My Lockdown Confession: I forgot to compost!

by Chloë Hynes, PDNorth Lead

⬆️ TL;DR*

Last week I took some leave for the first time since Feb. I’m lucky to work for an organisation that works hard to do all it can for the sector with practitioners at the forefront. This means that lockdown was incredibly busy and at some points, quite intense. In addition, we were steamrollering towards the finish line that was the end of a major 3 year-long project (PEN – PDNorth); an emotional one for the team and practitioners alike. When lockdown came we were focussed on our practitioners: what did they need from us? What can we do to help and support them during such an uncertain time? We amended our strategy to help them as best we could. Those who know me: You’d be forgiven for thinking that leading on PDNorth is my main job, but it isn’t! At the same time I’ve been making resources, videos, graphics, writing/co-writing courses, setting up and running an ESOL forum, facilitating others, tutoring, training, newsletters, admin, making videos, twitter, copiloting (a lot) of courses and inputting registers when I could catch a breath.

Stop.

Breathe.

Let’s go back to where I started: I just took a week off. I COULD catch a breath. But why oh why did I find myself still doing ‘worky stuff’ like: 

  • Waxing lyrical about my issues with SAMR, EdTech and Essential Digital Skills with colleagues
  • Agreeing to write an article about these frustrations
  • Researching popular EdTech and gaining badges in Kahoot, FlipGrid and MS.
  • Completing EdTech and EDS modules on the ETF Enhance site.
  • Making a Wakelet to store all these digital badges 
  • Applying to be a Wakelet ambassador.
  • Copiloting a conference

… wait, what was I doing?! Yes that’s it: writing a critical think piece on our obsession with EdTech whilst simultaneously going down the rabbit hole that is an obsession with EdTech 🤦🏻‍♀️. 

Or was I having a week off?

At some point during the week I realised the error of my ways. I sat for a moment and watched my baby snooze in my arms. I reflected: The last two weeks of PDN were all-encompassing for me so I had very little room to deal with all the other ideas floating around, thoughts, misconceptions, grievances even that weren’t directly related to the tasks I was ticking off my to do list. These ‘bits of stuff’ didn’t need discarding or putting to one side, instead I needed time to compost them. To throw them all in a box and let them reformulate in their own time. To make sense of it all away from the external superfluous fluff getting in the way. For that I needed stillness and a peaceful environment. No wonder I wasn’t able to ‘compost’ anything when I was steamrollering through a to do list with one eye on the clock. Similarly I wasn’t able to compost when I felt I had a week to get it all done and just applied the reactionary scatter gun effect that, as you can see, wasn’t particularly useful (other than proving my point a little but that’s for another blog/article/think piece!).

When I was teaching every day I would get (at least) 2 busses to and from work. These journeys allowed me to decompress and reflect on the day. I would mentally get rid of the negativity and draw a line under it. Then I could make a plan going forward. Working from home however, I don’t have this decompression time. And now I have a baby so every minute when I’m not in work is also a whirlwind! 

I realised that for me to be the best I can be for our practitioners, I need to be constantly reflecting; the same way I used to every day when I was at the chalkface. Whilst it’s important I consume the latest direct from the sector’s learning environments, I also need to take the time and initiative to keep on top of recent developments so I can share up to date information (and innovations) with practitioners. I want to engage with theory because I feel like my practical applications and experience are no longer enough but it’s so time-consuming! Being critically aware will not only make me a better teacher – it will improve my own personal professional development. 

But how can I do all of this this? 

Or rather when

I think the answer is simple (and I’ve been a lax about it since returning from maternity leave with a mind inordinately distracted by a very small thing): I need to carve out some time to read, research, and ‘compost’ my ideas and thoughts. Frankly, I need to see the importance of this time and prioritise it. 

To conclude, summarise (and possibly clear up), I am not saying that practitioners should spend their evenings, weekends and time off thinking more about work than we already do. Instead, I am suggesting that reflection time is a significant part of our professional career. It is all too easy to steamroller through a jobs list, but – to extend the original metaphor – that leaves all those good ‘bits of stuff’ on the side to rot rather than taking a moment to pop them in the compost bin to see what comes of it. I for one am going to allow myself more time going forward to relax, compost and reflect. If you have made it to the end of my week-off-ramble, and you have some bits of stuff lying around, I hope you consider taking up composting, too.

*too long didn’t read 

Embrace the Zoom!

By Toby Eveleigh, GCSE Maths Course Manager, Taunton.

@tobyeveleigh

Anyone else starting to love a Zoom meeting?  I’m not talking about those family quizzes which started off as fun but have started to turn a little tedious.  I’m talking about quality educational training that allows you to reflect, is packed full of resources and you just know is going to work perfectly for your classes in September. 

At first, I scrolled past all of those online training emails that were sent out at the beginning of the lock down.  Fortunately, my Regional Specialist Lead (RSL) Paul, emailed me again with sessions that he was leading for Shaping Success, so I signed up.  I’d experienced his face to face training before and knew his stuff was very useful, although I was still a little sceptical of using Zoom.

How wrong I was. No hours of driving to some isolated rugby club, no mass-produced curry for lunch and no race out at the last minute as everyone tries to miss the traffic.  Instead, I’m actually able to drop the children off at school and chat to their teacher (something I never get to do), I can grab a decent coffee from my own espresso maker and then get comfy at home in my lounge clothes.  I feel empowered when adding my own thoughts to the discussion.  I can search online, make notes easily and quickly lookup any old reading on my kindle; all without anyone realising.  That anxiety of sharing in front of my peers is removed, or at least reduced. 

This got me thinking, can I learn anything from this which could apply to my own students?  Maths Anxiety is a huge problem in Further Education.  As teachers, the curse of the specialist often means we forget how our students feel about maths; (Ashcraft, 2002) “For a math anxious student, math creates more than a feeling of dislike or worry; it also affects physiological outcomes such as heart rate, neural activation, and cortisol levels.” Can we remove parts of the learning experience which adds to our students’ maths anxiety? Note taking from the board whilst the teacher is explaining, could a good knowledge organiser be used? Thinking time pressure on whole class explanations, what about an excellent Dr Frost video they can watch, and rewatch, at their own pace? Going over their notes and testing to check retention, what about an Anki app

Should we be embracing online connection?  Our students certainly are, a huge part of their social interaction is on Instagram, Fortnite or FIFA.  Are we preparing them for a future of working from home, international commerce and social media income?  I know I’m not, yet.

Ashcraft, M. (2002). Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences


A follow-up idea from Paul Stych (RSL for the Southwest):

I think more people than ever before are looking at what’s available and there is much to trawl through. So the idea is simple. If practitioners add comments where they have experience (Pros and Cons sections only) we will build up a quick data base of peer comments and help all concerned in finding something useful. If there is something not listed (I am sure there will be) I am happy to be sent info and I will add another column. 

Made with Padlet

The Potential of the Pivot

by Elizabeth Hillier for the NW English PEN

Lockdown has certainly posed its fair share of challenges for English teaching in FE. Post-lockdown and with the prospect of social distancing being a practical concern in a classroom that traditionally relies on the distribution of pens, paper, highlighters, texts as well as the close peer and group collaboration that is needed to create a lively learning environment, September seems as uncertain as ever.

However, maybe this ‘pivot’ maybe the opportunity needed to embed hybrid learning in the English classroom? This prospect is also a scary one especially as there are questions such as: how will it look? how can it be facilitated? how can learning be effective in two different teaching environments? The biggest question is that concerning digital poverty and how we can best serve all of our learners to make sure the curriculum we offer is inclusive, creative and engaging.

Whilst Senior Leadership Teams have the uneviable task of trying to accomodate all of these different scenarios, as an English teacher I have decided that whatever the hybrid model at our college looks like, I want to make sure that my learners enjoy a subject that lends itself well to two different environments. Therefore I have set myself 3 key principles to adhere to:

  • The learning drives the technology and not the other way around
  • Keep the digital aspect of a hybrid curriculum simple and straightforward
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel! Draw ideas from colleagues locally and nationally and look at good practice.

The FTE has also provided “Free webinars to support online learning for practitioners and their learners” which I have found to be incredibly useful. 

Over the past few weeks I have heard the following quote from Vladimir Lenin quite a lot:

“There are decades where nothing happens: and there are weeks when decades happen”.

Lenin

Lots of colleagues have fully adhered to this notion and whilst we all feel tired with ‘digital fatigue’, undoubtedly we will power through. 

This sector has the resilience, collaborative working patterns and determination to make whatever comes our way in September, be successful.