Six things 2020 has taught me…

On Hogmanay last year I volunteered at Glasgow City mission winter night shelter. It was a humbling experience to mark the arrival of 2020 with individuals facing real difficulty in life. It was a privilege to be able to support the amazing, kind hearted staff. And it gave me a real sense of perspective about what is important in life. That night, none of us could have imagined what lay ahead in the new year. I’ve thought about the conversations i had that night, on many occasions throughout this year. I know that particular experience has had a profound impact on the way in which I’ve approached some of the difficulties I’ve faced in 2020, which notably are nothing in comparison to the challenges of others. Inspired by Jill Berry, on Hogmanay 2020, I’ve decided to reflect on the things I’ve learned in the last 12 months in my #nurture2021 blog.

1. I have learned that I can cope with the unexpected. I can still function when things don’t go the way I planned. I can’t change ‘the thing,’ but I can choose my response. At the end of January 2020 I completed months of CBT to help with traits of perfectionism. Boy am I glad I did this prior to lockdown. My issues come from the pressure I often put on myself to meet unrelenting standards. I’ve learned that these don’t necessarily need to be high standards but rules I make for myself. ‘We need to leave the house by 8.05am.’ ‘The dishes need to be cleaned straight after dinner.’ ‘I will exercise tomorrow.’ I find it very difficult to cope with change to this anticipated plan – if I’ve set something in my mind, I find it hard to be flexible with it. And then I am extremely self-critical if I am unable to stick to the rule. This was a vicious cycle. You might wonder how someone with these traits coped during a global pandemic when rules, guidelines and restrictions were changing on a very regular basis. I realised many others live with this uncertainty throughout their life. It forced me to realise that sometimes thinking about the ‘thing’ is way worse than ‘the thing.’ Living in the moment has been really helpful for me to begin to overcome this. Being mindful of the present and getting through each day without trying to think too far ahead has also been useful. Looking for the positives in this year of so many challenges, I realise that lockdown and all its uncertainty, was the ultimate challenge for me in ‘going with the flow.’ I had to give up control. I had to surrender being in charge. It helped me to strip everything back and put into perspective what really was important.

2. I have learned that everyone is human. Everyone needs connection. When that is taken from us during a pandemic, we are lost. In March we went into lockdown and subsequently didn’t see close family for months. Children unable to hug their grandparents. Friends who can’t embrace each other to share sympathy or celebration. Learners who craved the face to face connection. Loved ones separated by lockdown. Family unable grieve together at funerals or celebrate at weddings. Colleagues normally in each other’s company 5 days a week, apart for months. Homeless unable to use the night shelter in the same way, it sit and chat over tea and toast. But what 2020 forced us to do was to connect in other ways. We have physical distanced but not socially. I’ve seen some friends more this year than in any other. We are experts on Zoom. We wave at the end of Teams meetings. We discovered the benefits of digital learning. We found new innovative ways to be together virtually – Easter bonnet parades, family challenges, quizzes, wine tasting, pamper nights. Doorstep drops of food parcels and written notes of encouragement. It wasn’t ideal but in a pretty empty 2020 calendar these events gave us some sense of normality and the connection we needed.

3. I have learned that time outdoors is precious. The changing weather and seasons magnified in nature have, this year more than ever, provided a reassuring sense of calm when all else seemed chaotic. In spring we experienced beautiful weather. Warm and dry. It was such a welcome relief to be able to get outdoors everyday, something which is often difficult during the school day routine. We were grateful for our garden and aware of others without this outdoor space. We integrated a daily walk into our routine and discovered so many beautiful places we’d never known of, right on our doorstep. Bluebell wood. Ducks pass. Deer forest.

We had so many picnics outdoors (usually on days when my husband had numerous online meetings!) and we appreciated the quiet calmness outdoors. The stillness of the air and sounds of nature which were more prominent with the lack of hustle and bustle everywhere. There were some rainy days we donned our wellies and went out regardless. And I gained a new found love of running in the rain. I continued to run even whilst back at school, and tried to keep this up three times a week. Some days I only made it out for 20mins or so and whilst it was always a struggle to find the motivation to go, it was never regretted. During summer we were fortunate to make it to our happy place, our brand new caravan at Port Ban on the west coast. I love looking at the sea, and in 2020 I became more confident in water – my mother’s day present paddle board arrived at the start of lockdown and teased me from the corner of the living room for months. But my first sunset paddle board made the wait worthwhile. And my second attempt on the still, misty waters early one July morning was equally as mind-blowing. I can’t wait to get back to it in 2021.

4. I have learned (or remembered!) that I love learning. I think I’ve read more books this year than in any other, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve become a bit obsessed with edu-books and online professional learning. This actually started as a result of an extremely early rising 2year old, and his early morning snuggle time doubling as a quiet, reflective period for reading, writing and working. But throughout the year has become much more. This year, I connected with some amazing twitter friends through my PLN and have been more than inspired by them. The knowledge, friendships and motivation I have gained from this circle has been phenomenal and I cannot thank them enough for the continued inspiration. Having always had a strong interest in learning and teaching, I have gained so much insight into pedagogy and the science of learning. I’ve thought deeply about curriculum, about the impact of knowledge on creativity, about assessment, about questioning and feedback and I’ve been inspired by so many brilliant teachers out there having a real impact on the outcomes for our young people. I’ve continued to champion leading with kindness and integrity. Relationships and inclusion in my classroom continue to be the bedrock of the culture I promote for learning. I can think of so many small breakthroughs with pupils and so many moments of ‘wow I’ve got this’ learning. I’ve started a weekly reflection in my blog and I am finding it useful to critically reflect on my practice, values and educational beliefs.

I’m looking forward to 2021 and sharing this love of learning with my colleagues in school as we continue to develop our Leading Learning group. I’m also keen to get my teeth into some more formal professional learning but unsure as to what. I already have plans to work with students on the iPGCE course at Strathclyde university presenting about learning theories. I am also looking forward to having my contribution published in the second book on retrieval practice by the wonderful Kate Jones. And Darren Leslie and I have big plans for ScotEd2 after the success of our inaugural Scottish online professional learning conference in September 2020. An exciting year ahead.

5. I have learned that creativity is hugely comforting. As an art and design teacher one might presume I am very creative. The truth is as a busy full-time principal teacher and mummy to two energetic boys – I have very little time to be creative. Even at school I sometimes feel it’s difficult to find time to create purely for self. But 2020 has been different. The slower pace, the time to pause and the realisation that I don’t always need to be ‘busy’ has meant that I’ve made time to create. During early lockdown like many others, I got creative with loo rolls, cardboard boxes and anything we had lying about. I designed a logo for a community project developed by Chris Kilkenny. I found fun art activities to keep my boys amused during the long days of homeschooling – finger painting, card making, and printing. I personally enjoyed time for painting, drawing, mark making, glass painting and sketch booking. I created a concertina sketchbook featuring sketches of significant places where my mum and dad had grown up. We decorated our living room and up-cycled a vintage bureau. In October I put my sewing skills to the test and made a homemade spider costume! On Christmas Eve, I bought myself an A3 sketchbook to encourage me to keep being creative. It’s been lovely to work on a larger scale and use it to experiment. During our most recent holiday my oldest (5) and I would regularly spend the afternoon at the kitchen table sketching away and chatting. It’s been great to lose myself in creating, becoming absorbed by the process in a way which is not possible through other activities.

6. Finally, in 2020 I’ve learned that life is so much better at a slower pace. The simple act of hand sanitising, wiping down a desk or a trolley forces us to pause. I walk more slowly. I take things in. I appreciate. I try hard not to rush. I attempt to be more present. I listen more attentively. I’ve far from got all this sorted but being aware of my need to try, is a good starting point.

Life often has a way of giving us just what we need. And for that, I have a lot to thank 2020 for.

One thought on “#Nurture2021

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