Sunday, 17 May 2020

Am I ready? A poem for returning to school


Someone asked me today if I was ready for school, the simple answer's no. 
Sure the tables are tidy, pens and books sorted out, a timetable done, even so...
There are so many things I simply don't know... 

What has happened for my little ones in the weeks gone by? 
Will they be outgoing and chatty or fearful and shy? 
There are many I've heard from but some I have not... 
Do they know that I care, or do they think I forgot... 
What questions do they carry? What worries do they hold? 
Will their parents be warm and approachable or distant and cold? 

And how will school look like, after this time that has passed? 
Will we continue the same old, or answer questions we have asked... 
About digital connection, home partnerships, and more, 
Like minimising inequity and starting to settle the score? 

The thing is no matter how much I prepare, how brilliant are my plans,
Tomorrow I will meet my learners with heart and mind in hand, 
And move with them, prepared to dance and discover on shifting sand. 

With hope, as always :) 

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Teaching and learning with the heart and brain in mind from a distance

Teaching and learning with the heart and brain in mind from a distance has it's challenges, especially in the circumstances we find ourselves in currently with our global pandemic. I'm taking some time today to put down some thoughts that I hope offer some support as we navigate uncharted territory for many of us. 

Despite all the shifts and changes we are seeing around us one thing hasn't changed, I still believe the heart of teaching is all about relationships. Perhaps more than ever we need to be connected with our learners and their needs. We need to be aware. 

One way to help us connect with our learners is to consider the magic brain. This is the work of Glenn Capelli and is a great construct to help us understand the brain and consider behaviour and learning from a place of empathy. 

I could talk a lot about the magic brain (and you can read more about it in other posts, see here and here) but for now I'd like to focus on what we may see between the thinking room and the other rooms in the current climate. To learn and manage big emotions we need to be in our thinking room. When we are under stress we can drop to the lower rooms of our brain where it is harder to respond intelligently to what is happening around us, we can become highly emotional; flighty, feisty, or withdrawn. Families may find this situation stressful and find the pressure of 'school at home,' or as we are saying 'bubble school', difficult to deal with. One strategy I have taught all my students and their families is the Stop, Breathe, Think then Do strategy. It is simple and all based around opening the doors of the magic brain so we can think more clearly.

Getting our brain ready to think and learn is a useful place to start, not only for our children, it's great for us as well. I like to keep in mind that happy healthy teachers tend to have happier healthier learners who tend to do better socially, emotionally and academically. So making sure you are doing what you can to support your own health and wellbeing (and if it feels hard, just start small) is worth the effort... if you can't do it for yourself, remember what a great difference it can make for your learners. 

Teaching and learning will be different to what we are used to if we normally teach in face to face classrooms. The changes we are faced with could be daunting or exciting. They can be considered challenges to overcome or opportunities to stretch and grow. I have no doubt that there will be times that it gets hard, but it won't all or always be hard. I acknowledge that there may be times when we feel angry, stressed, overwhelmed; I hope there are also times when we feel energised, excited and positive. As you have no doubt heard before we cannot choose our circumstances but we can choose where we focus our energy. 

One of the greatest drains on energy I find is complaining, when I complain without actively engaging in solution finding the gloom seems to settle over me like a heavy grey blanket and it sucks the joy from any situation I find myself in. It's OK to have these low times, it is said we cannot have life's joys without it's sorrows, but we don't want them to cloud over everything for too long. When I find myself in the gloom I try to refocus my energy on something positive, I also work through Stop, Breathe, Think and Do. I offer myself some self care- choosing healthy options even if I'd rather eat a whole block of chocolate (by the way I'm not bagging chocolate... it can be great, especially if you really savour the pleasure of eating it). 

One way to exercise self care, and care for others, is to remember that the situation we are in right now is new for everyone in some way, shape or form. The word unprecedented is used often to describe this situation, and it is. Please be gentle and kind, with yourself and others. Pace yourself, breathe, ask for help, talk about your feelings, just take one step at a time. As we plan the tasks for our learners keep KISS in mind: Keep It Simple & Slow.  

Coming back to our magic brain, as we are planning for what we are doing for our children who are learning from home or in physically distanced environments at school we can look at what each room of the brain needs. 

Connection and belonging: 

This helps to create a sense of security for learners, that they are in a safe place with people who care about them. This helps to open the door of the red room. 

  • What classroom traditions can you continue? Small things can give a sense of continuity and confidence to our learners. 
  • How are you going to communicate with your learners? This might be a great opportunity to get comfortable on camera. 
  • What personal touches can you add to help connect and engage with your learners? Perhaps you share a link to something one of them are passionate about, maybe you find areas of similarity and celebrate it. 
  • Can you inject some fun or laughter into your connection? Try a silly outfit or tell some jokes. Share something funny from your life or experiences lately. Try to offer some lightness.

Structure helps tame insecurity that comes from uncertainty, and uncertainty tends to make us emotionally vulnerable. I tend to have a looser structure but we have little routines and traditions to be supportive- for our learners and their families as well as ourselves. This will help open our emotional glitter room door. 
  • Can you offer some predictability into your work with your learners? Perhaps post a regular morning message each school day. Let your learners and families know when to expect posts or communications from you. You might use a consistent format for communications. 
  • What is your feedback going to look like? Consider how often you will respond to the work your learners share, again a sense of predictability and relationship is part of this. 
  • How will you communicate with and support your learner's families over this time? You might consider a regular schedule for messages. It may be worth finding what format works best for the families you are working with, some may be limited with access to devices etc, some may need more communication from you and others less. 


The brain loves challenge, and if we are in our big blue thinking room we need it, it loves to stretch and so when we are planning consider how we can give learning opportunities that offer that. 

  • How will you engage thinking in the learning tasks you offer? Think about asking big, hairy questions. Choose topics that you think will appeal to your learners. By all means offer a variety of tasks so that your learners and their families can choose low stress options but think about how you can engage thinking. 
  • Can you provide learning tasks that engage thinking for everyone? Individualised tasks might be a tall order especially when teaching from a distance so perhaps we are better to set open-ended tasks. Think about the low-floor/high-ceiling approach that Jo Boaler advocates. 

Right now, for most of us, we are in a unique situation. This is new. My hope is that through this time we might discover new skills, appreciate ourselves better, and build stronger relationships with some of our learners and their families. 

Take care of yourselves and know that the work you are doing is really appreciated by so many.