Disco days 

Our school has a hard working core of PTFA (parents, teachers & friends association) members that support, fund raise and create opportunities for children and families.  I first encountered them about 3 weeks ago when a team of them, in their PTFA T shirts, delivered the fridge magnet casings for the Mother’s Day gifts.  I was impressed such a big school had an active PTFA.  I asked if they needed any help for the disco & they said they’d love some.  

Infant discos are great until you’re 5, hot, tired, hungry & a bit overwrought.  My class have had a big change with a different teacher and they are an emotional bunch anyway.  I just thought at least if that’s also still me it will help.  

They are an academically bright but young class, lots of summer birthdays.  Their emotions tend to pour out of their eyes.  Often that is as quickly resolved as it is caused.  It’s just learning how to deal with things; worrying, losing, winning, being hot, being cold, hunger, thirst, needing the toilet, missing someone. 

For me I think I’m just still in that mode of doing all the outside of school hours things but now I can enjoy them.  I can happily dance with the children and then be the one that sorts out a head bump letter (not as a result of my dancing!) but I’m not ultimately responsible. 

I heard our head thanking PTFA members for their work on the comic relief cake sale Friday night.  He took time to make sure they knew how important they are to the school.  

I came home to my maths marking but with a nice sense of having got to know some PTFA members and governors.  Our family liaison officer was there too & it was a great chance to chat.  On Monday morning I have something to chat about to a third of my class that will hook them in. No cha cha slide, but I’ll get over it 🙂 

Rogers & Grenfell behaviour management 

The first blog post about actually teaching & it is about behaviour management.  Of course it is.  

Without conditions for learning being right the children won’t learn and behaviour for learning is a massive part of that.  When the class are calm and behave well there is a feeling of safety.  I don’t mean when they are quiet by the way.  I was very pleased when one of our Assistant Heads popped in this week.  The children were really into their learning and so was I.  I mentioned it was a bit noisy & he said.  Good, they are learning.  No one was shouting or being inappropriate it was just thirty 5 and 6 year olds being very excited about learning. 

The class has been through a big change with their lovely teacher going on maternity leave.  It has taken them a couple of weeks to settle and become ‘my ducklings.’  I have always thought of teaching infants as managing your row of ducklings, particularly when we trek across the playground to the lunch hall. 

I have gone back to some lovely behaviour management strategies that I learned a long while ago from a very intelligent man named Dr Bill Rogers.  If you haven’t seen his work please find out more.  I was very fortunate to see Bill present at a conference back in 2002.  It was our local learning cluster and all local schools were there. We had a couple of lengthy doses of Bill’s wisdom and I have always kept it at my heart.  It’s all about removing the negative.  Obviously it is a part of your range of  behaviour management strategies as if someone has punched someone else there isn’t really any opportunity to remove the negative.  But it is a valuable tool to set the culture of behaviour.  For example in a situation where everyone needs to listen for 30 seconds ‘Bob, you’re talking’ instead of ‘stop talking Bob.’  Often I don’t even say the child’s name, I just make eye contact & say ‘you’re talking.’ They so often just stop. 

It’s working.  They are happy and settled with me this week. 

This strategy is also brilliant with those children that slightly step outside of our usual policy of reward and sanction.  The ones for whom that just doesn’t work.  I’ll come back to that as before that bit I need to share this bit. 

Back to the ducklings. They need to be behind mummy (or daddy) duck.  Small children feel safe with kind, firm consistency.  The first week I had a duckling who ran ahead of me.  By Thursday of week 2 that duckling was level with me.  By Tuesday this week (week 3) behind me. Today on the way to assembly not only behind me but behind another duckling.  So as a reward was allowed to sit by me & hold the merit cards.  Now back to the aforementioned bit about those beyond the reward/sanction system!  The following conversation took place: 

Child: I want to read out the names from the merit cards when it’s time. 

Me: the adults have to do that

Child: but I want to, I’ve been good

Me: yes, you have that’s why you’re holding the merit cards.  The adults read them out. That’s what happens. 

Child: but I want to 

Me: I know you do. The adults read them. 

End of conversation-no more from child. 

I read them.  What I learned from Bill’s training is to remove all elements of confrontation that actually often just occur in human language and we don’t realise we’re doing.  I didn’t say no, I didn’t say you can’t, I didn’t say ‘but the adults have to read them.’ It was just emotionless fact.  Sadly I slightly fell asleep with my eyes open when we got to the blue merit cards and child started to read one but I came to & called out the name quick!  We’re all only human.  Important to remember that too.  

Unconditional positive regard is the underpinning feature of calm, positive behaviour management in the infants.  The narrative in the behaviour culture has to say ‘I like you so much, you are just great. We might have to work on some of these things you do but you can do it and I want to help.’  If we sort it in the infants, or even just build some strategies it will help a lot later on.  Our class TA said a lovely thing when we were chatting after school.  She said ‘I’ve always thought if we stop believing in them they might stop believing in themselves.’ 

School culture is an essential part of all this and ours is spot on.  The support I have received is so amazing it has actually changed my life quite a bit already.  I’m loving teaching and feeling a sense of accomplishment. Inclusion means inclusion and it is such a joy to be part of.  

I also mentioned Joyce Grenfell there in the post title as I have to say my discourse reminds me of her at times.  I don’t have the slight tone she does of course as hers is for comic value but much of my content is no different.  ‘Oh, take your finger out of there dear.  ‘No, please stop, he doesn’t want you to do that to his head.’ Etc.  

I did it just today ‘take it out of your mouth poppet.  No, don’t stick it on your shoe give it to me.  Oh, this doesn’t look like something you should have anywhere near your mouth.  Go and have a drink love.  That’s it you’re fine now.  Now sit down and listen to the story.’

 Something changed 

Some things change, and some don’t. Lots has changed and I haven’t been able to say much about that until now. But what hasn’t changed is my love of teaching.
Until December 2016 I was a headteacher, but that has changed. I had been there a while and during that time the job changed. When I started I taught a day a week and that affected my capacity to be a head not a jot. There was enough money, it wasn’t plentiful but it was enough. Performance data headlines were viewed realistically for small cohorts by all. Ofsted view them realistically by the way, I wouldn’t want there to be any implicit criticism picked up of them. I have found them supportive and fair in both inspections as a head. Our school’s general quirkiness of context was accepted with fondness by all. I was trusted, allowed to get on with my job and treated as though the general opinion was I was good at it. Every Child Matters was still a strategy.
I can’t get into the specifics of how many of those factors changed in the past few years but they did. The cuts to funding in particular were a huge issue. Results were another enormous pressure. Slowly I was boiling like a frog in a science experiment. Pressure mounting and working ever harder to solve problems that had complex solutions if they had solutions at all.
I had also not recovered well from my husband’s serious illness three years ago.  I saw it as his recovery and didn’t consider the impact on me and the kids.  I wasn’t honest with myself or anyone else about how I was feeling. I just thought keeping going would be enough. But it wasn’t. I was anxious a lot and often dreaded leaving the house. Sometimes I couldn’t. Not a good place to be when leading a school.
The decision, once I made it, happened quite suddenly. We went on a whole school visit and I felt so anxious about the data I had been doing in the morning I could hardly breathe. As I looked at the smiling faces of the children and felt my heart trying to beat its way out of my chest I suddenly knew I couldn’t do it any more.  I wish I could have got another job and then served my period of notice but the way things were at that point that wasn’t an option for me. 
I also knew fairly quickly I couldn’t sit at home on full pay on sick leave for six months with an unresolved situation for me and the school. So made the decision to resolve it quickly with the support of my union. NAHT have been excellent.  Unfortunately although I wrote my leaving statement and sent it at the beginning of January, before I got my new job, it wasn’t released until Friday 3rd March.  I didn’t know that so apologies to anyone who felt this post was poor timing when I originally published it on March 4th.  I am not able to discuss any details nor, sadly, to say goodbye other than with that statement.  
The time between leaving my headship and getting my new job was awful. I felt crushed, guilty and a failure. I dared not leave the house for fear of seeing someone I knew. I couldn’t have begun to know what to say.  I wasn’t allowed to discuss the situation if I did see anyone anyway.   I’m so lucky to have my family and close friends who kept me on the right track and looked after me for that time.  
Now I have started my new job as a class teacher. I absolutely love it. I applied and got the job at interview, even having to do a observed English session. Those weren’t invented last time I got a job as a class teacher. I was nervous but it went well, as did the interview.  I have no choice but to work in order to feed my children and ensure they have a roof over their heads.  However I consider myself fortunate that the job I can do, teaching, is so much fun. 
It’s 12 years since I last had a full time class teaching job. It has changed a lot and I’m having to build up stamina for the workload. Obviously being a headteacher had workload issues too but teacher workload is different. The amount to get done is just enormous. It isn’t sitting in front of a blank SEF panicking, this weekend it is making story paths and play dough. It is a breath of fresh air though being excited about planning and teaching.  Life is much better now that I am coping well with the workload, which I know I didn’t toward the end of my headship. 
Time goes so fast in a year one class. I’m loving having my own class again and there’s so much fun to have. I’m getting positive feedback about how I’m doing which I haven’t had for quite a while. I was particularly happy to hear positive things from the most important adults, the class teaching assistants.
Last week Laura Beale, the police officer who resigned very publicly, spoke on Newsnight. One thing she said really resonated with me when asked what led to her decision. She said:
‘When you’re thinking about going into work and it’s a sad thing. It shouldn’t be sad. The whole point of life is to be happy and when you just can’t, it’s so suffocating.’
I am a teacher, there aren’t enough hours in the day. But I am happy.