I have textas and I will use them!

Textas, fine markers, felt tips…….they are the one tool I often tell students to keep in their big drawer (away from their tray that sits under their desk) and save for “special” work. We all know why…. they mark through papers, create a big mess and cover students’ skin! Students are just fascinated with them and LOVE to use them. Of course, I do let them use them quite frequently. We just need to make sure we have the correct quality of the paper. I’m not an art therapist, but I find it interesting that a lot of boys like to cover their page with thick black texta…..

Back to my texta story. So, one day, not so long ago, I was flicking through clip art pictures and trying to find the perfect image for a power point I was creating. I could see some quite simple, yet cute, clip art pictures for sale (and some for free) and thought that the time it took me to search for the perfect picture could be saved by actually drawing the image myself. The one problem is that I’m not an artist! That hasn’t deterred me though (there’s that good old resilience again!).

I had been also motivated to draw as well as the illustrators in the many magazines I had been flipping through such as, ‘Daphne’s Diary.’ The attention to detail is amazing. I could sit there and just look at the pictures all day (the articles are probably good too, but mostly, I’m fascinated with the drawings). I’d love to draw like the artists. This magazine reminds me of some picture books I used to have as a child (Brambly Hedge?). Each picture would tell a thousand stories.

I did Art as a subject throughout high school and in Year 12. I generally received a mix of A’s and B’s. I loved art but I probably didn’t spend enough time on it. To be honest, I was too occupied with socialising….. Being an artist was one of my day dream jobs. The practical part of my personality lead me in other directions though.

So, when I went to the shops one weekend I saw a beautiful and colourful pack of Sharpies (this is just a well-known brand of texta pens or markers). It was $25 and I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on textas. Paints definitely, but not textas! I purchased a cheapish bad of paper and meandered into the art shop next door to the department store. I wanted to hide and not be assisted. I wasn’t a professional artist and didn’t want to be discovered as a “faker.” I found the pads of paper and quickly walked out. The cheapest was around $30! I didn’t think my drawing skills were worth this just yet, so I decided to stick with my cheap, kids pad.

When I got home I was really excited to open my texta pack and unleash my hidden talents. I was secretly thinking, “This could be it.” I copied a picture from a google search and realised that my drawing was perhaps a tad better than the drawings of the six-year-olds I taught. I had to pay attention to how I coloured in, right down to the direction of the stroke. I tried water colour pencils to blur my lack of skill. It was a slight improvement!

What surprised me was the mindfulness involved with this activity. I couldn’t juggle sending an email, answering the phone or looking away while I was carefully paying attention to where I aimed my felt tip. This is a rarity in my own life. I seem to be forever multitasking. For years, I’ve been too busy with full time work to be enticed into a hobby. I don’t know how people do it. I manage to work full time, look after two kids, a house, exercise a bit, sometimes catch up with friends and family and maybe read a few pages of a book each night (and about half an hour of Netflix). That seems to be pretty “good” for me!

For me though, art has always represented emotions and what I like is always dependent on my mood. It’s a bit like music. I go from Bob Marley to The Muse in a heart beat. I miraculously flicked open one of my magazines as I was getting inspiration to do some more sketches (Audrey Day Puzzle Book) and saw a quote from Pablo Picasso. He sums it up so much better than me:

The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.

I’m also very inconveniently practical. Some of this has to do with being quite environmentally minded. What would I do with random drawings scattered through a house? Where would I store supplies? What would be the purpose? Is it a waste of resources? It’s not a job, not an income, not eaten, not worn and so on and on. Perhaps using my “art” for clipart purposes, or to decorate my classroom, would be enough of a purpose. Discovering the therapeutic side of it was not planned but so welcome and such a surprise.

I can’t wait to get back to my Sharpies and create some more six-year-old sketches! It will be a great holiday activity too. Watch this space!

Jen

Bouncing or flat?

Kids and bouncing back!

Are your students like basket balls? Do they bounce? “Bouncing back” is a buzz word in the current growth mindset pitch. I think at the heart of your ability to “bounce back” is your ability to be resilient. To be resilient though, you need a strong “core.” Just like strengthening your abdominal core muscles, it all takes practise and hard work (mine are a bit saggy after two kids…). We can’t expect students to be resilient if we take away all of their opportunities to fail, struggle and be uncomfortable. In other words, they need a chance to have something to bounce back from!

That may sound harsh, but I don’t intent it to sound harsh. When I grew up (yep, back to the good ole days again) I failed and bounced back all the time. You knew where you “stood” compared other kids. There was always a bigger girl (taller and built like a machine) than me who always came first in all running races. Damn, I wanted to beat her so badly. I never stopped trying but I never actually beat her. Stupid? Maybe, but not really. I was just resilient. I believed in myself. My parents helped create a strong foundation where I thought I could (maybe stupidly) achieve anything I wanted to. I did eventually get a reality check and I was ok with that. Kids need to realise that they are not always going to be the best.

With my own children, I do little things like, not rushing in to solve all of their problems. With their homework, I will make sure they understand the task and then ask that they try to do it themselves. They can come to me for feedback and then I’ll help them. I don’t actually do their homework for them. If they don’t come first in a running race, that’s ok. I ask them how badly they want to come first and if they are prepared to put the work in. Sometimes, at the end of the day though, we realise that no matter how hard we try, little “Johnny” is always going to be better because he is a natural-born athlete and will probably run in the Olympics one day. We can’t all be the best. We can be our own version of “best” though.

In the classroom, with my students, I encourage independence. I make it clear that I am not their maid, their mother or the fairy godmother. I am their teacher and there to support them in their journey. I have routines, visual cues and clear verbal instructions to assist students in achieving their learning goals. I am clear when I talk about resilience and bouncing back. I explain that challenges mean we may “fail” in a sense that we have not achieved 100% in our results, but it isn’t a “fail.” From “failure” comes growth. From let-downs, not winning, losing a race, losing friends and so on, come opportunities for growth. This is when we can practise at our ability to become resilient.

We need to teach students to look at “failures” as opportunities for growth. Without these opportunities, we just plod along. We need to verbalise this for students as part of our feedback. Giving clear and specific feedback is a well-known effective teaching strategy (thinking of Hattie’s meta-analysis of effect size – it’s actually around 0.73, 0.2 has a small effect). So, instead of saying, “Good girl, you achieved 90% in your test,” be specific. Try this, “You achieved 90% in your test, Rosie, because you practised writing your words out every day and put a lot of effort in.” Maybe that isn’t the best phrase, but you get the drift. Praise effort, habits and growth mindset traits, not innate ability or appearance. If there was a low mark, then you could say, “Ok, so this worked well….but this didn’t, so what can you do next time?”

I do this with my own teaching practice. Some lessons are fantastic and some fail abysmally. This doesn’t make me a bad teacher (see, there’s my resilience!). The important step I take is to reflect and question what it was that made my lesson a success or failure. It can be a simple thing. I remember, when I taught kindergarten, that I attempted to do a story sequence activity before home time. I noticed it was a challenge to get through the activity. I asked the Education Assistant how she went. She told me, through frazzled breathing, “Please don’t ever do a challenging literacy activity before home time ever again.” We had a good relationship, so we could laugh about this together. I took this feedback on and reflected on it and realised that it was the worst time to do an activity like that! All good….I moved on and learnt from it. We laughed about it many times.

I often share my failures with students (and of course, my success stories) so that I can model my resilient thinking to them. This can be a really powerful tool. It always makes me laugh when they can’t believe that I made a mistake! Try it. Students need to see it in action. You can model this for them while they are learning and maybe, not ready to apply the strategies themselves just yet.

In a nutshell:

  • Encourage students regularly
  • Give specific feedback
  • Create an environment that is psychologically warm. Students need to feel safe to make mistakes. If they see other students being ridiculed, they won’t take risks.
  • Model resilient self-talk
  • Give challenges and opportunities to safely fail
  • Humour – model how you laugh, brush it off and move on. We aren’t robots!
  • Role-play – I use a teddy bear. He chooses a “strategy” to bounce back from let-downs. Sometimes, he throws tantrums and we discuss whether that solved the problem!

* Side note – resiliency is going to be challenging if students have a low self-esteem. Be mindful of this and perhaps work on developing this alongside resiliency.

I hope you find these ideas useful.

Jen

Overwhelmed?

That was my third coffee and now I’m buzzing, ready to tackle that long to-do list. Only problem is that as I begin each job, I add more jobs to that list. You see, when I write each lesson plan, I realise what I actually need for each lesson. I might need around ten physical resources, a worksheet (plus the differentiated ones) and maybe a power point to kick off the lesson and engage my students. This is all for a one or two hour block of time. Then I have to plan for the other four hours of the day times four more days.

I’m also thinking, as I plan my daily workpad, that I should also do that assessment on *Johnny, start writing notes for my performance management meeting in two weeks, laminate that poster to display (I’ve had it sitting there for two weeks)……….and I just remembered we have a staff meeting next week. Oh, and I have a parent meeting after school on Monday. This is all fine, it’s just “stuff” that I have to do like any other person in their job. Or is it? Is it “normal” to do more work outside of “office hours”?

I think you get the drift. If you are a teacher, then this is just normal to you and you can totally relate. This list may even seem minimal. So what is my REAL LIFE list? Here it is:

1 – enter on-entry data

2 – write the IEP’s for several students

3 – find decodable readers to buy from the English budget for 2020

4 – laminate the 100 days of school poster

5 – mark the 3 classes I teach for Health and plot their results on the judging standards

6 – parent meeting next week

7 – staff meeting next week

8 – find a relief teacher for my Professional Learning in one week

9 – start making notes for my own performance management meeting coming up

10 – print next weeks daily workpad & worksheets

11 – write out my spelling word lists for homework next week (include differentiated lists)

12 – find my addition games for math rotations next week

13 – test the final component of the on-entry assessments

I could probably keep going, but I’m getting tired just thinking about it. That is real though and you may have more on your list than mine!

It’s easy to see why there is so much buzz about teachers being overwhelmed. Once upon a time (a very long time ago) teachers had one curriculum, or syllabus, and taught students concepts from the one year level. We didn’t have extras like, Growth Mindset, Cultural Awareness, ICT and so on and so on. I’m not saying that these things are not worthwhile (and times and needs of students have changed). We didn’t use to have to incorporate iPads and laptops into our already busy day. To kick of lessons, we read a book, showed a picture or a real object!

Of course, looking back to the “good old days,” with rose tinted glasses, may seem a bit of a negative thing to do however, I think it can actually be a useful and positive process. Why? Because we do get stressed and overworked and sometimes we need to stop and reflect on what we are actually doing. We need to appreciate that we are asked to do a heck of a lot, we have extra responsibilities and our clientele is often more challenging (students and parents). I am a parent too, so I get it and I understand your concerns! So, we have a bunch of stressed teachers and then these teachers all have to work together (sounds fun huh….and be collaborative)….. Then we can have a leadership team who have increasing amounts of stress and we all walk around on eggshells (or some don’t and they just stamp around like elephants!).

So, that’s the reality of overwhelm in a nutshell. But now with all of the hype around “GROWTH MINDSET” and mental health awareness, we can even feel guilty if we show signs of stress! Who would have thought, huh?! There are often signs posted around staff rooms, on the back of toilet doors, on social media and generally everywhere, advertising the importance of mental health. Are you looking after yourself? Do you take time out everyday? Do you eat healthily? Do you socialise? Do you do yoga? Does this put even more pressure on people to be perfect? YES, YES, YES and YES! Now we have to do more work, look great (because 40 is the new 20) and appear happy all of the time because there are posters reminding us to do so.

So what is my solution? Throw your hands up and just give up? No. Although, it sounded like I was headed there didn’t it? I do have some ideas that can actually help. I’m by no means perfect, but these tips have kept me going:

1 – Journalling – I don’t write as often as I should but when I have big problems to sort out, I write the problems on one side and the solutions on the other side (like a T-chart). Sounds silly but it helps. I write all of the possible solutions, no matter how crazy. I then choose options that could work for me.

2 – Big Picture – What are you working for? Money to raise your children, retirement, to help sick family members, to help struggling students or to just survive? Write all of your reasons down. This clarity can help to drive you. Write it on a post-it note and attach it to your bathroom mirror if you need reminding.

3 – Perspective – Some initiatives introduced at work will be “fly by the night” projects and won’t last. As you become experienced, you will spot these. Research to back up initiatives is essential. Ask for it if you have to. Don’t do it just because “Barb in *Rainbow High said it was great (and it may be but we need to be selective about what we take on). Reflect – will this initiative improve my practice (even if it will take me a bit to learn and will be difficult)? Not everything is great and that’s ok. Pick and choose (if you can).

4 – Plan – Schedule time spent on “work” at home. Do the “have to” jobs first. This helps as it’s so easy to get distracted doing things that don’t really matter. I used to do this and now work hard to prioritise. Planning your time is essential. If you have one hour to get the work done, you might find that you are really focused, work hard and can relax sooner.

5 – Humour – Sometimes you just have to laugh when things are a bit crazy and your job list is longer than the Nile. I watch comedies on Netflix to relax before bedtime and destress. I always laugh at myself too. It helps.

6 – Connect – Talk to other teachers who don’t take themselves too seriously (unless your a serious person and need this type of connection). For me, it helps to have someone who can share a laugh and say ridiculous things to. It’s in absolute confidence and doesn’t go anywhere (we have an agreement). I’m selective about who I confide in. Sometimes there will be times when you have to intentionally avoid people who trigger you if you haven’t worked out the best way to react or handle your emotions. If you are feeling “fragile,” it’s perfectly fine to temporarily distance yourself from difficult people (unless it’s absolutely crucial to your job). It’s called self-preservation and it’s important. Yes, it would be great to get on with everybody but we’re talking about the real world here.

7 – Underbook yourself – I say no to a lot of things. It becomes easy after a while. Try it. It’s my favourite word. I say it to my own kids. Sometimes I say it as soon as they speak (only joking, but it’s tempting!!!). If I’m busy and struggling to keep my head above water, I don’t overbook social outings. It’s really that simple. I have a simple life (I might blog on minimalism later) because it works for me and my family. I don’t know how people do it all. I sometimes admire people who do. I can’t do it all and I don’t feel guilty. I do what I can. Don’t add more stress to your life when you’re struggling to get work done (like when it’s reporting time). You are actually in control of what you say yes or no to. Trust me!

I wish you all the best in your journey. Remember, you’re not alone. I love Dory’s motto, “Just keep swimming.” It’s my all time favourite.

🙂

One of those days!

Today was a bit of a bad day. It was the kind of day that made me reflect on what I am doing wrong in my life! But it’s not really just a day, it’s more like……..months….years.  Yep! Today was one of those days, though in reality, I’ve had quite a few of these and I’ve had worse. It was a bit like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

It’s amazing how a simple, word, email or conversation can go “pear” shaped. I have always found that quite fascinating. It’s incredibly easy for words to be misinterpreted. Sometimes what we intend to communicate just doesn’t come out that way the way we intend it to or perhaps it isn’t perceived the way we intend it. To be fair, I often assume that people know what is going on in my brain and they know what I know (at least as far as what I’m trying to communicate).

The ease with which relationships can change can be scary and unpredictable. For other relationships, it’s a slow burn (or fizzle!).  Sometimes it doesn’t take much and with other relationships they can withstand a mountain of pressure. Relationships at work can be quite fragile.  I think this happens when people have their own agendas and you don’t know what those agendas are. Let’s face it, often you don’t really KNOW that person and they don’t really KNOW you.

We can’t always communicate what we want or feel at work because that would be downright inappropriate. We have to be tactful because we are professional! It takes a heck of a lot of control. I have mastered this to a tea (mostly……..). I can have a very calm and composed appearance when deep down there is a raging storm. As teachers, I think we are pretty good at this. We can’t throw tantrums like the students we teach tend to do!

Quite coincidentally, I just taught a Health lesson today and we were discussing what to do when we got angry. I used a “Bounce Back Bear” to demonstrate how throwing tantrums wasn’t solving his problems and he had to choose a “Bounce Back” strategy to bounce back and move on. The students made themselves a “calming wheel” with ideas of strategies to calm down. Some students had visualising, counting, going for a walk and so on, on their wheel. I shared my strategies as cleaning, walking, lifting weights and singing.

I shared a true situation with one class and it made me realise just how much we actually control ourselves as teachers. We rarely show our true emotions because we are so busy being “professional,” modelling appropriate behaviour and looking after others. I showed them a “Mr Grumpy” toy and asked, “Do you think I feel like Mr Grumpy right now?” They all answered “No!.” I told them they were all wrong. I was actually quite grumpy and angry but my face didn’t show it. They were amazed. As an adult, I had learnt to master my emotions and control myself. I told them they could do the same with lots of practise. They thought it was funny when I said “sometimes I want to throw a tantrum but it would look a bit silly and it wouldn’t solve my problem at all.”

Well, today gave me a real opportunity to practise “bouncing back” in my own life. It’s always so much harder in reality isn’t it? It’s easier to tell other people what to do. So, I had a significant discussion with someone and I felt quite angry but also sad. As I sat there listening though, I realised I had a choice to make in how I responded. I could actually choose which path I took. I could lose it and react emotionally (which is how I felt) or I could press the pause button and think about the best reaction. I chose option two. Of course, there is a possible downside to option two. You can potentially go away and fester terrible thoughts and fall into a downward slump!

After mulling a few options, some highly entertaining and more fun than reality, it dawned on me that I was engaging in a growth mindset. This is what I had been discussing with the students in my class for the past month! I could potentially use this really crap feeling (devalued and a whole barrage of other emotions) and move into another direction. I could use this to drive my dreams. So, this is what I plan to do. I plan to use this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day (which was really just the icing on the cake) to motivate action into new dreams and hopes.

My next step is to write these dreams and hopes down and make a plan of how to achieve them. Wish me luck!

My tips for fellow educators

When faced with challenging and unexpected situations at work:

  • Breathe – it’s amazing and it actually helps (it’s free too)
  • Be prepared in meetings – have a sentence ready to use if situations turn aggressive. This can be as simple as, “I hear what you are saying and I need time to think about what you are saying. Let’s meet tomorrow and discuss this.” Walk away.
  • Talk to a confidant – choose someone to talk to whom you trust to keep things to themselves and give you effective feedback. Be prepared to listen. Don’t spread the word to the whole block – stay with your selective confidants.
  • Get outside – go for a walk, sit in a park, go to the beach. Just get outside and get fresh air. It’s amazing how this helps to calm the nerves and reframe problems and see them more objectively.
  • Remind yourself that this feeling is most likely temporary and feelings pass. There are going to be good times and bad times and this is just one of those times!
  • Seek feedback from a sensible confidant before responding by email. Once you have responded, you cannot take it back!

Wishing you all the best. Don’t forget to check my instagram page out! https://www.instagram.com/teachnchat/

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My First Blog Post

Embracing imperfection!

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.

Ben Okri

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

Hi there. My name is Jen and I am the creator of this page. By “creator” I really mean trying to work out how to add text and pictures with no idea really of what I’m doing…… Writing my own blog is something I have thought about for a really long time. I’ve procrastinated for so many reasons. Lack of time and the constant reality of other “jobs” needing more attention have been the main reasons. Then there’s the real truth…….. because, let’s face it, if I really wanted to do it by now I would have. So, the real reason is that nothing I wrote was ever perfect enough, the pictures were never good enough and the content was never quite good enough or interesting enough.

The push for wanting to step into the path of imperfection, sharing it with potentially a wide audience, has been aided by two strong forces. Firstly, I’m well and truly ready to try something a little different career-wise. I think we can all relate to that at times. Secondly, a growth mindset appears to be all the rage right now (at least in schools) and I know if I don’t step outside my comfort zone, I’ll never do it and I’ll keep doing the same thing and never growing.

Stepping outside of my comfort zone means I’m taking a risk. Taking risks used to be easy for me when I was younger. Age has brought a little bit more wisdom and knowledge though and now I realise that there are often consequences (good or bad) to all of my actions. It’s far easier to sit back and carry on as normal.

Ok, so back to embracing imperfection! To write this blog I need to first accept that it won’t be perfectly written and have perfect images. So, no, it is not perfection however, this means that my audience get to come along for the ride and see a genuine person try to do their best and have a few laughs along the way! Hopefully, you’ll be able to relate to my experiences. Maybe I will be the “Celeste Barber” of education blogs!!

I hope to share teaching tips that will genuinely help educators. I feel like I am ready to do this after 16 (or more….?) years of teaching in what I call the “coal mine.” I’ve taken no time off for long holidays, children or anything (more on that later, and yes, I have children). I also would like to share tips for working mother’s, in particular, teaching mothers because that’s a super tough gig! Can anyone relate to that?

I’m super excited to begin this journey and hope you will join me along the way. I would like this to be a positive forum for sharing information!

All about me

Hi there. My name is Jen. I’m an early childhood teacher with 16 years experience.

I’ve worked in public and private schools in country and metropolitan locations throughout Western Australia. I have taught Kindergarten, Pre-Primary, Year One, mixed PP/1 and 1/2 classrooms and undertaken support teaching roles.

Why am I doing this blog?

  • To reach fellow teachers and connect and share ideas.
  • To provide information to other busy teachers and working teacher mums and dads out there!
  • To assist teachers in accomodating students with learning difficulties.

I’ll be sharing:

  • hands-on learning activity ideas for early childhood
  • links to resources that I have made
  • articles and tips for working parents (specifically teacher parents!)
  • ideas on how to differentiate learning plans and activities for students with learning difficulties

I’ll also be sharing my experiments, failures and hopefully, funny stories along the way!

Come along for the ride!