The lightness of being


As I walked out of my office, for the last time on the final day of my first ever Ofsted inspection as a Head, I made some off the cuff gag to the governors who were waiting. This prompted the Lead Inspector to slap me on the back and say ‘I can’t believe he’s still smiling, he’s had a tough old two days, and he’s still smiling.’

I had. And I was.

Not because I am some super-being. (Although the 360-degree survey I conducted on myself shows that I’m darn close). Not because I didn’t get the gravity of the situation. (We’d just been placed in RI, the lowest outcome for the school in a hundred years, so, yes, I had realised that the week’s newsletter was going to require some careful editing.) Not because I was drunk. (That was to happen 91 minutes later.)

The reason why I was still making cheap gags at such a time was because…why not?

I enjoy being alive. It’s fun. If I can’t smile, what’s the point?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some irritating buffoon who feels the need to make light of misery. I wouldn’t for example, on hearing the news that…

[Blank space representing all the inappropriate jokes in relation to serious incidents that my editor has deemed it necessary to delete even though I claimed that my readers were intelligent people and could understand the difference between me actually being offensive and me making a point. But, my editor argued, you’ll put it out on twitter and they’re mostly idiots.]

…of course I wouldn’t say that! That would just be highly insensitive and extremely offensive.

But even though I don’t make light of serious issues, I see no problem in tackling serious issues with a lightness of touch. This enables hard messages to be communicated clearly but sensitively. It allows points of view to be heard. It provides freedom of speech without either side feeling battered by an over-bearing and one-sided narrative.

In times of united struggle, being able to end on a light note, doesn’t so much provide others with hope, (that would be an incredibly pretentious claim) but it can help put things in perspective. It can allow others to take a breath and relax before fighting on.

Twitter could do with gaining a lightness of touch. I don’t want this to sound like the hundred other blogs out there that say: Why is everyone so mean? Why can’t we all just get on? I don’t want everyone to get on. I want there to be discourse and conversation. I want passionate teachers to spar with each other on the educational battlefield.

What I don’t want, and what is beginning to be boring, is the joyless and heavy bombardment of over-serious and self-worthy laments. These tedious battles that end up nowhere. I mean, come on people: WAR! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!

I don’t care what side you’re on. I don’t care what your beliefs are. Just remember: this is Twitter! It’s next to meaningless. Nobody cares, that much, what you do in your classroom. What you say might be interesting but then again, it might not be. If you put it out there be prepared for others to ignore it or knock it down. Don’t object. Get over it. If they’re ‘abusing’ you, report them or block them. But don’t tell everyone you’ve blocked them whilst tweeting a ton of screenshots of something they said fifteen years ago before twitter was invented as if we care about your justification: just do it.

If people in the real world have an issue with your beliefs, go and work somewhere else. You’ll be happier. If you can’t and if the real world is being unfair and unjust, tell us about it and we will all rally round and support you. Because that’s why we all signed up to this. We want to make friends, learn something, and support the education community. Oh, and we want to occasionally tweet funny things that happened to us or share the occasional gif of a cat ice skating or whatever.

So, please, Twitter: lighten up!

Hook, line and stinker?

ImageAs it’s half term and I am simultaneously getting away from work but trying to get on with it I have spent an unprecedented amount of time on Twitter and reading a mass of blogs. It’s been brilliant and in many cases extremely insightful. I have been immensely impressed and stirred by the very ‘giving’ nature of all the professionals who contribute high quality resources, ideas and thoughts to what is, in my mind, a very special online network of educators. 

Sometimes I can’t tell what is more engaging: the ideas or the follow-on arguments that occur between followers. It’s all highly dramatic but I have yet to dip my tweet (urgh that sounds horribly euphemistic, sorry) into the choppy waters of a twitter argument. Not for fear of losing both the argument and followers (although I am highly precious and needy) but often because I can see both sides and the last thing I want is for both parties to gang up on me, accuse me of fence sitting and un-follow me (like I said, I am very precious and needy).

The reason why I often agree with both sides is probably partly due to the limitations of twitter’s 140 characters and that a good debate should contain a strong argument. What you get from this is a world of blacks and whites. Now although I like this as it challenges me to reflect on my own beliefs it occasionally feels, from the outside looking in, that it creates a sense of polarisation that could be dangerous.

I worry that as some of us can come across a little too dismissive of ideas and thoughts about how to teach, it may stop others giving such ideas a go. Teaching evolves constantly-not just the system and the fads but individuals. No one is teaching today the way they were two years/ten years/twenty years ago because along the way you picked up ideas and experiences and you learnt how to weave them in and out of what you do on a daily basis. You are probably not committed to one fixed approach that will last you for the rest of your career. Your principles and philosophy may not change but the nuts and bolts of what you actually do to have an impact on the lives of the people in your charge have to.

With that in mind here is the problem with the black and white approach to Twitter. As we are all on our own different paths at different stages what is totally useless to you may be of immense value to someone else. To therefore dismiss it as rubbish ‘for all’ is rather blinkered…even if you are saying so out of your experience.

As a good (outstanding…you might well think that but I couldn’t possibly comment) teacher, there are many things that I don’t have to do anymore. I haven’t, for example, got to sit and think about the success criteria in order to teach a Year 4 class about report writing. I’ve done it loads of times and really well and I have certain tricks up my sleeve that engages children and I know the success criteria like the back of my hand. I also know how to make sure they effectively use ‘Level 4’ elements of writing and how to place it all in the real world to make it purposeful and fun-I even wear a hat and everything.

The same cannot be said for lots of teachers around the country right now for lots of reasons: they’re just starting out, they’ve never taught Year 4, they’re not yet brilliant, Literacy is their weak point, their partner teacher always planned the literacy, etc. So, they will need to look at success criteria, marking ladders, planning documents, a range of resources, pick learning styles appropriate for those lessons, create targets…buy a hat. These are the hooks that are out there in the world of education that allow you to grab onto something tangible in order to teach a sequence of lessons effectively.

When you have been successful you throw the hooks that helped back into the water as you take on your next challenge to see if you get any future bites out of them.  After a while they may not be as successful so you will find other hooks to use. Every now and then you’ll pick up a hook that you discarded long ago and find that it now works. And so it goes.

Any hook or process that allows an individual teacher to make sense of how to do the very difficult job of getting children to learn and gets them to be successful is fine by me. Use an approach, assess the impact, judge if it’s worth using again. Therefore when on Twitter these ideas get slammed, because they are being treated as if they are being touted as the only idea out there as opposed to something to try, I worry that it will put some people off from giving them a go.

Levelling ladders may be crude, Ken Robinson may be nothing but aspirational air, average point scores may detract from real teaching, kinaesthetic learning styles may be ineffective, planning may be a waste of time….for you. But for some they are the little hooks that will support them to get better in the setting they’re in.

So I don’t want to curb people’s passion for or against any ideas out there and I certainly don’t want to not read those interesting, thought provoking and often very funny black and white comments. But I hope that no one ever reads a 140 character long barbed comment and swallows it Hook, Line and Sinker.