Monthly Archives: December 2014

#Nurture 1415

I’m not one to share personal experiences, either on or off-line, but having read Mark Healy’s Nurture 1415 post (which in turn prompted me to read a few others) I have decided to break the habitRiver and offer some reflections on the past year and hopes for 2015. It’s certainly been a year of ups and downs, questionings and pondering.

The Past 12 months.

1. I began teaching in 2004, so 2014 was a particular milestone. To be honest I never really thought I’d make it to 10 years – I did give up once, but it only lasted three months before I felt compelled to return. Like many teachers, I’m always on the verge of packing it in, but I suspect I will lose more than I gain if I did.

2. Milestones often lead to reflection and the resurfacing of memories (no matter how distorted and reconstructed). 2004 was also the year my partner of 15 years (and the mother of our son) was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. She survived into 2005 so 2015 will also mark ten years since I became a single father to a 4-year-old child. My son is now thirteen and recalls his mother in fragmented images and isolated emotions. Now and again we look through photographs so that he can be reminded of the wonderful person she was, knowing that he will never be able to experience the warmth of her love and her absolute devotion to her son. I am thankful that he has grown into a warm and compassionate human being.

3. Many changes have taken place at work over the last few months, at times leading me to question my ability as a teacher. New management structures, new SLT and an interim Head have led to rapid change. While change itself is something a cope fairly well with, a constant emphasis on progress and the constant procession of ‘visitors’ to my classroom (SLT, line manager, governors and LEA ‘advisors’), many of whom inform me that my students aren’t making enough progress, ultimately leads to a general feeling that what I was once considered good at, is now simply not good enough.

4. In an attempt to escape (just for a while) I have become more and more dedicated to my PhD studies at York. I am incredibly lucky to have a supervisor who is supportive and appears to understand the pressures placed upon part-time postgraduate researchers. At times it feels like one step forward and two steps back but inch by inch I appear to be making progress.

The next 12 months.

1. I need to reduce worry. I am a classic ‘guilty teacher’, always with the nagging feeling that I ‘must’ be working. I spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day with family, only to wake up this morning with the feeling that I needed to get on with some work. I am sure that anxiety will eventually kill me if I don’t do something about it soon, and while I manage to keep the black dog at bay most of the time, the anxiety is ever-present.

2. I need to become a physical as well as on-line presence. I hide in cyberspace and rarely attend events that force me to converse in the real world. In 2014 I did attempt to change that – I attended the IEE Conference at York University and the ResearchED event at York. In 2015 I will be at Northern Rocks. However, I have also cancelled other events this year after ‘bottling it’!

3. I need to write. This is a compulsion I have had since childhood and it’s never really gone away. I have files filled with writings and I’m always working on ‘that’ book (or several of them). I can spend days staring at a blank page and then suddenly write non-stop for hours – unfortunately, this often means that I end up with lots of ‘bits of things’ – I think I might have it as my epitaph – ‘He wrote bits of things’.

4. I need to spend more time with my son before he begins to see me as an embarrassment. I bought him a camera for Christmas and we spent most of Boxing Day walking along isolated tracks and through woods so that he could take photographs. We were exhausted by the time we got home but it was certainly one of my happiest days of 2014.

5. I need to make decisions. I need to have a serious chat with myself about the future, while at the same time ensuring that I don’t make any decisions that I’ll regret. Teaching is the biggest question of all – in the words of The Clash – “Should I stay or should I go?” I know that I am the only one who can make that decision but I also know that if someone were to offer me a part-time lecturing job I’d be gone in a flash. Then again, aren’t we all waiting for someone to offer us that ‘dream job’? I also need to admit to myself that I would miss teaching deeply – or rather I would miss the interaction with my pupils, the banter and the delight at seeing them succeed and knowing that I had a part to play in their futures.

So this is a little part of my life and this was perhaps one of the most difficult blog posts I have ever written. I suppose a new year is a time for opportunity, for starting over and quiet reflection. Thank-you for reading.

Banging on about Grit and Resilience.

Grit-Bin

For use by professionals only

The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced that ex-soldiers will be on hand to teach children about ‘grit’ along with programs designed to increase their levels of resilience. Her opposite number, Tristram Hunt, has been banging on about this for a while now, both appearing to announce interventions for things of which they understand little.

I can only assume that both Morgan and Hunt have adopted the term ‘grit’ from psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, whose research appears to have identified certain traits that result in individuals striving to complete tasks and having a passion for long-term goals. If Morgan and Hunt aren’t referring to this research, then I’m not sure that they are in agreement on what they are banging on about. I have heard Hunt use the terms resilience and grit interchangeably and even referring to grit as an American term for resilience – which it isn’t, by the way.

So do children need ‘resilience’ and ‘grit’ training and are former service personnel the best suited to provide it? That all depends on what we mean by the terms we are using.

Morgan has stated:

For pupils who may have faced challenges or difficulties in their personal life, these initiatives run by former armed services personnel can offer a sense of greater aspiration and can help build the skills and confidence they need to go on to good jobs and successful futures

Here, Morgan is suggesting that resilience training would help those children who have experienced adversity in their lives – the ‘traditional’ view of resilience. The problem is that many children who have faced such challenges, and have come through them, have already displayed considerable resilience. Ann Masten, in her now classic article ‘Ordinary Magic’ rejects the view that resilient children are in some way special, claiming that resilience arises from ‘normative functions of the adaptational system’ (Masten, 2001 p.227). Is resilience something that can be taught directly or is it something that emerges through life’s inevitable ups and downs? Furthermore, is this the kind of resilience that students need to develop? If resilience arises through life experience then this would suggest that the ability to cope with adversity emerges naturally – it is not something that can be taught. A more realistic approach would be to concentrate on those day-to-day problems encountered at school that can zap self-confidence and lead to self-handicapping strategies. These problems might be minor but personally significant.

Indeed, some schools have already introduced ‘resilience’ building programs into their curriculum. However, a recent systematic consultative review found that many resilience programs within schools used the term ‘resilience’ is such a vague and conceptually weak manner that the authors found it difficult to identify those which could be realistically described as resilience-based (Hart & Heaver, 2013)

So what about ‘grit’? Research into the grit construct is at the very early stages, so much so that defining it becomes a difficult challenge. Critics claim that the way in which it overlaps with other constructs (including resilience) means that we are still a long way off when it comes to training a person to become more ‘gritty’, never mind identifying those who have increased their ‘grittyness’ post intervention.

If we assume that we are all agreed on what represents these two related constructs, are ex-soldiers the best people to train young people in how to become more resilient and grittier? I suppose that depends, but my gut says ‘no’. Resilience and grit involve a number of other skills, like self-efficacy and emotional self-regulation). Positive emotions are more often present in resilient individuals and those students who are better at regulating their emotions respond more constructively to feedback and view themselves as having more control over their environment are better able to bounce back from challenging situations. Many former soldiers might also display such characteristics, but so do many others, including teachers and students.

My instinct tells me that Morgan and Hunt are more interested in the terms and the images such terms conjure up, rather than being aware of (or even interested in) the concepts themselves or, indeed, the outcome measures involved.

They certainly haven’t read the literature.

References:

Hart, A. & Heaver, B. (2013). Evaluating resilience-based programs for schools using a systematic consultative review . Journal of child and youth development. 1 (1). p.pp. 27–53.

Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary Magic.pdf. American psychologist. 56 (3). p.pp. 227–238.