28 posts in 28 days. Not bad.

An end to writing a post every day in February.

OK – I have to be honest I didn’t write a post everyday in February, but I did write 28 posts – so I made it. Kind of.

To finish off I made a word cloud that sums up all this year’s #28daysofwriting posts (pictured). To do this, I first put any tweets with hashtag #28daysofwriting into this spreadsheet. I then cut and pasted all the words from all the posts into this document. Finally I put all those words into Wordart.com (I think it used to be called ‘Tagul’) to make the picture.

Job done.

And as @beckib77 wrote in her final #28daysofwriting post, quoting the fictional Jed Bartlett: “What’s Next?”

#28daysofwriting Day 28

When the road narrows

This is another lesson from the Edgbaston Tunnel, which I first used as a metaphor way back in October 2016.

The rather narrow Edgbaston Tunnel

When I first cycled through the tunnel, I was shocked at how narrow it was – there are literally a few centimetres between your handlebars and the wall on one side and the fence on the other. But then after a few turns of the pedal,  maybe 30 metres or so, it seems to get easier.

This isn’t because you are getting used to the tunnel. No, the path widens by a significant few centimetres about half way through, making the second half of the journey far less hair-raising.

But that doesn’t hold true on the return journey. Then, you enter a seemingly vast space and you cycle along with confidence at good pace, until suddenly there is a narrowing of the path and you lurch into this claustrophobic questioning of will I crash or not… it’s really quite scary.

Sometimes the things we do are like that. We start them. They seem easy at first, but then something happens that we hadn’t expected and it makes us lose our confidence. Maybe we have to stop completely and walk slowly to the end. Maybe we carry on blithely and crash. Or maybe we are lucky enough to stay sweet and straight to the end of the tunnel.

What I’ve found is that with practise you can easily cycle through the Edgbaston Tunnel. And at a good pace too. The trick is that you have to keep looking at your destination – the end of the tunnel. don’t think about the wall, or the fence or the handlebars, or what your feet are doing. Let your body live in the moment and keep looking to the end of the journey. It’s a bit like life really.

#28daysofwriting Day 15

Not just Writing

#28DaysofWriting Day 5

The problem with blogging all the time is that you can very easily end up in a space in which you only hear your own voice.

Not healthy.

Therefore, I have decided to read and comment on at least one other blog this month.

I was excited when my little-used Twitter Stream told me that @DaveStacey was also going to try to do #28DaysofWriting during February. So I’m reading what he writes. You can find it here: http://blog.mrstacey.org.uk/

Reflections on January

#28Daysofwriting Day2

Blend and binge, I wrote as 2018 started.

There are about 30 different elements to my New Year’s Resolution Mindmap that I posted back on January 3. Looking back at them after one month in I can see a pattern emerging. The blend has been between work and family. The binge has been gaming. I suppose that was predictable.

I think one of my frustrations is that there are some things I love doing that I’ve put on my mindmap. These are creative, life-giving things that I really enjoy. However I have not done them as much as I would have liked, and some of them I have not done at all. It would be easy to blame the not-doing-the-fun-stuff on time spent on work or family, but I know the real reason is the binge time on gaming.

So here we are in February and the big challenge for me is #28DaysofWriting, in which I write a post on my blog everyday. You may have noticed it’s the 5th February and this is only my second post. Yes. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Back to January. Here are the successes:

  • At work, I’ve got grip with my colleagues planning. It took me a couple of weeks as she’s launched us on to a new and exciting plan and I’m not the best at owning planning I haven’t written, but I’m getting there now.
  • Also at work, I’ve relaunched the digital leaders – my attempt at both engaging with some older pupils (I’m currently teaching Year 1 having spent 20 years teaching Years 3 to 6), and bringing my current school into the 21st Century.
  • I’ve had some great times with my family.
  • BMI now at 28.13. Lower, but still quite a way to go.
  • ED 80 million. HS Rank 4. LM C19. FM: almost sacked as Bristol City Manager. I’m not sure if I should be proud of gaming successes.
  • God Stuff – I’ve started reading the Bible in a Year. I’m currently only 3 days behind –  a bit like my blogging, so not too bad. And reading it has been great – I’ve come across some amazing stuff that I didn’t even know about (I’ve been reading the Bible off and on for 38 years, since I was 7).
  • Friends. I’ve been to the Pub twice. Not bad for an slight-introvert like me.

Roll on February.

No balance, just blend and binge.

Of course it was a mind map. Despite the lure of Tibet, I just don’t have the time, what with term starting on Friday.

But how to keep track of all the things I want to achieve this year? It looks like I’ve put about thirty different resolutions in there. There’s no way I can keep all those in balance and it’s going to be difficult to keep track of them without a spreadsheet (although I can feel a spreadsheet coming on).

No. The only way is to blend and binge. In fact I think that might become my motto for this year.

So I’m going to do a day here on this thing, a week there on that thing and a month on something other.

Here are some facts so far.

BMI: 28.76 – 28.43 – 28.53 (too high)

ED: 2 hours 67 million

HS: Rank 14.

Maybe I do need a spreadsheet.

New Year’s Resolutions

“What’s the one thing you could do that would help you?”

I had been trying to express to my wife my frustration with the plethora of ideas I was having earlier today. This New Year’s Day. When we are all supposed to be making a fresh start into the bright new shiny 2018.

I had so many things I wanted to do: God stuff, family stuff, home improvements, education, music, video, gaming, gardening, brewing, writing… I knew I wanted to do all of them.

But I also knew that if I started out trying to do all of them I would fail because there are just too many things on the list to keep in my head. Failure would then bring demoralisation and I would end up doing nothing.

This stilted thought process had then brought about frustration – I knew I wanted to do stuff but couldn’t work out how to do it all – it was just a big mush of ideas in my head.

And so my wife asked me this one simple question.

There is only one thing I can do at a time. I needed to do one thing that would contain all my ideas and dreams.

What would it be? A plan? A list? A mindmap? A three month sabbatical in Tibet?

I don’t know yet. But I’ll do it tomorrow.


Nurturing my Identity

Sundays are not part of my commitment to #40daysofwriting on #lentblog, but nevertheless I find myself musing and writing about aspects of my identity that I’ve become more self-aware of in the last year. Last Sunday, I wrote about identity and how so much of it is wrapped up in my performance in my job. Today I go on to considering what I’ve done to diminish the negative draws on my identity and increase the positive ones.

I consider that I have quite an addictive personality. I get into things with a great deal of enthusiasm and then find myself thinking about them with every thought and doing them with every spare minute. This has often been to my advantage as a teacher – give me a topic that I’m interested in and I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Two years ago I got really into developing the school website. I spent every Monday evening often working until beyond midnight trying to make it better, doing things I’d seen others do, making it inspirational. Really the website should have been a long way down my list of priorities. I could have delegated the responsibility, I could have outsourced it to focus on my core role. But no, I worked so hard on it until I actually found myself failing at other things I should have been doing. Finally realisation struck. The obsession had become part of my identity  – I was using it to define myself: “I’m the deputy head who can make great websites”. But the obsession was draining. It was taking time away from more important aspects of my work and more importantly, my family. I had to stop it.

There have been other examples too, sometimes with work, sometimes with gaming, sometimes with social media – getting into something that on its own would be harmless but the depth that I’ve worked at it has been obsessive and damaging. Instead of a computer game being a moment of fun it becomes part of my identity. As Tozer says: “the roots of our hearts have grown down into things and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die.” That’s me with the things I obsess about.

So what I’ve done about it? Well in summary: less of the bad stuff, more of the good stuff.

Diminishing the bad stuff

1. Keeping my phone downstairs, especially at weekends.
2. Having a day each weekend (normally Sunday) when no work is done and the minimum of screens are used.
3. Having an evening each week when I do no work.

Increasing the good stuff

1. Praying more.
2. Spending more time with my wife.
3. Choosing to meet friends instead of playing computer games or working.
4. Reading books (up until last Summer, I hadn’t read a book in 2 years.
5. Blogging to reflect rather than to gain popularity.

Of course, I’m not there yet. Physical exercise – running, swimming and cycling especially –  is something I need to do more of, and have to admit that in the middle of this term, my wife and family were still somewhat neglected in favour of work. I I wrote my “nurturing identity” report, it might say: trying had but could do better.

ref: “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer: chapter 2 The blessedness of possessing nothing

Flat as a Pancake

A Pancake in a frying pan
Really, really flat. A bit like this pancake.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. The reason is that I’ve had the stuffing well and truly kicked out of me at times over the last year. I have been flat as a pancake.

A failed inspection. The worst SATs results in ten years. Failed performance management. I’ve been through an education desert. A wilderness. And with some medical problems too tedious to write about to compound matters, it really has been a dark night of the soul.

I have a little mantra that I live by: things can always get better; things can always get worse. So I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that from today things will definitely get better. And don’t be naive enough to believe that things have been unfailingly terrible for the last year. But it’s certainly been the most challenging time I’ve faced during my career as a teacher and I intend to write about some of those educational experiences during Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday: tomorrow.

This Lent, I am giving up my writing lethargy and taking up a commitment to post something every day. So here we go, for #40daysofwriting to coincide with Lent.

Image courtesy of https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Pancake_in_frying_pan.jpg

Real Life has greater bandwidth

The first person I heard say this was musician, artist and educator: Bobbie Gardner. “Real life has greater bandwidth” she said and then waited for me to take in her words of awesome wisdom.

It has a phrase that has stuck with me, so much so that it has become one of my pub theories. Get me in a pub, give me a pint of beer, mention social media and I’m bound to utter those words. I really am terribly predictable.

It means a lot to me, because sometimes I have got so much into social media that I have become almost dependent on seeing the next tweet in which I’m mentioned, or yearning for someone to comment on my blog.

But the thing is, real life has greater bandwidth.

You gain things from Twitter, from Facebook, from blogging, but you can’t gain as much as you can from sitting with someone and talking. Or standing in stadium and watching. Or walking somewhere in the rain.

On Twitter, you can’t smell the coffee. On Facebook, you can’t appreciate the subtle complexities of an Islay malt. And when you receive a comment on a blog, you can’t see the ironic smile, or the encouraging eyes, or the slightly disappointed frown.

I’m trying to blog more this year, to help me reflect on things I believe and things I’m trying to learn. But I’ve got to remember that real life has greater bandwidth: sometimes it is more important to take in the view than to take a photograph it.

To help me, I’m using scheduling on my WordPress site. This means I can post things on different days, but write them all at once if I want. Right now, it is Wednesday, but I know this post won’t go live until I’m just brewing my first coffee in my Bialletti on Saturday morning.

I’m also planning not to broadcast at all on Sundays. Sundays are going to be a social media Sabbath for me. Time to go to church, spend time with family and generally not look at too many screens.

It’s not just about the gun laws.

I had finished my day at work, culminating in a highly successful Christmas Fair. I ensconced myself at home with those most enjoyable of evening routines – teatime with the family, bathing our youngest, reading stories, singing the song we always sing before bedtime.

And then I switched on the News. There I learned that 20 children within the same age range as my own children had been murdered. A week focussed on both educating my school children and parenting my own children had ended with this. I was struck by how my children will still have their bedtime tomorrow, and the next day, and hopefully for many years to come. But the children in Newtown wouldn’t.

Today the inevitable debate has unfolded. What actually happened? Why? Would it have been different if the gun laws had been different?

I can’t answer any of that. I could pontificate on the difference in gun laws between the UK (where I live) and the US. But it’s not just about that.

What I can’t get out of my head is that during those tragic 30 minutes or so when Adam Lanza went on his insane rampage, it is estimated that 400 children died somewhere in the world. Malnutrition, disease, war. They all take their toll. Just like the 20 children in Newton, those 400 children in different parts of the world had their whole lives ahead of them. They were pure and innocent too. They will have no bedtime routine tonight either.

Estimates are that about twenty thousand children die each day, two thirds of them from preventable causes. 1 in 7 of those children die from the simple reason of just not having decent toilets – a problem that you can help by visiting toilettwinning.org.

Yet the world’s media don’t go running to those tragic deaths. Somehow we are numbed from this human tragedy. People just like us are dying all over the world and yet some deaths are reported as more tragic than others. It’s this discrepancy that bothers me. It’s an injustice on such a scale that it is easier to argue about US gun laws, despite the entrenched positions that both sides take.

The late, great atheist Douglas Adams, in his book, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, talked about the interconnectedness of all things. It’s a principal that I agree with. Maybe if we work to see the world become a more just place, rather than merely protecting our own corner of it, then we might see less injustice all round.

Whatever happens after this, there may be another shooting next week. Or in January. Or maybe not until February. I don’t know. But I do know that twenty thousand children will die tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that.

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