A response to the questions about where the Well Tree ideas come from, the influences that led to the Nurturing Way philosophy and to whom Well Tree owes the most!
“My, my, what long words for a little girl!” Miss V smirked as she and the rest of the class laughed at me!
Words, long or short, have always fascinated me and coming home, a tearful six year old having – just – held it together for the rest of the day, I poured out my sorrows to my mother. I remember her comforting arms and fury resonating through her as she told me never, never to let anyone make me feel little or humiliated. People wouldn’t always like me, would be irritated by me, would have the right to argue with me but I had rights too! I needed to listen and then make the choice to decide whether they had a point or not and if so adjust accordingly. What they didn’t have the right to do was to belittle me especially not for trying to learn what was the right word to use or how something worked or why things happen the way they do. I had the right to stand tall and continue doing what I thought was right. Words are powerful, the right words can weave magic, can spin poetry, can change history!
That I had ‘rights’, seemed almost heresy; especially in school where teachers were infallible and always right. To learn that adults, even teachers, they could make mistakes – and that in my mother’s eyes at least on this occasion, I was ‘more right’ than a teacher started me on a road of questioning from which I have never deviated! It also, by the way, made me more determined than ever to continue exploring words and the power they have!
That is a long introduction to this week’s podcast which is in response to a number of enquiries, thank you Matthew, Susan, jcae, Francis and Alan, about where The Nurturing Way and the rest of my ideas come from! I am not sure whether I can fully answer the questions or can give a definitive list that would help the University student assignment which I suspect two of you at least are after, but I will try to do my best!
An ‘Apologia’ is more than an explanation, definitions range from that to a ‘rationale’, to ‘presenting the origins of thought, of an argument’ and so on. The short answer to the questions you ask is that so many people have influenced me but most of all my motivation has been centred around finding solutions for problems facing the best teachers in my life – children.
Professionally my most influential teachers have been the children for whom I have been ‘teacher’! It is such a privilege to be able to share in the creativity of children for whom the question why holds the excitement of opening door after door. Their minds are open to infinite possibilities and to those humbling weird connections that challenge us to looks at the world afresh alongside them! Children teach us so much about effective and efficient learning too. Their determination to find out more, their patience and resilience as they practice skills again and again until satisfied that they know why something happens the way it does or that they have mastery over this element of their world.
As a teacher I was also absorbed and challenged as to the barriers that children faced to successful learning. Why do some children who are just as bright as other classmates have to struggle so hard. For some children there are in-child challenges in terms of special needs, dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia, dyscalculia etc or it could be to do with personality and temperament. These and many other in-child issues could lead to children stumbling in learning. What could we as teachers do to adjust our teaching to minimize these seemingly huge barriers.
Then there were the beyond-child challenges to do with background nurturing or to do with life-experiences. Why could some children succeed despite apparently huge disadvantages and others be overwhelmed by them? Why could some children flourish with one teacher and then falter with another.
As a teacher, my job was to try to help children overcome whatever stumbling blocks there were so that they could unlock their learning potential.
This meant a lot of questioning, questioning more experienced teachers, going on courses and lots and lots of background reading. Typically the more you read, the more questions you discover and the more you try things out, again the more questions emerge – why does this strategy work for Jenny but not for Mark when their difficulties seem so similar?
What is wonderful about working with young children is that when they know that you are trying your best to find ways to help them they are so willing to engage whole-heartedly in the endeavor with you! They are kind to us as we fumble along trying to help them and their perseverance is an important lesson.
I remember with a mixture of love, admiration and in some cases nervousness my own teachers and lecturers and their patience with me when I am in the position of learner at their hands. Being always a learner is so salutary as it reminds me each time just how powerful is the spread of ideas and sometimes how much we can learn from our misconceptions!
As a teacher I had the greatest of good fortune in working in a Local Authority, Cheshire (I think Americans would call it District) under the some of the most talented educational leaders of our time. Probably most notable for me was David Cracknell, who was Director of Education for Cheshire for the early years of my roles in leadership in Primary Schools. I have never forgotten the honour and challenge that he offered on the first day of my first Headship (Principal) when he called at 9.30 in the morning to tell me that Cheshire was fortunate that I was joining the ranks of Heads, that this next challenge of my career would provide great fulfillment, great moments of elation but also moments of fear, nervousness and even desolation. Leadership in schools was a responsibility and a privilege but I was not alone and that our County Officers, and he, were there to help me.
David Cracknell proved a tough leader, he knew the difficulties faced in different communities, he even seemed to know when to make those calls during the tough times. He was not easy boss – he questioned and challenged us when necessary but managed to make us feel safe despite the inevitable bleak moments and attacks that those in any position of public leadership face as easy targets!
He also nurtured us as leaders through bringing some of the greatest educational thinkers of our era to this small county in the UK. I listened to Howard Gardner, to Ken Robinson, Adrian Faupel, Will Rogers, Spencer Kagan, Rob Long, Becky Bailey, Marie Clay, Cheryl Watkins, Colin Rose, Sir John Jones, Robert Fisher and so many others.
David Cracknell’s own thirst for knowledge also brought about the ‘Learning Brain Europe’ initiative pioneered by a group of Cheshire Head Teachers. This has brought national and international speakers to a cutting-edge conference every two years. Rich Allen, Ian Gilbert, Andrew Curran, Jonathan Sharples, David Sousa, the Kagans, Jenny Mosely and so many others continue to come to our small part of the world. We have the opportunity to share their wisdom alongside delegates from all over the UK but also from many different countries in Europe.
David Cracknell’s is a legacy that is celebrated daily in the way that children all over our county are taught yet sadly most teaching staff are unaware just how far his influence permeates the culture of our schools!
From amongst these heroes came the opportunity for more protracted study under luminaries such as Becky Bailey, Iaon Rees and Cheryl Watkins. These three have contributed hugely to my teaching, thinking, way of life and to what I now offer you my blog readers, podcast listeners and those attending the Nurturing Way courses.
What a glorious cocktail of talent; how blessed I have been to be in the ‘right place’ at the ‘right time’ - to be part of this extraordinary Education Renaissance. Trying to extricate from this who taught me what and when is an impossible task as my learning has taken place over many years and so often originated as a quest to find out what to do the next day in class to help Sarah, Dean, Michael or Jason so that the stumbling blocks could be reduced and their wonderful brains freed to explore and learn more easily.
So now, Matthew, Susan, jcae, Francis, Alan and now Sarah today, I hope I have gone at least some way in answering your questions!
I know it isn’t that this isn’t that definitive reading list some of you asked me for nor either is it presenting clear-cut the origin of each element of the jigsaw of my knowledge and approaches. This would be to devalue the work of each of these great Educational heroes and those others I can’t bring to mind but whose articles and books I know I have read. Rather this is a paean of praise to them all.
The questions you have asked have also made me think long and hard and come to the conclusion that my role is rather to try to synthesize the contribution of each of these people and of course the incredible practical input that the children have given me as I interpreted these ideas into my teaching. My job now is to try to make sense of this glorious cocktail and the power of its impact on children and make it all more accessible to families, schools and communities!
Coming full circle, my special thanks then must go to the children who allowed me into their thinking and their learning and who challenged me always to try to discover more about how the brain develops, how we think, how we learn so that we can make the most of our lives. Mistakes I have made and plenty of them but the children I have taught were excellent teachers. I’ve learned from them that mistakes are often more powerful than success as the fundamental building bricks on which we can expand our knowledge.
It is only accepting mediocrity that is unforgivable when it comes to trying to find out more – our children deserve better from us than mediocrity!
So I must also thank Miss V, my mother and all those others who have challenged and fashioned my determination to question, to know more and, though no longer a little girl, I will still do my best to use the right words of our amazingly rich language, even if some of them are long!