Fighting the negative mindset

I watched the Spain versus Portugal World Cup match last night and it seemed to be like so many of the matches in this competition. The Portuguese, who have some really good creative players found it impossible to get away from the negative tactics that they had set out to play the game with.

From the kick off it was obvious that the Portuguese approach was to pack their defence and let the Spanish attack them knowing that, if they could grind out a draw the match would go to penalties or, more likely, the Spanish would commit too many men forward and they would be open to a swift counter attack.

My concern with this is that it highlights the “negative mindset” that all human beings are capable of getting into. It relates as much to football as to schooling and it has the same results. Yesterday, after the Spanish scored their goal the Portuguese found it impossible to go to a Plan B, there was just no way that they could change their way of thinking as a collective group. On the few occasions that they did manage to get forward they seemed to forget that they had to create openings and score in order to revert to their original plan.

The creativity was just not there and that is because creativity is frozen when the negative mindset is switched on. I see this all the time with children in school and in particular in the area that I deal with on a daily basis, mathematics. It is called the “I can’t do this”  attitude and it definitely a “mindset”. It is the child’s equivalent of the Portuguese players last night. Even when they know that they have the capacity to use their creative potential to visualise a problem or to contextualize it in respect of their everyday life, they cannot do it.

I feel that it is the job of a good coach and a good teacher to open up the minds of those who are in their charge. They have to know that they have potential to learn and that they have creative capacities that will literally transform the game 0r the lesson. Recently I have been working with a group of Year 5 children (Grade 4) and I have concentrated on just two things…. creativity and their self expression as well as building a “Can Do” attitude. The results have been very good…. it is not about the specific teaching of skills that they have been taught so many times before (that is analagous to coaching the defence splitting pass that the Portuguese players just could not do last night). It is about working on the mindset which makes all the difference.

At the end of the match yesterday the Portuguese players traipsed off the pitch looking sad and sorry. We the spectators were really the losers though because a potentially classic match had been taken away from us by the coach instilling fear of loss into his players and not allowing them to express themselves on the pitch.

As teachers we need to bear this in mind all the time when working with our pupils…… football at it is best is a beautiful game… learning and the flowering of children’s abilities and skills is a beautiful experience…. beware of the negative mindset that fights the beauty and very often wins!

witness: Kim Phuc

Growing up in the 1960’s in London I experienced the Vietnam War as a series of images. The most graphic image was the execution of a young man on camera. It was a moment in my upbringing that I shall never forget when the realities of war came into everyone’s living room.

There were many pictures of the war appearing every day in our newspapers. I remember going to Holborn library in Theobalds Road on a sunny Saturday morning in 1968 to look up a book on the war (it was a military history written by an American and covered the conflict from Dien Bien Phu to the latest bombings of the north by the B52’s.).

The above picture was taken by the Vietnemese photographer Nick Ut on June 8th 1972. I was 19 years of age at the time. I may very well have sat with my family watching the ITN “News At Ten” when there would have been a report by one of their  war correspondents Christopher Wain.

Dressed in combat gear (as all the correspondents had to) he went out to cover a local village where some Viet Cong incursion had been reported. What happened that day was that he witnessed the horror of the dreaded burning material Nepalm being dropped on innocent villagers. One child was caught in the midst of the blast.. her clothes were literally burn off of her and she ran to get help, unable to speak from the sheer horror of what was happening to her.

In one of the great pieces of timing and sheer fortune Nick Ut was able to take the photograph that you can see above which in many ways became the iconic image of the horrors of that war (indeed any war).

What I did not know was that she ran towards Christopher who then did his best to comfort the child and get her into hospital.

Kim had many many operations in the next year and was eventually to become something of a hero and icon in the reunited North Vietnam after the war. She found her role stultifying and wanted to escape to a new freedom and managed to use a stop in Canada whilst going to Russia on her honeymoon, to escape to a new life in the west.

A deeply believing Christian, she has spent her life since in spreading the message of reconciliation and forgiveness. These are her words from a television interview in 2008:

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
Kim Phúc, NPR in 2008

A few days ago I was listening to the World Service of the BBC when I heard a piece about Kim (whose name I never really knew until then). It was a reunion between her and her rescuer Christopher Wain.  Listen to it and judge for yourself… it is powerful and recalls the events of that day. Think of the picture and how it has become such a powerful image of that time and maybe find out about the remarkable lady who was that burnt girl in that picture and has since done so much to promote peace and forgiveness.

The link is:

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Gimme Shelter: Angelique Kidjo

I first came across Angelique Kidjo by chance in that I followed a link by Emmanuel Jal on Facebook  who  was singing the praises of the concert to open the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa.

What I experienced was a brilliant version of Curtis Mayfield’s great song “Move On Up” by Emmanuel’s friend Angelique.

I was impressed by the powerful way that she managed to blend the rhythms of her native Africa (she was born in Benin) with western jazz-rock. She has a rasping voice that perfectly fitted the music that she was singing and danced naturally with her backing singers and musicians in what was a wonderful celebration of Africa’s first soccer World Cup.

I thought that I would try and get to know more about this singer and looked her up on Wikipedia (see: ). She was born in Benin in West Africa in 1960. She found that she was unable to fully function as a musician due to political upheaval in her country and left to start a new life in Paris in 1983.

Politics has always been a part of her life and in particular a concern for the many conflicts in her native continent of Africa. She has worked in support of such organisations as UNICEF, Oxfam and Amnesty International.

I was researching a post that I shall shortly be doing on the Vietnam War and wanted to use the iconic song “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones to include in the post,as it represented many of the feelings that artists such as Mick Jagger had at the horrors that were daily being transmitted into our homes about that particular conflict.

I found that Angelique had made her own version of the song (see below) with the wonderful African rhythms and the assistance of the lovely voice of Joss Stone. The ending is particularly powerful in that it brings the war theme from the 60’s up to date. The video was made to bring people’s attention to the situation in Darfur where many people had already died and where there is a strong possibility that many more could.

Watch the video and enjoy the music… you may want, as I did, to look up more of the music of this important artist.

A tale of two fathers

Image via Wikipedia

As we have just had Father’s Day I have spent some of this weekend looking at the lives of two very different men, Ladis Kristof and Vladek Spiegelman.

These are not two names that perhaps have an instant.. “oh yes” of recognition but they are two people who I have come across, as so much that I come across, in my learning journey, purely by links from contacts I have made, or just from a link in a tweet on Twitter.

Both were from Eastern Europe and both spent time in concentration camps. Ladis was from an aristocratic background and was born in a country that no longer exists, Austria-Hungary. Vladek was a businessman from Poland.

The Second World War changed everything for them. Ladis lost his land and had many adventures in escaping from country to country (but was put into a Concentration Camp in what used to be called Yugoslavia). Vladek, a jew, slowly lost everything that he had and was witness to the “Final Solution” as he saw his young son  poisoned by relatives before he could be taken to a concentration camp for extermination.

Both these men were survivors though. They went through what to us would seem extreme deprivation in order to build a new life for themselves after the madness was over.

Ladis knew no english at all but eventually found his way to the U.S.A. Vladek spoke english with a heavy accent and at one point managed to save himself from death whilst in Auschwitz Concentration Camp by teaching the language to a Polish guard. He also finished up in the U.S.A.

In the postwar period the lives of these two men differed greatly. Ladis decided to study Politics and eventually went on to become a Professor of Politics at Portland State University. He ran a large farm with a library in it and would chop wood and hunt well into his 80’s. Vladek ran a business but suffered from ill health due to the privations that he suffered in the war having to starve for so long, face beatings and long route marches. He developed Diabetes and later heart problems.

Both of these men had just one son. Ladis was the father of Nicholas who is now a double Pulitzer prizewinning journalist at the New York Times and a world renowned campaigner for human rights.  Vladek was the father of Art who is an internationally renowned cartoonist and the author of an amazing book which is really about the holocaust experiences (and life afterwards) of his father called “Maus” which coincidentally won him the Pulitzer Prize.

Ladis passed away just a few days ago and below there is a touching article by Nicholas (from the New York Times) in which he talks about his father’s humanity and desire to look at the good in mankind and just what can be achieved in the world. Vladek passed away in August 1982. He was in many ways a bitter man.His beloved wife Anja, who committed suicide in 1968, is buried with him. The power of “Maus” is to show this many-sided man, whose wits managed to get him survival in the horror and devastation that was Auschwitz and to show the person that he became in New York City, after the war, old and miserly full of memories of events that nobody should ever have to witness, living unhappily with a second wife that he chose to hate.

I found the similarities and differences of these two men fascinating and the more so because I finished reading “Maus” just a few hours after I had read the obituary of Ladis from a Twitter link

They are both fascinating men who fathered two important people. They are both gone now but are very much remembered by their sons and through them by the rest of us.

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My website of the week: The RSA

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Image by Colin Gregory Palmer via Flickr

I usually stumble upon sites as I follow links in tweets or links from links in tweets or maybe a blog entry from a new follower (I always try to find out about my followers on Twitter and will try and look up their websites if they have one).

This week, after looking at a number of sites I chanced upon a link to Daniel Pink who had made a video for the Harvard Business Review

I watched the video (which was brilliant except for my being distracted quite a lot as Daniel himself was by the goings on in a noisy Washington D.C. Park on a rainy day).

I decided that I needed to find out more about Daniel Pink and therefore went to his website In this I found a fascinating video that was made by a company called Cognitive Media and that used a fascinating technique of animating speech. The speech was one that had been given at the Royal Society of Arts in London (The RSA) and was commissioned by them as part of their “RSAnimation” series of videos.

I investigated this source of the video (see below) and found myself in the brilliant site of the RSA I immediately found myself immersed in this site.

I had heard about the RSA (being British and coming from London) but hadn’t really realised that this auguste organisation that had been around for well over 200 years had transformed itself into a set of fellows who shared an ideal in seeking out “the new enlightenment” and just how we might proceed as a species in the twenty first century.

I found a report that has recently been published called “Steer” which I have downloaded and am reading over the weekend. It is from the RSA’s “Social Brain”  Project and seeks to find ways that we can train our minds to cope with the demands of the digital age that we have moved into. (The link is )

This is cetainly a powerful website with powerful thinkers contributing to the important debates that are taking place worldwide on just what we need to do to survive and create a world which is worth living in for our descendents.

I feel it is certainly my “website of the week” and hope that any readers of this blog post will feel the same way as I do and delve into it… I feel that there are riches there that can well add ideas that you may want to think about.

For myself I am motivated to join the RSA but will need to be nominated by a Fellow of the Society… so if there are any Fellows reading this post… please get in contact!

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Let them play

I’ve just offered my opinion in an Edutopia poll about what is the best thing for students to do in the summer holidays. My answer is the title of this blog… let them play!

I had just received a Tweet from Deborah Meier about her latest book “Playing For Keeps In this book she and he co-writers talk about the educational value of play, particularly in respect of the fact that many schools in the United States have shortened or abandoned playtime for the children.

In a post further back in this blog I wrote about my love for the book that I consider the best written that I have ever read… Harper Lee‘s “To Kill A Mockingbird”

In the book the majority of the story happens when Dill (the City child) visits his aunt in rural Alabama in his summer holidays. He befriends the two motherless children Jam and Scout. They play games in the background of racist bigotry but they see only dangers, mysteries and adventures. In other words, they act like children have always acted throughout our history on this planet.

The summer holiday should be a time for play and for imagination to run riot.It is about freedom to explore and, ideally, it should be freedom to explore the great outdoors in the best weather and when school feels a million miles away.

When they do get back to school though they should have their playtime back…as Deborah Meier and her co-authors write in their book, the importance of play in the intellectual and emotional development of children cannot be overestimated and under no circumstances should it be shortened or abandoned to give children more time to study for tests!

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Why I like this video

This video is a bit special.It is poorly shot and obviously amateur. There are problems with the sound. So why do I like it so much?

Because it is an interview with Greg Mortenson after one of his numerous talks in schools across the width of the U.S.A. The interviewer is a young student who does not hide her own feelings when she has had an inspiring answer from the great man… she says “awesome” or “I agree” and that is not the way of the T.V.  professional but is certainly refreshing to see.

She ends her interview with Greg by asking him to sign her copy of his book, like any fan might.

The video then continues with her interviewing two of her own teachers. They speak in the immediate aftermath of having listened to Greg talking and they both pick up on the central message of the importance of education and the way that peace can be achieved through education.

Greg makes some very important statements about listening to one’s elders and thinking with the heart as well as the head.

This is not a professional video but it has a powerful impact and tells you a lot. Bear with it because it has much to offer.

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