Big mistake. Huge!

eraser-23659__180Do you know how many songs there are about mistakes?  Loads!  One of my favourites: My Favourite Mistake – Cheryl Crow

This week I have come across more mistakes than I care to mention.  Some of them mine (deal with it, move on), some of them other’s (not the end of the world, nobody died, everyone pulls together to sort it out) and some of them I have just heard about (my goodness, someone’s life is in your hands).

What do they all have in common?  Well none of the people concerned set out with the intention to do harm.  Mostly, good intentions are surpassed by inattention to detail for a wide range of valid reasons; tiredness, workload, the intensity of other things happening in the lives of the people involved that just stop them functioning at the upper limits.

Often the perpetrator punishes themselves far more than we would choose for them – wise words spoken to me about a commercial mistake I made almost 30 years ago that have never forgotten.  The kind way in which the mistake was dealt with has not been forgotten.

Mistakes are not the same as regrets – my opinion.  For me, regrets are about those things that go beyond mistakes, situations where we look back and wish we had made different choices – hindsight – marvellous.  I really don’t think I have any regrets because I do think there is a purpose beyond our understanding.  (see Yesterday I Broke a Plate)

Anyway, back to mistakes.  Children make mistakes all the time – spellings, calculations, choices at lunchtime…  They need to understand that sometimes there are consequences but that often, just holding up their hands and acknowledging their mistake is the first step towards putting it right.  If we teach this explicitly from an early age we can expect children who are able to see solutions and not just obstacles.  We can build people who are honest about their failings and don’t try to blame someone else or to cover up what they have done.  They may also need help to learn positively from their mistakes (which takes time and patience) and goodness only knows we rarely learn from the ones that other people make.

We need to model this for them.  When I get something wrong in class, when I respond to situations without thinking, I need to stop and actually say “Sorry.”  Sorry I was grumpy because I was feeling hot and bothered, sorry I blamed you without really checking what had happened, sorry I failed to do something that I promised I would do…  The list goes on.

I have the utmost respect for the teachers I have worked with who have been able to apologise properly (sorry is such a hard word for some people to say), when it is sincere, an apology can build bridges and shows that we are all human.

So next time you make a mistake, you’re in good company – don’t let it define you.


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Yesterday I broke a plate…

images (1)

It was a much nicer plate than this one and I was really pleased with my purchase – it was going to be a Christmas gift (can’t say who it was intended for).    A lot of thought and careful choosing had gone into this gift and, to be fair, in the shop they had wrapped it and I thought I had packed it away carefully in my bag.  But, at lunch with my sisters, I put the bag down on the floor and the edge chipped.  Without needing to look (although I still did) I knew that it was too late.  I took it out from my bag and put it in the bin.

As we continued to order drinks one of my sisters asked whether I was fed up about the plate and wondered if it would spoil the day (sisters’ Christmas shopping weekend in Leeds).  With a little thought and a brief moment of ‘Cross With Self’ ness I said not and “Let’s get on with the day and forget about it.”  Another sister observed that I was good at doing that – putting the past behind and moving on.

We went on to have a successful day in terms of productivity and enjoyment of each others company, with a hearty helping of nachos thrown in.  And… I called at a local retail outlet on the way home and replaced it.

This morning I thought about it a little more.  When I was a teenager one of the books that made a lasting impression on me was The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom – summarised here :

As the Nazi madness swept across Europe, a quiet watchmaker’s family in Holland risked everything for the sake of others, and for the love of Christ. Despite the danger and threat of discovery, the ten Boom family courageously offered shelter to persecuted Jews during the Nazi occupation of Holland. Then a trap brought about the family’s arrest. Could God’s love shine through, even in Ravensbruck?

It is a book that I have read many times but the quote I always remember is:

“There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s Kingdom.”

Corrie reminded herself of this as atrocities happened to many of her family and friends.

People often (me included) when something bad happens, find themselves wondering ‘What If?’  What if I had gone another way?  What if I hadn’t said that?  What if I had been more careful?  That way madness lies – or self loathing or deep regret.

There are lots of things that I could dwell on in my own life and wonder ‘What if?’  All those years ago I made the decision to be more like Corrie Ten Boom – to accept the unchangeable,  not to waste time on regrets and rather to live, as Corrie then goes on to say:

“His timing is perfect. His will is our hiding place. Lord Jesus, keep me in Your will!”

I know that there have been times when I have found this harder to practise but I am an imperfect human being after all.  I have found greater peace in accepting that sometimes bad things happen and not to blame myself unnecessarily.


Today is Christ the King Sunday – a time of the church’s year for looking back on the year that has gone and looking ahead to Advent.  I think Corrie Ten Boom’s message is about about looking ahead.  Learning to let go of the things that cause us concern and weigh us down as we wonder ‘What if?’ and instead look forward to what God has in store for us – in His timing.



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The valley of the shadow of death


Just recently I ‘connected’ with someone that I hadn’t seen for many, many years.  We were at school together and it is fair to say that we had very little in common – she was the cool girl and I was just me.  However here we are after 30+ years and we have something in common.   Suicide.  There you go – now I’ve written it.

Suicide casts a very long shadow (hence the title of this post).  It stretches out across the years.  When it has stealthily crept into your life it can be reluctant to depart.

On the 6th February 1988 I arrived back home ready to attend the wedding of two good friends.  My lovely friend was getting married to my ex-boyfriend and years before when she has asked if I minded her going out with him I had promised to dance at their wedding.   Didn’t quite manage that part – sorry.  Calling in at my parents house first, I was met by my younger sister, face swollen with crying, to be given the news ‘Judith is dead.’  My response – ‘Well we’ve got to get to the wedding.’

Cue the first hymn, first verse and the tears and sobs came.  (You can imagine what some people were thinking…)

The weeks that followed were slightly surreal.  Inquest (adjourned), funeral, inquest re-opened and then reporting in the newspaper.  I’ve never forgotten the headline in the Oldham Chronicle ‘Dead Woman’s Drink Problem’.

Life does of course move on.  Fast forward a year – 6th February 1989 and the birth of my nephew – a bittersweet day.  Yet somehow it (he) has remained a blessing – the celebrations have replaced the grief.  Something positive.

The effect that this had on both my parents was cataclysmic – but that’s not a story for here – too personal and just too much.

The years passed.  I married and had two fantastic sons.  The first time the shadow really crept in was in February 2003.  Son number 1 was unhappy at school – first year at high school and he hadn’t really settled.  We talked, he cried and there it was.  ‘How upset is he?’  ‘Is he really unhappy?’  ‘Might he do something drastic?’  Of course my naturally gregarious son just needed to find ‘his people’ – something he did almost immediately after and has been surrounded by good friends ever since.  But that was the first time.

There have been several times since then with both sons.  When someone you love, someone in your family, takes their own life, for whatever reason (and there are many) you are changed.  You are not the person that you once were.  You know what can happen.  You think you know the worst.  So you look for it and you try to head it off.  It affects how you parent your children.  I know that there were times when I shied away from being firm and delivering some hard messages.  Times when I would do anything to make sure that they would not be upset.  It was not how I wanted to be.

This song says everything I felt: Fix You – Coldplay

I wanted to be able to fix everything, every time – and that’s just not possible.  And, in fact, I have two very resilient and resourceful sons but really it’s not about them it is actually about me.

In January this year I was in church listening to a sermon about hope and faith and I came to the realisation that I could not always be there to put everything right.  There and then I decided to hand my worries about my sons to God for Him to deal with.  The peace that this has given me is ‘beyond understanding’.  What is also beyond understanding is why it took me so long to get to that stage!

I’ll still be there to do the practical things  – you know, a spot of washing, lending a tenner, baking flapjacks and delivering massive hugs because that’s what mums do, but I know that I no longer need to be anxious or afraid.

This is now my song.

The following charities are doing wonderful work with young men (and older men) who are contemplating suicide.  If you have the time, please have a look at their websites.  CALM and Mandown.

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I am a teacher.

It took me five years to train and qualify as a teacher. I worked as a TA and HLTA whilst accomplishing this. I brought up two boys who have now/nearly flown the nest. Whilst I was doing my training I so looked forward to the day when I was asked what I did for a living and could say that I was a teacher. Never did I guess it would be when I was buying a new bed in John Lewis with interest free credit – but that’s another story.

There have been many things written about teachers recently… The Guardian Secret Teacher section has recently been criticised for being negative and is now doing a u-turn!

As we approach the General Election, teacher politics are to the fore and online chats focus on what changes we would like to see and the role of OFSTED…… Important I know but tonight I have stopped to think about my role.

I AM a teacher – my job is to educate children, to follow the National Curriculum, to assess, measure and track progress, to justify myself and my methods through Performance Related Pay. Sometimes it is about them passing tests and Michael Rosen sums this up very well here.

But it’s more than that, and tonight I think about what that ‘more’ is:

It’s caring about all aspects of their lives – who they live with, how their families work.

It is listening to what they say and what they don’t say.

On a daily basis it is being aware of whether they have had breakfast and have they got enough lunch?

How do they learn, what things stop them learning? How can I make sure that they do learn and put strategies in place to help them catch up?

For me, it is about being a constant in what can be chaotic lives. Also, dare I say it, it is about loving them.

I know there is much more than this that I will probably edit it in at a later point in time.

Children whose families rely on food banks, children who are looked after, children who become young carers, children who need the security of school – many more ‘categories’ – these are the children who make up so many classes in our schools and need us to do so much more than just teaching them ‘stuff’ and then deciding whether they have learned it.

We seem to jump through the perceived OFSTED hoops.

Have we covered SMSC? Is our teaching of British Values explicit enough? Is our marking in depth enough with clearly identified ‘next steps’? Have we indicated where verbal feedback has been given using a code that Turing would have struggled with? Have we assessed and levelled ‘the pig that will not be fattened’ by doing this?

Tonight I am thinking particularly of the Haim Guinot quote that I have pinned up above my desk (by the way, there was a time when I discovered this and thought I was the first to have done so – duh! – so naive!).

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” ― Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers

This is everything that I believe as a teacher – everything.

I have to be this to all the children in my primary classroom.

Once again I have spent some of my time on holiday thinking about my class, coming up with ideas for how to help them learn and how to make the learning enjoyable (not necessarily ‘fun’ – I cringe when I hear people say “I have planned a fun activity.”

I am a primary school teacher – I can be everything to a young child and I must be true to what I believe. I CAN make the whole thing work – the learning, the pastoral care, the jumping through hoops.

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Banana Muffins

Mean banana muffin

There has been discussion on twitter recently about motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic and people have obviously got some firm opinions on this.  @nancygedge wrote about her views here:

Like some others I’m not really sure where I stand with regard to giving stickers and weekly certificates for good work; in primary it seems to be just part of the landscape.  Having said that I very rarely give stickers unless they something like “Ask me what great thing I did today.”  I like those because it encourages p children to talk to their parents about their day.

What the whole discussion did though was to remind me of times in the past when I have seen extrinsic motivation (is bribery too strong a word?) have unexpected results.

Some years ago I helped my husband run junior cricket teams for our club.  I usually needed up pouring squash and doing the scoring.  One teenager had been ‘bribed’ by his father to score runs! I can’t remember how much it was now, but I wouldn’t be far out if I said £1 per run!  Inevitably the boy got out.  He stomped from the pitch and asked me how many runs he had scored.  Unfortunately he was not happy with what I told him as he reckoned on a few more.  At this point his behaviour totally disintegrated and he was abusive to me and punched one of his friends in the face.  The stakes had just been too high and he couldn’t cope.  He saw himself as having failed.

Fast forward a few few years to my own son doing his GCSEs.  We live in a fairly affluent area and almost daily (or so it seemed) he would come home from school telling me of this one and that one who had been promised money for grades.  Some children were expecting£100 per A*!!  We made it clear to our son (who, to be fair, never held any such expectations – he knew the lay of that land) that there would be no incentives from us and that he just needed to work hard to achieve his own goals.

The day dawned and off we drove to High School.  I waited in the car – mums were not considered cool enough to wait any closer.  He arrived back with his envelopes and was very pleased with his results.

Driving home he reported that one boy had remarked that he had just earned £850. “Gosh!” Said I – feeling slightly inadequate.  “Yes,” said my boy, “but I told him ‘well my mum will make me banana muffins when I get home.’

I smiled and thought that we were not doing such a bad job of raising our boys. Smug? A little – but we all want to feel that we are doing the right thing.


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“Deliberately Defiantly”

During the Easter holidays I was lucky enough to find myself on a beach in Anglesey.  My husband was fishing (optimistically as ever) and I was just enjoying the early spring sunshine and my own thoughts.  A few families (three generations mostly) were nearby and children were playing/squabbling as is their wont.  An initial cursory glance at their Boden/Joules beachwear and healthy outdoor complexions with hair that was already lightening had made me suspect that those children would be very different to the ones I teach – although their ages would appear to be similar.

Inevitably there came a more serious clash of personalities and egos.  I heard one child shout “He is doing it defiantly.”  Another replied that “He was deliberately spoiling our game.”  It was this short interchange that made me sit up and take notice.

In my current school we use the Ros Wilson Criterion Scale as a tool for levelling children’s work.  One of the criterion is:

“Can use interesting and ambitious words sometimes ( should be words not usually used by a child of that age)”

I never seem to be able to tick this box for the children in my class – even those who write well.

Although it is something that, as a school, we are acutely aware of, my thoughts became very crystallised by this short exchange.  The gap in language acquisition and use between the majority of children that I teach and these children on the beach was immense. These were words that I wouldn’t hear.  “He’s done it on purpose” would be more likely.

Focus Education say that:



I don’t know where they have got these statistics from but a report by Jean Gross, Communication Champion (September 2011) –

‘Oral language skills and poverty’, provides other statistics about language acquisition and use by children which would appear to support figures like this.

So, I’ve observed something that’s not that unusual – it’s not a clever thing to notice – so what?  A teacher I used to work with when I was a teaching assistant once told me to always ask “So what?”

Well I suppose it’s because of statistics like these that I become enthused about sharing language and literature with the children in our school.  If (for whatever reason) they don’t hear a rich language outside school then we have to provide it for them.  Starting with early rhymes and stories – we can’t assume that they will know traditional tales – and moving into poetry that paints pictures and stories with characters that come to life inhabiting worlds that are almost beyond imagination.  We need to give them the language and frameworks for oral re-telling, we have to model language use correctly and support them by providing language structure that they can learn and adapt.  Pie Corbett’s Talk for Writing has had a great impact on developing spoken and written language in my class.

Many of you will know about the films and media content of the Literacy Shed but did you know there is also a section called My Class Read – it’s a great resource and place to find inspiration for fabulous books to share with children.

I’d love to know how you go about developing language in your settings – then I can ‘borrow’ some of your ideas.


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Side by Side

I started thinking about this blog post as I was driving along yesterday. Possible titles included ‘Wanderlust’, ‘Relationships by Walking About’ and .
‘Rubbing Shoulders’; all of which link in quite well.

Dock 9

This weekend has seen both my (young) adult sons back in the family home. The eldest has now made his home in Leeds, where he works, and the youngest is away at university for many weeks at a time. Sometimes it can be hard to ensure that we make the most of their time when they are here so, on Saturday evening, we headed to Salford Quays and Media City. A meal at one of the bars was followed by a good wander around the area, me taking photos and all four of us chatting. We had a lovely time. My eldest son was at his most relaxed and he and his dad were able to enjoy spending time together without our son feeling like he was being interrogated – which seems to be his perception of things quite often.

Always mulling things over, it made me realise the value of strolling together. When I had tricky issues to raise with either of my boys in the past, I often chose to do this as we drove along – I really believe that not having to make eye contact helped some of these potentially difficult conversations to take place. Walking in a group also means that you can have conversations without putting pressure on people. It means you can move around and have more than one conversation.

I then started thinking about how, when they were much younger, the walk to and from school provided the opportunity for letting off steam, airing grievances or just quiet companionship. By the time we had reached home on a day we walked everyone seemed more relaxed and content. Days when I had to drive were not the same.

Relationships with the children that I teach are very important to me. Each year I take my class on a residential trip. It involves a LOT of walking. During the walk different companions come and go, usually depending on levels of tiredness, and small conversations help to build trust and friendship that can’t be achieved the same way in the classroom. At school I choose to eat my lunch in the hall with the children each day – even though I get teased for calling it the ‘dining hall’. Sometimes I sit with my class but often I sit with other KS2 children that I have previously taught. Chatting whilst engaged in another activity works so well – drawing and painting are other good opportunities.

In my school a great value is placed on working with and alongside parents. The best and most useful conversations that I have had with parents have often taken place when we have been seated side by side working through the issues that we both want to solve not across a desk at parent evenings.

So, whilst I know that there are times when making eye contact is seen as important , I want to advocate ‘Side by Side’ as a method for building relationships, and encourage you to wander a little with the people that matter to you.


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