Friday, 9 December 2016

I remember I remember – the 6th Christmas Blessay

I have little doubt that we will look back upon this year as the time when we had to say some sad and teary farewells to an alarming number of celebrities. I too have had to hold back some tears on certain days, and will expand on just a few of these in the main body of this year’s diatribe.

Not that I am any huge follower of celebrity fads and fashions, as well you know.  Yes, I love my music, and I do worry for the future of TV once Strictly is over and the Bake-Off has packed up and moved, but I have never had a long list of “faves”.  In both my reading and music tastes, I am flighty, I move from topic to topic, author to author, genre to genre, and I delight in the variety.  However, there have been some passing’s this year which have touched very deeply on my conscious, cutting deeply to my precious memory banks, and it is to these which I shall pay some reference. 

However, before we get onto celebrity death, let’s recall that there have been entirely too many non-celebrity deaths this year, and I have been touched by this also – I had been to more funerals before the end of February in this year that I had in total in any other year previously.  Losing two good friends, well within their 60s, put the year into sharp focus, and reluctantly sharing in the anguish of those left behind is something I always find more than a little humbling. 

So, when turning my thoughts to the subject and nature of this year’s blessay, it was an easy choice really.  Some of my other festive blogs have used current events to outline my somewhat tenuous grip on reality, whereas in others I have tried to crowbar in yuletide cheer in any way possible.  This blog, you will be disappointed to hear no less, shall prove no exception.   I’d like to take you on a trip down my own somewhat twisted memory lane, and put a very different spin on how to reflect on this year of celebrity adieus, especially at this time of the year.

Naturally, as you may well be thinking, how on earth will I limit this to just a few, if that’s what I’m going to attempt.  Well, my plan is to talk you through the importance of 4 such people to me and to my background, and to celebrate some of their work, whilst placing it all in the context of the season we find ourselves descending into.

Four deaths from this year have had me looking down the myriad kaleidoscopic lens of my past with greater focus and clarity than usual.  And my point is this: despite the sadness, how much joy is there in the recalling? So, here goes …

I remember, I remember …

As a secondary school student who was still trying to decide what hairstyle I should go for / what musical gang I should join in the playground / how and where to align myself, there were many minefield like conundrums to negotiate.  Music was first and foremost amongst them.  I couldn’t see myself growing my hair and wearing so much black, so being a goth was out.  Equally, I was one of the few teenagers in my school who liked washing, and I didn’t like Iron Maiden, so being one of the rockers was also a no-no.  House music was something I really got into, but being far too young to even consider attending raves or clubs put something of a dampener on it all. 

As I came to slow and sad realisation that I was about to plough my own furrow, I heard another track from Prince.  I had always listened to and been aware of Prince, and had enjoyed sneaking a watch of the Sign of the Times concert video with the older brothers of friends, but I had a secret confession, an admission too grave to voice to this group: I didn’t get it. I had a horrible feeling that although I thought the music of Prince was okay, it was nothing more than okay, and I worried for many nights that I would soon have to file Prince in the same place I still do Bob Dylan and Fraggle Rock – thanks, but I just don’t get it. 
Then, three things happened over the course of a single year which blew my mind, and changed my opinion for ever.

First, on a cold autumnal Saturday whilst I was staying at my Nan’s house for the weekend, I heard a track the like of which I had never heard before.  It ranged from the classical to the balletic, and then had a drum beat most military parades would kill for.  As for the lyrics, they screeched and soared poetically above the music like an eagle.  Only at the very end did the electric guitar arrive, weeping and wailing like it had been shot.  My first ever listen to “I wish U Heaven” by Prince (which, you can guess, I am listening to as I type these words) made me do something I rarely did as a child: I lied to my Nan, and told her I was going round the corner, whereas I actually got the 113 bus to Sutton Coldfield where they had the good record shops, and bought myself my first ever prince single. 

Secondly, I was on holiday in Devon, and was enjoying the last party night in the club house before the interminable trudge back up the M5 to home the following day.  Towards the end of the evening, the cheesy as you can imagine DJ made some joke about “get ready to party like – “ and the rest of the sound fell away from me, as the opening bars of “1999” announced themselves, and the entire room went into some kind of ecstatic trance.  For 4 minutes, the room swayed and bounced as one, and I knew what had been missing from my earliest Prince experiences, leading to my younger confusion. 

Finally, at some point close to or between these two, which I may have recalled in the wrong order if I’m honest, I got to see the man himself.  Only briefly, but I attended a concert with a friend of mine who was disabled, and who was desperate to see him.  However, disabled seats being what they are, we were way too close to the front for my friend to put up with it for any more than a short space of time. 

Still, after several years as a devotee of the Paisley one, it is the slow tracks which mean so much to me.  “Scandalous”, the achingly slow song at the end of Batman, is still for me the best example of a non-Christmas song to employ bells.  “Insatiable” at the late night end of Diamonds and Pearls is the most beautiful song about being part of a couple. 

For me, however, the most poignant song in the whole Prince collection is one about death.  The death of a friend to be more precise, and a tune that, whenever it is selected by the shuffle function on my itunes, forces me to stop and think.   “Sometimes it snows in April” comes from Under the Cherry Moon, and constantly reinforces the unpredictability of life, and all the questions it may raise.  But isn’t that what is it to be human?

Although I was as sad as the next person when I heard the news of Prince’s death, I cannot help but feel a little smug and yet enormously grateful at the fond, fond memories he provided for me through his life and work.  Which continues on and on in our house, with my son and daughter now massive fans of the album that, ironically, contains “I wish U Heaven”. 

I remember, I remember …

I can recall it even now.  Sat there in our lounge, the three of us as ever, watching something my Dad had chosen.  In fairness, that statement isn’t as negative as it sounds, as it was through my Dad that I got the chance to watch a whole host of amazing early 80s TV, such as The Young Ones and Spitting Image.  It was my Dad who got us into watching WWF wrestling long before it ever became well known in this country, and indeed stopped us watching it long before it hit mainstream.  So he was, despite all outward protestations, a fairly decent judge.

However, I had never heard of this woman whose comedy show he wanted us to watch, and so I sat with not a little trepidation that we sat down to watch an hour long show (rare in its own right) by a woman who was married to the Great Suprendo (whatever that meant).
Within 3 minutes, I was hooked.  I couldn’t believe that this wonderful woman could tell these labyrinthine stories and still deliver a killer gag every 20 seconds.  She could take on characters, she could improvise, she spoke both to the audience and to herself, and she could play the piano. 

Those of you of a certain age may recognise that I am going on about the first ever viewing of “An Audience with Victoria Wood”. It was December 10th 1988 since you asked.   I can recall even now sitting spellbound, unconsciously leaning into the TV to drink in more and more of what this woman was saying.  Those of you who do recall it will of course recall the now-famous song with which she finished the show, and which has gone on to become possibly her finest single individual moment.

However, my relationship with Victoria Wood did not end there.  A good few years later I was a student who was delighted to hear about a new Victoria Wood show about to hit our screens, called “Dinnerladies”.  Once again, I was spellbound by a piece of sheer theatre that was quite unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced before. 

Full of characters you identified with and cared for, with 1000 story lines being played out separately but oh-so-intricately all at once, this was a show that went from strength to strength.  Let us not forget that it also boasted more than a few quite exceptional and heart-breaking / warming Christmas editions, and script writing to die for. 

The news of her death in April brought so many of us immeasurably sadness, but goodness me, weren’t we lucky to have had so much to smile about in our lives, thanks to a woman who defied all odds and almost incurable crippling shyness to become one of the best comedy writers our country has ever produced.

I remember, I remember …

My mum and dad preparing to go to one of my junior football Christmas doos on a Friday night.  You knew it was a dressing up affair because my Mum’s mirror and all her hair stuff came out onto the dining table in our little haven of a flat.  Tea was a chip shop affair (get in!). Taxis were booked and timings made explicit.

Thankfully, I was now beyond the age of a babysitter, so instead of this interminable torture, my mate Neil came around with some videos from his Dad’s shop (which I would go on to work in the following year).  We also had, if memory serves, an industrial bucket of crisps and a couple of cans of shandy.  Surely, that is what is meant by hedonism?

The first video was a trashy horror / sci-fi affair; never completely my style, but it had that geezer from Twin Peaks that everyone was talking about at the time, so all was well. We ploughed through this film and the vast majority of the crisps, with much giggling and hilarity. 

The second video, cracking into the shandy, was a very different affair.  I’d heard of it and seen the posters, but apart from that I had little experience of it.  For twenty minutes or so, we watched Bruce Willis (no relation, no honestly) look all forlorn and hurt as he was spurned at Christmas by his uber-80s missus.  I was getting, truth to tell, just a little bored.

Then the bad guy came on screen, dressed in a Calvin Klein suit and with a beard to die for.  I was suddenly strangely gripped, mesmerised and, if I’m honest, scared as this villain became more and more menacing.  For two hours we were hooked, until, oh-so-inevitably, the bad guy won and the villain perished. 

I was even more amazed when I read the credits to discover that this German bank robber was in fact English. 

Of course, the film was Die Hard, and the actor Alan Rickman.

It was not long after this that I was being unutterably bored by Robin Hood Prince of Thieves when who should pop up as the villain but – yep, you’ve remembered – Alan Rickman, once again acting the Hollywood superstars (including the usually ever dependable Morgan Freeman) off the screen.  Once again I felt humbled at an amazing performance, and not a little pride at the work of this English man.

My wife and I watched the first Harry Potter together when she was heavily pregnant with our oldest son, on the Christmas day prior to his lengthy birth, and will always be a special moment in our family history.

Many years later, as a father whose children still adore the Harry Potter films even now, the sad news of Alan Rickman’s death earlier this year caused sadness to our entire house, and the first three HP films to be watched almost relentlessly for a good month.  I am forced to say, I did not begrudge them a moment. Once again, I was left saddened but openly thankful that we had had something this good in our lives.

I remember, I remember …

Early this year, when the mornings were still opaquely dark, I got into my car to make my journey to work, catching as I did the end of some piece of cheesy musack for which Radio 2 gets a bad reputation.  At the end of the track, the radio plunged into a silence that lasted probably only 5 seconds, but it felt closer to 3 years.  I was imagining something between the death of the Queen and the detonation of something nuclear.  When the silence was broken, the news was different, but no less sad.

“Apologies listeners, but we are hearing breaking news stories that David Bowie has died”.

The rest of the journey was characterised by numbness and disbelief.  Bowie? Dead? Surely the (insert one of his many nicknames here) was immortal, and would outlast us all, bringing out a brand new album once a decade for time eternal?

It would appear not.  The news of David Bowie’s death hit everyone in ways we could not have fathomed.  In our playground, I had some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations I have had with our school community, and the staff split into two broad groups – those who were experiencing him for the first time now, and those who had known and loved him for years.  I fell into the latter category, for a whole host of reasons.

I remember the amazement with which I gawped at the TV the first time I saw the video for “Starman”.  Too young to have seen it on first airing in 1972, I was watching it on one of the various music programmes I would have had available around a decade later.  I recall even now being star struck (pardon the pun) at this incredulous performance, made by a man (I think?) who hugged and teased his group whilst they sang the most wonderful song.  “Let all the children boogie” is still one of my son’s best catchphrases.

Soon after this, I remember seeing the video for “Ashes to Ashes” and cheering and whooping with joy.  As a devotee of Adam and the Ants, I always thought that more men should be dressed as French Mime Artist dolls, especially at the time of a cliff side apocalypse. All joking aside, once again I was simply blown away by a song that was utterly unlike anything else I had ever heard, and I love it still to this day.

I remember, a couple of years later (I think it must have been around the time of Live Aid, so 1985), the spine tingle I felt when my dad played me the song “Life on Mars”.  I didn’t know whether to clap, cry or hide, but I knew I wanted more. Of course, with the advent of the internet, I can now watch the haunting video at the click of a few buttons, but it haunts me still, even at my ripening age. 

I remember getting a bootleg copy of Black Tie White Noise long before anyone else, on something called a cassette.  It did not matter to me that, two months later, Black Tie White Noise came out to very tepid reviews, most people not liking it.  Didn’t bother me, I still love it, probably for that reason, although I‘ve no idea whatever happened to the cassette.

I remember, I remember…that’s the whole point.  I could give you a thousand memories that concern Bowie and his work that put me in a thousand different places at a thousand different times in my life.  When I first heard Hunky Dory all the way through, when I got my first copy of Ziggy Stardust, listening over and over to a latter day cover version of “Ashes to Ashes”, watching him perform with Arcade Fire, being the only kid in my year to have watched Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence all the way to the end, the list goes on.    I could also tell you about the Christmas Eve when Labyrinth premiered, and I was utterly petrified.  (In fairness, this came hot on the heels of the Never Ending Story, so having failed to keep it together when that wolf-thingy leapt out at the end, I was never going to manage a baby snatching pixie king in tights, was I?).

And that is the point of this blog.  Although we may feel sad at the untimely, often altogether too early passing of celebrities and those dear to us, what more joy is there to be had in the remembering?  If it is simply human to be sad, how humanely simple is it to recall, and to take joy in our reminiscing?  Yes, 2016 will probably live in our memories as a time of sadness, but I feel it should be looked upon as a bridge to a wonderful cache of memories for us all to share and delight in. 

After all, isn’t that what makes this time of year special for us all?  If we didn’t have such amazing memories of Christmas and of this period, why would we look forward to it pretty much from the end of summer? Surely, if we didn’t have such a close memory connection to this festival, then the shops would be spending thousands on advertising and decorations for, well, pretty much for nothing.

I know full well that the reverse is also true. There are people for whom this is not a wonderful time of year, and that is because it is generally connected with exactly the kinds of memories people don’t want: bereavement, separation, loss and need.  Please don’t think that anything else I go on to say will belittle the angst some people must sadly feel at this time.  To these individuals, as ever, go my deepest and most heartfelt wishes, and a hope that one day this will change. 

Also, I know there have been other deaths – celebrity and non – that have meant so much to people this year.  The first Children in Need without Wogan was a little poignant for us all.  Again, please don’t feel that I am making one seem more important than the other – how could I?  Whilst I have been writing this torture, the sad news of the death of Greg Lake has been announced – it is solely down to him that I truly, truly do believe in Father Christmas.

However, for anyone like myself who takes great joy in this time of year (and I know my colleagues will find that difficult to believe, but it is true) it is our wealth of memories that connect us and what make us start smiling in anticipation the first time you hear a vaguely festive tune as the backdrop to an advert, generally mid-October.

And where does one start? I remember, I remember …
My first record player
Playing Santa in a school production of Rudolph The RNR
My millennium falcon
Forever waiting for aunt, uncle and two cousins to arrive for dinner
Morecombe and Wise
The start of my book collection
Coins from a pudding
Hating the Pogues when I first heard it
My first Christmas as a husband, as an expectant father, and then as a father
The Two Ronnies
Refusing to wear paper crowns from a cracker

Even now, Christmases still hark back to the echoes of generations and yuletides past.  I still, to this day, receive a huge box of After Eights from my mum which generally doesn’t see Boxing Day evening (and a card from my Aunt with my name spelt incorrectly).  I still giggle when my children return home with their costume requests for their production, which invariably contains the words “party clothes”.  I am still forced to ask: Why one earth do people drink sherry at any other time of year?  And, yes, I still refuse to wear paper crowns from crackers. 

Our memories define us.  They shape and style us.  Like everyone, I have memories that make me sad, and, indeed, some I would sooner forget.  But my festive trove of memories from this time of the year are as precious to me as any trinket or bauble I shall ever possess.

And now, as I get older, and trust me this year I am feeling it more than any other, I find myself trying more and more to be the maker of memories, wishing beyond hope that my children will, in 20 years or so, bore their friends or any other audience with tales of how magnificent are their memories of Christmases past, and how their parents provided them with a host of wonderful times.  If I can achieve that, what a lucky man I am.  I hope to make the graceful and splendid move one day from I remember, I remember to I shall never ever forget ….

Thank you, if you’ve got this far, for making it all the way to the end of what will probably be my last Christmas blessay; they have run their course, and times are, I am always pleased to say, a-changing.  To you all, may I wish you peace, serenity and joy at this time of year, whatever your faith or persuasion.  If this is not your time of year, then I wish you contentment and peace, and a swift resolution to whatever it is that ails you. 

Above all, I hope that you find yourself sometime in 2017 (even saying it makes it sound all spacey!) with a newly replenished and enlarged collection of memories to make you an even more wonderful you.  Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and the most prosperous of new years to us all.

For this year, and this part of the journey, that is all.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The sight and sound of joy

On this, the last day of September, I look back to the first day.  Firstly, I recoil at the thought of how long ago that seems.  Then I take some time to consider what a good start that was, and how that in turn has led to a really good … start.

Back on (what seems an epoch ago) the opening day of the school year, when the staff all crawled back bleary eyed in to the hall for our opening inset day, we had our usual day of strategic craziness planned.  I took great delight in sharing the successes from last year for both centre and school, and discussed how I planned for us to grow more and more, and achieve more and more, all underpinned by our vision of aspire – achieve – enjoy.

So wide ranging is our organisation now that we do not spend the whole day together – we can be more strategic if we work in specific groups, and therefore this is what we did.  However, as the staff all know, I always like to put an aspect of teamwork and / or new learning into the proceedings – if teachers themselves are not real learners, how can we ever empathise with those we seek to instruct?  

Therefore, the afternoon opened with a sense of forbidding – what idea would he have this year? 
Those colleagues of mine who’ve been on this journey for a while will recall teamwork of insets past: the day I taught them all the ukulele, the group dance, and the radio adverts.  How does one top that?  You don’t, you just seek to develop it.

So, as the shadows grew longer in the hall and new staff a little more worried, I got them started.  Assigning our three new teachers the roles of team captains, I asked the staff to get themselves into teams and charged each group with designing a representation of either aspire, achieve or enjoy.  They had an hour.  Go!

For forty minutes, frenetic energy was all around, as creations took shape.  Odd music made a cameo, thankfully fleeting appearance, and a few minutes before our time the creations began to take the stage.  Aspire took the form of arrows and stars, photographs and positivity, all made from a cone, a rounders pole, and little love.  Achieve took on weightier metaphors, with hearts and brains balanced by maths scales, and surrounded by tempting presents or the rewards of your labours.  Enjoy was more of 2 dimension affair, taking the form of a character full of the wonders life has to offer, and looking like she had the time of her life.  “This is Joy”, her team announced. 

And I thought to myself, you know what, it is, actually. 

Since then, I have been a little overwhelmed with the quality of the start we have made this year, and extremely proud of the work already created.  Our wonderful children are back, and have been for four weeks, and all we’ve had is a really lovely time, thank you.  And there is no secret to it, it’s really quite simple: our children are having a super time because they’re being super – conscientious, friendly, fun, enthusiastic.  In fact, you can see the joy.  (And can I all remind you, I have on more than one occasion penned blogs about how much I want September over and done with…)

Our new staff have all contributed enormously to our school with their enormous work rates, and have already established themselves as super team members, evidenced not a little by today’s feast of a Macmillan coffee morning.  Thanks to Miss Beeks organisation, two tables in the staffroom were groaning beneath the weight of all the goodies.  It will come, I am sure, as no little surprise that joy was all around us. 

The governors have been in, working as hard as they always do, and they too noticed it: “it’s so calm” they told us, “so happy”.  When you’re sat in the meeting room trying to negotiate the minefields of the budget, it makes life so much easier when you can hear coming, from outside, the sound of dedicated, hard working children failing to allow any of the challenges they encounter to dampen their amazing spirits.

All of this means that you can literally see and hear the joy. 

And this is none of my usual hyperbole, no lily gilded to make a crass point – it’s scout’s honour.  Not that I was ever a scout, mind, I was in the Boys’ Brigade for an afternoon because their football team was short, and I had to tell everyone my name was Sunil Plaha, but anyhoo.  No, you can literally hear and see, sense the joy around the place.  It’s abundant, it’s everywhere, and it’s great.

Once again, I am left to ponder the true nature of what it is we do, and to consider are we actually looking in the right direction when we set off on the year’s journey.  We set of with laudable goals about targets and standards, about quality and about improvement.  We never set out with the target to make the school more joyful, but that’s what’s happened.

And the irony is, would we have actually achieved it so well if that’s what we’d had planned?

So, sat here at the desk in the corridor surrounded by too many pieces of stray paper and the remnants of a certain (secret recipe it will go with me to the grave) cheesecake, I have no feelings about September being over and done with.  Far from it – I’d do it all again given the chance. 

And its all down to a character called Joy – after all, that’s what we said right at the start – “This is joy” – and, boy, were we right.

Excited for the year ahead, and once again humbled by the efforts of the adults and children I get to spend my days with, that is all.  

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

It may be the wrong bus stop, but hey, that's cool

At this point in the last two years, having reached the eve of another year's conclusion, I have written what some might have considered whinge pieces, wherein I have decried the drop in our standards and generally bemoaned to anyone who will listen how we are so much more than that.  (I have noticed recently how some others, who clearly were not prepared for the joys this year had to hold, have taken up the baton.).  However, I am sure you will all be relieved / delighted / ecstatic to know that you will hear no such wailing or gnashing of teeth from yours truly this year. Oh no, no, no.

At the zenith of last year's leavers' assembly, with only minutes left on the year's clock, I told those still capable of listening that my plan next year was to put it all right, to do more than we've ever done before, to be everyone's "How did they do that???", as opposed to everyone's train wreck.  I even told the assembled throng, when they were all edging towards the door marked holiday, that I couldn't wait to get started.  How they must have dreaded that sentiment.

I sit here now, pondering how to bore the school community through tomorrow's leavers' shindiggery, and am delighted and, in all honesty not a little relieved, that tomorrow's message will be based on a different sentiment ... although may have a fairly familiar outcome.

It is with much joy and pride that I shall tell the assembled throng tomorrow a message of such importance delivered with such startling simplicity that they will wonder if they have misheard.  My message will be simply this:

We did it.

In the year where the powers that be threw the rule book out of the window and ramped the expectation up to a Spinal Tap like 11, we did it.  In a year where the school faced its most severe scrutiny in my entire time here, we did it.  And, in a year where once again the Education Gods decided that, if there were curve balls to be thrown, Badock's Wood should be the target, we did it.  We did it all.  Every key stage.  Every indicator.  Every set piece.  We did it.  And then some.

In the face of massive external pressure, when messages coming out of central government were getting more and more confusing, we did it.  At a time when schools could no longer cling to certain world-acknowledged truths, we did it.  And we did it well.

For those of you who have not followed all our mutterings too closely, you are perfectly entitled to ask, well what is it that you claim to have done?  And you have every right so to do.  Allow me to tell you.

We have improved our outcomes in every single indicator, including having improved outcomes at the end of key stage 2 even though the world has been told by now-deposed Secretary for Education Morgan that the tests were incomparable to last year.  We have moved from being the school people were glad they are not, to the school they phone up and say "Could you tell me how...?".  (I'm not joking - two such calls, and one in the utterly-startled flesh.  Their flesh, not mine.)

We faced highly uncertain challenges, believing passionately in our own brand of teaching and learning, even in the face of external (and one constant nagging source of internal) pressure, to do what we know instinctively to be best for our learners,   In the shadow of an ever looming inspection which never materialized, we did it.We took on a few nay-sayers who almost sounded as if they needed us to fail.  We saw off the advances of several academy chains, chatting us up to be part of their gang.  We did it all.

Most importantly of all, perhaps, is that we achieved all this by being us.  Not accepting this was our lot in academic life, but taking pride in who we are and what we do and what we know we can collaboratively achieve.  At a time when most schools become introspective, we worked even harder at our external partnerships, such as with our amazing friends in the Trym partnership, and our unbelievably talented colleagues at Elmfield School for the Deaf.  We didn't shrink from new projects, we embraced them, launching several whole school initiatives, all of which have borne fruit.
We did it being us.  Being Badock's.  We did it our way.

And that, I think, is the thing of which I am most proud.

And to all of my colleagues in the wider educational world who are either celebrating their results or, dare I say it, bemoaning their fate, I would invite them to look at it like this: we may have traveled this altogether, and we may have ended up at entirely a different bus stop to the one we set out for.  But either way, what a journey.

To my colleagues in the microcosm that is Badock's, may I offer my humble apologies for being a harbinger of doom and, let us not beat around the bush, a bit of a git at times, and can I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all for the unbelievable shift of work you have put in from the first second since 9.00 last September 1st.  I am proud of what we do, and I am proud of who we are, and I am proud of what we achieve as a team; more than anything, I am proud of the team I am fortunate to be a part of.  Thank you all so much.  Although I want you to do as little as is possible over the summer that is school related, feel free to spend some time on the beach / in the pool / up a hill rehearsing that sentence we're all enjoying so much: "Our school is above the national average".  Guess what I'm going to say to you all next...

To our governors and our community, you have put up with a lot, but you have given us your unswerving faith and support, and for this I cannot thank you enough.  If it is of any reassurance, I am now almost beginning to think that it might be time I grew up.  Almost.

To our wonderful, wonderful children.  Never stop being you, or who we are all so proud of.  I hope that, in turn, we have done you proud, and you can appreciate all that we have done for you this year.  To our year 6 leavers, spread the word - you were part of something special.  You did it.  My word, how you did it.

To all of those who wanted to see the public fall of Badock's, and took too much pleasure in our low points, we'll talk it over soon.  Very soon.

Finally, to my gorgeous wife and beautiful children, I am sorry.  For everything.  I promise to spend the next 5 weeks listening, watching, sharing in everything we do, and not silently rehearsing my next argument / pep talk / assembly. I love you all very much.  The pink book is staying at home.  Possibly.

Nothing is ever, ever straightforward. And isn't that what we all love so much?

From the soon to be unloved kitchen table where I have spent too many hours this year, with a heart bursting with pride and nothing but good wishes, for another year, that is very much all.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

More of that homework no-one wants to read ... album of the year

The beginning of July finds me in a self-indulgent mood.  We have completed reports, we have 75% of a School Improvement Plan, and we are well on the way to looking something close to prepared for next year, whilst hopefully finishing this one off in some style.

The first of our results are beginning to hit the deck and I am pleased.  Still the big one to go on Tuesday, and I'm still, how does one put this politely, bricking it, but am more than ready for what comes along.  However, having blogged at exactly this point over for the last two year's bemoaning all of my woes, I am determined not to be that guy this time around.  To put it more simply, fir the first time in many years, I feel content, as opposed to let down.

So what's the topic this time?  How will I avoid the whole "Is it the world's biggest, or is it just standing on a box?" debacle?  Well, the blog I really want to write contains that many expletives and asterisks that my (rubber-band-and-a-calculator) laptop won't handle it without crashing at least twice.  What I'd really like to talk about is the utter futility, crass arrogance and selfish sadness of the actions of a certain teaching union this week, who still appear to think that 19th century industrial actions are effective in the 21st century.  However, for all my faults, I surround my self with people whose counsel I trust wholeheartedly, and one of them told me yesterday to "Man up".  She followed this with a "Suck it up Princess," and so, firmly back in my box, I will instead write about something far more ... pleasant.

A few months ago my late night twitter meanderings alerted me to some very exciting news.  A new Metronomy album was on its way - hurrah!  No, I know I am the last person in the world to say hurrah, but it seemed apposite at that moment.  Okay, I'll delete it.  It appeared that this new offering, Summer 08, would drop on 1st July.

If you have been unfortunate enough to suffer some of my indulgent mumblings before, you will know how much I love my electronica, and, in that field, how highly I esteem the work of Metronomy.  So, I did the only thing a true man would do: pre-ordered it on vinyl for myself, telling my wife it was a "Well done on SATs" present for our son.

It is awesome.  That's my three word review, and I mean every word of it.  What a joy.  Another three worder.  If I'm being honest, it was with a sense of relief that a little dram helped me enjoy the album at first listen last night much, much more than I was expecting to.

The critics have been saying it hails a return to the famous English Riviera Album.  I would agree, but it has huge dollops of Nights Out on there as well.  All in all, I think that it is a joy that someone from the southwest is unashamedly trying to bring disco back out of its faux-velvet lined box of shame in the corner, with several side helpings of it's okay to be a grown up and like this stuff.  And my 11 year old hair bear loves it too, in a very different way to me, which makes it even more special. (BTW, and this is one of many points of reference i this blog for a target audience, it is a joy to introduce the younger generation to vinyl - my son thinks it is, in his words, phat with a ph.)

I have not heard a band do so much so wisely with a bass since Queen, and let's all be honest, with Queen it was all about power struggle.  This is far more about melody, and about complimenting eternal samples that lead you up and up a spiral staircase leading to a loft full of all your greatest memories and darkest thoughts.

Several tracks on this album remind me of everything I love about electronica; a simple, almost hypnotic sample building and building until another synth, or a bass, or a haunting vocal comes in to point the songs direction.  Many of the songs point to disco; one or two of them flaunt it unembarrassingly.  Hovering over it all are a number of techs, spindals, samples and synth devices that would make technology students drool.

I know it's sycophantic (a Prefab Sprout lyric - never forget the sprouts, eh? Also close to a Pet Shop Boys lyric if I recall correctly...) but this really is the best and most complete album I have heard since Love Letters - the last Metronomy album.   It is a joy, from the melancholic lament of Love's Not an Obstacle to the beautifully aggressive Hang Me Out to Dry. I can honestly say, and this is going out to a target audience of blokes my age, but I have not been so mesmerized by side two of a piece of vinyl since I first heard the b side of Actually by the Pet Shop Boys on Christmas evening of 1988.

And no, I am not attempting to get a job as a music journalist.  Although, an occasional review might come in handy if Tuesday goes badly NOOO FATBOY, you promised to step back from that precipice.  And so I shall.  Suffice to say that, school is going well, the profession is once again about to spring a fissure on a tectonic scale, but music and our olive ribbons shall preserve us all.  And a certain album shall be playing on two laptops, two pieces of handheld and a record player for a long time to come.

From the self indulgent side of the keyboard, that is all.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Day four in the Big Exmouth house - the colours of our camp ...

Camp is a plethora of colours, a rainbow all of its own, distilled and refracted through its participants, its moods and its outcomes.  Some colours spring to mind and intensify, but some reveal themselves only as you walk away, and realisation dawns on you as the sun light ebbs.

Yes, I am feeling a tad poetic as I reflect on a super week.

The colours change and intensify as we go though our adventures.  What begin as bright, vibrant, almost in your face blocks of energy and excitement diversify and present as huge swathes of boldness with depth and energy.

Alright, I'll be more specific.  And a bit less flowery.

Mud is one strong colour.  Both in the lake into which the children leap fearlessly, and the colour of the boys' toilet floors.  It is the colour beneath us on so many occasions, sometimes turning to clay as we walk along the magnificent cliffs of Orcombe point, and surrounding areas of this beautiful part of the world that always welcomes and hosts us so well.

Brown was the colour of this evening's chocolate cake competition.  Two and a half slices.  Get in.  Lost to a boy in year 5.

White is another one that's important.  In the million smiles we see, down to the crash and turn of the surf.  It is also, of course, the colour that many of the children's clothes begin the week, but never, ever aspire to again.

Black can be seen in the wetsuits that we pour them into, the colour of many of the children after the low ropes course, but never the colour of the night down here, where the skies are wonderful but hardly ever dark.

The irony is that within the heavy storm haven tents we occupy, colours are all over the shop.  I looked in my bag the other day and wondered where that purple shirt had come from, only to discover it was my red and blue t-shirt.  We searched for hours the other day for one boy's blue jacket, only to discover it was the brown / purple / indescribable affair laying at out feet all along.  I tell you, the balck and blue / gold and white dress would be every colour of the rainbow in these tents.

Of course, the colours then become more abstract, and I will not apologise for the vagueness or the floweriness.  There is the sunbeam shine of successes made, challenges overcome, ambitions fulfilled, Camps as good as this one are redolent with the glow of fun had, new experiences enjoyed and hitherto unexperienced pleasures devoured.  Too much that last one?  I agree.

Above all, camp at Exmouth is the green and blue of my memory.  Although we have been slightly too cloudy to see it this week, the Exmouth I always see in my mind's eye is a sea of green - the grass, the tents and the tress, beneath a vast sheet of blue uninhabited by clouds or mist, the two bisected by the beautiful estuary snaking into the distance.  Some people talk about the place of their dreams; I have no need, for when I see and think of Exmouth this is what I think of because I have been fortunate enough to experience it so often.

This camp will always in my mind be the colour of fun.  We haven't laughed so much at camp in years, haven't had so much to celebrate, or so many records broken.  It will be bright and warm, and a rainbow of memories to share.  I sincerely hope all of the children feel the same way, and look back on their week with us in the same colours and light.  If pride had a colour, if determination had a colour, if collaboration had a colour, they would contribute to the final picture.  And what a picture.

From the final cheese board, from behind a very cold can of diet coke, with a face tingling partially from sunburn but predominantly from happiness, that is all.

Except to say, very well done everyone.  It was awesome.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Day three in the Big Exmouth house, and the new fashion is ...

You get to the point where various fashions and fads take over camp.  New cool words and phrases introduced by instructors, or invented by the gang.  Furthermore, the clothing goes through stages as well; neon clothing is big this year, as are fluffy socks.  Naturally, I am the only person here without a onesie.

Then there are those trends that have gone on so long that they have become traditions, rites of passage.  Newer, first time campers trying to wear every item of clothing before tea on day one.  The interminable questioning (see yesterday).  The disco ....

Then there are trends and fashions which only last for a single camp, so special and unique are they to the specific group running the show that year - by which I mean the children.  There are certain things / phrases / actions that are so specific to that particular group of children, from the dynamic often forged on the tentative but oh-so-excited coach trip down, which imprint themselves on the psyche and memory of that year's camp that that becomes the colour tint of the glasses through which you view it.

You will notice from the paragraph above that my unutterably appalling choice of phrases never seems to go out of fashion.  Or, indeed, enter it.

Anyhoo, what fashion are this group forging?  What trends are these guys using as their camp a la mode?  What is en vogue this year?  Well, here's the amazing thing.  It's something we could not hope to teach, something we have tried to weave into a thousand School Improvement Plans, but always manage to lose sight of.  Something intangible, but incredibly important.  Something wonderful.

It is (drum roll please) team work.

What we adults have commented upon repeatedly this week is how well they have worked together.  Wind surfing yesterday they had to do in pairs, one holding whilst the other got on.  They were immense, not only holding the surf but encouraging and supporting one another, reveling in their friends' successes and consoling failed attempts.

Yesterday afternoon the title of the activity was "team challenge", but, as we have discovered in years gone by, this does not always encourage working in that method.  However, we saw nothing but amazing group work - 9 children working together to write on a whiteboard with a pen attached to a gas bottle and several ropes - I'm not making it up.  My group worked on the notorious island challenge, set up for adults, for an hour and a quarter, and then shared in the achievements althogether, posing for shared photos of triumph.

Today, children have collaborated on building huge towers. Nothing special you may say, until I tell you that they were standing on top of it whilst trying to build it!  At the other end of the centre, teams were building, and then sailing and racing, huge rafts.  All four rafts built, with great teamwork and shared effort, floated for over 25 minutes.  Two groups actually managed to pull their rafts together and swap every member from one to the other (with two year 6 boys voluntarily in the freezing water holding them together for everyone else).  Most touching was how they encouraged one another to take the leap of faith, or run of a pontoon into a lake of faith.  One of the year 5 children braved it.  She emerged from the depths frozen, but ears ringing to the cheers of her friends from the group.

This evening, at the annual Willis quiz, the completely jumbled up groups all laughed and giggled their way through questions and tasks.  At the end I asked the teams to choose their most athletic year 5.  One group chose their smallest and possibly least athletic.  They all knew it was ironic.  They all knew it was a giggle.  They all joined in - little one included.

Some fashions are manufactured, predictable, even dull.  Some are priceless, and impossible to engineer without the goodwill of the models themselves.  Some just make you smile a little more, or a lot.

As the cheese board looms, for another day, that is all.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Day 2 in the Big Exmouth House - it's only when you think really BIG ...

We were awoken (all too early) this morning, and camp began to fall into the pattern it often does.  Creatures called "boys" had to be reminded, only gently I admit, about personal hygiene issues.  Older girls had to be gently woken.  The two main noise makers had to be ... reminded / threatened.

And so it was and is that our camp starts to take its inevitable form.  One of these things is questions. "Can I get dressed?"  "Should I get dressed?"  "Do I have to get dressed?"  "Is this my toothbrush?"  We try to make it clear to the children from day one that decision making and problem solving are a big part of the learning on camp, and therefore, don't always expect an answer from us.

Then the questions get a little more needy.  Needy in the sense of "I really need an answer" but also in the "I am in need of a little reassurance please."  The second tranche of questions started shortly after breakfast.  They basically all boiled down to "What activities are we doing today?" and "Should I be a little scared?"

When the time came, I got the gang together and attempted to allay any fears whilst not dipping any expectations, and certainly not sugaring any pills.  Water sports today kids.  Fine to be scared, but you're still going in.  To the very cold sea.

Our swimming cossie march to the beach - yes, the zig zags again - was greeted by the smiley and cheery folk from our water sports providers, whose message was abundantly simple and clear:

You are going to wind surf
You are going to kayak
You are going to stand up paddle board
You are going to have the most amazing time

And do you know what?  They did.

Within 10 minutes of the lesson, 6 of my group of 8 had stood up on their wind surf, holding their mast or their boom, and were stood, a little self-awestruck, in the realization that they were, indeed, wind surfing.  In the midst of this, children arrived in their kayaks amazed at what they were attempting, and achieving.  Further beyond, another group were kneeling and standing on their paddle boards, looking more like travelers on the Zambezi than primary students on the Exe.

And it's all quite simple really.  Brilliant instructors leading brilliant activities with brilliant resources coupled to a very simple mantra: it can be done.  Leave your worries, your negative mindset and above all your QUESTIONS at the shore and come and simply achieve something ... wonderful.  On a Tuesday.  In an unflattering wet suit.

After all, it's only when you think really big that you achieve really big things.

No kidding - about 80% of them wind surfing; 70% of them standing up on paddle boards if only for a second; 100% of them in a kayak.  0 questions answered.  And every single one of them achieving something life changing.

At the end of a thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly exhausting and extremely long day 2, that is all.

Monday, 20 June 2016

2016 - Day 1 in the Big Exmouth House. It's all in a word

So, day one is over, the animals are caged for the day, and we are left looking back on what has been an extremely enjoyable day one.  There are two or three things that have struck us repeatedly as we have embarked on this year's adventure: firstly, how smoothly everything has gone, from the packing of the coach, to the journey, to the walk up to camp, to the ... you get the picture.  Everything has just been fun, and the children have responded to everything magnificently.  Despite the fact that many of them were soaked to the bone (see below), two people commented on our children' positive behaviour as the strode along the sea front.

Secondly, and you all know how important this is to me, the words that have littered and literally enhanced the day.  "Thanks" has been a common one.  "Mate" has also been on constant usage, especially when saying hello to our new friends from St Werburghs.  But there have also been  a few which have just reminded us how special this event truly is.

One of them was "wow", repeatedly used during our beach trip today.  Mind you, the phrase "that's freezing!" was also in constant usage.  But that's partially the point; as I said to the children one of the big things about camp is that you get to do things you wouldn't even normally think about, such as run fully clothed into the sea at 4.00 on a Monday.

As a result, squelch is a word, and indeed sound, that has provided much of the day's soundtrack.

Zig zags.  Those words get used far too often in this week.  Regrettably, Exmouth town council has not as yet seen fit to act on my suggestions containing the words "stanna" and "stairlift".

Blue is a word we have used a lot today.  We arrived here seeking it intently in the sky, and then celebrating it when it did arrive, bringing a gorgeous afternoon and evening for us to start our week with.

Veteran, I was called at one point, in front of a lot of staff for whom this is a maiden voyage.  I took it with the good grace and nature with which it was offered, another moment in our school year where I am considered the elder statesmen.

So all in all, a great start.  Parents and carers scouring this will want to know the basics - we're here,, we're safe, we're well fed; be assured all is well.  But allow me to finish with one final example of how words improve our day.  I said to one of our first time students, who has been so excited about this trip it is amazing she hasn't exploded, "Is it everything you thought it would be?"

So thought about it, as she does, put her head to on side and replied.  "Almost".

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"It's even more beautiful than I thought."

For day one, I truly think that is all.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The wrong people in the spotlight ... again

I feel a little sorry for the teacher who wrote the letter to his year 6 pupils just before SATs; he has taken something of a bashing after it went viral.  I have to say that my first thoughts were “Good on you colleague” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”.

I have to say that I have no problem with what he said for two reasons: firstly, I too have said exactly those things to year 6 children on the numerous occasions in the 18 years I have now had the misfortune of being involved in some way with SATs.  I recall teaching a whole year 6 cohort a move called the “chill”, where they slid down in their chairs and placed their hands behind their heads having completed the final question.  It worked a treat.

Secondly, and more importantly, this teacher reminded us all that the focus of SATs should solely be on the children who have to take them, not on the adults. Our focus for that week should be on ensuring that these amazing children are ready, comfortable and confident to do nothing but their best, and to get to the end of the week with a feeling of “I did it!”.   But, what has actually happened during and since the tests?  Have the children taken centre stage, or have the adults once again barged, with sharpened elbows, into the spotlight?

Once again, the media glare fell not on the children, but on the teeth-gnashing adults whose expectations had been dashed. Monday evening’s press bulletins were awash with teachers and heads (we really do not do ourselves any favours as a profession sometimes) bemoaning how tough the reading paper was, and how children had not completed it.

Forgive me if I’ve missed something here, but weren’t we told about two years ago that the 2016 tests would be far more difficult? All of these teachers and heads who appeared on the news appear to have missed that, or were not prepared for the fact.  Although many of you may cry foul play, not a single member of our profession can cry that we were not warned.

I did not see it myself – and I am glad that I did not – but apparently images of children in tears were displayed, distraught over their experience of the reading paper.  Now who should feel the more guilty for that: the press for showing it, or the schools for allowing it?

Allow me to share with you a different image of the news: my children said things like:
“Yeah, it was tough, but I think I did well.”
“I didn’t get to the end, but I don’t mind.”
“Was there a bit about do-dos?”
My own son, who is also in year 6, told me that evening that he had “finished with about 30 seconds to go, but it was fine.”.  Top man, have an extra yogurt (that was genuinely his choice).

If the children were not adequately prepared or emotionally ready for these tests, where does fault truly lie?

But that is not my main point here.  My main point is but a simple one, and one that I will, I sadly fear, have to return to repeatedly whenever this subject raises its head: since when did SATs become about the adults? 

In fact, the whole examination gauntlet now seems to be adult dominated, from those who keep their children away from key stage 1 tests (are you having a laugh?!?) right up to the old peers and queens they wheel out at the end of every August to tell teenagers delighted over their exam results that “it was far tougher in my day”.  I feel for those teenagers every single year.

Let us all, please, take a moment in all of this to do our real job: not bemoaning the state and biting our collective nails that we might have missed out on the raw score required (and trust me, I say this has one who has spent the year looking up from the most hideous bottom of the most awful barrel labelled “BAD results”) but celebrating the work and effort of these remarkable children who are repeatedly caught up in this adult web of standards and one-upmanship, and still do themselves proud.

One final thing, to all the children who will never read this.  There’s one thing adults often forget to mention at this point in the proceedings, which is this: tests are supposed to be difficult.  If they were not, then they would not be doing their job, and they would be called doddles, not tests.  At the end of them, you should feel exhausted, you should feel like you might have got one wrong, but you should feel an enormous sense of something extremely well done.  And that’s the key to it all – well done.

Once the final subordinating clause has been underlined, and the final line drawn between two mathematical terms you will almost never need to know or use in the real virtual world you are going to build, that really is all.

PS Well done kids, I thought you were superb.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Just when you thought it was safe ...

To my amazing colleagues,

I thought I would write to you before term starts so that we can all hit the ground running on Monday.  I in no way wish to ruin the end of what I hope has been a wonderful holiday for you – far from it, I’m hoping to put a little smile on your face as we all meet again in the car park far too early on Monday morning.

As spring starts to bloom into fully grown summertime, I am reminded of some words from my first headteacher.  It was at this time of the year he’d give us one of his favourite speeches:

“Do you know the best three places in the world?  One – a primary school at Christmas; two, a primary school in Summer; three, North Wales.”

Although I could never agree with number three, one and two always hit the mark, and I agree to this day.

I know that at least one person on Monday will say “It’s only 7 weeks!”, by which they mean 7 weeks until half term.  But I’d invite you to look at it another way: we have just 7 weeks to achieve everything we want to achieve before we head into the joy that is term 6, and everything that holds.  
What I’m trying to say is, if we put the hard yards in during these 7 weeks, if we really harness the spring sun’s energy and not wish it away, then we will be able to start applying the polish to what has been / promises to be a great year.

Our school looks stunning, thanks to you all.  Our data (trust me, I have spent a few days during this break crunching it) is very strong, and all our in-house indicators already point to gains and improvements made, directly as a result of your amazing work. 

Most importantly, I want you all to put the gloom of an impending visit far from your thoughts.  Let’s not prepare ourselves just for that: let’s plough our not inconsiderable energies into being prepared for us, for our children, and for delivering our own impeccably high standards.  I think you’ll find that that, in turn, will have a far greater impact on your energy levels.

Finally, let’s all be proud - positive overdrive, as I often say at this point in the year. When you see a colleague doing something well, or something you really like, tell them.  Let’s not be shy to share and promote the truly great things that happen in our school on a daily basis.  I have been privileged to have seen another school close at hand during this holiday, and my abiding, overwhelming thought was how lucky I am to have the colleagues that I do, and the hard work that they bring, and the energy they generate … and the cakes some of them make.

Colleagues, have a superb end to your break.  I hope you feel fully refreshed and relaxed and are chomping at the bit to get back to what it is we do so well.  Will 7 weeks actually be enough?



PS To our wonderful children, I am very much looking forward to seeing you all again this term.  Your work this year has never been anything less than stunning, and your uniform has been amazing.  We do need to sort out attendance, but, I know how poorly some of you have been.  We’ll see you all Monday – your teachers have already shown me some of the things they are planning, which look extremely cool, and I will be joined for my assemblies by a friend who is, let’s just say, 8 feet tall and green.  Laters

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Always keep this in mind ...

Term 3, which is disappearing quicker than cake in a staff room, has been almost ludicrously short.  We have barely changed the displays and finished our first topics before we are talking about "and next term..."

Of course, some outsiders might think that this makes life easier.  Some commentators might say "Well, you teachers haven't had a holiday for ten minutes...".  We insiders, however, we in-the-know are all too aware of the pitfalls of a short term.

In any term, regardless of the number of actual days, teachers and leaders generally give themselves about ten weeks' worth of work.  We then try and crowbar other things into this which will prohibit us from achieving things on the list, and then get to the final week and think about making a start on what we set out to achieve at the beginning.

This term at Badock's, we have, as is our norm, done just that.  We started the term with a thundering inset, filled morning number one with more meetings than we could possibly host or attend, and have carried on in a similar fashion ever since.  Yet here we stand, on the precipice of the term, and we are all exhausted and deflated, and not a little blue.

Without wishing to sound glum, it is true to say we have had a bit of a term.  Yes, all of the above is true, and we have attempted to fit in far too much.  However, as if this weren't enough, we have also had to face a number of adversities that would take the stuffing entire out of lesser mortals.

We have had more than our fair share of illness, especially in the teeth of the cold weather we have been having.  Staff who should not have even been near members of their own family have dragged themselves in to work, only for us to send them away.  Our governors, despite their own ailments, have continued to support the school with gusto.

Added to this, we have suffered an almost unprecedented number of bereavements, and I do not mean simply his holiness David Bowie (although this, of course, took its toll).  Sadly, many members of staff have been affected by sad news of near and dear.  I had to dig my own black suit out recently to attend a funeral, and I have returned home this very evening to hear news of the passing of a former headteacher colleague (who was, I am scared to recall, younger than me).  To each of my amazing colleagues who has been affected, you know all of our thoughts are with you, always.

It would be easy for us to curl up and hide in a dark corner at such points, and extremely tempting.  But I feel we have too much good going on to go into despair, there are too many things to celebrate for us to simply give up.

On Monday morning just gone, I arrived at school with a phone and an inbox full of "Sorry but I won't be in"s, and found even more on my arrival.  The words "You need to go home" have never been so relevant.  Half way through the morning, it was clear that our resources weren't stretching that far, nor were our children coping.  It was a shame.

However, less than two days later, our new friends from Elmfield school came for lunch, and suddenly, as if by magic, the sun shone.  Our playground was aflame with friendships being made and new possibilities opening up.  What had two days previously been a place of discomfort (and please recall the 70-mph winds on Monday!) became a place of humility, sharing and joy.

As I watched, I realized that I had never before seen hide-and-seek played by two children in a wheelchair, one of whom was also hearing impaired, with two other HI friends and three new-found Badock's buddies, and that my life had been the poorer for it.  As our friends from Elmfield prepared to leave, the line of children waiting to say goodbye was longer than the chip queue on a Friday, and I felt privileged and humbled to be a spectator.

Every school has its grotty Monday mornings, and they are usually the culmination of a set of circumstances almost impossible to manufacture or replicate.  However, always keep this in mind: for every such Monday, there will be an even sunnier Wednesday, an even brighter Thursday.  Is a rubbish Monday - ten such days - not worth the sight of true friendship and learning in children being sparked?  Inevitably, when we are at our lowest, the very success which motivated us to sign up for this crazy ride is just around the corner.  Always, always keep this in mind.

That, my friends, is all.