Is it possible to feel happy through a pandemic?
Nine months ago, I didn’t think so. On that day in March when we had 24 hours to switch from face-to-face to full online delivery, my mind was in overdrive thinking about working from home, homeschooling three children, keeping the house running. It felt completely unrealistic. Never in a million years did I think it would be possible – or that we’d be doing it all again at the beginning of 2021.
Did it get easier a few weeks in?
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There was a glimmer of hope when my husband was furloughed. I thought it would be a breakthrough for my own sanity, and give me an opportunity to carry on working. I thought, "Well, at least he can sort the homeschooling and everything else that comes with being at home all day."
The reality was the opposite: he made more mess than the kids and during Google Meets I still had the youngest one hanging off me, pulling faces at people staring through my laptop screen.
I imagine this resonates with a lot of people: my home life became work and work became my home life.
Searching for a community in FE
As an advanced practitioner, I needed to train and support staff via the digital world – a world I’d never worked in before. I threw myself into self-development, trawled Twitter (which I didn’t know much about either) and I watched the researchEd talks. But the weeks went on, and I still didn’t feel fulfilled. I couldn’t find my link to FE, I couldn't find a community. I felt disconnected from my workplace, colleagues and my career, but I was determined to find a connection to my work and a wider community.
An article on Tes by Sam Jones – “Why do we not value the voice of FE teachers?” – really hit home with me. I wondered: where is that voice? Where is that community I am looking for?
On that very same day, the article arrived in my inbox from college, and we were asked for our views. It was like they’d read my mind, and this what I shared:
"I think it would be extremely beneficial for us as a college with so many amazing tutors, and for the FE sector as a whole, if there was a network for us to share good practice, our experience. And even more so, for other tutors in FE to take more away from webinars and events, for them to see how all these techniques and theories are actually extremely applicable to our sector and our 16+ students.”
I wanted to know: why are FE teachers not shining through on Twitter, webinars and educational events? I think it is crucial for these opportunities to happen: for our students and for our own development.
The power of #APConnect
The college was keen for something to happen – and gave me the time to go and explore and connect with others. It was then that I came across #APConnect – a community of advanced practitioners funded by the ETF – on Twitter and felt like I had struck gold.
Since becoming a part of this community of practice, I haven't looked back. I have built networks with some amazing people in FE – and they have transformed my thinking, confidence and ability to share, listen and take that energy back to Oldham College. I can't believe I'm saying this: but thanks to Twitter, I thrived as teacher last year.
The event for the #APConnect Constellations just blew me away. There were so many people in one place and everybody had the opportunity to speak, think and listen.
Through communities such as #JoyFE, #APConnect, ETF and other connections I have made, my fear of the digital world no longer exists. Today, I can’t imagine being an advanced practitioner without their support.
I embraced lockdown and came out of the other side smiling – and this time around, lockdown doesn't seem so daunting.
I have come to learn that FE does not just exist in the context of your setting. It’s around us: it's the communities, employers, parents, like-minded people wanting to make a difference.
The impact that all of these people have on transforming lives is incredible: up and down the country, they are sharing ideas and experiences – all the while, amplifying the FE voice.
Remember this: that person whose tweet you just liked; that connection you made on LinkedIn; that Zoom meeting you attended, magically landing in a breakout room having deep and meaningful conversations, these spaces are powerful.
I feel empowered, inspired and grateful, and I have the confidence now to experiment with blended learning, to share with my colleagues at Oldham College through Teach Meets, bespoke CPD sessions and projects to elicit excellence, to drive development and become a support mechanism for staff and students.
My journey has been fabulous – and it is still continuing. The challenge now lies with bringing the community of practice into Oldham College, to foster a culture of community and to drive positive impact to help every advanced practitioner go from good to great.
Stacey Salt is an advanced practitioner and business tutor at Oldham College. She tweets @TutorStacey_AP