The Notebook- ‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

IMG_7904 (2)‘To Thine Own Self Be True’

Being asked to deliver a presentation to NQTs at Shotton Hall SCITT Illuminate really pushed me to once again reflect on my career journey so far. I was asked to share something that would motivate and inspire the NQTs at this stage of their first year of teaching. Jo McShane the course leader described the event as a ‘pit stop’ where the NQTs could stop and reflect, away from the pressures of the classroom, refuel with some great ideas and have time to really reflect on what was important to them. Along with two other speakers, the passionate sage Barry Dunn from Seaham School of Technology who provided a fantastic Survival Guide for first year teachers and Adam Lamb (former SCITTer and all round general enthusiast) we set about sharing our experiences on a fresh Saturday morning at the Raddison Blu Hotel in Durham.



For me, as Aristotle said ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’ so my session focused on three areas- who are you, who do you want to be and how are you going to get there? Reflecting on my youth, I really didn’t know who I was or really where I was going and at times I look back on the decisions I made and wonder how I survived and got where I am today! Today I am much more confident about who I am and what I stand for. Nothing would ever make me deviate from my values. As Polonius says to his son Laertes in Hamlet ‘To thine own self be true’ I believe that self knowledge is a great gift.


How do we really know who we are?

After starting with an inspirational video clip of Lily Eskelsen responding to the question of what do teachers do, and asking the delegates to celebrate all of the things that she talked about, that we as teachers do on a daily basis (they are manifold) I set them off thinking about who they really were and how they knew that. I encouraged them to be honest with themselves (no one is perfect) and how would they really know who they were. I know some people have a false impression of their own identity and are actually viewed as the complete opposite of how they see themselves, so how do we find out who we really are? We ask; we ask people that are close to us and we ask for honest feedback. I texted 3 of my friends and asked them to give me 3 adjectives to describe me. They responded with both the positives and negatives and thankfully their choices were very much in common with each other and what I also thought of myself. We also listen (and I mean properly listen) to feedback all around us on a daily basis; it’s there and ripe for the taking as long as we don’t bury our heads in the sand!


Who is it that we really want to be?
Unashamedly I aspire to be what Sir John Jones describes as a Dream Weaver (if you choose one book to read about teaching, make it Sir John Jones’ The Magic Weaving Business. This book really is an inspiration!) Dream Weavers are individuals who have three main characteristics that serve to change the lives of others. These three characteristics are passion, wisdom and righteous indignation ( that burning sense of injustice and unfairness at life and the unwavering relief that you can do something to change it) The task I set the NQTs thinking about and discussing was who was their Dream Weaver, who did they really want to be? This provoked some interesting discussions about aspiring to be like a teacher who had taught them. I asked them to drill down further. What made that teacher so special? Their answer was that it probably came down to experience. My answer- relationships. Relationships and building strong ones is the most powerful foundation to creating an amazing school. If you don’t have effective relationships with your staff, why would they choose to follow you? How can they follow you and give 100% if trust doesn’t exist and coming to work each day is a miserable experience? If you don’t have effective relationships with your students, relentlessly demonstrate that you believe in them and will support them no matter what, then why should they give more than the minimum that is required?

How are we going to get there?
I ended my session with a video clip about tying shoelaces correctly, with the metaphor being that something so small can make a huge difference. I ended by sharing my 10 tips to making sure they could get ‘there’ wherever ‘there’ happened to be. Here they are:
1)Find your marigold! Read this brilliant article by Cult of Pedagody which gives great advice about finding someone in your school who encourages you to grow. Stay away from the walnut trees who stunt growth!
2) Always make time for others no matter how busy you are; this will pay off in dividends.
3) Set out a clear vision. How will your students or staff know where they are going or how to get there if their view is muddled?
4) Never make a decision in a corridor. A wise piece of advice given to me many years ago which has served me well. Important decisions need thinking time. Ask the person to come back and talk to you when you have time to discuss and agree things properly.
5) Be prepared to own up to your mistakes and take responsibility for them. It is very easy for others to see when this doesn’t happen and then you’ve lost the trust. Everyone admires the person who holds their hands up and says ‘yep, I got it wrong.. We need to do it like this’
6) Actively seek out people to praise- money is not the biggest motivator believe it or not. Been praised for doing something well means you’ve been recognised for all of that hard work and effort.
7) Share authority- because we all like to be micromanaged don’t we- not?! Trusting your staff, colleagues and students is a great starting point. Schools which have a mutual relationship of trust and support are the ones that flourish.
8) Be courageous. I’m a firm believer in sticking to your convictions. If you truly believe something is right, having looked at it from all angles, then you sometimes have to stand up for what you believe in. It’s a question of ethics for me. Having once been asked to do something unethical, I made the decision to walk away from that situation and I’ve never looked back. It may have been a bumpy ride to begin with but it all worked out for the best in the end. Once again in the words of Shakespeare ‘Screw your courage to the sticking place’
9) Show your sense of humour (even the darkest of times!)
10) Remain humble. Never ever forget who you are or where you come from. There is nothing worse than arrogance…
thank-youNote to Self

Never forget what it is like to be an NQT.  Everything we take for granted as an experienced teacher, can often seem like a mountain to climb for an NQT!

Thank you Jo McShane and Shotton Hall SCITT for once again making me reflect. Yesterday it was a pleasure to work with your former trainees and I’m looking forward to the next one.


Jane Rayson Feb 2016