Teacher5aday: bucking the trend

I’m not a teacher but I do believe education and a love of learning are the most precious and sustaining gifts we can give to children, and through them, to society. One way we excite that love of learning is by making everything associated with learning less like a punishment and more like a joy; that includes changing the current culture in schools where teachers feel guilty when they are not driving themselves like Roman galley slaves, to one where they acknowledge the long-term benefits of paying attention to their own health and wellbeing – and act on that knowledge.  Hooray for @MartynReah and his #teacher5aday initiative.

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The Idea of Wellbeing: messages from healthcare to education

I’ve been listening to this year’s Reith Lectures by Dr Atul Gawandi.  He’s a very engaging speaker and his fourth lecture, The Idea of Wellbeing,  struck me as containing messages for leaders, and particularly leaders in schools.

Gawandi’s grandfather inherited the family farm and all its debt when the monsoon rains didn’t come and the harvest failed.  Bread and salt were all his grandparents had to live on.  They were starving to death.

‘But he prayed, he stayed at the plough, and his prayers were answered’

Whether you are a person of prayer or not, having faith and staying at the plough, are essential in leadership.  You need faith in others: that they will fulfil the potential you have seen in them, and you need the determination to ‘stay at the plough’ even when the ground is uneven.

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Topping up your resilience reservoir

How often do you top up your reservoir?

‘Think of  a reservoir high in the mountains of central Wales.  At one end of the long submerged valley is a dam with the technology to control the flow of the water.  The rest of the lake is the most evocative and powerful combination of natural features – rock, trees and water  …  All around the lake are small rivers and streams flowing down from the surrounding hills.  In many ways I see this scene as a metaphor for the inner-life of transformational leaders.

Each working day school leaders have to draw on their personal reservoir – on some days a steady flow will suffice, on other days the floodgates have to be open as energy, compassion, creativity, optimism, courage and hope are called on.  The deeper the reservoir, the more can be given, but eventually even the deepest reservoir will begin to run low.  A period of drought can transform a rich reserve into something arid and barren, incapable of nurturing and sustaining growth … ‘
from Rethinking Educational Leadership, West-Burnham, 2009

I was working with a headteacher.  ‘My resilience is low’ she said.  ‘I know I haven’t been looking after myself as well as I should, but there’s just been so much on’.  I have worked with this headteacher regularly over the past year.  At the heart of all she does are the needs of her pupils and staff.  Perhaps that’s part of the difficulty: they’re in her heart rather than in her head.  We have talked about her taking time out – and to be fair, she has put aside some time to work with her coach (not myself).  In many cases, though, time out of school has been with like-minded colleagues, most of whom ‘know’ that at this stage of the term, it’s ‘normal’  to be flat on the floor with almost no energy to get through the last 2 weeks.  What a year it’s been: at least 2 Ofsted frameworks; changes to the National Curriculum; the sudden and unexpected introduction of free school meals for children in Key Stage 1 (and who saw that one coming?); changes to the special educational needs code of practice; changes to assessment; reduction in staffing in other agencies leading to increased pressure on schools; and increased pressure on school budgets with more to come.   The pressure inevitably builds on the headteacher, particularly in primary schools, where the head may be the only person not in front of a class.

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