An Ace That I Can Keep

Well, it’s that time of year again. We are back to school. The busyness has descended once more. This is the time of year I need to take a deep breath. Get steady. Be ready. August is like the moment just before you swim a length underwater; technique really matters. If you don’t breathe deep enough, get steady enough, you’ll never make it to the other side.

So here’s my advice on how to get steady for this session. I will dispense this advice to the lyrics of Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler’. Why? Because it’s a song about giving advice on getting steady. And also because when a song is on permanent repeat in your brain for a week and half, it’s probably trying to tell you something and you really ought to listen.

If you’ve never heard the song, by the way, stop reading and go and educate yourself immediately. We’ll wait here for you to get back.

Sorted? Ok, here goes:

Know when to hold ‘em

What are you going to hold on to this year? What matters to you? What aspects of your practice are you going to hold onto, regardless of what comes your way? For me it’s the learning, always the learning. Keep in sight what’s needed for real, authentic, messy, exhausting learning to take place, for teachers and pupils, and I know all will be fine. Everything else is background noise.

Know when to fold ‘em

So get rid of what doesn’t matter. Don’t go into the new school year with excess baggage. Like the day after a major house party, you need to take a long look around in the cold light of day and get rid of everything from last session that’s no good. Regrets. Frustrations. Disappointments. Unfinished marking. Let it go. It’s no good to you now. Looking at it all will only make you feel worse. So get the mental bin liners and Febreeze out and ditch the lot. New year, new start.

Know when to walk away

How’s your diary looking? Filling up? If it’s already looking like Piccadilly Circus in there, stop. Are you taking on more than is sensible? I am the worst ever at this next bit, but I’m going to say it anyway- you do not have to do everything by then end of August. Or even the end of September. Pace yourself. The school year is a marathon, not a sprint, so if you’re more Bolt than Farah, apply the breaks before you burn out. And primary teachers, for the love of God, stop laminating and eat your tea.

Know when to run

If it feels wrong, challenge it. If it’s making you ill, stop doing it. Talk to someone. Do not suffer through things alone. If you are overwhelmed, strap on your trainers and run to your person. You know the one I mean. The one that listens without judgement, helps you work out for yourself what you need to do next. You are not effective at what you do if you are in the black hole. So if you see it on the horizon, turn the other way and run back to the light.

Never count your money when you’re sitting at the table

Don’t congratulate yourself too much, but don’t beat yourself up too much either. You do stuff, things happen. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Remember it’s all learning. Parking your ego can be hard sometimes, but making mistakes, however embarrassing at the time, mean you are learning. At some stage this year, you’ll make a mistake. I’ve made about six already and it’s only been a week. Embrace your failures because they are data-rich. Everything you need to know about succeeding is down there in the wreckage of your latest screw up. So go and pour over the debris and next time you’ll do it right. (If you’re interested in this idea, read ‘Black Box Thinking’ by Matthew Syed, who says it a lot better than I have.

Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep

You know how you cleaned out your classroom at the end of term? Do that to your brain. Get rid of everything that you don’t need to be happy and effective this session. Hold onto the good stuff but ditch the rest. You’ll feel better for it.

Every hand’s a winner, every hand’s a loser

Remember it’s all relative. One person’s foul up is another’s success story. Something you think has gone appallingly may be perceived quite differently by your learners or colleagues. So be mindful of that mirror. Make sure it’s showing you a true reflection. Being too hard on yourself or doubting that you are any good is toxic to your ability to do your job well. Be proud of what you do. If you have invested your time and talents to make it the best possible version of itself, then set it upon the water and watch it sail to glory and greatness. Or at least don’t assume it’ll sink.

So there you are.

Have a great year.

Take a deep breath, get steady.

Believe you can do it.

Be ever watchful for black holes.

Keep your trainers handy.

Get into your classroom and gie it utter laldy.


And remember, ‘if you’re gonna play the game, you gotta learn to play it right.’


Thanks, Kenny. That’s an ace that I can keep.


1 Comment

  1. Well that was very timely! I’ve said similar stuff to some of my colleagues this week so will send the link to this. Life is too rich to try holding on to everything. And I enjoyed revisiting the song. Keep writing!


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