59th Street Bridge Song Simon and Garfunkel
Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy
I’m not sure about the feeling groovy bit, just now, as, somehow, a few weeks ago, I managed to do something to my hip or thigh muscles that has resulted in significant discomfort. I have certainly slowed, but I’m hoping to work/walk through it. Ibuprofen does help on occasions. Yesterday morning, I took my own advice and walked the length of seafront from Hill Head to Lee on the Solent, to enjoy the sunshine, the sound of the waves and to test out my strain. Shouldn’t have done, as I may have overdone things… I won’t be running any time soon…
Having a gammy leg has made me think about things, such as making extra time to get from one place to another, especially if it involves some walking. It’s not just an age thing!
My Twitter timeline regularly tells of teachers working considerable hours, feeling exhausted, then having to do some more. Sadly, even with such things as PPA time, the demands, or the pressures of apparent demands, appear to have grown. It’s worth noting the exponential rise of the weekend conference and the number of chats on Twitter that can appear to add to the already busy working week. I am sure that some see these as helping their down time, as, especially in real life, the social side certainly adds to wellbeing.
Busyness is tiring and we have been through a very extended phase of being kept busy by arms of Government, with significant busyness associated with massive changes that came into force in September 2014 and which, in reality, still require thought, work and embedding into practice.
Interpretations by subsequent layers of responsibility, of Government/external requirements can be a very significant part of the problem. It always has been the case. The Government’s latest bright wheeze, often shared just before a weekend or holiday, enables regional or more local “experts” to share their wares, which they willingly do, as they are on a self-determined fast track to promotion. It happened through the National Strategies, effectively crippling, for a while, my excellent teachers, who taught down to the “expert” advice. It had to be right, as it came from the Government; wrong. It took even more time to turn things around again, to regain and embed the former excellence.
In my own mind, I am wondering if the growth of the besuited management layers in larger schools may inadvertently have added to this, in that everyone then has to prove that they are doing their job, often needing to bring colleagues into the “initiatives” that are central to their CV.
It took me twelve years to become a deputy head, with a further four until headship. That was a sufficient apprenticeship, encompassing 16 years as a full-time classroom teacher, across every age group in Primary, to hone and refine my ideas about what could be achieved. Even then, I still acknowledged the expertise and experiences of others; as a first school deputy, I was almost the youngest member of staff.
I also knew the value of streamlined systems that allowed classroom teachers to do what they are paid to do; teach the children for whom they were responsible.
During my final teaching practice, the head offered some sage advice as I was planning to be married in the January following the experience; to make sure that you always washed up together. It might be one of the few times during any day that you had time to talk! That was something to follow, although slightly abandoned during headship and the purchase of the dishwasher, or the dirty crockery cupboard, as it came to be known.
Hello lamppost, what'cha knowing
I've come to watch your flowers growin'
Ain't you got no rhymes for me?
Doo-ait-n-doo-doo, feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy
On taking up my headship, it was clear that much had to be done, to change a “coasting” school into the success that it could and should have been. Within a year, my youngest was born, which was a cause of celebration, but also another, very important demand on time. It’s so easy to miss out on children growing up.
Term time could be difficult, I’ll admit, as work demands don’t diminish because you have your own children. Weekends always were, but became more important; opportunities to get out, to walk and talk. We had taken to camping as our summer holidaying, allowing us to tailor holidays to suit the whole family, which for a few years included the Sidmouth and Chippenham Folk Festivals, where I ran workshops as part of the children’s festival in exchange for free camping, or I played as part of the Woodfidley musicians for the dance group.
On our 20th wedding anniversary, when the youngest was three, we heard the diagnosis of breast cancer. This gave greater urgency to personal time, as stock was taken, decisions made and dreams and plans executed. We had very good friends who had moved to France a few years earlier, and we had visited to camp on their garden or at a nearby campsite, run by people whom we also knew from our town. The Easter following diagnosis and surgery, we were invited for a rest, to stay with them and to be looked after for a week. Before the week, we had discussed the possibility of following a dream to buy a small house in the region; it would cost about the price of a smaller caravan.
By the end of the week, we had viewed, mulled and made an offer on a small two-room house, with a grenier attic that might become future bedrooms. By June, we were the proud owners of the house, with waist high grass and a lot of internal work to be done. We had walls, a roof a sink with a cold tap and an outside toilet. Electrical fittings had all been removed, leaving wires from the ceiling. It would be a summer of camping in the house.
Carpentry, plumbing, electrics and gardening became the stuff of holidays, with plans made in between, materials and tools purchased to need, so that every day would be productive, but also allow time for walking, cycling, swimming and picnics. Yes, it was distraction, but, surprisingly, school impinged in the strangest ways; for example, I “wrote” an improvement plan while strimming, rushing in to write down the details.
Creating significant periods of time at the house during school holidays became an essential to maintain stability and sanity, as periods of hospitalisation, surgery and recuperation became part of life’s pattern. Life in school was often 60-70 hours, including parts of weekends, as is still the case now. Getting away was a form of personal safeguarding. Those breaks where travel wasn’t possible often meant time in school, rather than R&R.
I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep
I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning-time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you, all is groovy
I’m looking back on a lifetime in education. It wasn’t going to be that. The original plan was to be a scientist. A year as a lab assistant showed that a lot of lab work was largely very much the same every day. Teaching offered the chance to be a thinker, in a sort of workshop/laboratory, with a plethora of variables to consider and account for. It suited from the beginning.
But, looking back, it strikes me that we often lose sight of some essentials, particularly at a point where it can appear that education is in danger of becoming “scientised”, picked apart to look at the minutiae, sometimes, in the process, enlarging these to such an extent that they don’t fit any more and make extra work for everyone, until someone find time to rethink them and put them into better perspective.
· Teaching and learning is a people-centred act, with the young supported to create a taxonomy of the world around them from a very young age and to start to be able to differentiate within that through exploration of similarity and difference.
· Children (generally) carry with them the capacity to engage with their world, from birth.
· Communication is key to every aspect of learning. Therefore, vocabulary and articulacy both receptive and expressive are fundamental. Teachers are/should be models of these skills, being able to impart knowledge clearly, logically and succinctly, with the age/stage of learners in mind.
· At the same time, being able to show something clearly and unambiguously enables sustainable mental models. Being able to use artefacts and apparatus effectively, supported by static or moving images, and to be able to structure diagrammatic models in front of/with the children offers insights to add to prior understanding.
· Teaching and learning planning takes account of what has gone before. Understanding the stages of children passing through the knowledge experiences of the subject at hand enables fine-tuned interactions, from challenge, through activity to outcomes, asking focused or open questions en route to determine next steps.
· For the teacher, being a knowledgeable investigator is a large part of the role. If children show anomalous learning behaviours, unpicking these and seeking alternative approaches has always been the norm. Engaging with the process and the outcomes, in different ways, allows insights into a child’s thinking.
· Thinking about children’s needs requires time. This is often at a premium, in the busyness of school and family life. For this reason, I would encourage staff not to feel guilty if they have the time to do so. As a head, I’d try to find ways to facilitate thinking time, either by taking a class, or buying in supply for a purpose, and taking in student teachers, adding to the staff contingent.
· Teaching is a team game, all the better from the collective thinking of colleague professionals, able to offer their knowledge and expertise to the group, to challenge and clarify points, to develop clear strategic ways forward. Developing and supporting colleagues, at every stage of their career, is key to sustaining longer careers. Teaching attracts thinkers; let them think.
· Teaching is a team game, with parents, Governors and the wider community needing to play an active part; after all, the children are theirs and for teachers passing through their care for a while. For parents, it’s a lifetime.
Which takes us back to communication. There are so many ways to communicate easily across many people. If it doesn’t happen, it’s usually down to human error within life’s busyness and can be addressed.
Think, talk and play together; that's life. Give the next generation the world that they'll inherit.