Courage – that old trickster

Courage and fear have been playing on my mind a lot recently.

Last week I put the following question on my wall:

What have you done today where others would have quit?

It was a challenge to myself, not to take the easy path. I’m not talking about mighty feats such as ultramarathons here. I’m talking about little things such as reading those couple of pages in a book that I enjoy even though I’m tired, or waking up 20 mins earlier to have time to meditate or exercise.

However, the quote really came to the forefront this weekend just gone when I got my manuscript back from the editor. It had….wait for it….8569 changes/comments to it.

Now I was a geek at school and red pen on my essays would send my head into a spin so imagine my reaction when this manuscript came back with the left-hand margin covered in comments.

Since deciding not to be a head I’ve tried to follow my heart a lot more. This has required me to put myself out there and try things a lot more than I’m used to. Saying yes to Abby Bayford for the Naylors Natter podcast is a classic example. I changed my top for that 3 times 10 minutes before we recorded. I do not know why, as it was audio only, but I never said my behaviour made sense. Talking for the first time about English not being my first language and how the little voice in my head, for every blog I write, whispers that I’m going to mess up, write in a way that makes me look uneducated, stupid or intellectually vacant is very real.

So back to the 8569 edits received on Friday. Well, on Friday evening I had a few drinks and went to bed early telling myself I was tired. On Saturday I stayed in bed till mid morning, telling myself I needed rest. By mid day I was out of excuses and sulking around the house. What I really needed was to face the fear of plucking away at a manuscript I have already spent a year creating, to get it to where I’m proud of it.

Confession: I am a sucker for motivational quotes, videos, podcasts and music. Look at my Spotify playlists and they’re all called things like ‘Happiness’ or ‘Girl Power.’ So on Saturday I was listening to a motivational video on YouTube and it was by Robert Herjavec a Canadian businessman, the son of immigrants he talked about his success and being emotionally attached to his projects. He states one of the biggest lessons he learnt was to keep a healthy distance between himself and what he produced. To listen to feedback and do what needs to be done. The words that really stuck out to me were ‘All you deserve in life is an opportunity’ and then you go after it. I have the opportunity to write. Whether or not I do it well is up to me and how much practice I put in. But I must take this opportunity. Because my parents didn’t have it and came to the UK to give it to me. Fear will not rob me nor them of that privilege.

So when I asked myself what I would say to myself when I go to bed at night and ask ‘What have I done today where others would have quit’ it would be, I kept writing and the little girl who couldn’t communicate in nursery, kept having a voice.

Just so you know, I have now worked through 1000 of those edits. None of it was graceful, and a lot of KitKats have been eaten.

Like I mentioned in a recent tweet. Maybe Courage isn’t all brash and proud. Maybe it’s more like having a sulk, throwing a hissy fit, and then doing what needs to be done.

The cost of living

Why our students need to know how much its costs to live in the UK?

According to Revolut the average cost of living in the UK is as follows:

  • £2,249 per month for a single person; and
  • £3,803 per month for a family of four.

This makes the UK the 7th most expensive country Western Europe.

Of course there is an ongoing argument about whether this is a true reflection and what is included in the cost of living in the UK. Are cinema tickets essential? How many TV subscriptions does the average person need?

Throughout my career in education I have run an exercise to help students calculate cost of living based on their expectation. I should highlight here that it is not without its flaws. I am not aware of future inflation rates (which is why I always highlight that inflation will continue to make living costs higher and the importance of minimum wage reflecting this rise in cost of living). However what it does do for students is give them some idea of what things cost and what the life they have dreamed up for themselves costs.

Why do students need to know about cost of living?

Awareness – In order to ensure we are creating a culture of responsible and able citizens that can participate in society and are well informed.

Motivation – Needless to say, many times, when I complete this activity students are left shocked at how much money they would need to earn in order to live the life they want. For many this makes them rethink the career they want to go into and aspire to something more. For some it makes them question whether the life they see on social media and influencers living is actually real.

Expectations – I believe we have a moral responsibility to both encourage our students to dream big and understand the real lay of the land so they are not surprised by life when they leave school but in command of it.

Cost/benefit analysis – Without the cost of living many schools expect students to make important decisions about life – like whether they should go to university or do an apprenticeship. As adults we often have to work backwards from the goal in life to put in actions that will get us there. Why is it any different for our students?

Helping disadvantaged students – The way money is spoken about (if spoken about at all), budgeted, and the purchases prioritised will vary home to home but also whether our students come from a background where parents rely on the government for financial support. The freedom they will have had to make financial decisions will vary as a result. We must ensure that our students, who we want to be active participants in the economy are equipped with the ability to make financial decisions that their parents may not have been able to.

The activity 

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When we get back, the principles of good teaching remain the same.

The panic is starting, I can hear it in the twitter sphere and in clubhouse rooms. The impact of lockdown on student learning and what we need to do to correct it. When what we need is more of what we said we would always do.

The need is too great. To come up with a fancy strategy to overcome a challenge. But the thing is the challenges were always great in teaching. It’s why we joined the profession. To work against the odds and give our students the best possible foundations for their springboard into life. The world has changed, that doesn’t mean that your teaching radically has to.

What I believe our students need when we get back are two key things

  • Routines
  • Focus on learning in the classroom – through a few strategies that you already know about

Don’t panic let’s just focus on good teaching practice.

The principles of good teaching still apply. We need routine, variation, spacing and interleaving. Let’s look at what these might look like when we return.

Routine: There’s no doubt about it our young people will come back having stuck to their normal routines at varying levels, they’ll need us to redraw the lines, explicitly reteach what is and isn’t acceptable, what we will and will not tolerate. What a strong classroom culture looks and feels like and their role in making that a reality as quickly as possible. The key here is to be explicit in our reteaching of routines.

Variation: Just like you, our students have spent a lot of time in front of a screen staring at information you may have presented. Perhaps you got fancy with breakouts and let them discuss things in small groups. But what they really crave is variety and nows the time to try it. Team work, getting them to build on each others’ answers, group discussions to really explore their thoughts with someone other than their cat! How can you switch things up so you don’t rely on a computer screen for your lessons when you get back?

Spacing: It’ll be tempting to reteach and test quickly, but learning requires forgetting. And not just forgetting once. So when planning recall don’t just recall what the students have learnt during the lockdown period but go further back like you normally would to last year and when they were in the classroom.

Interleaving:Yes it’s tempting to revisit what students have learnt at home however as stated above learning requires forgetting. There’s no reason you can’t move forward with the curriculum and put aside small chunks of time each week to revisit previous topics. Even better link them to what the students are learning now and going forward. We learn in stories and the more hooks you can provide to what they know the easier it is for them to remember new information.

None of this is rocket science. None of this is new. You can do this. You have done this. But we need to be brave and stick to what we know works and keep things simple in a time when it will be tempting to recreate the wheel.

Why are the farmers protesting in India?

Please note it is not about Rihanna or Greta (although they are wonderful).

I’ve tried not to say much about the Farmers Protest for a while now for a few reasons:

  • Most conflicts in India take on religious tensions which often pull away from the real issues.
  • I’ve wanted to be more informed and this conflict has taken on a new shape in which again I feel like the original issues of the cause of the conflict have been lost

So having looked into it I thought I’d share my thinking.

As someone who teaches Economics and with family back in India who own farmland I’ve been interested in agricultural policy for a while now, whether it be in the EU or abroad. So to the best of my ability I’ve tried to answer some critical questions in a clear way without oversimplifying controversy. These questions are:

  1. What are the changes the government wants in place in India?
  2. Why the government wants to make these changes
  3. Why the moves are feared by farmers and is it justified
  4. How the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from the policy and become about democracy
  5. Why we should care

1.What are the changes the government wants in place in India?

From my understanding and bearing in mind I am not privy to any of the government papers the 3 big changes to agricultural policy that have been made by the new policies centre around:

  • Relationship between farmers and business
  • Stockpiling
  • Minimum Selling Price (MSP)

So let’s look at these individually:

Relationship between farmers and business – Currently farmers (most of which are from Punjab and Haryana) bring their paddy and wheat to a commission agent in a ‘mandi’ (market place). Produce that meets agricultural standards will be purchased by the government at a Minimum Sale Price assuring that farmers get a minimum price for their product and protecting them. Under new laws although the mandi system is said to still exist the government wants to open it up to private buyers allowing farmers to sell directly to private buyers (such as supermarkets) at a market price.

Further to this, private buyers can influence (and this is the bit that is unclear as to how much influence they have) the farming so farmers tailor their farming to meet buyer demands.

Stockpiling – These private buyers will be allowed to stockpile essential commodities (such as wheat) for future sales something that only really the government has done in the past.

Minimum selling price – The government have assured the farmer that this will continue and is something that allows the famers to rest assured that they will get a ‘reasonable’ price for their goods.

Note: Most countries protect their farmers

It’s important to highlight here that India is not unique in the way it has supported farmers many western countries do the same for instance Farmers in the UK currently receive around £3.5 billion support annually under the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) something that is being addressed now we have left the EU but is likely to be replaced by other supportive measures. You should also know that the majority of India’s farmers are small “Since the first agriculture census over 45 years ago, the number of farms in India has more than doubled from 71 million in 1970-71 to 145 million in 2015-16, while the average farm size more than halved from 2.28 hectares (ha) to 1.08ha. (Livemint see references at the bottom of the article). In contrast the UKs average farm size according to MacIntyre Hudson is approx. 86.4 Ha. So they are not mass producing crop by any standard and often don’t have the practices and technology in place you might associate with a farm.

2. Why does the government want to make these changes

The current government want to move the agricultural polcies into 2021 in line with it’s growing economy. They have argued the bills will raise farmers income, remove some of the barriers that small farmers (86% of total farmers in India according to the Times of India) face to trading, reduce marketing and transportation costs (often a massive issue in gaining income from farming in India).

3. Why are the changes feared by farmers then?

Well a lot of it is fear about the way these policies will work out and to be honest if we look at the EU alone they have every right to be afraid.

Farmers are claiming that the way these policies are likely to pan out are as follows. Private buyers will lure farmers in with a higher than MSP price away from the Mandi system that has some government protections, until the farmer becomes reliant on the buyer. Then the buyer (supermarket for example) will drop the prices they are willing to pay forcing the farmer to provide goods for a price that is not sustainable and in possibly expecting them to over farm meaning that it destroys their land (in a nutshell you have to use practices such as rotation farming and give the soil time to rest and become rich with nutrients which the farmers believe the buyers will not allow). Further if the farmers try to protest, well they’ll lose their income and the buyers will have stockpiled goods so they’ll be fine whilst they source another farmer. Whilst this is happening the government Mandi system ensuring minimum prices will have packed up because most farmers will have moved to private sales at this point.

Are the farmers right to be scared?

Well let’s look at what is happening in another part of the world. Namely the EU.

As recently as 2017 the EU courts had to intervene to protect farmers in the EU and to help them form cartels and gain bargaining power against the giant supermarkets. This was to address an imbalance in the food chain. The state of EU farmers was pretty poor. Plunging prices in areas such as dairy, meant many farmers went bankrupt. Supermarkets were accused of forcing down prices once a farmer would become reliant on them. How? Well they were accused of attracting farmers by offering them attractive contracts, making larger and larger orders so farmers would become wholly reliant on selling to that supermarket alone and losing other methods of income and then the supermarket would push down prices to the point where it would become financially unviable to run the farm. The horrifying stories that came to light from farmers who eventually banded together to take these businesses to court is saddening (bankruptcies, losing family farms, having to sell homes etc..) so I don’t think we can be surprised that the Indian farmers fear much of the same.

Understand the current system isn’t working either and change is needed

According to The Diplomat many small farmers are on the brink of financial catastrophe. Weather changes, medical bills or a daughters marriage (the dowry system although illegal is still a cultural practice) bring them to the brink of collapse. Many of the smaller farmers don’t have access to fertiliser or technology that would help them increase how much they can farm and sell and to manage quality. Many heavily rely on loans and that’s only if they are lucky enough to qualify bearing in mind many may not even have a credit history. The thing I found most shocking was that ‘in the past decade the bloated debt of Indian agricultural households has increased almost 400% whilst their undersized income plummeted 300%). This makes it obvious that change is needed. However..

You can’t have these free market style policies if you don’t empower people

My biggest concern is that the government is trying to implement free market such as the west but India has other unique challenges:

  • In 2018 70% of its rural households still relied on agriculture for their livelihood
  • Since 2015 economic reports on the level of illiteracy amongst the farming population has raised concerns and seen as one of the main reasons as to why the methods used in farming have not adopted new practices and technologies. How do we expect these farmers to be able to fight big business?
  • Many of the farmers do not have access to loans to secure resources to update their farming methods

If abuse of the system by large corporations does take place in the future how can we expect the farmers to bring about justice? Particularly with literacy levels as low as they are. Free markets are great when there is not an imbalance of power. Farmers currently expect protections from the governments who they have voted into power. But large organisations have a duty to their shareholders to increase profits which usually means buying for as cheap as possible to increase sales. This hurts the farmer.

4. Why we should care

India is one of the largest producers of milk, jute and pulses, what rice, sugarcane, cotton and groundnuts. We all need to support India’s farmers. This is a global issue.

5. How the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from the policy and become about democracy

Unfortunately, the controversy around the farmers protest has moved away from what’s best for the farmers and towards whether India can really call itself a democracy if it cuts internet access and tries to limit free speech. The name calling between superstars globally has taken centre stage.

What’s not being talked about? The potential solutions to Indian farmers’ problems. And that’s a problem that is not going to go away unless addressed.

You can find my you tube video on the farmers protests here https://youtu.be/m-ebhOFeZDg

Sources of information:

Food and Agricultural Organisation of India http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/

Good, India’s Rural Farmers Struggle to Read and Write. Here’s How “AgriApps” Might Change That. https://www.good.is/articles/agricultural-apps-bridge-literacy-gaps-in-india

Politico, Europe rips up free-market rules to help farmers, https://www.politico.eu/article/europe-rips-up-free-market-rules-to-help-farmers-supermarkets-supply-chain/

The Hindustan Times, In Punjab, the centrality of the mandi system https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/in-punjab-the-centrality-of-the-mandi-system/story-V1QIJJuShlfDIRiaE7ukQJ.html

Economic Times, Everything you need to know about the new agricultural bills passed in lok sabah, https://m.economictimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-agriculture-bills-passed-in-lok-sabha/articleshow/78183539.cms

The Diplomat, India’s bitter seeds the plight of the small farmers, https://thediplomat.com/2017/02/indias-bitter-seeds-the-plight-of-small-farmers/

Uk Government website, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-global-and-uk-supply

BBC News, Farm bills: Are India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-india-54233080

BBC, Why are farmers in India protesting and how is Rihanna involved? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/amp/55278977

New York times, Why Are Farmers Protesting in India? https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/world/asia/india-farmer-protest.amp.html

Live Mint, The land challenge underlying India’s farm crisis, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/SOG43o5ypqO13j0QflaawM/The-land-challenge-underlying-Indias-farm-crisis.html

MacIntyre Hudson, What size is the average farm? https://www.macintyrehudson.co.uk/insights/article/what-size-is-the-average-farm

But what else could I do?

It’s something I’ve heard a lot of people say when they are looking at moving on from a job. But I’ve noticed it’s especially prevalent amongst teachers. Many seem convinced that a career in education doesn’t equip them for much else. Just the other week I was speaking to an Assistant Principal who couldn’t think of any transferable skills. It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times and sighed when no answer has come to mind.

A month ago I came across a model in an audio book I was listening to that suggested a matrix from which to look at our passions and skills to direct our lives. The book was ‘Think Like a Monk’ by Jay Shetty and the model appealed to me because it didn’t try and sell me a load of woo woo that our calling was stamped on us at birth and we just had to find it, that there was just one thing we were sent on earth to do and we needed to figure out what with no sign of where to look. Below is the model that is proposed by Jay:

See I think often when people wonder what else they can do they are imagining transporting themselves exactly as they are to a different environment and that rarely works. We have to imagine who we can become if we pursue our passions. So let’s take a look at these 4 quadrants one by one.

No skill, No passion

The people you usually see in this area are graduates or school leavers still trying on different jobs for size trying to figure out what brings them alive or at least sparks their interest. Sometimes you’ve gotta have a lot of these jobs to figure out what you do want. Many people think they are here but often are overlooking their skills so would actually be in the ‘Skilled but not passionate ‘quadrant.

No skill and Passion

More of us should spend our time here. But as we get older we feel less comfortable spending time in the unknown. When was the last time you tried something new? These things that we feel passionate about are often things we gave up on when we ‘grew up.’ That instrument, the desire to paint, draw whatever it may be. We have three options in this area when it comes to passion. Kill it and don’t pay any attention to it, but I think a part of you will be lost too. Pursue it as your hobby, paint who cares what it looks like just enjoy the process. Or sharpen your skills so you can develop it enough to monetise it. Be warned sometimes the pressure of monetising this passion can kill the passion itself, or you may want to pursue it as a side hustle to try it on for size.

Skill, no passion

Unfortunately this is where many Senior leaders find themselves later into their career. They joined with a passion for teaching, engineering, design and find themselves being business managers. Able to do it without a doubt. But passionate perhaps not. Many find the passion behind it by aligning with purpose, particularly if the company has a strong ethical drive. However some don’t. This is where you need to figure out what is killing your passion. Is it the job. Take a look at the job description or keep a log of where you spend your time, do you enjoy any of the tasks or should you be looking at pursuing a different career? If it’s the organisation or the people then is it just a case of moving company?

Skill and Passion

Many of us feel this in professions such as teaching, medicine, nursing etc.. our passion comes from wanting to help young people. The cause calls us. But it’s ok to want to move on. We can develop new skills and find new passions. Research from the Department for Work and Pensions predicts that the average adult will have 5-8 different careers in the future, not jobs careers. We’re allowed to get bored and want to develop in different ways. You can have more than one career in this quadrant.

The problem: too many of us want to jump from Skill no passion to Skill and Passion without going through a period of being unskilled, being novices again. We’ve spent too long knowing what we are doing to cope with the insecurity of no knowing, not doing things perfectly. We need to spend more time here. Yes we need to think about the financial implications. I would advise to pursue something new or an old passion as a hobby first, then maybe a side hustle then move to it as much as possible if you still love it. But spending time on things that we are passionate is where the magic lies. But that magic doesn’t have to be in one place for all of your life.

Myths about teaching and education I wish I could eradicate

Teachers have 12 (or more) weeks of holidays a year

Lets start with this one as it’s the reason I’m most often told I’m lucky to be working in education. So say you work in an office, you’re entitled to about 4 weeks right? Most teachers, and certainly if they are senior leaders, would give their right arm to be able to have 4 weeks off. How could that be you may ask? Here’s the break down. I appreciate that on the surface it can look like we have 12 weeks off a year (5 summer, 2 Christmas – one of which most people would get if they were not in retail. 3 one week half term breaks, 2 weeks for Easter). We had 8 bank holidays entitled to all so let’s take off a week and a half with that taking us down to 9.5 weeks. Most teachers also work for at least half a day each weekend. If a teacher is teaching full time the chances are they will be teaching 22 out of 25 periods. Most schools will want some sort of assessment done every two weeks these range between quick tests and longer exam papers. Many secondary school teachers will have between 11 – 17 groups so you can imagine that 3 hours isn’t going to cover the marking required, thus the weekend. Many primary teachers are swamped with lesson preparation too. Lets assume out of 52 Saturdays a teacher works 14 thats 2 weeks taken right there so we are down to 7.5. Then there is the revision sessions over Easter, the trial exam marking over Christmas, the planning of new specs to meet new curriculum requirements and the general updating of resources over summer and I’d say we can whittle it down to 4 weeks like everyone else. (Most would argue it’s lower, certainly for senior leaders who plan for the forthcoming year it can be). Now here’s the thing, it could be 5 it could be 6 or 3. but there are not many professions that require you to be around 30 people all the time. Yes ALL the time. Whereas most professions will enjoy a lunch, or coffee break teaching staff very rarely do get those moments of quiet, they’re usually on duty, helping kids with things they didn’t understand etc..so the break, for their sanity is much needed. Having an off day, as my husband highlighted in any other profession he can hide behind the screen and just take 15 minutes to gather his thoughts, not in teaching you don’t. We need the down time.

Teachers do not work 9am-3pm

This one really amazes me, because it’s often said by people who drop their children off to school at 7.30am and want them to do after school club till 5pm. Who do they think is watching their children?

Your child is different at school then they are at home

You know that one friend that you always have fun and get into trouble with? Yeah your child has one of them too and the chances are they are that kid for someone else. That’s ok. We are not expecting them to be perfect. But what we are expecting is when we call to say they have stepped out of line you believe us rather than saying ‘My little Jimmy would never do/say that.’ Because little Jimmy did, believe me.

School is not 5 hours of listening to a teacher speaking at your child

This ones in response to parents complaining that we cannot provide round the clock live lessons. When students are at school they are not spoken at from the front for every moment of the lesson. Quite often we have to give them the opportunity to apply what they have learnt or at least what we have been talking to them about and they do that in silence through some independent work. It’s important that they get the same at home during lockdown.

Schools did not close during COVID and teachers have not had a holiday

The children of key workers were still coming in, teachers were changing all of their lessons to make them adequate for online provision. Navigating online assessment methods, cheering up tutees who miss school and their friends as well as trying to teach their own children.

Children have a great imagination

This is in response to twitter feedback. Apparently, they’re too busy playing video games? Having played a fair few they require a lot of imagination too! The problem is they can’t often articulate their imagination or think no one will care.

We cannot tell you 4 years before your child’s GCSE’s what they will get

Sorry, we’d love that kind of certainty, erm actually we wouldn’t, I’d hate to be judged on my actions and performance from four years ago wouldn’t you? Yeah think that through. I’ll happily talk to you about effort and participation. But I cannot guarantee a grade years in advance. Even in Year 10 I’ve seen so many turn things around, but it all comes down to participation and effort. So if you want to help ask your child what questions they asked during the day, when seated at the dinner table, not how they did in a test.

Teenagers are not stroppy and clueless

Honestly they are the funniest, most caring, sensitive and bright young people I’ve ever seen. Most of them are just trying to figure life out (aren’t we all!) Seriously, these kids are going to change the world and they’ll likely do a better job than the abysmal one we have. And ok sometimes they are stroppy and clueless but aren’t we all?!

Exams are easier than they used to be

Another confusing one, because this is often said by the same people who can’t help their kids with their primary school work. I’m not sure I could to be honest! I’ve seen the primary curriculum and I teach the kids when they start with us in year 7 and they are amazing! Having planned, replanned and replanned again GCSE and A Level curriculums over the years I can tell you they are getting tougher, the content more intense and the requirements for them to think outside the box and apply their own thinking greater.

What’s the point of all of this?

I’m not asking for sympathy, a pat on the back or a national monument erected in my honour (although that would be pretty cool) and I’m sure no other teacher is either. But a little bit of respect when we are spoken of would be really nice.

*Please note a lot of my references refer to secondary provision. My primary colleagues are often working with fewer resources which means longer hours and are absolute champs. However, I can only speak from my perspective.

Going Part Time/Switching jobs – The financial thinking behind it

Earlier this year I decided to go part time at work and use that time to see how I might branch out into more than teaching. The opportunity looked like it would arise and it was now or never. This would obviously have financial implications and I wanted to know that I wasn’t going to struggle or regret having made the decision. This is an outline of the things I did to prepare.

Calculate your monthly spending

This may sound ridiculously obvious but I’m surprised by the WAY people do this. Let me be clear, totting up your spending in your head is not enough. This should be a paper exercise not an emotional one. The facts on paper (or web page if you’d rather) should be displayed in the form of monthly bank statements. How far you go back will vary depending on changes you’ve experienced. Just had a baby? Look at your spending before and after to get a real insight into how much you need. I was doing this through lockdown so obviously would not get a real reflection of my spending in a few months in which spending was limited due to external factors, so rather than going back say 4 months I went back 6. Then list your spending each month depending on category e.g. Grocery shopping, eating out, memberships, travel etc.. You may uncover some interesting facts. I was shocked by how much we were spending on a grocery shopping. Not the weekly visit, but all the visits in between, for the odd thing (which then inevitably turns into 8 things because you see them on offer).

Make a list of what makes you happy

It’s important to do this before you start analysing how you amend your spending. For instance, if meeting friends makes you happy then you don’t want to start culling all of your meals/drinks out. Maybe think about whether you prefer 1-2-1 meals with close friends over large gatherings where you don’t get to have a meaningful conversation with anyone and prioritise these meals over drinks. It’s about maximising your happiness with things you do. Or if you love to read and see you’re not spending anything in that area then get an Audible membership which allows you to listen to books. The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right? It’s also about identifying any areas where you’re spending your money but not getting a great deal of happiness. For example, the thrill of a new Zara top, for me doesn’t compare to the happiness of checking out a new restaurant, yet I seem to be going to the same restaurants (pre-covid, as my receipts show me and buying stuff form Zara I don’t need, go figure.)

The key here is to get clear about what makes you happy. Because that is where your spending should be going right?

Calculate your pay per hour.

For instance say you work 40 hours a week. Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked. This is false. Why? because nearly a third of your salary is going out to the tax man, pensions, NI etc.. So I recommend you take that out first. For instance imagine I earn £30,000 per annum which is now the average in the UK and work 40 hours a week. 30,000/3 x 2 is actually what I’m left with. £20,000. Then I divide that by 52 and then 40 to give me £9.60. For every hour worked I end up with £9.60 in my pocket. This will make you start seeing things a lot differently. Having dinner with someone who doesn’t bring you joy? You sure you want to give up 4 hours of your life? (yeah the dinner may be 2 hours but then your half of the bill might be another 2). Like but don’t love that dress? Oh its on sale, still is it worth 5 hours of your life? You’ll notice you get a lot more pickier about what you spend money on.

Do not look at your salary and think I’ll divide it by the 52 weeks and then number of hours worked.

Ask yourself what is adding value

Look at your spending does it align with the things that add value to your life and make you happy? For instance, are you actually using that gym membership, or reading the magazine you have subscribed to? Perhaps pause some memberships and see if you notice their lack in your life?

Ask yourself what can be swapped out either for cheaper alternatives or alternatives that bring you more joy

For me it was the grocery shop, we switched from Tesco to Aldi and allowed ourselves to go to Tesco only in emergencies because it is closer to home. The great thing was not that we were buying less food as such but the smaller variety in Aldi meant we were going off script (or grocery list) a lot less. Some of my friends have switched to online grocery shopping for this very reason, so that they are not tempted by the bargains in the aisles. I also switched some of my memberships, I replaced my Masterclass membership which I’d had for a year, with Harvard Business Review, for a change and because I enjoy reading it. We then slashed some of tv subscriptions so that we spend more time reading rather than hypnotised by bad tv.

Check your contracts

Phone, Gas, electricity, water, television service the lot. The chances are if you have been with a company for a while you are not getting the best deal. They are relying on you to be complacent about asking for a better deal so don’t let them get away with it. I hate this part of money management I really do. So I assign 3 hours to it. In those three hours I’m going to call all the companies and see what I can do in terms of reducing my costs, after that I call it a day.

Calculate what you can live on

Taking all of the above into consideration calculate how many hours of work you can live on and whether you need to be working full time in the job that you are in. Could you make that money doing something else? You may not be able to make any changes straight away such as go part time or switch jobs, but you will be clear about what it will take to change and that is powerful to identify when you are ready to switch things up.

Some good reading when looking at saving money

Mr Money Mustache This is a great blog with some sound practical advice and also takes you on his money saving journey.

The Minimalists Less Marie Kondo and more sage life advice. These are great at giving a little perspective about the things that are important.

David Bach’s Smart Women Finish Rich – has some exercises in it that make you do some digging around in your finance to get a clearer picture of where you stand.

Why I’m leaving School Leadership

I’m going to say this from the start

I have the uttermost respect for anyone working in School Leadership.

Having said that I don’t think it should be seen as the only sign of a successful career in education. I have been incredibly lucky in my career in teaching, I’ve had some phenomenal managers and mentors who I cannot speak of highly enough and I their support and encouragement taking me towards what I considered to be success, Headship.

Yet I realised over a period of time that the further up the leadership ladder I went the less joy I felt at work.

I love being in the classroom. There is a sheer joy to taking a group of students on a journey of learning whilst they are with you.

I haven’t felt this level of joy during many tasks I’ve completed for leadership. I know that as a leader you get to impact the lives of more young people. I however, felt that I was having a lesser impact. As a teacher I could have up to 150 students in my classroom in a day, as a leader I sometimes found myself going round in circles with the same 5. Maybe in hindsight I will be able to articulate my reasons in a better way, for now however I can only tell you that it didn’t bring me joy, nothing like the joy teaching in the classroom does.

Another niggling feeling was I wanted to explore life the way I was encouraging my students to.

I teach Business and Economics and am forever encouraging students to explore the heap of opportunities available to them in the world. But I felt like a fraud because the last time I had done that was in my 20s when I left Marketing for a career in education. That was the last time I felt fully alive, like I’d made a conscious decision and was steering my life in a way I wanted. As a result of this I’ve decided to teach part time and explore once again what the world has to offer. To figure out what I’m passionate about, to give things a go and see where life takes me. To have an adventure.

So let’s see what happens, this my just turn into a bit of a sabbatical where I explore life outside of school, I may well get my butt kicked or I may well fly. Either way, I’ll have lived a life of choice.

You can read about my exploration of other paths on my page ‘Side Hustles’

How Dame Sally Coates, Abby Bayford and Brene Brown made me check myself. – A blog post about confessions, values and authenticity.

So I have a confession, I haven’t always been honest.

Covid and Lockdown has given us a lot of time to think. Not as much as some in the media would have people believe and the number of times I have screamed ‘Schools haven’t closed’ at a screen probably says more about the state of my mind than the statement I’m trying to make. But anyway I digress. Upon reflection I haven’t always been honest.

This was my first year as a Vice Principal and although I know I tried, I tried damn hard, I’m not proud of how much of myself I have hidden. I should highlight this is not how my Head feels about me, or anyone else for that matter and this is not imposter syndrome or lack of satisfaction where no matter what I do I will not be happy with it. This is hard reflection. Looking back on the past year I can see I have tried to squeeze, bend, mix, contort into what fits in with the school I have joined. I have told myself on many occasions that this is what is necessary, the first year is about building trust, rapport, getting to know the landscape of your new school, assimilating, but to be honest I’ve never felt 100% convinced.

My problem, I have come to realise is I am waiting for a leader to give me permission to be myself, to be my champion to be my voice to be my cheerleader. But here’s the thing, when you get to VP you are the leader, the champion and the voice, often of the people who need you. I am at my very place because I am different to the Head, yet I have tried to assimilate and that was a foolish thing to do.

Looking back I can see it clearly now, agreeing to decisions I knew would not work in teacher training, an area I am responsible for, but that were insisted upon. Not questioning enough. Going along with paperwork which makes no sense. Going with the motions.

Let me tell you what really brought my behaviour over the last year into focus. Dame Sally Coates. I both loved her and wanted to scream at her whilst reading her book Head Strong – 11 lessons of school Leadership. Someone on twitter recommended it to me and I can’t for the life of me remember who but whoever you are, know that I am wishing so much good for you for bringing this book into my life. In it, Sally (how do you address someone with a Damehood? Do you think she likes being addressed as Dame all the time?) talks about Leading from the front. You may not agree with all of her opinions or practices (Saturday detentions for one) but you cannot doubt her conviction and that she lives according to her values and it was enough to make me reflect on my own. I have the privilege of being mentored by Abby Bayford and her and I have spoken about the role of Values a lot since April. Now in the new academic year with the kids coming back it’s time to really bring mine to the fore. (I’ve also read a lot of Brene Brown over lockdown so I think the mixture of the powerful three Sally, Abby and Brene has now got me going into full confession mode in this blog, don’t blame me blame them!).

During Lockdown and this summer I have spent time really thinking about my values and those I want to demonstrate every day at work and at home. I know people who talk about having a work persona and home persona. I understand that to some extent but it doesn’t sit right with me. I take my whole self to work every day so my values are my values full stop.

So after a lot of self reflection on actions that have made me happy and others that haven’t and working out what is important to me these are the values that I most align with.

Courage – I think it takes courage to be authentic and we are required to be continuously courageous to speak up when something doesn’t sit right with us. I think also as a leader, which everyone is in education, you need courage to reflect and recalibrate and course correct. Courage is what I believe gets us to be hopeful for the future, the courage to dream for our young people is what makes us insist on ensuring they behave the way we know they can and see in them what they themselves cannot yet see, to hold them to a higher standard. It takes courage to be vulnerable so you can experience…

Growth – I’ve heard people talk about reinventing themselves to live a fulfilled life. For me its about growing and revealing more of myself as a leader. Peeling back the armour I have put up, to be more of my authentic self. Which then gives me the space to learn and grow.

Joy – I am eternally optimistic, it’s just in my DNA. I don’t know how not to find a way out of a bad situation and dream. Maybe it’s because my parents were entrepreneurs and immigrants to the UK and hope has kept them eternally moving forward. It was all they had when they faced racism, poverty and despair. I, in my core, like them, believe that my tomorrows will always be better than my todays, that life is abundant in its giving. The alternative to me is too destructive to imagine. I’ve met people who believe in a zero sum game, who believe if someone or some school is getting ahead that this means they are getting behind and I have never seen them prosper. We cannot teach our kids about contributing to future society if we are working from a place from lack. If you are one of those people please stay out of my circle.

So what does living your values mean in the workplace? Well I’m just starting on this journey but the above values have shaped our INSET days and our Teaching and learning and QA processes for the forthcoming year.

Professional Development – I have absolutely refused to introduce anything new this year but worked on taking away and pairing back. Keep the main thing the main thing seems to be my motto right now. I’ve asked teachers to reflect, tweak and really hone in on questioning, modelling and recall. Things they already do. I’ve asked them to come on this courageous journey with me, record themselves, reflect with peers on how they can improve. To become fascinated and obsessed with themselves and their teaching. I’ve also made a promise that I’ll go first and share recordings of myself teaching for open feedback. I’ve asked for courage in the small things. Our professional development programme which requires triads of teachers to work together asks them to be responsible for not only their own growth but that of each others.

Last year we spent a lot of time working on our curriculum plans. To me Joy and curriculum plans go hand in hand. Call me a geek but the joy a well thought through curriculum in History or any other subject brings me is ridiculous. I love hearing about a curriculum journey, how leanring in year 7 is prepping them for bigger questions and reflections in year 9. It is music to me. This year I have asked teachers to overtly share this joy with the kids. We started on this journey last year but our job is not done. I want kids not only to be excited about what they are learning now but what they are going to learn.

I have done away with judgmental QA processes and learning walks. Not one learning walk last year taught me something I didn’t already know. I’ve done away with a PP strategy and combined it into our T&L strategy. There is not one T&L strategy that we are focused on that would not also benefit our PP kids.

These are just some examples of how living from my values has let me to make decisions that I always believed in. I’m excited. I’m nervous, but I’m excited. To some these may seem like small steps but often our actions don’t have to be revolutionary, sometimes its having the passion to not go with the flow that makes them extraordinary.

I’ll be keeping you posted to on how things go.

I would love to build an accountability group. A group of us who come together and hold each other to our values. I honestly believe that sometimes this is harder as a VP then a Head. Because you don’t have the final word and may think the right thing to do is fall in line with the Head’s decisions. This is great if you are completely aligned but I would argue that you are there to be a contrast to your Head to complement them and to help bounce ideas to steer the school forward. Please let me know on @noonetoldmehow if you’d like to join a by monthly zoom conversation.

Work Life Balance, Thinking Time and Lessons Learnt from Lockdown

As I sit here waiting for Boris Johnsons announcement on Sunday night I take a moment to reflect on what Lockdown has taught me. I mean it may all be over tomorrow, unlikely but the possibility is there that the PM will spring it on us that we are all due to go back into schools and well, just cope. This isn’t a blog about the announcement, its merits and drawback. This is a blog about what lockdown has taught me as a senior leader.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve worked my way up to VP my life is always divided into three and very rarely do they get an equal share. The three parts are:

Teaching and learning – whether that be me teaching, observing other teachers, having discussions about curriculum or organising and delivering CPD.

Business, behaviour and admin – The school calendar, on call, phone calls, meetings about business issues or logistics

Personal development and Family – My own development and time with family and friends

I’m not proud of it but the last one probably gets the least attention when I’m half way through a term and I think many people will agree.

But this time in lockdown has taught me so many things. I can certainly say it hasn’t been a period of slowing down but certainly given me many more periods of reflection.

These are things I have learnt and hope to take forward when we do return to ‘normal’ whatever that may look like.

Work

I produce better work when I have had time to mull it over. Therefore, I must build time to throw ideas around in my head. During lockdown this has been somewhat easier as I am not being dragged to the next ‘emergency’ which often finds itself not being an ‘emergency.’ I’ve actually blocked out time before a meeting to think about how I feel about the area for discussion or built in time to do something else before I write a paper. And the end result of all of this? I am producing better work. How do I apply this when I get back? A quick walk around the site? Moving myself to an empty classroom to work things out in my head? Locking myself in the loos? I don’t know, but I know I have to build it in.

I love people. I didn’t know I was a hugger until this point but I miss a hug. I love people, they fascinate me, my staff my students. I hate to admit it but I have probably had more face to face time with people than I would at school. I have had in depth, hilarious and fascinating conversations with all of my middle leaders, some of them one and a half hours long as we discuss our dreams for education and the school. When this is over I have vowed to spend more time in the staff room or in departments because that’s where the beating heart of our school is. This may sound obvious but ask anyone one in SLT and they’ll tell you this doesn’t always happen.

I have to get braver at pushing back on deadlines. I have had to do this a lot more as on some days I can have Zoom meetings back to back therefore expecting me to produce something in between them is impossible therefore, I have to block out time for writing and be proactive in deciding when work will be completed and sent. Many of the times I’ve found deadlines can be moved. If you produce good work people will be amenable to waiting 24 hours for it. This became really clear as I was reading Brendan Burchards’ High Performance Habits. In it he encourages people to control their time by really testing if deadlines are deadline.

I need to block my time out first. As people have been booking in meetings online a lot more I have started blocking out things I want to do in my diary on a Sunday. It might be a walk, thinking time or just time to read an article. This means when someone tries to schedule time with me they can see I’m busy and can work around those times. I even block out time for a cup of tea in the garden right now to get away from the screen. In the future this might be blocks of time for a chat with a colleague to get a different perspective or a walk around site.

Home/Personal

I’m a nicer person when I’m not reactive! My husband’s noticed it, my niece has noticed it. When I’m setting my week up and not just producing to meet other people’s deadlines and have built in some down time, I’m a better person! No surprises there. But it’s made me think more about transition times when I change from one activity to another. When I drive home do I take that time to wind down or make work calls? The former would be better. When I go into a meeting do I carry the thoughts and stress of the previous activity or take a few minutes to think positively about the meeting I’m going into? This might sound a bit woo woo but I think entering situations with a fresher mind can only be a good thing right?

I can use the phone well. I hate using the phone. I don’t have long conversations with friends and I’d rather just meet face to face. But the lockdown has forced me to use the phone well. Face time quizzes and chats have become the new norm and are great. I’m going to prefer face to face chats when I can have them but face time won’t be such a bad alternative if not.

Obligations. I’ve spoken to a lot of people and they have highlighted this one. How much of the stuff do we do out of obligation and because we don’t want to say no. Whether it’s fear of missing out or looking like a bad person it’s easy for things to creep into our diary due to this. Be on guard. I’ve certainly listed a few things I’m going to be doing less of.

I think the single most important thing has been thinking space. This period has given me thinking space and I’ve learnt that at work that can’t happen by accident, it has to be built into my week. It may be at the end of each day but I have to give myself some time to be, feel what I’m feeling and process.

So there you have it a few ponderings about work and life and lessons learnt from lockdown. Will I be able to stick with them all when life returns back to it’s chaotic madness in school? Of course not, but at least I’ll know its possible and there is a better way of working and living. So maybe I’ll try a little harder to have a work life balance.