Palette of Spring


The world stretches awake

Inhales the first warm breath of the year

Exhales a languorous perfume

Which settles over gently unfurling buds

Nature’s confetti scattered on brightly verdant grass

Drifts in swirls and eddies

A lazy waltz 

To the tune of changing seasons

Endless sky opens up above

The fresh faced sun beaming

Over the brightly hued

Palette of spring

Rediscovering Why

FullSizeRender.jpg

 

Earlier this week, I got up at the unholy hour of 5am and drove through bright morning sunshine, driving wind and rain, and even snow, to attend the HLTA North conference in Stockton-on-Tees. I am not a morning person so this was a big ask but it was completely worth it because the conference was fantastic.

Facilitated by Dr Tom Robson of TREdu, the day was aimed at teaching assistants and higher level teaching assistants from across the North of England, and was centred around reminding us of “the values that made us come into the world of education and to make sure they are firmly rooted so when the winds of politics blow we remain rooted in what we feel is important”. The focus of the day was very timely for me. I love my job. I care deeply about working with young people, making their educational experiences enjoyable, inspiring, relevant, and valuable. I am passionate about developing and supporting engaging, quality education. But, to be honest, over the last few months I have not enjoyed my job as I normally do. I’ve struggled to remain optimistic. I have become more and more tired. I’ve wrestled with an ever expanding work load. I’ve wondered what I’m doing; why I’m doing it; if it’s still where I want to be; and how I can develop professionally in a direction that is right for me.

This last one has been a particular sticking point: I do not want to become a teacher. I know that that role would not be right for me. Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself in a system which, from my experience so far, often undervalues support staff (albeit inadvertently) and seems to see progressing into a teaching role as the only option for professional development. This has left me feeling a little disheartened. I can think of any number of possible routes for professional development for support staff but they don’t seem to exist outside my head! This creates something of a roadblock on the professional path I had in mind for myself. But I’m working on a way around and that’s a topic for another time.

All of these stresses, strains, and worries had become a dark cloud that I had allowed to eclipse my core motivations for doing what I do, and the HLTA conference was just what was needed to blow that brewing storm away (or at least nudge it to one side) and help me regain some perspective.

Within a few short minutes, Tom Robson reminded me why I had come to into this role with a simple question: what have you done today to make that person feel like they can?

FullSizeRender-2.jpg

That is why I do the job I do. I want to help those who are often told that they can’t feel like they can. I want to recognise the achievements of the students I work with, no matter how big or small; to make some effort to change a culture which has a narrow understanding of success, often confusing attainment and achievement.

The day was filled with so many pearls of wisdom, thought provoking questions, and insights into how we can support the learners we work with. I’m hoping to develop some of them into blog posts of their own and explore them further but I need a little more time to ruminate on them first. For now, I leave you with a few of the questions I left with, to think on in your own time:

To learn something new we must step up to the edge of the known. When was the last time I stepped up to the edge? How do I encourage my students to do this?

Who is the most important person in my classroom? (hint: it’s not me!)

“A teacher is one who makes her/himself progressively unnecessary.” – What am I doing to make myself unnecessary to my students?

Am I taking too much responsibility for solving my students’ problems?

Is the language I use with our students specific enough? (e.g. What do I mean when I ask for ‘more effort’? What does this look like? Do I make my meaning clear to my students?)

Do my students think they are good learners?

What does education mean for me?

What labels do I display to my students? What labels do I put on them?

 

Feel free to leave any thoughts/responses in the comments. 🙂

 

In Turmoil

This morning I woke up in a sudden and unexpected turmoil of doubt. I don’t know where it came from or what exactly I’m going to do to tackle it (6am is just no time to be faced with a sudden realisation of all the things you don’t know -at that time, no one is awake enough to deal with that kind of shit). It already feels like a difficult day but this popped up on my timeline: a beautiful bunch of tulips and a hand made card from the young leaders I trained 4 years ago.


 I still carry this card with me every day. It normally lives tucked in the back of my planner but this morning I got it out and I’m looking at it right now. I have, and have had, so many people in my life to lift me up when I am down and I’m trying to hold on to that right now. 

I might come back and share more about what plagues me at another point (although at the moment that feels more than a little self indulgent and potentially whiny) but for now I just had to acknowledge and thank those people who love, support, and encourage me every day. ❤

The Power of Positive


Last week was stressful. Very stressful. And upsetting. My working week did not end well and although I then had a lovely meal out with friends, a fun Saturday in town with my beloved and my siblings-in-law, and a lazy Sunday with lots of reading, this evening I found myself with that dreaded I-can’t-believe-it’s-Monday-tomorrow-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-work-you-can’t-make-me feeling. So I turned to one of my favourite pastimes and decided to journal the blues away. I love my journal. It’s my little portable creative workshop. I write in it; I doodle in it; I keep a reading log in it; I plan in it; I daydream in it; I escape in it. I put time and care and energy into making it a work of art, because that’s what I love to do. I like to make pretty things. It’s calming and satisfying and, well…me.

Imagine my frustration then when, in the middle of my calming-me-down, make-something-lovely journaling, I managed to somehow create a huge blue splodge, right where I absolutely did NOT want a huge blue splodge.

My initial reaction contained words that shall not be repeated here for fear of them damaging sensitive eyes and turning my happy little corner of the internet into something sour.

When you put time, care, and energy into something, even a tiny mistake can be upsetting, making you angry and forcing that morose little voice in your head to pipe up with: “Well that’s just friggin fabulous what is even the point?!” This was not a little mistake. This was a BIG, blue blob. Much like the Oreo that was offered to me last week by a friend to cheer me up, which, when I reached out to take it, broke in half and fell on the floor, my big blue blob felt a little like a metaphor for life right now.

I could have cried. Or slammed my journal shut and thrown it at something. (Indulge my melodrama for a moment, would you?)

But wait…was I to be defeated by this blue blob? Was a two dimensional splodge of ink to undo my initial determination to shake off the Sunday blues? Would I let this intruder into my happy place get the better of me?

No. No I would not. For I am WOMAN. I am FIERCE. I am ME. And I control my own happiness.

So I took that big blue splodge and I bent it to my will. I turned it into something beautiful. I turned it into a flower. The one you see at the top of this page. Imperfect? Sure. But since when does beauty have to be perfect? That depressing blue blob no longer exists. Instead, there is a perpetually blooming flower. This flower symbolises the coming spring and all good things ahead. This flower symbolises the power of positive. This flower symbolises that, even though I cannot always control the things that happen to or around me, I can control my reactions to those things. 

And that, dear friends, is the story of how my Sunday blues became even bluer, but how I overcame them anyway.

A small thing can have great power. I encourage you to embrace the power of positive.

A List of Lovely Little Things


It’s been some time since I did an appreciation post for the little things in life but now seems like the perfect time. I’m currently holed up in a beautiful little cottage, just outside Oxford, for a weekend with some of my favourite women in the whole wide world. It’s a quite Saturday morning and all but the baby amongst us (and her mum, I suspect!) are sleeping soundly. I am awake and full of contentment, mulling over all the wonderful little things that make life so lovely. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Conversations with like-minded people.
  • Laughing until you cry and your sides hurt.
  • A real log fire.
  • The quiet stillness of the countryside in the morning.
  • Baby smiles.
  • Baby laughter.
  • Baby cuddles…(there’s a lot of baby worship going on here!)
  • Good books.
  • Good food, especially nibbly finger food.
  • Climbing into a bed made with freshly laundered sheets.
  • Waking up after a good night’s sleep (especially when you don’t have to rush to get up).
  • Knowing it’s the weekend.
  • A message from someone you love.
  • Knowing you’ve done a good job.
  • Learning something new.
  • Helping someone out.
  • Knowing there is so much to look forward to.
  • The smell of fresh flowers.
  • Watching flowers open from bud to bloom.
  • Surprises from friends (or strangers).
  • Realising that you take more joy in life that you ever have before, and feel positive that joy will only increase.

And that’s just a few of the little things making my life lovely right now. 

What little things have you noticed recently that have made you smile and appreciate life just that little bit more?

Urban Wanders

Yesterday, hubby and I went for a wander round Manchester. We headed out in a direction we don’t normally walk and just wandered around enjoying the city. It was lovely. The sun wasn’t exactly shining but it wasn’t raining, the air was crisp and cool, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable morning. We discovered some fabulous street art we had never seen before, and found quiet corners of the city we had never visited, all only a few streets away from our usual haunts. It reminded me once again how much I love the city of Manchester: it is vibrant and full of hope in spite of the many issues faced by many of the residents.  Here are a few snaps I took along the way. 


I encourage you to go for a wander around your city or town and rediscover it: head in a direction you wouldn’t normally go and see what you discover. Even if you don’t find anything new, just enjoy the wander and look at the things you’ve passed hundreds of times with new eyes. Love where you’re from. Love where you are.

The Family We Choose

I have known from a very young age that family is important. I have been blessed to have a family that knows this too. My family, both immediate and extended, has always been a close one: we enjoy spending time together, take care of one another, love one another, and treat each other with respect. This has always been important to me and I have always been grateful for the family I have. I know not everyone is so lucky.

The care and closeness between us is always especially apparent at times of grief or trouble. When the chips are down everyone pitches in and we hold each other up. I could write a considerable amount about my wonderful family and the way in which we rally round each other in good times and bad, but I actually want to write about something else. I want to write about the family we choose. I want to write about friends.

I have never been one for having hundreds of friends: a small number of particularly close friends has always suited me better. I have been very fortunate over the years to have made friends with some incredible people, and they have become the family I chose. They have rallied round and held me up through good times and bad. They have celebrated with me in triumph and have consoled me in sorrow.

I have more friends at this point in my life than I have ever had before and I have been truly overwhelmed by their love and support as I come to terms with my family’s latest loss. There have been small gestures in the form of text messages and post it notes simply saying ‘I love you’, ‘Ring if you need anything’, ‘Have some cake’ (left with cake!). There have been specific pages in specific books, bookmarked and left for me, from friends knowing there is nothing they can say to make it better but that I might find comfort from the words of a favourite character or author. 



There have been deliveries of beautiful flowers, late night visits with doughnuts and more flowers, thoughtful gifts to make me smile: the list goes on. The care and attention my friends have given over to lifting me up when I feel down has moved me deeply. I feel so blessed to have this family that I chose as well as the one I was born too.


I’ve run out of words. I don’t quite know how to express what’s happening in my head and my heart. So I’ll finish with this: to all my friends, thank you for being the incredible people that you are and for the love, care, and friendship you have shown me. Whether this has come as messages, hugs, book pages, flowers, gifts, cake, or simply a smile, thank you. It means more than you know.

Xx

Making My Own Happy New Year


Champagne was popped, glasses raised, fireworks burst, and a chorus of ‘Happy New Year’ waved off 2016 and welcomed 2017 with open arms. A lot of people were glad to see the back of 2016: it was a difficult year for many, in many different ways. It certainly had its up and downs… Whilst there was much that was good for me personally last year, 2016 did not end happily. On 28th December, my family was greatly saddened by the sudden death of my beloved Grandad. He was a remarkable man with a character almost as big as his love for motorbikes, Yorkshire pudding, and, of course, his family. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, not least because he was the sort of man with whom you couldn’t even have a passing conversation in the pub without him leaving some sort of lasting impression. I have spent the last few days reminiscing with family, sharing stories and going through old photographs. It has been bittersweet at times but I am eternally grateful to be part of such a close, loving, and supportive family.

It would be easy, at this time, to sink into sadness and dwell on our loss. But I do not think that is how he would have wanted us to live and it certainly isn’t how I want to live. I would much rather live and love and laugh in happiness, even though it might be coupled with heartache – Grandad so loved to laugh and his terrible jokes would keep us in chuckles constantly.

With that in mind, I have resolved to make this year a happy one, in spite of some of the sad and difficult times ahead.

I say I have ‘resolved’ this but it is not a New Year’s resolution. It is really more of a choice. A statement of intention. You see, I no longer make New Year’s resolutions – they’re too easy to give up on after week one and only become a source of guilt. Instead, last year I chose a word to inspire the kind of intentional living I wanted to focus on for the year. Last year was ‘adventure’; this year is ‘nourish’. I also set some goals and aspirations that I want to work towards – not the kinds of things I’ll feel bad about if I don’t quite manage, but things that I care about achieving and that will enrich my life. I find this a much more positive process and one that really does stick with me for the whole year. (If you struggle with New Year’s resolutions, I really recommend you try it.)

I chose the word nourish because I sometimes find myself getting overwhelmed, rushed by all the ‘should’s and ‘must’s that bombard us every day. It’s tiring and distressing and unhealthy to feel so much demand from these abstract ideas and expectations. I want to dedicate more time this year to nourishing and growing all aspects of my life to be what I want them to be, not what the media or society or anyone else tells me they should be. And more than that, I want to take more time to enjoy my life and all the wonderful people, opportunities, and ‘things’ I am blessed with.

In keeping with my chosen word for the year, my goals are centred around ‘nourishing’ the things I care about. Whilst the things I care about are many and myriad, my goals are few. In fact, just two:

1) To develop a more regular practice for writing, mindfulness, and self-care, in order to help me manage my anxiety and develop the skills and interests I enjoy.

2) To try to find a more balanced routine for managing our home (I’m terrible for letting chores mount up until I get frustrated and feel overwhelmed by it all), and to declutter to more easily enjoy our lovely home.

Whilst there are many other things I will be investing time and energy in this year, such as spending quality time with friends and family, finishing the decorating we want to do in our house, training for my next (and final!) dance exam etc., I’m hoping these two personal goals will be nourishing for me and, as a result, will enable me to nourish the other areas of my life: family, friends, community, and work.

I had no real idea what I wanted to say when I sat down to write this post, only that I needed to put into words some of what has been buzzing round my head. To express in some concrete way my intention to be happy, and find positivity, even when there is sadness in my life.

Whatever you felt about 2016, whatever position you find yourself in as we begin 2017, I wish you the Happiest of New Years.

2016: A Year of Books

It’s that time again; we’re saying goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. There has been a lot about 2016 which has been unpleasant, worrying, and sad, and I’m making an effort to remember that it hasn’t all been bad by any stretch. We’ve had some wonderful adventures and happy news throughout the year and I have been blessed, as I am every year, with opportunities and love. It’s also been a brilliant year for reading! (So it definitely can’t have been that bad.😉) At the beginning of the year I set myself a challenge to read 100 books, and I managed it (just)! I’ve actually just finished my 101st book of 2016 so I even managed to beat my goal. I thought I’d share with you my reading year and recommend some of my favourites. Here’s a round up of my year in books (be warned, it’s lengthy!)…


I started the year with some brilliant books: I devoured Illuminae and read the whole thing cover to cover on New Year’s Day. It’s definitely one of the most original books I’ve read in terms of execution of an idea and I found it compelling to read a story told in such an unique way. 

I also read, and adored, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I so enjoyed heading back to this world (Rothfuss is a genius of the genre) and I found this tale told from Auri’s perspective to be haunting and moving. It’s not an continuation of the Kingkiller Chronicles and I know many were disappointed because of this, but I found it utterly enchanting and a true testament to Rothfuss’ skill and imagination. 

Another favourite was Uprooted, a truly engrossing fantasy. I loved how unusual the magic was in this story and loved the characters and how they developed throughout. I’ve lent this to many people, all of whom have loved it. (It’s also one of the most beautiful books on my shelves!)

I enjoyed revisiting an old favourite series  in The Black Magician trilogy – The High Lord is one of my favourite characters. 

Bird by Bird was one of my favourite reads of the year. It really made me want to write more of my own and made me feel like it wouldn’t matter if it turned out to be utter tripe, as long as I had the courage to actually write it! I haven’t done as much writing as I had hoped but thei book certainly spurred me on to write more than I’ve ever managed before.

My mum lent me a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth and I thouroughly enjoyed it. A fantastical world filled with entertaining word play. A great fun read!

A couple of highly recommended books on bookstagram that made my reading list this year were Queen of Shadows and Shatter Me. I really enjoyed Queen of Shadows, in fact I loved the whole series – Caleana is a great character! Unfortunately, I did not feel so positive about Shatter Me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just didn’t grab me. I normally enjoy reading YA but this one just felt too young, somehow. I know many people loved it though and it’s an interesting premise so I’d still give it a go.

I enjoyed The Martian immensely and it’s one of the few books that I have read AFTER I’ve seen the film. It’s funny and somehow still profound: I just love Watney’s dry humour. I’d also highly recommend the film as a really try interpretation of the book – Matt Damon is excellent!

The Catcher In The Rye is on that I have been meaning to read for an absolute age and the couple of times I started it I just wasn’t in the right mood. Not the case this time! I always think it’s worth persevering with classics if they don’t quite grab you the first time, as I have found with many that when I eventually get my brain to engage then I really enjoy them.

Ah, so many good ones in this little batch! The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a compelling and original story which Infound incredibly thoroughly gut provoking. It’s sci-for as I’ve never read it before and I completely fell in love with the crew of the Wayfarer. I’m excited to read the sequel in 2017!

I finally got around to reading a couple of children’s classics which I had never read before: Peter Pan and A Little Princess. Both were wonderful! Peter Pan is wonderfully weird and fantastical but the classic story which many of us grew up with (regardless of whether you’d read the book or not) doesn’t fail to engross, even as an adult reader. A Little Princess is completely enchanting and has some of the most beautiful lines and turns of phrase in it. I grew up loving the film adaptation of this book, my favourite part of which was always the magical transformation of the attic – it was just as magical, if not more so, in the book! Loved it!

I also have to mention Girl of Ink and Stars – this book is utterly wonderful. You cannot help but fall in love with the characters and the island, and the storyline strikes the perfect balance between being vividly real and disturbingly fantastical.

Two more favourites from this year were Rebel Of The Sands and The Reader On The 6:27. Rebel Of The Sands is magical and bursting with imagination. It’s so brilliantly written that everything leaps out at you – you can almost feel the heat rippling off the page and constantly expect to find grains of sand trickling into your lap. Read it.

I continued my re-reading of Harry Potter over the summer which is always a favourite of mine. If you’ve not yet read this series then you should give it a go.

Queen of The Tearling was a great new fantasy read and, again, I’m excited to read the next in the series in 2017. 

The Red Notebook is a really lovely story – great for fans of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry!

I am not normally one for non-fiction or biographies but I had to give I am Malala a chance and I was not disappointed. I already knew something of Malala’s story but reading it in her own words was truly moving and made me feel proudly fortunate. I was also so struck by what an incredible man her father is – we need more men like him in the world.

I was excited to receive The Graces in my Illumicrate box in July and really enjoyed reading it. I felt it took a little while to get going but was one of those I couldn’t quite put down.

Sleeping Giants was initially a cover but (so pretty!) but I was really pleased to have picked it up. It has echos of Illumicrate but is adult sci-if rather than YA. I also enjoyed reading a sci-fi that was set entirely on Earth!

I had so much fun reading all the new wizard of world books released by Pottermore this year – I loved reading a bit more about some of my favourite characters, particularly McGonagall. If you’re a HP fan and haven’t read these yet then you should go and read them. They’re inexpensive, quick to read, and a delightful trip back to the wizard of world.

Other favourites from this bunch were Ted Hughes’ poetry collection, Crow, and the recently published Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, which it inspired. Both were dark, profound and deeply moving. Anyone who has grieved will find something of truth in these pages and it is strangely comforting.

Pax is one of my absolute favourites from this year. A thoroughly moving story about a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a fox. It’s a lovely tale but the thing that struck me much was how TRUE the pages from Pax’s perspective felt. That might sound strange, after all how on earth would I know what a fox’s perspective would sound like, and yet it felt completely right. It wa the perfect autumn read.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises joins Pax on my absolute favourites of 2016 list. This book was charming, magical, relatable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I have bought at least 3 copies to give to other people and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Probably the most controversial book I’ve read this year is Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I have seen such mixed reviews about it: some love it, some hate it, some have gone so far as to say they feel betrayed by JK for putting her name to it(?!). As far as I’m concerned it was great fun! It was NOT the 8th Harry Potter book but I never expected it to be. It was fun to return to Hogwarts; it was fun to imagine the possible futures of my favourite characters; it was fun to see something of the next generation of witches and wizards. Yes, there were some slightly questionable plot points, yes, it did read a little like fan fiction – but, honestly, I still loved it. I would happily read it again and I really, really hope I get to see the play at some point.

My last big batch of reading from 2016 included some of my Christmas favourites: A Christmas Carol is to this day the only Dicken’s book I have read all the way through. I hope to change this in 2017 as I really do love this book and although Dicken’s writing is incredibly wordy I think it is beautiful.

Chasers of the Light was a Christmas present and I absolutely loved it. Simple, but stunning, poetry typed on found paper – a joy to read.


My 100th book of the year was The Snow Child which has been on my bedside table for 2 years waiting to be read. This tale is achingly sad but beautifully written. It is a haunting tale and Ivey perfectly evokes the ethereality of deep winter and human desire for connection and love.

As well as reading my 100 books, I’ve also had another great fun year on bookstagram! Here are my #bestnine from 2016…


There’s clearly a favoured theme since I haven’t stuck to one theme all year but these all got the most likes. I haven’t decided what I might do with bookstagram in 2017 (to stick with one theme or keep a messy feed, that is the question…) but I do know that I still love this online bookish community. The pictures are beautiful and inspiring and the people are kind and encouraging. It’s a great little creative outlet and I look forward to another bookish year being a par of it.

So there you have it, my year in books! I hope you had a wonderful year, whether it was bookish or not. Please leave any of your own recommendations/favourite reads of 2016 in the comments.

Whatever your 2016 was like I wish you all the happiest of New Years, and love, peace, and joy for 2017.