nurture 19/20

I find these year in review style posts to be quiet helpful. They fix you in time, capture what you’ve been up to and how you feel about it, and it can be interesting to look back on.

I view the 2014-15 academic year as the best I’ve had, now that there is a healthy smattering of nostalgia pebbledashed all over it. My writing from that time helps me realise how hard I found it at the time though. By writing in these ways, you get a snapshot of how things are, and whether or not it is read by others doesn’t really matter.

So in that vein…

January

Just before the holidays, I had let my school know that I intended to leave in the summer.  I was very much enjoying my work as an AHT, with a very settled team and great kids. I spent time focusing on the curriculum, especially in the humanities. My reasons for moving on were about the pull of something new, rather than a push from what I was doing. From September 2018, I went down to four days at school, and the ‘freelance Wednesdays’ were going well.

In January, I started the KAPOW project with the schools in the Eko Trust, in Newham, and it was interesting to start something completely from scratch. It was my first experience working with pupils from an SEMH provision, who had been excluded from mainstream, and I learnt so much from seeing how the teachers interacted with the children. Even though my best friend and housemate is a teacher in an SEMH provision out in Essex, and we talk often about it, it was still very different seeing the emotional work in action. Enormous respect.

February

In all of 2019, I did a lot less of the edutwitter events and didn’t post so much online, but it was really good to go to BrewEd Wimbledon. I shared there with my friend Pebbles, who took part in two of the poetry retreats. It was good to catch up with Twittery types I’d met a few times before, as well as new ones like Alison Kriel and ‘Mr Pink’ of @positivteacha acclaim.

I was also fortunate enough to have been a judge of the Lollies Laugh Out Loud Book Awards with Scholastic, and we were even more fortunate to be able to host the awards at Park Primary! It was stunning to see the school hall full with laughter and books and Michael Rosens. The event was livestreamed here.

In half term I went to the Alhambra with my friend Mags – another teacher at Park – and ate my body weight twice over in seafood.

March

Nothing jumps to mind.

April

We only went and got a dog didn’t we?

Aya was previously living with Lucy’s niece, but when she had to go to university, it was agreed that Lucy would be a more suitable dog mother so we adopted her. Aya is a four year old CockerPoo and she melts my heart. She looks like a toy.

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That took our mammal tally to three catkins and a doggo.

May

Regardless of what we think of them, it’s impossible to be an AHT for Years 5 and 6 and not notice the SATS. The kids worked hard, kept their composure and did themselves proud. In the end, they smashed it, results-wise.

I met up with Adisa, Pebbles and Maeve, another poetry retreat reunion, and we all went to see Benjamin Zephaniah and the Revolutionary Minds.

June 

Things were going really well in school. I had invested a lot of energy into mentoring with some Y6s and it really started to bear fruit; the children I’d been working with started to really reflect on themselves. Once or twice a week, I’d take my mentoring children to the park during lunch time and we would just walk around and chat – what began as quite superficial and enjoyable chatter ended up becoming deep and meaningful. Things like this feel very significant since they have ended up shaping the way I work with OtherWise Education, alongside Jo and Adisa.

Outside of school, I had been getting a bit obsessed with Homer’s Iliad. I have a lot of hang-ups around the books I haven’t read, the things I don’t know and the culture I don’t understand. The Iliad is something which has fascinated me but always felt too difficult and obscure for me to get a handle on. I enjoyed reading it, and got the kids involved too, sharing various versions of it with them. I shared it with the kids at Park but also put a project together working with a group of four other schools, inviting the kids to delve into it and find pleasure in the words too. It was very much a one-off, but was a lovely thing to do with them all. It culminated in a visit to the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

July

My time at Park Primary came to an end. Like when I left my first school, I was lucky enough to be leaving positively, in the knowledge that I’d be able to still work with the school after having moved on. I learned so much during my two and a bit years as an Assistant Head. Thinking of the positives, I felt like I learnt a lot about how I can make the most impact as a teacher, and I do think the autonomy of leadership was vital for this. I did find school leadership more challenging than I had originally thought, and I learnt a lot about my own deficiencies too.

It was lovely to see our Year 6s going up to secondary school feeling so confident, and I left the school feeling a lot more emotional than I expected. We had a good send off and there were a good few members of staff leaving the school at once.

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I also got to see David Byrne at the O2 which was one of the most stunning musical experiences I’m likely to have. Once in a lifetime…

August

Summer was quite worky, but in an exciting way. I had left my stable work at school in order to develop my own freelancey stuff. This has included doing some training and developing an exciting new literacy  programme with a new publisher – details to be revealed in 2020 – but mostly, it has been able building up OtherWise Education. In the knowledge that it is going to need to be a very hardworking few years, I was keen to restrain my impulses to just throw myself immediately into work, and instead, I made some time to catch up with lots of friends. I needed this, and didn’t realise how much until later on, when I started to flag.

We lost my beautiful angel cat, who we had rescued from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust a few years previously. We got her as an old cat, and I hadn’t ever really had a pet before this. I find it hard to imagine a time in my life that wasn’t covered in fur babies, and Kim Chi was a very precious soul. I haven’t even been able to write about this until now. Bless her bizarre heart and rest in peace, you massive dame.

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September

Funnily enough, my first freelance work was back with Park Primary – several confused children were like ‘Huh? We bought you a leaving present, why are you here?’ The school needed some extra help with their Y5 trips, and since I’d worked with these kids, they invited me back. It was a lovely way to start the year and I’m so grateful for the good relationships I keep with my old schools.

We launched OtherWise as a thing! Jo, Adisa and I ran a launch at Stratford Circus, and used it as a thank you to all our local school chums in Newham and East London, as well as special friends from the Twitters.

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We launched our first new project, which is Writes of Passage, working with seven Newham primaries. Guided by Writing for Pleasure pedagogy, it supports children to develop their writer-identity, their craft and their writing portfolios. It was lovely to run it with Jo too.

October

It was great to start working outside of Newham in October. I enjoyed working with Transform Trust in Derby, leading workshops at their Day of Possibilities CPD Day. I also loved visiting Zaytouna Primary for National Poetry Day – a really ambitious and special school that I felt an affinity with, in Derby.

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I found it quite lonely at times in October, having grown so accustomed to the lively hustle and bustle of the school. As an AHT in a school like Park, the culture was very much one of distributed leadership, and we spent all of our time in the class. I was used to having 10-15 colleagues who I’d be working with every day, as well as 150 pupils. I think in October I started to recognise some of the different ways in which my role and identity as a teacher would alter in my new role.

November

November was incredibly worky. We ran not one but two poetry retreats, working with children from Elmhurst, Nelson, Gallions, Vicarage, Star, Keir Hardie and Holy Trinity Primary schools. This is the fourth year of running this project with Adisa, and certainly the best – it felt as if we had something like ‘flow’; we worked easily with each other, able to stay relaxed, seize moments as they happened and dwell on things when we wanted to. The children generally had a brilliant time, and again, we recognised that some children had a particularly powerful experience.

Between the two retreats, I was walking the dog in the woods, and she ran off in the direction of a road. I ran after her, lost my footing and really badly sprained my ankle. I ended up in A and E, who thankfully confirmed a sprain rather than a fracture, but I had to ignore the guidance to rest up. In fact, I was back on the poetry retreat on crutches, traipsing about the forest with one of those stupid clunky boots on, two days afterwards!

This was necessary, and it was painful but OK at the time, but my ankle is still buggered up now, and I need to sort myself out, as I can no longer run…

December

It was an absolute pleasure to type up the children’s poetry from the two retreats, and to then publish two poetry collections featuring all their work. They were not printed in time for our recital events, so I had to end the term by visiting all of the children to drop them off. Whilst it was unintentional, this was such a sweet way to end the term, catching up with all the teachers and the children who took part.

Jo and I launched our new KUDOS project in December too, working with pupils with additional learning needs in the Eko Trust schools. KUDOS (Knowledge, Understanding and Development of Self) guides pupils to reflect on themselves and their lives, nurturing their resilience. I also got to ‘break into Yorkshire’ (WAHEY!) by running this project at Akroydon Primary Academy in Halifax.

We were also successful in applying for funding from Newham Council to pilot two new networks for Writes of Passage. This means we can offer fully-funded places on our writing network project to eight primary schools and four secondary schools. It is an exciting pilot, and we are very pleased to have the chance to develop our practice in more schools, in partnership with the borough.

Jo and I treated ourselves to a dinner and it was great to recognise how much we had got done in just four months.

At the end of all of this, I feel exhausted but fulfilled. I feel very lucky for the opportunity to work for myself, and to harness the giddy energy that sometimes captures me. I am learning SO much from working more closely with Jo and Adisa, and the intersection of our three approaches leads us into the realms of social pedagogy.

For 2020,  I am incredibly motivated to develop our work further. We go into January with three large writing networks to run in Newham, two KUDOS projects, three Geography Bees and with the prospect of more exciting partnerships up north. Outside of OtherWise work, I’m looking forward to doing more writing and training with other literacy organisations that I believe in. And I want to dig deeper into social pedagogy, mentoring and informal education, since I feel that this is the direction that would allow OtherWise to grow better and better.

Things are good and I don’t take it for granted. I am happy when I work hard, but I have had a lot of good fortune as well. Even writing this, I am aware that my life-life is essentially my work-life. I’m not totally against this, being honest. Thankfully, my work is often with friends and is filled with plenty good vibes.

I have a nice house with two feuding but gorgeous cats and a loveable doggo and I live with my best friend. We are both going to try to make more time for ourselves this year, recognising that our own friendship needs emotional investment too – holidays, personal life and leisure need to feature more, for both of our sakes.

I’m going to look for some cheap flights right now, in fact!

And of course, as always, I need to eat better and drink more water, so that I don’t die.

One thought on “nurture 19/20

  1. Good to read this and to catch up with your news, Jonny. Hope 2020 is a successful and productive year for you, and that you feel you achieve a good, healthy balance in your life. And hope we manage to meet again, And drink gin. Probably.

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