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You Were Never Meant to Pass This Test on Your Own

Test Answer Sheet

 

Test Answer Sheet

Image: nongpimmy / www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

We’ve all been there and done them – and, if you’re a teacher, you’ve even probably supervised them:

Tests.

Formal written tests are carried out under exam conditions, which includes silence and just getting in with it – on your own. I’ve never done a test where I could use someone else’s expertise – it’s always been a test of my own.

Do you ever feel that life is a test – and that, from time to time – sometimes even often – you’re failing?

 

Life does often feel like a test but, unlike a formal assessment, we were never meant to pass this test on our own.

As a parent, I have to advise, correct, guide and affirm my two kids. When intervention is called for, I intervene. Sometimes, I don’t even have to make the decision to intervene – I get asked for help. I don’t expect my children to manage everything on their own – and I am glad that I can be instrumental in their growth and development. They will – and do – fail at things but I expect them to have another go, to try again, to learn from their mistakes. Growing up was never meant to be a test: kids may often look to adults for affirmation and approval but they also rely on the bigger people for advice.

 

As an adult, I don’t claim to have perfected what we call ‘life’. I am still full of questions about how best to live my life. I experience doubt, uncertainty, fear and worry. I know that I can do better – I know that I want to do better and I know that I will do better. But I also know that I cannot do better without help. I rely on people around me – sometimes directly (by asking their advice), sometimes indirectly (by just watching and observing).

 

As a teacher,  I often remind children that it’s ok to make mistakes because they can learn their greatest lessons from the mistakes they make. However, even making mistakes is best done in the company of others that we feel we can trust. You no doubt feel more able to take risks and make mistakes when you are with people who accept you as you are and allow you to make – and learn from – mistakes.

My best friends are the people who allow me to be who I am, who let me get away with it and who like me in spite of it. That is liberating! And when I’m with people like that, I no longer feel that life is a test. Instead, it’s an adventure, it’s an opportunity to experiment, to take risks, to try out new things and not worry if they don’t work out.

When you live your life with people you love and who love you, it doesn’t matter if you fail because, as Clarence the angel said in that timeless film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life‘,

No man is a failure who has friends.

 

You were never meant to pass this test on you own – you were meant to, in the words of H. Jackson Brown, the author of ‘Life’s Little Instruction Book’,

…throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover…

 

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/

Why New Year is More Than Just a Date

Fireworks
Fireworks

Image: Stuart Miles / www.freedigitalphotos.net

 

Social networking sites seem to have neared breaking point today as individuals and organisations flooded their pages with posts and updates bidding farewell to 2014 and welcoming in the new year. I myself spent considerable time reviewing and sharing posts that I came across whilst browsing.

But why the almost universal obsession with the new year? You only to have to witness the ever-increasing size and quantity of new year firework displays to realise that New Year is deeply significant to most of the population of our planet.

And yet, as some wit observed, most of our universe, including the non-human wildlife on Planet Earth, continues its existence blissfully unaware of this key milestone in our annual calendar cycle.

‘Happy New Year.’

Why? Was the old year particularly sad? Is the past full of regrets, failure and unfulfilled dreams? Does ‘new’ necessarily mean better – like the ‘new and improved’ that regularly appears splashed across the packaging on products we’ve been buying for aeons?

The fact is that human beings are naturally dissatisfied: we can always see how things can be better – including our own lives. Dissatisfaction is a good thing – if it spurs us on to improvement. But not if it results in cynicism or spiralling disappointment. We will never attain perfection but perfect is always a good thing to aim for. It inspires us, it motivates us, it draws us onwards and upwards.

And so to the new year – and why it’s good for the soul.

It does us good to take stock, to review, to reflect, to re-assess, to re-align, to re-focus. The new year gives us a valuable opportunity to look at where we are, where we need to be – and what next steps we should take to move in the right direction. This naturally involves looking backwards as well as forwards. With an objective viewpoint, most of us should be able to work out some clear actions we need to take this year – either to stop, change or maintain some aspect of our lives. People have been calling these ‘New Year Resolutions’ for centuries, if not millennia: the ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.

Practically, there are some simple steps to making, and keeping, new year resolutions:

Firstly, write down specifically what you want to do and why. For example, I want to lose two stones because it will improve my health and well-being.

Secondly, tell someone who cares about you what you’re gong to do and why: this will help to keep you accountable – they will hopefully keep checking up on you!

Thirdly, just start doing it – one small action to start with – every day. It apparently takes just 21 days to form a habit so, by the end of January, when everyone else has given up on their new year resolutions, you’re well into the swing of keeping yours.

As well as the three simple steps to achieving your goal, there are also three simple words:

YES – YOU – CAN.

So, New Year really can be more than just a date – it can be a step, a giant leap, or even a turning point.

I wish you a truly happy and successful new year, starting now and continuing for ever…

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

If You Can Keep Your Head

Keep Your Head
Keep Your Head

Keep Your Head (Image: www.jokeroo.com)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on the child,
If you can give confidence to children and staff when all doubt them,
Make provision for their needs to ensure they achieve;
If you persevere and forge partnerships and not be tired by waiting:
If you can support your colleagues and establish teaching provision to meet their needs
Yet not lose patience when time and resources are unpredictable,
If you can prioritise and organise demands from many
Remaining unwearied and positive;
If you can lead by example and show consistently excellent teaching,
Remaining focused on achievement and exciting learning
Yours is the Earth and the power to make a difference,
And-what is more– you’ll be our School Improvement Adviser for SEND my friend!

I came across the above job ad (not the picture) on the www.eteach.com website. A different time and a different place, I might have applied for it. Why? Because it says so much about the vision and values of the organisation who wrote (or commissioned) the ad. Clearly a job interview would confirm my initial feelings about the prospective employer but, if this is integral with their mission and purpose, they must be an exciting organisation to work for.

What is your school or setting like as a workplace? Does it buzz with the excitement of purpose – or is it burdened with just trying to tick boxes and look good in the eyes of inspectors? Is there a clear vision or goal? Do its values underpin everything that happens there? Is there a clear sense of mission and purpose – or is it just existing to serve the purposes of those who should know better but probably don’t?

I want to be part of something that is much bigger than the organisation I serve – part of an exciting vision to change things for the better for children. That’s what inspires the large majority of the teaching profession – that’s what makes them get out of bed every morning and want to go to work.

That’s what made me wish I was in a position to apply for this job…