Someone said at the end of last week … “Man, it’s been a long term!”. Yes at that stage we were only two weeks into the Term, and yes, that someone was me, but yup, it had been a long term already.
Three weeks in and I’m already looking for my awesome trigger.
Awesome trigger? Yes, I’ve just made that term up. If you google that you’re not likely to get anything to help you define what I’m talking about.
So let me explain.
As I’ve already said, it already feels like it’s been a long Term.
I’m not necessarily in the totally fried camp, but I can feel the pressure amping up. I’m hoping that there are others out there just like me.
There’s the uncertainty of Covid that has been lingering now for far too long, and it’s mixing with all the usual culprits – people, finances, relationships, property. In the mix now is the NZ Curriculum Review, Aotearoa NZ Histories, Literacy and Mathematics short comings, Learning Support changes …. Basically all the system change things that I talked about in my last blog piece called Epic that we have little control over but are still expected to grin and bear it.
I’m not helping things because when I find myself in this sort of situation, I tend to make it worse by overthinking it. For me, this results in two key things:
Procrastination and Castrophization
These link very well together, as they naturally like to feed off each other. They really are two evil like twins.
Catastrophizing is over thinking on steroids. Even the word catastrophe sounds catastrophic! How can your thoughts be catastrophic? The sinking of the Titanic – that is catastrophic. The Christchurch Mosque shootings – that is catastrophic. Thinking surely can’t be catastrophic, yet it can feel that way at times.
For me, Catastrophizing doesn’t result in a call to arms, “let’s get this done!” sort of mentality, instead it leads to procrastination. I find myself avoiding and putting off things – even things that should be really quick. Which in turn leads to more catastrophizing because I’m very effectively NOT doing what I should be doing.
Essentially when I do this I’m in Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve, Didn’t mode. There are times in your professional life when the Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve, Didn’t mode is a useful and practical way of doing things. There’s certainly times when it’s advantageous to push the pause and wait. But when it’s linked to the two evil twins of Procrastination and Catastrophization – well, it’s not going to end well.
There are several reasons why we catastrophise (yes it is a we, I’m not alone in this I’m sure!). We just do it on different levels.
For me these basically fall into three main categories:
Ambiguity: When there’s a little confusion or uncertainty and vagueness about a message. For example, “Mrs Brown is on the phone and wants to talk with you”. Or you receive a text; “we need to talk”. Or the Ministry of Education rings. This can open a can of worms in your mind.
Value: Relationships and situations that we hold in high value can result in a tendency to catastrophise. When something is particularly significant to us, the concept of loss or difficulty can be harder to deal with. If a long serving staff member leaves, it’s the sense of uncertainty regarding how you’ll replace that person that leads to the catastrophizing. Especially if you have valued that person intensely!
Fear: Especially any irrational fear. I’m often scared of going to the dentist. I always start to think about all the bad things that could happen to me in the dentist chair … and, how much it is going to cost me! Fear also affects people in school settings. Being “sent” to the Principal’s Office for example!
Scarily, Procrastination also can fall into these three categories
Ambiguity: I’m really vague and unsure about what I should be doing. What is the purpose of this?; Who am I doing it for?; Where is it all going to lead?; Do I really have the skill to give this justice? This leads me to putting things off.
Value: Maybe you value the work so highly that you don’t want to stuff it up. So you put it off. Or maybe it’s the opposite; you don’t see the value of the work at all. Either way it has an effect on your procrastination.
Fear: I certainly have put things off because I have feared the outcome. There is no ambiguity here, it’s definite! I know exactly what is going to happen, and it scares the hell out of me. So I avoid the pain by putting it off. It’s not a great place to be. It feeds beautifully into catastrophizing as well.
So what is the work around? To be honest, I wish I knew the one thing that would fix this for good. I’m yet to discover this though.
I do believe however, that this catastrophizing/procrastination cycle is a habit. It’s something that I’ve led myself into. Why? Well, I’m not a hundred percent sure. But I’ve got to admit that catastrophizing a situation never actually helps anyway.
“Next time you have a what-if thought, remember to tell yourself that you can handle anything that comes your way. Try to think about the worst-case scenario and whether you could handle it. Be realistic. In all honesty, there is no doubt that you could. Then ask yourself whether you truly believe this what-if thought will actually come true. The answer is, probably not.”
Another crucial point here is to understand what your own thought patterns and habits are. It means being ultra aware of when you are in that negative mindset of jumping to the worst conclusion, and then finding the switch to turn it off. One way of switching this off is by using what I like to call my Awesome Trigger.
One of my favourite quotes goes “When I’m sad I stop being sad and I be awesome instead”. It really is a lovely one liner. Apparently a fictional character called Barney Stinson said it on the sitcom “How I met your mother”.
For me I use my Awesome Trigger a bit like a personal electro-shock treatment, without the electricity or the shock! Being awesome instead of sad is, of course, an oversimplification of what has to happen when you’re knee deep in serious crap. However for me, this quote sits above my laptop on the wall in my office, and it is a call to arms for me to start being creative. I’m happiest when I am creating.
Your “awesome” might be something entirely different. It might have nothing to do with being creative. The point here is that when the job is getting you down, and you find yourself in some sort of nasty twin evil catastrophizing/procrastination negative whirlpool like cycle, then trigger the recovery by going to the thing that makes you feel awesome. That’s not a can of beer or a bottle of whiskey. Those sorts of things aren’t recommended, especially in a school setting!
Here are a couple of examples recently of what I did when I found myself in that negative loop:
1. One of my Principal Appraisal comments says I should think about adding a risk management component to my Board reports that takes in personnel and finance risks.
Procrastination level on this idea – HIGH! That sounds like a bore!
Catastrophizing level on this idea – MEDIUM – what if I don’t do this, how will it look to my Board?
My Awesome trigger? – take the boring template I’ve been given as an example and “punk/pimp” it up a little using CANVA, the computer app that I love. Yes it’s still boring, but I get to put a little bit of Steve into it.
2. Teacher comment says I never get out of my office to be with the kids. Apparently it’s like I’ve been stuck there since COVID.
Procrastination level on this statement – LOW. I do want to get out of the office and be with the kids. The office sucks!
Catastrophizing level on this statement – MEDIUM to HIGH – there’s so much other crap that needs to be going on in the office – and I’ve got to run the online assembly, and there’s the COVID stuff and, and, and …. If I don’t do that the place will fall apart.
My Awesome trigger? – get out of the office! Take my camera and microphone, and go and interview some kids doing Rippa Rugby so that I can present it at the online assembly. I’m creating and I’m enjoying being with the kids, and they get to see themselves being the stars they are. As for the COVID stuff? Well I got inspiration from a fellow Principal who told me she still hasn’t written up a flash Covid plan that the Ministry was asking to be written late February.
3. Sometimes you find yourself in the negative loop for too long and all you hear in your head is a song by Joy Division called “Love will tear us apart”. That song starts off with the very hopeful (irony!) line of “When routine bites hard and ambitions are low”. This is a time when you need an intervention from a colleague, mentor, buddy to help you find your Awesome Trigger. Sometimes this is a conversation (always done best face to face, over a coffee or a beer) that is a kick up the butt sort of conversation. They’re fine. But because it’s from someone you respect then the conversation will always give some sort of clarity – and that’s a circuit breaker in terms of ambiguity shifting with the evil twins.
Finally ask yourself two questions;
1. What is truly bothering you? What is the root of the problem? This can help you to slow your thoughts down and get back into reality.
2. What is it at school that truly excites you? This is your Awesome Trigger. Use it to show off your awesomeness!
And remember, we are not the sum of our thoughts. We have control over our thoughts and that very few, if any, of our negative ones ever come to pass.
I’ve been sitting at my keyboard for quite a while now. Waiting for inspiration to hit and for the words to begin to fly from my fingers. I’ve got this feeling that I want to write something epic! That I need to write something epic. Something sensational; something that’ll make a mark and light a fire for anyone who reads it.
It’s the beginning of a new term after all. Of course it’s not quite the same feeling as the beginning of a new year where there is that sense of a new, yet to be formed year ahead – almost like a new page, without a smudge on; waiting to be moulded or transformed into something meaningful.
A new term isn’t like that. There’s a lingering unfinished business smell to the air. That once new page is scribbled over, intents mapped out and then re-written. Stuff highlighted and then disregarded and then re-imaged. A smudge here, and a coffee cup mark there. There’s that bruise from that encounter that is still to heal; there’s that idea that once felt so brilliant but has now lost its lustre; and there’s those things that the Ministry of Education still wants even though you know it is all just a waste of your time, and if they were honest, theirs.
Still I wait for the words to come. But even as I write, and the ideas haven’t yet quite formed, I feel a need to give it a crack.
Term 1 was a cluster #$%# of plans and risk mitigation. It followed at least seven terms of exactly the same thing. The horizon constantly changed, and yet each new day arose with a new challenge and a quickly diminishing amount of energy in the tank to take it all on.
At the end of last term our Secretary of Education here in New Zealand, Iona Holstead, thoughtfully added into her last newsletter, “Thank you again for your mahi throughout what has been another challenging term. I deeply appreciate your resilience and leadership.
Kia pai ngā hararei, have a great break“.
Then she proceeded to outline everything new that needed to happen before the new term began. Where was this “great break” thing that she talked of? This came across, to me anyway, as being kind of thoughtless, and took all her initial thoughtfulness away. It was a shame.
I don’t want this to be a political type of post, and it certainly isn’t designed to be, instead I hope to highlight the challenges ahead of us should we really be serious about this thing called well-being. And let’s face it, we really should be serious about it.
As I’ve said, Term One 2022 was a roller coaster ride of writing plans, re-writing plans, adjusting plans, deleting plans, and ultimately flying by the seats of our collective pants because none of the plans nailed it all. It was challenging, mind-bending, mind-numbing, and overall suffocating.
By the end we all felt swamped. But we prevailed. And here we are again, a new term and the swamping feeling returns.
Two key readings got me thinking during the “holiday break” (yes I call it a holiday – it’s important that we take a break).
Henderson starts off describing the likes of many staff meetings that I have led. There I am, talking from the front, painting a vivid picture of the “shit show” that we had found ourselves in. Listing the things that needed to happen, and that were going to happen; piling on the pressure with equal dollops of uncertainty on the side. And then, just as Iona did in the Bulletin, I finish with a “Look after yourself”, or a “Kia pai ngā hararei, have a great break”.
There’s this unsaid insinuation during times that are grim, that you can make it all better by looking after yourself. Do some more yoga, go for a longer run, find some time for yourself, throw in some extra meTime. The pressure is placed back on you, and if you don’t find these times to “look after yourself”; if you do burn out, drop the ball, do something stupid – then it’s not the system that’s put you in this situation, it’s your inability to deal with your self care. Ouch.
Henderson’s piece isn’t rocket science, but it is a bit of a revelation. Yes it’s fine to promote well-being as a way to talk about self help, and a way to deal with personal stress, but it’s the wider systems that need to be looked at where the real changes can be made that will actually help. You really should read his piece. It is epic!
When Iona, our Secretary of Education writes to us, she writes from an embattled, extreme position of leading us through a pandemic. Her words therefore are appropriate in these times. Times are tough, look after yourself.
The problem is though, as we head out of our current pandemic predicament this kind of rhetoric won’t change. It’ll just be a different flavour; here’s the curriculum review, here’s the Aotearoa New Zealand’s Histories, here’s the literacy and mathematics failings, here’s the …. Well, you know what I mean for sure. Oh! And by the way, don’t forget to look after yourself. Because we value you (and let’s face it we can’t do it without you), but not quite enough for us (The Ministry of Education, or the decision makers and shakers in those buildings far away) to change our systems so that maybe, just maybe you won’t have to look after yourself so much and you’ll actually be able to get on with the job!
Although not instantly related to Henderson’s, Stuart’s piece, “It’s habits, not goals that change our lives” is connected.
In our roles we’re expected to write plans, set goals; be a living, breathing strategic being. Both measured and measurable, accounted for and accountable.
But it’s not the goals that we write that make the difference in the end. It’s the habits that we make during the journey towards these goals that make the real change.
Habits are tricky things. They’re not one offs or one solution fits all pieces of fluff. They’re not, do this once and you’ll forever get success sorts of scenarios. Instead they are persistent, consistent acts of many “some-things” and “small-things”. The best are built on, and built on, and built on again until they become not just a way of thinking, but a natural way of acting.
Science suggests that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to make an action a habit. With the average time being 66 days. There is nothing exact about this. But it helps to have this figure in your head so that you understand real change comes from habit, and that habit comes from perseverance.
That’s why self help in terms of dealing with stress or burnout isn’t just a “times are getting tough, make sure you’re looking after yourself” type of deal. It’s not a “go on, do some more yoga thing” and it’s all gonna be fixed, sort of thing. It’s destined to fail if you think it is.
So, yeah, I guess as I write this, I’m still looking for something epic. And that epic-ness has to come in the form of change
I used to be a proponent of the “Be the change you want the world to come” – or if you’re waiting for the cavalry to come to save you, then you’ll be waiting for a very long time, because the cavalry is you.
And you know what? I’m still a proponent of both of those. But that’s no longer going to be enough.
We see the same in the shift of thinking in regards to dealing with Climate Change. In the past the pressure has been on the individual to make all the necessary changes, but as time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly evident that the big changes need to come from big business, the corporations and the governments.
And that’s the same here with well being. Governments and “Systems” (even those of our own doing in our schools) have to make those changes. And they have to make those changes a habit – a habit of will based on real societal concern and care.
They say that breaking a habit can take at least 21 days. Addictions of course take even longer. The systems we run in our schools are also often habits – we’ve always done it this way – often written or designed way before your time. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly these can be dismantled and new habits begun if there is a collective will.
From a school leader point of view this is where you can make a difference. Start those conversations about well being in your schools, but not from a personal point of view, instead focus on your systems. What is it that is putting people under pressure most? How can the school as a living, flexible institution meet these pressures without burning everyone out?
As for the Ministry of Education or any Government institutions, their habits take a lot longer to change. Some of them are buried in legislation. But the small changes, those ones that could make a difference tomorrow, next week, or next term – they can still be made, and should be made. And so when Iona says “have a great break”, you’ll know she really means it, because the policies and systems around her will show that she actually means it.
Big stuff (and little stuff) indeed – but entirely epic for sure.
The other day I found myself daydreaming. Or maybe it was procrastinating. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to tell. I was about to pick up the phone and have a difficult conversation with a parent. They’d already rung and told me they weren’t happy with something, and I’d told them “calmly” that I’d be back to them as soon as I had a better understanding of the situation. What I had been told by the parent, adamantly correct, was a little bit different to what actually had occurred. You’ll know these conversations. They’re a dime a dozen!
Here I was though, daydreaming. Phone in hand, yet to dial.
A couple of weeks ago I had found myself a million miles away from principalship. I was so removed from my “day in and day out” during that time that there were frequent times during that day that I had to pinch myself just to make sure I was alive. It was great!
I was in a recording studio, in Dunedin, recording some of the songs of a band that I’m in. The last time I did this was 30 years ago. It was epic
Although I was enjoying myself almost beyond comprehension, I was struggling with some notes and technique. I’m no Adele, and last time I played like Jimi Hendrix was in a dream, so there was a level of frustration building.
To make things even cooler though, Luis, our sound engineer, was from Venezuela. All I could hear in my cans (headphones!) was his Latin, Spanish tones of encouragement. His accent made it feel as though we could’ve been anywhere in the world! He joked with us that he was from Gore.
“Steve, the first sentence is always the hardest”, he said in a Julio Iglesias like drawl. “But keep at it, you’ll get it”
He was referring to the song that we were singing. One of those sorts of songs, where I lead off, and I hope like hell that the first note that pops up out of my mouth is somewhere close to the note that it’s meant to be.
It struck me how often we find ourselves in this exact position on any given day of principalship.
Think about it, we’re forever looking to hit the right note in all that we do in our professional roles. And that first sentence is crucial. It’s what sets the scene, draws people in, builds the intent, and lays the groundwork for the rest of your message.
When you write the first sentence in your weekly newsletter, you know that it has the power to either switch people on or off. Some may never get past your first sentence if you get it wrong.
When you’re having that awkward, tricky conversation with one of your teachers (you know, the type, when the door has to be closed) your first sentence is the “set up”. It lets the teacher know in tone and depth where this conversation is heading. Again, get it wrong and you cross that thin line between colleague and arsehole.
And when we make that phone call home to tell a parent that Brian has just purposefully thrown a stone from the playground through a glass window because he didn’t like Mr Jones telling him to walk in line with the rest of the class down to the library. That first sentence is a minefield. You can’t see the parent on the other end of the line, you have no idea what is going through their head or what’s going on in that particular time when they pick up the phone … dot dot dot.
All of these situations begin with a starting sentence.
That sounds pretty grim on the face of it. That’s a lot of pressure to take on.
But yet we do it day in and day out, every day.
Often the first sentence is a bit of bluster, and for me is often almost a blubber. The words fall out of your mouth as if it’s a third language that you’ve just picked up. That’s how it is with me on the phone, or in a tricky “door closed” conversation.
On paper I have more time to formulate it, but I want to hold the reader for as long as I can. Maybe every sentence should just begin with, “Giving millions away, but you have to get to the bottom of the page before I tell you how!”
I’ve tried preparing for difficult conversations, whether they’re spoken or written, by writing down and drafting up what I want to say. It certainly helps to a point, but you still can’t control each individual’s interpretation of what you want to say. Spoken is fraught with the tone of your voice, the use of your individual humour (is it sarcasm or is it really the funniest thing ever uttered? Or is it a subtle dig?), and anything that can possibly be mis-heard is mis-heard.
Writing isn’t much better. Readers flash their eyes over the written word, interpreting how they want. They add bits into the sentences that haven’t been written. They look for what you haven’t said as much as what you have.
The conversations that we have with our most trusted are the easiest. The first line doesn’t carry so much baggage. This is because they know, and you know, that whatever your message is, it’ll be coming from a place of good intention. This in itself is a powerful way of describing trust at its very core.
Many believe that trust is based on what you last did, or what you did last week, or what you did last year. It’s a terrible place to place your understanding of trust in though. But you’re not in any sort of position ever to control what the other person thinks and understands what trust is, so you’ve got to let that go.
The second part of what Luis, the sound engineer, had to say is also crucial; “Keep at it, you’ll get it”.
And you will. You’ll get it, even if it’s not quite what you hoped it to be. And there’s an even chance that it might be even better.
The key part to what Luis was saying is the “keep at it” part. If you don’t keep at it, then you will never get it.
So where is this all leading?
Well in my day dreaming I also marvelled at my Office Managers who both are experts on the phone. They never seem flustered. Their tone is impeccable; friendly, welcoming, but also no BS. They listen, they deliver and then they move on. Neither have had any training, yet they command confidence and respect. I wondered why I just didn’t get either of them to make my phone call?
Recently I read a story on LinkedIN by Jason Gunn, What Now Guru, Entertainer, Entrepreneur. Jason Gunn was talking about congratulating his son for playing his first game of first grade rugby. Jason was describing how the tradition in the club is that the families say something nice to their kids in the dressing room just before they run onto the field. And Jason, being Jason Gunn, thought he’d have something great to say, but couldn’t find the right “DAD” words. Dad words are great in times like this. Instead he resorted to what he tells his business clients. And he made something up on the spot using these four keys that he tells his clients.
Speak (play) from the heart.
When I listen to my Office Managers on the phone this is exactly what they do, although I’m taking it that they haven’t been to a Jason Gunn session anytime recently.
They don’t fret about the first sentence, but they do speak from the heart. When they need to be sympathetic or empathetic then they do so with aplomb. Their first sentence is still important, but because they are speaking from the heart they also come across as being authentic. They don’t muck around but speak calmly, slowing things down. And they show that they are present by actively listening to the person on the other end. They have some sort of clever in-built BS detector that helps them see through the fog, but they genuinely care about what the other person has to say. This adds to their authenticity and ability to build trust, based on the intention that they are coming from a good place.
It all goes to show that we don’t have to spend thousands on hearing from the corporate high flyers (although the free drinks are nice!), when we can just take a little time to listen to the high flyers around us, like Luis the sound engineer and my two awesome Office Managers.
No doubt I’ll still fret about that first sentence, and the need to hit the right note, but I’ll know that unless I lean in and make that first sentence, there will never be a second.
Anyone who knows me even a little bit will be able to tell you that I love music. And I love lyrics. Both talk to me in a way that most things don’t. And when I grow up I want to be a rock star. I’ve been waiting to grow up for a very long time now, and while I wait I do this thing called Principalship!
Last week David eloquently talked about “A Sense of Waiting”. The phenomenon that we all currently find ourselves in during this time of Covid. As David wrote; “we are stuck and with that comes a real sense of waiting. Those with major disruption gripping their schools are waiting for it to be over. Those who haven’t reached that stage yet are waiting for it to start.”
This sense of waiting has an adverse affect on us all. It is easy to feel that we are stuck, and it’s not too far a jump to worry that we might be stuck forever. No wonder we feel anxious.
Before David’s piece last week, there was Danny Nichol’s also excellent “Doing the unstuck” . Provocatively Danny asked “What can you do today to shift from reaction mode to action mode?”
If I walk around my school, Covid waves lapping at our shores, I don’t see a lot of evidence from my tamariki that they are in wait mode. Yes things have been canceled or postponed, and everyone’s had their fair share of disappointment, but on the whole our students aren’t moping around waiting for a time when things are different. They are here, and they are now.
As an adult, and as a leader there’s an awful lot to learn from that.
We can’t avoid the threat of Covid, or the impact and timing of change and the challenges that that brings. But we can avoid the sense of waiting and enjoy the now, right now.
When I was a kid, I spent time looking forward to two key dates a year. My birthday and Christmas day. The night before both were often sleepless nights of anticipation and excitement! I was in full on wait mode. Maybe we can learn from this too – these were great reasons to have sleepless nights! Covid isn’t a great reason to lose sleep over, or to waste our lives by waiting. Life goes on, make the most of what we have, now.
As an aside, possibly the only reason that our kids in our schools are now having sleepless nights is because we (us adults I mean) are projecting our worries onto them. Yes, our children should be up to speed with what Covid all means, but it doesn’t need to be coloured in our own language of anxiety like hues.
After you’ve read this I want you to go out and walk around your school. Walk around it in the now. Watch your kids out in the playground. Watch how they play and how they interact with each other. Enjoy their squeals and laughter. Enjoy their mini triumphs and also their mini setbacks. They are all examples of in the now, and of little human beings, actually being without the weight of anything but their current moment on their hands. There’s beauty there. It’s not hard to find, it’s not hard to see.
We need to do way more of this, because out of these moments you get an appreciation for where you are right now, and suddenly you don’t have to be waiting for anything.
So back to my music. I started this piece talking about music and lyrics. Well, a couple of weeks ago a New Zealand music legend called Don McGlashan (he wrote Dominion Road with the Mutton birds, and There is No Depression in NZ (with Blam Blam Blam) released his latest album.
Don is famous not only for his beautiful music but also his amazing lyrics that somehow make routine always seem incredible.
On his latest album there is a song called “Now’s the Place” and he sings these lyrics. They seem particularly relevant right here and right now:
Now that our lives seem so dependent on wearing a mask every day and in almost every location, it got me thinking about the many masks, metaphorically, that we wear in our role.
A mask is something that is there to protect and hide. Covid N95 masks protect us from the dreaded lurgy and masks such as Batman’s black pointed ear thing, hides him from being identified as his actual self, Bruce Wayne.
In America, and no doubt around the world, there are now people who have become so accustomed to wearing their physical Covid mask that when mask mandates were lifted, they felt naked, and grew anxiety like health issues feeling exposed to the world.
Bizarre, I know.
My Covid masks have been very useful in hiding a number of daily facial issues that I’ve had recently. A pimple here, or a razor cut there. I’m yet to resort to going a day unshaved though. How practical! And useful. Maybe next week.
Conversations with colleagues have also taken a change. Wearing a mask during a conversation is really quite fraught.
Masks hide certain tones in the voice that may have helped you show subtle emphasis in your conversation – suggesting that you were actually joking. Or that you were actually serious!
Masks hide the shape of your mouth and the lines of your face – the useful points of expression that the listener can use to interpret your meaning.
Above your eyebrows are your worry lines, and they’re pretty hard to disguise. I’ve considered concrete, but it tends to chip off when I laugh. They seldom change though. I’ve got a habit of looking worried even when I’m calm and happy. “Why the worried face Steve?!” “Arrh, I’m not, this is my happy look”
Your eyes are left to be the only thing for listeners to be hundred percent sure, in their opinion anyway, of your intentions.
Do a quick google search for “quotes about eye contact” and you get a myriad of responses:
“It was one of those unexplainable moments of eye contact that is immediately overanalyzed and inevitably misread”
“Eye contact is a dangerous, dangerous thing. But lovely. Oh so lovely”
“Eye contact; how souls catch on fire”
You get the drift.
Reading eyes is an art in itself. No surprises that it’s one of the most mis-interpreted.
Was that a cold eyed stare?, a second too long flirtatious hold?, or a squint in the sun?
If we’ve ever been more vulnerable to mis-interpretation it is now when we wear our masks.
For some people coming into our schools, the newbies who we have never met before, all we see are these “windows to their soul”. Somebody took their mask off the other day, a person who I had never seen without a mask, and I was shocked to see they were totally different to what I thought they looked like. No doubt you’ve had these sorts of experiences too.
The bigger issue of course is that as leaders we’ve always been wearing masks of some sort or another. Today’s world has just brought the mask out from behind our skin and bones and into the physical world.
Every day Mantra’s such as “Fake it till ya make it” are classic mask comments. They encourage us to mask up, metaphorically.
“Put on your game face” is another classic.
At the other end of the scale we’re encouraged to, “Be our authentic self”. This suggests that it’s better not to wear a mask at all (metaphorically speaking of course).
We hide stuff all the time. We do this to protect ourselves and to protect others.
Hiding our emotions in our school settings is one of the number one “go to’s” that we use just to get through every single day.
Hiding behind this sort of mask has its costs. We pay in pent up frustration, anger, regret, exhaustion, anxiousness, irritation, infuriation, resententfulness and guilt. Just to name a few.
The alternative isn’t that great either. Taking off our masks and saying exactly what we feel can also lead to all of those feelings if we’re not measured and careful.
Some of us wear a different type of mask altogether. Batman masks! Some Principal/Leaders wear these all day, every day in their schools.
Batman mask wearers like to solve this problem and work through that problem. They work to keep the streets clean of all the vernim (RATs anyone!), they like to get there (wherever that is) just in the nick of time, and they drive the coolest fastest, blackest car in the staff carpark. At night, when the credits roll for another day, they go back to their other lives as moral (and sometimes immoral) abiding citizens of Gotham city. The difference is that Bruce Wayne never really seems to worry when he is Bruce Wayne – I’m thinking 1960’s/70’s era Batman – he is calm and measured and enjoys spending his countless thousands on many toys. This is quite unlike any Principal/Leader that I know.
This isn’t our reality. In fact it’s no one’s reality. It reminds me of that often remarked saying about Social Media being the highlight reel of everyone else’s lives. We see this on Facebook and we wonder why our lives aren’t so magnificent. No ones are.
And yet, everyones, including yours are. Magnificent that is!
So what’s the work around?
Well, for a start, you’re not batman. So take that out of the equation. Leave being Batman to dress up days and book weeks. You are pretty damn amazing though, but there’s a reason why there aren’t any Batman’s around in the real world – it’s because they’re fictional. They’re made up. And so don’t look at your role from a fictional point of view. You’ve got reality in front of you day in and day out, so be easy on yourself. Unlike Batman you don’t get to read your script before you get to deliver it.
The work around is all about Communication. This means being absolutely clear of your intention and absolutely clear of your message.
And a word about intention – intention can be a double edged sword, on the one edge you need to be clear in your mind about your own intention, but on the other edge, don’t let your intention get in the way of gathering a better understanding of what is going on.
The work around this of course is to have a universal intention to always seek to understand first.
Communication comes with a myriad of fish hooks:
What to say
When to say it
How to say it
Who to say it too
Who else to say it too
Where to say it
Where to park it once it’s said
You’re a way better Principal/Leader than me if you can work through all this in the split second of sorting out an issue or a fight. Mary is about to smack Johnny with a chair at the start of a staff meeting, and you’re standing there yelling … wait! I need to get through my check list of fish hooks before I respond! You get my drift.
So back to the mask. We’ve got it extra hard at the moment having to wear a mask whether it’s in front of our tauira or kaiako. Make yourself clear, and remember to go easy on yourself. If you don’t then your eyes will give you away anyway.
Save your eyes – instead, try listening to this post at the bottom of this page.
Mmmm, so the other day, as I worked through my Business Continuity Plan for the seventeenth time: adding more, making things clearer for the reader/readers, colouring in the blank spaces left by the Ministry’s faint lines …. Trying to cover the bases of each and every scenario that my simple mind could imagine, I came across a random thought.
Had I become the ultimate over thinker?
I mean, I’m pretty notorious for being an over thinker already. I’ve done this in what I like to call my “think more, react less” mode of operandum. It works well for the kids that I work with too …. Your reaction shouldn’t be longer than the thinking you put into your reaction. It’s a peach of an idea really, well, sort of, until it’s not.
For a kid who is has just thrown a chair, or a fist, and has taken off down to the end of the field with a colourful array of expletives flying from his, or her, tongue – the energy taken to diffusing this reaction is, to put it mildly, sapping. Better if the “thinking” part had taken longer than the reaction part on their behalf.
However for planning in a pandemic we seem to be stuck in a perpetual loop of thinking and writing up plans.
David was spot on last week when he quoted Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, – “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”
And yet here we are. Planning, planning, planning. Thinking, thinking, thinking. And yes, we do need to do this. I’m not arguing for throwing your BCPs out the window and instead heading off to your local coffee shop or pub and whiling the afternoon in the sun with your feet up.
Planning is intrinsic in ensuring that we all get through this alive – metaphorically speaking I hope.
But the issue arises when we find ourselves starting to overthink the overthinkers who are going to be reacting to our plan.
And here I’m beginning to wonder if I’m becoming the King of the Overthinkers – those who feel a need to keep ahead of the overthinkers. Maybe I’m in a whole new class altogether – the Uberthinkers!
It’s a miserable place to be.
If the ‘Rona experience has taught us anything, it’s that the scenarios, the forever list of blah blah blah blah, blahs are so big and expansive that it’s virtually impossible to have all that information stuffed into the little brains that sit in our heads. Therefore keeping one step ahead of the overthinkers in your community surely has to be a bridge too far.
Don’t do it. Don’t even try.
Why do we do this?
Maybe we do it as a form of competition? But your leadership is not a competition. It’s a reality.
So thinking that you’ll get extra points for keeping ahead of a fellow overthinker is a lost cause. Reality is that things change. They change fast, and you get taken down paths that you need to follow, not because it was on the plan written last Monday, or even because it was on your to-do-list written in the weekend, but because the new reality has dictated it. Trying to keep ahead of your fellow over thinkers is a recipe for disaster.
Maybe we do this through fear. Fear of being caught out; the ultimate unmasking of the fake Principal! But fear is something that you can control, and in this case it comes down to an element of confidence, and some good old fashioned bluff. Knowing that everyone you work with is also in fear of the ultimate unmasking helps a lot too.
When I’m overthinking I commonly do the following things:
I double my efforts to please others
I become overly self-critical
I get angry and resentful because I’m wasting my time thinking about things when I could be playing my guitar, mowing my lawn or talking with my beautiful wife.
And because of this I fail to master normal useful things like having a great relationship with my loved ones, and sleeping properly.
When I’m trying to overthink the overthinkers this list is multiplied by a figure that shouldn’t be underestimated.
What you do as a result of your own overthinking may be different to my list (ironically I’ve tried not to overthink this list!), but the end effect I’m sure is the same – a complete depletion of energy. And when you have no energy, well, you’re stuffed really.
Occasionally my overthinking will pay dividends. It’s like a massive pay day! Especially if my overthinking had over thought some other overthinkers. It’s this gambling like approach that quite possibly has me coming back for more.
So maybe we do this overthinking because we get some perverse adrenalin like buzz when the gamble pays off
But at what cost?
If overthinking the overthinkers is a gamble then, let’s be honest, you actually don’t have time to do it. It’s just a habit after all. Get your adrenalin buzz elsewhere.
Instead back yourself that you do have the power to “find out more” about any given scenario you are met with. Don’t give into that desire to have everything on your lips, ready to go, if someone comes calling. Sometimes you will of course. And other times you won’t. End of story.
Back yourself that you can and will make decisions based on the information you have today and that these decisions can and will change. Yes changing your mind can be viewed as a weakness by some – but that’s their problem not yours. Changing your mind should be seen as a positive, that you’re open, that you listen and that you are adaptable and flexible.
Avoid social media sites that will promote overthinking – the major one I know is the Teacher Facebook page. Yes, by following it you are forewarned – but forewarned of what? How do you know that whatever is the flavour of the month will become “something” in your own context.
Finally, be open. There’s a lot written about leaders being vulnerable. I get that. But the overthinker in me leads to me thinking I’m just opening up myself to be judged. Well welcome to the job Steve!. That’s what we get paid the big bucks for. So be open to anything, to it all.
You can help yourself by following the wonderful Maya Angelou quote: “Do the best you know until you know better. Then when you know better do better.”
And it’s that quote that I think we should all face the next few weeks with. Be prepared to get it right, and be prepared to get it wrong. But give up on the overthinking, and definitely don’t get involved in the Uber Thinking class.
(And before you read another word, you can scroll to the bottom and listen to the post if you prefer.)
By the time you read this you will (if you’re reading this in New Zealand) have just about navigated your way through the first week of term.
Congratulations! Well done! You’ve done it! Again! Against the odds even!
The holiday break now seems like a distant memory, but if you’re like us on the Forty Hour Principal team, you might still be enjoying the afterglow positive energy that flows from your break away and into the early part of the term.
The key is to keep this afterglow well and truly shining for as long as possible.
So just for a moment I need you to stop thinking about your Red Level Covid Plans, your BCP’s (thanks Iona for this lovely new acronym), your Audit trail, Analysis of Variance and first Board report of the year. Oh! And also forget about answering those annoying emails about facemasks and exemptions.
Park it, and take a little time to plan for yourself a survival plan.
This plan, written when you’re relatively fit, healthy, energetic and “with it” will help you manage those times when you’re relatively flabby, sick, downright tired and despondent. This Survival Plan is for you to access during those times when looking after yourself has become just a little bit too hard.
For me, I’m going to write it as a ten point plan. The number doesn’t really matter, but for artistic purposes ten always has a nice ring to it.
I’m going to make this plan look pretty and official looking and then I’m going to print it off in colour and stick it somewhere bold, so that I can refer to it really easily. Who knows, I might even stick it to the lid of my laptop.
These points are going to be a hotchpotch of ideas that I know, when I apply them to myself, that I get enjoyment and energy from. Your points will be a lot different to mine, but you get my drift I am sure. These are for you to dive in at any time that you need a “pick me up” to get you going again.
My plan is called the Lime Thickshake Plan and involves the following:
Leave school at 3:30pm with no guilt allowed two days during a given week
Buy something unhealthy but delicious like a Lime Super Thickshake from a Night and Day. Yes that does sound particularly lame, I agree. But they’re amazing and my wife has banned me from having them … ever!
Listen to my Uplift playlist on Spotify – one that I’ve already prepared just for these occasions. This playlist has songs that I find emotionally uplifting and positive. A bit of fun … songs that connect me with brighter times.
Go for a walk in my favourite place looking for piwakawaka. For me it’s a bit seasonal here in Timaru where I go walking. Autumn time is lovely in the Scenic Reserve, Winter/Spring down on Caroline Bay. Somewhere serene.
Ring Murray. He is probably my oldest friend and lives 2,000kms away. Sadly to say I speak with him far too rarely, but when we do it’s like nothing has ever changed. The key here is to have a real conversation. As in a spoken conversation. A connection.
Go for coffee with Davo.
Write a Journal … take some time to write it all out e.g. write what’s going on and then write three scenarios – worst thing that could happen, best thing that could happen, and most likely thing to happen
Get away – get out of town during the next available weekend. A mini break does wonders. Put a safety net of cash aside each week so that when you need to go, it’s not going to be the lack of cash that will stop you.
Delve into my list of favourite sayings and re-introduce myself to the concept that nothing is forever, both good times and bad times come and go.
Indulge in my hobby. Give myself the freedom just to immerse myself in that and to block out everything else. For me it’s the band I’m in. When I grow up I want to be a rock star …. And I’m still striving towards this.
It doesn’t matter how long your list is, or even if it actually is a list. What matters is that you have a plan in place all ready to go when you hit those difficult times where you’re finding it hard to keep your head above water.
And because we’ve all written so many darn plans over the last three years, you’ll find this one is a breeze!
Eight things that you should read during the holidays:
1. Everything is F@#ked by Mark Manson …. This is the follow up to his much easier to read, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F@#K. It’s a bit of a gruesome read from time to time and there’ll be times when you might wonder where is he going with this. The good news is that Everything is NOT F@#ked as the title suggests. It’s a ploy! But it is a bit in the way you hold your tongue when you’re looking at it. Insightful quotes include: “We see that our beautiful visions for a perfect future are not so perfect, that our dreams and aspirations are themselves riddled with unexpected flaws and unforeseen sacrifices. Because the only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true”. On the face of it; ouch! But when you look at it from a Principal or Leadership role then it really does make a lot of sense. We have imperfect schools full of imperfect people and we should celebrate that. Yes, aspire to whatever you want, do everything you can to get there, but do so in the knowledge that you are doing this with a lot of humans – and that it may not quite look as you planned once you’ve finished. And that is fine.
2. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni …. This is advertised as a “leadership fable” but in reality it is this and much, much more. It’s really useful, and at the back it outlines some seriously good advice about how to work with your team to break down the dysfunctions. So what are those dysfunctions?
Take your teams through these when you get a chance. The Fear of Conflict can be a real road block in work places – not just schools. I know I fear it. But if you have an environment of trust, and a really good understanding of what that thing called “trust” is (and a commitment to it from everyone), then conflict can happen without the sting. This book feels very American, but it’s more than worth it.
3. Green Eggs and Ham byDr Seuss. If you haven’t read this for a long time, then take time to read it again sometime this summer. Take turns in putting yourself into each of the characters’ shoes. There are people in your schools who don’t like change and will fight and scrap along the way. And you, yourself, will also be in places where you don’t want to be on the change spectrum. Me? I hate the taste of kumara, but I have been known to like it when it’s been dressed up in something – just don’t tell my wife!
4.CrossRoadsby Mark Radcliffe – Ok so this isn’t technically about wellbeing, being a principal/leader or anything to do with Education. Instead it’s a musical journey. It is a collection of essays in the search of moments that changed music. If you love the history of popular music from the 1950s onwards then there will something here for you. The leadership lesson from this book however is a gentle reminder that we all need to find something that is our personal passion. And we need to make time for it. So this holiday, replace this book with a title about a passion of yours, and sit back and enjoy the sense of energy that it gives you.
5.Flowby Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – yes you read that surname correctly but did you pronounce it right? Me-high-cheek-sent-me-high is how you say it. This was first published in 1990 and the words on each page look like they’re printed in size 7 font, but wow, what a great book. It’ll take some brainpower to get through it though, but each page is guaranteed to have at least one sentence that’ll make you go “wow”. As the title suggests, it’s all about “Flow”. That’s that elusive place where we find ourselves sometimes where everything comes together as it should and you achieve things at a startling rate, just as you imagined them! There have been little times of “flow” during 2021. Some of those times have been so fleeting that you could have easily been mistaken for them not happening at all. But look harder. You have done an incredible job this year, in an incredibly challenging space. Your places of real “flow” might feel intermittent – but on reflection you might be surprised.
Also there is a great piece in this book that describes the amount of thought processing power you have. Now remember, this book was written in 1990, so brain science has come a long way, and the measurement of the amounts of “data” that any one person can deal with at any one time is up for grabs. But, whatever that number is, it is finite. It’s not an infinite number, and so don’t ever beat yourself because you haven’t been able to process everything at any one time. You can’t. It’s impossible.
If you don’t read anything on this list then at least make sure you read this. It’s quick and it’s easy. I wish I’d read this way back in the 1990’s when I first became a principal. It would’ve saved me a lot of anguish when making decisions. The first one is a goodie indeed; “ Your Job Is To Make Tough Decisions, With Incomplete Information, In A Compressed Time Frame”. Wow! That about sums up dealing with COVID. Decisions have had to be made, usually without anywhere near the amount of information you really wanted. But you still did it. Leadership!
7. Fade Away – Harlan Coben – Alright, so stick with me on this one. This is a novel. It’s not anywhere related to education or leadership and it fits in a bit with number 4 on this list. I picked this book up in a second hand store in Queenstown. I’d watched some Harlan Coben Netflix shows and enjoyed the twist of his stories. What was great about this story is that it was written originally in 1992. And it’s set at the same time. What’s so great about that? Well, the way that it is written feels like it’s at the cutting edge of technology. The hero runs around with a 1.44mb floppy disc of data in his pocket as though it is the best thing ever invented. This cutting edge technology helps solve the crime. There are many other examples littered throughout the story. The tone of the writing emphasises it even more, because it’s not just set at the time, it’s written at the time – before the internet, before the information explosion. It is funny. Why do I recommend you read this? Well, maybe I don’t actually recommend this one, but read something that was written a long time ago. It’ll give you a sense that things change, that everything changes in some way or form. Those things that were once seen as the most important and cutting edge things to worry about will also fade. However, we are still all human and even though there is this constant change, you will still be you. No matter what.
This is another blog that is worth reading. To be honest I’ve never read “Good to Great” but I’ve heard the term used a plenty, and I’ve even seen it turn up in vision statements and strategic plans from time to time. This blog paints an interesting picture in which it argues that even when this book was originally written in 2001 that the “measurement of success” it used to describe what “great” was, was fraught. It turns out (according to this blog) that to be successful you almost had to be one of 11 businesses in the Fortune 500. Mmmmm, I don’t think so! Success is a fickle thing. How we measure it, even more so. How others then get to see the success in our schools is another thing on top of that. We communicate our successes to the wider sector in an almost Facebook Highlights package sort of way. Our neighbouring schools and the sector as a whole get to see the amazing innovation, creativity, passion et al occurring in our schools. In turn that conjures up an image of success that also becomes a reputation. I wonder therefore that given that all schools have their skeletons, that the journey from “Good to Great” should always be viewed in the context of their own journey.
. . .
Of course, this list is pretty irrelevant. There are many, many good pieces of writing out there that can inspire you. These all helped for me, but you’ll have your own.
The important thing is to find something to read during your break. It doesn’t have to be education orientated. Take a break, breathe, read.
Woah! I don’t know about you, but recently it has been a bit of a challenge. Ok, so I’m underselling that – it’s been a nightmare.
Recently I found myself working with a boy who needed a hand. He had two “go-to” emotions that underpinned all of his own challenges. He was either angry; white heat angry, or he just didn’t care about anything and would shut down.
I chanced upon the old Cherokee Two Wolves proverb that goes like this (thanks Michael Fletcher)
“There is a battle of two wolves inside of us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.
The wolf that wins?
The one you feed”
And I wondered if this might be a good thing to work on with my new pupil. The emotion that he was willing to feed the most was the one that became the strongest. In this case it was anger, and that was what he went to most often when times got challenging.
I began to wonder what this proverb might look like if it was transported into a New Zealand perspective. I wondered what this could look like from a Maori perspective and so I wrote Hinemoa’s Kurī.
Recently I was reading Hinemoa’s Kurī again and it struck me how it could be used as a tool in helping principals and leaders. Times are incredibly challenging at the moment. They are likely to be for a while yet longer. Maybe, just maybe it’s worth taking time to consider which kurī (or wolf) that you are feeding. It might make a difference in how you get through this time.
. . .
The coconut trees in Hawai-iki swayed gently in the breeze. Some of the villagers had come down from the kumara plantation to see the fleet off. They lay quietly in the shade of the trees swatting little flies, many bemused at what they saw in front of them.
Why would anyone want to leave this paradise?
Hinemoa looked over her crew. She hadn’t hand picked this group, that job was for the great Ranginuiin the Sky, but she felt confident that he had chosen wisely, because that was what he did. Day in and day out.
“We should’ve left yesterday,” mumbled Wiremu, as he threw a bone to his dog.
Hinemoa laughed to herself, “Aie! Wiremu is always feeding his kurī with something.”
The waka was resplendent in its finery. It might be a cliche’, but it was true. It was the best that could be afforded; a mighty sea vessel that could cut through the currents, and climb the highest of waves – well, for a time anyway, because there was no knowing how long this journey would take. On the calm waters of the lagoon it looked like it could and would take anyone to the edges of the world and back again, all in safety.
Across to the horizon one could see glimpses of waka who had already left. On the beach some remained behind, maybe to leave tomorrow, or the day after.
“If we don’t get going now, then we’ll have to wait for tomorrow,” said Wiremu, throwing another morsel to his dog.
It was about now that Hinemoa noticed the second dog behind Wiremu. A sleek, beautiful and charming beast she was. Her eyes glistened like the sparkle on the ocean. Sadly it didn’t look as though she ever got much to eat. The bigger dog took everything that was thrown in the air, snarling and snapping in an agitated fashion. His eyes were dark, and deep, like the darkest deepest thing that could be imagined.
Hinemoa tried not to look any deeper, however at the bottom of that depth lay a glimmer of fire.
Most of the ship crew had kurī. The majority of them had two. Invariably one always appeared to be doing slightly better than the other one.
Towards the far end of the waka, Hinemoa could see Ataahua. Ataahua was moving a small group of tamariki into position near the bow of the boat. Beside her sat the most beautiful kurī that she had ever seen. Her coat gleamed even from far away. And as the crew moved food and parcels around her, not once did she growl or move out of position. This dog was exceptional.
Soon it was time to leave. The people waved their goodbyes, and promises to be back before too soon, were made by all. They walked back up to their villages in the knowledge that they would never see them again. This was paradise, so what did they really care? Hawaiki was their home and a stable population meant good times for all.
The waka pushed off into the lagoon and made its way out from the safety of the reef and into the wide open ocean. A favourable wind picked up and for a while or so the waka crew didn’t have to do a lot of mahi to move the boat along.
Spread out amongst the crew, Hinemoa eyed her Kaitiaki. These were her lieutenants who had spread themselves carefully throughout the length of the waka. Beside each one they fed their kurī and made sure that their part of the waka was all comfortable.
Hinemoa could also see some of the others who easily could be Kaitiaki themselves. They too were strong and wise and she could see the passion of the journey in the palms of their hands. Up the front Ataahua stood, the breeze and spray of the ocean washing over her face. Her kurī sitting obediently beside her. Hinemoa couldn’t help but wonder what the secret was to keeping such a fine looking beast.
Hinemoa took control of the rudder, turning the boat towards the south west. She couldn’t be sure but she thought she caught a whisper in the wind that said; “It’s far too early to turn south west now, we should wait a couple of days..”, and then the sound of a kurī munching on a bone.
The first few days were uneventful. The waka behaved as it should and the outrigger kept the boat stable and in touch with the ocean. The sail billowed and pushed the waka towards the south west. The fishing was good, and for the most part, people were happy.
“Tell us more about this land, Hinemoa,” cried out some of the crew. “What can we expect when we get there? Is it true that there is more than enough for us all and the other great crews?”
Hinemoa had a vision, but she wasn’t too sure of what it looked like because she’d never been there before. She fed one of her kurī, took a deep breath and proclaimed; “The whenua is long and beautiful. It is full of kai in the ocean and kai in the forests. The birds sing like nothing on earth and there is more than enough for everyone. We will live in peace and we will be happy and safe.”
“How long will it take for us to get there?” yelled someone from the front of the waka.
Hinemoa fed her kurī again and stepped forward, “It will take us as long as it takes. There will be times of uncertainty, and you’ll wonder if you’re on the right waka and on the right course. But before too long you will be there, and you’ll use your hindsight to wonder what you were worried about.”
“Pfffft,”she heard Wiremu grumble, “she obviously has no idea where we are going”. His snarly dog gulped down a morsel.
As time went on Hinemoa noticed that Wiremu had the ear of a good portion of the boat. She also noticed that quite strangely all of their kurī seemed to be being fed the same morsels.
This became more evident the further south they travelled. The waves grew bigger and the winds began to blow the waka all over the ocean. The eye rolling, and mumbling became more noticeable as each day wore on.
At night the crew began to shiver, and everyone huddled in close. There they found comfort but also a conflict. Those who needed to move from the group to do the mahi were forced to move from the warmth.
“Hinemoa! Why is it always me who has to work on the weathered side?” asked a crewman feeding his kurī.
“Hinemoa! I am tired and I can’t see this land that you talk of!” asked another crewman as he too threw a bone to his kurī.
Hinemoa tried to be positive and upbeat, “Keep going everyone, keep going! He waka eke noa! We’re all in this together and the power of our waka is in the fact that we are one and only one!”
She looked over her crew and saw them nodding and she felt a sense of appreciation and support flowing her way. She turned and fed her other kurī who beamed back with much aroha.
Hinemoa loved her people and all at once she felt at one and at peace with them all.
But to her left she sensed something was amiss. There was a group huddled near the sail. They were talking in hushed but agitated tones. Hinemoa tried hard to hear what was being said, but the force of the wind took the words and flung them across the white tips of the ocean. Their kurī howled in the wind and the onlookers looked in fear.
Suddenly Wiremu was beside her.
“You actually don’t know where you are going do you?”, he hissed.
“You’ve got us out here in the middle of this damn ocean following some path that none of us can buy into, let alone support. You tell us nothing of worth, but instead feed us with this crap that makes no sense!”
He went on, while throwing bones to his bigger kurī.
“There is no land out there – we can not see it! All we can see are the waves getting bigger and the steam on our breath as the days get colder,”
“We should turn around, or at least stop this nonsense about heading south.”
And then he walked away.
Hinemoa gripped the rail tightly.
She fed her kurī well, and worried all night that everything he had said was true.
Maybe the land was nowhere to be found. Maybe they were best to turn around.
The next morning Wiremu smiled at her, “Morena, tis a fine day for sailing!, take a look over there!”
He pointed to the north east. In the distance a waka shape had emerged on the horizon. A slight hazy like whiff of smoke could be seen in the sky above it.
“See what I mean, a slight change of course and we will be where we should be. That looks like Manaaki’s waka. She’s always on the right track. Let’s go over there. I’m sure they’ll know how to get where we are going.”
For the briefest of moments Hinemoa thought that Wiremu had fed his smaller kurī. But she couldn’t be sure.
For a day and a half Hinemoa tried to guide her waka towards the other one. However, just when she seemed to be getting closer, it seemed that the other boat would disappear.
For a long time on the third day the waka couldn’t be seen at all. A fog had descended and Hinemoa began to doubt that the smoke had ever been a fire, or that there had even been a waka. She fed her kurī double that night and turned the other way when her smaller dog asked for attention.
Finally on the fourth day Hinemoa caught up with Manaaki’s waka. The fireplace on board no longer smoked, and as Hinemoa got closer they all realised that there was no one on board. Not a soul. It was like they had all stood up and stepped off – into the deep blue of the ocean. Where had they gone?
Wiremu was the first to say it, feeding his aggressive kurī at the same time, “We could’ve been here two days ago if you hadn’t faffed about. We could’ve saved these poor souls.”
Others around him stood largely in silence rolling their eyes and making grunting assurances supporting Wiremus’ words. They all fed their kurī and Hinemoa couldn’t help but notice how big these beasts were all becoming.
Ataahua made her way down from the bow of the waka. Her kurī followed her respectfully, and everyone watched and admired this beautiful couple. It was almost as though they were floating across the waka – like they were reveling in the air between each step instead of worrying about the constant pounding of each step placement.
“Thank you Hinemoa for all that you have done for us,” she said, somehow managing to feed both Hinemoa’s kurī and her own kurī at the same time. “You have gotten this far and we are all safe and we are all sound, and that I applaud.”
“I am so glad that I am in the same waka as you,” and with that she walked back to the front of the boat.
Her kurī stopped for a moment – just a short time, but time enough for Hinemoa to read the name tag around the dog’s neck; Aroha.
“You really should come to the front of the waka sometime. The tamariki would love to see you,” yelled Ataahua so that she could be heard above the sound of the waves.
Well that would indeed be a fine thing, thought Hinemoa. I really must try and get to the kids. I need to make more of an effort.
Hinemoa knew that the gruesome discovery of the soulless waka wasn’t good for anyone’s morale, but she pressed the boat on, heading back to following her star towards the south west.
For a long time the waka went about her work in silence as the discovery and the implications seeped into the pores of its riders.
“Where did the people go?”
“ Why did they leave?”
“ What drove them to this?”
It wasn’t long before thoughts of Hawai-iki were back on everyone’s minds. There they had been safe. There they could feed their kurī and all was well.
Here on the ocean, they were just a mere full-stop on a page, floating to a destination that was unknown, on the whim of the weather and the reputation of their unproven sailor leader, Hinemoa.
Hinemoa held the tiller and fed her kurī.
The boat slept in fits and starts and from time to time looked to feed their kurī.
In the morning the sun rose and it seemed as they headed further south that Maui had indeed done a fine job with the sun in slowing him down. The days seemed just that bit longer and the nights were just a bit shorter.
What would Maui do if he was here, wondered Hinemoa.
For a couple of days things were fine. The wind picked up and progress was good. Although Hinemoa wondered how progress could be measured when really she had no idea how far she still had to go. Progress towards what? She wished that there was someone else she could ask, someone who might even have a little bit of knowledge.
She knew that there was one way to alleviate her doubts for just a little while, and so that evening she headed to the bow of the waka to talk and connect with her tamariki.
She was met with great excitement!
“Oh Hinemoa! Our great navigator!!”
Hinemoa sat down with the children and listened to their worries and their dreams. She knew that it was important to feed their dreams and not their worries, so she spent the time pinpointing the stars of Matariki in the sky and the wonder of each of Tāwhirimātea’s nine eyes..
“That one there is Ururaki,” she pointed, “ She helps blow us towards our destination. She will take us somewhere safe and warm!”
“And over there, well that is Hiwa-I-Te-Raki – she is all about our hopes and dreams. She is what drives us forward!”
Hinemoa spent time talking about how the stars helped her navigate the waka, and how they gave her direction.
And then as the night wore on she told the story of Ranginui and Papatūānuku and how the world was separated from the sky.
As she told the story, the tamariki looked up at her in awe and wonder.
“Out of the chaos of the separation came a beauty and a calm,” she told them, “and from that we can learn that even though there might be hard times, there will eventually be good ones as well.”
“It’s a bit like cutting up a beautiful kumara to make chips!” exclaimed little Tia.
“What do you mean?” pressed Hinemoa.
“Well, you take a kumara, and it’s like this beautiful piece of kai, sitting in your hand. And then you take to it with a knife and you cut and you cut and there is chaos all around! But then once the chaos is over, you have beautiful chips!”
Everyone laughed. And then they laughed some more.
“That’s exactly what it’s like Tia,” said Hinemoa, “what a ka rawe way of putting it.”
Hinemoa made her way toward the back of the waka feeding her smaller kurī and wondering why she didn’t do this more often.
The next day she woke to find her Kaitiaki looking at her.
“We are here to report to you on some of the things happening on the waka,” said Rawiri.
“We don’t want to alarm you, but there seems to be a little group who are being more than mischievous in their endeavours”.
Hinemoa wiped the sleep out of her eyes. She wondered how long she had been sleeping, and felt a pang of guilt. This news of mischievousness did little to help her anxiety.
Beside Rawiri sat patiently his kurī. He obviously had been feeding it well. The dog was a splendid beast, yawning and beaming in the sunshine.
“What a fine kurī you have, Rawiri,” said Hinemoa, “But where is your second dog?”
“I don’t have time or need for a second dog,” he replied. “I’m more than happy to feed one kurī,” he beamed.
Hinemoa bent over to pat the dog. His collar sparkled in the sun, his name proud for everyone to see; Patience.
“Hinemoa, we are worried about some of the things that are being said,” said Manawa. Her two dogs looked unsettled beside her. One of them was larger than the other, Hinemoa stretched to read her name, but really didn’t want to get too close.
“They don’t even listen to you anymore,” she went on, “They think you care only for yourself, and some of the things you have been saying, well, they think are just a little bit odd.”
Manawa kept talking, “It’s got to the stage where they think you have no idea where we are going, and they think you don’t even care.”
Rawiri added quickly “It’s not all bad, I think this is grossly unfair and someone is undermining you on purpose.”
Hinemoa quickly fed her two kurī and was instantly surprised as to how one seemed so much bigger than the other.
“We need you to step up and be more of a leader,” said Manawa. Her dog bristled beside her.
The four Kaitiaki turned and left, heading to their different points on the waka. On the bow shone Ataahua – yes, shone. Her kurī stood proud beside her.
I need to talk with Ataahua, thought Hinemoa and off she went.
She picked a path through to the front of the waka mumbling to herself, “What was Ranginui thinking when she chose this crew for me?”
As she neared the bow Wiremu suddenly stood up in front of her. He was menacing, but his kurī was worse. The dog snarled and let out a violent bark that seemed to shudder the whole boat.
“Have you seen the state of this?” he asked, pointing to the flax ropes tying the balers to the side of the boat. “We’ve lost three balers over the last week, and it’s because there’s no-one showing enough care on this damn boat. These flax ropes are a shocking disgrace! I bet you wouldn’t get this on any other waka!”
“We can’t go on losing balers. At this rate if a big storm came along and we had to bail out the waka quickly we’d be right up against it. Show that you care for our lives and get someone down here to fix these flax ropes that keep these bailers from washing away!”
He spat the words out with such indignation that Hinemoa had difficulty in keeping on her feet. The swell of the sea matched the swell of emotions circling in her mind.
“Why don’t you see these things!” He yelled.
At that point Ataahua stepped up. “You walk past these ropes every day Wiremu, but yet you’ve done nothing yourself. You’ve chosen to take, take and take but never thought to give. Why haven’t you chosen to give some time and look at the ropes yourself? And that dog that you feed is out of control and threatens to take us all to the depths of the ocean if you don’t get it under control.”
She said these words with much force, and yet beauty. There was no anger or aggression, just a commentary that Wiremu had nowhere to go with other than to step back and turn away.
“Thank you Ataahua,” said Hinemoa. “How did you manage that?”
Mysteriously she turned around and said, “It’s easy when you know which kurī to feed,” and with that she was gone, back to her tamariki and the sunshine that was still beaming across the bow.
Hinemoa turned around, looked at the flax ropes and felt a pang of regret for not seeing this beforehand. Did this really mean that she didn’t care? Before she could answer, four crew members turned up and began mending them. Each of them had a small but beautiful kurī at their side.
By the time Hinemoa had made it back to the stern of the waka the weather had taken a turn. In front of her a huge cloud bank, as long as the horizon and as high as Ranginui’s belly (the sky god), threatened with lightning bolts and thunder claps. The sky began to ominously darken and a chill began to fill the air.
To her right the outrigger began to loosen in the growing wind and the building swell. This wasn’t a good thing. The outrigger was designed to give the waka greater stability, especially so in strong seas. Someone would have to swim over and make sure the outrigger was up to the task.
Hinemoa knew that there was one person who had both the swimming strength and the skills to get across safely and to secure the outrigger in time for the storm. But it would be a close call.
“Wiremu!” she called.
Wiremu was still feeling aggrieved and slighted from his run in with Ataahua. He looked up with a grunt, and tellingly his dog called out with a growl.
“Wiremu, I need you to swim across to the outrigger and make sure that everything is secure before the storm arrives,” yelled Hinemoa.
“Aie! I will go, but not because you ask me to, but because I do this for the good of the waka,” he answered back.
“I would expect nothing less,” called Hinemoa.
He picked up his kit, secured himself to a long piece of rope and dived into the ocean. Along with him jumped his two kurī.
Why is he taking his kurī with him, wondered Hinemoa? Can’t he leave them just for a short time?
Wiremu and his two dogs swam to the outrigger. His smaller dog hauled herself up onto the wood and shook the ocean from her fur. Wiremu pulled himself up and steadied himself so that he could do the mahi.
Soon Wiremu’s second dog made it to the outrigger and tried to pull himself up onto the canoe.
At each failed attempt the whole waka rocked. Hinemoa couldn’t believe how big the kurī had become. The weight of the dog trying to get up onto the canoe was beginning to have an impact on the stability of the whole waka.
Finally, with a bit of help from Wiremu, the kurī was able to climb aboard. But this didn’t really help anything – instead it made things a lot worse.
Everyone could hear the creaking and splintering sounds associated with wood and too much weight to bear.
“Wiremu, get rid of that dog, or else we’ll all end up in the sea,” yelled Hinemoa.
“It’s not the bloody dog”, he called back “It’s the fact that there’s been no maintenance done on this outrigger since we left Hawaiki – it’s like I said this morning – YOU DON’T CARE!”
Suddenly one of the flax ropes holding the front of the outrigger unraveled and both the outrigger and the waka took a dive into a wave, sea water cascading over the gunnels and into the waka.
“Wiremu!! Get rid of that dog!” Hinemoa yelled. She knew that the dog was weighing not only the outrigger down but also the whole waka.
With that Wiremu picked up his smaller kurī and flung her into the ocean.
“There!” he yelled, “Look! It’s made no difference at all! I tell you it’s not my dogs, it’s your incompetence!!”
A tear flowed down his cheek. “I love you little Forgiving,” he called to the kurī who was now drifting away from the waka and into the teeth of the storm.
Another snap! And another rope gave way. The weight was still too much. The whole outrigger was threatening to break away entirely from the waka putting the lives of everyone on board in a precarious position.
Overhead the storm whipped the skies, and the ocean danced in waves ever higher to the beat of the thunder.
“Wiremu! Get rid of that dog!” yelled Hinemoa.
“Why does that kurī mean so much to you???”
For a moment Hinemoa thought she could see terror in his eyes. The outrigger was threatening to snap not only from the mother waka, but from the world in its entirety.
He could see no way out.
“Fine!” he yelled, picking up his heavy kuri. He stood tall with the kuri over his head, straddling the edges of the outrigger. How he didn’t lose balance and fall into the ocean was beyond everyone’s comprehension.
Suddenly Wiremu began to twist and turn the dog above his head in a hurricane-like motion. So strong he was and so forceful in the rotations that the wind from the action whipped the sea up in a terrible tempest like frenzy.
The dogs’ howls at first mixed with the wind, and then took over completely. The kurī becoming at one with the storm, thrashing and riding over the storm, taking it to another level completely.
Back on the waka the crew huddled in pockets unable to believe what they were witnessing, scared stiff in the knowledge that this was the end of time.
Hinemoa hung on for dear life. The waka crashing and spilling over waves as big as the biggest thing ever imagined.
All the while Wiremu continued to whip the kurī around his head. The noise and the wind building, building, building.
And then he let go. His kurī, fat and pig-like, flung from his hands like a lightning bolt straight from Te Uira. The kurī flew high over the waves and into the heart of the storm, never to be seen again.
The storm lashed and thrashed it’s way over the waka, it’s inhabitants holding on to anything that could save them and for hours on hours it seemed to everyone on board that they were all heading straight to Aituā, the god of death, disaster, and misfortune. It was only a matter of time.
And then suddenly it was over.
For a long time no one moved. No one dared to. Hinemoa lay there as still as she could. Exhaustion overcame the waka and everyone fell into a deep sleep.
When she woke up the sun was shining and standing over her was Ataahua and her kurī Aroha.
“Oh great Navigator,” cried Ataahua, “Look!”
She pointed to the west.
At first Hinemoa thought she was meaning the outrigger itself. Surprisingly it was still in tack. Yes there was a lot of wear and tear. It would need some work, but it was fixable.
She noticed that there was no sign of Wiremu. He had gone, vanished, disappeared.
But Ataahua wasn’t pointing this out at all. Instead she was looking towards a long bank of white cloud in the distance. At the base of the cloud one could just make out what looked like land.
They had made it! Where they had made it to, it didn’t matter. That problem was for another day.
As the rest of the crew woke up and saw what Ataahua and Hinemoa were looking at, excitement flowed through the waka.
Aie! They had done it!
Hinemoa pulled on the tiller and turned the boat towards the cloud. The wind picked up behind them and blew them all ever closer.
Beside her Hinemoa threw a morsel to her kurī – to the thinner one. She was surprised how good this kurī now looked. How proud and strong she was. How confident and assured she appeared.
Beside her Hinemoa’s other dog looked up with a pained, sorry look. Hinemoa couldn’t help but notice how ugly this kurī was. He was big now, but he was ugly alright. She wondered why she had kept him all this time, he had only ever been trouble.
Ataahua put her arm around Hinemoa’s shoulders. “You need to do what I do, and keep one kurī – and keep her warm and loved and fed”.
Hinemoa remembered that Ataahua’s dog was called Aroha.
“I feed Aroha all the time, and in turn Aroha feeds me. That’s all that I need.”
“Wiremu would have done well to feed his good dog too, instead of feeding Anger all the time”.
“Anger?” queried Hinemoa.
“Yes, Wiremu fed his Anger, all of the time. Nothing was ever good enough and this in turn fed Anger”
And then she said, “Hinemoa, oh great navigator, which kurī have you been feeding mostly?”
The waka was getting closer to the land now. If you looked carefully you could see the waves bursting on the shore.
Hinemoa bent over and patted her bigger kurī. “This is Doubt, and I’ve been feeding her all along.”
Ataahua took a step towards the bow and her tamariki, and then turned … “You’d be better to feed your other one. It’s called Joy isn’t it?”
Last Friday when David published his awesomely simple “The Positivity Button” blog, I found myself with something that hasn’t happened in months. An empty calendar.
It was hard to believe.
An empty calendar.
Don’t get me wrong, there was still plenty to do, but an empty calendar is pretty rare these days. Unheard of even.
It came at a particularly tricky and difficult time – full of plans that really had to fall like dominoes in the right direction for it all to come to fruition. And it had been like this for a long time. You’ll know those types of times well I suspect.
But it did highlight something to me though that I should have reminded myself at the time.
Nothing is forever. There are ebbs and flows in this job, and every now and again you’ll get through it all and have time to breathe.
The difficulty is knowing when this is about to happen. My empty calendar on Friday could quite as easily have filled itself with all sorts of school led maladies. But on Friday the stars aligned and there was nothing but space.
It was a good reminder too that when those spaces afford themselves, don’t go packing them full of things that need to happen. Instead, use the time to do something in your school that you want to do. If you want to do some of the needs – all good! Jump right in! But don’t put the pressure on yourself to believe that this is the time for you to get ahead. You well might, but you might also be better off taking that breather.
This is classic Be Slacker Better stuff. Remember, this is quite different to being a Better Slacker. It’s about giving yourself the permission to give yourself some slack. To give yourself some time.
So as I was spending the time tidying up the piles on my desk and shredding months of plan workings that all led to the master plan that I had just landed, I got to thinking more about David’s post and his Positivity Button.
Brian Eno is better known as a musician/producer who has worked with the likes of U2, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Coldplay to name a few. In 1975 he teamed up with an artist called Peter Schmidtt to design a box of cards called oblique strategies. It’s a little bit more complex than David’s Positivity button, and not quite as deep as all the stuff philosophized over by the Stoics – but essentially it’s all the same; A way of looking at the current situation and trying to make some sense of it.
Eno’s Oblique Strategies are a set of provocations and ideas that can help you look at your situation from a different view point. These days you can go straight to http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html and click a button that will give you a random oblique thought provoking one liner.
Originally the sayings came in a set of 55 separate cards that wikipedia tells me “offereda challenging constraint intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking.
I’ve taken them a step forward and replaced “artists” with principals. Well, it’s not too much of a step forward – we are after all “artists”!
Here goes a sample of what they have to offer:
Don’t be afraid of things because they are easy to do
Once the search is in progress, something will be found
Honour thy error as a hidden intention
And a personal favourite:
Take a break
On Friday when I found my calendar to be free I took a break from thinking and tidied my desk. No shame in that.
For someone who has had a year of own goals and fair share of errors, the “Honour thy error as a hidden intention” one sounds sweet. It immediately gives you a release from that anxious terror that you’ve done something wrong. And it helps you look at the situation from a different angle. Maybe this principal gig isn’t so bad after all.
Of course this is all just another way of helping you get through your situations. It’s as relevant and as correct as David’s ‘Positivity Button’ (“I’m going to have a really really good day”) or the Stoics “Have we found anything better?
…than being brave
…than moderation and sobriety
…than doing what’s right
…than truth and understanding?”
And maybe, just maybe it’ll help you get to that next time when you have a clear calendar in one piece.
You’ve made it through the first week of term. Some of you are beginning Surplus Staffing processes, some of you are fending off vaccination demands, some of you are juggling bubbles in Level 3, some of you are arguing dollars in the budget cycle, and some are just finding it hard to find time to breathe! All of us are trying to look like the swan on the water, majestic on top, but frantic under the surface!
But nonetheless, congratulations, you’ve got through one week – alive!
During the holidays I got to thinking. We’re often hard on ourselves. This is because we have huge expectations. Some would say we care too much. And because of this we’re either as hard as steel or we beat ourselves up, or some gooey substance in the middle. So I wondered if it would be useful to write a letter to myself, and put it in my top draw, to be opened on the last day of school 2021. What would it say?
. . .
This is what I’ve written.
I write this to you, to be read at the end of the term. I want you to know that by the time you read this you will have made it.
You will have survived.
You will have made it through a really tough term. No doubt there were times when you thought you wouldn’t, and that everything was so insanely intense that your eyeballs were about to explode.
But they didn’t.
The sky didn’t fall in, even though it threatened to.
You dropped the ball during some important plays, but yet you were still there when it was time to catch the next one.
There were too many times when you forgot to smell the roses, and the daffodils, even though there was a lot on offer to smell. They’re your nectar that will get you through when you come back.
Sometimes you let distractions guide you away from who you are and where you want to go, but then you came back to it all and you should be proud of that.
You made it, alive and kicking, to the end of the term.
You should be proud of that. Ka rawe!
So take time off and have some holidays, time away to learn to breathe again. And every now and again, if those doubts begin to linger during your break, take a read of this story by one of your 7 year olds.
“Once upon a time there was a castle in the middle of a jungle. It was heavily guarded by a dragon. It’s a fierce dragon.
The dragon looked enchanted and he was glowing. The dragon had smooth scales and lime green eyes.
One day a little girl was exploring the jungle. She saw a huge structure.
She walked closer until she saw it was a big castle guarded by a dragon!
She was brave enough to go up to the dragon.
The dragon was friendly.”
And once you’ve finished reading that, tell yourself, “There are a lot of dragons to slay, but make sure you’re not one of them.”
Have a break and then come back sword sharpened.
Be proud of what you’ve achieved, don’t dwell in the shadows. You did it, and that’s something to celebrate!
What would you say in a letter to yourself if you were to write it today, to be opened at the end of the term?
That would also mean, no me, no mine, and no my – not even a you, or a your, or theirs.
Only a WE.
What would your school look like?
What would it look like from your perspective as principal?
For a start you wouldn’t say that this was “your’ school”, or “my school” …. Instead it would always be our school. That’s not a hard place to start.
There would never be problems over ownership – they couldn’t be yours, or mine, but only ours. I wonder if this would make things easier? Would this lead to the problem being judged and not the person? Or would this lead to problems never going away in a mountain of unaccountability?
Stay with me a little longer.
School resources wouldn’t or couldn’t be selfishly hoarded because there would never be a, “Hey! That’s mine!”, or a “I bought that out of my budget”.
Would this lead to people looking after things haphazardly, or would they care more?
On the face of it this seems like just a simple change in language. But how could this simple change define your school?
Time would be ours and no one would mind if they took up your time or if you took up theirs. Our time would always be ours. Would this lead to more time wastage? Or would it lead to things taking the time that they always needed and warranted?
And what about that little kid, sitting over there? The one who can’t read and who gets so frustrated that she kicks, bites and spits. She would rightly be our problem. Would she even be a problem at all? Should she ever have been seen as a problem in the first place? Would the Ministry of Education see her as your problem, or would they see her as a human who rightly needs to be supported?
I wonder what trust would look like? If there was just a we, and there was always just a we, then what trust could ever be broken?
Much of trust is you and me orientated. I trust you not to put me in the shit, and you trust me not to do the same. If you break that trust, or maybe it’s me, then where does that put us? If there’s no you and me, just a we, then where does that put us?
And what about well being?
We collectively look after each other without judgement. There’s no “he’s not coping” sort of comments. There’s just a we are in this together.
And learning? Recently I found myself sitting in my Te Ahu te Reo course, and I wondered, what if I looked at my me learning, as I sat there responding very much as an individual, as a we learning experience instead? And I imagined what it would be like if everyone else in the class also looked at it as a solely we learning experience. How would that feel as a learner?
Of course having just a system where everything is a we could be akin to an ant colony. We shouldn’t be leading schools where everyone and everything is done at the beck and call of one being, or one overarching reason.
The goal I guess, as principals and leaders in our schools, is to build our cultures where both we and me/I can flourish side by side. Our role is to get this mix just right, the Goldilocks mix as I like to call it, so that the beauty of humanity can shine. Our humanity.
Too much we, and our schools can be stifling; too much I and our schools become isolated egos all fighting for attention.
In our schools we deal with multiple approaches and multiple personalities. Somehow we are able to magically sprinkle fairy dust through our classrooms, playing fields and staffrooms, and we are able to take this seething horde of humanity and make it all work together and collaborate – like a WE. Wow, think about that for a minute – that’s quite an achievement.
As an individual you get to bring your own flair, creativity and identity to the kura and this should never be underestimated.
But the best place to start, is to begin with the we/our…. as in “this is our school”.
Growing up, my Dad had lots of great advice for me. Two pieces have stuck with me through thick and thin. One he pulled out for the first time during our very first time playing golf together (and last as well now that I think of it). As he swung backwards and forwards wildly missing the little dot of a ball at every sweep, he yelled out mysteriously, “There’s method in my madness!”.
At the time I was about 18 and I’d never heard that saying before. I really thought he was as crazy as his swing.
Over time I’ve learnt to recognise my own method in my madness, in particular in things that I do in my professional life. Case in point when it comes to taking a look at things that get me down as a principal and I find myself taking a close look at my character.
Which leads me nicely to the second thing he used to say. Invariably whenever I had stumbled, which was often, he would say; “Don’t worry Steve, it’s character building”.
Again, because he was my Dad, and I was just young, I had no idea what he meant.
Again as I’ve stumbled my way through principalship, his words have taken on a new meaning.
Even more so, recently, when I heard an addition to my Dad’s saying:
“Personality is what we see when times are good, character is what we see when times aren’t so perfect”
In recent times this has resonated with me. I’ve seen fellow principals and leaders find themselves in times of trouble and mistakes have been made. I’m not immune to this. Every time I make a mistake, put a foot wrong, or find myself in trouble it’s not my personality that will get me through. It’s my character.
Your character is often you at your rawest. Interpreting what that means to you can be confronting! Especially at 3:00am.
Knowing your character is one thing, but understanding it is another thing altogether.
Epictetus, a first century philosopher, once said, “people feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them”. Put simply, thoughts cause feelings and behaviours. Case in point with your character.
Your character is your bedrock. It’s both what makes you strong as metal and as flaky as the dust in the wind. You’re likely to feel great about your own character when you “dig deep”, “hold strong”, “lean into the wind “ but feel like a loser when you “cave in”, “break down” or “ lose the plot“.
Truth is though, it’s not your character that is actually at fault, but the feeling that you assign to it that makes you feel at fault. Put it another way – unless you’re thinking about it and you’ve assigned a feeling to it then really it means nothing at all.
So when you get into a situation that involves you taking a closer look at your character, be careful not to assign too many ill feelings to what you see.
This is the crux of the matter when it comes to character building. Train yourself to know your strengths and flaws, because they are what make you human. No one is perfect. But also find a way to train yourself not to assign a feeling or emotion to all of them.
Think of your mind a little like a Facebook or YouTube algorithm. It keeps on showing you similar stuff to that which you’ve been looking at – or in this case with your mind, what you think about. Think of each thought as being a bit like the LIKE button. This tells your algorithm to give you more of the same. That’s a useful way of explaining why you tend to replay and remuniate over events again and again.
This takes some superhuman-like abilities though to avoid. As I’ve written often, I’m not always great at nailing this.
Next time you’ve had a particularly crappy day at school, and everything has turned to custard and you find yourself starting to question what your character is really about, ask yourself those two questions about the thoughts that you are having:
Are these thoughts useful?
And how do they behave?
Bear with me as I explain this next bit, there is a little method in my madness here, as my Dad would’ve said!
So the other night as I lay in bed, questioning my character after a series of failings, and the thoughts began to flow in waves like they do, crashing against the rocks, I decided to run an experiment.
Not that I have any experience in Tinder like dating apps, I decided to view my thoughts as though I did. As my thoughts flew in I purposely looked at them from a slightly removed perspective. I swiped them left or right as I asked the questions, is this thought useful, and how does it behave? If I caught myself in the negative I swiped them away, instead dwelling in the positive and useful thoughts
This little exercise might help you strengthen your character, and might well help you get a better night’s sleep at the same time.
Your character, and your understanding of it, is pretty vital. It’s unique to you, and it’s what makes you special. Worry about your character, not your reputation. Your character is who you are. Your reputation is who people think you are.
And if you can get your head around that, then that’s definitely character building.
See, I always thought there was method in my madness.
Now don’t be shy, I’ve got some questions for you – yes you!
I’ve always been a big advocate of the Five Ways to Wellbeing model. Probably because there’s only five to remember, but also because it is so simple and makes heaps of sense. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about the Five Ways to Wellbeing centres on five key thoughts: Give, Take Notice, Be Active, Connect, and Keep Learning.
Here we are in the middle of another lockdown, we’re as busy as that proverbial place of fire and grimness. Coupled with this, it’s mid-term and we’re about to head into that part of the term when everyone gets crazy tired, people lose patience and it’s hard not to feel just a little swamped.
What better time then to Take Notice of where you are at …. Yes you!
Part of this process is Taking Notice of where you are currently positioned – and I’m not only talking about this from a professional point of view – but also as a human being.
This week I decided to throw in some extra thoughts and provocations to help me personally take notice of where I’m at. Some of the answers weren’t too flash, but all in all they showed me some things in my current predicament that were missing and gave me a heads up as to what I could do next in terms of grabbing that oxygen mask and taking a bit gulp of goodness. Maybe they’ll help you too.
# When was the last time you had your blood pressure taken?
# When was the last time you went on a romantic dinner with your significant other?
# When was the last time you got away for an entire weekend with your significant other?
# When was the last time you said NO at work when normally you’d say YES?
# When was the last time you said YES at home when normally you’d say NO?
# When was the last time you felt like you were the BEST Principal/Leader in the world?
# When was the last time someone did something that made you really happy?
# When was the last time you did something for the first time?
# When was the last time you did something just for you?
# When was the last time that you went somewhere that you’ve never been before?
How do these questions make you feel? What are the keys to getting to these points?
We live in crazy, crazy uncertain times. As principals and leaders much is expected of us. There is very little out there in terms of research and study to tell us how to do it – well not without spending a whole heap of time finding the info – time that you likely don’t have.
A great friend and fellow principal of nearly 30 years standing, Grant Willocks, once said that principalship is a bit like running a marathon but with an increasingly annoying quirk. In a marathon, every five kilometres or so there is an aid station. There are toilets, and a drinks/water station. You know that they’re going to be coming up, because you’re all following the same route and you can plan where to have your rest. The difference in education is that no-one now seems to know where those aid stations are. The route is continually being changed, and the aid stations are never where and when you need them – if they’re there at all.
Because of this, we need to have our own walking aid stations. So take time to take notice of where you are at. Use the questions above to help you take stock of you. You’re the best aid you’ve got.
I’ve come up with a new medical term. Hell, I don’t even have a degree (although I do have a couple of useful diplomas, and some may say I have a degree in life), but this hasn’t stopped me coining a new affliction; a disease; a malady.
Don’t bother looking it up – it’s nowhere to be found in the textbooks or on Google.
It’s called Ruminoid Arthritis.
It’s derived from two words.
Ruminoid – a term that I have made up, call it artistic license – from the word Ruminate. Originally to ruminate was the term used to describe how cows and bovines eat their food, but lately it has taken on an alternate description; the process of continually thinking about the same thoughts.
Arthritis – the term used to describe the swelling and tenderness of one or more of your joints. For the purposes of this blog piece, again using artistic license, the swelling and tenderness is likely to be in your head in the form of a headache, or your shoulders (in the form of tension) or in your other large muscle, the maximus gluteus, referred to affectionately as a pain in the ar**e.
So what are the symptoms of this new malady called Ruminoid Arthritis?
You, yourself may already be afflicted by it.
Well, there are many including:
Aforementioned headaches and tense shoulders
Countless recounts and replays of professional situations
Continual attempts to predict outcomes without knowing the full circumstances
Ruination of family events because you’re not actually present – you’re away in your own world.
Of course it’s not new at all…. I’ve just given it a medical name to give it some sort of prestige. But it is very real.
Over the years I’ve been a big sufferer of this. It’s quite possible that I have the world record for the longest streak of rumination ever recorded. On a tramp in the mountains in 2011 I successfully (or should that read unsuccessfully) ruminated over an issue I’d been having at school for over 5 hours as I walked to the hut along a flat, boring river bed.
Around me the mountains shone like jewels in the winter sun, but I didn’t see any of it, I was too busy sorting out a professional issue in my head – over and over again; rehearsing strategy; catastrophizing what would happen if I didn’t get it right; totally missing the fact that I was on holiday and that I was in the most beautiful land in the world. By the time I got to the hut I was exhausted. And being mentally exhausted isn’t a good thing. Did I solve the professional issue – nope, and so the next day when we walked out to the car I spent another 5 hours going through it all over again.
Much of Ruminoid Arthritis is totally avoidable. The trick is to catch it before it takes off. You’ve got to recognise it when it starts and then act on it.
At the very essence of it all, ruminating is just a set of thoughts. The first important understanding to recognise is that you control your thoughts, it’s not your thoughts controlling you. If you’re a sufferer of Ruminoid Arthritis then you will habitually let your thoughts get away on you. When that happens, if you don’t act quickly and intentionally then it’s all a bit like herding cats.
The website Healthline has a list of ten tips for controlling your ruminations. Tip #1, Distract yourself, fits nicely in tandem with Tip #8 Understanding your triggers.
The site suggests that each time you find yourself ruminating, make a mental note of the situation you’re in. This includes where you are, what time of day it is, who’s around you (if anyone), and what you’ve been doing that day.
Developing ways to avoid or manage these triggers can reduce your rumination.
And then follow this with a big dollop of distraction. Look around you, choose something quickly, get up out of your seat and change your location. Go for a walk, ring a friend, anything that will take your mind away from that trigger.
Another good strategy is to inject a bit of positive stress into your life. The Mementia phone app has a great deal of useful, and free, wellbeing initiatives and strategies. Take time to read Invite more good stress into your life for ideas that will also alleviate your rumination habit.
The Mementia phone app is actually a treasure trove of goodness. You can download it from Google Play or the App store. It is New Zealand based.
One of the very best tools in the app is the “Worry Tool”. Worry is a huge trigger for Ruminoid Arthritis, and this little tool is a very quick and easy way of dealing with this trigger in an efficient manner. Use it!
I certainly haven’t cured myself of this malady, but I’m hopeful that soon it will be a thing of the past. I’m not going for world records anymore, I do have relapses, but on the whole I’m building a very useful kete of resources to keep me in the now. If you’re a Ruminoid Arthritis sufferer then you can too.