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.

Writing a Great Blog for PDNorth

If you’re even reading this, somewhere in your head is the thought that you might write a blog here, for PDNorth. Kudos to you!

 

The very best blogs are those you write in your own voice – and that’s the point of the PDNorth blog, to hear voices from across the North of England. We know that the diversity of what you know, think and write is going to blow us away.

 

What you will get out of blog-writing is the chance to find your own voice as a writer educator, in a supportive and supported environment – and of course to share your practice with fellow travellers. Public writing is a very different kind of reflexion to that which you probably do all the time. In a way, it’s a form of teaching…you are wanting to communicate your ideas to others, hopefully to benefit in turn from their freshest thinking too.

 

What’s the story?

All the best writing has a story to tell, even if it’s professional/technical writing like the PDNorth blog. So – what’s your story? Who are the human and non-human actors? What do they get up to and why might we be interested to read about it? Stories could be fictional or factual and maybe the most compelling of them are FicFactual (not totally a thing, I admit) – a true story fictionalised to show the golden narrative thread at its best.

 

How do I get started?

Firstly, think about where you want to write. You may have a nice corner of your kitchen, or an allotment shed, or a local café. Maybe you fancy exploring co-working spaces such as my favourite Ziferblat in Manchester (also in Liverpool and Salford at Media City) and, closer to home for me, Doncaster’s lovely Helm. There’s usually a charge which includes drinks and snacks or there may be free offer sessions…overall it’s cheaper than sitting in Costa for a day, unless you can make an Americano last a really long time.

 

Where you write doesn’t matter, as long as you feel comfortable in the space. Some people like silence, others a little background noise – or high-volume techno – it’s completely up to you. Try to give yourself a clear space and plenty of breaks, walk round the block if you can. Sometimes the thinking needs to catch up with the typing…

 

The blank page can be scary, so before you do anything else open up a word document (or a clean page in a gorgeous notebook), name it to save it, and throw some words down. You can write FISH twenty times if that will get you started; the words don’t need to survive the editing process so it doesn’t matter if they are clumsy. All that matters is making a start.

 

Keep on Keeping On

I’m probably not the only person to have a desktop littered with pieces I’ve begun and not completed. Keeping on keeping on is definitely a problem for me. I try to address it with ‘tomato writing’ (strictly speaking, the Pomodoro Technique). I use an app on my phone to break down the time I’ve got into work chunks and breaks, which I’ll usually use to have a brisk walk down the block. Tomato Writing helps you switch off that internal editor, the one who tells you that you’re an impostor. You’re not!

 

We’ve got a few, hopefully helpful, guidelines to support you:

WORD: 300 – 1,000 words. Keep it short and engaging. Something folks can read in their break, on the bus or in the staffroom when they have a spare moment.

STYLE: Flexible. We’re interested in: Voices from the classroom/staffroom. Resource explorations. Reviews of books, blogs and events. Think pieces. Descriptions of PDNorth exchange activity. Critical thoughts.

REFERENCES: If you choose to reference other people’s work, events, videos, resources etc please reference them and give them the kudos they deserve.

 

 

What to write?

Cardinal rule – it’s got to be something you’re bothered about, otherwise your words won’t sound sincere…in fact, they probably won’t flow. So think of an area of work that makes you buzz, even if it’s not without its complications. We’d love you to write about your successes, but sometimes stuff you haven’t quite pulled off is even more interesting – if you explore why.

 

As you’re writing, keep accessibility in mind. Chloë takes care of all that stuff on the web design side of things but it’s worth having a look at the Plain English Campaign guides, to try and avoid the gobbledygook and jargonese (technical terms) we all fall prey to in education!

 

You might want Chloë to include images, to break up the text and make it more readable. Just be mindful of copyright; images you’ve taken are fine (if you have obtained the active consent of anyone photographed), or you might like to search a Creative Commons database for freely available images.

 

How can we help?

We’d love to help you get started as a blogger/writer. Both me and Chloë would be happy to have an initial conversation about what you might write and then I’d be privileged to help you edit your early drafts. There’s something lovely about seeing the shape of a piece emerge, it’s like sculpture.

 

OK, what next?

The next step is to let Chloë know you’re up for it. You can either email her or, complete the contact form to the left <—

 

So, don’t be shy! We really hope you’ll go for it 🙂

 

 

Lou Mycroft

InTuition columnist Pedagogue