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ACEs in spades
May 5, 2018

ACEs in spades

T.S Eliot’s famous assertion that “April is the cruellest month” took on starker pertinence when I spent some of my time last month reading, watching and listening to items dedicated to childhood adversity – none of this, particularly, by design; all of it very much amplifying the growing evidence of the alarming and indelible mark childhood adversity leaves on adult lives and that we, educators, need to know about it and be able to adapt our practice.

Gail Honeyman’s (http://www.foyles.co.uk/Author-Gail-Honeyman) novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine takes us to the damaged interior world of a 30-something, barely-functioning, care-experienced protagonist who manages her daily existence with the utmost care lest the threadbare façade of normality she’s painstakingly constructed become unravelled.

The language she uses is as impeccable as the world she has designed for herself and yet, despite the adversity, is humble, tender and unintentionally funny. The reader becomes gradually more aware of what major adverse event led to her being taken into care; about the persistent voice of ‘Mummy’ (chilling in her cruelty); about the loss of a younger child in this event; about how only because she’s buried this stuff away can she maintain a level of functionality. But we learn that the body doesn’t forget even though the mind tries to, and when she hits breaking point in a harrowing episode involving much vodka and vomit the extent of her pain becomes clear. It made me wonder about children who have ‘shut down’ and are burying their pain and how many of them might have been in my classroom, my care. And what might become of these children in later years.

What might become of them can be seen in Season 2 of the Dutch version of Dreamschool (https://www.npo3.nl/dream-school/26-02-2018/VPWON_1280977 sadly without subtitles) which, this year, introduced us to 14 adversity-experienced ‘drop-outs’ who get 3 weeks of coaching and teaching to find the insight, motivation, interest and aspiration with which to enter their adulthoods, expertly guided by two highly capable and empathetic authorities in their respective fields and at least a dozen ‘celebrity’ teachers introducing their various professions by means of imaginatively-designed lessons.

The adolescent participants displayed so much of the behaviour we learn about from things like the Resilience film (see more below) that it almost seemed to me as if they were sequential: problems with impulse control; substance abuse and addiction; behaviour damaging relationships; physical ailments; avoidance tactics; verbal abuse; inability to take responsibility; lack of trust; unpredictable behaviour; compulsive disorders; lashing out; signs of acute mental health problems. We learn about some of the adversity they’ve experienced (or still are) and are reminded that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”. Mainstream schooling failed each of these children because their needs were not known, not expressed, not acknowledged – and not met. None of these participants appeared beyond help or potential; all were (or emerged as) high-functioning in their own way; none came with a map beyond navigation – just defective inner compasses. How they were so utterly failed by ‘the system’ I don’t know but, judging by the responses on social media I hope programmes like these serve as a clarion call for the profession to become much more educated about trauma and adversity: to teach all teachers that there ain’t gonna be no learning if their pupils are living with chronic fear and distress.

Which leads us to the recent STEP conference (http://www.steachersep.org.uk/home)

with, among others, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk (http://www.suzannezeedyk.com/) and Chris Kilkenny (http://chriskilkenny.co.uk) – the second time I’ve heard them both speak about their work and their respective crusades to make the teaching profession (and other public services) in Scotland much more informed about poverty and related Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). A year ago, Suzanne started a two-woman mission to bring the aforementioned documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope (https://kpjrfilms.co/resilience/) to screens across Scotland and I’ve been lucky enough to see it twice.

The film and its message are compelling: childhood adversity affects our actual biology, our bodies and behaviour and – unless resolved, treated or mitigated – will affect the rest of an individual’s life outcomes in relation to: education, relationships, health, standards of living, and mortality. Nowadays Suzanne also tours with (The Real) David Cameron (http://therealdavidcameron.net) exhorting the professions to lead the change towards a more trauma-informed practice by putting the learning from the film into action in our respective professional settings. The Eleanor Oliphants and Dreamschool participants of the world are the embodiments of the science, and they are the people in your classrooms and communities. Many of them are silent and live with shame, guilt and fear: poverty-campaigner Chris Kilkenny teaches us about this, and about how little it would have taken for him to have felt less afraid, less hopeless and less lonely at school – or just had somebody to teach him how to use the washing machine. He works hard in schools to raise teachers’ and leaders’ awareness of what they can do to recognise those pupils struggling with a range of adverse events in their lives, such as poverty and neglect.

It’s been a long, cold winter in Scotland but the snowball that began last year is one that I hope will continue to reach into the Scottish Government’s conscience and policy discourse, as it has started to, to support a profession enriched by this learning and more able to nurture and improve the life chances of those with ACEs in spades.


Stop Motion
December 17, 2017
Photo by Caitlin Oriel

And so we have reached the last week of term. I wonder if you, like me, have an advanced case of end-of-term-itis. This is a worryingly infectious condition that affects millions of teachers at this time of year. There are a few tell-tale symptoms. Most notably; not sleeping, panicking about your to-do list, scraping children off the ceiling at every turn and feeling like time has simultaneously slowed down and speeded up. If you work in a primary school, you will also have the exciting additional bonus of having all that brain noise and energy-sapping activity set to one particular Nativity song (usually the most irritating one), which will be playing in a continuous loop inside your head, day and night.

The only known cure for end-of-term-itis is the Christmas holidays, which will very soon be upon us. And whilst I am looking forward to the chance to rest and relax as much as you must be, I am also worried about how fast this year has gone.

The months seem to have slalomed into each other like drunken dodgem cars, resulting in a huge December pile up of events and experiences. The velocity of each collision is often set by the media, which seeks to hype each season’s main event months early. Halloween costumes go on sale in August, Christmas decorations in October. I saw the first headline crowing about the must see films/bands of 2017 back in September. Every shared celebration in our calendar is brutally marketed and fuelled by the inexhaustible determination to extract as much money from it as possible, over the most protracted period possible.

The effect of all this is the normalising of speed. We live in a society that is addicted to perpetual motion. We are forever hurtling headlong towards the next big event and when we get there we are hustled past it, our wallets emptied as we rush through and on to the next.

But the thing is, living our lives at such a tilt doesn’t just knacker your bank balance, it affects everything else too. When speed is king, everything else suffers. I wrote a while back about the danger of busy in the classroom for students and learning and the danger is no less real for teachers, families and school leaders; too much, too fast is toxic.

Now, those clever marketing folks have spotted this too and so to combat (and profit from) the endemic stress and busyness of our lives, they sell us back our free time in the form of adult colouring books and expensive holidays, spa retreats and mindfulness classes.

But here’s the thing; there is another way. How about if we all just decide to take back the control? Let’s wrestle the remote from the hands of the moneyman and prise his finger from our fast forward button.

And let’s choose to hit pause. Do it now, do it right now. Whatever you are doing as you read this, choose to hit pause. Just let yourself stop everything, choose to make it all wait, just for a little bit.

There. Doesn’t that feel good? Now that you are stopped, you can turn around. Stop facing forward and turn, just for a minute, and look back.

Look at what this year or this term or this week has brought. What’s been good? What’s been hard? What was special? What needs to change? And the golden question, the one that you must wrap around yourself and use to push back the busy and the speed:

What have you learned?

Because that’s what really matters. It is the only thing that really matters. Everything we do as humans is about learning. It is how we make sense of our experience of the world. And if we are moving too fast, we miss it.

As a teacher, it is your job to hit the pause button for your learners and give them time to wallow in what matters.

And as a teacher, you must do the same for yourself, because the difference between an excellent teacher and a busy teacher is simply who is in charge of the pause button.

If you don’t have the ability to know when to stop or slow things down so you can work out what you are learning, you cannot be an effective teacher.

So do your own review of the year and dinnae fash yersel about the ‘must see’ movies you didn’t see or the ‘must hear’ bands you’ve never heard of. Think about your own ‘must see’ moments instead. There’s a nifty little hashtag where you can share those highlights called #PedagooFriday.

Look back and learn.

Look forward and plan in your pause times. Plan in when you are going to step back and stop and look and wonder and think and inspire and imagine and have fun and share what you do. Pedagoo events and Teachmeets are built around the pause button and there’s one happening near you in 2018.

Most importantly, reflect on who is in charge of your remote control. Because if it is not you then you need to get that sorted.

Wishing you a speedy recovery from end-of-term-itis and a pause-filled and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Curiouser and Curiouser
November 10, 2017

I was at child protection training today. It is never the most enjoyable of training experiences but clearly, it is essential we do it. The presenter urged us to be ‘professionally curious’. To wonder why a child is presenting to us in the way that they are.

I have also been busy recently finding out about digital citizenship and how to take the next steps with this within my school setting. As part of my information gathering, I watched the very inspiring Devorah Heitner talk about how, if we really want to find out about what children are doing online, we need to get curious about what makes them tick and what motivates their online behaviour.

Curiosity is perhaps our greatest tool as teachers. Harnessing the power of ‘I wonder why’ opens a vast array of doors into learning, emotional behaviour, adverse childhood experiences. And where it doesn’t throw open a door, it might just unlock a window, provide a tiny chink of knowledge, only gleaned about a child and his or her life through being curious and asking why. For instance:

Why does he take three pieces of bread with his lunch every day?

Why does she hide her phone when adults walk past?

Why does he kick off every Tuesday afternoon right before PE?

Why is she so focused on getting full marks on this test?

And the biggest and most powerful why of all:

Why is his head down today?

Find out the answer to that and you will find out everything you need to know to help that child.

To be good at what we do, we have to wonder why.

But you know what? It’s actually not enough. It is not enough to be curious just about the young people you work with. Because curiosity begins at home. We need to turn the spotlight on ourselves and our practice and get really curious, asking:

I wonder why I reacted like that…

I wonder what would happen if I changed this….

I wonder what it would be like to….

I wonder if it’s time to do less…

I wonder if it’s time to do more…

I wonder how I could make that work for…

These questions are highly flammable; they ignite learning. If you want to be good at what you do, you need to keep these questions in your back pocket and use them like lighter fluid; spray liberally in amongst the orderly and carefully stacked dry wood of your usual routine and then strike a match. Throw a question in and watch it light up your practice.

And then be ready to kindle the flames. Because there’s no point in letting your curiosity be a flash in the pan. If you’re going to go to the effort of asking the hard questions, you need to be ready to stoke the learning and keep it burning. And that means spreading the good word. Put another way, you need to make your curiosity contagious and infect everyone you work with.

Make the flammable questions part of everybody’s daily business and you build a fire so big and so bright it becomes unstoppably brilliant.

There are lots of ways you can get going. Ask a flammable question in the staffroom. Write a blog post or start keeping a little journal of your wonderings- it doesn’t matter what your why is, it just matters that you ask it.

Get to or organise a TeachMeet and surround yourself with curious people just like you.

You might even be heading to the glorious Pedagoo Muckle this weekend. This will be a proper solid tinderbox of an event, stuffed full of curious and inquiring people and questions who together will burn bright and kindle others as they go.

So if you are Muckle-bound this weekend (and even if you are not), remember:

Curiosity begins at home.

Ask the flammable questions.

Kindle others when you get back to school.

And always remember it is our job to push back the dark.

Credit where credit is due on #PedagooFriday
May 27, 2017

You’re probably aware of our end-of-the-week hashtag #PedagooFriday.  The idea is to create a space on Twitter where teachers can share a positive experience from their classroom and, perhaps, develop a happier tone at the end of the week.  It’s been quite a week.  Nuff said.

As this week’s Duty Moderator, I noticed that several tweachers posting links to blogs about their practice in their #PedagooFriday tweets and I’ve taken the liberty of producing a summary here.

If you’re interested in tech, you’ll be interested in @stirdigilearn’s post. The EduTechScot2017 conference took place in Glasgow and the event focused on STEM learning through digital technology and how it can be harnessed by educators to equip themselves and children with the tools to succeed. Sounds interesting, right? See the Stirling Digital Learning blog post for a concise review of some of the cool resources encountered at the event. See the #EduTechScot hashtag on Twitter for even more information about the conference.

Tech in the form of visualisers seemed to be flavour of the week, appearing in posts from two teachers at schools in different parts of the UK.

Firstly, @MrMarsham tagged a post on @BedfordAcademy’s ‘Teaching and Learning Showcase’ blog which contains a collection of shared teaching and learning ideas contributed by staff from Bedford Academy in Milton Keynes.  In his post ‘My best friend, the visualiser’ Dave Marsham explains how he makes use of this piece of tech to model and to give feedback on answers in Maths and History lessons.

Secondly, @mrsjmasters tagged a tweet from @HuntResearchSch about a post by Dr Susan Smith, Science TA at Huntingdon School and Biology Tutor at York College.

Huntingdon School is one of Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) Research Schools Network.  Work funded in schools by EEF claims that metacognition and one-to-one teaching are cost effective, high impact means of raising attainment.  A focus group recently held at Huntingdon School tried to define metacognition and what it looks like in practice. It became clear that teachers wanted examples of what metacognition means in practice. In her post called ‘Becoming a (Metacognitive) Teacher Part 1’ Susan outlines how she uses visualisers in combination with a virtual learning environment (VLE) with her students. Part 2 is also available on the school blog.

A piece of practice-based enquiry was referenced in a tweet from @TeacherBS14, twitter handle for the web page for teaching and learning at St. Bernadette Catholic Secondary School in Bristol.  In this case, the blog post outlined an action research project into scaffolding and differentiation in Art with Year 8, Year 9 and SEND nurture students undertaken by Art teacher Teresa Hove.  This is Teresa’s first year in the secondary sector after a move from primary.

Last, but by no means least, our very dear friend and inventor of the #PedagooFriday hashtag @kennypieper  published ‘What’s Grown Ups Going to Think?’.  Here Kenny eloquently explains why social media should be welcoming space for all teachers.  Hear, hear Kenny!

In terms of this particular collaborative blog, if it’s about your teaching practice, we’d like to help share it.  You can cross post.  Yes, we’re more than happy to accept posts that appear on other blogs. Otherwise, you can write something just for us. There’s certainly a big Pedagoo audience out there, with currently over 32 thousand followers on social media.

It’s good to share, and it’s the entire raison d’être of the Pedagoo community. Come blog with us! http://www.pedagoo.org/newpost/

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