Author Archives: susanward30

Turbulence⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

I’m a nervous flier. Always have been. I so want to enjoy it, the rush along the runway, the world zipping past in a blur as you are pressed back into your comfortable airline seat, that sudden jolt when you leave solid ground and incomprehensibly soar up into the big blue yonder.

But I don’t notice any of that, because I’m too busy freaking out. I am not looking up and forward, into the possibilities and magic that lie ahead, I am looking down and back, watching the safety of the terminal building disappear, the world I know and understand vanishing beneath me at an alarming rate.

And don’t even get me started on turbulence. I am attuned to every jiggle, every bump, always convinced the next wobble will signal the end of days. My mother told me once to watch the flight crew; you don’t really need to worry unless they look worried. Flight attendants are certainly reassuring people. Watching how they notice-don’t-notice the bumps and dips of flight, in the same way I would those on a car or bus journey, always lends a certain perspective to my panic. These are people who have learned to lean into turbulence, to accept the discomfort and move forward regardless, ending up in new places as a result.

Around a year ago, I started working towards the SCEL ‘Into Headship’ qualification, which is to become a pre-requisite for all new head teachers from 2019. I considered myself a pretty reasonable school leader. I had experience as a principal teacher and had just been appointed depute. My work life was inspiring, supportive and challenging and my personal life was reasonably settled. It seemed the right time to give it a go.

So I took off and straight away, I was catapulted at speed away from everything I thought I knew about leadership and education and launched into something new entirely. A place full of research, hard questions, policy analysis and some very, very long words. Oh and let’s not forget the anonymised responses from colleagues and family to some searching survey questions that laid bare my emotional and social competencies (or lack thereof). Every stage of the process brought more ‘new’. New thinking, new ideas. New conversations about old practices that made what I had always done suddenly look pretty shoddy.

I freaked out. I felt stressed, anxious, panicky. I began to wonder what on earth I had been thinking in signing up for this torture. I was fine the way I was.

Only I wasn’t, was I? Not really. And anyway, the deed was done. The genie was out of the bottle. The plane had taken off and there was no way back now. The only way was forward. So I took a deep breath and I opened my eyes.

And I started to learn.

I learned that to be a good leader you have to take people with you.

I learned that I needed to slow down and listen more.

I learned that my way is not always the best or only way.

I learned that it is not all about me.

And the really interesting thing is, if you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have told you I knew all of those things already.

But I didn’t really. I just thought I did. To really know these things, these essential, important and game-changing things, to understand their real value, I had to earn them. I needed to put in the hard work (and the even harder thinking and reflection) to earn the right to that knowledge.

And this meant working in a totally different way. A way where I wasn’t in charge all of the time. For a Little Miss ‘Make-The-Plan-Execute-The-Plan’, this was shockingly difficult. I couldn’t just burn through the work, get the job done the way I thought it should be and keep everybody right along the way. I had to be thoughtful. I had to stop and think and ask and question and consider and accommodate and listen.

And I had to do it properly too, not just play at it.

And what happens when you shake things up like that? Turbulence. Lots of it. I became attuned to every bump and dip. But, instead of panicking and fearing disaster, I learned to lean in. I got curious. I felt the discomfort of the new tugging against my old ways, but I kept going regardless. I kept breathing and I kept going.

Now, you don’t pull off something like that without a cracking flight crew. You need to be able to scan your surroundings and watch people who make it look easy, even when it’s far from it. You need those people to share with you how they do it and take you up to the cockpit and let you see how they fly the plane. Maybe even let you have a shot yourself, knowing they are right beside you if you need them. You need people who will explain to you that turbulence is perfectly normal, that to get to where you are going, it is a necessary process. And you need people who will pat your arm reassuringly, bring you a cup of tea or a stiff drink and tell you everything will be ok, just keep going.

I don’t know yet if I have passed or failed. And it actually doesn’t really matter, because what I do know is that Into Headship has made me better at what I do.

Was it easy? Hell, no. Could I have done it without the support, encouragement, patience and inexhaustible good temper of those around me? Not a chance.

It has been hard and it has been scary. But it has also changed everything.

And I’m not scared of turbulence any more.

At least not at work.


Paper Dolls⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

I’ve had some trouble sleeping this past week or so. Brain too busy. To pass the time that I should have been spending asleep, I’ve been splitting my attention between YouTube, Twitter, eBay and Spotify. That’s a lethal little late night, time-sucking cocktail if ever there was one.

Through a series of events that I don’t feel the need to elaborate on, apart from mentioning the very enjoyable #MemoryMarch, I ended up listening to this little beauty in the early hours of the morning. Two things occurred swiftly afterwards. Thing one was the purchase of this bad boy, which arrived yesterday:

book.jpg

The second thing that happened was I time travelled. I’m not even joking. Hearing that song (yeah, and ok, I admit it, watching this clip) transported me back to 1987. I was no longer a thirty-six year old mother in her jammies, surfing the internet at 4am instead of sleeping, I was seven years old, watching Scott and Charlene get married. So powerful was the memory, I could feel my school uniform, picture every detail of my Mum’s front room. Things I had forgotten about years ago zoomed back into focus. It was like I’d transformed into another version of myself. This exact version in fact, which is a picture of me, having just watched Scott and Charlene get married. Note the wistful expression and tear-stained cheeks:

me

Which got me thinking- just how many of me are there out there? I know I am not the little girl blubbing watching ‘Neighbours’ any longer, but how many other versions of myself have I forgotten about along the way? How about the me who hated vegetables? What about the me who wanted to be a journalist? Where did the me that thought wet-look leggings were a good idea go? (Actually, maybe don’t send out a search party for that last one.)

My question is, how do these new versions of ourselves emerge? And how do we know when it’s time to leave one behind? And what would happen if we could connect them all together again?

Hearing that old song made me happy and sad at the same time. It was like meeting a dear friend that I had lost long ago and then suddenly found she was standing beside me again. The memory reconnected me to an earlier me and I felt stronger for it, more grounded in myself somehow.

Sometimes it is easy to see where the old you stops and the new you begins. Losing someone you love will do that every time. Part of grief is letting the old you, the person you were before the loss, leave you forever. It hurts so badly you feel like the old you has been cut out, torn from you.

Other times the change is more subtle. You grow and learn, sometimes so gently and so quietly only your loved ones really see it. I see different versions of my own children surface and submerge constantly. The evolution of who you are never stops. The ‘you’ of you is in constant motion, it is never quite done.

Professionally too, we change. The old versions of ourselves stack up and are forgotten. I was promoted recently and now I don’t have a class any more. Does that mean I am no longer a teacher? Do I need to leave the teacher version of myself behind?

Doing the Into Headship course is changing me too. My eyes are opening to research and theory and giving me a brand new set of lenses to see the world and my own practice through. It is a very special thing.

So, maybe in the end what we need to do is sift through those old versions of ourselves and decide who is worth fighting to keep.

I want the little girl who loved ‘Neighbours’, she reminds me that feeling all the feelings is ok sometimes. I want the new mum me, so full of love and awe that she can hardly breathe. I want the me that got slowly but deliberately to her feet after losing a loved one- she’s got grit.

And I want the teacher me. And I will not, never ever, let her go.

I am going to gather all these chosen versions of myself together and use my memories to keep them close.

We will stand together, like a chain of paper dolls, holding hands. We will look back and then we will look forward, and we will smile.


Story Time⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Well we are a week into a brand new term. Two weeks into a brand new year. Did you make a New Year’s resolution? Have you broken it yet? Thought so.

You know what I say to New Year’s resolutions? I say pfft and here’s why.

Now is that time when we are all supposed to be reflective, pensively examining the last twelve months and deciding what kind of a year it was. Well what kind of a year was it? If you believe the media, the answer is a truly awful one. And when you look at the evidence, it is pretty hard to disagree with that diagnosis, on a public level at least. From Bowie to Brexit, via a disturbing cul de sac filled with killer clowns, it’s hard to argue against the wall to wall upset, instability and loss that we endured in 2016.

In education too, it’s been a tough shift. We are getting our heads around challenge questions, benchmarks, attainment data. We are grappling with workload and planning and half the time we don’t know if we should be unpacking or bundling. Teachers’ mental health is dropping, job vacancies are increasing. It’s a tough old time to be a teacher.

But can we really say that’s a fair picture? There were some good bits, right? It wasn’t all horrendous, was it? We learned things, experienced things, tried things, thought about things, made things. We did a fair bit of finding out.

And that’s actually all we’ve ever got- finding out. Because the year is not a story, it does not have a narrative. You can’t just connect all the black dots and call it a bad year any more than you can connect all the golden dots and call it a good one.

Things just happen.

We make a story out of it all because that’s what humans do. We tell ourselves stories to make the world make sense.

So be careful that your stories don’t give you nightmares. Yeah, some stuff is pretty bad, but what’s been good? What good did you do this year? This month? This week? Today? Did you look after yourself? No? Why not? What are you going to do about that? The problem with seeing things as all being connected is that it takes away your power to try something new. If you believe the story’s already mostly written, why would you try to change the ending?

So don’t tell yourself stories; don’t whisper in your own ear. Don’t tell yourself 2017 is the year you’ll write your novel or lose 2 stone or climb Everest or move house or finally clear out the hall cupboard. Just let it all be what it is and be glad of it.

Do your best.

Be kind.

Make things.

Know when to stop.

Remember it is all just finding out. It is all just life, so don‘t take any of it too seriously. We are the lucky ones because we are here, thinking and planning and wondering and dreaming, our hearts pumping hopefully as we enjoy the sheer luxury of getting to decide what’s next.

Don’t tell yourself stories.

Remember the only person who will be crushed if your story doesn’t go the way you planned it is you- no one else cares- they are too busy screwing up stories of their own. So don’t be a constant source of disappointment to yourself.

You are here and you are you and that is quite enough.


Get Lost⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

My daughters and I had a pre-Christmas clear out recently, making space for Mr Claus’ impending visit. Lots of bin liners and boxes were filled and eventually we could actually see the carpets again in the girls’ bedrooms. Buoyed by this success, my youngest daughter boldly suggested we reshuffle some furniture. We duly did, moving (heavy) things around until she was satisfied (and coincidently it was all back to where it had started in the first place). ‘What was the point of that?’ I asked her, as I wiped my brow. ‘I just wanted to see what it looked like not normal’ came her reply.

Fair enough.

My definition of ‘normal’ has altered fairly dramatically in the last eighteen months. Loss has no respect for normal, you see, or the landscape we so carefully sculpt around it. Grief is an atomic bomb, irrevocably altering the landscape forever and marking everyone in the blast zone for life.

What you are left with is a new normal, which can take some getting used to. This new landscape isn’t as easy to navigate as the old, familiar one. There are pitfalls and mountain peaks. Dark, unknowable caves and deep oceans. Often there is just empty space and wishing.

Time is your companion here. With time holding your hand, you learn to navigate and find your way to the bright spaces, where the sun still shines.

Not every day, certainly, but hopefully often enough.

Loss isn’t the only enemy of normal. All change is a threat to the familiar; a new baby, job, house or partner will all create tremors on your internal Richter scale, pulsing through your status quo and sending existing structures tumbling, even as the foundations for new ones suddenly shoot up.

The trick is to be ready to explore.

I started a new job recently and it feels like everything has changed. The landscape before me is unfamiliar. It is a different position within the same school and so my old normal keeps peeking out from behind newly-formed corners, winking at me slyly as I struggle to catch up to it, beg it to take me back.

I know I can’t, and I know it won’t, but still.

This new landscape is hard going. I don’t know where anything is. Sometimes I feel like I slog up one hill only to meet the crest of the next in the distance. I fall over a lot, lose my footing as the ground shifts beneath me. I have to keep getting up and trying again. It’s not much fun a lot of the time.

The horizon is wider though, that’s for sure. There are far-off lights that glimmer and glint in the moonlight. The sky is higher, brighter. Possibilities buzz like fireflies, darting close enough to fill me with awe as I watch All The Things That Might Be dance before my eyes.

Often, I am too busy looking at my feet to notice the magic that fills up this new place. I realise now that I have been too intent on not falling over, not screwing up and ending upside down in a ditch to really try to explore this new normal.

Well, no more.

If grief teaches us anything, it is that this is all just temporary. Time won’t wait for you to be brave enough to go exploring. It won’t remind you to look under that rock or swim in that lake. It won’t hand you a map and whisper in your ear that the time is right to try something new. If you want to go where you’ve always been, time will let you use up your precious hours and minutes and seconds and then it will cut your strings just the same.

We are here to explore new places, not cower in the familiar. Life is just wandering; sometimes you know where you are going, but mostly you don’t. It’s a process and not one to be taken too seriously.

It is all just finding out.

It is all just learning.

 

So, here’s the new plan:

Accept that falling over is an inevitable part of the process.

Meet each dead end with a smile and find another path with renewed purpose.

Try to chuckle when you find yourself upside down in a ditch.

Think about your landscape. Are you so familiar with it that you can navigate it with your eyes shut? If so, make this the week you give something a shoogle, or keep walking when you have always turned back before. Go somewhere unfamiliar and get a bit lost. Remember, it is all just finding out, it’s all just about using the time wisely.

And if, like me, you are peeking out of your scurry-hole right now and sniffing new and unfamiliar air, be brave. Step out with confidence. Defy anyone who judges you for falling over- making mistakes is the only way to learn and those around you should respect your efforts or get out of your way.

Enjoy your wander.

And if you hear a shout from a nearby ditch, give me a wave on your way past.


Ironing Out The Creases⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

It’s been a busy day. Lots of jobs to do. None of them very fun or very important, but all needing to be completed nonetheless. You know the jobs I mean- the ironing, the packed lunches for tomorrow, the tackling of the pile of stuff lying at the bottom of the stairs that grows from a small hillock on Monday morning to Everest proportions by Friday teatime. (Or is that just in my house?)

These small, not very important jobs tug at our shirtsleeves and our dutiful completion of them sets in motion the routine by which Things Get Done.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s very important for Things to Get Done. Nobody wants to be the guy walking around school in a crumpled shirt, stomach grumbling as he gazes balefully at his empty packed lunch box.

The problem comes though when Getting Things Done is all that ever gets done.

Sometimes the punishing schedule of what must get done leaves no time left for what should get done. Like long baths and reading books and going for a run and painting your nails and calling your mother and playing with your kids and just sitting still. The important things, the things that nourish you, often get squeezed out to make space for the faithful fulfilment of those monotonously regular little jobs, those bossy, elbow-tugging tasks that insist on your attention.

It is very tempting to listen to who shouts the loudest- and trust me, your dirty washing basket will always bellow louder than your bathtub.

So to have any satisfaction at all in your life, you must find a balance between what needs to get done and what should get done.

And it’s not just your leisure time that’s a battleground- the war is happening inside your head too.

Because there are lots of jobs to do in there too. Lots of bossy, elbow-tugging little thoughts like:

I need to get this marking done before the next class comes in.

I’ll look for the right resources to go with that lesson.

What homework will I set for next week?

This classroom is a riot; I’ll need to tidy up.

And that most faithful of inner thoughts, echoing ferociously around the minds of primary teachers everywhere:

That’s gonna need laminating.

These thoughts push and shove until they are right at the front of your mind, usually all yelling at once. They are unruly little blighters who demand all of your attention, all of the time.

Now, that’s not to say that your attention is not warranted. The marking undoubtedly needs done and God forbid you display something that isn’t resplendent in a protective layer of shiny plastic.

However, just like with your leisure time, you need to find a balance between what needs to get done and what should get done. Unlike with your leisure time, it can be hard to work out what the ‘should get done’ things are. Surely all those busy little jobs that you spend your working life thinking about are all that really matters?

Well, if that were true, that would mean that your ironing is all that really matters. And I truly hope you do not believe that.

You are more than the sum of your ironing pile and you are more than the sum of the jobs you do in the classroom. In your professional life as much as in your personal life, you must make space for the things that nourish you. The things that challenge and inspire you, that make you nervous and engage you and that make you want to be better than you are today.

These thoughts might sound like:

I wonder what would happen if…

He’s still not getting it, what do I need to do differently for him?

Wow, I wonder how I could use that in class!

This is all working fine but to get better I’ll need to change…

Sometimes these thoughts are uncomfortable, as anything that challenges us always is:

I wonder why I feel so resistant to this?

Yikes, I wonder why I flew off the handle about that?

Why am I being so defensive?

I’ve tried this but it’s not working, who can help me?

That’s really pushing my buttons, why is that?

 It is about making space and time in your head for the important thoughts that should happen, in amongst all the clamour of what needs to happen.

It is about being curious about the world around you but also about the world inside you, the why of who you are.

In short, it is about being a reflective practitioner.

 

So, here’s this week’s challenge:

Find a balance between the needs and the shoulds.

Refuse to only listen to who shouts the loudest.

Make time for the big thoughts.

Grow a new idea, hold it lightly, see where it takes you.

 

After all, that’s the fun of being alive and it is most certainly the fun of being a teacher- it’s not about slaving away endlessly under the tyranny of now, it’s about doing what you must as economically as possible and then carving out as much space as you possibly can to wonder and ponder and enquire and imagine and dream and change and improve.

Try it- you’ll see I’m right. Go for a wander inside your own head and see where you end up.

Have a great week.


Controlled Burn⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Well, that’s Bonfire Night done with. The sparklers are spent, the toffee apples long gone.

I love fireworks. I love the colours and the unpredictability and the way they fill all the night sky with magic and excitement, as if anything might be possible. The trouble is, they don’t last long. And when they are finished, the world seems even darker than it did before.

Or consider another delight of the season- autumn leaves. From glorious summer greenery, rude with health, trees put on a firework display all of their own at this time of year, albeit at a slightly more sedate pace. Slowly slipping into hues of yellow and russet, it seems as if each leaf has been hand-dipped in gold.

But these too come to an end; the once-magnificent foliage gets brittle and falls, becomes nothing more than nature’s crisp packets, crunched to nothing under so many muddy boots.

Fireworks and autumn leaves both put on incredible performances that inspire and engage, but both have a limited shelf life. Indeed, one of the reasons they are so amazing is because they are nearly over; leaves change colour as the life leaches out of them. Fireworks explode because the fuses have been lit. The glorious events we watch with admiration and awe are really just the expiration point of energy and effort, the end zone.

After they are gone, all is dark. Empty skies, naked branches. We enter the no-man’s land of mid November- too late for autumn and too early for winter.

So let me ask you this:

What’s your expiration point?

How close are you to the end zone?

I am perilously close to mine. I have pushed and pushed and worked and worked and up there, in the distance, I can see the barren landscape of no-man’s land waiting for me. It’s dull over there. Everything is grey. There are no bright colours, infused with light and energy and potential. There are no highs. No lows either, because they require energy too. The only things you will find in no-man’s land are the steady passage of time, the gradual, dependable accomplishment of tasks and the persistent, whispering desire to simply go into an empty room and gently close the door behind you.

I have visited before and it is a long, hard journey back.

You cannot expect others to stop you careening head long into the empty space beyond burnout. Remember, you are putting on an excellent show. You are performing at such a rate, you are the envy and awe of managers and colleagues alike. ‘How did you manage to get that done?’ they boggle as you hand over next week’s plan with a flourish. ‘Oh, I did it at the weekend’ comes your airy reply.

Only you know that the reality is you did it at 5am. Or that you completed it at the expense of an afternoon with your kids.

Remember, you are the firework, you are the autumn leaves; the life is leaching out of you, but you are making it look good.

But there is another way.

Choose not to burn so brightly. Choose not to expire in a blaze of colour and leave nothing but ash behind.

Be a candle.

Burn steadily.

Use your light to ignite others so that together you push back the dark.

Surround yourself with those who will gently cup their hands around your flame and protect you when sharp winds blow.

True, your performance will not be as showy. Sometimes it might even seem a little pedestrian next to bolder, more eye-catching performances, but you must remember that you will light the way long after these passing wonders are gone and forgotten.

Ask yourself:

Do I need to do this now?

What will the impact be if I don’t do this?

How can I find a better way of doing this so it frees up some of my time?

Is it time to say no?

How is this affecting me?

Am I ok?

What would help me be ok?

 

Remember:

You are light.

You are steady.

You have the power to control the burn.

You can turn your back on no-man’s land and decide to never, ever go there.

You are wonderful.

So be kind to yourself and have a great week.


Right Here, Right Now⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

The clocks changed last night. The Time Lords gave us all an extra hour. What a gift! Sixty extra minutes do to with what we will!

What are you going to do with your extra hour?

You’ve probably spent yours already, haven’t you? Stayed in bed an hour longer? Watched an extra episode of ‘Stranger Things’? Done an extra load of washing?

Yeah, well not me. I’m saving mine.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bank that hour and use it when we wanted to? Choose when to spend it, and how? Be able to top up the sand in the hourglass of our choice just a little bit and make a moment stretch?

But which moment to choose?

One more kiss?

One more bedtime story?

One more dance?

One more chance to put things right?

One last chance to say goodbye?

An hour is a powerful thing. It is a coiled spring, full of potential energy, humming with what might, what could, what will, what may be.

As teachers, we forever long for extra time. ‘If I just had more time…’ we sigh to each other in the staff room as we look forlornly at our planning folders. ‘If I just had more time…’ we shrug apologetically to our learners as the bell rings before the end of the lesson. We are forever at war with the clock; there never seem to be enough hours in the day to achieve all that we want to.

Some teachers meet this war head on, in full riot gear. They battle with time. Their main and only objective is to defeat time and Get Ahead. If they can just Get Ahead, everything will be ok. Admittedly, this will mean casualties. You’re not going to Get Ahead without losing a few good men; it’s a sad but true fact of war. Work/Life Balance is sure to take a pretty big hit early on. Happiness and Sanity might not be far behind.

The problem is, none of these teachers have ever managed to Get Ahead. They are in endless pursuit of a place they’ve never been to, but imagine is amazing. A place where all the planning is done and the resources are made and there’s lots of free time and empty space to just think about things and do a bit of teaching.

That place doesn’t exist.

It is a mirage; as soon as you see it approach on the horizon, the last thing on your ‘to do’ list tantalisingly close to getting ticked off, Get Ahead will melt away and you will look down in despair to find another ten things just appeared on the bottom of your list.

That’s what life is like in teaching, and you need to make your peace with that.

The good news is, you might never Get Ahead, but you can be Here Now. Being Here Now means that you are doing the best you can with the time you’ve got. It means striking a deal with time; he supplies the seconds, you use them wisely. If you’re Here Now, you know how to get the most out of a limited resource. You say things like:

I should have moved on by now, but they are really engaged with this, let’s see where it goes.

If you are interested in this, what could we do to find out more?

I know it is hard but let’s keep going, we’ll get there together.

I’m stopping now because my family needs me too.

This is what matters; I know it in my head and in my heart.

 

You challenge others who seek to fill your ‘to do’ list with nonsense:

 

How will me doing this help my learners?

Is this the best use of my time?

Could I plan this with my learners? What would that look like?

What if we worked together on this instead?

Come into my classroom and see how we…

And remember, you’ve still got that extra hour in your back pocket. Use it wisely. Don’t waste it trying to Get Ahead. There will always be another lesson to plan, another load of washing to do.

So, here’s this week’s challenge:

Keep your eyes and ears open and look for the moment to use your hour. If you are Here Now, it’ll be easy to spot, because if you are Here Now, you are alive to all the moments that swirl and eddy around you as you wade through your day. Dip your hands in the water and feel those moments- which one could turn into something magical or important? Which moment, if you can just make it last, will mean someone in your class gets it? A colleague feels supported? A parent reassured?

In other words, what the best use of that hour?

 

Because you are the real Time Lord.

You decide how time is spent; the clock is just the ATM that dishes it out.

 


Fear⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

It’s nearly Halloween. The nights are getting darker and the high streets are full of shops making money from our collective fear. Or rather, the ad man’s approximation of what our fears might be. It’s all plastic spiders and fake blood; a poor imitation of the real emotion.

Because real fear has nothing to do with monsters under the bed or jump scares.

Real fear is a much more subtle beast.

Each of us spends our days wrapped in a protective layer of fear. We wear it like a second skin, invisible to others and often to ourselves. But everything we experience in life we experience through this epidermis of fear.

We are all programmed to be afraid because being afraid is our best chance of staying alive. Fear stops us from taking risks.

It is hardwired fear that stops you from stepping into traffic or putting your hand on a boiling kettle. Fear is an impulse, an instinct. It is your brain’s insurance policy against you doing something stupid.

Which is all well and good when it comes to traffic and kettles, but what of life? What does fear do when opportunity comes knocking?

It offers an alternative. A comfortable one. It suggests kindly that you step away from that new (and likely dangerous) possibility and come back over here where it’s safe and familiar.

Fear is the voice in your head that says:

What if I’m not good enough?

What if I’m wrong?

What if they laugh at me?

When will the find out I’m not up to this?

Quiet, sweet whispers that make up the background noise to all of your thoughts. Fear is the elevator music inside your head, always urging you to say no, no, no.

Like a good gambler though, fear doesn’t have just one play. If undermining your belief in yourself doesn’t work, it has other options. Sometimes fear is the voice that says:

Look at her, she needs to wind her neck in and stop showing off.

I’ve made a mistake, I need to cover this up before anyone finds out.

I’ll knock him down a peg or two.

He thinks he’s doing something new, but I’ve seen this all before.

I’m too busy for that.

I’m fine just the way I am. 

Fear will do whatever is necessary to hold you still, to keep you from growing or trying or striving or failing or learning or screwing up or succeeding. Fear’s only objective is inertia; if you are still then you cannot come to any harm. Nothing can ever happen to you.

How awful.

In education, fear runs amok.

Pupils fear what they do won’t be good enough for teachers.

Teachers fear what they do isn’t good enough to share with other teachers.

Head teachers fear what their schools do won’t be good enough for inspectors.

As teachers we are awash with fear, our classrooms are dripping with the stuff. Don’t believe me? How many of these sound familiar:

I’ll take this marking home so no-one sees I haven’t done it yet.

That lesson was horrendous, thank God no-one came in while I was teaching it.

I’m not sure how to plan this but I’m not asking for help.

Why should I share what I do? It belongs to me, not them.

This is overwhelming me but I’ll say I’m fine if anyone asks.

If I can just get to the weekend I can catch up then and no-one will know.

Fear stops sharing, innovation, creativity, collaboration, compassion, kindness. It stamps out the sparks of new ideas, partnerships, magic, excellence and adventures.

In short, it’s a total buzz-kill.

Now, you don’t want to be rid of your fear altogether. There’s the traffic and the kettles to worry about, after all. But you do want to show it who is boss. You want to tap your fear on the shoulder, have it turn round to face you. Look it firmly in the eye and use your best, most commanding teacher voice to say:

You do not decide what I do.

Stop whispering your poison in my ear.

I will choose where I go.

The kettles and the traffic are all yours, but everything else- you will stand down.

Keep looking until your fear looks away first.

Now you are in charge. You get to decide.

But remember, your fear is wily. It has many faces. So keep asking yourself:

Is this my fear talking?

Why am I not willing to give this a go?

Remember that your fear will apply the brakes whenever you let it, so stay in motion. Be restless. Don’t get cosy. Keep looking, wondering, searching. Be curious. Get to know your fear’s tells. What are the triggers that cause you to grind to a halt? What makes you nervous? Prickly? Defensive? Find out then push through. Push through. Push through. Stay in motion.

Remember you are not alone. There’s a muckle community of educators out there, all pushing through together. The fear doesn’t go away but it doesn’t ever get to be the boss.

You are the one who decides.

So get to know your fear. Keep it in its place. Challenge it. Sign up to a TeachMeet. Write a blog post. Get into work tomorrow and try something new.

Remember, succeed or fail, it’s all just learning, it’s all just finding out. It’s a privilege to be here, so just gie it laldy and make it interesting.

Have a great week.


Love and Nonsense⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

When I had my first baby, my Gran gave me a little poem in a frame. It’s by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton and it goes like this:

 

Cleaning and scrubbing can wait ’til tomorrow

For babies grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow,

So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep

I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.

 

I used to look at that little poem as I breastfed my daughter amidst the chaos of washing, nappies, toys and general debris that consumes a household when a new baby arrives. Those words calmed me, helped me to control the rising panic I felt when I looked around the room at all the things I had still to do. Those words helped me to focus on what mattered, helped me to relax and listen to the gentle rhythm of sucking and swallowing and the little heartbeat pressed against my own.

When my second daughter arrived seventeen months later, that little poem helped me see past the devastation wrought by my almost-toddler, the fact I’d slept for three hours in the last twenty four, the knowledge I hadn’t washed my hair in five days. Those words helped me remember that actually, none of that nonsense matters when you are rocking your baby, because your actions are carved out of pure, undistilled love. It is this love that you prioritise over all other things, that you must fight fiercely to protect in the face of your ever-growing to do lists.

The poem reminded me that these moments with your baby do not last; you must grasp then and cherish them because soon your baby will be a baby no longer. These little moments of pure love and connection will be gone.

I was at the Into Headship launch conference this week, listening to @louisemac talk about how we must lead with love. Her assertion that we must not be afraid of the word, that love is the most powerful change agent in the world.

How then, do you lead with love? For me, that question can be reframed as this:

How do you tamp down all the nonsense and focus on the moments with your learners that really matter?

Because these moments are just as fleeting in the classroom as they were with my wee girls- your class is yours for a heartbeat and then they are gone, on to new adventures without you. How do you ensure your time together makes a difference, that you use that time as wisely as possible?

Also speaking at #IH2016, @johnswinney shared his vision for a teaching profession unencumbered by bureaucracy, liberated to teach. He talked about ‘getting rid of the background stuff’ that gets in the way of brilliant teaching and learning. New guidance from the government promises to deliver this.

He also talked about the ‘collective autonomy’ of teachers, the importance of Scotland not just producing leadership clones that all operate in the same way. Rather, he suggested we need to embrace what’s excellent about what we do and work together to find our own way. I have long been a believer that the answer lies with teachers. That if we can just harness our collective power as a profession and speak with one voice about what truly matters in education, we will be unstoppable. Go check out TeachMeet Connect if you agree.

This to me, is about focusing on what matters about what I do and protecting it. It might not be exactly the same as what you choose to focus on. I might prioritise one aspect and you another, and that’s ok, as long as we are always guided by doing the very best for our learners. John Swinney urged us to find our own ‘North Star’; to know where we are going and why and to protect that path fiercely from anything that slows our progress.

So here’s my challenge to you this week:

Decide what matters.

Protect what matters.

For me that means the learning. Protect the learning. Fight off anything that will mean I am less able to be the best version of myself for the learners in my classroom. Have the confidence to strike things off the list that don’t belong there.

Will it be easy? Course not! But then, breastfeeding a newborn whilst my toddler swung from the light fittings wasn’t exactly a picnic either. But you get through it, because of love. If you love what you do, really love it, you’ll find a way to focus on what really matters.

Because being there, connected to your learners, connected to what you really love to do, is the most important thing. Investing that time and care and diligence and energy and sacrifice into something is how you grow a miracle. Sometimes those miracles are happy, healthy babies and sometimes they are the kid in your class who finally understands place value. Thanks to love. Thanks to you and what you do.

So quiet down paperwork and tests go to sleep

I’m teaching my learners and learners don’t keep.


An Ace That I Can Keep⤴

from @ Know it, Show it

Well, it’s that time of year again. We are back to school. The busyness has descended once more. This is the time of year I need to take a deep breath. Get steady. Be ready. August is like the moment just before you swim a length underwater; technique really matters. If you don’t breathe deep enough, get steady enough, you’ll never make it to the other side.

So here’s my advice on how to get steady for this session. I will dispense this advice to the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’. Why? Because it’s a song about giving advice on getting steady. And also because when a song is on permanent repeat in your brain for a week and half, it’s probably trying to tell you something and you really ought to listen.

If you’ve never heard the song, by the way, stop reading and go and educate yourself immediately. We’ll wait here for you to get back.

Sorted? Ok, here goes:

Know when to hold ‘em

What are you going to hold on to this year? What matters to you? What aspects of your practice are you going to hold onto, regardless of what comes your way? For me it’s the learning, always the learning. Keep in sight what’s needed for real, authentic, messy, exhausting learning to take place, for teachers and pupils, and I know all will be fine. Everything else is background noise.

Know when to fold ‘em

So get rid of what doesn’t matter. Don’t go into the new school year with excess baggage. Like the day after a major house party, you need to take a long look around in the cold light of day and get rid of everything from last session that’s no good. Regrets. Frustrations. Disappointments. Unfinished marking. Let it go. It’s no good to you now. Looking at it all will only make you feel worse. So get the mental bin liners and Febreeze out and ditch the lot. New year, new start.

Know when to walk away

How’s your diary looking? Filling up? If it’s already looking like Piccadilly Circus in there, stop. Are you taking on more than is sensible? I am the worst ever at this next bit, but I’m going to say it anyway- you do not have to do everything by then end of August. Or even the end of September. Pace yourself. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you’re more Bolt than Farah, apply the breaks before you burn out. And primary teachers, for the love of God, stop laminating and eat your tea.

Know when to run

If it feels wrong, challenge it. If it’s making you ill, stop doing it. Talk to someone. Do not suffer through things alone. If you are overwhelmed, strap on your trainers and run to your person. You know the one I mean. The one that listens without judgement, helps you work out for yourself what you need to do next. You are not effective at what you do if you are in the black hole. So if you see it on the horizon, turn the other way and run back to the light.

Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table

Don’t congratulate yourself too much, but don’t beat yourself up too much either. You do stuff, things happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Remember it’s all learning. Parking your ego can be hard sometimes, but making mistakes, however embarrassing at the time, mean you are learning. At some stage this year, you’ll make a mistake. I’ve made about six already and it’s only been a week. Embrace your failures because they are data-rich. Everything you need to know about succeeding is down there in the wreckage of your latest screw up. So go and pour over the debris and next time you’ll do it right. (If you’re interested in this idea, read ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed, who says it a lot better than I have.

Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep

You know how you cleaned out your classroom at the end of term? Do that to your brain. Get rid of everything that you don’t need to be happy and effective this session. Hold onto the good stuff but ditch the rest. You’ll feel better for it.

Every hand’s a winner, every hand’s a loser

Remember it’s all relative. One person’s foul up is another’s success story. Something you think has gone appallingly may be perceived quite differently by your learners or colleagues. So be mindful of that mirror. Make sure it’s showing you a true reflection. Being too hard on yourself or doubting that you are any good is toxic to your ability to do your job well. Be proud of what you do. If you have invested your time and talents to make it the best possible version of itself, then set it upon the water and watch it sail to glory and greatness. Or at least don’t assume it’ll sink.

So there you are.

Have a great year.

Take a deep breath, get steady.

Believe you can do it.

Be ever watchful for black holes.

Keep your trainers handy.

Get into your classroom and gie it utter laldy.

 

And remember, ‘if you’re gonna play the game, you gotta learn to play it right.’

 

Thanks, Kenny. That’s an ace that I can keep.