HEMA: the plethora of potential and the perennial downfall of the well-intentioned teacher

One of the greatest things about living in the Netherlands is HEMA. My husband, who is a historical fencer, would especially agree but it is not Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) to which I refer (although the Netherlands is well placed in this regard) but it is HEMA otherwise known as Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam.foto_hema

For those HEMA virgins in the world, who have yet to experience its Pandora’s box of delights, let me whet your appetite. HEMA is not any old shop, it is the Habitat, Ikea, Tiger and John Lewis rolled into one with the pizazz of Selfridges’ basement floor. It offers creative, cool and practical ‘stuff’ en masse at Ikea-esque prices on the Netherlands high street.stempelset-alfabet-14860031-pdpmain

During my last impromptu skirt around my local HEMA, I was brought to a halt by their Times lower case alphabet font printing blocks. My immediate reaction was ‘how fabulous!’. Children would love these; playing with typography, exploring printing, mark making and early writing. Perfect for the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 classroom, interesting in Key Stage 2 too!

As my mind soared at the potential of these €3 gems, my husband rather abruptly burst my glorious bubble. “Liz, what are you going to do with them?”, he asked.

“What am I going to do with them?” What a ridiculous question I thought. The opportunities are boundless. I could think of a multitude of ways that these could be used to support learning.

My husband smiled and repeated, “What are you going to do with them?”
It dawned on me, as a teacher through and through, I am always seeking opportunities to inspire and promote pupil learning. Every step we take engenders opportunity and yet we cannot explore every possible path and every possible opportunity that crosses that path.

The beautiful stamps have incredible potential (evidenced by the usage I have now discovered by the pupils DCS4DmNXoAUwLjoin the Foundation Stage at the British School in the Netherlands as they designed recent Fathers’ Day cards; thank you Jen for the photo) but the potential, whilst possible, is only possible if it can be actioned fully. The truth is that I do not lead a Foundation Stage classroom and could not implement the ideas and thoughts that I had in the ways that I was imagining as I stood in HEMA. The truth is that they would have added to the plethora of potential that is my cupboard, rather room, of resources and potential in my house. A room filled with possibility but somewhat locked in isolation.

This was a symbolic awakening. A moment to remember that in every facet of life we have to make decisions about what we do, when we do it and why.

In leadership, this is about not only doing things right but also about doing the right things; discerning where to focus energy as much as where not to focus energy.

As we reach the end of the school year and begin to look towards the next, looming large and bright, consider what your priorities will be. What gems of delight will you unravel? Where will you focus your energies for the benefit of your learning and your pupils?

Let’s start with the end in mind. Let’s keep the energy, excitement and enthusiasm that we feel when we first feel that spark of inspiration; for me it’s clearly the Times font printing blocks in HEMA! Let’s develop a sense of urgency (thank you John Kotter, the author of our next Leadership Lounge text, for a reminder about focusing on what matters most) but ensure that this is with a clear outcome and intent in mind. A focus where we’re not sowing seeds in the wrong places at the wrong times but in the right places at the right times.

On this ever so slightly reflective note, I wish everyone a wonderful summer connecting and reconnecting and, as we look to the future, let’s think about what we do, when we do it and why.

“whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”

Paul Coelho, ‘The Devil and Miss Prym’

P.S. I’d love some HEMA printing blocks in my secret Santa!


2 thoughts on “HEMA: the plethora of potential and the perennial downfall of the well-intentioned teacher”

  1. That’s a great reflection, Liz. It also made me think how creative and fabulous teachers are. We never switch off. Weekends are spent trawling Pinterest looking for creative ways to teach plants and growing, or looking for ideas for interactive displays, or helping children understand 3D shapes. As a relative newcomer to Twitter, I have been so inspired by the level of discussion and interaction about teaching and learning. What a great profession we are in! Teachers pose questions, think out loud and offer supportive ideas. These can be the relatively straight forward questions such as, ‘Does anyone have ideas for picture books for teaching World War 2 from a different perspective?’ to ‘Are knowledge and understanding the same thing?’
    As we approach transition times and we get to meet our new classes, I admit I have looked at my teaching assistant with wide eyes as I asked them to ‘write a sentence to tell me about yourself’ and they start scribing the most loopy looking marks and she reassured me – ‘just remember, they’ll get there in July! And, of course, she was absolutely right. As I say goodbye to my proficient writers at the end of Year One again, I remember them as they joined me at the beginning of the year. We have to teach with the end in sight.
    Happy holidays everyone!


    1. Thanks Rebecca and absolutely! Teaching is truly a vocation and it stays with us in all that we do. In recognising this, it’s important that we are also kind to ourselves and, whilst still keeping our antennaes at the ready for new learning opportunities, we also give ourselves time and space. The summer holidays are a wonderful time for this. Have a fabulous summer too! … and thank you for your reflections too :).


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