My Journey Towards Minimalism

I’ve been really interested in leading a more minimalist life ever since reading some blog posts on, and have become a huge fan of Joshua and Ryan and the lifestyle they advocate. I never considered myself a minimalist in the past; in fact, I had quite a collection of random items that, up until my move to England in 2013, I felt I “needed”.

When I moved to England, I left with 1 suitcase, and lived in a shared home that was furnished for about a year. Upon meeting my husband and moving into our own, much smaller flat, we needed to think more carefully about space, and the purchases we needed to make, since our new flat wasn’t furnished. By Christmas of 2014, we had settled in nicely, but came to the sudden realization that many things we bought, we didn’t actually need. We began paring down, and by springtime, we managed to rid ourselves of a few things, and it felt much lighter.

Fast forward to July 2015 – I was feeling cramped and stuck. Looking around, nothing in our flat was a source of joy or inspiration. I felt trapped, and constantly overwhelmed with the task of keeping our living space clean and organised, and the ideas of finding new places for any new purchases we made was paralyzing. I didn’t feel motivated to write, to design, or even just to create. Being a naturally creative person, this felt like a constant weight on my shoulders. We tried going for daily walks around our area, which of course provided us with some refreshment and invigoration. We even took the train into Central London on the weekends to watch a show, have lunch, or wander around like tourists, which also helped us feel inspired. Unfortunately, the “refreshment”, “invigoration”, and “inspired” feelings were only temporary. I thought that maybe spending even more time out and about would help. But no matter where we went, or how long we were gone for, coming back to that flat made us feel dreary and full of dread again. Our inspiration had wilted, and we realized we needed to make a more drastic change. After a couple weeks of discussion, we decided: we were going to move back to my home of Canada.

In the months leading up to our move, we made a few different lists of tasks that needed to be completed by the time we set off. One of those tasks was, obviously, to begin paring down our belongings and pack them away. The whole idea of packing away items that were “barely used” or “non-essential” seemed a bit strange to me. I began thinking “should we even have items that we barely use, or that are non-essential?” From that point, I began doing some serious overhaul on our household items. Things I had held onto for vague or non-compelling reasons were immediately discarded, or donated to the homeless shelter in the nearby town. As I continued to pare down, some items became difficult to get rid of due to their sentimental value, and items like family heirlooms or jewelry from deceased relatives were kept. I made some difficult choices and ended up parting with some (not all) of them.

In the final month (April) of 2017, my husband and I were both off work and beginning to tackle the larger tasks on our lists, which included disassembling our furniture and packing away our kitchen items. Luckily, my husband’s sister was moving out into her first place, so many of our household items, such as dishes, cutlery, appliances, our TV, and other items were taken to her in Northern England. It was during the process of packing and stacking these various items that it really sunk in just how much stuff my husband and I had accumulated. Usually anyone walking into our flat would exclaim how tidy it was, and how little we had. We were not the types to have kick-knacks, trinkets, extra wires, or miscellaneous items hanging around, and everything had their place. To an outsider, we were minimalist. And for a while, we thought ourselves to be minimalist too. It was during the process of packing things up for my husband’s sister when it really sunk in hard. How on earth were we going to get all of this remaining stuff back to Canada?

With our extra baggage allowance, we were tasked with packing all of our remaining items into 4 suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and 2 bike boxes. The bikes weren’t much of a hassle, but fitting our entire lives in those suitcases and carry-ons was definitely going to be difficult. Living in hotels for our final 5 days in England was a bit of a fun adventure, to be honest. We enjoyed being away from the responsibilities of renting a flat, and loved the idea of handing over our keys and never looking back. The day before we set off for the airport, my husband sold his car at a nearby trade-in. He loved that! Being car-free was exhilarating for him, and he certainly relished in those final 24 hours of freedom. The final day in our hotel was a bit stressful, because we needed to come face-to-face with our luggage, and the daunting task of sorting it all into 23 and 10kg chunks. We borrowed a luggage scale from the front desk at the hotel, and spent the next 3 hours unpacking and re-packing our belongings so that we weren’t hit with surprise charges for being overweight. Eventually, we sorted them so that each bag hit the maximum kg allowance, but boy was it ever difficult!

The next day was long, but, as always when we travel between Canada and England, it went by quickly. Before we knew it, we were unloading and carrying our luggage to the basement in my parent’s house (which is actually much more comfortable and pleasant than you’d imagine!) Stepping into our temporary home, I immediately became overwhelmed. Being a respectful mother, my mom had kept hold of everything that had been in my old room, not wanting to throw it away during their move incase it was important to me. Unfortunately, I became inundated with the daunting task of now having to sort through all of my old stuff to make room for our things from England. I’ve stumbled across clothes that are nearly 15 years old, items from high school that serve literally zero purpose to my life, as well as things that I could use in the future, but that I haven’t touched in nearly 4 years (so how useful are they? When will I hypothetically use these?)

As I sit here, three weeks on from our big move, I’m realizing that you really don’t need much at all to live a happy and fulfilling life. In fact, having less stuff frees you to inject experiences and enjoyment into your life. I am constantly dreading the day(s) I’ll need to spend sorting through (read: throwing out) piles of old clothes, toys, school supplies, and general JUNK scattered around my room. Having too much stuff really does drag you down and suck the literal LIFE out of you!

Living in England, I thought my husband and I were quite minimalist, and I suppose for the majority of people, we were! But after a huge life-changing move across the world, we realized how much we actually had, and how pointless it was to hold onto it all. From this experience we learned that moving forward, we have to be careful when it comes to consumerism – it really creeps up on you if you’re not careful. You can accumulate so much more than you need without really realizing it. I also learnt that moving countries won’t solve all of your problems. Yes, moving to Canada has brought back a source of inspiration and excitement. My yearning for cleaner air, fresh water nearby to swim in, lots of sunshine and green space, and being around friends and family has certainly been satiated. But contending with an abundance of stuff is still weighing heavy on me, and it’s made me realize that it wasn’t necessarily life in our English flat that sucked the life out of me; it was the stuff! It’s eye-opening when people said to my husband and I “Wow, you’ve fit your whole life into 4 suitcases! That’s crazy!” when, to us, 4 suitcases seemed like a ridiculous amount. One day, I hope we’ll be able to cut that number in half, or even be able to fit our belongings into 1, but for now, we’ll take our minimalism journey one step at a time.


My thoughts on timetables

I’m sure if you asked any teacher they’d say they rely on some sort of weekly, or even daily timetable to structure their lessons. They might even say they can’t work without one. I used to feel the same – until I got into teaching.

It’s a policy at our school that each teacher is to fill in a weekly timetable of the subjects they teach, which TA or HLTA they have present, and how long the lesson is taught. Once we do this, we need to save it on the shared server so that all teachers can see it (along with our medium term plans, daily plans for maths, English, foundation planning, and a weekly foundation plan). Seems fine, and I can get behind the reasons for doing so. After all, you need to know when you’re going to teach certain subjects, right?

What I’ve come to realise lately, though, is that no matter how articulate and well-organised my timetable is, I very rarely stick to it. This isn’t because I’m disorganised or because I can’t be bothered to stick to it. It’s simply because no matter how hard anyone tries, teaching is not that simple.

How many times have you finished teaching in the morning and gotten around to lunch, setting up the lesson you’ll be teaching in the afternoon, then realised “There’s no WAY I’m doing ____ with them this afternoon!” There could be several reasons for this:

  1. Lack of supplies/materials – this could result from a lack of preparedness, or could be the fault of someone else not returning them, etc.
  2. Surprise speaker or assembly – not common, but it does happen.
  3. Poor behaviour – It would daunt many teachers to pull out the clay/paint/mod-roc/pastels to teach an afternoon lesson, knowing full-well the state of the kids in the morning (if they were particularly unruly).
  4. Mood of the children – by no means should a teacher reorganise an entire day around their class’s mood or “what they want to do” – but a good teacher should be mindful of the mood his or her class are in.
  5. Needing to finish a task that was supposed to be finished in the morning – I’ve had a few occasions where I’ve needed a TA to cover my lesson, and returned to find that the work hadn’t even been started.
  6. Class assembly/play/choir practising – something that might not take an entire afternoon, but sneaking in 20-30 minutes in an afternoon can seriously derail your afternoon plans, thus throwing off your timetable.

I’m sure you can think of other reasons, but I can’t wrap my head around the idea of submitting a weekly timetable, and honestly sticking to it. I think there’s far too much uncertainty and spontaneity that goes on in a school in any given week to take your timetable seriously.

Like I said at the beginning, I get timetabling – we should have a rough idea about what we’re going to teach in a week – but for SLT to expect teachers to not deviate from them, or to modify them after each lesson to reflect the actual amount of time spent on each subject, is ridiculous (especially when you know a big reason for why it’s required is to have evidence of “consistency” throughout the school). Teaching is too spontaneous and, often times, too unpredictable to rely on a strict timetable.

What do you think? Agree or disagree, I’d love to know in the comments 🙂

“Make them work every minute of every lesson”

Those were the words of our headteacher in staff meeting this past week.

You can imagine my shock and disbelief that someone might suggest that children in any year group should be working every minute of every lesson. Crazy, right?!

Well, not entirely.

After leaving the meeting feeling bewildered at what had just been suggested, I went home and took some time to mull over the idea. Of course I mentioned this to my husband (who works in IT and software engineering, and has a hard time coming to grips with the daily qualms of teaching as it is) and told him how ridiculous I thought this was – to which he mostly agreed. I thought “How ludicrous – kids being forced to work every minute of every lesson!” To an extent, I still feel like this is asking too much of them (at least for my Year 3s anyway).

It’s been a few days now, and although I still feel as though expecting this level of attention and discipline from my students still feels a bit farfetched, I do see some benefits.

Putting it into practise

It was also mentioned that the benefits of making them work every minute of every lesson means the teacher doesn’t end up working harder than the students do.

I tested this out during my English lesson on Friday, where I had the students write persuasive letters to the headteacher, urging him to push for a more environmentally friendly school. Typically, I would take some suggestions from the children and scribe an example for my lower-achieving students to work from. This time, I decided to put it to them: I asked one half of the class to come up with suggestions for what we could do as a school to promote environmentalism, and the other half of the class to come up with reasons why this would be a good idea, and potential benefits that could come from changing our habits. The previous lesson, they had done some brainstorming related to this idea, so they had a good idea of what they could be writing, but I pitched this to them point-blank, and they were off.

I was amazed to see ALL of them taking this challenge on board, and generate some excellent sentences, drawing on our discussion of persuasion and exaggeration just a few minutes before. I asked them to then hold up their boards and show me what they wrote, and used these to create a short example, while asking different students to dictate what their partner had written. I had high levels of engagement from them, and realised the extent of their focus and discipline. Many of them were helping each other correct their sentences, and having the children read them out forced everyone else to listen to potential grammatical errors that might have been made.

The results

To say that I was pleased with the results was an understatement. I encouraged my students to use their sentences in their letters, and allowed them to take a few sentences from the model copy at the front. Of course, they also had many physical aids available to them, which many of them opted to use.

Here are a few examples of what they came up with:

I was especially impressed with their use of connectives, and the suggestions they had come up with themselves.
From a middle ability student, I was particularly impressed with the level of conviction regarding having a rubbish school!

For my class, this was a very successful lesson with a great outcome. Everyone was focussed on what they were doing, and ended up producing some fantastic letters.

My verdict

Admittedly, I am still on the fence regarding the sentiment of making students work “every minute of every lesson” – surely you can’t expect a Year 3 child to be focussed and disciplined enough to commit to 60 minutes (or more) of continuous work (in my opinion, anyway). Even if they do, there needs to be some sort of break or pause in the learning where they can switch off for a few minutes before recharging their batteries and diving back into the task at hand.

However, I definitely see the benefits of making them work harder so that us as teachers don’t have to. Friday’s lesson was enough proof for me that my students are capable of producing much more thorough and thoughtful contributions than I had previously given them credit for. Perhaps it was foolish of me to expect a “good” effort from them, when they have now proven to me that they are capable of giving me “excellent”.

What are your thoughts on the quote:

“Make them work every minute of every lesson” ?

Let me know below, I’d love to hear your perspectives 🙂

My Thoughts on Micromanagement

When I moved to the UK a little over two years ago, I never understood why, when discussing my move from Canada to the UK to taxi drivers, coworkers, or people I’d meet on a night out, I’d get a comment like “Why would you move to the UK to teach?! You could go anywhere, and Canada is beautiful!” While I acknowledged that yes, my homeland is beautiful, my typical response would usually be comprised of a list of reasons, like “Well, it’s close to Europe” (lots of opportunity to travel), “It’s an interesting change for me”, “The job opportunities in Ontario are non-existent”, or something along those lines.

Well, it’s been two years, and I finally understand their bewilderment.

I should start by first saying that my opinions have been formed from a mix of my own experiences as a teacher (both in Canada and UK), those of my colleagues, and a reflection of the various articles and blogs regarding micromanagement in the workplace. Of course, this blog post is just that – my opinion. Not a rant, not a hate post, but just some thoughts that have been drifting in and out of my head for a little while now – most of which are beginning to stick.

I recently watched a TED talk by Dan Pink called The puzzle of motivation which discussed how traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think. Near the end, he outlines the three building blocks that are crucial for people to begin seeing tasks and outcomes in a new, more meaningful way – autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Although he only discusses autonomy in his talk, a lot of what he said really got me thinking…

Have we lost our autonomy?

With an increasing number of teachers citing workload as being the top factor influencing their decision to leave the profession, why is it that management still thinks it’s their place to tell us how to structure our time to cope with our workload? I can appreciate management/SLT wanting to make sure that our never-ending workload is managed effectively, but when does it become too much? Perhaps it’s a bit bold of me to suggest that teachers are the ones who should be structuring their time during the school day the way that best suits us and our workloads.

For example, imagine you’ve taught the input of a lesson, and your HLTA is now taking the lead in overseeing the activities. He or she is settled with a small group of children, ready to get them started and guide them along. Things are under control – if any disruption occurs, the HLTA is adequately trained to handle it, and you’ve got 30-45 minutes remaining in the lesson. What might you do with your time? Catch up on marking books (if they aren’t being used)? Chase up a parent via phone call to have a quick chat about their child’s recent behaviour? Work with a small group of children? Fill in assessment forms for your SEN children?

My main point here is: Do we still have a choice? Or has our ability to choose what to do with our time, based on everything that needs to get done, being micromanaged too far?

What have your experiences been regarding micromanagement?
Please do let me know what you think in the comments below.

HOW TO: Practical Ways to Make Maths Relevant

A common frustration among some teachers is a difficulty to engage their students in lessons of all sorts – history, maths, science, geography… Often times they wonder if it’s their teaching style that students aren’t responding to, or if the class environment isn’t stimulating enough.

I currently teach Year 3, Set 3 maths in a primary school. Our school tiers maths into top set, 2nd set, 3rd set, and bottom set. Teachers in the bottom set tend to develop their own plans that are predominantly numicon-based, with an emphasis on place value and securing basic bonds and timetable knowledge. In my set, I typically teach students who are just able to sneak past bottom set, and whose place value skills are still quite shaky, so it can be difficult to adjust the content of my lessons on a day-to-day basis. There is a LOT of differentiation happening in my set on a constant basis, and, unlike the top two sets, the students in my class don’t always have the same passion and desire to learn maths. I am constantly trying to find new ways of teaching them maths in a way that is relevant and inspiring for them. I have a lot of success playing interactive games with my set, as the foundation of such games rely on quick thinking and rapid recall of basic facts.


On the days that we delve into a practical activity or investigation, I do my best to set the classroom and the activity parameters so that they resemble ones that might be found in a real-life situation. In my experience, I’ve found that students are more engaged and inspired to apply their learning when they understand how the material is relevant to their own lives, or in their foreseeable future (however far ahead that is in Year 3).

Below, I’ve compiled some practical ways to thread examples of “real life” application into your maths lessons. Some of these ideas I have used myself, and they have worked out fantastically. I’ve also linked a few related resources that you might find useful as well:

  • Organise a lesson where students can explore an outdoor area (playground, park, nearby field/open space) and generate maths questions pertaining to the area.
    For example:
    – What fraction of the bench is blue?
    – How many trees can you count on the field?
    – What is the distance from the school to the ______ ?
    – What unit of measurement would you use to measure the amount of rain the playground gets?
    – How many sitting areas are there on the playground? How might you categorise them?
    – How tall is ______ ? How much taller is ______ than ______ ?
You might find it useful to show students a picture and ask them to brainstorm the maths they see in the picture on their whiteboards.
You might find it useful to show students a picture and ask them to brainstorm the maths they see in the picture on their whiteboards.
  • A detailed lesson plan and accompanying activities can be found here
  • Before beginning an investigation or practical project, ask students “What kind of person might be interested in this type of project?” or “What job might this investigation be useful for?” – this gets them thinking about the kinds of people or types of careers their lesson might potentially benefit.
    For example:
    Using this lesson, students use 3D shape templates to construct their choice of structure from a small list. You could ask the students who would need to construct a model template before building, why it is important to know quick maths facts (to calculate lengths and heights), and why it is essential to understand angles and measures.
  • Give students every opportunity to apply the skills they learn in class to a variety of settings, including halls, outside, other classes, and on school trips, etc. For example, equip students with rulers, measuring tape, metre sticks, etc and send them off in groups (with a TA) outside to apply their knowledge of measuring to a different setting. This will help to solidify their knowledge of measurement, as the setting and context of their skills application is different than applying them in the classroom.
  • Grab your students’ attention by titling your projects and activities with official names, such as “Engineer’s Booklet”, “Construction Manual”, “Mathematician’s Workbook” – sometimes sneaking in a professional title or adding a few professional touches boosts you students’ desire to treat a project with a bit more focus and maturity. You might just see your future “engineers” or “builders” emerge with an attention to detail you’ve never seen before!
  • Ask you students lots of questions about real-life and current affairs – has a city begun construction on a new set of homes? Has the next town over been working on repairing a broken bridge or railway line? Are your students’ families in the process of redecorating or building extensions in their house? Plotting a new garden? Putting up a new fence? Asking questions opens the door to conversation about building, fixing, measuring, scaling – the possibilities for mathematical discussion are endless!

Hopefully some of these suggestions have given you a few ideas to use in your own classroom in the upcoming term. How do you inspire relevance in the classroom? How do you teach students to see the practical, everyday uses of the skills they are learning? Leave me a comment below 🙂

3 Key Ways I Stay Organised in the Classroom

I get a lot of teachers telling me how organised my classroom is, or telling me how they “wish they could make their classrooms as tidy” as mine. I’ve never thought about my need to keep things orderly; it’s always just been a habit for me. My father is an absolute neat freak, so maybe my desire to keep things neat and tidy comes from him. Similarly, my mother always kept our house clean. Everything just felt comfortable, and I always liked coming home to a fresh house.

Admittedly, there are days when the classroom is extremely messy. This is usually due to the students having participated in a messy activity such as Art or D/T, or a Science experiment that got out of hand. I am so lucky to have students that are so proactive and helpful when it comes to tidying up their mess. Without any prompting, they look up to see the clean-up timer counting down (I usually give them about 5 minutes to tidy up, possibly more if we’ve made a big mess!) and just get on with it, delegating tasks to each other and working cooperatively to make the room tidy to my standards (which hopefully have now started to become their standards too).

But I find that my mind becomes most scattered when the mess isn’t child-inflicted. My concerns arise when I look at my desk, my storage cupboards, my side cabinet, or my display boards, and find disorganisation; this can be stray papers, felt tips without lids, scattered scraps of paper, work to be stuck on my working walls, forms that need to be handed to the office – the list goes on and on.

I’ve boiled down my strategy to 3 main points. Note that these are merely suggestions; things that have, and continue to work for me.

1. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place

When met with a cascade of papers (forms, letters, miscellaneous homework, extra copies of paper, etc) I like to sort it straight away. Obviously with time constraints, this doesn’t always get done in a timely manner.

I like to first gather every loose bit of paper onto my desk and begin sorting. I generally sort into piles like “Work to mark”, “Work to tick”, “Extra copies”, “Unfinished projects” – things like that. Once I have sorted my work, I paperclip it so I can see neat piles in front of me, and instantly my brain becomes a bit more decluttered.

If I have made too many extra copies of something, or if the sheets are not likely to be used again, or if they don’t provide evidence of a child’s work, I tend to rip it in half and store it in my bag of “scrap paper” for children to write on during morning work, incase their whiteboard pens don’t work (which happens quite often). I find it nice to know that these sheets can have a purpose after their initial use (just simply have children write on the back of them).

If, after sorting, there are sheets of paper that are simply not needed anymore, and they’ve been written all over and are unable to be reused, it gets tossed in the recycling bin, again emphasising “if it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place”

2. Do regular checks and tidies of your storage compartments

I know this may seem daunting or time-consuming to some teachers, but if you dedicate 5-10 minutes a week to this, I guarantee you will feel less stressed and work with a much clearer head.

I like to have a quick scan of my top desk drawer (where I keep my pins, pens, confiscated unclaimed trinkets, sticky notes, etc), storage shelf (right next to my desk), art cupboard, and general storage cupboard. Anything that isn’t needed, or doesn’t work, gets tossed in the bin. Over the years I’ve learned to simply let go of things that serve me no purpose. Things like assessments, success criteria, children’s work, reading logs, parent notes, etc need to be sorted, of course, but don’t confuse 3-week old spare copies of homework with something that really matters. The longer you leave things unchecked, the worse off you’ll be when things REALLY start to pile up.

3. Enlist the children to help

At the end of every day, I make sure they know how important it is to keep the room tidy. This means shifting the desks so they are tidy, putting pens upside down in the pots to keep ink flowing, and picking up bits from the floor. Not only does this give the appearance of a tidy classroom, it instills responsibility in children, and encourages them to respect not only their learning environment, but also respect the cleaners who spend hours cleaning the rooms at the end of the day.

This doesn’t just apply to their tables and the floor, but also the walls – usually just before the end of the half-term, I ask different children which “jobs” they’d like to complete before the holiday. These can be:

  • Tidying the bookshelf
  • Sharpening the pencils in the spare pencil box
  • Picking wanted tack off the walls
  • Washing art brushes and pots
  • Organising the supplies drawers
  • Pulling old work off the displays to go home
  • Tidying the art cupboard
  • Making sure there are enough supplies in each table pot
  • Sweeping away crumbs and scraps off the floor with the small dustpan and brush

Some teachers might disagree with me on this, but I think it’s imperative to give children tidy-up tasks, even in junior school, so that they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their classroom. A cluttered room is a cluttered mind, in my eyes. (Plus, the overwhelming majority of them love to help out anyway!)

I hope this post gave you something to think about, and inspires you to do a bit of tidying up of your own. Your kids (and your sanity!) will thank you in the long run.

How do you stay organised in the classroom? Leave your comments below; I’d love to read them 🙂

When Knowledge Becomes Secondary

I recently wrote an article and submitted it to UKEd Magazine.

It is called “When Knowledge Becomes Secondary” – a simple title based on the premise that knowledge is not as important as the skills you gain along the way. Read below if you’d like to see the full 200-word mini article:

Asking open-ended questions engages children and evokes a variety of responses.
Asking open-ended questions engages children and fosters thoughtful and reflective ideas.

Everyone knows how it feels to tick a massive, complex, time-consuming task off our “to-do” lists – amazing! But a lot of times we forget how many personal, social, and psychological skills are associated with the completion of such tasks. The perseverance, communication, and “tinkering” required to complete a task is enough to put many people off doing it altogether. We are quick to forget that these are the basic underlying skills with which we do manage to complete those tasks. Unfortunately, these skills are still often viewed as “secondary” in the classroom. With shifts in education focussing more on skills instead of knowledge, it is crucial that children have opportunities to build important “real-life” skills, such as cooperation, perseverance, and recognising the importance of a positive, reflective attitude. Project-based learning gives children a starting point, guidelines, and a clear end goal; it is up to them to figure out the rest. Teachers acting as mentors as opposed to dictators give children the chance to generate their own ideas, discuss them, and work through various steps before reaching a clear solution. In the process, they gain more than just “knowledge” – they gain something much more valuable; a sense of genuine accomplishment.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below!