#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 1

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have been posting on staffrm and so far have managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the first week’s worth:

And it starts with an A….


So here I go. I have set the timer and off! To give my thoughts and writing some structure I have decided to write alphabetically and will pick 3 words each day starting with the same letter that in some way connect.

Today those words are anger, anxiety and acceptance.

I tend to angry and anxious quite easily. I have always had a strong sense of moral justice and as a younger person the injustices of the world got me vexed . I was a protester; CND marches; anti-poverty campaigns; letters to politicians and generally my fair share of ranting…. And worrying.

Those that know me these days would agree that I still like a rant and that I get very frustrated by situations where I feel that there is injustice or unfairness at play.

But just recently I have come to realise that there will always be those things in the world and that, actually, I can’t singlehandedly change them all. A wise colleague reminded me last week of the words of the serenity prayer and, whilst I am not religious, the spiritual side of me knows that I need to focus my energies better.

More acceptance of what I can’t change (without becoming complacent), less anger and anxiety…. and more energy for the work where I CAN make a difference.

I am pretty sure that I’ll be happier if I manage that and I am sure that those around me will be too.

Here’s to it!!

Behaviour, blame and belief… Day 2



Behaviour,  blame and belief.

I have written about behaviour previously and it is a subject that endlessly fascinates me. I read as as much as I can on the subject and have learnt from a range of experts; key figures in my education have been John Bayley, Michael Marland, Sue Cowley and Tom Bennett.

The messages that have stuck with me?

All behaviour is a form of communication. My own behaviour in the classroom is often a key determinant in influencing the behaviour of the children within it.

Shouting is never really justified and if you do it (because you are human and they have wound you up) you should always apologise. Blaming a child for his it her problematic behaviour is not helpful; attempting to find the factors or triggers behind it is.

Behaviour that may appear problematic or unacceptable on the surface may be necessary to a child with additional needs; the fidgety pupil with ADHD or the hand-flapping pupil with autism.

My ‘standards’ and expectations may sometime have to be re-visited.

Belief is central to managing behaviour; a belief that a child can learn and develop and will not always be ‘badly behaved’.

If we believe in the potential for children to grow and change, to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can, then our behaviour towards them will make it possible.


Creativity, cuts and common sense…



Why, when budget cuts loom, do creative subjects and the arts always come under threat?

As a drama teacher I am absolutely and utterly committed to the creative arts.

I trained to teach modern languages with drama as a subsidiary. At school, I had been advised against taking drama because I wanted to go to university and it was ‘only’ a CSE. I made up for that by doing all

the extra curricular drama I could both at school (as Miss Mortlock will remember) and at university. I did my first year of teaching as a French teacher, put on a production of ‘Grease’ that earned me a reference that would have been worthy of a job at the National and moved to London and into a drama teaching post.

I have never looked back and would fight tooth and nail to defend the arts in schools.

Arts subjects are what help our children to develop the three C’s – creativity, confidence and communication skills. Taught well, they are inclusive, build empathy and allow those pupils who perhaps struggle with academic subjects a chance to succeed. Whilst learning numeracy and literacy are crucial life skills, who exactly was it that decided, way back when, that academic subjects are superior to arts subjects and that drama was only ‘worthy’ of a CSE?

I remember attending a conference, Drama 2000, when we felt that we were on the edge of a sea change and that the arts were finally gaining parity of esteem. Where the three C’s were seen as core skills and curriculum design took this into account.

But then the budget took a turn for the worse and the tide turned back; the language of ‘core skills’ seems to have reverted to being that of ‘soft skills’ again.

But here is a hard fact, firmly rooted in common sense; creative use of budgeting can only be achieved by those who are creative, can engage in blue sky thinking and challenge the ways that things have always been done. Cutting funding for arts education shows a lack of strategic, long-term, creative, visionary thinking.

Maybe I could offer some drama classes for some of our politicians?

Detentions, deterrents and dialogue



I have always had slightly mixed feelings about detentions.

A couple of experiences stick in my mind. The worst was in my third or fourth year of teaching when, as a deputy year head in a city comprehensive, I had the unenviable task of supervising the ‘late detention’ on a fortnightly basis. This involved sitting in a room for the first half hour of lunch break with a group of up to thirty 11 to 16 year olds who had arrived late to school that morning. It was the old ‘you’ve wasted our time so we’ll waste yours’ approach and it was torture. Not for them, but for me.

There was no expectation that the students completed any work, merely a rule of ‘silence’. Inevitably it descended into a game of trying to whistle, clap or break wind without getting ‘caught’. It certainly did not act as a deterrent, as the same faces appeared day after day, probably just glad to be in the warm with their pals and not out in a drizzly playground.

The best was with 2 girls who had truanted PSE and left the school site to buy huge cans of energy drinks. They owed fifty minutes for doing this and I arranged that they should make up the time at lunch. I wrote home and explained that they should bring a packed lunch that day. They saw me the day before and re-assured me that they would NOT be attending….. But then they did. They were somewhat surprised when I proceeded to show them a documentary on the dangers to teenagers of energy drinks… They watched in silence and left in a sombre mood at the end.

To me, that seemed an effective use of the time…..

I have written elsewhere about how I don’t feel that punishment is always effective for all pupils and how I favour restorative justice over punitive systems where possible:




Having learnt from John Bayley way back when, I favour a behaviour management system based on clear expectations, praise where it is due and assertively applied consequences. Four simple rules; if they are broken, warning, followed by name on board, followed by a tick next to name, followed by a detention. The number of ‘chances’ to turn things round before detention means that I only ever end up with a handful of pupils in detention each year. And when they DO end up there? We have a chat and I try to get them to see why it is not acceptable for them to stop the learning in class. It probably takes a maximum of five minutes of dialogue and they leave with an apology…..and usually don’t do it again.


Education, excellence and evaluation



Last month I was intrigued to learn that in the Commons, a select committee had been established review of the purpose of education.

As a challenge to those reading and before you read on, I invite you to complete the following sentence in your head: the purpose of education is……


Ok here’s mine…..to enable people to develop the skills and qualities and acquire the knowledge that will  them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

I have about 3 million posters with motivational education-related quotes that I have produced over the years (…Tom Bennett would sigh and roll his eyes); Einstein, Tom Hanks and WB Yeats have all allegedly made pronouncements on the subject, to name but a few. But I wonder how many of us in the business REALLY stop and think very often about what the point of it all is.

In Scotland we have a new-ish curriculum that was intended to lead to excellence in education. I think that in lots of ways it made a good start as it had skills for living, learning and work at its heart, plus the four capacities of being a confident individual, a successful learner, a effective contributor and responsible citizen.

But latterly things to have gone a bit awry as we have begun to flirt with standardising assessment and introducing league tables. These had previously been fairly alien north of the border but seem now to be pushing Scotland towards the ‘exam factory’ mentality which appears to be driving colleagues in the South away from teaching.

I spoke on day C about my concerns relating to the current squeeze on creative subjects. I have said plenty elsewhere about my feelings on inclusion and the need to value children for who they are and not what they produce or can do.

Here a some questions that I think we need to consider if we really want to evaluate education and its purpose:

Is being able to sit in a room and spew facts onto paper for three hours a skill to be valued above all others?

Is the education that we offer children and young people during up to 15 of their earliest years really the be all and end all?

Is putting up to 30 hormonal adolescents in a room together for hours on end with one adult really the optimum way of getting the best out of them?

Maybe the answer to all or some of these is ‘yes’. In which case we can carry on and feel a warm glow inside at the fact that we’ve been right all along.

But what if….what if the answers turn out to be ‘no’?

Anyone want to join the revolution?


Friends, fallings-out and finding yourself



F is for friends. Yesterday I wrote about the purpose of education and talked about it being (in my opinion) about enabling people to develop skills and qualities and acquire the knowledge that will allow them to lead happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. Within that, I believe that developing the skills (and possibly acquiring the knowledge) needed to make and keep friends is key.

There are vast numbers of quotes, platitudes and theories about friendship and we should probably all be expert friends by now. “They are the family you choose”…., …”in need/indeed”…., “I’ll be there for you (when the rain starts to fall)”…..etc, etc, etc. And with the advent of Facebook (other brands/services are available) we can suddenly have so many more ‘friends’.

But friendships can be terribly tricky and no more so than in the first years of secondary school. I remember working with a colleague who was head of year. We had a system where we pastoral staff moved up with our year group and she used to love dealing with the meaty year 11 issues such as pregnancy scares and school disco drinking but hated dropping down to the year 7s with their ‘trivial’ friendship problems and bickering. Maybe it is now that I am a mother to a tween that I see how important these ‘trivialities’ feel to those involved at the time and how crucial a role they play in helping children learn about friendships.By helping children to develop a solution focused approach to the ‘trivia’, we are establishing strategies in a relatively safe context that may well come in useful when the more risky friendship and relational situations arise in later years.

I read an article at some point in the last year that stated that secondary schools are not doing enough to help teenagers learn about friendships. I wish I could track it down as I cannot remember whether it suggested any solutions to this. In primary schools, strategies such as circle time and circle of friends are seen as acceptable ways to bring discussions around friendships into the open. It is much harder to achieve this openness with adolescents, who find such discussions embarrassing or ‘cringeworthy’ and would often rather have teeth extracted than talk about such things at school. That does not mean to say, however, that they are not struggling on the inside to find themselves as individuals, know what life and friendships are all about and make friends. Statistics around suicide rates and self-harm amongst adolescents must only emphasise the fact that loneliness, despair and isolation are still too prevalent.

Is being a good friend a skill worth teaching? I think so. Is it easy? No. But to quote a poem attributed to Shakespeare but more likely to be by Richard Barnfield, neither is friendship itself:

“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”


How to look after your voice.



I have worked previously with staff and students to help them look after their voices; as teachers our voice is a crucial tool yet one that is easy to abuse.

My sessions in the past have been practical so I will endeavour to make my ideas work on paper.

What I will write is preventative; if you have ongoing voice problems or a persistent sore or hoarse voice, please consult a doctor as you may need treatment.

My husband is a biologist and may be horrified by the non-scientific way that I describe things below but the images work for me.

Imagine a catherdral. In the cathedral hangs a wind chime. When a breeze enters the cathedral 2 parts of the chime brush together and a sound is made. The sound then echoes and resonates in the chambers and spaces of the cathedral.

The breeze or energy needed to make the chimes sound is your breath. The chimes are your vocal chords. The spaces where the sound echoes are the cavities inside your head where your voice gains resonance and volume.

It is crucial that you support your voice with breath. To breathe deeply, place both feet flat on the floor and centre your weight. Imagine that your chest and rib cage is a glass bell jar with a rubber diaphragm at the bottom (- ooh, bit of real science!). As you breathe in, keep your shoulders down and attempt to push the muscles in your stomach and round your back out. Breathe right down into your back and bottom. When you first do this, your head may feel light so take it easy! As you breathe out, pull your stomach and bottom muscles back in.

This may feel counter-intuitive but keep at it!

Before you speak, remember to breathe.

Relax the muscles in your face, mouth and neck. Blow raspberries. Chew as if you are chewing a huge toffee. Yawn. Get a neck massage.

Play with your voice and try to find a way of speaking that allows you to project and find resonance without straining or shouting. This may result in you changing the way you speak (eg raising or lowering the pitch) but it may be needed if you are to keep it healthy!

The cavities in your nose and the front of your skull are crucial resonators. Find them by humming. Push the hum into your nose and feel it buzz in your nose and lips. When you speak with resonance, the sound needs to come from that area so try speaking and focusing the sound there.

Sounds like hard vowels can hurt your voice if you force them; play with the word ‘apple’ and try and attack it more gently.

Don’t smoke. Ever.

Drink lots of water.

Avoid too much caffeine or alcohol.

Try to take time off talking for a short time each day, longer on weekends.

Be very aware of when you are tired and take extra care with your voice.

Don’t shout above classroom noise. If you need attention in a busy class, use a slow, calm and well-projected countdown from 5 to 1 where 1 is silent and still. Teach and practice it from day one.





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