2016 in Review

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2016. What a year.

We lost a host of heroes, and not just for one day. We saw Farage winning at life, we did a Brexit and saw the USA elect what still feels like some dark postmodern satirical meme. We have watched hell rain down on Syria and watched as the world has argued about why they shouldn’t need to help, like some reverse custody-battle where neither parent wants the kid.

Reflecting on the year through an optimistic lens feels harder than ever, but I think we need to try to do so, and not in a way that just closes our eyes to the misery. We need to find our ways to make things better, despite hurtling down a helter-skelter made of broken dreams into a pool of what, optimistically, I hope is chilli but suspect is shit.

I set myself five goals last year.

  1. De-gout myself
  2. Complete my Masters
  3. Develop the Global Issues Group
  4. Settle into my role, and develop community initiatives
  5. Keep writing and meet with great teachers/people

Well, first up, let me reflect on the old gout, as will no doubt be my customary annual act until gout is the least of my problems because of death etc. January I went full vegan, living on greens and consuming plenty of water. I lost a stone and felt better than ever. Then I walked past a fridge on the first of February, and the cheese looked at me. I tried to ignore it, but like a Brie Burlesque, it beckoned me over. I croaked ‘No’, but the sound was drowned out by the sound of my hand rapidly throwing Port Salut into my basket. So yes, I have had two further ‘gout attacks’ this year, but have medicated myself against them. I bought a bike and rode it once and I have gone up a waist size.

I quit my Masters degree, and wrote about the ‘Odd Mirth of Failure’ in April. There is little more to say than that whilst it was regrettable that I wasted a further £2000, I don’t regret not doing it and I suspect I’ll come back to academic work later on in life.

The Global Issues Group thing morphed into a range of different things. I returned to Calais with Ruby and this time, we had collected school supplies and emergency packs for the children, which we put together into about 200 individual bags. We returned to Calais in September , and this time, we went out into the camp to find the school we wanted to donate to. We went out into where many of the refugees were Afghans, living in donated caravans. We collected the children and went to the school. The school was a hive of activity – thrown together but with something resembling order and consistency. The children knew they would be able to go there at a given time each day. It had a whiteboard and tables; it has stationary but had run out of paper. Outside the classroom, adults from all around the world, but many from Eritrea, were learning English and French from volunteers and from other refugees.

The children were riding about on bikes. We reflected on the odd fact that, unlike on our previous visits, the children were happy. It felt almost perverse to say it, as though it undermines the dankness of their situation, but they were. They had learned to make do, and whilst it in no way excuses the overpowering humanitarian failure that caused the setting up of the camp, they had built something like a routine and resilience. The governments, and especially ours, were shambolic and shameful. It was literally as we drove away from the camp on 24th September that the announcements were made that the whole place was going to be levelled as an urgent priority. That weak and small sense of order there would immediately dissipate and as we have seen, children have fallen through the cracks and into the hands of god knows who.

I settled into my role at school and had the chance to innovate, in difficult circumstances. The Teaching School model looks pretty fraught to me, given that MATs are the flavour of the day and could easily replace them. Nonetheless, I have been able to have some successes including setting up the Newham Speechmaking Competition and the Newham Y5 Poetry Retreat. Both of these events gave opportunities for the children to be deep, reflective, sensitive and empowered. When these kids are speaking truth to power, through a rallying speech or through the cutting honesty of their poetry, it genuinely gives me goosebumps, and it gives me a feeling that perhaps our next generation won’t tolerate the kind of things that have happened this year around the world.

In terms of setting up new initiatives and setting down my roots, this has been great. I became a governor at Sarah Bonnell School in Stratford, which I have been really enjoying. Working with my friend Aisha Siddiqah, we have set up a parent education class, called Women of the World, in which we explore questions of politics, democracy and women’s rights with mothers from the school. I have found myself as a committee member for the setting up of a community garden close to school, the Boleyn Road Community Garden, which will give space for mothers to take their children and to meet up during the day, and will create a small haven of community space, which is reclaimed derelict land. And I am now a trustee of the Sheba Project, a grassroots community group focused on community projects, women’s empowerment and interfaith engagement. My big project idea for the upcoming year is going to draw on the threads of many things I have enjoyed this year – community engagement, the creative arts, collaboration with the universities and with a focus on working with women in the local community.

And I have continued to write, and also, to encourage others to write, which I enjoy just as much. I have churned out a respectable 45 blog posts on here, as well as having written for TeachPrimary magazine. I have started to present at conferences as well, and particularly enjoyed talking about Pedagogies of Critical Hope at the UKLA International Conference, where I met people like Mary Roche, Andy Smart and Branwen Bingle. I have enjoyed getting to know more teachers through my role, including through setting up #TMNewham, and my greatest debt I think in 2016 goes to Adisa, with whom I ran the Poetry Retreat and the Speechmaking events.

I am pleased to be ending the year having just completed this Poetry Retreat project, which has taken up a lot of my time and energy but has been incredibly invigorating, both professionally and – whilst I feel shy about saying it – artistically. I feel it triggered some latent curiosity and creativity in me myself, and as I think about 2017, this will be something I want to do more of.

Whenever I turn on the TV or open up the Guardian website, like many of you, I feel bleak. The hardness of the world – the things that are done, the thoughts that are had, the decisions that are made – tell a story of the battle between callousness and indifference. Working in schools is particularly difficult in times like this, I think. I often feel grim on their behalf, as well as my own. If we allow our very legitimate sense of despair to permeate our classrooms too much, the children will be suffocated by it. That said though, I think we do the kids a grave disservice by swaddling them tightly away from reality – this is their reality as much as ours. We need to use the blatant imperfection to galvanise us.

What I feel I have been doing quite well this year is narrowing my focus onto things that I value and which I believe are the important things. We are told that every thing is ‘the important thing’, but not everything is. I have begun to work in a more authentic way, giving my time to projects and initiatives which are empowering, enriching and fulfilling for those who are involved. As we move into a new year, I am excite to continue in this way, and to see where it may take me.

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