Tag Archives: education

#nurture1617 #teacher5aday… Onwards and upwards!

This post is my contribution both to the 4th annual #nurture project initiated by @chocotzar back in ’13-14 and to the #teacher5aday movement driven by @martynreah…The former aims to look back at 2016’s highlights and forward to hopes and aspirations for 2017; the latter is founded upon these 5 elements: 

#connect, #exercise, #notice, #learn and #volunteer.

2016, eh? It’s become an almost daily routine to check the feeds and see what world-wobbling political event or other has lurched unbidden into view… what natural or man-made disaster has stricken populations in yet another corner of the globe… what beloved celebrity has joined the ranks of those shuffling off this mortal coil…

And yet here we are at dusk on the final day of the year and I find myself looking perhaps naively forward into 2017 with a sense of (slightly desperate?) optimism. In a year where we have seen quite how much damage can be done by a relatively small number of people, both at home and abroad, I feel that there must come a tipping point in the other direction: turning Burke’s famous line on its head, if you will: all that is necessary for the triumph of good is that good people do something. It is my underlying hope for 2017 that there be enough good people out there, doing the right thing, that the reactionary forces working against tolerance, collaboration, fairness and justice are simply swept aside in a rising tide of sheer… humanity. 

I saw at first hand what can be achieved by a relatively small group of like-minded individuals when I spent a week in Calais in October, volunteering with Care4Calais, a charity established a few years ago when one person put her money – or time, marriage and health, in fact – where her mouth is and decided to DO something rather than wring her hands daily at the misery taking place a mere few miles away, but a convenient political gulf away for our politicians. It is my firm intention to spend more time there in the New Year, and if anyone would like to join me at half-term, you’d be most welcome. I also spent the Summer holidays volunteering at my local Sailability club, down the road at Blashford Lake… a Summer full of incredible sporting success by TeamGB and ParalympicsGB over in Rio, crowned for me personally by the amazing Gold medal-winning performance of a former pupil, Mikey Jones. (who has this morning capped a remarkable year by being awarded an MBE!)

I have re-connected with another fantastic band of people this year – the happy thespians of the Lymington Players, in our recent week’s run of an adaptation of Conan-Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”. I was cast as Jack Stapleton, a burnt-out teacher “given to emotional outbursts” – so not too much of a stretch, then! The sense of team-work conspiring to achieve a common goal is something not always so readily apparent in professional life, and where some find stepping out under the lights an intimidating experience, to me it is genuinely when I feel at my most alive. In a first for me, we struck the set on the Sunday following our final performance… and then started rehearsing for the next show the very next day, with barely a chance to catch our breath… I am also playing three very different characters, this time around (a Scottish ship’s captain, a frightfully posh Knight and a peasant called Obidiah Bobblenob), so it is fair to say I am a little further outside my comfort zone…

I have also made a rather unusual new connection, having decided post-referendum to apply for Estonian e-residency. I recently travelled up to the Estonian Embassy to receive my new ID card, and in 2017 watch this space as I explore the digital opportunities this new avenue affords me…

Exercise-wise, it has been a great year. I ended the 2015-16 hockey season playing 5 matches for the New Forest Hockey Club 2nd XI, a considerable step up from the Ballard Staff & Parents Team I have trained and played with for the past 4 years. Over the summer I continued attending weekly training, which was pretty rigorous, and which helped prepare me for my biggest challenge of the year: the 2016 “Shut Up Legs” New Forest Ride with recently-retired Grand Tour great Jens Voigt, raising money for The Epilepsy Society… Although I had totted up quite a total on the road in the weeks leading up to the ride, it was my longest time in the saddle for over 15 years – 80 km of rain-soaked pain! But the sense of achievement at the end was fantastic, and the chance to chat to Jens in German when he rode with my group for a stretch was brilliant for a Tour de France nut like me. 

You may have noticed that I have, so far, not made more than an oblique mention of work. I take this as a positive sign. Where 2015 was, latterly, a struggle which saw me dip back into depression for a lengthy patch, I have bounced back in 2016, and with the help and support of family, friends and #mfltwitterati amongst other online pals, I have maintained an even keel and a very healthy life-work balance. In fact I am starting to call it life balance, as work is part of life – life is not an adjunct struggling to coexist alongside or even in the shadow of the lowering bulk of work. As we all know, work can and will expand to fill all the space we allow it to unless we are careful to establish that balance. And so it is my firm intention to continue maintaining my health, and if that means saying NO and putting me first from time to time, so be it. 

One way I am going to do this is to establish a positive routine of “not-work” activities: alongside my continued thesping; I will continue to play hockey every Saturday; I will be using my Daily Greatness Journal to help me establish a framework to support my efforts; I will get out on my bike at least once a week (and with the new gear I got for Christmas from my darling wife, I have no excuse not to!); I will be doing my best to join in with the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17… and I will teach myself to play my new ukelele (that’s my #learn bit, by the way, amongst other daily lessons). 

So there!

So what is left? Notice. I will notice when my wife needs my support, rather than the other way around. I will notice when I haven’t picked up the phone/dropped a quick WhatsApp to friends for a while, and do something about it. I will notice when a pupil seems a little quieter than usual, and see what I can do to help. I will notice the little details that make small, otherwise imperceptible positive contributions to my day. I will notice when my (online) friends drop off the radar for a bit, and gently see if anything is up. #BDamigos stick together, you see…
Because friendship is the most important thing, really… And that is how I want to end this post. It’s been a great week for friendship. My wife and I attended the wedding of a good friend, who at the age of 42 has finally found the right person to spend the rest of his life with… the whole day was a wonderful life-affirming experience, flooded with joy, and a great opportunity to reconnect with many friends we had not seen for far too long. Finally, another friend, whose young baby we all welcomed into our online circle, had recently communicated to us that they had found a worrying growth, that the little guy was going in for tests to see what was up, and that it didn’t look good. Well, in a wonderful end to what has been a year of big blows, she has just heard that the tests have come back completely benign, and yesterday she let us all know that he is out of the woods. 

I take it as a sign that we can stride purposefully and positively into the New Year with renewed confidence. And sod Trump, Brexit, Putin, Assad, Katie Hopkins and all the rest of ’em!

Let’s do this!

Movin’ On Up


#teacher5aday – end-of-term report

My original #teacher5aday post is here.

As a reminder, Martyn Reah’s suggestion was to try and address the five key areas below, with a view to setting (and perhaps just as importantly, sharing) “resolutions” for 2015, under the umbrella Twitter hashtag of #teacher5aday: I wrote my post on December 14th 2014.






So how have I done? I’m going to try to assess that in the form of an end-of-term report (yup, haven’t written nearly enough of those. lately… Hopefully a little bit less copy-and-paste than the ones lamented in today’s Guardian… and every summer since handwritten reports died out ;))

Teacher5aday Report: Alex Bellars


“Alex has apparently continued to view quantity of tweeting as just as important as quality, and perhaps needs to reassess this area. He has made good strides in meeting some online acquaintances face-to-face, and presenting at ILILC for the first time, however, but work pressure has prevented him from travelling to some conferences that he had planned to attend, sadly.”


“Alex’s participation in hockey has been reasonably regular, and as always his bloodthirsty enthusiasm is welcome compensation for his lack of skill. The advent of summer will hopefully help him address the other target he set himself – namely to get out on his bike, which we can assure him is still exactly where he left it in the garage, under his wife’s horse-riding gear.”


“Alex has had another good term of focusing on the pupils – though not to the exclusion of his own health. Ensuring that he cooks at least three delicious evening meals a week, since adopting Hello Fresh, and always eating together at the table rather than giving into the temptation to sit in front of the TV, munching away, has helped to consecrate at least part of the day to ‘us-time’ with the other half…and redoing the garden together has also meant working together on a project, the fruits of which they can both enjoy over the summer.”


“Alex has perhaps shown greater motivation in implementing the classroom tablets he has been given as a ‘guinea pig project’ than any other area of his life. They have indeed been a great adjunct to the learning and teaching already going on, and there is more yet to come… He now needs to do some more thinking – and blogging – about how to take usage of them to the next level in 2015-16.”


“Alex is to be commended for signing up to the Join In UK movement, and get his name down on the books to help out with the New Forest and District Sailability Club at Blashford Lakes, up the road. A great way to combine his love of sailing with volunteering and reconnecting with his paralympic experiences from 2 summers ago. We will be interested to see how this goes..”

Right. As I said when I finished my #teacher5aday post… Time for a cuppa!

#ililc5 – Active Grammar: Janet Lloyd and Julie Prince

In advance of my own (very) digital-dependent session, this was a real antidote to all iPaddery/Androidery… Janet and Julie‘s presentation took us through a variety of in-class activities aimed at bringing grammar to life through mime, actions, colours, poems songs and all sorts of hi-jinks!

Media preview

(This is me being a noun, as we physically constructed a sentence with each of us taking a specific role… Being obliged to deconstruct grammar and explore it using appropriate metalanguage is the one legacy of Michael Gove that Janet looks back at with any degree of positivity, she said… ;))

For me, this session offered some of the most immediately-usable “take-aways” from the whole ILILC5 weekend: I have already used several activities with Y3 and Y6 classes this week, with real tangible results, in terms of how well the children feel they have understood such areas as adjectival agreements and word order when using adjectives both before and after the noun, in French.

For more information on Janet’s Primary Language Learning work, look here.

To join her thriving network, click here.

#nurture1415 – a second bite at the cherry

It’s been over a year since I joined the group of bloggers following @chocotzar‘s lead, and writing 12 things to be glad of in 2012, and 13 things to aim for in 2013. It seems even longer than that, to be honest. Lots of water under various bridges… 

But first off, let’s review the 2013 stuff. How many of these did I manage?

Take more exercise. I have a gym membership, but carrying the card around in my wallet is not expending that many calories…

Hmmm. Not an unqualified success! But on the other hand, I am now playing hockey every Saturday, which definitely helps with the fitness. I also suspect that smacking the **** out of a little ball has restorative, therapeutic qualities. Quite apart from that, the little group of new friends I have built up has been a real plus.

Stay mentally healthy. Once you have experienced depression, any little shadowy, echo-y glimpses of a past episode can have you wondering how close you might be to the top of the slope, again. But I haven’t had one for a while, now. So let’s not talk about it! 😉

That didn’t turn out to last very long, unfortunately! And I did go back down to the bottom of the slope, last year… but here I am again, back up! And I have learned a lot more along the way

Keep magpie-ing off my amazing educator friends online! I am sure I do have the occasional original thought, now and again… but as I say to my pupils on a daily basis “now, this is an idea I got off a friend on Twitter…”

Check 😉

Enjoy ILILC3. If you haven’t already signed up – not too late, although you have missed out on the “early bird” reduction… And if you need further tempting; I will be premiering my second “Ode to Gove” at the evening Show ‘n’ Tell…

Well, ILILC3 was amazing… and ILILC4, which I attended despite only being about 70% back out of my last depression. And it helped kick-start the full recovery. My #mfltwitterati mates, who started off as online “virtual” friends, are now a core pillar in my day-to-day life. Not sure how it all worked before, really! If indeed it did… Now I am looking forward to ILILC5, in February, at which I have finally plucked up the courage to speak. (Which reminds me: better start getting some thoughts together for my session…!)

See the new inhabitants of Sparrow Towers take full occupancy of their freshly-installed abodes:

phone dump December 19th 2012 2263

Another partial success. One box was occupied, and we saw baby tits fledge and head off into the wide blue yonder. But the sparrows who we were really aiming for shunned our luxurious apartments, and instead, one pair built their nest at the top of the downpipe! Weirdos.

Organise the next Teachmeet Ballard. Spring Term? Summer Term? Not sure yet!

Still not sure. Was a lot of work for a limited response, to be brutally frank. But I have Brought A Teacher To Twitter! Welcome aboard, @andypshe… (And I have been to quite a few more Teachmeets and Show & Tells that other people have organised… And #TLT14! And I organised my own edition of @CampED at half-term – @CampEDSouth, a compact but bijou version of the House That  Dughall, Helen and Bill Built… )

Get rid of my gradually-rusting, totally immobile scooter (12 years after leaving London and pushing it into the garage!)

Woohoo! Mission accomplished! (Mind you, the gap was short-lived – full of OH’s horsey stuff, now 😉

Make my own cufflinks.

Nope. And quite a few of the ones I have bought have since broken. So maybe I should put this one back in this year’s list?

Count to 10 in my head more often in Staff meetings. Without my lips moving.

Yes. Better at this. Still get quite a bit of practice 😉

Look upwards more in towns.

And sideways.

Work out how to carry on numbered lists in WordPress after inserting a photo of bird-boxes into a post.

Or just not bother with numbers at all…

Really get cracking with BYOD/T at school.

YESSS. This one is certainly on the move. Will blog about it when I have a bit more to say on the matter…

…and finally, echoing @chocotzar‘s final one for 2013: remember to smell the flowers while I can… 😉

This one is so important. I am better at it… most of the time. But it’s always ever going to be work-in-progress…


What about 15 for 2015? In no particular order:

  1. #TLT15. Can’t wait to see what @davidfawcett27 and @MissJLud pull together next year – and to see the northern contingent of T&L tweeps who head down our way, again 🙂 #TLT14 was amazing, building on the success of the initial event, with bells on! And has given rise to so much thought and action since, too, such as @martynreah‘s #teacher5aday idea…
  2. Acting! Hadn’t done a “proper” play since Uni days, when I did loads – but was (fairly easily) persuaded into a minor-ish role in a production of Rattigan’s “Flare Path” with the Lymington Players in November. Absolutely loved it – even though it did put a bit of extra pressure on exam-marking and report-writing time, as the week of our “run” was just before that all came along… And so I will definitely be keeping an eye on what other productions are in the offing, locally, and auditioning again!
  3. Spending time with my sister, brother-in-law and the littlies. Niecelet has just started at primary school, and Nephewling is the climbiest little boy you have ever seen… Both adorable, and I am really enjoying the “Uncle Ayix” role 🙂
  4. Quality time with Mrs B… Vital – and yet so easy to take for granted, and to allow to slip over a busy term. Not to mention the fact that she heads out on her horse as soon as she gets a moment, in the holidays… Takes two to tango, eh?
  5. Mountain-biking in the Forest  – with my new helmet cam! (Not a GoPro, but a cheap knock-off… 😉 Looking forward to trying it out, once it gets nice and muddy! I’ll post the carnage on YouTube…
  6. Christmas with the in-laws in Belgium. Father-in-law came off his bike the other day on one of his mad weekly rides with his cycling mates: 24 stitches in a head-wound, dislocated shoulder, 3 broken ribs and a puncture lung. And stepmother-in-law is mid-chemo after a recurrence of cancer – so TLC and family time are a crucial one, this year.
  7. Travel! We have not been very far afield for a while (the rather paltry down-side of having in-laws in Provence and Wallonia!), but my second reaction to @philallman1 and @NuttyA10 moving out to Beijing – following closely behind “Wow! Well done you!” – was “Cool! Going to be able to go and stay with them in China!”
  8. Painting. Losing Mary, my art mentor, has really put the brakes on my artistic endeavours, but along with a few other mutual friends, we have planned a day out painting together, to kick-start each other. We’ll see…
  9. Cooking. MUST eat more healthily during term time – and save money, too! *Dusts off the slow cooker…* 😉
  10. Moderate #ukedchat. It’s been on my To Do List for some time, and I have taken the intermediate step of writing my first article for the new #ukedchat magazine. Just need to get a decent topic idea together…
  11. Get back in touch with long-lost old uni mates that I haven’t seen/emailed/phoned for ages. Had a dream about one the other day. That must be significant, no? Stop Press: re-made contact with an old school friend today, whom I have not seen for more than 20 years, today… It can be done!
  12. Sort. Out. The. Blinking. Garden.
  13. You see that guitar in the corner? It’s not going to play itself…
  14. Stay on top of the marking!
  15. Topple the government.

No worries.

#teacher5aday – helps me work, rest and play…

I recently attended a very interesting session at #TLT14 recently, co-hosted by Martyn Reah and Tania Harding, who stepped in at the eleventh hour when Mark Healy was unable to run it himself. The focus was close to my heart – that of teacher well-being – and its necessary impact on that of pupils, hence by definition on the effectiveness of the learning and teaching taking place in a given setting.

Martyn has since continued his thinking in this area, and revisited it at a TLTea Party (google it!) and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust Teachmeet at the start of December. And at some point in that process, he came up with an idea to help colleagues focus on their own well-being as we approach the traditional period of New Year’s Resolutions.

As we come to the end of the hectic Autumn Term, if we have the energy and time to do so, we try to help our pupils through a period of reflection and review – with a view to starting the next term in an even better vein. So why not do the same for ourselves, instead of just passing out on the sofa in front of Strictly/X-Factor/Question Time?

Martyn’s suggestion is to try and address five key areas, with a view to setting (and perhaps just as importantly, sharing) “resolutions” for 2015, under the umbrella Twitter hashtag of #teacher5aday:






So after a bit of thought, and an opportunity to read the early adopters’ blogs on the subject (see Rachel Jones’ post here, Chris Chivers’ one here and David Rogers’ here – thanks for the example, guys…), time to put ‘pen’ to ‘paper’ myself.


This is ostensibly the one I would regard as the “easiest”… If I had to distil my life over the past 8 years or so into one word, it would perhaps be “connecting”. It’s sort of the subject of a recent previous post here – also inspired by a Martyn Reah campaign! But I agree with Rachel that the real challenge, in this multi-social-media age, is to avoid echo-chambering oneself into a cosy little cocoon of ‘similarthinkers’, and avoid the intellectual challenge to ones own thinking which helps keep things fresh. It’s oh so easy to settle back into a happy you-scratch-my-blog-I’ll-fave-yours-mutual-retweeting-appreciation society, in the cyberlibrary, and we do so at our peril. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of times I’ve felt my heart-rate rise as I type a never-sent response to (what I perceive to be) an online outrage… Should we block? Should we mute or unfollow? Or is it a case of “ok, I object to the tone/message, but it has made me think…”. And I am sure some people find my twerbal diarrhoea rather irritating. Hmmm. Obviously not quite as straightforward as I thought!


I’ve been playing hockey for the Parents’ Team for 2 years, now, and more recently for Bournemouth Hockey Club – which has been great for my fitness (and social life!). That’s great – but I live 5 minutes bike ride away from the New Forest, and yet my bike remains resolutely un-ridden for vast swathes of the year… Time to do something about that!


I think I want this to be about two key – and perhaps diametrically-opposed – [sets of] people. One one hand, the pupils… making sure that everything I am doing in school really DOES focus upon their learning… and on the other hand, my wife. We pass like ships in the night far too much, in term-time, and this year is going to be about making sure that is not the case.


As I mentioned in this, I am getting a class-set of tablets in January, and inspired by the likes of Ian Addison and José Picardo, I am going to be quietly revolutionising my classroom practice (and, who knows? maybe my school, from within…?). Watch this space! I am going to try to blog* it as it goes, too.

*sets weekly reminder in phone from January 10th onwards…*


I was watching the Sports Personality of the Year show with my folks last night – a pre-Christmas family tradition since I can remember – and seeing the Clydesiders still buzzing from their work at the Commonwealth Games, felt the goose-bumpy tingle of my time as a Gamesmaker back in 2012 surging back once more, as it still does, so often. I volunteer in school as a Duke of Edinburgh leader, but I would really like to do something more again, in a sporting context, probably… in parasport, possibly. Watch this space #2!

That’s the easy bit! Now it’s just a case of keeping myself to it. As long as that, in itself, doesn’t impact on my well-being, of course… 😉

Right. Time for a cuppa.


I have been joining in with a “thing” on Twitter over the first 12 days of December… Claire Lotriet (@ohlottie), who is always full of bright wheezes, had the idea of a teach-y version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, with participants chipping in each day on a different theme. It’s been great fun, and I hope it may become an annual thing… Claire? 😉

Here’s my slide deck: slideshare

This time last year I had recently emerged from a rather low period, and so it is a wonderful feeling to get to the end of 2014 on an even keel, and looking forward to 2015 with relish.

Best wishes to you for the Christmas holidays, and for what I hope will be a fantastic New Year for you too.

A load of balls

I was watching “A Question of Sport” the other day, and when they started playing a particular game, I found myself lapsing into what for many teachers will be the familiar semi-conscious “how could I use this thing in the classroom” reverie… It often seems to hit when we are watching TV gameshows – I wonder if Richard Osman and co. know quite how useful our re-imaginings of their formats are… 😉

The game involved a series of multiple-choice questions, with the three options all being fairly feasible answers… but only one actually correct.

In front of first Daws and then Tuffers were three baskets marked A, B and C. The player started off with a number of tennis balls (20, I think, but that’s not very important), and against the clock, and with the help of his teammates, decided how many balls to “bet” on each of the three options, depending on how confident they were about their choice.

The first questions were fairly easy, but they got swiftly trickier. If the balls were in the right basket after the 10 seconds (I think), the player kept them for the next round. If they were in the wrong baskets, they lost them.

In this way, the player’s supply of balls gradually dwindled, but he and his team had to ensure that they had at least some left by the end of the final question.

I think it would be easy enough to tweak this concept for an MFL classroom*, and have started to compile a few sets of multiple-choice questions and answers. I see it being a good way to focus on tricky grammar points, or revise funky vocab, but it could be a really adaptable format, I reckon. I will let you know how it goes… or if you get there first, please tell me! [I am @bellaale on Twitter, if that’s easier than commenting here…]

* other curriculum areas are available… 😉