Apologies if you were looking for a magic wand to address the gap linked to social disadvantage in schools. Despite the fact that we’re all hopeful, I think most of us in education gave up the idea of a magic solution long ago. Unlike many of the aspects of education you are accountable for, this gap is one you’re also responsible for …
The gap I’m talking about is the one between intention and action; between the immediate and the important and between knowledge and practice.
Where’s the most significant gap? ‘Oh yes, I must respond to that email’. ‘Yes, that course sounds good: I’ll sign up to it’. ‘Must clear out the garage.’ ‘Must contact Jo’s parents’. ‘Must contact Sam; we haven’t been in touch for ages’ … The thought registers and is gone. It doesn’t translate into action, because you’re too busy, and because it doesn’t seem to be immediately relevant.
Last week I sat in a school waiting for a meeting to begin. A colleague was trying to check emails. ‘The wifi isn’t working’, he said, anxiously.
‘And you can’t possibly just sit and be for 5 minutes’, I countered with a smile.
‘No, we don’t, do we?’ he said. ‘It’s terribly bad for you’.
‘What – sitting and thinking?’ I queried.
‘No, being constantly connected and busy’, he said, continuing to struggle with the wifi.
‘If you know what’s good for you’ is a phrase I remember from childhood as a sort of threat of the consequences of not being compliant. As an adult, I realise that ‘knowing what’s good for us’ is not sufficient to prompt action.
I’ve just read the report from the guardian on the NUT poll. Over half of teachers are considering quitting the profession over the next 2 years. ‘Shocking!’ some will say. ‘What will schools do?’ ‘Not surprising’ say others. And we all carry on as before, doing too much, living too fast, letting others dictate our agenda.
The New Economics Foundation has come up with a different version of 5 a day: 5 things which each of us could do every day to help our wellbeing. It’s been picked up by a Twitter campaign #teacher5aday to support teachers’ wellbeing. I applaud it. But it’s not enough. And it risks being yet another thing to fit in. When the pressure is on (imminent Ofsted, disappointing results, top down agenda-change) teachers will put themselves last and just like the ‘average’ attainment, last year’s exceptional performance becomes this year’s norm until everyone becomes a boiling frog.
When improving others’ life chances persistently impacts negatively on your own, it’s time to stop and take stock. Like Winnie the Pooh bumping downstairs on the back of our heads, if only we could stop for a moment and stop bumping, we might be able to think of a better way. Pause on one step now.
Where could you find five minutes in a day to take a step towards building space into your life which will allow you to distinguish between the immediate and the important, and what will you stop doing which will allow for that space? Whose permission do you need? Who will support you? Share your intention with colleagues and get them to join you. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Close the gap between intention and action; stop trying to run on empty: take time to refill your resilience reservoir.
You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you …