Author Archives: Athole McLauchlan

The Secret of the Kelpie⤴

from @ Through The Windae

The Secret of the Kelpie by Lari Don My rating: 4 of 5 stars Stunning illustrations and a story that doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of the Scottish myth of water horses. Wee Flora is an inspired little character and reminded me of Small from Levi Penfold’s Black Dog. Secret of the Kelpie...Continue Reading "The Secret of the Kelpie"

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Tipping Point⤴

from @ Through The Windae

An incredible thing happened last week. The General Teaching Council of Scotland sent its members an email informing them that the fees had been increased by £15, from £50 to £65 a year. And suddenly the world of social media went ballistic with rage. Apoplectic teachers unleashed a firestorming mix of criticism, disbelief, abject disappointment and dejection. They were unhappy at a 30% increase in the fees despite their own meagre pay awards decreasing in value compared to the rise of living costs in the wake of Tory austerity drives. They were angry at reading about how 5 key employees of GTCS all earned above £70000. They were angry at forking out the same cost despite some being part time and being offered no option for a monthly direct debit (one of the excuses given was that it was only an extra £1.25 a month). They were angry because not everyone even used the GTCS professional update system and those that did, didn’t rate it very highly. But also, many were angry because  they simply didn’t seem to know what the GTCS actually does. The GTCS had carried out legitimate consultation and had passed the fee increase with a committee board with teachers in the majority. But that didn’t matter because 1000s of teachers had completely missed it. The only regular engagement that most teachers seem to have with the GTCS (beyond professional update and perhaps achieving professional recognition in and area of teaching) is the wee pint sized magazine that lands on their doormat 5 times a year.

Swept along by this tsunami of discontent I organised a wee snapshot survey using Microsoft Forms on our national Glow network. I wanted to know just how many teachers felt the same way. In a matter of hours the survey hit capacity at its maximum of 5000 responses. Here is a summary of the responses. A full version of the survey is here.


It’s not a positive read. Now, the survey itself is deeply flawed in its architecture (I created and posted it in the space of about a minute before the 9am morning bell) but the manner in which it was pounced on seems to suggest a general malaise within the teaching profession far beyond a ‘mere’ 15 quid. What are we upset about? Well, I can only speak for myself but I’m sick of the continual top down approach to improvement and change since the introduction of the National Improvement Framework. Top down and politically motivated changes are sadly common place in education but the last year has seen a rapid redirection of core educational values. These include the unstoppable momentum towards the death throes of standardised testing and the statutory centralised paternalism of the Governance Review. Matched with vast cuts in local council spending, cuts in support staff and a complete inability to recognise and include teaching grunts (like myself) in the process. Consultations were held during school days (which teachers can’t attend because we are working or there is no supply – and there is no supply because we made supply teaching a second class profession a few years ago. Wow, did they get that wrong!) and Glow Meets were organised (despite the fact that streaming video is often a nightmare for school networks and some LAs don’t even use Glow). 

National agencies like the GTCS, Education Scotland and SQA (now, I’m primary but I can tell from Twitter that they’ve not been greatly popular either recently) just can’t seem to engage effectively with their core followers. And the more they dictate, the less we listen. Teacher Leadership is a key driver of the NIF (and there are currently some marvellous efforts from people like the Scottish College of Educational Leadership to raise the bar on this front, and the GTCS’s heart is certainly in the right place with regards to this too) but I just don’t see it on the ground. It’s taken 15 of our Earth pounds to shake a teaching profession, perhaps guilty of sleepwalking into the abyss, to realise the extent to which we may have reluctantly lapped up these changes and constant criticism of our skills and professionalism in the wake of PISA and SSLN results, to say WHIT!? NAE MAIR O YER SHITE! We had reached a tipping point.

There was a hell of a lot of pride mixed in with the indignant outpouring on (predominately) Facebook. I shared and felt their pain. These are teachers who in the same breath were helping a student teacher in the next thread with ideas for their first P7 class or sharing fantastic Robert Burns inspired artwork. We love what we do and given the right rules and conditions of engagement we will share and magpie our skills and ideas to the best of our ability. Professional update happens everyday on Facebook and Twitter. 

It will be interesting to see what happens next. I hope the GTCS are listening and stop offering futile excuses like ‘it’s only an extra £1.25 a month’ and ‘many other professions pay much more.’ I actually have a high regard for much of the work they do. But the magazine is unnecessary, the professional update section of My GTCS is paper exercise that no one else sees and the Chief Exec’s salary of £95000 does not reflect an educational culture which is supposedly about ‘equity.’

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Season To Leave: let’s go exploring⤴

from @ Through The Windae

Tell your tales, set yours sails, you’re on your way

In January 2001, I left my job as a projectionist at the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh and set off for the bright lights of Bottrop, Germany to work as a British Council lingua-assistant in a Grundschule (primary school).

I played this song by The Guthries on repeat before I left.

It was a transformative experience. Overnight I became the exotic teaching legend of Herr McLauchlan (not my own definition). As soon as I returned I started the Primary PGCE at Moray House, Edinburgh and the rest, as they say… I have loved my job from day one, and in all honesty have never looked back. Although, I still miss the lazy endless days of watching and discussing films from dawn until dusk.

But another turn is further up the road.

I recently got married and I am moving to China.

It’s a mental sentence to absorb but I do like saying it out loud. People either guffaw out loud thinking I’m joking or just stare awkwardly in disbelief. My partner is a journalist with the BBC and has got a new job in Beijing. In March of this year the family unit is moving out to start a new chapter. I’m giving up my job and becoming a house dad for a bit. I’ll write about the marriage bit another time.

Truth is, I can’t wait to leave. I’ve been at my current school and house on and off for nearly 10 years. It’s the longest I’ve lived or worked anywhere. The past decade was broken up with a year spent travelling the globe, an 18 month stint as a Development Officer with Education Scotland and a year as an Acting Principal Teacher. I’ve wanted a change of school for a long time, purely because this is a good thing and also because my usual period of living and working anywhere has never been longer than 4 years. Since last June I have applied for lots of promoted posts and had 8 interviews. I was unsuccessful at each and every one of them. I’ve had glowing feedback and been told often I was a close second, which is flattering and soberingly uncomfortable in equal measure, a bit like being told you are only good enough as boyfriend material! It’s a funny old process / ordeal to put yourself through. You feel like part performing monkey (I have amazing answers on the NIF), part fraud (all this stuff I said I did, how good was it really!?), part charlatan (whenever I wear a suit to school, fellow staff assume I am either at a funeral or a job interview) and part reject (here we go again, this is the one, chin up, big smiles, think of your family, this is your day…) More about this another time.

I don’t believe in fate and I hate it when people try to comfort disappointment by saying something was just never meant to be. But I do believe in opportunity and just going for things when they come along. I’ve always been thankful to be in a profession that is flexible and adaptable. I still love being a teacher more than anything else I know, other than being a dad. I’m genuinely not sure what is different about being a husband yet. Too soon to tell on that front! But I can’t wait for a fresh challenge. And I can’t wait to leave.

Days are getting longer
The season’s almost here
It’s the season to leave
but there’s no time to grieve.

I’ve not set any grand goals for blog posts, book reading, album playing for the year ahead. Life is too unpredictable and I’m not sure we genuinely need to set ourselves goals all the time. I’ve been looking backwards (sometimes in anger) for too long recently, cursing my luck and my steadfast inability to change my course. Now I’ve got a reason to leave I feel confident and self assured again. It’s not about the credentials or the salary. It’s all about the challenge and the next steps. It’s a magical world if we want it to be. Let’s go exploring.

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With Neil and I⤴

from @ Through The Windae

SCRUBBERS!

Being a wee brother is both a curse and a blessing. There is a 10.5 year age difference between me and Neil. Growing up, Neil and Colin were more like gods than mere mortals to me. They arrived back from mysterious far away cities, like Dundee and Edinburgh, fitted out in long trench coats, attitude and humour that influenced and guided my tastes in music, book, films and life in general. I still had the feeling they both looked upon me as but a wee boy of nine – wide eyed and gullible behind the NHS specs.

But then that’s understandable. I was supposed to be a dog. As children, mum had told them that if they wanted to have a dog then they would have to save up for one. Diligently they started emptying their loose pennies into a giant and empty brandy bottle. Only when they had saved to the top of the bottle would they be able to go and choose a dog.  And, as the legend is told, it was just as the coins were finally beginning to make their way up the long neck of the bottle, and all thoughts started to dream of long walks throwing sticks in the park that mum announced she was pregnant  –  with the little sister they always wanted. That’s right; the next thing on their want list after a dog was a little sister.  What hope did I have?

Actually, I could not have been luckier to have a big brother such as Neil. His influence on me always has and always will continue to be completely immeasurable.  Where do I start?  He bathed me as a baby.  He bought me my first Asterix book.  He shaped my musical tastes from an early age.  A compilation tape from 1989 single-handily converted the whole of Turriff into avid fans of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. He introduced me to Bruce Chatwin and Raymond Carver but also Alisdair Gray, James Joyce and Graham Swift.

Many times as an impoverished student I found refuge gently cradling his toilet bowl following a heavy night of drinking, yet another rock n’ roll history lesson and an early morning lecture from the philosopher Bill Hicks.

He nurtured my passion for curry with trips to Khushis and the hallowed Formica tables of Kebab Mehal.  There he would do mysterious and cool things like order dishes that weren’t on the menu. Normal people didn’t do these things. Only big brothers. And gods. But I didn’t believe in gods.

I remember the day he left for Ireland in that famous tomato soup Ford Escort estate. Every inch of it was packed full of stuff. He was crying as he drove away from the front door of my flat in Arden Street – which I remember thinking was unusual.

When looking for a comforting space, my memory keeps dragging me back to my last proper visit to Ireland 5 years ago during the Easter holidays. For a couple of the days it was just going to be the 2 of us as Moe was flying to Copenhagen for work. This made me a little nervous. Neil can famously be a little bit grumpy from time to time but the drugs and treatment were sadly making him ultra sensitive to noise, smells and things not being done the way he liked them. I opened and shut doors in the house wearing kid gloves and listened to him sagely in the car as he told me off for not using fourth gear at the correct time and reprimanded me on the dangers of crossing my hands when turning the steering wheel.

The day I return to was wet and miserable. Dreich, as we say in Scotland. But Neil was more energetic that day and he suggested we watch a movie. His friend Boris had gifted him a copy of the film, Withnail and I.  Neither of us has seen it in years. Good choice we both agreed. For those of you who know the film  – a grimy bittersweet tale of 2 struggling actors in the 60s – it was as funny and downbeat as we both remembered. A perfect compliment to the grim weather outside. Neil said Withnail and Marwood’s slum living habits reminded him of my student flat. He had a point. We didn’t quaff the finest wines in humanity but we did scoff two very fine magnum ice creams that Moe had kindly left in the freezer for us. And we talked. We talked about student days, books, films, music and nonsense. And it was great. And for a few hours I forgot that there was anything wrong with him. From the angle I sat looking at him in the room – he didn’t even look ill.

Then he complained that he had perhaps eaten the magnum too quickly and wasn’t feeling too good.  I watched uncomfortably as he slowly and stiffly arose from the couch. The spell was broken. But in my eyes he was still my big brother and still a god.

I feel unusual, I think we should go outside.

(Today marks 5 years since cancer took his life)

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TeachMeet Glasgow (unplugged) in six steps⤴

from @ Through The Windae

TeachMeet Glasgow (unplugged) takes place at West Brewery, Glasgow Green on Thursday 12th May from 6-8pm, and the venue hire is very kindly being sponsored by SCEL (Scottish College of Educational Leadership).

SCEL-logo

I’d never been to a TeachMeet before until a couple of years a go. I’d watched from afar, even signed up a couple of times, but never actually gone along. What would I share? Would anyone think it was any good? But I don’t know anyone. And so on… Which inevitably resulted in non-attendance. Every time. So what changed? Why have I taken it upon myself to organise one for the first time, and what’s with the ‘unplugged’ bit?

1) Twitter happened

After many years of lurking, I started interacting with Twitter properly, joining live hashtag chats such as #primaryrocks, #classdojoEU and following the Friday positive sharefest that is #pedagoofriday. I discovered wonderful people sharing resources and ideas and discussion. And a few nutters along the way too. Ultimately, I found myself helping to promote and steer the #ScotEdChat, dedicated to a Scottish focused educational debate. It is still very much a work in progress, but it has managed to bring together  a wide variety of people together in discussion from all sectors of Scottish education.

2) Time out happened

About the same time I began a secondment with Education Scotland as a Development Officer in Social Studies. After many enjoyable years at the chalkface as a primary teacher I had a new job with a second mobile phone, a stack of business cards and nae bairns! It was strange at first and my body clock never quite adjusted to the lack of bells at break and lunch, or being able to drink a whole mug of tea in one go. During my time with Education Scotland I was lucky to meet bucket loads of inspirational educators and had the privilege to visit lots of schools across the country. My perspective on my role as a teacher and of my profession was completely transformed. I realised how much I had needed that change and the challenge. Looking back, what I loved (and miss) the most was the time to think and reflect. I was energised with creative ideas and plans, with the luxury of time and a diversity of people to share and discuss them with.

3) The 4 Digi-Musketeers happened

I was also really lucky to finally cross paths with people I had admired professionally from a distance. Ian Stuart, John Sexton, John Johnston and Con Morris all have an insatiable appetite for this enlightened science we call teaching. They were provocative, encouraging, thoughtful and fun to be around. But it wasn’t just me. They were like that with everyone. I learnt much about the true nature of teacher leadership and selfless acts of pedagogical kindness from working with them. There was also other stuff about purple capes, endless gif making, bribery with Tunnock’s teacakes and Scotch pies in a bap for lunch…

4) Informal spaces in-between the cracks

A TeachMeet can help provide the potential for informal, undefined spaces to learn. They are only as good as the uptake and participation. So far there has been a fantastic response to TeachMeet Glasgow (unplugged) but there is always room for more. Most of us have never met each other, yet there is a clearly a common desire to find a different space to share ideas, discuss and happily promote our profession outside of the normative school hours. With a beer in hand. Or even just a mug of tea.

5) Teacher leadership

Teacher leadership is the essence of TeachMeet. As someone who was gutted to just miss out on the Chartered Teacher qualification I was inspired by Fearghal Kelly’s recent twilight input about SCEL’s new Teacher Leadership Framework.

Teacher leaders are passionate about learning and teaching. They are ambitious for the success of children and young people and in their pursuit and delivery of diverse and creative pedagogy.

 

Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations teacher leaders play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They are able to develop and sustain high‐quality relationships with children and young people, parents and carers, colleagues and external partners. They self‐evaluate regularly and instinctively, and they demonstrate accomplished and developing skills in critical reflection, inquiry, the use of research, pedagogy, and leadership.

I doubt I manage to accomplish all of that all of the time, but the intent and ambition is infectious. Why wait till applying for management positions? Start your leadership journey now! Direct from the classroom. Share ideas, resources, time, enthusiasm. Make new links, discover, explore and wonder. But don’t just drink beer from the back of the hall. Come forward. Be brave. Be bold and speak up. We are all teaching professionals. We all have experiences, wisdom and daft stories to share. We are all in it together. I know I wish I’d been braver and bolder years a go.

6) So, why ‘unplugged?’

I’m a massive Nirvana fan and that’s their best album. Seriously.

Also, I saw this picture of a recent TeachMeet in London, with microphone headsets etc. and I didn’t want the tech to overpower the talk.

ceqt5zaweaebg_9

We may be talking about ‘the tech’ but can we challenge ourselves not to hide in front of our PPT slides, tablets and media. The face to face interaction bit is crucial.

Also, we need more people to take up the mantle of organising informal teacher events, whether they be TeachMeets, Pedagoos or something else. These can be in pubs, coffee shops, schools or someone’s living room. I’m not sure the example of large chat show style events with TV production values are really within everyone’s grasp.

But that’s just my opinion. There really are no rules. Please come along, you’ve be very welcome. Follow this link to sign up: https://tmscot.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/teachmeet-glasgow/ 

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MC Yammer⤴

from @ Through The Windae

(reposted from here: https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/glowblogs/glowgallery/project-type/east-dunbartonshire/)

Bearsden Primary School in East Dunbartonshire are experimenting using Yammer as a social media channel for learners and learning.

Yammer tile

Athole McLauchlan, Acting Principal Teacher at the school, has provided a detailed response to our questions about the use and experience of Glow generally and Yammer specifically .

What is it that you and your class are doing?

– We are currently experimenting with using Yammer as a social media channel for learners and learning. We are learning from each other and other learners and teachers as we go.

Yammer

How you’re doing that?

– We are using articles from the UNCRC and also the 5 Rights Framework as our entry point. This has helped us to modify a Glow Charter from another school and to discuss and take ownership of how we envisage this new digital space to work. Everyone has signed up to the Glow Charter and we will constantly revisit it to keep the Rights based approach to learning firmly at the centre of all that we are doing.

BP Charter

Our Digital Leaders have joined the Digital Leaders group with Yammer and we have experimented with a #YamJam. A #YamJam is a live social media chat. We were joined by at least 2 other schools and lots of teachers. It was fantastic to see how the kids shared their experiences of being Digital Leaders with each other and chatted with adults too.

YamJam

We started with one P6 class but are now beginning to introduce all 2nd Level classes to Yammer. We have a dedicated group  for primary pupils but they are also welcome to join other groups and even start their own.

YamJam2

We also have a dedicated Yammer group linked to our 0365 Video channel. This is a work in progress but we see this as being a space that works in a similar way to the comments thread in YouTube, and provides a direct way to feedback and reflect on learning.

Why you’re doing that?

– All the groups are ‘public’ within Yammer which means that anyone can see what write or share. This is really important in creating spaces for pupil involvement which are open to all learners but also for the pupils to reflect and consider carefully what they share before they press the send button.

We want the pupils to take ownership of the space and some pupils have really got involved with creating Yammer polls and contributing to other groups such as InstaYam – which is a Yammer version of Instagram.

InstaYam

What is the impact on learning and teaching?

– The challenge is to reflect and consider how we can use Yammer to compliment and enhance learning. In the short space of time we have been using it has been beneficial in two ways: 1) allowing pupils to interact with pupils from another school and area; and 2) allowing teachers to share and discuss teaching and learning with each other.

Yammer has the potential to be the ‘go to’ social media channel for both Scottish teachers and learners. We are looking to develop it further by creating a P7 transition group to bring together P7 pupils in the cluster and also build on the 0365 Video use by commenting on videos from other schools – and making links that way too.

We have even bought some real Yam Jam, which is a sweet purple spread made from the purple Yam. Unfortunately, in real life it is neither very purple not tasty!

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Digital Privacy⤴

from @ Through The Windae

 This tweet provoked a really interesting and helpful debate about digital privacy. https://twitter.com/athole/status/720345548780244992

I have been acutely aware of the many school Twitter feeds publishing names and images of pupils together. And this left me uneasy. I have experience of using blogs and blogging with classes since 2007. My class even won a competition way back in 2010. http://godzillasden.blogspot.co.uk

Currently at my school all classes are using ClassDojo and the Class Story very effectively. I pull a snapshot from each Class Story to share on Twitter @BearsdenPrimary and the school website https://blogs.glowscotland.org.uk/ed/bearsdenprimary/ , ensuring that this matches parental consent and that images and names never appear together. The digital leaders in my school are beginning to take more responsibility with the updating of the website and Twittter.

In summary, the discussion highlighted some really good examples of good practice and stimulated some deeper reflections of what we need to next in my school to include pupil voice in discussions around digital privacy.

  • @kirktonPS never include visuals of pupils and they always focus on the learning
  • other schools use image and no name, or name and no image
  • everyone agreed that too many schools included names and images together
  • the most important point raised was that about pupil voice. We ask parental consent but do we ask the pupils? (I’d say I honestly do this about 50% of the time, just now) Despite being evangelical about children’s rights and political literacy, I realised I had shamefully given this matter very little thought, in my eagerness to raise and boost the profile of the school, improve communication and share achievement and learning.
  • consider audience and purpose when and where posting (this is a strength for me)

Action points for the new term…

  1. raise the issue with the pupil voice groups and also with teachers to make them aware of pupil consent
  2. create a digital charter. We have begun to use the Yammer social network in Scotland through our Glow intranet (Microsoft 365). I have just been made an admin. Along with other teachers I have had some really interesting chats about how to frame this learning environment for pupils. including, learning contracts linked to appropriate use and behaviour, a digital charter linked to UNCRC and focused on what children expect from digital rights, and a third model based on the 5 iRights which are distilled amd adapted from the original UNCRC. 5rightsframework.com
  3. increase scope for our digital leaders to shape the discussion about the use of these tools and how their iRights are articulated.
  4. Lastly, I realised I gave rights little consideration photographing and publishing pictures/videos of my own children (age 3&6). I share it with them and mostly we enjoy making it together, but do they really understand who the audience or what Facebook is?

The photo credit, btw, is from 2008. A school who went too far in protecting, or rather masking, identities! http://metro.co.uk/2008/03/06/pupils-given-smileys-to-beat-online-pervs-25796/

I would love to know what you think about this and what you do in your school.

 

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I saw the wild geese flee⤴

from @ Through The Windae

This post started life as part of my own reflections of how better to tell stories and ‘capture’ and ‘record’ the spontaneity of outdoor learning.

On Easter weekend the family was up north staying with my folks in the wee Angus village of Edzell. On the Monday we visited St Cyrus beach and nature reserve, a serene stretch of white sands home to Peregrine Falcons and one of my favourite places in the universe. The North Esk river completes its journey and spills out into the North Sea at an estuary further along the coastline. The heavy winter rain and storms had washed a considerable amount of wood and debris down the course of the river. All along the beach was strewn an incredible array of driftwood, including railway sleepers and one fully intact round hay bale. It was a den builder’s paradise.

Within seconds I watched my two children burst open with spontaneous creativity as they soared over the sands. In less than an hour they hand etched sand art; walked log tightropes; constructed stick canons; drawn train tracks; built dens; chased the silver tide; ran with the white horses; sculpted sand angels and told tall tales of magical stones and a new sea creature called a starfish spider. Armed with my iPhone, I ran around collecting snapshots of photos, sound and video. Their combined creativity was unrelenting and their joy extraordinarily simple. So too was their readiness to strip off, put on their dookers (swimming costumes) and run in to the freezing North Sea waves!

In the RSPB centre at the beach, someone had left a wonderful photo book which was full of similar adventures and creations made on the beach.

Later, as I sat down with the different bits of media, I reflected on how motivational, flexible and diverse that environment (context for learning) was and how deeply it had stimulated their imagination and ingenuity. There was no effort needed to enthuse them and no learning intention to guide them. In less than an hour they had covered a multitude of curriculum areas, unhinged from any sense of accountability or fear of failure. Both my kids were completely lost in the world(s) they had created. How often does that happen in the classroom? Or even in their house?! And I emphasise the word ‘created’ as in creativity. OK, you may not think it can be systematically taught or assessed but it definitely needs space to breathe.

As I started editing the footage it began to feel more like a poem, a visual collage of thoughts, sand and wind. I edited it on iMovie but none of the free music really fitted. It just didn’t feel right. Three days later it was still unfinished. Then I found myself humming a favourite folk song of mine – The Norlan Wind by the Angus folk singer Jim Reid – an adaption of a poem, The Wild Geese, by Violet Jacob. The poem is a wistful conversation between the poet (self exiled from home) and the North Wind, carrying tales and descriptions of the northern lands that the poet is dearly missing. And the melody is beautiful melancholy. I ending up using a version which is a collaboration between the Scottish bands Frightened Rabbit and Lau. It fitted perfectly. For my narrative, anyway. I think if my kids had chosen then they would have probably opted for the Scooby Doo or Spiderman theme tunes!

 

What started out as a rough sketch experiment of how to capture and evidence learning using my own kids as guinea pigs, ended up as a very personal visual poem. Just like the adventure on the sands, the most exciting learning is found in the spaces in-between what you think might (or should) happen and on the border crossing between control and spontaneity. If you dare to look and dream, that is.

NorlandWind_500

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