Secrets of Success

“I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Thomas Edison, inventor.

I’m incredibly lucky in my job in that, occasionally, I get to partake in things called INSET days, aka teacher training days.

And at some of these INSET days I have had the opportunity to listen to some truly motivational speakers, some of whom are not solely centered in educational circles.

Today I had the privilege of being able to listen to the motivational keynote speaker John Bell.

In his speech today, entitled “The Habit of Success in Education”, Bell focused his presentation on what successful people have in common with each other, and he broke this down into five points for which he used the acronym H.A.B.I.T.

To cut a long story short H.A.B.I.T stands for:

How can we make this better?

Admit your weaknesses.

Behaviour breeds behaviour

Imagination

Take Action

Bell believes that possessing these five traits are what makes a person successful. He makes a compelling case, and I couldn’t agree with him more. However, afterwards, on my drive home, I did begin to ponder the definition of success. For what is success exactly? What makes one person more successful than another and if it is different in definition for different people, how is it that common traits can be attributed to them?

In this blog post I’m going to attempt to address this notion of what success is and what it looks like, and I’ll be using Bell’s HABIT acronym to help me organise some of my thoughts.

1) How can we make this better?

So, despite the truly inspirational message I went away with at the end of the conference, I did have a small problem with how Bell seemed to view what success meant. He didn’t dwell on a definition of success, rather he talked about his grown up son: A man who has developed computer programs for Sony Playstation. A man who now only has to work two full days a week. This, as a measure of success was alluded to rather than made explicit,  I must point out, nevertheless to me this seemed to be the underlying message.

Now this notion of success didn’t sit particularly well with me I have to say. Not that I’m sure we don’t all aspire to only have to work two days a week, I mean who wouldn’t? But this fact suggests financial security is the cornerstone of success.

And do I believe success is measured solely in how many dollars one has? No I don’t.

Should I? Is this really the true mark of success? To be free from the ties that bind us to the daily grind of work so that we can spend more time with our families? Maybe, but would anyone say Mother Teresa wasn’t successful?…

I didn’t disagree with the attached anecdote in that his son had noticed, upon starting working for Sony, that no sooner had they finished developing one thing than the bosses were asking “How can we make this better?” And this surely is the premise for success in anything: Always looking to better something or oneself. It is, as Bell said, why technology has propelled forward at the rate it has in the last thirty years.

I certainly know in my role as a teacher that I have never, in seventeen years, stopped questioning “How can I do this better?” It’s what drives me and what drives me crazy in equal measure! You’ll rarely find me teaching the same lesson twice. I never use my planning from the previous year, because I believe that I can always make what I did better. But how is my success in a classroom measured? Am I successful in my chosen path? It was now this question which led me to try and define what success is.

Well firstly, I’d never consider myself to be a huge success in my particular field of work.

Why?

Because I’ve never been nominated for a teacher of the year award? Because I’ve never become one of the government’s so called “Super Teachers?” Because I failed at being a manager and so have very little influence in the hierarchy of school and having my ideas taken on board? Because I’m not a head teacher, and have no ambition to be one? Because I have no power or authority with those in the higher echelons?

I have none of these accolades which I believe those in the education profession consider to be the mark of success.

And so am I successful in education? Many, for the reasons given above, would say no. They’d not admit that of course. They’d feed me some rubbish about “Oh of course you’re successful,” whilst secretly sniping behind my back that I’ve never pushed myself to be successful in education. Ah, well perhaps there is the crux of it. Perhaps I just wanted to be a successful teacher, not successful in education.

So how do we measure that exactly?

By how much I am paid? Hardly, as no one enters teaching to make money, for money cannot be made by educating children. Although performance related pay is on the cusp of introduction, even this cannot become the mark of whether I’m a successful teacher or not, for how is my performance to be measured? On the results of my pupils of course. But I for one don’t believe good academic results are the mark of a successful teacher, for not everyone is academic. It’s certainly not what I’d measure my success on. I’d measure my success as a teacher (if indeed success can be measured) on how I make pupils feel and on what they take away from me into their lives outside the classroom. But that may be something which doesn’t come to fruition for many years.

However, despite this fact, and despite the fact that I do enrich many pupil’s school lives,  I still do not feel successful in my career and this is perhaps because as a society we have constructed this idea that to be successful, you have to have made money or influenced people in magnificent, revolutionary ways. I don’t feel I have achieved that in any great shakes, yet at the start of each year I get children cheering when they hear they will be taught by me. Therefore I must have some influence. But this seems a tiny and insignificant way of measuring success.

So does simply thinking “How can I make this better?” make one successful? I don’t think it can. After all,  I think like this all the time and, as I’ve said, I haven’t trail blazed initiatives or propelled education forward in any way. If thinking “How can we make this better” was the only habit of success, there would be many more people deemed ‘successful’  in the world and besides, why would there be four more factors?

2: Admit your weaknesses.

Ah now this one I have no problem with! I can see my failures and reflect on them no end. Perhaps I’m not particularly successful because I do this too much!

But, but, but. As both a teacher, and now a writer, I am very reflective. I always have been. I am happy to say what I’m not so good at and what I need help with and I’m not afraid to fail sometimes. Because as Gerry Raferty said: “If you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time.”

I’m also a great believer in playing to your strengths. We (or at least very few of us) can excel at everything. Therefore, always play to your strengths. Admit when you need help and build on and keep trying with the things you are not so great at. Keep growing. None of us are perfect, but we can take a lot from those around us. Listen to them if they give you constructive criticism. They may be able to see the weaknesses you can’t. But if you can’t admit they are there, how can you expect to move forward? If you don’t keep an open mind, but instead close it off and think you know best, then how can you ever hope to become successful? (Whatever that means!)

Does only being reflective make a person successful? Does it help us to define what success is? I’m not sure it does, so let’s move on.

3: Behaviour breeds behaviour.

Bell’s point that you sometimes you have to act enthusiastically as a teacher, in order to breed enthusiasm in students is so spot on. We all know, if you smile, others are more likely to smile back. If you frown, others will more likely frown too. If you moan and whine, others will follow suit usually. Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity.

Are successful people negative, glass half empty people? Absolutely not. I, possessing an odd balance of both traits, will testify to this. When I’m in a negative down on myself mood I get nothing done. I achieve nothing. If I avoid social networks when I feel down, I just get more down. But I can guarantee if I log on and seek out some positive people my mood and productivity can lift in minutes. If you tell someone they are great, they will start to believe it, the same as if you put someone down they will start to believe your put downs are true. It can take years, even a lifetime to undo the damage which is why many people battle with this notion of being positive. Maybe they grew up with no one bolstering them with positivity. It’s a long road to get to that point where you can believe in yourself.

Bell said something which really resonated with me, in believing myself to be successful, that is.  He said:

“I’m not what I think I am. I’m not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” 

Just ponder on that for a moment.

Isn’t it so true?

We believe in ourselves when others believe of us. Therefore, if we exude positivity about others I believe it helps breed their success and our own. And I see this completely in the writing community on Twitter. There is empowerment in sharing and celebrating each other’s achievements, no matter how small. It seems to lead almost automatically to success. I’m not talking about a multi-million dollar book deal success. I’m talking about other successes, the ones I still have yet to define in this post.

It is also very apparent in teaching. By definition a nurturing, caring profession and those who display their positive behaviours get so much more back in return from their pupils. They also get more back from their colleagues if they champion their colleagues and share ideas with them.

One of my favourite songs we sing at primary school is “The Magic Penny.” If you are not familiar with the song its chorus line has the lyrics:

“Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more…

It’s just like a magic penny,

Hold it tight and you won’t have any.

Lend it, spend it and you’ll have so many,

They’ll roll all over the floor…”

So is success defined by how positive we are with others? I believe partly it is. I believe we can actually believe we are successful if we are given positive reinforcement of this by others and give it ourselves.

This year I have been lucky enough to meet one of the most positive people I have ever met, and I can’t believe the effect his positive attitude has had in helping me develop and change my mind set further. My boss has been great with this too, so I have been doubly lucky. Now that’s not to say I don’t have bad days/moments or negative thoughts. I am human! However, I have found them to be decreasing and not lingering quite so much as they used to. I feel blessed to  know this person and he has really helped me see how behaviour does indeed breed behaviour. If you say good morning to people, even if you feel like crap that day, it lifts you when you get a positive response. Hide away and others hide too. Smile, chat, engage and others reciprocate and it snowballs. Win/win.

4) Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Bell says this doesn’t mean knowledge isn’t important, just that imagination is more important to success. Do you ever take time to just sit and think and let your mind wander? Bell argues that successful people do just that. Albert Einstein did it when considering the universe and the relativity of time and space. My little boy did it whilst drifting off to sleep last night and came up with an idea for what he wanted to build from Lego today. Writers who don’t take time to just sit and imagine, I don’t feel will become very successful at all. Teachers who don’t take time to reflect back or forward on what they are doing cannot, to my mind, improve on what they are doing and so how can success come? It doesn’t mean we all have to be writing fantasy stories but it does mean just stopping and thinking….”what if..?what if..?” What ifs lead inevitably to point number five, which I consider to be the most important ingredient and the main key to success..

5) Take Action

You can imagine all you like, be as positive as you like, you can admit to every weakness you want and you can strive everyday to think about how to make things better. However, if you never take action, if you never follow up the what ifs…, if you just sit there…well as the famous saying goes… “you’ll get run over.”

But…

The problem Bell sees is that people often fail and are not successful because they don’t define exactly what it is they want to achieve.

It was this statement which gave me a light bulb moment yesterday. Why do I not consider myself to be a successful teacher? It’s simple. I haven’t yet defined what success for me looks like. I haven’t defined and pinpointed exactly what I want to achieve in teaching. I think I’ve spent too long looking at society’s definition, rather than coming up with my own.

I do know what I want to achieve in writing, however, and I have taken many steps towards achieving that success. I’m not there yet, but I will get there because I know what my success will look like. For me. Not for anyone else.

And so back to the original question of this post: What is success? How do we define successful people?

Is it by the amount of money they earn? How happy they are? The size of their house or car? If they are married? If their business is booming? If they have children or not? If they work in a job they like? If they don’t work?

The answer is, I believe, none of these.

Success I think is measurable only by you achieving what you want to achieve.

And that will look different for everybody.

However I do think to be successful in the way you want, you do have to have H.A.B.I.T. You do need to think about HOW to make things better; Be able to ADMIT your own weaknesses; Look at your BEHAVIOUR and see how it breeds behaviour; Be able to take time out to reflect and IMAGINE. But most importantly get out there and TAKE action. However you do that. Go and write. Go and talk to others. Go and help out in a soup kitchen. Whatever it may be.

But define for yourself what it is you want to achieve, and then break your goals down into small, achievable steps. And then, keep going until you achieve what it is you set out to do.

That, for me,  is success.

Right, I had better go and follow my own advice and get cracking on the next chapter of this novel. It won’t write itself despite the lots of imagining I did last week!

Thanks as ever for reading. Please feel free to leave your comments on what success is for you in the comments section below. :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thirty-nine Steps.

I turn 39 this week. So what, I hear you say? 39 is a nothing age. There’s no landmark there. It’s an odd number, a nothing number. It’s the one before 40. That’s the one everyone is more interested in surely? Well, I’ve never been one for convention so I’m going to stop and pause at 39 instead of the traditional 40.

As I approach this ‘nothing significant about it’ age I realise that actually 39 is highly significant. It marks my entering the final year of my thirties, a decade which has seen enormous change and growth in my life (not just that of my waistline). This past ten years has seen more change and growth than I could have ever imagined when I stood on its brink ten years ago. Certainly more change and growth than I had throughout my twenties, a decade where there was largely consistency and very little change. Therefore, as I approach the day when the calendar dictates that when I write my age, I write 39 rather than 38, I am going to take the time to reflect back (as I so often do at this time of year) and write this rather self indulgent post. It’s not really here for anyone other than me. It speaks only of my experience of my fourth decade, and, as I have not led the most conventional of thirty-something lives, it may not speak to anyone at all other than me.

But it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to (to semi-plagiarise a song).

If someone had asked me ten years ago, back in 2004 as I turned 29, where I thought I’d be at 39, I don’t know what I’d have told them. I’m glad no-one asks me such questions as I’ve never had a life plan as such and so I’d  have found it impossible to answer. Just as I would find it impossible now to answer where I’ll be at 49. Besides which, I wouldn’t want to know.

 

Aged 29, fresher faced, no hair dye!

But if forced to answer I certainly would not have said: “Oh I’ll still be single, have fostered my nephew, stepped off the career ladder and written a novel and a half.” I’d not have said “My parents will be re-married and be living nearly two hundred miles away.” I would not have said “I’ll have had a complete nervous breakdown, had a relationship with my best friend of sixteen years and lost it, and changed my place of work five times.” I’d have not said “I’ll have climbed a mountain in wind and rain or seen the inside of various psychiatric wards, or experienced a financial crash which has seen me claw my way back out of negative equity and mortgage arrears.”

What I’d probably have said is: “Oh I’ll be married, hopefully, and probably be living in a bigger house. The mortgage will be half paid and my pension pot will be looking nice and healthy. Maybe I’ll have children and perhaps I will be head of a department in the school I work. I’ll have cleared my debts and be living in semi-suburban bliss. I’ll go on a good holiday every year and be able to buy proper wood furniture for my house.”

Isn’t this the social construct I was supposed to be part of? All through my twenties that’s where I thought I should be heading. For some part it was where I was headed. My career was on the up. I was taking on more responsibility, delving into management roles. I may not have cracked the romantic relationship thing, but hey, not to worry, I would, one day. My prince would come and we’d live happily ever after. (I’d just like to point out that I never wanted or needed to be rescued. As I have said before, I just like being in a relationship. I like it and I’m not going to be ashamed to say it.)  As long as I’d found him by the time I was 35, because you know, biological clock and all that, it’d be fine. I remember saying on my 35th birthday, “well that’s it then, I’ve officially passed the age for ‘safely’ having kids.” Not that I have ever seen myself having children. But I always told myself, ‘never say never’. If the right man was there and that was what we wanted, then it was in the realms of possibility. Everything is in the realms of possibility. This is one thing I have certainly learnt in my thirties. It’s not something I even thought in my twenties. I put a lot of constraints on myself in my twenties. I allowed society to put those constraints on me. There were expectations and damn it, I was determined to at least try and achieve some of them.

So when did things change?

Well I believe it was ten years ago this November. It was the day I received a phone call from my sister to tell me that my brother (I have three, this was my middle brother and he was 24 at the time) had been admitted to a psychiatric ward in a hospital forty miles away after having what was termed a “psychotic episode.” Without going into the horrible details of why and how, because it still reads as something from a horror movie in my mind, and is personal to him, so began the darkest winter I have ever known. And if it was the darkest winter I’ve ever known, I can only imagine the hell he was in. However, that day marks probably the one event which was to determine pretty much everything this past decade has had to offer. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe in linked chains of events. i.e “If that hadn’t happened, then neither would that…” The sliding doors theory I suppose. Of course, there is also how we react to and deal with those events, but suffice to say, I can quite confidently conclude that if that one event hadn’t taken place my life today would not look as it does.

Late 2004, early 2005 saw us as a family having to come to terms with the fact that one of our family members had a very serious mental illness. It would be a few years until my brother was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and in the interim we fumbled around in the dark trying to understand, trying to support someone we loved with something none of us, least of all him, could make sense of. For the next seven years, I would dread the phone ringing as it might mean a call to tell me he’d finally managed to commit suicide. There was many a night spent on a hospital ward after an overdose had been taken or another attempt with a different method to take his own life had been made. There was many a visit to a wide variety of psychiatric wards and units to follow, speaking to doctors and nurses. Trying to understand the illness and trying to come to terms with the fact he could live with this illness for the rest of his life.

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Aged 34; yes the manic look of someone pretending to be happy in the grip of depression.

What did those years from age 29-36 teach me that I didn’t learn in my twenties? Well they taught me that you don’t know pain until you see someone you love endure a greater pain. Those years taught me that life is precious and you don’t know how long any person will be in your life for. It taught me thankfulness and gratefulness to have a family who, despite all our idiosyncrasies, could pull together when needed, even if at times the whole episode seemed to be tearing us all apart. It taught me that psychiatric wards aren’t full of knife wielding maniacs in straight jackets, but ordinary people whose minds have become ill and those places are sad to be in and yet equally hopeful places where people can recover. It showed me that mental illness was something both to be feared and not feared in equal measure. For, despite the awfulness of bi-polar disorder, those years have taught me there is hope that even the most severe of mental illness can be overcome. Those years also taught me the impact and far reaching effects ill mental health can have on not only the person it directly affects, but also those around them.

The impact being that I now take care of my nephew, my brother’s son. He has lived with me for nearly three years and as I said at the start, would I have thought in a million years this is where I’d be at 39? Of course not. I mean, would you?

Circumstances drive us, more often than the well laid plans we make at age 22 when we step out of university. That’s another thing my thirties taught me: There is no plan and if there is, you’ll deviate from it, without a doubt.

I ended my twenties the same way as I started them. In a horrendously inappropriate, emotionally abusive and draining relationship. I thankfully never lived with either of the men with which I started and ended my twenties as neither could or would commit to me and, with hindsight I am eternally grateful neither did. My twenties were spent simply going through motions and keeping the status quo. Never wanting to rock the boat. Either in my work or in the relationships I had. My brother’s illness changed something in me. It made me realise there is no status quo and, as I fitted into my thirties, I found the strength to say goodbye to these destructive types of relationships. I mean, I could look back and say I’d wasted twelve years of my life, but I don’t think regret is a helpful thing. Everything we do, every choice we make, teaches us something. Those men taught be more than they ever took from me. They didn’t intend to of course. They were selfish misogynists, but I can never claim to be innocent in my choices. Naive I may have been, but they were still my choices. I accept them and live by them. I have hopefully learned from them.

Alas, as I approach the end of my thirties, this decade hasn’t seen me crack the relationship thing. I think I’ve learned not to settle for second best but other than that? Maybe the experiences of my twenties damaged me more than I realise. I don’t know, but in the end I decided in my mid thirties to do dating the modern way and put myself out there on the interweb, on a dating site. Maybe I shouldn’t have, knowing there was every chance I was about to become a single ‘mum’, and although I know having my nephew might impair my chances with some men in the future, equally I hold on to something my sister has always said. “If they genuinely like/love you, then the obstacles won’t matter. They will overcome those with you.” Okay she didn’t say those words exactly, but that’s the gist. The two men I met on the dating site were lovely men. We had good times. I felt with the most recent that I had met “the one”, yet when push came to shove he didn’t feel the same.
What have I learned? To wake up and notice when they are backing off? To not cling to false hope? The signs are always there. To start listening more, start tuning in more to the subtle signals, stop believing what I want to believe? There may be someone out there for me, there may not. I hope there is. Maybe I didn’t actually find “the one” or maybe there is a finite amount of “ones”. Maybe they are already in my life and I just don’t know it yet. My thirties have taught me I certainly don’t need a man. I’ve spent my entire adult life living alone, surviving, thriving even! No, they’ve taught me I want a man. Not to look after me, (perhaps that’s the problem…perhaps men want a woman to look after?!) or to look after my nephew for that matter as many assume. (He has a father who is fully involved in his life now, thanks to total management of the bi-polar disorder – yes there is a positive outcome. ) No I’d like to have a man in my life because I like being loved, I like to love. I want someone special to share life with. In truth that’s all I’ve ever wanted but it has proved elusive up until now. The next decade may see me find someone who can accept me not just for who I am (as those men I met in recent years actually did,) but also accept the life style I have chosen to lead. As the truth is I was never forced to look after my nephew. It was a choice I made. Not an easy, lightly taken choice by any means, but a choice nevertheless. However it is a decision which will, undoubtedly, impact on any future relationships.

When I look back on my thirties I will look back at them knowing they taught me a hell of a lot and that I changed many things for the better, not only in my life but for others too. I will look back on them and wonder how I crammed it all in and wonder where it all went. I will look back with no regrets and many memories, some no doubt I’d rather forget, but most I will want to remember.

And what did I achieve? What did I do? What did I see?

Well, I bought my second house, I enrolled on and completed and gained a B grade in proofreading. I wrote a whole novel and then some. I made friends, I lost friends, I dated a friend. I climbed a mountain in wind and rain, I overcame a crippling episode of depression and anxiety, I gave up a full time career and made it a part time job. My parents re-married after being apart twelve years, I watched my brother get married and divorced, I went to more concerts and theatre plays than I ever did in my twenties and met Tim Burgess! I had battles with pre-cancerous cervical cells and money but learned to survive on a wage £10,000 less than I’d had before which helped me realise there is far more to life than what money can buy. I discovered the stuff I did buy didn’t make me happy. I found love and lost love, I found the love of a child is the purest there is and that bad things will come good with hard work and time to heal. And I found strength I never knew I had. That is the main thing I will take away from my thirties,  I found greater strength in myself.

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And on the cusp of 39…

The steps I’ve taken in my thirties I believe forge the path for my forties. the groundwork has been laid. Now it’s time to reap what I’ve sown.

Also birthdays are awesome, whatever age you are! An excuse to be totally self indulgent. :)

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

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Filed under General Rambliings

What is it, this Life?

When I woke up this morning I spoke some words in my head which came out in their usual rhyming way. Thoughts which clearly had been troubling my subconscious during the night. I jotted the bones of what is written here now into my notebook before writing it out in full tonight in this post.

The poem is personal, deeply personal but then I think all poems are.

For me this blog post is different as you will notice I have braved an audio version of me speaking this poem aloud. I don’t know why I felt the need to do that with this one as I have never felt compelled before. But I felt the meter of this one needed to be spoken. I’ve surprised myself doing this as anyone who knows me, knows I don’t like to hear audios of my own voice. However I have bitten the bullet and done it. Brave new world and all that.

Apologies in advance if you do choose to listen. The sound quality is a bit crackly towards the end. This was only done on the voice recorder app on my phone. (I’m so technical!) Also I sound as though I can’t breathe properly! (I’d be rubbish as a singer!) Oh and yes, my Brummie roots are evident in some of my vowels…luv! :)

Also, the poem is a serious one.

I’ll do a fun one soon! If I feel brave enough for another voice thing at any point in the future.

Anyway, here it is:

What is it,

This life

If not to be shared?

To waltz through

Alone?

To never be paired…?

Is torturous pain

Which haunts the weak mind

Eternally searching

For ties that bind.

The tango was only

Ever meant

For two

There should never be me,

Only me and you.

The brightest of nights

Can grow darker still,

No warm arms enfold

And ward off the chill.

Embers flicker

Coals wait to be lit,

But time marches on

Through the deepening pit.

So what is it

This life,

With no one to share,

With no one to love

No one to care?

Pointless and drab

Colourless, cold

Empty and meaningless

With no one to hold.

No one to dream with

Or aim for the skies

No one to cherish

The long goodbyes.

No one to laugh with

To talk to, to speak

No one for strength

At the start of a week.

So what is it,

This life

If we can’t find the one?

To share in our hopes

In our dreams

In our fun?

The key must be

To open the door

To unlock the heart

Despite

What passed before.

To trust and to love

Embrace possibility,

To find in another

To see what could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under General Rambliings, Writing

I Don’t Completely Suck at Writing…

I wasn’t going to blog today. I’ve been too bogged down lately in getting my head around a maths curriculum beyond my comprehension, and feeling a little bit remedial in that respect of my teaching. So I need to focus on that a bit more than usual, therefore blogging wasn’t on today’s agenda.

However this blog page was always intended to reflect my writing journey of my first novel and so, after what happened today, I feel the need to share this part of the journey.

I arrived home from work just an hour or so a go to find a letter from a publisher in London to which I submitted the first three chapters of Prophecy Of Innocence back in July. Today they have written requesting I send the full manuscript for evaluation.

Now, I know this is simply a step in the process (so trying not to get too excited) and it may well amount to nothing, but I am viewing the news as thus:

1) I don’t completely suck at writing. (Hooray!)

2) If nothing comes of it, I may get some useful feedback (though I know this is not guaranteed).

3) Someone, somewhere in the business will be reading my full manuscript. My work, which I’ve poured so much into over the past three years. Only one other person has read it in full (thanks Callie) so this will be quite something.

I mainly wanted to write this post though to say a big thank you to all those of you who have read it or parts of the WIP, who have proofread parts for me, or given advice on any aspect I’ve struggled with. You have all given me invaluable feedback which has helped shape the work into its current form. I also want to say thank you to those people who, through writing advice on their own blogs, have inspired me to edit the hell out of what I had over the past year and a half and those who have helped me to constantly evaluate my work and hone my craft.

There are too many of you to mention by name, but hopefully you know who you are from the correspondence I have given you after reading your work.

And just thanks to anyone who has stuck with me reading this blog, whatever I may have been rambling on about.

I guess I should get on now and check it over once more before sending it off. *Huge gulp!

Fingers crossed now for however long! :)

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Filed under Publishing, Writing

As Easy as Riding a Bike

I have never specifically blogged about my day job. Teaching is often a very politically charged and emotive topic and so I tend to leave well alone. However, something struck me the other day and I felt compelled to articulate the thoughts here on my blog.

Many of us reading will have taught a young child to ride a bicycle. I am now no different as I began teaching my 6-year-old boy not long ago.

Two weeks ago last Friday, I was out mowing the lawn when he dragged his bicycle out of the garage demanding I put the stabilisers back on. He had had the stabilisers removed some nine or so months ago, but had subsequently refused to get back on and try without them after a small fall and the inevitable knock in confidence.

We argued for around half an hour when I said I would not put the stabilisers back on as this would not help him learn. He dug his heals in, stubborn as a mule, but, although I am not a particularly stubborn person, I know what’s best for him (most of the time!) and so I dug mine in more.

Knowing he’ll soon be too big for that bike, and so wanting him to get a new one for Christmas, I urged him to give it another go. (After all the shouting and arguing and digging heals in was done with.)  I told him we’d set aside some time each evening after school to learn. He’d be okay, I’d hold on to him and he’d soon pick it up. He agreed, and so the next day we took the bike down to the park where there is a lovely large flat area, perfect for practice.

We didn’t get too far that day. However, that didn’t matter because there was no rush and it was an achievement he would even sit on the bike. After me nearly breaking my back holding onto the saddle and him getting used to the feel of the bike once more, he soon became distracted by a tree and we spent the rest of the time climbing it, sitting in it and playing dens.

The following day, Sunday, we tried again outside the front of the house, but this time with me supporting his back rather than holding the saddle. This was much less painful for me and I think better for him as it gave him more stability and confidence. Bit by bit I’d loosen my grip until finally, when I could feel he had balance the bike, I let go. He only managed a couple of pedals before he realised I’d let go and promptly brought the bike to a halt! But he was pleased with himself and rightly so. And I was so proud of him. He’d done a maximum of four independent pedals at one point and we were both  ecstatic.

We had to forego practice on the Monday, so I wasn’t expecting much on the Tuesday as I knew he’d have to get used to the feel of the bike again. However, he had asked me before we went outside. “Will you give me fifty pence if I manage more than four pedals today?” Never one to not believe in bribery and corruption working as a motivational tool to the young, I agreed.

What I expected was five or six pedals. What we got was twenty and that was that! We also then had him manage to push off by himself, which quite frankly amazed me when only four days previously he’d been insisting I re-attach the stabilisers! Anyhow, there was much whooping and cheering on the street from both of us and I ended up giving him £1.50 as he’s saving up for some Spiderman toy tat.

It was a historic and momentous day for him, and although he was wobbly, he was doing it and that day was, in all honesty, the most joyful moment in my seventeen years of teaching.

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And yet, I was nowhere near a classroom or near my classes of children doing my day job. But here I had taught another human being something brand new, and a week or so on, he is going from strength to strength with every practice, every bit of consolidation. I can clearly see the “next steps” (to use current OfSted approved jargon) he requires. For example, he needs to learn to stop the bike on the brakes rather than just with his feet. He needs to learn to push off on a slight incline. But, and this is the great thing, there is no hurry. All these things will happen at his pace, with help and encouragement from me. Someone who can’t even ride a bike! Now there’s the irony.

So I want you to now imagine what would have happened if I had gone to the park with thirty children and their bikes…

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, they were all at the same level. Not confident, had never ridden without stabilisers etc…etc… I’d obviously have needed another twenty-nine adults with me as there is the physical aspect of support being needed when first learning to ride a bike. The only other alternative would be to do it one by one and as each child “gets it” leave them to practice and hope they don’t fall off. (Of course you have to deal with the bedlam of boredom which would ensue whilst you gave undivided attention to one from the other twenty-nine…)

Now imagine they all came to you at different stages. Some able to do all sorts but still in need of some training. Others can ride but not push themselves off yet. Some need to learn to use their brakes lest they go hurtling down a slope and tumble head over the handlebars. Some can’t do it at all and others are so petrified they just cry until you tell them it’s okay they don’t have to do it today. The good ones, who came to you with some skill learn nothing new because you’ve  had to leave them to coast along because they can do it and you need to help those who are not confident. Sure you could get them to help the non cyclists, but then what are they learning new? How are their skills developing?

And then imagine someone tells you that all these children need to have acquired the exact same level of proficiency on a bike by the end of the week, regardless of where they started. Oh except for the ones who were really good to start with; they should be doing the Tour de France at the end of it instead. Even though you have no time, or indeed the skills yourself to help them reach that level.

And this is where my analogy with modern, western world teaching comes in.

No one in their right mind  would expect children to be taught to cycle like this. No one. And yet, for academic subjects such as Maths and English this is exactly what our system expects to happen. One teacher; thirty children all with different start points and confidence levels heading along the same trajectory and put in a race to get there. Because of course it needs to be done by the end of such and such a year. Teachers are expected to teach children new skills every single lesson (or else you haven’t shown they have made progress and therefore a slap on the wrists from Ofsted is required; roughly translated as: YOUR LESSON WAS INADEQUATE.)  But there are so many new skills in the ever-increasing curriculum demands, who even knows where to start most days? Teachers are expected to teach children how to do something new in a ten minute time slot, then get them to practise for twenty minutes then apply in the next fifteen minutes. Then they may return to that skill next term/year whenever and they are expected to remember it. Or the latest educational thing is: “let them investigate and explore for themselves.” Well yes, there are times when this is appropriate, of course it is. Can you teach children how to ride a bike by just letting them go and explore? Some yes you can, but others who lack confidence no. Children are oddly individual but try telling this to modern governments in western societies.

This educational construct we have built for our children and teachers is madness. Pure madness. There aren’t the time or resources to teach everything at the pace of the  individual child, to practise and consolidate skills as they are needed. Really, there isn’t. Yet this is what is expected.  As a result of the system of “one size fits all but please individualise the learning experience” (can you already see the problem?) some children get lost, floundering behind, never been given chance to hone their latest skill, before the next is thrust upon them. Others coast along as teachers have no resources to push them forward or keep up with their pace trying to ensure the kids who don’t get it get it on some level. Before moving them on and them forgetting all they ‘learnt’ in that one lesson.  A one size fits all weight of expectation is unrealistic. It is an unrealistic pressure on teachers and pupils alike. But the expectation to achieve this one size fits all through a personalized approach? I teach Maths. 30 into 1 doesn’t give a whole number answer.

Next time you are wondering what teachers are pulling their hair out over, or why, if you know me, wonder why I find this job so completely and utterly overwhelming at times – think of my bike analogy. This is essentially what teachers are trying to do for your children on a daily basis. Ensure every child, yours included, makes progress from the start level they are at, even though the teacher is on their own with thirty of them. Teachers trying desperately to give each child a  personalised learning experience and individual attention. And then there’s that paradox…By the end of Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, GCSE all these children who had different start points should ALL have attained certain grades. Not very individual or personalised is it?

At nearly thirty-nine years of age, I still can’t ride a bike. It doesn’t mean that one day I won’t learn. Perhaps I’m just not ready to yet. Perhaps I have no interest. Perhaps I never will be able to because I have a balance impediment or something. I don’t know. I do know I  won’t learn it very well, if at all, in a class of thirty where the total percentage of the time the teacher can spend with me is about 3%.

Just something to think about.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

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Barry’s Back!

If I had more time this would be a more eloquent post. However I don’t have more time but do have an update linked to a post I wrote in August. So…

After over a month of waiting, today a new duck/chick pencil case finally came into land at our home. Yes, the trauma and tears of losing Barry mk. 1 back in August to the swells of the flowing summer stream were long forgotten as the afternoon post hailed the arrival of Barry mk. 2.

 

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For those of you who missed the original saga, you can catch up here in “A Child’s Grief.”

For those of you who read the post or have been following the story via Twitter, there is a happy ending. :)

After the initial incident of Barry the duck/chick pencil case tragically falling into a fast flowing stream and my subsequent blog about it, there was an outpouring of good wishes to my little boy via Twitter and the blog itself and I must take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who read and gave me tips for dealing with the next stage. None more so than my good Twitter friend Marj (@whithernow) who set about writing to my little one as the new Barry (after I’d swiftly set about ordering a new one online) via her own blog. The ordering of a new Barry was never to replace Barry, (there were a few differences). No, the aim was to soften the blow of the loss. But the waiting in the meantime for a 6 year old was going to be tough and Marj’s blog helped with this.

As I say, Marj set about writing as the new Barry, all the way across the Atlantic somewhere in a toy warehouse. (Barry, not Marj) and the joy the little one has had from these posts has been immense. (You can find the initial post and responses here under the post “For a Special Little Lad“.)  Now the great thing is, little one believes entirely that Barry has been sending these “emails” and he even replied to a couple. Such is the innocence of the very young. Best of all, the correspondence has kept him going until today when the big moment finally arrived.

I got home around 2pm to find a package had been posted through the letter box. I was so excited as I knew immediately what it was and couldn’t wait for pick up from school time to arrive. But first I went on Twitter to announce my excitement. Marj said she’d post a comment on the blog as a welcome note from Barry.

So when I went down to school, and once we were back at the car, I showed little one the “e-mail”. His face lit up when he read the words “I am here.” (find Barry’s note here )

He was just amazed Barry had written to tell him and all the way home he kept saying: “So when we get home, Barry will be there waiting. I can’t believe it! “

“Do you think a man with a case delivered him?” he asked when we were rounding the corner to the house.

“I think he probably flew here,” I said. “He is a duck after all.”

“No, it’s too far. I think he got a plane.”

When we arrived home and Barry was there, waiting for him in the hallway, poking his beak out from the bookshelf, there was that moment of trepidation little ones get when there is something new, even though they are excited by it and have been expecting it. Will it be all I hoped it would be? What if he’s not the same as the first Barry?  I guess were his predominant misgivings.

But when he could see new Barry was pretty much like old Barry, his face lit up once more. He couldn’t believe how soft his fur was and “Ooh, he has sparkles in his tuft of hair!” He set about immediately making comparisons to the old Barry. This new one doesn’t have a loop on the end where he can hang him from the door, which was  the only disappointment, but the legs and wings seemed to make up for this! However, after all the analysis and comparison, little one he suddenly said: “Never fear, new Barry’s here!”

Then he announced he’d be taking Barry to watch TV with him so he could cuddle him. And there they sat together for a while. He decided that Barry is a baby (“as he’s yellow”) and then set about ‘teaching’ him how to fly. When I came back from whatever job or other I was doing, it was announced: “Barry is a bit worried about flying, so we’ll have to try another time.”

Whilst a bike riding practice took place, Barry was left to sleep in the hall. “You have to be quiet,” I was told in no uncertain terms. “Barry is a baby and you don’t want to scare him.” So off we sneaked outside.

After three cycles around the block, it was back to Barry because “He’ll be missing me, and has probably woken up by now.”

Once shoes were off, and Barry checked on, little one says:  “I said Barry was going to have a special party when he arrived as it’s his birthday today, and so I need to make him something!” Off he trotted upstairs for twenty minutes and came back having made Barry a sleeping bag bed.

Barry has now gone to bed with little one, (in his sleeping bag of course.) As I was tucking them up, little one said to me: “Barry said in his e mail that he thought that I might feel a little sad today when he arrived because he might remind me of what I lost. But I don’t. I don’t feel sad any more.” (And yes, he is that articulate at only 6 years old.)

Shows us all, despite the trauma loss can induce, time and a new Barry, can maybe heal the wounds.

Who said there can’t be a happy ending?

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Why I Write

I’d like to start by saying a big thanks to Amy Good for tagging me in this blog hop. Amy had some extremely kind words to say about my blog on her own “Why I Write” post. Thank you Amy!  You should go and take a look at her fantastic blog on http://www.amicgood.com/ Amy is a person who I very much look up to in the writing world. She is someone who has overcome difficult obstacles to pursue writing, and so she is a bit of a heroine of mine. Not only for that, but also for being the brains behind Twitter’s most fun Friday writing game: Friday Phrases as well as being our very own Story Bandit!

 

So why do I write? When Amy asked me to do this, almost immediately a string of thoughts popped into my head, and as is often the case, a string of rhyming thoughts. So I decided to do this in my rhyme style. (I’d call it poetry but I think we’d be stretching the term too far there for the purists.) So here it is…

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WHY I WRITE

 I write because I want to

I write because I can,

I write to create a fantasy world

Just like that of Peter Pan.

I write to escape reality

Of what this life has to give,

I write because I’ve found

No better way to live.

I write so I can create

A world that’s never been,

 I write to show the universe

Images yet unseen.

I write because I have stories

Buried deep inside,

I write to unlock their treasures

So they’re remembered once I’ve died.

I write to entertain

I write to make us think,

I write to spark thoughts and ideas

To provide a missing link.

I write because I like to

See words form upon the page,

I write because just sometimes

It’s the best way to release the rage.

I write because our language

Is varied, rich and fun,

 I write to play around with words

And find the perfect pun.

I write to reach out to others

So they might hear my words,

Perhaps what I say will help them

To find freedom with the birds.

I write to make a difference

In hope somebody will hear,

A message which may overcome

Their sadness or their fear.

I write to express the thoughts

Which get tangled in my head

The ones I can’t express out loud

The ones which would never get said.

I write in hope that one day, maybe,

I’ll make money from my art,

That way I’ll be able to spend more time

Following what is here, within my heart.

 

So they are all my reasons for writing. Yes, even the honest one about trying to make a living from it. I guess the main reason comes in the line “I write to express the thoughts which get tangled in my head.” I’ve always written, just not for an audience. Therefore I’d say this is my primary reason for writing. I’ve simply chosen, more recently, to share those thoughts with others.

I think the reasons I write are probably very similar to why others write. I don’t think people’s reasons for writing vary too much. Perhaps their reasons for why they took it up may be different, and if you want to know more about why I started writing then you can find out more by visiting the other pages of this blog.

In the meantime I need to point you in the direction of these fine writers/bloggers and hopefully they will tell you in more in depth detail about why they write than I’ve managed. :)

Callie Armstrong: Callie writes and reads more than I have hot dinners. Writing I know is in her blood and her main passion. On her blog you will find many great examples of heart-wrenching stories, most with an historical bias, which she insists are ‘rough drafts.’ The inverted commas there will tell you I think otherwise. You can find her magnificent work at http://calliedeanne.com/

Siofra Alexander: Keeper of the most extraordinary imagination and writer of dream diaries which should have us all in envy for the plethora of ideas which they must generate for stories. Siofra is a writer who specialises in fantasy and beautiful poetry. You can find out more about her, her writing and her fantastical dreams on her blog at http://siofraalexander.com/

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