Category Archives: Potential

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

‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

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I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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Google: Getting Welsh Business Online

On opening an email from the Welsh Government last week, we noticed an invite to the Google Launch Event: Getting Welsh Business Online. Not being ones to miss out on an opportunity, we immediately signed up!

Tuesday 7th March arrived. At some point, we did wonder what the event would entail? How should we dress? Who would be there? What was the purpose? How would it be organised?

As we walked towards the Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay, we smiled at the ‘Gingham Bunting’ and the signs pointing us in the right direction. Our first clue that the launch was going to be a bigger event than we first anticipated!

Conference badges in alphabetical order gave another clue. Followed by complimentary bottles of ‘juice’ – refreshing,  surprisingly tasty and supplied by Lovely Drinks of North SomersetRow upon row of seats in the main arena – each with a Google ‘goodie’ bag. Twitter users immediately began the ‘goodie’ bag banter. Why were some red and some blue? Did they contain different items? Some excitedly mentioned the free information books…others the sweets…and one ‘loving the lip balm’!

Google 'Goodie' Bags

A general buzz of excitement could be felt in the room. 

As the event was about to kick off, someone sitting directly behind us whispered,

“If I can learn one new thing, it will be worth it…”

And then Sian Lloyd, who was hosting the event, took to the stage… “Noswaith dda a croeso…”. 

It really wasn’t until this point that we understood what this was all about. Google had chosen Wales to launch their new ‘Getting British Business Online’ initiative. Along with the Welsh Assembly and Partners, Google will offer a programme of support to boost the online digital presence of Welsh business. 

Edwina Hartand Sian Lloyd

Edwina Hart, Business and Enterprise Minister, spoke about the digital skills needed for tomorrow’s market, the target to ensure faster broadband access across Wales by 2015, recognition of problem-solving skills and preparing young people for work in a technological age. 

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland, arrived on stage amidst polite applause. He expressed his delight at being in Cardiff and delivering the keynote speech.

  “We live in exponential times.”

Dan Cobley highlighted success stories in Welsh business and then attempted to engage the audience by testing their knowledge of Welsh success in history. A mixed response at this point. The audience yet to warm up and participate. Only a few responded. (Although alternative reasoning could point to the fact that  the audience lacked ‘general Welsh knowledge’!).

Dan Cobley, MD, Google UK and Ireland

“Let’s pick a word like sex…”

The demonstration of ‘Google Insights for Search‘ began with an initial intake of breath and a few nervous glances as Dan Cobley uttered the phrase, “Let’s pick a word like sex…”

He went on to show the ‘search trend’ for ‘sex’ on a global basis over the past 5-10 years. Audience participation then surged as he asked the question, “So, what if we put chocolate in as a term? Would chocolate be higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

Immediate laughter and the word ‘chocolate’ reverberated around the venue – although mainly from female voices noted Dan Cobley!

The audience finally warmed to Dan Cobley at the mention of ‘Rugby’ – especially when he commented that the Google Insights trend for the UK maybe suggested why Wales did so well in the Six Nations. 

“Chocolate…higher or lower than sex in Wales?”

On a more serious note, Dan Cobley spoke about the need to understand data and the link between understanding what the market ‘search terms’ really were so that these can be utilised within your own websites to optimise the performance and presence of your business.

This sparked an interest in us – what would the search trend for ‘education’ look like in the last 10 years?

Search Term: Education in Wales

Surprised?

I’m not sure if we were surprised, shocked, saddened or just resigned to reality. It is something we will definitely think about from multiple perspectives. 

Returning to Dan Cobley and the ‘facts’ he presented:

  • Businesses which embrace the digital online economy experience 4-8 times faster growth. These SMEs bring in custom from around the world and export their products globally – and they can do it without the support of big I.T. departments.

  • Everyone today is a broadcaster – 60 hours of YouTube footage is uploaded every minute.

  • Everyone is connected – 845 million people on facebook, 91% of 16-24 yr olds are active on social media.

  • Half of all new internet connections are now from mobile devices. In 2011 the sale of smartphones overtook the sale of PCs.

  • Make your website ‘mobile friendly’ – 79% of people use a smartphone during shopping.

  • ‘Mobile’ optimisation is a game changer for local businesses. 81% use a smartphone to look for local information, 31% make a purchase after looking.

  • 25% of all search queries come from mobile devices.

  • Take the first step and create an online presence…or improve what you already have

  • Become ‘greater with data’ – use tools like ‘Google Insights for Search

  • ‘Digital Basics’ – use images, tell people why you are different, use endorsements from clients, use a map plugin to publicise your location.

  • Make your business have a ‘multi-channel and multi-media’ presence

  • ‘Leap and learn’ – engage in the process. Try something out, analyse it, refine it.

Getting Welsh Business Online

 Local Salon Owner

Guy Christian, a local salon owner, joined Dan Cobley on stage to explain how an online presence has contributed to the success of his business. It was great to hear someone talk realistically about their experience – both the pitfalls and the success. Recognising the need to take a risk and learn from mistakes. 70% of new clients to the salon now come via the internet and they market their business exclusively online.

“Business only survived because of our web presence”

Sian Lloyd returned to the stage to bring the formal part of the event to a close. The reading aloud of ‘tweets’ was met with laughter – particularly the mention of Dan Cobley’s great hair and inspiring speech. The ‘roving microphone’ began moving around the audience – question time with Dan Cobley and Robert Lloyd Griffiths (Institute of Directors).

And the final surprise… 

As the informal networking began, delicious canapes were distributed by friendly staff. The bar opened…and, much to my surprise, I was given a complimentary glass of sauvignon blanc! How civilised. Maybe my surprise is due to a career in education – the only complimentary thing you are likely to receive is a pencil (and that’s if you are lucky!). 🙂 

Coal Exchange, Cardiff Bay

So – it was ‘goodbye’ to the Coal Exchange. A great evening. A great event.

And ‘hello’ to Google Juice Bar. But that’s another story…

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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.

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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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GoodbiWeb

Here we are in the Apple store, Cardiff…wondering who is going to host our website after the demise of MobileMe in July 2012. We are furrowing our brows as we hear that iWeb is going to be discontinued. We have invested a lot of time into getting the site ‘just how we like it’ and Lynne has developed new ‘designer skills’. Time to take a few more steps…

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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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TEDx London: The Education Revolution 2011

Tomorrow, we will be leaving early to attend the TEDx London event. It has been organised in response to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk – ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ (see clip below from 2010). The whole day will be full of inspirational speakers and attendees talking about turning ideas into action.

We will be posting regular live updates on Twitter…

…and we have created a special TEDx page on our website to host our thoughts and live twitter feed.

http://www.tedxlondon.com/first

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A super start to the academic year…

We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Tondu Primary School. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of thinking, a lot of reflection and a lot of thoughtful connections being made by a dedicated staff of professionals.

 

Amongst the many experiences of the day, we took a look at this quote from Will Ryan’s book ‘Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners’:

Community was at the heart of the day. There was a real sense of ‘playfulness’ and ‘seriousness’.

 

Thank you to all who took part.

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