Managing Wellbeing

Recently I lead a session with NQTs and RQTs on the subject of wellbeing. It’s a topic I find fundamentally important as I’ve suffered from burnout before and it’s not a feeling I’d like anybody to experience if I can help it. Also, leaders in every school I’ve ever worked in have never openly expressed concern for the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental wellbeing of their staff. This is plain wrong!

With teachers leaving the profession in droves, schools must do far more to challenge the issue of workload. Teachers in the group said they regularly worked more than 50 hours, which included taking work home.

The most common things the group perceived as threats to their wellbeing were:

1. Marking
2. Lesson planning
3. Data entry

How to cut excessive workloads

By no means a panacea for the issue but here are a few strategies to cut workloads.

1. Decide what is worth marking. Greater effort does not equal greater results. Try to use feedback strategies such as ‘take a snap!’. This is where you place a picture of a student’s work on the board and peer assess as a whole class. The piece of work should be of the highest quality so all have a ‘gold’ standard to aim for.

2. Don’t try to plan every lesson from scratch. Scour online for resources which you can tweak or use as they are. Make us of high quality textbooks also.

3. Ask yourself ‘do students really need their exercise books this lesson?’ Perhaps annotating a copy of the poem or using sketch books is enough. This will reduce marking time.

4. Use symbols and codes for marking. It’s surprising how much time you can save not having to write out the same targets numerous times.

We rounded off the session by conducting individual SWOT analyses on our personal wellbeing.

Feedback from staff participants has been positive with one staff member almost giving me a running commentary on how he has taken charge of his own wellbeing since the session.

Dealing With Disappointment

I failed. I was sad. Disappointed. I blamed myself. ‘It’s my fault’, I told myself. You should have tried harder.

These were my emotions when I found out that some of my students had not passed their English exam. I was gutted and it was all my fault. I’m sure many educators feel this way when their students do not get the grade they were capable of. In fact, I’m sure most people in various professions feel that pang of disappointment when things don’t go as expected: the surgeon whose patient doesn’t make the expected recovery; the mother whose child is struggling to read; the cashier whose sales weren’t quite enough to make that much needed commission. As human beings, we are very good at blaming ourselves.

The trouble is, sometimes, if not most times, things happen completely outside of our control and we can do nothing about them.

This is when we should remember to embrace failure and disappointment. They are both key to our understanding of future events.

We are not be able to control every event but we can control our response to it.

Please share your strategies for dealing with disappointment.

10 Things I’ve Learned from Reading Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers

As a teacher of 9 years’ experience, I felt I was not as accomplished as I would have liked, and was looking for a good book to support my personal professional development. I first came across Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers around three years ago in an academic reading group set up by a senior leader in the school. As Hattie’s work grew in popularity and esteem, I decided to take a closer look to see what the hype was about. I have been reading this for a few months now (which is a little too long for my liking) and I’m now nearing completion. Below are the top ten things I have distilled from this book.

 

1) Plan lessons backwards by starting with the end in mind. This means establishing the success criteria for the lesson or series of lessons and then evaluating multiple forms of evidence to assess how well students have met the intended outcomes.

2) Teachers should become evaluators of their effects on students. This means that it’s not good enough to not know exactly on whom and by how much our teaching is having an effect.

3) The crux of effective teaching is not simply a case of selecting the right methodology but a combination of the right methodology at the right time with the right pupils.

4) Great teaching is a carefully combined synthesis of right methodology, effective assessment, great relationships with students and a set of mind frames held by the teacher and students.

5) For feedback to be effective, learners must be willing to receive it. In other words, the ground must be fertile before seeds are scattered.

6) An effective teacher is able to adapt their method or approach during a lesson as a result of feedback based on how strongly students grasp ideas. Evaluation takes place during the lesson.

7) Lesson Observations need to shift the emphasis from what the teacher does to what the students do and say. This is the essence of Visible Learning; learning takes place in the brain but getting students to make that learning visible and audible allows the observer to make a more accurate judgement about what students have actually learned or still find difficult.

8) The nature of teaching is complex and school communities must appreciate this. Sometimes students learn what you never intended.

9) School leaders need to provide the necessary resources (time and physical) for those leading learning so that changes can be driven, implemented and sustained with high fidelity.

10) Professional collaboration amongst teachers is one of the biggest drivers in reforming and improving teacher effectiveness and school leaders need to create a culture of trust where open dialogue can occur without fear of judgement or accountability pressure.

 

I highly recommend educators read this book.

The Necessity of Cultivating the Moral and Spiritual Character of Those We Teach

One Sunday morning, during a conversation with my 6 years old daughter on the topic of spirituality, she quoted a Bible verse: ‘Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul and might. Deuteronomy 6:5’.

 
As a parent, though surprised, hearing her words filled me with a sense of peace – a peace derived from knowing that she is developing a sound moral character in a world where there is so much darkness.

 
She then recalled Jesus’ commandment to ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’, which we then began to discuss and give thought to what it meant practically. We concluded that it affirmed self-esteem, self-worth, reciprocity and kindness; values which are intrinsic to a harmonious and cooperative global society.

 

Without the explicit teaching of morals and values, we leave it up to chance for our young people to develop their own moral compass. In an age of chasing league tables and battling brutal austerity, austerity without moral conscience, this is a risky gamble. A blind ramble in the dark possibly leading us to a moral abyss.

 

Is our society not broken enough to leave out such an education? Do the likes of Grenfell and the London riots not call for such teaching?

 

Recently I watched a set of Year 10 students deliver an end of year awards ceremony. It involved dancing, acting and speeches to name a few; a fine show of events. As the crowd began to hush after rapturous applause, a young man from the year group asked us to bow our heads, and then boldly uttered a prayer of hope and thanksgiving. Suddenly, others looked at him through a new lens. My heart started to swell and I’m sure the hearts of others did also. This young man clearly understood the importance of spirituality.

 

My vision is to see schools, homes and other institutions of great influence give precedence to the moral and spiritual character of our young people, for they are the future guardians of the world we live in.

Reducing Cognitive Load

Recently I’ve become quite interested in the significance of cognitive load for learners and teachers.

 

So what is cognitive load?

In simple terms, ‘cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory.’ (Wikipedia) All new learning requires use of our working memory, but unlike our long term memory, it can only hold up to 4-5 pieces of new information at one time. This is essential knowledge for educators and parents to be aware of as it has significant implications on the way we design, engineer and deliver new learning opportunities.

 

What’s the big deal?

Designing new learning opportunities necessitates an appreciation of cognitive load as getting the balance right can determine both the success rate and how much the learner will actually absorb. Too much new information could result in overload, eventually distorting the content and leading to lack of overall understanding. Imagine spending considerable time creating resources, slides and detailed questions only for your learners to be completely baffled and overwhelmed by the sheer overload of information. Useless right? Striking the right balance becomes a task that Goldilocks would relish; not too hard, not too easy, but just right.

 
To be an effective educator, I’m continually trying to find ways to make my material stick. I want my students to remember what I have taught them and be able to draw upon this knowledge or skills when called for. Part of this goal towards stickablity led me to cognitive load. I asked myself the question, ‘How can I ensure that my material is fully absorbed by learners?’. The universe conspired to help me arrive at an answer and led me to the idea of a reduction in cognitive load. Knowing when to reduce the cognitive load is important if leaners are to make adequate progress and grasp ideas of increasing complexity. Below are five ways to reduce cognitive load in the classroom.

 

5 ways to reduce cognitive load in the classroom

 

1. Ensure students have enough surface knowledge before moving onto any deep learning. For example, there’s little point teaching students Aristotelian conventions of Greek tragedy before they have a good understanding of the order in which events occur. Remember, first things first!

 

2. Get the level of challenge right! In well intentioned efforts to challenge our students, much of our content often results in cognitive overload for students! This is damaging and the effects can undo days, if not weeks of hard graft in building the self-esteem and confidence of learners. Remember the Goldilocks principle; not too hard, not too easy, just right.

 

3. Practice mindfulness in your classroom. No, this is not a gimmick. Please believe me. Before important writing tasks, I ask students to close their eyes or lay their heads on the desk. In a calming voice, I ask them to visualise writing successfully. After the visualisation exercise, students write down success criteria for the task. The atmosphere literally changes. You can feel a powerful sense of purpose and intent. Their mind is completely focused on the task. Such practice can be used for most subjects.

 
4. Teach literary interpretations as fact. I first came across this idea via the inspirational Andy Tharby and his insightful blog. If students already have something to hang on to, the teacher is in a position to introduce more challenging processes such as the wider significance of the interpretations or getting them to demonstrate the new knowledge by practising a particular skill such as analytical or discursive writing. For most of us it’s hard to learn practical skills and knowledge at the same time. Imagine trying to learn how to drive a car whilst the instructor simultaneously tries to teach you the Highway Code. A car crash is likely to ensue pretty soon.

 

5. This final technique is usable for teachers across different subjects. Be sensitive to how your learners feel. Cognition is not just happening as a result of direct response to the stimuli in your classroom. Students could be thinking of any number of things: what they will have for dinner, last night’s game or the traumatic fight their parents had that morning. As teachers, we must try to be empathic and intuitive to our students’ moods. Although we can’t know exactly what is going on in their lives, we know that a scowl often means unhappiness and a head hung low a sign of dejection. Read body language. Sometimes, just a smile or a kind word can ease the mental load for some students. I know for me that if I’ve had an argument with my wife or snapped at my kids in the morning, I can barely focus on the mindless task of driving let alone become a master of metaphor.