So, for the last month I have been engaging in the #teacher5day29dayswriting challenge of creating a blog post for every day of February.
I thought it would be useful to put all the posts together on here, too. Below are the fourth week’s worth:
Timing, therapy and teams.
In a twist of fortuitous timing, I happened to receive a copy of Dr Tim O’ Brien’s ‘Inner Story’ just before Christmas. Suffice to say that it was all down to a reference to Elton John.
This is a life-changing book. Over the years I have read several self-help books but none of them have really made much difference because I have not genuinely believed in them. This book is different.
Psychologist Dr Tim O’ Brien is clearly a highly intelligent and experienced practitioner who knows a vast amount about his field. He makes oblique references to Freud, psychoanalytical approaches, CBT, solution-focused strategies and many other therapeutic models. But he does so in a way that re-assures the reader that he has done his research and pulled out the best in all of these approaches before synthesising them in his own hybrid; the Inner Story journey towards understanding your mind and changing your world.
The writing style makes the book very easy to read and there is a mix of humour, modesty and evidence-informed advice-giving.
The book challenges some of the long-held mythology around the ideas of self-confidence, behaviour, happiness and success and urges the reader to take control and fully understand the factors that motivate and drive us.
It promotes examination of the Inner Story of both the individual and the team; it is relevant to those embarking on a journey of individual self-discovery and those looking to become more effective leaders and team players (although the book intimates that the former journey is necessary in order for the latter to occur).
The book is also an excellent manual for educators who want to help vulnerable children and young people to find a stable and focused path to follow. Dr O’ Brien clearly knows the child mind extremely well and has worked extensively with children, schools and educators.
The writing is peppered with personal anecdotes which help the reader to feel the human quality behind the writing; Dr O’ Brien writes about his practical experience with a range of clients but also mentions aspects of his own personal back story. I adored the description of his mother being a ‘one-woman riot’ and his father loving to ‘make people laugh’.
Another highlight of the book for me is the way that Dr O’ Brien provides bullet-pointed chapter summaries which makes revisiting key areas easy.
One question that the book has led me to consider is whether it is a manual that will sit on the ‘popular psychology’ shelves of a bookshop or whether it has implications for use within the realms of more acute mental illness. Can mood be lifted in full blown depression in the way that Dr O’ Brien mentions in Chapter Seven or are there elements of depression and other conditions that would be beyond this approach?
I look forward to hearing more about that from Dr O’ Brien.
Uniformity, the unexpected and a ukulele.
Today I was involved in 2 bits of training.
This morning I delivered a session on understanding behaviour and this afternoon I was trained in awareness of self-harm.
The theme of uniformity came up in both. I spoke about the fact that children thrive when they have security and consistency and that a uniform approach can be very beneficial in terms of rules, routines and approaches across a school. But I also talked about the idea that schools must be willing to make reasonable adjustments to uniform systems to allow for the needs of individual pupils. Thus, the school rule which says ‘you do not swear’ can be uniformly applied, except to the pupil with Tourette’s. A simplistic example, but one that seemed to make sense to people.
In terms of the self-harm awareness, one of the key points raised was that there can be no one size fits all, uniform approach to dealing with self-harm because each individual case needs to be considered and understood for what it is. If we make assumptions about what is behind self-harm, rather than looking at the needs of the person enacting it, we risk failing to offer the appropriate support required by that person.
It was quite a hard day; the training I delivered challenged those involved to face some truths that were perhaps a little uncomfortable. Of course life (and teaching) is easier if we choose to ignore the idea that children do not behave in a uniform manner.
And talking about self-harm is hard because it forces us to consider the pain that others are going through and the uncomfortable idea that they are inflicting pain on themselves.
Unexpectedly this evening I came home to find that my son had learnt to play ‘Rip Tide’ on the ukulele, having never really shown any interest in playing the instrument since we bought it some 5 years ago.
That cheered me.
Voices, violence and victory
In my current role I spend a lot of time in the car and consequently listening to the radio.
About a year ago I made the transition from Radio 2 to Radio 4 listener.
So yesterday morning I heard two pieces on the ‘Today’ programme that caught my attention. The first linked in a way to this post staffrm.io/@lenabellina/GyYKc2… in which I described my love of singing. I was aware when I wrote it that there are many (including my lovely mum) who consider themselves as being ‘unable’ to sing. I thought about this when I was writing that post but ran out of words to discuss it. I wanted to say that for me, there are no non-singers and that when I have run choirs or directed musicals, I have never turned anyone away because of tuning issues; I have always found that the benefits of them being involved and included have always outweighed the potential dis-harmonies. So imagine my delight to hear about an entire choir that has been formed by ‘non-singers’ who simply want to enjoy the experience of being in a choir and able to sing with others. They were interviewed and then sang their version of ‘Thank You For the Music’; it was utterly brilliant. Passionate, moving and joyful. It was not ‘performance’ singing but real, communal singing. In the same way that we don’t judge those who run in fun-runs, nor label them as ‘non-runners’, neither should we judge those who sing for fun and the experience of singing.
Following on from that piece, there was a report about neuroscientist Dr Doug Fields who, after responding unexpectedly violently to a mugging in Barcelona, has gone on to study violence. He spoke of how we are all essentially ‘wired for violence’, due to unconscious impulses that originate in the hypothalamus and are linked to threat detection. He explained that we have the same brain as humans had 100 000 yrs ago, when violence was essential to survival and associated with quick-thinking and heroism. The problem today is that, when taken unawares and threatened, we (and especially men) may resort instinctively to violence and end up in trouble. I would like to hear more about Dr Fields’ research and see whether he has suggestions about how to manage this latent violence, particularly if it manifests during childhood.
Not all of my listening in the last couple of days has inspired me, though. Victory was the theme of today’s story. I can’t even bear to mention the name of the man who has just won his third caucus. Really, America?
Waking, worrying and what to do.
I usually sleep well but today I have woken at 5.15 and can’t sleep.
There is fierce raging activity in my head that consists of a series of worries.
1. Something happened at work last week and I am worried that, although I know that I did the right thing, others may not see it like that.
2. I have to run a working party today with a range of colleagues and I fear that they won’t like me and that they will realise I don’t know what I am talking about.
3. When the meeting is over I will have to write it up and produce notes and actions but I have not put any time in my diary to do this.
4. I have training to deliver on Monday and Thursday next week and feel as per 2 but also haven’t planned the training yet.
5. I have entered a singing competition in 3 weeks and do not know any of the songs yet.
6. My daughter is still unwell after flu and has stopped eating properly.
7. My husband may have to stop working which may leave me with sole financial responsibility. And my cleaner has left.
8. I have woken up too early and will be exhausted today but have arranged to take my kids to see a live stream Shakespeare for three hours tonight but am now worried that I will go beyond exhaustion because of it.
I could actually continue with more but 8 is probably enough.
What to do? Give up? Ring the doctor? On paper, these things may seem trivial, over dramatic, irrational. But they feel very real.
But I can manage them. Because I have before. A useful exercise that I discovered before Christmas is to write them down, name them as feelings/ worries and then force myself to counteract them with what I KNOW.
1. I have lots of evidence of what really happened and I need to hold to that.
2. It is not about them liking me. I have done huge research, I have a plan, agenda and a clear vision which is to work with the team to improve outcomes for children.
3. I will write detailed notes in the meeting.
4. I have PowerPoints I can adapt and experience and ideas. It is not about me but about what my audience needs.
5. I can record the songs and listen to them as I drive.
6. I can’t control her or her eating.
7. We only a have to get through 2 years and things will improve. I do need a new cleaner, though.
8. University days. Frequent nights of 4 hours sleep. Baby days- ditto. Did I die? Nope.
Our minds can be devious and feeling and worries play tricks. But by getting them out, ordering them and challenging them, we can get through them.
Solution focus; we have within us the skills and experience to solve problems and face challenges.
X-rays, xylophones and xylem.
So this one was always going to be a challenge, wasn’t it?
3 Xs. Well.
I have noticed that some people like @kevincarson have written lovely pieces reflecting on their school days and childhood learning and as I ruminated on the letter X, I started to find a way in.
I was generally a fit child; no broken bones, no operations on tonsils or appendix. I had the usual mumps and chicken pox and also a dose of herpes which, according to the specialist who visited the house, was the worst he’d ever seen. I had coldsores that practically sealed my lips together and saw me literally ‘down in the mouth’ for several days. But those ailments were all relatively short lived. The only condition for which I needed ongoing treatment, X-rays and even surgery, was my awful teeth. Finger-sucking had seemingly forced me to have very buck teeth and I needed a horrible brace, extractions and even a bizarre head-set contraption with metal extensions and elastic bands that I wore at night. I also had every tooth filled at some point, wisdom teeth removed and root canal treatment. The Pam Ayres poem ‘I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth’ is the reality of my dental experience.
At secondary school I adored being part of the music department. Much as I loathed the humiliating ritual of carrying my violin across the playground to shouts and jeers, it was worth it to be part of the music crowd and to be able to spend lunch times in the music rooms, full of xylophones and other percussion instruments and smelling evocatively of must and violin rosin. There was one music teacher who inspired me more than any other. His name was Mr Porter and he was what can only be described as a music passionist. (@sisyphus !) He was always on the musical go, running some sort of rehearsal every lunchtime and packing as much into every day as possible. I have an abiding memory of him not even stopping for lunch but instead eating sandwiches two together out of the packet while he waved a baton.)
Maybe, on reflection, not a good model of teacher wellbeing but he was great.
I wonder what happened to him?
I was always going to be a doctor. I loved biology and when I see my daughter’s exercise book with carefully labelled diagrams it takes me back to Mr Hall’s lab, the dissections and bell-jars and the mysterious terminology of xylem, phloem and lumen. I never made it as a doctor because my maths and physics let me down. In fact my physics teacher advised me to give up on physics after O’ level as although “a grade B was good, for a girl, I’d struggle with A level”. Sexist? Yes, but probably right.
Gosh, that has taken me back. I now start Friday in a different mindset to usual.
Have a great one and happy weekend when it comes.
Yet, yes and yesterday
I love the Carol Dweck Mindset concept of ‘not yet’. The idea that children have the potential to develop in the future as long as they believe in that potential and put in the necessary effort is inspiring and motivating. I think that there is a naivety in thinking that we all have the potential to become anything. If you read yesterday’s post, you will know that I pretty much agreed with my physics teacher’s judgement that I would never become a great physicist. But I have become something. And I can become more. I think that the power in Dweck’s model is that it encourages to believe that we are not yet the person we could become; life is about constant evolution and learning.
I do not hold with the words spoken by Jaques in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’: “And so, from hour to hour we ripe and ripe and then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot”. We do not spend our latter years rotting, I hope. Dame Carol Black said on a recent Desert Island Discs that she felt that she had only really got into her stride at the age of 50 and I have said before how inspiring I found this. Youth is one part of life but not necessarily the best part.
I used to work for a boss whose favourite word was no. It was stifling, stultifying and hugely limiting.
‘Yes’ is the word that we should be using with learners and colleagues when they want to try out new ideas. We should encourage them, where something is not working, to try something different and we should help them to take risks in a supported way. Too much life is wasted when we stick to old patterns of behaving and working simply because ‘that is the way we do it here’. As a leader and manager within education, my job is to help everyone in my team, both children and adults, to learn, develop and experiment within a culture of ‘yes’ and ‘not yet’. Yesterday is the learning that informs today and tomorrow.
Zen, zero and the zone
In my twenties, I flirted with the idea of becoming a Buddhist. I had dabbled with and rejected Christianity (I simply didn’t believe in God) but wanted something to provide deeper meaning in my life. I bought and borrowed several books linked to the religion, both factual and popular, the latter including ‘Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance’.
In the end I decided that full-blown Buddhism was not for me…but several elements of Buddhist and Zen practice had and continue to have great appeal.
Meditation and mindfulness play a key part in my daily life and in my ongoing attempt to master my thoughts, feelings and anxieties. I struggle with static meditation but have practised yoga (four rounds of a sun salute) every morning without fail for almost thirty years. Some environments have been more conducive to this than others; a two-man tent in February in Norway was one of the most challenging.
Mindfulness practice has been a more recent development and one that I have found hugely helpful in providing focus during times when things have threatened to overwhelm me.
But I still have work to do. If I am honest, I rarely manage to clear my head during my sun salutes; they are more about me grounding myself physically and providing a ritual that takes me from night-time to day-time state.
The ability to empty my mind completely and to get into that zone where I can focus on zero is a skill that I still crave.
I am getting better at focusing but I have a way to go. I am not sure that the frantic business of Twitter and social media are a help or a hindrance. They provide constant distraction but for me, they also provide a life-line of connectedness with other like minds.
On my Facebook page, my background is the Anne Lamott quote ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you’ and on here, I have the quote ‘Stop The Glorification of Busy’.
I think maybe a bit of meditation on those two phrases might be needed…..
Thanks to @mrlockyer for the inspiration.
Who is your all-time teaching hero?Lydia Grant from ‘Fame’. ‘You’ve got big dreams. You want fame. Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying: in sweat.’ (Cue music…)
(And on that day, the 29th day of February 2016, the last day of #29daysofwriting, all the respect that the twittersphere and staffrm communities had felt for that bright new blogger lenabellina did instantly dissipate.)
Which teacher do you remember best from your own education?
Mr Phippard. He was firm but kind and fair, produced tailor-made resources that made learning German fun and logical and even introduced us to Russian. He had a slightly wild passion for languages and he loved to share culture and traditions. I remember his classroom, lit by candles and with small bowls of figs, chocolates and tangerines, on Nikolausabend. Such a surprise. Nurturing and magical.
Which teacher do you know online and would love to see in the classroom?
Inspirational, hugely knowledgable, passionate. And someone who I used to know, lost touch with and am delighted to have re-met in this forum.
Who is your current school teaching hero?
My friend Kirsten Herbst-Gray for everything she does for German.
Who is your non-teaching hero?
Dr Tim O’ Brien. I hope that I meet him one day. He is a life-changer.
What makes a teaching hero?
Passion, the ability to be non-judgmental and a commitment to nurture and foster the potential in every child.
What’s your teaching superpower?
That I am genuinely driven by a desire for children to be happy, healthy and doing the best they can.
What’s your teaching kryptonite?
Worry that they won’t be.