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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.



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?



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.



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?



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.



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…

If You Don’t Want to Make Any Mistakes, Don’t Take Any Risks

Big Mistakes Rubber
Big Mistakes Rubber

Big Mistakes Rubber – available at most good stationers

You probably have one in a drawer somewhere – one of those ‘Big Mistakes’ rubbers (or erasers, if you’re reading this on the other side of the pond).

Although clearly a joke item, I imagine the ‘Big Mistakes’ rubber to have been created by someone who was tapping into the common acceptance that most of us hate making mistakes – that mistakes are wrong and that the person who makes mistakes is useless. So get the big rubber out, remove all traces of the mistake and pretend it never happened.

How wrong and how mistaken that is.

And how short-sighted we are if we believe that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs.



To my simple mind, there are two types of mistakes (at least in the context of this post).

There is the mistake made through foolish or careless error – such as stepping into the road without looking out for traffic – and there is the mistake made as a result of trying to do something new or difficult. The former should have been anticipated: we learn road safety for a reason. The latter is unavoidable – you cannot know what mistakes you are going to make when you try something new until you try something new.

And that’s where risk comes in: if you don’t want to make mistakes, don’t take any risks. And some people live like that. Pity.



Helen Keller famously said,

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’

And Albert Einstein is supposed to have said words along the line of,

‘The person who never makes mistakes never makes anything.’

I don’t think any of us truly gets rid of the fear and uncertainty we face when taking a risk but we learn to manage it because we know that, given the choice, we’d rather take the risk and hope for success than take no risks and achieve nothing. Risk is something we have to learn to manage – like fear, doubt and disappointment. We learn to take calculated risks – informed by judgement and experience. Blindly taking risks is another thing altogether and best avoided if the consequences are too painful to bear thinking about. Healthy risk is knowing and accepting the consequences of failure.



A child climbing on an adventure playground is taking a risk: he or she could fall but the anticipation of enjoyment through play far outweighs any notion of the likelihood of falling. If children considered every risk not worth taking, we’d have a lot of unused playgrounds around the country. Children learn risk naturally and its associated fear through play.

A fellow blogger describes his young daughter’s experience:

Amélie recently started French lessons. There is no trace of fear about this new activity. She does not seem worried at the prospect of not being good at languages, or getting it wrong. In all other aspects of her day to day life, if she makes a mistake and it is pointed out to her, she simply notes the error, correction and moves on. It is really simple. Making a mistake does not make her feel stupid or less happy, she just learns.

Coming from an education background and having watched many children learn, I know full well that this is not always the case and, in some instances, it is more the experience of the minority. Many children (and adults) are appalled at the idea of making mistakes and have not yet learnt that some of the biggest lessons in life come from the biggest mistakes we make.



I was laughing with my teenage daughter the other day as she was recounting the crazy things she and her friend do on the way to and from school just because… it’s fun. Our conversation moved on to the experimental behaviour of teenagers and young adults exploring their world as if it is one big adventure and the risks they take in the process. Although it is entirely natural to explore and I encourage risk-taking, some of these young people get themselves into serious trouble – not because they aren’t aware of the risks but because they’ve not received or taken advice on ‘educated risk’.



I applaud risk-taking – but not at the expense of safety. As a teenager myself, I took what I consider now to be huge risks, often embarrassing myself in the process, but I had been sufficiently well-educated to know which risks just weren’t worth taking.  I probably wouldn’t take those kinds of risks today but young people learn about their world, other people in it, their limitations and the limitations of others when they take risks. Risk-taking is essential to growth, development and success.

In fact, someone even suggested that ‘success’ is spelt R-I-S-K.

So let’s encourage our children and young people to take healthy risks but to prep them beforehand – not with fear, but with knowledge – and then trust in their capacity to apply common sense and learn from their mistakes.

The world will be all the better for the mistakes they make in their youth that help them to apply the lessons learned when they enter adulthood.

The Toughest Thing You Ever Did Could be the Best Thing You Ever Did

Y road sign

Y road sign

This post can only work if I illustrate it with a story. My story.

Some twenty years ago, whilst working at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham, I decided that the career plan I had drawn up for employment within the BBC wasn’t going to materialise (that was not without considerable trying). Basically, I wanted to make TV programmes but I had snuck in the back door as an engineer and was finding the transition virtually impossible – it was a dog-eat-dog, it’s-not-what-you-know-but-who-you-know, being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time kind of world and I wasn’t eating dogs, I knew no one and I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

A teacher friend suggested teaching (what else…?) and, as it had been a career option on graduation from Aston University, I decided to explore it further by doing some voluntary work in local schools. To cut a long story short, I applied for a place at Westhill College in Birmingham, not expecting any chance whatsoever, only to find that I was accepted onto their PGCE course in September of that year.

And that’s when the panic set in.

I was nearly thirty years old. Married. Mortgage. No kids. And about to make a life-altering career change.

To say that I entered a black hole is possibly an understatement. I entered everything there was that was terrifying. The black hole. The wilderness. The tunnel through which I could see no light. The unknown.

Suffice to say, I had any number of thoughts flying through my head at God-forsaken hours of the morning which made me question my sanity.

Fortunately, I had some very good friends around me who, if I didn’t believe in me, they certainly did. The teacher friend who originally made the suggestion had total faith in me and the Aston University chaplain, who I still keep in touch with twenty years later, was a man of incredible wisdom and reassurance.

And so, in September 1994, I entered further education for the second time and, in that year, learnt why the PGCE has such a high dropout rate. It was intense and, in modern jargon, insane. It was unrelenting and unforgiving. It was painful and the pain was protracted. And panic once again kept me (and plenty of others on the course) awake when we should have been asleep.

Somehow, once again, with the fabulous friendships we made on the course, those of us who stayed the course made it (with a lot of mutually positive stroking going on).

Since events like this usually come in threes, the third experience was actually getting a job as a teacher. The interviews I attended weren’t too bad but, when a school actually offered me a job, the panic flared up again. How could I stand in front of my own class of 30 children and pretend that I knew what I was doing? Needless to say, the intervening period kept me busy preparing for every and any eventuality. And, again, working with like-minded people kept my mind intact.

Twenty years later, I have lost count of how many applications I have sent off and how many interviews I have attended in my ascent to middle leadership and then deputy headship and, eventually, headship of my own school. When I look back, I have absolutely no regrets about that first decision to change direction: it was one of the best – albeit toughest – decisions I ever made.

And I haven’t given up making tough decisions. Nearly two years ago, I left the education establishment to set up my own business, ThinQ Education (the host of this blog), and that decision has taken me into schools all over the country delivering assemblies, class workshops and staff training to help inspire children to be the best they can be – to become more confident, to develop resilience, to make tough decisions.

I hope it helps them to learn what I learnt: that the toughest thing you ever do could be the best thing you ever do, but that you should rarely, if ever, keep it to yourself.