Like so many others, I have been reeling from the death of an icon. David Bowie has been a touchstone throughout my life, leading me to explore new music, visual arts, literature and broader ideas about the world. Bowie also taught me some important lessons about learning.
Bowie has always managed to be tapped into the zeitgeist – which took hard work. Searching out new music, reading widely and remaining open to challenge seems to have been a discipline that sustained his creativity. There is evidence of this in all the anecdotes emerging after Bowie’s death – but it is also evident in his work.
Building time and tools to feed curiosity is fuel to creativity and quality.
Not everyone loved Tin Machine, but I remember being amazed that he’d stepped into a new creative process, as part of a band. I did not like every track (Working Class Hero was,… well, not great) – but it was exciting to hear Reeves Gabrels guitar build soundscapes and add new vocal challenges to Bowie’s. Of course, there were failures – like Never Let Me Down – which seemed to miss every beat – but Bowie used that to feed further risks – and led directly to Tin Machine. Since his death, there is a focus on Bowie’s two most recent albums and raving about their ingenuity and jazz influences. However, this was there in previous albums like Outside, Heathen and Reality, there are lots of tracks which take bigger risks – with the listener – but also with the creative concepts being used. Bowie was always asking us to join him and take a risk with his art.
Doing the unexpected and hard to understand is a necessary challenge to the status quo, and it is easier to move without the inertia of predictability.
3-Collaboration done right creates lifelong friendships
David Bowie maintained friendships that lasted his whole life, mostly coming from his creative work. Even bandmates from before he was famous received Christmas cards right up to his final months- and relationships with fellow creatives like Brian Eno were sustained and fed, even when there was no active project – as we heard from Eno himself. Bowie had an incredible work ethic, but managed to be generous and supportive – and, it seems, created a network of friends who could help him keep secrets, like new albums and terminal illness – that perhaps no one else could have done.
Work hard and be kind.
4- Above the clouds, the sun is always shining
Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t like. I am sure that David Bowie lived quite differently from most of us, very protected from the injustices and vagaries of economic hardship and with more options than most of is. So, perhaps it is easy to laugh when you are up ‘there’ already, above the clouds that often blanket our realities. However, as anyone who really listened to his music, notably his most recent output – he was weirdly in touch with ‘normal’ life – and able to see his own place as a star from the other side of the mirror.
‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ managed to do this, I think through Bowie’s sense of humour. It is a disturbing, but funny reflection on fame and the mundane.
Laugh at yourself, to learn about both how people see you, but also how you can grow.
5- It’s ok to cry when facing the unknown
I cried for an hour after hearing that David Bowie had died. I had to cycle to work and the tears forced me to stop on the side of the road twice. A friend contacted me to ask if I was alright, knowing that I would be hit hard, and that totally destroyed the floodgates and I blubbed outside the train station. It has taken a week for me to put this into perspective, and though Bowie’s music has helped me through it – in lots of ways BlackStar is a lesson on how to deal with the darkness before you – rather than loss of what was – and what a beautiful black lesson it is.
Stepping into the unknown, alone, is scary; but fear and darkness can be beautiful.
In my own little way, I plan to honour David Bowie this year by taking these lessons to heart, and to share them.
So, join me, and tell me how you plan to #BEMOREBOWIE in 2016
Even on #WorldMentalHealthDay , admitting that you have had a hard time, outside of a support group, gets conflicted responses from most people. So when good news come, everyone heaves a big sigh of relief. But that isn’t always helpful.
Outside of family, and close friends, your struggle is hard to fit into the normal day-to-day chat. So, when things pick up, there is a palpable sense of relief; happiness for what you have achieved, that the situation you and your family might get better, that you might find a purpose in the new job, and that the awkwardness of sharing their own news (“Hey, I got a promotion/that job/raise/etc”) will reduce.
I don’t mean that most folk are mean spirited, or in anyway resentful of hearing your troubles (though that does happen). I just mean that it is hard to find a way to accommodate, calibrate reactions to, and respond accordingly to a complex problem – especially one where mental health is involved. It’s hard to say the right thing, listen and be therapeutic.
For a number of reasons, I have not had the easiest time over the past four years. There have been ups, but the downs compounded into a dip into depression which surprised most people who know me. It kinda crept up on me, and by the time I realised it was there, I’d lost the ability to let people help me.
So,.. now that things look like they are on the up, (and I am no longer depressed), I want to stay healthy. But, ignoring what happened, or clambering to get back to how I was, makes me worry that I’ll drop back ‘down’. This is why I wanted to write about it, and wanted to share.
One of the biggest lessons of this period has been that I have learned how to build my mental state, not around ‘Highs’ and striving – but around a healthier balance, being more realistic about, and aware of, the here and now; and doing more of what makes me healthy.
A big part of that was being back in the classroom, rediscovering my passion for teaching – or at least helping kids learn. I found new interests, professionally …and personally (including a new obsession with Ultimate Frisbee – I am now as brilliant as the people in this vid)
There is a whole post about how important and amazing my family have been, but they don’t need to read about that here – and nor do you. Just know that however depressed you are, your family are your best way out.
Of course, so much of this might sound like a load of mushy platitudes, and smack of the worst sort of quasi-mindfulness BS. Well, maybe…. and maybe I should just count myself lucky and be happy! But, once you’ve seen how thin the ice can be to ‘happiness’, it is hard to skim across it so blithely.
You see, It would be very easy, especially with a relatively high-profile job, with a team to manage, and the little status that comes with the role, to believe that “I’m back, to where I should be!”
Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the opportunity that BCS has offered me, and I think I can do justice to the job and maybe achieve a little more, for more than my family, than making a living. This, in of itself, would be great. But, my potential to do good work has been there all the way through, even if my self belief took a pounding. I had to find solid ground without the status and security of ‘career’,
So, you see, the job changes everything, and nothing. I am still a person who has had a brush with depression – just one who has been lucky enough to be able to not defined, or more damaged by it. I hope I can keep learning from it, ‘lean into it’ (as the mindfulness folk say) and maybe do some good work along the way.
Thanks for all the support along the way, for those who reached out beyond my claims that I was fine (when I wasn’t), and to those who reminded me that I have something to offer – and some
more good work to do.
I was shocked and surprised to find that I had been included in the UKEdChat Top Educational Blog 2015 list. Lovely as it is to be included, I cannot really accept this accolade.
Simply, I do not blog often or well enough to have earned it. There are hundreds of bloggers, and acres of content from posts from the past that #UKEdChat followers and #UKEdMag readers should turn to first. I could wax lyrical about any number of people, but most of them are on this list, and totally deserve to be!
Click Here to View All Top Edu Blogs
Of course, the joy of Twitter is the immediacy of the debate, but for those of us who have been immersed in this medium for a while, it is hard not to see the circular nature of some of the arguments. I rarely believe I have something novel to say, and know that there are much smarter people who will remember who else has blogged on a given topic and have more energy to share. I have views, (boy, do I have views) some of which are uncommon enough that I know how hard it is to release them to the wild, unmediated by the wider context that is only possible face-to-face.
Rather than blog, my first instinct is to do… to talk it over with a trusted friend… to test my ideas out in reality… to read what others say… and to iterate my ideas…
I am also arrogant enough to know when I am getting something right… for me. But not arrogant enough to think what works for me (especially in the classroom) is right for anyone else!
This is not to be down on myself. I’d like to think I contribute usefully to Twitter discussions, especially #UKEdChat and #primaryrocks. I much prefer taking part in conversations than writing essays. I love to read what others are saying, and have increasingly chosen to reflect – without sharing those thoughts (how selfish… right? Or just good editing?).
So, thank you to those who nominated me and I hope you will forgive me for not accepting this badge in the spirit it was intended…. for blogging.
I’ll take it for taking part in the education debate across social media….(using a range of platforms) and hope Martin and Colin will forgive me.
It has been an (academic) year of growth for me, and I’ve been really lucky to meet and learn with some great people and organisations.
A bit of Culture…
Like most people who work in education, I knew that there was a lot of great work being done for kids and teachers from places like museums, galleries and arts organisation. So, I was excited to be asked to guide research for Arts Council England to explore this area further.
It was only when I started looking at the digital offerings from the world of Arts and Culture for schools that I discovered how rich the pickings could be! Thanks to the hundreds of teachers who responded to our survey, and for the time that teachers shared to talk to me in interviews. Thanks to all the contributors to the #UKEdChat special that I hosted. Special thanks to Bill Lord for his extended interview, which can be seen here. Our final report was published on the Arts Council website and can be found here.
Chris Unitt, who brought considerable experience in the digital side of the arts and culture world to our research, invited me to join him presenting our findings to an event for education teams at museums and collections from around the country. You can see our presentation here.
Teachers, as a place to start, you’d be mad not to take a look at www.show.me.uk
All the new clients, contacts and friends I have developed as a result of this work are, in part thanks to the incredible Matt Locke, who runs storythings, and who gave me my introduction into this space. *deepbow*
In the Charts
In November, I was shocked and pleased to find myself in the Top 40!…. of TeacherToolkit/Ross McGill’s (AKA @TeacherToolkit) top 100 teachers to follow on Twitter. I have struggled a bit to keep up with the wealth of amazing tweeters – not least since I have gone through a bit of a review/reduction of my tweeting since reading The Circle by Dave Eggers – a book anyone who uses social media in their work really must read!
Finally, a special note to the #primaryrocks team for introducing the best new #discussion for education anywhere on twitter. Loads of fun and super useful chat, every Monday at 8pm!
College of Teachers
Towards the end of the year, I got increasingly involved with the College of Teachers, helping out behind the scenes and writing about my own views about the proposal. I still think it is the best chance teachers have had to take ownership of our profession, and to depoliticise some of our work. To get up to speed, sign up for info here.
Into Inanimate Alice
I was hugely surprised to get a return call after a conversation that started some four years ago, from the team behind the multi-award winning Inanimate Alice! Just about to release the next brilliant instalment of this unique resource, I was asked to support their strategy to answer new opportunities in connecting their international markets. Looking at business models, partnerships and development plans, it was a hugely satisfying piece of work, as Inanimate Alice is one of the best digital resources for educational purposes out there – built by a passionate team, who really understand how to inspire young people to create.
Project Based Learning
In January, I shared some of the findings of my experiments in using PBL in the primary classroom. Thanks to St Francis CE Primary in Oxford, for their support and the opportunity to try some new approaches.
This Spring, I was invited to provide education input on a very exciting new resource coming from IntoFilm, the charity that connects young people to the UK film industry. Though I cannot name the IP we are working on, I can say that one of the best loved characters from the world of picture books is about to make a splash into the digital world of resources for schools. Watch this space for more!
I have finally been able to catch up with some of the more exciting technologies that are coming into schools, thanks to the folk at Black Country Artelier, who bring 3DPrinting (and more) into schools.
Not only have I been able to learn about 3dPrinting, Arduinos, and other new #digitalmaking tools, but I have been able to investigate the pedagogies and issues around assessing them. Huge thanks to the children and staff at Heyford Park Free School, as well as the BCA team for making this so exciting!
Attending #CampEd15 at the start of June was a wonderful start to the Summer (proper!) and a chance to reconnect with old friends, make new ones, and to learn. Leisle Ezekiel and I shared our learning about Introverts and Extroverts, and my kids made a computer in less than 5mins!
Award for Yorkshireman of the Year goes to….
Finally, it has not been the easiest of times for me over the past few years, and I have had a little struggle with depression. This year has seen me leave the worst of it behind, and I could not have done that without friends reaching out and supporting me to make both professional and personal steps forward. There are many who have helped, but special thanks are due to Tony Parkin: edtech guru and Yorkshireman without porfolio. Tony has been there at just the right times, to encourage, support and guide me – and who heard my coded call for help ( I was/am too proud and stupid to just say I was having a hard time) and knew how to do so without ever making me feel like a drag.
Thank you Tony.
That just leaves me to wish you (dear reader) a fantastic Summer, and a great 15/16. Be well.
The education sector is huge, with many audiences, providers, policy makers and perspectives, and I spent part of last week getting to know the Arts and Culture world better; and it was a joy. I was grateful to the nice people from Culture24 for inviting Chris Unitt and me to talk about our work for Arts Council England at the Connecting Collections Conference, held at the impressive and wonderful National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
We shared our research looking at how teachers see digital resources from arts organisations, museums, galleries and libraries. Arts Council England have published our report here.
Our slides are here:
VanGoYourself (Brilliant !!!! Check this out!)
The slides will be available on Slideshare shortly. Chris has a post about this too!
Arts Council England commissioned Storythings to carry out research to investigate and understand ways that teachers access and use online and digital resources to provide cultural education. The survey was developed to help us encourage arts and cultural organisations to develop the right tools for teachers.
Download the ACE Education Resources report here (PDF)
We’d also encourage you to check out:
Are you an Innie? Do you leave a party happy, but drained?
Or are you an Outie? Do you feel energised by meeting lots of new people?
This very simplistic dichotomy has started lots of new conversations for me recently. As an extrovert, married to an introvert (quite a common pairing!), I have become obsessed with the ideas raised in Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a world that won’t stop talking. I have written about it’s impact in a previous blog post, read around the neuroscience, and talked to adults and children about introverts and extroverts.
At #CampED15 last weekend, Leisle (Mrs Ezekiel) and I ran a workshop on this topic, with parents and children. Of all the ‘teachmeeters’, bloggers, tweeters, and their families, it seemed that all the introverts came to our table, set calmly with colouring pencils and paper, while the extroverts seemed to club together to do a much more active task.
Thanks to Dawn Hallybone for sharing all the lovely pics from the weekend, of which this is one!
Of course, there is a spectrum between the two extremes and, depending on context, individuals might change, even within a day. There are excellent articles out there, helping to understand both introversion and extroversion better: try clicking here to start that journey for yourself
One of the best aspects of our session at CampED15 was how clearly people reacted to the chance to draw a picture to show how they would spend their dream day. Our introverts clearly drew themselves, happy and focussed on a task, without being disturbed by other people! These were not people ‘alone’. They were recharging and revelling in the opportunity to live a rich inner life. My picture of myself cooking for friends with a dancefloor in the background was huge contrast to the gentle, isolated beach scenes of others in the group.
When I asked kids and adults how many people they thought were introverted, most assumed a minority, 30% or so. When we discussed the downsides of a mismatch between type and work/learning environment (stresses, and fatigue), most raised that number as they recognised more and more people they knew.
We also discussed the negative vocabulary around introverts: shy, loners, misfits, partypoopers, etc. One of the teachers noted that we tend to call these kids the ‘Good’ ones; but that this a very simplistic label which means that although they might not be much trouble, we do not help them thrive by providing the setting or time for them to be at their best.
It is not just about the quiet introverts missing out on all the social learning and fun. We must consider the way we frame teaching, learning and assessment for both types: and this is as important for staff and children.
For example, we place enormous pressure on assessments where kids sit alone for hours, expected to carefully consider detailed answers, without interacting with anyone; after months of revising (which they are told is best done alone!). Now this might suit introverts, but is a real killer for extroverts!
Introversion is not the same as shyness, and we often treat introverts as though they are brittle. Just because a child is quiet and good at the exams, does not mean they should not be challenged to shine throughout the week. Not all members of staff want to lead insets, speak up at a staff meeting or blog. Instead of expecting people to be good at everything, why not allow colleagues to play to their strengths; for example to dive into the data and share with each teacher.
We should be showing children positive role models for both extroverts and introverts; and making schools a place where they can learn what they need from the environment, and people they work with.
If you’d be interested in hearing more about this topic, or would like me to bring this workshop to your school or organisation, please get in touch.
My views on how we run schools has been totally shaken since reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking (2012). Yes, very late to the party, but as a card carrying extrovert, I have been ignoring introverts for most of my life, so perhaps there’s no surprise there.
Except that is not entirely fair. It’s not so much I was ignoring them, I just did not really believe that they existed. I knew that some people defined themselves as such, but I thought it was a bit like,…. well, trying to cover a deficiency with a label. I often confused shyness, a lack of confidence, anti-social behaviour, hating music, nothing to say, or easily offended, for something that is much more complex and widespread.
At the simplest level, an introvert is ‘fed’ by time on their own and focussed activities. They might love being at a party, but are drained by the end of it. An extrovert is the opposite and ‘feeds’ on social encounters, new information and ‘buzz’. Few people are at the extremes, and we might have aspects of the other, however most will recognise themselves in these simple questions.
Somewhere between a third and a half of people call themselves introverts and, if we accept the ideas in Quiet – that introversion is becoming harder to fit with modern culture – then we can assume that most people avoid being labelled this way. So, let’s just say 50% of people are on the ‘introvert’ side of the bell curve.
So, in reading this book I realised that half the people I have spoken to are fundamentally different to me. Not a little bit, but a LOT. It was like discovering that half the people you know are women! It was like seeing a whole new gender for the first time.
I’m really interested in what this means for schools. Susan Cain has a few thoughts here, and teachers guide here; but lots of others have thought about this, and there was an #eltchat on this topic here.
I had a few insights I wanted to share:
Extroverts need help too!
all children (but extroverts especially) need help understanding the differences between extroverts and introverts and accepting it
extroverts need a positive language for introvert peers: focussed, reflective, etc, rather than shy, distant, uncooperative.
extroverts are energised by social activity, and work better when they can learn in these settings, but need a chance to learn from and with introverts
our schools,classrooms and playgrounds might suit extroverts more, but our testing suits introverts more.
We are really good at harming introverts!
School environments are rarely friendly places for an introvert – and teachers don’t have an interest in this changing, at the moment. Susan Cain covers this really well in her book, but there are very few quiet places in a school, where a child is not being judged, observed or forced into groups. There are lots of things we could do to help introverts:
Allow kids to stay in at breaktime
Allow kids to be out of view at breaktime, in the playground, but safe from bullying.
Allow for solitary activities in the playground
Allow kids to opt out of groupwork
Allow kids to learn at their own pace
Reorganise our classrooms so that there is space for reflection and quiet.
Do less groupwork.
But, try to imagine implementing even half of these before September. I bet it would stretch the patience of your staff and the potential in your site. Yet, can you imagine creating an environment so prejudicial to, say, women? Think how hard we allow for other minority differences (and so we should).
We MUST think harder how our space, pedagogies and assessment makes sense of these differences in our pupils. I think a move towards project based learning would support the sort of shift we need, where the strengths of an introvert can be proven valuable to group outcomes and assessments.
Teachers are losing out too!
Finally, I also think we need to reflect on the staff we have. Are teachers evenly split between extroverts and introverts and do we get the best of our colleagues in their current working approach?
I wonder how many teachers are unclear about why they find teaching so draining. They might think it is workload. Perhaps it is that they are introverts, and a day being social is great – but saps their energy. Without time and space to re-energise, these people will always suffer. Perhaps they leave teaching and become bloggers, researchers, artists, etc… because the profession could not accommodate all they had to offer schools?
What do you think?
- Are more teachers extroverts than introverts?
- Does this even matter?
- Is there a way to measure the impact of appropriate settings for introverts and extroverts?
I have just started working with a new client, who offer an emergency communication service to schools.
Callmy is a new business, and are a small team; with a service that offers a simple service for schools to let parents/carers know what is going on in the case of a serious emergency.
Fortunately, serious ‘Hazchem leaks’, terror incidents, floods and fires are rare events for schools. But, they do happen, and when they do, parents / carers want to hear the voice of the school team; to reassure and inform. This clever mix of telephony and web technologies will ensure coverage even when the mobile phone network is down, and does not need a database of upto date contact details.
It is a service to have in place, but hope you will never need to use.
Over the next few weeks, I will be tweeting, blogging and posting about my work for Callmy, and I might ask for your help.
It is a new service for schools, and we are trying to understand better how schools might use it; especially as part of the wider school emergency plan.
So, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m being paid to help them communicate with the schools sector and develop the marketing strategy.
Andrew Old makes a simplistic, but consistent, argument for how the members of the new College of Teaching should be constituted. Just teachers, he says. Simple. But, in seeking simplicity, he seems to miss equally simple ways to enhance the profession through the rich diversity of our profession.
Given he was at the same fantastic ‘founding’ event in Birmingham yesterday, to think through these issues, I am surprised he did not consider many of the sensible suggestions that were made.
I was asked (at short notice) to be one of the facilitators, which perhaps made it easier for me to be on ‘listen’ mode, rather than ‘broadcast’. I came away from the day enormously impressed with the positivity and problem-solving ability of the colleagues in my group. Assuming this was multiplied across the country, I found myself believing, and not hoping (for the first time), that we could do this ourselves.
I have had doubts and concerns about the way that this College of Teaching is being formulated – but I found myself with others who also had concerns but were prepared to work through them to develop a professional body to raise our status and protect education from political interference.
My group included a Headteacher, a f/t head of department, an ITT lecturer, a senior leader, and a p/t teacher who has been in and out of the profession doing other things (me)!. Together, we were able to form effective and thoughtful prospective solutions to some of the knottier problems we were asked to discuss.
On the key issue of “Who is a Teacher?” – we resolved it with a solution that I think even Andrew might compromise on.
In order to be a full member of the College of Teaching, a teacher:
has Qualified Teacher Status
must be teaching or have taught, in the classroom, on a p/t or f/t basis for at least a term, within a two year period (including SLT, Heads, DHTs).
teach children (not adults) upto and including the age of 18 (see exception below)
can also be those involved in ITT who also teach children, as part of training adults to become teachers
We felt it was essential to allow freedom of movement in and out of the profession – to explore other roles, conduct research, develop new skills and maybe even just take a break from teaching – but still be allowed to develop professionally. Of course, people can take a ‘membership break’ – but we felt a 2 year gap might be a clear enough marker for most.
So, what do you think? Does this solution work for you? Would this keep everyone in the COT, and stop a few from throwing their dummies out?