Category Archives: 1 Prof. Values & Personal Commitment

Transition

Stepping into a time of in between

Where it is not yet clear what is to come

And hard to let go of what has been

 

Looking back with fondness on memories shared

With those who still stand by me

And those no longer there

 

A time to find completion in the things that now must end

To come around full circle

Saying goodbye to many friends

 

An overwhelming sense of joy when reflecting on success

Knowing all the hard work has paid off

And I really tried my best

 

But stepping into the unknown can bring about some fears

The routine stirred and change awaits

I had just grown to like it here

 

Familiar faces sharing a smile

About to be flung far and wide

I may not see them for a while

 

Stepping out into a new adventure

Wondering what’s in store

Seems somewhat a crazy venture

 

Holding back the tears through many goodbyes

Forming positive relationships is all very well

Until once more it’s time to fly

 

Stepping out into a truly unique position

To give of my time and developing talents

That is, once I’ve made it through the transition

 

But what does learning look like?

They’re sitting quietly with chairs tucked in

The lunches are done and the register complete

The daily timetable has all been discussed

But what does learning look like?

 

The jotters are out and the pencils are sharp

The learning intention is up on the board

The textbooks are there if we need a fallback

But what does learning look like?

 

Times tables recited and learned by heart

The Es&Os covered, highlighted and starred

Each reading group heard and the homework is set

But what does learning look like?

 

The wall displays perfect with no room for error

Partner work is only allowed if you whisper

If you’re finished just turn to the next page of work

But what does learning look like?

 

Attainment to uphold and gaps to close

A pile of marking that never ends

A ‘teacher face’ put on like a mask

But what does learning look like?

 

Jimmy came in with a cut on his knee

Lucy’s dog passed in the night

Abdhul has a new baby brother

Maja learned to ride her bike

Aedan loves football but hurt his ankle

Kayleigh can’t wait to do her turn at show and tell

Sarah is tired and hungry today

Max doesn’t want to be here at all

Esther loves music and is learning violin

Grant had a fight on the street again

Kris is excited to use the Ipads

Mary is anxious about leaving dad

Eric is quiet but happily so

Harry is still in ‘holiday mode’

Lola is sneezing and full of the cold

Anna just needs a hand to hold

Eddie is freezing

Sally, too warm

But what does learning look like?

 

Each child is unique and so learning is too

What I learn will not be the same as you

What can look like learning may be built on ideals

So what are the more pressing questions here?

 

Are your children safe, happy, secure?

Were they welcomed as they came in the door?

Can they trust each other and have their voices heard?

Are there times to be noisy, creative and free?

Is the ethos ‘us’ or ‘them and me’?

Are they seen as a person or behaviours displayed?

Are they challenged and given the time to play?

Is learning dictated or stemming from questions?

Is everything done in the children’s best interest?

 

But what does learning look like?

Different every day

With the child at the centre steering the way

Relationships embedded and a team that is strong

Mistakes are to grow from and not seen as wrong

 

Learning will happen in many which ways

What did learning look like in your classroom today?

 

Image available at: https://relationshipinstitute.com.au/news/questions-therapists-ask-us/ (accessed 29.01.19)

Seeing the World Through a Different Lens

This post is of a very personal nature and one that I have considered not posting at all, probably because I know that in doing this I will be putting myself in a very vulnerable position. However, I am generally a believer that it is important to share our experiences as way of learning from one another and hopefully finding that others have had similar experiences. Having spoken to an incredibly supportive lecturer about this ‘issue’, I have been encouraged to open up and share this part of my own story.

Yesterday, we had an input about supporting the more able children in our classrooms, sometimes referred to as ‘gifted’. The National Association for Gifted Children (2010, p1) defines gifted individuals as “those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains.” Qualities that are recognisable in these children include having: high language abilities, including the ability to read before starting school (Gross, 1998); a drive to learn and a love for asking questions and absorbing knowledge (Dowling, 2002); an early ability to empathise and show sensitivity (Gross, 1989; Silverman, 1983); a good understanding of how language works and can therefore understand and use humour in a sophisticated way (Gross, 1999). Other aspects that were highlighted in the input yesterday include: excellent memory; long attention span; intense interests; vivid imagination; very concerned about fairness and justice; perfectionistic.

This is where I am wary of how to express the next section of this blog without coming across as arrogant, big-headed or seeing myself as better than others (which of course I do not, and this is probably the main reason why I have not felt able to talk to many people about this before). However, the reality is that I was one of these children who may be referred to as ‘gifted’. The purpose of this blog is not in any way to boast about this fact, rather to provide an insight into how a small percentage of children in our classes may be feeling in school but also the benefits and challenges that come with living with a high functioning brain. I hope that by being able to be open and honest in this way, that others may be able to better support ‘gifted’ children in their classes now and in the future.

I suppose I should start by saying “Welcome to my brain”- watch your step, it’s pretty crowded in here! Using humour has been my absolute saviour when navigating my way through social situations. By creating an upbeat, jolly persona that can brush off awkwardness and uncomfortable silence, and have a bit of fun, I have been able to make friends in different situations. However, one of the biggest challenges of being someone with a highly intellectual brain is often experiencing extreme feelings of loneliness. For any of my friends who happen to read this, please do not think this is anything to do with you! It is simply that because there are not many others whose brain works on ‘overtime’, as some might describe it, it can be very difficult to relate directly to other people. I have always had the ability to empathise with others and see people for who they are, however, it can be frustrating when others just ‘don’t get something’ that my brain sees as obvious. It can also appear as if I am often overly dramatic or overthink/ overcomplicate issues that others may consider to be fairly straight forward. In this respect, I often find myself holding back in social situations, as I am aware of how overwhelming I can be at times.

One of the other aspects that was highlighted in our input yesterday was that ‘gifted’ children can be overly sensitive to things. This is something I can relate to in a big way. I am someone who feels things very deeply and I am a very emotional person – something that I have learned to embrace over the years. However, it is also little things like being overly sensitive to labels on clothes, listening to music that is too loud, having my hair tied up too tight, scented candles, strong perfumes and spicy/ strong tasting foods e.g. strong cheeses. This is arguably due to the fact that because my brain is already on high alert the majority of the time, it is difficult to deal with any extra stimulants.

By this point I will have either lost your interest or you may think I am overanalysing things, so I will try my best to clearly explain how my brain may work slightly differently to my peers (again, this is not to suggest any sort of hierarchy, just to share an experience). For those of you who know me well, you will probably agree that I have a love for learning. I was one of those rare children who absolutely loved school and argued with my mum to let me go even when I was too ill! It is difficult to describe having a passion for knowledge, but I suppose it had a large influence on my decision to embark on a teaching career. I appreciate that it sounds weird and unrelatable, but this is the exact reason that I have actively avoided speaking openly about this part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I still loathed homework as much as the next person and I am the world’s worst procrastinator when it comes to writing assignments, but I get a lot out of intellectual discussions and the social interactions that come with them.

For that reason, I have always gotten a lot out of conversations that have taken place with adults (when I was a child) and those who have a high level of knowledge in a particular area e.g. other teachers/ lecturers. Again, this has presented itself as a challenge over the years, as those in my peer group were not as likely to want to socialise with these groups of people. This is where terms such as ‘teacher’s pet’ could have been particularly damaging if I had not used humour to cushion some verbal blows. However, I am extremely lucky to have friends in my peer group who value me as I am and really appreciate the amount of time many of them have taken to try and understand/support my complicated brain!

By focusing on some of the challenges that I have experienced, I do not want to come across as someone who is struggling or by any means ungrateful. I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in a family where I was completely valued and supported as I am. Over and above that, I was recognised for my achievements but not labelled as ‘gifted’, which was extremely important for me throughout my development. One of the big things about having a brain like this is the insane amount of pressure that I put on myself ALL the time. This is something that my parents never added to. They could have easily seen my academic potential and focused solely on that aspect of my life but instead they took a more balanced view and gave me/still give me enormous amounts of emotional support! This has allowed me to express when I am feeling overwhelmed by my own brain, which is potentially something that others struggle with.

This is a topic that I could talk about at length – it is literally my life! It is a big step forward for me in terms of opening up about who I am, and I hope it will provide a useful insight for anyone working with children who possess similar qualities. Although I do not have all the answers for how to best teach these children, I would like to finish this post with some top tips on how to make these children feel recognised and valued.

 

Top tips for valuing ‘gifted’ children:

1. Allow them to enquire, explore, question and further their knowledge BUT do not forget that they are children too. Allow them to be relieved from responsibility, to play, to dance to run around and to express their emotions (they may need more encouragement to do this).
2. Recognise their achievements in subtle ways without singling them out – as a looked up to adult, your praise will probably make their day if it is genuine!
3. Do not be scared of their abilities and not provide enough challenge because of your fears of not knowing all the answers – explore together.
4. Don’t label – see the child as who they are and not as their abilities. This is something that could be easily transferred to all of the children in your class.
5. Be open to conversations with parents and management about what is best for these children and please do not forget about humour and fun!

 

 

 

References

Gross, M. (1989) ‘The Pursuit of Excellence or the Search for Intimacy? The Forced Choice Dilemma of Gifted Youth’, Roeper Review, 11(4), pp. 189-194.

Gross, M. (1998) ‘The “Me” Behind the Mask: Intellectually Gifted Students and the Search for Identity’, Roeper Review, 20(3), pp. 167-174.

Gross, M. (1999) ‘Small Poppies: Highly Gifted Children in the Early Years’, Roeper Review, 21(3), pp. 207-214.

National Association for Gifted Children (2010) Redefining Giftedness for a New Century: Shifting the Paradigm. Available at: https://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/Redefining%20Giftedness%20for%20a%20New%20Century.pdf (Accessed 23.01.18)

The Power of Music

This is a topic that I have considered writing about for some time now, particularly in the lead up Christmas where music plays a big part in my own life and, I am sure, in the life of many others.

Music is something quite unique to anything else in life. It holds power. The power to bring people together, to share stories of joy and sadness, to move people, to make people move, to encourage stillness, silliness and to celebrate good times. However, there is another power at work behind music that is perhaps of a more controversial nature. For recently, although the good tends to outweigh the bad, I have found that music can sometimes have the power to make people feel excluded or ‘lesser’ than others. You may be wondering how it could possibly be the case, that such a simple thing can contain the power to simultaneously unite and reject?

To put this idea into a context, I invite you to imagine a young child called Sam. Sam spent every day singing everywhere; in the shower, in the street, in the middle of a supermarket, you name it! Sam had a song for everything. It was not only the words and melodies of songs that resonated with this child but the feeling of familiarity and freedom that they sensed when singing- an emotional outlet that could not be otherwise replicated. One day, Sam decided to audition for the school choir. Although a little nervous, they sensed a great feeling of anticipation and excitement waiting to be heard by the music teacher. After belting out their favourite tune with the greatest gusto, Sam looked up to see the music teacher with head in hands. The teacher looked up and laughed, not only did they laugh but they told Sam that they would never stand a chance in the ‘music business’ and that singing really ‘wasn’t for them’. Sam was confused. No one had ever been so brutally honest. Was this honesty? Sam froze to the spot but managed to hold in the tears until home time. Sam did not sing again that night, that week, that month or in fact that year. Whenever the thought entered their head all they could think of was those words telling them they could not and were not good enough. Having lost this outlet, Sam found it difficult to express them self and decided to put up barriers to any experience that may involve singing in front of others.

It was not until many years later, when Sam was at a friend’s birthday party that- after a few drinks- they found them self joining in with a session of karaoke. Sam’s friends watched in awe as they had never seen or heard their friend sing and could see the immense joy in their friend’s eyes as they sang each word with a deep sense of conviction. After the performance Sam burst into floods of tears. They had forgotten the powerful feeling of expressing them self through song. The performance was not ‘pitch-perfect’ but it did not matter. The support given and love felt in that moment was a turning point in Sam’s life. Gradually they started to find more opportunities to sing, and although the niggle in the back of their head telling them they were not good enough was smaller, it always remained.

Although this is a completely fictional tale, I am sure there are many of us who know a ‘Sam’ in our lives; whether that be a friend, a family member, a child in your class or maybe you can relate directly to this experience. As someone who has had a very musical upbringing, this is the kind of story which deeply saddens me. However, it is not something I am unable to relate to in any way. I would argue that, in life we naturally look in longing at those we would consider ‘better’ than us, ‘smarter’, ‘more talented’ and wonder why we could not be something more than who we are. I would therefore argue that it is not actually music itself that has the power to make a person feel ‘lesser’ than who they are, but they language we use around music and the expectations we put on ourselves to always be something more than what we are. It is important that we do not lose sight of the word ‘expressive’ in the title ‘Expressive Arts’. Music is not just about playing or singing every note in tune, with perfect rhythm and largest range. It is about expression and the freedom that comes with letting go of the things that we bottle up inside of us. Have you every been moved to tears by a piece of music? What was it that had this effect on you? Was it the performer’s ability to sing each note perfectly in tune or was it the emotion they conveyed their story with?

In this way, Music and Health and Wellbeing work hand-in-hand, but how often are we encouraging children to think about how music makes them feel? The Scottish Government (undated) highlights ‘feelings’ as a core experience in both of these subject areas.

“I have listened to a range of music and can respond by
discussing my thoughts and feelings.” EXA 1-19a / EXA 2-19a

“I am aware of and able to express my feelings and am developing the ability to talk about them.” HWB 0-01a / HWB 1-01a / HWB 2-01a

Therefore, I would urge you to consider the language you use around music ‘ability’. Not just when talking about others’ strengths but when talking about yourself, as a way of modelling this positive language to others. In response to the phrase:

“I can’t sing”

I would suggest a humorous answer, along the lines of:

“You may not be able to sing like Freddie Mercury but that does not mean you can not sing.”

Followed by the explanation that, by definition, to sing is “to produce musical tones by means of the voice” (Merriam-Webster, 2018). Not to be the best musician in the world or to even produce a recognisable tune, simply some ‘musical tones’, which separate singing from every day talking. I would like to encourage that we value music and singing particularly as an expression of the self, a way of letting out what is inside and learning to accept that this is part of who we are and that we are all enough. It is then that we will be able to feel the truly wonderful power that music holds to bring people together, to share stories of joy and sadness, to move people, to make people move, to encourage stillness, silliness and to celebrate good times.

Image available at: https://fleurdelyz.com/2015/03/29/quotes-on-music/the-power-of-music/ (accessed 16.12.18)

References

Merriam Webster (2018) Definition of sing. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sing (accessed 16.12.18)

Scottish Government (undated) Curriculum for Excellence: Experiences and Outcomes. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

“Not long to go, we’ll just get through it”

Image not my own. Available at http://www.aplithelp.com/thoughts-ap-reader-juggler-question-1/

It is fair to say that I have not engaged with blogging as an activity for quite some time now, however I personally believe that this is a topical issue worth sharing some insight into. As the title partly implies, this is my last year of teacher training and I am going to be perfectly honest and say that it has not been an easy first couple of months. I like to think of things in a visual way so imagine a juggler. This juggler represents a fourth year student. The juggler starts by throwing one ball up and down in the air- this ball represents the first task the student has been set for the year. Sounds easy enough? Over time the juggler is thrown more and more balls from university, family, friends and other outside commitments, and is expected to keep juggling, no matter how many are thrown their way.  This idea that the juggler will simply manage to keep up-skilling them self by finding new ways of balancing all the balls that life has thrown at them, whilst remaining happy and stress free, is hard to fathom. Did I mention that the juggler had never been taught to juggle more than three balls at once? 

While this all comes across as very negative, and you may be sitting thinking “get a grip”, “that’s just life” or what many of us are told at the moment “you’ll get through this”, this is the reality that many people are facing and do not know how to cope. But what if we didn’t focus so much on just pushing through? Once reaching the end of one stressful period there may be a short time of bliss before the next ball is thrown our way. Do we really want to live life “getting through” every day, more importantly, is this what we want to teach the children in our schools?

Resilience is one of the ‘buzz words’ going around at the moment and I agree that it is vital that we help our children to become more resilient in order to face the challenges that life presents. However, as someone who has grown up in an education system, and largely in a society, that teaches to the next test and puts huge emphasis on academic achievement, it can be hard to recognise resilience within myself at times. If this is true of other teachers and future teachers then how can we possibly teach children to be resilient if we are unsure of what it means to ourselves? Is it maybe time that we support teachers in looking at their own wellbeing and how we can lead healthier and happier lives?

I am very lucky to have been brought up in a loving, supportive family and with a strong faith that has given me a good foundation to build on. This is something I will always be grateful for but with a rise in social media use, particularly among young people (myself included) and a strange trend among students to talk more about the negative aspects of our lives than the aspects we are thankful for, it can be hard to come back to those roots.

This is where it comes down to the individual.

The book  “What Teachers Need to Know About Personal Wellbeing” (Ferguson, 2008) is what has inspired me to write this post. In her writing Ferguson identifies some of the major pressures that teachers are put under but also highlights that we are our own agents of change. We have the power to choose how we feel and how we respond to what life has to throw our way. We can sit and feel sorry for ourselves, blaming others for how unjust life can be (a pattern I have shamefully adopted for too long now) or we can bite the bullet and spend more time nourishing ourselves and looking after our wellbeing. The poster below is something I have created, with words taken directly from Ferguson’s book, as an important daily reminder to myself.

It reads:

  1. What am I going to do today that makes the best use of my time and energy?
  2. How much energy am I prepared to invest in each situation and how does that nourish or deplete my wellbeing?
  3. What boundaries will I put around me to protect myself from situations that may detract from my wellbeing?
  4. What am I going to do today that nourishes me as a person? (Ferguson, 2008, p93)

“Appreciate the force of your personal power and feel the strength in choosing your attitude” (Ferguson, 2008, p93)

Ferguson (2008) also makes a valid point that when we are physically injured or sick, we stop and take time to let ourselves heal but this is rarely the case in terms of when we are not well mentally. I think it is crucial that we are supporting and encouraging not only teachers but our friends, families and colleagues, across society, to put their wellbeing first. If we are not able to look after ourselves, how are we supposed to teach others to do just that?

Let’s revisit the juggler. Imagine they decided to put every ball in a box and take out one at a time, reflecting on how much this ball nourished or depleted their wellbeing, continuing to only juggle those which enhanced their sense of wellbeing. They would still be juggling the remaining balls but perhaps with a smile on their face.

 

References

Ferguson, D. (2008) What Teachers Need to Know About Personal Wellbeing. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research.

Conquering the Fear of the Unknown

Have you ever been in a situation where you have felt completely unprepared, perhaps overwhelmed or just scared because you were faced with something brand new? Maybe it was something as small as taking a mode of public transport to somewhere you had never been before or walking into a room full of people you had never met. I am sure we have all been in a similar situation at some point in our lives, but what is it that makes something that seems so small such a big deal? As someone who has particularly struggled in situations where the final outcome is not clear, I wanted to explore why this is and what it could mean in relation to my practice. Why is it that we can be so fearful of the unknown?

Take some time to watch the video below. Particularly focus in from 6:13 to 8:34:

This idea that teachers are surprised when pupils won’t enter into open-ended projects, yet show little confidence when asked to do exactly that, has made me question whether it is the fear of the unknown instilled by teachers and other adults that makes children and young people equally as terrified to attempt a task without knowing what the end result will be. This idea has made me reflect on my own experience of school, when most subjects had a clear timeline, from start to finish, of intended learning and what should be achieved in order to pass the next test or exam. There were very few occasions, if any, when a teacher said that we were going to find out something new without having a very clear, tick-box idea of what the outcome of the lesson would be for the class as a whole. This was where university came as quite a shock to many people, as we were suddenly all expected to take a very individual, critical stance on assignments which did not come with a set list of do’s and don’ts. Even now there are people who struggle the fact that we are not told exactly what is expected of us in every submission as this is how we have learned to behave throughout our time at school.

At this point in my professional development I have being doing a lot of reflection on the benefits of allowing children to take ownership of their own learning and presenting them with opportunities to learn skills that will be transferable in other aspects of their lives. A perfect example of this type of approach is the transdisciplinary learning model, most commonly used in International Baccalaureate schools. This approach is distinct from multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary learning as its goal is to allow children to create new ideas and form deeper levels of understanding of the world they live in, by blurring subject boundaries and creating an environment which enables rich, authentic learning to take place (IBO, 2010).

As a teacher I have often found myself feeling the need to take control, however recently I have wondered whether this is where the fear of the unknown comes from. Without knowing what is to come, it is difficult to have a feeling of being in control. Maybe letting go of the need to be so in control is something that will allow for new learning opportunities to occur. By taking risks in my own practice, I hope to model to my pupils that by stepping into the unknown there will be new opportunities to enjoy and connections to be made but there will also be challenges to face. I believe that if children learn these transferable skills at a young age then they will be more set up to deal with other challenges they face in the future.

 

References

IBO (2010) The Primary Years Programme as a Model of Transdisciplinary Learning. Cardiff: International Baccalaureate Organization.

Bringing objects to life

For one of the drama TDTs we were asked to choose an object and use the drama convention ‘visualisation’ to explore what it would be like if the object had human qualities (what it would see, how it would feel etc.). During our drama input we discussed the benefit of using visualisation to create a character. This way of developing a character allows children to use abstract thought and gives them the opportunity to look at a situation from a different perspective.

As I looked around my room to choose an object I realised the significance that some of the objects have in my everyday life but had never thought to stop and consider this before. I decided to pick my bed and came up with the following dialogue portraying the thoughts that a bed might have. This type of activity is known as ‘writing in role’.

Image from: http://www.cambridgebedcentre.co.uk/wooden_frames.html

Another day sat here in this corner. I’ve got four legs but never left these four walls…who am I kidding? I couldn’t even fit through the door if I tried. Well, that is, unless they took me apart completely and then put me back together again. No. I have a service to provide and it is a very important one. I am the constant in her life. Always there when she comes in after a long day, ready to support her as she tries to reenergise from the stresses of the day, I am a comfort. The day she got her first job, I was there. When she had her first missing home breakdown, I was there. When she stayed in her pyjamas all day with a snuffly nose and a box of tissues close at hand, I was there supporting her every second. I see her ups and downs, successes and failures, happy days and heartaches and hear every silent prayer that she whispers each night before she falls asleep. There are days when I wish I could hold her all day long and protect her from the outside world. I get the sense she feels the same way as she often hits the snooze button multiple times just to spend that extra few minutes in my care. As much as I wish I could get up and go with her each day, to fight off the troubles the world throws at her, these moments remind me why I need to stay right here where I am.

After completing this task we were asked to consider how a human character could be developed from our chosen object. This is a useful tool for building a character’s identity as coming up with a complex character can be challenging and the previous activity can act as a stimulus to start ideas flowing.

 Human character description:

  • A mother of a young woman who has been involved in a car accident and is paralysed from the waist down.
  • As a result of this she has put on a lot of weight and has become quite depressed as she can never leave her bed.
  • Her daughter visits her everyday and tells her stories of the outside world.
  • She often reminisces about ‘the good old days’ and memories from before the accident.
  • She wishes she could stand up and walk out the room with her daughter every time she leaves and finds it very difficult every time they say goodbye.
  • It is hard for her not to be with her daughter every step of the way.

From a learner’s point of view, I really enjoyed doing these tasks, particularly the first one, as the use of abstract and creative thought behind the task meant that there was very little scope for getting it wrong. This is an aspect that I enjoy about drama, as there are many opportunities to think outside the box and very few times when you are able to be wrong about something, as it is your own creative response to a situation. The security of knowing you can’t be wrong provides the opportunity for children to share their ideas in a safe space.

From a teaching point of view, I think that some children would benefit from being given a specific object and examples of a final outcome before they try and address this task. Depending on the age and ability of the children, this task does not need to be written but can be discussed in groups, pairs or as a whole class. A link could also be made to literacy as “there are close links… between the expressive arts and creative writing” (Scottish Government, undated, p3).

 

References

Scottish Government (undated) Curriculum for Excellence: Principles and Practice and Experiences and Outcomes. Edinburgh