been informed by a collegiate professional learning discussion my colleague facilitated a few days earlier, where a number of us met to discuss the teaching of maths online and what we would like to continue when we return to the physical classroom. This is a further example of the distributed leaderships and opportunities afforded to teachers in my school. I will write more about this enquiry in a separate blog post.
WomenEd Scotland – Connect and Communicate – Saturday 13th March 2021
Hosted by Lena Carter, Christine Couser, and Parm Plummer, this session was more of a networking event than strictly professional learning but I just had to include it in this blog post as it was such a great start to the weekend! The hosts shared some of the history of WomenEd Scotland and then we went into breakout rooms to share thoughts around the topic of women in leadership in education. It was great to get a chance to hear from educators that I follow or have engaged with on Twitter and I really enjoyed the format of the breakout rooms. They followed the #SpacesForListening structure which was a really powerful way of ensuring everyone’s voices were heard:
There were a number of common themes that came out of all the breakout rooms and I’ve pulled some of those together in this word cloud:
As we return to our physical classrooms, this week, I am looking forward to seeing my class and my colleagues in person. Reflecting on the last few months, I’m pleased I have developed some positive habits (with my one word for 2021 in mind) such as reading, painting, regular baths, long walks in the park. I’ve been fortunate to engage with a number of professional learning events, podcasts, and ongoing dialogue with education practitioners across the world. I’m hopeful and excited to see what the next few weeks will bring.
I’d love to hear from you if you also attended some of the events I’ve referred to above or if you have recommendations of other events / reading material / podcasts you have enjoyed. Comment below or follow me on Twitter, @ClareAnnePirie.
“What is it like now that you are in contact with your pupils 24/7?”
Yesterday, a friend asked me this. Today, Hannah Wilson released the theme for this month’s #MonthlyWritingChallenge and here we are.
First things first, to answer the question posed by my friend, I am not in contact with my pupils 24/7. I understand what he meant by the question, there has definitely been a shift in the way our learners interact with us as we have moved to teaching online. However, my class was used to using Google Classroom for their homework when we were still attending our physical classrooms. From the beginning of this academic session, I have been very strict with myself not to reply to any comments or give feedback on online work outwith the hours of 8am and 5pm during the working week. If the children wanted to comment or reply to each other then that was absolutely fine (and often very helpful if they were answering each others’ questions) but they knew not to expect a reply from me. I have continued with this approach during online teaching. Whilst this does restrict when I can give the learners feedback on their work (gone are the days where I could take a set of jotters home for marking over the weekend!), it has forced me to identify how I can fit giving feedback into the working day – Mote has been a real help with this. As a result, I feel I’m developing positive habits to have a better work-life balance and I’m working towards not doing official school work on the weekends – I’ve only managed this a few times but I’m taking this as progress!
Parents and Guardians
Similarly, the parents of the children in my class are used to me not responding on weekends or after 6pm during the working week. I really value strong communication with my learners’ families and (I hope I) made this clear at the start of the session. Creating a class website has really helped with this. I shared an introduction video at the start of the year and have kept the website updated weekly with a brief overview of what we have focused on during the week. This can become time consuming but I do think the benefits are worth putting in the time. The feedback from parents has been positive as it has allowed them to talk to their children about what they’ve been learning, instead of getting the usual “nothing” to the age old question “what did you do at school today?”. With learners either completing their work digitally or uploading a photograph of their work, it has actually been easier to maintain this website during remote learning.
Last lockdown, I turned off Gmail notifications on my phone as I found the constant stream of Google Classroom notifications (usually about comments) distracting and overwhelming. This means that when parents email me at a time that suits them, often after their children have gone to bed, my personal time is not interrupted by a work-related email. However, I will often mindlessly click on the Gmail app at any and all hours of the evening and weekend and happen upon an email from a parent. Regardless of what the email is about, it will play on my mind until I can deal with it. I’ve found using the “schedule send” feature really helpful as I can address it and technically not break my own rules around replying times. I realise I could delete these apps from my phone but, again, I feel the benefits outweigh the negatives and I just need to be more mindful of how I spend my time on my phone!
I am lucky to work in a school where a healthy work-life balance is promoted and encouraged. Not through gimmicky wellbeing activities but by a commitment to reducing unnecessary workload and an open culture of being honest when something isn’t working. No workplace is perfect and there are definitely areas we are working on, but there is never an expectation that we work through our weekends. Achieving that is down to individual teachers but I think that is a conversation for a whole other blog post!
Last year, my stage partner and I noticed we had different approaches to work-life balance. She preferred to work longer into the evening so she had less to do at the weekend whereas I didn’t feel I did my best work in the evenings and left more to the weekend. Even at the weekend, she preferred to get all her work out of the way in the mornings and I wanted to relax for a bit first. We did a lot of informal planning through Whatsapp and I was always conscious not to interrupt her “non-working” time and vice versa! We started using a shared Google Doc for all planning related notes, linking resources and other relevant information. Each of us checked the Google Doc when we logged on and it really helped us both feel we were working together but not forcing the other person to work when they didn’t want to! I have continued to use this approach with a different stage partner, this year, and it has proved just as useful.
Boundaries between work and life have definitely become blurred as we have moved to working from home. Often people talk about how important it is to have a separate space for working but for many of us, that just isn’t feasible. Before we moved house, I didn’t have a separate space for my computer. It could either be in the bedroom or the living room, as a constant reminder that there was work to be done. Now that we have moved house, I do feel I have more separation but I’m still aware of the need to step away from the screen. Moving into a different room (or even a different space in the same room!) to take breaks made all the difference. I set an alarm on my phone and focus entirely on whatever book I’m reading.
Mindful of the fact that P4-P7 are due to return to Scottish school buildings on 15th March, I have been reflecting on the positive habits I have developed and how I can continue to build these into my days and weeks when our routines change again. These are some of the things that have been working for me lately:
Reading – So much reading! I’ve written before that I never used to understand how people could read several books at once but I totally get it now. I’ve found having different books to read has allowed me to choose a book based on my mood. I’m almost finished Teaching in the Online Classroom by Doug Lemov which I find myself rushing to finish before we return to the physical classroom. I was hesitant to buy it as we hopefully won’t be online again any time soon, but I’ve taken a lot from it for running online book clubs and I do feel my learners are currently benefiting from my reading it. I had previously found that I was struggling to get into fiction but I’ve recently started listening to audiobooks of the children’s books that have been on my TBR list for a long time. This has allowed me to enjoy fabulous stories whilst I’m doing other things around the house. Your local library probably has a similar arrangement if you think this might work for you too. (I’d highly recommend Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy!)
Walks – I’m fortunate to live near a beautiful park and not too far from the beach. Whilst better weather helps with this, I’ve been trying to get out regardless of the weather! Coupling podcasts and audiobooks has helped with this – my latest only-allowed-to-listen-to-when-on-a-walk book is The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.
Baths – With candles and books.
Tea – Always tea!
Art – I was recently inspired to get painting again by Fiona Leadbeater, having reflected on “what puts the i in wellbeing” after listening to Lena Carter and Christine Couser on Teacher Hug Radio. I often feel the urge to create something but never do, put off by my frustration that I’m not good enough at it… I realise this isn’t showing the Growth Mindset that I encourage in my learners. I’ve had this desire to create for a long time, as evidenced by the fact I shared this quote from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert on social media years ago.
I really enjoyed going through all of my art supplies and organising them, discovering I have more materials than I thought I did. Hopefully this enthusiasm (and ease of access) will encourage me to continue to create when we return to in-person teaching.
This is my first time writing for the #MonthlyWritingChallenge so I’d love to hear your thoughts and what works for you. Follow me on Twitter @ClareAnnePirie and keep the conversation going.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I decided to try out Gretchen Rubin’s strategy of pairing in an attempt to develop the habit of going for a walk every day. For the last few weeks, I’ve only allowed myself to listen to the audiobook version of Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts when I go for a walk. I can’t say that I’ve managed a walk every single day but I’m definitely walking more now than I was before I started this. This was the perfect book to start with because I kept wanting to hear more. Even in the snow, I wanted to hear the next chapter and I often found myself doing an extra lap of the part just to finish a particular section. Having just finished the audiobook, I thought I’d share my key takeaways as I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve recommended this book to. At the beginning of the year, I started using Goodreads to keep track of my reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in education or improving the lives of children and young people. The rest of this blog post is made up of my Goodreads updates (written as I read it with further details in brackets) to give you a feel for why you need to read it for yourself!
Introduction – I LOVED the overview of chapters so much that I want to skip ahead.
Chapter 1: The Engagement Myth – The first chapter is already really thought-provoking and I have added Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T Willingham to my “Want to read” list! I appreciate the crossover of research in this and other books / articles I’ve read – today, it was Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. I’m reflecting on how these principles can be applied to online learning, something we have been working on as a staff. (During a recent In-Service training, we worked in our level groups to identify aspects of effective learning and teaching. Then we matched them to the 12 features of high-quality lessons identified by Bruce Robertson in The Teaching Delusion as well as Rosenshine’s Principles.)
Chapter 2: Disadvantaged Students – Every teacher needs to read this book! So much to think about for all students, not just boys. I need to look into Becky Francis’ research on ability grouping. I’ve always felt passionate about mixed ability groups but curious to know how this would be possible in secondaries. The parental engagement section gave me ideas to write to my HT about and I didn’t want my walk to end! (As a result of reading this chapter, I pitched a family learning event idea to my HT which we ran for 40 parents with others watching afterwards. The focus was on supporting their children through online learning but we hope to continue with other events as time goes on.)
Chapter 3: Peer Pressure – I enjoyed listening to this during an early morning walk in the snow. I need to look up Kate Myers’ research.
“Implicit messages are just as influential as overt ones.”
“Schools may not be able to change the world, but they can challenge, encourage, and widen horizons.”
Chapter 4: Mental Health – Another thought-provoking listen with chilling statistics. Pleased to know that a number of the recommended strategies are already in place in my setting. Appreciated the mention of teacher modelling openly talking about their emotions and shoulder-shoulder talks, which made me think of a Pivotal podcast that I listened to in my first year of teaching and has stayed with me since..
Chapter 5: Expectations – Unsurprisingly, I’ve now decided I need to buy a physical copy of this book. I also need to read up on Mary Myatt’s work highlighting changing the language from “ability” to “attainment”. I found the whole mixed ability over setting section really interesting. As highlighted earlier, I would love to find out about secondaries that are making this work as I use this mixed ability approach in my primary class. (If you know of any secondaries that use a mixed ability approach – please let me know!)
Chapter 6: Sex and Sexism – A hard listen with some chilling statistics. Interesting section talking about the use of language and how we can address inappropriate language being used.
Chapter 7: In the Classroom – Practical tips for the classroom. The seating plan section made me laugh… creating a seating plan really should feature on teacher education courses!
Chapter 8: Violence – Some really thought-provoking questions asked as part of a suggested approach for dealing with violence in schools: Explanation – Reflection – Expression (E-R-E). This could be particularly helpful re playground incidents. I also appreciated the highlighted need for conversation and support for those who walk away from a confrontation as I hadn’t considered the impacts of this before.
Chapter 9: Relationships – Hard to hide my shock at some of the examples of teachers undermining their colleagues. So damaging. Some great behaviour strategies shared at the end of this chapter, including “The Dot” – definitely need to try that one when we’re back in the classroom!
Chapter 10: Other Voices – This was a slightly different chapter made up of short sections written by a variety of authors – teachers, leaders and parents – each with very their own stories to tell. I had to listen to this again (not on a walk) to take a note of all the quotes in it!
Whilst listening to Hadley Stewart’s contribution, I was surprised to learn how recently Section 28 (a law which effectively prevented teachers talking about homosexuality, even in cases of bullying) was still a feature in schools (2000 in Scotland, 2003 in the rest of the UK).
“Schools are not the only drivers with regards to societal norms around gender but they certainly have the opportunity to dispel archaic workplace gender stereotypes.”
So much of what Malcolm Richards wrote about his school experience as “a young black boy who defied the stereotype of young, black academic underachievement” chimes with another book I’m reading, Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, where the author writes about (among other things) his school experience of not fitting into societal expectation of what a black boy should be. Both books have really challenged my thinking and the examples given of treatment by teachers has made me really reflect on what expectations I have of the learners in my class, do I have unconscious bias and what can I do about that?
“We are more than slavery, segregations and sit ins. We are scientists, artists, and writers.”
“We must challenge assumptions, motivations and values… We need a critical dialogue, which can only occur in education spaces based upon universal values or preconditions of hope, modesty, respect, courage and love.”
Having attended DiverseEd’s online events and bought (but not yet finished) the first WomenEd book, it was fascinating to hear more about Hannah Wilson’s work and some of the initiatives she has put in place to develop her learners into global citizens and all round good humans! I gain so much from following Hannah on Twitter so I loved listening to this section.
Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for Every Classroom by Kate Jones
The Teaching Delusion: Why teaching in our schools isn’t good enough (and how we can make it better) by Bruce Robertson
Have you read this book or any of the others listed above? What were your key takeaways? I’d love to know. You can connect with me on Goodreads here, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below to share your thoughts.
As we head into our fifth week of online learning, I thought I’d share some of the things that are working for my class and me. Whilst I have read a lot of articles and blog posts about this area, attended webinars, and recently started reading Doug Lemov’s Teaching in the Online Classroom, this blog post is specific to my own context and doesn’t include links to research or pedagogical theory. There is definitely a need for that (and much of what I am doing is informed by what I have read), but I believe there is also a place for sharing examples for readers to try out or research for themselves.
Note – I refer to this period of lockdown as “online teaching and learning” rather than “remote teaching” after this tweet by SJ White, which really struck a chord with me:
We have been fortunate that our Local Authority was already using Google for Education and our school had focussed on developing learners’ digital skills prior to the first lockdown. This meant that the children were pretty good at using Google Classroom and some of the other Google tools before they found themselves really relying on them. I teach Primary 6 (10 year olds) who are generally quite independent learners. As with any class, however, there is a mixture of those receiving support from guardians, those supporting younger siblings, and others who are sharing devices. I am also fortunate to have a stage partner so we do a lot of shared planning across both classes.
Connection and Support
Each morning, the children complete a registration question and Google Form Check-In before joining our whole class, Google Meet. This meeting is a chance for the class to meet together, we say our morning prayer together, I share any updates for the day and we usually play a game… Charades, Scavenger Hunt, and Cities & Countries are their current favourites! (There are some great ideas in this eBook.) Aside from Health & Wellbeing and Listening & Talking, the focus isn’t on academics, rather it is on keeping connected. I stay on the Google Meet until break time for any children to stay behind to ask questions about the day’s learning. I am also available on a Google Meet between 11am and 12pm each day for the learners to drop-in and ask any questions they may have. Each afternoon, I host group chats on Google Meet where the children can meet and play games or just chat about whatever they feel like talking to their friends about. These whole class Meets and group chats are the highlights of my day, the closest I can get to providing the interactions the children are missing out on when learning from home.
There are generally four learning blocks each day, shared in a daily plan which includes timings roughly linked to the school day. It is so important to remember that we cannot, and in my opinion should not be trying to, replicate a “normal” school day. However, some children appreciate the structure and others prefer to work through all their learning tasks in the morning then have the afternoons to themselves. For others, it is a case of when devices are available and, therefore, we are flexible in when tasks are handed in. I only set due dates on the registration question but not on the assignments as I know some learners become distressed when the see “Missing” in red writing, if they have been unable to complete something by the due date.
To prevent the children from becoming overwhelmed with too many assignments in Google Classroom, we tend to only post one or two assignments each day (usually literacy and numeracy), with the other tasks shared as links in the daily plan. To allow the children to access their learning at a time that is suitable for them and their families’ circumstances, most lessons consist of a pre-recorded video followed by a task for the children to complete. As I mentioned, if the children have questions or need support, they can drop into a Google Meet and ask.
These are some of the digital tools I have found helpful:
Screencastify – Used for pre-recording lessons. The free account is limited to 5 minutes which has actually been helpful in causing me to think about my own instruction and teacher talk time. This time around, I’ve moved to recording several shorter videos to explain different concepts, rather than making one longer video for the lesson. This has been helpful for maths, specifically, as the videos can be used for review at a later date.
Google Docs – Most written tasks have been completed using Google Docs, generally with a template created in Drive and then a copy made for each student when the assignment is posted.
Google Forms – As well as the check-in forms, we also use Google Forms for other lessons throughout the week, specifically spelling tests and some numeracy lessons.
Google Slides – My stage partner and I have used this more for the other curricular areas (ie. not so much literacy and numeracy) as we can link it directly to the daily plan. Each child chooses one slide to edit, either writing directly into the slide, or inserting a photograph of their work. It’s fab for the children to see each other’s work too.
Google Jamboard – I’ve found this a really great way of creating digital worksheets, by creating a template on a slide, downloading as an image then setting the background. It’s also been a helpful digital whiteboard for recording lesson videos and the learners have enjoyed using it for playing Pictionary when presenting their screen in group chat Google Meets.
Padlet – Whilst Jamboard can obviously be used as a collaborative tool, I prefer asking the children to share their ideas on Padlet simply because it is less likely to get lost accidentally! We have used Padlet for our R.E. lessons where the children watch a colleague telling them a Godly Play story and write their answers to wondering questions on Padlet. I’ve also used this in book clubs with adults and really like that there are different formats. The free account only allows you to have 3 padlets so you need to save it (I usually save it as a PDF) and then reuse it.
There are a number of different ways we are currently giving feedback to our learners:
Mote – This has been such a game changer during this period of remote learning. With just one click, you can record yourself giving verbal feedback within Google Classroom comments but also commenting directly within Docs / Slides. Depending on the task, I sometimes give individual feedback but it is also possible to record a Mote when returning assignments to several children at a time. Even a little thing like “returning” their registration question with a short voice note saying “Thanks P6, I hope you all have a lovely day!” helps us all feel connected in these times.
Rubrics – P6 were used to rubrics before lockdown as we used them when marking their homework on Google Classroom. I tend to use this for things like taught writing, where they have several success criteria. The children complete a traffic-lighted self check within the document and then we return the assignment with the rubric completed (and sometimes an individual comment).
Comments – It’s great to be able to see the learners working within Google tools and give them in-the-moment feedback. They are used to this from when we completed taught-writing in the classroom but it’s really powerful for the children to be able to action feedback straight-away.
Peer-feedback – for creative activities, the children have enjoyed commenting on their classmates’ work and we have been working on providing kind, specific, and helpful feedback. It’s always a #ProudTeacherMoment to see them encouraging each other.
Whole class feedback videos – if there are common misconceptions, this is a great way to give feedback to groups of learners and go over things again for them.
Wellbeing / Workload
Much like in-person teaching, there are ebbs and flows of workload. The week before last, I felt like I never stopped. This week, I feel like I’ve had a much better work-life balance. These are some of the things that have helped:
Taking breaks when the children do. – At break time, I get up from my computer, make a cup of tea and sit in a different seat to read a book. I set an alarm on my phone for just before I need to be back on the Google Meet and this allows me to fully focus on what I am reading. At lunch time, I try to go for a walk but I’m not always great at that! There really is no excuse since there is a park just outside my house but still… I’ll definitely need to try again this week.
Keeping the same structure each week. – As far as possible, it is really helpful to stick to the timetable, both for stability for the learners but also reducing workload for us. I can “make a copy” of last Tuesday’s daily plan then just update the links to the new lessons and edit the learning intentions / success criteria.
Sharing the load. – As I mentioned earlier, I am fortunate to have a stage partner to share some of the planning with. Whilst I know not everyone has this, there are still many resources available that we can utilise. Now more than ever, there really is no time (never mind need!) to reinvent the wheel!
Reusing Google Classroom posts. – I’ve only recently started doing this. When you are spending so much time on the computer, any shortcuts can help. (Did you know you can use “Ctrl + D” to duplicate something instead of copying and pasting??)
Google Tasks – I have started using this again following the Kanban approach. I have four lists of tasks: Do Today, In Progress, Online Learning, and Other Tasks. The idea is that the Do Today list is cleared at the end of each day, which encourages me to be realistic in prioritising tasks for the day. There are a number of apps out there, but I love Google Tasks for this because it is accessible on the right hand pane of many Google tools. I can also add in hyperlinks directly which I think is such a timesaver. I started using this approach after attending an Osiris training session.
Scheduling posts in advance and switching off at a reasonable time. As my headteacher recently told us, “if you are currently giving 200%, no one is going to complain when you dial it back to 100%.” (I actually think she might have put it a bit better than that, but you get the idea!
Things that have sparked joy / my interest / an idea, this week:
Moving into our new home.
Meeting with the Northern Alliance about their featuring my Connectedness blog post in a resource they are developing.
I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a while, wanting to have “completed” this enquiry before I share. However, remote teaching has put a bit of a spanner in the works so I need to consider how I’m going to pivot the enquiry to fit into current circumstances. Professor Kate Wall, from the University of Strathclyde, tweeted this a few weeks ago:
I think this rings true with a lot of us. This has been playing on my mind, the reasons I started this enquiry are still there but the possible solutions have had to change. Therefore, think of this as a mid-enquiry update – a work in progress!
Why Whole Class Feedback?
I’ve been interested in Whole Class Feedback (WCF) since my probation year, particularly as a way to reduce workload and increase attainment in taught writing lessons. I’ve read about it, talked about it, retweeted many examples of it but never really tried it in my own practice. Why not?
In my probation year, I thought about focusing on Whole Class Feedback for my practitioner enquiry project but I decided it wasn’t suitable for my P2 class because they needed more personalised feedback. Last year in P6, I considered it again but knew my more-experienced stage partner valued two-stars and a wish. I trust her judgement and experience so I tried a similar approach. We used success criteria slips with traffic-lights for self-assessment, peer-assessment and teacher assessment plus wrote two stars and a wish on all (most!) pieces of writing. As an early career teacher with a tendency to overthink how I word written feedback, I found this very time consuming. When we moved to remote teaching, I tried to replicate it but quickly dropped the teacher traffic-light and gave verbal feedback using Read&Write by Texthelp.
This year, I’m enjoying being in the same stage for a second year and feel this has given me more confidence to try another approach. Also, when we were teaching in-person, restrictions meant we had to quarantine jotters for 72 hours before marking and then another 72 hours before returning to the learners. It seemed like the perfect time to find another way!
In term 1 of this school year, the children self-assessed their work and then left their jotters open on their desks while they went for break so I could pop around and take a photograph of their writing with an iPad. This way, I could read through their work so I knew what we, as a class, needed to work on. I had attempted to add these photographs to an individual Google Slides deck for each child with two stars and a wish. I also intended to share these slides with parents (as parental engagement forms part of my Google Innovator Project). Unsurprisingly, this approach became overly time consuming and with only one Chromebooks slot per week, it wasn’t the most straightforward way of sharing the feedback with the learners.
On the first day of the October break, my Depute Head Teacher (and former probation mentor) forwarded a Tweet to me all about Whole Class Feedback. It was like alarm bells going off and my husband wondered why I was hyper all of a sudden. This is what it feels like when you discover your itch (as the Education Scotland Teacher Leadership Programme (TLP) has taught me)! And so began my next practitioner enquiry…
Ask the kids…
Despite the effectiveness of surveys often being up for discussion, I decided it was a good way to quickly gauge what the learners thought. I wondered if they had noticed the changes I’d made to the way their writing was marked. I asked them what feedback they had received before, and what they thought was the best:
Overwhelmingly, they shared that they felt that written comments, spelling corrections, and success criteria slips were most helpful to them, with most (75%) stating that they used written comments to improve their work. More interesting though, were some of their responses to open questions about how their teachers give feedback and how their teachers can help them improve:
Sample of Learners’ Responses
What does the teacher’s feedback tell you?
– That I am good at writing – My teacher’s feedback tells me that I can do better – Usually I make a few mistakes but it is usually fine. It is nice to see what my teacher thinks. – What I have done well or improved in a piece of work and what I need to improve on. – It tells me what I need to improve on and what I can do to make my work more interesting. – To practise some spelling words – That I need to work on what I have done wrong and what I need to improve – If i did it right or wrong – What i did well, what I need to work on and, if got everything right, a nice and supportive message – It tells me one or more things I did well, and what I can improve on. – It tells you how to improve and what you have done well. – What you need to correct and what you have done well.
What comments are most helpful?
– The most helpful comments are the ones that say well done but try and do this better. – Ones that tell me how to improve – When my teacher tells me what I did wrong. – Comments that explain more about things I have accomplished and things that I need to work on. – Amazing!!! Keep up the good work. – The most helpful comments is spelling corrections – The comments that are most helpful are the spelling comments and the ones where you tell me how I can improve. – Comments that are clear – The correction comments are most helpful. – The comments that are most helpful are positive and negative because they tell you what you are doing well at and what you need to improve. – Ones that encourage you as well as help to correct your work – Where I have made mistakes and where I can improve. – Ones I know that I need to improve on
What comments are least helpful?
– Comments that say that your work is good or great – The least helpful are Well done! – The ones that tell me to improve but do not say how – “Take your time” – When my teacher says I made a mistake but doesn’t tell me what I did wrong. – Comments that just say things like: Well done! or Very good! – Check on your spelling” – I think the highlight ones are the least helpful – I think the highlighting words. – “Well done” comments. – The least helpful comments are when they say:Good job or well done – Try again – Ones that only tell you what you haven’t done and don’t include what you have done.
As teachers, we have attended training looking at the need for feedback to be “kind, specific, and helpful” (thank you, Osiris) but I was still surprised to hear it so clearly stated by several children. There was no prompting on this from me but many of them stated that the least helpful comments are “well done” – they want the specifics! I did also ask them if they think it’s helpful to learn from other people’s mistakes to gauge how they were going to engage with WCF. The results of this are more interesting if you know the learners and their personalities.
What did I do?
Shortly after my DHT shared that tweet, I attended a CPD session by Kaley Riley focusing on WCF, mainly in secondary settings. Despite this, the session gave me lots of practical ideas and Kaley shared links to lots of research on the topic. She has also blogged about her experience of WCF and shared a template here.
Inspired by this event, I created a WCF template that I could use with my primary learners during taught writing lessons, somewhere I could jot down common errors or themes to be shared with learners allowing them to learn from each other. I also used this as an opportunity to share “star sentences” I’d noticed within their writing.
Recognising the Education Endowment Foundation’s 2016 findings in “A Marked Improvement?” that “pupils are unlikely to benefit from marking unless some time is set aside to enable pupils to consider and respond to marking”, I decided to rejig the timetable slightly.
Throughout term 2, we effectively had three writing lessons:
Tuesdays – I shared the WCF slides with the children, going through what had gone well in the previous week’s writing, some “star sentences” and gave some children a shout out for going the extra mile in their writing. Then we spoke about what would make our writing even better, including some common spelling errors. The class then received their previous piece of writing back and rewrote one of the paragraphs focusing on the areas we had discussed. To finish, they wrote a personal target or focus area to carry into their next piece of writing.
Wednesday – Planning the next piece of writing.
Thursday – Writing out what we had planned the previous day. We started doing this on Chromebooks, making use of the Read&Write toolbar from TextHelp. This also meant I was able to “drop in” to their work during the lesson and give them in-the-moment feedback.
This is the part of practitioner enquiry that I think puts educators off sharing what they have done. It is difficult to quantify the impact of this, particularly given the short time scale. However, I learned during the TLP, that ‘data’ doesn’t necessarily mean numbers and attainment scores, teacher observations are a valuable tool when reflecting on an enquiry.
As a teacher, I felt the children benefited from having this “feedback” lesson as it helped to tackle the “I’m done” sort of approach to learning, along with constantly referring to the need to edit our work and try to improve it. (This photo of Obama’s healthcare speech also helped with this!) Working within a reduced recovery curriculum allowed for this “extra” lesson, I’m not sure how I would have fit this in if we were also teaching the full curriculum.
I also feel that the referring back to the previous week’s learning helped the children to recognise that improving their writing was an ongoing process. The success criteria slips were edited so the bottom box was there for them to fill in their individual target to help them remember to focus on an area they had highlighted from the previous week.
Whole Class Feedback, along with using rubrics in Google Classroom, was a massive timesaver for me, and my stage partner also started using this approach. The children were still getting written comments every second week as I was able to write in the comments as they were writing.
I had planned to continue this enquiry for the whole school year and hold focus group discussions with the children to find out what they thought about Whole Class Feedback. However, we are currently back to online teaching and I’ve found that under these circumstances, the learners need individual feedback for their writing. I am using Mote to give verbal comments and continuing to use Google Classroom rubrics linked to our success criteria. However, I am still giving Whole Class Feedback for other pieces of work.
It’s still unclear how long we will be working online for so I will revisit this as things become clearer. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has made Whole Class Feedback work in a primary setting though! Any tips, please share.
I had planned on attending a CPD event today but I missed it. I didn’t forget or sleep in. I missed it because, after this week of online learning, I needed quiet. I needed space. I needed some screen-free time.
Despite having all the best intentions that “this time will be different”, it wasn’t. At least the first week anyway. Thankfully in Scotland, we had a bit more time to prepare than our colleagues south of the border. We had three days of preparation time where only a small number of children attended school. We are fortunate, in our school, to have stage partners to work with, bounce ideas around with and share some of the workload. During these three days, we planned what our term would look like, broke this down into the first few weeks, shared out the learning between us and started making the resources. We made use of all the new skills we learned during the last lockdown (eg. how to use this tech tool or that one, how to balance the camera so the whole book is in the frame, what times are best to record videos so you can’t hear the seagulls outside, etc) and off we went.
The thing is, even with those three days, as soon as the children came back, it was all go… much like in the physical classroom! The children really are the best part of our job. It is so lovely to see them, albeit virtually. Morning Google Meets where the whole class can chat and play games together (see here for games!) is one of my favourite parts of an online school day, the other is when they see their friends in group chats. Setting up and running these group chats is a lot of work but, in my opinion, is completely worth it. The feedback we have received from parents is that they also appreciate the impact these informal moments of connection have on their children’s wellbeing. I could write an entire blog post about one day of online teaching so all I’ll say here is that it takes time, a lot of which is spent staring at a screen. Whilst tools (like Mote) make giving feedback much (much!) easier, the time taken to create resources always takes twice as long as you expect it to.
After five days of this, the thought of more screen time on a Saturday morning made my head hurt. In the past, I would have forced myself to attend the event so I didn’t miss out. Although the event has been recorded, it’s not the same as engaging in the chat and on Twitter with the presenters and other participants. Trying to live out my word for the year, Balance, I decided to listen to my foggy head and stay away from the screen. I did some housework, drank too much tea and read some books. Then I went for a walk.
I discovered, after my walk, that today’s Action for Happiness calendar suggested we should all “get outside and notice five things that are beautiful”, so here are mine:
The laughter of the kids who were skating on the iced-over puddles.
The colour of the sky.
The fact I have people in my life that will watch short videos I send them from the park.
Feeling grateful to live within walking distance of such a calming space.
The fact that many other people were enjoying the outdoors on this chilly Saturday in January.
Yesterday, after spending the day rushing from task to task, juggling what I currently had to do whilst also volunteering to take on more, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about my priorities. I shared that, once again, remote teaching meant being glued to a screen, for more hours than I’m prepared to admit publicly, and that it wasn’t sustainable.
Whilst the children’s learning and wellbeing is my main priority, beyond that I find myself drawn to lots of seemingly different areas. Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my professional interests and trying to identify any common themes. Even before becoming a Google Certified Educator and Innovator, I’ve always been passionate about digital technologies, both improving the digital literacy and skills of our learners but also utilising the digital tools available to reduce teacher workload and improve processes. Any time I hear about a new book club, I want to get involved (is three too many?) and promptly sign up. I love a bit of Saturday CPD on a wide range of topics. I really struggle at the beginning of each school year when we have to sign up for curricular working groups because I want to be involved in everything.
I found myself thinking back to a podcast episode I’d listened to earlier in the week, that my friend had sent me. Two things stood out for me at the time. The first was that we need to “get quiet”, make space and lean into the silence. The second was that when we are trying to prioritise what is important to us, we are often not choosing between “good” or “bad” options, but “better” or “best” which is why this is so difficult for us to do. Taking the example of the curricular working groups, it’s hard to choose just one because there are no “bad” options. I’m interested in them all and they are all working towards the same goal: improving outcomes for our young people.
This week, I’m going to attempt to make more space for quiet to allow me to reflect on the things that I am drawn to and are important to me. I’d love to hear your practical tips for how you have identified your own priorities within this wonderful, varied world of education! Please share in the comments below or let me know on Twitter, @ClareAnnePirie.
Things that have sparked joy’ for me, this week:
Walking on snow that had turned to ice.
Seeing my learners again.
Feedback from parents about our first week of remote learning.
In last week’s blog post, One Word for 2021, I committed to blogging each week as a way of intentionally carving out more time for myself and living out my one word, BALANCE. I was apprehensive about committing to that publicly in case I didn’t have anything to write about however, after reading blog posts (linked below) by Fiona Leadbeater, Lena Carter and Robin Macpherson, I am continuing…
This week’s efforts are inspired by a short video on Twitter, featuring Kathleen Johnston talking about staying connected and the impact on our wellbeing. I’d really recommend you give it a watch! Often I scroll past these sorts of posts as I know I should look after my wellbeing but it can be very difficult to switch off and the constant messaging to take time out leaves me feeling more guilty about my inability to do so. I imagine I was drawn to the video because of the scenery, we really do have some beautiful landscapes in Scotland!
According to the Oxford English dictionary, ‘connectedness’ is a feeling that you have a link with someone or something or are part of a group. This looks a lot different at the moment, with travel bans, restrictions on meeting and preparing for a return to online school on Monday. This past week, there have been several moments where I have felt grateful for a feeling of connectedness, most of which has relied on technology, but not all.
I was fortunate enough to be able to pop into school to collect some of the resources I will need for teaching online. During my short time in the building, I had short, physically-distanced conversations with a small number of colleagues. Although we weren’t sitting in the staff room having a cuppa and a long chat together, these in-person interactions (no matter how brief) meant that when I left the building to head home for a day of working online, I had a noticeable boost in motivation and feeling of connectedness. I know not everyone has this luxury at the moment so I am extremely grateful for that.
Same School Community, but Virtual
Our staff meetings take place over Google Meet and most people have their cameras on. This does not replace the feeling of togetherness you get when meeting in person, but it’s the closest we have at the moment. Last lockdown, we also had a drop-in coffee break each morning, where those who wanted a chat for 10-15 minutes could join a Google Meet and talk to colleagues. This was completely optional but helpful for those days where you weren’t in desperate need of a screen break. In some ways, it was nice that you didn’t know who else might be there. It helped build connections with staff members who wouldn’t usually have the same break times. These drop-in Google Meets have returned for this next spell of remote working and I know they will provide a welcome breathing space over the next few weeks.
The World of Twitter
EduTwitter seems to get a bad reputation but I’ve found it to be a supportive and inspiring place. A great way to connect with educators around the world. Since posting my last blog post and joining in with some of the #oneword2021 events (including (including the Teachers On Fire Roundtable and #CultureEd with Tara Desiderio and Lauren Kaufman), I have had some thought-provoking conversations with teachers in Australia, the US, across the UK, and closer to home. I saw a fellow Aberdeen City teacher post on Twitter looking for others to share examples of their timetables. Recognising that I find it easier to talk things through rather than summarise in writing (an excellent quality for a blogger!), I reached out to see if she would be interested in having a Google Meet chat. We had such a great discussion, sharing lessons and resources that worked for each of us last time then ideas for how things might work over the next few weeks. I felt a bit awkward reaching out at first, but I’m so glad I did! #TenPercentBraver
Friendships over Zoom
In the previous lockdown, my family and friends had Zoom quizzes and catch ups quite a lot. Spending all day staring at a screen (including daily Google Meets with groups of 10 year olds), the thought of a few more hours on the computer (no matter how lovely it was to see family and friends) quickly lost its appeal to me. This week, I had a Zoom catch up with some university friends (meeting from Edinburgh, Newcastle, and Chicago, USA). The last time the four of us were together was when they visited me in Aberdeen in April 2019 but, talking this week, it felt like just yesterday. I think this is the best sort of friendships, the friends you know you can call up or message after months of silence and you know they’ll be excited to hear from you. I’m grateful for these friendships, this week and always.
A few years ago, I read Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. In it, she describes the Strategy of Pairing as a way to build a new habit that will last. If you want to develop a new habit, you can only do something you enjoy at the same time as this new habit. To prevent myself from slouching at a computer for too many hours at a time and just to improve my health generally, I want to commit to going for a walk each day. I’ve set this as a target for myself many times, trying to use the Fitbit app and connecting accounts with family, or keeping a note in a diary. I’ve never managed. This time, using the Strategy of Pairing, I am only allowed to listen to a particular audiobook when I’m out for a walk. For this to work, I had to pick a book that I knew I’d quickly love. I’ve wanted to read Boys Don’t Try by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts for the longest time so decided to give it a go. (This decision was also helped by an impromptu Twitter chat with Kelly Mildenhall, a fellow Google Innovator who teaches in London, which came about after I posted about photograph on Twitter!) So far, I’m LOVING it and I cannot wait to get out for a walk each day. It’s only been a week (and the kids aren’t back yet) but I’m hopeful this strategy will work. I’m lucky to live close to a park and not too far from the beach (although it’s far too cold for that just now). I experience a different sort of connectedness on these walks as I try to be observant of what’s around me: other people’s footprints in the snow, the way the snow completely changes how things look, the sound of the river flowing in the park, the birds in the trees.
What events have sparked feelings of connectedness for you, this week?
There are many things throughout the week that I come across that I find I am inspired by so I thought I’d share them at the end of my weekly blog posts. I know Marie Kondo gets a lot of stick for talking about things “sparking joy” but, as we prepare for a house move, I find myself thinking about this a lot, so I’m going to combine this into a ‘things that have sparked joy’ section:
Reading! If you also love reading, I’d love to connect with you on Goodreads to hear more.
Whenever I hear / read about the concept of selecting “One Word” for the year, I can almost smell the sea air as I walked along the Aberdeen beach promenade towards the end of December 2018. I was listening to the episode of the Happier podcast where sisters, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, discussed how their own “One Word” for 2018 had manifested itself in their lives during the year and shared their new words for 2019. The episode really got me thinking. I was halfway through my first year in teaching. I was excited, motivated, and… stressed. I had heard about the idea of focusing on a word to help you make meaningful change in your life, but this is the first time that one particular word stood out to me – “Calm”.
Having retrained as a teacher after a previous career in finance, I really felt like I was finally doing what I was supposed to do. I loved that feeling but I think it also made it very difficult to separate my work-life from my home-life. Aside from reading, coffee catch-ups or walks with friends, and spending time with my husband, I no longer had any hobbies or outside interests. I had boxes of unopened or barely used art supplies and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t find the time, energy, or (more likely!) motivation to create! Looking back, I think the main change I made that year was joining my local Gospel choir. Despite seeing their performance at the Christmas Service, it wasn’t until August 2019 that I nervously attended my first practice. It felt good to be doing something just for me but I often struggled to leave school at a reasonable time and felt guilty that I should be marking homework or making resources instead of singing! It helped that my boss (PT/friend/digitalbuddy/cheerleader) also joined the choir – we’d often catch each other singing our latest song whilst walking through the school corridors. Being in the choir also taught me a lot about teaching, which I wasn’t expecting. The choir director not only has the most beautiful voice but she is also a primary school teacher. I joined the choir nervous and unsure. Over those first few months, she encouraged me to have more confidence in my voice and, in November 2019, I sang my first solo during evening Mass. I’ve just watched the recording back and, even now over a year later, it’s hard not to become emotional watching it. I’m visibly shaking, I was completely terrified, I stopped for breath partway through a word, but I did it! I realise that in that moment I wasn’t exactly calm, but I discovered during the year that it wasn’t just that I wanted to find moments of calm, I wanted to find moments for me.
When it came to selecting a word for 2020, I didn’t feel I’d finished with “Calm” yet. Although I was in my second year of teaching, I’d moved from P2 to P6 so everything felt brand new again. I still felt like I was constantly working and needed to be more intentional about making time for myself. I decided to keep “Calm” for a second year.
As I reflect on 2020, I don’t really know where to begin. Nothing about this year turned out as expected, however I do think having “Calm” in the back of my mind helped. To be honest, I’ve had to look back at photos and emails to try and remember what pre-lockdown 2020 was like. I remember the confusion and the worry. I remember when we were still trying to keep to business as usual, except we split our staff room and all the cups were laid out for us. I remember when the conversations with the children after Newsround became more and more filled with anxiety. I very clearly remember Friday 20th March 2020: the last day in school before we moved to remote teaching. I remember taking the kids outside to play Rounders, they were laughing and having fun. I remember looking around our school chapel at my colleagues as we celebrated Mass together, not knowing when we’d be able to do it again. It all feels very surreal now.
I could write an entire blog post about teaching through lockdown. Instead, I’ll just recognise that it was a lot of work for everyone! With a reputation for being a bit obsessed with digital technology, I felt an underlying pressure to support my colleagues who hadn’t used technology as much in the past. Like most teachers, I ended up working longer hours than I’d ever worked before and it wasn’t sustainable. For me (and I think the kids too!), the best part of it was the daily Google Meets for games, chats, and just generally keeping connected. Welcoming kids back in person, after the summer break, was oddly emotional too. With risk assessments, lots of handwashing, and many new guidelines, there was a lot about school that was different, but there was a lot that was still the same too.
Staying in the same stage for a second year, I felt a new sense of confidence as I didn’t feel like I was completely starting from scratch. I have been able to share things with my probationer stage partner that my previous stage partner (and now close friend) showed me. Despite current restrictions, I enjoyed having a Student Teacher in my class for six weeks in term 4 as it was really rewarding to see her grow in confidence and develop her teaching practice. I attended a different virtual CPD session every weekend. I started a new practitioner enquiry looking at Whole Class Feedback. I ran book clubs, wrote blog posts, and spent far too much time on EduTwitter.
During one of my EduTwitter sessions, I learned about the Google Certified Innovator programme moving online as a result of the Coronavirus restrictions. I’d been encouraged to apply previously but didn’t think I could justify paying for the trip to a far-off city. The fact that this would be the first virtual academy, VIA20, meant that there were many more applicants as others were likely in a similar situation to me… “oh well, I probably won’t get accepted but this may be the only chance I’ll have for a while”. Encouraged by my SLT, I spent more time than I’d care to admit recording and re-recording my application video and completed the application form VERY last minute, not expecting to be successful. Whilst I was delighted to be accepted, I really had no idea how positive an impact the programme would have on me, both professionally and personally. Through weekly Design Thinking sessions and amazing Team Carnivals coaching sessions (with the inimitable Abid Patel), I started thinking differently. I have met so many inspirational educators from around the world and I’ve been inspired to try new things in my classroom and beyond. I’m so excited to continue to work on my project, Connectrio, and am already in awe of my fellow Team Carnivals pals and their projects (check out @FutureLeadEd, @IncludEduOnline, and @WhatTheTrigMath). Despite having never met in person (although two of us did manage the first IRL #VIA20 meet up!), I feel blessed to have made connections that I know will continue.
Having completed 2019/20 Education Scotland Teacher Leadership Programme, I was given the opportunity to co-present at ScotEd2020 – a virtual conference created by Darren Leslie and Fiona Leadbeater. Stephanie Peat, from Education Scotland, was invited along to present about Teacher Leadership and she asked former participants, Colin Henderson, Furzana Ahmed, and myself to join her. Despite my only playing a small part in our session, we (virtually) met a few times in the weeks prior and I gained a lot from the experience. The event took place on a Saturday so I didn’t need time out of class but I wanted to run it by SLT as I would be talking about my experiences in school. This made things feel more real and despite the event being broadcast over Youtube, I was more nervous to know that my colleagues and VIA20 buddies were watching. We waited in a virtual green room as Emma Turner finished up her session on Be More Toddler, which (along with Sarah Mullin’s session on Early Career Teaching) was exactly what I needed to hear as the nerves started to build. The relief I felt after presenting quickly became pride as I received congratulatory Whatsapp messages from my HT, DHT, PT and friends. I think that speaks to the sort of school I’m lucky enough to work in. As a result of this event, we were asked to present to HTs at an Excellence in Headship event about ways they could support their staff to Lead from the Ground Up. You can watch our ScotEd2020 session here.
There is a lot I’m proud of from 2020 and I would say I’ve gotten better at recognising moments of calm, but I don’t think I make enough of them.
So what now?
I’d say this is the first break since I started teaching that I’ve been able to switch off from work. Aside from engaging with other educators on Twitter and reading the occasional blog post, I haven’t been able to read books about education or think about next term. My brain and my body wouldn’t let me. I needed to sleep. I needed to rest. I needed to build a Lego gingerbread house and KonMari our flat. I needed to go for walks and binge-watch Boy Meets World on Disney Plus. I needed to read children’s books and autobiographies whilst drinking cup of tea after cup of tea. I have really appreciated this time and it’s got me thinking about whether any of this is also possible during term-time.
Before I was even considering my “One Word” for 2021, I was scrolling through photos on my phone to make a belated calendar for my mum and I happened upon an image featuring the word “balance”. Something about the image spoke to me and I made it my lockscreen. I had intended to keep the word “Calm” for a third year, but as we pack up our flat to move into our very first home, I think I need something more intentional to help me focus on carving out time for life, separate from work. As I read Gretchen Rubin’s blog post about choosing “One Word” for 2021, I felt myself being drawn to “Balance”. I’d like to learn to find a balance during term-time. I asked my husband what he thought and he suggested our word should be “Home”. I think they work quite well together.
Whatever 2021 throws at us, I’m going to focus on the things within my control. I’m not a fan of New Years’ Resolutions (I’ve broken them too many times in the past!) but I’m starting this year with a clearer idea of what I value. I’m going to prioritise my health, drinking more water and walking more. I’ll continue to enjoy reading with a cup of tea, but I’m going to do it more (finally signing up for a GoodReads account). I’m going to continue what I started in 2020, asking myself why I’m doing things. Does it impact the children’s learning? Is it a good use of my time? Does it really need to be done by me? I’m hopeful that having the idea of “Balance” in mind will help with this.
What’s your “One Word for 2021”? I’d love to hear more!
I plan to publish a new post each week in 2021. Click “follow” to receive notifications when new blog posts are released or follow me on Twitter @ClareAnnePirie to connect there!
Having interviewed a number of parents in relation to my Google Innovator project (more information here), the first step needs to be increasing and streamlining communication. This is where Connectrio comes in!
Check out the video for more detail:
I would love your feedback on the following prototypes. Click on the images to have a look.