January 2013 Daily dailygenius

Posted on November 13, 2013


Wednesday 30th January 2013

Eight years ago tonight my daughter was born, which is pretty bloody genius in its own right. More to the point though, eight years ago tonight a team of 13 health professionals (at least, my counting may have been inaccurate) helped bring my daughter into the world after a long, arduous and complex labour. They did so at 3.33am in the morning, a time when most of us most of the time are sleeping.

And so although my daughter is absolutely an example of dailygenius, this post is about my beloved NHS, an example of dailygenius beyond me and even beyond Millie. The reason I say this is because good daddies and good daughters happen in every society, but good National Health Services do not.

I listen a lot to the voices that say the Tories can’t be trusted with the NHS but I actually disagree: for decades after its inceptions the Conservative Party were pretty much unquestioning supporters of the health service. No, for me the problem is the number of people who blithely pronounce the NHS to be overly bureaucratic and uncompetitive, mainly in the mistaken belief that a reduced tax bill and increased creeping privatisation will somehow improve the system. After all, it has worked wonders for rail travel, gas and electricity suppliers, and other once public utilities hasn’t it? Hasn’t it!?!?

Nope. I am unashamedly and unreservedly with Danny Boyle on this one. And until someone can show me a privatised American system that works better than our National Health Service then I always will be.

Tuesday 29th January 2013

A good idea that you bin which stays binned is a good idea.

A good idea that you bin which won’t stay binned is an excellent idea.

Sometimes it’s worth checking the bins for good and excellent ideas. You never know what you’ll find there.

Sunday 27th January 2013

On the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death (this will be the last time in a while that I mention this) my feeling is that one key element of dailygenius is sometimes just about getting through the bad days as best we can. We may not smile our way through them. We may not bring joy to others during them. We may find them the hardest things in the world. But if we can just get through them we can find something better on the other side, and then let the smiles and the joy come.

I ended up yesterday in conversation with a number of people on twitter whose pain is still fresh and whose grief is still raw: people who are dealing daily with the seemingly endless stream of bad days. These people are the dailygeniuses, carrying on in the hope that it’ll be better tomorrow. Metaphorically, at the very least, it will be.

Saturday 26th January 2013

Today’s dailygenius is courtesy of my 7 year old’s literacy homework:

Eminia had walked on the scorching sand while exploring blindly. Eminia stopped for a break as she was exhausted after travelling over the vast area. As she got her lunch out sand slithered between her fingers from out of her sandwich. Bite by bite the sun got hotter and hotter and was becoming as golden as an angel’s voice. When Eminia got up she started treading droopily but as the sand got warmer she started tiptoeing rapidly. Now she was facing her fears!

Don’t think I could have written anything like that at her age.

Friday 25th January 2013

As far as I am concerned there is only one important question for any dailygenius to ask themselves when they reflect on the day that has just passed: Did I make at least one person happy today?

The etymology of the word happy includes chance, fortune, luck and turning out well. So I guess that when I ask the question “did I make someone happy?” what I’m really saying is “did I make someone feel that they are lucky to have me in their life?” or “did I help things turn out well for someone?”

I like these more tangible concepts of the happiness we create in others. It makes me more willing to offer a smile or a helping hand. Or both.

Thursday 24th January 2013

Today’s dailygenius is another of the classic mother-knows-best pieces of sage wisdom that one finds oneself using the older one gets: if you don’t ask you don’t get. That is all.

Wednesday 23rd January 2013

Serendipity again. A song. A detour. A u-turn. Suddenly the journey home from work is much more interesting. It’s funny how something like an unplanned route can change your day immeasurably. Maybe we need to make more of these detours. They may make us that little bit later than we would ordinarily be, but there’s a lot to be said for being deliberately not ordinary.

Tuesday 22nd January 2013

Quite simply today, the adage “act in haste, repent at leisure” reared its ugly truism today. Luckily I managed to find the space between the act in haste and the repent at leisure.

I realised today that it is all too easy to react badly and, in the modern parlance, spit the dummy (or throw the toys out of the pram). But what I also learnt was that all it takes to avoid leisurely repentance is the ability to backtrack or apologise, and to accept either of these two outcomes with a mouthful of humble pie if necessary. After all, whilst humble pie might be hard to swallow, a poison chalice is not something that one wants to be left holding.

I like learning through humility: it usually delivers the most relevant of lessons and is always one of the most caring teachers.

Monday 21st January 2013

One of my favourite words of the moment is ‘brilliant’. Not only is it a much better word than the educationally-ubiquitous and Ofsted-derived Outstanding (which always puts me in mind of the scarecrow joke). It is also a great expulsion of an adjective. From the punch of the hard B sound, through the rolled R that I would always choose to apply to this word, to the seemingly endless purring syllables, all culminating in the decisive stamp of the final syllable. It’s a word that lets the speaker know when it has started and when it has finished with equal decisiveness.

In terms of its etymology the word ‘brilliant’ is a journey across the Latinate world. From the ‘vulgar’ Latin to the Italian and culminating with the French it has respectively represented the verbs ‘to shine’, ‘to whirl’ (got to love this) and ‘to sparkle’. There’s no reference to the verb ‘to spangle’ but one can only hope. In its modern incarnation the word has cosied up to the most valued gemstone of them all, and ‘brilliant’ – like diamonds – is surely a girl’s best friend.

But most of all I love the word ‘brilliant’ for all (and I mean all) of its dictionary definitions. It can mean “full of light”, as all humans should be, or “sharp and clear of tone” which is also a trait to be much admired. From there we get to “glorious”, “magnificent”, “superb” and “wonderful”, all of which very much speak for themselves.

The final definition is the one that I most aspire to and that I most value in others: “Marked by unusual and impressive intellectual acuteness”. Brilliance of the mind is the brilliance that most dazzles and it is marked by its generosity as much as its genius. So to all you brilliant people I say thank you for shining, whirling and sparkling your way through my life.

Sunday 20th January 2013

One of my favourite music artists at the moment is Regina Spektor, and one of my favourite of her tracks is Après Moi. This is it:


And here are some of the lyrics that resonate the most:

I must go on standing
You can’t break that which isn’t yours
I must go on standing

The title refers to the phrase “after me comes the flood”. Today I rather feel, after last night’s waterworks, that the meaning of the song that “I must go on standing”, is better served by reversing the title of the song: After the flood comes me. I rather prefer it that way round.

Saturday 19th January 2013

One week and one day from the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death, I was reminded today of the resonance of this poem by Seamus Heaney:

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble,’
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year.

Keep your children and your family close. Keep them safe. And love them every day like every day is the last day you have with them. For the unluckiest among you that may well be true.

Thursday 17th January 2013

Being a member of a Senior Leadership Team can be such a positive thing. Today I had some meetings that will almost certainly lead to things happening which will have a very positive impact upon the teaching and learning that happens in the classrooms at my school. Of course I love being in the classroom and of course I have days (even weeks) when the work I do can feel so far removed from the teaching and learning that I have never stopped believing is what schools should be about because it is the only real way to improve the outcomes for students and schools.

But then days like this come along and I know once more that leadership roles, properly carried out, can be what I hoped they would be when I first became an Assistant Head in 2005: pedagogy-infused and people-focused.

Wednesday 16th January 2013

Spent the day home with my poorly daughter who managed to projectile vomit ten times in seven hours and projectile defecate five times in the same time (thankfully failing to become a bodily-fluid-Catherine-wheel in the process). It was lovely!!!!

Actually I’m not being snarky or jokey in that last sentence. It was lovely. Spending time nursing your child is a beautiful way of killing time. Lots of cuddles and plenty of soothing words alongside a complete lack of urgency and an easy disregard for all other cares in the world. Most of all it’s the random conversations that always begin with the same high pitched note of enquiry: “Daddeeeeee….?”

Of course I hate every moment of seeing my daughter being poorly, and I have so much sympathy for those parents that have to face chronic or acute illnesses with their children. But every once in a while a stomach bug with no serious complications can give the best excuse ever for reinforcing those binds that tie in the face of a world that too often moves that little bit too quickly.

Monday 14th January 2013

Have you ever watched ‘Deal or No Deal’? I mean really watched it, beyond the snarkiness or smugness? Have you ever watched it and listened to the stories of the people who are in the box seat, contemplating a quarter of a million versus a penny? Have you ever genuinely put yourself in their shoes, and contemplated what you REALLY would do if that money wasn’t distanced from you by the television? If you really had a quarter of a million in one hand, a potentially rubbish but potentially brilliant offer in the other and a penny waiting on the floor in case you screwed up in your choice?

Neither have I. But wouldn’t it be bloody hard? Wouldn’t it be easy to screw it up, or at the very least feel like you had screwed it up? Apologies for all the rhetorical questions here, but sometimes the internal monologue has to be externalised.

The thing is that brilliance and idiocy are actually the same thing. The contestant who deals but then finds £250k in her box is an idiot. The contestant who deals and finds 1p in her box is brilliant.

Or maybe, just maybe, one can be brilliant with a penny and an idiot with a quarter of a million. Yes. That’s it. That is definitely it.

Saturday 12th January 2013

Tonight my daughter has her first sleepover. Apart from the fact that this activity is possibly the most ludicrously named thing in the history of humanity it is yet another salutary reminder of the passage of time and the purpose of parenthood, which I have always thought of as this (forgive the apparent negativity):

From the moment your child is born, the role of parents is to prepare them for a world which you will one day no longer inhabit.

Anyone who knows this blogsite will know that I am an eternal optimist, but I am one who was tempered in the flames of bereavement when my brother died aged 13. And so it is that the statement about my views on parenting above is, to my mind, one of the most powerful pieces of optimism I have. My job is to ensure that my daughter is so well taught (in every way I can imagine that) that she grows less dependent upon me on an almost daily basis until the day, many decades from now, when I am no more than a song in her heart and a memory in her mind: a heart and mind that I will have helped make beautiful. It makes me sad to think on it, but it makes me ever more determined that I do it right because the alternative – that she isn’t properly prepared or that I outlive her – is unthinkable. This, in my mind, is the greatest sacrifice of parenthood.

In the meantime I’m just keeping my head down and praying that she doesn’t ask me if we can host a sleepover anytime soon.

Friday 11th January 2013

There’s no originality of thinking in today’s minipost, just the reassertion that for all the ideas and words in the world there is nothing more special on earth than being with someone.

Thursday 10th January 2013

Sometimes the people we have a responsibility for are like pieces of clay. They are pliant and easy to mould, providing some resistance where it is needed but more often allowing us to work with their intrinsic properties using our sculptor’s eye.

But although clay is wonderfully malleable when wet, it hardens as it dries and can retain a brittleness even after it had been tempered in the fires.

At other times the people we have a responsibility for are like blocks of marble. They can seem impenetrable and feel almost impossible to work with, as we seek to chip away at their rough edges with tougher implements than our sculptor’s hands.

And yet these blocks of marble can be shaped into beautifully fluid forms, even as they retain their rigidity in the face of the weathering elements.

This week I have been reminded, in my interactions with someone, of three quotes by Michelangelo that all leaders of people should bear in mind:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

“Genius is eternal patience.”

Have I ever told you I love working in schools?

Monday 7th January 2013

I’ve said it before, but after today’s INSET it bears saying again that if you are a leader within a decent sized organisation who thinks that you have to buy in a consultant or outside expert to deliver all your training (or if you believe that you or fellow leaders have to deliver it all) then you are no leader at all. A real leader can see the talent in their own organisation, engage the talent in their own organisation’s training, and can allow that talent the space to shape the training, engaging other talent, rather than just deliver it. Today, three non-SLT teachers (two of whom are in their NQT+1 year of teaching) planned our INSET day and engaged 21 of their teacher colleagues in its delivery: more than a third of the teaching staff. That’s how we roll where I work.

And the feedback? Rich, powerful and overwhelmingly positive with one teacher bemoaning the fact that it wasn’t a two-day training programme so that they could attend more sessions. That’s how we roll where I work.

Saturday 5th January 2013

Today I followed my 500th person on my personal twitter account. I also have lots of people I follow on my two work accounts (one for staff and one for A-Level students) which makes my timeline fairly whistle by, especially on #ukedchat and #sltchat evenings or when one of the two Michael’s has said something that teachers don’t like. Because of that I deliberately don’t followback everyone who follows me and now have a rule for myself that I will follow anyone who talks to me on twitter.

Today I nearly broke my own rule because the person who tweeted with me was, in my opinion at the time, being rude about a tweet I had sent out and I told him so pretty snappily. But then I had a look back at the original tweet and I could see his point (even though I still disagreed with it) so I followed him and he became Mr 500. All of which taught me a few things: that I need to be careful what I tweet, that I need to be careful how I respond to things others tweet that I disagree with and that it’s okay to disagree with someone on twitter and still follow them. After all, how else am I going to learn how to be a better person if everybody agrees with my views or thinks I’m always right? I’m glad I stuck by my rule today. I’d have been a fraud if I didn’t just because I didn’t like what Mr 500 had had to say. And I hope he tweets with me again.

Friday 4th January 2013

In the words of the song “Oh what a night”. A fantastic way to end these holidays and to celebrate my birthday yesterday. There is nothing quite like friendship. The etymology of the word shows that it means “to love” or “to favour”. That sounds just about right to me. I sometimes forget how much I am loved and favoured by people, as I wrote about in my post on being a funnily-shaped piece in the jigsaw of life. But I am and I feel it powerfully this morning. And it’s a nice thing to say:

“I have friends and I am loved and favoured by them”

You should try it. I promise that it will bring a smile to your face.

Thursday 3rd January 2013

My 41st birthday. What to say? It has been one of the happiest birthdays I can remember and yet I haven’t done particularly much. Just seeing in the new day was enough to make me smile broadly. Just having a luxurious bath was enough to keep it there. Just those fleeting moments of connection throughout the day were enough to round it off. Just so-called little things that dwarf the so-called big things. Just knowing that I’m enough is enough.

Wednesday 2nd January 2013

Today I started out planning to do work. Then an idea popped into my head for a blogpost based on the muppets. It was going to be all about how every person has something amazing to offer, and about how our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses and vice versa. In a school context I was going to bang on about the importance of the Statler & Waldorf-esque staffroom banter and the need for the Kermit-like to find some Zen in how they approach running a school. I hadn’t put too much thought into it but it was going to be my usual ray of sunshine piece of writing.

And then something happened. Out of nowhere my rant against Edugurus and their Leadership Tomes™ from last year (around the time of the SSAT conference) came back to me and the post changed completely. Suddenly it was satire and not sweetness that was slaking my scriber’s thirst (I did warn the twittersphere that I was in an alliterative mood this morning). The net result was a post that even I found funny upon reading it back, and one that very hastily hammered the humerus of heach and heveryone who happened upon it (pushing the old alliteration over a cliff there).

And my dailygenius moment? The realisation that sometimes what you finish is not at all the same thing that you start. Sometimes you don’t have to reach out for a good idea but instead let it reach out for you.

New Year’s Day 2013

I don’t have any New Year’s Resolutions. I never do have any, for a few reasons. Ideologically because I think that the whole new year thing is a sham. It is just another day, however lovely it is to spend time revelling with people the night before. And practically because my birthday follows just two days later, and so any attempts to be good are unlikely to last beyond those 48 hours. (If I’m honest here I’ll also admit that I’m rubbish at giving things up too, making resolutions pretty much pointless anyway!).

I also don’t like the notion of the word ‘resolve’ which just sounds to me like something fixed and unshifting and almost lacking in nuance. And yet the etymology suggests something altogether different. The root of the word resolution instead means “reducing things into simpler forms” and I like this a lot better as a description of those promises we make to ourselves at the beginning of the year. So my resolution this year (if I’m going to have one) is to make my life simpler wherever possible, just like my daughter does. I suspect that if more adults did this the world would be a better place for it.

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