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The Trail You Leave

Duck's wake - Lady Fi

Duck's wake - Lady Fi

Image borrowed from Lady Fi’s blog

 

Approaching my half-century is having a sobering effect.

The older I get, the more I tend to reflect and look back at what I have done and the wake I have left behind me.

In a previous blog post, Look How Far You’ve Come, I reflected on the importance of looking back to see how far we’ve come – and that our struggles are often an indicator of how far that is.

During this post, which sort of continues the theme, I want to focus on the trail we leave – the footprints, the tracks, the wake.

Have you ever watched a duck or similar bird on a lake and considered the impact of its wake? It emanates from the bird, creating a path that broadens in proportion to its distance from the bird. Firstly, I’m curious that the wake expands in such a manner. Secondly, I am amazed at how the wake is sustained over a considerable area compared to the size of the bird that created it. Granted, the further a point behind the bird, the smaller the ripple – but the wider the reach.

What wake are you leaving behind you? What is its reach? How does it affect those in its path? Do you know the extent of its impact?

I find this concept very challenging. As a father of two, I am increasingly conscious of the impact I am having on them as they grow from being young, impressionable children to teenagers with their own personalities and values set.

A blogging friend of mine writes about the footprint her late dad left in her life. I wonder if her dad ever realised just what an impact his wake had on his daughter?

What have my own children gained from being in my wake? And, on the other hand, what damage have I done?

That’s a scary thought.

As a teacher, the impact is perhaps wider and more far-reaching: what I do in school impacts the children I work with, their families, the staff with whom I rub shoulders and any number of other individuals and groups connected with the school. If I stopped for long enough to consider the potential impact of my thoughts, words and actions in the context of a school, I might choose not to get out of bed in the morning.

On a more positive slant, however, I have potential to have massive and sustained impact on people who really need input into their lives. They don’t have to be needy people – just those on a journey whose path interacts with mine. The converse is true: those with whom I interact leave a trail with impacts on my own life, hopefully for the better – enriching my experiences and relationships.

Of course, the trail anyone leaves behind them is not always going to have a positive impact. Fortunately, as humans, we are intelligent (and hopefully resilient) enough to take the rough with the smooth, to sift the good from the bad.

Haim Ginott, well-known to those in the teaching profession, wrote some powerful words in his book, Teacher and Child, which echo this theme:

I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt 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.

Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers

All that from the wake we leave behind.

So, what trail are you leaving behind you? Who will it impact and how?

And whose wake are you in? How are they impacting you? Do you have any choice in the matter? If so, what are you doing about it?

 

 

Thrive

Garden painting
Garden painting

Garden – artist unknown

My dad inspires me.

He has the knack of making a garden come alive and look like a place you want to be in. Even as an octogenarian, he spends hours outdoors tending to nature. And that’s not just in his own garden – he’s often to be found in other people’s gardens as well.

My favourite place in his Cornish garden is the raised patio: it is crazy-paved with a decent-sized pond populated with fish, lilies, frogs (in season) and duckweed. Irregular steps lead down to the lawn and alpines fill the crevices amongst the rockery that borders the patio. Elsewhere in the garden, fruit bushes and ornamental shrubs and  trees adorn the borders.

My dad’s garden thrives.

The same cannot be said about every garden – or, for that matter, every human being.

 

BARELY SURVIVING

Having worked in the education sector for a couple of decades, I have come across countless children who are living a life in which they are barely surviving, let alone thriving. Unfortunately, statistics seem to indicate that large numbers of teachers are also just surviving.

A recent and perhaps deliberately provocative article in The Guardian highlighted a report by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and highlighted the plight of the ‘ghost child’ – ‘the institutionalised infant.., wandering from playground to desk to after-school club without real purpose, nodding off through boredom and fatigue.’ It adds, ‘the ghost child is increasingly likely to be taught by the ghost adult – a teacher grey with fatigue and stress, stuck at school for 10 hours or more a day, wandering from duty to duty in playground, classroom or after-school club.’

Why have we come to this?

 

AIR, WATER and SUNSHINE

Returning to the plants in my dad’s garden, they thrive on sunshine, air and water, which Cornwall has in reasonably generous amounts, especially the latter. All of these are externally provided – drawn from natural resources. What does this look like in the life of a human being? Consider this:

a) Roots draw water up from the ground in which a plant is anchored in and deliver it to the rest of the plant. As human beings, we need  a source of continual refreshment that ‘hydrates our soul’ – and I’m not talking about the alcoholic liquid variety here! For most of us, companionship within our family and close family circles sustains us and provides the emotional resources we need to thrive in or relationships. However, for many adults and, unfortunately, children, acute loneliness due to lack of close family or friendship bonds causes a crippling lack of ‘hydration’, resulting in wilting human beings.

b) Plants respire through tiny holes in their leaves so that they can draw in air. Without air, a plant will simply languish and die. Human beings are designed to thrive but, for many, the opposite experience is true: they languish because they do not have meaning and purpose. This is the ‘air’ that keeps us from languishing. It starts almost from birth as we explore the world and discover our ability to influence outcomes but, if our sphere of influence dies and our sense of worth and dignity goes with it, so does our capacity to thrive.

c) Plants need light – sunshine in particular – and, as you are aware, they turn their leaves to face the the sunshine in order to absorb light energy. Apart from the obvious energy we derive from ingestion of food, we as humans need energising. We need stimulus. We need to be creative. We need to be problem-solvers. Much of this naturally develops through our play experiences as children but we all know that play has changed considerably in recent decades. Educators bewail the fact that children now spend much of their free time indoors – not outdoors with other children exploring, taking risks and developing essential social skills. However, as educators, we can help to correct this through the experiences we give children in school settings – and many nurseries in particular are very good at just that: creating vibrant play spaces for children to develop essential life long skills that energise their creativity.

 

PLAY, PLAY, PLAY

There is plenty of truth in the old maxim attributed to one of my favourite thinkers, Albert Einstein:

Play is the highest form of learning.

He is also recorded as saying,

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

How are we facilitating children’s play effectively in order to develop their imagination –  in order to bring them sunshine?

 

MEANING AND PURPOSE

Margaret Moore from The International Coach Federation writes in her blog post,

A sense of a higher purpose is a potent source of life fuel, especially when times are tough.

She also writes,

One of the most popular songs today (with more than 300 million YouTube visits), Katy Perry’s “Roar” speaks to the power of the human life force to make the world a better place. Katy sings from her jungle perch, “I am a champion and you’re going to hear me roar.”

But she also adds,

The vast majority of us are just surviving or even languishing—far from thriving, certainly not roaring.

 

So, to summarise,

A. Ensure you have a trusted circle of friends and family around you and, if you work with children, ensure they have the same.

B. Explore and discover meaning and purpose in your life and help others do the same.

C. Be creative in your problem-solving – and, above all, play. Then teach others to do the same.

 

THRIVE IN STYLE

I’ll finish with a quote from another of my favourite thinkers, Maya Angelou:

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

I’ll drink to that…

Make Peace Where You Are

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

Image: anankkml / www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Peace.

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.

 

MAKE A PLACE FOR 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.

 

MAKE A TIME FOR PEACE

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.

 

MAKE FRIENDSHIP YOUR PEACE

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.

 

MODEL A HAVEN FOR 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.

 

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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.

 

 

 

The way you do anything is the way you do everything

Image: nuttakit / www.FreeDigital Photos.net

Image: nuttakit / www.FreeDigital Photos.net

I was supposed to write this post weeks ago. When I mentioned this to an acquaintance (read: ‘friend’) with a pithy sense of humour, he quipped, ‘Is that because that’s the way you do everything?’ A wry grin and his tongue firmly in cheek.

I often include aspects of leadership in my posts and I can’t get away from it here, either. Because it’s true: the way you do anything as a leader is the way you do everything. And the reason for this, I believe, is deep down within us. It’s about what we believe about ourselves, about our relationships with others and what we believe about their perception of us.

All of us have a values system that we live by. We have deeply-held beliefs about life, about rights and responsibilities, community, fairness and justice, education (my own pet subject) and religion. We also have beliefs about our value – our value as human beings, our value to others and the value of what we have to offer. The fact is that each of us has immense and immeasurable value and what we have to offer to the world is priceless (even though publicists try to put a price on an individual’s worth).

A friend and I were discussing what drives people and why some appear more successful than others at promoting whatever ideology or principle they happen to believe in (and, let’s face it, there are a lot of us at it). We talked about the fact that many of us have a passionate belief in something but that we are often overwhelmed by the fear that others might not ‘buy in’ to that belief. We therefore do not push ourselves forward, even though what we have to offer is clearly of value. Our fear of rejection or failure is greater than our faith in ourselves. What turns the tables is the point at which we see that our message is greater than our fear of how it will be received.

In her book, A Return to Love, Marianne Wilkinson writes these oft-quoted words:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world (emboldening mine). There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

© Marianne Williamson, 1992

Returning to the opening theme, we all must recognise that our identity is what drives our behaviour before we can start changing the way we think – and it is about changing thinking. In an education context, we need to embed this discipline in the minds of our children: their behaviour, whether good, bad or indifferent, is undoubtedly a manifestation of what they think about themselves, which, in turn, is a product of their early experiences of nurturing – or lack of.

I often start my workshops with children by engaging them in a simple game: we stand in a circle and, altogether, recite each other’s name in turn round the circle, finishing with the words, ‘Everyone matters in our class.’ I remind the children that, even if we don’t feel that we matter, we must still believe it: it’s a simple case of ‘mind over matter’.

What we keep repeating often becomes a habit.

The way we do anything is the way we do everything, but it must reflect what we believe – not what we fear.

 

Why We Pin Our Hopes on Christmas

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

Christmas Tree Design: Feelart / Free Digital Photos

I attended my son’s school Christmas Carol concert at our local parish church earlier this week and was struck by the brief but poignant message delivered by the vicar. It was both inclusive and pointed. He talked of hope springing up at Christmastime. He acknowledged that not everyone shares the same faith at Christmastime but everyone expresses a kind of hope.

We spend eleven months of the year dealing with the messiness of life and, during December, we turn our thoughts to the hope that Christmas brings: hope for dreams fulfilled, hope for relationships restored, hope for happiness, hope for a Christmas better than the one we had last year, hope for a miracle arising out of life’s messiness, hope for something at Christmas that makes sense of the mess we experience throughout the rest of the year. And, let’s face it, Christmas itself is messy – as is The Nativity, the story behind Christmas.

But is this hope realistic?

Isn’t the hope we pin on Christmas likely to disappoint? Very much like trying to pin the tail on the donkey whilst blindfolded, we try to pin our hopes where we believe we may find answers. But so much of Christmas is hopeless: the commercialism, the tacky decorations, the regurgitated music, the excesses of food, drink and spending. And, in the New Year, we look back bleakly and realise that our hopes for the season have evaporated as quickly as the festival was over. Gifts are left unused or, worse still, listed on an online auction site. Our waistlines have expanded but our bank balances have contracted.

But there is hope. The vicar at the carol service pointed out that Christmas brings us together to discover afresh the hope we draw from each other and, if we are persuaded, the hope we draw from God. We need Christmas. We need to rediscover the hope that inspires us and reignites us. We need to share that hope with each other – God knows how hard we each fight our own battles and how much we need those around us to hold us up.

Christmas is a time to put right much of what we get wrong throughout the rest of the year – it is a time of restoration and reconciliation and regeneration. It really is a time of hope. No wonder the angels talk of ‘goodwill to everyone’.

And we should all try to put into practice Plato’s exhortation:

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