Tag Archives: listening

Are you lot professionals?

grayscale piano keys

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well the day finally came – the big brother was having his happy ever after. I was privileged to be playing for the service. 006 was of course involved, my baby cousin and another very good friend and some musical magic was made.

At the end of the service, some of the guests were complimenting us on the music and asked if we were professionals. We all laughed and said ” no, not at all. we are teachers”

Yet – being a teacher is a profession. We are professionals. Yet we don’t often think of ourselves in that way. Like the time I was speaking at a careers event and a woman said to me “oh yes, you are JUST a teacher” Aye hen – thank a teacher you can read. Just saying.

The music didn’t just happen because we had all be trained in our respective instruments and by all accounts can sight read music.

Ideas and versions of songs that would be most appropriate were kicked about via text message and you tube links. I did my usual of scribbling down some notes, 006 turned up with the sheet music printed and I quote “I know what you are like so I have printed it out for you” P came with the words printed in bold font and in a large size and L did everything on her phone.

There was a bit of time between rehearsals then another one. All were present and correct and the neighbours warned.

Another round of fine tuning, harmonies, recording, words and laughs – we were pretty much ready to go. Another rehearsal on the day.

The music for the ceremony was beautiful.

That happened because of the talented people I was playing with. Let’s not kid ourselves here – these people force me to up my game and make sure I read the music properly before taking any kind of creative licence with it. It happened because we didnt just read the music, we listened, explored, refined and rehearsed.

I have compared teaching and learning a lot to playing music with other people. I still find so many similarities it frightens me.

Then there is my Dad. He played with his band at the reception. Now HE is a pro. His quote? “Plug it in, turn it up and play”





Face down

Face down.
Aye that would be something I wasn’t expecting to hear the day after I arrived in Columbia. The things they don’t teach you at University eh?
So here I am with my little lady writing another chapter in our book of adventures.
Are you mad? Why there? Wtf? all common reactions but I was calm and told them it was for drugs and a hitman.
Ah, well that’s fine then.
I made a promise to a beautiful friend that I would come to visit her. Time to make good with the promise.Flights booked but not really a clue what I was going to do when I got here…..off we went.
First stop Madrid. Lots of people going on a cruise, returning home and heading out to Spain for the school holidays. The wee lady is a great traveller and we laugh a lot….
The plane to Columbia was clearly going to be nothing short of rammed and there seemed to be some kind of queuing system I had not been initiated into. A woman asked me in Spanish what the sketch was and I replied I had no idea but I was just happy to wait. What I can only describe as the quintessential English gentleman in his best pink shirt, chinos and blazer informed her that she had to go to ” la awtraaaah feeelah” ( la otra fila) in the loudest voice ever. He smiled and told me that would explain better to her where she needed to be and would sort it all out. Really? It was straight out of Brits abroad….I was mortified on his behalf. No amount of Rosetta Stone Input was going to sort his bog awful Spanish!
The flight was great, 4 films and a snooze later were were in Medellin.
The little lady was absolutely fantastic and immediately started speaking Spanish without any fear whatsoever. It was a joy to listen to.
Cleared customs with my giant bag of scottish blend and there was our friend waiting for us.
We were sprinted away to our finca and it was really like something from a fairytale.
The sound of the rain on the roof was welcome as were the wee birds at 5am!
The masseuse arrived and all I can say is I was rag dolled for 3 hours Colombian style. “Face down” says she. Whit?
No, seriously, it was face down, covered in a tonne of essential oil and I was pummelled by this tiny wee woman. She was just being gentle on me apparently? Really? Well, I wouldn’t want to take her a burst pay packet.
Being her first scottish person and of a slightly more rubenesque nature, she took no time in telling me what I needed to be doing to maintain my body, lose weight and hydrate my skin.
How about you, hen, take yer oil and stop putting it where it doesn’t belong, take your instruments of torture and do a bunk.
I of course did not say that and pretended to sleep.
Still it did me the world of good.
A few days in Medellin before travelling to Bogota was just what we needed.
The little lady made friends straight away and it was fab to see her play and interact even though none of them had enough of the language to hold a conversation, they just got on with it, swings, trees, picking fruit.
It’s not hard is it?
Again, despite all threats of study and travel, I’m always amazed about how much I don’t know about other cultures and how desperate I am to fill the gaps. I was also so aware that my Spanish was Spain Spanish: so many different nuances in words here and terminology. I have been like that child learning to talk and constantly asking why is that used? Why not this?
It’s really quite something.
Wonder if it could actually count as CPD?

A wee bit noisy…..

A few weekends a go was a wonderful noisy weekend with much music and emotion. I’m always amazed at the power music has to move people just like a language can.
The weekend started off playing at a wedding, many of The pieces had real significance for the couple and were very sentimental to them. You can never gauge just how people will react with your interpretation of a special song or piece for them and as a musician you are genuinely hoping you can move them back to the place that made it significant to them.
I was playing with my usual band of reprobates and the sound we manage to get is something quite special indeed. I think because we are all very at ease playing with each other and that wee nod or a look to signal either a change or phrase is something quite unique to a band of musicians who are comfortable in their own musicianship. I have written about this before but I think some examples of the best team work you will ever see will be from a music group!
My baby cousin (well not so baby now) was signing and every time I have the privilege of playing for her I still cry. However, the reaction from the guests was quite something, there were tears of joy for the couple and a big show of emotion at the music. The jewel in the crown was the flash choir signing oh happy day. Laughter, tears and an encore. So many people stopped to talk to us after it to say how much they had enjoyed the music and how much it had moved them.
I played again twice for some friends the same weekend, both having very different reactions to the music. Both tears but for very different reasons. Probably some form of cathartic release but whatever it was, it seemed to do them the world of good.
The final playing of the weekend was quite a set up. I was asked to accompany a friend for a memorial service. We didn’t really know what to expect but it was indeed something quite special. Lots of reminiscing for people and we were almost like lounge musicians. Sitting in a corner gives you a great chance to observe and take it all in. We indulged in a few of our favourites and some alternative versions of some well-known pieces that should only be played at certain times and places but by totally rearranging them it was going to take someone in the know to pick it up. One person did. We got a wink and smile, job done.
No better team than one that communicates and makes beautiful noise.

Don’t ask me, I’m just here to make up the numbers…


A few times recently I have had that question posed to me -what would you know anyway? And I don’t mean from teenagers who are flicking their hair at me.
I was recently doing some in service training with a big group of teachers and at the end of it one of them was sitting marking a pile of books, and it transpires this had been going on all through the session.
I’m thick skinned enough not to be offended by this but I was more offended by the fact that a pen was being waved at these books Ron Weasley magic wand style. Thinking I had nothing to lose I asked if they were actually looking at the work, and the reply was staggering. It didn’t matter as they were only infants.
We talked round about language learning and routines that were being employed with the class which I found interesting to say the least. When I started to scratch a bit under the surface as to the why and background to this there was an immediate leap to the defence and I was confronted with “well what would you know anyway?”
Fair point.
However if they had listened to the training,perhaps they may have gleaned that I knew a wee bit,not a lot, but a wee bit language learning.
Working with teachers gives me the chance to talk about theory, give examples of personal experience and promote discussion. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert more a sharer of ideas. So what indeed what would I know?
It happened again this week and I had to laugh. I would never dream of asking someone in a different profession what would they know, as it would be a damn sight more than me.
Yet again, this was fired at me from someone outside of teaching. What would I know?
All I have is my experience, stories of well meaning interactions, successes -both personal and professional and whole host of ” what was I thinking” examples.
All learning.
Both for me and my students.
I don’t claim to be an expert, I love what I do and am passionate about all aspects of teacher education and making a difference to learners.
What would I know?
I know my learners. I know my subject. I have an idea of what can work.
And I know that when I listen, I learn.

I was secretly delighted this week to see some of my favourite edu bloggers giving a wee bit away about themselves this weekend. There are so many people I enjoy reading but it does make me feel somewhat rubbish as you see the amazing things they are able to do, to inspire and convey. Then they let you in a wee bit more and you realise they may be your hero but they have days off too.
They might spend the day in their pjs, they might also have a small refreshment with their friends, or even walk the dog. To which I am doing my best chorus of ” like normal people”
I have a friend whom I don’t get to see nearly as much as I would like and they talk about a dr.seuss day – I have written about this before. I remember we planned what we would do if we had such a day….
I think we have the dr.seuss days everyday but maybe don’t always realise it.
Saturday chez les parents is a just a big mess of teenage boys ( the nephews) the grad parents and The little lady and I. ( oh yes, big bro and his good lady)
The chat has developed into something that we all look forward to as we talk about school, uni, their inability to have a social life due to computers and how much we hate their dog.
The chat with them is real genuine conversation filter removed.
One of the topics was the recent maths exam with me ( once again) saying how I have never used anything other than adding up and percentages ( for the sales of course) since leaving school. The little lady asked if they were speaking another language when they started on quadratic equations. ( pass the fork till I poke out my eye) we then debated the new headline about letting children start school later. 4 teenage boys agreed this would be good as you could have a long lie and play your computer. When I explained it actually meant going to school at 7 years old they were not so convinced. Second oldest nephew is growing his hair and said is curls were better than mine, to which ensued a shampoo shaming. My unruly curls clearly winning on this one. The wee lady suggested they stay to watch a movie with us to which they politely declined. Her quip ” so are you going home to play your computers on your own and just talk to your computer friends?
Out of the mouth of babes.
However, we laughed, chatted and then waved off the teenage turtles in flurry of high fives, hugs and super auntie kisses. Reminding them that I was the favourite auntie……
Teenagers are bonkers. I was of course born sensible. Just having that room for discussion and to hear the honesty about their hopes and dreams and sometimes misguided ideas reminds me how important it is to take the time to listen but to be honest in how to listen. To question, to challenge gently, to look at a different idea…..
And of course to lick a chip and offer it.
Yes, if carlsberg made a dr.seuss family day, that was it.
Enough about me, let’s get back to the educational stuff…..

Group work? pass the rockstar


Music as always been a huge part of our family life and going to hear my dad play is always a joy. When he retired he joked about going in to schools to work with children on team working and collaborative learning, he may have landed on a winner.
On Friday we were at home to hear my dad play and I was with my best friend and we were reminiscing about how we had been going to the same place for 20 years to hear dad play. He still gets the same joy from collaborating and working with new musicians as well as established musical soul mates.
The interaction between the people he has played with for a long time is extraordinary and I have written about it before. It’s subtle nod, a raise of the eyebrow or even a gesture from the singer. It really is like watching a beautifully choreographed dance, when all it really is, is a wonderful example of group work.
I remember dad coming to the rescue for a fundraiser I had organised as a young teacher and he agreed to MC and hold the staff band together. I watched him come in, talk to tall the musicians, put them at ease and when they asked for a rehearsal, he smiled and said his famous phrase, ” just plug it in son and turn it up” I watched these grown men turn into boys as my dad nodded to them for their middle 8 solo. It was a great moment to see teachers pushed right out their comfort zone but just diving in, head first and rocking the middle 8 I may add.
New group members, but he was in his element and got an amazing sound out of them with his own brand of musical magic.
On Friday he was playing on home turf with an eclectic bunch of musicians. The age range was about 26-68 and I suspect most of the set list was written before some of them were born, while my dad was on bass he was in his zone. Despite not having played with some of the musicians for a while, they clicked straight away and the sound was amazing. They wee signals were there and they all responded in kind. Slowing down, speeding up, taking a solo, encouraging each other…. A lot of subtle ” go on my son” was going on.
Dad then played a bit of rhythm guitar and immediately the lead guitarist shifter so that dad could see what he was doing. I remember years ago watching a concert with Barbra Streisand singing from her garden. She was joined by Barry agin and at one point she was nodding to him with her perfect boy swinging along in time.on asking what she was doing, mum told me that she was keeping him right with the time. That physical encouragement to keep someone on the right road. The lead guitarist who was a bairn kept my dad in check and there was no ego, no pressure, just a group of musicians who were encouraging each other to play the best they could to get the best possible sound and to enjoy every minute of it.
Even when they were out their comfort zone they understood how all of their talents fitted together, they listened to each other, they responded to each other and the end result was phenomenal.
I imagine the first time they played it must have been different but if you ever needed a good example of group work……around yourself with rock stars ( weans) , plug-in and turn it up. ( start them off and stand back.)

Instant star.

You did ask…..


I like asking questions. I don’t like people asking me a lot of them but I do find that I am constantly asking to try to understand or to see things in a different way. ( given I have been told I am 50 shades of black and white) I suppose I don’t always listen to the answers even if I hear them.
A few instances this week have made me think about questions and the how and why.
I was invited to take part in some fairly challenging discussion about provision and sustainability of language learning with a primary head teacher. We have had animated discussions in the past but I was looking forward to chatting if not sparring.
Eventually it was me who asked the question” how much are we talking? ” we could have dressed it up but that was never going to get anything done. I learned very early in my teaching career that the best way for me to get on was to have a solution rather than another problem. We looked at some creative solutions and questioned the impact it would have on learners. All with cake of course. We decided that we needed to be bold and to engage with teachers to take forward a vision that would work. That will inevitably bring questions, good questions.
I then found myself between two ICT professionals who like my photographer friends speak another language. I’m lucky enough that one of the, knows me well enough to frequently draw me a picture. Not being very tech savvy when it comes to anything more in-depth than the on button. I watched as the two of them got animated talking about stuff and asked what it really meant in terms of time and manpower. Cut to the chase why don’t you? However, I was indulged, my questions were answered and we’ve come away with a solution.
My visits have now started to my student teachers and very often they will ask for “even more feedback” and despite having a reputation for being a dragon at times, I don’t believe in going scattergun and destroying confidence and professional ideas. Questioning is key in getting people to reflect but when the “and why would you think that would work?” is asked, it shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a criticism.
Another question is “and the rationale is?” Various discussions recently have been anImated about the design of curriculum and pathways. It always brings out the worst in me, particularly where the question that is never asked is why not?
We don’t do that here. Why not?
Our kids wouldn’t BUY into that? Why not?
Questions about the bigger picture and change always make people uncomfortable, yet the only way we are going to get the best for our young people and ourselves is to ask the right questions to better inform what we do.
A bit of enthusiasm, a willingness to actively listen and knowing the right action to take is a start. Worked a wee treat last week.
Educating for the bigger picture. With cake and sparkly shoes.