A few years ago I went to Bruges on Eurostar and was looking for something to read from St. Pancras, something relatively light that would while away the hours until I arrived. My eye was caught by the sight of a Canadian astronaut skateboarding over an image of the Earth: ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield, Commander of ISS Expedition 35 but probably best known as the ‘Major Tom’ guy.
Several hours later, my other half was begging me to put the ‘damn astronaut book down’ and go out to see the city we had travelled so far to visit. Eventually I did put the book down and we had very nice evening trying to spot places where ‘In Bruges’ was shot. But when we got back, I had to finish the book: it turned out that while being incredibly enjoyable to read, it was not the ‘relatively light’ book that I had expected.
The book is, on one level, an autobiography that covers Chris Hadfield’s early years at school and in the Canadian Air Force through to the beginning of his NASA career and the culmination of it as Commander of the ISS. However, it is also much more. As the subtitle of the novel says, it really is a book about ‘life lessons from space’, useful for anyone to help understand what they want to do and who they want to be, but priceless for a relatively junior middle leader working out what culture he thinks that schools should have.
A couple of years on, the same, albeit slightly less junior, middle leader was reading Sarah Cullen’s chapter of ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers’ with the focus on details being crucial to Michaela’s success and the parallels between the philosophies were immediately clear.
Cullen gives an example of how a seemingly innocuous subject like ‘which year group should use which stairs’ was carefully and meticulously discussed until the best solution was decided on; Hadfield gives an example of a crucial spacewalk almost having to be cancelled because of a bead or two of irritant cleaning fluid wasn’t wiped from a visor.
The title of this particular chapter in ‘An Astronaut’s Guide’ is ‘Sweat the Small Stuff’ and this is exactly the idiom that Debra Kidd uses in part 2 of her review of ‘Battle Hymn’ when commenting on Cullen’s chapter. Recently I’ve been sweating a lot of small stuff with my own year 7 group and year 7 as a whole, trying to ‘imitate the action of the tiger’ with knowledge organisers, frequent low-stakes testing and a very high set of expectations, both in terms of conduct and behaviour for learning. They’ve recently completed their second assessment of the year and the standard set is giving our year 8s a run for their money and, in terms of progress, has the rest of the school beat hands down.
What’s great too is how the staff are raving about their year 7 lessons, going from being a bit dubious about introducing terms like anaphoric reference and juxtaposition to keenly discussing how best to introduce the next set of terms, in what order, with which texts and really focusing on the minutiae of how we are supporting the students: sweating the small stuff.
Chris Hadfield’s spacewalk had a happy ending – eventually his eyes’ natural defences diluted the irritant so that he could see again and ‘sweating the small stuff’ through training enabled Hadfield and NASA to manage the situation effectively. Subsequent spacewalks used a different cleaning product and if an astronaut was affected, the solution to the problem was known, thanks again to sweating the small stuff.
I’ll leave the final comments to Commander Hadfield: “That’s why it’s so worth it to sweat the small stuff. And even in my line of work, it’s all small stuff.”