Wednesday 10 February 2016


Another example of what optimism isn't to kick things off: on the way home, the shuffle function on my iPod selected Go West's 'King of Wishful Thinking' (don't ask, please) for my listening pleasure. The lyrics are thus: 'I'll pretend my ship's not sinking, And I'll tell myself I'm over you, 'Cause I'm the king of wishful thinking.' That is not optimism. That is insanity. I know Messrs Cox and Drummie were speaking metaphorically about a ship, but pretending something awful isn't happening when it is, isn't optimism.

Ernest Shackleton (yes, OK, I do love him a bit) never pretended that the Endurance wasn't stuck in the ice, and when the ice finally crushed the ship, he admitted it was happening, retrieved all their supplies and made new plans. Optimism is not wishful thinking; wishful thinking would not have saved the lives of the Endurance crew and wishful thinking will not protect teachers from struggling with their jobs.

Admitting his ship was scuppered did not mean admitting defeat for Shackleton. He faced the changes, embraced them and made changes in his own plans. The cruelest forces of nature were against him yet he wouldn't submit - he found a way to be successful and to survive.

If you haven't spotted it already, the ice is crushing our ship. Constant changes in syllabuses, curriculums, testing and data reporting have the teaching profession in an icy grip. There is officially a teacher shortage, seemingly due to the pressure coming from every angle. But should we just abandon the expedition? I hope not. Maybe, if the ship represented the way things once were, we have to abandon ship, but hopefully not the entire mission. We must endure. We need, somehow, to find an optimistic view of the future and fix on it.

In my post entitled Optimism vs. Realism I summarised that Ernest Shackleton could be realistically optimistic because:

He had prepared
He planned ahead
He was pliable

Is there any wisdom in this for teachers?

On a long-term scale, what can we do to be prepared? What do we need to plan for? We must be prepared to be, and even plan to be, pliable. We must be ready to weather the seas of change, though they may be stormy.

If we are prepared with all our good practices, the ones that have stood the test of time, and if we are ready to pull together, sharing ideas and resources, then we can be optimistic about the future of education, even though things seem impossible now. If we begin to make plans, asking ourselves, perhaps, how we can make the best of a bad situation, if we begin to formulate schemes for how to teach what is required, or how to make assessment slick and simple, then we can be optimistic about how things will turn out for teachers and pupils.

If we admit defeat and opt not to be adaptable, there is no hope. If we determine to be flexible, even when we don't agree with the changes, then we can be the change that's needed - we are the ones at the chalk face. I suppose I'm talking a quiet grassroots revolution. A revolution of optimism. Yes, we'll have to comply to some of the external pressures; the ship's going down. But we must not bow out of the operation altogether. Whilst teaching their new curriculum, and assessing in who-knows-what way, and knowing that data might take a dip as a result of changes, we must soldier on. Not thinking wishfully. Or being wildly optimistic. But preparing and planning and being pliable, always with survival in mind.

Determined. Confident. Optimistic.

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