Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Long And Winding Road

This week I have been watching the Women's World Cup Football matches on BBC3. As with any football I indulge in, I have dissected the play, analysed it and had my own internal commentary narrating every movement but tonight, as I watched England vs Mexico (in addition to these things) I felt a sudden sense of pride; it dawned on me that I was watching the WOMENS FIFA WORLD CUP on mainstream TV, whilst swapping comments with friends about it on social media/text and sharing the experience with others. 

Why does this make me proud?

I gave up my teens for the development of this sport. In my previous guise a football coach, I gave up many hours, many evenings and weekends, many social events, to be a role model and grow. I didn't drink or smoke (generally...) and didn't swear. At 14, after I gained a back injury which stopped me from playing for a while, I began assisting a lead coach. Within months I was sat at meetings discussing ways to promote the sport and engage girls with playing it; there were several conversations about leagues folding, teams disbanding and a lack of future for the game. I designed the posters that were put up around my hometown to publicise the sport and began to coach not only at my own club, but at three others in order to create competition, as well as the girls teams for the schools (because my teachers were lazy?). When a fifth club approached me to lead their girls teams, at 15 I had to decline on the basis my Mum had said I needed to focus on doing my GCSES's because it was an important year. At 28, I can't believe my involvement with the game's development is now half my lifetime; this contributes to my pride at seeing Sue Smith and the ladies on mainstream TV. Collectively, women involved in the sport have worked long and hard to reach this point.

Frameworks and an effort to collaborate have helped the growth. When clearing my house a few years ago, I found the 'Active Sports Development Plan 2001-2005' - Active Sports would later become Bucks Sport and then Berks and Bucks Sports Partnership. It was Active Sport who paid for me to do my Level 1 certificate in 2003, and my Level 2 in 2005. I think they also gave me a little blue fleece that was really comfy...
 At 17, I asked my local council department for help in setting up a girls football club because the children I worked with had asked me to, but I had no equipment of my own to work with. They linked me with MK Dons and we ran a Kickstart program for 6 months on a weekend morning. Prior to that I had been coaching on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, charging £2.50 per hour and a half session, which were run by myself as a lead coach and two 15yr old girls as assistants that I mentored. They both went on to continue in sport into their twenties, with one having a career in it. The coaches they became are admirable; I still think of some of their qualities today and try to incorporate them into my own practice.
 Having failed sixth form education, I ended up working in sport professionally at 18, coaching boys and occasionally overseeing the holiday programme, before returning to school for a second attempt at being educated. Finally, at 20, I designed and led a girls football academy for 9-16yr olds, at which point reality beckoned and I decided to get some qualifications and be a teacher instead on the basis that I enjoy other subjects and didn't just want to do football. The hours and pay were also considered to be more regular... 


 Although I made my choice to step back from the sport, I still feel part of the community and part of the 'history' that has been created in the build up to this point - the push to become mainstream and equal has not been without obstacles. Many people have worked together to achieve it, persevered, adapted and shown a commitment that is a personal one rather than a career driven one. Without organisations like Active Sport and the McDonald's schemes for funding equipment, or the FA support, investing in local, grassroots coaches I'm quite sure women's football wouldn't have grown the way it has. That is what buoys my pride; at the beginning of the millennium, it was a hope that women's football would be televised and not even conceived that female players would be on any console games. In 2015, the vision has become a reality.  

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Being Creative

People talk about creativity in education, teaching and classrooms as if it is something that once encouraged, will become part of a person's character. That by facilitating the space and opportunity for creativity, and observing someone make use of it, this leads to that person being creative. I'm not sure I agree with that; the person is making use of an option or route made available to them rather than created a new one of their own. To me, the latter is the hallmark of a creative person, although I understand why anyone who can spot a gap that others haven't can also be seen as creative.

I say this as a very frustrated creative person at the moment. I'm in  the middle of writing something else but have come to a standstill, so switched to writing this as a vent for frustrations on the former.

There is a stereotype of creatives being tortured souls, who are often linked with alcoholism or some other vice (sex, drugs, gambling etc) or certainly, there is a pattern that successful/popular writers, artists, comedians and actors seem to have a penchant for one or more of these things, juxtaposed by the idea that there is a solace in their work, an echo of a hidden (sometimes not so hidden?) misery that resides at their core. Maybe happy creative people just aren't very well known or marketable; everyone likes a story, something they can buy into. It's easier to resonate with sadness and pity flawed characters rather than see them as something like yourselves. I guess that's an attraction of creative types; the flaw. The struggle to overcome it. The unattainable space in the mind that only the holder can inhabit, sharing at their discretion the storm of bountiful, beautiful energy that occasionally aches to get out.

Yet for the creative, this is the pervading agony. The torment is in the build up. As a writer, I am frustrated now as everything I want to write is contained within me, beginning to surface to a final output yet not quite ready to be let loose on a page. It is a no-mans-land of creative explosions and fast moving links which, because I am tired from a weekend of partying, is proving very hard to connect to today. Maybe that's why stereotypical creatives overindulge in those vices when they aren't creating. The pace of ideas are too quick yet too slow, like salmon jumping at the surface teasingly before plummeting into a darkness that can't be unfathomed, or like an electric spark that's gone before you can process it was there. In no-mans-land you are on square one at the end of a game that doesn't yet exist. 

I think I don't believe this energetic creativity can be taught, even when encouraged: the diversity in people and their interaction with life is unique. Creative pursuits offer an outlet for a person's 'being' and from that, I don't think you can manipulate the depths and intensities with which one does or doesn't feel something. There is a limit to how creative someone who has been taught to do so can be. I think for creatives with the hallmarks listed above, it isn't a case of depths to be reached but an all-consuming Big Bang of energy, with every star being an idea, some burning with more urgency than others, and rarely on a grand scale, an occasional planet weaving it's way into the history of humanity.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Some thoughts on CPD



My plan to be Elvis was going well until I found out he was dead. He was the icon the masses needed; symbolic of breakout in every shape and form. This post is not about Elvis unfortunately, although I’d love to start a trend of ‘what my icon meant to me’ in educational bloggers (if you’re wondering, for me, Elvis epitomised where resilience and grit can take you, as did Muhammad Ali).

We all have icons. A dictionary definition is as follows:
 noun, plural iconographies.
1. symbolic representation, especially the conventional meanings attached to an image or images.
2. subject matter in the visual arts, especially with reference to the conventions regarding the treatment of a subject in artistic representation.
3. the study or analysis of subject matter and its meaning in the visual arts; iconology.
4. a representation or a group of representations of a person, place, or thing, as a portrait or a collection of portraits.

The field of education feels as though it’s evolving into some sort of celebrity style culture, whereby those who are deemed to be good at something in this moment in time are instant experts and many publish, speak or feel authoritative as soon as inspiration strikes. This on its own is not necessarily a bad thing - the sharing of things that have worked, advice from those who have more knowledge/experience or exposure to texts we wouldn’t have read otherwise are all beneficial to the profession as well as the people who offer them, provided the motives are rooted in genuine professional growth. There’s the saying of ‘don’t worship false idols’ but I feel anyone, or anything, which inspires one to live a better life (which can take many forms, not just morally) is worth engaging with.

 And for me, here lies the difference between current Teach Meets and grassroots meetups. Teach Meets, when they began (I’m led to believe!) were grassroots to begin with; just a bunch of educators, interested in sharing ideas, meeting up to talk with each other. In my opinion, this is pure professional growth - you cannot opt to be passive because you will meet and converse. You’re views are expected to be shared, discussed and your practice opened up, making you approach the event as an individual educator with something to bring to the party; there’s no being a wallflower. Somewhere along the way, the umbilical cord of integrity has been cut and Teach Meets now appear to have a corporate, everyone knows what to expect format and the line-up of speakers are ‘known names’, mostly from Twitter - in fact, this seems to be a main attraction! Is enthusiasm for teachers bettering themselves so low that we now only attend events if they have a hook to sell themselves with? What happened to educators just wanting to explore their profession and practice?

 Teach Meets are still free CPD, do still share ideas and are helpful but what has been lost is the engagement. Audience input is not valued as much as presenter input, making the audience necessarily passive to a degree. The people with an expectation that they’ll turn up and bring something to the party are the presenters. Some - not all - who attend these events look to the presenters as being better than themselves; the presenters become educational icons because of their position and status of being asked to share, and this I feel, is where Teach Meets are losing their value. Education is ever changing. Values change, ideas change, approaches and tools change (remember when PowerPoints were all the rage, now it’s ‘ooohhhh hello Ipad...’) Any CPD that is structured or designed needs to retain this at its foundation, or it will have a shelf-life. Instead of attending events with idols in mind, we should look forward to meeting other educators who care about their own practice and want to engage with the limitless possibilities of where it could go, regardless of experience or position. The notion of ‘polished teachers’ needs to be dismantled so that it is again, ‘this is what worked for so and so/me…’ rather than ‘this works brilliantly!’ The personalness needs to be put back into Ed if it is to regain and retain teachers for the future, otherwise, what opportunity is there for new teachers to develop themselves as professionals? In a way, it’s like exchanging a part of your own professional identity in order to be like someone you deem more successful - someone with tried, tested and approved ideas. If everything we do is an offshoot of someone else work, practice, idea, ideals, when do we reflect on our own? We are in danger of creating ourselves as professionals out of the parts of others, like little teaching Frankensteins.



 Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting some other educators. The organiser seemed apologetic for a lack of structure and smaller numbers yet this is what allowed CPD to take place. We talked. Not just about education, but life, culture, society and politics - all things which feed into our roles as teachers. We can be brilliant technicians capable of executing others tools, but without the opportunity to discuss (IN PERSON!) what we do, what challenges we face, why we even bother or muse on changing styles, themes, approaches to educating, what are we gaining from our time? It is good to be exposed to ideas and take away new things to try out, but we need to be careful that we do not overrate this form of CPD or else we could become passive.