Friday 30th Movember 2012
Just one thing on this last day of Movember. I’m hating this prickly, ugly, ridiculous and uncontrollable appendage to my face more than I can express. In particular the grey parts of it have depressed me quite significantly.
But imagine if I had a different appendage, to my testicles or to my prostate, in the form of a cancerous tumor? Or imagine I had no worries about facial hair because I was undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy to try and blast the cancer away? Or imagine I was unable to care at all, or to tweet my cares, because I was in that half-dead state that comes in the final stages of cancer: morphine-riddled and a penumbra of a man? Or imagine I was nothing more than an image of a man with a prickly, ugly, ridiculous and uncontrollable appendage rather than the reality of one tapping out this post because cancer had elected to forcibly shuffle off my mortal coil for me? Or imagine that any of the above were happening to your men or boys?
Please, if you can, give to my Movember site at
or to someone else’s.
Thursday 29th November 2012
I’m reminded tonight of the final year I spent as a Head of Department. It was the most frustrating year of my life.
It shouldn’t have been. I was on top of my game as a middle leader. The curriculum I had brought in four years earlier was working a treat in doing everything that I had wanted it to do. Results were continuing on an upward trend and my team were outperforming all others in the school. The individual members of the team believed in me and I knew every one of their development needs as well as I knew my own.
The future also looked bright. New challenges abounded in terms of what we taught and how we taught it, and the team were streamlined enough to meet these challenges head on to ensure that things would continue to get better and better.
And yet I spent the year angry, upset, frustrated and generally dyspeptic in a way that I have never known before or since. And I felt that way because deep within me I knew that I had, in Cameron’s phrase today, crossed the Rubicon: had realised something quite amazing in the truest sense of the word and that the toothpaste was out of the tube (stolen from Ms Mawson’s fab assembly this week). I had realised that my current job wasn’t enough for me anymore. I’d realised something revolutionary. I’d realised that I knew (not just though, knew!) that I could do a better job of senior leadership than some of the people who were doing it and, in their doing of it, thwarting me in what I knew to be right.
Most of all though I had come to know that the gnawing in my bones that this caused wasn’t going to go away: that I was going to be cursed by this realisation until I did something about it. And I did. And I have. And I’ve never felt the same way since, regardless of the sometimes poisoned nature of the chalice. Because for me agency is all.
Wednesday 28th November 2012
I’m going to leave most of this minipost to Philip Larkin, because this poem expresses well exactly what I want to say about a situation which I can’t and don’t want to talk about here.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself
I love this poem, called ‘This Be the Verse’, and the irascible Larkin even though his apparently negative perspective is seemingly at odds with my own worldview. Larkin’s pessimism here reminds me of the pessimism of a certain teacher here on Twitter (if you know him you’ll know who I mean). It is the pessimism of a thwarted optimist, the pessimism of a still-hopeful optimist. The pessimism of an optimist who won’t “get out early” regardless of his advice to others. The pessimism of an optimist who lives and works around young people every day of their lives.
If there was ever a my-kind-of-pessimist it’s grumpy old Philip Larkin and the tweacher I’m thinking about. My life is genuinely richer for having them in it, however much that statement would irk them.
Tuesday 27th November 2012
It’s not often I have a bad day, as a flick through any of my blogposts will tell you: But today was very much one of them. I shan’t go into the reasons behind the crappiness of the day because it’ll do nobody any good to have to read it. You’ll be put into a grumpy mood and I won’t be drawn out of mine. In some ways I don’t even mind having one of these days as it reminds me, and those around me, that I’m not unthinkingly and unblinkingly positive – that sometimes I play a game of chicken with pessimism and the pessimism wins. It’s the black lining around my silver cloud that makes it shimmer that little bit brighter through the provision of contrast.
And then I walked into my daughter’s parents’ evening, still so cross that I had to promise not to embarrass myself or anyone else by jumping down her teacher’s throat. Before meeting with her Y3 teacher and finding out how she’s settling into junior school I had the chance to flick through her books. Still silently seething I serendipitously stumbled across a piece called ‘My Dad’, which included these gems:
My daddy is very tall and he likes to dress urban style. He is very cool.
Me and my dad wrestle every single night. Usually when we wrestle I jump on his head.
His hobby is reading and writing reports.
My dad is the funniest man on earth.
And suddenly even the black lining to my silver cloud disappeared, because how could it remain. Regardless of how angst-ridden working life and other aspects of adult existence can get, it is powerless in the face of the true daily genius of childhood. It is a daily genius that can see no ridicule in the ridiculous, no abnormality in the abnormal, no mundanity in the mundane and no hyperbole in the hyperbolic: and it’s a daily genius that I constantly aspire to.
Monday 26th November 2012
Today was a day of unexpecteds, of things I hadn’t planned and had no idea were going to happen. I get a lot of unexpecteds these days and I’ve learnt to love them. The only problem with unexpecteds is that they go against the grain of how the world works. We make elaborate plans that we expect to be fulfilled. We follow routines that we expect to give us security. We compartmentalise our thinking because we expect people to behave in certain ways. And so on, and so on. All those expectations. All those limitations. All those lost opportunities to just follow the muse and enjoy the whims of serendipity (I know, couldn’t resist).
And here’s a confession. A visitor came to my school today and asked me what my work might look like in a year’s time, and I couldn’t tell her. I’m embracing an AGILE methodology stolen from the world of computer programming and shared with me by an ex-student @lizardfti which is best explained here. The methodology runs in stark opposition to our outdated and unresponsive cycles of annual improvement planning in education (and I suspect many industries), prioritising the unexpecteds instead; those unplanned and unpredicted events that we should go along with but too often we ignore because they’re not on the route map of our expected journey for that year. Instead an AGILE approach demands that we take heed of these moments and events in both our personal and professional lives and let the unexpecteds take us to places we couldn’t have even imagined going when we made our original plans.
All of which sounds like a good plan to me.
Sunday 25th November 2012
So tonight I have become the first guest host of #SLTChat, which I extensively led into with blogposts and tweets about the need for this to be a #humilityweek chat. My thinking was that too many contributors were peacocking on the timeline every Sunday, boasting about how good they were, especially in terms of teaching. As a result classroom teachers were hating the chat, sometimes muting it and sometimes switching twitter off for the whole time and I wanted to contribute to something more humble and more representative of what I see around me every day: leaders who care and who worry and who sometimes get it wrong.
Did I succeed in this, who knows? The timeline moved way too fast for me to get any perspective. But what I have learnt is a little more humility of my own. I went into this thinking I knew best and thinking I could do it so much better and that I could change the twitterverse’s view of #SLTChat. And to his credit Ross, aka @TeacherToolkit knew it too and yet he let me loose on his baby. And of course what he knew, and what I know now, is that in reality #SLTChat is a far more complex thing than I was giving it credit for and that to many it wasn’t broken anyway and to many more it is unfixable whichever chump with a vision comes along to try and fix it. In essence, it just is what it is and I will respect it more for having that realisation. Another slug from the humility bottle.
But then I got talking to a new twitterpal, @colingoffin about the potentially patronising notion of humility (and I acknowledge that I have ladled it on this week, deliberately so). His contention is that we need confident leaders to inspire middle leaders – I’m aware I’m being reductionist here, Colin, so apologies – and of course he’s right. So my final message isn’t one of humility but of confidence. Tonight I know that I did improve #SLTChat. But next week the next guest presenter will improve it again, as will the next and the next and the next (the one after will be crap though). Because that’s what we do isn’t it? Make things better by adding something good or taking away something not so good.
Saturday 24th November 2012
Tonight I watched Ricky Hatton’s spectacularly awful comeback after a day of arguing (pleasantly) with teachers who expressed the desire that members of leadership teams must be seen to be regularly outstanding practitioners in the classroom, and I couldn’t help but draw a link between the two (extended abstract thinking all the way, baby).
I fundamentally disagree with the principle that leaders need to be better at teaching than teachers. Yes, I know we are teachers too, but we are leaders first and foremost just as Hatton is now a promoter and the leader of a stable of young and hungry boxers now. We have to put teachers and their experiences of the classroom first, not seek to recapture former glories as Hatton attempted to do yesterday. How many of the boxers who he is responsible for have received his full attention in the last 12 weeks whilst he has shut himself away to complete his training programme. If we fetishise school leaders being outstanding in the classroom, how many of them will spend more time on it instead of empowering and enabling other teachers to become great?
And what if Hatton had have been outstanding last night? What would that have shown the younger boxers he leads? How would that have made them better boxers themselves? Trickle-down boxing is a poor model, just as trickle-down economics and, more importantly, trickle-down teaching is a poor model. It doesn’t come close to guaranteeing success.
My hope for Hatton is that yesterday’s disastrous result was because he spent too much time on his stable of boxers in the run-up to the fight; that he prioritised their needs ahead of his own and that he has flicked switches in them that will ensure their success even as it enabled his relative failure. Equally fervently I hope that all school leaders put the needs of their teachers ahead of their own need to prove themselves outstanding in the classroom, in the misguided assumption that role modelling success is more important than role modelling effort, aspiration and true leadership.
Friday 23rd November 2012
I am just watching a documentary on BBC4 about The Beatles and reflecting on how they got from songs as simple and catchy as ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ to songs as complex and challenging as ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’. At the same time I’m reflecting on the boy/man I was in the early 90s, in particular the anti-Poll Tax demos I used to take part in, and the man/boy I am now as an establishment figure. Does rolling my sleeves up and keeping my collar unbuttoned mean that I still have an element of the rebel in me, or have I sold out a little (or a lot) along the way? Does the complexity of my life and work these days mean that I am an improved version of the me I was when I couldn’t afford to match up my shirts with my socks or has my style simply trumped my substance? I rather hope that I am a product of my entire back catalogue, and that while I am able to construct something far more elaborate, ground-breaking and far-reaching than anything I was ever able to in my younger days, I have never forgotten the joys of simply thrashing out a good choon and holding on to people’s hands.
Thursday 22nd November 2012
Today I ended up sitting in the office of an Assistant Head I line manage along with another Ass Head colleague (she won’t mind me calling her that, I hope) who I work closely with on a weekly, if not daily, basis. During the course of the conversation I realised that they were very much in the process of dismantling the “getting people off the bus” analogy to working with people. It was really refreshing to hear two highly aspirational school leaders talking this way and being utterly committed, in their everyday words and actions, to seeing the potential in everyone they work with, in spite of (because of) the challenges this brings. All I could think about as I listened to them was that I would happily work in a school where they were a Headteacher.
Wednesday 21st November 2012
Today I was teaching my Y12 Sociology students about the social construction of age, when I came to a sudden and startling realisation that our age is a measure of distance, not time. Let me explain.
Time is measured in almost all it’s forms by natural phenomena. Days are related to the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Months are measured (albeit awkwardly so) in relation to the lunar cycle, and years are measured in terms of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
We then considered that a birthday isn’t, in fact, a birthday at all but an anniversary of your birthday: or rather the anniversary of where the Earth was in its journey around the Sun on the day you were born. And that every time someone sings Happy Birthday to you, they are marking your place on that celestial journey, one loop of which is 583 million miles.
So when my family sing Happy Birthday to me on 3rd January 2013 they will think I am 41 years old. In reality, though, I will know that I am actually 24.9 billion miles old. I may not bother lighting a candle for each of them!!!!
Tuesday 20th November 2012
Sometimes when you take a trip down Truelove’s Lane it can appear to be very dark and a little bit lonely. When that happens it’s sometimes best to slow things down, pull over and come to a complete stop. The break in the journey may be brief, but it allows you to let things wash over you. The end result might be more confusion, not less, but it’ll ensure that the journey is more worth it than if you had never taken the time to stop and stare.
Monday 19th November 2012
Today I didn’t get a job. It made me sad. Today a colleague brought a boy into my office who was in buckets of tears because in doing his English speaking and listening coursework on cancer he suddenly realised how much he loved and missed his dead grandmother. I got to talk to him about my brother’s death, about how crying is an amazing thing, about how he keeps his grandmother alive by remembering her, about how proud she would be of him. He went back into his class to a round of applause. Today I didn’t get a job. So what?
Sunday 18th November 2012
People who are promoted to leadership positions should remember that they are being promoted to a new job. It is fabulous that they want to continue to be exceptional at what they used to do, but fundamentally their new job is to ensure the conditions are right for others to do that former job better and better. Perhaps a genuinely exceptional leader is one who creates the conditions of their own obsolescence.
Saturday 17th November 2012
Ofsted should inspect government policy as part of its regulatory role on standards of education. It should independently scrutinise all proposals made to parliament (and those TV chat show sofa policies so beloved of politicians these days) and evaluate them on the scale of outstanding to inadequate – via requires improvement – based upon their likely impact on the quality of learning.