Deciding to Play My Joker – with a Wee Nod to ‘It’s a Knockout’

The annoying thing about hiding places is that you can never seem to find them in appropriate spots when you need them. Whenever you need that safe haven to hide ashamedly from the light, hide away from the difficulty, hide from the truth, the space around you narrows, the discomfort increases dramatically and maybe, just maybe, you have to face up to the devastating truth of what is happening to you. Maybe you have to stop running so quickly. Maybe you have to look closely at yourself in the bathroom mirror. As a teacher you have to admit that at times the truth comes crashing down like a cartoon anvil.

Teaching in Secondary School can be a bit like a big, long game of ‘It’s a Knockout’, (or that new one on a Saturday night with the little one from Top Gear if you’re under 35). You spend all your time trying to get to the finish line when it seems like people are throwing water bombs at you at every opportunity. We get there in the end but more often that not we are metaphorically soaked or covered in custard. And our misery is a spectator sport, the most common one even.

So when, like me this week, you have a soul destroying day, it is difficult to get yourself back on the tightrope. You must, of course. Too much is riding on it. But don’t let anyone underestimate how difficult that can be. Hiding is not an option. When you are faced with obstacle after obstacle, when you are facing closed doors both literal and metaphorical, it is then more important to walk with Stuart Hall permanently cackling in your head. (It works. I’ve tried it).



When Dylan Wiliam said ‘show me a teacher who doesn’t fail every day and I’ll show you a teacher with low expectations for his or her students’, (Embedded Formative Assessment) he wasn’t wrong but that doesn’t make it feel any better when your well-planned, cleverly resourced lesson goes wrong or when the simplest of things don’t pan out the way you thought they would. The truth that we fail – indeed have to fail – can be a tough one to swallow.

The implementation of the new curriculum in Scotland has been and will continue to be laden with custard pies and waterbombs. There are those who will celebrate every failure, glow in every problem. They will write to the TesScotland to proudly let us know that. But they do so from their own hiding place. It is easy to throw stones from the dark. It is easy to glory in the failure of others. We teachers need to step up to the plate, step out into the light, though. Creativity is not an optional extra. We can longer accept learned helplessness in our students if we, too, accept the way things always have been. It is time to raise the bar for ourselves, not just our learners, and break a few doors down. Winning ‘It’s a Knockout’ was never without mess but it seemed so much more fun that way.

After my bad day this week I returned to have another wee read of Seth Godin’s Linchpin. It made me feel better.

‘The future belongs to chefs, not to cooks or bottle washers. It’s easy to buy a cookbook (filled with instructions to follow) but really hard to find a chef book.’

Persistence in the face of real difficulty is the key to learning for all.

2 thoughts on “Deciding to Play My Joker – with a Wee Nod to ‘It’s a Knockout’

  1. Inspiring stuff as always, Kenny. We are lucky to have so many such as you, David Cameron, all our twitter PLN colleagues and more in Scotland. Yet the noisy ones with the least to contribute seem to be listened to by the media. It has always been thus but there IS change coming……if not from the Top then from the bottom via great teachers and concerned students. I’ve sent this to all I know at school who will appreciate it.

  2. Kenny, thanks. I love the openness. I love the flow. I love the ability to be positive and recognise the struggle. I also love that you move from your own individual difficulties to those that we have at national level. Your point that elevating individual challenges, discomforts, failures, disagreements or whatever, into a basis for opposing change is a vital one. My first head of department, Jock Marshall, used to say “You need to remember that schools are for young people to learn in, not for teachers to teach in”. Even he was aware of the overlap, but the point remains. Learners have to get what they need from schools, even if it is uncomfortable for us to deliver that. Above all, I love the message that we get so often now – “We are Spartacus” – we not only need to be the change we want to see, as we are so often told, we need to make that change too!

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