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Marching for Europe

Along with somewhere between 80 and 100,000 other people of all ages, shapes, sizes, creeds, colours and origins, I spent the day in London yesterday, marching from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square. I felt a powerful urge to exercise my democratic right to call into question the course of action set in motion since last September’s Referendum (a ballot called by a since-discredited Prime Minister to placate right-wingers in his own party, which had instead seen the country duped into “cutting off its legs because its thumb hurts”, to quote a placard seen on the route).

The March itself took place in stunning Spring sunshine. I even got a bit of sunburn, which felt a strangely un-British thing to do on a March in March. As one of the many brilliant placards put it: “I’m British. I’m on a march. Things *must* be bad.” The atmosphere was a curious mix of genial camaraderie and well-behaved simmering anger, in an aural kaleidoscope of many of the languages spoken by UK-residing EU nationals, just as anxious as me at the uncertain future being traced out for them by the British Government.

A few little snippets from along the route which stand out in my memory: a growing collection of daffodils laid at the foot of the Cenotaph, symbol of what happens when nationalism and populism are allowed to run unchecked…  “All You Need Is Love” playing at high volume from a flat overlooking Whitehall, chorused by marchers as we walked by… an outlandishly-clad Brexiteer on Park Lane, with a placard proudly proclaiming his claim that the Bible foretold Boris Johnson’s espousal of Brexit – loudly countered by a fellow marcher pointing out that there is “no blond hair in the Bible”, to guffaws from the passing crowds… looking up and down Park Lane from halfway down and seeing nothing but flag-waving fellow-marchers in either direction… 

Once we arrived at Parliament Square, the mood was, once again, a rather curious combination: the heady feeling that we were inhabiting a page of history, combined with a sombre awareness that we stood mere metres away from the Carriage Gate and Westminster Bridge, scene of Wednesday’s apalling atrocity. Along with many others, I laid flowers at the Gate, and quietly thanked the police standing guard where PC Keith Palmer died in the line of duty. I am sure it is not my imagination that several of them seemed close to tears at the floral response to their colleague’s courageous actions.

Before the speeches began, an emotional minute’s silence was observed in tribute to PC Palmer, Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran and Leslie Rhodes, as well as the other victims still in critical condition following Wednesday’s attack.

Opening the speeches was Seb Dance MEP – brought to many peoples’ attention over his spontaneous visual trolling of Nigel Farage in the European Parliament with a hand-written “He’s lying to you”. His impassioned words, ending “we will never be cowed – we are here to stand for our beliefs” in a double reference to last Wednesday as well as to Brexit, were followed by an even more powerful address from Tim Farron. I will admit to having lost whatever faith I had in the Liberal Democrats over their propping up of the Conservation Coalition, but Mr Farron spoke with cold fire, accusing Theresa May of making Farage look like a moderate in comparison, such is her apparent desire to drive Britain towards the precipice of a Hard Brexit rather than acknowledge the need to achieve a consensus, working not just for the 52% but also the 48%. His defiant tone pointedly underlined the fact that democracy did not come to a halt at 11pm on the 23rd June 2016, but is an ongoing process, in which those who voted Remain – and the voiceless thousands who were not able to vote or who were eligible but for whatever reason chose not to – must also be heard. Interestingly he also advocated solidarity and respect for those who had voted Leave, but have since realised that words written on the side of red buses carry less weight than they had been led to believe during the campaign.

QC Jo Maugham, whose tweets on the subject I have found to be well worth reading, spoke of his recent legal action against the Government, and of the fact that triggering Article 50 is part of a journey, from which we can turn back – not a destination in itself, with bridges burning in the background… He was also one of several speakers who pointed out that the Referendum had taken place in a pre-Trump era (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago!), before an unPresidented White House incumbent who wants to tear up trade rules, weaken Nato, challenge expert opinion on climate change, and advocates populist and isolationist policies on just about everything else. Are we really planning to cut ourselves adrift from the albeit imperfect security of a collaborative, solid EU family, in this unpredictable global context?

For me as an educator, perhaps the most “goose-bumpy” moments of the afternoon came when 4 young people were called to the stage, aged between 16 and 25, who focused attention on the fact that the “decision” set in motion last September had far-reaching implications for their generation in particular, as it will be them who have to face the consequences of whatever Brexit turns out to look like, for the longest time. The first of this quartet, a 16 year-old self-proclaimed “British, Muslism, Pakistani, European”, was arguably one of the most impressive speakers all afternoon, and would appear to have a promising career in prospect as a politician, unless he can do better for himself 😉

I left Parliament Square and walked across Westminster Bridge, feeling proud to have “put my money where my mouth is”, so-to-speak, and stood shoulder to shoulder with my fellow “Remainers”. The Bridge was festooned with more floral tributes to the dead and injured from last Wednesday… but was also a living witness to the sheer vibrant, cosmopolitan nature of London and the wider UK, a multicoloured people-stream of Londoners and tourists on their way to who-knows-where. Who knows where this country is headed? Certainly not Theresa May, David Davis and co. Wednesday 29th is an uncertain step into a rather worrying future, but after today I am less despairing than I may have been before.


#nurture1617 #teacher5aday… Onwards and upwards!

This post is my contribution both to the 4th annual #nurture project initiated by @chocotzar back in ’13-14 and to the #teacher5aday movement driven by @martynreah…The former aims to look back at 2016’s highlights and forward to hopes and aspirations for 2017; the latter is founded upon these 5 elements: 

#connect, #exercise, #notice, #learn and #volunteer.

2016, eh? It’s become an almost daily routine to check the feeds and see what world-wobbling political event or other has lurched unbidden into view… what natural or man-made disaster has stricken populations in yet another corner of the globe… what beloved celebrity has joined the ranks of those shuffling off this mortal coil…

And yet here we are at dusk on the final day of the year and I find myself looking perhaps naively forward into 2017 with a sense of (slightly desperate?) optimism. In a year where we have seen quite how much damage can be done by a relatively small number of people, both at home and abroad, I feel that there must come a tipping point in the other direction: turning Burke’s famous line on its head, if you will: all that is necessary for the triumph of good is that good people do something. It is my underlying hope for 2017 that there be enough good people out there, doing the right thing, that the reactionary forces working against tolerance, collaboration, fairness and justice are simply swept aside in a rising tide of sheer… humanity. 

I saw at first hand what can be achieved by a relatively small group of like-minded individuals when I spent a week in Calais in October, volunteering with Care4Calais, a charity established a few years ago when one person put her money – or time, marriage and health, in fact – where her mouth is and decided to DO something rather than wring her hands daily at the misery taking place a mere few miles away, but a convenient political gulf away for our politicians. It is my firm intention to spend more time there in the New Year, and if anyone would like to join me at half-term, you’d be most welcome. I also spent the Summer holidays volunteering at my local Sailability club, down the road at Blashford Lake… a Summer full of incredible sporting success by TeamGB and ParalympicsGB over in Rio, crowned for me personally by the amazing Gold medal-winning performance of a former pupil, Mikey Jones. (who has this morning capped a remarkable year by being awarded an MBE!)

I have re-connected with another fantastic band of people this year – the happy thespians of the Lymington Players, in our recent week’s run of an adaptation of Conan-Doyle’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”. I was cast as Jack Stapleton, a burnt-out teacher “given to emotional outbursts” – so not too much of a stretch, then! The sense of team-work conspiring to achieve a common goal is something not always so readily apparent in professional life, and where some find stepping out under the lights an intimidating experience, to me it is genuinely when I feel at my most alive. In a first for me, we struck the set on the Sunday following our final performance… and then started rehearsing for the next show the very next day, with barely a chance to catch our breath… I am also playing three very different characters, this time around (a Scottish ship’s captain, a frightfully posh Knight and a peasant called Obidiah Bobblenob), so it is fair to say I am a little further outside my comfort zone…

I have also made a rather unusual new connection, having decided post-referendum to apply for Estonian e-residency. I recently travelled up to the Estonian Embassy to receive my new ID card, and in 2017 watch this space as I explore the digital opportunities this new avenue affords me…

Exercise-wise, it has been a great year. I ended the 2015-16 hockey season playing 5 matches for the New Forest Hockey Club 2nd XI, a considerable step up from the Ballard Staff & Parents Team I have trained and played with for the past 4 years. Over the summer I continued attending weekly training, which was pretty rigorous, and which helped prepare me for my biggest challenge of the year: the 2016 “Shut Up Legs” New Forest Ride with recently-retired Grand Tour great Jens Voigt, raising money for The Epilepsy Society… Although I had totted up quite a total on the road in the weeks leading up to the ride, it was my longest time in the saddle for over 15 years – 80 km of rain-soaked pain! But the sense of achievement at the end was fantastic, and the chance to chat to Jens in German when he rode with my group for a stretch was brilliant for a Tour de France nut like me. 

You may have noticed that I have, so far, not made more than an oblique mention of work. I take this as a positive sign. Where 2015 was, latterly, a struggle which saw me dip back into depression for a lengthy patch, I have bounced back in 2016, and with the help and support of family, friends and #mfltwitterati amongst other online pals, I have maintained an even keel and a very healthy life-work balance. In fact I am starting to call it life balance, as work is part of life – life is not an adjunct struggling to coexist alongside or even in the shadow of the lowering bulk of work. As we all know, work can and will expand to fill all the space we allow it to unless we are careful to establish that balance. And so it is my firm intention to continue maintaining my health, and if that means saying NO and putting me first from time to time, so be it. 

One way I am going to do this is to establish a positive routine of “not-work” activities: alongside my continued thesping; I will continue to play hockey every Saturday; I will be using my Daily Greatness Journal to help me establish a framework to support my efforts; I will get out on my bike at least once a week (and with the new gear I got for Christmas from my darling wife, I have no excuse not to!); I will be doing my best to join in with the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17… and I will teach myself to play my new ukelele (that’s my #learn bit, by the way, amongst other daily lessons). 

So there!

So what is left? Notice. I will notice when my wife needs my support, rather than the other way around. I will notice when I haven’t picked up the phone/dropped a quick WhatsApp to friends for a while, and do something about it. I will notice when a pupil seems a little quieter than usual, and see what I can do to help. I will notice the little details that make small, otherwise imperceptible positive contributions to my day. I will notice when my (online) friends drop off the radar for a bit, and gently see if anything is up. #BDamigos stick together, you see…
Because friendship is the most important thing, really… And that is how I want to end this post. It’s been a great week for friendship. My wife and I attended the wedding of a good friend, who at the age of 42 has finally found the right person to spend the rest of his life with… the whole day was a wonderful life-affirming experience, flooded with joy, and a great opportunity to reconnect with many friends we had not seen for far too long. Finally, another friend, whose young baby we all welcomed into our online circle, had recently communicated to us that they had found a worrying growth, that the little guy was going in for tests to see what was up, and that it didn’t look good. Well, in a wonderful end to what has been a year of big blows, she has just heard that the tests have come back completely benign, and yesterday she let us all know that he is out of the woods. 

I take it as a sign that we can stride purposefully and positively into the New Year with renewed confidence. And sod Trump, Brexit, Putin, Assad, Katie Hopkins and all the rest of ’em!

Let’s do this!

Movin’ On Up


See what I DID* there?

I can’t really believe nobody’s come up with it before, but after Andy Lewis suggested it yesterday, here are my Desert Island Discs (bearing in mind they are prone to change every few days…). And I couldn’t get it down to any less than 15. And even that involved leaving quite a few out. I may come back to this and explain why I chose them at some point…

In no particular order of preference:

I Am The Resurrection – Stone Roses

MLK – U2

I’m In The Mood For Love* – Jay Kay & Jools Holland

One Day Like This – Elbow

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Sit Down – James

The Only One I Know – The Charlatans

New Shoes – Paolo Nutini

Dakota – Stereophonics

L’Aventurier – Indochine

Peaches – The Presidents Of The United States Of America

Enter Sandman – Metallica

Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack

Sweet Jane – Cowboy Junkies

Tacoma Trailer – Leonard Cohen

I am looking forward to seeing what other people have selected!

*D esert I sland D iscs

**our first dance when C and I got married… 😉


Trad v Prog: a false dichotomy?

I was walking down a street in London today when I saw the tree in the photo I took, above. (Apologies for the Prisma-fication, by the way… the addiction is apparently treatable if caught early enough…)

And as I drove home this evening it started to occur to me that the tree v fence image was an interesting metaphor for the apparently insoluble Trad v Prog debate raging on Edu-Twitter. Martin Robinson wrote this post 11 months ago about the apparently intractable tension between the two, maintaining that there is in fact no dichotomy – “the classroom can’t be both subject-centred and child-centred.”

Bear with me, now. Let’s say the fence is the determinedly traditionalist teacher, founding his or her approach on a rigorous, predetermined adherence to a curriculum of the “greatest that has been thought, said and done”…in a setting  which places the emphasis upon order, control and a predominantly didactic style. 

But I would propose that the tree is the learning of a class of children, at first reaching towards those thoughts, sayings and deeds, but then growing past them, messily and unpredictably, with some growth heading in one direction, some in others. 

And surely the “greatest that has been thought, said and done” must by definition evolve with human progress, not remain firmly entrenched and stubbornly rooted in the past?

But I would actually maintain that there is a way to have our cake and eat it, here; just as the fence has allowed the tree to grow, so the tree has not torn the fence from its foundation. In contrast to Martin I would propose that “traditional and progressive can happily co-exist” in one classroom… and I am going to keep trying to prove it…

I would be very interested in what others have to say in response to my tree-based metaphor!

I am Groot


On tech vs pens vs progs vs trads vs millions of displaced children, in refugee camps, with no educational provision at all. Like, seriously…

Miss Scott Said What?

My timeline today has been full of comments and arguments regarding technology such as minecraft. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what it is, but that’s me and tech. I break it. It goes wrong. So I swerve. Be it a photocopier or an app, chances are that I touch it and it will jam, freeze, shut down, poo itself.

Yeah I see the value of an interactive smart whizzy speakered board and yeah I use mobile phones in lessons, yeah I use video and music at times, I’ve even been known to use banks of iPads. Sometimes I use drama, I’ve also been known to sing (badly) in a neon flashing mike, pilfered from Reflex. I’ve even used a sock puppet app. Crazy. Are these things gimmicks? Maybe.

The actual truth is quite simple; I’m a teacher, I try bits, some work, some don’t. If they don’t I…

View original post 1,041 more words


On tech vs pens vs progs vs trads vs millions of displaced children, in refugee camps, with no educational provision at all. Like, seriously…

My timeline today has been full of comments and arguments regarding technology such as minecraft. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what it is, but that’s me and tech. I break i…

Source: On tech vs pens vs progs vs trads vs millions of displaced children, in refugee camps, with no educational provision at all. Like, seriously…


Walls

Over half term I and two friends spent 4 days over in France helping out with a charity called Care4Calais, set up 2 years ago by someone who could no longer find it within herself to stand idly by while refugees and migrants camps on the other side of the Channel gradually took on the permanence of small towns, with the trappings of normal life – basic shops, schools, places of worship, dwellings organised by ethnic lines into “Little Eritrea”, “Sudan City”, “Afghanistan Town” – but with none of the comfort or security, recreated instead out of tarpaulins, corrugated metal sheeting and whatever else the residents could scrape together. And all this within a literal stone’s throw of a downturn-trodden but still relatively affluent town centre.

I guess you could say that I was massaging my middle-class guilt at having done nothing more, until this point, than donating the occasional amount on charity websites or clicking my support for one or other of the security blanket of online petitions which paper our inboxes nowadays. 

Our arrival in Calais coincided with the departure of the last busloads of young people for the Centres d’Accueil et d’Orientation, meaning that – in theory, and according to the French Government – the “Jungle” had been cleared. The problem solved. And any proximity to the ramping-up of of sparring before the upcoming French Presidential elections was all purely coincidental, of course…

But after a first day working in the two Care4Calais warehouses and the open space between them, checking the state of donated tents for dispatch to places of need, we found ourselves drawn to check the now burned-out and bulldozered patch of brown-field for ourselves. 

As the sun set over Calais, we skirted the site to find it still guarded by gendarmes and CRS, and indeed still occupied by a handful of families with small children running apparently carefree amidst the container dwellings and now-defunct infrastructure of what had been, until days before, a “town” of 10,000. We also saw three young men of apparently north and west African origin walking the edge of the Jungle site, followed barely 5 paces behind by an escort of 3 gendarmes. Where were they heading? Had they not made it onto the buses? Had they arrived since the “problem had been solved”…?

My thoughts about what the Calais “Jungle”, the camp under the métro arches at Stalingrad in Paris (and the other mini-camps we never hear about in our news media) represent have been swirling around in my head since I left behind the can-do camaraderie of the Care4Calais volunteers and returned to *my* normality after having my eyes well-and-truly opened. 

And now they have been thrown into sharp focus by the events across another stretch of water, in the American Presidential Election.

On the day we heard that the political landscape had tilted so suddenly to the right, memories flooded back of a day exactly 27 years ago, when a popular movement fuelled by peaceful positivity tore down a wall which had represented a scar across not only a country but a continent and a geopolitical world. The irony of a President-Elect whose most eye-catching campaign pledge had involved selling the idea of a 2000 mile border wall to keep out a people tarred as one with the brush of “rapists” – despite facing legal proceedings for this very crime himself – was almost physically sickening.

And my mind returned to this gate in the “Jungle” wall:

Now we hear that the President-Elect “probably can’t get Mexico to pay for a wall… But is was a great campaign device.” (Newt Gingrich: potentially the next Secretary-of-State). Apparently, Mr Trump “knows how to build big buildings. He knows how to build golf courses. He knows how to build lots of stuff. The idea that he can’t figure out how to control the southern border is just silly.”

27 years ago, I was an 18 year-old working in a shop in Paris, and debating whether to lose my job and hitch to Berlin just to be there as the German people carved a brave new chapter in their history, completely sidelining their political classes by getting it done, themselves. I don’t have many regrets in life – but not having done so is one of them…

Now we live in the so-called “post-truth” world, where a whispered lie can be on the other side of the world before truth has time to tie its shoelaces. Walls, philosophical and political if not physical, are being thrown up all around the globe as right-wing opportunists fan the flames of the precariat’s anger at perceived injustices.

On our final day in Calais, we spent the morning observing proceedings at the Tribunal de Grande Instance, in the shadow of the sprawling monument to consumerism that is Cité d’Europe. Care4Calais had heard from some of the refugees in the detention centre that they were being poorly treated, and so French-speaking volunteers were asked to go along incognito, without our charity tabards, to see if our mere anonymous presence would encourage the police and judiciary to “do things right”. 

We were buzzed in by the brooding police, searched from head to foot and told to switch off our mobiles. We then saw a succession of Vietnamese, Albanian, Eritrean, Sudanese and Afghan men aged between 19 and 35 come before the presiding magistrate, with just one female police officer lightening the prevailing sense of tension. Alongside us was a French law student, and we exchanged thoughts after proceedings paused. We agreed that, whilst there had been no maltreatment of the detainees, the sheer back-slapping, off-hand “palliness” between the présidente and the lawyers acting for the State and the refugees had been distasteful of itself: a lack of respect was shown them which all had found hard to stomach.

Well, I am not *going* to stomach this sort of thing any more. To quote a banner-bearer on the streets of New York, this morning: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept”. 

Do what you can. If we *all* do all we can, legally, peaceably yet forcefully, there’s *nothing* that Presidents-Elect or their dog-whistling poodles can do about it.