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!