Monthly Archives: March 2015

Making choices

In my most recent post I discussed my goals and the steps I was taking towards, and away from achieving them. Writing that post, and receiving your wonderful comments, advice and suggestions, provided me the opportunity of really assessing how I spend my time and of deciding where to from here; at least until I meet the next juncture anyway.

My most important realisation is that

I love the writing community that welcomed me so warmly and of which I feel very much a part:

  • The friendship and sharing
  • The open communication and exchange of ideas
  • The feedback and encouragement
  • The writing practice
  • The opportunity to be doing something with my time – it does a good job of keeping me off the streets!

The impact that being a part of this community may have on my ability to reach other goals may never be known. But for now it meets other needs in many wonderful ways that I am not prepared to forgo just yet. I may need to reassess the content of my posts in view of my writerly, as opposed to teacherly, audience; but since you have all accepted and responded so well to them thus far, maybe not. I can’t think what else I know about anyway!

However, I must prioritise my other work as well.

To do this I have refined my record of comments:

  • to include the twenty bloggers I engage with most frequently (reduced from the approximately thirty I showed on the infographics in that previous post, and seventy plus I had in the table when I began the record!)
  • by arranging the bloggers alphabetically to make them easier to locate and record
  • to match the Monday to Sunday week used in WordPress stats (I was using Sunday to Saturday previously)

While I have not unfollowed any bloggers, I have requested to not be notified of new posts of bloggers who have not engaged with me. This will reduce the number of emails I receive and therefore the time taken in dealing with the burgeoning inbox. I won’t be distracted by their content; and, if I have any spare time, I can always check out their posts in my reader.

Reducing the number of emails I receive each day is one of the things I am looking most forward to! It has always been a bugbear.

I have also decided that I will not actively seek new blogs to follow at this stage but will continue to maintain existing relationships. However if someone new engages with me, I will be more than happy to respond.

These changes should help me devote more time to other projects.

I have already written a lot of teaching resources. Unfortunately I am no more of an artist than I am a singer and, since my resources are mainly for use in early childhood settings, most of them need to be illustrated. My niece has illustrated some for me but she has her own life and busy work schedule as well so I need to look further afield.

Last week I decided to take action.

I signed up to 99 designs and ran a contest to see if it was possible to get some illustrations for one of my stories. It has been a steep learning curve and very interesting; even a bit harrowing at times. Many artists submitted work in the contest and I have narrowed it down to four finalists. I am running a poll to get some advice on the illustrations. I’d appreciate your thoughts if you have time to check it out.

monsterbraingames, golden trophy with glaze (remix)

monsterbraingames, golden trophy with glaze (remix)

I feel a bit uncomfortable with all the work the artists have done, in the hope of winning the contest (these are 99designs’ terms), but it seems to be the way it is done so I guess they are aware of and expect it. I am already looking towards future contests and getting more work illustrated. I may also look at other options, so if you have other suggestions I’d be pleased to hear them.

I’ve been trying to think of a segue from there into my flash fiction response to the challenge set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch this week. Charli’s prompt is to In 99 words (no more, no less) include a juxtaposition between the ordinary and natural worlds. Now that I look at it again, I’m not so sure my response quite fits, so perhaps that is fitting in itself. It seemed like a good idea at the time: matching the turquoise stone to the colour of Marnie’s eyes, which I didn’t even include!

turquoie necklace

Here it is anyway, the next little revelation of Marnie’s story that continues on from this one:


She paused her dusting, as often she did, scanning the fading faces. Her gaze lingered, as always, on one. She gave it an extra rub as if to wipe away a tear, erase the pain.

She lifted the postcard wedged into the frame to read the words she knew so well but wished had more to tell: “Thank you, Miss. Remember me.”

“Where are you? How are you doing?” she’d never stopped wondering, hoping.

She fingered the smoothness of the turquoise stone, its partner given long ago . . .

A quiet knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.


Assessing the impact of blogging on writing goals

cyberscooty, a basketball about to enter a basketball hoop

cyberscooty, a basketball about to enter a basketball hoop

I love writing. Always have. I usually confess that I am a better writer than a speaker.

I like the time that I can take to choose a word or phrase and combine them to mean just what I intend.

I like the opportunity to check a word’s appropriateness before using it. Often when speaking I leave my sentence hanging embarrassingly in mid-air while I grope around in the murkiness of my mind for the “correct” word.  Why can my fingertips find the right word, without any thought, and the tongue cannot?

And of course there are all the opportunities that writing provides for self-expression, creativity and sharing ideas with a wider audience.

I started out writing stories, poems and songs, as most children, do and tried my hand at short stories, children’s stories and poetry as I got older. As I became more involved with my career in education, and in raising my children, I had (or made) less time for those creative pursuits.

There are many reasons I loved being a teacher and one of those was the opportunity it provided for me to be creative: creative and innovative in the way I worked with children to encourage their learning; and creative in writing resources to assist my teaching and the children’s learning.

I was fortunate in having a variety of opportunities to write materials for educational publishers at different times during my career, and I am currently writing documents to support curriculum implementation for my state educational authority. But I really wanted to be in control of my own writing.

At the back of my mind there was always the thought of sharing my teaching and learning resources with a wider audience. (Just a little bit further back, or maybe even close to equal footing, is the thought of publishing children’s stories, short stories, and maybe even a novel . . . one day.) I had had no success with submitting unsolicited manuscripts before and couldn’t think what publisher might be interested in the variety of educational resources I had made, many specifically for use on a computer.

So a couple of years ago I decided that a website of my own was the ideal platform for sharing my resources.  Getting that website up and running is my primary goal. However, observers could be mistaken in thinking that writing a blog is my primary goal. The path to establishing a website has taken a side-track via blogging.

venkatrao, A butterfly flying with a dotted path over a hill background

venkatrao, A butterfly flying with a dotted path over a hill background

Blogging, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media were recommended me to right from the beginning as a way of targeting and establishing an audience. At the time I was familiar with none of these and set off learning how to become involved. It has been an exciting journey. I have learned lots and made many wonderful online friends.

However I am not sure how far it has moved me towards achieving my website goal. In fact, I think very little progress has been made.

  • I have not found and established my “target” audience and am really none the wiser about doing that.
  • The time that I am spending writing, reading and commenting on blogs is time that I am not spending on preparing materials for my website.
  • I need to be more proactive in finding illustrators for my work.
  • When I discovered the Teachers Pay Teachers site and established my Teachers Pay Teachers Store I had thought this may be an alternative avenue for sharing my work. But I haven’t been as successful there as I would like either. This may be telling me something about my website goal. What is it telling me? Should I listen?

So my dilemma comes down to these questions”

To blog or not to blog?

How to blog?

How much time for blogging?

The answer to the first one is easy:

Yes! I very much enjoy writing my post and receiving the almost immediate feedback from the wonderful community of writers I engage with.

Yes! I love reading and commenting on others’ blogs and joining in the discussions that ensue. We are a S.M.A.G. group: Society of Mutual Appreciation and Gratitude. What’s to not like?

The second two questions are a little more difficult.

The focus of my blog is education, but my audience consists of writers. Educators have shown little interest in developing a relationship with me online. I haven’t been able to figure that one out, but I have a few hazy ideas, none of which I think I want to address at this stage. If I change the way I blog I would quite likely fall out with the community I have become part of; and there is no guarantee I would pick up a teacher audience. So I’ll have to keep mulling this one over for a while.

The third question is the one I have been “researching” for close on five months. As time is limited and I need to devote more time to achieving my primary goal, it is important that time spent on blogging activities is worthwhile.

I decided to find out who is keen to engage with me and who isn’t.

I began keeping a record of the number of comments I made on others’ blogs, and of those they made on mine.  It wasn’t always as I expected, and highlighted some interesting trends; the main one of which I have noted above:

Writers have a wonderful sense of community.

The record helped me ensure that, if someone visited and commented on my blog, I would visit and comment on theirs, maintaining a balance as much as possible.

This key explains how to interpret the information on the tables below.

Table legend

I have removed names from the tables to respect privacy. (I don’t really expect you to look too hard at the tables. You have better things to do. But they do look pretty!)

November 9 2014 – Jan 24 2015



Jan 25 2015 – March 26 2015



I have not included all blogs I “follow”, or even all the ones I have ever commented on. Only the ones on which there has been some consistency in connecting.

I have also not included the comments of those who follow and comment on my posts but do not have a blog of their own on which I could reciprocate.

I generally post twice a week.

Others post more often.

Sometimes the number of comments I make on their posts in relation to their comments on mine is affected by the greater number of times they post. If someone chooses to post more often than twice a week, I will not necessarily read all their posts, regardless of how much I enjoy reading them, as there are other ways I must use my time, including a reading greater variety of writer’s work, and getting more done on my own. I’m sure they have enough other readers to not miss me!

Sometimes when a blogger posts less frequently than I do, their comments on my posts may tip the scales in my favour. I can’t do much about that either, but I do try to catch up when next they post.

I have found that it can take a few weeks of commenting on a blog I like to get a return visit and comment on my blog. Frequently I don’t even get a response to a comment I’ve made on theirs. I guess that’s how it goes. Some bloggers blog to develop community. Others blog to broadcast. I just need to decide how best to use my time.

If you have walked with me to the end of this post, thank you. It is rather longer than I intended. I had intended to respond to Anne Goodwin’s invitation to join in a writing process blog hop , Sherri Matthews’ invitation to join a workspace blog hop, and Sarah Brentyn’s questions for writers, as well as explain my writing goals to Sacha Black, thank Julie stock for her Sisterhood of the World bloggers award and draw on Paula Reed Nancarrow’s wonderful survey about Twitter #hashtag days and blogging. But they will have to wait. We all have others things to do.

Contributing partly to my procrastination with responding to these wonderful invitations, which I do very much appreciate, is that I have already nominated the majority of bloggers I follow, or if I haven’t someone else has. And the remaining ones don’t wish to be nominated. What is a girl to do? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts and advice, especially about how to increase time. If anyone knows a good time alchemist, I’d love to meet her!

Displaying symptoms or true colours

For just over a year now I have been participating in the weekly flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch. I enjoy participating for a variety of reasons, including:

Challenge: I enjoy the challenge of

  • thinking of something to write
  • telling in story or scene in the 99 word total
  • applying it in some way to my blog’s focus on education

Variety: I enjoy writing in various forms and genres and the fiction is a pleasant change from the informational writing that I am primarily engaged with at the moment

Practice: The requirement to tell a story in just 99 words means that I need to:

  • choose my words carefully to make my meaning explicit
  • decide what can be told, what can be implied, and what can be omitted
  • think of alternate ways of expressing an idea or describing a situation or character

rough-writers-web-compCommunity: The Congress of Rough Writers: I have made connections and online friendships with a wonderfully supportive and encouraging group of bloggers, whose numbers are constantly growing.


Feedback: The feedback that I receive in response to my flash fiction pieces and the posts in which I embed them gives meaning and purpose to the writing. I enjoy the in-depth discussions which quite often occur in response to the blog’s content and the additional thinking that I often need to do as a result. While it does distract me somewhat from my longer-term writing goals, the immediacy of the feedback is encouragement to continue and I am always appreciative of it.

There are many other reasons and benefits of participating in the challenges. The above are just a few. If you have not yet considered joining in the fun, now might be the time to do so.

This week Charli Mills wrote about a vivid dream that compelled her from her bed in order to capture it on paper before it escaped. She says that

“Characters sneak into our dreams, our waking moments and tease us. We write to find out who they are.”

Thinking about the character from her dream led her to consider symptoms, and the way that symptoms reveal more of who they are.  She challenged the Rough Writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story to reveal a character’s symptoms. 

Many of my responses to Charli’s challenges have been written to find out more about Marnie, who reveals snippets of her life, as if in flashbacks or dreams, at various ages. You can read what we already know about Marnie here.

“Symptoms” seemed perfect for revealing a little more about Marnie. A child such as she would display a great variety, an important one of which would be her attempt to hide those symptoms from others.

Here then is the next part of Marnie’s story, which follows on from the bullying episode shared last week.



The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.

“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.

“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie.  Is your mum home today?”

Marnie looked down and shook her head.

“Will I help you with that jumper?”

A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.

Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.

Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.


Sadly, children like Marnie and Brucie are very real and very familiar to many teachers.

A few weeks ago I shared a post by Julieanne Harmatz on her blog To Read To Write To Be. I always enjoy reading Julieanne’s blog because it helps me walk right back into the classroom, in my mind. The Student Z she described in that post has many “symptoms” in common with other students I have worked with over the years.

This week Julieanne shares ways she provides authentic opportunities for using digital technologies in her classroom. One of the ways is student blogging, and Julieanne linked to a post written by one of her students, Zoe. I was very impressed. I’m sure you will be too.

In the post Zoe shares information about, and links to, her favourite song and singer. She says it is her “favorite song because it teaches you why not to bully.”

The song is a rap version of “True Colours” with additional original anti-bullying content written by 12 year old MattyB to support his younger sister who is excluded and bullied because of her “symptoms”. I have not linked to the song here because I would like you to read Zoe’s blog and listen to the song there.

I was so impressed by Zoe and MattyB, both showing traits of strength and of being an “upstander”, as described by Mrs Varsalona in the comments on Zoe’s post,  that I decided to find out a bit more about MattyB.

Here is the story of how MattyB and his family wrote the song to support MattyB’s sister Sarah.

I love to hear positive stories like this, don’t you?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

Stop bullying now!

No bullies allowed2

Today all across Australia children, teachers and other school personnel are dressing in orange to mark the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. The Bullying No Way! Program aims to

“create learning environments where every student and school community member is safe, supported, respected and valued”

A very worthwhile goal, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The Bullying No Way website has resources for parents, teachers and students, including this video for young children:

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered a message to children telling them that there is no place for bullying in Australia, that bullying is wrong.  I definitely agree!


Last month Yvonne Spence organized a very successful #1000 Speak for Compassion campaign. This month she has placed the focus on bullying and requested bloggers to unite their voices against bullying. You can join in by visiting the Facebook page. I have already linked my most recent post Bully for you! as well as this one. There are many others there to read.

Last week Charli Mills extended a challenge to write a flash fiction story about bullies. She has compiled the wonderful stories in her post Circling the Bullies.

My previous post, Bully for you! received many comments, some sharing experiences of bullying, either of themselves or someone close to them. One comment was from a new visitor to my blog Sherrill S Cannon who shared information about her books dealing with bullying for children, and also explained her involvement with I’m bully to which she donates 50% of the revenue from her books purchased through that page.

There are many other organizations that promote information about and actions against bullying worldwide.  Hopefully as more voices unite in making others aware of, and in speaking out against bullying, we can come close to eradicating it from our society.

As Michelle James commented on my previous post

“More needs to be done to prevent bullying. I really believe that there should be more intensive courses for teachers and administrators to learn to deal with the bully issue. We will never eradicate bullying completely. It is a tactic used by despots and terrorists, and sadly, they seem to thrive.”

Many of the comments on the post last week were in relation to the bullying incident involving Marnie. I share her story again here in case you missed it:

Not funny at all!

Jasmine and Georgie rushed towards the cluster of children who were laughing hysterically at something unseen. They expected to see an entertainer performing magic tricks. Instead they saw Marnie, face down in a puddle, reaching for her unicorn; sobbing.

“Good one, Brucie!” Two boys high-5ed. Another called, “Way to go!”

The children stood transfixed by the spectacle. Jasmine pushed through. She picked up the muddied unicorn, stretched out a hand to help Marnie up, then put an arm around her waist,

As she led Marnie away Jasmine glared at the group of disbelieving faces.

“Shame on you,” she said*.

*Thanks to Donna Marie for suggesting I change “mouthed” to “said”.

In this piece I tried to show that there may be many participants in bullying, not just the obvious “victim” and “bully”.

Marnie is the obvious victim. But there were many onlookers. None, except Jasmine, spoke up against the bully. By their silence were they condoning it? Or were they fearful that they would be the next targets if they said anything? Does that also make them victims? How does that affect their confidence and self-image?

Brucie was the obvious bully, causing Marnie’s embarrassment. But what of the boys who applauded with their high-5s and words of encouragement? Were they joining in because they too were mean; part of a gang of bullies? Or like the other onlookers, did they feel threatened about what may happen to them if they didn’t join in?

But is Brucie also a victim? What makes a bully a bully? Why did he pick on the vulnerable? What in his life caused him to act this way?

And what of Georgie who stood back in the crowd and did nothing while her friend Jasmine went to Marnie’s rescue? Why was she reticent to support her friend?

I wonder, too, what they all said when they turned away. Did they speak out in private about the bullies? Geoff Le Pard commented on a similar lack of support for him when he was bullied at school.

Jasmine was the only one who came to her rescue? Why did she? How was she feeling? Had she been the victim of bullying and so felt empathy with Marnie? Did she just know it was wrong and that it was important for someone to take a stand? What had happened in her life to make her so strong?

Donna Marie of Writer’s Side Up commented how being bullied had ruined her boyfriend’s life and suggested that more needs to be done to change the bully’s behaviour. Perhaps some bullies need protection from bullies themselves. Did they need to learn the behaviour somewhere?

The word bullying is sometimes used to describe a one-off unpleasant incident, like poking out a tongue or showing the “rude” finger. However bullying usually refers to something more ongoing, where there is an imbalance of power, the “stronger” picking on the “weaker”.

To avoid becoming the weaker, I think children need to develop resilience. They need to realise that just because somebody says it doesn’t make it true. They need to learn to take responsibility for their feelings, realise that they can choose to feel upset or choose to ignore it. I am in no way saying they should ignore aggressive, violent, intimidating behaviour, but learning to be resilient about the little things helps to develop strength of character.

I think we would probably all agree that bullying is a complex issue with many facets. That education is required to reduce its incidence is a given. What do you think?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post.


Bully for you!

No bullies allowed

Everybody knows what a bully is. If you have never experienced bullying of some kind on a personal level, then you are probably pretty lucky. But you have possibly witnessed, or were at least aware of, bullying at school, in the community, or in the workplace, maybe even at home.

Bullies feature strongly in traditional fairy tales such as the stepmother and stepsisters in Cinderella and the mean Rumpelstiltskin in the story of the same name. Roald Dahl also introduced us to bullies through Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Mr and Mrs Twit in The Twits.

The first picture books I think of when the topic of bullying is raised are Anthony Browne’s Willy the Wimp and Willy and Hugh. They are great to read and use to stimulate discussion of bullying with young children. In this video author Anthony Browne explains that most children recognize a little of themselves in Willy. The transformation from timidity to self-confidence appears achievable and encouraging to all.

The opposite of being a bully is being kind. This article by Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis, Raising a Kind Daughter tells a heart-warming story of selfless kindness shown by a daughter and her mother. As was commented on in many posts about compassion, including this one, modelling is the best way of teaching children attitudes and behaviours we wish them to learn.

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills has challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action.

Over the past year while I have been engaging with Charli’s flash fiction challenges, I have been developing a character, Marnie, who is definitely no stranger to bullying. Each of Charli’s prompts encourages me to think a little more about Marnie, what may have occurred in her life, and what her responses would be. While I sometimes write about other things, I could not ignore Marnie with this prompt.

This is what we already know about Marnie,

as a child:

  • she has a dysfunctional family
  • she suffers physical and emotional abuse, including neglect, from both parents
  • she has a toy unicorn as a comforter
  • she finds the expectations of school challenging
  • she feels alone and excluded at school with few friends
  • she gains the support of one teacher who helps her to develop more self-confidence

as a teenager:

  • the teacher continues to support her
  • she leaves home and breaks contact with her family

as an adult:

  • when both her parents have passed she is contacted and returns to the family home, which she sells, relieved that there is no longer any chance of abuse such as occurred in her childhood

There are still many gaps and unknowns which I am hoping to explore in more detail in the future. In a recent discussion with Charli, I commented that each time I write about Marnie she reveals a little more, in much the same way as she would reveal herself to a new friend or a therapist. I’m thinking she may need to talk to a therapist at some stage. I might need to see who, and what, Anne Goodwin would recommend!

I hope that somewhere in her life, Marnie has a friend like Annie, described in the article by Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis. Maybe it is Jasmine who we have already met in a previous episode, which also touched on a situation which may have involved bullying. Please let me know what you think.


Not funny at all!

Jasmine and Georgie rushed towards the cluster of children who were laughing hysterically at something unseen. They expected to see an entertainer performing magic tricks. Instead they saw Marnie, face down in a puddle, reaching for her unicorn; sobbing.

“Good one, Brucie!” Two boys high-5ed. Another called, “Way to go!”

The children stood transfixed by the spectacle. Jasmine pushed through. She picked up the muddied unicorn, stretched out a hand to help Marnie up, then put an arm around her waist,

As she led Marnie away Jasmine glared at the group of disbelieving faces.

“Shame on you,” she mouthed.


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.



Who wants five-year old sheep? Bah!

Recently, thanks to a recommendation by Anne Goodwin, I read a great article on the website of The Writers’ Centre at Norwich. This article is called “Fuelling Creative Minds” and was written by Meg Rosoff. The article is part of The National Conversation about writing reading, publishing and bookselling, or why books matter.

Rosoff introduced her article by questioning what we consider to be success in life. She discussed a study of 268 men over seventy-five years conducted by George Vaillant who concluded that “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction‘”.

Rosoff said that,

“If you live a happy and fulfilled life, then you die successful. “

but wondered why, then, “do we persist in measuring success in terms of salaries, job titles and assets?” if they have little real impact on one’s happiness.

Rosoff suggested that a good place to start thinking about attitudes to success is in school.

The next part of her article was devoted to attitudes towards success in schools. Rather than provide just an outline of her thoughts, I am quoting them in entirety, as I don’t want to misrepresent her ideas and she says it all so well. While she discusses specifically the situation in the UK, I think many readers will recognise similarities to their own locale. I have highlighted parts that I find particularly noteworthy. I do recommend, however, that you follow the link and read her article in full.

Excerpt from: “Fuelling Creative Minds” by Meg Rosoff and published by The Writers’ Centre Norwich 1 March 2015

“In the twenty-first century, educational success is largely determined by the government.  The government puts in place a series of goals that evaluate children as young as three against measures of socialisation, reading proficiency, an understanding of numbers, the ability to answer questions in an acceptable, established manner, and later – during GCSEs and A levels – the ability to pass exams in up to twelve subjects and write essays in a strictly approved fashion.  

Success in school requires hard work and a competitive approach to study on the part of students – but more to the point, a successful student is one capable of achieving goals as defined by the exam graders, as defined by the government.

A successful student is one capable of matching learning to this very specific series of goals.

In other words, a child who reads all day is not a successful student.  A child who writes brilliantly and with a distinctive voice but can’t spell, is a failure. A child who loves history but can’t write an essay in the approved manner, is doomed.  A child who loves stories, who loves to dream, who makes unusual connections, whose brain works in unconventional, peculiar ways – but who can’t multiply 11 x12 – is not a successful student.

Successful students must sit still and concentrate for long periods of time, temporarily memorise large amounts of information, understand and achieve received goals, think inside the box.  A desire to please and a willingness to conform are key.

The least successful children in this sausage factory will be branded from the age of five. Children with parents or carers who don’t talk or read to them enough are most likely to fall into this category of early failures. As are dyslexic children.  Or eccentric thinkers. An irregular schedule, disorderly home life and financial instability all interfere with the attainment of ‘success’ as determined by the government.

Less support at home, fewer books, a less regular schedule, a less orderly home life, less healthy meals, less consistent love – all these economic or emotional disadvantages further condemn the five year old to failure.  Food banks, immigration problems, substance abuse problems, unemployment, parental absence or mental illness – all of these elements interfere with the attainment of ‘success’ as determined by the government.

I see them when I visit secondary schools – the children branded failures because they can’t get on in school. Because they’re bored, or not very verbal, or not very good at sitting still and taking information in as required in a classroom situation – or the ones who just don’t see why thirteen years of their lives should be spent taking exams they’re not good at, absorbing information in a manner that hasn’t changed much in two hundred years.  ‘Not a student’ is a label that has condemned decades of children to a diminished sense of what they’re capable of in life.  When in fact all it means is, ‘does not thrive within government parameters’.

Do I buy into the idea that these students are without value?  Of course not.  Put them in a different sort of learning environment or teach them something that stimulates their imaginations and they’ll be fine.  But sit them in a classroom for thirteen years with a series of targets chosen by a government that knows nothing at all about education and they’re doomed.

In contrast, the most successful children in this whole process of learning and taking exams will get all A*s and go to Oxford or Cambridge, after which they will go on to have what most people consider to be the most successful lives – the best jobs, the highest salaries, large and comfortable and expensive houses and cars.

And yet.

In a 2014 book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, award winning American essayist and educator William Deresiewicz concerned himself with what’s going at the top level of American education.

‘Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose … great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.’

This was written about Harvard and Yale but applies just as well to elite British universities. Like the highest rated state primary and secondary schools, these institutions take few risks – they admit top performing, highly driven teenagers and turn out graduates with no motive to question the status quo, no motive to question the structure of society or the weight that society puts on a certain kind of success.  

If you win a beauty contest, you don’t dedicate your life to challenging society’s perceptions of beauty.

William Deresiewicz continues:

‘So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk.’

All of this is happening at exactly the moment at which the world most needs risk takers: individuals willing and able to retell the story of society in a more positive way.  People willing to take risks with meaningful social and political change. Hardly anyone would disagree that our political system needs changing – free market capitalism has led to terrifying extremes of wealth and poverty.  The pharmaceutical industry needs meaningful change along with the system of drug patents that price simple, inexpensive drugs out of the reach of entire populations whose lives they might save. The legal system favours those with money, as does education, as does housing.  In the meantime, there is little financial motive to stem – or even acknowledge – the devastating effects of global warming.  It is difficult to think of a single aspect of life on earth today that couldn’t do with rigorous deconstruction and rethinking.

If schools are going to train a better class of political leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, parents, and social policy-makers, they’re going to have to ask themselves which qualities to promote.  If we require a more compassionate, more radical, less class-riven and self-centered definition of success, where does it begin?

I would like success to be redefined.  I would like a successful man or woman to be defined as one who thinks creatively and laterally, who questions authority and accepted wisdom, who lives thoughtfully, generously and not entirely for personal gain.  To be successful, I believe, it is important to leave the world a little bit better than you found it.

How do we do this?  By listening to the wise and enduring voices of our civilization – by encouraging each new generation to read history and philosophy and to think big thoughts – about religion, politics, ethics, love, passion, life and death and the origins of the universe.  The extraordinary imagination of our species – as expressed in poetry and fiction, music, art, dance – might someday spill over into cures for cancer and war and inequality. This will happen not by thinking about what we are, but what we might be.

A further striving after knowledge and meaning is the proper goal for education.  Everyone doesn’t need to achieve A*s.  But everyone needs to learn how to live a good, creative, questioning life.

What we don’t need are more five-year-old failures and more excellent sheep. “ 

Thank you


Thank you for reading. I always appreciate your thoughts and feedback but, if you have some to share about this article, I’m sure The Writers’ Centre would love to hear them too. If you have time, please copy and paste them over there as well to keep their conversation going.


Empowering women – International Women’s Day

international women's day







Yesterday, 8th March 2015, was celebrated as International Women’s Day around the world. While the day has a history (or herstory) of over one hundred years, yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the date being claimed for this celebration by the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

 “The Platform for Action covers 12 critical areas of concern that are as relevant today as 20 years ago: poverty; education and training; health; violence; armed conflict; economy; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl child.”

The Secretary-General of the United Nations concludes the foreword to the 2015 paper with these words:


The paper states that

 “Nearly 20 years after the adoption of the Platform for Action, no country has achieved equality for women and girls and significant levels of inequality between women and men persist.”

 This article in Time Magazine recognises that, while some gains have been made, there is still much more to be done to eliminate inequality. It repeats the call to action made by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka:

In line with the general achievements that have been made towards gender equality, and the gaps that still exist, is the situation for girls in schools, especially with regard to maths and science education. While more girls are moving into those areas than did when I was at school, there are still not enough.

Ainissa Ramirez, who describes herself as a “Science Evangelist” says in her article Girls and Science: A Dream Deferred, that it is important to nurture girls’ interest in science and maths.

She says that “the data . . . shows that the difference among graduates is not due to girls’ ability to do math and science; instead, the gender gap is caused by attitudes and behaviors toward girls and women, especially in the classroom.”

This article by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times reinforces this, saying that the attitude of elementary teachers is even more influential that attitudes in the home. Miller says that

“Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying.”

This article by Sue Wilson cites research confirming the bias of teachers against girls showing that boys often received higher marks than did girls of equal ability. While the girls were discouraged from continuing their studies of maths and science subjects, the boys (whose teachers had over-assessed their ability) went on to be successful in those subjects.

For the past three years during which time I have been writing science curriculum documents, I have had the extreme good fortune of working with one of Australia’s top science teachers. In fact Deb Smith has won many awards for her science teaching including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools in 2010. Throughout her career Deb has been an advocate for girls in science and has encouraged many girls, who otherwise would not have, to pursue careers in science.

I haven’t yet considered whether Marnie, a character I have been developing through my flash fiction stories, would have, let alone pursue, an interest in maths and science subjects. I think it would be all she could do to survive.  You see, Marnie’s childhood had little to recommend it: a dysfunctional family in which she suffered neglect and abuse, and difficulties at school and with friendships as a result. However a teacher like Deb Smith or Ainissa Ramirez could make a difference to her engagement with those subjects. Marnie was fortunate that a teacher saw in her something special and provided support and guidance at a time that was crucial to her survival.

This week, in response to the prompting by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) color your story turquoise, I take Marnie one step closer to empowerment. Charli says that turquoise blue evokes trust and strength. I have also heard that it signifies protection, friendship and peace. What wonderful qualities to aspire to for Marnie, and for all women. Coincidentally, it is my favourite colour.

Here is my flash fiction response to Charli’s challenge, with a Marnie who has found a new inner strength and sense of peace, and recalls the trust that was given in friendship along with a charm for protection.

I hope you enjoy it.

turquoie necklace

Turquoise dreaming

Marnie paused at the gate. The house looked the same: roses by the steps, bell by the door, windows open and curtains tied back; just as she remembered.

She shuddered as the memory of her last visit flashed momentarily: she was running, almost blinded by tears, stumbling with fear, up the steps, to the open door and open heart. She rubbed the turquoise pendant Miss had given her then, for “protection and peace”. She had worn it always.

Now, Marnie walked the path with an unfamiliar lightness. It was over. Really over!

She knocked at the door.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post and flash fiction.


#SOL15: Day 5, Reflecting Back

The themes of emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion have featured frequently on my blog, especially the need for them to be incorporated into classroom practice and taught, particularly through modelling, to children.
My most recent series of posts about compassion, starting with Who cares anyway? and concluding with Ripples through time, with three more in between, were prompted by the #1000Speak for Compassion Project.
I thought I was done with that theme for a little while at least, but last night I read a very moving post by Julieanne Harmatz on her blog To Read To Write To Be.
Julieanne wrote with much emotion and compassion about a child in her class; a child who tears at your heartstrings, (and sometimes makes you want to tear out your hair), a child most teachers will recognise from their practice, a child you wish to be everything to but know that at least if you can be someone who really sees the child within, for a little while, you have done something worthwhile.
I urge you to read Julieanne’s story, and watch the TEDxtalk by Helen Riess that Julieanne has embedded in her post. Riess explains what empathy means through this acronym:


Thank you

Thank you for reading. Please share your thought about any aspect of this post.

To Read To Write To Be

Magic moments happen in teaching, and they make our hearts soar.

But, there are moments that can break. Us and our hearts.

Z is struggling. He lies down on the picnic table outside the room. When we’re all inside, he enters saying, “I don’t want to sit there.” He paces. We look for a place. He settles beside N. Then moves. Again and again. Searching for a spot.

Sitting is painful. School doesn’t fit, and the discomfort emanates from his being.

Someone says something about dads. He blurts, “My dad doesn’t come home no more.”


Enter Reading Workshop. Z gets together with his book group they are planning. Z says, “I don’t read at home. I read here, not at home.”

Later, Z paces in the corner, reading his book, Reading and walking, in circles. This is his way.

Lunch happens. Z doesn’t eat. He doesn’t want to. Can’t. He just…

View original post 333 more words

Ripples through time


This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). 

A river? That brought to mind two ideas:

ripples, and

that you never step into the same river twice (from the Heraclitus quote).

You are probably familiar with the terms “the ripple effect” and “the butterfly effect”. Both terms refer to the effects, which can be far-reaching and unintended, of small changes or events which may seem insignificant or even go unnoticed at the time.

In his book The Ripple Effect Tony Ryan shares many stories about small actions having a positive effect on the lives of others. He has a firm belief that each of us makes a difference with our everyday actions be it through a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

None of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions.  The potential for teachers to create ripples is powerful and this knowledge, for them, can induce as much anxiety as it does joy. While I am always the first to acknowledge my shortcomings, I hope that positive effects far outweigh the negative.

Readilearn bookmark

Sometimes expressing an opinion that differs from the status quo can be considered ‘making ripples’ or even ‘making waves’. On his blog Theory and Practice, Matt Renwick is making waves this week talking about assessment and standardised testing. (I have expressed my thoughts on the subject here and here, for example.) I wish Matt’s waves a long journey with school-changing effects.

Matt summarises five articles about testing, including one by Noam Chomsky from which he quotes,

“All of the mechanisms – testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring – that force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

The consequences, the ripples, are not always the ones we want: stressed and anxious students afraid of trying and of failure are just part of it. The effects reach further: inappropriateness of tasks, reduced equity, mis-placed funding, teacher dissatisfaction . . .

Matt’s voice is not alone. He expresses what most teachers know. Unfortunately teachers are not the ones writing policies and setting procedures about what happens in schools. Often they are not even consulted. The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.

Matt concludes his article saying,

“I think this information needs to be shared over and over again.  . . . To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession. We are in the right on this one. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I agree with Matt. We must advocate for the children, the students, their education and their teachers. So many administrators are talking about data, proclaiming that data is what is important. Now there is even “data mining”, big data mining, as explained in this article by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Check out this great new tool for use in mining data! Don’t they realise the children, their curiosity, wonder and creativity, are the treasure!

And as for the quote that you can never step into the same river twice because you will have changed and the river will have changed. Well I think it’s possible that that situation doesn’t apply to schools. What happens in many schools probably doesn’t look all that different from what has happened for at least the last two hundred years: children sitting in rows chanting meaningless lists. Harsh? Maybe. Reality? Pretty much.

And now to finish in a more positive way with my flash which combines both ideas: the life-changing consequences of a seemingly insignificant event at precisely the appropriate moment, and the difference in the person and the river on two separate occasions. And the person? None else but Marnie.

Richmond Bridge 1825

Ripples in the river

Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.

“My life began here,” she thought.

. . .

More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”

. . .

Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.

“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”


Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.