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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…

It’s better for something to be finished than to be perfect

Blueprint With Specs by winnond - FreeDigitalPhotos
Blueprint With Specs by winnond - FreeDigitalPhotos

Image: winnond / www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I first read this title, suggested to our ‘Blogging Buddies’ group, I laughed inwardly – and wryly – as I considered the perpetual challenge for anyone working in a classroom to finish anything to their satisfaction, let alone it be perfect.

 

A WOMAN’S WORK AND A TEACHER’S JOB

A very recent article in the TES laments the high numbers of new entrants to the teaching profession leaving after just a few short years – not completing their career in teaching because of the massive pressures and disappointments they experience. Clearly not finished and far from the perfect job their idealistic young minds envisaged.

The old adage, ‘A woman’s work is never done’ can just as easily be applied to the teaching profession: but how and when does one consider a job done? Finished? Completed? The above TES article continues with the observation:

…teaching is a long story, one that starts even before candidates turn up to their teacher preparation courses and continues long after they graduate.

Comparing the teacher’s role today to the one I entered nearly twenty years ago is mind-boggling: barely a couple of decades ago, even with the recent introduction of the National Curriculum, I had a huge say in how and what I delivered in my classroom. Now, it appears, teachers have considerably less autonomy, in spite of the government’s assurances that they are cutting back on red tape and bureaucracy. I suspect that, as long as Ofsted exists in its present form, whatever platitudes the government make to the teaching profession will have little impact: Ofsted has changed the education landscape so dramatically that we are all on an endless treadmill of churning out evidence  to prove that we have accomplished something with the children we teach. However, as the aforementioned TES article pithily adds,

…an ever-growing tail of underachievers around the world tells us that what we have always done isn’t good enough.

 

PRODUCT -v- PROCESS

Just what are we educating our children for?

And are we looking for a finished product or pieces of  a jigsaw puzzle which may never actually be completed but whose picture becomes clearer with each stage of learning a learner completes – bearing in mind that learning is a life-long journey that never ends?

I recall a statement made by a mentor teacher when I was in the early stages of training:

The process is more important than the product.

The teacher was referring to lessons that did not necessarily have to result in a finished product but the content of which contributed to children’s skills. I have reflected on this often over my career and have come to the conclusion that, yes, the process is vitally important in achieving educational objectives but that a product is also essential in order to motivate learning.

Not long ago, whilst working with a Year 5 class, we made board games. The objectives were many but the end objective, as far as the children were concerned, was to complete the board game. Whether or not I made it clear to the children, they were also achieving other, less obvious objectives, such as problem-solving skills, design skills, evaluation skills, collaboration skills, communication skills and presentation skills. The process was elaborate: the children had to come up with ideas, draft their designs and produce a finished product – including instructions. They also played and evaluated their own and each other’s games.

Were they perfect? Probably not, although in the minds of the children, many aimed for and achieved their best.

Were they finished? Absolutely. And the children’s pride on completion was obvious.

Both product and process were equally important – the expectation of a product outcome driving the process and the process achieving and enabling the product.

 

PERFECTION IS FINISHING

Before I close, perhaps we should define ‘finished’ and ‘perfect’.

Very rarely is any finished product ‘perfect’ but how often do we admire something such as a work of art, a meal or a display and pronounce it ‘perfect’? Perfection, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder and is often attained through finishing to a degree of satisfaction that pleases. Pleasure is more often in finishing than in perfection. But even ‘finished’ can be subjective: to some, a work is never finished; to others, it is finished when it has achieved the satisfaction of completion.

So, does this offer comfort to the distracted teacher who is on the verge of leaving the profession having barely started?

One of the lessons I learnt as a newby teacher was to ‘cut corners without compromising’. That sounds like a dichotomy but I had to consider what my objectives were: it was not perfection in the product but completion of learning: the satisfaction of new knowledge or skills acquired. In this case, it was clearly better for the children to have finished a task and to have experienced new learning than to have attained perfection that was defined by me. It is, after all, the children who are to finish – not me.

And, if it helps us all to plan more efficiently, remember the following words, attributed to George S Patton:

Better a good plan today than a perfect plan tomorrow.

 

 

First Post

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As I edit this first post, ThinQ Education is barely four months old but the growth in learning and experience in that period has been exponential. I won’t go as far as saying that the growth in business has matched that, but interest and uptake has certainly been encouraging.

Several key words have characterised the journey for me as I have steered a course of exploration and discovery in my attempts to make ThinQ Education a going concern and a profitable business. Words like doubt, risk, mistakes, uncertainty and discouragement. Not the kind of words you want on sandwich boards around your neck!

However, if it was not for the reality of living those words as I bounced around trying to run a new start-up, I would not have learnt the important lessons that will enable ThinQ Education to become the success I hope it will be.

A butterfly emerging from its cocoon undergoes a fierce struggle before it is free and is allowed to let its wings spread and its colours shine – but that struggle is necessary for its survival. I believe that, as learners, we all have to learn important lessons if we are to fully appreciate the benefits of our learning. Learning to walk – and falling over in the process – is an early example of this, followed by learning to ride a bike – and more falling. In a school context, we often find that children are averse to making mistakes in their learning and do not realise just how important making and recognising mistakes is to the depth and strength of their learning.

Growing resilient learners is a key driver for ThinQ Education but, far from it being a pink and fluffy concept, resilience in thought (what I call ‘intellectual resilience’) is essential to successful learning and living. As educators, we must create opportunities for children to develop as resilient thinkers. This doesn’t require bolt-on strategies – just a climate of promoting, encouraging and validating independent thinking.

As resilient thinkers, children will learn to manage doubt, risk, mistakes, uncertainty and discouragement, rather than feel like they are walking through life with sandwich boards bearing the word, ‘failure’.