I don’t know when I first came across Hamish Brewer. I think, at some point in the past, that I might have seen a video of him a while back. More recently I found videos of him online and his infectious enthusiasm had me hooked. I found him on Twitter and Facebook and, through there, saw that he had a book being released this year. I ordered it… but in the interests of saving a few dollars I ordered it from a website I don’t usually use and it took longer than anticipated to arrive. My holiday reading (aside from the 4 novels I read to ensure I knew what I was teaching) became a book I had to read during the term.
Relentless was a phenomenal read.
So much of what was on the pages resonated with me and my beliefs about education. And so much of it pained me to read because I am not the teacher I once was.
That might be a little harsh.
Let me try to weave my story around Hamish Brewer and his words.
One of the dominant themes of Relentless is the power of relationships. Take any of these passages as proof.
I echo those sentiments. Every single success I have ever had was built on relationships. Every positive moment in my day-to-day working life is the by-product of the relationships I have built.
I may feel like I’m not teaching at the height of my powers (more on that to come) but I’m still successful because of the relationships I foster. I hear from students, parents and colleagues that the kids like me. While I’m not in this business to be liked, it certainly makes behaviour management and other aspects of the classroom easier.
How do I build this rapport?
The short answer is that I’m open and honest with the students, that I don’t compromise who I am, that I am passionate about my subject area, that I want the best for them and that I don’t think I’m better than them.
There’s probably more to it. It certainly helps that I’m unconventional, more ‘chilled’ than most teachers. I like to have fun in my classroom and that means that I’m cracking jokes and being sarcastic alongside my content delivery.
But, and here’s where the confession comes in, I’m not as motivated as I have been in the past. I’m passionate and unconventional, as I just mentioned, but I’m no longer being as innovative as I once was.
Hamish Brewer talks about the importance of relevant, engaging and authentic learning experiences. I used to be that guy too. Team teaching alongside someone with just as much energy as the “tattooed skateboarding principal” while also pushing myself to extend students (and myself) at every opportunity, I was:
• having students learn about film by creating their own trailer,
• hosting a TEDx event (IN A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL 😲😲),
• publishing students’ poetry and giving them a platform to perform their pieces,
• running flipped classes with an emphasis on problem based learning,
• tutoring students in person and online outside of school hours,
• writing for state-wide academic journals,
• presenting at conferences,
• and probably a whole lot more that I’m forgetting.
Over the years since I’ve stopped doing almost all of that. In part it was because I felt like the ‘system’ was constantly working against me. I felt chastised, rather than supported, by various people in management and gradually my enthusiasm dwindled. Admittedly, I was still very rough around the edges but what I needed was encouragement and guidance and what I got was censorship and condemnation.
Near the end of Relentless, Brewer admits that it’s easy to get lost in routines and lose our way. I hadn’t lost mine, not fully, but I was probably closer than many people would guess. But, in reading the book, I could feel my fire rekindling. I spent most of it wishing I could work for a principal like Hamish but if I never get the chance I’ll at least have a sense of his leadership from these pages. They will remind me that I make a difference and will continue to do so, and they will encourage me to push the envelope in the name of student success – academically, socially and emotionally.