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My voice….⤴

from

Last night I tweeted this:

Today I decided that I can’t do my MEd. I am really sad and cross with myself about it but a perfect storm of circumstances has made it impossible for me to continue. If you know me well, you will know that I am not a giver-upper. But on this occasion, I need to give up. 😢

The responses have been very supportive and lovely and I won’t deny that they have helped me a lot at a time when I am feeling a little bit all over the place.

But I thought I would try to explain a bit more about the decision and context. As always when I write, I do so to help me clarify my own thinking and feelings but also because I hope that it might help others who are perhaps going through similar and need to know that they aren’t alone.

The headline of this story would be “Lena drops out of MEd due to exhaustion”. And this would be a pretty good summary. I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I have navigated working from home, trying to be an ok parent, trying to share ideas on how to get through via daily YouTube videos, trying not to be overwhelmed by anxiety, grief, disappointment…I have navigated all that ok but now it has caught up. 

I am now officially on holiday and had hoped to use the next week to read more texts on the ethics of practitioner enquiry, and complete two assignment tasks for the module of my course. But after three days of sitting, staring at the screen, sobbing, starting again and getting absolutely no-where, I have drawn a line. 

The headline doesn’t tell it all, however and there is a subtext that I want to share because it relates to authenticity, one of my core values.

Almost a year ago, I turned fifty. I wrote a piece where I suggested that I didn’t need to keep proving myself any more.

https://lenabellina.wordpress.com/2019/08/31/august-over-but-not-out/

But if I am honest, the last year hasn’t quite worked out the way I’d planned and my desire to live by the philosophy of “this is me, take me as I am” hasn’t quite worked out.

Because some people aren’t comfortable with me, what I stand for and, perhaps most importantly, with the way I express things. A year ago, I didn’t realise that I needed to understand that but this year, more than any before, has taught me that. 

Part of doing the MEd was about trying to hone my “academic voice” and be able to express things in a way that is more palatable, political and acceptable. 

I see that there is a need for that. I can see that maybe by doing that, I’ll become more acceptable to the system and that maybe my voice will be heard by the people with influence. 

I often joke that I am always the bridesmaid and never the bride….that I am like Mike Wasowski in Monster’s Inc who, every time a photo is taken, is obscured by someone or something standing in front of him. But maybe, in order to be seen and heard, I need to change the way that I show up and frame the pictures that I present differently.

I thought and still hope that I am the type of school leader that Scotland needs right now. I hope that by gaining another piece of accreditation, another sign of being seen as “valid” and “approved”, that I will secure the job that I have long dreamt of doing. 

And I so I am cross that it will take a bit longer for me to achieve that. I am cross that I have “failed” to what was needed because I feel as if time is running out for me and that with each year that passes, I am less and less likely to achieve my dream and to serve in the way that I am meant to.

But I also need to take some time to remember that being a good mum, wife, friend and person and being able to sleep at night knowing that I have done the best I can from a place of values are part of my dream. And that listening to my inner voice and heart are as important as listening to the approving voices of others.

I need some time and space to do that.

Alison Kriel, someone for whom I have ultimate respect in the world of education, shared this poem yesterday and I am sharing it here. It resonates hugely with me just now and hope that it might help others too.

Clearing

Do not try to save

the whole world

or do anything grandiose.

Instead, create

a clearing

in the dense forest

of your life

and wait there

patiently,

until the song

that is your life

falls into your own cupped hands

and you recognize and greet it.

Only then will you know

how to give yourself

to this world

so worth of rescue.

~ Martha Postlewaite

( I  have sourced the poem here: https://www.businessballs.com/blog/clearing-martha-postlethwaite/

About Martha Postlethwaite: Martha Postlethwaite’s publisher Fortress Press offers this biography:  “Martha Postlethwaite has spent her professional life listening to and sharing stories in numerous settings, including as a seminary chaplain and in congregations. A United Methodist Church pastor, she is trained in counseling psychology and spiritual direction. After twenty-two years in theological education, Martha found her true home as the lead pastor of The Recovery Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.” (Retrieved 11 Oct 2019 from https://fortresspress.com/author/martha-postlethwaite, for her book Addiction and Recovery: A Spiritual Pilgrimage, published February 1, 2019. The poem Clearing was written several years prior to this.)

Learning from the ocean.⤴

from

Swimming in the ocean can bring the most immense joy. The briny water can soothe your body, support you and invigorate your senses and soul.

But the same ocean can drown you if you don’t take care.

Always know how to get back to a place where you can plant your feet firmly and catch your breath. And know who your life-guards are. 


Diversity⤴

from

Last August I was invited to sit on a panel about Diversity at a new event called @EduMod at the Edinburgh Fringe. It had been organised by my highly respected friend and colleague Robin MacPherson.

On the panel beside me was my friend Pran Patel. I had met Pran once before at the WomenEd conference 2018 and before that had connected with him on Twitter around mental health in education.

Our meeting at WomenEd had involved us meeting at the tail end of lunch over some pastries, starting to chat and then having to miss our next planned session as we could not stop talking! We spent a lot of time discussing how racism can be addressed in communities which are predominantly white, such as rural Scotland and I suggested that it would be amazing for Pran to do some work in Scotland. We also got on to labelling, definitions and self-description and the fact that use of terminology shifts over time. On that day, when I asked Pran how he would prefer to be described, he suggested “pretty brown.”

Fast forward to August 2019 and Edinburgh. Mission “Bring Pran to Scotland” had worked and we were on a panel together!

Our host in the session was the wonderful Sadia Hussain-Savuk.

I was overjoyed to see Pran again and threw my arms round him as soon as he appeared in the courtyard of our venue. But I immediately noticed that he was a bit down and when I asked why, he asked whether I had seen Twitter. He explained that he had been at the centre of a storm after querying another educator over the lack of diversity in a group of educators that he had chosen to celebrate.

He had been personally attacked, accused of inverse racism and told that his views on racism, white supremacy and white saviour complex were extreme and wrong. And the abuse had been very personal.

I was very worried about him. Luckily, he managed to talk on the panel and made powerful, insightful and highly knowledgeable contributions.

I felt like an imposter beside him and Sadia.

The notes of what in I said in response to the questions we were asked by Sadia are below.

I don’t have a note of what Pran said but if you check out his website, you will find his wisdom. Home – The Teacherist

I do remember him saying that on flying into Edinburgh, for the first time ever in his life when he had flown he had NOT experienced an extra security check.

I do remember some of the other delegates at the conference who could not cope with his uncomfortable truths. I do remember the micro and macro aggressions against him.

A year on, when suddenly people seem to be hearing his truth because Black Lives Matter, I really want to re-assure him and celebrate his sudden “popularity” and comfort him, saying that last August, the world “just hadn’t been ready for his messages.”

Except that it should have been. Educated adults who take on the massive responsibility of teaching children should have been.

I hope that they have reflected and learned.

My thoughts on Diversity. From August 2019. Still the same in June 2020.

What do you see the as the main issues at the moment in terms of diversity in education?

I think that in many ways, the issues we face in Scottish education in relation to diversity are the same as those we face in many other areas; we have impressive policies and rhetoric and posters and charters…but it isn’t always reflected in the practice we see. I think that much of this is down to the fact that it is a complex issue and one where we need to give schools time and space and resources and permission to learn together and discuss issues….but where we seem to have teachers feeling completely overwhelmed by conflicting demands on their time and sometimes still saying things like “I’m a chemistry teacher, this isn’t my job”

We could have another whole debate about the workload issues but I think there is an absolute need for politicians who make education policy, school leaders and individual teachers to take the time to make sure they make it their job.

Although our Statistics for Women Leaders in Education are much more positive in Scotland than in the rest of the UK when we look at the numbers of female teachers compared to female leaders, there are still issues around the tiny numbers of men who go into primary teaching and the number of secondary heads who are women:

In September 2017, 63% of all secondary school teachers were women, however, when broken down by grade, only 41% of secondary school head teachers were women.

Source:  Teacher Census Supplementary Data (Table 3.4. Last updated: March 2018)

I also think that there are issues around the fact that, even we have really good practice and understanding of issues around diversity in schools, our children are still getting messages from other key adults which are not ok – that may be their parents and carers, or media figures.

What kind of (diversity) issues have you faced in your own careers?

Well, I was 50 last week and I have been turned down for lots of jobs in the last six months….and I went for two promotions in my authority last term, both of which went to men who were sane…so OBVIOUSLY that was ageism and sexism and hidden disability discrimination……

In all seriousness, I think it is very difficult to know sometimes whether issues you have faced were actually related to prejudice or discrimination or whether, in fact, you just didn’t make the grade and weren’t the top candidate.

That’s why being able to ask for and getting really good feedback is so important if you feel that you have suffered discrimination.

What sorts of changes, if any, have you seen take place in the last 5-10 years within education / society?

I would love to say that I have seen major changes and in some ways, we have seen change, with much greater discussion and openness around issues relating to sexuality, gender and mental health. But I have to say that the whole issue in Birmingham around the No Outsiders project has left me pretty despondent.

I was at an Equalities meeting recently where I questioned whether that type of action from parents and religious leaders could actually get as far as it did in Birmingham here in Scotland; I’d like to think that the action would have been called as illegal much sooner. But then I was reminded that in at least one are in Scotland, we still have Catholic and non-catholic RE taught separately and parents who won’t allow their children to be taught certain topics on religious grounds.

And as for the discriminatory and hateful comments this week about Greta Thunberg by prominent adult voices, I do think we still have a very long way to go.

How do you challenge the low level discrimination that takes place?

The answer to this is that you have to challenge it and call it whenever you see it.

The banter you hear in the playground or the stereotypes in images or the unconscious bias that people show has to be called and it isn’t always easy or comfortable.

But one thing we now know is that the bystander is often as powerful as the perpetrator when discrimination takes place and that we have to understand that omission is as important as commission – what we don’t do if we don’t challenge is as much a part of the problem as blatant discrimination.

Can schools still be safe spaces for discussions?

Yes, but the discussions have to involve the wider community too

How do you empower teachers in feeling confident in dealing with issues around diversity?

As I said above, we need to give schools time and space and resources and permission to learn together and discuss issues.

You allow them safe spaces in which they can honestly talk about gaps in their learning without worrying that they are going to be judged or criticised.

Example – in that school I worked in in London, I inadvertently used a term that was not appropriate to describe somebody of mixed heritage. It was a term that had been used throughout my childhood, in my school and in my early adulthood in the place I had grown up. But my boss, who described herself as black, said to me “you know you can’t use that, don’t you? The word is mixed race”

Now of course now, she would probably call herself a woman of colour and the term would be mixed-heritage……

But what she didn’t do at the time was call me a racist, or accuse me of discrimination…she challenged me respectfully and helped me to learn.

Teachers need to be able to do that.

What is important to you that you would like to pass on?

I believe the children are our future, I think we should treat them well and let them lead the way.

But do you know, I honestly believe they are.

If we teach and model love and empathy and compassion and respectful challenge they we can and do make a difference.

Let’s talk about race: a provocation for teachers⤴

from @ robin_macp

Let’s be brave. Let’s talk about race.

I’ll begin by showing my hand. I am white, male, middle-aged, protestant, heterosexual and read history at Oxford University. I have the exact same profile as many of the people who led us to this moment in time. It is now past the time for a paradigm shift in race relations, and education is how we will do this.

I am also married to an Asian muslim (who spent her early childood in a war zone and her teenage years as a refugee). We will let our daughters decide which, if any, religion to follow. I’m a board member of the charity Remembering Srebrenica Scotland and our aim is to tackle prejudice and intolerance in society. I’ve been a teacher for close to two decades and am currently a school leader. I hope, if you are profiling me now, it looks a little different.

The fires of protest are burning brightly just now; there is no doubt that millions of people are angry. I hope this cycle will be broken; that action will follow this tragedy which will change direction and give hope. If schools are going to be in the vanguard of this change, we need to take positive steps. Here are some thoughts on how to do this.

Step 1: Reinvent Protest

I subscribe to the view that teaching is a subversive activity. I am idealistic, but not ideological, and it is vital to teach pupils how to think for themselves without teaching them what to think. This is a fine line and I know I get it wrong when I teach topics like slavery – I don’t want pupil to think it is ok. I am happy with the dissonance in my head on this. I do want pupils to be active, or even activists, in shaping their world. I have adapted Edmund Burke’s maxim that all it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing (I dropped the gender specific part of that quotation). I totally support the right to protest, but in the midst of a pandemic I am concerned that the people who will pay a price are the NHS frontline staff, and the BAME community who suffer disproportionately from COVID. Can we reinvent ways to protest? The picture at the head of this blog is one I designed myself (hence the totally amateur nature of it), and it speaks to the idea of all colours in one heart. My call is for people to use their homes as a protest tool until they can safely get back on the streets. Put this heart up next to your rainbow, and add #blacklivesmatter or any other slogan you think expresses your feelings. Let’s keep them up until we have broken the cycle. Our pupils can start this today if we encourage them.

Step 2: Recruitment

I heard Prof Rowena Arshad speak several times this year on race, at researchED, at the Into Headship conference, and at EduMod. Her work on research in race in Scottish education is groundbreaking. There is definitely a perception gap around appointment and promotion in education between white and non-white. Why is this? Having an equal opportunities policy does not mean ‘job done’. What are your stats about numbers of non-white applications, appointments and promotions? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most employers don’t track this. At the Into Headship conference I was in a room with about 300 fellow trainee headteachers, and it was a very white room. The most important thing for career progression is to have someone who is a mentor/sponsor. Hashi Mohammed has written brilliantly about this, so what can we do to put this kind of support in place? 

Step 3: Tackle Micro-Aggression

The overt, blatant aggression that exists on the far right is a huge problem, but the micro-aggressions that exist everywhere are just as challenging and we can do something about them. An example is not calling on a child in the class because you don’t know how to pronounce their name. Learn their name: it is vital to showing them respect. Again Rowena Arshad is very good on this. Talk about race with colleagues and pupils to find out what micro-aggressions they face on a daily basis. Most of them come from subconscious behaviour. What can be done to eradicate them? 

Step 4: Professional Learning

Most teachers are scared to talk about race because they are not confident enough to do so. They fear saying something wrong, something that will get them in trouble. All teachers need to be able to talk about race. What professional learning have you done to enhance your confidence and understanding on this? There is no shortage of organisations willing to help and support. Connect Futures is a good starting place, and I’ve already mentioned Remembering Srebrenica which has organisations in all UK countries. At EduMod at the Fringe (an event that I run with Louise Hunter of Summerhouse Media) we had a session with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, one of whom challenged her headteacher on the school’s LGBTQ+ track record. The solution? She gave a talk at INSET to her teachers on how to speak to gay pupils like herself. Impressive.

Step 5: Decolonizing the Curriculum

Last summer Pran Patel gave a TED talk on this subject, and he spoke at EduMod. We need, at both a national level and school level, to ask searching questions about the curriculum. In each area of the curriculum, what proportion of key individuals being taught about are non-white? Are the examples of artists, authors, leaders, scientists and musicians representative of the whole world? Is the southern hemisphere just as prominent as the northern?  

On the back of this, what are you going to do about it? Something? Nothing? Why? How can you create the conditions for curriculum reform that will challenge the structural racism that exists in society? The curriculum is perhaps the most powerful weapon that we have to change society. Recalibrate it for this purpose.

Step 6: Be A Voice

This blog by Daniel Stone makes a brilliant point to white people:

“Be our voice when we’re not there: Structural inequalities and underrepresentation mean that often minorities are not in the room when discriminatory decisions have been taken. We need individuals and allies who are able to stand for justice in whatever sphere of life they find themselves in. People who are able to use their platforms and positions of influence to ensure justice for those who can’t be seen, who can’t speak and who can’t breathe.”

Please put that into practice.

Step 7: Read, Think, Act

My thanks to Connect Futures for this reading list. Order these titles and more and get them up in a display in your school library. Have conversations around them. It’s ok to disagree. The only thing that’s not ok is staying silent.

  1. Black and British: A Forgotten History. David Olusoga
  2. Back to black: Black radicalism for the 21st century. Kehinde Andrews
  3. People like Us. Hashi Mohamed
  4. Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognise Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change the World. Layla F Saad
  5. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. Afua Hirsch
  6. The Good Immigrant. Nikesh Shukla
  7. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Reni Eddo-Lodge
  8. I am not your baby mother. Candice Braithwaite
  9. So You Want to Talk About Race. Ijeoma Oluo
  10. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Peggy McIntosh
  11. Natives, Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire, Akala
  12. A tale of three cities: Public officials and senior representation in the NHS, University, Police and Local Authority. Zubeda Limbada
  13. Decolonise the curriculum. The Teacherist
  14. Wellness for All: Anti-racism in the early years
  15. Hostile Environment. Maya Goodfellow

And finally… 

I titled this blog a provocation, because I want to provoke thought, discussion and action. What you do matters. This is the slogan of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and I use it frequently in talks and lessons. I absolutely believe it is true. What you do to make things better matters. What you fail to do is critical. There are no more excuses.

I can’t go on. But I have to. And you do too.⤴

from

How do we carry on just now?

How do those of us who have spent our lives worrying that the world is an awful place, and that hatred and injustice can’t be overcome, carry on?

How do those of us who have suffered vicarious trauma, and never really been able to feel happy because somewhere else in the world someone else is suffering,  make sense of it all?

How do we teach our children that the world is a safe and secure place when it doesn’t feel like it is?

How do we feel ok in a world where people who lie and bully and hate are in charge and a beautiful man called George Floyd has been murdered and racism is still as bad, if not worse, than ever.

How do you show your face or speak up, if being white makes you feel existentially guilty?

Stop reading if you want. If these questions make you uncomfortable.

But if, like me you are asking these questions, carry on.

If, like me, this feeling isn’t new but you don’t know what to do with it, carry on.

People may tell you that you have mental health issues.

But listen:

“You want to the world to be a place free of prejudice, violence and hate. You have mental health issues.”

“You speak the truth when others want to lie. You have mental health issues.”

“You try and live, as an adult, the life that you teach your children to want and know that they deserve. One of love, safety and joy. You have mental health issues.”

So if that is the case, I celebrate my mental health issues.

But I am also aware that this is a way of being that can sometimes lead to becoming overwhelmed.

That feeling the pain of the world in this way can become too much, exhausting, dangerous.

I know that just now we need not to forget about George Floyd, about racism, about what it is to be a person of colour in certain countries in 2020.

But I also know, and would remind you, that you and I have to self-regulate and allow yourself to take care of yourself so that you can keep going on this long journey. That the visceral impatience and despair you feel is something you need to manage by taking care of your body and recognising when it needs a rest. 

You can’t change the world on your own right now. But you can keep doing your bit. Using your voice. Asking questions and challenging the status quo in a respectful way. Teaching the next generation by living and sharing love. Resolving to set an alarm each day at a time when you will spend half an hour doing something to protest/support/use your voice to share the voices of those who need to be heard/use your power and influence for good. 

Taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

I wrote this a while back and it appears in my book but today, I need to keep reading it.

I hope it might help you too.

“Posted on June 5, 2017  

A message to my younger self.

Bad things happen but you worrying about them won’t make them stop happening.

Nuclear weapons could and might wipe out the world. So shout your slogans and march your marches. Support those Greenham women and do your best to make Reagan and Gorbachev listen. But don’t let the fear take away your sleep. Don’t forget that the world is full of peace loving flower and rainbow children like you.

You were hurt by someone who should have known better. You did nothing wrong. You must feel no guilt or shame. And you must talk about what happened so that we can love and help you, soothe your pain and dry your tears.

The IRA has taken too many lives and needs to be stopped. But their actions are the actions of a misguided minority. You do not need to worry anxiously about your loved ones every minute of every day.

You are so loveable and you do not need to live in despair and pessimism. The world is a good place with bad moments, not the other way around.

Let’s repeat these words to the children of today, to suit their context, so that they may live in the light.”

7 Myths About Education Recovery⤴

from @ Graeme’s Blog

Some schools in England re-opened this week, shining a spotlight on the questions and anxieties that surround the mammoth task of recovering education. In Scotland, the national Education Recovery Group was established very early so all relevant voices, including those of teachers, employers and parents, could be heard. This has meant that planning has progressed quickly and with less confusion and fewer problems than has been the case south of the border. I’ve still read and heard some strange things though, and am trying to process some of them here.

1. Schools are dangerous.
Guidance was issued last week detailing the understanding amongst the Chief Medical Officer’s Advisory Group on the risks of returning to school and, commendably, where these were majority or minority views . Whilst this doesn’t cover every scenario, at least schools have something to work with. We can continuing planning for a phased return to school, knowing what to do to minimise the risk. Teachers won’t need to wear hazmat suits but careful thought will be needed around the surfaces and furnishings in classrooms and on the groupings coming into school and how to minimise interactions. Everyone will need to stay 2 metres apart. All local authorities have logistics gurus (shadowy figures, rarely seen during daylight) who are working hard on plans for additional hand-washing facilities, safe school transport and other nightmarishly complex tasks . This can only happen because of the sensible decision to work collaboratively towards an August return at the earliest. Any earlier would have been unfeasible for the significant changes that need to be made to make things safe. Parents and pupils should be reassured that a lot of thought is going into this and that schools will be as safe as possible.

2. Schools are safe.
Ok, they are; I’ve just written that above. The point I’m making is that schools are not naturally environments that are “Covid-19 secure”: it is only by making massive changes in how we access, use and run schools that we can make them safe. Every teacher, pupil and parent needs to understand that, if schools are to re-open, they must be vastly different from before. We can have far fewer pupils in at any one time and time will be needed in between different groups to clean surfaces properly. Classrooms, groupings and timetables will be very different. Serving school lunches, in any averagely-sized secondary school, is likely to be impossible. To stagger lunch service for even a few hundred pupils would take so long, and be so disruptive to the school day and teaching capacity, it is genuinely not worth bothering about. There is a big question here for schools to consider bravely: far better a highly productive morning than a full day with lunch staggered disruptively over a three hour window.

Some subjects will need a complete re-think. Take PE for example. In most school changing rooms physical distancing will be impractical and contact sports or even passing the ball will be off-limits. At the same time, we know that getting meaningful physical education is hugely important for our young people’s physical and mental wellbeing. PE teachers will rise to the challenge of transforming what they do (and most all PE teachers could beat me up if I suggested otherwise).

3. Remote learning is bad.
Teaching is highly interactive and intuitive. It relies on a series of millions of rich interactions in the context of a safe classroom environment and trusting relationships. This can never be replicated online. But just because traditional teaching cannot take place doesn’t mean that learning isn’t happening. Across the world teachers have worked incredibly hard to learn a whole new range of skills and not just about digital platforms. Teachers are thinking deeply about the pedagogy they need to set up learning and to make it accessible and engaging for pupils. I found Cassie Buchanan’s webinar really helpful in informing my thinking about how we could keep a sense of flow in learning from week to week. Our school adopted a weekly Content > Task > Hand-in > Follow up model to structure our asynchronous approach. We quickly agreed we all needed to use the same platform and the same weekly structure to make it as easy as possible for pupils to ‘get to’ and access the learning. Our teachers spent the recent in-service days sharing their experiences, both in terms of digital tips, but also the strategies they had begun to use to build and maintain pupil engagement. We used the EFF videos on self-regulated learning to stimulate discussion and ask ourselves deep questions about how we can cultivate these dispositions in our learners both now (entirely remotely) and next term when we will have a blend of in-school and remote learning.

Is it perfect? No. Is every teacher a digital guru? No. Is every pupil 100% engaged? No. (Spoiler alert: they weren’t always 100% engaged before either!) However, amazingly, we have achieved a transformation in a whole school approach to learning in a matter of weeks. There has been a complete shift from, in the frantic few days before schools closed, hastily curating resources on a myriad of platforms “just in case we shut”, to a coherent and consistent online learning approach that the Open University would be proud of. It has been the school improvement equivalent of implementing 3 years’ worth of change in 3 months.

It was refreshing to read Neil Oliver’s piece celebrating the impact of hard-working teachers across the country and to see the early shoots of Scottish pupils developing the skills they will need to thrive in the future world of working remotely and independently. Our own workforce is now actively preparing to enhance our strong remote offer by blending it with some face-to-face teaching next term. Teachers across Scotland, and the world, should be incredibly proud of what has been achieved in such a short space of time and without access to buildings.

4. Pupils will just jump straight back in.
Of course, many pupils (and adults) are struggling without the structures of the school day, the support of teachers and the social development and wellbeing that come from being part of a school community. They are desperate to get back and we are desperate to bring them back, safely. But I suspect most parents and pupils – and many staff, myself included – have not yet got our heads around how different things will be and how the ‘normal’ that we crave to get back simply won’t exist for a while. Schools will be almost unrecognisable.

Last week we removed all of the furniture from a classroom and set it up as a Covid safe learning space: minimising surfaces and furnishings, spreading out the desks and ensuring that all humans would be positioned 2 metres apart. It is grim. I remember as a primary pupil going to visit (with a frequency I now consider inexplicable) the mock Victorian Classroom that was set up in the old Ancrum Road Primary School in Dundee: our experiment immediately reminded me of that room. School is going to look and feel vastly different but – parents and pupils – don’t worry. Teachers across Scotland are already thinking of how we can prepare and support you with this. In actual fact, the phased return that will be necessary as part of the staggered approach to education recovery will be helpful for many young people.

5. More pupils in school means better learning.
Wrong. The Scottish Government has asked schools to ensure that as many pupils as can safely return come back to school at any one time. We need to approach this ambitiously, but with a focus on learning, not numbers. One approach could be to divide every possible space into 2 metre chunks and add up the number, giving the optimum number of pupils who can attend on any given day. This would do our pupils a great disservice and lead to real inequity across the country. Different year groups need different things and all schools will still have staff (and pupils) in the shielding category who will not be available. In a secondary, the most sensible way to run S1 and S2 is to offer a Japanese style ‘home room’ set up where a small group of pupils stay in the same room and teachers move to them (but not as often as they would normally change over). Older pupils have chosen different combinations of subjects, including those delivered by colleges and other partners, so need a very different set up. In both cases, with only one or two year groups in school, crafty timetabling can ensure that pupils still access a broad curriculum. However, if Scotland starts a space race to jam the highest possible % of pupils into a building, then we swap craftiness for cack-handedness and will have to reduce the range of subjects for everyone. What’s best for pupils? Fewer days in school accessing a broad curriculum, or more time in school following a narrower set of subjects?

Importantly, keeping a smaller number of students in schools will still allow them to access – at staggered times, and in Covid safe ways we will help them to learn – the social spaces in schools. Pasi Sahlberg and others have already made the case for the importance of having self-directed social times when we return to school and this will be crucial to achieve the positive impact on students’ wellbeing that we are all so desperate to see. If we pack the school with as many pupils as possible then break times will need to be in the same classrooms pupils are working in and we will lose an opportunity for the social and unsupervised interaction that our young people have been denied during lockdown.

6. Children have fallen behind. They should just repeat last year.
Behind who? Every school in the world has been closed. Of course, pupils will have forgotten things and got out of habits; some will have regressed significantly in some areas and others will have switched off from learning completely. We know some groups of learners will have been disadvantaged by lockdown more than others and that the attainment gap will have widened. But they are returning to buildings full of professionals who will support them. This is actually the real, meaty part of education ‘recovery’ that we are going to wrestle with over the next few years. It will require the utmost creativity and resilience. But nobody needs to repeat a year; all schools are moving forwards.

7. Next year’s exams should go ahead as normal.
Bonkers! Despite all my positive arguments about remote learning, Senior Phase pupils are following courses that were designed to have far more contact time with teachers than they are ever going to experience. Pupils, parents and teachers need a clear message reassuring them that the pressure to get through the same amount of content is off and that a blended approach (to use an ‘on trend’ expression) of coursework, teacher judgement and perhaps some form of shortened exam will be applied for certification next year. I happen to think the SQA have responded reasonably well to the situation they were placed in (albeit we will find out in August what “data validation” really means) but the Scottish education community must use the exit from this crisis as an opportunity to consider whether we want the Senior Phase to continue being, for many learners, three years of high stakes all-or-nothing tests.

Now, more than ever, is the time for teachers to take the lead and ensure that decisions about education recovery are taken on exactly that basis: what will maximise learning?

Notes:

  1. I do hope Daisy Christodoulou doesn’t come after me for plagiarising her title. It just seemed like a good idea and I’m sure she doesn’t have copyright on the word ‘myth’.
  2. Who am I kidding? As if Daisy Christodoulou would ever read my blog. She doesn’t even know who I am.

An invitation…⤴

from

As we approach the start of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, the collective mental health of our nation is in a state that few would have imagined a year ago.

We are faced with a global pandemic, a threat to our lives and the lives of our loved ones that has made every one of us question existence, experience fear and find the routines and everyday reality of our world turned upside down. Making sense of all of this is very difficult and our ability to feel mentally safe and to stay hopeful and optimistic has been greatly challenged in recent weeks.

I have a history of struggling to make sense of the world but over the last five years, I have been working to get better at it and to put my experiences into a form that might help others.

I wrote a book and when no one was interested in publishing it, I self published it on Amazon. As often as I have been able, I have made it free to download. People who have read it have found it useful and I know that it has helped some people to understand themselves better at an early age than I was able to.

I wrote it first and foremost to help me in my recovery…but in the same way as the words of other writers helped me, my story has helped others who have been in a similar place.

I work in education and my dream is to lead in a school where our community helps our children to learn the skills and qualities to make sense of the world and live a life where they thrive and make a positive contribution.

Where we can all be open about the challenges of life and where the leaders of the school are in the same human arena as everyone else.

I write in my book:

“Education is everything.  We can’t and shouldn’t simplify it and talk in terms of it being the job of either teachers or parents. We need to accept that our job, as adults, is to be honest with children and to help them negotiate the complexity ahead.  It is our job to develop in each child the skill to know and understand himself, the tools to express herself and the strategies to meet challenges along the way.”

Over the last weeks I have recorded my book so that you can listen to it, if you would like to know my story but are finding it hard to concentrate on books (I am!).

It is not perfect. You may not like the tone of my voice. But if you do and if you want to hear about someone who has gone from being scared and sad and driven to being ok, I invite you to have a listen.

https://anchor.fm/lena-carter

If you you’d prefer to read it, it will also be on free download on amazon from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd May.

https://read.amazon.co.uk/kp/embed?asin=B01KP8XT86&preview=newtab&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_yNodyb2G7M8DZ&reshareId=HBQGYA1KJQJZWCZ8J3AE&reshareChannel=system
With love and kindness.

Lena xx

Hope⤴

from

One year ago today. To the day. A turning point. The day that I processed a memory. A memory of the thing that had, until that point held me back.

The reminder of the process is below.

Are year on and I am, in so many ways, so much better. There are still days when I am overwhelmed, when the swimming pool of tears threatens to lap over the edge and break the smooth surface of the everyday. There are sometimes still two steps forward and one step back.

And of course the truth is that, having reached 50 last August with, at last, a sense of feeling somehow settled and beyond an instinctive fear that the world was going to fall apart, just six months in, the world has fallen apart.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

But the world will heal. As I have healed. I hope.

A year to the day since I was also in the room with someone who appears to share the hope and sometimes also the hopelessness. And does not shy away from saying it.

Let’s keep saying it. Because a day of hope after a day is hope becomes a year of hope.1B641EC2-8828-4621-9652-CCEA12681527

Postscript

So, I wrote my book.

After she had read it, a psychologist friend suggested to me that I should maybe consider trying EMDR. This stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.

As my friend is someone very wise and trustworthy, I took her suggestion on board and set about finding a therapist.

Last summer I made contact with one who offered EMDR. Living where I do, I had to look quite far afield and accepted that I would need to travel a fourhour round trip for appointments.

In our first appointment, we arranged that we would do some sessions face to face but others could be done online, which came as a great relief to me in the face of my severe carbon footprint anxiety.

At our first meeting last August we talked, explored and I left my book for her to read.

As I was leaving I noticed a book on her chair called “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van der Kolk.

She asked if I’d like to borrow it.

I said I wouldn’t as I had lots of other reading on the go.

Over the next few months we met, a few times in person and a few times over an online platform. There was a lot of talking about my behaviours, my inability to relax and my obsessions, my physical compulsions. During this time I went through some exceptionally challenging times at work and I did a lot of talking about that and other distractions.

My therapist started to pick up on the fact that I would talk a lot and tactfully reflected that back to me, whilst also starting to pick up on some key themes:

My sense of blind panic at times of stress and the physical manifestation of this in my body, including holding my breath;

My constant distracting activity whether working, exercising, talking or overthinking;

My sense of worthlessness;

My values.

We talked about the fact that psychological coping mechanisms and behaviours may serve a purpose and be useful to us, when we need to cope with things that otherwise threaten to overpower us.

But we also acknowledged that coping mechanisms which are no longer needed and are actually harming us or stopping us from living a full life need to be examined and maybe challenged and stopped.

We talked about the fact that at the centre of each of us are core values and that we need to connect with those if we are to feel fulfilled.

We talked about neuroscience, the brain and the ways in which it manages our bodies, thoughts and feelings.

We talked about my past.

We talked about needing to explore my sense of worthlessness and shame.

Around Christmas I came across an old video of my final performance and assessment piece from my Dramatherapy Diploma back in 1999. I couldn’t play it, as we no longer have a VCR and so I sent it off to be digitised. On watching it back, I realised that I came close, back then, to overcoming my inner demons and making peace with my history….but that something stopped me from completing the narrative and finding the “happy ever after.” I reflected again on the words of my therapist back then who had said, at the end of individual therapy, that I’d done a great job but that I could not be helped any further unless I was “honest about what had hurt me” and allowed myself to “shed an ocean of tears”. He knew. But he wasn’t able or willing to take me to that place. Or maybe I was not ready and he knew it. I will never know.

And in January, I downloaded “The Body Keeps the Score” and read it.

I felt an absolute resonance with my experience. I can’t quite put that feeling of resonance into words.

These are a couple of the parts that took my breath away:

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

“As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage.”

And I realised that I needed to stop just talking.

I realised that I have been talking for ever but that the words have stopped me from really acknowledging what happened to me and has held me ransom.

In my book I wrote this:

“A memory. Aged 7. A stranger but one who had been entrusted. A violation. A child’s trust betrayed. In a matter of days, everything altered. A secret held and never to be told. The beginning and the end”

But the fact is that I had not really allowed myself to process this vague memory. I had not ever spoken about it or described it in any detail. And I had not addressed the feelings and emotions that it had generated in me. I had not allowed myself to fully know what I knew.

“The Body Keeps the Score” explores therapies, processes and activities that can be helpful to those who have experienced trauma including drama (no wonder, maybe, that I have always been at my happiest when involved in plays and that I trained as a dramatherapist), yoga (which I have practised since the age of 19) and mindfulness (which I have tried, or maybe played at, with varying degrees of success). But none of these have ever quite managed to make me feel at peace or fully at one with my Self.

And then I read the section of the book about EMDR and Van Der Kolk’s numerous descriptions of people for whom EMDR enabled the missing part of the jigsaw to be found.

And so, I decided that it was time to give it a go.

I won’t go into detail here about the process. You can find numerous YouTube videos and articles online.

In brief, it involved spending several sessions talking about memories from my past and identifying the ones that seemedto be causing me issues. It involved building up resources that would help keep me safe while processing traumatic memories including physical positions and mental images that would enable me to connect with solidity, fierceness and nurture. It involved creating a mental image of a place where I would hold my traumatic memories while I was waiting for them to be processed; slips of paper with the memories written on in a small wooden house in the top of my wardrobe.

And then came the re-processing session.

Two hours.

Remembering.

Reliving.

Having words that I had never spoken to anyone spoken back to me describing what had happened and allowing myself to hear and feel the shame.

Shame and disgust and self-hatred pulsing through my body, my limbs.

Sobbing and sobbing and sobbing and hearing my voice sound as it did when I was a little girl, scared and shocked.

Buckets of tears and snot.

Uncontrollable feelings that were held in a safe space while my therapist worked with eye movements and then used physical, rhythmic tapping.

Other connections made with other memories and people that came as a surprise but then made sense.

Barely being able to breathe and realising that I have been holding my breath and holding my body in tension for years.

An overwhelming sense of not wanting to hold on, of wanting to collapse and be completely free of all the tension and running and blind panic.

Exhaustion.

So much physical pain in my arms, back and legs.

And all the way through, the re-assuring voice of my therapist telling me that I was doing incredibly well, holding the space for me, keeping me safe and repeating, over and over “this is the work”.

And then overwhelming anger and hatred towards the person who did that to a little girl who was nothing but trusting and innocent.

And then calm.

Afterwards, a sense of it being done. Of the pieces of paper in the small wooden house being blank now.

Of needing to go to a place of nurture where I take genuine care of myself and don’t just throw myself into more coping and surviving and protecting myself from something that I no longer need protection from. Of moving if I want to but more importantly of staying and stopping if I choose.

I found myself feeling sad at the end of the session and saying repeatedly that I regretted not having done this sooner; “this is what I needed. This is what was missing….” We discussed the fact that recovery often involves feelings of sadness and regret at years lost, at experiences half-lived and at energies mis-directed.

On reflection, I know that the experiences I have lived, the relationships I have formed and the contributions I have made have been meaningful and on most occasions positive and immensely valuable.

A jigsaw with a piece missing is still a jigsaw and can be colourful and beautiful and a thing of wonder. But is not complete and often it is the absent piece that will draw the eye, cause irritation and make us keep searching for that elusive piece.

I also talked at the end of the session about my fear about not having anything left at the centre, now that the layers and layers of protection have been removed and the motivation behind some of my behaviours has been challenged. What is left? How do I make decisions?

And we acknowledged that what I do have is my values and that part of what comes next may be around finding ways of ensuring that I can stay true to those.

On Sunday night I went and heard Matt Haig speak in Edinburgh. It was all that I had hoped it to be and one part of his talk in particular helped me to see that every part of my life will have had different things to offer; the person I am today is not the version of me that I was yesterday, nor the one I will be tomorrow. Staying alive is about giving the future versions of our self the chance to live and thrive and learn from the versions that have gone before.

My jigsaw is complete. If you meet me today, I am a different version of the person I was before because that irritation, that repressed anger, that constant holding of my breath and that need to fight are gone. Those tears have been cried.

My body kept a score. But now the score is settled.

It’s time to talk about the new normal for schools⤴

from @ Graeme’s Blog

The class of 2020 will never forget their summer without exams. But what seemed unusual last term will pale in comparison with the seismic changes Scottish education is about to witness.

The First Minister has announced that physical distancing must remain in place until a vaccine is available. We must re-think – radically, deeply and creatively – how we “do” school in line with our new way of living.

For much of the coming session, schools cannot have all of their pupils in the building on the same day. Who should be prioritised? Senior pupils working towards qualifications and transitions, or younger year groups with perhaps greater wellbeing needs? Should secondaries alternate between dedicated days for BGE pupils and days for Senior Phase (S4-6)? Would alternate weeks be better? Safer? Just what is the maximum number of pupils you can fit into a Covid-safe classroom (a question considered brilliantly by Blair Minchin). Perhaps English and Maths teachers will finally discover the benefits of practical-sized classes, de-bunking the myth that children need greater supervision with the Bunsen burner than with the gerund (despite all our disagreeing). (Sorry).

Spring time is when many of us cover topics that simply must be taught outside. Where else can you teach Housman properly but under the shade of a cherry tree? Danish schools returned this week, taking as much learning as possible outdoors and Scottish teachers will exploit this opportunity to the full. As we head into autumn though, I’d guess this will become a less attractive option for all 5 periods of Higher Physics. Perhaps schools will follow the example of supermarkets and have clear lines at 2 metre intervals throughout social spaces. But what should we do if (when?) young people, deprived of peer contact for so long, decide to cross them? What happens for the young child who is stuck with their shoe laces, can’t wipe their nose, or just needs a hug from a friend?

In larger schools, having even two year groups in a building means 400-500 youngsters. Will it actually be possible for them to move through corridors every 50 minutes and observe distancing rules, or do we need something different? How will our transport (and teaching!) contracts cope with flexible school days? It is the time in the academic year when timetablers, having elegantly re-arranged the last few periods of S3 French, step-back with a hubristic grin and gaze at their gleaming matrices, desperate to explain their marvellous creations – slowly – to colleagues unfamiliar with the dark arts. Should they rip them up? Will these timetables ever be fully realised if the new normal needs new structures? We need to adapt the school day and week to minimise risk and maximise learning.

Across the country schools set up, seemingly overnight, new ways of teaching remotely and providing childcare for key workers; these will still be needed. Every pupil will need access to an engaging, user-friendly digital platform for the days it’s not their turn to be in school. Every single classroom in Scotland just got flipped. Royally. We must think deeply about how this changes our pedagogy for the coming session.

How employers and unions advise on PPE will be a crucial factor in the big question of “when?” we return. And, as advice on shielding becomes more detailed, we will learn which of our colleagues and pupils will stay at home indefinitely and consider how to support them.

But all of this is merely the starter task. Highly complex challenges lie ahead. How do schools continue to deliver their role in identifying and responding to wellbeing needs, GIRFEC and child protection concerns? How can we best support pupils with complex needs over the next year? The world of work changed unrecognisably overnight and, if economic predictions are even half true, the labour market for future school leavers will be even more complex and challenging than it was 5 weeks ago. Preparing young people to navigate this has never been more important but business and industry will have less capacity to support our DYW activity.

With the current focus on estimates for this year’s SQA candidates, it seems a tad gauche to pose a question about the 2021 exam diet. But it needs to be asked. By August, an entire cohort of Scottish children will have had their learning certified, and been awarded qualifications, without ever knowing the chill of an exam hall, the sound of 200 pens scribbling in synergy or the smell of a fusty invigilator. They have learned deep knowledge, skills and concepts. They will go on to wonderful things and they will cope with them. The next destination in their learner journey will welcome them with open arms (and will probably never make them sit an exam either). It turns out that we can trust teachers after all. We will have evidence that we do not need exams.

If we know now that the 2021 qualification cohort will have significantly less direct teaching than their predecessors, is it fair to assess them using the papers that are already written and locked in a Dalkeith vault? No. They too will need something different.

The rationale for Scotland’s Curriculum and the indispensability of the 4 capacities have been reinforced by the Covid-19 crisis. That same crisis has exposed the irrelevance of exams to real-life challenges. We have made commendable progress over the past decade in our approaches to teaching, learning and curriculum. I am not arguing we abolish our national exam system overnight (thought about it!) but it is time for certification to catch up. It is time for Scotland to stop being the country that assesses practical woodwork and hospitality with unseen written tests.

The Scottish education community has risen admirably to the challenges of the last few weeks. It will embrace the coming session with the same courage and creativity. Let’s take our inspirationally resilient First Minister at her word and engage in a grown-up conversation about how we do school for the new normal. Let’s be optimistic: from crisis comes progress.

Caveat 1: In the unlikely event anyone (I know) reads this, I am not saying any of this will happen in the school I am privileged to call my workplace. It is merely an attempt to un-burst my head! (“I write to know what I think”, Joan Didion)

Caveat 2: Timetablers are good people, especially our timetabler.

Caveat 3: Invigilators are really good people. You all smell lovely and I’m sorry.

Shared Stuff⤴

from

Over the last few years, I have shared a lot of stuff from my OneDrive.

I moved schools on 23rd March 2020, and, as part of that process, my old Glow Account will be deleted, and along with that all of my resources will be deleted! Not to worry, I have backed everything up and copied everything across to my new Glow account.
To make it easy for people who have been accessing stuff in my OneDrive, including OneNotes and PowerPoints and other resources, I’ve made new links available below.

If you get a message saying you need to request access, please first sign out of your Glow account then try clicking the link again. Or open the link in a private/incognito window. Feel free to request access, but I might not get round to granting access for a few hours or days.

 

Here’s a list of some of stuff I have shared on Teams, OneNote, Glow etc. If you have been using something that I haven’t included below, please message me on Twitter or email (gw20allanmichael@glow.sch.uk)  and I will make new links to the stuff you are looking for.

 

Higher Maths Shared OneNote – This also contains a National 5 Maths OneNote as a separate section towards the bottom of the Notebook. It’s a copy of the same OneNote as is in the Scottish Maths Microsoft Team (info below) but it isn’t being updated any more.

Slides from 2019 Scottish Maths Council Conference – Using OneNote and Glow

Slides from 2018 #MathsConf16 – Cognitive Load Theory

Christmaths Relay as a OneNote Escape Room (from Chris Smith’s Relays)

Easter Maths Relay as a OneNote Escape Room (from Chris Smith’s Relays)

Valentine’s Day Maths Relay as a OneNote Escape Room (from Chris Smith’s Relays)

Truncated Icosahedron from Toilet Roll Tubes – Sway Instructions

How to Revise for N5 and Higher Maths – Sway

Scottish Maths Microsoft Team – email me (gw20allanmichael@glow.sch.uk) or DM on Twitter to get the join code (this stops non-teacher people joining the Team).