The night before

August 20th, 2014

Dear all (geographers, philosophers, tutees, and all those that I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with over the last couple of years.),

I hope you don’t mind me disturbing your peace to offer a couple of reflective thoughts. I will be on uncle duties tomorrow, so won’t see you in person.

Getting exam results is a strange business, I know of no other situation where you are made to wait for the result over several weeks, it’s incredibly hard. Teaching is unique in the ‘real world’, when you go for an interview you usually find out on the day whether you have been appointed, quite often in front of the other candidates.

Even though life has carried on, the event has been lurking in the background waiting to come and surprise you. Tonight is difficult, I reckon in my past I’ve spent about six such nights, wondering about the outcome of exams, from G.C.S.E. to degree. Let me offer you some advice; by now you have probably been through every scenario in your mind, the worst and best case results, tried to total the marks you picked up on each paper, the marks you have lost, the areas you could have revised better… You may be seeing ‘signs’ that somehow point to your success or failure, my personal favourite was reading the horoscope in the local paper.

I’m not meaning to sound disingenuous… but stop it. Meet up with friends tonight, watch a film, laugh, and then go to bed. Don’t worry; praying to the gods, that final good deed, wearing your lucky charm, nothing can influence the result now. Relax.

Tomorrow is one of those rites of passage, which you have experienced several of over the last couple of weeks. It’s a day to be enjoyed whatever the outcome; it marks the beginning of your passage from child into the adult world.

Please remember that results are like a photograph, in May/June we took a snapshot of your development, as such they mark a point in time; in reality they have little influence over your future success. Irrespective of the grades, the most successful individuals are those that have resilience, who learn from their successes and mistakes, who continue to learn, who understand others. Ignore these attributes and the best grades in the world won’t matter.

The results you receive are a platform to build upon, not a torpedo to wreck your future success or happiness, they are a measure of a small part of human capability. Some of you will continue with an academic career, whilst others are beginning careers in trades that have built the success and wealth of this country, skills that we cannot ignore, nor do exams successfully measure. I wish I was more practical, as my lovingly nailed together furniture shows!

Please don’t spend your time comparing yourself to others, this is a particularly dangerous road to take, if we all did this none of us would get out of bed in the morning. With age I’ve come to accept that people are better looking, fitter and more ‘intelligent’. Your only rival is yourself; always seek to do better, whatever route you choose. If you know in your heart that you tried your best, you can be proud of your achievements, whatever the result.

If they are outstanding, celebrate, but be modest; remember that you are only as good as your last result; reflect on what contributed to your success, repeat it next time.

What if they’re not what you expected? Don’t be down, there is nothing that can’t be righted, it is not the end of the world. Be pragmatic. Exams can be taken again, life will not stop. At a quieter time, think about what you could have done better; remember the feeling in the gut and promise to use it. Think of it as a challenge. You may already be lucky enough to know that your talent resides in an area other than the academic…

Whatever the outcome, enjoy the feeling of release, the experience, and being with your friends. Be optimistic, you have the whole of your future ahead and it’s a pretty amazing journey- I’m on the road just ahead…ok, perhaps several hundred miles.

My thoughts will be with you all.



August 20th, 2014

Bit of a #fail on that one…

On unspoken rules… Day 17

June 30th, 2014

Unspoken rules seem to govern much of life. I remember on a school exchange to Japan noticing that when on public transport people don’t speak, they don’t use their phones, you can’t hear music through headphones. There seems to be an unspoken rule that as an individual your actions shouldn’t infringe upon the environment of others.

Travelling frequently on public transport in this country, it’s an unspoken rule that some don’t seem to understand. I don’t expect the Japanese silence, but do I have to hear about your night out, your appointment at the doctor. Is it necessary to have your ringtone that loud and answer it after at least a minute of ringing. Headphones, they are to ensure that only you listen to your music.

Thankfully now there are quiet coaches on trains, though the definition of quiet differs between individuals. Perhaps we need to rediscover the benefit of silence, detaching ourselves from the world for a few minutes. Mostly though we need to rediscover the unspoken rule of not infringing on the environment of others.

On building relationships…16

June 29th, 2014

Anyone who believes that relationships within the classroom aren’t important are quite frankly foolish.

When you mention relationships it always seems to promote a bipolar argument between hyper-discipline and no discipline.

As always there is a balance, young people need boundaries and routines, they provide safety and allow for exploration. They also allow the context to develop effective relationships, no boundaries no relationships.

Fundamentally though the issue is one of trust; if I can’t trust you to be consistent in your expectations, how can we have a productive working relationship. Whereas the outside world is complex and chaotic, the classroom should be a calm sanctuary of predictability.

Don’t assume… Day 15

June 28th, 2014

One thing I’ve learnt in life is not to make assumptions, or should that be judgements, too quickly. I like to reflect on ideas or issues before I make decisions. Too often in the past I have made decisions based on my gut reaction, rather than think it through. I’m sure everyone has made the mistake of sending the angry email.

The same goes for people, I like to get to know people over time, trust is important to me. You shouldn’t make assumptions just based upon an individual’s work persona, this rings true for students as well; the face I present to the world is not necessarily how I am in private.

Energy… 14

June 27th, 2014

It’s old ground to go over that teaching is tiring, despite the holidays. At the moment I’ve lacking in energy. What the general public don’t understand is that during term-time and the holidays, the workload is constant; as a result it saps your energy over time, just like the battery indicator on my IPhone…

Sapping because with the exception, somewhat, of the summer holidays, you are always thinking about the job. It’s hard not to read a newspaper article or watch a T.V. programme without thinking about it as a resource.

It’s hard because mentally you come to a standstill, ideas become difficult to grasp, your creativity begins to wane; you have to take space to allow your mind to rest.

On Fiennes… Day 13

June 26th, 2014


I was lucky yesterday to be taken to hear Ranulph Fiennes’ lecture ‘Living Dangerously’ as an early birthday treat (thanks Jo).

It was less a motivational speech and more a meander through his expeditions over time. It’s amazing that he still continues to have his drive for adventure at the age of 70, though he was reluctant to reveal his next adventure…

As a geographer it was a brilliant first hand account of the conditions faced by humans in extreme environments.

My one lasting memory of the lecture is his selection process for expedition partners, he didn’t necessarily value experience or skill first, but motivation. When faced with the most difficult circumstances, the individual’s motivation was key to the expedition’s success, in some cases the individual’s survival. would the individual be able to draw on their motivation to drive them forward? Or would it desert them?

An interesting reflection.

On debate… Day 12

June 25th, 2014

I like a good debate, within education you can’t be too precious with your ideas; values though are a different issue, they are the core of your being. As Tony Benn said there are two types of people in life, signposts and weather vanes. Values act as signposts.

I like people to be honest when I present ideas, I like to hear alternate viewpoints. Though I may not agree with the perspective of another it challenges my thinking, often resulting in the evolution of the idea.

I think this perspective develops with experience, in the past I probably took such challenges as personal. You have to learn to separate your idea from the personal, allowing it the light of scrutiny.

Box Set… Day 11

June 24th, 2014

It’s interesting how our TV viewing has changed over time. In the past I would sit down to watch an episode of a programme at the broadcast time.

Now it’s unlikely that I would watch a programme ‘live‘, it gets recorded on the box. Often I end up storing episodes until I have a large chunk of time to watch them. The only issue is avoiding the spoilers on social media.

The development of the box set has aided this, I like the opportunity to get absorbed in the storyline, as a result I don’t forget the threads in more complex series. Watch Game of Thrones…

It’s interesting to reflect that this is the same way I work. I prefer to become absorbed in one task at a time. It’s also interesting that our learning in schools is much like the watching of a single episode. I wonder whether some students would benefit from the box set.

On sharing… Day 10

June 23rd, 2014

It seems I’m sharing less as I go on in teaching, perhaps it’s because I have greater responsibilities, may be I’m more focused upon the learning of students rather than the activity, perhaps I’ve run out of ideas!

The format of educational conversations have also changed. I used to spend quite a bit of time on forums, responses to posts were more detailed, threads developed over time. Ideas evolved through the conversations. The movement to microblogging seems to have encouraged the opinion, the quick link, rather than the more detailed critique.

I would encourage anyone to share their practice, even a simple idea can have real impact in the classroom of another practitioner. Don’t think it will be new to someone else…

We should be constructive when critiquing the practice of others; but we also need to be aware of the personal nature of sharing and the emotional exposure that it brings. Tread carefully… ideas and resources are born and nurtured, they hold value for the creator. More importantly offer thanks and encouragement, the kind word can be the greatest motivator.