Bron: Hello, I’m Bronwyn Brady, and this is for the love of teaching today. I’m joined by Sarah, who is a passionate and creative educator and administrator from Sydney, New South Wales.
Sarah: Thank you, Bron. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Bron: Let’s talk about kindness because I was doing a little bit of stalky stalky here on the weekend, and I noticed on your Instagram page, which is Gifted and Talented Teacher. And I noticed that there was some stuff there, which kind of piqued my interest because I have been thinking a lot lately about kindness, empathy. You are really big on kindness, and I can tell that from your page.
Why do you think that teaching about kindness is so important for every child?
Sarah: So it’s a bit of a no brainer for me. It started out because I made the connection that it is quite literally no cost with multiple benefits and it’s accessible to all. It does not discriminate. And I haven’t met one person that has had a bad experience off the back of someone else being kind to them. It really did change the way that I speak to students in that, you know, within my classroom and, you know, the role of assistant principal dealing with certain behaviours, something that I’ve moved from saying you know, it was “Look, you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do have to be nice to them”. And that notion of being nice has now changed to, “Well, look, you don’t have to be friends with everyone, but you do need to be kind”, and there’s quite a distinction there because, you know, I think being nice assumes the role of, well, I’ve just got to get on with it for the sake of getting on with it.
And that’s where it started for me. And I thought, what a great way to have a challenge per day, the 20 Day Kindness Challenge that I pushed out – what a great way to actively stop for a moment in time and encourage kind behaviours to actively engage. And I thought if students are doing it, teachers should be doing it as well. So that’s where the, the student and the teacher challenges have gone hand in hand because I really strongly believe that kindness has the ability to make waves and move mountains.
You can quite literally build someone up if they’re having a tough day or if they’re having an OK day or a great day, there’s no harm in actively lifting someone else up. And for kids in the classroom to see them be excited about something like kindness is such a beautiful thing, because we are instilling really great values in kids where they can move beyond primary school beyond high school and maintain that level of kindness to push out into the world. Yeah.
Creating good humans, actually, it’s, it’s those values that come from, I guess, being with a teacher that prioritises things like this, and it shows the kids that we’re human, that we care and that we’re kind as well, but we’re, you know, something to aspire to. So yeah, that’s, that’s the main point of it.
Bron: Yeah. And I think that with things like kindness and empathy, it’s a lot about modelling and then being able to see what it looks like in practice in daily life, not just us telling them to do it and them doing it. It’s actually about incidental moments where you see your teacher doing something kind for us, another colleague or whatever. So that’s really great.
So what kind of things were on the 20 Day Kindness Challenge?
Oh goodness. So in terms of students, it was, you know, little things like sitting next to someone you don’t know at recess or lunch, it was writing a kind note anonymously. And for teachers, it was also about self-care. So actually finding time to perhaps clean up the staff room or clear our desks drinking two litres of water in a day, or leaving a note on the windscreen wiper of another colleague’s car.
Yeah, so it wasn’t just about kindness for other people. It was about being kind for yourself for others and for the planet. So it did look to our sustainable practices as well.
Fantastic. I love to hear that. That’s so great.
And then you also recently did some work at your school. Can you run me through some of the things that you planned for your colleagues?
Yeah, of course. So now this came about because of our wellbeing direction at school, his idea of wellbeing and for students to identify their emotions, firstly, but then understand that it’s okay to talk about those emotions. The events that we run for the teachers. So at the beginning of the week, we felt united in all wearing yellow and it was lovely because as students sort of looked around at morning assembly and thought, hang on, he’s in yellow, she’s in yellow. Okay. They’re all in yellow, what is going on? And it ignited this curiosity that drizzled back through into the classrooms and, you know, started the teaching of RUOK Day and these emotions. And kudos to RUOK Day the organisation. They’ve got a wonderful range of resources K to six, because I mean that conversation of RUOK Day obviously looks very different for a student in kindergarten.
And what it looks like for a student in year six. And I guess for the colleagues back to that, we had this coffee in the park, which was fantastic. It was a lovely morning in the sun. And it gave us the opportunity not to talk shop, to ask the question, are you okay to check in and just, you know, have a moment, just a peaceful moment with each other, out of the manic of, you know, the school walls and really brought us together.
And I’m a strong believer in collective teacher efficacy. You know, I’ve, I’ve recently done, you know, readings and things like that in that, you know, when your staff unite, when they feel a sense of belonging, when they feel valued there’s huge effect on actually moving student learning forward. And I mean, that’s not why we had coffee in the park, but it, you know, it’s definitely a reason why it’s so valuable to come together and, and feel united.
The morning in the park, was that a weekend morning or was it on the school holidays? How did you plan that?
So we all got to school super early and we made sure that we had people on site and we had you know, teachers on duty and we also had our admin staff still in the school. So what that looked like was a little bit tough because we couldn’t include everyone, but yeah, we got to school very early before, or before all of our meetings. Yeah. And just had a moment in time to sit and have a coffee that wasn’t long, it was short and sweet, but and nice way to start the day.
Yeah. Early, early, like early and early. Oh yes. We watched the sunrise. Now that sounds so lovely.
Bron: No, it’s, it’s really good to hear the practicalities of how you organise and coordinate an event like that because often in teaching, we think, “Oh, how are we going to do this?” So we want to do that. We, you know, we have big plans, but life takes over, teaching takes over and it doesn’t always end up happening. So it’s really good to hear from someone who’s made it happen, stolen a moment and gotten all the staff together to do that. It’s just, it’s really important. And I love that you guys did that. It was very special. That was good. So during the year we do have such a hectic schedule and RUOK Day falls at a time. Just end of term three, beginning of term four, it’s probably one of the worst.
We’ll take it. That’s a good time to put out the question: Are you okay?
Bron: So why is it important, I guess we’ve already covered that when you were talking about collective teacher efficacy, but is there any other reasons?
Had you noticed anything happening at your school had, were teachers feeling a bit low around this time or not necessarily?
Sarah: I think, look, I come from a place where I’m very passionate about wellbeing and I’m not passionate about wellbeing because it just feels good. I’m passionate because it comes from a research based place. And I can see you know, what happens when people move from being okay to thriving and what that looks like for a workplace and how the staff benefit from that?
The kids benefit from that the overall outcome of ensuring our staff are okay. And our students are okay. Trumps you know, anything else that’s going on at that time of year. So I think to prioritise RUOK Day seemed like a no brainer for me. And it was quite easy and it, as I said, it slotted in quite nicely with the focus on the strategic direction we have on wellbeing. And the time year. Yeah.
Bron: Fantastic. So good.
How can teachers best support their teaching colleagues with the whole opening up the conversation and having these important connections with people?
What do you think are the main things for teachers to consider when they’re attempting to make a supportive teaching collegial environment?
Sarah: Oh, draw on the RUOK Day strategy actually, because it is quite meaningful and quite easy to remember, they reference a character called Alec A L E C, and that stands for firstly asking. And, you know, whether that’s asking, “Are you okay?” or, “Hey, how’s it, how’s things going you know, you seem stressed lately, what’s going on?”. And the second is, listen, this is a really powerful thing to do to stop and listen, because it’s so easy to bring back a scenario to you and simply empathize and say, “Oh, yes. When that happened to me, I did this and this happened”, and, and bring it back to yourself, but to actually unconsciously stop and listen to your colleague and try to understand what they’re going through and ensure it’s still about them to encourage actions.
So what that looks like, whatever adversity or challenge they’re facing, what kind of action can happen next and, and help them unpack what next steps are. And finally C stands for check-in. So if that’s in a week’s time, a month’s time or the beginning of term four, to check in with that colleague and say, Hey, look, I know things were really rough in your class, or I know you were going through X, Y, Z. I’m just wondering if things have improved and if they haven’t to go back to encourage action, what else can we do? Or just maintain, checking in with them.
Bron: Awesome. Yeah, really cool. Thank you for going through that.
So what other resources are there out there for teachers who may be just struggling a little bit, or actually in fact, a lot?
So if you’re at the beginning phase or stage of the teaching world or journey it’s quite difficult to navigate and it can become quite overwhelming very quickly because there is so much to consider. There is so much to keep up with, and there is so much to constantly unpack. And if you’re in a phase or stage where you’re thinking, this is so much, where do I start from? I strongly suggest going back and referring to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. I know that’s probably not what people want to hear. And it, it sounds very black and white, but it’s a really nice basis to go back to and go, okay, despite everything I’m hearing, despite everything I’m thinking, this is actually what I need to be doing and not all at once peak a few dot points, highlight them off and work at them and, you know, ask people questions about these dot points, because at the end of the day, that’s what we need to do and make sure that we’re doing the right thing by the school and by our kids.
And the other really difficult thing with teaching world. And even I find it now is that when I’m jumping online and looking for resources of my own to engage students, is that there’s so much out there. There is so much to sift through how do you know what’s right and wrong? How do you know what’s aligned to syllabus documents or the curriculum? And I guess when you’re looking for resources, try and find those syllabus outcomes, find where it’s aligned to the curriculum. So, you know, you’re on the right track because you could be on Google for hours and that’s not what we want. And I think that like you said, being spoiled for choice, it can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. Like there’s a lot of sharing going on, which is fantastic, but it’s also a lot of overwhelm for people who are new to the profession.