.

Even a hardcore, intentional ‘40 Hour Principal’, is likely to be fully stretched at this time of the year – particularly in this year!

We’re in the sprint to the end with a deadline for everything and a lot of other people’s urgency crowding our days. There’s stuff that just simply has to be done and it keeps piling in because a lot of it is to meet the needs of others. And what they need is not affected at all by our existing workload.

People to be employed (and sadly, some need to be unemployed), professional growth cycles require meetings, the Board needs a draft Budget, strategic plans to review, new annual plans to write, end of year celebrations to be created …

Then there are the daily ‘extras’ – tired kids doing dumb stuff, tired teachers being less than perfect, anxious parents popping up on the daily, and Board members starting to lose sight of the balance between management and governance.

And overarching all of this is a wee detail called a pandemic.

An example of its impact was buried in last Friday’s innocuous looking email from Iona*. There was a link to the definitive guide you will use to manage the COVID cases that will be in your school next year. This guide is complex, detailed and almost certain to be regularly amended. It gives a lot of responsibility to the school, and by the school, I mean you.

So, there’s a bit on.

.   .   .

I’d like to introduce a term that is widely used in the sports world – “deloading”.

One definition is:

“A period of time where the intensity of the activity is deliberately reduced to allow proper recovery and to prepare for the demands of the next training cycle.”

Deloading was originally coined in the world of strength training and is now widely used across sports of all kinds.

Performance focused sports people have worked out that it is detrimental to their overall goals to work at a high intensity all the time. If they do, their performance stagnates, injuries become likely, and they generally achieve less.

No doubt you can see where this analogy is going – we can’t keep working at this end of year pace and expect to do our jobs well. It’s counter to the way we humans are wired.

.   .   .

Tim Ferris talks about deloading in his book, The Tools of Titans* and explains how he applies it to general life. He discusses how an intentional approach to deloading greatly benefits him in pursuit of his goals.

I’d like to suggest that there are two ways that deloading can be used to look after your well-being right now –

Short term

In the 3 weeks left, take mini breaks by:

  • Walking at least 30-40 minutes every day
  • Not checking emails after tea (yes, real people do this!)
  • Arriving onsite late the day after evening meetings (and in the space created, go to the gym, read a book, walk a few blocks to school; anything but work)
  • Spending some time every couple of days on a passion hobby
  • Scheduling time to meet a friend, hangout with family, (regardless of the pressure to nuke your to do list).

Long term

Plan your ‘term break deloading’ (some of you might like to substitute the word ‘holiday’). Maybe you can hardly raise your eyes above the daily stuff right now, but very soon this time will pass. Planning, discussing ,thinking, and savouring about the chance to deload in a few short weeks is in itself a deloading activity. So, give yourself permission to look ahead and let that happiness energise you.

And when the time finally arrives – use every tiny piece of it to relax and rebuild. One master holiday planner I know, arrives at school on the last day of term with the car loaded, boat hooked up and destination route set. Around 3.30pm he collects the family and leaves work behind for a while – that’s master principalship deloading in action.

Dave

*(p.583)

*(NZ Secretary of Education)

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP

From a 40 Hour Principal perspective, school leaders in New Zealand are currently operating right out near the middle of a very long tightrope and someone or something keeps giving it a playful shake.

We’re not so much ‘leaders of learning’ but rather amateur psychologists with a side specialty in clairvoyance.

And despite any possible aspirations of superhero level powers, we remain annoyingly human. As such, right now, we need to ramp up our self-care.

.   .   .

I’ve been reflecting on the vaccine mandate recently (New Zealand context). It’s what’s ‘on top’ as deadlines loom.

I certainly don’t want to get into any form of debate about the rights and wrongs (of the mandate), but this very raw and real scenario starkly illustrates where the majority of your STHTM* originates.

People.

We lead people and they are complicated. Year after year, the principal health and wellbeing surveys find that dealing with other people’s emotions and at the same time hiding our own, are among the biggest causes of school leadership stress. They trump workload, time poverty, and dealing with (insert your own favourite pressure point).

.   .   .

People ‘outside the game’ may not see the emotional intensity of managing/leading a community through examples like this.

They may see it as a purely ‘operational’ situation. A rule has been made, the people affected either comply or face the consequences. From an operational point of view your job is to ensure your school continues regardless – A + B = C. Simple.

But it’s not.

Everything you do is relational. In a school, a good school, people matter. They are not simply cogs in a machine or hidden away in the third assembly line in a giant factory. It’s the complete opposite. They are real; connected, known, and valued. If they are teachers, they nurture other people’s children for 6 hours per day. If they are in your office team they are known by the whole community.

People.

The beginning and the end of what is most important in any school are the relationships between people. It has been researched and known for eons that children only really fly in their learning when they have a positive relationship with their teacher. Likewise, the staff team operate only as well as the relationships they have across and within the various groups and sub-groups they belong to. A school is not an individual, it’s a complex ever-changing kaleidoscope of interactions, needs, wants, dreams and emotions of many people.

And here you are, a school leader, positioned precariously between the clear instructions of your employer and your duty of care to the people in your team. That metaphorical tightrope just got another playful slap.

.   .   .

So, this year’s November dance (Madvember!) is particularly complex. There’s more than one competing tune and you are spinning more disks than usual.

Now is the time to be careful with yourself. To keep connecting with others, asking for help with tricky situations, eating stuff that’s good for you, exercising more than last month, stopping work at a reasonable time . . . just doing stuff that, despite you wishing you were superhuman, acknowledges that you are in fact simply human. (As we’ve suggested before, the Mental Health Foundation’s  “5 Ways to Wellbeing” is an excellent place to start.)

And if you are at the ‘apex’ of your school’s leadership, the model of self-care that you display impacts deeply on those around you. As a leader, it’s a case of the old maxim that ‘people believe more of what you do, than what you say’. Now is the time to model the good stuff.

Four weeks to go folks, deep breaths, and as Steve rightly said a couple of weeks ago, we’re all going to make it – just ensure you arrive in the best shape possible – oxygen masks on please!

Kia kaha

Dave

*Shit That’s Hard To Manage

 

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Right now we all need a positivity button.

In New Zealand, the shifting sand of managing this pandemic is taking its toll. The ‘rules’ change frequently, unpredictably, and quickly. Good people (that’s you) turn themselves inside out trying to lead their schools well in this climate.

Lay over the top of this the usual pressure points of next year’s staffing, setting budgets, reviewing strategic plans and the fact that Susan in Room 3 is really tired and is taking that out on everyone in her class . . . 

With the constant unpredictability and shear workload framing what we do, it’s very easy to slip into a little spiral of negative thinking . . . and that is exactly where the positivity button comes in.

.   .   .

You may be surprised to learn the button is an actual thing. 

My one was given to me by one of the team as a mystery gift at our staff Christmas party two years ago. From the moment I first pushed it I knew it was going to be really useful.

Here it is – 

 

.

When you push it, it plays one of five pre-recorded ‘positive’ messages. They’re done in a cheery Australian accent and are cringe makingly cheesy . . . which is where the magic comes in – it makes people smile.

No one is immune to its power – not staff nor students (I haven’t had the nerve to use it with an unhappy parent yet, but one day . . . ).

The message is random so it is easy to build a little theatre around it by saying “this is just for you”, pushing it, and watching the reaction. It really works well when the message completely contradicts the way the person is feeling or acting. If the message doesn’t resonate, you just push it again. My favourite is, “I am calm and Zen like” although the kids seem to like “I am going to have a really, really good day”, and teachers often like “I am  beautiful” (which is said with utter conviction).

Here’s some samples:

I have a strong sense that the next 6 weeks are going to test us all to our limits and for less than $20 you can create some simple fun in amongst it all. Dare you to.

Dave

 

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When talking with principals, particularly those who are ‘stuck’ with a particular situation/habit/need for change, the biggest road block is often themselves.

They have rational possibilities (choices) clearly in front of them but those annoying “little voices” start chattering away and they don’t take action. You can read our post Voices and Choices for more on this. (Steve and I are both guilty of this too, so I’m not taking the moral high ground here!)

A classic recent example was (ironically) at a mindfulness session where a number of principal attendees were chatting away over the lunch break. It was a beautiful summer’s day and the Pacific Ocean sat shimmering less than 200m away (cue the violins). A couple of people headed down to the sand for a walk and as they left, the conversation turned to how great it would be if we could walk/run on the beach everyday.

There was a sort of collective sigh and then people started lamenting that they didn’t have time to exercise at the moment. The word “busy” popped up a lot. Then a stirrer in the group said, “but you could if you wanted.” This was greeted with a pause, then people shaking their heads and explaining all the reasons they couldn’t. The main reason being, “what would ‘people’ think?”

And there we were – a group of smart, organised adults, who knew that exercise was important, yet choosing not to do what we rationally knew was healthy  .  .  .

I’ve been part of these conversations many times over the years with many different groups of school leaders.

Which brings us to the point of this post – exactly who gives you permission when you make decisions? If you’ve read The Forty Hour Principal, you will know the passage below:

.   .   .

History

“Mum, can I have another biscuit?”

“Mrs Reitana, can I skip homework this week?”

“Professor Brown, can I submit my essay late?”

Whose permission is required in your life now? (Just to be clear, we’re talking about your professional role – any discussion about your home life is definitely above our pay grade and willingness to risk comment, but the basic principle is the same if you’re feeling adventurous.)

The only reasonable answer is – yours.

We’re not arguing that there aren’t any constraints on what you must do in your role. You’ve got a job description, employment contract, and the Education Act to guide you in that. What we are suggesting, is that you can give yourself permission to change the how.

And with that truth comes possibility because now you’ve potentially got both the world’s best boss or the world’s worst boss – because that person is you (thanks Seth Godin).

It’s time to negotiate some better employment conditions!

Dave

 

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You’ve probably all heard the saying, “never waste a good crisis” which was originally attributed to Winston Churchill and has now been recycled a million times (particularly in the world of business where one person’s ‘crisis’ is another person’s ‘opportunity’ – e.g. no one is quibbling about the cost of vaccines right now . . . ).

I think a global pandemic qualifies as a crisis and while that is largely a bad thing, one upside is that it creates a climate of change – the status quo gets a non-negotiable slapping.

There are big meta challenges to solve – global vaccination, redistribution of food resources as economies struggle, and a world supply chain that is creaking badly.

At the next level down countries have to change how they support (or not) people who can’t work, how their borders will operate in the future, and how to keep their people safe.

Below these lofty change needs, deep in the system called public education, is you.

And it’s very likely that you need to change something too – not necessarily something forced on you by the pandemic, but something that will make you both sustainable (better) as a school leader and as a person. The pandemic just brings with it a general sense of the cosmos shifting, and with that feeling, change seems more possible.

 

 

In my case,  I’m currently part of a Springboard Trust Coaching for Leadership programme focused on strengthening our leadership team, and to do my part, I need to make some changes.

While I know that the science of change management is a well researched field and that many clever people have created excellent models to guide us through the process, I’m currently just focusing on a very simple little tactic – the interesting fact that changing something small somehow creates momentum towards bigger things.  

Strange as it may sound, by tweaking a couple of small daily habits, I definitely notice my ability to consider bigger change is easier. Couple that with the ‘opportunity’ of a crisis (a general feeling of change) and now becomes an excellent time to work towards better.

What I’m doing:

Getting up 45 minutes earlier than usual.

I’m not doing a full Power Hour as Saira Boyle has shared, but instead have focused on only a couple of elements at this time. Firstly, I don’t look at any screens. I open up the curtains and let the day share its light. As it’s getting warmer I’m going outside and I’m the only one there. Once I’ve spent a couple of minutes being still (is that meditation?), I head inside, get a coffee and read a section of a thought provoking book (currently Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris). Then I journal a few thoughts that link to what I’ve read. 

I know that sounds incredibly low key and simple but I can promise you it sets a different tone for the day. And I think that’s the key – it’s different. (The other small change I’ve made is to swop my habit of listening to news channels with listening to music. A sense of FOMO made that tricky for the first couple of days but now it feels really good.)

We’ve talked lots about habits and the relentless pull towards the status quo in other posts, but by making the really simple changes above, I think I’ve moved my figurative wagon wheel out of it’s constraining rut just a little bit. Once free, even just a tiny bit, it can start to take a new path.

If you too have some important things to improve, I think a great way to get started is to just change something small in your daily routine. You may be surprised at the mental shift that comes from this, and combined with the general sense of change in our world, things can happen.

Dave

 

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If you are feeling the pressure right now maybe you need to ditch your superhero cape for a moment and find some other heroes to help. It’s about distributing the load.

Sort of like this – 

 

So who are these other potential heroes in your school and why might they not be sharing the load with you? 

I’d suggest they are to be found everywhere; amongst the team leaders, the teachers, the admin crew, the caretaker . . . Sure, not everyone in your school has superhero qualities – but plenty will. And then the question really becomes; why, in this time of need, are they possibly not standing with you, distributing the load?

Well, it might just be that you haven’t left a space for them to join you. When superman/superwoman is in the house, no-one else offers to take the lid off the jam jar. 

As a favourite thought leader of ours, Seth Godin says – 

It’s easy to use our indispensability as fuel. Fuel to speak up and contribute. That’s important. But it’s also possible for that same instinct to backfire, and for us to believe that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right.

That’s unlikely.

Using the power of a pandemic to bring people together, now may be the perfect time to shuffle to the side a bit, make space and invite them to share the load. 

However, some school leaders can be intimidating. They’re used to being in charge and potentially project an aura of perfection, of always knowing what to do and doing it perfectly.

To get others to step forward and shoulder the load, you need to be able to park your ego, – and and trust them to “get it done right”. To be, as Brene Brown explains so well, vulnerable. And if this way of working is foreign to your team, it’s going to take some deliberate actions by you to make the changes necessary.

It’s worth it though – one superhero is good, but a team of superheroes is unbeatable.

Dave

 

 

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Who gets the oxygen first?

So here we are again . . .

Those of us in New Zealand have just gone into a nation wide lockdown with schools closed and everyone expected to stay home unless an essential worker. 

A fragment of the unwanted Delta COVID-19 variant has sneaked through our borders and for the first time since last year, all schools are shut. Which is not to say that school leaders and teachers are doing nothing!

In fact, the very opposite is true. Most leaders have wisely chosen to keep expectations on their teams and families low-key over this week but we all know this can’t last. The excitement of distance learning is about to get real.

My personal experience of running a school remotely is that it is damn hard work. There are a lot of details to keep on top of and the rules of the game can change at any given point in a day. Often key information comes in late in the evening because the people sending it want to be 100% certain it is accurate. This, coupled with the need to stay on top of both media news and the changing personal circumstances of people in your school community, add up to the likelihood school leaders will struggle to mentally switch off.

And staying “on” for too many consecutive days (and nights) is a recipe for problems. 

You’re going to create plans for curriculum delivery, for pastoral care of your community, for communication with your teams, for what to do if students disengage, for who works onsite, for how to maintain everyone’s safety, and probably a plan for who’s responsible for the Room 13 hamsters  . . .

So today’s provocation is bog simple – make one for you too.

Get your figurative oxygen mask on so that you can continue to be amazing – sustainably. 

Kia kaha

Dave

 

Photo by Marcel Strauß

A couple of weeks ago Saira Boyle wrote a great guest post about what she called the “Green Focus Power Hour”. In a nutshell she described an early morning routine that energises her – you can read about it here.

When I initially considered her method, a seemingly random thought popped up, “I’m guessing she has a good heating system.” This left field thought is not quite so crazy when you understand that where I live, the morning temperature is consistently sub-zero at this time of year – it’s cold at 5am!

The thought crossed my mind because I was mentally picturing doing what Saira described and attempting it in my house, before dawn, would have required an impressive number of thermals. The cold would be a real buzz killer for me.

And right there I had the perfect excuse to avoid something new.

  .   .   .   .   .

We humans are creatures of habit and subconsciously we don’t like change to our routines – even if objectively the change is good for us!

Don’t get me wrong, routines and habits are not ‘bad’ things. In fact, we rely on them to stop us having to make a thousand decisions every day – it’s way more efficient to have the majority of things in our days on auto pilot. It keeps us sane and avoids exhaustion.

But, and it’s a significant ‘but’, habits also make it difficult for us to change.

Well known author, James Clear, talks about this subject in his book, “Atomic Habits”  (an essential piece of reading for school leaders).

James discusses tactics to creating better habits.  He breaks the habit forming pattern into:

CUE            –       CRAVING        –          RESPONSE       –          REWARD

You can read more about this in a previous post here. But today I am only focusing on one part – how to make a start, that is, making it as easy as possible to make the desired change. In Jame’s model we are discussing the “cue”.

The recipe is simple enough; identify the barriers, then deliberately do something that removes them.

In the example of Saira’s routine, in a sub-zero 5am start, it is not the time to go out to the woodshed, fumble around for some matches and light a fire that will take an hour to make any difference.  But how about setting the heatpump to turn on an hour earlier the next day? That’s pretty simple the night before. That would guarantee the house was nice and warm when your  subconscious is looking for excuses the next morning.

Another example could be going for a walk after work. We all know it’s good for us but by the time we get home it’s late, the family needs us to be present, tea needs to be sorted, and we’re tired. But how about we make it a lot easier. How about we throw some comfortable shoes, a beanie, and some gloves (still in winter mode!) in our school backpack? At the end of the day, before we head home, there they are, accessible and hard to ignore. Pull them on, head out the office door and walk for 30 minutes. Then go home.

Or you are finding yourself sitting for way too long each day. How about investing in a permanently ‘up’ standing desk (set up with a screen and keyboard) positioned alongside your sitting desk. That way when you come into your office it is very easy to just stop in front of the standing screen and start working. Without the hassle of moving things, another barrier is gone.

Some other examples are:

  • Leave a visual reminder (like a little 40 Hour dinosaur!) in the middle of a workspace where you have to notice it. 
  • Leave that book you want to read on top of your pillow when you head to work.
  • Put a recurring note in your daily calendar that says “visit a class now!!”
  • Download a “get up and walk” app to your phone.
  • What’s in the pantry at home gets eaten – put better stuff in it.
  • Get a friend to agree to meet at a specific time each week – non-negotiable (and agree to nag each other).
  • Set the “do not disturb” function on your phone so it goes quiet early in the evening.
  • Schedule ‘hard’ stuff earlier in the day  so you are fresher when needed.
  • Read this post – “Add The Big Rocks First
  • Etc

The key point is that you are setting yourself up for success by making the desired new behaviour as easy as humanly possible. Ideally, so easy that it actually takes effort to avoid it!

.   .   .   .   .

So, what positive habit would you like to build? With a Term break starting at 3:01pm today, this is the perfect time to remove some barriers and set yourself up for success.

Happy holidays (at least in NZ!) and the 40 Hour team will see you back in a couple of weeks. Ka kite!

Dave

 

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.

40 hours? 50 hours? 60 hours? 70 hours? . . . How many hours do you work in an average week?

.   .   .   .   .

Recently we shared some data regarding the work habits of New Zealand rural principals. One confronting statistic was that 47% of the group were working 60 hours or more on average! Here’s the chart this number is based on.

Chart 1 shows the average hours per week worked by NZ Rural Principals 

I shared this information with a small group of non-teaching friends last weekend and the general, off the cuff reaction was something like;

“So what? That’s what all managers/professionals/leaders do these days.”

And right there lies the fundamental problem – for some crazy reason people see the status quo as OK.

Well, that’s not how I see it, because – 

Multiple studies have shown that from a pure productivity perspective, working beyond 50 hours is counter productive – the longer you work past this number the less you get done. 

Multiple studies have shown that from a wellness perspective, working beyond 50 hours makes you sick. 

.   .   .   .   .

So why do so many smart people ignore the data and push on past the safe limits? To answer this question we have to look back into history a little.

When the industrial revolution kicked off in the 18th century, it became very common for workers to clock huge hours (12 – 16 a day, 6 days per week). This abuse was not accepted by all and in 1817 a well known industrialist, Robert Owen, coined the phrase, “8 hours labour, 8 hours recreation, and 8 hours rest”.

It took another 100 years before the majority of developed countries agreed that this was a good idea and in 1919 there was the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention where 52 countries ratified an intention to limit the hours people worked (thanks Wikipedia!).

It took even longer for Governments to actually enforce any suggested limits. And in a great many cases, they made exceptions – if you work as a principal in New Zealand you are one! Your contract says;

“shall work such hours as may be reasonably required to enable them to properly fulfill their responsibilities whether or not such hours may exceed 40 hours per week.”

So despite the research around what working excessively long hours means, even your employer is encouraging you to keep going!

This all forms part of the “why” – why we continue to work more hours than is effective or healthy. We are operating in a way that comes from a past time when a ‘good’ worker worked ‘hard’ and the ‘hard’ was judged largely by how many hours were clocked. The fact that your 2021 employment contract encourages you to ignore an effective limit says volumes about the difficulty of making change in public education at all levels .  .  . 

.   .   .   .   .

But we know better now. That 100 year old “8 hour working day” was just a stab in the dark. It wasn’t based on any research.

Way back in 1817 Robert Owen probably didn’t have a lot of productivity data to draw on but he did have practical experience of what too much work did to peoples’ wellness (and he didn’t like it).

So we can approach this topic from both a productivity angle and a wellness angle.

Lets start with productivity. A well known study (2014) by Professor John Pencavel of Stanford University, found that productivity per hour declines sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.

More recent studies have narrowed the productivity data even further. Based on current research, many scientists agree that the maximum time people are productive each day is approximately 6 hours. 6 hours! Some of you will have passed that mark before lunch time!

Which brings us to the wellness aspect of working 50 hours plus – it’s not good for us. 

In a meta analysis of 243 published papers over the last 20 years, there was a clear (and frightening) link between long work hours and the following medical problems: cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and poor sleep.  

These are all serious issues, which are backed up by the anecdotal evidence that Steve and I have that many of you are currently medicated for either cardiovascular issues or anxiety. Sadly, New Zealand school leaders seem to match the international data very closely!

And as usual, the cavalry is not coming. 

You are the only person who can set a reasonable cap on your regular working hours. It is crystal clear in the research that the upper limit for productivity and health is no more than 50 per week. Somewhere below this would be better.

It’s time to be more professional¹ folks.

Dave 

 

¹ A 40 Hour Project definition –  “being professional is working in a way that is both effective and sustainable.”

 

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The busier you are, the harder it is to find the time and energy necessary to reflect on even small things. 

Which is likely the reason you usually buy a particular brand of toothpaste when at the supermarket. And also the same reason that it’s tough to step back and consider bigger things – things like how you do the job called school leadership.

One excellent way past this road block is called a sabbatical, another is to be confronted with some shocking data.

 

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

 

A week ago, Steve and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a principal conference in New Plymouth, New Zealand. The delegates were mainly leaders from small, rural schools where the principal often has to teach as well as lead. They wear a lot of different hats.

During a short presentation, we asked four simple questions directly related to delegates’ personal wellness and by association, their long term effectiveness as leaders – hours worked, stress, sleep, and exercise.

 

This is what they told us:

1. Hours worked

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 In New Zealand, fulltime work is considered to be 30 hours or more per week and in 2020, the average NZ man meeting that definition worked 37 hours and the average NZ woman just over 30.

 

However, 92% of the conference delegates worked 50+ hours per week and nearly half (46%) worked 60+!

This is even more intense than the latest national data regarding principal workload. Leading small schools is a tough gig.

2. Stress level

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Stress is a tricky thing to quantify and is obviously subjective, but nearly half of the delegates reported operating in a constantly stressed state.

3. Sleep

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The chart above tells it’s story clearly – this group of leaders are constantly working in a sleep deficit. We know from the current science that regular poor sleep is dangerous for both physical and mental health. 

4. Exercise – the WHO says that you need at least 5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise per week, plus 2 muscle strengthening sessions.

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Only 11% of the delegates are doing the minimum recommended exercise. A whopping 41% are doing almost none!! When we looked at the total data set, there is a strong correlation between those working exceptionally long hours and a lack of exercise – not rocket science, but something to note.

.   .   .

So . . . does any of the information above shock you? It might not surprise you, but does it make you stop for a moment and think? As wise people have noted, the status quo is not a “cost neutral” position and continuing to do the same things yet expecting different outcomes is the definition of crazy.

Your human body and mind don’t care that you are passionate about your job, that you are doing important work, or that you hope you will be an exception to any nasty looking health possibilities – they simply react to what you do to them. Particularly over the longer timeframe.

Where does your own reality sit in relation to the data above? And what would it take to convince you to frame the how of your school leadership in a healthier way?

Not all is doom and gloom though, the numbers above also include individuals who are doing things differently. They still lead schools but they make choices about the how. They sleep better, exercise more, stress less, and work sustainable hours. A more detailed analysis of the data shows that all four outcomes are linked.

And this goodness is not impossible for you – the very fact that you are interested enough to read this post means you are thinking, which is the first step to change.

You can do this too.

Dave

To join this conversation and get our weekly post directly, add you email below. You can also head over to The Forty Hour Principal Facebook page (closing in on 500 school leaders now).

 

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Charles Shultz

It often seems that school leadership is a tight rope strung between the opposing realities of doing a job or living a vocation. There is a big difference between the two, but like many aspects of our roles, the edges are easily blurred.

.   .   .

Teaching as a whole used to have vocational undertones. In fact, many education jurisdictions had  fairly hard-core rules about what teachers could or could not do – even outside of what was considered ‘school time’.

You’ve probably seen the lists floating across the interweb. Lists with things like:

  1. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly. 
  2. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
  3. Women teachers who marry, or engage in unseemly conduct, will be dismissed.
  4. Every teacher should lay aside a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
  5. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give a good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
  6. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given and increase of 25 cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

Some of these demands have probably been exaggerated over time (as happens online), but the under current, the climate of teaching in our historical past, was very controlled with a focus on service at the likely expense of personal freedoms. The historical context made this possible and teachers weren’t alone; nurses, doctors, and other ‘caring’ professions had their own vocational expectations.

But what about now? What about today in your school?

I believe that snippets of this past model are still very much alive. The key difference is that they are implied, rather than written in contracts. The Human Rights Commission would be in for a busy time if they were documented! The problem is that implied expectations are still incredibly real.

.   .   .

The model of education that we work inside of now, was designed a loooooong time ago, yet many of the basic structures are much as they always were. A lot of arbitrary ‘rules’ are still followed.

For example, in New Zealand, children start formal schooling at 5 years old, they come to an institution Monday to Friday at a set time where there is generally one adult (the teacher) responsible for around 25 – 30 individuals. One person (the principal) is responsible for all aspects of the school’s operation. The curriculum is set by a central Government group and the focus is on creating economically contributing citizens – just like it was well over 100 years ago!

So, if the basic structure of schooling is still very similar, how much sub-conscious expectation still exists that our professional is vocational? Through conversation with other school leaders I’d say there is a lot!

For example, how do you feel about regularly going for a walk at lunchtimes? Or even sitting down and having a lunchtime? When that community fundraiser is on over the weekend, do you put personal plans second as a default? If you are heading home at 4.30pm (potentially having done a huge amount of productive work) do you feel guilty about calling into the supermarket?

And therein lies a daily problem – how do we stay fulfilled, effective, and well in our roles when many of the expectations on us come from a past where working in schools was seen as vocational?

My answer is increasingly to do with being brave. Brave enough to silence those nagging little voices which are based on fear, not reason, and brave enough to work in ways that make me sustainable in a complex and highly demanding role.

Perhaps it helps if we substitute the word ‘brave’ for the word ‘professional’. A professional sets limits, a professional values their own time and energy, a professional works in a way that is sustainable.

And if you need even more convincing, consider for a moment the future school leaders who will take your place. They are already in our schools and they are watching and noticing how we do our jobs. This is an opportunity, in a world of change, to lead by modelling better – better balance and better professionalism.

For many (most?) of us, a vocation is not what we signed on for. We expected to work hard, to be dedicated and committed – to treat our role with the respect deserved, but we didn’t choose to make it the only and defining thing in our lives. We also chose families, hobbies, friends, and health as well.

So, by all means treat your role as a vocation. If that’s what it truly is for you, embrace it and relax into the lifestyle that comes with this choice.

But if it’s not, you need to start bravely resisting the pressure to treat it like it is. Set reasonable limits, prioritise sustainability (yours!) and be an even better leader and role model for the future.

Dave

 

And as a late breaking piece of news that is very relevant to this discussion, The NZ Government has just announced a 3 year pay freeze on public service pay. Very telling is a statement by our Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, quoted in the New Zealand Herald –

We want the public service to use modern, progressive employment practices, and be a great place to work. We also want a productive unified workforce grounded in the spirit of service.”

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Source pxhere.com

 

In New Zealand, school leaders are allowed to accumulate unused sick days. I’ve got zillions as have plenty of school leaders who have been lucky enough to have avoided a major illness or need for extended leave. Back in the ‘good old days’, it was considered perfectly acceptable to be ‘sick’ for the same length of time as your accumulated leave at the end of your career. A sort of “thanks for showing up to work every day” type of reward.

Of course, in the more pressured world we live in, it would be very naughty indeed to do a similar thing. The reality is that those of us who have been lucky in the health stakes will simply have all that accumulated evidence of turning up to work evaporate on the day we clock out. Pooft – gone.

.   .   .

But I don’t think that’s the whole story. It’s not all about luck and health.

I’d suggest that many of us have unused leave because we are almost pathologically adverse to calling in sick. It’s not what we believe a principal should do and certainly not what we do.

But why?

The other day I watched a cool wee video from a fellow principal, Michael Fletcher, where he encouraged us to stay home if unwell. His bottom-line message of “stay home” also exposed reasons school leaders often don’t.

Things like:

“I’m snowed under already and taking a day off will just make it worse.”

“It’s the only time when we can all make the meeting – I have to go.”

“What will the staff think? It’s Friday and it’ll look like I’m making it a long weekend.”

“I was sick last week so I just can’t be sick again now.”

“They need me there in case . . . (add your own reason).”

An all too common default position is that we simply have to be onsite. There’s some sort of slightly vague but powerful ‘gut’ feeling that it’s not good if we are at home when school is open. It’s somehow mixed up with our beliefs about leadership and duty and  . . . the job.

From a principal who indeed took a sick day this week –

“I’ve been sick all Easter on and off to be honest … but today was the worst. Funnily I checked my calendar to see what sort of “havoc” this would wreak! Saw my calendar was pretty clear and so sent the messages out that I wouldn’t be coming in. The feeling that I had 5 days off already, and was still going to have a 6th one was undeniable. My partner suggested I go for a Covid test – but that would be another 48 hours off school, so I said no. That’s actually wrong.”

So, maybe you have lots of accumulated sick days partly because you’ve been amazingly healthy, but also partly because on the many days you have felt unwell over time, you have “soldiered on”.

And here’s the rub – I bet you can’t remember even one time when you were away sick, where your predicted worst-case scenario happened. Those little voices in your head told you lies.

There’s actually a term for this type of thinking –presenteeism.

Presenteeism is when a worker (e.g. you or me) show up to work unwell. We’re a warm body that people can see, but actually anything but effective. The reason this term has been invented is that being at work in a diminished capacity costs companies big bucks and they are starting to take the problem seriously. The research is new, but early indications are that it’s even more costly than the well studied problem of absenteeism. (Link to presenteeism research in nursing.)

.  .  .

The truth is that when you are feeling unwell, you are unwell – you are not the best version of the leader that you want to be and pretending otherwise is, to be frank, silly.

The science says:

  • that when people are sick they need to rest to recover,
  • that knowingly staying at work during this time makes others sick too,
  • that decision making, creativity, and general cognitive functioning are sub-par.

It’s called being sick.

Refusing to stay home can also be a subtle disrespect of your team, because being unwilling to take a sick day on the grounds that you are irreplaceable, implies that your team is not quite up to the mark. (U1 principals are an exception – you are very nearly irreplaceable!)

Of course, there are practicalities involved too. Another principal recently commented that with all the disruption of COVID – delayed work streams, cancelled meetings, rehashed schedules – it could seem even more important not to be absent. (This is a common theme of principalship, that personal sacrifice is a core part of doing the job.)

On the flip side, I’d actually been thinking the opposite, that the health messages around the pandemic were making it more acceptable for people to stay home if unwell – it’s what we demand of others in our schools so surely we need to model this behaviour too?

So what do you think? Is it OK to come to work even when you know you are sick?

Dave

 

(And to those of you who have, through no fault of your own, had to use every last sick day possible, that sucks. It means unpleasant things have happened and I fully acknowledge that you didn’t choose them. Life is complicated and humans are, well human. Stuff happens.)

 

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Photo by Christin Hume

So you’ve got a fitness device that tells you how many steps you’ve done today. Awesome.

But have you got a sitting widget that tells you how long you’ve spent on your principal butt? In fact, have you ever counted? Well maybe it’s time to start.

There’s a lot of scientific data that links your future personal misery to the amount of time that you spend enjoying the seductive embrace of the swivelly chair.

But just how long is too long?

In a large study of Australians, Kansas State University researcher, Richard Rosenkranz, (summarisedhereon ScienceDaily.com) has reviewed data from over 60 000 Australian men that shows those sitting for  more than 4 hours were significantly more likely to report having a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure.  The risk periods were categorized as less than four hours, four to six hours, six to eight hours, or more than eight hours. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a direct link between the length of time spent sitting and ill health.

(There are multiple other studies (including ones that also study women!) and the conclusion is fairly simple – the longer you sit on average, the less healthy you become over time.)

.   .   .

4 hours . . . pause for a moment and add up your usual tally. Don’t forget to add; breakfast, driving to work, lunchtime, driving home, work at home, watching a bit of Shorters . . . 4 hours doesn’t actually seem that much to me.

Perhaps a more interesting question is; have your average sitting hours increased over time?

My subjective, gut feeling is that mine have. As time and career progresses, there seems to be more and more work that is linked to a computer and by default, a desk.

Even if your own reality is different, a slight increase will build up over time. We wrote a post about this before and used the compounding power of time to give a real look at what was happening to our future selves. Using time to gain clarity is part of a tactic that Tim Ferris calls  “fear setting” – you can read about it here.

So what to do?

My solution was to firstly become conscious of what was happening. Once I started to notice my usual default habits, that alone helped me make change.

Secondly, I made a couple of deliberate decisions:

  • whenever someone came into my office I stood up and if it was a short conversation, stayed standing.
  • I organised an easy standing desk option.

I confess that the standing desk idea didn’t really work the first time. I got one of those units that sit on your desk and which can be raised up or left down.

The problem was that whenever I came into the office it was usually down and so of course I just sat down in front of it. Net gain – zero.

The game changer for me was getting a second (actually third!) screen that was always up. That way when I walked into the office I just stopped at the standing screen. So easy I actually do it.

Here’s my current setup –

.

When working on docs I sit down and use the two screens because it’s usually much more efficient. When I am mainly reading, I stand.

These simple tactics are making a tangible difference to me. If you have some of your own tips to share, we’d love you to add them below or over on the 40HP Facebook page.

Dave

 

 

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.

“You can’t please all the people all the time”.

These words are often quoted after a particularly drawn out or stressful event. They are a figurative shrug of the shoulders that signals an end point.

But the truth is that for many of us there is a lot of angst that comes before this point. And a lot of it comes because we don’t want to upset people, in fact we don’t want to upset anyone.

Early on in my educational adventure, I often found myself in that camp.

 

 

By trying to please everyone, or at least to avoid upsetting anyone, we unwittingly make ourselves  ineffective because the only way to attempt this impossibility is to consign ourselves to maintaining the status quo.

And maintaining the status quo is simply not OK in a world where we need change.

So, what are some signs that you are operating in this trap? Here are some  common ones.

  1. You pretend to agree with everyone

When people are discussing a topic, it is not your job to agree with everything they are saying. That’s a low trust position. Professionals can (and should) disagree at times.

  1. You apologise often

This is sometimes a default habit. If your opinion, or leadership call, is made thoughtfully, you have zero to be sorry for. This doesn’t mean it’s OK not to care, but your best decision is your best and that’s nothing to apologise for.

  1. You often feel burdened by the things you have to do

Despite the reality that you are in charge of your own schedule, it’s possible that you are doing some things merely to please others. As an example, if you ever stay onsite later than you need to, because of what people might think if you left earlier, then that’s a red flag.

  1. You struggle to say “no”

This is a common one – your calendar is already full of things but when that keen sounding person asks if you will do something, you feel bad saying “no” – regardless of whether the new thing meets the definition of important work.

  1. You feel uncomfortable if someone is angry at you

Anger is a complex emotion and often has very little to do with the person it’s projected onto (you are probably innocent!). It’s also true that many leaders find it very uncomfortable if others are annoyed at them – fairly or unfairly.

  1. You frequently need praise to feel good

Praise makes everyone feel good. However, some of us like that external affirmation so much that we change our behaviours to get it. Not necessarily a good thing.

  1. You avoid conflict at all costs

Conflict at some level is a part of making change and if you aren’t willing to offend anyone, you may easily become ineffective in pursuing the important work.

 

 

Can you see aspects of yourself in this list? I certainly could, and at some level still can!

For myself, I have made significant change in how much (or not) energy that I put into trying to please people. It’s taken time, and at certain points in my career some deliberate effort to get a better balance. The key for me has been around being clear about  what’s important because once I did that, many of the negative emotions or feelings I would once have tried to avoid became so much easier to manage. Clarity gives purpose.

And of course, none of this is meant to say you should aim to be “tough” or unkind. The complete opposite really – a school leader’s important work is always to do with people, and seeking better outcomes for them comes with the strong possibility of disapproval from others.

The real question isn’t, “how can I keep everyone happy?” but, “who am I willing to offend?” 

Dave

 

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Photo by timJ 

The 40 Hour Project is all about making positive change, but often it seems really hard for people to do this. There are factors at play that leave people doing the same old/same old despite the reality that they have many options.

There’s definitely the drag of the status quo at play, but there’s also the very personal thing we call ‘belief’.

Belief is more than facts and logic, it’s a complicated mix of experiences, values, personality and emotion.

This post from one of our favourite thought leaders, Seth Godin, sums it up perfectly –


Belief and knowledge

They’re different.

Knowledge changes all the time. When we engage with the world, when we encounter data or new experiences, our knowledge changes.

But belief is what we call the things that stick around, particularly and especially in the face of changes in knowledge.

While more knowledge can change belief, it usually doesn’t. Belief is a cultural phenomenon, created in conjunction with the people around us.

The easy way to discern the two: “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”


Yesterday, you rolled up to school having chosen the time, what you wore, and any number of other small things that collectively make up who you are as a leader.

You chose what the important work was, whether you let people interrupt you, what you ate (or didn’t) for lunch, where in the school you were present, which meetings you attended, and when you went home. Once home you decided whether or not to continue working and for how long.

In essence, your day unfolded in a way that you created. It reflected the beliefs that you held as a leader.

And maybe it was awesome in many respects – but – what about the bits that were potentially ineffective or came with negative consequences for you? Things like skipping exercise because you were too busy, or being so accessible that your day was a blur of other people’s needs, or missing your own children’s sports in the weekend because you were busy supporting your school teams . . .

And it’s hard to change because what you believe a school leader is/does/should do, shapes your actions and choices.


A belief is not a fact, it is a mental picture constructed by you.

If you can apply that truth to something that needs to change, it will help you reframe your thinking.

A real-world example for me involves my own change from spinning the figurative hamster wheel most days, to taking control of some parts of every day. I used to believe it was vital to be super accessible to everyone, but over time I realised that by doing so, I often neglected the important work (or at least did it later when I should have been resting/re-energising). Once I finally realised that I wasn’t doing anyone a favour by working like that, my belief changed and I changed. (I’m a big fan of a technique called ‘batching’.)

Seth’s closing question sums up our challenge –

What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”

One way to see something differently, comes from using a longer lenses to sharpen up the reasons for making change. You can read  more about this in another post – Asking The Uncomfortable Question.

If there’s a bit (or a lot!) of your job that just isn’t working well for you, it’s time to consider whether what you believe about the role needs to be challenged.

Dave

 

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