The Difference Between ‘Needing’ and ‘Wanting’


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In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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Across London in the 1980s and 1990s, my best-man’s father (Jeff) was a well-known car salesman. I remember him fondly as I navigated the big city as a new teacher. Struggling to pay the bills, establish a new network of friends and travel to work across London.

In 1997, with what spare change my £17,500 teacher-salary provided me, after paying off my student debts and rent I managed to purchase my first car – an A-reg (blue) Ford Fiesta – from Jeff’s son (my best man) costing £100!

Our friendship gave me the network I needed to teach in London for 25 years; over 200 miles away from my family. At that particular time, I didn’t need the car. I could have quite easily jumped on a London bus, commuting for 2 hours outside of ‘classroom hours’.

I wanted to make my professional life easier to manage.

Amongst the thousands of conversations we had together, one of the pearls of wisdom he shared was how ‘he made a sale’ and helped the customer feel that they were getting a bargain, leaving the showroom satisfied.

“There’s a big difference between needing and wanting” he said. “You may want a car, but you don’t need it.”

One secret in the world of commerce is convincing the customer that what they ‘want’ is actually something they ‘need’.

Now, on that note, I’m not here to sell you anything. I’m simply sharing my reflections of the academic year that has passed by. You probably already know the well-versed Rolling Stones song that says:

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need…”

Challenges can serve us well…

It’s funny how, prior to the pandemic, I was on the road travelling all over the world working with teachers. On planes, trains and in many taxi rides, juggling presentations, research and website updates on my laptop, I often dreamt about wanting more time working in one destination.

My work as a school leader, I needed to deal with a wide range of challenges, from dealing with knife incidents and bomb alerts, to staff arguments, bullying and serious safeguarding incidents. Have no doubt, that life as a school leader is tough for everyone. How we deal with any challenge can serve us well in other aspects of life…

Switching from a classroom in a school to a laptop with no fixed abode was an interesting switch. Juggling freelance life and self-employment is nerve wracking and at times, challenging in a different sort of way.

In March 2020, I wrote about how I dealt with all the challenges and stresses of the pandemic, losing all of my work within a matter of weeks. Today, working from home and being given what I wanted, I’ve learned how to embrace a ‘new normal’ and work alongside the highs and lows of managing a small business during a pandemic…

An important point to stress is that we can all overcome challenge if we have a good network around us. At home, in the workplace and across society. This is something all teachers need in order to be successful.

Reflections on COVID

Reflecting back on the academic year gone by, I’ve published two books, worked with the Department for Education and the Education Endowment Foundation to name a few. Presented a virtual keynote to 40,000 teachers and published 136 blog posts, 14 membership resources and 126 teaching resources.

That’s a 5.3 per week which is an incredible production ratio looking back over the materials!

This doesn’t factor in the hundreds of virtual training events (a few physical) and thousands of teachers I’ve still managed to support. My doctoral research is focused closely on teacher autonomy, social media networks and how the people around us can influence the way in which we work.

Some of the above was needed, other projects not so much. Overall, it’s been a busy year despite the challenges.

For teachers in England, the challenge remains the same. Research continues to show that our English state schools are not being served well by a government. Over a decade of underfunding holds our schools back and doesn’t reward our teachers, exacerbating the teacher recruitment crisis even further.

Our schools need better funding.

Whilst there are exciting reforms taking place with curriculum and research, seeking teacher autonomy remains a pipedream for many teachers. Over the border in Wales, Scotland and further afield, the narrative for teachers is polar opposite. However, I am reassured by all the English school leaders I work with, particularly in the field of shaping teaching and learning culture, that they are doing the absolute best that they can despite external limitations.

Our teachers can work better if they have a good network around them. Our schools can too, but this is often limited by how much our government is wanting to support them to be more successful.

Looking ahead…

On social media, I’m wanting to take a bit of back seat to help keep balance. For the year ahead, I’m making plans to be back on the road, growing The Toolkit of resources and needing to make (very) small gains in my doctoral research. My challenge for 2020/21 will be wanting a balance between website updates, research and work with teachers in schools….

At home, the pandemic will almost certainly bring another academic year of disruption to the classroom, and whilst we all need this will be minimal, our teachers and schools will be doing their absolute best to support our young people.

Whilst we can’t get always get what we want, if we try, we can find what we need.

Best wishes for the academic year ahead.


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