Have felt worse

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Mistakes are beautiful


Why is there suffering? Why is life so crap? Why is it such a cruel world? I just want to be happy.

Years ago, so the story goes, a woman hears of a wise old guru in a far off foreign land. So she travels many, many miles to see the teacher. When she reaches the guru she says “I am fed up with my life and all the discontent in it. Please tell me the secret of a happy life.”

“Good judgement.” states the guru.

“That seems a bit vague. How do I gain this good judgement?”

“Bad judgement.”


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My #tlt17 takeaway


Yesterday was my second visit to Southampton for David Fawcett and Jenn Ludgate’s TLT or teaching and learning takeover. (here’s my write up of the 2016 one). More than a few colleagues (and family members) couldn’t work out why I would want to go. You spend so much time moaning about feeling exhausted and wrung through by your job. It makes no sense and seems hypocritical that you should want to give up your Saturday to go and hear people talk about teaching.

Well yes it does. So here are the main reasons I wanted to go again

  1. Last year was great and I picked up something from that day I now use in EVERY lesson I teach. No other CPD in 20+ years has ever done that.
  2. Through all the hard times my career, even when it was really tough and I could hardly walk out through my own front door to go to work, actually being in the classroom has always remained a joy; a sanctuary even. Now if you imagine the feeling you get in those good lessons, THAT was the vibe at Southampton university yesterday. People teaching because they wanted to share. And people listening and thinking because they wanted to learn.
  3. I met up with some friends from my own school. Sharing this love of teaching with them was a real luxury we can take back to our staff room.
  4. The sessions are relevant to me. Picked by teachers, delivered by teachers, with teaching, learning and teaching in mind. Its proper CPD, not forced on you and done to you between a full day’s teaching and full evening’s marking.
  5. Free of the influence of OFSTED, school improvement plans, performance management and unnecessary paperwork.
  6. Free coffee. In fact a free day.


Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse ) started the whole thing off by reflecting on the legacy we would like to leave. Could we “leave the shirt in a better place than we found it in”? © All Blacks. He asked us not waste the day by letting it become OPD (occasional professional development but instead to make it what the Japanese call ‘kaizen’ or continual small improvements

My favourite thing he said though was how it was still okay to teach ugly but good lessons. In the hubbub of everyday school lessons I like to think I can always fall back on delivering an ugly but good lesson or two. Mr Moyes also has some seriously good IT presentation skills by which we were able to see on video loops the various painful ways pole vaulters could knock off the bar and injure themselves

I next heard Dawn Cox ( @missdcox ), a head of RE, talk about how she had dropped giving grades as part of her feedback to pupils and how they still longed for them. While I couldn’t possibly agree with her when she said she loved marking books, I did absolutely concur with the general murmuring of agreement as she discussed the ‘utter nonsense that has and still does masquerade as feedback in lessons; marking one exam question and giving it a whole exam grade, asking pupils what they need to do to improve their work, marking/feedback as proof for others to see, and those interminable trackers to show progress. Whilst she quoted Dylan Wiliam and Alfie Kohn on the trouble with feedback and grades I thought one of her own pupils put it best


Ever since I’ve been in teaching I’ve wondered about the obsession with grades and measurable improvements. Like Dawn’s excellent session (which you can find here) it has always reminded me of Robert Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”

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My next session blended excellently with that one. The man himself David Fawcett ( @davidfawcett27 ) was also mainly focussing on feedback. I nearly purred when I saw his opening slide


David showed how, just because Hattie found it to have a high impact, not all feedback is good feedback. What we should be looking for is a mixture of Robert Bjork’s idea of less input more output and Dylan Wiliam’s of ‘Feedback causing thinking”. Then David suggested one technique I really want to practice when I get back to my classroom. He talked of how he uses his visualiser for not only showing good work and discussing why it is  good, but also for putting an imperfect piece of work under it and asking the class what needs to be done to make it better. I love this. I have never mastered ‘live marking’ as I never get round more than a minority of pupils in my lesson. This idea, if I can get it to work, would it by like a ‘live crib sheet instead’!

I was really looking forward to Mark Enser’s session, because I like his blog a lot www.teachreal.wordpress.com and because he appeared to be the only geography teacher presenting on the day. Hs talked about creating a culture of excellence that doesn’t leave anyone behind. Mark said my favourite thing of the whole day. “We hardly mention the exams to the pupils. We help them make excellent work. They really enjoy producing excellent work.” It’s almost something Pirsig might have written.

I got more Kenzai ideas to go with the visualiser one. Mark talked of how he had used a blog to share posts that more able pupils could be asked to read and discuss. Since I have just revamped my classroom blog only this week (www.geogteacher.wordpress.com) this is fine time to try this strategy. I have already added a tag “Excellent Geography” and shared a possible post all about puffins and global warming. I will also try to get parents to sign up to the blog via email so I can involve them too.

As David’s session overlapped with Dawn’s, so Mark’s snuggled in cosily with David’s. He too talked about using bad exemplars of work to improve learning and how modelling can help a lot along with that. I already do this in parts, but not as explicitly as Mark suggests. There is my third “CPD not OPD” moment.

Session 4  was by Jack Philips ( @Mr_P_Hilips ) and had the best slide of the day


He was also the third person in the last few months to recommend the book in the middle here. Maybe I should buy it.


My takeaway from Jack’s enthusiastic vocabulary promotion will be to use some y10 tutor time to promote learning and using new words. I think this might involve prizes and having to have a witness teacher sign for your efforts

Finally we were all back in the big lecture theatre for Jane Ashes ( @lisajsaneashes ). With more than enough enthusiasm and energy to fill the place Lisa reminded us of the important things about the day:

  • Don’t leave the ideas in the room
  • Simple ideas are big enough share the ideas – don’t keep them to yourself
  • Sometimes we see problems as the reason for not doing something. There are many, many people with much bigger problems than us (for which she used her recent Ghana and Nepal experiences to prove)
  • The only way you can avoid any type of criticism is by doing nothing at all

And there we are – a fantastic day. I have new ideas to try those small changes, to keep it CPD and Kaizen. I have got them from wonderful, kind people who gave up their own time to share them with me…

The atmosphere at TLT17 reminded me of the quote John Tomsett uses to close his book “Creating a culture of truly great teaching”. It comes, knowing what I do now of Chris Moyes’ musical taste, from a man he would have greatly admired….


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A loverly meditation

Someone just shared this fantastic meditation with me. It is given by Ajahn Amaro who is an Abbot in the Thai forest Tradition of Buddhism. He is based at Amaravati Buddhist Centre in SE England.

He speaks wonderfully during this meditation about “Setting the intention to learn from whatever arises …. or however the mind is…… as things go in that direction we learn from that. If they go according to our wishes or …. if the mind is filled chattering thoughts, the body uncomfortable, with waves of agitated emotions… one after another after another then we learn from that.

Whether it is liked or disliked, wanted or unwanted, expected or unexpected. Everything will teach us if we let it…if we’re wise the painful and unliked difficult experiences will teach us as much as, if not more than, the wished for and likeable, beautiful experiences…. because then everything benefits us; the beautiful, the difficult and the neutral.”

Anyways I could write ALL the things he says, but it would be better for you to listen to the words as they were actually said on the video above


  • I found this meditation via the Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dailymeditation365/ which aims to share a mindfulness and meditation practice every day for 2017
  • I was lucky enough to visit there for a couple of days this Summer and wrote about my experience here and here

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Talking to myself

Many times I sit on my cushion I spend the 20 minutes simply thinking about how things could be or should be; then the alarm goes and I have hardly even noticed, let alone paid attention to, even one breath.

This morning I was reading Pema Chodron in ‘When things fall apart’ on discursive thought. She explained how it is one of the things that we lean toward that stops us properly feeling how we are right now. We hook onto it and away we go endlessly chatting to ourselves, avoiding the ‘edginess of our loneliness’ as she calls it.

In meditation, we try to let go of that internal monologue and rest without moving left or right, without blaming someone else or playing our dog-eared victim card, without seeking resolution from this present moment. Because all our life we have sought  this resolution and never has it brought more than momentary satisfaction before the next urge to jump toward hope or away from fear kicks in.

Instead we could try breaking our habit and ‘sit and feel what we feel…. stay on the spot…. not judge or grasp at whatever arises in the mind’. Then we can ‘discover a fresh unbiased state of being’ (all from chapter 6)

I share all this firstly because what Pema Chodron says is wonderful and it can help us all who would like to be more mindful or improve our practice and secondly because by thinking, reflecting and writing about her work I can understand it all just a bit more even if at the moment my practice is more akin to this cartoon below then what i have just tried to describe.


Pre occupied

I heard a lovely take on this phrase recently from Ajahn Amaro abbot of Amaravati monastery (bio here) He was talking about generosity and how can be easier to give someone a physical gift rather than give them our attention and our time.

He described our inability to do the latter as being pre-occupied or ‘already full up’. In other words we are replete with ourselves and thoughts about ourselves so we cannot fit in time or thought for anyone else. We are unable to give or be generous because we are caught up in self cherishing thoughts

To jump Buddhist Traditions, Lama Zopa Rimpoche says “following self chasing thoughts brings only pain failure and disharmony” (from chapter 6 in Turning Problems into Happiness). Because our selfish mind wants us to be the best, smartest, most successful etc, when this does not happen we suffer from disturbing thoughts (called Kleshas in Buddhism) which affect our mind, ourselves and those around us negatively.

So being pre-occupied with ourselves is not a good way to be. Let’s see if I can  get of my own bubble and have a look at someone else’s. Should do me some good 🙂

(p.s. here is a second nice turn of phrase he spoke of later the same day)

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Unexpected Recognition

After a small health scare earlier this year, I decided that being fat and 49 was not a good enough investment for my future and have started to run. I don’t go far and I have had to find a flattish place to be able to do it as hills are a bit beyond me. At the weekend I did two laps of the park. As I struggled around the first one I passed 3 guys crashed out on the grass. It was about 10 am. They had a couple of beers left. I guess they were on their way back from the Solstice celebrations up the road at Stonehenge. I ran around them careful not to wake them up, but annoyed they were in my way.

On the second lap they were still there. One was sitting up. As I passed them he called out “Coming around for more? Well done mate”. Now I find this running hard. I don’t go fast and I am proud that I can now manage 2km without stopping: I am no Mo Farah. So I felt bloody great that he had noticed me (obviously not asleep as I thought) and commented and encouraged.

Alas a third lap is beyond my ability, so I didn’t get to see him to say thank you.

But I can let you know one thing: , unplanned, off the cuff praise to strangers has a wonderful, wonderful affect on the person receiving the accolade. For me,  just someone being aware of the effort I was putting in lifted my spirits.

So if you are wondering just how you could make tomorrow a little bit better, surprise someone with some unexpected recognition.

Right now I am planning how often I could do this in my lessons. How will it make my pupils feel? 🙂

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Lazy Holidays – Trying not to be a monkey

So what do you do with yours?

I spend my work time imagining how great the holidays will be; how I will get down to basics, to what really matters and let go of all the crap. For a week or so, I won’t have to do those things that fill so much of my time. I will be able to read, sleep, meditate reflect and yes, even write a new post on this blog. But there again, on the weekly holidays Saturday and Sunday, I am no more likely to meditate than on a week day. right now, I have only sat down on my cushion on two of the first five days of this half term break.

I read this old article today in Tricycle magazine. It was an interview with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (nee Diane Perry). She nailed my problem when she said The crux of the matter is laziness. Even when we know what we should be doing, we choose what seems to be the easier path. We’re gods acting like monkeys.” 

I have the seeds of a plan though. Firstly, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo goes onto to say that “The thoughts are not the problem. Thoughts are the nature of the mind. The problem is that we identify with them.” This reminded me of how Pema Chodron described this fault in our lives “Its as if we have been kicking a spinning wheel all our life and it has its own momentum” The attachment to these thoughts is SO strong in my life. I identify with them. I consider them me. I want to protect them and my ego at all costs. This spinning wheel keeps turning in the early part of the holiday and only after a while can I properly turn to reflection and meditation.

The second part of my small plan is taken from the same Pema Chodron book as above, “Taking the Leap”. You can get a copy of it from here. Put simply it is to (a) get in the habit of noticing when we are hooked into these thoughts, into kicking that spinning wheel so it keeps turning so that (b) we can pause and “lean in” to the energy at that moment and “Abide with it. Experience it fully. Taste it. touch it. smell it. be curious about it”. In this way we don’t embrace or reject the thought or run with or feel guilty about our reaction to it. This means we can also (c) relax and move on so the whole process doesn’t become an “endurance test, a contest that you win or lose”

But I like this practise for another reason. It will keep me in touch with the meditation I (hopefully) did in the morning, so that its momentum is maintained, so that when the holidays come around I don’t at first feel such a strong desire to reject my thoughts and emotions (the shenpa as Tibetans call it) before I can get down to using the holidays in a much more productive and practical way.

After all, it is, as Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said, practice that will help us most.