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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‘In schools, lunch-hours are for wimps’

Our minds love to be busy, and the busier our lives are, the busier our minds are. How often have you driven a familiar route and arrived at your destination with only the haziest memory of what happened on the journey?  Luckily, many of our daily activities don’t require much thought.  It would be exhausting if we had to keep telling ourselves to breathe, for example,   and we wouldn’t have much headspace to carry out other activities.  But you can have too much of a good thing.  Perhaps we would be less exhausted if we occasionally did tell ourselves to breathe.   

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Values, not rules

Values-conscious schools have seen improved behaviour, increased confidence and capacity, and better spiritual, moral social and cultural education.  These underpin effective learning and higher standards.

back to school The sun is streaming in the window at the back of the hall.  The school staff are smiling,  suntanned and relaxed,  bearing witness to the long days of summer sun.  What a different energy from the one I felt in this room 3 short months ago.  We are here to look forward to the coming year, determined to hang on to all that is special about this school, in the face of the challenges and opportunities of a new school year which includes the start of a 2-year re-build and whatever new initiatives Mr Gove identifies next.  For me, this is the culmination of 9 months’ work supporting this school to re-define its values.

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Larry Montagu

As I round the corner into the cathedral grounds at ten to 12 it’s obvious that something significant is scheduled. Outside, men in dark suits stand talking in groups, shepherded by officials. From College Street a stream of people flows towards the cathedral, many dressed in green and gold blazers, drawn as iron filings to a magnet. The magnet is Larry Montagu.

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