Tag Archives: #teacher5aday

BallardEco – the story so far and a look to the future…

On Ballard School’s pathway along the road to Green Flag status (and beyond!), the last week has been a very significant one…

To recap the school’s “eco-journey” so far: when the first project began back in the early 2000s, with the renovation of the long-neglected Watergardens, the brains behind the operation was Geography teacher Paul Craven, assisted by a small but enthusiastic groups of Lower and Upper Prep pupils and a bit of brawn from yours truly. It was Paul who secured the National Lottery “People’s Places” funding which paid for the fencing and paving materials, as well as the decking which has sadly now perished. We hired in a JCB driver to help dredge the swamp, but the job of clearing the forest of bamboo which infested the pond was carried out with sheer muscle-power and determination – supplemented occasionally by the odd parent or grandparent, on Saturday mornings fuelled by barbecues and donuts… Pupils learned to use gardening tools safely, and how to plant, prune and provide for all sorts of flora; they found out about composting, mulching, fence and decking maintenance; care of the protected newts, frogs, toads and myriad insects which make the pond their home… The range of learning has been extraordinary, especially with the addition of Miss Travis to the staff team, who was able to bring her Lower Prep expertise to the project.

It was clear that there was the appetite to widen the scope of the project, and so the Eco-Warriors, as the team had become known, designed and built “Buggingham Palace”, a multi-layered habitat for insects, over the drive from the pond, and even dreamed over creating a “woodland nature walk” path through the woods between the school drives.

With Paul’s retirement, initially Ballard Eco took a moment to tread water, before a new impetus. Initially slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the task in managing the Watergardens, Miss Travis and I were granted the incalculable support and help of the Maintenance Team, whose work around the grounds as a whole has been little short of incredible.

Then we became aware of the Eco-Schools programme, and decided to get involved.

Eco-Schools is a global programme, engaging millions of children across 67 countries. It came into being after the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and has gradually gathered pace over the past 20+ years, empowering children to drive change and improving their environmental awareness – and hopefully that of their parents – through hands-on, real-world learning.

As you will hopefully already know, the now re-named “Eco-Ambassadors”, still with its core of Y3-Y8 pupils, first carried out an Environmental Review of the school, across 9 key areas such as Waste & Recycling and Energy Usage. We then drew up an Action Plan of ways in which Ballard could improve in these areas.

Over the past two years we have been monitoring and evaluating our progress, introducing concrete improvements (such as the banning of polystyrene cups from school). We have taken part in national “Citizen Science” research programmes such as “What’s Under Your Feet?” – an attempt to find out why some species of UK birds are in decline by gathering data on the insects and larvae which form a large part of their diet. We have spearheaded the school’s participation in nationwide campaigns such as “Switch Off Fortnight” and last week’s “Waste Week 2018”. In conjunction with the Catering Department and the School Council, we have carried out an experiment to introduce healthier snack options, to cut down on biscuit consumption at break-times. And throughout the process we have sought to inform and involve the wider school community in our work, as it is crucial that all are made more aware of the need to be more environmentally-minded, not just a small but highly enthusiastic group.

So last week represents, I hope, a real watershed in the life of Ballard Eco: a national campaign called “Great British Spring Clean” was timed to coincide with Waste Week, with schools and other groups and communities invited to do their bit to clear up litter in their area. This was a great opportunity to involve a far larger group of pupils than the core Eco-Ambassadors, and get them “thinking and acting Eco”, so the “Great Ballard Spring Clean” came into being!

Ballard’s communal effort saw a large proportion of the school step up to the plate. All the pupils from Lower Prep enthusiastically combed the school site for litter in a House competition; more than 60 volunteers from Y6-8, plus the Y10 House Captains, braved drizzle and soggy underfoot conditions to scour the perimeter of the school; finally the Y9 students not taking part in the WWI Battlefields Trip enthusiastically foraged through the area near Ballard Lake. They then wrote a report of what they found – in English, French, Spanish and German!

Additionally, and entirely independently, recent form assemblies led by Years 1 and 2 and, at the other end of the age-range, a Y9 form group have tackled the very topical issue of plastic in the environment, utterly unprompted by the Eco-Committee.

All-in-all, I am confident that the message is starting to seep into more and more pupils’ consciousnesses, and from there into their daily actions.

The school has progressed in relatively short order from a Bronze to a Silver Award, and with all that we have already achieved in the weeks since we announced the latter, we are clearly well on our way to the top level on the ladder: a Green Flag. Over 18,000 schools in the UK are registered as Eco-Schools… but only just over 1,000 have a Green Flag, so when we do get there, if will be a stellar achievement indeed. Watch this space – and follow the new @BallardEco account on Twitter to see how we are progressing!


#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 – blog 1 – Joe Dale’s opening keynote

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This year’s fifth annual ICT and Languages Conference (ILILC5) kicked off as before with an introductory keynote from the Godfather of the MFLTwitterati, Joe Dale. In his inimitable wide-ranging, link-a-minute style, Joe took us through what’s currently (or about to be…) cutting-edge in the world of language education throughout the world – from social media use to SAMR… from sketchnoting to AR… from flipped learning to BYOD.

Joe is now a genuine world leader in MFL learning and teaching, presenting at conferences from North America to Australia and all points between – and yet one senses he feels truly at home here amongst some of the friends he’s known the longest.

It has to be said that Joe’s generosity with his research. and the work that has emerged from it is remarkable – in the photo above are two QR codes linking to Flipboard magazines he created for his keynote; an abridged version, and a full-fat version with about 1,500 links. Make yourself a thermos of coffee, switch off your mobile and fill your boots! 🙂

Flipboard 1

Flipboard 2 – The “Director’s Cut”

#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.