Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Book Review: Mohinder's War by Bali Rai

I love a historical novel set in World War Two so when I saw that Bali Rai had written another (read my review of his excellent Now Or Never - A Dunkirk Story) I jumped at the chance of reading and reviewing it.

Mohinder's War follows the story of Joelle, a French/British girl living in France during the Nazi occupation. She, her family and their friends are a part of the resistance and when a downed RAF pilot needs hiding, he is taken into the home of the Bretons and concealed in their cellar.

The pilot is Mohinder Singh, a character based on a real life RAF pilot who flew in the Second World War. He and Joelle strike up a friendship - Joelle keeping him company and sharing her local knowledge, and Mohinder teaching her about his homeland and Sikh faith and opening her eyes to philosophies regarding life:

'We are all family,' he said. 'Every man, woman and child on this earth. I believe that all of creation is one whole. We are bound together, each of us, by invisible links, and all are equally important.'

During the course of the story, as result of key events (desparately trying to avoid spoilers here but there is treachery), their friendship develops into something much more resembling a father/daughter relationship - an interesting, rarely explored dynamic between two unrelated characters. This aspect of the story is executed particularly well with some genuinely lovely moments between Joelle and Mohinder, resulting in a very ultimate act of commitment and love (again, trying to avoid spoilers).

I would advise caution when choosing to give or read this book to children - it actually contains some quite starkly violent scenes, ones which in the context may not have been out of the ordinary, but which could be shocking to children living in a time and place of peace. Seeing as the action focuses not on warfare between soldiers, but civilian acts of resistance and episodes of violence against civilians, this less familiar territory should be carefully trodden. Having said that, with the right adult guide, the content of this book would be suitable for 11+ children who have some historical understanding of the time period.

That aside, this is a heartwarming tale of friendship, bravery and derring-do. Joelle and Mohinder use their wits to work together, defying all odds in their bid to escape France to the safety of Britain. With an exciting climax sure to ignite the imaginations of young readers, this is a fantastic adventure story which provides a much-needed window into a World War which has, to greater or lesser extent, been whitewashed: Bali Rai's latest book is a welcome addition to the bookshelf.

'Mohinder's War' will be available on 11/6/2020 and is part of Bloomsbury's Flashbacks series.

Friday, 15 May 2020

From @TeachPrimary Magazine: Sounds Like A Plan

"Enjoyment and engagement of learning can, and should be, intrinsic: the act of learning is enjoyable and engaging, providing that you are actually learning."

Read my latest article for Teach Primary Magazine for free online, pages 50 and 51:

https://aplimages.s3.amazonaws.com/_tp/2020/0515-NewIssue/TP-14.4.pdf?utm_source=TPNewsletter&utm_medium=20200515&utm_campaign=Issue11

"Imagine a way of working that was not only more responsive to children’s needs, but was also better for teacher wellbeing. If there was such a way, surely we’d all want to be doing it? I’d like to suggest it is possible; that by planning learning sequences and designing lessons flexibly we can provide for individual needs without it being a huge burden on our time and energy.

In order to ensure that our planning and teaching doesn’t impact negatively on our wellbeing, we have to find an efficient way to work. And in order for something to be efficient, it usually needs to be simple. However, teaching can often be overcomplicated by myriad solutions for how to engage children, manage behaviour, include technology, make links to other subjects, and so on."

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing pedagogy at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Achieving Unity Through Harmony And The Recognition of Individuality

Unity

Unity = oneness.

An undivided entity seen as complete in itself.

How often are we, within our schools, really united? How often do we play together as a team?

Often we can all be siloed away, doing our own thing, perhaps acting in smaller teams but never as a whole.

We all play our different parts, but just like a body, we should be acting together for a common purpose.

At the root of a united staff team will be unity of vision. Often we talk about clarity when we consider vision, but clarity isn't enough. Yes, our common goals must be clear, but they must also become the goals of each of the smaller units within the united whole. Not until there is a unity of vision will there be a pulling together of those sudivided units into a whole new super-unit.

However, this isn't as simple as just brainwashing every person to believe in the same thing as the school leaders. Even if that was done, you wouldn't end up with a team of people all thinking and believing the same thing. Why? Because each individual has their own starting point: an experienced teacher with years of opinion-forming under their belt will not need the same input as an NQT who is ready to be moulded.

No, you see, even if the aim is to become a team, you can't make a team by treating everyone the same. Although it is oneness we are trying to achieve, we can't remove the individual from the picture. Leaders must celebrate individuality and uniqueness; the skills and expertise that each member of staff has. They must also acknowledge the weaknesses as well as the strengths.

Harmony

It's almost a paradox: to get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet for the benefit of the school and the children, leaders need to give each member of staff a different hymn sheet. For choir leaders, this is not an unknown thing: the person singing tenor will read a completely different line of music to the one singing bass;  there will be another line for the soprano, another for the alto, and so on. Each singer needs something slightly different - often each line will be on the same sheet of music, but the singer knows which bit is for them.

In the above scenario, someone who had very little experience of music, when told that the singers were all going to sing something different, would understandably expect dischord. If it was an unskilled arranger who had put together the piece of music, perhaps they'd be right. But with a skillful arranger, one who knows which notes sound sweet together, and which ones clash - someone with all the necessary music theory - a beautiful, harmonic, euphonious sound will be the product.

The school leader as arranger knows each member of the team, knows that they want to achieve unity, but knows that each one will need a slightly different approach to development in order for them to pull together with others into a single, harmonious unit.

This has implications for the CPD opportunties that school leaders provide: the one-size-fits-all approach won't cut it. Does everyone need to attend the same training sessions? Should everyone's one-to-one be focused on coaching, or should some be recieving mentoring? Do others need peer-to-peer support whilst some recieve the attentions of a leader? Who is it that needs help at the planning stage, and who could do with support in the classroom?

Skilled leaders will have this overview of their staff, and will treat them as individuals, and in return will benefit from a united team - a body of different parts which work together to allow the whole to function. Such leaders will not only arrange for each member of staff to have a bespoke hymn sheet, but will also then conduct the choir, orchestrating great movements which fill the corridors and classrooms with the pleasing and harmonious sound of learning.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing teachers at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Patience (In School Leadership)

I wanted to quote someone like Yoda to begin this post, but having just watched the first 6 Star Wars films, I know now that there is no point where he actually says 'Have patience my young padawan' despite this having become a fairly well-known maxim. I'm certainly going to avoid quoting Take That and on this occasion will refrain from googling 'famous quotes about patience'. Actually, over the years, my go-to place for encouragement regarding patience is the Bible, which has a lot to say about the matter.

First of all, it encourages patience a lot. It also says that patience is an attribute of true love. But it is to the 'wisdom literature' that I would take myself today:

A person’s wisdom yields patience;
it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
- Proverbs 19:11 (NIV)

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded,
and a gentle tongue can break a bone.
- Proverbs 25:15 (NIV)

The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
and patience is better than pride.
- Ecclesiastes 7:8 (NIV)

Being patient is one of my enduring battles - it most certainly does not come naturally to me. Compounded by the fact that I am a perfectionist, I often want everything right away - and it better be just right, too.

This impacts in all areas of life, albeit in different outworkings. At home, I'm more likely to allow my impatience to seep out in frustration and anger. At work, as a school leader, I am more restrained: I attempt to mask it for the sake of professionalism, but impatience then eats away at me internally.

When you are a leader, you actually rely a lot on other people. Whilst they may look to you for leadership, you look to them to follow. And, for many reasons, people don't always follow. Or sometimes they don't follow in just the way you want them to. Or sometimes they follow so much that it seems like there is very little independent thought.

In schools, there are daily opportunities for leaders to exercise patience: with children who are struggling with a concept; with parents upset by a decision that has been made; with teachers working hard to improve their practice; with fellow leaders you don't always see eye to eye with; with the time it takes to feed all the children at lunchtime; with colleagues who are finding it difficult to work together - the list could go on.

But I come back to those proverbs above.

The first practical suggestion we get is that patience can be developed by wisely overlooking things. Obviously, wisdom is the key here - we can't go about school overlooking everything - some things need addressing, but we can be selective in this, and we can prioritise. Not everything needs sorting now - some things can wait, others are more pressing. By shelving some concerns for a later date, we can focus on doing fewer things better, feel like we are achieving something, and not feel so impatient. By doing this we reduce the number of things we are impatient for, and therefore reduce the overall feeling of impatience making it a more manageable emotion.

The second thing we could learn is that by maintaining a gentle tongue, we are more likely to remain patient. Elsewhere in the Bible it says the tongue is like a rudder: the things we say determine our direction. If we find it easier to manage what we say, then we might be able to control our patience. Having in mind to always speak politely, courteously, slowly, with thought and with a mind to the feelings of others can actually help us to be more patient with other people. Firstly, they will detect less of our impatience, and most likely our own words will have a soothing affect on our own feelings. I know that I can control the things I say better than the things I feel inside, so that seems like a logical starting point.

The third is both a reminder to stay humble (humility being the opposite of pride) and to remember, in a sense, that we will get there in the end.

Impatience, particularly with others, stems, in part, from pride - the belief that we could do it better, or that our way is right. It also comes from selfishness - believing that the best outcome for us is that something happens right away. C.S. Lewis wrote 'Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.' - being a leader is not about us, it's about them - the people we lead. We must think more about them and their needs, than we do our own. Why are we impatient - because we want results now. Why might results now be impossible? Because we depend on others to get results for us. And those people have an intricate mass of interwoven needs - we have to think of them, and how we can help them, before we can even think about the results we desire from them.

Then, to finish, we are reminded that we will get there in the end. With diligence we will. With impatience we won't. Impatience never speeds up the arrival of a good thing, and if it does, then that good thing is usually marred. There are very few quick routes to children grasping concepts, parents coming round to your point of view, teachers becoming consistently great, convincing fellow leaders of something, getting all the children through the canteen, mending fractured relationships between colleagues. If we impatiently employed quick-fixes in all the above scenarios, they would soon fall apart again.

The end will be better than the beginning and we have to fall back and rest on that truth as school leaders, knowing that if we patiently plod away (and plodding is how it will sometimes feel) we will get there in the end.

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing leaders at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

@thatboycanteach on The Well Teacher Podcast

Teacher and author Jamie Thom invited me onto his podcast to discuss all things teacher wellbeing - I had a great time chatting to him and would like to thank him for the opportunity! Listen in below:

From: http://www.slowteaching.co.uk/2020/05/11/take-control-work-life-balance/

LISTEN ON APPLE PODCASTS | LISTEN ON SPOTIFY | LISTEN ON GOOGLE PODCAST



One thing I know I have been notoriously bad at in my teaching career has been finding a balance. I have always struggled with switching off from the all-consuming nature of teaching, and in proactively managing work demands.

This week’s episode of ‘The Well Teacher Podcast’ is for anyone else who has struggled with this perfectionism strand that haunts so many teachers. Aidan Severs, who writes the very popular thatboycanteach.co.uk blog has made teacher wellbeing one of his major focusses as a deputy head and a writer.

In this episode we unpick how to step away from technology and become a digital minimalist, we explore how minimalism could be applied to teaching in general, examine what it takes to say no and push back on the demands of teaching and discover why Aidan will no longer be teaching lessons dressed as an elephant.

If that isn’t a reason to listen, I don’t know what is! It is an episode packed full of practical and easy to implement tips, I hope you find it helpful!

If you would like Aidan to work with you on developing wellbeing at your school, please visit his website at https://www.aidansevers.com/services and get in touch via the contact details that can be found there.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

#DailyWritingChallenge: Dreams

This blog post doesn't really belong here, but here it is anyway.

Hannah Wilson's #DailyWritingChallenge theme for Friday was 'Dreams' and this is a version of the strange dream I had last night:

He is late down again. I call up for him, as usual. He comes down, dragging his blanket with him, yawning and rubbing his eyes Рlike a just-woken child from a cartoon. The full cliché. The sight of him simultaneously annoys me and fills me with an overwhelming feeling of utter devotion.

It is just me and him now. Inseparable, others say. But there is a greater truth to it than that. There is no choice in the matter. He is there with me, and we have grown to like it that way.

I sit at the table, writing. Writing is my way of making sense of this world and these things that have happened. He drags himself to the bench and sits down. It’s what I wanted. I can’t stand him staying in bed, lazily. I can’t stand being down here on my own.

Today is the day – we can’t stay here longer, really. I think through our itinerary – always worrying that I’ve got a time wrong, that connections will be missed, that the destination won’t be everything I’ve built it up to be.

We’re all packed and ready to go. I take a last look around – I’ve been taking last looks around for a week now, thinking of all that I will miss about this place. About the memories that cling to the furniture and haunt the dusty corners. He isn’t there in all the memories, but I’m the one who tells the stories round here so if I want him there, he is.

Walking to the station, dragging bags behind me, I lose myself in daydreams. Daydreams of how we’ll thrive and prosper in the new place. Of how we will find friends, family even. Of how we’ll be taken care of.

Sitting back in the rough, prickly seats of the train gives me chance to write again. He sits next to me wittering on about what he sees out of the window and asking a million questions. All the things he wants to know about everything and nothing. Are we there yet? Can we have the snacks now?

Later on, we arrive. I slump down on the bed, exhausted. The bags left strewn around.

I get up to unpack – there are drawers and a wardrobe. I tell him to do his too because if I didn’t his stuff would stay in bags forever. He unzips the holdall I’ve been humping around for him all day, opens it up and begins to pull out his things. Except they’re not his things. They’re mine, and they’re useless. All the things I knew to leave behind. The things that wouldn’t be useful here. What’s more, they are the things that would drag me back, time and time again, to the old times.

I snatch up the bag, pulling item after item out of the bag. I fling them across the room, not caring where they land. “Where are your clothes?” I scream. “What do you expect to wear?” I ask. He stands there, not saying anything, voiceless.

I turn away, snatch up my journal and begin scribbling away, my pen scratching across the page, ink blotching and faltering. How could he be so stupid? Why did he do this to me? Doesn’t he know that if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t even be here?

And when I turn around again, calmed by my scrawling, he is gone. And I know he isn’t coming back. I know I’ve written him out, that in my anger I’ve severed the ties that bound us. Those comforting cords that formed my safety net.

I also know that trying to bring him back into my life is fruitless – miracles don’t happen anymore. He was real to me and it was a real life that was lost. Just because I am the author of it all doesn’t mean that I can defy the laws of nature.

I am alone now, and it was my own anger, my own lack of love that made it that way. My fault. The pen is mightier than the sword, they say – and it might be true. Certainly, the one who wields either should be exceedingly careful: violent and regretful actions can be executed by both.

However, should I have had only a sword, I would still have him. He’d still be here and I wouldn’t be all alone again.