I have written these #Nurture posts for a good few years, now. They encourage me to look back and to look forward – last year’s post is here – and I find them interesting and satisfying to produce. So how did last year pan out, and what are my hopes and dreams for 2022?
Work, rest and play
This year has seen a good balance of all three, I would say, despite the ongoing challenge of Covid and the restrictions inevitably imposed.
In terms of work, I have continued to offer much of the leadership development work and the coaching I do online – Zoom has lent itself well to this, and I have worked to ensure online sessions are engaging. I encourage participants to reflect and to act on the commitments to themselves which I urge them to make at the end of each online session. And since June of this year I have resumed face to face leadership training in schools and at conferences, and have travelled to Cambridge, London (several times), Leeds, Bolton and Hull in recent months. More travel is planned in the weeks ahead. Often John comes with me and we stay in a hotel and enjoy exploring new areas and finding interesting bars and restaurants. We have got to know Chipping Barnet quite well this autumn! We also enjoyed attending the GSA annual heads’ conference in Manchester together in November, including singing with the Benenden School choir at the conference service, and dancing after the formal dinner. It seemed a long time since we had danced…
A year ago I mentioned recording short films for Mary Myatt’s professional development platform, originally named ‘The Soak’ and now renamed ‘Myatt & Co’. That has continued in 2021, and I’ve enjoyed making short presentations, and contributing to webinars with Mary, including this one on stepping up to a new level of leadership. I’ve also interviewed education authors Adam Robbins, Abbie Mann and Kaley Macis-Riley, Harry Fletcher-Wood and Stephen Tierney. I was proud to be asked to write the foreword to Abbie and Kaley’s book, ‘Succeeding as an English Teacher’, and I have read, reviewed and tweeted from a number of other education books this year, in addition to continuing to write education blogs and occasional articles. I have enjoyed recording a number of podcasts and webinars and taking part in interviews for radio transmission, including this one on ‘Making the Leap’ with David McGrath for Teacher Hug Radio.
I’ve always found the company of friends and family restful, and in the early months of 2021 continued to replace meeting people for coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner with regular catch up conversations with individuals and groups of people on WhatsApp or Zoom – including the occasional quiz. My Book Clubs (I am in two, now) and choral society met, discussed and sang on Zoom until we were able to meet face to face again. So socialising, reading and singing, all important forms of relaxation for me, continued, albeit differently. As with the professional learning work I do, being able to share the same physical space again, when that became possible, was a real treat. I think we have certainly learned to appreciate these things more acutely, and I hope that continues and we don’t start to take simple pleasures for granted. Meeting Jaz, Shirley and Hannah for Sunday lunch in the summer was certainly one of the magic moments.
Two highlights were travelling to the coast – when that was permitted – in April, and having a bracing walk along the seawall and a delicious fish and chip lunch sitting outside in the spring sunshine on my birthday, and then, in May, celebrating our wedding anniversary by going out for beer and curry, something we hadn’t been able to do for so many months.
In the early months of this year we missed our (usually daily) visits to the local Health Club where we use the pool, jacuzzi and sauna, and very much appreciated resuming those when the Club reopened in April. As last summer, we have also very much enjoyed our garden, and the surrounding countryside. This year we sowed wildflower seeds in a section of the paddock, and were very pleased with the results. The poppies – one of our favourite flowers – lasted months, and one of the sunflowers we planted alongside the wildflower patch yielded an impressive 19 blooms.
Although we didn’t manage to go abroad on holiday this year – our Valencia trip having been put forward for a second time, to June 2022 if that proves possible – we had a very good short break in Devon, staying at the impressive Boringdon Hall, and enjoying walks, some wonderful meals, and a day trip to Salcombe, where I had been youth hostelling with schoolfriends in 1974…
We also travelled to York, to London (where I managed to see, at last, Tom Stoppard’s ‘Leopoldstadt’ with a friend – a booking deferred since the spring of 2020), and then to Bedford to celebrate the retirement of Fiona, one of the impressive pastoral leaders I had the privilege to work with during my years as a head. It was early July, Fiona’s garden was beautiful, and to be able to meet (outdoors, in two separate groups of 30 people) so many former colleagues and friends was joyous. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that I returned to Bedford in late August to spend time with friends I hadn’t been able to see on my first visit.
Also in August, we had a gathering in our home for a group of heads from my GSA ‘Class of 2000’ group – we all trained together in the spring of that year as we prepared to step into our headships – to celebrate the retirement of Jane, the GSA Membership Secretary who had taken up her role at the same time, and so was a firm member of our group. The banner pic to this post shows those of us who were able to be there ‘live’, with others joining us on Zoom in between our main course and dessert (John produced a wonderful meal) when we made a presentation to Jane. This was so successful that we very much hope to be able to repeat the experience annually, in different parts of the UK.
And after several attempts, four of us managed to get to Eden Hall day spa again – we had such a good time in early August that we went back again at October half term. Our friends stayed with us for two nights each time – our first overnight visitors for ages – and John, once again, cooked amazing meals for us.
My choral society managed to stage two concerts in the autumn. The second was our Carol Concert in early December. The first, ‘A Sure Refuge’, was the first performance of a cantata especially written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the voyage of the Mayflower Pilgrims, which began in this part of the world. The composer, David Fawcett, grew up in Lincolnshire, and he returned to lead two workshops with us and to conduct the performance itself in November. It was a moving experience to be part of this.
Covid has, of course, continued to cause anxiety and uncertainty about the future, but in March, May and December we had our vaccinations and we are careful, but not constantly fearful. Unfortunately, as in January and February of last year, the floodwaters rose again, compounding the issues caused by lockdown. Swans in the paddock, floodwater turning to ice when the temperature dropped, an inability to use our drive and the need to wade out of the village to reach the cars on higher ground characterised the beginning of 2021. We love our village, and very much appreciate the strong community we live in, which pulls together brilliantly at such times. But we all hope for kinder weather in the year ahead.
And a year ago, I wrote about my experience of writing fiction, and my resolution to try to find a publisher in 2021 so that what I have written might reach a wider audience. I sent the first two completed novels to a local publisher in January, and while she read and reflected, and shared them with her group of 7 beta readers, I continued writing, so that by May I had completed a third book. I met the publisher, when we were able to do so, for a coffee outside in April of this year, and she was constructive and encouraging. She said that, although she would be happy to publish ‘The Dresser’, which she and her beta readers had all loved, she advised me to try to find a larger publisher with greater contacts and a broader reach. I discovered that these larger publishers all currently say they won’t accept unsolicited submissions, and new authors need to approach them through an agent. Between May and November I worked hard on that, sending out 50 emails to potential agents, and each time I felt hopeful. But I only received rejections, or no response at all. I’ve written about rejection, feeling vulnerable and finding courage in the face of this, for @WomenEd here…
I’ve talked about the experience for Susan Pallister’s podcast, and on Malarvilie Krishnasamy’s TeachersTalk radio show. I decided that, rather than giving up on the plan to try to get the books out there, I will self-publish the three short novels in one e-volume next year. I’m hoping that, as they are short, they may be of particular interest to those looking for novels for Book Club reading and discussion. And as I am publishing all three together, those who buy the e-book shouldn’t feel short changed! The books are all different, but there are common elements, such as a focus on friendships and family relationships, secrets and the repercussions of their revelation, human frailty and growth. I suspect my target audience is likely to be women around my own age. I am hoping to work with a designer and a copy editor. I just want more people to read them!
So, bring it on, 2022! I think I’m ready for you!
And a postscript. One of my goddaughters, Sally, who was a bridesmaid, aged two, when we married in 1988, had her second baby, a little girl, in December – born in the kitchen in the middle of the night while her two year old son was asleep upstairs! They have called her Iris, which was my mum’s name…
Wishing you all a fulfilling and enjoyable year ahead. I hope it will, in fact, be a Happy New Year.