Staffrm Transfer 10 – May The Force Be With You, Poorly, Teenagers, Chimps, To Go Boldly…..

May the force be with you.

Lena Carter · 10 months ago

The jigsaw.

At Christmas I did a couple of jigsaws. In the past, I have always loathed them. My hatred was such that I never managed to put it aside in order to be able to do them with my children, even though doing jigsaws is seemingly a key part of childhood development and the acquisition of fine motor skills.

I do remember feeling incredibly guilty when our lovely child minder told me how good my three year old was at them. Like her Cumbrian accent, she clearly had not got that from me.

For some reason, at Christmas, I got slightly hooked on two round bird jigsaws at my mother in law’s house. And having bought my son a 1000 piece Star Wars puzzle for Christmas, I decided to give that a go this February break.

Those who know me will know that, as part of my new acting post at school, I have to write the school timetable this year. I am petrified about it as I have done training but never actually produced a timetable on my own. In my talks about options to pupils, I have explained that creating the timetable is like creating a huge jigsaw that carefully matches pupil desires with staffing and accommodation and trying to get the best fit possible.

In my head, this jigsaw was a metaphor for that process and I superstitiously told myself that if I could do it, I could do the timetable.

I have an inordinate amount of work to do at present but, having put in 13 hour days for the past month, I was determined not to give my days off over to work.

And so, a gentle jigsaw distraction.

Three days on (and approximately 16 hours) and I have learnt a lot.

1. It is not work that causes me stress. It is the challenges I set myself in my head. Who would have expected that thought of a jigsaw would wake me in the early morning two days in a row, anxious and champing at the bit to get on with it?

2. Jigsaw building requires specialist clothing. My back is wrecked and my knees and elbows are raw.

3. Looking at things with fresh eyes has huge benefit. The impossible becomes possible again.

4. I catastrophize. A lot. “It’s going out the bloody window!!”. “There must be pieces missing!!” “I AM DEFEATED”. “SEE, I TOLD YOU I CAN’T DO A TIMETABLE!!”

5. There are some things that just need time and patience.

6. It is ok to ask for help. Although I did the lion’s share, the bits I did with my children kept me going and really helped.

A ridiculous waste of time? Maybe.

But a good opportunity to reflect on how my mind works and why the how of doing is often as important as the what.

And also an excuse to feel thrillingly, childishly and overwhelmingly proud of what we have achieved!!!

Now, any suggestions for the next one….?



Lena Carter · 10 months ago

I am ill. I have a raging sore throat, swollen glands and head cold which has left me dizzy and with a strange ringing in my ears. To add insult to injury, I have hurt my back through coughing.

But I don’t do ill. So yesterday I went into work, took lots of painkillers and drank lots of coffee and soldiered on. No other option with staff off left, right and centre and no-one else to cover their classes.

Today I have tried to carry on too and have cleaned the house and done the washing, hobbling and sneezing for Britain…

But now I have realised that enough is enough. The sofa is the only option for the rest of today.

I hate to admit defeat but I am defeated.

Lemsip. Duvet. Hot water bottle and rest.

And probably a bit of much-needed reflection on why I have let myself slip so far backwards into martyrdom again……



Lena Carter · 10 months ago

The more I work with teenagers, the more I am inspired and intrigued by them.

My Friday thoughts to staff today were as follows…..

I have been involved in a lot of workshops with our pupils in making wise choices recently . A slight frustration has been that, in spite of the interventions, some of our pupils have not seemed to be able to heed the messages and have still been engaging in risky or short-sighted behaviours. I have been reflecting on some of the work I did while on secondment around teenage behaviours and wanted to share with you some of the ideas of Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a neuroscientist who specializes in the teenage brain and has appeared in the following TedTalk:…

Her research shows that the teenage brain is still developing and changing.

Key issues raised are:

• Peer influence (the crowd) is very influential

• Risk taking is key part of being a teenager

• The pre-frontal cortex, the bit that deals with planning and consequences, takes much longer to develop than the reward centre, the part of your brain that makes you want to take risks and have fun, which is particularly developed in teenagers.

She says:

“I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but it makes sense when you think about the need, the drive to become independent from one’s parents, to go and explore the environment, and to affiliate with your social group during this period of life. One thing I’m not saying is that risk taking is bad, or that peer influence is bad. It’s probably an important and adaptive process that we all need to go through in our transition between childhood and adulthood.”

Relationships in the teenage years are complex – teenagers need to rebel and partially un-attach from parents/carers in order to become independent, they need to attach to their peers, they may even need to attach to a baby as a parent or as a childcare worker….

There is a lot of biological and psychological confusion!

This is not about excusing inappropriate behaviour but about helping teenagers and those who work with them to understand some of the influences on their behaviours. Developing self-regulation skills and the ability to make safe and informed decisions are key aspects of teenage learning. Mistakes will be made as this learning occurs and it is crucial that adults are there to provide boundaries and provide a safe space within which risks can be taken.

Perhaps remembering this when we feel frustrated with our pupils may help…….

Image courtesy of Pixabay.


Lena Carter · 9 months ago

Friday thoughts to staff after workshops  in school:

I was incredibly privileged to be able to sit in on workshops with Tony from Tree of Knowledge this week.

I thought that it would be useful for you to know the key messages so that we can re-inforce them. Inputs from external providers only really have impact when they are integrated in the work of a school. There is a real power in being able to make connections between the different learning experiences that pupils have.

This workshop was based on the psychological models developed by Steve Peters and ideas expressed in the book “The Chimp Paradox.” More here:…

Tony talked about how pupils need to develop awareness of their motivations and emotions. He explained that, whilst we may want to show a happy side to others, it is important that we are honest with ourselves when we are feeling stressed or upset. He talked about the three types of stress that we experience:

Real stress (eg when we have a crisis or need to escape danger)

Good stress that is motivating (eg the stress that Usain Bolt feels when about to run in front of millions.)

Silly stress. The things that we get anxious about in the modern world that really don’t matter – eg wrong colour lids on pens.)

He explained that stress affects the body in the same way, whether it is real or silly; cortisol increases, we cannot sleep, eat, enjoy things.

We need to learn to control our stress and to be aware of what matters and does not matter.

Tony also talked about the idea of us having a ‘chimp’ brain which is the impulsive emotional part of us that we need to train and keep in control. (Steve Peters idea.)

He explained that we ALL have this chimp brain but that successful, happy people have learnt to control it and keep the chimps in the cage when necessary. If we don’t the likelihood is that the chimp will escape and do damage.

The answers to doing this form the acronym NEAT:

Normal- see your chimp brain as normal and do not try and deny it.

Expect – know what you are likely to feel when you experience certain triggers and then manage the feelings.

Accept when the chimp is out of the cage and recognise it.

Talk and train – ask “why am I feeling like this, what triggered it and what can I do next time?”

He explained that once we are highly emotional it is hard to calm down and be rational and that we need to work on not getting to that point by knowing our triggers.

One pupil asked “so when I am being bad, can I tell the teacher it is not my fault, it is my chimp?”

Tony said no, you ARE your chimp and need to take responsibility. Being emotional is not an excuse. Growing up is about taking responsibility and being emotionally intelligent and resilient.

To go boldly…..


Lena Carter · 9 months ago

#iwd17‍ #digimeet‍ @misswilsey‍

I have spent the weekend at a conference with some amazing and inspiring people. I was incredibly scared before coming and filled with doubt and fear. The chimps were screeching:

What do YOU possibly have to contribute?

How are you going to avoid them seeing how little you know?

Why don’t you just pull out?

To hush them, I wrote a blog before I went (

This helped me to go into the weekend feeling bolder and confident that perhaps I DID have something to say.

The weekend has been phenomenal. I don’t think I made too much of a fool of myself, or that much we discussed was at variance from my own thinking. I had some moments of self doubt and sheer fear, such as when I had to stand up in front of the assembled group which included Sir Tim Brighouse, Graham Donaldson and (the real) David Cameron and explain Scottish Education. But I found my bravery and did it, albeit with a quavering voice and some mistakes.

The opportunity to talk, share, collaborate and co-create with some incredible people was inspiring and life-affirming.

One small blip came when one of the participants asked me about my blog and advised that I should perhaps avoid being so honest about some of the challenges I have faced, if I want to be a head teacher. I have written about this before but the exchange sent me into a bit of a panic. I considered going and taking down my blogs straight away.

But I haven’t. Because actually, the bravery I think I need to show now is to continue being me. Being the authentic, flawed but constantly reflecting me who will learn from both my successes and my failures.

I have said it before but if being a head teacher would involve compromising my authenticity then it probably is not the job for me.

One of the key themes of the weekend was about education needing to be honest about what its core purpose is, what is working and what is not.

My brave next step will be to strive to be an authentic leader and not to fall into the trap of being the leader that I think others might see as acceptable.

I am so grateful to have the amazing tribe of supporters whom I have found through @womened‍ , @healthytoolkit and the online edusphere.

I only hope that I can sometimes reciprocate and provide them with the type of support that I have found invaluable.


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