Being Gritty when you’re not that resilient

There’s a lot of work being done in the UK education system around character traits for success. Specifically for education, there are eight :

Self control
Social Intelligence

This links in also to the term ‘growth mindset’. For those of you who haven’t come across this, it’s the idea that anyone can do anything they want if they just work hard enough.

I’m going to go way off on a tangent now, but stick with me…

The ability to admit to any form of mental health issue is difficult. There is a fear of labels, and an even bigger fear of an instant glass ceiling attached to the admission that you’re less than capable of ruling the world.

Each time I hear the term growth mindset I cringe. Not because I disagree (actually, I do genuinely believe that anyone can outperform all possible expectations), but I cringe because the term suggests that if I feel like I’m dropping some of my many spinning plates, it’s because I’m not working hard enough; and if at 35 those two words can feel like a head shot, what does it feel like for a vulnerable teenager who is dropping academic plates? Beware the subtle messages that we give to children. “Keep on keeping on” still echos around my head in the clipped southern counties accent of our old headmistress.

I have some supreme lows and despite being told I’m doing a great job, I don’t believe it. I hide this with as much energy as I can muster so that glass ceiling isn’t installed and I don’t become ‘that person’. It’s exhausting, but I’m not defined by my brain chemistry any more than I am by my hypermobility which people have learnt to politely ignore. (I am not brave, I have not ‘done anything’, I’m wearing a joint brace,  I’m fine. Don’t make a fuss)

What do I want to tell those kids? That grit is more than studying until 1am. Grit is getting up even when you feel like hiding under the bed. Grit is walking into that classroom and saying good morning. Grit is marking / completing the homework instead of curling up in a blanket fort.

Resilience isn’t brushing off harsh words or taking criticism without tears. It’s feeling sick at the idea of participating in life today, but saying to yourself “ok, what’s the worst that could happen here?” Then being pleasantly surprised when your day actually isn’t as shitty as the one you’d prepared for. Optimism may not come easily and for some of us, expecting the best leaves us more exposed than we are comfortable with. (Also, that American style affirmative whooping just makes us Brits break out in cold sweats. There’s no need for whooping. Just stop it.) Dealing with dissapointment is hard & has the potential to make you bitter. Instead hope for the best, plan for the worst. Cover all the bases.

You may feel like Zesty is the last thing you’ll ever be. But acting enthusiastic is sometimes the first step to feeling it and it becomes a habit.

Finally, don’t stop reminding yourself that it’s OK. Whether you’re 13 or 35 we all need reminding that it’s actually ok to feel like you’re sitting at the bottom of a hole when you’re meant to be excited and happy. Roll with it, because actually if you are trying your best then that’s good enough.

Good enough. Is such a mantra now that it’s tattooed along my forearm (alongside beautiful hibiscus flowers which cover up scars that I no longer wish to see). I’m open with the kids I teach about what the tattoo says and that I had it there to remind me and other people that doing your best will always be good enough. (The training behind the flowers is between me & my ink).

This year I’m going to add a semi colon to that. Because I could and previously could’ve chosen to end my sentence; but I chose to carry on with the story.
Hopefully, explaining the reason for my semicolon openly may encourage just one child to keep telling their own story.

Staying Connected (why I hate wearing shoes)

After spending the best past of the past few months inside either preparing for exams, or marking them, we decided to spend an afternoon unplugged up on the Downs. Despite the love of computer science, my heart is actually up here:

Cissbury Ring

This actually doesn’t do it justice, although this is in the valley.

Anyway, we sourced a walking stick as my hip is making some weird arse noises this weekend and crutches are not built for hill walking, and headed up the hill with a packed lunch.

Up the hill we went, slower than usual; and not just because I was shuffling, but because the girls wanted to climb every single tree on the way. We found birds, badger holes and buzzards :)

bare feet

And it was the perfect opportunity to start this year’s ‘I refuse to wear shoes’ summer. Most years I spend the holidays shoeless in some kind of weird protest against needing to look like a functioning human for the rest of the year. It’s my inner hippy desperate to get out and part of that is feeling the ground under my feet.

Actually, it has a secondary, more perfunctory purpose. In my pre-crappy back days, when I was running I did it barefoot. Being barefoot improves your posture because you get instant feedback from the ground and your feet aren’t compensating to hold your shoes in the right place.

Not sure? Try reading this:

It is of course, a proper British summer and after a couple of hours, the vague sunshine turned chilly and the kids made noises about going home.

british summer

Or rather, TinyPants hid in her jumper proclaiming to need extra blankets as she feels the cold because she’s thin… charming!

It was a good afternoon.

I was indeed raised on the chalk. And now, so are my girls.

Dear Health Professional

Dear Health Professional,

I came to see you yesterday to check up on my blood pressure which has been up and down for a while. You checked it and said that today it was low and was I taking any pain killers? I answered yes, I take an evening dose of codeine for my joints (and occasionally diazepam when I can’t sleep though it). You asked if I was in pain now and I made the usual joke about it being a standard thing to be in pain. My joints ha ha …. What I meant was, today I’m using my iPad to mark work online because holding a pen for more than ten minutes makes me want to cry. I tried getting those words out, but you were busy busy taking my blood pressure on both arms because one was low.

You asked me why I was worried about my blood pressure because it was fine and it was probably white coat syndrome. I felt like I was wasting your time. (Actually, it had been the nurse’s idea for me to see you as she was worried about continued high readings). You pointed out that hypermobility comes with high and low blood pressures. I know that.

I started to explain that I wondered if the blood pressure was anything to do with stress… I tried to use the correct terminology to emphasise my point “my anxiety levels are off the scale”. You asked me (in the loudest of voices) why I would be stressed. I’d been practicing this, but what blurted out was well, I’m a teacher. It’s exam time. My class sizes are getting bigger and…. You stopped me, informed me that all service industries were like that and I had to either find a way of coping or find a new job & joked that you go home and drink wine. Then you turned to my medical records and asked me if I needed more painkillers. I declined as I ration myself, then you bustled me out of the door.

It took me weeks to decide to ask for some help. What I wanted to say was that some days (most days) I feel so terrified that I’m going to drop one of the hundreds of plates that I keep spinning that it feels physically hard to breathe. I wanted to say that I’m terrified of admitting my stress levels because it may affect my job prospects. I wanted to say that living with some kind of pain every day is trashing me mentally and whilst I cope on a professional level, as a human (and wife and mother) I’m pretty shit and without big painkillers I cease to be functional.

You made it clear that you didn’t wish to hear any of these things, and I’m back to a mixture of painkillers and anonymous blogging. Best put on a brave face an get on with it then.

Social contact isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be

It’s that time of year when I feel the need to blog again. Maybe next time it will be longer, but for now I’ll post the current round robin Facebook status that I wasn’t sure I wanted to share quite so publicly.

Age I fell pregnant: 20, 23, 24, 25

Age I gave birth: 24, 26

Due Date: 01/01, 08/04, 12/04, 06/06

Day I gave birth: 30/10/04, 08/03/06

Pain Relief: gas & morphine & epidural,  gas & spinal block

Time in labour: 52 hours, 27 hours

Time born: 5.32am, 7.34pm

Weight: 5 lb 10,  3 lb 10

Sex: girl, girl

Baby’s name: Charlotte, Evelyn

It’s meant to be about being a proud mum. I am. But it’s uncomfortable acknowledging the other, less socially acceptable information. No one wants to Facebook about death now do they?

I’m Unlikely to Be Making Anyone a Sammich

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following a story relating to the continued threats made to Anita Sarkeesian. These have ranged from the standard troll comments to detailed death and rape threats, and now to a threat against a university if they allowed her to speak. (Link here)

This woman must be about to unleash some awfully sensitive or dangerous information… oh. Hold on. No. She made a series of videos and blogs about feminism in gaming.


I don’t particularly agree with some of the things she says. Having played games on various devices since I was tiny, I don’t think the games industry is trying to put women off. Those games that have become more and more misogynistic… I don’t buy them. Nor would I buy them for my kids.

I am a massive advocate for parents actually clueing themselves up on what a PEGI rating is and why buying an 18 rated game for a 10 year old is basically damaging.

I’ve gone off on a tangent…

My point is that I spend a large percentage of my life trying to show young people that anyone can enjoy tech, that being a geek is awesome (just try telling my kids that cryptography is boring – they have been getting encrypted messages from Dr X all week :p ), that girls can code just as well as boys, and developer creative hissy fits are a well recognised phenomenon.

Then I read the news.

Then I dwell on the dark corners of the world I’m encouraging these kids into.

With every living breath I try to pass on the absolute love I feel for Computer Science. But there’s that nagging doubt that it’s going to be tough for the outspoken.

What do I do? I keep going of course. If a pair of breasts close to a keyboard is such a threat, then that is not the fault of the breast-owner. That suggests some deep Freudian insecurity on the parts of these keyboard warriors.

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet to be a vast network of shared thoughts and ideas. By trying to silence one woman, they made her message go global in the national news. It seems the internet bit them back.

My Teaching Just Got Agile and I Love It!

For the last week I’ve been running a bit of an experiment in my classroom. Not in a scientific way (I think human subjects are generally frowned upon anyway), but in a take a risk in the classroom type way.

So, year 12 have been coding now for 5 weeks. The majority of them have never coded before and have been on one of the steepest learning curves they’ve ever known. It’s amazing to watch (and on occasions heartbreaking when you remember that awful feeling of ‘what was I thinking signing up for this?’), but they’ve moved on so far.

Part of the course is not just to teach them to code, but also introduce them to standard development models. The standard model that is used in academia is the Waterfall Method. This lends itself to an academic project so well as each stage is visited in a clearly defined block. For students, this also brings the benefits of being able to write the style of documentation that is required by the exam board. There are a number of reasons why it is wholly forgiveable for schools and colleges to teach this method as an introduction to the SDLC (I stand by this having instilled this in my year 13s who are creating a massive project under huge time restrictions!).

However, year 12s need to understand a variety of different methods and have a need to practice what they have learnt so far – mainly because at the end of this year they have a practical exam where they are expected to be able to produce working and tested code to a set algorithm within 2 hours, under pressure. So why not try Agile rather than just read about it in the book?

Monday:  Sprint Development Meeting

I introduced the concept of Agile to both classes and asked them to self-organise themselves into groups of six or seven people. Within the teams, they would need to allocate a Scrum Master. I would be acting as the Product Owner and as such would have no influence over their decision of team or Scrum Master (in fact, I would be watching from a distance and evaluating how they organised themselves & silently telling myself not to interfere!).

As a Product Owner, I gave the teams the following goals (for a week… this was aiming high!)

  • Create a game similar to the 1980s Simon Game
  • The game should show a random pattern of 4 colours
  • The colours should show on the screen for 0.5 seconds
  • The screen should clear between colours
  • The game starts with a pattern length of 1 & increases by 1 colour each round
  • The user should be able to enter in the pattern they saw using the keys R,G,Y & B
  • The game should repeat only if the user input is correct

After this, I gave them some stretch goals (because if I was going to be a client, I wanted the world on a stick):

  • The game could output to the user how long it took them to respond
  • The game could allocate a score based upon time
  • The game could write the high score to a text or CSV file (5 weeks… they’ve been programming for 5 weeks.)
  • The game gets faster after each round
  • The code is made efficient with procedures

The world on a stick. And they had a week.

Every day for the past week, each team has met either in a classroom or via Skype (or Xbox Live!) for a 15 minute Scrum Meeting where they worked out how their team was doing and what they needed to do to achieve their goals. This wasn’t organised by me, but by the teams themselves. I was suitably impressed.

During the course of the week, I was asked for help by a number of the teams, either from individuals or from groups. In the most part, this was to help them move above their current understanding and to help them implement something that they had found online (one example of this was to help them create two parallel dynamic arrays – impressive stuff for a class who I haven’t actually taught arrays to yet!).

Monday (7 days later): Sprint Review Meeting

So today was our first Sprint Review Meeting. Each of the four teams did a live demo of their code so far and I was blown away, The effort they had put into this was astounding – they OWNED their code. (one team even linked theirs to a Makey Makey to give it extra playability!).

After each of the Sprint Review Meetings, we had a reflective session where every member of the team used an A4 piece of lined paper for a five minute silent write. In this, they could vent their feelings about how they worked as a team member, what went well, what they would improve and anything else that they felt that they needed to say in confidence. I then took these in with the promise that I wouldn’t share them with anyone (not even the internet – don’t ask!). What was most interesting was that those who felt that they could have improved had the clearest picture about how their team functioned as a whole.

So Agile for students has had a few unexpected benefits so far: The group dynamic has improved in both classrooms with students actively wanting to help others and share their knowledge in most cases (and where this didn’t happen, students have identified how to move forward), and more unexpectedly, almost every student without exception has worked autonomously to progress their knowledge without me guiding their understanding. They have shown Grit, they have shown resilience (of course they have, coding never goes right the first time!). I am prouder than a parent at a Nativity play right now.

So that was Sprint #1 – It may be a fluke. Even so, I can’t wait to see the product of Sprint #2.

Could this be the start of something new? Agile Dev meets Teaching : Agile Teaching?

My Daughter is a Raptor

I think most parents with an aspie child have days when they look at their child and think “yeah, I’d probably do that too”, it’s just today I envied beanpole’s way of dealing with things being up in the air. Tonight that has taken the form of her being a raptor & it’s making her happy. (School project has allowed her to immerse herself in her favourite subject since the age of 2. Dinosaur knowledge is way beyond stuff I know). I have chest pain…. She’s being a raptor. Frankly, I reckon she’s coping much better!

It’s been a weird old week. Beanpole went off to a school residential camp, I’ve had a course outsude of school alongside long evenings with open days for new students & our usual weekend routine got turned upside down.

By Friday I was coming apart at the seams. My personal limit was found when I eventually found where beanpole was staying (5 minutes further than I had anticipated), found a dodgy parking spot and was promptly told to move. There was nowhere else to park. I tried to reason, but instead had to do a 12 point turn and drive back up the single track road until I found a bush soft enough to park the car in so I wasn’t blocking the road. This wasn’t the plan. Now I was late. I’m a professional adult who has been reduced to tears because I didn’t know where to park my car. In fact I hadn’t quite pulled myself together by the time I joined the other parents. A few excuses about work being full on….

At least it’s the weekend. We have a routine. But not this weekend,  because seeing as I’ve been ill for two weeks and have barely stopped we’re going to cram extra stuff into the weekend on top of the 10 hours of prep/marking that I’m attempting to get done. Our standard family dinner where we discuss the week went out the window, so now I’m already unprepared for Monday. The less organized I feel, the tighter my throat feels and the more I feel like running away and hiding under a blanket.  Or more realistically,  stamping my feet publicly and shouting at everyone to do what they are meant to be doing & stop changing things (translated in my head as why are you acting like arseholes? Can’t you see this is driving me mad? )

This is all sounding very familiar.


I think this suggests I’m back to being anxiety girl (with the superpower of blowing things out of proportion! )… and I secretly know where beanpole gets it from.

I’d much rather be a raptor than me right now.