The power of networks

A CEO I was working with last week paused for a moment and said, with slight bewilderment, ‘You seem to know everyone … how?’. My immediate answer was ‘well, I do a lot of things, in a wide range of spheres, across the world – you come to know a lot of people when you do this’; on reflection after the conversation, however, I thought my real answer to his question was actually deeper than this, and worth unpicking further.

I do know a lot of people – this is very true. Moreover, I like at least 99.9% of the people I know, and this strikes me as significant. I always remember as a fledgling teacher being told ‘you won’t like most of your pupils, but you don’t have to, to be a good teacher’, but actually I did like them. There is not a single student I can think of now who I didn’t like, and many of them have reconnected with me since I have moved on from education into my non-executive career. I have met up again with former students while working in Hong Kong, Sydney and London, and enjoyed every minute of these precious moments of connection. Similarly, I like all the people I work with professionally on boards or in other organisations. In a typical week, I have meaningful discussions and interactions with scores of people, and I genuinely like these people. Of course, there are people I really, really like, with whom I choose to spend more time and/or share more personally with – people I am delighted to call wonderful friends – but I have a very broad understanding of the practice of ‘liking people’. When I meet new people, which again I do almost every week, I like them. My list of ‘people I like’ grows by the day.

‘Liking people’ doesn’t actually happen by accident, I reflect. ‘Liking people’ begins, I would venture to suggest, with the underlying premise that people are essentially likeable, and a profound belief in the capacity for good in human beings, aligned – so I realised later in my life – with the philosopher John Dewey’s belief in ultimate, ethical humanity. I choose Dewey as a marker here because he is an educational hero of mine – again, through a retrospective fitting of my understanding of the purpose of education to the explorations of great thinkers who have gone before; in fact, there are a number of wellsprings of inspirations who I could name here; my alignments are eclectically constructed. What they share in common is a pragmatic optimism – which is a discipline rather than a born state. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ needs time and energy if you are to love both parties in the neighbourly partnership. Like all disciplines, however, it becomes easier the more it is practised.

I have read screeds about networking over the years, and much of it contains very sensible advice which boils down to ‘know who you are’ and ‘be proactive’. Do make time, if you want to grow the number of people you know, either to join networking groups or simply team up with people in your field and beyond; when you find your tribe or tribes, it adds a rich, enjoyable and productive dimension to your life. I would add to this advice: ‘give generously of your expertise’, and ‘be fearless in reaching out’; the give and take of relationships demands that at least one person in the partnership starts the communication. So yes, be proactive and extend your network when you are in search of a new job, or a mentor, or some inspirations … but remember to give as well as take. In fact, give before you take. And when you do take, give back manifold.

Above all, before you do any of this at all, look honestly at how you view your fellow human beings. And – dare I say it – start by thinking the best of them, and believing in them.

Like someone new today. What a lovely way to start the week …

Safeguarding is for Life, not just for Children … why all company directors should be trained in safeguarding

I slipped up in a recent interview with Robin Fletcher, CEO of the Boarding Schools’ Association, when I was quizzing him about the work of SACPA, the Safeguarding and Child Protection Association, which is part of the BSA Group. I linked ‘safeguarding’ and ‘children’ in a question, and he quite rightly picked me up on this – safeguarding, after all, as he pointed out, is actually for everyone. Students at university, vulnerable adults, residents of care homes, a regular customer in the street … in fact, although we often associate the term ‘safeguarding’ with the (very stringent) laws around child protection, safeguarding is something we should all be doing, in whatever walk of life we find ourselves.

This was reinforced to me at the weekend, as I completed my annual safeguarding training for Abbotsholme School, on whose Advisory Board I sit, and whose new Head I knew from his time at Wellington College China – and who I personally think is fabulous. The topics covered in this training ranged from mental health and wellbeing to online safety, including radicalism and extremism; they covered child protection, of course, but the scope of the areas covered was really extensive. All school governors or directors complete safeguarding training, and it is important to recognise that this is not principally because they have personal access to children, but in part actually because safety of pupils, staff and the wider community is a really important risk factor in the operation of the organisation which needs to be mitigated and managed.

If this is the case in schools, then so it is the case in any organisation which has anything to do with people … which, let’s face it, is all of them, in some way or another. In fact, the more we think about it, the more we realise that every single company has some exposure to risk around safeguarding, and therefore some responsibility to minimise this risk through proper awareness and training. This starts at the top – I do wonder how approaches to customer and staff safety would shift – for the better – if company directors had to work through even just the schools-focused training I completed this weekend.

And I can tell you from experience that it is not possible to acquire a full understanding of safeguarding in a single training session, nor is it possible to develop a safeguarding culture through watching a set of slides. Safeguarding is a habit – a habit that must be deeply ingrained, constantly challenged, and perpetually embedded. The Safeguarding Lead at Abbotsholme, and her equally persistent counterpart at Chase Grammar (the two schools are part of the Achieve Education Group) live, breathe and adapt to potential safeguarding issues every single day – and because they do this, these issues are avoided or quickly resolved, keeping people safe. Safeguarding Leads in school often feel they have a thankless task, because their work is never done, but they possess such a wealth of knowledge about people – about keeping people safe – and such a lot to teach companies in other spheres of activity.

If we all take safeguarding seriously, then I can only imagine that the world will be a better and safer place. Safeguarding need not just be for schools.

Dr Helen Wright is a Board Chair, Education Advisor and Executive Leadership Coach who works with senior leaders and organisations across the world to challenge them and generate velocity around change.

On turning 50 …

1.50am on Saturday 22 August was a momentous occasion for me, as I crossed the threshold from the age of 49 to that of 50. I had been looking forward with great eagerness, anticipation and enthusiasm for weeks to that precise moment, as I awaited the descent of omniscience and wisdom, in a Damascene-like moment of enlightenment. That didn’t quite happen, but I expect that this is merely due to the global pandemic; it will all have been delayed in the post. Even the Tooth Fairy has had trouble delivering of late.

I have always found moving from one decade to the next a milestone of optimism. I loved turning 30, just about to take up my first school Deputy Head’s post, and very shortly (although I didn’t actually know it at that moment …) my first role as a school Principal. When I turned 40 – with 3 young children and leading a wonderfully successful school – we threw a glorious tea party for the entire school community and had cupcakes galore. My forties have been a decade of phenomenal career shift and global outreach, and I marvel at my good fortune (underpinned, I will point out, by resilience and hard work …) at being able to do what I do now, as a Board Chair, Education Advisor and Executive Coach, in an amazingly varied portfolio which continues to evolve.

Along the way, of course, I have learned that wisdom grows when we water its living roots, and look after ourselves and others. I have learned that knowledge – omniscient or otherwise – is a construct which we must keep interrogating. I have learned the joy of living with an authentic purpose and a sense of responsibility to the world, and I have learned the power of walking in other people’s shoes. I haven’t yet learned that I can’t change the world overnight, or even by next Tuesday, even though a wise coach once told me to remember that I wasn’t God. That was a little deflating to hear, but perhaps she was right. Maybe I will learn that next decade.

I turn 50 with a powerful belief in the children and young people of today, who are the future of the planet. I have a deeper commitment than ever before to the importance of learning and education in every corner of our lives, and I have more courage than ever to speak this truth. Being authentic, challenging, kind and impactful all matter hugely to me. Generating velocity for change in organisations, and empowering leaders, are outcomes of my work which bring me enormous satisfaction. ‘Onwards and upwards’ has long been my mantra; now I live this daily with ever greater joy.

Above all, I have an intense sense of gratitude for everything I have learned and experienced to date. So thank you, world, for giving me all these opportunities. Thank you to my parents, who have nurtured me, and who I know are deeply proud of me. Thank you to my husband for his stalwart support and belief in me over all these decades. Thank you to my children for the love they have brought me. And thank you to all my amazing friends, colleagues, wider family and my diverse group of acquaintances for your tolerance, good humour, friendship and encouragement.

So – now, on with the next 50 years …

School Boards … keep a clear head

If school leaders and Boards are honest, there is a little corner of their minds which wants to say ‘please, just make all of this go away …’. The stresses on school enrolment, the spiralling costs – in time as well as in money – of measures to protect against Covid-19, the uncertainties of the year ahead and what learning will actually look like … each of these alone would be enough to send many a normal human being scurrying for the hills; moreover, after the debacle of the IB results this year, and the uproar around SQA results in Scotland, school boards in England are waiting with horribly bated breath for the A Levels and GCSE results to emerge.

Add to this the astonishingly impossible task of meeting local and national government requirements, which boils down to – ‘you must socially distance, but not if you can’t, and if you can’t, on your head be it’. The pressure on schools is approaching the limits of tolerability: Covid-19 hasn’t gone away – and no, we don’t absolutely know what the exam diet will look like next summer. In fact, we don’t know much about anything as far as the year ahead is concerned – although schools do know that they have students who need to be taught, and a community that needs to be nurtured, and they have proven themselves remarkably resilient and adaptable in doing so over the past few months. School leaders and teachers are the absolute unsung heroes of the crisis, keeping learning going and spirits high, often at their own expense. School Boards may have had the anxiety of keeping the school afloat, and they may have had to make some very difficult decisions, but the credit for keeping school communities alive goes firmly to the staff.

This said, school Boards should beware of allowing the pendulum in their governance to swing too far towards simply agreeing with school leaders. A worst case scenario for this new academic year for schools is not so much a further spike in the virus, but rather the implosion of leadership and governance, where, for example, Governors start issuing decrees, and leaders are so busy managing, and so driven to distraction that they don’t have the time to take part in measured strategic discussion informed by their expertise. The relationship between leadership and governance is akin to a beautifully tuned stringed instrument; when the right amount of tension is applied, and when all the parts align, then the sound which emerges resonates strongly and clearly. Slacken the tension at either end, or neglect its rigorous upkeep, and the whole project fails. Governance and leadership need to work in tandem, as partners, for a school to thrive, and it is incumbent upon Boards to lead the way.

So, as the new school year approaches, my advice to school Boards is to keep a clear head. Remember that you are there to provide oversight and insight, and to do so in a reasonable manner, neither unhurried nor (usually) demanding of immediate response. You are there to hold the vision of the school – the strong oak tree in the middle of the storm, so do not flap your leaves in despair at lower grades, or the first sign of parental dissatisfaction next term, but take time to consider carefully. Support your leaders, but do not give them carte blanche to make decisions for which you are responsible. By all means lessen the load of expectation around papers for Board meetings (a good thing, in any case), but do not stint in your incisive interpretation and analysis. Ask as many questions as before – more, probably – while supporting as much as before … again, more, probably.   

School Boards exist for a reason. They are not there to lead the school; they are there to ensure the leadership of the school functions appropriately, and to provide a wider perspective born of diversity and distance. The skill of a great school Board is to challenge without upsetting, to be clear and decisive without being narrowminded, and to act with wisdom in all things.

Remember that clear head …

‘Hiding behind unconscious bias’: a huge challenge for NEDs from Romeo Effs

I was brought up short while listening into a Changing the Chemistry Graduate Group Meeting last week. These meetings are regular member-only events, intended for existing non-executive directors and trustees, and they deal with topical issues, with the aim of supporting boards to ensure ever better governance. This month, the topic was ‘Increasing diversity on Boards: The BAME experience’, and the speaker was Board advisor Romeo Effs. While the conversation itself was entirely confidential, so I have no intention of revealing who else was there or who said what, what Romeo had to say was so important that it needs to be broadcast.

Romeo was there to talk to us about the importance of the Black and Asian perspective on boards and to share his Board experience and knowledge. The impetus afforded to ‘Black Lives Matter’ given by the horrific killing of George Floyd in the US, and subsequent illumination of decades – centuries – of discrimination, which we all knew about but had side-lined, means that we have one of the most important opportunities in our lifetime to ensure that change happens at Board level and throughout the organisations for which we as NEDs and Chairs are responsible.

I have long spoken about unconscious bias when I talk to my coaching clients or to boards, and I am clear when I speak that this is a bias which results from our assumptions that are influenced by the lenses through which we have been taught or encouraged to see the world. It can be very hard to spot this unconscious bias, but the first step is always to recognise that we have it. Some of our biases are healthy; many of them aren’t, because they position us as somehow superior to others, and they leave us closed to appreciating the power of diversity of thought which is more and more widely recognised as a central element in the success of Boards and their organisations.

What Romeo said that brought me up short was his exhortation to us all to ‘stop hiding behind unconscious bias; plain and simple, it is just bias’. He is completely right – it is so easy to say ‘yes, I am sure I have unconscious bias … I just don’t know what it is … so therefore this excuses me.’ On the contrary, the appreciation of unconscious bias does NOT excuse us; our recognition of unconscious bias is only the very first, baby step in making a change, of dragging our bias to the surface, examining it and then rejecting it, in order to contribute to making this world a fairer, more equal, more gloriously diverse and therefore much more creative and effective place.

So, what do we do? Well, start with Project Implicit, the Harvard Project which brings to the surface our unconscious biases, so that they are no longer unconscious, but we have awareness of them. And specifically, read ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which was recommended to me by an amazing black leader I admire, and which contains not only a devastating critique on the UK’s approach to race over the past 100 years, but also practical, strong direction on how to move forward. ‘Use your anger’, she says, and points out that ‘being anti-racist in your personal or professional life, where there’s very little praise to be found, is much more difficult, but ultimately more meaningful’. 

We all need to face up to our unconscious bias. And we need not to hide behind it. Board Chairs and NEDs should lead the way for their organisations.

Dr Helen Wright is an experienced NED, Board Chair and Advisor, as well as an Executive Coach who is deeply committed to global competence. Her most recent book, The Globally Competent School: a manual is available on Amazon.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – and the art of savouring reading

When I studied French at school, one of the books we read was the classic Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I remember still my slight feeling of perplexment about why we were reading what seemed, to all intents and purposes, a simple children’s book. I was an avid reader as a child, as my parents will testify, and was used to tearing my way voraciously through lengthy novels; I could understand that we might need to read something a little simpler in a foreign language which we were still learning … but really? A children’s book?

Le Petit Prince, of course, is not really a children’s book at all, but an opportunity to reflect on the absurdities of the human race – a realisation which I acquired to a limited extent while studying the book, but which it took me several years more really to appreciate, and which coincided with my (still dawning) understanding that reading is an art best indulged in slowly. Reading quickly still serves me very well in most of my working life, from board papers to books containing intriguing perspectives on ideas about how the world/humanity/education/society/business could function better, many of which occupy my bookshelves. When faced in my holiday reading with the recommendation from a friend of a beautiful book like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, however, to read quickly would be entirely disrespectful, and a deeper savouring is not just recommended – it is obligatory.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is an indulgence in the senses, from the texture of the cover to the size and weight of the pages, and from the fluid ink drawings to the simple – and profound – words and interactions. There is no plot, no thesis, no structured plan for action … it offers itself to the reader as an enticing and compelling world which has a moral framework, but in which we must engage and allow our imaginations to meld and mesh with the words and pictures in order to create meaning. I laughed and felt sad, and when I had ‘finished’, I knew I had only scratched the surface and am already drawn to return. Slow reading uncovers, gently, meaning, I am (still) discovering.

Upon revisiting Le Petit Prince recently, on a trip down memory lane, I was surprised to see that it contained many more words than I had remembered. The core simplicity of the messages, though, had remained with me throughout all those years. Fewer words, deeper meaning … maybe that was one of the most important lessons of all from my French studies at school.

The best kind of pride – pride in others

I have had a week of feeling proud – proud of so many school leaders I know, who have risen with grit and resilience to the challenges they have faced, proud of my executive leadership coachees who have reached the end of their programmes and who are evidently stronger and more focused … proud – insanely proud, in fact – of my 17 year old son. I hasten to say that this pride does not mean that he is some sort of angel, or that he doesn’t make me cross sometimes, or that he doesn’t upset me … and it certainly doesn’t mean that he would appreciate me writing this blog, but as he resolutely does not follow me on social media, then I reckon I am fairly safe in writing this, as long as you don’t tell him. And if he does find out, well … I don’t mind. I am too immensely proud for that, and I became his biggest advocate and supporter when I gave birth to him. There’s no changing that.

So, why am I so proud? Well, for the first month and a half (at least) of our lockdown here in the UK, he chose not to go outside at all. We talked about this, and I respected his decision, as it was a very reasoned thought process based on his strong desire to protect the rest of our family from any contact with Covid-19. With the advent of June, however, he decided to take on a challenge set every year by one of his teachers at Broughton High School, Edinburgh, namely DARED – Do A Run Every Day for charity. Harry decided that he would do this; I, meantime, was careful not to show too much of my enthusiasm, in case that might jinx his intentions (a choice which many parents of teenagers will recognise…), so I simply signed him up and started off by contributing to his sponsorship goal, which he set at £50, raising money for Circle, which supports families in need across Scotland.

The original plan was to do 5km a day, and he set out to do this, every day without fail. Then, within a few days, he started running for longer distances, and then longer. By 15th June he was running over 10km a day. He ran around Arthur’s Seat one day – 15.8km – and then another day to Cramond and back (18.5km). Then he ran to Portobello and back (18.8km), and then he ran to Fairmilehead and Mortonhall – 21km! His longest run to date was this one, towards the end of last week –

I asked him why, and in his typically dry manner he just said he did it because he could, although I know by some of his comments posted beside his runs, that he was striving to do just that bit better, to reach the next goal, be it 10k or 20k, or to achieve the longest run to date. What he has yet to appreciate, perhaps, is quite how much of an inspiring example this sets, and what a delight this is for educators to see, as well as for parents – and, indeed, for other fellow human beings. Determination, commitment, a growth mindset, a belief that everything is possible if you set your mind to it … this is an attitude to lift the soul of us all, especially when these qualities are employed in pursuit of a goal to support others.

So far – and I am writing this on 28 June, so with still 2 days to go – he has run over 275km and has raised over £800 for Circle, thanks to some absolutely amazing donors, who have commented on his JustGiving page that they are feeling inspired and proud of him too. I share in their delight.

Pride in another human being’s achievement – the best kind of pride. And if you want to see Harry’s runs, and experience Edinburgh vicariously, then do visit his page – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/harry-wright-dared

A call to action: become a school governor

I was delighted to see Julie Robinson’s call to action last week, encouraging people to apply to become school governors, and I urge you to watch it. Julie is the CEO of the UK Independent Schools’ Council, representing the organisations which support the vast majority of independent schools throughout the country, and she is also one of the most committed advocates I know for social mobility and community engagement through education; her call to action is equally on behalf of state as well as independent schools. If you have ever considered being a school governor – or even if you have never considered it – then now is the time to apply, to support schools and their leaders as they navigate some of the toughest and most challenging times they have ever experienced.

What, though, do school leaders need from their board members? While coaching and supporting school leaders across the world over the past 6 years, since leaving school Headship myself, I have noted the emergence of a number of crystal-clear themes – themes which apply to every single type of school, wherever they are on the globe, and whatever structure they have. The following lists draw together some of these observations …

School leaders need a board which:

  • collectively has a deep, shared and coherent understanding of a vision for the school, as well as its current reality and challenges;
  • contains a group of people with diverse perspectives and a range of backgrounds, so that they can bring a range of viewpoints and spot areas or gaps or assumptions which might not be evident to the leader or others on the board;
  • is unafraid to use its voice, but which recognises the equal importance of appropriate support and keen, insightful challenge;
  • channels active energy effectively into what really matters, usually supported in this by sensible structures such as committees and the guidance of a board chair who is wise enough to know that they are only a part of the structure;
  • recognises that its purpose is not to manage the school, but to provide governance for it … and so which has been prepared to learn what good governance really is.

What they don’t need is a board which:

  • panics;
  • is swayed in its decision-making by board members who bring what they hear in the playground into the boardroom and define this as ‘fact’;
  • believes that its role is to invent multiple initiatives and expects them to be adopted by the school leadership team, without due consideration of the impact of these, and whether they properly further the vision;
  • is negligent, not challenging the numbers and statements made by the leadership team – appropriate and strong challenge is one of the vital elements of the value that board members bring; 
  • which does not build a sense of their corporate responsibility, part of which will almost certainly include connecting either with each other and the school leadership beyond attendance at meetings.

Over the past few months I have heard tales of two extremes of governance in schools … and the best of these have been of boards which have taken their responsibilities for the future of the school seriously, meeting regularly online, adapting their processes to work around the pressures on their school leaders, and stepping up both their level of scrutiny and of support. As most governors do this work entirely voluntarily, this has been a huge ask of them – they have been playing a very real and valuable part in the worldwide crisis which we are all experiencing.

It is almost certainly a fact that crises will tend to bring out the best and the worst in people; schools – the engines of our society, which have been dramatically affected by the restrictions imposed as a result of the fight against Covid-19 – deserve the absolute best from people.

So – watch Julie’s call to action, and, if you can, step up to the mark.

Resilience and belonging. Ensuring #blacklivesmatter

Last week, a fellow Light Up Learning Board member came across this 2016 article from The Atlantic, and I thought it was particularly apt at this moment to share it in our history, as we all try to work out how to move definitively away from systemic, ingrained racism in our world. Written by Paul Tough, whose 2009 book ‘Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America’ profiled the black American educator, Geoffrey Canada, this article is a long but perceptive and well-reasoned read, exploring how children and young people learn the resilience we believe (and know) they need in order to thrive equally in the world.

Its key message is that young people need 4 important mindsets or beliefs if they are going to be able to persevere:

  1. A sense of belonging – ‘I belong here’
  2. A growth mindset – ‘my ability and competence grow with my effort’
  3. A sense of self – ‘I can succeed at this’
  4. A sense of purpose – ‘this work has value for me’

Children who grow up in adverse circumstances, however, often don’t believe any of these things. Schools can make a difference, and I have seen schools do fabulous work in mindsets 2-4 especially. It struck me, while reading the article and reflecting, and while reading heartrending accounts over the weekend of the exclusion felt by black and minority ethnic people, that where we can all do so, so much better is in developing and sustaining a real sense of belonging. Schools, families, mentors, coaches … everyone can play their part in making this happen. We are all in this together, we are all genuinely equal, we should all belong … And we have to stand up, say this, mean it, and do something about it.

Change often happens not as a smooth evolution, but more akin to the movement of tectonic plates, with a build up of intolerable pressure until they can stand no more, the earth gives way in a resounding earthquake, and new land is formed. George Floyd’s death released the tectonic plates. let us regroup on the new ground, as equals, where we all belong together.

There is no going back in life, only forward. Let’s do it side by side, listening to the hurt of the past, illuminating the real stories, redressing the issue of privilege, with humility and sorrow, but with hope for the future, and a determination to ensure we all, all, all have an equal sense of belonging in this world.

A tale of root ginger, hope and determination

Once Upon A Time, roughly 9 weeks ago, when everyone in the UK was instructed to stay at home, there was a mini (but nonetheless confronting) crisis in Edinburgh, when root ginger for purchase was nowhere to be found. ‘Sorry, not available’ were the words stamped across online orders, and even kind neighbours who ventured out for shopping reported few sightings. Great was the rejoicing on our (newly created) street WhatsApp group when a neighbour returned triumphantly from a foray to a local shop, clutching a rhizome or two to divvy up and post through our letterboxes.

Before you snort, and dismiss this search for scarcity as a ‘first world problem’, do let me remind you that while, yes, none of us was about to die if we did not acquire this food, ginger is in fact a staple spice used for culinary and medicinal purposes across the world, at all levels of society. Widely valued for its anti-inflammatory purposes, it falls into the ‘this is good for you’ pile of foods. Besides, it has an ancient history and is what might be described as a ‘globally connecting’ food, given its journey across cultures, and across human history. Should you need more information, Wikipedia reports that:

“Ginger originated in Island Southeast Asia and was likely domesticated first by the Austronesian peoples. It was transported with them throughout the Indo-Pacific during the Austronesian expansion (c. 5,000 BP), reaching as far as Hawaii. Ginger is one of the first spices to have been exported from Asia, arriving in Europe with the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans. …  In 2018, world production of ginger was 2.8 million tonnes, led by India with 32% of the world total.”

A global food indeed. Moreover – and critically – our communal hunt for ginger in our small street brought us closer. The gratitude and sense of ‘we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other’ that the search for root ginger epitomised felt incredibly important at the time, and still does. As a community, we are still all being asked to play our part in supporting the fight against Covid-19, and knowing that we are not alone, and that there are people close by to help and support us if needed, was (and is) really significant in being able to sustain this. Besides, I have many lovely new friends now, for which I am hugely thankful.

Anyway, the ginger story did not stop here, even though root ginger – to everyone’s relief – soon became widely available again. The experience of its scarcity, however, made me wonder whether it might be possible to grow the plant at a latitude of 55.95°N, to sustain us in lean moments ahead. Extensive research online and with friends suggested an ambiguous response to this question, hovering around the ‘possibly yes, possibly no’  mark, so I decided to apply a filter of positivity and plump for ‘well, let’s try’. I tracked down a company in the north of Scotland which sold ginger rhizomes for planting (because shop-bought root ginger is usually treated to inhibit growth), and when it arrived, I planted it. I watered it, placed it as close to the window as possible, so it would receive some warmth, and waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited another week, then another week, then another.

Still nothing.

A little deflated, I moved the plant pot away from the window, to make space for the chilli plants and basil, which were exploding in their growth, but from time to time I checked the soil of the ginger plant pot to make sure it wasn’t drying out.

Still nothing happened.

And then …

A few days ago …

I spotted a tiny, tiny, tiny green shoot, breaking through the surface. It was so tiny that without a very close inspection, you would miss it. And yet, it was undeniably there. The ginger plant was growing! Very, very, very slowly, admittedly, and almost certainly at such a fragile time in its lifespan that its existence hovers between life and death. But it is there, a triumph of nature and a living metaphor for almost too many aspects of our current situation to list – including the power of patience, the importance of learning to trust what we cannot control, and how it is within our own grasp to turn, resolutely, loss into positive action.

I am inordinately delighted with my living metaphor, so much so that I wanted to share this experience as a fable. Were I still a school leader, I would have material in this one story for several of next term’s assemblies; watch out for its resurgence in my motivational talks. You heard it here first.

After all, when we determinedly turn negatives into positives, draw on the support of those around us, and share, then – and I do absolutely, tenaciously and unwaveringly believe this – we take one step closer to living, as the fairy tale says, happily ever after.

(Not yet) The End …