I used to be a landscape gardener so the term perspective means something slightly different. It’s about drawing something backwards from vanishing points and this can alter the way you draw. You have to decide which perspective you use before you can draw!
Of course this is also true of life. We often forget that we have a ‘perspective’ and especially when we are stressed and busy. We go through our lives blind to our perspective and forget that it is influencing us all the time.
For example in the classroom, we are making our hundreds of decisions that we make: how to explain an idea, when to intervene if a student is not listening, perspective influences when and how we frame questions.
As I am writing I feel what should influence our perspective more than anything is our values. I work for a multi-academy trust that bases it’s entire modus operandi on values. They influence everything we do. When I was interviewed for my job, I researched the values of the organisation and liked them but was wary. I have worked in organisations in the past that said one thing and did another. In my interview for my job the first question I was asked was ‘what are my values?’. I was pleasantly surprised.
Every day we revisit those values with our students, from morning meeting to the end of the day. They help us to explain to students why we do things. They help us to repair our relationships with students when we have had to use sanctions.
I’ve been there for a year and a half and can see those perspectives taking shape in the new school that was only taken over a year and a half ago. The values are starting to shape us, to shape the students and their learning. And that’s what gets results! It’s not the targets, the scrutiny, the systems (though they are all a part of it); it’s the values and the shared perspective and the freedom to act in a professional way that it allows us all.
I’m fascinated by change. I did my masters degree 20 years ago about ‘Change in Education and Training.’ I have experienced change within organisations as both a leader and a worker on the receiving end of change (always more difficult.)
I pride myself as being someone who embraces change. I have changed careers four or five times in my lifetime. My first job was a landscape gardener in London (I met my partner on a three year course at Kew Gardens) My most recent change involved coming back into full time classroom teaching after retraining in my mid -fifties. In between, I’ve been a manager of teaching and learning in a college in Manchester and I spent 6 years training teachers in China on a government-funded project.
I’ve loved my career and really thought that nothing could surprise me. How wrong I was! I a write this in the middle of the COVID pandemic. I have to admit that it has winded me to the core.
If I was asked to describe what I’m going through psychologically at the moment I would say it feels like I’ve been teleported onto outer space and back again and I’m seeing my life with fresh eyes for the first time. And it is an uncomfortable and disquieting process even for someone who has been a Buddhist for 10 years and trained to think of myself in a more dynamic way.
The first and biggest shock is my own kids who are all in their 20s) I really thought they were good kids who were getting by ( with my help of course). I now realise just how amazing they are and how little they need me. In fact it’s very much the other way round! How did I not notice before?
Then there’s my partner of 30 years and dad to all our children. How can anyone that you’ve spent so much time with surprise you so much? He has been amazing in this crisis. He has been so organised about the shopping. He quietly gets on with it and we haven’t run out of anything! He has sprung to life in the allotment. His fruit garden now looks like something out of Country Life magazine and I feel soothed by this. It made me realise how much I miss gardening with him all those years ago.
Then there’s me and my job. I’ve always assumed that I am a hopeless workaholic. I arrive at school at 7am every day and often work till 6pm. I always seem to have a pile of marking to do at the weekend. (Is there some comfort on that I wonder as I write?)
When we were sent home I waited for the ‘comedown’ from the adrenaline. It hasn’t happened! I have really enjoyed the time away from school and I enjoy writing, yoga, my books, reading, running and just being at home! I am preparing my lessons and marking again now it’s the end of the Easter holidays but I actually had no desire to even check my emails for two weeks. Unheard of!
I feel humbled, grateful and shocked to my core at how I had made such casual assumptions about myself and my life . And now I am forced to re-examine who I am (again). I embrace that process of course but it seems to me that at the age of 59 and a half I am forced to look at myself with fresh eyes; forced to change. I know enough to know that this will be painful but liberating. I have no choice! Bring it on!
Richard was a small boy who lived at the edge of a large forest. He was a very happy child. Every day he played in the beautiful forest. He loved to make friends with the creatures in the forest. His favorite friends were the otter and the owl. Together they would sing songs as they played.
Every night, Richard used to look out of his window at the stars. Because the forest was very dark he could see so many stars twinkling high in the sky. He never felt afraid because they were so bright. Seeing the stars made him feel warm and happy.
But there was a wicked witch who lived deep in the forest and she had no friends. She was very jealous of happy people and especially young Richard, who was loved by everyone. How she hated to hear his cheerful singing every day! “What could possibly be making him so happy? He only has two silly friends! That stupid owl and the scatterbrained otter!”
One evening she had been out late searching for magic ingredients for her evil spells. She was very tired and had put down her heavy bags on the path outside Richards house. She saw his cheerful little face looking out of the window at the stars. She heard him exclaim, “Oh, how bright the stars are tonight! How happy I feel today!”
The wicked witch’s face changed into an evil smile! She had an idea so wicked that even she was shocked! That night she looked through all her special books. She found the spell she was looking for in a very dusty, old book in the darkest corner of her spell cellar! “Hahaha!!” She screeched, “How clever and how evil am I? That will teach him a lesson!”
The wicked witch set about finding all the dreadful ingredients for the spell over the next few days. She needed the slime of 1000 frogs, the spit of ten thousand toads and the whiskers from a hundred thousand rats. She forgot all about being cross! She almost felt happy for the first time in years!
One night, a big yellow moon rose slowly into the sky. The witch dragged her enormous cauldron out into her garden and lit a huge fire. She started to pour the evil ingredients into the cauldron. She danced round and round the fire and a strange greenish smoke started to pour out of the cauldron. The witches face was dripping with sweat and her evil eyes narrowed as she saw the smoke rising higher and higher into the sky! How excited she was when she saw her evil plan working! As the smog reached the poor little stars, they started to fall down one by one. Silently they fell, down down, down till they were stuck onto the outside of the witches house! “Hahahaha,” screeched the witch!
That night witch sat in her kitchen at night, alone. Even her black cat didn’t like to stay too near her and got out of the way because of the witch’s bad temper. He sat under the sofa studying her face. “She never used to be like this,” he thought. “What has happened to her? She used to have so many friends, where are they all?” As if reading his thoughts the witch started to speak. “That’ll show em!” She said bitterly. “None of their spells were anywhere near as good as this one. ‘Not one of them could take all the stars away. And now all those horrible, happy, bratty kids are going to learn a lesson!” The witch got up to put some more coal on the fire. The cat was quite sure he saw a tear glistening on the witch’s face. “What on earth could be the matter with her? She has definitely gone too far this time
The next evening Richard played with his friends in the wood as usual and when it was time for bed, he looked out of his bedroom window to say goodnight to the stars. The night was still. The sky was clear and dark. Imagine Richards surprise when he saw that there were no twinkling stars in the sky! He blinked and looked again! He could not see a single star! Where were they? He opened his bedroom window and looked again! His puzzled little face straining up towards the sky. That night he waent to bed feeling a little bit sad. And all the children in the world went to bed feeling a little bit sad!
Now what the witch didn’t know was that Richard was a very determined little boy. The following morning, he asked his mum if he could go for a walk into the woods. He packed a picnic and went off to find his good friends the otter and the owl. “Can you help me?” He asked and explained what had happened last night. Richard had a feeling that the witch that they had heard about who lived deep in the woods had something to do with the problem of the disappearing stars. His friends were only too happy to join in the adventure for they loved Richard dearly and they liked the idea of a little adventure! So the friends set off together into the dark wood and as they walked they sang their songs.
They soon left the familiar places where they normally played. As they walked deeper into the forest they fell silent. Even the birds seem to stop singing. They stopped for lunch in a small clearing. They could hear strange little currents of wind at the top of the canopy and the creaking of the tree trunks as they bent backwards and forwards.
“Lets carry on” said Richard, his voice suddenly sounded very small. “Do you think we are little bit lost.” “Ok” said the practical owl who was not stupid at all. “I’m going to find out how far we have to go”. She flew up into the sky with a squawk. After a few minutes she was back. “We are not too far off” she said. “I can see smoke from a house up ahead. It must be the witches house! No one else lives here.” Richard’s tummy gave a little jump. He was more than a little bit nervous! He had no idea now he was going to save the stars! After all, he was only a little boy. Then he remembered his mission. “I’m not giving up!” He exclaimed as he stomped off towards the witches house. The owl and the otter looked at each other. They were more than a bit nervous too!
Richard was walking so fast that he didn’t notice the rather large, brightly coloured egg that was sitting on the forest floor. Richard tripped up over the egg and fell over sprawling onto the forest floor. “Be careful!” Said the egg! And then it said, “ You took your time, Richard!” Richard was so surprised that he jumped back! “Come on!” He said to his friends “We don’t have time to talk to an egg!” “Stop, Richard!” Said the otter, “That egg knows your name! It might be able to help us!” Richard was so shocked to hear the otter’s bossy voice that he stopped in his tracks! “I’ll have you know that I am a magic egg” said a huffy voice. Richard looked at the egg, his eyes wide with surprise. “Well don’t just stand there! Pick me up, we have to free the stars!” So Richard picked up the magic egg and the four friends hurried on together.
“The witch is out at the moment, but we’ll have to be quick because we have a lot of work to do” explained the egg. “I have a magic ingredient that can free the stars. I’ll tell you what to do when we get there but we will need a brush!” “Look over there!” Screeched the owl. “There’s the witches house!”
It was an eerie sight. It was just starting to get dark. Through the trees they could just see the witches house, a dark old tumbledown place with tall chimneys. On the outside of the house they could just see a few stars starting to twinkle in the early dusk. “Quickly,’ urged the egg, “we don’t have much time!’ The friends started to run through towards the house. They could hear the sound of the witch’s evil cackle in the distance. The egg said “Richard, you must throw me against the wall and find a brush to sweep the yoke up against the house to free the stars!” The brave otter ran off to find a brush and came back, his eyes gleaming from the adventure! The otter was anything but scatterbrained!
As Richard broke the egg, a blue milky, sweet-smelling substance ran onto the forest floor and started to swim around the house. There seemed to be no end to the blue river coming from the egg! It just kept on flowing and flowing. Richard began to feel brave even though he could hear the witches horrible cackling getting louder. “Nooooo!” Screamed the witch as she saw the stars starting to twinkle brightly in the sky. “Nooooooo!!!!” And she stamped the ground with her furious feet!
Richard turned round from his sweeping and faced the witch. “Don’t try to stop me!” He was surprised to hear his big voice echoing around the woods. “ You can’t stop me!” And the witch began to shrink in front of his eyes. She stamped her feet again! “Leave those stars! They’re all mine!”
Richard said quietly, “The stars belong to everyone. They belong to all the children in the world!”The stars started twirling as they floated up into the sky. Richard was no longer afraid of the witch. He carried on sweeping the egg yoke onto the house until the very last star took its place in the sky.
He turned round again to face the witch. “You can’t stop me from being happy” he said. “You can’t take away the stars and you can’t stop me from being happy!” With that he turned round and walked into the night with his friends and this time the stars showed them the way home.
Richard is a dad himself now. His friends the otter and the owl still come to play with him every day. And his children all love the stars too. They especially want to look at the stars every night before bed and they want to hear the story about how Richard and the magic egg and the otter and the owl rescued the stars.
As for the witch, she was the one who learnt her lesson. She decided that making other people unhappy was no way to live. Her cat decided to take matters into his own hands and he sent to find the witch’s friends. He called a meeting to discuss what has become known as ‘The Star Incident.’ The witch’s’ cats brought her friends back to see her. Over the years, they had become a little bit shy and afraid of her bad temper and bitterness and had cooled off one by one.They felt a bit ashamed as well because they realised their friend had become lonely, and they realised they should have helped her.
And, after ‘The Star Incident’, the witch was very keen to change. She decided to become a good witch and turn her powers into something that could help others. So she now runs a little hospital for the animals of the forest. If they have a lame foot or a poorly eye they can visit her and she gives them a magic potion. She has lots of friends now and even she feels happy and content when she sees the stars twinkling in the sky at night!
Oooh this a hard one..feelings..so many floating about just now. Difficult to get away from and most are scary and come, even in sleep, as dreams; vivid dreams that almost always involve some kind of travel. Last night I was on a horse and cart. Last week I was on a sledge. On ice. Not hard to decipher that one, except that it felt exciting. And last night’s dream I was going somewhere on a horse and cart and I felt happy.
Which brings me back to feelings. As a Buddhist, feelings have a different place. Compared to Western philosophy, feelings are to be mastered or else they will master us. We should learn to face them, listen to them, but not hold on to them. There is a lovely Zen Buddhist image that I read about letting feelings pass through you like sand slipping through your hands. When I have had to deal with difficult feelings that has certainly helped me.
To arrive at this point in my own life has been no mean feat. My mum was raped when I was 4 years old and she had a complete breakdown and there was no one around to help. She had left my dad and we were all alone in the world, living in a flat in Salford. I learnt very quickly to be very watchful for my mum’s feelings because my survival depended on it. As an Irish Catholic, a single parent and a teacher my mum didn’t speak about what happened to her and she attempted to bury her trauma. This is an extreme example, but of course her feelings erupted and several years later she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is what happens to unresolved feelings, especially trauma.
I am at a point in my life where I am coming to terms with what happened to my mum (though it has taken me 56 years). And I feel we need to be a lot wiser, and more grown up about our feelings. We need to listen to them because they are telling us something important. This is easier said than done. It involves sitting with ourselves and listening to ourselves, giving ourselves the time and space to check in every day ideally. I think thats what Brene Brown means when she talks about leaning into the discomfort. And if there is something bothering us we need to deal with it instead of trying to block it out or running away, like we do. Thats not to say that we should hang onto all our feelings. Not at all. We need to allow them time to pass through, acknowledging them as they do so. And that really does require us to be open and grown up, in a way that few of us are. (I include myself in this too)
The end of my own feelings story is still work in progress. I have learnt to be happy and that is a huge thing. I have learnt to experience joy in small things because those are the things that really matter, listening to bird song, a beautiful sunset, helping a friend, learning to play Fanny Power on the violin (yes there really is an Irish song of that name!), discovering that my brassicas have germinated on the allotment. These are all things I have experienced this week (and it is only Tuesday!)
(I wonder if I have gone over the 500 words? Too bad if I have!)
Purpose is a difficult one for a teacher to write about. Teaching is all-consuming! We get up in the morning, filled with a sense of mission..the tsunami of students that roll into our classrooms day after day. We teach, we nurture, , we talk, admonish, chivvy , inspire, make mistakes, put them right again, fall in, fall out again from one end of the day to the next. And when the students have gone home we litter the corridors, propping up doorways in little huddles and tell our colleagues stories of what has happened in the day! We laugh, we cry, we share, we listen, we go to CPD, we do training, go to meetings, we ring parents, we ring more parents, we create records, we lesson plan.
Then we go home to our families. Exhausted. Worn out. Somehow we manage to hold together relationships, we cook meals, we go to yoga, we snatch half an hour of TV on a Friday night slumped on the sofa with our long-suffering partners. Knowing that we still have marking, planning, writing, reading to do over the weekend. And we do it all over again week after week. We barely have time for ourselves, to notice that we need the toilet, that we are worried about our own children.
The week before the shutdown, colleagues spoke to me about their worries; a child who had been just been diagnosed with autism, a grandmother who was in hospital (and later died), parents who needed support with shopping because the supermarkets were becoming impossible to navigate. I was very concerned about my son, who has recently been diagnosed with a rare and life threatening illness who is just learning to live with it and get his life together. The uncertainty of the CV had made him so anxious that he had been unable to sleep. I made the decision to take the day off to allow him the comfort of knowing someone was in the house and he slept all morning. I have never taken a day off work before.
Which brings me to the lockdown. I had assumed that having my purpose removed like this would make me feel bereft; that I would be stripped bare and unable to cope without my role to prop me up. I was wrong. I have joyfully discovered that my purpose is not limited to my classroom role (as much as I love it). I have rediscovered skills that I had forgotten. They had fallen into the shadows of my busy life, fallow, dormant, neglected! I realised I’m that I love teaching on line! I have phoned every one of my students. I have created lessons, marked work, made video lessons about poems using software that I have never used before. I have loomed, zoomed, tweeted, happily and successfully.
More importantly though, I have reconnected with myself and those that I love. I have realised that my children, all in their 20s, are awesome independent people. I have started writing poems again. I have started a healing process from a childhood trauma that has resulted in me feeling disconnected and I’ll at ease. I am gardening every day and learning to play the fiddle (a childhood dream that is driving my family crazy!)
My purpose? My purpose is to be happy! To help others to be happy. This is not a selfish kind of happiness. It is a responsible choice. Caring for myself means just that. Taking time to nurture my goals, to explore the calm happy place that I have inside, it means caring for my relationships with those that are close to me (and I want to be closer) and caring for my environment, looking after nature, reducing my footprint in this beautiful and precious world. I am really wondering if I will actually have time to go back to work as a teacher!