ThinQ-121 Logo facebook icontwitterlinkedin-buttonBlog RSS Feed

Tel: 07772 631 764

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…?

 

Are you human?

People / World
People / World

Image: xedos4 / www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I’m only human.

 

You’ve heard it said and you may have even said it yourself.

And when is it normally said? Usually after a mistake or a failure? Probably.

Is it an excuse? A disclaimer? Something to be proud of? A statement of solidarity with the rest of the human race?

There is something about being human which is entirely unique amongst the rest of the animal kingdom. No other living creature has the capacity for original thought and creativity as humans do – and no other living creature is quite as cruel or destructive…

 

Haim Ginott is credited with writing the following ‘letter to teachers’:

Dear Teacher,
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians; infants killed by trained nurses, women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.

 

What does it mean to be human? Clearly there is a distinction between the kind who makes mistakes whilst offering a blushing ‘I’m only human’ and the kind described by Haim Ginott above. Ginott is urging us to help our children ‘become human’ – to be compassionate. And the reason we need to be compassionate is because we are human: we make mistakes, we mess up, we cock up. But that’s not the same as the wanton cruelty as described in Ginott’s letter.

 

The fact is, being human means we make mistakes and we (hopefully) learn from them – but we need to know there are others around us to bear with us in our mistakes – to accept us and keep believing in us. And to forgive us.

Children are no exception. After nearly twenty years in the teaching profession, one thing I know for sure is that, whilst technology, economies, curricula and Education Secretaries change, children do not: children just want to be accepted for who they are, to be believed in and to experience compassion.

I’m inspired by the following exhortation, which is often mis-attributed to Plato but most likely originated by the Rev John Watson:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

 

Similarly, Seneca (4BC) is credited with the statement:

Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.

 

Want to be more human? Be kind. Be compassionate. But don’t wait for an opportunity – just be it.

Be human.

 

 

When did you last astonish yourself?

Thomas Edison quote
Thomas Edison quote

Quote attributed to Thomas Edison

Sometimes, you just need to inspire yourself

You know what it’s like: you’re racking your brains but nothing comes. You’ve got writer’s block, the solution to a problem seems to defy you, ideas escape you, your creative juices have dried up – you have a mental block.

Where do you go for inspiration?

At a recent conference, I felt much the same: I had ideas but the obstacles to progress seemed to massively outweigh the creativity that I felt was within me. By chance, I happened to strike up a conversation with someone on the same table as me. It started off by talking about what we do. I talked about RAISER, an idea I’m trying to get off the ground that is designed to help people develop greater resilience. Fundamentally, it’s about making healthy choices:

 

R – healthy Relationships

A – healthy Aspirations

I – a healthy sense of Individuality

S – a healthy perspective on Success and how to achieve it

E – meeting and making healthy Expectations

R – accepting and giving a healthy level of recognition

 

The person I was talking to leapt at this idea and started talking about how I was going to make it work (I didn’t have a clear picture as yet). Suffice to say, her enthusiasm, her knowledge and her perspectives on my ideas excited me. We exchanged e-mail addresses then she left for an appointment and I left inspired.

Later on in the day, talking to someone completely different on a completely different subject, I was sharing my ideas about buying a small B&B / self-catering outfit in mid-Wales. He, being a business guru, asked me some very direct and challenging questions: Who was my specific target market? Why should they choose my place over another’s? What messages do they need to hear?

I didn’t have the answers there and then but I did go away and think about it. Less than half an hour later, I had what I felt were some compelling answers to go forward with: so compelling that my brain was buzzing: I was inspiring myself.

The point to all of this is not what I was being inspired by – it’s how I became inspired.

What inspires anyone is what they are passionate about. If you’re not passionate about a subject, even the world’s greatest expert on the subject is unlikely to inspire you. But, if you’re naturally interested in something, just a spark of interest from anyone else will inspire you: you don’t have to be told what to say or how to say it: your whole being is alive to the subject.

Yes, we need people around us to ignite our passion but the inspiration is there: you can inspire yourself.

As a teacher, I relish the challenge of igniting passion and inspiration in children but I am concerned about the increasing lack of opportunity to awaken passion in children. They all have it in them but we are in danger of quoshing their passion with the unrelenting drive for ‘standards’, as if what drives and inspires them is unimportant. How about using children’s natural passion and interest to inspire their learning? We are pretty good at this in Early Years but, with the pressure to get children through Phonics tests in Year 1, Level 2 thresholds in Year 2 and KS2 SATs in Year 6, are we killing the ability of children to inspire themselves?

Go on, what would you do differently if you didn’t  concern yourself with test results, standards, league tables and thresholds?

Inspire yourself…

The Behaviour Iceberg (ignore at your peril)

Smileys
Smileys

Smileys / via clker.com

JUST MANAGING IS NEVER ENOUGH

Having composed a previous post which focused on leadership, I mused on my classroom experiences with children exhibiting emotional and behavioural difficulties (sometimes abbreviated to EBD).

Typically, a child may exhibit irrational or anti-social behaviour in a classroom which is, it has to be said, sometimes intolerable. There will invariably be systems to manage such behaviour but managing it is never enough.

Dealing with what we observe at face value is rarely enough. The real problem is that what we see or hear is often not nearly as devastating as what lies beneath – like the proverbial iceberg, the problems beneath the surface are often massive compared to what we see on the surface.

 

LIFE-CHALLENGING

As a deputy head at an inner city school some time ago, I was called in to the Year 6 classroom to ‘deal with’ a non-complaint child who was disrupting the lesson. I managed to coax the child out of the classroom and sit him down in the corridor. He was clearly in an emotional state but, once he’d calmed down, he explained to me that his dad’s girlfriend had walked out that morning.

You know how sometimes you realize that what you thought was a problem for you is actually a far greater problem for someone else? Well, here was just such a case but that someone else was a child. Not someone with the emotional resilience to cope with a major life-changing – and life-challenging – event, and a traumatic one at that.

 

COMPASSION

How can we expect to deal with a problem when we look only at what is visible on the surface? I learnt pretty soon as a teacher that helping children who manifested emotional and behavioural difficulties required a lot more understanding, patience – and compassion. That’s not to say I excused or made allowances for the behaviour; I just looked beyond the behaviour to the person and to what they must be going through to behave in such a way. No one in their right mind chooses to get themselves into trouble – but we’re not dealing with children in their right mind in cases such as this.

 

FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE OR FLOCK

Those familiar with brain theory will know that the primitive ‘survival’ brain can effectively shut down the ‘thinking brain’ so that the person experiencing emotional trauma is incapable of rational (thinking) thought. It’s the classic ‘fight, flight, freeze or flock’ response: a child in the midst of an emotional trauma will either:

– fight it  (hence the disruptive behaviour)

– fly from it (which could manifest in withdrawal, evasion, refusal to participate or literally running off)

– simply freeze (effectively no response) OR

– flock (which may or may not be helpful, depending on whom they ‘flock’ with).

For a ‘child-friendly’ exploration of this, browse the The Brainworks Project website, which I’ve found very useful.

In any case, those of us who have a ‘duty of care’ for children need to look way deeper than the surface to make sense of – and effectively manage – the behaviours we invariably come across.

 

IT’S (NEARLY) AS SIMPLE AS ABC

For me, I have learnt the ABC of managing behaviour:

First, I must exercise ACCEPTANCE of children for who they are.

I often walk into classrooms of children I have never met before. I make absolutely no assumptions about their behaviour based on the school’s locality, ethnic mix of its pupils or their social background – I couldn’t possibly. They’re children. Demonstrating acceptance is, for me, the first ans most important step in establishing a relationship with them as quickly with them as possible.

Secondly, I must exercise BELIEF in the children.

I have to work fast on this: I quickly find something to hook in to something positive that any child manifests – be it manners, quick thinking, consideration for others or just ‘getting it’. I verbally recognise  and reward such ‘behaviour’, which sets the standard of  expectation for other children but which also helps the children to see that I believe in them. I have to keep doing this throughout my time with the children – constantly demonstrating belief, even and especially when a child demonstrates non-compliant behaviour: as soon as I have dealt with the behaviour, I find something about the child to believe in – recognition of something positive to detract from the negative and which provides an alternative route for them.

Thirdly, I need to exercise CONFIDENCE in the children.

As soon as I can find something I can tell the children I am confident they can do, I do so. It starts with showing their best but it can be as simple as good listening, speaking up, talking in pairs or working on a task independently. I have to demonstrate confidence by telling them I know they can do it.

Know how that feels when someone does that to (or for) you…?

Fourthly, I have to exercise DISCIPLINE.

This is about setting and maintaining expectations. Right from the start, I make my expectations clear but I need to maintain consistency throughout the lesson so that the children feel secure about boundaries and consequences. If a child crosses a boundary, they know they will be disciplined. We all need that.

Fifthly, I absolutely must exercise EMPATHY.

Pretty much the rest is ineffective if I cannot meet the children where they are: understand their feelings, understand how I make them feel and manage the process. This is especially important when managing a non-compliant child. I have got over shouting for the most part – it rarely works. Reasoning, explaining and empathising is far more effective.

 

For the most part, I have found this to work but I would be delighted to hear from anyone else about what ‘works’ with them: please, by all and any means, leave a comment.

But by no means ignore the underlying causes of worrying behaviour – you do so at your peril…

Look How Far You’ve Come

Journey
Journey

Journey image courtesy of Martin / clkr.com

I swim most weeks. Well, to call it swim is probably stretching the point – it’s me thrashing through the water at a pace that is barely above that of a snail and nothing like the seemingly effortless performances of those who race past me at frequent intervals. However, I call it swimming and it does me good: it helps me think I’m doing something physically active and it helps me think – just think.

For example, as I’m coursing the length of the pool (yes, I’ve got beyond the doing-a-width-with-floats stage), I mull over the ‘stuff’ in my life. Being in a horizontal position buoyed up by a few million gallons of water helps that process. It’s remarkable how, firstly, things come into perspective (especially challenges) and, secondly, solutions come into focus.

Not only that, it’s a powerful time for reflection, too. This post is such an example.

I often wonder about whether I am actually getting better in the water and, musing on this one day, I realised I was swimming faster, swimming further and swimming for longer without breaks. OK, I’m still not up there with the Olympiads but, hey, LOOK HOW FAR I’VE COME. I used to be terrified of water, unable to float effectively – let alone swim – and dive? Ha!

Now, I regularly complete around twenty lengths, I enjoy the sensation of floating motionlessly, I dive without fear and I can surface dive to the bottom – more than three metres down. Look how far I’ve come…

A fellow blogger quoted these words from a song by Newton Faulkner:

Look how far we’ve come

Look what we’ve made

Started from nothing, building

Brick by brick by brick by brick by brick by brick by brick.

Looking back over my life, my career, my mistakes, the lessons I’ve learned and put into practice, I realise how far I’ve come. I may not have travelled my preferred route or even arrived at my preferred destination, but look how far I’ve come

We all need to look over our shoulders from time to time – just to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. How easy it is to look at our present circumstances and bewail our lot. How easy it is to bemoan our struggles and to wish for something better. But, perhaps our struggles are simply an indicator of how far we’ve come. Wouldn’t life be a whole lot easier if I wasn’t in this position? Probably but, hopefully, most of us are somewhere near where we think we ought to be.

I have used this Douglas Adams quote before but it bears repeating:

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.

Look how far you’ve come – and ask a trusted friend or colleague to tell you how far you’ve come. Especially when it gets tough.

And, while you’re at it, be the one who reminds someone else how far they’ve come – we could all do with a little more encouragement and affirmation when things are looking bleak and you’re not even sure if you can see where you’re going, let alone where you’ve come from…