Creating Belonging? Teachers, we find it.

The recent assignment we have been working on is ‘creating a sense of belonging in the classroom.’ I could start my blog post on with this dull sentence and let it continue on and on and on! Or… I could stop, change and adapt to a: ‘Yay, classrooms can be places of tremendous growth and are the cosiest places on Earth.’ Whatever I say, if you don’t feel as if you belong to my blog –oh no– then you wouldn’t care. Essentially, you’d stop reading and leave. Belonging is everything in the learning process!

What has struck me lately is the outright we are a family approach to education is silly. It is the hidden curriculum/culture of the workforce that bears importance! The vision statements? Only words if not practised.

Trying to create a family just doesn’t work – yes, the new academic semester brings a new classroom come August. Change again. I like to compare the family classroom situation to a section battle attack. Your section is your mates and through teamwork, you overcome obstacles; however, you may lose a casualty – and thus your family changes in an instant. But if your fellow soldiers keep positive then the next movements are not so arduous and painful. Their positivity spreads to you: and the smiles continue. You see, the mental endurance techniques don’t work past a few minutes…unless you feel connected and belonged to those around you and something bigger (whatever that is to your personally). The little, tiny things in the classroom to promote learning are futile  if the child feels they are another chair for the countless tables.

And… truth always be told…a fake family never lasts.

So, how do we as teachers develop that voice of ‘I am unique, important and belong’ in our students? It pins down to one thing. Relationships. That’s all. If you strip away all the fancy pedagogical approaches, it simply is about  you as a person. The most important thing is how you perceive the pupil – and that you look for the good in them. Yes, the good eye is everything. Don’t pretend you like a student’s behaviour if you don’t! (Why say we are like a family when your students deep down know you will never be!)

Think of Matilda and Miss Honey! It’s her personal qualities that make her the amazing teacher that she is. I’ve realised… you could have all the knowledge and ideas (just like someone could be super wealthy) but if you fail to find the light in your students… their sense of belonging will be as thin as a thread.

So what’s the hidden curriculum? It’s to be nice, to be joyful, to be kind and most importantly… to look for the good! As I see it, find the apple in the pupil and everything else will come into place – with time. Forget the materials: the raw substance is the recipe for success.

Little, you are ever so greater than big!

Warning… this is rather reflective and pretty (kind of) personal!

Sometimes one bad thing seems to come knocking at the door – and then many things happen. It’s best not to discuss these, as we all have our own hills to climb. But, sometimes amazing things occur too. After the past few months, the end of today brought joy: my Grandpa finally received his driving license back again. Sounds something tiny yet it meant the world to him. And, after a few scares for other reasons, it was a great relief for him to have his car… his home. He would take me to placement (yes, just five minutes away) and we would watch the sun head off to sleep together. It brought happiness like nothing else could have; he has taught me everything. Well, almost. About what? About life. And he is a gem – just like we all have people close to us! It’s great to hear he can be back on the road. It really is.
Our phone call made me think… how could I translate the things he has taught me into my classroom? The simple wisdom of everyday actions can go far. Some of the personality ‘qualities’ he tried to tell me about were love, peace, patience (all of which bring joy). And never giving up… that’s something else too! I was thinking about the mistakes I’ve made and how he has always led me back on track. For instance, prioritising work over studying – and thinking grades are everything! Oh… and skipping lectures. I keep doing that because the Earth has been moving rather fast lately. But, his joy brought a smile to my face. It was perfect timing (or felt like it!) Anyhow, what I need to write about is how his teachings can be brought into my classroom practice!

1. Never lift anything heavier than a pencil. This is ironic because I love carrying a Bergen (super fun to overcome the weight). Yet it’s true: if you don’t understand the theory, the other things are difficult to slot together. This is simply: how do we ensure our students have a deep desire to learn? Well, we find out their interests. Simple question post it notes or flying comments: “ooo, what do you want to know?” That would go a long way. Everyone wants to know a little more about something – they just might not tell you!

2. We each have our own horse and track to ride! I always wanted to be better at English. Always! Maths and me are friends – but English required hours of slog and in fact, I memorised my essays for the exam! Yet, he reminded me that we are each made for something different … and that’s what makes the world exciting. In the classroom, we should have a time in the day where someone can explain something they know to a group/the class. We can all learn from one another: a golden rule, that is!

3. Perspective is essential…That’s a tricky one, but I never understood it until lately. I don’t drink alcohol or fizzy drinks for personal medical reasons… and parties annoyed me! But, I remember meeting a girl who had a food allergy to everything apart from rice and potatoes! When my Grandpa reiterated  to me that someone is always worse off, my brain clocked that water and tea is perfect! At school, students will be frustrated when others have that designer bag or that ‘A’ grade: but I will stop them and ask them to fill in a flower of all the things they do have. Being grateful is an essential thought process (of which I still must practice DAILY!) So, here’s to making classroom flowers of thanks… perhaps I see a daisy chain coming!

4. Have patience and  just work hard. Stories of his war experiences are humbling. He was a child then, but they had so little. Yet, you must try and be content. They worked long hours and days were arduous! But, he said that giving yourself a day off duties worked magic! Every Saturday or Sunday, you deserve a rest. That is of upmost importance. Likewise, kids need an afternoon off every week (or even merely an hour) to relax and unwind. Even if they haven’t been ‘at their best,’ their brain still needs that time to go “ahhhhhhhh, I can chill now!”

These are merely a few wisdom points that he has given me – and there are many more. Yet, those are up there in the priority list as our classrooms should be like ‘the real world.’ I don’t wish for my students to live in a safety blanket or for their parents/guardians to cushion them up. If we let them fail then give them the advice and tools for coming back as lions, they will do find in Secondary School. That said, we are our students’ safety net, perhaps! It is important that everyday and practical advice is given to them. The small things add up to a massive change – and after all, we all want to be our best selves alongside our pupils.

However, please bear in mind that there will be days when kids can’t concentrate. You’ve had them; I’ve had them. Yet, well, if we take some time out and have a positive mantra and do all the little things, we will make it over the hill! Yes, there are fluffy and crispy golden clouds! (It’s an oxymoron, don’t worry!0 And finishing with my last quote for the semester, my Grandpa always says: You cannot rewrite time, but you can write the future. Every bell is a reminder that students can build themsleves a positive future. Doesn’t just sharpening the pencil show that?

Hope is Here

I arrived late for the lecture today after handing back my kit for my fundraising job. As much as I genuinely love the work – and will hopefully do some of it again in the future – having three jobs and university lectures was taking it’s tole. And studies come first: they are priority. A recent assignment was a wake-up call. I did ‘achieve’ a very low grade recently and it’s tempting to think negatively, but well that’s never wise. I remember receiving the picture book contract at a confusing time, so I always remember hope is close. It’s indeed possible to improve my grades – somehow, there is a way. And thankfully, the content of today’s university ‘lesson’ reminded me of that.

There was discussion about reading/writing as essential tools for moving forward. Creating stories as humans has always been our way of expressing ourselves, finding meaning. (University of Nottingham, no date). Writing requires time and we all seem to run out of that. But, it also needs you to be on your own – and just think. J.K. Rowling says: “Develop a fondness for solitude if you can, because writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world.” I never aspire to be J.K. Rowling as money means little on your last day on Earth, but her way of working resonates very closely with me. Being alone and in a coffee shop is the most peaceful place on Earth – or a forest.

Back to the lecture, we were talking about how experience and choosing different paths leads you to various destinations. I think it’s very true that we are in control of our outcome. I remember being in S6 and studying at home was not the best place: I decided to head to coffee shops after my work shift before admiring the nature when walking home. After walking two hours each way, I thought: How can I make this trudge a positive? Let’s take up running and try a marathon (I had done a 5k before). Super, was it because I developed a love for the simple things. Oh and the best part was admiring the stars when it was dark … and my phone ran out of charge! Silly Claire! After a run here and there, I decided to try the Army and then well, the mouse character who learns from a tiger came along. Everything linked together in some way.

But most importantly, others helped me along the way… just as J.K. Rowling’s quote encourages me that solitude and coffee is indeed normal! People always teach you something, in some sort of way. I am philosophical – as you probably gather – and like to link one thing with another. People’s actions help you in discrete ways. For instance, it was my boss at my first ever workplace who ran marathons and inspired me (alongside my old P.E. teacher). Another important person is my Great Uncle. In our last conversation, he told me: “Join the Army, smile in the cold and travel to Antarctica.” I’ve done two… perhaps the third will find its way one day. He turned into the mouse creature that is in my picture book and is still alive in my mind. As Mary Poppins goes: “Nothing is gone forever, only out of place.” For three years, I missed him greatly: but my uncle is back in place. Alive again – and for good.

I can’t say too much about the picture book story but it relates to all my experiences. The mouse falls in love with the stars and discovers that no matter where you are, there is always light. During my fundraising shifts, the yellow glow of the streetlamps would guide me through the cold! The lecture today on reading reminded me to keep reading and keep writing. It was thanks to my AoS that I began to really love writing (blogs are ace). So, it is thanks to this lecture that I could leave the lovely people at sales and focus on these assignments properly. I worry about grades, but that’s not the purpose of education: intelligence is intelligence. It’s about trying out best. I may have the first D of my life but I have a choice, as Kluger and DeNisi’s (1996) research points out:

I can …. alter my behaviour, alter my goal, quit my dream or disregard feedback.

The easiest option would be to say that I will never improve, but everything is possible – somehow. And, so today it was time to take on the feedback and think positively. I did not officially fail (yay, I passed) and there is always a way up. Birds show you that.
You see, running taught me that you just need to keep moving forward. It is all to easy to blame others for failure, but the responsibility is on me. I didn’t achieve the F in my first third-year assignment so I ought to be happy. I know that I am not the quickest learner – from other activities – but persistence does pay off. Without the hours training to run, I woudn’t have developed a desire to submit my story and accept many rejections. My students need to learn that there is an answer if you keep believing. But, how does that translate into the classroom?

I believe that the most important aspect of teaching is to lead by example and show your students that the way you treat others is more important than intelligence. If you are kind, then someone may just be hopeful. And after all, it is hope that leads to studying and better grades. We cannot change our IQ, but we can alter our perspective. Pay is important, but sometimes the richest people are the rudest. I spent one night at someone’s door who had just come back from a funeral. The person wasn’t the wealthiest (and told us that) but made my night for smiling and not shutting our discussion down. It’s silly but I want to show kids that if you treat others right, nothing else matters. We have to power ourselves through life – independence is key – but humans ultimately rely on each other. If you keep positive, others will too. Isn’t that the most important aspect of teaching? Hope. Hope for not money – but a kinder world. And hope to be the best you as a person.

Back again to the lecture… if you want a story of your life, it’s about how you treat others. Possessions matter to a certain degree, but I desire for my students to be grateful with what you have. Let’ s move forward with a smile – and read, write with positivity. I have hope to improve my grade because the lecture was inspiring. It reminded me to write down ‘I can do it’ when I’m unsure about my essay. There is nothing worse than giving up believing, because after all, positivity is all we have in the world – and the stars of course.

References

Kluger, A.N. and DeNisi, A.S. (1996) ‘The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory’, Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), pp. 254-284. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.119.2.254

University of Nottingham (no date) Studying Effectively: Why do we write? Available at: https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/studyingeffectively/studying/writer/whywrite/index.aspx (Accessed: 14 November 2019)

It’s not meetings… it’s CIRCLE TIME!

I always like a quick reflection here and there. And I always do love a few Christmas decorations here and there. But, you see, it’s only the 11th of November – lots more days left – and we are already seeing Starbucks sell your coffee because… ‘you really want that Christmas tree cup.’ I was rather thankful today. The morning shopper in me picked up a £1.50 ultra cute (in my opinion) reusable cup without the trees today – and it still half does have that Christmas feel. Yes, it’s an enjoyable trick starting each morning with ‘ooo what’s good about day.’ It makes my heart love the day despite the weather.

I didn’t just learn that off myself… running taught me a lot… but it was thanks to my course mate, Katie, who passed on: Growing Up Wild. It’s like a modern teaching bible. There are several clever ideas about cultivating a happiness the classroom – starting the day by being grateful is one that I love. Another is the idea of listening to music and singing. Indeed, singing. We had an input recently on teaching music using the Kodaly Method, in which children develop their musical awareness through active singing. Active, is it because you are using a ball or sometimes even a cuddly toy! I would love to teach Early Years – especially after the Nursery placement – so the idea of having a toy and music together seems ideal. Well, perfect… until you realise that my voice is not on the ‘do, me, so’ scale at all. Perhaps, find it on the radio of ‘these are not so good singers!’

But, I will not give up because I know that nursery rhymes and tunes are comforting to kids (and even adults). And, so is something else… who doesn’t love that circle time? Do you know adults have their own circle time? Yes. I’m being serious. Really serious: they’re called ‘MEETINGS.’ Practically, my mind just bores itself and refuses to enter the flow fun track (state of optimal and optimistic performance) when that word is used. The other day, we sat in a (guess the shape…jokes!) circle – and had a lovely conversation. The rules were simple: be nice, be open and be share-sensible. We passed round a pom-pom called ‘Max’ – and it allowed every single student to reach their maximum level of peacefulness. It fostered a ‘we are all in this together….’ Atmosphere. Fantastic.

I am away to read up more about Circle Time now. After my nursery week, it was evident how vital theory is in the teacher’s life. I was blown away (don’t stress… no snowstorms just yet) with how almost perfectly the lessons and reading fits with our practice. And, you know what, it changed me perspective of teaching – and academic research. We recently had a lecture with other avenues in Education. And, no I do not want to leave the classroom: but the idea of eventually doing a big research project is starting to interest me. I need to be with the kids (and outdoors) but at the same time, it would be lovely to find out more about forest nurseries and the theory behind it. I always like endurance events… so somehow that must transfer to reading. Visualising everything helps me greatly. Massively. Magically. I might start drawing smiley stars or happy trees every time I finish a chapter. Yes. I do have too many sharpies for a pencil case to home. (Sorry, highlighter!)

One other aspect I would like to research is the benefit of ‘weight training’ on kids’ academic performance. I recently started lifting (baby weights) at the gym as myself needs to become accustomed to carrying heavy things outdoors! And… I found it helps me to focus. The mental effort required to push through the pain barrier with weights is the same when in the ‘ultra-focus zone.’ Whenever I struggle to concentrate – and my mind drifts to sleepy, feather, padded land – I use the same mindset. Crazy? Perhaps. However, it wonderfully works. Is it that super-flow zone, then? Like Rainbow Road (anyone else play that race track game)? I think it could be. It really could. Anyhow, it’s time to focus on another thing, an urgent thing.

Guess what? Guess what? Do listen up! Placement is tomorrow- yessss!

Basically, I am sooooooooo super excited for tomorrow on placement – and to colourfully see how theory translates into ( what should be) effective classroom practice.  Gratitude mornings will be the first point on my teaching agenda… not that you teach it. You model it. I need to Lead by Example and do the simple things that make our hearts smile. And so, I will finish each week with a Circle Time too. Morning: individual thank you. ‘Evening’: altogether thank you so much (because it’s been a whole day!) Furthermore, if I don’t like (ah no!) formal meetings… then why not simply have relaxed conversations and chats by the ‘board fireplace’ in the classroom. (That’s even for behaviour management). I’ll need to ask my teaching mentor about that!

Eek. I cannot wait. Last thing: is tea allowed for teachers AND students? Yes, I can even get away with the treat of tea in Starbucks once a week thanks to the new mug. But… my pupils aren’t allowed it (fair enough for the young ones). I tutored  a child who was ever so delighted when we had a cup of tea together! Simplicities are luxuries.   Can we just introduce brew to the classroom? Please? And then, well, weekends call for a hot chocolate in real Starbuck- don’t they?! Yes, our one of our lecturers suggested having a drink there to relax. And it works. Perhaps… that’s the time I can then let my mind wander into sunshine, cloud land. That’s my new ‘comfy-focus zone.’