Friday, 25 November 2016

Can you become nicer?

I’m going to let you into a secret: I’m not a very nice person.

Now, before you start with platitudes and denials, let me elaborate a little. Firstly, I am incredibly lazy. There is not a single shred of me that would rather get up on a Sunday to mark students' work than stay in bed. On break duty, I’d much rather mill around the central courtyard than pace the corridors and my gym kit has wallowed for the last three weeks in the passenger seat of my car (and yet I will loudly tell anyone who listens I’m a devotee of yoga).

But, it gets worse. When I’m tired, I’m mardy*, with my best mates after a glass of wine I’ve been known to make some seriously bitchy comments, and when people like my teaching ideas on Twitter I feel a twinge of hubris which left unchecked could easily develop into full blown narcissism.

Earlier this week a few people weren’t desperately nice to me online. But that didn’t make me feel shocked or surprised. I get it. Because, remember, I’m not nice either.

What does surprise me is that, unlike me, many of these people don’t seem to want to do something about their lack of ‘niceness’.

Now, I’m not talking about being Kate Middleton ‘nice’. God help me. No, my version of nice isn’t Victoria spongecake, Daniel Buble, or a photo of a baby next to one of those bloody annoying ‘2 weeks old today’ cards.

To me, being ‘nice’ first and foremost means being kind. In other words, ensuring whatever you want to say or do doesn’t make others feel less crappy than it really needs to. When my mum was an RE teacher she had twenty versions of the ‘golden rule’ – treat others how you want to be treated – from different religions emblazoned on the walls of her classroom. As a happy atheist, I too think it’s a pretty good marker for whether your actions are kind and decent.

By my definition, being a ‘nice’ person also means trying really damn hard to have empathy with others and then using it to inform your opinions and reactions: particularly when you don’t agree with someone. Part of this has got to mean that the idea of having ‘a decent sense of humour’ is rewritten to mean ‘having a sense of humour with decency’.

So, how do you stop yourself laughing at blonde jokes, Ricky Gervais’ ‘Life’s too short’, or (ahem) the gender pay gap? I think Daniel Goleman has the answer.

When I read Goleman’s work on ‘emotional intelligence’ for the first time last year (the book having been gifted to me by someone who has EQ in bucket loads) it made me see that, rather than being slave to some innate ‘personality’, we have agency and choice when it comes to reactions that we otherwise see as instinctual.

Crucially – and this is also an increasingly important idea for me in my teaching– we can hardwire new impulses through conscious repetition that forms new habits.

In other words, you can make yourself nicer.

Goleman explains that emotional intelligence and the resulting behaviours can be changed by seeking out experiences that allow us to practise the aspect we want to develop and then getting constructive feedback on our progress. It’s arguably why really good friends will tell you when you’ve pissed them off, are blowing your own trumpet, or being a bitch. They want a nice friend and by flagging up when you’re not so nice it’s helping you learn better habits.

Goleman made me see that I may not be a nice person all of the time. But, by seeking out opportunities to be kinder and more empathetic I will steadily grow these aspects of myself. I’d like to think that’s what prompted me to pick up my phone on Tuesday morning when I saw someone not being so kind or showing empathy to 50% of the population.

In conclusion, there’s no excuse not to be ‘nice’ and I wonder if Piers Morgan has any really good friends.**

* Southerners, read ‘moody without good cause’.

** In my defence, I did say I was bitchy after a glass of wine.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Getting into the Groove – 4 weeks into a year as a member of SLT

Every teacher knows that in each academic year your week develops a distinct rhythm.

Perhaps your PPA is clustered on one day – a time of valued coffee breaks and essential catch-ups with colleagues over your marking – whilst on another you might find *that* troublesome Year 9 group follows your ‘interesting’ Year 11s. Add in a morning briefing, break duty, and lunchtime detentions and there are certain days you know you just have to get through.

After ten years, I’ve become used to the rise and fall of the teaching week. With five years as HoD under my belt, I’d also become relatively competent at managing my middle leadership duties on top of my own planning, preparation, and assessment.

However, this September I became an Associate Senior Leader and I’ve found that I’ve struggled to establish that familiar, reliable rhythm.

My day now starts (three days a week, at least) at 8am with SLT briefing. Gone are the twenty minutes that used to be spent getting ready for my day and liaising other English leaders in preparation for the day ahead. In the winter months, it was also the time spent prepping cover for flu-ridden colleagues. 

On Mondays, my day now ends at 6pm after the SLT meeting. Added to this, as signalled by my mandatory neon jacket, walkie talkie, and master key, I’ve found my time taken by additional SLT duties. Officially, my duty days are Friday and Tuesday morning, but I feel obligated to be a line of support across the school at all times. 

In short, my school days start earlier, end later, and are now even busier than as a middle leader.

All of these aspects of the role I was, of course, prepared for and I welcome the chance to be involved in decision making at a strategic level and to be a more visible presence across the school. What I’ve had to do is adapt my rhythm by finding new ways of working: smarter, faster, and with greater delegation.

As a side-note, if it wasn’t for our excellent new Head of English, I’m not sure managing my reduced time would be possible. My school has rightly invested in his development as a leader (DHoF, SLP, NPQSL) and as such they’ve given me rock-solid foundations on which to base my own progression.

I’ve also had to find my groove in a brand new team, one that’s close-knit from previous cycles of the school year. As a current leader of a core subject there have been times when I’ve felt my experiences have given me an opposing point of view to others but I’m keen that this becomes an asset and a strength of my involvement, rather than a staccato note in the concertos of our meetings.

What I’d not expected from my new role, is the harmony I’ve found with other subject areas. Leading 'Assessment without Levels' across the school has given me access to the hallowed turf of other Faculty work rooms. As I’ve traversed the corridors to seek people out to talk data, SIMs, and problem solving, I’ve discovered a greater sense of camaraderie and shared purpose than I ever had when confined within English. I’m also more keenly aware of the role of support staff, like our superb new Data Manager, in realising projects that will eventually impact on student achievement.

Similarly, leading events for parents and being regularly stood at the school gates has also given me a deeper sense of the school’s place within the community. I’ve never felt quite so proud of the children in our care or alert to the immense support families of all compositions give to them. My SLT work, whether it's related to the new Ofsted framework or the nuances of Attainment 8/Progress 8, don’t abstract me from this but make my focus on it even sharper as I begin to fully understand the significance of our school within the community that we serve.

In conclusion, perhaps it’s no longer about trying to find a rhythm: it’s about realising my own small part in a great symphony.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The five stages of post-results intoxication

Last year, I wrote a post about ‘The five stages of post-results grief’ that I went through in the subsequent days and weeks after results day.

This year, I am pleased to say, that the number crunching wasn’t accompanied by the overwrought sobs of the year before, but I have been surprised to still find myself experiencing the proverbial rollercoaster of emotions which leads me to this post: ‘The five stages of post-results intoxication’.

Feeling good
It is the morning of results day, the headlines are in and, for once, it becomes apparent that it’s good news.

You shout to your husband, text your parents, and tell your (bemused) cats. Together they breathe a collective sigh of relief that they won’t be scraping you up off the floor, this year at least.

In the shower, you allow yourself a wry smile for the students who have fallen on the right side of the grade boundaries for once. You chuckle as you dry yourself knowing that this year when the school’s headline measures are flashed up for all to see in the first school meeting back you won’t be staring at the worn-out carpet. You wonder 'Is a jaunty finger click and wink to the Assistant Head taking it a bit too far…?'

Rifling through your wardrobe, you take out your new shirt despite it really being ‘Parent’s evening best’.

In the car, driving in, you sing loudly to Adele. You hate Adele.

When you finally sit around the computer screen with others and see the forecast impact of your department's results on whole school measures there are actual high fives. Together you glimpse a very different potential outcome of the upcoming Ofsted visit to the one that has been stalking your collective nightmares.

Individual subject results may be a ripple in the pool of school life, but in English and Maths they have the potential to be a crashing wave. Most English Heads of Faculty are all too aware of this and when a set of results impacts positively on colleagues and friends it can feel like you’re finally swimming with the tide rather than thrashing against turbulent waters as it’s often felt in the last few years.

We might all strive to be radiators but a set of half decent results lights a bonfire; there is a re-ignition of the belief that effort can equal outcome. There is justice in the world after all!

Bad decisions/Talking loudly
Thus the excitement felt by you for your colleagues, students, and school leads to the desire to SHARE THE NEWS WITH THE WORLD.

You want parents to know - immediately - see just how awesome this news is. Students need to know how proud they can feel of their school and their achievements. You want other teachers to know that your school isn’t what you’ll find on Data Dashboard when you whack the name into Google. Sod it, if a future Inspector catches an eyeful what harm could it do?!

So, you tweet your results: not the actual statistics, mind you, just the upward swing. You have rash conversations with colleagues and other HoDs via text. You offer advice and write brash declarations about the cause of the department’s success, condensing a year’s worth of strategy and effort into a series of reductive messages. You remember how you felt a year ago, but decide 'I would be pleased for me too'.

Paranoia and depression
But as is always the case, what must goes up must… Celebratory glass of wine in hand, you read Chris Curtis’ brilliant blog post astutely comparing the trumpeting of results to an educational willy measuring contest. You think he’s writing about you.

Chastened, you compare the results of your Faculty with others within your school, within your local authority, within your subject.

Bottle of wine now empty, you look again at your headlines and acknowledge you’re still not where you want to be. Not by a long shot. You dig a bit deeper and realise your most able kids have bombed their usually strongest unit, the Poetry exam. A clutch of As and A*s are M.I.A.

You think about the student in your own class who didn’t make it. The one who came to the revision sessions after school and in the holidays. The one who you knew was at risk of not quite getting there but who on sheer bloody determination alone deserved to succeed. You read back your tweets and feel that your excitement has somehow let him down. You have let him down.

You realise the hard work starts again in a week’s time. You’ve still got that scheme of work to write, lessons to plan, and a new job to settle into.

The Hangover
You crash down to earth with a bump, a dry mouth, and sense of impending doom that even paracetamol won't shift. 

But, unlike last year, it’s a soft landing.

The flicker of potential lit by our positive results will buoy us up against the groundswell of current that has the potential to take us under once more. I’m not complacent. We’re not complacent. We’re not there yet. If any school does in fact ever get ‘there’.

Much like the selfies in your phone the 'morning after the night before', I may cringe at my garish tweets from results day, but in a year's time I'll enjoy seeing them in TimeHop as a record of when much-loved school succeeded when it feels like success is so often in short supply.