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End of term 2 – when your hand is in the lolly jar while your breakfast is in the microwave.

Term 2 is coming to an end, which means more than a few crazy things happening in and out of the classroom.

Finalising assessment, writing reports and setting grades, parent/teacher intervies, late nights catching up on marking, and somehow starting to plan for next term, when this one seems so far from wrapping up.

You see term 2 is craaaazy! And being the committed, hard working and over caring teachers that we are means we just don’t know when to stop, or even when to pause for a minute.

So instead we look for other vices, other ways to pull through and other ways to keep us going.

Coffee, sugar and uniting in winge fests become more regular than usual. Staff rooms are all of a sudden filled with extra morning teas than, the emergency chocolate stash has 2 settings: overflowing or missing and the usual coffee orders are doubled.

It’s that time of year where your hand is in the lolly jar while your breakfast is is the microwave.

We are all trying to survive. You and me and every other teacher. Trying to make it to holidays with our list ticked off, with our heads above water and with our sanity in tact.

So how do we do this.

First, take your hand out of the lolly jar. The things which are getting you through now are only going to become bad habits and make it harder in the long run.

Instead, limit coffee, drink more water, add in some herbal tea, get fresh air, walk outside and exercise, sleep and go to bed early. It’s all one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, one task at a time.

It’s about talking about what really needs to be done and helping each other.

It’s about remembering you are human first, than a teacher. So breathe human. You are an amazing teacher. But teachers need a break too.

Image from weareteachers.com

I took a mental health day, and I talked about it.

A few weeks ago I wasn’t coping. I was tired. I was drowning in my ‘to-do’ list. I was at breaking point.

So I took a day off… A mental health day. A well-being day. A day for me.

And I talked about it. (see my last blog)

When I returned back to school the next day, and took my morning position on playground duty, I was greeted with; ‘Are you feeling better?’, ‘Are you OK’, ‘Have you got the flu already?’.

You see, just because I had a day off, everyone assumed I was sick, like need to go to the Dr. sick, I wasn’t. I just needed to stop.

So my reply ‘Oh no, I wasn’t sick, I just needed a day’…

Now here comes the mixed reactions, confused faces, uneasy comments, awkward silence. Why? Because we just don’t talk about this enough, and unfortunately there is some sort of negative vibe that is still attached with this. Really? Still?

So if well-being is a priority, if we are putting teacher health first, then saying ‘I just needed a day’, needs to be met with a ‘Cool. Are you OK now? Anything else you need?’. This is the response that says it’s OK to put you first, to put teachers first, to be OK with not being OK. This is one step closer to actually putting teachers first.

This is why I talk about it.

Teacher Well-being

Why I took a step back… and what I learnt.

Over the past few months things have been pretty full on for me, and as a result I found myself tired, more so than usual, low on energy and lacking motivation to do other things (such as this).

At the start of the year I started a new job; this followed a year which was possibly one of my most challenging work wise. I was propelled into a new role, new expectations, new opportunity. There is no denying I absolutely love my new role; however, it didn’t come without a cost.

Starting a new job is never easy; new people, new hours, new systems to learn, lots of things you used to know but now don’t – it all adds up to long days and working harder than your used too. Add on top of this trying to live up to the high expectations you have put on yourself (because that’s why they employed you right?), and soon you will find yourself in an unusual state.

After a few weeks of this, I was wrecked. Welcome tired and overwhelmed Amy – something I actually preach we teachers should try to avoid, and yet here I was, living as my exact target audience. I was tired. I was overwhelmed. I was trying to meet crazy high expectations. And truth be told, I still am.

My days quickly turned into predictable routines – wake at 5am, gym, work, home around 6pm, dinner, TV, bed. That was my day. I soon began to feel the impact of starting a new job and not allowing myself the time to just be. It was go, go, go, and crash.

So what changed? Well lucky I am a pretty aware person, and the signs were becoming stronger, so I had no choice but to listen. I knew where I was heading, and I didn’t want to end up there. I’d been there before… crying in my Dr’s office, asking for time off, explaining how I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wasn’t going to do that again.calm

So I stopped. Not from overwhelm. Not because I was tired. Not because I was doing too much. But by choice. I made a conscious choice to stop. To press pause. To just do what I could without feeling like I had made it to tipping point. I gave myself permission to take it slow.

For a whole week, I pressed pause. I took it slow. Did what I could. If that meant bed at 8pm I went to bed. If it meant no gym (this is a pretty high non-negotiable of mine) I didn’t go to the gym, if it meant soup for dinner and a night in front of the TV that’s what I did. And to add to that, I even took a day off work. To rest. To pause. To put me first. 100% guilt-free.

It was here, a day at home, pondering my thoughts where I realised through all of this I actually learnt something… The overwhelm, the being tired, the high expectations and pressure, it was my fault. All me. I owned it all. I still do. No one was expecting me to know everything. No one was expecting me to be amazing from day 1. No one was expecting me to go above and beyond. Only I was. I set the high expectations, I set the high standards, I set the multitude of tasks I wanted to achieve immediately. This means I too created the pressure. I created the overwhelm. I created being tired. And I too can change it. So I am.

I know realise it’s not about lowering expectations or expecting less, it’s about expecting what you can right now, expecting what is really achievable, expecting no more than you need to. No pressure required.

Somewhere along the way I lost what really makes me happy, what makes my days amazing, what makes my everyday amazing. I lost the being real, the giving value and the structure that helps me do so.

So that is what I am now working on again. The structure, the focus the giving.

Data – it’s not about what you didn’t do, it’s about what you need to do.

Data.

data

For teachers, it comes in many forms, from NAPLAN to taking notes, running records to recording observations, from tests to talking – it is all some form of data. But what’s the big deal with data anyway? And why do some teachers find it so hard to see it for what it is?

I know it easy to want to attach a story to data, and yes we can always argue that perhaps a student wasn’t having a great day, they were unwell, or that the unit we planned wasn’t great. Whatever the story though, the data is still the data.

It’s more common than not for teachers default reaction when looking at data to be to justify. I know we all know teachers, have been in a conversation, or perhaps we are guilty of it, where the first response is something like…’Yeah but that was a really low cohort’, ‘Those kids never do well’, ‘It doesn’t matter how I teach it they just don’t retain anything’ or ‘They were very unsettled that day’. All of these are ways we justify the data.

Now there is no denying these reasons do come from good places, we want the best for our students and we want to be able to defend them, but that actually isn’t our job.

Part of looking at data is to do so without judgement, the need to justify or the need to blame. It’s just to look, to note what is there, and to see the data as just that – data. No story needed.

So why is this important? Well once you start to see it as just data, you can begin to use it for it’s intended purpose – to inform your teaching. This might be teaching as an individual, a team or even looking at teaching across a whole school.  Look at the teaching, improve the learning. This is the reason we have data.

The data isn’t about you, it’s not about your story, your justification, your excuse – it’s about the data. Once you have established this, then data really can achieve it’s intended purpose – to help you be a better teacher, so students can learn what they need next.

 

Differentiation – Meeting student needs, not teacher needs.

Differentiation is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, but the more it is talked about, the more we are expected to do it, and why shouldn’t we?

Differentiation really is key to ensuring your students are getting the learning your students need, at their level and with the support or extension they need.

So what exactly is differentiation?

Differentiation means tailoring instruction to meet individual needs. Whether teachers differentiate content, process, products, or the learning environment, the use of ongoing assessment and flexible grouping makes this a successful approach to instruction. – Carol Ann Tomlinson (http://www.readingrockets.org/article/what-differentiated-instruction).

Differentiation is all about making sure we are continually teaching students at their point of need. Yet for some reason, there are still many of us who just don’t get this.

When working with teachers on differentiation, I often find myself having to explain that differentiation does not mean just doing a different activity. Differentiation is not just having the more able students work by themselves or having the struggling students taken out for support.

Differentiation is something we consciously plan for by making informed decisions using summative data. Not something we do ad-hoc because a student can’t complete what we have planned or because a child finished early. It is something we plan for.

This means, as teachers, we need to be considering in advance what our students can currently do, what we want our students to know, what we want them to be learning and what we need to teach to make that happen.

Now not every student will be at the same place, with the same interests, or learn in the same way. This is where differentiation comes in.

So how do we do this? Well it is all linked to the learning.

Take 2 digit addition in year 3 for example, some students will know this already, some will still be using concrete materials and some are working on using a written method – so this is how you differentiate. You give the students what they need. Teach the addition lesson, but differentiate. Those who want or need counters can use them, those who are using a number line can do that, and maybe some are ready to move onto more efficient mental strategies.

Give students what they need – not what you want them to need.

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