The Point of Poetry

Ok, so I finally get it. I get why people read poetry. And it is because of this wonderful collection of poems by Carol Ann Duffy, that I read as part of my 2017 reading harder challenge. 16 books my Mum had as her bedside books before she died.


This one unlocked for me the beauty of a book of poems. The joy of dipping into it and reading something that may comfort or challenge you. My copy of this is now worn at the edges, stained slightly in places (with marmite and tears…), and will remain as one of my bedside books from now on.

One reason this book spoke to me at this time, I think, is that several of the poems were around the subject of the Carol’s own mother’s death. The heart-wrenching Water will forever speak to me and bring tears to my eyes.

It is also the simple, everyday language in the poems. These are not hoity-toity poems that you need a doctorate to understand. These are poems that anyone could read and enjoy. Also, Carol Ann Duffy, is pretty much a rockstar of poetry, so how could I not love them?

For more flippant reasons, The Bees also felt like it was my book, as a nickname of mine since Uni years is Bee. My parents took hold of this nickname, and have ever since bought me things with bees on them. Slightly strange as not many other things survived my Uni years, but I’ll take it.

This is the kind of book I would buy to give to others, randomly pressing it into their hands and saying “you must read this”. (if I had enough money to buy books to press into people’s hands…) Savour this one, fellow readers…


The Point of Poetry

Failed at the second book…

Ok, so in terms of my reading harder challenge this year, I am failing pretty miserably. Out of the 16 books I wanted to read that my Mum had by her bedside at the end, I have managed a pitiful 3. Well, 2 actually, because this one, The Silk Roads, by Peter Frankopan, proved to be too much for little old quasi-literary me…


I got it out of the library, I took it home and placed it by my bedside. And there it stayed. Then, three weeks later, I went back to the library and renewed it. And for three more weeks it stayed by my bedside. I just couldn’t read it. Which is where we come to the semi-epiphany of this post…

I don’t actually care.

It was not my type of book. I would have loved an epic novel about a journey on the silk roads, a romance, a historical piece of fiction, perhaps something à la Marina Fiorato. I would have eaten that stuff for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But a non-fiction text like this one? No thanks. (I can only say “like this one”, as I never got far enough into even the blurb to truly say what the heck this one was about).

So, I gave up. Sorry, Mum. I am not as intellectual as you were. I can’t get as interested in this sort of thing as you did. I know she would have read every word, and then possibly moved on to other follow-on texts, and been planning a trip along the silk roads as a result. (I would totally have gone with her btw, I do actually love history, just not particularly reading in this way about it)

But, I think; james-joyce. Now, this was not a bad book, but it was a bad book for me. The world is full of books, and some will suit some more than others. This was not my book. But it was Mum’s, and I feel content knowing that it sat on my bedside for those 6 weeks. Thanks, Mum.

Failed at the second book…

Tataiako – Session 1 with RTLit cluster

Towards the end of last term (Term 1, 2017), I was up early driving to Whanganui for our termly cluster meeting. This is always a nice opportunity to catch up with other RTLits and see how they’re going as, at times, this can be a bit of a lonely job.

The ever-lovely RTLit in Wanganui had organised a wonderful meeting today – so much to talk about and investigate that we ran well over. Exceptional catering too, so much so that there was no need for our usual lunch afterward. But still plenty of time for me to get to Savemart Whanganui for a bit of a rumble through.

The first session was a follow up on Te Tātaiako with Ngahina Transom from Taihape. This document is excellent and really sums up practical ways of working with Māori learners, which are also common sense approaches for all learners. My mind still boggles at the fact that many teachers and schools don’t even know this document exists, let alone use it in their planning and practice. The competencies are now integrated with my appraisal document and I refer to them to support my teaching practice.

As with almost everything in education, Tātaiako comes down mainly to teachers’ relationships and engagement with Māori learners and with their whānauand iwi. Getting to know your students, their backgrounds, their stories, their goals, and aspirations is vital for success in education today.

Today we reviewed the competencies and then reflected on how we are going with one of them in our current practice. Many of the competencies are common sense and good teaching practice (in my humble opinion anyway!), so I often find many of the things one does almost automatically. Obviously, however, there is a particular focus on the Māori learners we teach.

I looked at whanaungatanga small. Something I find so incredibly central to all effective education, but something that can actually be incredibly complex to put into practice in many cases. I find it a bit of a challenge not being in the classroom. As a resource teacher, it is that much harder to develop relationships – partly due to the time constraints and partly because it requires more effort to phone parents or meet parents. Getting to meet parents and whānau for me is not just an informal chat by the school gate or a parent-teacher interview, it is usually a formal meeting organised to discuss progress or strategies.

So first, on someone else’s suggestion, I realised that I should be first identifying my Maori learners. Who are they? Where are they from? Are they connected to their heritage? Showing this visually on my roll is the first step for me to establishing who could benefit most from engaging with their child’s learning and a relationship with myself as their “other teacher”. I have subsequently done this and discovered that around a quarter of my students identify as Māori.

In a horrifying admission, I have not managed to get in contact with any of my Māori students’ families yet (a big yet there!). I have worked hard to establish positive relationships with the students themselves, and feel that I know a lot about who they are and who is in their families at least. I think it is also important to know this from the student. I can chat with them about their brother who plays in a band, or their Dad who had an accident last year, and so on. Sometimes it can be hard to establish contact with the parents or whānau for a variety of reasons (no current phone number for example), so having those kinds of conversations with students can go a long way to whanaungatanga as well (again, in my humble opinion!).

Other RTlits suggested things they have done to establish contact with some success. Many have a meeting before taking a student on to share assessments and plans together. Many also use Google docs or email to send to parents as the intervention progresses. Many spoke of texting as being very successful for many parents. These are all things that I thought I could get underway fairly easily. As a teacher, and also as a parent, I find it really useful, and indeed, imperative to create a “positive bank” with whānau about a student. This helps with a student’s self-image, it helps when you might have to have those “difficult conversations”, and ultimately supports progress in their learning. I would like to try all of these things with all my learners, not just those identifying as Māori.

So, my goal for this term, Term 2 of the year, is to phone my learners’ families and hopefully set up a meeting with them to discuss what I am doing with their children in sessions and possibly ways they can support this at home. The meetings I have had like this have been successful and went a long way to setting up the home/school partnership. I have to say, I’m a wee bit nervous about this. I am of that generation that stopped using the phone and moved to texting quite quickly, so calling people up is never something I do with pleasure. But! I will bite the bullet and set aside some time on my Friday office day to do this, as I know it will benefit my learners, and probably make my job easier and more enjoyable in the long run.

I have added in here a more detailed photo of Whanaungatanga from Tātaiako:


Here is the cultural competencies Effective teaching profile that Ngahina shared with us. A useful document to have as part of appraisal I feel: Māori Learners

What aspect of Tātaiako are you working towards improving?


Tataiako – Session 1 with RTLit cluster

That overwhelmed feeling – a few thought scraps of thoughts on that

You know that feeling where you have a dozen things to do and not enough time to do them? That is the life of a teacher.

At the moment I constantly have thoughts ruminating at the back of my head about what I can do to support and accelerate different students’ learning. It is like a storm back there.

Never underestimate the power of bouncing ideas off others. Talking with others is what I’m missing. That ability to nut something out. I need some time to mull things over, but taking that time feels like cheating. Shouldn’t I just know the answers?

Anyway, today I am going to comfort myself through it with some comforting quotes about literacy that I snapped at a Kay Hancock seminar last week on the new Ready to Read series.


Note to self with this one – read up on Lawrence Sipe’s work. 



This one has some excellent and simple ideas for engaging readers with texts. 


That overwhelmed feeling – a few thought scraps of thoughts on that

First #bedsidebook off the rank

So, for my first read of my Mother’s #bedsidebooks, I chose what I thought would be the easiest one to get through. Short answer, it wasn’t easy. The first third was a real struggle. But, there were gems in amongst the struggle and I could see how it was wonderful really, just not quite me. The next two thirds I found less taxing, and I ended the book having overall enjoyed it.

I read The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal.


It is a work of historical research into the author’s own family history through a collection of Japanese 19th century (or older) netsuke. I remember it being a very popular book club read when it came out and had had it on my Amazon Wishlist for some time.

We had three or four ivory netsuke in our family growing up (still have I guess) and what charmed me about them was always the size. They seemed so perfect for playing with as a child. I therefore found the part of the story where they did similar to this particularly enjoyable.

The book had a vast amount of references to pieces of art and people who actually exist. I read it as a physical book, but actually think that it requires you to have Google to hand so that you can search up the paintings or pieces being referred to so that you can have a picture in your head. Perhaps there is a more illustrated edition already in print. I’m sure many more learned people than I would know what the art was without this, but I didn’t. Edmund de Waal assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge from the reader, and it is this that I think may intimidate readers out of reading the book.

One thing I also lacked from reading it in physical form was the handy ability to press on a word to get the dictionary definition. I like to think myself fairly knowledgeable of the English language, but this book sure had some doozies of random words I’d never heard of! Maybe I’m alone here in my ignorance. Some examples I found notably incomprehensible till googled were:










Strangely enough, I don’t think any of these words will be making it into my everyday vocabulary anytime soon.

I was pleased (and ashamed I hadn’t really known already as well) that I learnt the true meaning of the Anschluss in Europe in 1938. A word I’d heard and vaguely, but not fully, comprehended. The delicate and clever interweaving of the history of such a tumultuous time period in Europe was quite gripping. The story of the netsukes’ life is heartwarming and heartbreaking in turns.

I feel good that I read this book. Sometimes we have to “read harder” than we do usually, and what I learnt about in this book and the intriguing story was worth it in the end.

One #bedside book down, 15 to go! Thanks, Mum.


First #bedsidebook off the rank

Love is all you need? #oneword2017

I wasn’t going to have a #oneword this year. Last year’s word was “afresh”, and while I did reflect on that during the year (and in actual fact, it was a year of many fresh starts!), it didn’t impassion me as much as I had hoped.

Having said that, my word for this year came to me without even thinking it over. It just popped up when I briefly turned my mind to the question. And then it wouldn’t leave.



Simple right? And yet also exceedingly complex. Even my three-year-old daughter is learning the complexities of love. She will tell us she “lubbs” us, yet she can also say “I love this song” fittingly when her jam comes on the radio. Two quite differing loves, but both important.

My Mother left us with the wisdom that “what survives of us is love”. This comes from a poem by Phillip Larkin called An Arundel Tomb. She also quoted the Beatles – all you need is love. Mum knew that she would remain alive in our hearts through our love for her and her love for us. So, love was on my mind, and that’s probably why it popped up for me.

So, what am I thinking here? Am I planning on falling in love during the school year? Do I feel like I need to love all my students? Ummm, no.

I’m going here on the meaning of love more as “caring for”, doing things “with love”. Care is a very important concept in education. Students all need their teachers to care for them and care about them. Care also has an element of empathy, and I think my students need that especially.

That term “with love” is what I’m going for. I was interested to google and discover it stems from the bible . Mother Teresa even said something cool about it.


This year I will try to have passion, love, for what I do. I will try to care for my students and show empathy for the difficulties that they may face. I will try to show love towards myself when things don’t go as expected or when I fail, mindful that that is all a part of learning and living.

We’ll see how it goes!


Love is all you need? #oneword2017