To CoolCatTeacher – and anyone else trying to balance doing their best with being their best

 Somerset, UK, September 2015 Dear Vicki Davis (aka The CoolCatTeacher) I’ve only just found your blog If I’m such a great teacher, why do I want to quit?   I’m sorry to be slow.  It took a long time to cross the pond.  I will now join the 100,000 followers.  I heard your cry and I want to …

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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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Ofsted – requiring improvement

requires improvementI was around when Ofsted was invented.  As part of the training, we had a presentation from a head who had undergone a trial Ofsted. ‘Trial’ was an accurate description of his experience.    It sounded terrible.  ‘Do I really want to be part of this?’ I asked myself.  In the end, I decided perhaps I might manage it with some humanity and compassion – which seemed to be missing from the account we heard. In those days schools got months of notice, which led to considerable energy being expended to get all their paperwork in order – and led to a wonderful comment by a headteacher prepared to take control of the situation: ‘We will put on our best coat for Ofsted; we are not buying a new one’. It may sound like a cliche, but it really was a huge privilege to be allowed into schools and celebrate the good work that was going on – and highlight where it wasn’t.  I worked with some dedicated colleagues who were determined to do their best for the school.

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Living your values

Have you heard about the Spanish athlete who gave up his chance to win a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre?   He was running second as the athletes entered the finishing straight,  when he saw the Kenyan runner  Abel Mutai (3,000 meter gold medallist at the London Olympics) mistakenly pull up about 10 meters before the finish, thinking he had already crossed the line. Not being a Spanish speaker, he didn’t understand the shouts from spectators to keep going.

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