Saturday 18 July 2015

Lessons I've Learned About Parenting

I am not a parent.  I am a teacher.  However my four years of doing the latter have given me some insights into preparing for the former.  So here are the things I've learned about parenting from being a teacher.  Please note: I am completely aware that this is easy to write but less easy to actually implement but hey...a girl can dream! 

Lesson 1 - Make "no" mean "no".
It is very easy to identify the children for which "no" often turns into "maybe" and then "yes" through a series of whinging, sulking and shouting.  At school, it only takes a few chances before they realise what the expectations are and they stop the silliness...mostly!  Don't give in. Fight it until it works. 

Lesson 2 - Read as often and as widely as possible. 
In my experience, the best readers are the best writers and the best mathematicians are often confident readers.  This is because children who are exposed to lots of books not only steal words, phrases and ideas but also absorb an awareness of how to entertain their reader so the quality of their writing is higher than their non-reader counterparts.  Also, much of how maths is assessed requires some form of reading; therefore the logically minded need good reading skills to show their maths ability.  

Lesson 3 - Give them money and a watch.
Generally, children are similar across the different skills in maths.  However, in telling the time and dealing with money, there is no way to predict how good they will be.  That is, until you know if they wear a watch and get pocket money.  Children who do, wherever they stand with maths, are very good at both.  

Lesson 4 - Play board games and card games and let them lose.
There are so many benefits to this.  Firstly, it keeps them off the screens for a short while.  Also, it encourages communication with other children and adults.  It is clear to see the children whose parents bubble wrap them and allow them to be the winner all the time.  Helping them to deal with losing early on in life will support them in their friendships and play.  Lastly, most card and board games require mental maths: number complements and bonds, sometimes fractions or percentages and everyday maths.  Monopoly is a personal favourite for encouraging a plethora of skills. 

Lesson 5 - Keep them safe online by talking to them. 
In parenthesis: don't just use filters.  In fact, consider not filtering content at all.  The best form of e-safety is communication; in school and at home.  Ask your children what they are doing online, go on their device with them, recap and review their history together and deal with any incidents as a team.  Make accessing the internet in a public part of the house the norm.  I have experienced first-hand the dangers of letting your children roam the world wide web with no supervision and have seen the shocked look on the faces of parents when presenting them with evidence of their children's less-than-angelic online activities of which they were completely unaware. 

Lesson 6 - Make rewards and sanctions appropriate.
This sounds obvious but you need to find what ticks for your child.  The carrot is generally better than the stick but don't threaten something that can't be followed through. Ensure sanctions really make them stop and think but ensure you don't take away things which are good for them or important.  

Lesson 7 - Know when you're being played! 
All parents think their children are angels.  I get that.  I'm sure I would too.  However, it's important to know when you're being taken for a ride.  Believe that teachers generally want the best for your child and accept that sometimes your child might be in the wrong.  

Lesson 8 - Take the TV out of the bedroom.
There's not much to say here except consider whether that screen needs to be the same place as where they sleep?  I've been concerned when parents have told me their child is struggling to sleep.  When I then hear phrases like, "he/she stays up all night watching the TV in bed," I struggle to sympathise.

Lesson 9 - Abide closely to the ratings on video games, movies, TV shows and websites.
Ratings are allocated for good reason.  Children learn their behaviour, good and bad, from things they experience.  Bad language is quickly picked up and repeated by children but it is the violence and numbing of emotions which have a less obvious but more profound effect on a child.

Lesson 10 - Share jokes, puns and quotes.
The children in my classes who have had the best general knowledge of the world are ones who get my funny comments and laugh along.  They have heard songs from throughout the decades and have watched classic films as well as the new ones.  Their families have a laugh and joke and they don't take themselves too seriously.

Teaching and parenting are completely different ball-games.  I'm sure you can be good at one and not at the other.  These lessons and more will stay with me as I continue in my teaching career and, perhaps, will come in useful one day a bit closer to home! 

Summer Holiday Challenges #Summer10

Inspired by Rachel, who posted a blog of 10 personal challenges for her summer holiday, here are 10 things I aim to achieve/do/complete over this summer holiday coming.  Like her, I have kept a work/life balance: 9 things for life and 1 solo work activity!

1) Get better and relax - Things have been a little difficult recently.  I've been having some very uncharacteristic issues and so I'm hoping to relax over the holidays and be rid of the problems. 

2) Read...alot - My Kindle has got a few new books on (including some Peter James) and I've got a good wishlist to work my way through, full of the thrilling crime books which keep me turning the pages at lightning speed.  I love getting lost in a story over the holidays!

3) Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg - I've been inspired by Sheryl Sandberg ever since I watched some of her talks on YouTube.  She has gone from a very high-powered position at Google to being the most powerful woman at Facebook.  She has a family and recently lost her husband.  I cannot wait to read this book which is about 'women, work and the will to lead'.  I hope to learn about leading, life and be inspired to be the best I can be in life and work.  

4) Catch up with friends - I have been using my weekends to relax at home recently so I hope to see more of friends that I should have caught up with. 

5) Try yoga or pilates - My doctor has suggested I try this sort of relaxation technique so I need to find a way to make it work for me.  Hopefully this will help me to chill as the holidays start and let go of the school tension quicker.

6) Tidy up & clear out - Maybe this will be the year we move house?! Either way, I need to have a good sort out and get rid of some stuff.  

7) Fall back in love with running - I haven't done much running this year but I hope the summer is the time to use it as a cardio form of exercise to get the endorphins flowing.  

8) Family time - This year I have holidays with my family and the in-laws, including celebrating Grandad's 90th birthday. This will bring the opportunity to share quality time, without screens; something I feel is lacking in the craziness of term time.   

9) Bake / Cook / Make - I hope to use the oven, my ingredient cupboard and maybe even the sewing machine to let my creative juices flow.

10) IT Logins - I need to move all children up into their new classes on the various online subscriptions we have.  This is the one main school job that I aim to do, among others of course! 

Remember to share your 10 challenges for the summer using the hashtag #Summer10! 

Saturday 11 July 2015

Trello - A Life-Changing To-Do List Tool

I was going to describe this tool as 'life-saving' but that would be a clear exaggeration.  However, I have no doubt that this has forever changed how I organise my to-do list for the better.  As a teacher, the list of jobs is neverending: the planning, teaching and marking, cutting, laminating and making, letters, reports and e-mails to write, tests to deliver, mark and analyse, all before you consider the bureaucracy and paper trail to be accountable to others.  

I have always been a fan of to-do lists.  I started out having a book; it was never in the right place at the right time.  Next, inspired by something I'd seen Michelle Mone (creator of Ultimo) do, I turned to post-it notes.  I would stick them all over my desk and carry a small pack with me.  This turned out to be tricky if my outfit didn't have pockets and my desk was totally covered in post-its.  I was then given a to-do list notepad similar to this as a present.  This worked better as I could use different sheets for different sorts of jobs.  However it was always in the wrong place when I needed it. 

As part of some work with a parent-governor, I was introduced to the free online tool which changed how I organise myself: Trello.  Trello advertises itself as "a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process."  The main thing that has made Trello such a life-changing tool is that I can access it wherever I am across an array of devices and it's completely free.  I have the app on my iPhone and iPad but often login through browsers on my school and home PCs.  As I record and complete tasks, the tool synchronises across all the devices.  

I started off with one board, my school board, which is still my most-used.  Since then, I have added other boards to organise different parts of my life.
My Trello Boards (iPhone app view)
Throughout the year, I have generally had three lists on my main board but in the last few weeks of term I have needed to add in a list for next year.  You can see my four lists below.
Whenever I access Trello, my lists are displayed as below and I can drag and drop the cards between the lists.  My 'Done' list is incredibly long but I like to keep it that way to remember the hundreds of jobs that I've completed.  As a year leader, I use the 'Year Meeting' list to record things I must discuss with my team when we meet.  
View of "Jo@Vale" board lists
Trello can do lots of amazing things which I don't use, particularly for collaboration.  One option which I do make good use of is adding Checklists within the cards.  
When you click to expand the checklists, you can see the individual steps to completing that job and can check those off individually.  On the boards, Trello then shows you how far through completing the checklist you are.  
Checklist view
Mostly, I use Trello for myself to keep up-to-date.  I have also had some experience in using Trello collaboratively, including with Digital Leaders.  In doing this, I've found that you can colour-code jobs, add comments, invite people via emails and include stickers, links and images.  When a PGCE student who I mentored needed to complete some activities for university, I set up a Trello board so that we both could track his progress towards completing the work.  
Collaborative Board
I am sure there is much more Trello can do for collaborative projects but, for me, it does exactly what I need to organise my very busy teacher to-do list.  In Tesco recently, a parent spotted me and asked about something to do with school.  Immediately, I could put it into Trello on my phone and not think about it until I was ready to do some work when previously I would have had to remember it for a long time! 

Sunday 5 July 2015

Teacher Bloopers

I go to the theatre a lot and watch many movies.  Obviously, it's great when things go to plan but I absolutely love it when things go wrong - the bloopers! You'll find me waiting behind during the credits at the cinema to see if they included any funny ones and I'm never happier that when something goes wrong on stage, particularly in my favourite show, Wicked.  I've seen it too many times so I know it by heart.  I know when they forget their lines and when they are ad-libbing certain bits. For me, it adds to the experience and I love having a great theatre blooper to share.  

Now teaching really isn't that far removed from the world of movies and theatre.  There is you, part of the main cast, giving performances on your classroom stage day in, day out.  There is your audience - your pupils - who you must entertain as well as teach, this is a fully-interactive piece! You are judged by the critics and they publish their thoughts.  The directors and producers keep you in check and a backstage team ensure things run smoothly.  However, teaching is a performance of 6+ hours everyday so there are bloopers aplenty.  Here are my favourite 5 from my first few years on stage!

5 - "wrapped"
As part of our Ancient Egyptian theme at the beginning of year four, children write an explanation of mummification.  Their titles go along the lines of "How did the Ancient Egyptians mummify their dead bodies?".  We focus on past tense and first person.  To help, I made a word bank so that the difficult words were spelled correctly.  Words which featured on the list were: mummification, sarcophagus, embalming, decomposing.  One key word which didn't feature on the list was the word "wrapped".  Many children wrote this word but spelled it without the W and with only one P, totally changing it's meaning among sentences about dead bodies.  Next year, "wrapped" will definitely feature on the word bank!

4 - Lime vs Lime
We were learning about rivers, boats and bridges so I wanted to take my class to a local spring to see the water bubbling up and learn about the history of the spring.  I had diligently researched the paper factory which used to be on the site and set about explaining how the water was useful.  Sheep skin was important, as was the spring water but both were combined with lime.  I told the children that I wasn't too sure how they shipped limes over from more tropical countries in the mid-19th century but they added the limes to the water.  No one batted and eyelid, not my TA or any of the parent helpers and, although it sounded strange, I continued.  It wasn't until the next day when we were back in class that my TA suggested it could be the other lime as in limestone, of which there was plenty local to the spring. Oops! I made my apology and re-explained the paper-making process, this time with the Internet to help! 

3 - Context is everything...
In a lesson about adverbs (I believe), I learned an important lesson about providing clear contexts as I read this sentence afterwards.
Please note the correctly underlined nouns...every cloud! 

2 - Redback on the Toilet Seat
As part of our RIC reading starters, a colleague had planned an activity based on the first two verses of the song "Redback on the Toilet Seat".  I hadn't had time to read the plan so set to teaching the lesson.  The RIC involved children reading through the following poem and answering questions.

There was a redback on the toilet seat, 
When I was there last night.
I didn't see him in the dark, 
But boy I felt his bite.
I jumped up high into the air, 
And when I hit the ground.
That crafty redback spider, 
Wasn't nowhere to be found.

I rushed into the Mrs, 

Told her just where I'd been bit.
And she grabbed my cutthroat razor, 
And I nearly took a fit.
I said 'Forget what's on your mind, 

And call a doctor please.
For I've got a feeling that your cure, 
Is worse than the disease.'

When going through the answers to the questions, I noticed that the poem was quite a lot funnier than I'd first thought but tried my hardest to keep this from the children. In our next team meeting, I brought up the question of where the man had been bitten.  The rest of the team answered "his bottom" without hesitation.  I then had to explain that I didn't think he'd been bitten on his bottom...

1 - You're teaching my child...what??!
Picture this... It's the summer curriculum news. The parents of children in my class are gathered in my room a few days after Easter and I'm going over the important topics and events for the term.  I explain that in PE we will be preparing for a performance at the May Fayre.  Quickly, I move onto the next item and then notice a couple of parents grinning, a few sniggering and one man is giggling uncontrollably.  I ask them if I've said something wrong and they all just burst out laughing before one of the manages to control themselves. She informs be that I told them their children will have "weekly pole dancing lessons ready for a performance at the May Fayre".  Thankfully maypole dancing is a tradition at the school and I was swiftly forgiven but it wasn't forgotten!

We all have #TeacherBloopers - are you brave enough to share yours?

P.S. For the record, I don't drink all that much...and never near or under lamp posts!