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.