Checking in with Dr Clare Campbell
This week we’re speaking with Dr Clare Campbell. She’s a mum, wife, teacher, learner, head teacher and artist, and alongside all that has somehow found time to be the author of 6 brilliant books. She’s been teaching since 1999 and in our chat we cover what it really means to be a teacher and ways to make children’s time at school as memorable as possible.
Find Clare here on Twitter.
What does well-being mean to you?
When I took over my current school it was in quite a bit of difficulty so my chair of governors gave me some great advice. She said “You need to put your own oxygen mask on first.” So I kind of think of it like that - I've got to help myself before I can help others.
What’s one habit that improves your life?
Since schools opened back up after lockdown, every day when I get home before I start cooking for my family or tidying up after my kids, I’ll go and read a chapter of a book. I love reading but never really got the chance to read for pleasure. I was only really reading for pleasure at the weekends or during holidays so I thought I'd make this small change and it's made a really big difference to my life. It really calms me down and helps me switch off from work.
What one thing makes you the happiest?
My family including my dog, but if I'm honest, it really is my dog. Don’t tell my family! She's a trained therapy dog but she's my therapy dog really. I take her into school with me every day and the kids love her as well.
What helps you to feel healthy?
I walk to school every day with my dog and that really helps me feel more healthy. I also gave up snacks for Lent but I was a bit rubbish this year with some cheating here and there.
What did you think being a teacher would be like vs what it’s actually like?
I've always wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a little girl and even used to teach my teddies. I thought that teaching would just be about education and learning but the reality is that you need to be so much more. You're a trusted adult, you're a trusted professional and you really are in loco parentis while in school. Sometimes I've needed to be a grief counsellor, a social worker, a therapist. During lockdown we ran a food bank, we offered financial advice and financial support for families and were even a mobile library, so we were everything to everyone. I believe that as a Catholic teacher I'm called to serve, so I'm here to serve my community with whatever it is they need.
What do you wish you had known when you started your career?
I wish I'd known that good is good enough. For many years, I have strived to be outstanding and have wanted the schools that I’m working in to be outstanding. As a teacher myself I wanted to be an outstanding teacher - I wanted to have the best lessons, the best planning, wanted my marking and feedback to be the best in the whole school. But the reality is that you can't be outstanding all the time. It's absolutely impossible. It’s still a dream of mine to lead an outstanding school and I do believe that most days we are, but after 13 inspections in my career, I realised that good is really good enough if you’re doing your best. In reality it doesn't actually matter what Ofsted think, it matters what your kids think.
In education, what needs to change soon?
Within our world care for our planet is the most important thing. Money, politics, war, pandemics are all irrelevant if our earth is unable to sustain life. Educating our children about the environment and how to live more sustainably is my number one priority. It’s something I feel is so important and that we need to really step up and educate our children about to make sure that they're the change makers of the future.
What role do books play in your life?
I love books and always have. I think that once a child learns to read, the whole curriculum opens up for them, so for me teaching early reading well is one of the most important things a teacher can do. I read to my own children every day and have done since I brought them home from hospital when they were born. Young children whose parents read them five books a day, enter school having heard 1.4 million more words than children whose parents never read to them. It's so important that we get early reading right and if children aren't being read to at home and they haven't got access to books then schools need to step up and fill that gap.
What personal project are you most excited about right now?
I've just been accepted on to a Farmington Institute Scholarship, which is linked with Oxford University, Liverpool Hope and the University of Chester, with my topic being ‘Mary and Me.’ We serve a really multicultural community at my school and it's really important to have diversity and representation in the books we use with children, so I was thinking why not in the religious artefacts and imagery that we use too. We've got children in our school from nearly every continent and they speak 25 different languages so our religious displays and our artefacts around school should reflect this in order to be more inclusive. For example currently we’re using images of the Black Madonna, Our Lady Through The Eyes of The Orient and Our Lady of Guadalupe from South America just to make our religious displays and prayer spaces more inclusive.
What's the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
As I mentioned earlier always put your own oxygen mask on first but also don't take life too seriously. Have fun with your children at school, chat with them, find out about their likes and dislikes, find out about what's going on at home for them and who their friends are. They're only so young for such a short time and it's such a privilege to watch children grow up. You have to treasure them, cherish them, build relationships with them, and really enjoy it. When I ask the children about their most memorable times in my primary school, it's always the silly stuff. It's the time that father Gavin poured custard on my head in assembly, or the time when my assistant Mrs. Drake and I had a competition to see how many marshmallows we could fit in our mouths (Mrs Drake won - she’s got a huge mouth!) It's always the silly stuff. We're teachers - we're not brain surgeons, we’re not rocket scientists but we are making a difference to children. Children love to laugh and love to be silly and I think some teachers can take themselves too seriously so just have some fun!
Can you recommend a Twitter account we should check out?
I write for an online magazine called Adamah Media. It's a Christian publication, but it's really good news. It's about changing the media so it's not always dark and controlled by Murdoch! It's free speech from a Christian perspective and is really kind with writers from all faiths.
How about a book?
I love fiction particularly children's books. I teach part time in year five where our topic this term is North America so we're doing Holes by Louis Sachar which has been recommended by lots of people.
In terms of education books, Mary Myatt’s are really good and for Catholic teachers, David Wells and Raymond Friel are brilliant writers.
And a podcast?
I love Teacher Hug Radio
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The Check-In is put together by the team at Mindfuel. Mindfuel produce fun, engaging well-being programmes for KS1 & KS2, providing teachers with everything they need to confidently teach well-being skills for positive mental health.