Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Optimism is boundless

I haven't blogged for a while.  It's not as if nothing has happened, it's simply that in the daily routine of things I haven't found sufficient time to reflect on what I've been doing.  I've been visiting my mum of course - and in January and February I was doing this intensively as mum was taken into hospital following a fall.  This gave me plenty of time to learn about the current state of the NHS (2 hours for an ambulance to arrive as it was dispatched from 75 kms away, 6 hours in A&E on a trolley along with 70 other people, waiting for a CT scan, no doctor available until the following day, one A&E nurse referring to herself as the "angel of death").  Mum ended up being in hospital for 5 days even though I was told there wasn't anything medically wrong with her.  She was kept in because she was "confused".  This is not surprising as she has dementia and didn't know where she was, why she was there, who all the people were and why people kept sticking things into and onto her.  The day after she was admitted I was told she couldn't walk.  This was quite a shock to me as she had walked into the hospital the previous day.  It seems the reason she couldn't walk was because nobody had bothered to get her out of bed - not even to take her to the toilet!  She didn't eat much either.  The system seemed to be that someone brought food around and left it on a tray on her bed.  An hour later they collected the tray.  If nothing was touched, it was assumed that she wasn't hungry.  In fact my mother was probably very hungry, however if nobody encouraged her to sit up in bed and eat then clearly she didn't think of doing that for herself.  I think this is the crux of the matter.  She was "monitored" the whole time - but nobody actually did much caring.

I managed to get mum out of hospital after 5 days but unfortunately she had picked up a terrible cough from the woman next to her in the hospital (I'd been told this wasn't contageous - which obviously wasn't true.  I'd kept drawing the curtain around mum's bed, the nurses kept drawing it back).  It took almost 2 months of care and 4 rounds of antibiotics to get her back to the same level she was at before going into hospital - encouraging her to get out of bed every day, walk around, eat and so on.  Thankfully she's doing much better now.

I'd had some workshops planned for the first 3 months of the year for Consilience, but unfortunately none of these came to pass.  Thank goodness, therefore, that I managed to get some work for the IB.  In January I returned to the American School of Warsaw to support them with implementing agency.  It was great to go back to a school that I'd been to several months before for a verification visit as they were becoming a PYP school.  At the end of February I went to Qatar for a workshop called The Role of ICT.  This was a fabulous experience.  It was absolutely wonderful to collaborate on planning this workshop with Angi from Frankfurt, whom I had met in my tech coaching workshop in Amsterdam in December.  She had led this workshop before and we had some great discussions about how to bring the PYP enhancements into this workshop.  It made me appreciate how valuable collaboration is - together we were able to bounce ideas around and this led to the workshop being even better.  The week after that I was in Dubai for Building for the Future.  This was the first time this workshop had been offered so it was an honour to be invited to lead it.  The workshop is aimed at PYP Coordinators and school leaders and takes them through a design thinking process to re-envision their school's action plan.  Once again I was thankful to be able to plan this workshop collaboratively with Alyson, another workshop leader I'd met the week before in Doha, and who will herself be leading this workshop in Helsinki next weekend.

March has been a busy month - After Doha and Dubai, Alyson and I went to Dartford in Kent to do a Leading the Learning workshop for leaders in the Leigh Academy Trust schools - all of which are applying to become PYP Candidate schools.  This will effectively double the number of PYP schools in the UK.  I'm loving the way that learning is changing in these schools - and can only reflect on how this is totally different from many other schools in the UK.  Yes, I have actually done some teaching in UK schools now, having signed up with 3 supply teaching agencies.  I've enjoyed this work a lot, but it has certainly shown me some of the real problems facing schools in the UK today.  These can be summed up in several ways:
  • The content seems quite boring - so students are not really that engaged. There are a lot of things that 8 year olds don't really need to know.  In my opinion being able to identify an adverbial phrase and write one, for example, doesn't lead to students becoming better writers.  The focus is on remembering and maybe a little on understanding, but there is almost no emphasis on application or higher order thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation or creativity.  Because the curriculum is so content based, very little is transferable.
  • There doesn't seem to be a lot of differentiation, often it's a case of teaching to the middle.  There are a lot of photocopied worksheets, some of which appear to be little more than "busy work".  In only one school I've been in so far was there any student voice and choice about how they would show their understanding.
  • Many students lack ambition or aspiration (and some of the teachers lack this too).
  • Children with special needs are often not getting the support they need.
I've thought a lot about this over the past few weeks.  What has gone wrong?  It was quite telling that in many schools in the staff toilets there were signs up about mental health and about counselling services.  Perhaps it's because of the experiences in those schools that it was such a refreshing change to go to some UK schools that are considering a different approach.

Tomorrow I set off for Dublin.  I'm a consultant to a PYP candidate school there.  I'm so looking forward to this - I love seeing schools at the start of their PYP journey!  I've also got some PYP workshops coming up next month in South Africa, and the following month in Spain.  Looking forward to next school year I have another workshop in Doha, hopefully some more in the UK, and in Germany and Austria, and a school visit to Sweden.  I'm also going to doing further training as a consultant and school visitor team leader.  I'm doing my best to stay afloat!

I was prompted to write this post today after watching a video on Facebook this morning, I think it was called Life is Good. This was the message: "pessimism is corrosive, realism lacks imagination, but optimism is boundless". For me, in this difficult year, optimism is a choice and it takes courage, but it's the only way forward.

Photo: taken by me following a photography workshop in Haddenham last Saturday.

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