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Twenty years in FE: How Practitioner Research has shaped my professional development.

Cathy Clarkson from our CPD exchange (Yorkshire & Humberside) talks about the impact practitioner research has had on her own continual professional development.

I’m no stranger to practitioner research. It’s formed a valuable part of my CPD throughout my career, with the support of organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, SUNCETT, EMCETT and the ETF*.

iPad set up and storage (screenshot: click to see video)

I was involved in a few of the NRDC projects. I really am a child of the Skills for Life agenda and it seems crazy how critical we were of it at the time. My first foray into practitioner research was with the ICT Effective Practice study. I was one of the nine practitioner researchers, working with the fabulous people at the Institute of Education. Whatever happened to webquests? Just one of those technologies that comes and goes, although the underlying principle of guiding students through the complexities of the internet seems even more relevant today.

I took this model of collaborative action research to my MA dissertation, which I was fortunate to piggy back with an NRDC practitioner-research grant. The Lancaster University tutors were amazing, and the mentoring I got from tutors at Leeds Mets and the Institute of Education was invaluable. The Action Research Network is still viewed through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia by the Dewsbury College gang. With the MA under my belt, I managed the application for the college to become a Cambridge-approved centre offering both the CELTA and the full DTE(E)LLS – the only place outside of London offer the ESOL subject specialism. Because of this, I managed to secure a grant through the Creative Routes project and with this money bought a set of iPads to be used by our DE(E)LLTS trainees to support their CPD. The highlight of this project was a trip to Morocco to run a workshop for IATEFL and MATE where the post-it notes we’d brought were more novel that the mobile technology.

iPads in a maths class

With the demise of NRDC, LSIS picked up the baton of supporting practitioner research. With support from the SUNCETT team, the theme of emerging technologies continued in my practitioner research as I looked at what we could find out about iPads by working collaboratively with tutors and students from different curriculums. I learnt that I couldn’t answer the question about how to use this emerging mobile technology in the classroom, because I had been focusing on how the technology supported independent study out of the classroom.  This led me to apply for an EMCETT grant to explore the question of mobile technology in the classroom. I brought my (now aging) iPads together into a class set and I worked with my beginner ESOL group to find out what this technology had to offer in the classroom. We explored ESOL apps of varying quality and I got some insight into the differing opinions on what 16-18 year olds thought were good or poor apps. My next project, once again supported by EMCETT, broadened this question into other curriculums. I worked with other tutors, who worked with their students, to explore how a class set of iPads could be used effectively.

It may be no surprise reading this, by the end of the year I was pretty tired, I needed a break from practitioner research and I needed to get a little more control of my work/life balance. It’s one thing to get the grants and the college to promise the time, but the reality is that practitioner research eats in to your life. Of course this doesn’t mean that I stopped trying new things. Not at all. It just meant I stopped writing about it, I cut back on blogging and Tweeting although I still ran some sessions for NATECLA for a short time.

English apps in class, at home and on the bus (screenshot: click to see video)

In the summer of 2018 something changed. The universe realigned and the stars pointed me to an EdD, which is basically a taught PhD. This has given me over a year since I started the course to get a feel for what I want to study, and today I have submitted my proposal. I am also dong an OTLAEnglish project, funded through the ETF. It is very interesting doing these projects simultaneously. It feels very different doing a doctorate to doing any other practitioner research. I am both intrigued and scared by the philosophical nature of research. It has taken me about the same amount of time to write my EdD proposal as it has to do the entire OTLAEnglish project. But the start/finish notion of these projects is deceiving. The EdD isn’t just starting, it has started and I can already feel the messiness of engaging in action research. The OTLA project isn’t finished, the report may be written but the activity continues.

Playing games helps English (screenshot: click to see video)

Without funding from organisations such as the NRDC, LSIS, and ETF I’m not sure that I would be taking my EdD now. I certainly could not have done these projects without the support of the people working with the organisations who provide the funding. The money is of course always welcome, but as we found out in the Action Research network, a group of willing tutors with a rota of baking, can create the time and space needed to be able to reflect on changes made in the classroom. I would recommend anyone to look for funding opportunities, particularly through the ETF. Twitter is a fabulous place to find out about these things and there is a growing base of FE tutors chatting and sharing. Going to conferences is also useful, look out for a local teachmeet, FEbrewed and the upcoming ReimagineFE conference heading into its fifth year.  There are also the regional Professional Exchange Networks (PEN). Internally you could hunt out your Advanced Practitioner, who I am sure will be more than happy to support you in developing your own practitioner research project or find some like-minded colleagues to create a Research Space to talk about your practice – don’t forget the cake.

Acronym Key

  • CELTA – Certificate in Language Teaching to Adults
  • EMCETT – East Midland Centre of Excellence in teacher training
  • NATECLA – National Association for Teaching English and Community Languages to Adults
  • ETF – The Education and Training Foundation.
  • LSIS – Learning and Skills Improvement Service
  • OTLA – Outstanding Teaching, Learning & Assessment programme (ETF)
  • PEN – Professional Exchange Networks
  • MATE – Moroccan Association for Teachers of English
  • NRDC – National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy
  • SUNCETT – University of Sunderland Centre of Excellence for teacher training
  • AP – Advanced Practitioner
  • CPD – Continual Professional Development

Showcasing Digital: Inspiring others to #HaveAGo

by Susanna Brandon, PDNorth Northwest TLA exchange

As part of the PDNorth TLA (Teaching, Learning & Assessment) professional exchange, our Myerscough Director of Quality and procedures Sue Keenan facilitated an afternoon showcase of our latest digital skills projects and teaching tips delivered by members of the Myerscough digital skills team and selected teaching staff with the aim of building further collaborative opportunities to share good practice and really drive the project forward.

At Myerscough, we have a dedicated digital skills team who have been generating some fantastic training opportunities for staff to develop their digital skills and also working on new projects funded by the Education & Training Foundation (ETF) to further embed and use technology, such as Virtual Reality (VR) to bridge skills gaps between training and employment.

Over 20 delegates from colleges and University centres around the North West attended on the day. The afternoon events started with an overview of the Myerscough developed Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Spiral, by Sandy Hunter. Then for the majority of the afternoon the visitors attended five short showcases where they had the opportunity to immerse themselves in some of the VR programmes; including milking at the farm, buying fresh flowers at the wholesaler and also the use of VR to stimulate creativity in creative writing. There was also the opportunity for the attendees to access a range of free Apps that tutors at Myerscough have successfully utilised within their own teaching.

One of my remits as ATP is to liaise with the digital skills team in trialing new technology in my own teaching and then sharing with my team. The digital skills fair allowed the extension of this approach beyond Myerscough and into the wider teaching community.

The close of the session was delivered by Punam, who shared more technology in her briefing in the form of her (Mentimeter) presentation, which linked to the ETF professional standards and also the proposed method of communication (Zoom) to allow all attendees to stay in touch, share experiences and generally support each other in developing outstanding teaching, learning and assessment.

Some of the comments taken from the day included;

 ‘It’s been great, I just wanted to stay and play!’ 

‘…feel more confident about encouraging staff.’

‘Great for my own CPD and how I can share my work with others.’

‘Very inspiring.’

As you can see from the comments, the afternoon proved a great success. Hopefully the energy from the room will continue to filter through all of the educational settings and we have lots to discuss when we next meet. Monthly Zoom meetings have been scheduled to keep everyone on track and we look forward to hosting again in July 2020 when the attendees come back to Myerscough to share the impact of their individual projects.


Susanna Brandon is the Advanced Teaching Practitioner (ATP) for Greenspace and Creative studies at Myerscough College.

Contextualising maths and English within vocational learning – reflections from a professional catering teacher

Robert Broome, a practitioner from our online action research exchange, explores how language and context matters when embedding Functional Skills.

My name is Robert Broome. I’m a level 1 course team leader in professional cookery at North Hertfordshire College and I am also completing my PGCE teaching degree at Bedford college. As part of my course I was asked to complete an action research project of my choice. Because I teach on a vocational course, I decided to see whether adding contextualised examples of maths and English work within my cookery sessions could help students with their maths and English studies. This has been of interest to me not only within my profession but because, I too at 28 years old struggle with English in a general sense (e.g. reading, spelling and breaking down of text).

A report from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education, and The Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP (published 2 July 2014) stated:

‘Many students have problems in maths and English all the way through the progressing to adult life. “40% of pupils do not get GCSE grades A* to C in English and maths by age 16. Worse still, 90% of those who don’t reach this basic standard by 16, don’t achieve it by age 19” (dept. of education, 2018).

Another interesting study made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), states that older generations tend to perform better in maths and English based tasks than younger learners.

I researched into these claims by the government by conducting my own experiment with a few of my level 1 professional cookery students. I asked a few GCSE standard maths and English questions and the average score out of 13 was 7-8, which works out to be 57% of the mark. I then asked the same questions to adult learners, all of whom were over the age of 40. The average score for the older learners was 11-12 out of 13, which is 88% of the mark.’

After compiling data whereby I had asked students GCSE standard questions in both Maths and English, I then used their knowledge of Professional cookery to help them progress and challenge them in these areas. In order to do this I took the GCSE questions and “re-worded” them with terminology based around catering and hospitality. I also gave students visual aids to help them around the kitchen classroom. This process was much the same with maths; my aim was to get students to think of maths in the hospitality industry as opposed to working from a textbook. My hope was that this approach would help learners:

  • See the relevance of maths and English skills within professional cookery;
  • encourage a subconscious style of learning, helping students learn through experience and by what they saw and heard in the kitchens.
  • encourage reluctant students to learn important maths and English skills, without these needing to be explicitly taught.
  • Help close the maths and English skills gap I noticed between younger learners, and adult learners.

Following this period of embedded and contextualised maths and English work, I then asked students the GCSE standard questions again and cross referenced their answers with the previous ones to see if there were any improvements, big or small. With each group of learners there were slight improvements, with most learners scoring at least one point more than they had during the first test. The graph below shows the differences in learners’ scores, before and after they had accessed contextualised English and maths work:

 Whilst the gains in learners’ test results initially seem quite small, perhaps more telling was their improved spelling of contextualised vocabulary. One example I did of this was when I asked the students how to spell ‘Tagliatelle’. Initially, only 1 student out of 15 got it correct. I then posted around the two kitchens a glossary of types of pasta where Tagliatelle was on this. A couple of days later I asked the class to spell Tagliatelle again. The number of students who spelt it correctly grew from 1 to 3. Not a huge leap but then an additional 4 students were only 1 or 2 letters off the correct spelling, a huge improvement in such a short period of time!

If I was to sum up my research it would be that vocational courses can have an impact on a students’ maths and English skills in both a positive and a negative way. The positives are clearly seen in my research, if teachers keep pushing maths and English in their lessons then students will progress. The negative however is that I noticed a lot of my students didn’t realise how important Maths and English is to vocational courses and professions. The mentality is for most was once they have finished maths and English at GCSE then they don’t need to think about it again. This is where students can slip on their skills in Maths and English over the two to three years they are in vocational courses at colleges. This potential for slippage adds to employers’ concerns that college leavers do not always have the maths and English skills they require for the working world. I believe that by constantly reminding students on vocational courses how important Maths and English is in the working world, alongside constantly embedding and contextualising maths and English work (to the point where students may not realise that’s what they are doing) vocational teachers can make a massive impact upon students’ motivation, engagement and success in maths and English, during their time at college and in the future.                   

I also think it’s vital for tutors to keep up to date on their own Maths and English, so we can help students and so we can improve our own confidence to teach these essential skills.

Developing Digital Literacies in English

A colleague asked me about digital resources for teaching English so she could support one of her exchange groups. They were looking for resources with low impact on workload but positive impact on learners. I thought I’d reformulate my reply into a blog but then decided that sharing my email reply would be just as authentic and play with the traditional lines of a blog post. I hope you find some or all of it useful 😊 ~ Chloë


Hi Punam,

Oh goodness – where to begin 😃. I’ll be as brief but as informative as possible:

PDNorth Youtube
Please recommend our screencasts via our PDNorth Youtube account. There are lots more to be added from an English & Maths PoV over the coming months too, from the OTLA Digital folks. Our screencasts have an element of practical ‘how to’ but most importantly they include pedagogical uses (and limitations) from real life experience in the FE classroom/training room/library!

I would fully recommend the Padlet* screencast which focusses on approaches and strategies as I detail a range of uses from personal experience in ESOL, English, Food Safety and Digital training contexts. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa3XL5tqV6TwbirjbXbRM5Q?view_as=subscriber

One of the latest blogs on PDNorth is about Screencasting* and that again includes my experience of using it for ESOL/English with some practical examples and suggestions. Read it here: https://pdnorth.org.uk/pd-north-blog/

Shaping Success Courses
Perhaps signpost practitioners to the digital approaches / multimedia webinars we have via Shaping Success (£25 per person or free if they fit one of the freebie criterion)? These webinars speak about specific websites / apps and how they can be used to teach English &/or Maths but these require a little play time to explore. We also encourage people to think critically about using digital in the classroom (ie not just for sparkles!). More info:
https://ccpathways.co.uk/shaping-success


Just…websites!
Average bog standard websites can be really useful for English teaching to explore comprehension and navigation whilst using websites they may already use (or need help being able to use). These days job applications are all online / shopping online is more convenient / accessing transport timetables etc so embedding personal digital skills and digital literacies with everyday websites is
paramount.

An example of one ESOL lesson I did (at an FE college in a computer room): Students accessed an Excel spreadsheet (quick one I made) on a Padlet and downloaded it. It had a ‘shopping list’ of 15 items on it for which they had to find and price up at Asda / Tesco / Sainsburys online. Then they worked out the total etc to see which one was the cheapest. At the end they uploaded their document to the Padlet so I had a record of their work (also useful for RARPA). Okay, I’m using Padlet, Excel and 3 websites there but they also wanted to know how to use Excel and upload/download/add an attachment so I incorporated that into the session too. It took me minutes to make the Excel document and add it to a Padlet so it wasn’t a burden on my time (I know this is a real concern with digi stuff) and I reused the document / Padlet with other classes. However, you could just do a paper version of the Excel Sheet and learners could access the supermarkets on their phone (if they have access to one).

Blogs
I highly recommend using a blogging website when teaching English. Particularly reading. The one I used originally a few years ago was Blogger* but issues with that included needing a Google Account/Email address which was a barrier to many of my learners. I ended up turning to Edmodo* as that ticked lots of boxes and has a familiar interface (it looks like Facebook with similar functionality). I’ve gauged from colleagues though that Edmodo hits it off with ESOL learners
better than English.

Phone Apps

Specifically ones that come with the phone and don’t rely on learners downloading things/using their space. For example: voice recorder is great for recording themselves before writing an essay. Or recording a convo and transcribing it. Also good for practicing pronunciation (ESOL).

Pre-made resources
However, I wonder from your email if you mean very specific resources that have already been created…? If so, I recommend: The British Council / British Council
NEXUS (ESOL),
One Stop English (ESOL), Film English (ESOL + ELT), English My Way (v low level ESOL), BBC Skillswise and of course: the Excellence Gateway!

I know it’s easier said than done, but I truly believe in the importance of sharing with colleagues who you work with. Many departments/organisations don’t do this (especially if tutors are 0hrs or don’t work together physically etc) but it really does help to lighten everyone’s load if everyone shares something. Infact this reminds me of a quote (by George Bernard Shaw) that Sue shared with us which I think helps to sum up the purpose of PDNorth tbh:

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple.

But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

Hope this helps – let me know 😊

Chloë  


* If you would like to use platforms like these, I’d recommend introducing them at the beginning of the year and using them regularly in order to increase user experience and recognition. Don’t waste time introducing a ‘flavour of the week’ because most of your lessons will be taken up with the initial ‘getting to know you’ stage of a new platform. This will frustrate your learners, increase your workload and decrease the teaching/learning time significantly. With any digital elements of your TLA ask: Could I get the same result easier without the tech aspect? What (if anything) does the tech aspect add to the learning?

PD North HQ – meet your 2019 – 2020 team!

Images (top row) Chloë Hynes, PD North’s Creative Director;  Lou Mycroft, Events Lead; Kathryn Semple, PD North Coordinator; Vicky Butterby, Creative Support Officer and Online Practitioner Research Professional Exchange Lead (bottom row) Your PD North Regional Leads: Petrina Lynn (NE & Cumbria); Gail Lydon (Y&H); Punam Khosla (NW).

At PD North HQ, we are extremely excited to be moving into year three of the programme. PD North is going from strength to strength, and our ever growing membership list is bursting with passionate practitioners from across the North (and beyond), each of whom are as excited as we are about improving teaching, learning and assessment practices for learners through practitioner-led research and knowledge exchange. With this in mind, we felt now would be an excellent time to introduce our 2019-2020 PD North team, so you know who we are and why we are so passionate about the our work for PD North and across #FE (in all its manifestations).

About Chloë – PD North’s Creative Director

Hi I’m Chloë, PD North’s Creative Director. After working on the PD North project for the past two years I’m incredibly excited to take the team into year three. Every year the project has grown following feedback from members as we aimed to make an exchange network that had practitioners from all parts of the sector at its heart.

The first year of PD North I was working ‘on the ground’ as project officer for the North West. Last year I was working behind the scenes, building our social media presence via YouTube, Twitter, our blog and the twice monthly newsletter. This year I’m looking forward to pushing the project forward by supporting our team in encouraging practitioners to make PD North their own.

About Kathryn – PD North’s Network Meeting Coordinator

Hello I’m Kathryn, and I coordinate the professional exchange network meetings for PD North. For the past 25 years, I have worked in Education and Training, either in Work Based Learning, Welfare to Work or Adult Skills and I have over 20 years Management experience in this Sector.  I currently work as an Operations Manager at a Training Provider that focuses on upskilling adults in Functional Skills English and Maths.

Initially, I was involved in setting up the Professional Exchanges in the North East and Cumbria and supported Petrina Lynn in the management of the exchange groups.  I have worked with PD North for the past 2 years supporting the Regional Leads in organising meetings, arranging CPD days and day to day correspondence with group members.

I am excited about going into Year three as I can see how much the sector has developed, shared and moved forward as a result of the exchange groups and happy that I am part of this.

About Petrina – PD North lead for the North East and Cumbria

Hello l’m Petrina and l’ve worked with the sector for more years than l care to admit to!

Staff Learning and development has been a passion of mine for most of my working life. Consequently, when the opportunity to become involved in Professional Exchange Networks (PENs) became available, l jumped at it.

PENs have been a big part of my life for the past few years, particularly focussing on the North East and Cumbria provider base.

The existing network has established seven groups across the patch based on agendas identified by practitioners. I am never ceased to be amazed at the outcomes from the groups and the productive networking that is established.

Going forward l feel a sense of enthusiasm and optimism at the prospect of working with you all again.

We will be in touch soon about year three. Anyone wishing to participate please don’t hesitate to contact us.

About Gail – PD North lead for Yorkshire and Humber

Hi I’m Gail, Regional Lead for Yorkshire and Humber. I’m looking forward to a new year for the Professional Exchanges in our region – it is going to be an exciting one.  This year my focus will be on the word network.  Although we will have fewer networks the ones we have will be bigger and be informed by what the members want and need.  The expertise in the PENs last year was amazing as was the members’ willingness to share and work together – in challenging times we need this – we need our network community.  So please get involved, I will be in touch shortly with the dates of the first meetings.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me with your ideas.  See you there!

Our Gail has also recently been awarded Chartered Teacher Status: To find out more about qualifying as an Advanced Practitioner in #FE, please click here.

About Punam – PD North lead for the North West

Hi I’m Punam, Regional Lead in the North West for the PD North Professional Exchange Network. A core part of my role at PD North involves developing networks and organising regional events. I am passionate about delivering excellence and I combine an engaging enthusiasm with an attention to detail which enables the organisations I support to feel safe enough to innovate for excellence in a risk-positive way.

Having held many roles working within FE,  ranging from practitioner to senior manager working locally, regionally and nationally, I appreciate the challenges in terms of strategic planning for an ever-changing policy landscape, which compels senior managers to respond in a responsive manner, realigning organisational priorities and strategies accordingly. This professional history, together with a grounding in culture-changing Thinking Environment processes, allows me to support providers with understanding and empathy at appropriate levels of challenge.

I am looking forward to year three of this exciting opportunity working with PD North members across the North West and beyond. I will be working with my PEN’s to grow the membership of the networks and add to the increasingly diverse range of organisations already involved. We will be focussing on hot topics and the key development areas for organisations. The networks will provide an opportunity to continue to share effective practice and provide support to organisations.   

About Lou – PD North’s events lead

Hello I’m Lou and I’ve been involved with PD North over the last couple of years, initially as Digital Nurse then moving into the PD North Events. That’s what’s exciting me most about Year three! The events we held in the summer at Liverpool, Durham Cricket Club and in Leeds were real highlights – educators from across the North of England getting together to share ideas and learn new stuff. Each of the days had the affirmative spirit that always happens when practitioners get together who are critical – yes, and who challenge themselves too – but who are never cynical. They were feelgood days, so I’m delighted to be doing the same again next year with the PD North team. Look out for dates from us in early September – PD North on Tour! 

PD North sits with the other work I do nationally to raise the profile of FE, particularly FE research and voices from the sector. Although my focus is pretty much the events for Year 3, I’d still be delighted to support you to get writing, podcasting and publishing the stories of your practice. You can always contact me on Twitter @loumycroft or by phone 07779135201.

About Vicky – PD North’s virtual action research group lead (and occasional creative content developer)

Hello I’m Vicky and I’ve been working in education in various guises since 2005. I’m an Access to HE specialist, as well as spending a lot of my working life in the wonderful worlds of community education and community youth justice. I hope that I’ll be meeting (and re-meeting) many PD North friends as we begin our latest online action research professional exchange series (starting September 2019). During these interactive sessions we will be blending talks and training from experienced FE action researcher-practitioners with the opportunity to explore, discuss and reflect upon your own research projects. You can often find me on Twitter – @VickyMeaby, where I get very excited about collaborative working and the power of participatory action research as an enabler of socially just teaching, learning and assessment practices.

A mental ill-health epidemic in #FE or something else entirely?

Social influences, labelling or a mental health epidemic? Understanding learner mental-ill health and its drivers is critical for us as #FE educators.
Image credit: Tim Gouw (Unsplash, 2019)

PD North member Rebecca Gillett from Myerscough College shares her fascinating research into student mental-ill health.

“A mental health epidemic is underway in Britain’s schools” (Moran 2019)

 But is there really???

At the moment it seems that we are hard pressed not to pick up a newspaper, see posts on social media or internet news pages informing us that adverse mental health is on the rise. I too seem to be coming in to contact with more students each year that identify as having adverse mental health, a belief that seems to be shared by some colleagues. Ultimately, I have the same goal that I am sure is shared by all teachers; I want to ensure that I support students that identify as having adverse mental health to reach their goals, aspirations and achieve their full potential within the educational system. However, although I am empathic towards the plight of these students I do question if there is true rise in adverse mental health? Could there be other factors contributing to this apparent epidemic?

Scouring the internet to source figures that document the prevalence of mental health disorders in Britain, it becomes apparent that differing authors use different terminology and age rages. The differences in age ranges and terminology used to quantify data can sometime make it difficult to understand the true extent of the problem for the 16-18 year old age range. The best major survey to examine trends of mental health in Britain appears to be that completed by NHS digital in 2017 and published in 2018. This survey allows data to be compared to the previous surveys completed in 1999 and 2004. However, although these surveys seemed to be the best source of data on the prevalence of mental health disorders, prior to 2017 16-18 year old were not included in the samples. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to confirm that data validates the belief that there is a rise in mental health disorders.

The NHS digital survey documents 4 categories of mental health disorders; ‘Emotional disorders’, ‘Behavioural or Conduct disorders’, ‘Hyperactivity disorders’ and ‘Other less common disorders’. Stepping away from my interest in the figures for 16-19 year olds for a moment and viewing the data on the age bracket of 5-15 year olds, it becomes apparent that ‘Emotional disorders’ are the only category that has seen a rise in prevalence for children aged 5-15. Emotional disorders have risen from 4.3% in 1999 to 5.8% in 2017, all other groups have stabilised in frequency (NHS digital 2018). Included in the category of ‘Emotional disorders’ are 3 subcategorises; Depressive Disorders, Bipolar Affective Disorder/Manic Episode and Anxiety Disorders. Anxiety disorders includes conditions such as; Separation Anxiety, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Other Anxiety Disorders and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Vizard et al 2018). However, it cannot be assumed that the 1.5% rise in emotional mental health disorders are directly transferable to 16-19 year olds, without having previous statistics to compare the current findings with. Approximately one in eight 17-19 year olds are documented as having an anxiety disorder and approximately one in twenty 17-19 year olds are documented as having a depressive disorder (Vizard et al 2018) but is this any worse than it was in 1999 for this age group?

Society is also not was it was; could the constructs of society also be contributing to the higher reported figures of children and adolescents’ with emotional mental health disorders? It is documented by Time to Change (2019) that the Attitude to Mental Illness survey indicates a 9.6% change in the attitude of the public during 2008-2016, with an estimated 4.1 million people having improved attitudes towards mental health. By decreasing the stigma attached to adverse mental health and creating a more accepting society this must surely lead to increased public confidence in disclosure of emotional mental health disorders. Maybe this epidemic has always been there; maybe we are now just aware of its existence. Could what we are seeing in the education system not be an explosive rise of emotional mental health disorders but adolescents’ that now just feel more comfortable in vocalising their troubles?

Looking on the flip side of the coin, could it also be argued, that a change in what degree of problem consists as an emotional mental health disorder has impacted on the prevalence of these conditions? Research has documented to me the belief of some authors that some children are identifying upsetting emotions as emotional mental health disorders. The definition of adverse mental health may have altered so much over recent years that normal human emotions are now being misidentified as emotional mental health disorders. Could a moral panic around adverse mental health be happening, McKinstry (2017) suggested that ‘gas-lighting’ is beginning to occur around mental illness; society is convinced that once normal, acceptable emotions are actually a sign of physiological illness.

Worryingly, could we be making the mental health epidemic worse with our ‘love’ of labelling?  Labels can be placed with the best of intensions; increasing the likelihood of access to services and support. However, if the threshold has changed between experiencing emotional difficulties and that which requires treatment, labels then placed for emotional mental health disorders will have increased in prevalence. It is also no secret that mental health services are struggling to meet demand, leaving adolescents’ that identify as having adverse mental health without the required support. Coupling this with the self-fulfilling prophecy, the placement of labels could be impacting on the figures for adverse mental health; placing a label of adverse mental health could cause the sufferers to identify more with the symptoms. Considering this with the belief that upsetting emotions could be being misidentified from sufferers as a mental health disorders in the first place, the self-fulfilling prophecy could then occur and perpetuate the likelihood of adverse mental health.

So circling back to where I started, is a mental health epidemic really underway? Figures support that there is a rise in emotional mental health disorder, albeit for a different age bracket. However, let’s assume for a moment that this figure rise is directly transferable to the 16-19 year old age bracket, it appears that it isn’t as simple as saying- “yes emotional mental health disorders are increasing”. Societal influences, changes within definitions and labelling all could have their part to play in an increasing number of adolescents’ with emotional mental health disorders. Whatever the cause, the statistics suggest that more adolescents’ will present identifying as having adverse mental health. Ultimately I suppose that as a teacher the cause of the rise in prevalence will have no bearing on lesson delivery but does help me to put in to perspective what current headlines are screaming at me.

References

McKinstry, L. (2017).  Our obsession with mental illness is far from healthy, (Online), Available from: https://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/leo-mckinstry/803114/mental-health-illness-campaign-lobby-depression-obsession-leo-mckinstry. (Accessed on: 17/2/2019).

Moran, L. (2019). Layla Moran: A mental health epidemic is underway in Britain’s schools, (Online), Available from: https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/education/2019/02/layla-moran-mental-health-epidemic-underway-britain-s-schools. (Accessed on: 07/04/2019).

National Health Service(NHS) digital. (2018). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Summary of key findings. Leeds: NHS Digital.

Time to Change. (2019). Our impact, (Online), Available from: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/home/about-us/our-impact. (Accessed on: 27/09/2019).

Vizard, T., Pearce, N., Davis, J., Sadler, K., Ford, T. Goodman, A., Goodman, R. & McManus, S. (2018). Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017 Emotional disorders. Leeds: NHS Digital.

Building Communities, Building Teachers; Communities of Practice in Action

By Debbie Williams, PD North member and Teaching and Learning Manager at Lancaster and Morecambe College

Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash

Having delivered teacher training for many years, I’ve found that one of the greatest pleasures of the role is seeing trainee teachers enlivened, motivated and inspired by the professional discussions they have with others who teach in different areas. Trainees tend to arrive to evening classes weary at the end of their working day, but leave the session energised and with minds buzzing with learning and ideas.

We wanted to bring that positive energy into the staff training for all the teachers at Lancaster and Morecambe College. For many staff it’s a long time since they did their initial training, and a lot of exciting developments have emerged from the evidence base on effective teaching since then. We wanted to build professional communities of teachers who didn’t usually work together, or even really know each other, where they could share ideas and explore emerging research through informed discussion.

Groups of around 10 teachers were groupedinto “Communities of Practice” to meet at the end of a working day on five evenly-spaced weeks throughout the college year. The groups were scheduled for times which all contracted staff would be able to attend, and attendance was mandatory for these teachers – it was optional for non-contracted teachers. Most of the groups met at the same time on the same corridor, which created a feeling that there was something going on!

A small team of enthusiastic and experienced teachers who were keen to facilitate a group were sent materials for the session ahead, along with a plan of how to share these with their group – topics included active learning, marking work, and metacognition. Conference video clips and extracts from research reports were used, and there was plenty of time built in for teachers to share their thoughts and examples of effective practice from their areas.

The group facilitators hugely enjoyed the role, and often reported having lively staffroom discussions on the same topics in the following weeks!

Levels of attendance were good on the whole – a handful of teachers didn’t attend at all, but most attended regularly, with clear expectations from managers contributing to this. It meant that far more staff than usual had attended regular in-house training by the end of the year, in contrast to the low numbers attending the optional training sessions run in previous years.

At the end of this first year the teachers involved completed an anonymous survey about their groups, to see how effective they had been in meeting the aim of improving teaching across the college. A key question was “”What impact has attending the sessions had on your teaching this year?” This was a completely open comment box, giving teachers the clear opportunity to declare “none”!  Unsurprisingly, a few did just that; however, 80% of teachers reported at least one way in which their practice had improved, the majority of them stating that they had increased the range of teaching and learning strategies they used in the classroom.

Next year we will be re-mixing the communities, giving our teachers the chance to hold professional discussions with different colleagues. From our experiences this year it’s clear that the communities have helped to build new cross-college relationships, build teacher confidence and build better teachers.

Overpowering the staff room garlics…

By Sue Keenan, Head of Teaching and Learning at Myerscough College.

Tofu or garlic - the choice to become either is within us!
Tofu or not tofu, that is the question?
Cartoon by Vicky Butterby, PD North

A long time ago, I was on a training course about preparing to work overseas in a new culture. One question posed was ‘are you going to be a garlic or a tofu?’ . The definition of a garlic was someone who went with the attitude that they knew best, their way was best and that things should be done their way. In other words, infusing  and overpowering everything with their strong garlicky flavour so that other flavours were obliterated. In contrast the tofu was someone who absorbed the range of favours around them. A tofu was a person who learned about the new culture and soaked it all up,recognising that they needed to change their world view.

It’s a metaphor that’s stayed with me and can be applied at times to our culture in education. I’ve worked in many staff rooms and offices over my career where there can be a couple of garlics….these are the people that constantly permeate the space with negativity. They moan about the leaders and managers, the learners, teaching, the job….for whatever reason they aren’t positive about the job anymore. I get the challenges. We are in a time of deep cuts in funding in the FE sector. We don’t feel confident about job security.We work hard teaching, marking, planning and preparing.

The garlics in education can be very toxic. They can suck the enthusiasm out of teachers who have come into work feeling positive, they can have a huge impact on staff morale and organisational culture.

That’s why it’s really important to surround yourself at work with the positive sunny people, the ones that love teaching, the ones that get a real buzz from seeing their learners achieve. If we go into lessons feeling negative then this will have a huge impact on how are learners feel and what they achieve. And after all, the learners are the reason we’re all working in education, aren’t they?

We can all be a little bit garlic sometimes, we might not agree with a decision made at a higher level, we might just be a bit fed up, but we need to manage our own behaviour as professionals and keep our outlook positive. We need to recognise if we are becoming a little bit toxic….

Surround yourself at work with the sunny people, the ones who come into work with a smile on their face. The ones who are new to the job and are excited to do it. The ones who have been teaching for a long time and still enjoy it. Lots of sunny people together have great power to do great things in education. They determine the culture of an organisation far more than senior leaders do.

In these tough times, try to keep your outlook and attitude as a teacher sunny side up.Have fun at work and enjoy the job. Have positive impact on those around you. Together lets try to support  those pungent garlics and turn them into tofu, soaking up the sunshine and positivity around them.

Why we teach…

  • By Sue Keenan @suekeenanQTLA
  • Head of Teaching and Learning: Myerscough College

When the North West TLA Professional Exchange Network first met, we were challenged to decide three things we wanted to work on over our year together. There was conversation about the ever present challenges in Further Education and Skills. We discussed the usual suspects; maths and English, motivating reluctant learners, doing more with less etc etc.

Despite all these ‘real and present dangers’ we wanted to focus some of our thinking and time on teachers. Teachers are the sectors greatest resource, they truly are the front line of education. The experience a learner receives when they walk into a classroom is critical. Teachers have an impact on learners’ lives forever. Everyone has a story to tell about the worst teacher they ever had. Mine was Mr X who spent most of his time smoking in the Art room stock cupboard and gave me 2 out 10 for my drawing of a shoe that I’d spent all Sunday doing, therefore destroying any love and interest in that subject for many years. He didn’t tell me why it was a 2 and what I needed to do to get better – hopefully times have moved on as this was in 1984….

The changing face of the teaching and learning environment - keeping learners at the centre of everything that we do.
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We also all have stories about the best teachers we’ve had – those who inspire us, interest us, and make us want to know more. Many of our choices in life and the routes we take are determined by teachers. Just take a moment to think about the teachers who inspired you and the influence they have had on your career and life choices….

We wanted to think about how to develop teachers’ confidence in a world where too often the focus is on what you haven’t done rather than what you have. We decided to go back to the start and ask teachers to think about why they started teaching and what their high points have been. Group member Lynn Naylor set up a Padlet for partners to contribute to.

Using Padlet to capture why we went into teaching and what we love about it!

We have had some amazing contributions from teachers and reading the Padlet truly is rewarding and inspirational.  Teachers’ comments include:

‘It is rewarding in itself to help students create memories, not just in an academic context but through giving them an experience and the tools to enjoy learning all their lives.’

‘It is also great when students share their knowledge and experiences with you, so we all learn together.’

The importance of looking after ourselves and each other as teachers is perfectly summed up by this contribution.

‘I was motivated by an inspirational teacher myself when I was a student. I thought at the time what a great job it must be and it has proved to be the case.

We’d love to keep our Padlet of ‘Why Teaching?’ growing. Please do take five minutes out of another busy day to add your story https://padlet.com/lynn_naylor/q03s1gqjkzwq

Let’s keep this padlet rolling across the sector and capture the reasons that teaching in FE and Skills is such a valuable job. Feeling confident and empowered about our professional results in a great experience for our learners, and that, after all, is the reason that we teach.

Audience Engagement

My thoughts and learning as I prepare training on alternatives to ‘death by Powerpoint’.

By Nicki Berry, PD (Y&H) Digital.

I have to confess that of all the Microsoft Office applications, PowerPoint is probably my least favourite. I used it briefly as a primary school teacher, many years ago, but quickly switched to Smart Notebook and ActivInspire when interactive whiteboards became the norm.

I can’t really pinpoint what it is about PowerPoint that turns me off. It might not be the application itself, but rather the way I’ve seen it used. We went through a phase of every child in a class of 30 doing a presentation about their holidays, complete with flying, whizzing and cheering items on each and every mouse click. Even adult presenters can have a tendency to put too much on each slide, sometimes with poor text/background contrast, and then just read it to the audience, as though we are incapable of reading for ourselves.

So my heart did an inward leap for joy when my boss recently asked me to prepare and present a one and a half hour session on alternatives to PowerPoint for engaging an audience. My audience will be senior managers, who give presentations on a regular basis as part of their work – a potentially tough group to try to downsell PowerPoint!

Anyway, I’m going to give you (and them) a brief glimpse of some alternatives.

Microsoft Sway

I first used Sway, whilst studying for my Master’s with the Open University. We were discussing whether Wikipedia is an acceptable study tool (let’s not get started on that here!) and here is a presentation I made for one of our tutorials.

There are advantages and disadvantages to Sway. The biggest disadvantage, which Microsoft much surely address eventually, is that is cannot be used offline and cannot be exported, so if the Internet goes down, you could well be stuffed! Also, branding is more difficult than it would be with a traditional PowerPoint presentation, though it is possible to adapt colour schemes and fonts used.

The advantages are in some of the features that make it look that little bit more modern than PowerPoint. It can be presented in slide mode, like a traditional presentation, or by scrolling vertically or horizontally. This makes it good to share for ‘after the event’ viewing, as it is easy to find the section you want, quickly. I particularly like the way that images can be stacked, allowing you to click on them and shuffle through, just like a stack of cards. From an accessibility point of view, it is great because you can switch easily to ‘accessibility view’ and it automatically changes the presentation so that visually impaired users can view it through a screen reader more easily.

Socrative

When presenting to an audience, I think many of us have that worry about whether anyone is actually listening, engaging with us or understanding what we are talking about. This is where some kind of quiz can be handy.

There are various quizzing tools out there but I like Socrative and find it fun and easy to use. You can set up a quiz or survey to engage your audience during a presentation and then get them to interact on their own devices (or you could provide some). It works on PC, laptops, tablets, phones… pretty much anything that is online. You show the question from the front, it sends to their device and then all the answers can be seen, with various options on names, anonymity and so on, on the screen. When working with a group, particularly in a training situation, my favourite is to run the quiz as a race. I generally get a member of the audience to choose what type of character we will race as (unicorn, space ship, etc) but I was writing this in December, so reindeer seemed like the only real choice!

Question Screen (on individual screens)
Answer Screen (shown on the board at the front)

One advantage of Socrative is that only the presenter (teacher) needs to have an account (free option is more than sufficient for my needs) and the audience log in using the presenter’s room code. So you don’t have to try to get your group set up with their own accounts.

I also really like the fact that all the results can be stored, exported and used later on to inform further training. When I’ve used this for tutor training, I can easily see who might need further support and who has really got the hang of what we’re learning, so could support others.

Twitter

This one can be a little risky, so it’s only for the brave, in my opinion. It is based on the concept of back-channelling. So first of all, what is back-channelling? Well, it has always existed. Back-channelling is the communication strategy that we use to let a speaker know that we are listening and following what they are saying. So it can be as simple as just nodding, smiling or saying, “Aha!”

Using Twitter, the idea is to engage your audience in live discussion and get feedback, questions and comments on your presentation as you go. Depending on the nature of the audience, it either works well or falls flat. If you’ve got a high proportion of those kind of people who like digital multitasking… the ones who are going to be on their phone, checking their Facebook while they should be listening, and can probably pull off a reasonably convincing ‘I’m paying full attention’ face whilst they do… they can be lulled into a middle ground, where they get to do social media and listen and interact, all at the same time. Just decide on a hashtag – #mysession – and ask your audience to post questions, feedback, quotes they liked and what they are learning/will use back in their day job. It’s worth checking that your intended hashtag isn’t already going viral with something else though first.

Why do I say it is risky? Well, not everyone will agree with what you are saying. They might post negative comments or ask questions you don’t know the answers to. You need to give some thought to how you would respond to these. I generally try to be quite open, but set some guidelines at the beginning.

Sometimes the conversation can be all friendly and pleasant like this extract from an online conference I attended in 2016.

Sometimes, though, the feedback and questions can be more challenging, as some TV programmes have found.

Finally, of course, if you’re going to use social media for something that really matters, it’s worth considering that not everybody will have an account. I generally put out a warning in the pre-course blurb, saying that we’ll be using Twitter and it would be helpful if they could create an account.