Is it big enough to overcome a dent in your Good Enough?
This week, my Good Enough has taken a battering. I don’t say that because I want pity or lots of ‘woohoo you’re great, don’t be down’ comments. I say that because that is what I have learnt this week. This mum studies and this recent bout of studying has opened my eyes to a subject I have left untouched for a while. Me.
Learning about life
I am learning more about myself every day and I am finding you have to be pretty brave to go on a journey of self discovery. I have really been trying to notice my own thoughts and explore my reactions. Some of the time it brings things to the fore I would rather not think about or acknowledge, but hey, it’s all learning.
This week has reinforced to me that I do need recognition and it does matter to me what other people think.
This isn’t new to me. It is something I have known my entire life and something I have already written about (Blog post: Getting the bit of paper (or studying with the OU). I have always been eager to please. Why does that feel like such a bad thing to admit? Anyway, this year I have been exploring why I have this need and whether I am able to find a way to improve my self belief and be satisfied with my own approval. I’m not sure I’m there yet.
I get knocked down…
As if to prove the point a situation this week tested me. Without warning my self-belief crumbled and my Good Enough smashed into pieces on the floor and I stood there with my mouth open and tears streaming down my face.
I thought I had the situation. I thought I knew where it was going. I thought my self-belief was about to be rewarded. Instead it was shaken and my whole being defaulted to the ‘not good enough’ state. I am glad I was able to recognise it.
…and I get up again
But more than that, I was able to think about what I needed to do to get myself back in a good place before the real low hit. I needed to take control and I did. I took action. I stepped out of my comfort zone and made a bold move. And then, with the help of some bright yellow tights, a new green scarf bought from a favourite charity shop, a touch-up of my pink hair, some red lippy (and my sister), I stepped out and faced the world with more strength than I knew I had. The tear-stained echoes of the night before lost in the noise of my rainbow splashed nails.
And I reminded myself…
So, what am I studying at the moment? I am studying computer networks. I am studying Google Analytics. Most importantly I am studying me.
I am a woman who seeks others approval.
I am a woman who is working on her self-belief.
I am a woman who works fiercely towards a goal.
I am a woman who needs others to recognise my work.
I am a woman who is reliable, loyal and honest.
I am a woman who feels deeply.
I am a woman who takes criticism badly.
I am a woman who reflects what I am feeling to others; both good and bad.
I am a woman who is finding her creativity at a depth she didn’t realise was possible and loving it.
I am a woman who likes to be in control.
I am a woman who is determined.
I am a woman with more resilience than I know or understand.
I am a woman who will keep trying.
I am a woman who perfectly imperfect.
We are all different. This is me. I am no longer a woman who will apologise for that.
Show me how big your Brave is…
This has been one of my favourite songs for years. I can only listen to it really, REALLY loud. Often I end up shouting it and more than once it has moved me to tears. I have needed my Brave for a long time and I have really been testing it this last year or so. Changing long-held beliefs is hard and takes courage. How big is your Brave?
What does going to school have in common with Leysdown seafront? The idea that points win prizes it would seem. I say this as the mum of a child with 1130 house points accumulated in just five weeks. No, I am not proud. I am angry.
Let me take you back to the 80s when I attended primary school. There were four houses; York, Balmoral, Richmond and Gloucester. I was in York. I was proud to be in York. I might get one house point every couple of weeks. Maybe I had opened a door for a teacher without being asked or had really excelled in a piece of work. There were extra opportunities for earning house points on occasions such as sports day or by being a teacher’s helper at lunchtime. Getting a house point felt like owning a piece of gold and I would colour in the square on the sheet in the classroom with pride as I watched my house points accumulate alongside others.
At the end of the term the house with the most points throughout the school was awarded four points, the third, three, the second, two and those in last place, one house point. These were added to the main chart in the hall for all to see. At the end of the year the house with the most points won the house point trophy and the house captain went up to receive it in assembly on behalf of their house. I am hoping this sounds familiar to some of you.
21st Century house points
Scoot back to 2017 and now it’s all about how many house points you need in exchange for a building set, cinema ticket or afternoon tea with the head teacher. And we are talking big numbers. Hundreds and hundreds of house points needed. But that’s ok, because just doing your homework will earn you 20 points. Putting your hand up in class, five points.
It makes me wonder where the time is to teach the children if the teachers are dishing out house points every time a pupil breathes in or out successfully.
Beyond the points, there seem to be countless other motivational incentives. In a world where we can’t have winners or losers at sports day, it is beyond me why we can dish out pupil of the week, top table, stars in their eyes, spelling star and a prize for the kid at the top of maths mountain. Don’t even get me started on 100% attendance (No don’t, I tried to include that here…it has taken on a life of its own for another post!).
Then there’s carrots on sticks. And this is where the materialistic nature of these incentives has taken an astounding turn. Currently, my son informs me, if he gets all his spellings right this term, he will be put into a prize draw with other children from local schools to win…. a digital reading device akin to a Kindle. That’s right people. A couple of hundred pounds worth of tech that to be quite honest I would rather my son didn’t own. This is wrong for several reasons…
The odds of Mini Cooper 1 winning are slim considering how many kids will be in the ballot.
He doesn’t understand this.
He believes he will win.
When he doesn’t win – he still wants a tablet.
We aren’t going to buy him one.
If he has a tablet at the tender age of 7, the four year old is going to start on about when does he get one and slowly but surely the screen-free buffer zone becomes less. I may as well buy 10 month old Mini Cooper 3 her own iPhone now.
While I am on the subject of screens, these house points have to be banked. Not by picking up the nearest half decent yellow felt tipped pen as in my day, oh no. This is the era of online reward points. There is a website dedicated to storing the house points.
The kids log in, they tap in the 16 digit code on the house point voucher that has been screwed up in their pocket all day and it adds the points to their total. They are supposed to put in the reason why they were given the points. Mini Cooper 1 can never remember (so clearly there’s an incentive working right there yeah?!) They can check how many they have against their classmates. There are class leaderboards, year leaderboards, school leaderboards (no gold medals at sports day remember). It’s a joke.
My son sits for 20 minutes trying to remember his password, then I sit for 20 minutes reading out digits on slips of paper for points he doesn’t even remember why he was given. Meanwhile Mini Cooper 2 could do with some help with his reading book (an actual book) and Mini Cooper 3 has given up learning to clap and gone to sleep
I will admit I have been of the parenting camp against reward charts. I did not want the children to do something just because they would get a reward. I will also admit that when it came to trying to get a decent night’s sleep, we relented and created our own sleep charts complete with stickers chosen by the boys. I will also say, they worked… for a while. I say that, because after a few nights of getting stickers for staying in bed Mini Cooper 1 decided he would fill the chart with stickers for just about any reason he could think of. Suffice to say, the reward/response link didn’t really work for him there.
So, who are all these incentives really for? Let’s face it the schools are going to a lot of effort to put these systems in place, build them up and sustain them. When we boil it down it’s all about educational targets. Getting the children to achieve so the school isn’t seen to be failing by the all-seeing eye of Ofsted. The children don’t care about Ofsted. The children care about which little toy they might get if their name is called for top table on Friday. The children care about why they weren’t Star of the Week when they tried so hard with their reading. The children care about what they will be given in return for doing something. Our target-driven educational system is promoting the 21st Century materialistic lifestyle. It isn’t promoting the idea that you might want to learn something purely for the love of learning.
And while these incentive schemes are building up schools and Ofsted, are they actually building up our little ones? If this is all being done to please The Powers That Be, where are our children learning to please themselves? How do they work out their own threshold for having done well? We live in a world of people who don’t feel ‘good enough’. It’s something to do with expectations and the bar we set for ourselves. Should the system really be motivating children to reach blanket-all targets or would realistic individualised goals be more beneficial? Rewarding achievements that mean something to that one child. Shouldn’t we be focussing on the rewards of self awareness, self motivation, self confidence and self esteem? The effect of any one of which on a young person is certain to last far beyond the plastic stationery set my son can get in exchange for 600 points.
Badge of honour
So, while I am giving these rewards a hard time, I realise there is a place for them in learning. As a student myself I am guilty of chasing the reward (Read more here: “Getting the Bit of Paper“). When I first logged on to the dashboard of the web design course I am currently studying with LearnDirect, I was met with an achievement pie chart and a league table. Further investigation revealed various digital award badges for different achievements; number of days you consecutively log in, number of hours you have studied, number of assignments in on time. Logging in three times in a row before 7am gets you the cutest little early bird icon on your profile, while logging in after 11pm three days on a row wins you the night owl (squeeee!).
Who needs those?
After scoffing to DH ‘who do they think they’re kidding, we are adults, I don’t need these silly little games,’ I of course got totally and utterly sucked in and had to earn as many of these digital badges as I possibly could. I currently sit top of the leaderboard (although there’s no explanation as to what I am the leader of; students in the region, country, on my course, the last five people to log in….who knows). That’s not the point, the point is the motivational rewards here have helped me to scoot through the course at the pace I have wanted and, I will admit, have given me little confidence boosts along the way.
So what am I moaning about then? Well, the difference is, I am an adult. I know I am being persuaded and manipulated to get my work done. I understand what incentives are and I already had the self-motivation and the self-confidence needed to learn. My fear is that a child knows none of this and they are being lulled into a short-lived land of bribery and materialism that merely promotes a ‘what are going to give me for that then?’ attitude. It’s education not a seaside sideshow.
Right, I am off to check Mini Cooper 1’s pockets before popping his uniform in the wash. It is no longer the paper hankie that I fear. It is the house point. Those tatty slips of paper turn to reward confetti in the twinkle of an eye. I wonder how many I would need to get a new washing machine or tumble drier?
*Thanks to the mums I have quoted along the way here. Read more about what mums think about primary school reward schemes here.
Believe me there’s a heap of stuff out there. Here is just a selection of the stuff I have read this week while preparing this blog post…
This photo was taken two years ago today. In it I am about to get the Bit of Paper. I am graduating from The Open University with a 2:1 in Humanities with Art History. A learning journey that spanned nine years.
I spent much of that day in tears. Not so much because of the enormity of the occasion, but more because of how life had changed in the time it had taken me to get my degree.
A degree of emotion
I already had a degree when I started studying with the OU. I came straight out of school and into uni to study Media and Cultural Studies with English Literature. I studied as hard as I could. I wasn’t a distracted student for many reasons (that’s another post); I lived at home and travelled in each day and hardly ever stayed beyond lectures and seminars.
But I didn’t achieve the result I wanted. The degree (and a whole lot of work experience) got me my first job as a trainee journalist on the local paper. It was all I had ever wanted. But I still didn’t feel I had achieved my full potential (nod to Ninjago :D).
My mum always said if there was a piece of paper for it, then I had to have it. And she was right. A few years later, with several news stories under my belt, I decided I wanted to write an essay. I wanted to write for a reason other than work. So, inspired by my mother in law’s love of the OU I signed up.
Studying with the OU
At first I only wanted to study an art course. I have always had a love of art and have always wanted to know more about paintings and artists. It was an interest and this studying was going to be a pass time, so the two seemed well matched. To get any form of diploma in art history I needed to study the foundation humanities course first. So I spent a year studying a range of cultural subjects and passed the foundation (one piece of paper!).
The OU then informed me that if I took another course I could get a certificate in humanities (a second piece of paper!). So I went on, and I did that. I remember opening the certificate and thinking: “There, I have done that now. What shall I do next?”
The problem with that question was that the lure of the OU called. Back on their site once more browsing courses, I found I could turn by certificate into a degree with just a few more years work (she says casually).
And so the degree began and I started studying knowing I had at least three or four years of reading, researching and essays ahead of me. I studied through snowboarding holidays. I studied through weekend’s away with friends. I studied through family trips, planning our wedding and the honeymoon.
I was promoted at work. Suddenly the hours were longer and I seemed to be constantly busy and as I finished my course I found I just couldn’t find my study time. So, as the option was there with the OU, I took a break for a year. It makes me laugh now. I thought I was tired and had no time then. I look at life now with three children and realise I had all the time in the world.
The following October I was ready to study again. But then life was about to change unimaginably. My mum fell ill suddenly and died within four weeks. My mum. My champion. My art loving partner. The one I made proud. Was gone.
Six months later I got married. At the end of that academic year I needed a break, so I took another year out. What had been a three, maybe four, year plan was turning into a monster. But still, I needed to get to the end. Always finish what you have started – another few words of wisdom from mum.
And so it was that started the Level three courses which focussed heavily on specific periods of art history and I took on the self-titled dissertation. I even spent a week studying with the OU on their art history study week (sadly, no longer offered). The OU had changed its fees system by now and the fact was, if I was ever going to be able to afford to finish my degree I had to complete back-to-back courses year after year until it was finished. There were no more gap years for me.
The Bit of Paper
After the wedding came, well, babies (eventually). Now here’s a time when you don’t need to be thinking about essays and art gallery trips, but for me the determination to finish this degree over-shadowed it all. I read at 2 in the morning on my Kindle. I made notes while I fed at midnight.The children grew. The essays got longer. The dissertation nearly killed me. The love and support from DH held me up and carried me through.
I cried when I found out I had achieved my longed-for 2:1. But nothing like I cried the day I wore that gown. From the moment I arrived at The Barbican until the moment I arrived home, I cried. That was my day. My day that could never have been realised without the love and support of my family. Those that couldn’t be there and those that were, and those that spent their first full day at nursery so I could be there. To you all – thank you.
As I said at the time: “I started a girlfriend and finished a wife. I started a daughter and finished a mum.”
I’m Suze and this is my blog charting the highs and lows of studying with children. There are three mini Coopers in our house and two students; me and my husband. This blog will follow our journey as we work towards changing careers and changing our lifestyle.
I am currently studying Level 3 (QCF) Web design and Development with LearnDirect. I am also studying a Google Analytics course online and will be working on the #DigitalMums Associate Programme in 2018 to learn how to become a social media manager.
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