I’ve got the power…

The measure of a man (or woman) is what he (or she) does with power. (Plato)

In 1959, French and Raven described five bases of power:

  1. Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.
  2. Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.
  3. Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge.
  4. Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect.
  5. Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Six years later, Raven added an extra power base:

  1. Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.

I think this one interesting way to examine sources of power within schools. Having been on the receiving end of a particularly patronising whole staff bollocking about deadlines this morning, it reminded me that ideas about power and hierarchies within school have been floating round my head for quite some time, without necessarily really crystallising, except in in the occasional sharp expletive, expressing frustration rather than any well thought out analysis of the places power resides in schools, and how legitimate we consider the power base to be. Teachers wield power in the classroom (well hopefully) in order to ensure students learn, and beyond that, teachers wield power over other teachers in various ways and for various reasons. The SLT power base comes from its legitimacy. In psychology we study reasons for obedience and how much more like we are to obey when authority is legitimate. To increase legitimacy you can dress for it, and SLT certainly do suit it up. Admittedly I look more like I picked up clothes from the floor in the dark and then forced myself through a hedge backwards (as the saying goes). But I don’t do what SLT asks because of fancy suiting. I do it (usually) because their authority is legitimate. But there are limits to this. Because I also have power. I have the power of the expert. Oh yes I do. I am an experienced, knowledgeable teacher. I know more about my subjects than any member of SLT, and I’d hazard a guess that I know as much as, if not more, about pedagogy- certainly the psychology of learning and memory. So SLT do not have the power to tell me how to teach, nor how to plan my lessons. We can discuss pedagogy and teaching strategies, but there is no legitimate authority here; we discuss as equals, or in some cases the power structure is reversed because I am the expert, not SLT. This is where the problem often lies in the assumption of power. From the position of power, the position of expert is often assumed, even when clearly undeserved. And this creates problems in how professionals within a school relate to each other. Assuming that you power remains legitimate independent of context is foolish. I understand that the legitimacy of my power over students diminishes rapidly as they leave the school grounds because it is partly conferred by my location and the role I play within it. The power of a member of the police force to tell me what to do is usually legitimised by uniform; out of it and it is just some stranger shouting at me. SLT must recognise that the legitimacy of their power becomes questionable dependent on context; if not then they forge relationships of resentment or learned helplessness- neither of which are good things.

There is of course one way that SLT can maintain a sense of legitimate power according to the above definitions- they can have referent power. They can engender respect and be considered worthy of it; they can also maintain their expertise. It’s a sad thing to say that referent power is sadly lacking when you stand up and shout at your colleagues, at experts in their field, and expect that your authority remains legitimate without recognising you lack any kind of referent power.

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Everyday Sexism

I posted something on my facebook page. I thought it was fairly innocuous- two quotes from two women about what they think feminism is, essentially equality for women. I posted it because it is important to me to demonstrate that feminism is not how it is often portrayed. I identify as a feminist because I think women all over the world deserve equality that they do not have.

The first response from a male friend was to say that one of the women was hot. The second response from the same man was something along the lines of I bet she’s a goer. I found these comments upsetting, although sadly predictable. I replied asking him not to make such comments, I didn’t find them funny or clever. I had tried to be polite, but telling someone they are not funny or clever really isn’t very polite. But then neither is trying to dismiss someone’s argument by diminishing them through overtly sexual comments.

The response was another man saying he did find it funny, and then dismissing the views expressed in the quotes by saying we all know feminism isn’t about equality anymore and women are leaving it in droves. Someone else asked for evidence of this. I am not sure there is evidence of this, but I doubt I would be able to provide evidence that women are joining feminist movements either. There is immense difficulty in measuring either of these positions in a valid or reliable way. So I asked him not to bother. He said he was merely responding to a request for evidence. I don’t think that is what was really happening. Consciously or unconsciously he was dismissing the views of two women based on conjecture. Even if other women, people, believe that feminism is something else, to argue that “we all know” dismisses the views of these two women, dismisses their experience. It’s a form of suppression. I understand that it might seem like I am taking this too seriously, but when this forms many of your experiences, it starts to become tedious when they are consistently dismissed, by people who will never experience this.

The next morning I woke up to a response from the original man accusing me of lacking a sense of humour, posting incessantly about feminism, posting on a public forum and so I should expect ridicule. The point of his post was to introduce some light hearted banter to the issue. My response in asking him not to post in such a was disappointingly reminiscent of militant feminism.

I am not sure either of these men really thought about what they were doing, or the implications of their behaviour or language. I don’t think they were necessarily consciously behaving like privileged pricks with an over developed sense of entitlement, but that is how it came across.

I deleted my original post.

I am feeling slightly disgusted with myself for doing so, but I was starting to feel anxious about looking at my own facebook page. That’s not right.

I could have explained that I don’t think posting something on my facebook means I should expect ridicule- actually I don’t think anybody who posts on their facebook wall is asking their friends and family to ridicule them. It might be something that invites debate, but to simply post comments that I could be expected to find offensive isn’t offering any debate. It’s just mean.

I could have engaged with the debate, tried to explain why I found those comments offensive. But having tried to explain similar things to this guy before, I felt like I would be wasting my time; I wondered whether I would just be feeding the troll. So I didn’t.

The response indicated I was behaving like a militant, as though this is a bad thing when you are arguing for equal rights. I don’t think it is, but militant feminist was intended as an insult. Maybe I should just be quiet and look at kittens and flowers or something.

My incessant posting? If you don’t like reading what I post then you have several options- block me or unfollow me. You don’t have to try and silence me by being offensive and then exacerbating that offence by telling me I should be finding your comments funny. This argument seems to simply underline the fact he wants me to shut up, to stop posting things about feminism. I can’t say exactly why, but I can’t stop myself making the assumption that it is because these postings make him uncomfortable in some way.

This has really got under my skin. I think it is because it was such a stereotypical example of efforts to silence a view without engaging with it. And it came from a friend.

And he has shut me up. For now.

 

Post-script: A few days later the original guy tagged me in a post in which a woman described her fear of arriving home in her car to find a strange man outside her house with a ladder. She reversed away from the house and called her husband. He laughed and said there were workmen arriving to clean the gutters and she burst into tears because she was scared; because her husband didn’t understand that this would be a scary situation. She didn’t know how to approach a strange man without knowing whether she would be under attack. The original guy explained he hadn’t realised that women feel like this about all men they don’t know, that they have to, that because individual men see themselves as nice guys it is really hard to understand when women don’t understand how nice they are.

I see this is progress. But there is a sense of entitlement that comes with being able to dismiss others’ experience because you don’t experience it. I don’t want to fear all men, but I know that I certainly can’t trust all the men and so the safest bet is not to trust any. Many insidious arguments are used to dismiss the experiences of people, many were used in this exchange. Maybe it is one person at a time who changes.

Wellbeing

So what is it?

Health, happiness and prosperity?

The ability to deal with life’s challenges?

Maslow would argue it is the ability to achieve self-actualisation, before which, many much more basic needs must be met.

Jahoda: positive attitude towards the self; self-actualisation; autonomy; resistance to stress; environmental mastery; accurate perception of reality.

Well Jahoda, you do get full credit for high expectations and aspirational targets.

I’ll be discussing these ideas in more detail in another blog; first I have some stuff to get off my chest. Each year teacher wellbeing is raised as a concern. The consequences of ignoring wellbeing are clear- burnout, teacher shortage, increased sickness and absence, poor teaching; the list could go on. Wellbeing is key to good teaching; it is a cliché but you cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot deal with the emotional intensity of teaching a standard classroom teacher time table unless your own cup is full- and it probably shouldn’t be full of gin on a Monday night, especially if it is a pint glass (that is for Friday). Teachers have an individual responsibility to manage their own wellbeing, to be kind to themselves and others, and to recognise when they are reaching the edge. So far, so good. Nobody wants to behave like a twat towards themselves continuously. But sometimes, the individual is overwhelmed by systemic issues that prevent people doing the very things they know will help.

For me this half term is UCAS season, and it is an utter fucking bitch. Students who still have to ask to use the bathroom are making decisions that could be some of the most important in their lives; understandably they are anxious, angry, confused and inconsistent. In practical terms this means many one to one meetings, tears, re-writes, discussions, parental confrontations (for them), parental conversations (for me) and lots of other time consuming and emotionally consuming events. I get to work at 6.30am and I work continuously- maybe a break for lunch- by which I mean I don’t talk and eat at the same time, but I perfect the ability to type one handed. In emotional terms it means I am carrying the projected anxiety and anger, stress and concerns of about 15 teenagers, plus those who have decided they want to share the burden amongst every teacher they know. I have applied for 15 different subjects at universities I will never go to, and I am panicking about potential offers. This week I have hit the edge; physically and mentally, and thank fuckfully there is only one of my tutor group left to finish his UCAS statement. I have been buried within myself emotionally, and struggling to sleep; when I do I have crazy intense dreams- I woke up on Monday convinced I had booked flights to America that I could neither afford, nor use as they weren’t in holiday time. All of these extra things (like ucas) hang around the normal expectations of a classroom teacher- planning, teaching, marking, meetings, one to ones with vulnerable students, cpd and again the list goes on. I know next week is half-term, that I am celebrating the university offers my students are already achieving, that going to the gym and kick boxing the shit out of my personal trainer was a really great thing to do. I really am trying to take care of my own shit.

But what about systemic issues with wellbeing- what does the school do? Last year wellbeing was on the agenda. This year it is not. I don’t know whether that is because we don’t need to think about anymore because everybody has wellbeing, or whether we just don’t care anymore. What I do know is, that despite being on the agenda for a year, and having a group of staff ‘researching’ it; the only suggestion they seemed to come up with was tea and coffee and Costco pastries available from 8.30 am in the staffroom. Not everyday mind you, only on cpd days.

Well that’s solved all my problems. Thanks a fucking bunch. It’s not even good coffee; it tastes like they mixed the dregs of an ashtray with substandard coffee and poured it over lukewarm dogends. And I don’t eat pastries. So my wellbeing is taken care of by me bringing my own coffee and my own breakfast. Um?

So what would enable my wellbeing at work? What systemic changes could be made that would actually enable teachers to take care of their wellbeing, fill their cup if you will?

That’s for the next blog and other wellbeing related subjects are for another blog. I have gin to drink.

 

 

The Hierarchy Triptych: this is the first of three pictures

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn…”

Philip Larkin

Repetition Compulsion: we are compelled to repeat the patterns of our early relationships, regardless of how unhealthy this might be. We repeat these patterns in our friendships, our romantic relationships and even in our working relationships.

This concept comes from the psychodynamic perspective in psychology, where childhood determines our adult personality and behaviour. While many Freudian assumptions have been dismissed as baseless fantasy, misogynistic or scientifically unfalsifiable, we should not dismiss an entire school of thought. In many ways the ideas of the psychodynamic perspective have been reformed and re-stated to fit into new psychological paradigms.

According to the tenets of sociology our primary socialisation occurs within the family. It is where we learn how to behave towards other people, and how they will behave towards us. In psychodynamic psychology, the relationships we have with our parents define our personalities, our needs, desires and how we respond to others as adults. Our childhood is our destiny, and we consistently repeat the patterns we learn as children with all other people we encounter. Unconsciously we reproduce emotions and patterns of behaviour with others, and we receive similar feedback that reinforces these responses. In this we move from the psychodynamic approach to the behaviourist. We can also get a little bit cognitive here. Cognitive psychologists might argue that what we have developed are relationship schemas- expectations of how events will occur based on our previous experiences. In this case the patterns of our expectations are reinforced because we only really pay attention to the evidence that fits in to our expected patterns. They colour our interpretation of someone’s behaviour towards us, and if something happens that doesn’t fit, then we might adjust our schema. However, it is more likely we will reinterpret until it matches our schema, or simply dismiss it. It will not be remembered. From any of these perspectives the lesson is that we will replay our family relationships like a Mobius strip.

While we might love our parents, appreciate them and feel secure in their affection, we must remember that parents are people too. They are not perfect, they have made mistakes or perhaps simply done something very normal, but incomprehensible to a child, that left you at times feeling rejected and abandoned. Perhaps it was the time they first left you at school and you didn’t know they would return to pick you up because they had never left you alone in a room of strangers before, or it could have been the time you were ‘lost’ in the supermarket and when you found them again they shouted at you for running away; when you knocked over your glass of orange juice and you were shouted at, even though it was an accident. I hope that there are not more deep seated reasons for your inner child to scream and shout its feelings of abandonment, but we all have those moments. For me, the moment I recall happened on GCSE results day. My results weren’t good enough. The A I got in History was evidence of my lack of application- yes I got an A. But it wasn’t an A*. This crystallised a nagging fear I had been carrying with me since I was very small- without my academic achievements I was not worthy of love and affection. Now my parents weren’t abusive at all. But they were ambitious for me, and education was hugely important to them- for my dad he was the first person in his family to go to university and he had a quality of life and income that had been undreamed of by his parents. Conversely, my mum hadn’t valued her own education at all, until, she felt, far too late. They were both determined I would benefit from the education available, and everything they could do to support me. They built my cultural capital, they bought me all the books, and they hired a tutor when it seemed my primary school wasn’t teaching the maths that their friends’ children were learning. When I was academically successful I was rewarded with smiles and hugs. I never really failed academically, but the fear of failure loomed large. And with this came pressure and perfectionism. This is something that I have carried with me throughout my life; often an unrecognised and unacknowledged burden. A burden placed with the best of intentions because my parents came with their burdens and experiences.

It means that when I feel that I have fallen short of expectations, if I am not judged as perfect, then my world starts to fall apart emotionally. It means that the standards I set for myself are much higher than those I set for anybody else; when I would offer others compassion and understanding, I only give myself criticism and dismissal. While I clearly recognise this potential strength, and potentially dangerous weakness in myself, I must recognise that others cannot see my inner self. We all hold the illusion of transparency- that people can see much more of our internal thought process than is possible, and we expect them to behave accordingly. However, they can’t. We can’t. They know nothing of our psychological triggers and we are usually unable to recognise theirs. It means that in our working relationships we may well be abusing someone’s inner child unintentionally, and their reactions will be unconsciously reminiscent of a screaming toddler, unable to communicate their hurt and anger to what we have just said or done.

This doesn’t just happen in our personal relationships, but in our working relationships. When we interact with colleagues, we are not two value free Vulcan like automatons, but people who have our schemas, our learned responses and an abandoned and angry inner child. All of these things will colour our reactions and responses. In schools, I think this may be particularly true. We work within a very clearly defined (and often patriarchal) hierarchy. This is familiar family territory. Our parents (SLT) tell us what to do and what not to do. We conform or we are punished. But, SLT were fucked up at some point by someone else, so they too hug their inner child very close and hope that each interaction will not hurt it, will not trigger a tantrum.

What can we do? Recognise our own schema, understand why our inner child cries and check our learned responses. Are any of these appropriate anymore? Understand that we might be the trigger for the tantrum in someone else and try to reflect on our behaviour accordingly.

The Middle Triptych: Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?

Being a teacher with a chronic illness.

the unconscious curriculum

Illness is other people.  Really sick people, not me.

I have been a teacher for 16 years and an AS sufferer for 28 years.  I have other roles in life; husband, father, brother and I hope, friend but my sick-role is finally catching up with my work-role or vice versa? As with all big life events it has made me stop and question things and ultimately question myself.  I share these things not for sympathy but in the hope that the questions I am asking are the right ones for us all, it has just taken me to a while to get here.

I have been a teacher for so long and teaching is such a deep part of my psyche that it is often difficult to disentangle one from the other.  I have ‘lived’ the pace of the school year as a child, adolescent, student and as a professional…

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Whole30 Day30: why does it feel like an anti-climax?

Today should be a day for celebration right? I did it! Well, barring falling face first into a bucket of donuts and wine with my mouth open in the next few hours, I did it. I managed a month without alcohol, gluten, grains, dairy, legumes and soy. I probably listed those in order of importance didn’t I? I was going to write about the NSV’s, the leaner, fitter me and the demons I might have conquered on the way, but that’s not how it has turned out. But I did it! So why am I not celebrating? It all feels like an anti-climax to be honest. I was expecting to be feeling great, happy and proud but instead I feel depressed, worried, sick and anxious.

I started today in the urgent care walk in centre. I have had a cough for about five weeks now, and it has ebbed and flowed in its severity, but last night while on my own, I had a few ‘attacks’ where I didn’t feel I would ever breathe again. It was so hard to suck air into my lungs that it was audible, probably about a mile away. I obviously survived and regained control of my breathing but it was horrible. So this morning, I skipped work (with the kindness, grace and care of my colleagues who covered me) and went to the urgent care centre. I waited for a bit, saw someone, waited again and saw someone else. I was diagnosed with a chest infection and given antibiotics and told to rest up, keep hydrated and take painkillers as necessary. It wasn’t the kick ass finish I wanted for today. I wanted to be seeing my students, going to the gym and ending on a high. We don’t always get what we want.

Do we?

The other thing that is stopping me celebrating is the current state of the UK. I am grieving for the result of the referendum. I am heartbroken at the rise in racist attacks, bemused at the backtracking from promises to possibilities, fearful of the lack of leadership from those who ‘won’, and scared by the uncertainty. Zimbardo famously carried out what has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. In it he randomly assigned a sample of normal, psychologically healthy young men to either the role of guard or prisoner. He put them into a mock prison, and watched the events unfold. The story goes that the guards became increasingly sadistic, the prisoners increasingly withdrawn and psychologically disturbed, until the experiment was ended eight days earlier than planned. Zimbardo argued that we learnt that the roles we give people dictate their behaviour. Much more recently this experiment was ‘repeated’ but with different parameters. This time the guards released the prisoners and they planned to live together as a commune. This result seemed much more humanity affirming. Perhaps we had, as societies might do, made progress in how we treat each other. The guards and prisoners recognised the inherent inequality in their assigned roles and decided they would not accept it.

However, it didn’t end there. Within 24 hours came uncertainty. Not all the members of the commune were doing their jobs, some of them were lounging, expecting others to work in their place, some were demanding more of members than had originally been asked. In the early hours of the morning, in response to this, some members decided to stage a coup- they would institute an authoritarian regime and police it how they saw fit. The ethics committee watching events refused to let this situation play out, fearing psychological damage to the participants. This included those who wanted the regime and those who passively supported it. What would they think about themselves when they stepped out of the experimental situation? What would others think of them? After all, this was being filmed and shown on the BBC.

I fear that the conclusions drawn from these experiments may now be tested in the real world. That we have assigned roles to the leave and the remain sides, that those who see themselves as ‘guardians’ of Great Britain feel empowered to become more sadistic as they enforce their ideals, now seemingly with a mandate from over half of those who voted. These ideals seem to embody a racist and xenophobic dehumanisation of those ‘not like us’. Just as the prisoners in Zimbardo’s experiment were purposely dehumanised and de-individuated, and the guards were given permission to enforce their order upon others, so those ‘not like us’ are experiencing a rise in abuse both general and specifically personal. It is dangerous and it is a society of fear.

I am fearful that the uncertainty that is pulsing across the UK, Europe and the world will end with people looking for authority, for a regime that offers certainty, regardless of the conditions attached to regaining certainty, as those who are supposed to lead hesitate, refuse to take action, and make contradictory and inflammatory statements. . In the real world we cannot simple halt what is happening because we do not like how our participants are behaving, or because we fear the ethical and moral consequences of that behaviour. What can we do? Look to the research into the processes of social change, minority and majority influence to convince people to behave differently? Again, there lies uncertainty.

So my personal achievement seems small, insignificant and almost worthless in the face of the enormity of what seems to be happening around me. On the other hand, tomorrow I will be able to drown my sorrows for the first time in 30 days, and blame the shitty feeling I wake up with on a hangover. Is that a silver lining?

 

Whole30 Day23: Braised lamb with pepper and paprika

Cooking is my yoga.

One week to go! And I think it is time to start reflecting a little on my experiences. I started this because I wanted to check out the hype for myself. I didn’t think it would radically change my diet because I thought I already ate pretty paleo. To a certain extent that was very true, and people haven’t noticed a big difference- even my partner comments that it doesn’t really look any different to what I eat anyway. So I wasn’t expecting big differences, but a little part of me was hoping this would be the food equivalent of finding world peace. I haven’t found world peace, but I have found out some things. One of those things is my emotional responses to the Whole30 are not really about the Whole30 or food, but very much about other things that are happening in my life. This probably isn’t a huge revelation, but in the moment it is difficult to remember it isn’t all about food. After all, even the Whole30 plan says it starts with food. Food is easy to blame, as is a clean eating plan you decided to do. Here is how my thought process goes:

  1. Today was shit.
  2. I feel shit.
  3. I want wine.
  4. I can’t have wine.
  5. Fuck you whole30, if I could have wine then I wouldn’t be feeling like this.
  6. I can’t have wine.
  7. This fucking diet is stupid.
  8. I’m not having wine.
  9. Fucking fizzy water/herbal tea is fucking rubbish.
  10. I’m going to bed
  11. Brain, “ Hey Victoria, let’s go back to step number one, and while we’re at it why don’t we take a step down memory lane and re-visit everything bad that’s ever happened ever”.

Substitute wine for chocolate/bread/cheese or all three (plus wine) and this has been a sometimes quite circular and repetitive process. However, when I have calmed down and thought about it (which can take minutes, hours or days) I have realised it isn’t Whole30 I am angry with, it is a situation and/or my response to it. It is much easier to get angry with food than it is to think about a difficult situation and/or a difficult response. These reflections have not become automatic; I am not a Zen master. I still rant and rage and swear vociferously (and I think creatively), but the reflection is happening. Slowly.

I have also stopped using food/wine as an emotional crutch. Sort of. I think this statement needs to be qualified. Food has always been part of my emotional response to situations. But I don’t necessarily comfort eat when I am stressed or upset (although sometimes I do). I comfort cook. This first became obvious to me when I was on study leave for my GCSE’s which was many moons ago. I baked every single day. It started with recipes I knew well, and regarded as simple and were family favourites such as Victoria sponge. And I had to make them all by hand. Creaming butter and sugar by hand is surprisingly hard, but it was very therapeutic and it took my mind elsewhere. My mum went to the shops daily to re-stock the fridge with eggs and butter, less frequently to stock the cupboards with flour and sugar, but she did start bulk buying. Creating food that other people could eat and enjoy was also very important, and my brother still reckons that I make the best Victoria sponge he has ever tasted. As time went on, the food became more complex, peaking with a tiramisu cheesecake that, including hand-making the chocolate stars to decorate it, took 5 hours. (As an aside, none of this seemed to detract from my GCSE results, they were pretty good). The first items I bought after separating from my ex were two mixing bowls, wooden spoons, a set of scales and a hand whisk just like my mum had in the kitchen drawer. And I baked.

Clearly I haven’t been baking on Whole30, but I have been cooking. A lot. And I have spent a lot of time thinking and reading about cooking. My new wind down at the end of the evening is to think about new recipes, or plan new combinations of flavours. So food is still an emotional crutch, but it is not the kind of crutch that feels unhealthy. Doing something you enjoy to relax and focus is a very healthy way to deal with stress. Cooking is my yoga.

One of the things about cooking that is relaxing is the aromas that drift around while you prepare, and while the cooking is happening. Smells and sensations ground you in the here and now. If you don’t believe me try cutting up a juicy lemon just after you gave yourself a paper cut, or rubbing your eye just after chopping a chilli. You will be very focused on the immediate, very immediately. Preparing a slow cooking dish enables those aromas and sensations to float around for several hours, which has the added benefit/torture of making you hungry. Cooking focuses the mind on the present, gives you space and requires concentration and physical action to create.

Braised lamb with pepper and paprika.

Usually I would cook this in the oven, but mine is broken, so I used a heavy bottomed frying pan with a lid.

Ingredients:

  • A nice big chunk of lamb neck fillet.
  • Coconut oil- about a tbsp.
  • Water- about a pint
  • 1-2 tsps. Smoked sweet paprika
  • 1-2 tsps. Hot paprika
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 tsps. Nutmeg
  • 1-2 tsps. Cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsps. Garlic granules
  • 1-2 tsps Onion flakes
  • 2tbsps tomato paste

In the big frying pan heat up the coconut oil and place the lamb in the pan- it should sizzle in a comforting crackly log fire in a story book sort of way. Let it snap and crackle until the edge is seared caramel brown, and turn it over. If it is sticking to the pan, you might want to give it a couple of minutes longer- meat seems to know when it is ready to turn and conveniently stops sticking to the pan with so much determination, bowing to the inevitable. Once your lamb is seared, turn down the heat and add the water and spices and paste to the pan- the liquid should come about half way up the lamb. Stir them around. Bring to a simmer and then leave with the lid off, to puff wisps of steam around, diffusing warm and spicy comfort through the air. Let this happen for 45 minutes, maybe an hour and the liquid should have reduced significantly. It should be thick and reminiscent of terracotta in colour. Remove the lamb and slice into thick chunks. Place the chunks on a plate and spoon over the sauce. Serve with whatever you like. I like this with sugar snap peas and baba ghanoush. The best ever baba ghanoush recipe is Nigel Slater’s, and I’d like to add a thank you to Mr Slater. Not only has he taught me to make the most amazing baba ghanoush, he has been an inspiration.

A Child Centred School

I didn’t promise coherence. I think all schools should be child centred. My musings on this topic were prompted by some feedback I had from an interview I recently attended. While I didn’t get the job, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive in one particular area: my responses were all incredibly child centred and this was something that had impressed the panel and had really made them think. I was obviously flattered by the positive feedback (I am only human), but it made me think. What responses to questions about education are not child centred?

However you choose to teach in the classroom it will, I think, inevitably be child centred. For a start the maths are against you. There will always be more children in the room than there are you, or other adults (at least in mainstream education). Therefore what happens in the room is always going to be about the students and if they feel it isn’t, then they will make it so. However you choose to teach, it will be about the students in the room. But, the classroom wasn’t what was being talked about in this interview, it was a much wider ranging pastoral role. That made me think about the school as an entity. The raison d’etre of schools must surely be students, what else would it be? If we start with this premise, it should inform all of our following actions.

However, schools are long lived beings (in most cases) and just like your grandma only has her cup of tea made a certain way, and only with PG tips (or Typhoo) and silver top milk and one sugar, schools very often operate in a particular way because that is what they have always done. Children who arrive in Year 7 (or afterwards) are very quickly socialised into the school expectations (and if they are not, then they are frequently removed). Socialising students into expected behaviours isn’t in itself a problem, unless you are the problem child (this is probably an issue for another blog), but increasingly the school’s policies can become problematic for those students who are perfectly compliant and who want to achieve. Schools move away from a child centred approach to a school centred approach, and in doing so perhaps they harm both individuals and the school as an entity. For example, time tables. Students select their GCSE subjects after much consultation, information, advice and guidance. They might do this in year 9, they might do this in year 8. This will be dictated by the school. Some students will be told they cannot do particular subjects because they haven’t high enough SAT’s grades, some will be told demand is too great for a particular subject and they must choose another, still more (usually the entire year group) will be told they must pick between subjects: history or geography, Spanish or French. All the time their choices are being denied, some subjects will be forced upon them: everybody must do, D&T for example. The argument for these choices being forced upon students is that their choices must be timetabled according to what is available (staff, rooms). But what if we started with student choices, rather than the timetable blocks? Why should a 13 year old be forced to choose between their love of history and their enjoyment of geography? If they choose history they cannot study geography in an academic context ever again until they are quite grown up. I went to a school where for GCSE’s I had to study English, Maths and Science. I chose to do History, Geography, Religious Studies, Spanish and French. Students who choose what they enjoy and what they feel they are good at then they might be more successful, which is good for them as individuals, good for their teachers, and good for the school as an entity. Time tabling to student needs must be a possibility. After all, the time table is a construct, not an objective way of organising time, and so offering a student peppermint tea instead of PG Tips, might mean they are more likely to drink it.

When a school does decide to change a policy, introduce a new initiative, go to a two week time table then the first question must be, who does this serve best? If not the child, then who? If not the child, then why? (to bastardise Primo Levi)

These kinds of issues clearly go far beyond the individual school, expectations about subject choice and achievement are dictated by government and schools frequently reflect the newest targets and ideologies that have been issued by the DofE. The measurements of school based on Ebac subjects chosen, insisting all children learn to read in a certain way, or use language in a particular way might be examples of some of these ideas. Again the question is, why does the Department of Education exist if it is not child centred? What edicts pass the child centred test? Who else is education for if not the child? It might be argued that education has benefits that go beyond the individual, we need our children to be educated for the successful functioning of society, to enable them to contribute, to support themselves, ultimately to make money. While all these things may currently be true, we are often told that we need to find something we enjoy in order to be successful- “Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for it.”(Katharine Whitehorn). That is the individual child centred approach. Find out what you like doing and choose between all of those options because the system dictates you must is very different.

The school has decided that all the students have to have their tea (PG Tips)with milk and sugar regardless of how the students prefer their tea.

 

Whole30 Day17.. Crackling Coconut Chicken

I am writing this on day17 of my first Whole30. Overall, this whole30 process has gone reasonably smoothly, but perhaps this is because it is not radically different from how I usually eat. I have been following a pretty paleo diet (pretty as in mostly, not as in attractive) for a while now, and I have been eating low carb for a long time (apart from when I was in South America where carb is king. Seriously, you get a separate plate for your carbs, usually rice, potato and fried plantain). Anyway, food wise I haven’t found this particularly hard. I have, of course, had cravings and you can see this in my previous blogs. It has however, made me examine the emotional reasons for these cravings as well as the physical. Why do I want a glass of wine at the end of the day? Do I need it? What purpose does it serve? And can I get by without it? The answer is obviously, yes I can. Do I want to? That is a question I am finding more difficult to answer. I like wine. I enjoy drinking wine with friends. I even enjoy a glass by myself with a good book. Is this something I want to change permanently? No. But how do I decide when the difference between enjoying something and that’s ok (food freedom) and when it is an emotional trigger response. Do I want to think about it all that much?

I can’t see that I have lost any weight while doing Whole30. I know I am not supposed to be thinking about the number on the scale, but I am. I am thinking more about the number on the tape measure- have I lost any inches? If not, I am going to be very disappointed, but I think I will have to face that disappointment in 13 days as my clothes seem to fit exactly as they did two weeks ago.. Are non-scale victories enough for me? At the moment I don’t think they are because I am overweight and my body fat is far too high, so I am trying to reduce both through a healthy diet and exercise. If following the Whole30 principles doesn’t help me to do that, then I need to do something else and the only thing that has really worked for me is calorie counting. I am going to wait until the end, however, I know that my body usually takes 3-4 weeks to show any real change when I make changes in my diet and exercise. I should also take into account the cough I have had, which has reduced my cardio to almost zero for several weeks. I know people say you don’t need cardio to lose weight/inches, but I find it really, really helps.

So what are my non-scale victories?

  • I have more energy. My work outs have become more intense and I am working out more often, as well as lifting heavier. I feel like I am properly full of nutrients that are helping me to perform.
  • I have had some difficult moments and I have reflected upon them, and got through them. These have been personal and food related. Some have been more difficult than others. Smelling the fresh baked bread in the supermarket made my mouth water, but I was able to resist tearing off a big chunk and stuffing my face. Victory is mine!
  • I am able to be more alert and in the moment.
  • I am sleeping better. It has become normal to feel tired at around ten pm and I am falling asleep much more quickly and waking much more naturally at around 5.30-6.00am. This might be something to do with my physical tiredness, but my natural patterns are no longer interrupted by sugar highs/lows or affected by alcohol.
  • I have proved to myself that I can do this. I don’t need to wine-d down at the end of the day, I can resist temptation, even when a student buys me a massive box of Lindt chocolate truffles, I put them away in a drawer. Now I am thinking about them. Damn!

Now one of the things that has helped is making food I really enjoy, and Crackling Coconut Chicken is one of them. This is based on Cracklin’ Chicken by Michelle Tam @nomnompaleo which is great by itself, but I was looking for something a bit more saucy and I had coconut milk to use up.

 

Ingredients (for 4 meals)

  • 4 large chicken thighs (skin on, bone on)
  • Ghee (about ½ tbsp. more if you like)
  • ¾ can of coconut milk
  • ¼ pint compliant chicken stock
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • And inch and a half of ginger
  • Tumeric (about 1tsp.)
  • Cayenne pepper to your taste (I used about ¼ tsp.)
  • Green veg (I used sugar snap peas, green pepper, red chard, baby spinach)

Method:

This starts as nomnompaleo’s crackling chicken, but you don’t need to remove the bones. Instead use scissors to snip along the line of the bone so that you can flatten out each thigh. Turn over and salt the skin. Melt the ghee in a heavy bottomed frying pan and place the chicken thighs in the pan skin side down and let them crackle. This should take about 7-10 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the coconut milk, stock and spices into a food processor and blitz together. Taste. Add more of anything you feel like. Once the crackling chicken is all crackled, remove from the pan and remove the skin from the top. I give it away to be eaten, but if you like it have a quick chicken snack. Let the pan cool a little and return the chicken to the pan, uncooked side down. It might frizzle a little but that’s ok. Add the coconut milk mixture to the pan and bring to a simmer. Leave the chicken to cook through (about 20-25 minutes). While this is happening, prepare the green veg you are going to add. Once the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is reduced a little, add the green veg and cook for 3-4 minutes until tender enough for your taste  (like mine quite crunchy).

Et voila! Tasty and Whole30 compliant. Oo la la!

 

Ps it keeps pretty well in the fridge and tastes great heated up the next day..or even the day after, so great if you like to meal prep.

 

 

Returning to teacher centred learning

I would describe my classrooms as child centred, if I was pushed. I would go so far as to say I am lazy in the classroom because I don’t feel like I do very much. I change the power point slide, I put students in groups or pairs, hand out questions, sometimes I even ask them, I very rarely answer them with the answer, I frequently tell students ‘I don’t know’, sometimes I don’t even let them talk to each other (silence is golden). My power points contain little information, just a series of instructions that I expect students to read and then follow. I say child centred because it is the students that are working and I am a wanderer, at least that’s how it feels to me most of the time. So why am I there? Because I know how to teach; I have planned that lesson with very specific goals in mind, because students need someone in the room to direct them (even if it is just to the right page in the textbook- I did say lazy).But also because on occasion I need to be standing at the front telling students about the subject, because I know what happens when you remove a child’s right hemisphere and the resultant effects on their learning, I can tell them what happens during brain surgery, the difference between sticky and non-sticky brain tumours, what we mean by being fruit aphasic, how to do a sigh test. But mostly my work happens outside of the room in the planning, preparation, reading, marking, and all the paperwork. That is, the bit that feels like work anyway.

Recently in the twittersphere there seems to have been a swing back towards teacher centred ideas about education (from my brief forays into the world of twitter). The pendulum has swung back again from student led learning, group work and student leaders, to teachers being central in the classroom, and to any learning that happens. Perhaps this is a response to the battering the profession has received politically- actually we are important, we might be one person in the room but we control that room, sometimes with an iron fist, sometimes with a velvet glove and sometimes just with the LoLz. Without a qualified teacher, planning, directing and reflecting on what happens in the classroom, students will rarely get anything out of the lesson (see what happens when I leave my year 12’s work to do if I am absent vs. what happens when I am in the room).

I think this swing is an important one. It is difficult to argue that teachers are important when the profession itself was removing the word teaching from what it does. It is no longer teaching and learning, it is learning and teaching; you will no longer be judged on what you do in the room, rather you will be judged on the progress made by each student in the room at that time; I am a facilitator is very different to I am a teacher; students lead the learning is very different to teachers direct the learning. Perhaps by doing this we made it seem abundantly clear that teaching isn’t a profession with experts in their field practising every day, but more of a sales pitch to the people in the room to engage with the learning as they saw fit. In which case, why would we need to be qualified? After all, the students are leading the learning, making the rules and teaching each other. They are even marking their own work, or the work of their peers developing their own learning and that of others. Why, then, do we need an expert in pedagogy in the room? We simply need an administrator to put students in groups and remind them occasionally that they need to go and look at another student’s work.

We owe it to ourselves and our colleagues to acknowledge our own importance and value in the classroom, in the corridor and in the pastoral meetings we have with students. Teachers are professional educators, and we need to take that mantle back, and wear it with pride. We need to remember that students need professionals in the room if they are to succeed, people who know what they are doing and reflect on how to do it better. A teacher centred school is one that enables teachers to do the best for their students because it enables good teaching. It tells the world that teaching is important.

What teacher centred is not:

  • An easy life for teachers;
  • Doing what you have always done;
  • Working 9am til 3.30pm (despite what people I meet out and about seem to think);
  • Coasting (although I hesitate to use the word);
  • Cynical and self-serving.

What teacher centred learning is:

  • The best for children.

Next blog: on being child centred.

With thanks to Tom Sherrington: https://headguruteacher.com/2016/06/12/schools-should-be-more-teacher-centred/