#nurture1314 – Living and Learning

I was reluctant to write for #nurture1314 in case I ended up producing one of those posts that reads like a smug round-robin Christmas Card – all I need to do is plop a picture of my adorable kids on the front and you can all vomit away. It’s been quite a year. Last year I did not use twitter. I didn’t blog and I didn’t know most of the people who will read this post. I was pretty much the same person, but instead of venting into cyberspace, I howled like Lear into the ear of my endlessly suffering husband. I suspect he’s quite glad I found twitter. So here goes…

Thirteen for 13

1. My new piano was delivered today. I learned when I was young, unlearned as I aged and promised myself that one day I’d relearn. The day has come.

2. I passed my doctorate. I am Dr. Kidd. But the very best bit was getting flowers and a card from Jane Hewitt who is just a big heart on legs.

3. I was asked to write a book. It has a cover and an ISBN number and everything except the writing, but I’m working on that.

4. I started to blog and found I couldn’t stop. Since my first post in February, nearly 80,000 people have read it. That blows my mind a bit. I find people who tweet how many people read their blogs really annoying, but I couldn’t resist this one little mention. I promise I’ll never do it again.

5. I wrote a letter to Michael Gove and almost 4000 people signed it. Without that letter, I’d never have learned how kind strangers can be. That’s been the biggest lesson of the year – the overwhelming generosity of others has restored all my faith in humanity. Tim Taylor, in the midst of hideous treatment for his cancer, spent hours setting up my web pages and pushing for support. I’ll never forget his kindness. Or that of @betsysalt, hounding MPs and journalists all day one Saturday to get attention for the letter. Or the incredible energy of Jackie Schneider who retweeted until her fingers must have fallen off. Or all the others who saw a chance for the ordinary classroom teacher to be heard and who joined in the chant. We were heard.

6. Being on the telly is horrible. But I’m glad I didn’t make a complete arse of myself.

7. Spending time with two of my favourite men – Hywel Roberts and Mick Waters this year was a highlight. Every second spent with them is joyful.

8. Meeting like minded twitter sisters – Emma Hardy, Laura McInerney and Miss Smith and realising they were as warm and funny in real life as they were in 140 characters.

9. Putting a tweet out to suggest we have a Northern Education conference and surfing the tsunami of yeses that came my way. Too often twitter is a disagreeable and argumentative place, but on that Saturday night, it was a ‘yes, can do’ space and I’m really grateful to Emma Hardy and Daniel Britton for just being brilliant and so darned capable and to all the speakers who put themselves straight out there. Amazing.

10. Being back in school after a long(ish) gap was tough. No-one who has not taught full time in a school can ever comprehend how tough it is, but despite all the demoralising bashing from Michael One and Michael Two, it’s still a job that brings joy. Children are…well, you know. Endlessly surprising, full of wonder, full of challenge and every day is different. For someone with a goldfish attention span like me, no other job can satisfy.

11. Having my thinking challenged by new ideas and thoughts from others has on the whole been a good thing this year. I’ve refocused on ensuring that my lessons are knowledge rich, as well as creative and although I know I have a long way to go to be the teacher I want to be, thanks to this government, I’ve got another 23 years to get it right.

12. I’m eternally grateful to my HT, Matthew Milburn, for recognising my caged bird fears and for giving me the freedom to go out and recharge when I need to. I love the work I do with the International Schools Theatre Association – it’s work I treasure and I’m so grateful to my school for releasing me to do these fabulous festivals all over the world. Time spent in Terezin with Pavel Stansky, a holocaust survivor and all the young people who came with us will stay with me forever. As will the heady post-doctoral viva days in Istanbul with a great team of artists and teachers. Lovely me/we time.

13. Family. My children continue to grow and thrive. Eldest will graduate this year from Oxford and start that adult life he’s been longing for. Middle child is in the middle of GCSEs, already feeling battered by the endlessly changing wind of whimsy that is government education policy. He swears he will never vote Conservative…..every cloud…….And youngest is still joyful, still untainted by expectation, still full of hope and wonder. Though he does separate school into ‘fun’ and ‘learning’ which is a shame. My parents are moving closer to us and I can’t wait to have them just around the corner. And my husband? Well, he continues to carry me, camel like, through all the shifting sands of my fickle obsessions without ever getting the hump. Perhaps next year…

Fourteen for 14

1. I will be a better wife

2. And a better piano player

3. And I’ll finish my book

4. Emma Hardy and I will pull Northern Rocks off

5. I’ll find a way to bring children’s voices to the attention of politicians

6. I’ll nail our new curriculum

7. I’ll be running without throwing up at the end (I’m in week 2 of couch to 5k)

8. I’ll remember to submit all my registers on time

9. I’ll get to Woodrow school

10. I’ll have worked in Beijing and Singapore and….(drum roll) … Cornwall with ISTA

11. I’ll change my mind about a million times

12. I’ll be a good friend

13. I’ll no doubt make a few mistakes

14. And I’ll try not to beat myself up too much about them. Because life is too short.

Happy new year to you all.

The Heart of the Matter

I’ve not been on twitter much this week, and when I have, it’s led to mild irritation. Returning from a wonderful few days working with middle school children in Istanbul, I tapped back into twitter to find the same strident voices peddling the same certainties and instead of wondering whether I should respond, as I usually do, I simply switched off. For a couple of days, at least. And while I switched off, I read Ian Gilbert’s book  ‘Independent Thinking’. Instead of irritation, I laughed, and shed a little tear and hummed and ahhhed and smiled and popped post-it notes on pages. Ian’s book doesn’t tell you how to teach. It doesn’t tell at all. It wonders and it is full of wonder. And so, I’m looking at my work with renewed eyes. Istanbul eyes and Gilbert eyes. And what I see is joy, love and hope. Not mastery, purpose and practice.

This post will be attacked as opinion. It is, simply opinion, although I would point to the extensive longitudinal study from Harvard, conducted over 75 years which summarises simply that ‘Happiness is Love’. I could also point to the work of Seligman and Layard and point to the importance of relationships, wisdom and goodness in living a successful life. But instead, I’m going to point to people I know.

Two tricky boys with no mothers, who have worked hard for me ever since I started behaving like a mother towards them. An angry girl who responds and quietens if I speak to her anger with gentleness. A whole class of chitty chatters who can be quietened with the stare and calmed with a smile. The boy who told me quite simply, more than ten years after he left school that what he remembered most about our lessons was that I loved them. And I did.

We can argue endlessly about pedagogy. We can, if we want to, spend hours bitterly arguing about whether knowledge or skills are most important (when they are utterly inter-dependent). We can form tribes, dig trenches, fire shots across the educational wasteland. But when you read the heart breaking accounts of @betsysalt or @chocotzar’ struggles with the terrible lives of the children in their care; when a child tells you he understands how Joey in War Horse feels in Chapter One, because he too lost his mother when he was little; when a head-teacher tells you that a child doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in an attempt to communicate his pain, you have to stop and ask, what are we here for?

We’re here to teach, yes. But we’re here to love. And if we can’t offer love, we will never be the teacher they deserve. That’s all.