Hide and seek gets serious

Hide and seek in the park with my children reminds me about the importance of prioritising happiness over anything else.

Together we can all #BeHappier
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In each episode of ‘The Happy Teacher Podcast’ we explore the literature and the psychology of happiness. Together we learn some practical strategies to help us to #BeHappier.

LISTEN to The Happy Teacher Podcast here – https://goo.gl/sKEcu6
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Feedback

I’m feeding back to Yr11. They have just completed mock examinations in GCSE English Language and GCSE English Literature.  The process has several aims.  The broader aim is to provide accurate information about where the cohort is at this point in time.  We know what the targets are; we need to know how are they performing in relation to those.  The narrower aim is to ensure that individual students know their strengths and area for development.  They need clear instruction on how to improve.  This is the most important outcome.

Ok, so far so straightforward.  We all know the evidence: formative assessment with lots of feedback, alongside structured opportunities to use that feedback, enhances achievements.  It seems self-evident.  And yet my through my reading and lurking on various threads I’m not convinced that, as teachers of English, we have fully grasped what feedback is (and isn’t).  Even a short spell on Twitter reveals an abundance of methodological and pedagogical approaches towards what (in my mind anyway) has always been simple.  My theory is that the exponential growth of ways in which we provide feedback is probably linked to a collective nervousness about what constitutes outstanding practice.  I’ve certainly seen many examples of feedback strategies that appear to prioritise form over content; image over impact.  But it’s just a theory…

Of the thousands of lessons that I’ve taught and the hundreds I’ve observed, these are the salient points around which I base practice.

Feedback is not advice or guidance; it’s not a judgement.  Feedback is framed by its reference to goals.  In the English examinations this means that comments should relate to the purpose of the piece.  Any comments can only be considered to be feedback if they relate to being on track towards meeting that goal or if the student needs to think about a different strategy in their attempt to meet that goal.

Feedback needs to be clear; it is not feedback if the student has to work out what they think you mean.  Feedback should be tangible and explicit.  It should be evident what the student needs to do to improve because feedback needs to be actionable.  Students should know what they need to do more or less of next time round in order to improve.

Feedback is for the students only.  Feedback is not the place for a teacher to demonstrate their own subject knowledge, or the place to demonstrate that they are meeting their own performance targets. If the student cannot understand it, if it is too technical, if it is confusing, or if there is simply too much of it it becomes counterproductive.

Feedback is timely; the sooner the student gets it the better.  It doesn’t need to be immediate, but the memory of the learning needs to be fresh and clear.  Timely feedback can be sought in a range of places and contexts.  Peer assessment and review can be really useful in this regard if students have been taught what feedback is and isn’t.

Feedback should be ongoing.  This means that there should be plenty of opportunities to make use of it. Highly performing people in all areas of life have the learned ability to very quickly adapt and adjust their performance in light of feedback.  The value of formative assessment is the fact that it precedes summative assessments.  Their is little (if any value) to feedback if there isn’t the subsequent opportunity to make use of it.

Feedback should be consistent; the more accurate it is the better.  This means (particularly at this point in the development of the new specifications) that teams should be standardising, moderating, sharing, discussing, and focusing on how marks are being allocated.  Avoiding the inevitable “we don’t know what these grades mean” should be a priority.  We know what sophisticated reading and writing looks like; that should be the starting point for embedding consistency.

Review: Running, Ronnie O’Sullivan (Orion Books, 2013)

Perhaps Ronnie O’Sullivan’s autobiographical account of how running has anchored his life should be called Meandering.  Running seems too simple, too direct as a title for a book that, at times, descends into a disjointed series of tales about periods of his life that have been dominated by snooker, drinking, smoking, and yes, running.

I came to this book with high expectations.  I’d listened to him on marathon talk a few years back and was intrigued by how he came to run 10K in 34 minutes.  Although I know very little about snooker, I knew enough about O’Sullivan to assume that he must have seriously cleaned his life up to enable him to go from being overweight and drinking alcoholically, to someone who could knock off a 10K so robustly.  Perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part; perhaps part of my disappointment with Running is the fact that I like tales of redemption, of clearing out the wreckage of the past, and of starting afresh; this autobiography seems a tad reluctant to go beyond the acknowledging of his character flaws into a more considered and mature narrative.

However, it must be said that there are some elements of maturity within the book. O’Sullivan describes periods of his life in which he seems to want to devote his entire time and energy to running.  But there is such a lack of detail of either the physical or emotional journey that this entails that the reader is left feeling a little short changed.  There is no significant insight into how he achieves such periods of stability.  He drops a few names (the sports psychologist Professor Steve Peters is one of them) and he mentions some of the detail of how he accomplished rare periods of calm, but the issue with the book is that it not exactly meticulously or even solidly outlined.  In this respect the book lurches from one period where he seems to have it all together…to another in which he quiet clearly hasn’t.  The result is an addiction narrative with, ironically,  a lack of substance.  It’s neither a book about running, or snooker, or drugs, or life, or insight, or psychology…despite touching on all of these topics at various stages it simply meanders along.  But, and this is important, it does capture something authentic of O’Sullivan’s mindset as both he and the narrative lurch from episode to episode.  Maybe the book is masterful in the way that it’s disjointed; perhaps it’s a transparent depiction of O’Sullivan’s uneven way of understanding the world.  Perhaps.

That’s not to say the book is without strengths either.  I completely admire the honesty with which he lays bare his demons as he talks about the psychological difficulties that he still encounters.  The only way in which mental health issues are ever going to be treated with the same respect as physical difficulties is through such openness and honesty.  In this respect the autobiography succeeds as it depicts O’Sullivan as arrogant as he is frail; as masterful on the table as he is feeble; as professional as he is flawed.  It reads like a chat with a likeable human; rounded yet throughly imperfect.  It’s overwhelmingly clear how much he benefits from the cleansing discipline that running brings to his life.  I hope he continues to run more than he drinks.

VLOG #1

LOG #1 – Get Outside

It’s simple: to #BeHappier get outside, get moving. Being active is a proven way of lifting your mood. It’s not always easy though when it’s Friday and you’re feeling tired…

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In each episode of ‘The Happy Teacher Podcast’ we explore the literature and the psychology of happiness. Together we learn some practical strategies to help us to #BeHappier.

LISTEN to The Happy Teacher Podcast here – https://goo.gl/sKEcu6
SUBSCRIBE on iTunes here – https://goo.gl/HfgLNT
SUBSCRIBE on SoundCloud here – https://goo.gl/8fz8mq
SUBSCRIBE on Stitcher here – https://goo.gl/ygvBdW

 

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Mast Race, running, Bolton

What goes up

I’ve always enjoyed running uphill.  I think it’s probably because I have always equated running with struggling; I’m not a natural runner.  I’m a struggler.  So I enjoy the pain that running uphill invariably brings because it reminds me of the things that I’ve struggled with, and struggled against, and struggled for.  It’s a long list.  I enjoy the burning sensation in my lungs.  I’m not quick enough of a runner to make my lungs really, really ache on the flat.  I just can’t run fast enough; my legs won’t pay any heed to my thoughts to get a move on.  There is a disconnect between my nerves and my muscles and my subsequent shuffle is too sedate to really challenge my heart and lungs.

But uphill is another matter; when running uphill I gain the searing sensation across my chest that is the precursor to feeling cleansed from the inside out and I love this feeling.  I cherish the idea that, somehow, with each gasping breath we are renewed.  On some level each fading footfall brings us closer to who we could be and the mistakes of the past recede into an ever-diminishing memory.  We gain perspective when we sweat.

Of course, it’s all too easy, after the pain has receded, to make this sound philosophical.  While racing uphill in the brilliant Mast Race a couple of week ago I was hardly thinking of anything at all.  And for me, this is always good thing.  The brutal uphill slog of Bolton’s Smithill’s Dean Road required a simple and unthinking focus: breathe.  So, it was a welcome and meditative climb through the fog which after a mile cleared to reveal a stunning morning sun.  Over Coal Pit Lane we rose and beyond to the icy paths that lead up to the television mast that sits atop of Winter Hill.  I breathlessly reached the turn around point at just over three miles in ninth place, took another deep gasp and turned back to run the way we came.fullsizeoutput_5bd6

On the downhill I remember thinking that I must avoid the ice which glistened in the relative warmth of the clearer air.  It was just as well that I did: some runners obviously came unstuck and returned to the finish clutching grazed limbs.  I also had thoughts of being caught; I’m just too timid to let everything go when running downhill.  I make the fatal mistake of projecting into an imaginary future.  Before I’ve run very far I’ve ended up falling, breaking my leg, smashing my pelvis, dying, burying myself, imagining my own funeral…  The worst thing is that I know that I’m doing it, and I know how to stop doing it.  But, in the time that it takes me to organise my thoughts, I have invariably tightened up a little and such tightness is the enemy of the little speed that I only occasionally manage to muster.  An impromptu self-coaching session with just a touch of cognitive behavioural therapy saw my head back in the game.  Ultimately, I didn’t lose too much ground by gingerly stepping over the rocky path that marked the last mile on the uphill and the first of the downhill.  I was only passed by two runners on the downhill, and on the line another dipped for eleventh place leaving me twelfth.  I’m delighted with this progress because there have been many occasions in the past where I’ve been caught by countless others when running downhill.  But perhaps more pleasing still was the fact that I left the race thinking that I’d put as much into it as I could at the end of a week of hard training.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Mast Race, running, Bolton, Burnden Road Runners
The Mast Race

This metaphorical climbing continued with a solid 19:17 in the Stretford parkrun two weeks later.  Despite putting in some hard sessions and a higher mileage I felt great all the way round and was pleased to get a PB despite deliberately holding back at the start.  It felt good to be running at faster than target marathon pace and to feel controlled.  I was working hard towards the end, as I started to pick off some places, but at no point did I tip over into it becoming a battle against lactic acid and dwindling confidence.

So, two solid timed efforts, and back to back weeks of hard training should have meant that I felt good at Sunday’s Central Lancs 5K.  This race is the first of the Central Lancs Grand Prix races, and with it being the first official race of the club championship I wanted to hold my own and run as well as I could.  In the end, it simply wasn’t to be.  I’d incurred the early morning wrath of Mrs C by leaving the house in the first place.  I don’t blame her.  I’d spent all day on Saturday unable to move from bed having been laid low with some sort of bug; I literally couldn’t summon the energy to move.  Every trip to the bathroom to refill my water glass hurt my hips.  Although I wasn’t sick I could not abide the thought of eating.  I believe that I was suffering from what the medics call ‘Being Knackered’.  I slept for six hours during the day and ten hours on Saturday night.  By Sunday morning I felt a lot better, although it must be said that it’s all relative.  By the time the 5K had left the track, a mere 300 metres into the race, I knew that it’d been foolish of me to even start.  My legs felt detached and a day of eating very little had left me feeling totally drained.  Three miles later, and a very uncomfortable 20:52, I wandered over to Mrs C and the children relieved that it was over.

Blackpool marathon: 61 days to go.

Results (Mast 10K)

Results (Stretford parkrun)

Results (Central Lancs 5K)

Casey Neistat – My Addiction

Casey Neistat is a prodigiously talented film maker.  His youTube channel is testimony to his skill in allowing the everyday and the commonplace to speak.  There’s an undoubted truth in his work.  His relaxed visuals and humorous approach belie an almost obsessive attention to the details, the patina, and the texture of life.

His latest offering resonated with me on so many levels.  Not long ago I wrote a short piece about why I run.  Neistat’s film energetically explores a similar question and it’s wonderful.

Toenails and Tracks

On New Year’s Day I cut my toenails; I really wish that I hadn’t.

Or rather I really wish I had managed to cut them properly.  I somehow slightly misjudged the angle of one little clip.  Instead of cutting straight across the top, I had somehow managed to cut diagonally into the side of the toe.  For reasons unknown, this resulted in the underside of the nail becoming infected, and over the course of the next two days I saw the nail bed progress from healthy to burning red to a white hot patch.  Luckily, a few days later, things came to a head (literally and metaphorically), and some improvised minor surgery with a sterilised pin, plenty of Dettol and hot water, and, some questionable language later, the mess that was causing pressure underneath the nail oozed forth in a stream of puss.  The relief was great; although the smell wasn’t.

As I get older I keep thinking that running’s real gift is finding new ways to taunt me with dubious injuries.  It’s a generous gift too; it keeps on giving.  Only a couple of months before I’d broken a different toe without ever fully understanding how I’d managed to do it.  The resulting missed training was only slightly less frustrating than the fact that the only explanation I could give for the intense bruising of foot and blackness of mood was that, ‘I put my foot down on an uneven bit while running downhill’.  On saying this for the hundredth time (by way of accounting for my ungainly lumbering around at work), I got a glimpse of someone looking at me as if they thought I was vacant.  Or simply an idiot.  Either way, nothing reminds you more about the weird things that happen to your body as you approach a certain age than, well, the weird things that happen to your body as a consequence of running.

Mind you, I don’t need to be running.  When I started getting active again a few years ago I somehow managed inflict a bewildering injury upon my back while turning in my sleep.  This sort of decrepitude was simply unfathomable in my youth.  I approached my health and general wellbeing with the insouciance and diffidence that characterised my younger self.  Perhaps we all do.  The beauty of running is the comforting contradiction that it brings: we can rage against the dying of the light, but there is no guarantee that our bodies will always hold up.  But mostly they do.  And that is comforting.

Apart from my right calf.  That’s not comforting.  Unless you count the alarming regularity with which it starts to throb and nag away; then it’s only comforting in its predictability.  Just days after a track session it started to tighten again.  In a way, I’m pleased that it did.  Looking back over my Strava for the last year it is clear what causes it to complain.  It’s not running hard, or races, or marathons.  It’s the track.  There are two positives here.  The first is the fact that I have no desire or ambition to run or race on the track.  The second is that I don’t need to train on a track in order to make progress in the marathon.  The negative is the fact that the local track session on a Wednesday is brilliant.  It’s a great mix of people, speeds, talents and efforts.  It would be great to be able to do these and get something out of the sessions, but alas, it’s not to be.

There is another reason why I’m pleased that it throbbed.  It reminded me of the importance of setting a clear objective for the purpose of each session.  To be honest…I let this slip.  I’d planned for a fartlek session, which given that I was still on holiday, I could have done off-road and in the light.  This would have allowed me to run a bit quicker in a less structured way.  At this stage in marathon training it was precisely the session I needed to do.  There was a reason I had planned it.  Instead I mistakenly opted for the track; l ended up slipping my way through a session which, at this stage of marathon training, was inappropriate.  It wasn’t even a vaguely relevant session.  Result: aching right calf.  And, like the toenail incident, it meant not missed runs, but much shorter, easier ones.  Lesson well and truly learned.  It’s the last time it will happen.

Other than that this has been a productive few weeks.  As I write this on Tuesday 23 January I’ve run every day this month for a total of 152 miles.  I’m not going to obsess about the fact that I’d planned for around 35 more at this stage.  Pleasingly, yesterday’s run with the Burnden Road Runners marathon training group was a hilly 9.5 miles with the last 3 all under 7 minute miles.  To be close to marathon pace at the end of a hilly run (even if it was only 9.5 miles) is a nice little confidence boost.  But the real value of this month has been the timely reminder not to take any of this too seriously.   Yes, I want to make progress; yes, I want to fulfil my potential, particularly in the marathon; but perhaps most of all, I want to remember to wear my glasses the next time I cut my toenails.

Marcus Chester, MArcus Chester runner, Chadderton Hall parkrun, parkrun

Sixteen weeks to go…

Ok then…

Obviously, New Year’s Day lends itself to reflection and projection: learning what you can from the past and setting goals for the future.  Three weeks ago I wrote about my goal to break three hours at the Blackpool Marathon in April.  It’s now 16 weeks until marathon day, and with the Christmas break now over it is time to get focused on doing everything that I can to realise this ambition.

In the last three weeks I have: 

  • Run 92 miles, an average of just over 30 miles per week.  My intention for this period of time was to tick over through the Christmas period, and I feel that I’ve done this productively.  However, the next few weeks will see this average mileage increase steadily.
  • Placed first in a parkrun.  Admittedly it was against the smallest parkrun field that I’ve ever competed against!  But, it felt nice to come first in something.  The results are here.
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Chadderton Hall parkrun, 17/12/16 – First

02/01/17 – 08/01/17

The aim for the next week is to bookend the week with a couple of long steady runs.  Monday’s will be 12 miles at 8:40 minute miles and Sunday’s will be 13 at 8:30.  I’m going to complete a parkrun on Saturday and the target time for this is 20 minutes.  On Wednesday I’ll do a track session with the group that meets at Leverhulme.  Like last week, the emphasis will be on form rather than on flat out speed.  I don’t want to overreach myself, particularly in the early stages of the training.  All other running will be recovery runs/easy runs for a total of 50 miles.

Another aim for the week is to start to cross train.  I’m using body weight exercises and the emphasis is simply to become much stronger throughout the core.  These will be mixed with some stretching.  There will be some element of this each day.

Marcus Chester, Marcus Chester runner, Bolton parkrun, parkrun

Finally, nutrition.  I’m not adopting any formal plan for this, but I will be following some rules to ensure that I get onto the start in April feeling healthy and 28 pounds lighter.  The main rule is to completely cut all refined food.  As my weight has stabilised around 13 stones (down from 21), I have been less strict with the amount of refined food (particularly sugar) that I have consumed.  I’m not really happy with this, and I know that the effect of this are deleterious on both general wellbeing and performance.  A central plank of placing greater emphasis on nutrition will be through using the Nutribullet.  This really is a great way of making quality, nutritious drinks within a matter of minutes.

So, whatever challenge you are planning, I wish you well.  We can all #BeHappier.

parkrun, Wythenshaw parkrun, Marcus Chester, The Happy Teacher Podcast

These are the moments I run for

Running continually renews me; this much is evident to me.

It’s an odd paradox that through exhaustion I feel more alive, more refreshed, happier. It’s the stripping away of the layers of self that does it. In exhaustion my mind is liberated from everyday thoughts and I return home with a clarity of outlook that lasts until the next run.

I run to get some time away and time alone. It’s not that I want to be lonely; what I want is to be better when I return: there’s peace and exhilaration in exhaustion. I’m a better human when, through running, my jangled nerves are calmed and my senses are refreshed. Through exhaustion I gain the peace of mind that has, for so much of my life, eluded me.

Sometimes the renewal is sudden. There are times when while plodding along that the light through the trees penetrates my eyes at a different level and it resonates deeply. It would be hard to explain were it not so commonplace: one minute my thoughts are confused, tricky to make sense of; within the next footstep the assault to my senses from the outside world is so complete that the only thing to do is to stop and to stare. Thought stutters to a halt. I’m at peace.  It’s what every addict seeks.

Wythenshaw parkrun, 22 October 2016

These are the moments I run for. This is where running refreshes me in ways that progress measured by the stopwatch never could: to stop and stare at how the universe has brought me to this point at this time; to witness the early autumn light breaking through the trees of a park; to experience the damp rising from the grass.

The journey is always significant. Running is a daily reminder of that. It continually helps me to arrive at a renewed, refreshed state of mind.

This much is evident to me.

Blackpool Marathon (2017)

Sunday 23 April 2017.

It’s a significant date: Shakespeare’s probable birthday.  St George’s Day.  And, of course, the day when I’ll break three hours for the marathon.

I’m nowhere near capable of doing this now.  On Saturday I ran Bolton parkrun in 21:00 – Although this was not a flat out effort it is indicative of how fit (or unfit) I am.  Other indicators of how difficult this challenge are:

My marathon PB is 3:40 set in Manchester 2015 – this was subsequently found to be a short course!

My half-marathon PB is 1:38:29

MY 10K PB is 41:15

My parkrun best this year is 19:29

So, putting it bluntly, the chance of achieving this is pretty low.  That is my first thought, but as I said here, just because your first thought seems natural is not a good enough reason to act as if it is the only way of viewing things.

I’ve been using this blog as a way of demonstrating some ways in which I’ve learned how to become more fulfilled and happier.  One of my main motivations for doing this is to promote my belief that through striving to realise our potential we can become more fulfilled.  I believe that it is time to practise what I preach with regard to running.  I am to become my own experiment: I am to become my own coach and coached.

I think I’ve learned some important lessons over the last few years about how to extract every last drop of willingness out of myself.  Outstanding teaching has at its heart the conviction that we can all be so much more than we initially think.  It’s time to utilise this belief with regards to running.

Now, I run mainly because of the positive impact that it has on my happiness and wellbeing, and this will continue to be the case.  But, I’m intrigued by the simple question of how fast I can become over such a challenging distance.  It would be dishonest of me to train for this marathon and then subsequently blog or podcast about how I’m not really bothered about the time I’m aiming for.  The truth is that although I recognise the totally arbitrary nature of breaking 3 hours, I am also highly motivated to do so.  I want to be honest with my intentions.  I don’t want to say to people that I’m not concerned about what time I run when really I am.

So, I’ve made my intention public.  My target is verging on the delusional.  But, I hope you’ll see that (for me) being transparent about what I want to achieve is a great way (for me) of getting focused, gaining momentum, and remaining committed.

I also hope you’ll see that if I can do this with my own very obvious lack of innate talent, then maybe you can turn your hand to whatever it is that you want to achieve but have, maybe, been putting off.

I’ll be posting a weekly update right here.

Target:

To run the Blackpool Marathon on Sunday 23 April 2017 in a time of sub 3 hours.