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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…

Immersion in chocolate is a lot more fun than just dipping your toes in it

Chocolate-Salvatore-Vuono-Free-Digital-Photos-ID-10019336

Having just completed nearly a week of consultancy work in a school in Wiltshire and reflecting on the inspirational experience that it turned out to be for me, let alone anyone else, I reflected on what had helped make it make an impact.

Over the four days I was there, I delivered four mornings of lessons about Fairtrade chocolate. This could have been a tedious exercise about cocoa farmers earning far too little and the fat cats at this end earning far too much but that’s not where we started.

We started by giving out chocolate. Unfairly.

The children, surprisingly, didn’t complain that much – I think they were just glad to have chocolate.

We then looked at the process of making cocoa beans into chocolate bars, a fascinating one, whichever way you look at it, and we discussed the fact that cocoa farmers receive less in wages than the average UK child receives in pocket money (that was a new one for me).

Chocolate and injustice: the children are hooked.

After a session role-playing cocoa farmers, chocolate manufacturers and retailers – and putting the world’s injustices to rights – the children were firing on all cylinders and ready to write.

Letters.

To Cadbury and Tesco and anyone else who had clout and a lot of chocolate for sale and who could make a difference to the impoverished cocoa farmers.

By the end of the morning, each child had written an empassioned letter to a ‘Consumer Relations Department’ and, by Friday afternoon, all the letters from four year groups were in envelopes, ready to post.

I really wanted to shrink myself down into one of the envelopes so that I could see the look on the face of the person who read the letters.

I shall just have to be patient and wait for the replies – which there will be, I’m sure.

So, there was chocolate and injustice – and purpose and problem-solving and role-play and action.

As I drove home and reflected, I summarised the experience under four I’s:

1)  IMMERSION: we gave the children a whole morning to scour the breadth and depth of Fairtrade chocolate and the injustices in the cocoa-farming industry

2) INSPIRATION: the range of stimuli meant all children were engaged and interested: it was Visual, Aural, Kinaesthtic and Tactile

3) INNOVATION: the children had to discuss real solutions to real problems and come up with some original ideas – these are the next generation of thinkers who will have to solve the problems that we, the adults, are currently creating

4) IMPLEMENTATION: the children were given a purpose to write and they applied knowledge, skills, experience and passion in their letter-writing

I suspect that, if it had been a morning of SATs practice questions, the children may not have been as nearly motivated.

Like I keep telling anyone who will listen: we don’t teach children to get ready for SATs – we teach them to get ready for the rest of their lives…

Image by Salvatore Vuono (courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net)