Category: Book Notes

Top Books of 2018

I set myself a target to read 52 books in 2018; and so far I have read 52 books. I suspect the count will be 54 – as I have one book I have nearly finished and I suspect I will come across a book that I did not log at some point in the next few months. This is less than in previous years – however I have not counted most of the academic reading I have done; this is as it is mostly academic journals and sections of books rather than complete books.

To log and record my reading I use goodreads; you can see all my 2018 reads listed here. My full profile on the site is available at https://www.goodreads.com/gceyre which catalogues all my reading. This year I have also catalogued the books my wife and I own as part of our house moving project. This is using librarything and tiny cat – this has created a searchable catalogue which is useful when you have a fair number of books in different formats and locations. The full catalogue can be viewed here: https://www.librarycat.org/lib/gceyre

When I viewed my list of 2018 reads there were none that were stand out amazing books. However if I was have to come up with a top five they would be:

Best Education Read – How I wish I’d Taught Maths – Craig Barton

Although I am not a Maths teacher this was a great read – it was able to mix practical advice with the theory that underpins it. There is something in this book for everyone; not just Maths teachers! Craig has a down to earth writing style with all the tips routed in his experience as a classroom teacher.

Best Non-Fiction Read – First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents and the Pursuit of Power  – Kate Anderson Brower

This year was dominated with a number of high profile ‘tell all’ style books about US Politics. This book took a very different approach – there was information about the current Trump administration but it was not exclusively about the Trump/Pence relationship, but instead talked about the role of the Vice President in a historical context. This is a quick and easy read and balances politics with the personal stories.

Best ‘Geography’ Read – Divided: Why We’re Living in an Age of Walls – Tim Marshall

This book is all about borders and not just the US/Mexico border. The walls discussed in the book are also not just physical walls but much broader. I have blogged about this book separately here. An interesting fact from the start of the book is: At least sixty-five countries, more than a third of the world’s nation-states have built barriers along their borders; half of those erected since the Second World War sprang up between 2000 and now. Within a few years, the European nations could have more miles of walls, fences and barriers on their borders than there were at the height of the Cold War.

Best ‘Fiction’ Read –  Stolen Prey (Lucas Davenport #22) – John Sandford

This book typifies nearly half of the books I read – fairly disposable crime fiction / thrillers. The likes of Lee Child, Ian Rankin, and Michael Connelly. However I choose this book because it is the first I read by John Sandford and the first I read of the Lucas Davenport series, though the 22nd in the series! I have since read a few more in the series and will probably finish the back catalogue throughout 2018. Frustrating the library does not have all of the older books so some I have had to resort to buying second hand on AbeBooks.

Best ‘Academic’ Read  – Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research – Barney Glaswer and Anselm Strauss

The reason why this book made the list as it is an accessible academic read – many academic books are not accessible or I do not read them all as only part is relevant. This book was both accessible and relevant. It clearly laid out grounded theory as a research methodology and gave practical advice for the researcher.

Reading Bestsellers

TitleDate
Read
This is going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor – Adam KayNov 2017
The Midnight Line – Lee ChildNov 2017
Becoming – Michelle ObamaDec 2018
The Rooster Bar – John GrishamDec 2018
Camino Island – John GrishamOct 2017
Fire and Fury – Michael WolfFeb 2018
No Middle NameJul 2017
Munich – Robert HarrisDec 2017
Prisoners of Geography – Tim MarshallJul 2015
Why I am no longer talking to White People About RaceOct 2017

The list shows that I read 10 of the 100 bestselling paperbacks and hardbacks of 2018. This is based on sales from 31st December 2017 to 8th December 2018. Some of the books on this list I suspect it refers to the paperback version and I will have red the hardback version.

Goals for 2019

My only reading goal for 2019 is to read; and so again I will set myself a target of 52 books

Notes from ‘Shadow Work: the unpaid, unseen jobs that fill your day.’

This book starts with the premise that lives are getting busier, time is not vanishing but free time is. The author states that we find ourselves doing a stack of jobs we never volunteered for, chores that showed up in our lives below the scan of awareness. The are the incoming tidal wave of shadow work. Shadow work includes all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organisations. The author’s key aim is to make the unconscious conscious.

Examples of shadow work:

  • Pumping our own gas (this is an American book)
  • Scanning and bag our own groceries
  • Assembling our own Ikea furniture
  • Washing and sorting recycling

Computers are a key source of shadow work. They require i sto delete span, book travel, and manage dozens of usernames and passwords. Gift cards, which give you the job of choosing and buying a gift for yourself come wrapped in shadow work.

Shadow work is empowered by four major forces:

  1. Technology and robotics
  2. Democratisation of expertise – the average person can now retrieve knowledge once monopolised by experts.
  3. Information Dragnet – institutions dedicated to collect data.
  4. Evolving social norms.

Historically automation has cut jobs at the point of production. Shadow work deletes jobs at the point of sale – for example checkouts, self check-in, online shopping. Shadow work that requires no training can spread readily. There are however benefits of shadow work. An example cited by the book is the ‘Ikea Effect’. Although buying furniture from Ikea creates significant hidden work, making something boost the makers sense of pride and competence.

One way to fight back against shadow work is to hire others. Taking on others, turning unpaid tasks into paid ones. This links to the fact that time is money, and any unit of time can be turned into money. The author goes on to give the example that although secretaries still exist only high-level executives have someone to help them through their daily routine. Receiving live human service has become a mark of the elite.

The penultimate chapter focuses on the shadow work generated by technology – applying upgrades, learning new processes, changing passwords. The author talks about the multi-billion dollar valuation of facebook comes about due to the content generated by its users.

The book ends predicting that shadow work will grow, as it provides large rewards to businesses and organisations.

Divided – Why we’re living in an age of walls

I have previously blogged about one of Tim Marshall’s other books, Prisoners of Geography, this can be read here. He has also published another book Worth Dying For: The Power of Politics and Flags; I have read this but not put my notes on the blog. Over half term I devoted some to reading his most recent novel – Divided: Why we’re living in an age of walls.

This book, like Tim’s other books, is a great primer in global geopolitics. It is an accessible global tour which looks at walls through the theme of walls. Although the focus is on walls (both physical and virtual) the novel explores wider themes of togetherness and the identity of the nation-state.

In the paragraphs that follow I have attempted to summarise some of the key points of the article.

“Today, no walls can seperate humanitarian or human rights crisis in one part of the world from national security crisis in another. What begins wiht the failur to uphold the dignity of one life all too often ends with a calamity for entire nations.” – Kofi Annan

There is a surge to build more walls. ‘In recent years, the cry ‘Tear down this wall’ is using this argument against ‘fortress mentality’. It is struggling to be heard, unable to compete with the frightening heights of mass migration, the backlash against globalisation the resurgence of nationalism, the collapse of Communism and the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. These are the fault lines that will shape our world for years to come. Thousands of miles of walls and fences have gone up around the world in the twenty-first century. At least sixty-five countries, more than a third of the world’s nation-states have built barriers along their borders; half of those erected since the Second World War sprang up between 2000 and now. Within a few years, the European nations could have more miles of walls, fences and barriers on their borders than there were at the height of the Cold War.

 

Division shapes politics at every level – the personal, local, national and international. It’s essential to be aware of what has divided us, and what continues to do so, in order to understand what’s going on in the world today.

 

The book takes a regional approach and looks at a number of different case studies.

 

China

 

Let’s say your family is registered as non-agricultural Shanghai. This immediately gives you access to a wide range of health and education services in the city. For example, according to a paper in the China Economic Review, funding per pupil in Beijing in 1998 was twelve times greater than in Guizhou province, the ratio then increases to fifteen in 2001. O”n the other hand, if your family is registered as agricultural from a farming region 1,000 miles west of Shanghai, the schools have access to are way below the standard of those in Shanghai, as is the limited range of social services. Moreover, your work consists of back-breaking labour, which sometimes results only in subsidence farming.

 

As recently as 2005, only 10 percent of the population had access to the internet. Now, however, the figure is 50 percent and rising. That’s about 700 million users, which is roughly a quarter of the world’s online population. And that is harder to control. The level of censorship varies between the regions; for example, in Tibet and Xinjiang the firewalls are both higher and deeper. A university student in Shanghai might get away with using a VPN to access a banned foreign news source, but no one in the Uighur capital of Urumqi would probably receive an invitation to discuss the technology at the city policy HQ.

 

United States

 

For months, Mr. Trump has been promising to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to help curb illegal immigration into the USA. Though he appears mostly to ‘consult his own genius’, even before he entered the White House he was informed of the expense of wall building, the political opposition to it and, of equal importance, the terrain upon which the wall was to be built. Speeches about ‘a wall, a great big beautiful wall’ played well with his core support, but that is a poor basis upon which to found a massive engineering project, and the plans in his head soon ran into a wall of reality – and the quicksand of Washington DC.

 

The Great Wall of China aimed to separate the civilized world from the barbarians; Trump’s wall aims to separate Americans from non-Americans. IT’s the concept of the nation that units Americans- and now, for some, Trump’s wall signifies the preservation and sanctity of that concept. It ensures the idea of making ‘America Great Again’ and symbolises the support that exists for putting ‘America First’.

 

Ultimately, very few barriers are impenetrable. People are resourceful, and those desperate enough will find a way around, under or over them. Extra barriers simply push would-be illegal immigrants further and further into unguarded, unpopulated areas. These are often in the desert and usually have to be crossed on foot, meaning that thousands of people die from exposure as they attempt to make it to the Promised Land.

 

Other presidents have fortified the border with Mexico, but Trump’s wall is particularly divisive because it represents a specific moment in US history. The politics of building the wall isn’t just about keeping Mexicans out. A border defines a nation, and Trump’s wall is attempting to define what America is – both physically and ideologically.

 

The chapter on the United States ends when Tim Marshall quotes Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:
‘The pundits like to slice and dice our country into … red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats … But I’ve got news for them … We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states, and yes, we’ve got gay friends in the red states … We are one people”.

 

India

 

On India’s frontier with Bangladesh is the longest border fence in the world. It runs along most of the 2,500-miles boundary which India warps around its much smaller neighbour; the only part of Bangladesh completely free of it is its 360-mile -long coast at the Bay of Bengal. The fence zigzags from the Bay northwards, along mostly flattish ground, up towards the more hilly country near Nepal and Bhutan, takes a right turn along the top of the country, then drops down south again, often through heavily forested areas, back to the sea. It passes through plains and jungle, beside rivers and over hills. The territories on each side are heavily populated and in many areas the ground is cultivated as close to the barrier as possible, which means the crops grown often touch the divide.

 

Despite these measures, the Indian fence fails to stop people from trying to cross. They continue to do so despite the barbed wire, and despite the fact that border guards have shot dead hundreds of people attempting to get into India, as well as many other wanting to return to Bangladesh surreptitiously after being in India illegally.  (Page 124)

 

India is a magnet for migrants. It is a democracy, there are laws to protect minorities, and compared to its neighbours it has a thriving economy. Refugees and illegal immigrants have flocked there from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Tibet, Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are least 110,000 Tibetans who have fled since China annexed their territory in 1951, around 100,000 Tamil Sri Lankans who arrived during the island’s civil war earlier this century and the up heavily in Afghanistan have seen a steady flow of people to India. But by far the greatest number of immigrants are from Bangladesh, which is surrounded by India on three sides.

 

In the twenty-first century Indian society is far from ‘deadened’ – indeed India is a vibrant, increasingly important country, embracing a range of high-tech industries – and yet within it are millions of barriers to progress for tens of millions of its citizens. The walls around India are designed to keep people out, and this within to keep people down.

 

Africa

 

There’s a wall at the top of Africa. It is a wall of sand, of shame and of silence. The Moroccan Wall runs for 1,700 miles through  Western Sahara and not parts of Morocco. The whole construction separates what Morocco terms its Southern Provinces along the Atlantic coast from the Free Zone in the desert interior – an area the Sahrawi people call the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. It is built of sand piled almost 7 feet high, with a backing tranch and millions of landmines stretching several miles into the desert on each side of the barrier. It is thought to be the longest continuous minefield in the world. Every three miles or so there is a Moroccan Army outpost containing up to forty troops, some of whom patrol the spaces between the bases, while two and a half miles back from each major post are rapid-reaction mobile units, and behind those artillery bases.

 

Independence movements struggle for recognition and self-determination. The idea of the nation-state, having developed in Europe, spread like wildfire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, calling for the self-determining government for a ‘nation’ of people – a group who to some degree share a historic, ethnic, cultural, geographical or linguistic community.

 

The first generation of leaders of the independent African states understood that any attempt to redraw the colonial maps might lead to hundreds of mini-wars, and so decided they would work with the existing lines in the hope that they could build genuine nation states and thus reduce ethnic divisions. However, most leaders then failed to implement policies to unit their peoples within these borders, instead relying on brute force and repeating the colonialists’ trick of divide and rule. The many different peoples thrown together in these newly minted nation-states had not had the beneficial experience of settling their differences and coming other over centuries. Some states are still struggling with contradictions built into their systems by colonialism.

 

Europe

 

Tim also presents an interesting viewpoint on the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, the wall, judged by its raison d’être, can be called a success. It not known how many successfully crossed, but it is estimated that the figure is only around 5,000; the mass exodus had been halted. The East German economy began to stabilise after its workforce was imprisoned, and by the mid-1960s the state had control over its trade and currency and was capable of functioning, along with the rest of the Russian empire’s vassal states.  (Berlin Wall)

 

UK

 

Hadrian’s Wall must have been quite a sight for the ‘primitive’ island times. Built-in 122 CE, it was m73 miles long and parts of it were 15 feet high and 10 feet deep. A 13 foot deep, 30 foot-wide-fighting fetch was dug in front of it. Between the two were thickets of spikes. Over the course of 1,500 years, Hadrian’s Wall, a symbol of the great reach of the Roman Empire – as well as its limitations – almost disappeared. After the Romans left, it fell into disrepair. Farmers took bits of it to build house and sheep pens, the burgeoning Christian communities took more for churches, and little by little, as the memory of the Romans in Britain faded, so did their wall crumble into the landscape they had sought to conquer. And even now, in the twenty-first century, with much of the wall long gone, even though most of it actually lies south of the Scottish border, the Roman fortification still symbolises one of the main divisions in what, paradoxically, remains the United Kingdom.

 

The book concludes with a proverb ‘Good fences make good neighbours’. We are planning for a future in which we hope for the best and fear the worst, and because we fear, we build walls. Tim Marshall concludes by saying “so although at present the nationalism and identity politics are once again on the rise, there is the potential for the arc of history to bend back towards unity.

“Each man is an island unto himself. But thorugh a sea of difference may divide us, an entire world of commonality lies beneath.” – James Rozoff

Notes from “In America” by Caitriona Perry

I received this book for Christmas ,it was an interesting read on the current political situation in the United States, as well as some parallels with the UK. Below are the key notes I took from the book:

The book opens by summarising who did not vote for Donald Trump: 58% of women did not vote for Donald Trump, 92% of black people didn’t, 71% of Hispanic people didn’t, 42% of white people didn’t, 55% of those who were college educated didn’t.  The author then explains why despite his flaws why people did vote for Donald Trump.

Although Donald Trump grew up in a wealthy household, went to good schools, went to work with his farther earning a good salary and has never had to worry about where his next meal is coming from or if he has a warm coat and boots for winter, he connects with people who have none of his privilege and all of those worries. He is straight talking. He doesn’t use fancy words. He speaks in simple language. His election slogans were straightforward and memorable. He uses simple language. His election slogans were straightforward and memorable. He uses slang and common parlance. He talks ‘dirty’ on occasion – remember the Access Hollywood ‘grabbing’ tape? He talks ‘mean’ on occasion – as evidenced in the election-campaign debates: the tone was lowered there like never before in an election cycle. He wears a baseball cap with an ill-fitting suit and a wind-defying comb-over. There is nothing ‘fancy’ in his appearance. He, in many ways, is the everyman – and yet in no way is he the everyman.

It’s starting how many times people mention Donald Trump’s children as a qualification that he will make a good president. It’s regularly the response to question on how voters can agree with his- at times – racist, sexist, xenophobic comments. ‘I don’t like that,’ they’ll say, ‘but he’s reared fantastic children, so he can’t be all that bad.’ I’ve learned America is still quite a conservative place at heart. ‘For all the bling and swagger, the American Dram, for many, means creating a good life for their children, getting them an education and a good start in life. The Trump children embody that legacy.

Of the thirteen counties in Texas that have a border with Mexico, Trump only secured a victory in three, which is a stark statement on the desire for a border wall among those who will actually have to live with it.

The book profiles voters who did vote for Trump. Nancy was afraid that if Hilary Clinton had been elected that she would have put ‘liberal judges’ on the Supreme Court bench. That she said, would have meant the US was headed ‘down the drain’. She shakes her head and gets as agitated as a genteel older lady can when she says she can’t believe that Christians would vote for ‘people like her, that believes in gay rights, abortion and everything that’s sinful, when God calls it “abomination”.

I’m a 100 percent Trump man. What is it about him that makes me excited? I guess, in a word, it would be sovereignty. The same reasons that my grandparents left Ireland at the time of the civil war – Donald Trump wants to make sure that America has security. A secure border, a secure economy and people are secure in their homes and in their persons.

In Pike County, Ohio – 66.1 percent of voter picked Donald Trump, compared with 49.3 percent who voted for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Ohio is a true swing state: it flips and flops between Republicans and Democrats. Only once since 1944 have Ohioans not voted for the person who ultimately became president. That was in 1960 when they voted for Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy.

Almost three out of every five American households are in the same income bracket as they were in 2008. That’s nearly a decade without financial improvements. A sense of failure causes a feeling of anger, not just a financially driven anger but also a cultural and demographic anger, a thought process along the lines of ‘I’m not doing as well as I had hoped to do, but not only that, others are doing between than I am’. And by those ‘others’, they often mean newcomers.

Note and Key Takeaway points from ‘The Naked Leader’

This book is a general leadership book and is self-described as ‘The bestselling guide to unlimited success’. It takes a unique approach – as a choose your own adventure book with the author advising you to at the end of each short chapter (there are 51 in the 340-page book) go to the next chapter of your choosing based on choices at the end of the chapter. I ignored this advice, and instead read it from cover to cover. I think it provides lots of useful advice; although most are uncontextualised. This is useful however in some ways as it means the reader can apply it to their own context.

The rest of this post lists some of the takeaways or quick lists that I would like to remember.

The formula for guaranteed success:

  1. Know where you want to go.
  2. Know where you are now.
  3. Know what you have to do, to get where you want to go.
  4. Do it!

The seven principles of Naked Leadership:

  1. Succes is a formula, and it is simple.
  2. This formula does not ‘belong’ to anyone – it belongs to everyone.
  3. To be successful, you need rely on no one other than yourself.
  4. Succes is whatever you want it to be, it is yours to define.
  5. Success can happen very fast, often in a heartbeat.
  6. Everyone has value, can be anything they want, and is a leader.
  7. The biggest mystery of life, is to discover who we truly are.

The top five human motivators:

  1. A sense of personal power and mastery over others.
  2. A sense of personal pride and importance.
  3. Financial security and success.
  4. Reassurance of self-worth and recognition of efforts.
  5. Peer approval and acceptance.

The benefits of a mentor – to the person being mentored:

  • A mentor can assist, and transform personal and career development.
  • He or she can also be a sounding board, perhaps before a major presentation.
  • If the mentor is more senior, there are opportunities to learn.
  • with a mentor, people feel the organisation is taking a genuine interest in them, and what they are trying to achieve. This is highly motivating.

Leadership is a skill and a habit. Like most skills and habits, one that improves with practice. As we become more skilled – the habit takes over – we worry less about the mechanics of doing it and focus more on the outcomes to be achieved.

What are the skills and attributes that are demonstrated by great future leaders:

  1. Wider vision – a compelling future plan – shiny, relevant, and involving other people in its development.
  2. Personal profile – a high profile and visibility – know everyone’s name by heart.
  3. Warrior – ability to take account and lead by example.
  4. Alliances and Friendship – form powerful alliances with other companies, directors and external groups.
  5. Spirit – higher self – at one with themselves and have their lives in balance. Combine an energetic spirit with a sense of priority and perspective and know how to relax.
  6. Imagination and mind skills.
  7. The ability to inspire.

Five pitfalls of leadership:

  1. Mistaking position for power – respect has to be earned.
  2. Practicing communication and not openness.
  3. Providing answers instead of guidance.
  4. Putting popularity before respect.
  5. Being visible but not available.

Rules for email communication.

  1. Be aware of the impact of the written word – it is direct and often comes across as aggressive. To overcome this make emails friendly – dear name and end on a friendly note avoiding kind regards. Always read through before sending it.
  2. Never send an email reply when you are angry – it starts a negative spiral that can be difficult to break.
  3. Avoid copy-copy disease. Only include who is necessary.
  4. Ensure your emails are crystal clear.
  5. Never give bad news by email.
  6. Never include information on other companies in emails.
  7. Be aware of information on individuals.
  8. Avoid / limit personal emails / non-work correspondence.
  9. Electronic communication is no different than other communication.

Notes from “This Much I know about Mind over Matter…”

John Tomsett, Headteacher at Huntington School in York is one educational blogger you should be following (https://johntomsett.com/); and on Twitter (@johntomsett). Has written two books; the first about his ideas on creating a positive school culture (well worth a read!). This second book is specifically about issues surrounding mental health in schools. Tomsett has a really readable style in which he discusses his personal and family history; alongside what works in his school and linked to bigger ideas and the views of others.

This book starts with a quote:

“It used to be the ‘C’ word – cancer – that people wouldn’t discuss. Now it’s the ‘M’ word. I hope pretty soon it’ll be okay for everone to talk openly about their mental health without fear of being treated differently” – Ruby Wax

The opening chapter of the book talks about the increase in mental health issues in young people, and also the growing obsession with results and the resultant increase in exam anxiety. This is something I have seen an increase in over my 10 years of teaching; and something experienced by my wife, who works in student support at a Russell Group university.

Part of a key feature of this book is interviews with others conducted by John Tomsett; this is with Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas. She talks, among many other things about the fact we talk about young peoples mental health and in some ways directly tell them they can’t cope with the trials of life. However, what we don’t do is effectively give them strategies to cope. This is something that is really important, and something the school I work in is partially addressing through the Strengthening Minds Programme (https://strengtheningminds.co.uk/); although this is not something I am directly involved in.

The book not only talks about mental health issues surrounding young people; but also that of teachers. There are some mental health issues that are linked to the nature of the job; this is summed up by Tomsett on Page 87:

“Teaching is a selfless job. We spend a whole career prioritising the needs of others over our own. And teaching is a bloody hard job. I know we don’t go down a mine to dig for coal, or clean the underground railway track all night, or fight for our country, or perform heart bypass surgery, b ut teaching expertly for five hours a day takes some doing. When dicussing the difficulty of teachin ga class of therty students, Lee Shulman says, ‘The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable compelxity would b ein the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster’.”

John also discusses the culture of fear in education; linked to the aforementioned pressure on results. He talks about how this culture of fear breeds backside covering. He goes on to say that this can lead to a huge amount of extensive interventions; so that if results are disappointing you can turn around and say that although the results are rubbish you tried lots of things. He talks about the importance of confidence and doing fewer things well.

This is summed up by the image on page 178:

Tomsett quotes Rita Pierson’s TED talk (video here):

Teafching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Evry chid deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they befcome the best they can possibly be.

The book then goes on to discuss how this is implemented through the tutor programme. This is implemented through GREAT conversations (Goals-Resilience-Effort-Attitude-Tools). Page 184-190 provides some more details on this and gives questions that are used in framing the conversations. The book then talks about providing strategies for students to tackle problems; specifically exam papers, and Maths problems (among others).

He concludes by talking about the steps his school is taking to tackle mental health over the longer-term and concludes with his own and his families story. The final section talks about the value of a policy in his school – every student is spoken to by the teacher in every lesson. This is something I try to do, but reading this has resolved me to be more systematic about it.

The book is available on Amazon here.

Notes on: Understanding the improved performance of disadvantaged pupils in London

This report came out in September 2015, and I printed it off to read about a year after it was published; and I am only now sitting down to read through it now, so it is now 25 months old. Working in high performing inner city schools it was of interest (although obviously not that much interest as I would have read it sooner!).

The report looks at evidence that London is an educational success story, but this success is not new and was present from the mid-1990s. The difference in the ethnic mix compared to other disadvantaged areas can explain only one-sixth of this increase. Looking at all factors the change is mainly attributable to gradual improvements in school quality rather than differences or changes in the effects of pupil and family characteristics.

The report sets some context relating to London; it is the 23rd largest city in the world; and 45% of Londoners come from a White-British background, compared to 80% across England and Wales. London is very different from the rest of the country in ways that could influence trends in educational performance.

There are also differences in the school provision in London compared to the rest of the country; due to the higher population density there are higher levels of choice and competition compared with other areas of the country. Teachers are younger and less experienced; there are higher levels of teacher pay, to cope with the higher cost of living, and there is relatively higher funding, to cope with the higher costs associated with London. However, a study quoted Greaves (2014) states that most of these details are longstanding.

The report then goes on to present what they call ‘basic empirical facts’:

Fact #1 – The performance of disadvantaged pupils in London in exams at age 16 has improved substantially, starting from the mid-1990s onwards.

Fact #2 – The characteristics of disadvantaged pupils in London are very different from those outside of London, and in ways that matter for pupil attainment.

Disadvatnaged pupils in inner London are much less likely to come from a white-British background, 13% in inner London, whereas 76% outside of London.

Fact #3 – Improvements in performance are not restricted to secondary schools; large improvements in primary school results can be seen from the late 1990s onwards.

Fact #4 – The London Effect is small at age 5, before growing between ages 5 and 11 when children are in primary school.

The next part of the paper goes into to provide statistical evidence to support these facts. The methodology is detailed and well laid out; though would be difficult for me to summarise in a meaningful way. The paper fails to provide a list of strategies or conclusive reasons for this increase; however, this is not the purpose of the paper.

The full paper can be read here: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/spcc/wp21.pdf.

Notes from: Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minute a Day

This book is a slight understatement; it does not provide techniques to produce a dissertation in only 15 minutes a day; it does, however, provide some tips for writing dissertations.

When writing it is important to get things written; even if the quality is not perfect there should be some degree of daily writing, this should be between three and six pages daily, allowing yourself one day a week off. There is a need to keep writing every day, much of it will be junk writing, but the writing will allow ideas to shape themselves and arguments will begin to develop. Furthermore, don’t waste words, whenever you have ideas write it down. Have somewhere to write it down; develop the habit of writing down those bright ideas that come to you while you’re on the run.

When you are looking at writing and filtering it down, try to summarise a paragraph in a single sentence, it has too many ideas this can form a structure for a future series of paragraphs.

When you have set up your writing process reflect on it:

  • How do you feel about the writing process you’re using?
  • Do you feel that your process is doing what you need it to do?
  • Are you writing regularly, with reasonable ease?
  • Are you able to focus clearly on your writing?
  • Is the place you have chosen to write working well for you?
  • Are you reading too much? Enough?
  • Are you letting too many things get in the way of your writing?
  • Are you well organised so you can get your work done without having to step over either psychological or literal obstacles?
  • Is the process you’ve set up efficient?

Bolker also provides a list of strategies for revising drafts:

  • Work on one chapter at a time until you’re well along in the process; only then you should struggle with the final shape of the whole.
  • Consider leaving the revision of both the introduction and conclusion until last.
  • When you are unsure of your argument or the shape of a chapter, make an outline of what you have.
  • Leave editing at the individual word leave for last.
  • Remember the saddest rule of editing: less is more.
  • Use your eyes – a page of one paragraph is daunting to read; one that consists of very short paragraphs looks superficial.
  • Use your breath – if you can’t read a sentence without turning blue, it needs more punctuation.
  • Finally, paradoxically, realize you will never get your dissertation perfect, at some point, you’ll have to stop fiddling with it and send it off into the world.

BOLKER, J. 1998. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis, New York, Henry Holt and Company.

What Happened – Hilary Rodham Clinton

Like many, I followed the 2016 US Election, particularly as I was teaching US Government and Politics for most of the election period – though I would probably follow it closely anyway. I found the result difficult to accept -as the leader of the US has a global impact.

This book begins by Hilary providing a summary of her book; in the introduction, she states: “Now when people ask how I’m doing, I say that, as an American, I ‘m more worried than ever-but as a person, I’m doing okay.” She goes on to say “I will always be grateful to have been the Democratic Party’s nominee and to have earned 65,844,610 votes from my fellow Americans. That number – more votes than any candidate for President has ever received, other than Barack Obama – is proof that the ugliness we faced in 2016 does not define our country.”

She quotes Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We can disagree about policies and values, but claiming that 2+2=5 and having millions of Americans swallow it is very different.

She talks about making mistakes and says: “The truth is, everyone’s flawed. That’s the nature of human beings. But our mistakes alone shouldn’t define us. WE should be judged by the totality of our work and life. Many problems don’t have either/or answers, and a good decision today may not look as good ten or twenty years later through the lens of new conditions. When you’re in politics, this gets more complicated. We all want- and the political press demands – a “storyline”, which tends to cast people as either saints or sinners. You’re either revered or reviled. And there’s no juicier political story than the saint who gets unmasked as a sinner. A two-dimensional cartoon is easier to digest than a fully formed person.”

She talks candidly about Donald Trumps debate performance: “Trump wouldn’t answer any question directly. He was rarely linear in his thinking or speaking. He digressed into nonsense and then digressed even more. There was no point in refuting his arguments like it was a normal debate – it was almost impossible to identify what his arguments even were, especially since they changed minute to minute.”

She talks about changemakers, explaining “Change might be the most powerful word in American politics. IT’s also one of the hardest to define. In 1992 and 2008, change meant electing dynamic young leaders who promised hope and renewal. In 2016, it meant handing a lit match to a pyromaniac.” “It was sad to watch the Republica Party go from Reagans Morning in America to Trump’s Midnight in America”.

Hillary discusses her slogan for the primary campaign “Stronger Together” and how this was meant to be a direct challenge to Donald Trump’s divisive campaign. However, she also talks about the mistakes she made, when she said: “We are going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. This was an unfortunate soundbite, however, it was actually part of a much longer quote which was about how the move to clean energy was going to put coal mines out of business and as such their needed to be an economic plan for them.

She puts part of her failure down to the state of the United States and its failure to recover from the Recession. A lot of working-class Americans were hurting and frustrated. Unemployment was down and the economy was growing, but most people hadn’t had a raise in fifteen years. The average family income was $4,000 less than when my husband left office in 2001. Since 2001 half a million jobs in department stores have disappeared, that’s many times more than lost in coal mining.

Hillary quotes Jill Abramsom, former New York Times Editor saying “This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest”. She found that Hilary told the truth more than any other presidential candidate in 2016, including both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, who was the most dishonest candidate ever measured.

Each chapter in the book begins with a quote, and my favourite is:

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right-for you’ll be criticised anyway. You’ll be damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

The penultimate chapter is entitled ‘Why’ and in it, Hilary gives a number of reasons why she lost the election. This is exceptionally honest and well written, and I can’t really summarise it effectively for this post. It is worth reading in itself.

The book ends on a positive note giving examples of what people can do to avoid feeling helpless, the some of the examples given are:

  1. Make a contribution to the ACLU
  2. Look ahead to 2018 and get involved in the Democratic party
  3. Join a church or synagogue
  4. Volunteer
  5. Teach your children to love all people.

 

Notes from ‘Leading from the Edge: A School Leader’s Guide to Recognising and Overcoming Stress’

Stress is something that is prevalent in everyday life, and impacts all school leaders in one way or another. Not only is it important that leaders recognise stress themselves, but also in their colleagues and team members. This book is written by a former headteacher and shares personal anecdotes, information from interviews and structured advice. A quick read that has has a large range of practical tips and advice for all working in schools.

The author starts by stating “the pressures have been building for a while. Most people have higher imposed targets than ever before, yet fewer people to help them achieve them. The result is that most people are working harder for longer. There is an increasing sense of disenfranchisement, with school leaders experiencing a far higher degree of accountability set against a background of a decreasing sense of empowerment”. He states that pressure is part of work. It helps to keep us motivated and can improve our performance. However, excessive or unrelenting pressure can lead to stress and have a negative effect on performance. Stress is therefore a response to pressure. It can be costly to employers, but more importantly, it can make people ill. A good understanding of the nature of stress is central to maintaining our own personal resilience and to leading others effectively.

One headteacher interviewed stated his ability to cope with the role was linked to his ability to be able to unwind relatively easily; the techniques he listed were personal to him, but provide potential ideas for other leaders, these are:

  • Avoiding educational programmes on TV;
  • Taking his dog for long walks;
  • Listening to music, watching films and , increasingly reading stories;
  • Foreign travel.

One of the most important pieces of advice that this interviewee gave was ‘have the confidence to know that there are some things that you can ignore’

People tend to become stressed when they feel out of control in a situation. There is much in education which is unpredictable; so it pays to take control whenever you can, ‘control the controllable.’ Some tips for time management are listed below:

  • Preparation is key, so start well in advance with whatever task you are planning.
  • Build in quick wins, however small, into large projects allowing everyone to feel progress is being made towards the goal.
  • Plan long term so that everyone knows the key priorities for each half term and where the ‘pinch points’ will be be in terms of key tasks and deadlines.
  • Set yourself clear deadlines. We are usually more focused and productive when time is limited. Don’t let tasks drift on.
  • Have a master to do list and then daily ones broken down into ‘must’, ‘should’, and ‘could’.
  • Start each day by reviewing your list and by completing a short task that will allow you to get back into the work zone and give you an early sense of achievement.
  • Keep lists of what you have done as well as what you plan to do.
  • Be realistic about what you are likely to achieve each day. Work on the basis of five hours of ‘planned’ work. In education there will always be enough ‘unplanned work’ such as phone call or visits from parents to fill the rest of the day. Over-scheduling your day can leave you feeling frustrated and reduce your sense of control.
  • Give yourself short five-minute breaks during the day.
  • Getting things done is often better in the long run than achieving perfection. Sometimes ‘OK’ has to be enough.
  • Set yourself one or two nights a week to stay later and get through tasks with fewer distractions. Some people schedule that for Friday, so they can take less work home over the weekend.
  • Plan a regular no work evening at home, e.g. ‘No work Wednesdays’ to give  yourself a proper break in the week to socialise, spend time with the family, or to pursue outside interests. Do not compromise on this.
  • Try to reserve some time with no interruptions.
  • Don’t dwell on what happened yesterday, it won’t change it. Concentrate instead on today and tomorrow.

This quote gives the importance of maintaining positive behaviours “repeated ingrained behaviours, or habits, are generally accepted as the way in which your perosnality is demonstrated, so behaviours are often worth changing if they are unhelpful”.

Another key take away was this list of early indicators of stress in staff:

  1. Increased absence from work.
  2. Poor timekeeping.
  3. Failure to complete tasks on time.
  4. Rushing everywhere.
  5. Unwillingness to accept feedback or advice.
  6. Resistance to change.
  7. Inability to reach decisions or delegate tasks.
  8. Becoming withdrawn,
  9. Tearfulness.
  10. Irritability with pupils or colleagues.

The final quote from this book that is worth concluding with is:

“Positive thinking in itself will not change the world, it has to be combined with decisions and action. however, in itself it is a massive start and it has been proven that positive thoughts actually enhance our health – not surprising really, given that stressful ones clearly do not help us” – David Taylor – The Naked Leader