Having the right support

So I finished up work “for the summer” last Friday, seems so empty to say this year. This academic year has been turbulent to say the least for me (and that’s not even including going into lockdown) but I made it through only with support though there is no way on earth I’d have gotten here by myself that’s for sure.  Support comes in many forms my daughters are my world and have been amazing this year (2 are adults and one is a teen) but all live with me so have been my immediate rocks though they should not have to but its fair they understand how I am. My mum is my ultimate rock and like all mums knows what’s wrong before you even say it. My family have been so important during this time to me in keeping me going and they know I love them all (since I have about 3 million cousins lol one of those families!).  And naturally my friends as well especially my besties. Keeping me going all the time.

It was work I guess that got me into writing this blog at the start of lockdown and to use it as a way of me to tell everyone about my journey with anxiety. It gave me the push to get back into blogging again more regularly.  At work I had a super small circle of folk who knew as firstly I didn’t want to be a bother and I just wanted to get on with my work and yeah not ashamed to say totally thought I’d be judged for having anxiety. Was difficult for sure opening up to those few but totally had to be done for my own wellbeing. I absolutely without a doubt love my job 100% teaching is just in me, despite the anxiety I have found my place in the world I know I was meant to be here for this reason. I have always ALWAYS wanted to teach it just took time for me to find my calling as to where and what stage and now I have that dream job. Laugh if you want but its totally true, I had a job before going back to uni and while I met some nice folk through it, it wasn’t the best and just wasn’t me.

Support networks are important and for me have been a total lifesaver, having the support in and out of work makes such a difference and kept me going through both good and bad days. Probably the one question I got asked a lot as well by health professionals was about my support network to ensure I did have folk that knew and were able to be there if I needed them (turns out I can talk an awful lot of nonsense if my anxiety is high – or I’ll go quiet and need to go for a walk). Again its all about getting to know yourself and understanding how you are feeling and looking for what triggers the anxiety and eventually I was able to find strategies to help with some triggers at least. It takes time though and patience is key, I used to get so frustrated with myself when I had a bad day but soon realised theres no point just let it happen and move on.

To my support network I thank you all for being there through this year your being patient & listening & not judging & generally just putting up with me really has made such a difference to me. Might not have been a big deal to you but changed a lot for me.

Volunteering is ….

Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I got my first experience in my community back in 1994 when I was 16 and I helped out at the Blue Roof (our community centre) it was a kids club at night and I was responsible for the arts and crafts table and I loved it. 

Blue Roof

From there I moved to doing some bits with Stepping Stones for Families and was involved in voluntary childcare work – ok reveal time not many folk know but I actually went to college part time as I wanted to be a nursery teacher was put off at school for being “too bright for that sort of work” only in my adult years do I realise how wrong that was and nursery teachers are amazing. Stopped my course though when I had my own children and then went to work. After a break of a while I got back into volunteering when my oldest started school and loved going on school trips or helping in school with things (parent council, Eco-committee that was lots of fun proud that me and my kids all served a bit of time on that one!, helped with fundraising and getting funding for things, got the housing association involved with the school and my clubs as well – I seen the link and made the connection between school and housing association and partnership for life).

When I went back to uni it gave me a chance to become a bit more involved in school  and I used my expertise, helping out with computing classes and then eventually starting my own afterschool club up in April 2013 with the support of the head teacher.  It ran at least once a week for each term – although some terms I had more time and I did 2 or 3 clubs a week (while I was a student). Totally loved it being part of the school community my little Royston Family – teachers don’t get enough credit for the extras they do to support families and yeah they guys were there for me at a time in my life I needed it most and I’ve always ensured I support the school where possible. I guess this stemmed from when I was younger and as a kid there was Archie Grant true legend R.I.P. who ran a group and used to take us swimming a lot and did the disco as well ha yes the disco has been going that long here lol.  Before then we always did things at the local community centre in Blackhill and went on trips etc so seeing people invested in doing things for their community had an impact on me.

Today I still feel its important to help out first in your own community if and when you can. My wee computing club turned into a Codedojo (name really nothing more but we got more support) and from that I did occasionally help out at the Science Centre or Mitchell Library dojos but knew I wanted to keep my efforts mainly where I was and started a wee dojo in the library.

From there I got involved with Royston Youth Action who do the most amazing work in my community for kids. Did a couple of sessions over the past year for them before the anxiety kicked in. Then I really had to slow down and stop for a bit but you know what those lovely RYA folk are still there for a wee chat and have been super supportive of me and my journey even though they don’t have to but in turn I know that when we can start doing things I’ll be so ready to help them out. I had been trying to make plans with the school and RYA and Glasgow Life to try get things started again just before Covid19 however it will happen.  

I am also a STEM ambassador and have used this throughout the 10 years to work with schools and run my coding clubs as well the Science Connects team are awesome and I owe a lot to Aileen who’s been a great support over the years.

I think its important that if you are in a position to be able to give back to your community you can. I’m not saying it has to be financial far from it volunteering is the best thing you can do. You get to help out others and make a difference in your community. I have worked with so many children in the area and it’s amazing granted some are now grown up lol but I’ve played a small part in their lives.  I’m lucky as well in that I’ve had amazing support from the groups I have volunteered with it makes a big difference and I thank them for that.

Volunteering is something everyone should do at least once in their lives.

Missing the workplace

Virtual coffee meetings just not the same

10 weeks of being at home sounds like heaven right. I see the usual posts every summer oh teachers are sooooo lucky to get such a long holiday (as a college lecturer my holidays fall in with the schools bit different if you work in Higher Education though and was loads of fun when I was part time in both ha! I work hard during the academic year holidays are needed and yes I have used that holiday time before to learn new skills as well (and finish up the PhD in years gone by). Oh don’t get me wrong I love my daughters to bits and we are all still talking to each other (have our own spaces to retreat to when needed lol) but theres only so much Netflix you can do. Chatted to my poor postman last week for ages as he was the first person outside of my home I’d spoken to in person – socially distant – for ages.

One of my girls is still at school (well completing work at home and again apologies to her pastoral care teacher if I waffle on the phone poor person) and the other 2 at uni but due to being 1st and 2nd years they didn’t have to do exams and have been in a week longer than me and my youngest. We go out walks most days around the area just to get out of the house. I used to go out for a walk every lunch at work so trying to keep up the daily walk it really does make a difference for sure. Difference with a holiday is though you know when you are going back to work. The sudden stoppage and then uncertainty of when we will eventually go back to work was for me heart-breaking, genuinely heart-breaking. I love my job with all my heart and to me this is my calling. I’ve done other work before met nice folk but I guarantee this blog would be so different if I was there now during lockdown. Even had a spell or two of unemployment before finally getting back to university as a mature student at the grand ol age of 28. But I had the best pals at uni Christine aye OK we had our moment I guess but wowsers so proud of you and all you have achieved. Heather who I felt like another kiddo of mine (but oh in a good way you were just awful young – hehe team meetings and you getting Id’d in Walkabout lol but such a great friend), Tony ha the one who actually became a teacher from Junes module and David too. I still class myself as her biggest failure in the sense that it made me not want to teach at all – passed that class with flying colours for sure and it also gave me a lifelong friend in Craig who came to talk to us as he’d done the module the year before at his uni. The irony guys is I actually teach NPA for S5& 6 now go figure eh) and finally my good friend Donald we were the auld duffers of the class eh well you are older than me by far haha but we were the parents in that group(metaphorically lol). And yes I do use all that to tell my current students they are never too old to go do stuff and follow their dreams.  Probably my best story is the backup one and I always tell my students to “BACKUP LIKE THERES NO TOMORROW”       you know why during 3rd year I was in charge of the project files and something happened to my copy. Donald made me sweat it out (and cry yeah I did mate) for a while before he told me he took a backup. Ladies and gents that’s why this guy rocks and is such an amazing developer.

 On my last day in the building at work after saying goodbye to a colleague in the car park I went to my car and sat and cried for a while before heading home knowing that it was the last time I’d be here for goodness knows how long.

Why am I sounding so dramatic? Well work believe or not was the place that gave me routine, gave me somewhere to be every weekday. As someone who is blessed to have anxiety and depression, work then gave a balance to me. I know I said going to work was scary and yeah it was but on getting there in at my desk, that melted away knowing I was safe and knowing if I did feel at all bad at any given moment I had my wee support group I could call on at ANY time. Having that meant the world to me.  Feeling bad for those who’ve not been anxious just feels like you are overwhelmed and can’t focus. Anxiety attacks never last long though only a short time and there are many ways of dealing with them (breathing exercises are a must but also walking and listening to music). I was getting better things were starting to look more positive and then lockdown threw all that out the window. When I first spoke of my anxiety in Aug 2019 to the few folk at work it really helped me and I thought at that point OK I’m back at work and I’ve spoken about it this is going to be easy right?  I was reminded by one of them that yes it’s great you feel better after talking but that’s just the start it’s a long road to recovery and I hate to admit they were so right. But having that support throughout was helping and the understanding of my situation really did help which is why I miss being in the workplace so much. Yes I’m still working but it is not the same working from home. I still talk to my colleagues and students and we get the work done which I am glad I can at least do but its not the same as being there in person and that I can’t wait for again.

Do what scares you once ….

Advice from my mentor at the time before I gave my very first lecture in front of my 1st year Games Design Class. Which you would think given I’d been teaching for a couple of years at college by that point that a lecture would be no problems. Nope a lecture you have to be at the front the whole time talking (or droning on I am sorry students but even I got fed up of my voice after 20 minutes so for you to sit and stay with me for over an hour you guys rock – yeah we do look at the audience for sleepers lol my biggest fear but thankfully you were all too kind) and that’s it totally scary stuff in front of 100 students not just your class of 20. Once the first one was over though it did get a bit easier but those words stuck with me. I was reminded of this on my Facebook memories this week with this post about me finding the presentation I’d made for my first ever talk in front of folk at uni and guess who was my lecturer yes that very person who then mentored me how lucky can you get.

Julie is an amazing person and gave me the confidence to deliver that first presentation as a scared mature student back in 2006 (mature being I was 10 years older than most of my class but we had a great group) and then when I came back to GCU as a member of staff she was then a mentor to me and again showed utter faith in my abilities which led to me lecturing and not just leading tutorials/labs eek. Her faith paid off though and OK maybe seems daft to folk but when you are not the most confident (I guess anxiety has always been with me) you need reassurance and having that from someone I admire as a lecturer really gave me that push I needed. Also, she is very much a positive role model for women in computing. I do try applying the kindness that she showed me to my own students as I think its important. I struggled through those 4 years for various reasons BUT always had the back up of the staff who were nothing but patient, understanding and sympathetic to what was going on in my life outside of studying.

This past academic year anxiety has been that scary thing I’ve done EVERY day its hard to get up out of bed for work but when the anxiety kicks in you realise its easier to go to work than have to explain why you can’t go to work. Sounds stupid right? Work is the place though that has helped with that and once I was there in the building that feeling of eurgh went away. I absolutely love my job and lets face it I work with some of the most amazing folk. However I had to get up out of bed and get to work first to make that happen. But thanks to the love and support I am still here fighting every day yeah for sure it’s a million times harder during lockdown BUT I still have the support which is priceless.

While it may be mental health week – great for raising awareness but in reality we really should all be more aware of our own mental health all the time and when it is suffering. We all have good and bad days and this lockdown for sure is testing everyone. Its something we need to talk about more and openly not be ashamed about it. I was to start one of those I didn’t want folk to know about my issues and for at least 7 months while family and friends new only 4 folk at work knew and those were the trusted few that helped me through the most difficult time. Naturally I realise now I would have had much more support had I been a bit more open but there is a stigma about mental health issues I guess and I had to shake that off before I could open up fully to others and I am glad I have done. It has been a relief not to worry about it as such now and I know that the help and support network is amazing.  Its important you don’t struggle alone – I would not have gotten through work had I kept this fully to myself for sure. My anxiety manifests in the fear of I’m not good enough or I’m always second guessing myself at work. It leads to endless thinking and overthinking until it hurts my head. It can also lead to anxiety attacks which can at times render me unable to talk and I have to just go fora walk to shake it off. Its all about rationalising things so a simple task for you will be a mountain for me until I have sorted it out in my head and realised yeah actually that is OK.

Look after each other you never know who needs that kind word – there’s been a few times recently where I’ve had a lovely wee check in message either text or DM on social media and for those who have done it it makes a world of difference. You don’t have to understand, just being there and asking is everything and makes things better.

Have you seen my motivation?

So if any of you find my motivation out there can you post it back to me!  

Tried to take a small break from my pc, it was the Easter break after all however it latest a little longer than planned  – well aside from getting back to work at home naturally.  

 I tried to stay away from all things work during that 2 week break though did some of that colouring stuff which actually turned out to be quite relaxing, make a lego loveheart for my window, spent time tidying the garden, made a couple of daft videos. I say daft more just I like to try different things so one of them was really just a montage of pictures I’d taken from near enough the same spot in Kelvingrove park – The Snow Bridge looking out at Glasgow University. Me and one of my daughters would go every Saturday morning for a Pokemon walk and I got into the habit of taking pictures as well (mostly of Squirrels but I loved the view from the bridge too.

The other video was well out of my comfort zone but my wee cousin was supposed to get married just before Easter and naturally that never happened so I got some family involved and made a mime along video for her to one of her favourite Westlife songs (personally it’ll be too soon if I hear it again sorry Kelly but almost 7 hours of You raise me up just to get the video right!) still it was worth the end result and put a smile on her face. 

Why am I doing these things well they keep me focused. My anxiety has been quite bad recently and I am hating shopping with a passion now to the point it is literally fear inducing thankfully only go once a week now to the supermarket. My routine isn’t great and it has affected me not being able to head off to work each day – yes I work at home and do get to talk to my colleagues/students but it is not the same as being able to get in the car and head off to another building for the day. Writing has also been good though but see that motivation I was talking about yip it has been slowly going and its been difficult to get back into thing again. I’d had a bit of CBT before the lockdown and part of that was all about ensuring I did something enjoyable each week if not more (small things).  So doing the little things like that help me get a bit of me time and time to try not “think” or overthink.  

I’ve now started  to meditate using the Calm App. Had did this before but kind of lost my way with it before Christmas so giving it another go. Only been a few days though. I still get out to walk every day with my daughters and listen to music while we do so (we probably look very unsociable walking in pairs with headphones on but it gets us out the house). I also discovered from a friend Susan Calmans awesome Mrs Brightside podcast which you’d think listening to someone talk about anxiety and depression would be weird but actually I have found it very interesting and somehow makes what I have feel a bit more normal. Its definitely good to talk about these things and I have hid it for too long but by opening up it has lifted a weight.   

Anxious but looking forward

Decided since I’m going to be at home more to start blogging again. The past 2 weeks have been awful uncertain and difficult to say the least for everyone and leaving my workplace today for an indefinite amount of time was overwhelming to say the least. As someone though who suffers from Anxiety and Depression this has set me back a fair bit. I was diagnosed in August 2019 and through close support from my GP, family and friends and a few fab colleagues at work (there are lots of fab folk I work with I should add I just chose to tell those who needed to know) I had started to get things back on track. Xmas was hard being away from the routine for a couple of weeks but now the uncertainty of how long I’m going to be away from work has this week really dawned on me I have struggled with that as my physical workplace was out of the house and interacting with my colleagues as well as teaching my students.

I am now going to have to adapt (as are we all) and I’m going to try make this a positive experience rather than let it overtake me  and I’d just like to take this time to remind us all that we need to look after each other. Outside of our immediate family life, we naturally will be worrying about those we teach, but we also need to look out for our colleagues and ensure we keep in touch with each other as well.  The support I have had has been crucial in keeping me going especially in the workplace.

I understand my mental health a lot better now and have strategies in place granted that went out the window this week. But I will get back to it. I have been loathed until now to share my issues with a wider community but feel that its important that we start talking about it and ensuring that we look after our mental health as best we can, I know more than ever I am going to need the support to see me through.  

I am going to be doing what I can to keep me and my 3 awesome daughters going (2 uni students and 1 in 4th year of school) and also supporting my students online as well as anyone else who will be needing it. Happy to help any of my colleagues with advice on online working and various collaborative methods. As well as offering online help in my local community for those who need it (probably via my @CoderRoyston twitter).

#bekind should not just be for a day or when something big happens we need to #bekindalways you never know what the person next to you is going through and you may just be that one to help with a kind action or words.

#SurfaceGo Event – Microsoft Edinburgh

Catching up with things and thought I’d get blogging again. Last Wednesday I was able to attend the Surface Go event at Microsoft in Edinburgh. It was a great chance to see the new Surface and meet up with some new and familiar faces.

After Tina Jones had welcomed everyone – always great to finally put a person to the twitter handle !! Kevin Sait gave us a demonstration of the Surface Go. I loved the size and even though my Surface Pro 4 is portable this is definitely next level. I can see the benefits of having one of them for myself it would be a bonus for meetings and just general day to day work as it is a lot easier to hold for writing on as you would do at a meeting. I still use my surface at meetings but this seems like it would be a lot easier to handle for tasks like that.

After Kevin the amazing Sarah Clark spoke about how she uses tech in her classroom and I have to say I love her passion for what she does. She does not have much tech to use (her surface and lots of cables it seems coming from everywhere) but its how she uses it with her classes that’s the important part from being able to add notes to pictures of their experiments there and then to sharing demos with the entire class at once. I remember seeing a tweet ages ago about Sarah giving a demonstration to her class (bear in mind its biology so some things can messy  or not for those who want to stand right at the front of a dissection) so she sets up her surface so that she can capture what she is doing and it can be projected onto the screen given everyone in the class a good chance to see the demonstration. I’d never thought of using it that way before but do now when I’m demoing things like attaching crocodile clips to the Micro:bit or setting up a raspberry pi touchscreen. It really is a great example of how you can make the most of what you actually have in class and shows that you don’t need to have lots of tech to be making a difference.

20181107_174957

Callum Paine was the last speaker and he gave us a demonstration of the learning tools that were available. For me the biggest surprise was Edge and the tools it now has such as Reading View which when you use it takes away all the unnecessary bits on a web page and puts it into a nice page view that’s easy to read. Fonts and page colours can also be changed very helpful for learners if needed.  Things that I am going to have to look at a bit more now to see how I can use them to benefit my own students.

msft

It was a great evening and really good to catch up with folk I’ve not seen for a while in person especially Sarah & Ian who kindly posed for pictures with my students 3D model thanks to the wonderful mixed reality viewer which is great for showing off their creations, though Kevin did a good job of photobombing as well,  thanks Microsoft for a great evening. .

Computing without Computers

As many will know I’ve been running an after-school computing club (@CoderRoyston) in Royston Primary now since April 2013 and we’ve been a CoderDojo site since October 2014). Each club lasts a school term and I’m now in my 22nd term of club. Mostly with one club per week but during 13/14 & 14/15 sometimes two or three clubs per week with between 8-12 kids per club. Some kids will stay for just a term, others dip in and out of terms and some stay. In 2016 3 of the longest attending kids were presented with raspberry pi’s from CoderDojo Scotland for their dedicated attendance over 3 years and sadly only left as they were moving onto secondary school.

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2 of our 3 longest attenders getting their Pi

Over that time the kids have entered competitions, had visits from Maureen McKenna director of Education for Glasgow, Elizabeth from HMI who wrote up a cool good practise report on our wee club & a party of educators from Denmark!! They’ve also been out presenting to primary teachers interested in computing and to the local housing association showing what they’ve been getting up to during their time at the club, as well as getting to the Scottish KoduKup finals twice.

Keeping busy

Overall, I’m proud to be involved with this wee school that I call my second home and proud to be part of the Royston family – bear in mind my youngest child left the school 2 years ago now. But once part of the family then that’s it, my kids were at the school from 2004 until 2016 and I’ve been involved in a lot of things parent wise and volunteer wise. Since 2010 I’ve been doing computing of various sorts related to my research and finally started the computing clubs in April 2013 and haven’t looked back. I haven’t given them up because even though I’ve no kids there now I know all the kids there and feel like well while I can give back I should.

Just some of the things we’ve done at club

So why am I writing this post, well this term has seen a Big change to the club. The school is being refurbished and now don’t have an ICT room which technically should have meant the end of computing club BUT no I couldn’t see that happen. Sooo thinking hats on and well pretty easy we have done some unplugged activities – doing pixel art, learning some magic tricks that teach computing concepts and planning a Minecraft build. We are lucky enough to have Raspberry Pi’s though and that’s the route we are going to be taking with the club. Our next session will be hooking up a multiplayer Minecraft session and working in pairs to create the ideal school that was planned out at a previous session.  Yes it’s disappointing to lose the room but time to think outside that ICT room box and ensure the kids still get to enjoy club for many more terms to come.

 

A week of birthdays (of sorts)

This week marks 2 important events for me Mini Game Jam & my Coding Club are celebrating 5 & 4 years of being around.

5 years ago when finishing research I came up with the idea and here I am still having events across Glasgow – theres more detail about the jams in this post here with a hope to expand the event across other authorities next year – happy to consult with others if folk are interested.

4 years ago this Friday my weekly Computing Club started in Royston Primary School. What a journey that has been, I’ve delivered 150 hours of coding since I started the clubs with an average attendance of 10 kids per club. It has been amazing the kids have done so much Scratch, Minecraft, Python, GPIO, Raspberry Pi’s, Unplugged work, Magic tricks, Microbits, Kodu, Touchdevelop and Makey makey. They’ve also had fab opportunities – getting to the KoduKup final twice, having visitors from Denmark come and see what we do, going and presenting to our local housing association and groups of teachers to as well as visits from the Director of Education Maureen McKenna & a wee visit from HMI as well. I’m so proud to be involved with the school and this club really is special to me from the kids who are regulars to those who couldn’t wait until they were old enough until they got to go to club as they’d heard so much about it and those who come just to try something different.

I hope through both these things that I get children not only really enjoying computing & game making but also to make them realise that they could have a future working in either.