New directions

Who, in the name of all that’s wonderful, would choose in today’s world to be a Careers Advisor? Can you imagine a more difficult, demanding and, possibly, thankless task than that of advising anyone on how they might make a living? Even that expression, ‘make a living’, seems antique. What young person, day dreaming their future as they sit in class today, is thinking about making a living? A fortune, yes of course – preferably before the age of 25, by hook or by crook or by sheer good looks.

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Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May entering Number 10 Downing Street - unencumbered!


There is probably a very long list of things you need to look like a leader, and even more if you want to be a great leader. But I have a new, magic necessity to suggest: nothing.

Nothing at all. If you really want to look like a leader, carry nothing at all. Walk the walk empty-handed, arms at your side, relaxed, confident, unencumbered.

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You don’t say…

And the truth is, really, you don’t, do you? Say, that is. None of us do. How often have we thought well of someone and just not said it? Clapped hand to the shoulder, looked them in the eye and said “You were terrific”?

Most of us don’t. Maybe it’s British reserve or stiff-upper-lippiness or fear of embarrassment. Because I suspect that mostly we are not brilliant at accepting praise – maybe we don’t get enough practice? We shrug and mutter “Oh, it was nothing” or if it was really spectacular, like a raging river rescue, “Oh, anyone would have done the same … it was nothing special.”

There are times when you wish that you had said something to a colleague or a friend, but the moment passed. And then you realise “Hey, that was a pity – I should have said …” and lo! You get a reprieve. An opportunity arises and you grab it with both hands and blurt out the words. Usually a thank you. Something was said or done that made a difference to you and possibly yours and it’s worth remarking upon. Worth appreciating. Aloud.

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Here’s the thing…

Are you old enough to remember context questions? Popular in RS or Eng lit exams, they gave you a pesky little quotation and asked you detailed questions about it, what did it mean, who said it and why – how minimalist was that? Candidates even had to translate key phrases/sentences into good modern English, as if the original were written in a foreign language. And of course it sometimes felt as if it was, which was one reason why reading a Shakespeare play aloud around the class was a recipe for total incomprehension and complete allergy to Shakespeare evermore. How many of us eventually discovered Shakespeare in a theatre, open-mouthed at how crystal clear was the meaning of every line – “OMG! So that’s what it meant! And that’s what actors are for!”

Teachers – OK, my teachers, but there were two of them – were manacled to the need to make sure we could tackle those compulsory context questions. Classes, hours, terms disappeared into line by line explication, word by blessed word. Chopping at the wood and missing the trees comes to mind. Looking back – and I begin to think I should stop doing this – there was very little overviewing of the whole text, themes, ideas, style. No time. Too busy going line by line. Maybe the teacher with whom I toiled through ‘Ant and Cleo’ thought if we only knew the meaning of every word, we could work out the rest for ourselves. Simples.

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Lincoln at the Gettsyburg address

A classy address

Assemblies still have an important role to play in school life.

There is – obviously enough – a gap between the writing of any of these articles and their publication. Someday I may get the hang of looking forward to publication date and seeking out interesting anniversaries in pursuit of that glimmer, that glint of gold which is the starting point of any article and which would be considered wonderfully timely in three months’ time. Someday.

Meanwhile, the spur to write comes from many and various places and today it’s an anniversary. By the time you read this, it won’t be so current, but you will be familiar with the event which took place on 19 November 1863 – and go to the head of your quiz team if it comes to mind even as you read these lines.

On that date, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, and how could that date not make you want to write a piece for a publication like IET?

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3 trophies with ribbons on a table

What a performance!

There’s a sea change happening in the world of sport and I wonder how long it will be before it arrives in schools?

The new buzz word is ‘performance’. Or perhaps ‘performance!’ Schools have been in the business of improving performance since the league tables came in and have even become quite team-aware in the process. I have come across a school where the English department was forbidden to teach a tough long text for GCSE because the kids could score just as highly on a shorter, easier book and, with less reading to do, would have more time to spend on tougher subjects. That’s whole-school thinking, though I would lament the loss of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ for ‘Of Mice and Men’ any day.

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