The world does funny things to us all. Things that give substance to the ever present question, 'why me?', and the phrases, 'it's not fair' and 'the grass is always greener'. Many believe there's a reason for everything and others just think the world sucks. We can look at the world through glasses of rose or smokey colours and the glass is always at the half way point of volume. All these things make us question ourselves and the need for positivity when we are (understandably and indirectly) led to believe bad things are bound to happen to us. All these worrisome predicaments seem to have been justified to some degree this festive season; a time we associate with such glee. But, with half the country on fire and the world, in some way, at war with each other, let us reflect on some perspective for just a moment.
I heard this tale in 2019 which enlightened me and, it's only now, when times look dour, that I can truly take salvation in the message it brings. It goes like this:
So there's this university professor who, with his laid back manner yet high academic standards, has this uncanny ability to get the best out of his students, through only relationships and his kooky teaching practice. He often creates practice so abstract, it's almost too obvious to think it is uniquely his.
A theatre of pupils under his tutelage sit and wait one spring day. They are somewhat baffled at his tardiness, for this professor is never late. But today, true to his quirks, will play out a familiar though strange chapter in the book of this exemplary professor.
After some minutes, he finally presents himself, in silence, briefcase in tow.
From the front of the theatre, he peers from atop his designer glasses and, almost sporadically, jolts his head from side to side, checking out his pupils, bordering suspicious, but certainly odd behaviour. But hey, it's him, he's the man. It is all too familiar for his students. Finally, after what seems an eternity, he speaks. Pointing this his brown briefcase (not a usual acquaintance). "Today, my friends, we are to have a test. For most it will be easy. for others; not so. Either way, it will not take any longer than you wish, but I will be allocating fifteen minutes all the same". The students, in chorus, breathe in as if about to dive beneath the deep blue and, furrowing brows, accept this. Contradictory to this acceptance is the consciousness that there has been no time to prepare, nor any explanation as to why a test, but, to be totally honest, this professor could arrive in a clown suit, walking in on his hands and no one would bat an eyelid.
A 'click' opens this mysterious briefcase and attentively prompts a very swift explanation. He trawls around the room, quietly placing a blank sheet of paper on each desk space before the students as he speaks. "You are to write a piece on what you see on the back of this page. This is to be completed in silence and is yours and only yours." And with that, the test begins. He returns to his space at the front of the room and the students, although slightly confused, turn their pages and begin. The only problem is, the page has nothing but a little black dot. It takes up enough space to be present though not nearly enough to have any significance. None the less, the timer is on and there is only fourteen and a half minutes remaining.
As the minutes pass by, one by one, the students finish and sit in a cloud of confusion. For some, it took two to three minutes, and others, the full fifteen. The results were the same: mind boggling confusion. Even for our expert practitioner, this seemed odd. Extraordinary even. The professor quickly collects the students' work and returns, sits atop his desk space and smiles at his cohort. "Life is strange, isn't it?" His students' shoulders relax and many even start to laugh. The silence is broken by the familiar kookiness. "Hands up if you thought this was going to happen when you rolled in today?" Obviously, zero pupils raised their hands. "You've outdone yourself this time, Sir!" a keen punter calls out, to the laughter of the others. The air is fresh and the atmosphere is again warm. "I'm going to read each of your pieces now, although what we have all written about will no doubt be the same". The professor, too smart and wise for his own good, announces. He continues, "I'll wager you all, you'll walk away at the culmination a better person than when you arrived...strangely baffled." He looks up, the pupils enjoying this now, full-well knowing the whole session, even his tardiness, was thoroughly planned. "And these are the lessons in life we yearn for. You'll see".
As he read through each of the texts, a pattern started to form, and everyone was onto it. Finally, the professor finished and placed the last one on the stack beside him.
"Every single one of these, with no exception, have found a way to write a description, explanation or other about the little block dot in the centre of the paper; the size, shape or other". Everyone sat in embarrassment, though not knowing why. They could just tell by their professor's tone, it was a silly thing to do. "Don't you see, my friends? Everyone focused on the black dot. The same thing happens in our lives. We insist on focusing on only the black dots; the health issues, the lack of money, the complicated relationship that bothers us. Even the small time emotional upsets that our travel inhabits". The pupils seem to all shuffle in their seats and start to fidget, there is substance to this process. The professor takes breath and finally adds, "not one of you noted the entire white space which inundates this otherwise meaningless black dot. I bet many of you didn't even notice the sheer size of the white's presence".
You see in life, we continue to let the minor black dots pollute our minds, but as we sit back and enjoy the cup of tea we are able to enjoy whilst reading this, in the comfort of our lounge chair, in the comfort of our unscathed homes, keep perspective on many of our compatriots. Those who are struggling to come to terms with their massive, sweltering black dots which are smothering their white sheets at the minute. Compassion is underrated but, if not for anything else; donations, support and resource allocation, please do one thing. Try practise taking your mind off your black dots for a while, just a while. Instead, focus your energy on what is on the white part of the paper, what might you find?
Thoughts and prayers with those doing it tough in Australia right now, those with the burnt paper, I hope there's still some white left. Hang in there.
It was perhaps the smartest (or the dumbest) decision I had made in a long while at the time and, boy did I get swept up and swiftly taken away. It was 2011 and my Game of Thrones (GoT) journey had begun. I can’t say I was a GoT original; the truest of the true, but I jumped on the wagon well before the craze that is the 'GoT madness' begun. I distinctly remember thinking, ‘yeah, I’ll try this out, I do like the medieval-styled drama’. Like so many of us, little did I know, what I was in for.
To some this George R. R Martin creation is more than just a tale brought to life in both book and television series; it’s a cult, a way of living, an entertaining date to look forward to and even a guide into the history of mankind, such is its lure. So, now writing about it, what am I going to concoct right now that will keep your eyes from closing with boredom? I want to share the reason I, like millions of others, live and breathe the awe-inspiring air of which GoT exhumes, like the fiery flames of the show’s great dragons themselves; and, furthermore, take the events jammed into one hour each Sunday as some of the most life-shaping you can ever come across. I thought I’d throw my opinions down with a sprinkling of wisdom from the wisest man in Westeros to back me in; giving me all necessary credibility. The brave, the quirky and charismatic smartass imp, Tyrion Lannister. So sit back and enjoy the insight. Here are five of the lessons I take from the show and additionally endorse you live by too.
Number One: Things don’t always pan out the way we want them to…
Like the hysteria around the whole television series itself, sometimes things don’t go to plan, the way we want when dreaming and scheming. In life, we set really high expectations on ourselves, it’s only natural. This is good thing, but also a really bad thing. In an ideal world, we find that perfect utopia; one where everything slides into place and we sit upon our throne basking in the joys of what lies before us. There’s a catch, everything you actually take pride in, realistically you’ve worked tirelessly for and that’s the true reward. “Being successful isn’t supposed to be easy, if it were, everyone would be”. The hardships make us who we are, life is there to be celebrated, in all its ugly glory! The confusion of what works and what does not allows us to grow and if life doesn’t end up the way it’s supposed to, try another way. “It is easy to confuse ‘what is’ with ‘what ought to be’, especially when ‘what is’ hasn’t worked out in your favour”. Try as many new things as you can and meet as many strange and interesting people as possible. “Try know as many people as you can, you never know when you’ll need them”. There’s a way things pan out just right, even if things are panning out poorly, as long as you’ve got the right people around you, your path will realign itself and the stronger you will unearth itself. Trust the game.
Number Two: Choice
Whether Danny and her reign of terror over King’s Landing, Bran’s climbing of the tower or Gilly’s will to save her new born son, Game of Thrones likens itself to life in all its power, we make choices and those we make have the ability to shape us permanently. There are good and bad choices but unless we chose to make one at all, nothing will ever happen and our very existence will be very bleak indeed. Watching in suspense, the characters in Game of Thrones take us all on a merry-go-round of choice. Imagine the outcomes had Rob followed his word and married Walder Frey’s daughter if Eddard Stark had have kept silent of the scaries he found in King’s Landing, and what of the events which followed the choices brave Arya made along the way. Although not as dramatic as our screened friends’ tales, we consciously make decisions to which will ultimately shape who we are and what we become. Whatever decisions we make, we must own them wholeheartedly. Remember, there are positive consequences too, let’s not overindulge ourselves in the fear of being wrong, getting caught out or losing what we thought we had. If we don’t have choice, the good things may never occur. “Perhaps that is the secret. It’s not what we do, so much as why we do it.” One thing is sure, when a choice is made, own it, don’t live in regret.
Number Three: Loyalty is just a key to unwarranted trust
Throughout the show, we see an unprecedented batch of betrayal, from nearly all characters within. Once again, despite not exactly mirroring the real world, it’s not too far off. We watch or read intensely as Petyr Baelish turned his ‘word’ into dust and burnt his friends and foes alike. We gawked in shock as the Red Wedding took its turn and we gasped in despair when Theon Greyjoy took to his childhood home and burnt its foundations. In everyday life, we almost set ourselves up for unpleasant dealings simply by trusting too many people, ALL the time. Even our most trusted peers, our family, often betray our trust. The question is why do we trust? As Tyrion puts so eloquently when his most trusted folk let him down too often, “my family has mistaken me for a mushroom, they left me in the dark and fed me shit”, it’s quite the quandary, this trust thing. I suppose, in life, like the show elegantly reveals, we must truly only trust oneself. Make good choices, create strong habits and wear all the consequences, both positive and negative, when they come our way. If we don’t play the game, to some extent, we may continue to miss out on the nourishment life brings. The pure-hearted Sansa Stark realised this, after several unwarranted and untrustworthy experiences, and, perhaps most importantly, she learned. She defied many and then finally, conquered her inner most fears. She played the game and she won.
Number Four: Pretending to be something you’re not, never works
“Why is it when one man builds a wall, the next immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?” It’s a battle in itself, this ‘finding of yourself’ thing, and life, just like GoT, has its way of telling you you’re not quite good enough. Arya Stark, perhaps the most important character of GoT in this sense, wars with the idea for the best part of the first six seasons; be it an escaping boy, a peasant or… 'no-one'. The triumph in her story is that she decides being herself is her true desire and the rest is history. In all walks of life, we constantly battle with the idea of being good enough for others, even in our own skin. The key lesson here is the longer we want something bigger and better in life, the more we hide the beauty that each and every day brings, right in front of our eyes. “Never forget who you are, the world will not”.
Number Five: Life is a conflict of SELF (a battle between head and heart)
The creator himself, George R. R Martin, continually harps on about the fact his writing is not just blood, terror, gore and fantasy, it a true life battle; of head and heart. He notes, “We should delve into our own minds when reading the books, for we, after all, are too, dealing with the conflict of self, a battle between head and heart”. In life, we seek gratitude and self-worth, value and belonging but truly the best victory in life is contentment. And the love of those who matter most. And that is both Game of Thrones’ (and life's) largest tragedy. “Wind and words. Wind and words. We are only human, and the gods have fashioned us for love. That is our great glory and our great tragedy.” Ah the battle of our inner-most thoughts and feelings, it really does make us tick. Like that daffodil sport, ‘loves me, loves me not’, we really create our own luck, stemming from both the place we start and the places we where we want to be. An ongoing battle, mind versus heart, but the only way to conquer really is to simply listen. Listen to your head, listen to your heart and listen to others. Peace comes through listening, not speaking. To finish, let’s, for one last time, seek the wise words of our favourite imp, “learn to use your ears more and your mouth less”, that is where the conflict of self is won.
I now stand to boo Australia’s public and the realm in which I pride myself on being part of; the Australian rules football community.
A nation known for colloquialism, freedom and a rich underdog spirit, we proudly say? Is this just a farce? Or perhaps a mask? I’m currently torn.
After sitting and watching, quite emotionally, The Last Quarter, a divisive and stirring documentary on the Adam Goodes booing saga, my mind filled with questions. None more provocative than this:
What do we stand for a nation? Mind-numbing and so raw but I have to say, I question our identity as a nation. The majority is a simple conformist’s paradise and we, as most do in a paradise, put our feet up and bathe in the satisfaction of not having to deal with victimisation, vilification and the general discomfort of everyday life.
The pack is, be it inherent, rather intimidating and, although I cannot speak on behalf of particular minorities, I can empathise in the vision of bullied circles and scathing treatment of our very own youth in the playgrounds of our schools. Here, I witness, cringing at times, the mistreatment of difference and the scarcity of support. And this is from kids! It is here we as a nation can put stop to beating down on minority groups and the unheard, in the classrooms, playgrounds and junior sporting fields.
I do not stand to preach to a choir or intend on driving forceful change for the masses but I do wish to take a clear stance on this issue, racism, it is not good enough to put down a friend, sibling and colleague, it certainly isn’t good enough to offend, belittle or monster our culture and those whom our lands truly belong to.
A close friend of mine once said to me, and this will always stick with me, “you know, this country isn’t a couple hundred years old, it is forty-odd- thousand years old”. WE need to celebrate and pedestal what makes this country great, first and foremost, our history… the true one.
So this booing saga, how does it make any sense? Was it a racially fuelled occurrence? I believe the mob took control and that race was a huge part of why it spread like wildfire. Did it and does it represent the greater nation’s community? The answer is yes, wholeheartedly. Adam Goodes himself said, “Are we, as a country, educating our youth to stand in anger whenever something we don’t understand confronts us?” This too, happened.
Whether we knew it or not, the way we treated Adam Goodes, a prophet of the game, was pathetic and we should hang our heads in shame. Nonetheless, the lesson we learn from this reincarnation (four years on) is going to be the real making of our greater identity.
The world is awfully small!
There are times when life simple meanders away; on a straight lifeless line, sure things are happening and you might tell all your friends you’re really busy, but life feels like it’s on the Nullarbor of its journey. Then there are those times when you just feel ‘something quite spectacular just happened’. Even in the smallest of moments, you think, ‘that just happened for a reason’. Of all the paths that lead our lives, it somehow led to that one incidental occurrence. This just happened to me this weekend.
For many many weeks, I’ve been putting off booking flights to Melbourne this very weekend despite full well knowing I was, one, going to head over and, two, had no excuse not to. But it was the previous week of events that led my path on a downhill slope to this incredible moment.
I am asked to attend an important meeting at my football club, I thought as an offsider, a different set of eyes for my team’s head coach. The topic was about the future, the purpose of ‘us’ as a club. One minute into the meeting I’m offered a very honourable role at the club and the timing seemed odd but... timely. Ensued was our needs (recruiting) and the weekend ahead’s trip seemed more purposeful than first thought.
Trying to fathom how I was going to even initiate such a role, and its requirements were daunting, let alone execute it. We had targets but none more so than those associated with me personally. What this would lead to was something more powerful than anything I could imagine.
Someone from my workplace poses me a question, “do you know this guy who use to be involved with this club?” They had made the connection I was from the same country Victorian town and assumed, and rightly so, that everyone knows everyone in small towns. Without thinking anymore of it, I went back to the normal daily process. Isn’t it crazy how this in itself popped into the conversation if we take into consideration what was about to ensue?
I rummage through a backpack ready for the Friday night trip and ready myself for the necessities of two nights away. Nothing too abnormal here, though when I reach into the back pocket, an old cricket club photo appears. We have recently moved and as you do, we threw the last of the past into any space it would fit. I scanned across the faces that resided within, not only this club photo but also my distant memory. Sure enough, the person from the conversation from Wednesday, his brother and his father; a great man who sadly took his life a few years ago. It got me thinking about my role at this club and the support I offer as a leader in the mental health of others. The cricket photo sat in front of me, the Aussies were on Tele beyond that and a conversation, via Messenger, was in full swing with a lad experiencing some battles mentally at present. I thought deeply about this; its connections to me and my work, both present and in the past. This lead my mind to both the family in the photo, and their struggles, and the group of men who presented to me, then later, helped spark my passion for workshops in the area in Western Australia. I thought nothing more of it... that night.
I fly into Melbourne, ninety minutes late and starving. But, being the frugal man I am, my hunger wasn’t demanding me spend $12.50 for a croissant just yet. I decided to grab a Boost Juice smoothie instead. Whilst waiting, I turn my head only to see, the very next customer in line, Zac, one of the men who taught me the skills for these workshops. He was on his way to Darwin, for his next adventure aiding the community. We chatted for a half hour before his flight boarded. On the Skybus, I decided to rendezvous, via Messenger (it’s such a connected world we live in), *Suze; the mother of the boys, and widow to their father from the photo. ‘It was a sign’, I thought as I reached for my phone and begun to type. She had often kept in contact about one thing or another these past few years and, often, we’d cross paths if I was back in my country town previous to that. Both Suze and her late husband always had a soft spot for me and often asked me to house sit when away and once asked if I could look after the boys when the couple went to dinner. Small towns, small favours, small connections, small signs in a big big world.
I’m sitting at a suburban football match and flicking between the real match in front and the state league game on the 7Plus app. The trip started to become more about recruiting players than anything else at this stage. Funnily enough, Suze’s son had done a segment for the halftime show about the life lessons he and his mum had learned, alongside his footy journey. It was a flashback, but a ‘head-shaker’ all the same. I scrolled through my Messenger to see if Suze had written back. I noticed it was, as too another profile of hers, disconnected. ‘Strange’, I thought. Nothing more of it, I turn my attention back to the game in view.
Dad and I head to the Crown before the Western Bulldogs’ game. I had a lunch date and dad, one with the pokies. In my view whilst I’m dining I see, another prominent figure from my past, my first captain at senior level footy and my junior cricket coach (yes, same club) from my little country town of origin! Things are incredibly 'weirding out' right now for me. Melbourne, a population of over five million, offers many strange faces but never strange occurrences like this. Within twenty minutes, I’m off to find Dad and head to the game. He doesn’t answer his phone at first, though he send through an electronic ticket. 'He must’ve left already,' I think. I take off out on the 500m stroll toward Marvel Stadium, only to have Dad ringing, letting me know he hadn’t left just yet. I turn back and wait for him to catch up. This five-minute delay, like many others over the weekend, means a great deal for the culmination of this blog. So, hang in there. Together, Dad and I head off, en route the footy. I’m replying to another Messenger correspondence (I too, am wondering whether I should flick this device at this point - seem to have it active a lot!) I’m crossing an intersection, head down in my phone when I’m squeezed on my arm. ‘A passer-by, getting her loved ones mixed up’ I first presume. You are not going to believe this! It was Suze! In the middle of a road, in the middle of an intersection, in the middle of Melbourne! You wouldn’t read about it- well now you are! After a giant hug and a brief awkwardness of not knowing which way to get off the road, we choose her way and stand in shock! Long story short, we trade numbers and vow to chat later.
I remember a story Mum told me of this guy who she was seeing before Dad. He begged her not to follow Dad down to the country, away from him, and, history stands, she didn't listen and here I am today. Bu what her incredible link to this tale is that, whilst answering phones at the place of work, she picked up one day to an eerily familiar voice.
"Lyn? Lyn Crawford?" a voice stammers on the other end of the line.
"Yes," Mum replies.
"It's me, John." The guy from twenty-five odd years earlier! He died a fortnight later.
So there it is, one interesting week of reminiscing, realigning and the complete reconsidering the power of fate. The recipe to life has many varying ingredients but surely sprinkled in all of our lives is that undeniable fate!
Isn’t it funny when you have twenty things to do but you forget every one of them?
Isn’t it funny when get grossed out by the very thought of someone’s feet touching you, yet don’t flinch when a hand is placed on you, despite the hands carrying far more germs?
Isn’t it funny when you find a coin on the ground and realise it’s stuck, so you keep walking as if nothing happened?
Isn’t it funny when you swallow a drink down the wrong hole, sending you into a coughing frenzy?
Isn’t it funny when you stub your toe and trip in public and the first thing you do is look around to see if anyone is watching?
Isn’t it funny when you sit on the toilet and start the process before you realise there’s no paper left?
Isn’t it funny when you use the soap right to the “imperial leather” label because you don’t want to waste any, yet we waste half our dinner because we don’t like vegetables?
Isn’t it funny when you go through life throwing away so many silver coins then hold onto our golds for the fear of losing ‘all that cash’?
Isn’t it funny when you feel the de ja vu coming on and try awkwardly explain it to someone else, who does not care one bit?
Isn’t it funny when you sit in traffic and worry people will catch you being jolly, singing along to your favourite tune, yet scream at the top of your lungs at the first moron who cuts you off?
Isn’t it funny when you see people at the gym in the morning with a full face of make-up, knowing full well they’re about sweat it up then go wash it all off afterward, only to put more on before work?
Isn’t it funny when you go to work and there’s that one colleague who simply does not smile?
Isn’t it funny when you shower and you first wash the same place, every single time?
Isn’t it funny when you try talk out loud and no words come out?
Isn’t it funny when you watch a TV series, you become more attached to the fictional characters within than those in your immediate surroundings?
Isn’t it funny when you use to think someone was your closest companion and you couldn’t deal without them, then realise you haven’t thought about them, until now, for a very long time?
Isn’t it funny when we become so busy, we get annoyed at wasting even a minute of our time, wishing there were more hours in the day, only to go home and waste hours on social media and binge (cringe) TV?
Isn’t it funny we pick up on others’ illiterate tendencies, yet we ourselves speak in slang nearly 24/7?
Isn’t it funny when give someone a hug you automatically feel warmer?
Isn't it funny you tease the ones you love most more than any one else?
Isn’t it funny we use the term ‘isn’t it funny?’ and most of the information that follows doesn’t actually make you laugh?
I peer across the aisle and onto the seat across from me. My mind perks up on a weird memory. Is that face a familiar one? The bus ride is boring and I need something to give me some lift. I notice that the potentially familiar face on the exposed page of the newspaper lying vacant before me is indeed familiar. It is a former peer of mine from university, who, not surprisingly still resides within the walls of that same place. You see, before taking on the role I have recently stepped into, I found concerning pre-requisites surrounding university further study and its necessity when applying for higher places of employment. These were hampering my progression in educational leadership and, although I knew why, my attirbutes would almost certainly outweigh the small letters that do NOT exist before my name. That’s right, expertise and experience more or less count for nothing when taking on new positions within some school sectors. (And I know it comes across whiney) Although it totally sounds like complaining about not receiving jobs applied for, I do find it interesting when you get shortlisted for several very admirable roles, then overlooked for a lack of qualifications; not the lack of quality in application or interview!
This is nothing new people, we all know this. And don’t get me wrong, more knowledge generally means more power. This just doesn’t sit well with me and nor should it, you. It just makes interesting food for thought when trying to conquer our greatest mysteries in modern, nation-wide, education: the mere stagnation in the progression of student outcomes. I could open a whole new can of worms here, as this is such a huge topic to blog about but let’s just dive into the one today. My query is: why are the people leading our future teachers (who will in turn lead our future generations of inspiring humans) ill-equipped to teach yet still find themselves leading not only these future teachers but the wage war that continues to wrought the system itself?
**SIDENOTE** Background on higher education: Many countries actually have compulsory Master Degree acquisition from all educators to ensure best practice ensues, making the strength in educators well rounded and, of course, more robust. These extras initials ensure credibility per se is inclined within the educational centres.
Skip forward three days, I am at the local aquatic centre and bump into a former lecturer of mine from the university. Incidentally, he is about to retire (after over twenty years at the institute – and not before over twenty-five as a teacher, then leader- including principal- in schools). He asked of my progression, speaks of those whom he knows in my graduation group and then dabbles in some opinion around the placement of pre-service teachers into the big bad world of real-life classroom practice.
An interesting time for me to say the least. I wrangle within to come up with more positives than negatives when reflecting on our current university degree. I scratch my head in confusion, then scoff at some of the hidden demons our universities hide from the general public- none more head quivering, eye-rolling and teeth grimacing than the state at which they release their teachers in.
In previous blogs on similar topics, you may remember me being quite critical of firstly, the expertise (and lack thereof) of teachers and then their willingness to cover up deficiencies with the fear of looking incapable, but secondly, the rate at which teacher graduates then leave the profession. To jot your memory, the statistics are now up to 43% of first to five-year graduate teachers are walking away from the career they once thought to be admirable, pleasant and even inspiring. My point here is that this 43 % plus the other 57% (who are either rather resilient or very lucky to have such strong support from their leaders and mentors) are ill-prepared for the rigous of real-world teaching and the kids are suffering most. Who is going to be held accountable?
Practicums are stupendous for pre-service teacher development. Placement of, sometimes over one hundred university students, however, must be a daunting task. I get it, I’m not saying universities aren't doing their best here. After all, it can sometimes be a headache for schools to take on university students to allow for the perfect segue into the real-world. And, given the quality of existing teachers at times, it is easily assumed why some of the graduate teachers are passed and then released into schools as ‘qualified’ educators to take the helm of their very own classroom. But this is not my gripe.
Let’s go back to this article in the paper, and the back story I took in at the Aquatic Centre. My lecturer told me of many practicums simply being passed for the sake of an image, preservation of university standing on the national front and, if failure was imminent, the university would allow the pre-service teacher to ‘try again next year’. This would sometimes happen up to three times before the university simply had to intervene and say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the gig for you”. This opens a line of thought around, 'maybe, just maybe, teachers either just naturally have it or don't' - which could then correlate to the poor standards to which student data is adhering.
The tale though that most annoyed me was the guy from my introduction, with his mug in the rag. It was common knowledge this guy was an academic; a very bright one at that. The only problem was, he, like many others in our cohort, not cut out for teaching. He owned it and, in fourth year, just before placement, went to the department heads and requested to go to an “easy” school for his final hoorah. His logic being that he had got this far and really didn’t see the point in dropping out now, but acknowledged he may fail if given an arduous final placement - at perhaps a difficult behavioural cluster school. Seems odd, right? He was, as the squeaky wheel normally is, tended to, and passed his final placement. The university knew full-well he was probably never going to end up in the classroom, yet this was ok, he had passed with honours and had paid his tuition amply.
So, ten years on, to hear him quoting why student outcomes have stagnated, even regressed on a range of data platforms and systemic testing forums, was surprising. In fact, when he went on to judge the quality of teachers and classroom practice, I screwed up the newspaper completely. I mean, as an experienced teacher and now leader, that’s my job, right? I have deservedly owned that place to find trends in where areas of improvement need to stem from. Above all, having taught in multiple states, across several education sectors probably gives me scope to base these opinions, but this guy? I was angry. That’s not all.
I found out, during my chats with my former lecturer, this now uni-lecturer's wife also decided teaching in the classroom was not for her, without first experiencing it. Then, their good friend (also an honours’ academic) and never once stood inside a classroom to call his own, yet they too now spend their time in universities preaching how best practice happens this way or that. Oh, and did I mention the wages they earn are upwards of two-and-a-half times that of an early career graduate teacher? Take my whining out of the equation for a moment and put a lens over this argument. Are we seeing some links from the issues with education and the pure lack of knowledge and expertise that often comes with the teaching or teachers? These people have these initials in front of their name and not a single trail of experience to go with it. WE often say, “Educators have the enormous ability to impact so many before them.” And what an opportunity we have to make a difference. It’s actually mind-blowing! But… surely there’s something wrong when we pay these inexperienced teaching graduates to tutor and lecture our university teacher-wannabes a truckload of money, then wonder why our state of education continues to slide.
To wind up my rant, I will say one thing. My initial worry was that when we spend too much time trying to upskill via papers, documentation and unwarranted research, we get lost in our career’s purpose. If we can agree there is real worth in expert mentoring and practicing what we preach, then the world would be a better place… and we save ourselves the time and money we waste on lining the universities’ pockets.
I will finish on a very relevant contextual link: Game of Thrones!
One particular character quotes a beautiful summary of my blog's thoughts
"Fighting wars makes you a soldier, not the title" ~Beric Dondarrion.
Are we all seeking a Rat Park Utopia?
So, I watched an amazing speaker recently and I can’t wait to tell you all about the ensuing findings that came about! This is going to blow your mind and change your entire belief system when looking at the greater scheme of society, as a whole.
If you know me personally or read my blogs, you will probably be aware of my passionate zest for culture and the strength in building relationships. I read up on it, I research why it is so essential; I preach it and practice it; I live and breathe it in work and leisure. So what happens when something, someone, is toxic to the culture? A plague on the environment and its vision of idealistic being? Often we see addicts as this very vermin on society; obesity, drug-related behaviours, gamblers alcoholics and more. Maybe we need to simply change the way we view this toxicity. Check this out.
An age ago, a psychologist tested the very means of addiction and the hardships one must endure when they own an ‘addictive personality’. To test such a thing, the advanced doctor put a rat in a testing environment (usually a glass tank, incubator styled set-up), and placed within a water source from which the rat to hydrate. One source, at one end of the tank, actual water, the other, down the opposite end. What the rat did not know was that this second water source was laced with heroin and soon the rat became so infatuated by this water source, and could not distract itself from the cravings, the psych declared addiction had eventuated. He concluded, that indeed a chemical occurrence in the brain creates a ‘hook’ and the stimulus simply cannot help itself. It eventually over-doses and dies. This happened time and time again. We can relate this to many aspects of our society. It seems fool-proof really. But there were cynics.
Lowly species such as rats cannot possibly control themselves. If only there were ways to test completely sane humans, and then we may see the results for certain.
Soon after, a natural rat experiment did take place with the sought out ‘drug and the human’ scenario the cynics craved. It was known as the Vietnam War.
In one Time magazine report, it was cited that heroin use during the war was common as ‘chewing gum’ and some 20% of soldiers had become addicted to it whilst there in Vietnam. Many commoners were understandably horrified and stressed about the idea of addicts re-joining society when the war ended. But, surprisingly, our aforementioned psychologist’s conclusion took a hit (pardon the pun) when 95% of returning addict soldiers simply stopped on arrival back on home soil. This led many to the belief that rather an addiction is an adaptation not a chemical hijacking of the brain. Professor of Psychology in Vancouver, Bruce Alexander explains these findings as a “profound challenge” to the idea that addiction is “moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying”. He argues against this idea of the “rat” or you being at fault but moreover “the cage” or the environment we are in at the time. Now this, I love! WE are all different and our apple sometimes falls very close to our unfortunately rotten trees. Other times, it is getting “caught up in the wrong crowd” (I sense eye-rolling and scoffing, as I’m sure you’ve heard it before). We can find solace in what Professor Alexander went on to conclude, thanks duly to his alternative test, taking the testing environment and its variability into consideration. Now here, and mainly here, is where I start to buzz with excitement.
So, Dr. Alexander took the original test and proclaimed that the reason the rats chose, over and over again, to take in an abundance of heroin laced water was that there was nothing else to do. Put simply; there was nothing in the environment which gave the rats a natural high, engagement or purposeful and meaningful ambition, thus, they drank the ‘devil’s wine’ almost as a protest to solidarity. In short, they were bored! They had nothing inspiring to draw them away from it. How incredibly close can we link this to our society?
I mean, could you imagine being thrown into an unfamiliar place (more or less an enclosure) with no one but yourself to keep your company; with nothing more than your thoughts to keep you busy? Now that I think of it, there is a place that exists just like that…
Fun fact: in the past year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the number of prisoners had risen again by 3% within Australia, the vast majority of inmates convicted of addiction-related crimes. Those who steal are in need of acceptance and those who binge crave comfort because of a weird sense of FOMO or worse, they’re unappreciated and depressed. Dr. Alexander took it further. He created a utopic rat park tank to compare the previous test and his new hypothesis. This tank had spinning wheels, coloured balls, obstacle courses, cheese and, best of all, other rats! It was heaven (as far as lab rats are concerned). Incredibly, the results resoundingly contradicted the original tests suggesting the rats could not help themselves.
You see, in this rat park utopia, the rats were still given the same two water sources, but, alternatively were given different things to connect with; to keep them stimulated. Peter Cohen, a psychologist in The Netherlands supported Dr. Alexander testing, posing that instead even using the term ’addiction’, shouldn’t we just call it ‘bonding’? After all, what really is happening is a close bond taking place between the user and the feeling the drug gives us. He describes us all as, “Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond…” And, amazingly, the rat park utopia rats did not become addicted or even enjoy the water, they in fact, actually felt dissuaded from going anywhere near it. Why? They had everything they needed already; further justifying the hypothesis of the “cage” v the “rat”.
I want to now turn your attention to a place that does actually feel like it’s on another planet when it comes to this topic, but it is right here on planet earth; Portugal. Just twenty years ago, this country had a huge epidemic: 1% of its population was addicted to heroin. Johann Hari, calls this as outrageous but seeks to find the answers in the response to this. In the time before the year 2000, Portugal did what most other western countries did /do in this situation, “they punished them, stigmatised them and shamed them, and every year the problem got worse…” Eventually (the year 2000), the people in power decided to make a change. They made a decision to legalise all illicit drugs! On one condition, and this is, according to Hari, “take all the money we use to spend on cutting addicts off, on disconnecting them and spend it instead on reconnecting them with their society…”
This was done in the way of micro-loaning and job creation. The addicts, in turn, once more felt purpose, had meaning in their lives and moreover, enjoyed doing things collaboratively, making a positive impact on the community. It all starts to make some sense. That addict you know may have wanted to be a mechanic once upon a time, the goal for Portugal0 is make this increasingly distant dream a reality by offering the local repair garage an employee and pay half the wages while they’re at it. We all have that someone in our lives. This system gives addicts a reason to get out of bed in the morning. The answer is certainly inclusion, not exclusion and ridicule. It’s time to make “the rat v the cage” case a reality.
As spoken about in my introductory words, I passionately pursue building the bonds readily available to positive progression and Portugal are doing just this, on a massive scale. In classrooms and football teams I preach selflessness. I urge others to be inclusive and not to persecute for indifference and misdemeanours (often out of their control). Think about what we do on a daily basis. How much of it is driven by our own selfish needs? The biggest driver of addiction is a disconnection, in, ironically, quite possibly the most connected phase in mankind’s history. Our thirst for acceptance is strong but our appetite for value is critical. A connection must only be prioritised when we first prioritise our disconnected. A really notable quote sticks in my mind and fits perfectly to all of this. Mahatma Gandhi, an amazing human being for a myriad of reasons, none more so than his humanitarian values and his care for all members of society, fatefully stated, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. What a reflection on all of us.
So, while we sit on our pedestal and throw arrows at our weakest, continue to divulge in condescension think very closely about who you are really excluding, shaming and locking away from our own Rat Park Utopia, it may be someone closer to you than you think.
The key here is to restore a purpose, for all; so that we can reach an ideal sense of being – by no means utopic but just a sense of being and then we can truly belong. For those cynics of Portugal’s response to Rat Park Utopia, it is really inspiring. Drug use and related crime are down by 50%, addiction of all forms well down and, quite inarguably in your face, no one in society wants to return back to the old way- the way that everyone else does it- they just want their loved ones loved. Isn’t that enough to bring about change? We are the most isolated generation of human existence, it’s time to take a breath and start doing one thing. Fill your cage with colourful fun, cheese and, most important, other rats to share the goodness with. It may just end up being that perfect Rat Park Utopia we seek after all.
“There’s only one way to find out if you can trust somebody… trust them”
~ Albert Einstein~
After feeling a very valid quote for many years, I must say I could’ve changed my thinking around this. The obvious reasons for such a thought change: Michael Jackson and George Pell.
Ok, don’t get me wrong, life is full of choices. Choices which can be life-changing and others not so much. Choices in all that we do make us; on a daily basis, who we are, create our personality type and mould the life we live. I’m going to go out on a limb to say this: trust creates us, truly.
So, like many of us, when a spare moment arises (some people have plenty by the look of their Facebook feeds), for me after the little one is down and my day is done; I flick through what treasures the world of news and social media have to offer me for another day. On this day, like many before it, I am greeted with a flurry of George Pell opinion pieces. Disgusting, highly scouring and at times hard to swallow. Stories and insights from so many, not that I need to write my own opinion on the timeline of events of this ogre, I feel I need to clear up why the situation and so many like it continue to occur. My simple answer: trust.
Many of the articles permeate with the topic of trust and its issues surrounding the institutional rite of passage from days gone by. As a society, historically, we’ve given our trust to the entitled entities for all the wrong reasons. We could go on forever about this but reading just one article questioned my whole take on choice and my very belief asserted in my introductory stanza. Its author has simply gone too far with his ‘credentialed’ analysis this time. Andrew Bolt is his name, intimidating, pompous and blunt journalism is his game. He weighs in on, well, everything and after hearing that former Prime Minister John Howard gave one rich personal character check for Cardinal Pell, it is no real surprise Mr. Bolt felt it necessary to back the alleged villain. All in all, it is simple opinion piece propaganda and everyone is entitled to this, hence, I’ll offer mine.
Here’s where my issues lie:
We place, using Albert Einstien’s wonderful quote at the top of this blog, huge amounts of trust in those who should support us most and find ourselves begging for answers as to why they continue to let us down.
Trust is something we inherit from others (parents, friends etc) when it is something which should be earnt, entirely. If only we had a detector on untrustworthy folk. (ahem) Well, according to a recent study, we do. They come in the form of dogs. We know dogs have an incredible sense of smell and an all-conquering myriad of skills which make our hearts melt. One thing I came across with dogs was their ability to scent out cancer to the exact location – mind-blowing, right? Then, it popped right into my field of view, plain as day. Just last year, a scientific study was administered to enhance the locating of sex-offenders around schools and parks, with the intention of keeping our kids safe from predators. As the tracking system currently being used by our community tells us, we are able to have photo-accompanied profiles to match any suspicious members of our neighbourhood on show. In other words, we have a giant catalogue of those you should steer clear of in your community. Let’s be honest, we don’t exactly stroll around town, holding this list as if a map, navigating the ‘not-so-hot’ spots. Enter Trusty dog Experiment. Its results were crazy good for all of us! In this experiment, dogs were offered treats by random strangers of all walks in life and whether the exact same treat was taken or not came down to the very attribute of trust. If the dog perceived the person to be a ‘bad person’ it would not take the tasty snack – something I would imagine to very difficult for a dog. It proved, once again, dogs are extremely loyal to their owners and, that even when good could come of letting their loved ones down (ie; a snack), they would choose loyalty, in fear of losing trust, every time. The experiment proved that dogs are very privy to personality traits; pretention and authenticity; that they are extremely sensitive to social cues, often missed by adult humans, and that they have an inspiring sense of selflessness, putting the needs of others before their own – the very essence of trust. As our old friend, actor, Bill Murray bluntly states, “I’m suspicious of people who don’t like dogs, but I trust a dog when it doesn’t like a person”.
So, why link this to the whole ordeal of recent tumultuous times? Are we supposed to employ dogs to guard institutes? Of course not, the key message is that humans are tainted, we aren’t always great people who do great things. But a lot of us do. My aim in writing this is to show that trust is very important and to offer a necessary step in educating our youth to be better judges of character and learn what real trust looks and feels like.
Within most things, I am involved in (marriage, workplace, classrooms, footy clubs) trust is paramount in the development of the community, a sense of belonging and positive outcomes driven by goal attainment. I speak often to many about vulnerability. This is a great ingredient but doesn’t hit the mark with finding skills in seeking who we trust and who we should not. Building trust (and keeping it for that matter) can be uncomfortable, similar to brushing your teeth with your opposite hand. I can tell you one thing though, it will get easier, it will get more comfortable. Within the classroom realm, my focus is belonging, and a lot of this comes down to relationships and trust. Each individual within owns a brick (has their name on it and everything), this brick is simply a laminated piece of card but it means and stands for so much more. It, as an individual brick, belongs to something far more powerful: a wall. In this sense, the kids are not just “another brick in the wall” either, it shows each individual that they are part of something bigger; that their actions impact others, in both positive and negative ways, they have to earn a trusting bond with those around them and that their learning can come with the nurturance and safety net of their peers. Together a formidable wall is established and this trust, if broken, can consequently crumble the entire system within which it belongs.
In life we will have our trust built and broken on many occasion, if all else fails, let us confide in our very own William Shakespeare. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
Some people are outwardly obnoxious and others cruel. Some people bossy and others slobs. Some people are awkwardly vindictive and others plain condescending. Some lack tact and others exuberate deranged. Some people are mean and others unjust. Then there are those who are greedy and others are gluttons. Many are horrid and others are damn right evil. Then there are vicious villains, and ugly crippled souls. The world often seems a dark, dangerous and worrisome place.
But in saying that there’s the wonderful souls, filled with bravery and bliss. The kind who support you and nurture your greatest strengths. There’s those who are mystical and filled with marvel. And those who are caring, kind, considerate and full of bubbly joy. There’s those who are welcoming and warm and continue to fill your heart with love. And these are the ones we desire most; their friendliness and gifts of affability.
The key is to surround yourself with people in life. Your job is to find out who ‘some people’ really are.
Professionalism comes in many forms; preparation, the manner in which we hold ourselves, our ability to get things done in an equitable way and even in the clothes we wear. Professionalism, an idea thrown around, often simultaneously with culture, and its exact definition is difficult to pin point, and then comes how to best apply it. Drawing on personal experience, evidenced research and some of the most successful institutes around the globe, I’m going to share a little secret: ‘casual professionalism’ is the new thing, and it’s bringing about some incredible individual and collective results.