Monthly Archives: December 2015

Handy Tips for Bloggers

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time (and even if you haven’t) you will know that I don’t often, if ever, attempt to tell anyone what to do.  This blog is a place for me to reflect upon events that surround me, and contribute to wider discussions I see taking place upon Social Meeja.  However, there was an interesting reaction to my Nurture 15/16 post (where I have, I freely admit, relentlessly focussed on the positive things that have happened this year, who wants to hear about my bad back, after all?), and in particular those connected with this blog, so, in the manner of encouraging wannabe bloggers who feel a bit nervous of putting their toe into the blogosphere, here are the things that have worked for me.

  1. Decide which blogging platform you want to use. When I started this one, I wanted it to look a particular way.  I also wanted it to be easy to do (I am not overly techie) and I wanted it to be free.  I like WordPress for all of these things, but there are others.  I discovered that the blogging sites have communities, and these can be really helpful.
  2. Do a bit of reading around your chosen platform. When I signed up to WordPress, I followed the links to all of their newbie advice.  It was all a bit intimidating when I realised quite what a big world it is, but, as I write about children (and my own children in particular) I persevered and took their advice very much on board.  If you write about children I would strongly recommend that you do this too – before you publish anything.
  3. Think about what you want to call your blog. I originally thought up the title years ago, when I was thinking of writing it as a book.  I couldn’t quite marry up the blog address with the blog name, but never mind.  I’m not a total perfectionist.  I started off by using my own name as the web address – which I felt was a mistake, so I changed it.  (There’s loads of musings and ramblings around, so you might want to avoid them as potential titles.)
  4. Think about what you want to write about. I thought about this really carefully when I started, and settled on three main themes: Down’s syndrome, parenting (in particular the experience of mothers) and education, and the interconnections between them.  The education bit took over a bit (!), but I’ve been really strict and stuck to like glue to my starting principles.  I realised pretty quickly that there are about a million Down’s syndrome parenting blogs, and the teacher blogging world is equally huge – I didn’t want to be just another little fish in the big wide ocean, so I thought carefully about what I could uniquely add to the discussions.  What did I have to say that other people might want to read about (or, in sales-speak, what is my USP)?
  5. Think about your principles in blogging. Some people blog commercially and promote/review products on their blogs.  I felt really uncomfortable with that (and am no doubt a huge disappointment to people who supply such things), so I don’t.  People also tell me about SEO, but, for me, my blog is about the writing, and I don’t want to compromise my artistic choices, if you know what I mean, and if that doesn’t sound unbearably pretentious. Don’t tell lies.
  6. Decide on a schedule. I decided to write weekly, and I still just about manage to stick to that.  I was discussing this with my friend Jack – as his other writing commitments have grown, so the regularity of his blogs have changed, and it’s the same for me.  When I started I had ideas falling off my fingertips – now that I’m writing more for other people, I need to honour those commitments.  When I’m really busy I can’t blog, so I have had to learn to forgive myself for that  – and hope that my readers do too.
  7. Decide how long your posts are going to be. This is a bit of a monster.  I don’t usually like posts to be as long as this!  I tend to favour stories, but sometimes poems pop out, or letters.  Don’t be afraid to do something different.
  8. Decide on how you want to publicise your blog. Most of my readers come from Twitter, which I really enjoy.  I could have joined Mumsnet or Tots100 or Britmums, but I was a bit intimidated, worried about the reaction I would have as a teacher.  I have a Facebook page for my blog so that I can separate out my blog from a platform I essentially use for keeping up with friends and family (who have generally heard me going on and on before, and don’t necessarily want to read it on my blog).  You can use Facebook to build up your own communities, but I like Twitter for that, and I haven’t got all the time in the world to devote to it.  There’s Pintrest too, and Instagram…publicising and working on your blog can become a full time occupation if you’re not careful.
  9. Don’t worry about the stats. I love seeing which posts go well, and which ones die a fast death, but I don’t let it consume me.  I’m happy when anyone reads this blog.  I’m not prepared to put any old rubbish on here, just so that the stats look better.  I’ve got something to say and I want people to read to the end, not just click and then click away.  Make it easy for readers to follow you, so use the sharing add-ons if your chosen blogging site has them.
  10. Think about your readers. Who are you writing for?  I reckon I have a specific audience, mostly teachers and people with an interest in SEND – and lots of parents too.  I try to make what I write accessible to them.  For me personally, I generally start with an idea that I want to get across, and then I spend some time thinking about how I am going to do that.   I write it out on the computer (or by hand if I have to), generally on one day, and then edit the next, put it on the blog and then read it aloud.  That way I can really think about what I have written, and hopefully not publish too many mistakes (you can always tell if I haven’t gone through this process).  It also gives me a chance to think about whether what I have written will cause any harm, in particular to my subjects.  I have people I turn to if I am really not sure, and they have been happy to read a potential post for me and make suggestions.  Sometimes I have binned the post and gone back to the drawing board.

 

So that’s about it.  I hope that’s helpful.  I’ll end with that Virginia Woolf quote again – because letting voices that are not ordinarily heard is important, and that voice might be yours.

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.”
― Virginia WoolfA Room of One’s Own

 

#Nurture 15/16

Another year of blogging nearly over (except that my blogiversary is in October, but ignore that for artistic purposes, please), it’s Boxing Day (not any more) and Sam and I are watching the Strictly Christmas Special (I’m now keeping out of the way while they play with their toys), and my computer power source Is No More, so I had better be quick.  It’s odd, but I can’t be the only one who finds the medium of transferring thoughts to digital page an integral part of the process; it is strangely disconcerting to be tapping this out on a tablet (I ordered a new computer, the old one doesn’t owe me anthing).  It’s time for the Nurture post.

So, without further ado:

1. Writing
It was only a footnote last year (I checked, just to be sure) (what was I thinking?).  That was a bit of a major oversight, wasn’t it? This year Things I Wrote caught the eye of newspapers and magazines. The odd bit (faints) was sent to the DfE.  My mum even told me that they were discussing inclusion on Woman’s Hour.  This is great. Debate is good for educators and, as Laura MacInerney says, we need to step away from the fear of getting it wrong to ask the hard questions that need asking in the interests of children and young people like Sam, who need educators like me to empower them in order to make their futures a bit brighter.

For me personally, when I look back, I have to shake myself and glance up at the mantel shelf, just to check it was real.  There I was, this time last year, one angry ranter at the kitchen table, contributor to Teach Primary (buy it everyone, it’s very good), I wrote my ideas about why more and more children are rocking up in special schools and BOOM. TES got me to write not one, but TWO cover features (fans self), and gave me a column (fans self again, look out for the new look version in the new year) (buy it, buy it) and an extremely lovely award (looks at it again and shakes head in disbelief). It still feels surreal, to be perfectly honest.  This summer I wrote a book! It comes out in May (roll up, roll up!).

It feels like SEND in education is firmly on the agenda – thank you. I, for one, intend to keep on banging on about it.
2. People
They were high up on my agenda last year, and they remain there this. Unfortunately, what with me doing so much writing (I’m not complaining), I’m working nearly all the time and my social life has gone down the toilet.  Now that L is grown up enough to take herself to school and back most of the time, I have no excuse to hang around in the playground either.

I have, however, made good on my promise to myself and got out of the house enough times to meet some of my internet chums (do as we say, kids, not as we do!) and had a glorious time cementing friendships (narrowly avoiding the making of jelly in kettles) and discovering a professional world alongside that of the classroom. I seem to have got myself a set of much valued mentors, whose advice I very much appreciate. I’m raising a glass to you Sue, Jill, Emma, Laura, Ann, Liane, Choco, Rachel, Sinead, Marc and no way least Jon (who has a beard).

I also seem to have got myself a team of conspirators, which makes me happy – I’m raising a chocolate biscuit to Kirsty, Paul, Hayley (TeamT21), Tanya and ADZ (Team SNJ), Simon, Jarlath, Mary and Cherryl (Team Specialist).

I spoke at things.  People listened.  This is a new experience for me!
3. Camping
We went a bit mental and bought a teepee (I blame you entirely Jules). It was great. This Christmas has been the Year of Camping Gifts. By the time it comes to the summer I am investigating camp beds-that-do-not-pop.

4. Sailing 
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. We sailed all the way up to October half term! We did not win.  We came spectacularly last more than once.  We sat discussing tactics at the tea table. Sam has not needed an overly large amount of watching. I never thought the day would come.

5. Learning
This year has been the year of the Senco course.  Apart from giving me a new set of professional contacts amend a forum within which to expound my ideas, it has given me weight to bring to bear behind my half formed impressions.  It has been a bizarre and strangely emotional experience to see aspects of my life enacted in the pages of academic journals.  It has been liberating too.  I can’t say that I enjoy academic writing very much (I like long sentences, thank you, they make me feel like Virginia Woolf), but I do like engaging with ideas.

Last Christmas R bought me a camera, and this year I have learned an awful lot about how to use it. You can see my blog worth of photos here. I have been taking them lately (honest!), but I can’t download them at the moment, what with the computer being bust and all; there is a load in waiting. I have enjoyed looking closely and really thinking about what makes a good photograph; learning that an image can tell a story too. I have enormous respect for Carol, Pamela, Dawn and Nichola,who have published a photo EVERY SINGLE DAY this year, and grateful thanks to Whatonomy and Myfot for artistic and technical advice.

So next year.  What next?

1. NetworkEd
You wouldn’t think it would take so long to come up with a name for an edu conference, but there you are.  Liane, Lynda and I have been busy putting together a great day for teachers and researchers from across the sectors.  The lovely Tom and Helene from ResearchEd, Debra and Emma from Northern Rocks and Stephen from Slt Camp have been so generous and kind with advice and help (even if they do keep organising events that are too far away for me to attend!).

At the end of Feb half term we are gathering in the rather nice Park Campus of Gloucestershire  Uni to talk about education and see what PhD researchers have been up to.  Talking is important to me (make of that what you will), so there are comfy chairs, coffee and lunch, as well as three top speakers, presentations, posters and a panel debate.  There’s a media partner, even if, somewhat embarrassingly I had to ask what one was. If you want to get involved, please do let me know!  If you want  to come, please buy a ticket before they run out.

2. Primary Rocks Live
I’ll be talking about SEND.  There had better be sofas and coffee and lunch.

3. Family
I’d like everyone to stay safe and healthy, please.  I don’t want to go to any more funerals.  I’ve had enough of those this year.

4. Fitness
I need to do something about that. I’d like to get back to Zumba, but it might have to be running and Pilates.  I must make time.  It really does make me feel better.

5. Writing
I’ll keep on doing it, even if no one reads it (but I really like it when you do – and especially when you comment, even when you tell me I’m wrong).

Thanks for reading, thank you so much for taking the time to consider the vulnerable and the ignored; for giving voice to the voiceless.

Less than Human

I have found myself again, even though it is not the summer holidays, taking the kids swimming (the pool is a lot less busy).  They swim, and use up some of that pent up energy, healthy, even though it is December, and I sit, notebook on table and pen in hand, contemplating Big Questions.

I’m trying not to be distrcted by the sight of my children playing together.  There is A, making me wince by his refusal to countenance a new pair of swimming trunks to replace the ones he had when he was two, because he likes the colour.  His difficulty in extracting himself from them means nothing to him, clearly.  And L.  So tall.  She makes me goggle at how much she has grown in such a short time.  And Sam.  I never thought the day would come when he would be swimming and I would be sitting in the cafe, watching him do underwater handstands while nobody bats an eyelid.

There’s always been a bit of a disconnect between my levels of confidence in him and other people’s, you see.  R and I have those endless circular discussions about it.  He, unlike me, is unused to the role of benign observer; his anxiety levels leap the further Sam gets from easy rescue, communicting itself to others and putting them on high alert too.

Not that I blame him.  His anxiety springs from a father’s love for his child.  He wants to keep him sfe from harm, to protect him from anyone or anything that might hurt him.  He knows his son for who he is; he takes no notice of other people’s impressions.

That’s the thing about Down’s syndrome, or disability in general now that I come to think about it.  Everyone has an opinion on it, everyone seems to be an expert, knows what it is, what it means to have an extra twenty-first chromosome.  Everyone thinks they know who he is – and when they meet him, nine times out of ten they take their lead from me, or whoever is in charge at the time.

There’s this thing about being a teacher and mixing with teachers and people who love me and my family and tolerantly listen as I rant and rail in my attempts to figure it all out that it lulls you into a false sense of security.  You start off thinking it’s all about you.  It’s all about your feelings and how learning disability is going to affect your life.  After a while, and at around the point where more than your GP and health visitor are involved, you think it’s all about education.  It’s about teachers and schools and LAs and training.

And then something comes along to remind you that that isn’t the end of the story – it’s only the beginning.

Because outside of the world of eduation it turns out that it’s not very safe if you have Down’s syndrome or any otherkind of learning disability.  If you’re not careful, people might take a look at your chromosomes or your diagnosis or your scary, unrealistic mother, and decide you’re not worth saving.

It’s as if we are saying that we’re all human, it’s what defines us, this animal, imperfect life, this struggle; but not them.

Being human is all very well, but some of us, it seems, are more human than others.

The Tale of Max Tasen

Anonymous guest blog.  Needs no introduction.

Max Tasen sat back and waited for his name to appear in lights.  Various names appeared in red, accompanied by a buzz, and hobbling men, sneezing women and screaming children rose one by one,  and obediently made their way to the designated consulting rooms. Max sat, and his neck began to ache as he continued to look up at the sign above Reception.

Eventually a kindly looking lady appeared carrying a clipboard.  “Come with me,” she said.  She smiled as she took Max’ coat and briefcase; Max followed her down a long corridor where there was a  small round table and four chairs.

“Please sit down,” said the lady, gesturing to one of the chairs before popping her spectacles on the end of her nose and looking at the clipboard.  “Ah… I see you’ve just moved into the area and our GPs note you have complex health needs.  Here … have a paracetamol.”

Max stared in disbelief.  “If I thought a paracetamol was the solution to my complex health needs, I assure you I wouldn’t be here.  Have you got my medical records?”

“Not exactly. Just a few notes from Doctor asking me to look after you.  Would you like a cup of tea then?”

“No I do not want a cup of tea, thank you'” replied Max, who was by now getting rather cross by this well-meaning but rather irritating individual.  “Can you please explain to me what is going on here?”

“I’m Maureen and  I’m here to look after you this afternoon.”
“So you’re a doctor? A nurse?”

“Er no,” replied Maureen, “but I’ve been here years and spent a lot of time watching the doctors.”

“But you’re not a doctor.”
“No. I’m a doctor’s helper. You see this practice are under great pressure at the moment to reach targets for seeing a certain amount of patients per day in routine appointments and I’m afraid to say your complex needs mean that you don’t fit the criteria for a routine appointment,” explained Maureen.  “So I’m going to look after you. Are you sure you don’t want a paracetamol?”

“Quite sure thank you,” replied Max.  He leaned towards Maureen.  He frowned slightly. “Let me get this straight… You’re looking after me because the doctors are too busy with routine appointments?”

“Yes,” nodded Maureen smiling.

“Do you have any qualifications to, er, ‘Look after me’?”

“I have English and Maths ‘O’ levels and I never miss an episode of Holby City'” said Maureen proudly.

“So when do I get to see a proper doctor?” asked Max.

“I’m afraid I’m not in a position to answer that at the moment; like I said, all our doctors are flat out with routine appointments.”

“Am I to sit in this corridor all afternoon?” asked Max. “Aren’t you even going to take me to a consulting room?”

“Look, Mr Tasen,'” began Maureen (whose kindly demeanour was beginning to thin on account of the fact she’d never before had a patient who’d questioned her position as a doctor’s helper), “you parked in the routine patients’ car-park, you sat in their waiting room.  Really Mr Tasen, we go to great lengths to ensure all our patients feel part of this practice – even those with complex health needs,” and with a huff she bustled off back down the corridor towards the Reception.

“Where are you going?” Max called after her.

Maureen turned and looked scornfully at him.  “The other two patients with complex health  needs have arrived; you really didn’t think you’d have me all to yourself did you?”