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The Power of Just

Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon

Image: goldsaint / www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

I’M JUST DOING IT…!

If you have kids, you’ll almost certainly have heard them using the word ‘just’ in the above context – meaning, of course, ‘I’m about to do what you asked me to do <insert your own time period> minutes / hours ago.’

The word ‘just’ is so often used as an excuse – an almost throw-away word that we hope lets us off the hook – that gets us out of a scrape.

But, at the other extreme, it can be incredibly powerful.

 

THE POWER OF JUST

A well-known sportswear manufacturer use the words ‘Just Do It’ along with an affirmational logo that reinforces the motto.

We all know what we need or want to do. But we all also know how not to do it – how to put off doing the do-able.

Why?

What is the enemy of ‘DOING’?

Is it fear? Procrastination? Disbelief? Lack of confidence?

My mind often overflows with ideas of what I want to do and even how to do it – what it looks like. But there is an enemy and its name is ‘fear’. Fear can be paralysing. It invents scenarios that don’t exist in the present and which may never exist in the future. It clouds our vision and limits our perspective. It dents our confidence and squeezes our self-belief.

What if I could just brush aside fear and just do something? What if I just took the first step? What if I just did what I thought I couldn’t do…? What if I just…?

I really believe in ‘the Power of Just’.

Just do it.

And, yes, you will make mistakes – and learn valuable lessons from them. But you will also be wiser – and happier. Because you tried. Because you stepped out. Because you stepped forward.

The following anonymous truism carries a great deal of weight:

Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise.

 

NOTHING TO LOSE

What could possibly go wrong? Everything!

What is there to lose? Often – nothing!

If your life is only measured by material value, then you could potentially lose everything – but if what you value cannot be seen and is difficult to measure, then it will be very difficult to lose and is worth risking everything for.

So – what are you waiting for? Decide what you want or need to do and take the first step.

Just do it.

Now.

 

 

 

And then, when you’ve started out and scared yourself silly doing it, do it again and JUST KEEP GOING.

 

A friend of mine, Nicola Marshall, espouses the idea of ‘one word’ goals: building your intentions around a single word that encompasses your objectives.

Read her post here: http://www.bravehearteducation.co.uk/looking-forward-to-2015/

What Do Children Really Want?

Child success

Child success

 

I was working with a Year 5 class this week that consisted of quite a mixed bunch of children, many of whom were also very mixed-up emotionally: they had issues relating to each other, issues listening, issues managing themselves and issues taking pride in their learning – or just taking learning seriously.

All that many of them seemed to want to do was to score points over each other – and, yet, I’m pretty sure that’s not what they really wanted.

As it happens, being the end of half-term, the school had planned a celebration afternoon on the Friday, during which children would give presentations based on the topic they had just finished studying (in the context of this particular class: Space).

 

Choice and Responsibility

On Wednesday, I outlined the idea to the children and explained the process of planning, preparing and presenting. Space is a topic that children are naturally curious about and this class were no exception. Given the opportunity to choose what to focus their presentation on and choose who they could work with – and choose how to present their chosen theme – was highly motivating to the children. It presented a certain level of risk to me as I was conscious of the behavioural issues I was up against and uncertain about how well they would work together or of their standard of presentation. However, after what I felt was sufficient guidance, I handed the responsibility over to them – along with huge flipchart-sized sheets of paper to work on.

 

Motivation and Mess

The effect was astonishing: motivation went through the roof and behavioural issues all but disappeared. The children organised themselves into small groups, found laptops and tablets for their research and spent several hours over the next three days preparing their presentations. Throughout the sessions during which we worked on the presentations, children came up to me with their ideas, or with facts they had discovered, or with requests about how to solve a particular presentation challenge. Several children made a mess of their first attempts and resolved to start again, including a child with severe emotional and behavioural issues who has spent over an hour doing a picture of a space shuttle, messed it up and started it all over again.

One particular child – who had previously manifested a persistently immature attitude – spent hours diligently researching, assembling and presenting facts about the sun on the most stunningly decorated poster. It was vivid, eye-catching and the attention to detail (especially colour) was painstaking. What astonished me was his ability to sustain concentration over an extended period of time without distracting others or being distracted himself. He evidently took an enormous amount of pride in what he was doing and was visibly pleased with the end product – especially when I suggested he take it show the headteacher.

 

What did these children really want?

Having seen these children excel themselves in so many ways over a couple of days as they planned and prepared for their presentations, I reflected on what had made the difference to their behaviour and the lessons I learned about what motivates children.

To start with, children really want someone to believe in them – to expect them to do well – to give them responsibility.

Secondly, children want to get on with each other – and to do things together. Children don’t actually enjoy making each other miserable; more often than not, it’s a defence mechanism – it’s a sign of insecurity and an attempt to establish their own credence and credibility.

Thirdly, children really want to succeed: and when they see a chance for success, they will work for it. The motivation is palpable.

 

Curriculum, Community and Choice

A friend of mine who does a lot of work around the area of attachment theory referred to Alfie Kohn’s perspectives on this kind of thing in her own blog:

I’ve been reading a book by Alfie Kohn at the moment called ‘Punished by Rewards’. He says that if you have three components in the classroom working well, you will not need to bribe children to behave. The three components Kohn talks about are:

Curriculum (engaging content delivered in an engaging way)
Community (a caring class where students feel they belong)
and
Choice (some say in how they learn).

That seems like common sense to me, not rocket science, but I worry that our we are in danger of stifling children – not setting them free.

 

Do something good

I am reminded of something I once saw that has influenced my thinking ever since:

If you want children to do something good, give them something good to do.

Most children have an innate desire to do something good; it’s up to us – the people they look up to, mimic and learn from – to give them something good to do.

That’s what children really want.

 

 

 

I Won a Castle…!

I won a castle

Believe it or not, I’ve won a castle!

I won a castle

Veronica Pullen was reluctant to part with her home

 

A cardboard castle… but, hey, what an opportunity – read on…

At a conference last weekend, I put a bid in for a large cardboard castle being auctioned off for an autism charity. The castle was part of a display on an exhibition stand and it grabbed my attention because I’m always on the look out for assembly ideas that illustrate the concept of resilience. The castle represents strength, resistance, solidity – resilience. A community within a castle was kept safe by its thick, towering walls – protecting them from the onslaught of enemy weaponry and invasion. But it has a large gateway and drawbridge to let friendly visitors in, so it’s not closed to outsiders…

Resilient people are like a castle: they have inner strength which helps sustain them through the inevitable problems and challenges that are part of everyday life – and the occasional bigger attacks that appear from nowhere and threaten to destabilise us.

But it’s not just about the strength they possess: a castle represents a community – a group of people that share solidarity and up for each other. It’s very hard to be resilient on your own – you need people around you that you can trust, that believe in you, that accept you for who you are.

And neither is it about closing yourself off from the outside world: a castle has a huge gateway with a drawbridge. This would normally be left down and the gateway opened to allow people to travel in and out of the castle. Friendly visitors are welcome but, when threats loom, down comes the portcullis and up comes the drawbridge to stop the enemy from entering – to protect those inside the castle. Resilient people have resources at hand so that when life becomes threatening – when disaster looms large – they are able to withstand the onslaught of fear and anxiety that can assail them. This is only possible because of the courage and determination that is embedded within them – because of the resilience they have built up – like the castle walls.

But resilience doesn’t just happen. And castles don’t just happen. They have to be built over a long period of time – and by a lot of people helping. Resilience is built up over time as a person experiences acceptance by others, as they develop belief in themselves (with the encouragement of others) and as they build up courage and confidence. All of this is more likely to happen within a safe, healthy and happy community.

For a child, this should first be their family, but, for some, the family is an unhealthy community, so their class at school is often a safe haven for them. Having adults within a school who can identify the child whose ‘walls’ need building up is a life-saver for some children – they learn to build trusting relationships, they learn to believe in themselves and they learn to make wise lifestyle choices.

We’ve all come across children who need help building their castle walls – and all they really want to start with is acceptance – not judgement.

Talking of acceptance, I was very happy to be the winner of the castle and accepted it gratefully from Veronica Pullen (pictured). Now, I will use it in school assemblies to talk about resilience.

How strong are your castle walls…?

 

It Takes a Whole Village to Raise a Child

Adult and child hands
Adult and child hands

Image: www.mtdeafblind.ruralinstitute.umt.edu

I sat in on a school leaving assembly yesterday and watched Year 6 children troop out for the last time before they left for the summer – ready to start secondary school in September.

I say ‘ready’, but I could name at least half a dozen boys and not a few girls from one class of thirty children who are far from ready to leave the security of primary school.

Transition from primary to secondary school seems to be one of our rites of passage in the UK. Children are hauled through Year 6, undergoing immense pressure to get that magical ‘Level 4’ in their SATs tests and then bundled out of the door to start Year 7. Sounds familiar?

 

Confident Individuals?

Part of the problem with our education system is the very narrow expectations we have of our children: like the Victorians, we imagine that out children have to develop a prescribed set of skills in order to become ’employable’, but the skills we are neglecting are the very ones that ensure the children are able to function as, in the words of Mick Waters, ‘confident individuals, successful learners and responsible citizens’. I’m not sure that our curriculum actually addresses any one of those aspects, although I have come across schools that are making a resolute effort to do so with the limited freedom they have.

A friend of mine runs a nurture unit in a primary school and I wish there was one in every primary school in the country: children who have missed out on some essential aspect of their upbringing as young children have the chance to do some ‘catching up’ over a period of weeks in a secure but relaxed and compassionate environment, where the emphasis is on emotional resilience rather than academic knowledge. I came across a similar unit in a school not far from where I live: three children and two staff occupied a space away from the main part of the school. each child was dong something different, with assistance or intervention from an adult where necessary or appropriate. One of the children I spoke to was drawing: line drawings in a style that would have made Whistler proud. I mentioned to the child that he should keep on with his drawing and suggested he look up James Whistler, who started drawing when he was five years old.

What is it that actually stimulates and inspires a child to ‘realise their potential’, to become the person they were meant to be, to aspire to make something of themselves?

 

Significant Adults

My blogging friend, Nicola Marshall, author of ‘The Teacher’s Introduction to Attachment’ recalls a youth leader’s words about adult-pupil ratios. We expect a group of children to refer to their significant adult in say, a school or extra-curricular context. This may be one adult to thirty children in a school, reducing to less than ten children to one adult in an environment such as a youth club. The youth leader in question asserted that we should be looking at a ratio of five adults to very child: that is, every child should have five significant adults in their lives, be they parents, grandparents, teachers, youth leaders or adults in other contexts.

This reminded me of the well-known African proverb:

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

These significant adults play a key role in a child’s life: they are essential role-models who are ‘witnesses’ to the child’s life. Nicola Marshall also refers to Richard Gere’s film, Shall We Dance, in which his screen-wife says,

We all need a witness to our lives, the ups and downs and comings and goings.

Who are the so-called significant adults in the lives of many of our children today? Celebrities? Media personalities? Inappropriate relatives? Certainly not the role-models we would recommend.

To quote Nicola one more time, where she talks of her own adopted children:

Whoever it is, those people will have an influence and impact on a child’s experience of life – they will be the witnesses to that child’s existence. I only wish the adults in my children’s lives understood what a huge help or hinderance they are to my children’s progress. It matters that we remember their names. It matters that we pay attention to their anxieties. It matters that we witness their very existence. How we respond to them is vitally important.

 

See Children for Who They Can Be

Anyone in the teaching profession has probably come across the words of Haim Ginott, author of ‘Between Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers‘:

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.

As a teacher who works with children all over the country, often meeting them for the first time, I make no assumptions: I try to see them not for what they are but for who they can be. I find that enormously empowering and, frankly, liberating.

As a child, my significant adults were my parents (being a bloke, my dad in particular), Rosie (one of my youth leaders), my grandpa and a middle-school teacher who, nearly forty years later, I am still in touch with.

Who were your significant adults? And who are you a ‘significant adult’ for?

What’s Your Desert Island?

Desert Island
Desert Island

Image: www.blirk.net

You’re no doubt familiar with the whole ‘desert island’ concept. Some people love the idea of being alone on a desert island – others find the idea abhorrent.

When were you last really ‘alone’? No person to keep you company. No technology to keep you company. No pets. No connections.

That’s a pretty difficult place to find in the 21st century!

Now consider the deeper and more emotive concept of loneliness: when did you last feel lonely? Last month? Last week? Yesterday? Today…?

According to a BBC Poll, conducted in 2013, almost half of all adults in England say they experience feelings of loneliness – and London, a densely-populated city of 8 million people is said to be the loneliest place in the country. More worryingly, one in five people say they are more lonely now than they were 10 years ago.

According to Age UK, around one million older people regularly go an entire month without speaking to anyone.

In October of 2013, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, described it as a “national shame” that as many as 800,000 people in England are “chronically lonely”.

Esther Rantzen is quoted in a Telegraph article in early 2014 as saying that children were now also facing an “epidemic of loneliness”.

Opting for a desert island existence is one thing; having no choice is quite another.

In my experience as a teacher and head teacher, I came across many lonely children. However, what troubles me more than the fact that we have lonely children in our schools is that many of them remain lonely. We either do not recognise their loneliness or we do not have the wherewithal to deal with it.

Lonely children are not necessarily poorly behaved; often, they are the quiet ones that sit under the radar, not causing a problem. The ones we are inclined to give our attention to are the ones clamouring for attention – causing a nuisance, making others feel small, disturbing normality. But, hey, aren’t they lonely, too?

Do we have a system for recognising and assisting lonely children in our schools? And not just children? Adults who work within the school and parents who bring their children to our school?

However, so many people would rather choose to sit on their ‘desert island’ than admit to being lonely. Have we made loneliness a stigma – even given the national statistics quoted above? Are we enforcing a desert island existence on to our lonely citizens because we perceive bigger problems under our noses?

Perhaps we need to start mapping our lonely people and creating spaces for them to develop the confidence to a) admit their loneliness and b) form relationships that bring them out of loneliness.

Consider the lonely children in your setting. What little thing can you do – what gesture can you make – to show the child that he or she is noticed – that his or her loneliness is recognised?

And, next time you find yourself feeling that you’re on a desert island that is not of your own choice, don’t blame yourself: find a soulmate to confide in and talk to them about it.

Don’t become a national statistic.