Build Around Me by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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This is a blog about resilience and aspiration.


There is much online regarding mindset. Having met Carol Dweck and then given up reading her book, I am still confident the research has meaning for me in the long run and any impact this may have on my teaching. However, I am yet to establish this in any of my long-term thinking. For now, this is my own interpretation of a growth and fixed mindset, set against several barriers each and every teacher has to face …

For the past two deacdes, whenever a break from the classroom approaches, I contemplate the drive north from London to visit my family home. Driving east along the M62 motorway from Leeds to Manchester, one drives over the highest motorway in the UK and passes Stott Hall Farm.

For me, the analogy about this farm represents the past 36 months of my career (and in many aspects, some personal challenges I have faced) as a teacher. For those of you who don’t know this area, or indeed Stott Hall, this farm sits on the highest motorway in the UK, between Manchester and Leeds as the M62 traverses the Pennines and its foothills, rising to 1,221 feet (372m) above sea level, not far from the boundary between Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. The M62 road is 107 miles long and was opened in stages between 1971 and 1976. Its construction cost approximately £765 million with an average traffic flow of 145,000 vehicles every day.

Stott Hall Farm:

The motorway is notable for Stott Hall Farm, a Pennine farm situated between the carriageways that has become one of the best-known sights on the motorway. “Stott Hall Farm has stood perched 1100 feet up on the bleak Pennines since 1737. For over 200 years there was nothing else there but the birds, the sheep, the wind and the rain. But, after two centuries of splendid isolation, the M62 arrived – literally on the farm’s doorstep.” (Source)

If you have every driven past this farm in the heights of summer, or in the dark depths of winter, it is a highlight for any tedious journey …

M62 Stott Hall Farm

 Stott Hall Farm (centre)

Miraculously, despite the 18th-century farmhouse surviving the development, hundreds of homes – along the route of the Pennines – straddling either side of the motorway, disappeared when the bulldozers arrived in the early 1970s. Nowadays, before the carriageways dramatically split apart, this whitewashed building standing out against a barren backdrop and is one of the most memorable landmarks (if there is such a claim) on the M62. (Source)

The farm looms into view mostly on a typically blustery, rainy evening. It can sometimes seem like a mirage, floating amongst cars, vans and lorries as they thunder past like there’s no tomorrow. It’s truly sits within the eye of the storm! There once were rumours that the farmer, Paul Thorp the current tenant, refused to move and that the M62 was build around the farm!

The actual reason, was that the motorway was built around the farm because of geological considerations and not the resilience and refusal to move of the owner.

Growth vs. Fixed:

So, my analogy of the farm may appear contradictory. But, for those of you who need a recap, or have not yet heard of the Growth Mindset phenomenon, this video provides a very simple summary:


Over 20 years ago, I made the decision to leave the comforts of my family surroundings and read Education in South East London. Four years later, I decided to head to Nigeria instead of entering into the profession as an NQT. Three months later, I returned to the UK with my tail between my legs, sleeping on floors, supply teaching and working a second job behind a public bar. Living in a bedsit with over 85% of my outgoings from a £19,000 (gross) salary (~1997) being spent on rent; student loans and travel to work, times were incredibly hard.

In my third year of teaching, I dealt with my first family bereavement and after seven years, continued to teach in London despite my father passing away. I recall driving pass Stott Hall Farm to be at the funeral, and again six months later to attend an interview at Dixons Technology College, Bradford in 2004. Something resilient-esque stopped me leaving everything I knew in London.

In 2011, I was made redundant as a senior teacher whilst my son was born three months premature at 1lb 6 ozs. During this year, my wife was also on maternity leave and together, we accumulated an amount of debt in order to continue living in London. I recall one month breaking open a piggy bank – not so long ago – I once bought to collect £1 coins to buy a toy train for my son!

Three years later, as a result of a number of sacrifices, I can safely say we are back on track. Some of my readers may recall I made the online commitment to look for work outside of London. And following 5 or 6 interviews all over Scotland, I found what I was looking for right on my doorstep in North London. Something yet again, stopped me from leaving.

One term into this new role, I believe I am even more resilient than I ever was. We may not have everything we desire, and our dreams are of course aspirations, but we are in a much better position due to various personal circumstances. There are many reasons for this assumption, and it is not just financial, but I do believe that the analogy of Stott Hall Farm does play a significant part once more.

Why? Well, during the 20 years I have passed this local landmark, I have been aware of the farm’s history and apparent resilience to overcome the demands of the planning permission stipulated by those building the M62 back in the 1970s. Despite this not being true, Stott Hall Farm provides a significant mental map for me at various points in my personal and professional life. Some of characteristics or dispositions of resilience include:

  • Bouncing Back
  • Managing Emotions
  • Awareness of Strengths and Assets
  • Passion-Driven Focus
  • Resourcefulness
  • Sense of Personal Agency
  • Ability to Reach Out to Others
  • Problem-Solving Skills (Source)


Image credit: Jackie Gerstein.

The story of Stott Hall Farm is very similar for many of us in teaching, and for many of us with a Growth Mindset. That despite obstacles placed in front of us by external factors, or the obstacles we may place in front of ourselves, that in the face of adversity and challenge, teachers with a growth mindset have the capacity to overcome difficult periods in their life/career and self-regulate their own choices and successes.

Despite the M62 motorway being built around the farm because of geological considerations and not the resilience and refusal to move of the owner, this farm and the east and westbound carriages represent each and every teachers’ career paths. There are no straight roads throughout education.

For me, Stott Hall Farm represents that financial strain placed upon teachers living and working in London.

It’s not easy to survive in the capital for many teachers. You can expect to start earning – as a newly qualified teacher (NQT) in England and Wales – on a minimum of £22,023 a year (or £27,543 if you work in inner London). With ‘the average monthly rent in London soared by 11.2 per cent to £1,412 in June 2014, compared to the same time last year – more than twice the rest of the UK, where, excluding the capital, rents average £694 per month.

I recall holding down a second job in my formative years to make ends meet, and only clearing my student loans after many years of teaching.

With George Osbourne keeping teacher salaries at 1% for the next 4 years, living and working in London will be even tougher for graduates, newly qualified teachers and those who continue to teach and rent without being able to afford their own homes. Osbourne said in the Autumn Statement 2014;

“… In the coming years there are going to have to be very substantial savings in public spending. (No less than -£40M in education over 2015-16!) Our control of public sector pay these past 4 years has delivered £12 billion of savings. By continuing to restrain public sector pay we expect to deliver commensurate savings in the next Parliament until we have dealt with the deficit … Today we are committing to complete the public service pension reforms proposed by Lord Hutton, bringing total savings of £1.3 billion a year. “

So, at this moment in time I am not leaving London, and despite the challenges that face all of us in our personal and professional lives, I will continue to build around me and ensure I keep myself and my family resilient and aspirational. This may be for a career, a home, or purely financial, but do not ever under-estimate the importance of having a happy home, your physical and mental health, loved ones and a day-job you enjoy …

Build Around Me:

Stott Hall Farm:

The farm managed to avoid the bulldozer: “They couldn’t build the eastbound carriageway as high as the westbound carriageway. They just kept getting landslips and one thing and another. So they decided to part the motorway and managed to save the building. That’s the only reason it’s still here.” Paul Thorp.

4 thoughts on “Build Around Me by @TeacherToolkit

  1. I wish you and your family well for the holiday season and the future. Stay strong and resilient, and may your government see fit to place more value upon your work.

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