Category Archives: Passion

The Only Real Failure…

Needing some relaxation after an intense but rewarding day, I  began to watch a film called “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’.* I didn’t know anything about it apart from the names of the actors in the impressive cast list. This is not going to be a review or even a summary of the plot. However, I am going to use some dialogue from the screenplay as a theme for this blog. 

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Near the end of the film, there is a voice-over, in which Judi Dench (…sorry, Dame Judi Dench OBE, CH etc. etc.) speaks the following lines…

The only real failure is the failure to try…and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment…as we always must.”

As an educator and a learner, this struck a chord with me. So much so, that I ‘rewound’ to hear that phrase twice more before I let the film continue.

Without risk, there would be no failure. Without failure, there would be no learning opportunity. Perhaps we can see the destination and are unsure of how to get there. Or, perhaps we are exploring without any idea of our destination, creeping forward or leaping into the unknown. Either way, it involves a degree of uncertainty and risk. 

Fear of failure…or more specifically, the fear of the consequences of failure is a huge barrier to learning for learners of any age. If we do not have the ability to cope with failure, then success will constantly be elusive.

How we feel about the consequences of failure is an indicator of the culture to which we belong – family, school, community, society, tribe, nation etc. We may receive many mixed messages about risk and failure. For some it is a natural part of life, for others it is associated with shame, guilt, rejection and humiliation.

I wonder how many young learners witness the abuse heaped upon a losing side by sports ‘fans’, as if it is the worst thing that could possibly happen. They may be present when the mistakes of individuals are focussed upon and spoken about repeatedly, and their sporting hero’s best efforts are derided without mercy. They may be inducted into a tribal mentality, where the passionate hatred of other humans who wear different colour sportswear is their dogma and creed. I wonder how many learners exist in cultures where the worst thing you could be is slightly different to a perceived norm – ethnically, physically, sexually, or spiritually. You are labelled a ‘loser’ because of height, hair colour, disability, etc. Good luck to the educator who then encourages children to embrace errors as learning opportunities!! (Seriously…good luck…and don’t give up!)

For some learners, failing to try is not the worst thing you can do but a guarantee that the ‘worst’ will not happen – ‘If I don’t try, I can’t get it wrong’. For some it is better to endure anger than humiliation; better to remain in control and deal with certainty than the uncertainty of a less than perfect outcome.

Most of the time, ‘getting it wrong’ is not a matter of life or death. (Sometimes it is – such as the occasion I tried to fit a new light switch without turning off the mains electricity!). Failure to succeed in the education system can result in limited life choices and opportunities for many school leavers. However, we can be made to feel that any perceived failure is hugely important. In education, that feeling can be transferred through a whole system from national government to learner. (We are not ‘winning’ in the PISA league…! Panic! Fear! Anxiety! Blame! More Panic! Knee-jerk reaction! More blame!) 

Of course, the failure to provide effective education has potentially devastating consequences for individuals and society. That is undeniable. And, to quote a friend of ours:

 ‘Public education is the imperfect solution to the perfect problem.’**

There has to be accountability and systems to monitor quality of provision. However, what if the monitoring system itself adversely affects quality because of the climate of threat and fear it creates? Whether that fear is justified or not,  is the system able to detect its own influence and respond appropriately? Or, do we have to wait until a complete system failure? 

The only real failure is a failure to try

If any system of monitoring quality and school inspection is not at least trying to monitor its own impact – then it has already failed. Perhaps those with the power to change and improve these systems*** cannot cope with the disappointment of its failure (even if it is only partial failure) and therefore cannot admit it, perhaps for reasons of professional or political pride. When those who design and operate (enforce?) internal or external quality assurance systems are prepared to genuinely request, receive and act upon feedback concerning their effectiveness, we will indeed be making progress in education. 

Raise standards. Embrace errors.  Revive Learning. Encourage risk . Remove fear. Empower learners. 

*‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is a screenplay adapted from the book ‘These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach.

** Thanks to Zach Bullock for the quote. 

***Systems should be used for their purpose, not a as social engineering tools for whichever government (local or national) holds the balance of political power.

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Filed under consequences, Education, evaluation, Explore, Learners, Learning, monitoring, Passion, Potential, Practitioners, Primary, Professional Development, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Risk, Secondary, Standardised Testing, Values

Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook – A Taste of Professional Development

The ‘lone’ chef!

Starters

I like to cook. Simple dishes or complex menus, I enjoy the preparation, the cooking and the presentation. However, I like to cook alone. I don’t like someone else being in the kitchen, especially if they are trying to engage me in unrelated conversation. It spoils my personal enjoyment of the act of cooking. 

(Or looking at it from a consumer’s point of view…you begin eating a favourite dessert…someone engages you in conversation…suddenly, you’ve finished…but you didn’t savour a single mouthful because your attention was elsewhere…and there’s no more! 

I know at this point some ‘food fans’ will need to recover. Take your time, take your time…)

Main Menu

Good cooking is about paying attention and being aware of what is happening to the individual elements within the meal. It is about skilfully using tools and utensils for their intended purposes but also exploring new uses. And, yes, I like cooking because it allows for creativity. Experience and experimentation. 

Cooking is not just about following a recipe. For a long time I could never understand when people would say, ‘I can’t cook. I follow the recipe to the letter but it’s always a disaster.’ I couldn’t understand this until I watched a friend of mine ‘performing’ in her kitchen. 

Many years ago, just at the beginning of my teaching career, I received a dinner invitation. I arrived on time but cooking had not commenced so I was led into the kitchen where I offered some assistance. My friend put some oil in a saucepan and turned the gas on a high flame. However, the pan was then left as she began to prepare the ingredients. I anxiously watched as the oil began to ‘smoke’ and then I had to intervene with a warning. My friend laughed and with good humour, said ‘I’m always doing that. The smoke alarm lets everyone know that dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.’ Hearty guffaw from her, nervous laughter from me!

For my friend, cooking was a necessary evil. She didn’t enjoy it and was resigned to the fact that she would never improve. There was also an attitude that cooking was about doing ‘stuff’ to food using unfriendly technology…and somehow the food always fought back and the technology would always sabotage your best intentions!

(OK educators, I guess you can see where this going but bear with me.)

Perfecting the pastry.

For me, cooking is an art and a science. Last Christmas, I discovered the science behind the need to keep ingredients cold whilst making pastry for mince pies. (Honestly, I was fascinated.) The texture of my pastry has become more consistent because I have a better understanding of what is going on in the mixture. 

Cooking can also be a kind of meditation. Engagement and attention. Three saucepans, a frying pan and an oven. All with different timings. That requires attention. It requires engagement of all the senses. It requires the right intervention at the right time – small adjustments of heat, timely stirring, tasting, add more of this and a little of that. It also means frequently dealing with the unexpected…hmm…I don’t think there are supposed to be lumps in this…! You need to be focused and responsive. 

To really enjoy cooking requires a willingness to learn. To learn new preparation skills and techniques; to learn about new ingredients; to learn about the theory or ‘chemistry’ of cooking; to learn to wield new tools and utensils; to develop resilience following the inevitable disappointments. 

And, as we all know, not only does learning require reflection but also an attitude of self-efficacy. 

Waiting…managing time…

It seems incongruous that my friend, who was also a teacher, was resigned to her status as a ‘bad cook’. There was an acceptance that small fires and smoke alarms were the norm. I haven’t seen that particular friend for many years and we didn’t teach in the same school. But as I was musing about how I might develop this blog, I wondered if she applied the same resignation to her classroom. Had metaphorical ‘small fires and smoke alarms’ become the norm? 

This is not a blog ‘knocking’ teachers. It is about how attitude and self-perception are key ingredients in professional development. Please read on…

My own kitchen disasters happen when my attention is pulled away from what I’m doing. A thirty second lapse, as I answer the phone, can be all it takes. Something gets burnt, boils over or I miss an important step in the process.

How many well-prepared, well-intentioned, highly-skilled practitioners have their attention pulled away by unnecessary interruptions. A thirty-second lapse is all it takes. Someone gets ‘burnt’, something ‘boils’ over or you miss an important step in a process. 

Hmm. I can hear some murmurings, some whispers…‘Aren’t you about collaboration? Isn’t that a bit hypocritical saying that you want to work alone?’

Collaboration isn’t about doing everything together all the time. Collaboration means that we work together to solve problems that are difficult or impossible to solve by ourselves. We use our individual and collective skills when it is appropriate. Collaboration could occur at various stages of problem-solving. It could mean collaborating at the point of generating ideas and then implementing agreed solutions individually. Or, it could be a collective task of implementing one person’s idea which they could not achieve alone – architects, generally, do not physically build the house they have designed.

With reference to my own cooking. I don’t need another person – I’m usually cooking for no more than three. This is not challenging. I can manage it alone – if I’m not interrupted! However, if I was cooking for a large number, then I’m going to need some help. As a collaborative entity we would need a whole different set of skills and attitudes, from how we would organise ourselves to how we would communicate without going into Gordon Ramsay parlance! We would have different roles, and we would have to be aware of the dynamics between us. Collaboration does not mean that we chop the same onion at the same time…otherwise the likelihood is we will both be shedding a few tears…not because of the onion but because we could be shedding some fingers! Collaboration means that we may be engaged in different tasks, which require different expertise but contribute to a towards a single outcome. (To witness entertaining (but not perfect) kitchen collaboration see ‘Cake Boss’! Leadership or Facilitation? Discuss.) 

A watchful eye…

In a successful collaborative classroom, learners develop the skills to organise and communicate effectively, managing their own learning and also behaviours. This means that if the practitioner is distracted by external forces…

(Knock. Knock. ‘Excuse me, Mrs Can’t-Wait-Till-Break-Time wants to know what YOU have done with the school’s ONLY stapler. SHE said YOU had it last!!!’), 

…then, instead of the ‘pots and pans’ boiling over, they would self-regulate for a while.

Desserts

Some thoughts. Whether you are cooking or teaching, attitude is everything. The desire to learn, to go beyond what you already know, the belief that there is more to explore and you are capable of effecting change. The anticipatory excitement before trying something new and the wisdom to see setbacks as a natural and essential part of the learning process. 

Staying safe, with your limited but tried and trusted repertoire (whether you are a fast food or a top-end restaurant) may please a certain target clientele, make life easier and massage your ego. However, in terms of education it does not model the learning process and certainly does not value the variety of learners and their needs.

Engagement and attention are key dispositions. Do you listen and observe carefully and intervene at the right time? Do you follow ‘recipes’ to the letter or do you respond to what is happening in front of you? How do you ensure that you and your learners are not distracted unnecessarily? Is this an issue in your setting that needs to be addressed by everyone? (Keep a tally of the number of interruptions – you may be surprised.)

Collaboration. If you have too many ‘pots’ to watch, how do you effectively engage the skills of others (classroom assistants and the learners themselves) in moving towards developing a self-regulating collaborative learning community? What tools and strategies do you use which specifically promote and enable learning about collaboration?

And, if you work with someone who burns toast at least 30% of the time, don’t try peer assessment, effective questioning or mentoring…especially while they are holding the bread knife! ;o)

 

Teas/Coffees/Night-cap

The skill or myth of multi-tasking. Cooking is a multi-tasking activity. It requires shifting focus between different elements whilst having an awareness of what is going on elsewhere. If that is something you genuinely find difficult because you are not wired that way, that’s OK. If you like to focus on the start and completion of a task before moving on to something new, that’s OK. It is OK but cooking is probably not for you…microwave ready-meals don’t count! 

When some people talk about multi-tasking they boast of how many things they can do, which is fine, but does quality suffer? Do they merely practice crisis management? I think that the skill of multi-tasking lies in understanding WHEN to switch focus between activities that compete for your attention and also understanding the economy of action that needs to be taken. This is the skill of an outstanding practitioner in the kitchen or the classroom. 

The finished mince pies…

 

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Let them be heard: Voice of the Children

A 9 year old child writing an ‘open’ letter on behalf of the class after a prolonged period of standardised testing in New York State. They want their voices heard and have asked if we can help them to do this.

This is not ‘our’ blog, so we shall write no more. This blog post belongs to the voice of this child and their class. 

Voice of the Child

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Better Latte Than Never

So, we left Killin, according to schedule (Honestly..we did!). The A85 is picturesque, single-lane road but also a main artery through the Highlands. Just outside Killin, a set of temporary traffic lights had appeared (which wasn’t there at 8.15 a.m.) and a work crew were resurfacing the road. We joined the queue which is headed by a large articulated lorry. I know, you can already see where this is going…not very far/not very fast!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get over 30 mph for the next 30 miles. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Stirling, the lorry took the exit for the motorway – we cheered. We took the exit for Stirling…and end up behind a JCB digger moving at 15 mph. At this point we both went a bit Victor Meldrew (‘I don’t believe it!). We are obliged to follow the JCB, through Stirling, until we are almost at our destination.

We arrived at Viewforth Offices and found a parking space right outside the main doors (hooray!). We were 10 minutes late for our appointment with Early Years Curriculum Development Officer Mary Pat McConnell. We were acutely aware that Mary Pat had already relinquished a good portion of our planned meeting time so that we could squeeze in another school visit.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.** Reception cannot locate Mary Pat. We had a momentary panic that we were in the wrong meeting venue. Not so (Phew!) Eventually, Mary Pat appeared and we exchanged apologies for lateness. She, like us, had been unavoidably delayed and not in a position to send or receive messages on her mobile phone.

We headed off to the canteen. Where we had a very focused and productive 20 minute meeting (brainstorm – distil – decide – design) fuelled by an extra shot in the Starbucks latte (Thanks Mary Pat!) and we were off to our next port of call!

Better Latte Than Never

The learning journey. We had a plan, we had a schedule, we had means of communication. However, real life happened. Plans had to change, we had to adapt. At times, despite our frustration, there was nothing we could do. Our speed was being dictated by outside forces. There were points on the journey that we could have ‘escaped’ the lorry but this would have still lengthened our journey or we could have become completely lost. There are times when that would be OK, or even fun, but not on this occasion!

Despite a practitioner’s best effort, thorough planning, passion and enthusiasm, there are so many external forces that can impact on learners and learning. This is not about finding excuses, it is about recognising and acknowledging that learning is a messy business. And unless we recognise, acknowledge and deal with ‘real life’ forces, no amount of imposed ‘structure’ and standardised testing is going to affect significant positive change in a learning culture.

And finally, there are often unexpected bonuses when plans go awry. In this case, if all had gone according to plan, we might never have met the lovely Linda Stevenson, whom we had only spoken to on the phone.

**Does this make sense in an age of digital timepieces?

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Killin Time

We had been warned that it would be an ‘interesting’ drive to Killin, especially with the threat of icy roads, however, no-one had told us how beautiful if would be! Dawn broke as we passed through Callander and the magnificent mountains appeared through the morning mist.

On arrival at Killin Nursery, we were welcomed by Head of Nursery Elizabeth Hancock, who is responsible for the Killin and Crianlarich Nurseries. It is also an unexpected treat to see Wendy Garner again, who had been on our training last year. 

©Killin Nursery 2012

After a quick tour, Elizabeth leaves us in the capable hands of her Early Years Educators and the children. Everywhere you look in Killin Nursery there is evidence of learners leading learning and purposeful ‘documentation’ – from the visible wall-planning to the fascinating and captivating ‘photo-books’.

 

Everyone is talking about ‘the wolf’ and it’s whereabouts. A model wolf, which had once stood outside the recently closed Tourist Office, had been removed. This has caused consternation amongst the children, for whom it was an identifiable landmark. Recognising that this was an issue of genuine interest to the children, the educators have made ‘What has happened to the wolf?’ a central focus from which the learning grows. 

There have been letters from the wolf, footprints, and sightings. The children have been investigating by asking local community members (including a bemused policeman) to assist with locating the wolf. 

We overhear a fascinating discussion between some children about how high a wolf can jump. There is higher-order reasoning going on here. One boy knows how high his dog can jump and estimates that the wolf is a similar size, so, should be able to clear a fence. 

On seeing us standing nearby and listening, one boy grabs my hand and leads me over to the wall. He excitedly points out his map amongst many.

‘This is where the wolf is. This is where we went looking!”

He then proceeds to tell me about all the other maps and who they belong to…ending the conversation with,

“But don’t be scared. No need to worry. The wolf only comes alive at night. He sends us letters then.”

There is a real feeling of community with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement about learning…from learners of all ages! Thank you Elizabeth for our invitation. We look forward to a return visit in the not-too-distant-future. 

©Single Steps Learning 2012

By the way, Andrew used to be a werewolf but he’s alright noooooooooow!

 

 

 

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Never too late to learn…

www.jewelleryforyoubyest.co.uk

Finding something you are passionate about (and talented at) can happen at any moment as long as you keep an open mind and try new things. Esther Whitehead (Lynne’s mum) had a ‘special’ birthday and was given jewellery-making lessons as a gift from a friend. There is no stopping her now! Check out the designs on her website.

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Worth fighting for…

As the second half of the spring term starts, we feel it is appropriate to reblog this post. Many teachers have spoken to us about it and how it resonates with them.

singlestepslearning

Samwise Gamgee: Darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo Baggins: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Samwise Gamgee: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.’

 

An emotionally charged exchange between Frodo and Sam in ‘Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers’. Don’t try to find it in the book. The scene was specifically written for the movie. However, it struck a particular chord with me as I watched it…

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‘Designing for Learning’ in action…

Last October we began work with inspirational practitioners in Dorset. Gary Spracklen is one of those practitioners and has sent us a video clip of learners from Prince of Wales First School, engaging collaboratively in order to solve a seasonal problem.

Please watch and enjoy! Then take a moment to reflect on the skills, attitudes and knowledge needed to complete this task successfully, from all learners involved  – children and adults!

http://static.photobucket.com/player.swf?file=http://vid1239.photobucket.com/albums/ff513/Nelkcarps/SingleStepsLearning.mp4

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Worth fighting for…

Samwise Gamgee: Darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo Baggins: What are we holding on to, Sam?

Samwise Gamgee: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.’

 

An emotionally charged exchange between Frodo and Sam in ‘Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers’. Don’t try to find it in the book. The scene was specifically written for the movie. However, it struck a particular chord with me as I watched it (again) during the holidays. (Purists, please keep reading!)

 

I feel ground down.’ is a phrase that we heard too often, from friends and colleagues before the holidays began. Not just because of the normal hurly-burly of the season but because of the imposition of policies and practices which are not congruent with the values of so many educators.

 

Many, whose passion is to inspire and empower learners on their journey, feel that the opportunities they provide are being systematically eroded or at worst demonised. Under pressure/threat to produce results, some schools are slipping back into a ‘factory’ mentality; desperately looking for foolproof, quick-fix ‘machines’ (schemes, initiatives) that will churn out shiny ‘products’.

 

And sadly, our ‘products’ are still going to be judged on how shiny they are…not whether they work or have the ability to adapt and grow.

 

I like systems. I like systems that do the job for which they were designed. I can genuinely admire the systems used by ‘fast food’ chains to improve efficiency and output. However, I strongly question the nutritional value of their products, their contribution to obesity and the subsequent strain on the health service.

 

So, herein lies the incongruence for many educators. Educators who value fairness (in all its interpretations), emotional intelligence, compassion, interdependence etc. being coerced (often by coerced leaders) to implement systems which do not promote these values and then being monitored on how effectively and efficiently they are doing it. I detect the hand of Sauron…

 

However, ‘The darkness must pass. A new day will come.’ I don’t know when but I do know that it is worth fighting for. That’s why Lynne and myself will continue to do what we do, for as long as we can. And, if you are in a place that is ‘grinding you down’ through coercion, then the fight is to hold onto what you believe in,

even if you can’t express it…yet.

 


 

A Happy and Hopeful New Year to You All.

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Love what you do…

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

We have just enjoyed being remote voyeurs at the first Dorset TeachMeet, thanks to organiser Gary Spracklen (Prince of Wales First School). The meeting finished with a brief tribute to Steve Jobs and quoted part of his Stanford Commencement address from 2005. It is worth ‘retweeting’ here.

‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.’

What we witnessed tonight was Dorset practitioners who obviously love what they do – engaging with learners and learning.

Despite the pressure to become a ‘testing culture’ (and collect a PISA gold star from teacher) it’s great to hear that learners are still being encouraged to engage in real-life problem-solving through creativity and genuine, not contrived, dialogue…doing ‘stuff’ that will actually prepare them for life beyond education.

Not everyone is going to be a Steve Jobs. And, many entrepreneurs succeed despite great adversity. It’s a shame that for many learners their greatest adversity may be their school days.

No-one knows a learner’s potential but if they can leave education with the confidence and skills to ‘keep looking and don’t settle.’ Then we can say, as leaders of learning, that we’ve also done great work.

PS We love what we do. Thanks to all who continue to make it possible. A & L

www.ustream.tv/user/TMDorset – videostream of the Teach Meet

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