Chloë Hynes' ATS diary #2: Make it work for you

Chloë Hynes reflects on the year she undertook Advanced Teacher Status (ATS) and looks back at how she managed her workload, the supportive communities that helped her along her journey, and offers her advice, from choosing the right mentor to colour coded to-do lists, to others undertaking ATS.

Chloë Hynes

So you’ve finished phase one of ATS, hurray! You’re probably thinking: “Phew! Now I can relax!” Unfortunately, phase one is just the beginning of the process and it’s mostly up to you whether you make it a treacherous journey or an exciting adventure.  

Like any qualification, course or developmental programme, there are elements of the portfolio and process that may be challenging. In fact, I think if the process isn’t challenging, perhaps your professional development plan (PDP) needs a little tweak to make it a little more ambitious. After all, Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have been very interesting if Frodo just strolled into Mordor and skipped up Mount Doom would it? Or if Harry defeated *he who shall not be named* in his first year at Hogwarts.

Managing my workload  

This time last year I looked back at my PDP and forward at my calendar, then totted up my to do list (using a digital notice board called Trello, which I fully recommend!). I was horrified. Whilst I don’t teach a full timetable, I do work full time (the rest of my workload is filled with mentoring, resource development, event organisation and PDNorth) and I was anxious about getting it all done and at the right time. Specifically: the time restrictions on observations, mentor meetings and the final observation (six to eight weeks before final submission). During this time every action on my to-do list was listed as red or amber. As such, I found myself asking: “Is it all too much?”, at least once a day. 

Over the months that followed, I battled the fields of overwhelm to ensure I didn’t fall into the swamp of sadness or wander into the forest of fury. In the event my experience will help you, this is how I worked through it: 

 

1. Complementary CPD and other developmental programmes  

Let them be part of your ATS year rather than an additional thing on top. For example, if you’re an advanced practitioner on the #APConnect* programme, you could write a reflective diary about your project (here’s mine!). If you’re undertaking an #OTLA* action research project could your contribution to the project form your QIP? Why not attend their monthly Research Round Tables? Lastly, if you’re undertaking a mentoring programme, remember to get feedback from one of your mentees for your portfolio evidence. 

*the teams on the #APConnect and #OTLA programmes have designed some guides which may be helpful with your journey inc. The AP Toolkit and Mentoring/ coaching guides and Doing Action Research in Post-16 respectively. Additionally, check out these mentoring frameworks

 

2. Flexibility and adaptability  

Let yourself go with the flow if needed. Something I think you will have had plenty of practice at doing in recent years as in-out-in-out-shakeitallabout lockdowns tested our resilience. For me it was a change in organisation priority which meant I got taken off the re-development of a course (from synchronous to asynchronous) onto the design of an e-course that was a completely different subject. The re-development was a chunk of my PDP and I panicked I wouldn’t be able to achieve it. However, I tracked the development point back, looking at the reasons why I chose it (from the 360), the professional standards attached to it, and I made it work with the new course design.  

 

3. Additional CPD... but avoid gamification 

Is there any CPD* that you could do that will help you achieve your goals? You don’t need to ‘go it alone’ and might find topping up (even just your energy levels being around peers, refreshing, pausing and learning) via a workshop or an online course. During my year I worked through the Enhance digital badges but in the end I found myself not really engaging with them as much as I had been because I was drawn in by gamification (“just one more badge…”). However, Enhance also has a series of topics that include awarded practice extended development which include more sustained and reflective practice and I wholeheartedly recommend these. Whether digital is one of your aims, if you’re a digital specialist like me or even for your ‘promoting technology’ section of your portfolio. 

*the ETF has lots on offer and all aligned with the professional standards. I also recommend signing up to mailouts such as FEtapestry and Skills for Life Network to find out more about events and opportunities in the sector. Additionally, does your subject specialism have an associated charity of group? I teach ESOL and train in digital so for me I found being a member of NATECLA and ALT invaluable.  

 

4. An ATS Community of Practice 

Don’t do this alone. The process can be intense. Frodo only had to deliver a ring to Mordor, but he still took eight people with him on his journey for support. Find others that are doing ATS by asking in your organisation, commenting in the ATS forum, checking out the ATS Facebook or doing a shout out on Twitter (tag @PDNorth_FE and I’ll retweet for you!). Our ‘ATS Staffroom’ was invaluable. We were there for each other (via Zoom and Slack) during the highs and lows and we’re now on the other-side looking forward to being able to celebrate with one another at our graduation later in the year. For some of us this will be the first time we’ve met, but it doesn’t feel like it.  

Additionally, you might find other community spaces that will be useful for you e.g. #APConnect Constellations Slack space (they also have a channel for ATS!) or the #FEresearchCircle (why not share your QIP?).  

 

5. Mentor Relationship 

I will return to this in the future as this needs a whole blog of its own – but your mentor is invaluable to you so make sure you have cherry picked one that will support you through the whole process. Someone that is reliable, that will be there when you need them to be and be a critical friend who will challenge you. However, also remember that they are doing all of this work voluntarily so if you get a good mentor; show them your appreciation when you can. 

 

6. Time to read 

Around mid-April I began to get frustrated that I just couldn’t find the time to read. My baby was still feeding and co-sleeping which meant my evenings were taken up with bath – book – bedtime and I had no time or space to read anything other than ‘Room on the Broom’. Also, it wasn’t just the time to read I needed but the space to pause, think and reflect on what I had read.  I was so frustrated I Tweeted about it and found that there were others (most of us mums of young children) who felt exactly the same. You can read here about the #FEreadingCircle I set up to combat this. The Circle is still going, so if you’d like to join us – you’re more than welcome!  

  

7. Time to write 

As with reading, writing too! There is so much writing involved in your portfolio, my (Dr) mentor quipped: “it’s nearly a PhD!” I found with all my other work I just didn’t have the time and I needed dedicated time to focus and get my head down. This is where my ATS staffroom sisters came in! Around June or so we started doing ‘writing rooms*’ which were a few hours to whole days dedicated to us writing together. What did this look like in practice: well, we all joined the Zoom at a set time, asked how we all were, stated our intentions for the time and cracked on. Hearing one another type, make cups of tea, even hearing ‘home life’ noises felt like we were all together in the same (physical) space. Being there with one another having set intentions too meant we had a little accountability. On reflection, I think we would have benefited from these throughout the whole year! 

*check out #JoyFE to find out about regular public writing rooms.   

 

8. Colour coded to-do lists! 

I think I always loved these and sometimes to my detriment; my university house mate said I was as bad as Rimmer from Red Dwarf, procrastinating by making endless lists! When I became a teacher, I found it was a valuable skill to colour code using traffic light systems and could, as long as I didn’t linger on it feeding the procrastination beast, be a valuable asset to my productivity. For this project I started using Trello (an online noticeboard with columns, an expanded version of the Padlet shelf format) and it was incredibly effective at keeping me on task and allowing me to see visually at a glance what needed to be done next and what could wait a little while. A little tip: turn your bigger actions into smaller increments to make it more manageable. Have a list for each aspect of your portfolio: PDP aims, observations, mentoring, promoting digital, QIP, CPD entries and reflective diaries. Lastly, complete your reflective diaries as you go along, don’t leave them to the last minute! 

 

Keep going 

Earlier I mentioned that my to-do list stayed at red and amber for a long time, and this made me anxious about all I’d taken on. Much of my PDP was multilayered, and so were many other elements of the portfolio. Many actions remained amber for a long time, which during a challenging year was incredibly stressful. However, when I started marking things green, they didn’t stop until I finally achieved ATS. With that being said, my final note of advice in my blog this month is: make it work for you, and keep going!  

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