Reads of the Week #72

The weeks fly by and with them the reading becomes more specialised, more focussed. Whether it’s a president or a teacher, a dying man or a lottery winner, the time of year tells us things are silently taking shape beneath the surface, and we have to make do with what we can.

We’re lucky to have a President who is so versed and interested in History, this speech from his recent visit to Australia on the Famine and the scattering of the Irish is powerful.

This piece by Matt Bencke broke my heart.

Here, John Thomsett sets out how schools should approach professional development: it’s a primer for those of us in this area of education and for school leaders too.

Podcast of the week is 99% Invisible‘s account of how El Gordo, the lottery in Spain, is both a thing of beauty and a strange ritual.

And the cover image this week is from Jo. I found it here.

Have a great week everyone.


Reads of the Week #71

This week has been about the culmination of two months work with my amazing colleagues on what good History CPD looks like. And so far, so good. If I needed confirmation that teachers are special (I didn’t) I got it this week, and though we know there will be harder days, the openness and professionalism of those we met so far has been such a validation or my choice to move out of the classroom to support teachers in curricular reform. Truth be told, this whole blog has been the story of my move, post by post from outright scepticism to understanding that without engagement with professional development, teachers can’t improve their teaching. Denying them their right to the opportunity to collaborate, improve and acknowledge their current good practice is a poor way to lead them.


It should come as no surprise then that this week’s selection of things to read is all about education.

Geoff Barton on why pushing teachers out of the classroom has to stop.

But as a profession, we’ve not been good at rewarding great teachers for being just that – great teachers. Apart from system flirtations with initiatives like the “Advanced Skills Teacher”, “Excellent Teacher” and “Lead Practitioner” programmes, the dominant progression route has been to move into management. As a result, we take good teachers and expect them to teach less and to manage more.

Alison Peacock says hereTo teach and learn without limits is to place trust and empathy first, within a culture of high ambition for all. Essentially, if we believe that labelling children sets limits then we need to seize “transformability” as a means to see what might be possible, rather than focusing on a perceived deficit.

Successful people in education initiate, says George CourosThey innovate inside the box and do not let outside circumstances dictate their destiny. They are not waiting for the “next big idea” to find them, but go do what they can with what they have, to create the best experiences for the people they serve.

From Maria Popova, here’s ee cummings on art, life, and being unafraid to feelTo be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

Cara Giaimo on the paperbacks that soldiers carried into warThe first set was released in October of 1943. Each month for the next four years, crate after crate of books made their way to overseas soldiers, pretty much wherever they were. “They have been dropped by parachute to outpost forces on lonely Pacific islands; issued in huge lots to hospitals… and passed out to soldiers as they embarked on transports,” reporter Frank S. Adams wrote in 1944.

Some good History in my podcast of the week, from the RTE Doc on One series on the Siege of Jadotville which does justice to these heroes who were forgotten, but are now being recognised for their bravery.

And finally, picture of the week is from Sean Scully Irish painter. Found it here.




Reads of the Week #70

The midterm (and a feast of reading), comes to an end and the work we’ve been preparing for over the last two months begins on Monday the 6th of November. You’ll forgive me therefore for beginning with Tom Boulter‘s excellent piece on improving curriculum in a school which can be applied to curriculum designer and to individual practice just as effectively. It was food for thought as my new role begins.

Ewan MacKenna is always worth reading but here he sang my song so loudly I was cheering by the end: I can’t stand reading, hearing, talking and writing about Conor McGregor.

Harry McGee on that old phrase ‘providing consular assistance’ and how Irish diplomats went so far to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa, gave me a renewed appreciation of diplomacy.

In his review of Stephen Kotkin’s second volume of his Stalin biography, Keith Gessen gives a masterclass on post-revolutionary Russia and goes someway towards explaning how Stalin, and the state he presided over, became Stalinist. This more than satisfied my fascination with Soviet history for the week.

Katie Coyle has appeared is these posts before, I used a magnificent piece she wrote about miscarriage wit my students a while back and it got an amazing response. This piece, Mama Heart had a similar impact on me.

And now, the writing that had the most impact on me this week. Aisling Bea is a very funny comedian but. writing on her father’s suicide she broke my heart with grief for a lost loved one revisited and filled me with admiration that she could be funny and honest at the same as she explored such a personal experience, I’m in awe of her.

Podcast of the is The Memory Palace, Nate diMeo, with nine and a half minutes of poetry on a disappearing memory of his youth, my youth too, radio stations. Radio meant so much to me growing up, music and talk was on everywhere, even as I ‘studied’ every night in my room at home or in college. Perhaps podcasts have replaced it, I’m listening to a podcast as I write, and if podcasts can reach the beautifully high standard Nate diMeo does, radio might still be okay.

Image of the week is, perhaps appropriately given the news is from Santiago Rusiñol i Prats, a Spanish artist, famous for his role in Catalan Modernism. The painting is Avenue of Plane Trees, 1916 and I found it here.


Reads of the Week #69

Some very affecting stuff this week, much to ponder in this selection on grief and talking, on silence and growing up, as well as being a grateful parent and human being. There’s a podcast on one of the great songs that can be bent and shaped into a musical standard and a jazz classic, and the photo is proof of the beauty of our little part of the world.

Malachy Clerkin, stepping away from sport, his usual patch, here, writes about the ache left behind when a loved one dies and how that gap is always there, it just takes the most unexpected trigger to remind you.

Also stepping away from sport, though into his other field, Richie Sadlier wrote here about seeking and benefiting from therapy in troubled times. It isn’t something he was comfortable telling people about at the time, but ultimately talking helps, whether we seek professional help or a friendly ear elsewhere.

I constantly refer back to Maria Popova’s Brainpickings selections, a source of regular brainfood. This essay is on Paul Goodman, who I’m only discovering after reading this piece and the Nine Kinds of Silence he identified. It fits well with the previous selections. I’m trying the fertile silence of awareness at the moment!

In the middle of a blogpost called Why children do not care about being successful adults, Ben Newmark wrote a sentence that had me punching the air.

My school life was miserable and I would have done anything to be happier. The idea that by working hard I was more likely to be a successful adult one day, and should take comfort from this abstract idea, was inconceivable to me because my world was all-encompassing and the idea of ‘growing up’ had very little meaning.

This was me too. And I resolved very early in my teaching career that I would never forget what it was like to be a teenager. Great read

And finally, an old(?!) friend of the Reads of the Week returns: Heidi Stevens turned 43 this month and wrote about what she really wants from her kids for her birthday. It’s rare enough that I read something and pass it straight to my wife on the couch for her to read, but I did with this.

Podcast of the week is from BBC Radio 4’s series Soul Music again. This edition is on My Favourite Things and it trips from Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music to John Coltrane in short but brilliant music odyssey. Every episode is worth a listen.

And this weeks image of a place I know well. Every Saturday morning I take my kids swimming giving me the hour off to go for a run. One of the routes I take regularly brings along the river Suir at the end of Bulmers Orchard where Jonathan Ryan took this photograph of the apples dislodged from trees after Hurricane Ophelia blew by a fortnight ago. We’re lucky to live in a place so beautiful.



Reads of the Week #68

We’re moving through my childhood this week, and from there to the best writing about Weinstein, about dreams of lesson planning, the value of twitter and tough stuff on Sean Hughes; podcasts on Wuthering Heights and a murder in Tipperary 160 years ago; the picture is Mark Chagall.

Vincent Hanley, a local hero or ours growing up died 30 years ago. He was such a huge part of all our growing up on the radio (favourite jingle of all time: ‘Listen to Vinny, or we’ll send the boys round to nail your feet to the floor!’), on the tv (MTUSA shaped our listening and watching for years to come) and at school where we were told to avoid him because he was part of the collapse of Western Culture (or something). This piece by Colm O’Callaghan brought it all back.

Marina Hyde is an expert at cutting through the bullshit. On Harvey Weinstein here she points out that it isn’t enough to go on a retreat when you’ve broken the rules. Where and when will there be a price to pay for this behaviour?

Amy Burvall is always magnificent, this post proves that even her dreams are great. That Time I Dreamt About Lesson Plans.

Greg Ashman makes the case here for the value of twitter for teachers: it’s the very fact that it isn’t the cosy place school can become. Twitter is not like real life and that’s what makes it so important.

Michael Hann wrote this controversial piece about the life and death of Sean Hughes. It rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, but it does something I think is important, it speaks honestly of the dead, something that isn’t always pretty but is necessary.

My devotion to BBC’s In Our Time Podcast series is endless, Melvyn Bragg is a colossus and I could put an episode from the catalogue on the list every week. This is on Wuthering Heights.

When the Cormack brother from Loughmore were hanged for the murder of John Ellis 1858, they were widely believed to be innocent. Fin Dwyer takes up the story here.

Picture of the week is Marc Chagall, 1949 Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat. I have seen Chagall up close in so many museums and he’s always mesmerising.  I found it here.

Reads of the Week #67

This busy week I had some hard choices to make, the long list, which I make on Saturday, had eleven things on it, including five podcasts.  Those are the good weeks, when you’ve read so much, and inspired by so many that the selection is high quality.


I regret that I never read Mark Mooney before finding this piece, My Last Byline which he wrote before dying of prostate cancer. The whole blog series is worth a read as an example of facing death with grace, humour and honesty, may he rest in peace.

Michael Cronin writes with such authority in The Dublin Review of Books on the intricacies of translating the many languages spoken in concentration camps into and out of German. The nuance of language, affecting directly the lives of prisoners. Our Language, Their Babble.

Through all of the coverage of the mess that is Brexit, Tony Connelly has provided excellent coverage and commentary. This is an extract from his new book on the subject, the fact that it deals only with the dairy trade across the border shows how deep the crisis could become.

The two podcasts I picked are interviews with inspirational Irish sportspeople. First Joy Neville, interviewed by Sean O’Rourke, about becoming one of the first women to referee a international men’s rugby match prompted a conversation with my own daughter about how impossible is nothing, great radio.

The second podcast is Jarlath Regan‘s interview with Paul McGrath. The honesty and decency of the man comes through in every answer he gives. It is one thing to be a hero in sport, but to be so humble afterwards about both his shortcomings and his successes is a mark of the man.

Finally, I love Robert Doisneau. This picture kept me going this week. Thanks again to Kultur Tava.

Reads of the Week #65

This is a short list. A few things blew me away this week, and a theme emerged, unknown to me. This writing sent me back to Robert Frost, which is never a bad thing, and a poem we’ve read with in class many, many times: Out, Out-.

And they, for they were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs. 

That line has provided content for many an English class, some students see it as a sign of the heartless, disconnected Frost, others see it as representative of a way of life, rural New England, where, like many an Irish farm or house, death is acknowledged and life goes on, as best as it can. I’m revealing my hand here, but I tend towards the latter. The writing below confirms for me that we all deal with life and death differently, but writing, or talking about it, surely help. Read and listen well till next week.


The Jupiter Epiphany by Michael Coady, appeared in last weekend’s Irish Times. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Michael on occasion, I taught his daughter even, he is a poet from and of Carrick-on-Suir. I’ve spent over two decades working in Carrick and Michael’s poetry sat on my shelf more many of those years. This poem, both a celebration of a life and of a description of an Irish funeral is rooted in his place, it is perfect. I read it aloud to my wife and eldest daughter when I found it, I do’t do that often.


Sinead Gleeson (who if you haven’t read, you should start with this) also made me stop in my tracks with this piece, Second Mother, on her Aunt Terry, which manages to be moving and joyous while lamenting the death of one so loved. Take a break after you read this, and let it sink in.


Two podcasts for you.

First from Radiolab, the amazing, and again heartbreaking story of Oliver, or Billy Sipple who saved Gerald Ford’s life and became a media curiosity. As a former Marine, there was interest in him, but as a gay man, a circus was created and gradually his life fell apart. A sobering view of the media and the marginalised.


Secondly from Sam Loy, an interview with his grandmother about his grandfather. Sounds simple, but, again, in the simple things lies not only truth, but heartbreak. I can’t say more, but it too is perfect.


I think the title of this Edvard Munch is a bit OTT but I still love it. I got it here.