#28daysofwriting Day 18: On language, grit and absurdity

Last night we contributed to the cause of redressing our work-life balance and went to see Eddie Izzard at Claudelands Event Centre.   There is nothing quite so good for releasing feel-good endorphins than having a really good laugh.  He really is a “Force Majeure”;  witty, intelligent, incisive humour that has a healthy splash of schoolboy, pythonesque absurdity and a strong sense of social justice. Just brilliant!

But there are two things about yesterday’s show that prompted me to write; one is his complete support and passion for learning languages.  He can present his show in French, German and Spanish and is planning on learning Arabic next.  It is not just learning the language though, it is being able to reach out and connect with the culture and the nuances of language and understand the psyche of a people and what makes them laugh.  Somehow he can do that.


The other thing is his down-to-earthness (not sure that is a word!), his sense of realism, of humanity, of social justice.  I was surprised just how much of himself he revealed in snippets during the show.  There were moments of very personal reflection amongst the silly noises and the insightful observations of life.  In his Q & A session after the show he was asked about how he trained for his challenge of completing 43 marathons in 51 days to raise money for the charity Sport Relief.  He said that he trained for only 5 weeks prior to starting and that the first 10 marathons were training for the next 33!  But his comment that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything struck me most.

We talk a lot about “grit”, about perseverance, resilience in education now.  But where does it come from, that picking yourself up after you’ve fallen down and keeping going?  Can we teach it? Can we learn it? Can we change the way that we are?  Is the ability to persevere an innate quality or can we develop it?  There are plenty of articles out there, if you google “teaching grit”.  In this Tedtalk Carol Dweck talks about how we can shift our mindsets, how our own beliefs about our abilities affect the way that we learn and approach life.

We hear the cliche about being able to do anything if you put your mind to it all the time but I believe it is true.  Anyone can put one foot in front of the other but there has to be a desire to start, and then a determination to succeed and a doggedness to keep going when the going gets tough.  But maybe you also need a sense of humour and just a little dose of absurdity?  I will put that theory to the test on 28th March! 

#28daysofwriting Day 17: Work Life Balance

Why is it that great ideas come to me in my dreams but then elude my memory on wakening.  I had a perfect topic for my blog, I even remember writing it in my dream, but now there are just snatches of swirling half ideas, fragments of concepts floating just out of my grasp.

It is that point in the term, 4 weeks in, when my head is crammed with all the tasks that I need to do, all the conversations, emails, lesson plans, photocopying, presentations, that I start to dream about work.  So vividly that I am almost convinced that I have actually done some of the jobs on my endless list when I get to school the next day!   How many times do you say, “I’m sure I did that!”.  Maybe you did, in your dreams.

What is a dream? A dream is either:  a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep   OR   a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal.

It is thought that the content of a dream is closely related to recent real life events which your brain seeks to make sense of or filter whilst it is resting as a way of clearing and relaxing and coping with life. Given that we live our lives in a whirl and we probably have little time to process during our busy days, sleep is the only time that our brains do have time to do that processing.

Recently, one of the questions on the FaceBook group NZ Teachers (Primary)  was how did teachers maintain some sort of work-life balance?  How did they fit in school, planning, family, exercise, eating healthily etc.  As you can imagine there were lots of responses.  All of them felt that school dominated, long hours, at school after school, before school, at the weekends.  But most talked also about making the effort to create “me” time, “family” time, “brain” time. We can’t keep on going and be effective teachers without providing our brains and our spirits without a space to regenerate.

One person added this warning,  “Remember Celia Lashlie’s last gift to the world… “I’d waited too long to look after myself and my body broke.”It is tragic, but I have seen too many friends and colleagues “break” because they don’t give themselves a break or they don’t feel that they can take a break given the pressures and the competition in the workplace.  I sometimes feel that it is just that – a competiton.  Who can work the hardest , the longest hours, start the earliest in the morning, leave the latest in the evening, give the most tutorials at lunchtime .  It becomes a vicious circle and it is dangerous.

When we don’t give our bodies and our brains time to recover, we get sick, we perform less well, we fail.  You owe it to yourself to make the time to relax in whatever way is right for you.  Training for the Oxfam 100km has actually helped me regain some balance.  Yes, it creates some time constraints but my head feels lighter, I think when I am walking, I talk, I relax,  I give my body a break from sitting over a computer, I get fresh air in my lungs and oxygen to my brain.  I guess I need to keep that balance once the big day is over!
What is your work life balance like?

#28daysofwriting Day 16: Progress or backwards steps?

Two volcanoes in the distance across a large body of water.  the larger one to the left is cloud capped, the smaller to the right is free of cloud.
Ometepe Island with its volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas.

This Christmas and New year I spent four weeks in Central America visiting Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  I have to admit, I knew nothing much about either country except for their location and that they are Spanish speaking.  I also had vague memories from my teenage years of names such as the Sandinistas, Somoza, Ortega and Chamorro.  Normally, I like to find out quite a bit about a country before I visit, but a serious lack of time meant that I really hadn’t learned much by the time I set foot on the plane on the way there!

I think it was actually pretty good arriving there with little or no perception of what to expect.  I had a blank slate on which my impressions started to chalk up.  No preconceived ideas of the people or the place meant that I took things at face value, listened more carefully to the people to whom I talked and formed my own opinions.

It is a cliche to say that Nicaragua is a poor country but that the people are happy.  But the people we talked to did seem happy, they make the most of what they have and work hard.  One of the taxi drivers who took us from the ferry in San Jorge to Rivas proudly talked about Nicaragua and its people and he even showed us his house!  He also showed us where the Spanish conquistadores and Nicaraguans signed the Declaration of Independence in 1821.  A cross and a statue mark the point in the road.  He told us about how Christopher Columbus came in 1492 and the Spanish stole the land of the indigenous people and drove them out.  He was proud of how all the countries that were colonised by Spain have now achieved their independence and their freedom.  There is a real sense here of patriotism and pride in who they are; poor but free after the struggles they have had in the latter part of the 20th century. In the Parque Central there are statues of the people from the FSLN who were instrumental in overthrowing the dictator Somoza.  It has taken the country many years to get over the damage caused to the economy by Somoza and, whilst the poverty here is clearly evident, systems are in place and seem to be working.

It isn’t difficult to understand that the Nicaraguans might want to take any opportunity to improve what they have to continue to make life better for themselves.  One such opportunity is a new canal, financed by a Hong Kong company, that will cut right through the country.  It is envisaged that it will take the traffic that the Panama Canal cannot and will bring wealth and jobs to the people of Nicaragua.

It will also cut through swathes of beautiful countryside, lay waste to sensitive ecological sites and destroy habitats of up to 22 different species.  It is easy for those of us in wealthy nations to damn the Nicaraguans for going ahead with such a project on the basis that plants, animals and insects will die when they are really thinking of what is best for the people.

Map showing where the canla will cut through Nicaragua

We spent four days in La Isla de Ometepe which is situated in the Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua).  The canal will come straight through the lake to the south of the island.  It is a beautiful, clean, impressive lake. It feeds the local communities, it is fast becoming an ecological tourist venue, bringing jobs and opportunities for the locals.  It is unspoilt and certainly a haven for world weary western tourists.  But is that enough for a people who have been downtrodden for generations and who are simply trying to get themselves back on an even economic keel?

It seems though that opinions are split, that the proposal is controversial.  There are those who are keen to push it through and those who fear that it could end up being a huge white elephant.  In October, San Jorge witnessed demonstrations in the streets against the project.  Is it an idea that will bring short term gain and long term loss to a country that has a lot to offer in terms of bio-diversity, especially in a world where eco-tourism is big business and where we are starting to realise what we have already destroyed in the name of progress?

These two articles explore further the impact that such a project will have on the country.  I encourage you to read them.

Land of opportunity and fear: along the route of Nicaragua’s giant new canal

Nicaragua’s new canal could be an environmental disaster

#28daysofwriting Day 15: Symmetry

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

scan image of a pair of feet showing pressure pointsIt has been an expensive day.  Buying hockey shoes and football boots for my son.  As part of that process, one of the shoe shops we went into scanned his feet to help decide which were the best sports shoes for him. His scan shows that his feet are quite well balanced; the pressure on his foot tracks pretty much identically for both feet and the absence of an imprint between the heel and the toes indicates a relatively high arch.

Interestingly, the shoes that the consultant chose for him to fulfil the requirements of his feet are the same as the ones I have for the #oxfamtrailwalk.  I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising since he is my son, but clearly wide feet and high arches and the way we walk is genetic.

landcape image showing a cloud capped volcano in the distance with a dusty road lined with trees and fence posts leading towards it.  There are eome people walking along the road towards the volcano

When I took this photo in La Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua in December it was the sense of symmetry that drew me to photograph it.  The volcano, Concepcion, is a magnet and is itself very symmetrical with its classic volcanic cone.  It is constantly changing as the cloud moves around it so you never see the same view of it.  It dominates the tiny island and I like that this photo draws us to it along the dusty road.

#28daysofwriting Day 9: Safer Internet Day

Missed yesterday so playing catch up today.  Spent yesterday evening frantically putting PD together for a Digital Citizenship session with teachers tomorrow and putting the finishing touches to our new Staff Responsible Use agreement.  Since today is Safer Internet Day, I had a look around at some resources to share with staff and as I was browsing came across some interesting statistics that got me thinking.

According to a report in the UK  about online behaviour, a third of young people say they are targeted with “mean” behaviour online.  Based on interviews with more than 1,000 young people by the UK Safer Internet Centre the report also says that young people feel closer to their friends, and feel more able to cope with unpleasant online behaviour that they may encounter.

Interestingly the report suggests that “26% of British 11-16 year-olds use six or more social networks and messaging apps every week.”  As you might imagine YouTube and Facebook are the most widely used.

My own surveys in class over the last couple of weeks with our Year 9 students back up the report’s findings that Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp follow quickly on the heels of FB.  Then the findings start to veer apart.  The UK statistics that Minecraft and Twitter are used by just over a third of young people are not reflected in my findings but maybe that is, in part, because my students are all girls and are not interested, on the whole, in Minecraft.  And there seems to be a fear, maybe borne of ignorance, of Twitter being a dangerous medium that should be avoided at all costs!

Most young people say that technology is an important part of their lives and it certainly seems that avenues for reporting abuse and inappropriate behaviour on social media have improved and become more transparent.  It is important not to overstate the negatives and focus more on the positives, we need to engage in media which enable interaction, collaboration and learning.  We also need to help our young people deal with difficulties and cope with the challenges they pose if they are to be prepared for life in general.

This blog poses some interesting challenges for the millenials that are in front of us in our classrooms.  Diana Shafer suggests that cyber crime is only going to increase as the opportunists take advantage of the spaces created by technology.  However, the environment also offers huge opportunities for our young people to bridge the gap between the next generation and their parents in terms of cyber security and being responsible users of the internet.  The jobs out there for our kids will be in the field of technology.  “The cybersecurity field is facing a global shortage of qualified IT security professionals. An estimated 500,000 to 1 million cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. are unfilled, according to the 2014 Cisco Annual Security Report (CASR), and job postings are up 74 percent over the past five years. It’s up to us to spread the word about the importance of cybersecurity and the steps our generation can take to get into the field.”

We have a responsibility as educators to ensure that, even if we cannot understand the true complexities of technology and the dangers and opportunities it offers, we know how to keep ourselves safe online.  We also need to support the young people in our care to make safe choices but to not be afraid of the future it opens up for them.

#28daysofwriting Day 7: Weekly Photo Challenge

Ok a double whammy today.  Two birds with one stone.  Occasionally I have a go at the WordPress Postaday photo challenge and this week’s subject matter of “Scale” appealed to me so I thought I would have a go.

We were all doing our own thing today as regards training so I, given that I didn’t have to keep up with anyone, I set off with the theme of scale in mind and kept my eye out for appropriate subject matter.  I walk along the mighty river Waikato.  The longest river in New Zealand that flows through Hamilton, affectionately known as “The Tron”. (but nobody seems to know why and a Google search reveals some strange responses, this one from the “uncyclopaedia” being the most bizarre but also most amusing). The well-used path follows the river sometimes on boardwalks and sometimes on concrete paths.  It takes you through the heart of the city, through the bush in the outskirts where there are natural reserves and through Hamilton’s world famous gardens which are beautiful and full of families picnicking, enjoying the flowers, playing games and enjoying the many festivals especially on Sundays holiday weekends like this one.

My walk takes me across two of the bridges, and as I looked down the river I saw a small rowing boat pulled up on the banks in front of the Rowing Club.  The Waikato is a river used by rowers.  Every morning and evening in the summer you can hear the calls of the support boats as the crews train.  Eights, Fours and Pairs from all the local secondary schools, doing the hard yards, oars in and oars out in unison, bodies moving as one as they power down the river.

The Mighty Waikato and a tiny row boat.

Looking down the river from a bridge you can see a small white rowing boat pulled up on the right hand side on the beach.  It is a beautiful clear blue sunny day.

Onwards I walked.  As I climbed the hill out of the gardens and past the cemetery to the trig point, I spotted a pine cone lying on the ground next to the tree from which it had fallen.  That too looked like a possibility.  The seed, the future tree next to its parent, the majestic pine tree.

pine tree trunk with a pine cone on the ground to the right.

I picked the cone up thinking I might find another place for it although I rather like the photo of it next to its parent tree.  A few yards further on there is a view point across the river and out to the Waikato.  The juxtaposition of the small pine cone against the backdrop of the river, the Waikato scenery and Pirongia in the distance was appealing.

A view out across a landscape with mountains in the background.  A small pinecone lies on the grass in the foreground.

I am still unsure which of these photos I prefer. Maybe I’ll let you decide. Make a comment and let me know.