Baby picture of one of Emma's children

On feelings of failure - and redefining success

This photo was taken fourteen-and-a-half years ago. It's of our eldest daughter. The transition to parenthood had been as tough as it was exhilarating. A few weeks before this photo was taken, I'd taken her, with the sacred 'red book' that was her health record, to the GP. Like many new mothers, I had been keen to make breastfeeding work, and was lucky enough that it did. A few sleepless weeks in, we thought a bottle would help my husband and I share things out (and maybe get more than 40 mins sleep in one go). She had other ideas, which she expressed forcefully and with a persistence that turned out to be blueprint for for her nature. Our daughter was born (amidst some crazy complications - she and I would not be here but for modern medicine) on the second centile (in the 'bottom two percent' for size). There was a graph and she regularly dropped below the aspirational line on the growth chart. The growth chart, I was told, was Very Important.

'She's not thriving,' said the GP, on examining the chart. 'You need to introduce formula milk.'

I was devastated. My baby wasn't thriving (or indeed sleeping and she really, no matter how often I was told to 'show her who's boss', take a bottle). I'd clearly done Something Very Wrong. (And remember: she said NO to bottle feeding and it fact subsisted almost exclusively on apple crumble, blueberries and breastmilk for her first 18 months - bye bye, lovingly prepared and frozen Annabel Karmel recipes).

My anxiety hit new levels. Cue: some random woman from the internet insisted on a coffee. (I'd been posting on forum about pregnancy and childbirth). I initially scoffed at this crazy offer for a stranger. She insisted again.

The unspeakably glamorous rando with an unspeakably thriving baby a few months ahead of us entered the café. 'She's not thriving,' I told her, when I managed to remember how sentences worked. 'But look at her!' said my to-this-day closest friend. 'Look at those cheeks! She's fine!'


That's the story. I'd been looking at the charts -the GP, it would seem, had only looked at the charts.

As a coach, I regularly meet people tortured with perceptions of their own failures or shortcomings. Impostor syndrome, self-doubt and perfectionism are a regular  theme. Some coachees are regularly plagued by with 'what-ifs' when it comes to what others really think.

As professionals, as scholars, a friends, as loved-ones, as parents, dog-owners, vegetarians, women... we are constantly surrounded with arbitrary, contradictory and infinitely potent  measures of what we 'should' be in order to be 'good enough'. From the power of Ofsted to dominate school leaders' lives to vocal opinions on social media, the 'not good enough' gremlins have potential feasts wherever we step.

We so often think in binary terms - 'I am smashing it!' 'I'm a total failure.' In truth, life is messy - we can respectively fail and succeed in fifty given ways in several different areas of our lives and our work every single day. But we have control over whether we allow these perceptions and these - very real - feelings to define us. It's not easy, but when the gremlins start to gather and snicker, TAKE CONTROL, and consider:

  • Whose opinion do I really, honestly rate?
  • How much of my emotional energy does this person/concept/view really deserve?
  • What really matters?
  • What do I value?
  • What have I learned from this?
  • If I really want know what others think, I can always ask

Take the boxes and graphs and clichés and gurus and chuck them on a high shelf - or in the bin (sorry, Gina Ford). Give yourself a high five when you know you've done well, and forgive yourself the messy bits and try to find the joy in them too. Our children, our students, our loved-ones, our clients and our friends don't need perfection - they need role models who are flawed and messy and human.

Look at the cheeks, not the graphs.

Teaching with my eyes shut written on a blackboard

Teaching with my eyes shut

A guest blog by Sarah Ruse – Eyes Shut Teacher @eyesshutteacher.

I’ve been teaching in Scotland for over 12 years now having changed career in my 40s. I’m not an expert but I do have some experience. I have worked in schools with rolls of 15-400+. I’ve taught composites, multi composites, NCCT, probationer & PT cover, job share, full time and part time. Like everyone else I’ve had a wide range of additional needs to include. I’m not teaching with my eyes shut because it’s easy for me, although there are some shortcuts that I‘ve discovered and am happy to share.

I’m also not teaching with my eyes shut because I want to ignore what’s happening and I’ve had enough of teaching. I care deeply about what happens in my classroom and how my learners are impacted by it. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort building my teaching toolbox, researching effective methods and increasing my understanding to support for pupils experiencing barriers to their learning. I endeavour to run a kind and nurturing classroom where all can flourish. However my focus is classroom work, I have no aspiration to lead although I support my SLT as much as I can (see teamwork below).

Teaching with my eyes shut came to me late on a damp Saturday afternoon. We’d finished the chores and put on an action movie. I thought it looked interesting at first but they all merge into one after a while so I started scrolling through my social media whilst keeping one eye on the movie. The main character went off to see his martial arts guru and was advised that he should practice with his eyes shut to find his focus, sensitivity, balance and timing. The penny dropped.

This is exactly how I feel about my teaching. It’s how I’ve been trying to explain my teaching practice for the last few years. As I’ve mentored the student teachers who have come through my class I’ve tried to explain to them the importance of the split seconds when we stop and decide how to act. Does this child need me to go loud or quiet?  What do the children watching need to see and feel? How do I make everyone in this room understand what went on? Teaching is unusual in that it is both a science and an art and timing is absolutely everything.

As the adult in the room it is my responsibility to self regulate and demonstrate appropriate responses. In that nanosecond that I take a deep breath, blink and select a response I’m running on my learning, experience and knowledge. It relies on me knowing that that behaviour isn’t personal, I’m just the nearest adult.

Choosing that response depends on many factors, but primarily it’s about self care. I cannot respond appropriately if stressed, tired and overworked. I rarely take work home and prioritise ruthlessly. I need evenings and weekends to reflect and process. I also try to walk every lunchtime as it allows me to see the bigger picture. Some might feel it’s a waste of time but I find it gives me headspace and makes me more productive.

For me to keep my pupils positive I have to remain positive. I absolutely love my job (although I know it would take every hour of the week if I let it). I like going to work on Monday and look forward to my week. I enjoy my weekends and holidays but I’m not wishing away my life counting down to them. I know this job is tiring but there are ways to reduce that and grumbling about it isn’t one of them.

Most of all teaching is a team sport. Asking for advice and support is a strength not a weakness. My colleagues and I listen to each other, gripe, share resources, problems and successes and make each other laugh at some of the ridiculous situations we find ourselves in. Most importantly they tell me when I’ve done as much as I can and when I need to accept I can’t fix everything.

So I’ve set up @eyesshutteacher on Twitter to share some positivity, laughter, time saving tips, offer advice, encourage self care and hopefully make you reflect on your teaching practice to find your focus, sensitivity, balance and timing.

Hopefully I’ll see you around 😊

Eyes Shut Teacher

Dad holding toddler up in the air.

Fatherhood and the Struggles of Teaching

This blog is reproduced here with permission.

Written by Michael Nott @MrNott117 on his blog stealingbiscuitsiswrong? on 26th April 2022.


Monday morning is always the hardest.

I sit on my 7am train bleary eyed, looking at photographs of my son from the weekend just gone. I think about how I won’t get to see him again for another 12 hours and all the little laughs and smiles that I will miss along the way.

I’ve got an SLT meeting first thing, then Year 11 twice and then Year 10 and then a line management meeting, and then finally another SLT meeting before wearily I’ll board the train back home.

Becoming a dad for the first time has been fantastic, but it has also led me to feeling much more stressed about work than I was previously. In fact, the last time I found myself feeling this anxious about work was in those first two years of my Teach First placement, when children were setting fire to the carpet in my classroom and chairs were being flung across my desk. Fatherhood has made it a real struggle to juggle being on top of my workload and being a visible and supportive senior leader at school.

Everything about fatherhood is new to me, on the day my son was born my life changed forever. Suddenly, I was responsible for this very tiny thing, in the blink of an eye, someone else became the centre of my universe.

A lot has been written on social media recently about why we choose to teach. I hate the idea that the job is a vocation, as typically I’ve seen this ideology used as a way of launching initiatives that are crippling and unsustainable. But right now, my reason for being a teacher is purely down to the fact that I need to support my family financially. I still believe in the transformative power of education. But really, in the here and now, my family is my priority, nothing else.

However, that line of thinking is not without its consequences. I am constantly overcome with a tremendous sense of guilt. Should I have left work at 4pm this week, so I could get back in the light and go for a walk with my son and girlfriend? But how will I catch up on my mock marking if I do? Can I really justify not coming in during the holidays for a revision class? This guilt is then matched with a sense that I’m failing as a father. That I’m missing out on these moments with my son, that I will never get back. I ask myself; will I miss his first words or his first steps because I’m in a department meeting?

Ultimately, this guilt has led me to ask myself, whether it’s possible to be a good father and a good teacher/senior leader? And I’m not alone, Dr Emma Kell’s study into the impact of parenthood on teaching found that 40% of men reported a deterioration in their performance after becoming a father.

Teaching is a very inflexible profession. We all have timetables that we must follow every day, and that’s fair enough, I’m not asking to teach my Year 10 class from my living room, but are there other ways in which we could be more flexible? Because right now it feels as though the rigidity of the teaching profession is setting up parents to fail, either at home, or in the classroom.

Yes, we have a lot of holidays, but I’m sure that I’m not alone, when I say that I’d gladly swap some of that time, for a more flexible attitude to work and home life.

So, what can we do to bridge those gaps and make the profession more parent friendly?

Firstly, it is imperative that we allow parents to spend time with their families. I was entitled to 10 days paid paternity leave as a new father, which is quite frankly insulting. Those first 10 days were a chaotic blur of sleepless nights and days spent in pyjamas, whilst stuck in the perpetual motion of changing nappies. Those first 10 days should just be a given. The idea that after 10 measly days I was expected to come back to work as though nothing had ever happened is laughable. Nothing maintains toxic gender norms like telling the father he must go to work and provide, whilst the mother stays home and looks after the baby and the United Kingdom is some way behind countries like Spain, France, Bulgaria, and Sweden, when it comes to paternity leave. Spain offers fathers 16 weeks paid paternity leave, whilst France offers 28 days.

Secondly, schools need to be more flexible when it comes to how operations, particularly meetings run. Why do I need to be in the school building for meetings that could take place virtually? If people want to, let them go home for these sessions. Let them wear tracksuit bottoms and have a cup of tea, whilst they sit on their sofa. The notion that we must be in the building we work in to be productive is antiquated and quite frankly insulting. This same idea also extends to parents evening. I see very little reason as to why these cannot continue to be virtual.

Finally, allow staff time off in the school day. Obviously, you cannot frequently request time off when you are teaching. But ensuring staff can go to events that are important to them, can only be a good thing for wellbeing and morale. This flexibility should also extend, where appropriate to working hours. Does any meeting really need to happen before 8am or after 5pm?

For too long the teaching profession has not put its staff and their lives first. A chocolate bar in a pigeonhole or a pastry in the staff room is meaningless if you are stopping staff from spending precious time with their families. Teaching is not a particularly appealing career right now, we are once again in the midst of another recruitment crisis with 91% of teachers reporting that the job has had a negative impact on their mental health in the last 12 months, and with so many other professions embracing changes in the wake of working from home, I believe it is time the teaching profession finally started too.

A selection of red and green apples and a measuring tape.

The Greed Behind Starvation

A guest blog by Mae, aged 16.

The female body; a beautiful, life-creating hub of a soul, made to seem disgusting by male-run corporations pushing laxatives, vitamins and fat-free yoghurt promoted by women with the money to burn their fat away, whilst telling impoverished women that skinniness can be achieved by “working hard” an idea that the Beverly Hills, Daddy’s Money, “self-made” millionaires could never grasp.

Weight fluctuates from person to person, day to day, but the idea that female bodies have to be one or the other, skinny or fat, a man’s “type”, or worthless haunts women at every turn. And they know. The corporations know. They buy companies known for low-fat, low calorie products, and advertise them purely through misogyny. The demonisation of calories sends people down paths to get their eventual intake lower. And lower. And lower. And even lower until there is barely a meal perched on their plate. Just an empty, tasteless dish created by “experts” who know nothing but profit. Nothing but gaining more and more money while giving women less and less mass. less self worth. Less love between them and the women they feel “lack the discipline” to be thin.

This greed creates a rift between women and that’s what they want. With  no other people to reassure you, you turn to the people you are told to listen to. The men. The people who give your life worth, yet make you feel scared to walk down the street. The people who tell you your body shouldn’t be a struggle, yet holler at you for strutting down streets in a summer dress. The idea that women could ever “give up” worrying about our bodies, when every single time we step outside, we are reminded that our bodies are seen as currency by men. The men that stare us down, rate our looks online and bully women with physical disabilities because they know they can never achieve the “perfect” body. Because it doesn’t exist.

For every woman’s body, there are ten men willing to objectify it. Willing to laugh at stretch marks that they would’ve given their own mothers while growing inside them. And even when they try to engage in body positivity, what do they do? They fetishise us. They don’t see chubby women as women, they still see us as fertilisable objects. They can’t fathom the idea of us having aspirations outside of being so physically weak from starving ourselves in a socially acceptable way, and psychologically weak in a patriarchally acceptable way. Giving up our dreams for a man to love us, only to leave after our bodies change post-pregnancy.

Large eagle doing a stupid walk.

A stupid walk for my stupid mental health

A guest blog written by Emily Ashton @Emilyjashton.

It’s a lovely misty morning, warm enough for a light jacket and I am going for a short walk before work, as I do most mornings. The idea of going for a walk makes me think of someone casually strolling along, a gentle smile on their lips, relaxed hands in pockets, possibly sipping tea from a reusable cup...

This morning I start off listening to the end of a podcast I started yesterday, about organising my kitchen. I think I have ADHD, but it doesn’t stop me obsessing over the idea that somehow I can fix the clutter by just trying another organisation strategy. But that’s another issue.

Anyway, I listen to the lovely Southern American twang of the speaker who is very non- judgemental and kind about the state of the listener’s cluttered Tupperware drawer. I walk alongside the traffic resisting turning up the volume because it’s bad for my hearing. Out of the corner of my eye there is a young girl, maybe 9 (?) she is wearing Angus Young grey school shorts and is scooting down the path. She catches my eye, gives a really genuine smile as I pass and I start thinking about my daughter and how I hope she is that sweet and cool (the shorts) one day.

I turn left up the narrow snicket (I think its also called an alley, ginnel, path depending where in the country you are from) away from the morning traffic on the road to town. This is in no way a dingy or remotely creepy alley, so I definitely wouldn’t call it an alley. More like a path, anyway, semantics. It is straight out of English country garden-type charm. In fact at one point there is a hanging wisteria or something branching out between the walled gardens either side. Bit different to the ones in Bradford where I grew up. Those were definitely snickets and you didn’t have headphones on walking there, just as a point of safety.

Anyway, I reach the end of the path, podcast still discussing the best way to organise Tupperware (FYI it’s using a drawer instead of a cupboard, which I do, so I feel a bit smug). Over the road and down a private road with massive and gorgeous houses either side. Did I mention I live somewhere really frikking beautiful? There is a house at the end of the road, just on the left that is old. It is higgledy piggledy and has all of those tudor beams but at odd angles and it looks as though it has about 20 ghosts. There is a hot tub in the garden. I cross the final lane and into the place I aim for every time I go for a walk. There is woodland to my right and straight ahead is a view across to Bedfordshire. It is in a very small way, like being home. My own piece of copycat Yorkshire down here. It feels like space and air and breathing. I look out over towards the horizon as I do every day and inhale. My podcast ends and instead of starting a new one I decide to pocket my earbuds and try to walk back without any distractions.

There is a lady out walking her dogs, she has three and they look well trained and healthy. She has a whistle around her neck and I have full confidence in her ability to manage them. So does she, she is relaxed and aware of the surroundings. When one of the bolder dogs growls at another passing pup, she immediately but calmly responds with a whistle and a call diverting all three away from the scene with apparent ease. To me, someone who has never had a dog and has a healthy respect for them (read: I’m a bit scared) this is super impressive. She has likely never considered how easy it is for her. The lanyard and whistle suggests that she either works with dogs or trains them and clearly if I asked her or told her how impressive it was she would think I was weird. I have a tendency to gush at people when I am impressed. It’s usually a bit embarrassing.

I’ve reached the end of the open space now and am heading through another snicket towards another row of houses which curves around to meet the private road again so I can head back home. I start thinking about what to write when I get back and think about the girl on the scooter or the lady with the dogs and how I can formulate some kind of life lesson from them. Maybe I could write about overwhelm, maybe I could not write at all and tidy the kitchen or paint my daughter’s bedroom. ,I feel my heart beat in my chest and start to sense that familiar tightening when there is not a next right answer. Perhaps I could read my book or clear my work inbox or plan for the meeting this afternoon. What problems do I need to solve? How can I make the biggest difference? How am I feeling today? Should I do something for me? Is it time for some self-care? What even is self-care? I could write about that... I keep walking, and take a deep breath the small rational part of my brain desperately suggesting that I try some grounding techniques- what are they again?? erm what can I smell? Damp earth to my left and petrol fumes. Okay, I can see tree branches. Keep breathing, count the breaths.

I have reached the private road now and the thoughts have turned more critical. ‘God I can’t focus on anything for more than a second,’ how do I know which thing is the right one to do first?’ ‘Which should I prioritise?’ ‘How can I live in this mess and clutter?’. Maybe I should make a plan for what to clean on different day’, maybe I should organise the Tupperware drawer, maybe I should make a plan to support my daughter to be as confident as smiling scooter girl when she is 9. Should we get a dog? How about a horse?

I can see what is happening as its happening, its like one side of my brain is doing a massive eye roll at the other and being like ‘ here we go again, not going to get much done today are we?’ It starts to then feel like I can’t get a hold of the runaway train part of my brain, why can’t I control it? Heart is beating really fast now- remember you need to breathe, slow down the walking a bit you’re sort of walking weirdly fast. That thing yesterday what did it say, that other strategy? Okay so...

I take a deep breath and say to myself; in my head (I’m not that weird). ‘Even though I am all over the place right now, I accept myself fully.’

(God this is lame).

I repeat it again, maybe even close my eyes for a second. Thankfully the road is deserted.

Even though I am overwhelmed with simple choices right now I accept myself fully.

(I can hear the birds. It’s beautiful).

Even though I am thinking all the thoughts and winding myself up, I accept myself fully.

(I can feel my chest starting to relax, there has been some sort of release at the top just below my collarbones).

Even though it is going to be hard to focus on work today, I accept myself fully.

By the time I reach the pretty snicket again, my racing thoughts have calmed and I think oh, maybe I could write about this. This walk. The hanging lilac flowers come into view, they are just above head height and I hold one in my hand. Its velvety soft and smells so good. I wonder if I can grow one of those, maybe I should research planting a garden when I get home, maybe I could make the kids their own little patch. I should grow vegetables.

I smile to myself and carry on. Another little girl on another scooter across the road on her way to school. I smile again. My mind quiet. There was a point in my stupid walk I wondered if there was any point in doing this stupid walk.

I think I might have figured it out now.

Inna, English teacher in Ukraine

What’s life for children in Ukraine in May 2022?

Insights from Inna, an English teacher in Ukraine.

Please get in touch if you have messages, pictures or thoughts to share with Inna’s students - or if you want to show off your new Ukrainian phrases!