Let’s hear it for the boys

 

As a mother of two boys ( now young men) I am becoming increasingly concerned about the current ‘girl power’ trend which seems to involve a lot of men-bashing.

My son’s school has recently published exam results which show a significant gap between the boys and girls’ grades (in favour of the girls). If this had been the other way around, there would have been a big fuss and parents would have been informed about what action the school would take to improve the girls’ grades. Yet there has been no mention of the underperformance of the boys.

I have just picked up Glamour Magazine which proudly declares on the front cover that the issue is ‘100% Made By Women’. Can you imagine if a Men’s magazine had made this claim for men? There would be an outcry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am delighted that women are achieving more and feeling confident, after all I am one, but this doesn’t have to be at the expense of our boys and men. Men- bashing is sexist too and we really shouldn’t indulge in it. Men can be sensitive and thoughtful, but they often don’t display this in an obvious way like women. Think of the firemen ( mostly men) who had to deal with the recent Grenfell fire in London. Their faces were contorted with the horror of the situation, but they carried on for hour after hour. This shows men at their best.

I understand that there are many cultures and countries who still put men on a pedestal, where there is a long way to go before women are treated equally. But this bears no comparison to how we operate in the UK, Europe or the US and we do not need to undermine men to be successful. Their failure does not fuel our success. It is not acceptable to exclude men, or for boys to perform worse than girls in exams, or for women to behave arrogantly. For a happy society men need to be recognised for their qualities and for the important role that they play. Boys must be brought up to respect women and treat them equally, but the reverse it true too. So let’s celebrate all our young people, boys and girls, and not replace sexism with more sexism.

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Finding your life goal

 

There is a fascinating book by Angela Duckworth called ‘Grit’, which I am reading currently. Having seen her TED talk, I wanted to find out more about what it really takes to excel in your chosen field and it is refreshing to hear that it is attitude rather than CAT scores that really count. Working in education, it is saddening to see the number of children who feel like they are failing because they do not score highly in written tests, which really only test a very narrow version of true intelligence. Who is in a position to define intelligence anyway? Is being able to remember facts and write them down a measure of intelligence ( or just a good memory)? If having original ideas is valued then how is this measured in the education system? If I can demonstrate my knowledge and ideas through a conversation, but what I write is a poor version of what I know, then why is my intelligence measured by the written version? ( answer: because it is much easier to administer). Many talented people have been let down by the education system which has given them a grade which they then have to carry through life. Those who decide the grading system and the grades may be the best administrators, but they are not the best thinkers. Anyhow, I digress….education is my hobby horse. What I wanted to discuss was goals.
The key to success is having a clear goal, life purpose or mission statement (ideally just one). This then guides everything you do and all your mini and midi goals fit into the overriding goal. This seems obvious, but how many of us apply it? Not me so far, but I will from now on.
Problems arise when you either have a vague high level goal (‘ I will be rich’) but no plan to achieve it. This ‘maxi goal’ is not connected to any midi or mini goals beneath it. When I was younger I just had this vague idea/hope that I would be rich enough to retire by 30 ( ha!) but this was not backed up by a plan or specific actions. I then proceeded to get a job in marketing that, at best, would mean a reasonably comfortable life on the treadmill, but certainly would not lead to a fortune. How did I think this would ever join up to my master plan of being rich and free?
The other problem is having no clear ‘maxi’ goal and then just bumbling along doing tactical tasks on a daily basis, without any idea how these are taking you closer to your goal. They do not join up to your key purpose, so you may be busy but you’ll never get there. Maxi, midi and mini goals need to join together in a pyramid all working to take you to your one, most important life goal. This should be a long-term goal, not something you keep changing. Food for thought! Well it is for me and a very interesting insight from Angela Duckworth. Good luck with finding your life goal, it may just be the most important thing you do.

What am I like?

As a child of the seventies, it was never about me. The grown-ups ruled the roost and there was little interest in understanding the personality of a child or what they enjoyed. This was not unusual, it was just how it was in the seventies. Our parents didn’t put themselves out to accommodate our needs or interests, as parents do today, we just had to work around the adults. When it was time to go to university I was not taken to any open days (were there even any open days?) and was given very little guidance about what to good with my life. The upshot was that I ended up doing a degree that I wasn’t really interested in and not doing very well. But, as I say, this is just the way things were and, at the time, I didn’t feel short-changed.

The point is, that it was never about me. I had a few years of a good career after university, but then the past eighteen years have really been all about my family. The career is a distant memory, discarded in favour of a ‘convenient’ job that would fit around the children. My eldest is about to leave for university and I am suddenly faced with myself, my limited achievements and a gaping void ahead of me. Finally, it is going to be about me, but that terrifies me as I realise that I have no idea what I like, what I am good at or what an earth I am going to do next. I can see that over the next 12 months I am going to be confronted with myself and that is not an appealing prospect. I will either emerge like a phoenix from the flames or shuffle into old age, unremarkable and unnoticed. It is finally about me, whether I like it or not, and I need to find the strength to pursue the phoenix option, even though at the moment I can’t see how I will get there.

Ten ways to help your teenager through exam stress

 
Whilst out walking a couple of days ago, a woman ran up to me and asked if I had seen a boy. It turns out that her son (aged18) had run away from school and phoned her to say he was going to kill himself. As mother to an 18 year old myself, I was horrified at the thought. Fortunately, he was found shortly afterwards and is OK. It made me consider the amount of pressure that is piled onto our young people by parents concerned about future prospects and schools concerned with results. It is far worse than anything we experienced at the same age and it really needs to stop. I work with children of this age who are struggling with their studies and need extra support. Many of them are full of anxiety and believe that their exam results are everything. Our teenagers are lovely, often misunderstood and need more care from us all. Here are ten ideas to help your teenagers through the pressure of exams:-

1. Tell them that you want them to do well, but if they don’t it is not the end of the world. There is a good future for them, even if they have to follow an unconventional path.

2. Help them to organise their studies and set realistic targets with time for real life as well as studying. A shorter time spent on good quality revision is better than hours shut up in their room staring at notes. Four or five lots of 45 minutes in a day of quality revision leaves time to relax or see friends in the evening. An eight hour day of revision is unlikely to be effective.

3. You shouldn’t have to tidy up after your teen, but during exam times it is a kind gesture to help them keep their room pleasant and calm, so that they can focus on their studies without distractions.

4. Have a fixed time for meals when they can leave their room and sit with the family. Make a nice meal for them to enjoy ( they can make up for it by cooking for you when the exams are over). Teenagers love to snack so make sure you have some tasty but nutritious snacks available. Favourites in our house are the Eat Natural Bars and Kind nuts and seeds bars, along with Innocent smoothies.

5. Aromatherapy is a powerful way to create a sense of calm. Buy a calming room spray, or a diffuser.

6. If your teen is a restless fidgeter, then buy some squeezy stress balls or fidget toys.

7. Indulge them with lovely stationery. Make revision a more creative task with coloured pens, colour block pads (Paperchase), plain paper for mind maps and their favourite pens ( such as Pilot Frixion). These small luxuries make the task more fun and less daunting.

8. Check that their revision strategies are effective and efficient. Look at the detail-what exactly are they doing? Just reading notes won’t cut it. Unless they are actively involved the revision just won’t be remembered. Notes need to be read and then re-written or condensed-or made into a diagram, or flashcards (see the Chegg app). They need to test themselves by answering questions- not just copying out notes. I find it quite sad that so many young people are wasting hours revising in an ineffective way and I am afraid that most schools just don’t help very much with this.

9. Make time for fun. Book a cinema trip, take them out for a pizza or organise a movie night at home. Make some fancy mocktails. Just have fun, with small treats, to break up the grind. It is more important to reward the effort along the way than the results at the end.

10. Do your best to free up some time to support your teenagers through this stressful time and demonstrate, in simple ways, that you love and appreciate them. Keep calm so that they can see that you are not panicking about their future. There are more important things in life.

A Perfect Education

 

Following a career in marketing I moved into teaching so that I could be around for my children. It is amazing how little the system has changed since I was at school. Which is surprising, especially when you consider how much the world has evolved and the different skills that will be be required to thrive in this new world. I work in the independent sector as a one-to-one teacher for children who have dyslexia, dyscalculia and other difficulties. The existing system struggles to recognise the creativity, verbal ability and original approaches that these children often excel in. Actually, the problem that most of them face isn’t their lack of ability, but an education system that only recognises and rewards a very narrow range of skills that have barely changed in the last 50 years. The system was designed to produce either academics, professionals or workers. It has changed so little because it employs, almost exclusively, people who did well under this system, have stayed in education and have little experience of the outside world. The system suited them very well, so why change it? This goes some way to explain the lack of creative development in terms of what is taught and how it is assessed. Trouble is, many of these traditional jobs will be replaced by technology in the near future ( including the professionals not just the workers). The future skills that will be in demand will be creative agile thinking and problem-solving skills, and schools are not recognising or developing these talents.

After a discussion with a parent who is dissatisfied with the education choices on offer in the UK, I have come up with some ideas about how education could develop in the future to teach a much broader range of skills to discover every individual’s true talents and future opportunities. So here goes..

I have never understood why it takes so many hours and years to teach what is required to achieve GCSEs and A Levels. I can only conclude that there is a lot of inefficiency, yet this process never seems to be questioned or re-visited. In my ideal school only 40% of the time would be used to teach examination subjects. Achieving 5-7 GCSEs is enough to enable a pupil to carry on to study A Levels and go onto university, if desired. So I propose that 40% of the time is used to acquire 5-7 GCSEs but taught in a much more efficient way.

That leaves 60% of the time for non-examination subjects and this is where it gets interesting. I would not limit teaching to teachers. For the non-examined subjects the ideal teacher would be someone who is passionate and accomplished in their speciality. Some of this instruction would be delivered online. Better that technology is taught by a successful tech entrepreneur from California than an IT teacher who has never worked in business. Teachers should be passionate and leaders in their field-the best and most inspirational that the world has to offer.

So here are my first thoughts on the subjects that would be taught:-

Mind: problem-solving, resilience, meditation, thinking, questioning and ethics.

Body: conventional sport but also dance, yoga, running, canoeing , climbing etc

Music: conventional instruments but also composing and using music technology

Art and Design with a range of different media

Drama and public speaking to develop confidence and presence

Social confidence (social skills, empathy, meeting and greeting etc)

Technology: coding, apps, video, smart homes, medical tech etc…really high quality content taught by tech stars..

Making and repairing: building, motors, mechanics, computers, furniture, jewellery ..making and mending real things.

Food and nutrition including cooking and growing food.

Business and Money: how to build businesses, make money, do good things with it and be happy.

This would give everyone exposure to a range of skills and passions that they can develop throughout their life. It also recognises the range of areas where the new jobs of the future will be. The ideal building for the school would be a new build with inspiring architecture using the latest environmentally sensitive innovative systems to generate energy, based in a clean-air location.

I would love to have gone to a school like this! Everyone must have a vision of what the perfect education system would look like…what’s yours?

A Perfect Education

 

Following a career in marketing I moved into teaching so that I could be around for my children. It is amazing how little the system has changed since I was at school. Which is surprising, especially when you consider how much the world has evolved and the different skills that will be be required to thrive in this new world. I work in the independent sector as a one-to-one teacher for children who have dyslexia, dyscalculia and other difficulties. The existing system struggles to recognise the creativity, verbal ability and original approaches that these children often excel in. Actually, the problem that most of them face isn’t their lack of ability, but an education system that only recognises and rewards a very narrow range of skills that have barely changed in the last 50 years. The system was designed to produce either academics, professionals or workers. It has changed so little because it employs, almost exclusively, people who did well under this system, have stayed in education and have little experience of the outside world. The system suited them very well, so why change it? This goes some way to explain the lack of creative development in terms of what is taught and how it is assessed. Trouble is, many of these traditional jobs will be replaced by technology in the near future ( including the professionals not just the workers). The future skills that will be in demand will be creative agile thinking and problem-solving skills, and schools are not recognising or developing these talents.
After a discussion with a parent who is dissatisfied with the education choices on offer in the UK, I have come up with some ideas about how education could develop in the future to teach a much broader range of skills to discover every individual’s true talents and future opportunities. So here goes..

I have never understood why it takes so many hours and years to teach what is required to achieve GCSEs and A Levels. I can only conclude that there is a lot of inefficiency, yet this process never seems to be questioned or re-visited. In my ideal school only 40% of the time would be used to teach examination subjects. Achieving 5-7 GCSEs is enough to enable a pupil to carry on to study A Levels and go onto university, if desired. So I propose that 40% of the time is used to acquire 5-7 GCSEs but taught in a much more efficient way.
That leaves 60% of the time for non-examination subjects and this is where it gets interesting. I would not limit teaching to teachers. For the non-examined subjects the ideal teacher would be someone who is passionate and accomplished in their speciality. Some of this instruction would be delivered online. Better that technology is taught by a successful tech entrepreneur from California than an IT teacher who has never worked in business. Teachers should be passionate and leaders in their field-the best and most inspirational that the world has to offer.

So here are my first thoughts on the subjects that would be taught:-

Mind: problem-solving, resilience, meditation, thinking, questioning and ethics.

Body: conventional sport but also dance, yoga, running, canoeing , climbing etc

Music: conventional instruments but also composing and using music technology

Art and Design with a range of different media

Drama and public speaking to develop confidence and presence

Social confidence (social skills, empathy, meeting and greeting etc)

Technology: coding, apps, video, smart homes, medical tech etc…really high quality content taught by tech stars..

Making and repairing: building, motors, mechanics, computers, furniture, jewellery ..making and mending real things.

Food and nutrition including cooking and growing food

This would give everyone exposure to a range of skills and passions that they can develop throughout their life. It also recognises the range of areas where the new jobs of the future will be. The ideal building for the school would be a new build with inspiring architecture using the latest environmentally sensitive innovative systems to generate energy, based in a clean-air location.

I would love to have gone to a school like this! Everyone must have a vision of what the perfect education system would look like…what’s yours?