#teacher5aday29dayswriting Part 2

So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.

It has not been easy but I have been posting on staffrm and so far have managed every day: http://staffrm.io/@lenabellina

I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the second week’s worth:

Because I clearly do not know my alphabet, this is the second ‘F’ post:

Fat, feelings and fear



An eleven year old girl feels fat. She is not fat, statistically, empirically; in fact she is slender, lovely.

But she talks of feeling disgusting, ugly, hating herself.

What on earth is this about?

How can 51% of 12 and 13 year old girls want to lose weight?:


The article above quotes statistics that instill real fear in me. It places some responsibility in the domain of social media but this, I believe, oversimplifies things.

I remember reading ‘Tonio Kröger’ by Thomas Mann for German A Level, from 1903, which tells the story of an artist who battles with being a creative, thoughtful outsider in a world of successful, superficial beautiful people. There was certainly no social media or photo-journalism around to fire his self-doubt.

Sarah Jayne Blakemore is a neuroscientist who talks and writes brilliantly about current pressures on teens to conform. She cites a teenage diary dat back to the 60’s from a teenage diary, where wearing “yellow cords and a blouse” took precedence over “man landed on moon”.


And back in the 70s and 80s the rise of eating disorders was correlated with the international preference for stick thin models and the tendency of magazines to present images of shiny, happy people and flawless perfection.

Let’s not even start on Barbie.

Susie Orbach talked of fat being a feminist issue over 20 years ago… So why haven’t we moved on?

Is it this self-hatred just normal teenage angst?

Should we just re-assure our daughters (and sons) by telling them this? That somehow doesn’t sit easily with me. Neither does the ‘snap out of it and think of others worse off than you’ approach.

My fear is that the bright, otherwise rational girls and boys who hate their (non existent) ‘fat’ will KNOW that they should not be so self-obsessed but FEEL the self-disgust so strongly that they can’t out-think it and so consequently feel more guilt.

Do you have to hate yourself to eventually love yourself? Is it a rite of passage? Maybe…. But can we find ways to ease that passage just a little and tackle the increasing numbers of young people who develop serious and self-harming disorders and mental health problems?

There are no easy answers; if there were, it would be easy to solve.

Some suggestions, then:

No matter how challenging, always keep lines of communication open.

Talk about the issues above with children and young people.

Promote wellbeing, health and balance.

Use the internet to its best potential by sharing articles, quotes and apps that support the cause.

Listen to and learn from those who have experience of these issues.

Dr Tim O’ Brien offers the following about the need for “intensified understanding”:

“I do not believe that any child needs fixing. Change happens when children who experience emotional needs receive intensified understanding within an environment that is responsive…There are also times when it is not about intervention. Just being there matters: listening, understanding, offering support.”

Page 34, Inner Story:



German, Goethe and Gottingen.



Those of you who have read my other ramblings may know that my mum was born in Germany and is multi-lingual. As a child growing up in Dorset I never spoke German to her and she decided not to bring my brother and me up bilingually. When I started learning in school we did not speak a word as I was over-defensive about wanting to do it by myself. The only time that really changed was when we went to stay with my great aunt in West Berlin in 1985. There was no other option but to speak German, as Ida had no English.

That trip was incredibly memorable as we also went to East Berlin for a day to visit cousins and another aunt; the contrast between the 2 sides of the city in terms of shops, clothing, cars and food really struck me and as I watch the current series of ‘Deutschland 83’ on a Sunday night I am taken back….

I went on to do A level German and to specialise in it at university. My favourite papers were about firstly Goethe and secondly the German Historical Imagination.

I adored Goethe’s writing; poetry, drama and novels. But I also adored the idea of him; artist, statesman, philosopher, theatre director, scientist…

The Historical Imagination was all about studying the factors that led to the rise of German nationalism and National Socialism. It was complex, challenging and absolutely fascinating. I never got Hitler but I did have the most ridiculous crush on my tutor.

For my year abroad I went to Göttingen in central northern Germany. To be there at the time of re-unification was a huge privilege. I travelled widely both in the former east and west and experienced the exciting dynamic of the early days of two hugely different nations becoming one.

By the end of my time there I was fluent; dreaming in German and able to convince people that I was  native. I loved that.

Ironically I did not teach German for the first few years of my career but eventually, five years ago, I had become a full time head of languages faculty in a Scottish secondary school, teaching exclusively German. It is a brilliant subject to teach and the pupils loved learning it.

Anyone who ever tries to tell me that ‘pupils who struggle with English should not waste time on German’ will get a lengthy tirade. In fact, learning a second language like German at age 11 can be hugely inclusive as all pupils start at the same level. Reflecting on the structure of a new language can certainly help gain understanding of your first. Though the number of 11 year olds who don’t know what a verb is often disturbs me!

So a Germanist I am, through and through.

And thus today my heart is aching as I hear the terrible reports of two trains in Bavaria. My thoughts are with the nation, the victims and their loved ones.


Headship, Heroes and Hitler


Day 10 and I have nearly failed to put thumb to screen after a long day…. But here’s an attempt!

This year I am doing a preparation for headship course; the Scottish ‘Into Headship’.As part of this, I have been reflecting on the qualities of leaders and thinking about the qualities of those who I would consider to be my leadership heroes….and otherwise.

Up there as heroes: Mandela; Gandhi; Obamas (both Barack and Michelle); Bertolt Brecht.

And the anti-heroes? Hitler, for sure. I have studied his popularity (see yesterday’s post) and seen how his tactical rise to power through re-building a politically and financially desperate nation masked a sinister, immoral and murderous intention.

And is his modern equivalent perhaps Trump, with his blatant intolerance and bigotry? Heaven help the Americans if so…

Inclusion, individuality and idiosyncrasy



Inclusion is a concept that I think about endlessly and have written about in various posts such as this one:


But sometimes I know that I use too many words and that they get in the way of what I really what to say.

So tonight, just this:

Individuality embraced

Never assuming

Culture change


Understanding difference

Seeing beyond

Idiosyncrasy celebrated


Nurturing others

Justification, juggling and joy.



Today has been an end of tether kind of day.

This post is therefore not as it could/should be.

Up a 6 auditing child protection files.

Text at 7 from eldest stating that she is feeling ill. We tend to text these days, when she is not up to talking, even though she is in her room and I am in the kitchen.

I know what I said about never becoming ‘that’ sort of parent.

I text back , encouraging her to get up, drink tea and out-think it.

She texts again, telling me that she feels dizzy when she walks.

Which would all be fine, if I were in the kitchen and she were in her room.

Only I am in the Express by Holiday Inn in Glasgow. Training in solution focused brief therapy with children who have experienced loss and bereavement. And she is in her room.

I text dad who reports that she has a temperature of 104. He will take the day off.

The course is challenging. There are tears and hard questions. But none is harder than the one I ask myself; why am I miles away from home learning about children experiencing loss when my child needs me?

Being a working mum is tough.

Three hours of driving, exhausted and I am home.


But so much guilt as I mop her brow.

Justification of inadequate post?


Knowledge, ‘kinaesthetic learning’ and knitting.



So this one is a real challenge. I chose the first 2 k’s myself. But the third was chosen by youngest as we travelled to Glasgow for the X factor live show (don’t judge). “Give me a word beginning with k” I said.

“Knitting” he said.

Here we go.

There is often debate about the balance of knowledge and skills in a school curriculum.

I can see why you need both and have explained it to pupils as follows:

I am a German teacher. That means I need knowledge of the German language and its workings (so that I can pass it on) and the skills to teach it in an engaging way.

Similarly, my surgeon friend needs knowledge of the workings of the human body (so that he operates on the right organs) and the skills to conduct surgery effectively and efficiently.

I like to think that the knowledge bit is the static ‘stuff’ and the skills is more the ‘action.

Simple, yes?

Well actually no! Because look what happens when you find a dictionary definition of ‘knowledge’?

“Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

How can this be? Skills AS knowledge?

Ok. But at least knowledge is something we can trust, right?

Well actually again, no. Because knowledge and so called facts can seemingly change. I have written in another post (lenabellina.wordpress.com/2016…)  about the recent debunking of previously celebrated educational ‘knowledge’. I will simply state here that Brain Gym and Kinaesthetic Learning Style are no longer what we thought they were in the nineties!

But maybe this is no bad thing.

Maybe it is just part of the eternal process of change that is life. And maybe it is linked to our ongoing need to check our points of reference to ensure that they are still relevant. After all, these shifts in our knowledge and consequent adaptations don’t just happen in education. Only this week we heard about a shift in the world of physics that has resulted in a huge change in thinking around gravity.

So perhaps what we need is the skill to constantly re-visit and re-evaluate knowledge within our experiential context. And to knit together our knowledge and skills (see what I did there?) so that we are neither slaves to knowledge nor lacking in a robust knowledge-based frame of reference. Ta-dah!


Love, learning and life.



I honestly didn’t plan it. I mean, today should have ‘M’ but then the staffrmers threw in the idea of the back story.

So it turns out that today, February 14th, is L.

And so to love.

The older I get and the more I learn, the more I think that acting with love towards others is the key to life and probably to education too.

I am sure that some of you have stopped reading, rolled your eyes and possibly even puked….

But for those still with me, I don’t think I am being over sentimental.

There is plenty of evidence around the need for babies and children to be loved and develop attachments if they are to thrive. In fact, Steve Hickman wrote a fabulous summary of attachment theory here just last week:


It is hard to love some children.

Some children have had such difficulty with attachments at an early age and been so hurt by it that they do anything to stop the heartbreak happening again. So they make themselves unlovable.

But we have to remember that they are children and that they are vulnerable. They deserve our love. They need a turnaround adult who will see them as lovable and not judge them.

(If you want a good example of a turnaround adult in the world of drama, look at Dwayne played by Danny John Jules in ‘Death in Paradise’. Thanks to Robert Thorogood for that one).

They also need a turnaround adult who equally won’t judge their parent/carer/background but see the potential that exists within them to achieve and thrive. I find it difficult to hear colleagues criticise parents and carers who are clearly struggling with their own issues. Rather than apportioning blame and judgment, we need to build bridges that will ensure a timeous and solution focused approach.

Whilst parents clearly hold the responsibility for parenting their own offspring, I believe firmly that the children in our communities are ‘our’ children and that the ‘takes a village’ approach is key.

If it feels hard to love a particular child, it can help to think of the child as your own and to offer love.

And this is unconditional love; a gift that is given without judgement or expectation.

Ideas about starting from a premise of love are clearly not new; I’m not religious but I know that St Paul wrote about it and that it plays a key part in Buddhism.

But we need to remember its place in the world of education.

At a very difficult time, my Dad once made me listen to a song that I will leave you with as a Valentine’s recommendation. Enjoy.



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