Category Archives: Risk

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

All hours, all weathers.

UK roadworks sign. In other European countries...

M4 motorway. 8.30 p.m. Somewhere between Bristol and the Severn Crossing. We have been driving on motorways for three-and-a-half hours. There is another warning sign to reduce speed to 50 mph. Another long stretch of road works. There are average speed cameras looming at intervals. I am moving at exactly 50 mph and have another vehicle ‘tail-gating’ me, despite the fact that the passing lane is empty. 

Lynne commented, ‘They always seem to be working on this motorway. You never seem to be able to just drive it without road-works somewhere or other.’ That got me thinking…

The motorway is built to allow people to reach destinations as swiftly and safely as possible. However, it is subject to constant wear and tear from vehicles and the environment. 

It is alarming how quickly roads can become damaged. One short period of snow and ice can cause a rash of potholes to appear, which, left unchecked, become larger, causing accidents and/or vehicle damage. Underground watercourses can cause subsidence and the seasonal variation in temperature attacks the integrity of the road surface. Even roads built to the highest standards are subject to environmental attack. And the safety of the most well-constructed road is ultimately compromised by the individual or collective behaviour of its users.

The motorway regulations of the Highway Code are there for a purpose – safety. There are those motorists who flagrantly disregard them. You see them travelling at high speed, weaving in and out, ignoring lane priority, tail-gating, intimidating with total disregard for the safety of other road users or their own personal safety. Then there are those of us who, perhaps, just push the boundaries if we think there is a need…and we can get away with it…and then there are middle-lane drivers…don’t get me started!

Yes, road-works can be frustrating, especially when it is unexpected and a delay could have undesirable consequences. Yet without this vigilance and maintenance, the consequences could be fatal. So I had a paradigm shift as I was motoring at a constant 50 mph. ‘Hard hats’ off to the road workers, who are out at all hours in all weather.

A community ethos is a bit like that motorway. It is a ‘living’ thing, constantly changing as it interacts with its environment. You build it for a purpose, to carry your learners safely, swiftly, and as directly as possible, to their destinations. 

Learning communities will never be perfect. The ethos and infrastructure will always be and under attack from all sorts of environmental factors. That is nature’s way. And, no matter how comprehensive our class rules, charters and contracts may be, they are only as effective as the the ‘users’ decide they will be. There are those who will flout, those that will push, those that will comply and those who will be inflexible, unaware or unable to use appropriate judgement (middle-lane drivers…aaargh!).

To maintain a viable ethos in the learning community, we need to be attentive and proactive. Planning for ‘routine maintenance’ ‘seasonal repairs’ and dealing with the potholes as they occur, not waiting until the ‘accident rate’ triggers a response, by which time significant and possibly irreparable damage has been done.  Community building is not something that you do as a ‘one off’ at the beginning of an academic year. It requires constant vigilance and maintenance – reflection and discussion…and…it is the responsibility of all members. Sometimes, you need to be responsive and maintain or repair community when it is not convenient to do so. ‘All hours’ and ‘all weathers’. 

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Filed under Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Explore, Learners, Learning, Networking, Practitioners, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Professional Development, Reflective Learning, Risk, Secondary, Single Steps Learning, Values

Status Update: ‘What’s on your mind?’

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I once heard the blues guitarist Big Bill Broonzy talking on the radio about songwriting. “You can write a song about anything…for instance, a pocket knife. It can be used to cut food, to carve a piece of wood…or to kill a man!” 

No, this is not a blog about songwriting, the blues or pocket-knives. It is about social media. Like the knife, social media is a tool. Like the knife, it is not inherently ‘good or evil’ – that depends upon the intentionality of the ‘user’.

I have been a user of social media ever since I got my first online account in 1998. IMs, Chat rooms, icq, message boards, MySpace, Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, MSN Messenger, Bebo, and ‘blogging’.

I have seen the power of the use, abuse, misuse and creativity of social media. Today, however, my attention has been caught by two articles – one via  Twitter and the other via the WordPress blog site. Both articles concern the recent practice of employers asking prospective employees for their Facebook login details.  

Google 的貼牌冰箱(Google refrigerator)

(Photo credit: Aray Chen)

So what is your first reaction to that statement? Mine was: ‘They can’t do that…that’s an invasion of privacy! It’s like someone asking to visit your house. Your personal lifestyle choices may have no relevance to how well you can do a job.’ However, on reflection…

Some people choose not to use (or are still unaware) of any privacy settings on Facebook. They are currently quite happy to bare their souls (and many other things) to anyone who wishes to view their page – the roller-coaster of their emotional states, public bickering, gross attention-seeking, and many, many photos of whatever constitutes ‘having a good time’ with their specific social group. Part of me finds the ‘openness’ refreshing. Another part despairs and worries.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our training, we talk about the value of sharing and reflecting on experiences. However, the depth to which you share will depend upon the trust that has been established between individuals in a group. Why? Because we have learned from bitter experience that by being completely ‘open’, you also make yourself vulnerable to manipulation, prejudice and betrayal by the unscrupulous. We’ve all been there. Yes?

If I look at my personal Facebook page, I have nothing to hide. However, I do have a life and loved ones that I wish to protect. There is and always has been a parasitic strata of society who actually work very hard at ‘theft’ be it physical or virtual. They are creative, opportunistic and have no conscience. My  great fear is that there is a generation of social media users who may never recover from their blissful ignorance or naiveté. 

Back to employment…if you put it out there for all to see…that is your choice and you bear the consequences – positive or negative. You are Google-able… 

However, if you have chosen privacy settings…Hmmm

‘Application and interview’ is an imperfect process. Candidates may be ‘economical with the truth’, use manipulative language and personal charisma to improve their chances at selection. There are even books and online coaching advice about how to do this.

An employer who aspires to a certain set of values (such as sexual equality and multi-ethnicity) wants to know that, in the current world of instant mass communication, their reputation is not going to be besmirched (love that word!). They do not want to discover that the charismatic and knowledgeable flatterer, who said the right things at the interview, and is also highly qualified, turns out to be a misogynistic bigot with a penchant for ‘mooning’...and who had impeccable references (because the previous employer couldn’t wait to get rid of them…so they also also lied!). This happens!!!

The logo of the blogging software WordPress. D...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some questions to ponder…

Is it justifiable for an employer to invade personal privacy in order to protect its future reputation, in the same way I would want to protect my own?

…or, are we already creating a culture of social media savvy candidates who merely create multiple online personas – selecting which one they will reveal to their prospective employers?

Conversely, even if I have nothing to hide, why should I give access to my personal life to someone with whom I have not established a minimum level of trust – who may misuse information that is revealed.

We are aware that many (but thankfully not all!) educators are reluctant to comment on our own FB page, just in case their opinions, however valid and well-articulated, get them into ‘hot water’ with their setting/school/local authority. Unlike the TES forum threads, in which some extreme views are voiced but protected by anonymous usernames, we have ‘real’ people with ‘real’ names. We understand and accept your reluctance. 🙂

Despite the exponential advance in human technologies, the same human issues still remain. The instinct to survive / the instinct to protect oneself. When survival and protection are achieved ‘by any means necessary’, human values such as ‘trust’ are often a casualty, especially in times of economic hardship. If prospective employees will say/do anything to get a job, isn’t it reasonable to expect employers to say/do anything to protect themselves against employing the ‘wrong’ person? And, if employers use your personal information unscrupulously, isn’t it right that you should be able to protect yourself against disclosure?

Our learning for today… 

Why not take some time to reflect on your own social media pages. Check your own privacy settings or get someone to help you customise them – particularly if the format of the site has changed recently.  We make no judgements about content or lifestyle choices but think about what you are comfortable sharing and who can or might access your information now and in the future. Check who has ‘tagged’ you in any photographs and ‘untag’ them if you are not comfortable with them appearing on your pages. If you think that they could be potentially embarrassing ask for them to be removed – especially if they will come up in a Google search- a real friend will do this for you! Do a Google search on yourself and see what results you get – you may be surprised!

As for me, it’s time to fix the flux-capacitor and get back to the future. What will be the form and impact of social media in another 10 years…now that would be telling!

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Filed under Business, Education, Professional Development, Risk, Technology, Values

It’s a week for radio!

A huge smile…and quite a few giggles…as Radio 2 with Alan Carr began their karaoke sing-out! Well done to our friend and colleague, Shona, from Stirling…the star of the Karaoke! It is always great to take a risk and step outside your comfort zone!!

 

Shona – you definitely deserve the rosette you asked for!

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Sharing BBC Radio 5Live space with Ed Miliband…or rather he interrupts with a phone call…!

Big ‘congrats’ to Karen Workman, Family Learning Students (including Rachael Morgan) and the children/staff of Brynhyfryd Primary School in Neath! Or should we say ‘BENDIGEDIG!’. 

The 2 hour radio feature on Family Learning and Literacy Skills was full of honesty and passion – real stories, real learners of all ages, real moments and a real feeling of supporting each other. 

We loved the fact that the broadcast took place in a local school and that both the adults and children took an active role throughout the two hours…despite their feature being interrupted throughout by the current NoTW story and Ed Miliband being available for a telephone interview in the middle! Apparently this also knocked out the allocated time for Leighton Andrews – oops!

More details and photos to follow in the next blog…

(For those who have already asked, we are able to get hold of a full recording of the show and will post details about this asap.)

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Filed under Community Learning, Education, Learning, Potential, Risk

Inspire

Basic Skill Learner of the Year, 2011 (Wales).

‘Mammy, you are really good at reading. Well done, Mam’ says Rachael Morgan’s daughter. 

 

We can all make a positive difference. 

 

If you would like more information on ‘Family Learning’ in the South Wales area, please emailinfo.singlestepslearning@gmail.com and we will put you in touch with Karen Workman and her colleagues. 

 

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Onwards

Whilst standing in the queue for another ‘flat white’, I came across this book. The words ‘How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul’ caught my attention….followed by…‘leadership and change…passion…honing our craft…care and quality…risk…belief’. It is an interesting read…not just about coffee…but about creating and developing something that resonates with your soul.

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Filed under Passion, Risk, Values