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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…?


The Behaviour Iceberg (ignore at your peril)


Smileys / via


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.



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.



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.



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.



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…

Make Peace Where You Are

Swans On Lake" by anankkml
Swans On Lake" by anankkml

Image: anankkml /


Next to happiness, it’s probably what we are all most in search of.

Some people seem to possess it naturally. For others, it appears to pass them by.

As adults, we learn to cope with the absence of peace as we struggle to manage what I call ‘The Big Ds’ in my assemblies, workshops and seminars: discouragement, disappointment, disaster, doubt, difficulty (you could add more, I’m sure). We are grateful when we can snatch a moment of peace but it often eludes us because of unwanted and unwelcome distractions.

As a headteacher for a number of years, I practised an ‘open-door’ policy. The only ‘moments of peace’ I was able to manage were at the end of a day when most had gone home and the phone had stopped ringing. Then I could concentrate on what I’d been planning to do all day. But even then, was my mind at peace? Not if I was under pressure to meet a deadline or struggle with making data make sense.

But I did learn that you have to make peace.



Sometimes, making peace means choosing to take yourself away from the place where there is no peace and putting yourself in a space where there is.

My place for peace happens to be our loft room. I’m alone, undisturbed and away from distractions. I can think, write, reflect and create. But that’s not the only place – the swimming pool is equally constructive as a place for peace. No one disturbs me, there are even fewer distractions (no phone!) and it’s a great place to reflect. The car is a great place to be at peace – not sitting outside on the roadside but returning home, often with the radio off. And another place, although less frequented, is the green spaces on the other side of the dual carriageway from where we live.



It goes without saying that making time for self (‘me time’) in order to still your thoughts is pretty much essential. Without creating time for your mind to be at rest, you don’t give yourself a chance to detach from situations that deny you peace.

The best time of day for me is at the beginning of the day before the rest of the family are awake. I’m awake, alert and usually at peace. It’s a great time to reflect, to gather my thoughts and to focus. Others might find the end of the day is better. It really is down to personal preference.



And, sometimes, making peace means turning from someone who disrupts any chance of peace to someone else who helps to creates peace. It may mean removing yourself from a situation that robs you of peace and putting yourself in an entirely different situation that grants you peace.

I particularly enjoy meeting up for a coffee with a like-minded human being – not necessarily to talk about anything of consequence but just to bask in the company of someone who accepts you for who you are and allows you to be yourself. The most precious of these moments of peace is when you can be with someone and not feel you have to say anything. It’s a connection that is priceless.

None of this is escapism – this is pure, life-saving common sense.

You do have to go back, of course. But having that time or place or friend to  re-energise you puts you in a better frame of mind to make peace on your return, whether it’s in a place, in a situation or with a colleague. If you can’t change a situation, having a mindset where you can accept it without letting it affect you (that takes time), helps to create peace.



I couldn’t finish this piece without bringing it round to the children we work with.

As we all know, some children have an almost total absence of peace within their home environment and school is their only haven of peace. As educators, we have a huge responsibility to model and to make peace, not just for these children but for all children within our care. Creating a climate of peace is fundamental to children’s security and ability to learn. And educating them about peace helps them to be agents for peace. Accepting children for who they are helps them to experience peace.

I am reminded of a quote from Haim Ginott’s book, Between Teacher and Child (1965):

I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.

But it is not only the children who need school to be a place of peace: adults within school need to be at peace at work. In order to get the best productivity out of everyone, leaders and managers should ensure their staff can work in a climate of peace. That’s not to say there won’t be pressure but just imagine working under pressure in a place where there is an absence of conflict, where trust resides and colleagues accept each other, support each other, listen to each other and don’t judge or blame each other. Peace.



In 1969, John Lennon sang ‘Give Peace a Chance’, a moving song with a remarkably short and simple lyric.

Peace doesn’t just happen – we have to make it happen. It happens when we give it the chance. And it doesn’t happen by trying to escape. That’s why we have to make peace where we are.

As Virgina Woolfe pithily reflected,

You cannot find peace by avoiding life.

I’ve talked about acceptance a couple of times within this post so it seems appropriate to finish with what many call ‘The Serenity Prayer’:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can – and wisdom to know the difference.




Better that you come from nothing than nothing comes from you

Value Key
Value Key

Image: Stuart Miles /

Validity is a curious thing.

As human beings we crave validity – whether we want to call it worth, value, acceptance or recognition. We desperately want to  belong, to be wanted, to be valued for who we are and what we have to offer.

Most of us have probably experienced what it is not to feel accepted – to be rejected, even. It can be a crushing experience. Acceptance is what we really need in order to become who we truly are. However, have you ever thought that accepting ourselves as we are and accepting others as they are is likely to help us feel accepted?  Note I did not say ‘acceptable’. Show me someone who truly feels acceptable – that person is unlikely to exist.

But what are we accepted for? For what we can do? For what we look like? For what we have? For where we came from?

Hardly, because that would institute different levels of acceptance across the spectrum of human privilege. We all start with nothing and that is where acceptance begins – with our fundamental selves – the part of us that possesses nothing but is everything.

Acceptance and validity is at the very core of who we are. As babies and young children, we need acceptance in order to thrive and build relationships. As growing children and young adults, we need acceptance in order to help us establish our identity within our peer group. As adults, we need acceptance in order to maintain dignity and poise. As human beings, who we are is what we want others to accept us for.

And who we are is what we should give to others in the way we relate to them, interact with them, communicate with them and give them recognition. Who we are is what others need to perceive and receive. Who we are is what we need to reveal. It is the real us, the genuine article, that needs to come from us and that people will accept.

Better that you come from nothing than nothing comes from you.

So goes the song released by The Feeling in 2008. Not that this post is defined by the song lyric – it’s just a string of words within the lyric that have a particular resonance and deliver a punch.

We’ve all come from nothing – granted. Some of us think we are something. Some of us may even think we give something. But what people really want is for us to give ourselves. If we can’t do that, we’re giving nothing. Our validity is in who we are and in what we give out of who we are.

Nothing comes from the person who is not able to give himself.



This blog post is written as part of a ‘blog buddies’ group, the idea being that we each write a weekly blog on a chosen theme.

So far, there are three of us, the other two being Nicola Marshall and Wendy Sims. To read the other posts on this theme, please visit:

If you would like to join our blog buddies group and share in this writing adventure (no obligation to write, just join in when you are able), please e-mail me at

Our next theme is based on a quote from Douglas Adams:

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.

Feel free to write a post and let me know when it’s written and I’ll plug it in my own blog. Meanwhile, I need to get writing on the theme myself…