It’s the end of term! Time is short! And so is this week’s 40HP blog piece. The 40HP team have pushed the buttons quite a bit this term. We’ve tried to be provocative and we’ve tried to get people thinking about how they do their roles in a quest to leading a more balanced life.
So here goes a very quick precis of the top ten (in no order of importance) take outs and provoactions from our term of writings. Call it Forty Hour Principal Speed Dating if you will!
“Give – giving is the thing that tends to fall away when you’re tired, stressed and swamped. There is an amazing amount of energy that one can receive from giving, in times of any struggle. And the best thing to give is time.”
“When was the last time you paused, off site in a peaceful place, with a piece of blank paper and considered the how? The ‘how’ reflects the time you commit to a task, the energy you give and the stress that you either accept or reject. It is the difference between Principal A spending all weekend working on their Strategic Plan, and Principal B achieving the same outcome with their team during the week. Both get the same ‘what’ done, but how they do this is completely different – this is where possibility lies.”
“Giving yourself a little time to PAUSE BREATHE SMILE before letting your next step be dominated by a feeling or emotion maybe, just maybe will save yourself the stress of dealing with extreme behaviours, especially if they’re yours!”
“By trying to please everyone, or at least to avoid upsetting anyone, we unwittingly make ourselves ineffective because the only way to attempt this impossibility is to consign ourselves to maintaining the status quo. (And maintaining the status quo is simply not OK in a world where we need change.)”
“Slow things down. Don’t over complicate what you’re doing or what you’re hoping to achieve. Yes, there is an end goal, but your method of getting there could well change depending on what you are doing now, so spend time on that. Take one tackle at a time.”
“Management vs Leadership? Surely they co-exist, not only side by side, but together like osmosis, flowing into one another; at times morphing into pure management while at other times being pure leadership, but more often than not just a colourful mixture of both.”
10 . “Refusing to stay home (when you are sick) can also be a subtle disrespect of your team, because being unwilling to take a sick day on the grounds that you are irreplaceable, implies that your team is not quite up to the mark.”
Last time I wrote about how we often over think our roles and that this in turn creates problems that aren’t even there. It was part of a piece about slowing things down, especially at this time of term.
Recently I was part of a discussion regarding the dilemma that we all face – when do we find time to show leadership when we seem to be in constant management mode.
As principals, we are expected to be leaders yet we tend to spend our lives in the day to day grind and minutiae of school existence rather than floating above it, being ultra visionary and seeing the “big picture”.
Perhaps it’s time to get off this hamster wheel of doubt created by over thinking the management vs leadership debate.
Surely they co-exist, not only side by side, but together like osmosis, flowing into one another; at times morphing into pure management while at other times being pure leadership, but more often than not just a colourful mixture of both.
Apparently it was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. This to me, is one of the real touchstones of what being a principal is all about.
Effectively this means that the people that you get paid to lead, or manage, don’t care about either of these terms. They just care that you care.
When you do enough in your school to show that you care consistently to a diverse group of humans, then that is both great leadership and great management.
There are times when you need to manage. This might feel like you’re knee deep in the veritable crappolla generated by others. But the fact that you’re there, and you’re showing you’ve got something more than a heartbeat, is in itself great leadership.
Equally there are times when you lead. And this might feel like you are able to fly above the same crapolla generated by others. But the fact that you can see what is going on with eyes like a falcon is also in itself great management.
So don’t over complicate it, and definitely don’t worry about it, you’ll be where you need to be, when you need to be, and that is good enough.
We’re now well and truly into the busyness of Term. We’ve got seven weeks under our belts, and if you haven’t already hit the “rocky times” of the Term, then chances are you’re about to.
“Rocky times” tend to arrive when people are tired. Patience flows out the door like the outgoing tide, and with it often goes empathy, understanding, and the ability to calm down!
It seems a perfect time then to keep things simple. Instead of speeding things up, we’d advise to slow things down. Don’t look to over complicate things because at this time of Term that often results in creating problems that aren’t even there!
For many, many years I played hockey. I started playing when I was 7 on the back field of Redcliffs school in Christchurch, on what is now the old site. And I stopped playing when I was about 44. That’s a lot of running around a field after a little white ball. There were many times when I tried to over complicate what is essentially a simple game. I did get to play some pretty big games and I represented my province, but I can only remember a couple of times when I had the game just right.
Both of these times were like slow motion; I remember intercepting a pass at half way, dribbling left past a player, and then back right again through another player. Each opposition member came to me eerily in slow motion and I found myself in that zone that you hear the top sportspeople get themselves into. Suddenly I was at the top of the goal circle and with one person to beat I launched into a shot that went high into the right hand corner of the goal. I never scored goals. But here I was scoring. Yay!
I should’ve retired there and then! I tried many times to replicate this, but invariably I’d get too excited as soon as I got the ball and then fudge the ball over the sideline or get tackled by some monster in front of me. I began to over think what I’d done to actually get that goal.
Over time, after I retired from that particular type of game, I began to see my “slow motion” revelation for what it actually was. For some reason, in those twenty seconds of glory, I was able to slow everything down around me and I took one thing at a time. I knew there was the goal in front of me, and that I wanted to score a goal, but I didn’t allow that to get in the way of seeing what was coming up in terms of the next step. (Note I didn’t say next steps plural.) And so I took one tackle at a time, and gave it the skill and patience that it needed for me to get past that particular point before moving onto the next.
I do that now in the band that I play in when we’re performing. Just one chord at a time, without getting too far ahead of myself – because if I do, then invariably I end up hitting an A instead of a C.
And because I’m doing this, sometimes (just sometimes) I get to float into a place in the band where it’s like I’m actually listening to another band, and not playing in one. Spooky!
So this is what we suggest for this time of Term. Slow things down. Don’t over complicate what you’re doing or what you’re hoping to achieve. Yes, there is an end goal, but your method of getting there could well change depending on what you are doing now, so spend time on that. Take one tackle at a time.
I used to think I was a master of multi-tasking and that speed and stealth was the answer to everything. And to be honest, sometimes, it is. But at this time of Term, when everyone is tired, slow it all down, don’t over complicate, or over think it. Take one tackle at a time, and keep things simple.
Emotions are there to help us understand the stuff we’re going through. But it’s not always helpful.
Emotions also help us convey to others what we are feeling. Jacinda Ardern being labeled by the Press as being “angry” about those not sticking to COVID-19 restriction expectations is a classic recent example.
Who knows if she is angry or frustrated, bemused, or simply pissed off, but the use of the word angry lets everyone else in on the “secret” of how she is feeling. And of the message that she wants to convey.
In this case it’s used as a warning, and quite possibly, a weapon.
There’s nothing really quite as easy and complicated as emotions. Easy because everyone has them. Complicated because no one really knows what everyone else is feeling.
Often we think we know, and often it is assumed that we know.
Humans are notoriously bad at interpreting what their own emotions actually are let alone anybody else’s. No wonder, researchers have identified up to 27 different kinds of emotions. You’ve got to quietly wonder if the world was a simpler place when, in the past, researchers suggested there were only 6.
This makes our role in Principalship and Leadership very tricky. We are expected to be experts in knowing what people are feeling and at the same time being able to suppress our own.
The first of these is a completely unreasonable expectation and we spend way too long spending energy on it. It comes well and truly in the “worry only about things that you have control over” camp of thought.
And the second, well, how healthy is it really suppressing your feelings over a long period of time?
Imagine in a school setting, for example my school. There are 360 students, and 40 adults running around on any given day. That’s 400 people within the confines of the school gates all running through 27 researched emotions every second of the day. As Principal you are essentially overseeing a mass of emotions. No wonder some days you’ve felt that you haven’t gotten it anywhere near right!
Of course the ability for you to have control over any one of those emotions that others have is highly debatable and negated by many other factors both externally and internally. And the extent to which these emotions are shown in behaviour also changes from person to person and situation to situation. Some seem to jump to extreme behaviours at the drop of a hat. Others face the same situation and you have to wonder if they’ve even got a pulse, let alone care.
In our language we talk about the two terms, emotions and feelings. So what’s the difference?
There definitely is a difference. I googled it and found a heap of useful references. The one that I liked, from www.6seconds.org states the following;
“The short answer is: Time. Emotions come first, then feelings come after as the emotion chemicals go to work in our bodies. Then moods develop from a combination of feelings.
Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another 1/4 second to produce the chemicals. By the way, emotion chemicals are released throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, and they form a kind of feedback loop between our brains & bodies. They last for about six seconds – hence the name of our organization.
Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to “let it soak in.” In English, we use “feel” for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we physically feel cold, but we can also emotionally feel cold. This is a clue to the meaning of “feeling,” it’s something we sense. Feelings are more “cognitively saturated” as the emotion chemicals are processed in our brains & bodies. Feelings are often fueled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions.”
I like this because it helps me understand a process that I have been working on recently.
It’s quite simple, and it might sound just a little odd. It has a technical name that at the time of writing completely eludes me – sometimes we don’t need to know the official name, but the strategy is currently working for me.
It runs a bit like this. When I have an emotion I also have a sensation. That’s normal, and that’s what I understand to be the emotion chemicals being released in my body. I guess in many ways it’s your body saying, WARNING WARNING!
This is where I PAUSE. And I go searching just for that sensation, and I let myself feel it as it waves through my body. For me it feels like it starts in my head and then builds up in my shoulders and down through my body (for some strange reason I also feel it in my ears!). I told you this was a bit weird! The key is just to concentrate on that physical feeling; on that wave. Actually feel the sensation.
I didn’t know that these waves lasted for about 6 seconds as the website says, but if I timed it then that would be about right. So, PAUSE and feel that wave. Don’t give it a feeling name like anger or frustration or one of the other countless names. When you name it you’re just giving it a language term for you to understand and then that takes you on a completely different tangent. If the wave starts again, roll with it and just concentrate on feeling that. This might happen once, or it might happen multiple times. But the key is not to name it, just physically feel it.
I used to get these waves a lot on a Sunday evening before the week was about to start, or before an important staff meeting. And to be honest, I still do, but I’ve been able to lesson the intensity of the waves over time. This has helped me pinpoint what is actually bugging me.
During my PAUSE I then give myself time to consider the trigger – e.g. thinking about the important staff meeting; thinking about starting the new week. Identifying the trigger without thinking about how that makes me feel means I can get to the source of the wave without any baggage. Yes I can tell myself, “oh, I’m feeling something about that staff meeting ….. I wonder why that is”.
And then I BREATH. Deep deep breaths, and hold them in. (Don’t forget to exhale, or you might have another problem on your hands, lol)
Now I identify the emotion or the feeling. It might not actually be the anger that you originally thought it was.
And then I SMILE. The smile at the end is important. You’re telling yourself you’ve got this.
The process might take all of 10 to 15 seconds.
You can’t do this for everyone else in your school, and let’s be honest, many will think you’re a weirdo for even mentioning it, but you can do it for yourself.
However, this gives you time to think a bit more rationally and logically before deciding what to do next.
It’s your emotions and feelings that give you the impetus to do something. You may still feel angry, but take time to consider how angry you are and what’s the best way for everyone around you for you to show or share that you feel angry?
This article isn’t about suppressing your feelings. It’s far from that. You can’t beat biology! It’s the same with positive feelings as well. Take time to enjoy the feeling and sensation when you’ve got those positive emotions running as well.
What I’m saying is if you give yourself a little time PAUSE BREATHE SMILE before letting your next step be dominated by a feeling or emotion then maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to save yourself the stress of dealing with extreme behaviours, especially if they’re yours!
Last week David wrote a great piece on the How being as important as the What.
It’s a piece that has resonated with me a lot and is really the core of the Forty Hour Principal Project.
To put no finer point to it, it’s the HOW that makes the difference between spending a forty hour week at work or spending an eighty hour week.
Get your HOW all aligned correctly and you can say a welcome, “well hello!” to the other part of your life.
. . .
Of course, your HOW can rightly stuff everything up though.
Case in point was a couple of days ago. On Monday, while Auckland grappled with Level 3, the rest of us woke up to Level 2. Restrictions at Level 2 are nothing like Level 3. I arrived at school nice and early at 7am to get things in place. I helped the Caretaker organise the hand washing stations and get the registration forms all sorted. I wrote a memo to all staff. And I promptly forgot to look at the Level 2 Plan that we had, and promptly forgot to make sure it was under the noses of everyone in the school.
Thinking my HOW was all organised, including a healthy assumption that common sense would prevail for anything else, I left the school at 10am and headed to a Kahui Ako course.
When I arrived back at school at 2:30pm there were agitated people. Their agitation, on the face of it, was pretty low level for me. I didn’t feel it to be the problem they did – was PMP going ahead in Level 2?, were Parent Helpers allowed in the school during the reading programme in Level 2? and were we meant to be taking our 5 and 6 year olds out to the gate at 2:55pm under Level 2?.
My HOW had been at a level where I assumed that people knew this, even though it had been way back in October when we’d last seen Level 2 restrictions. My HOW had also assumed that these little finer points would be just that – finer points.
For some though it wasn’t. They wanted to do a great job, and lack of information made them feel just a little crap. Their HOW was to let me know that!
My HOW had let them down. And so I now had to rewrite my next HOW to make sure that things didn’t happen this way next time we head into Level 2. Simple Communication 101.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time beating myself up about this, but communication in things like heading into Level 2 are pretty important. Next time I’ll make sure our plan is printed off for everyone to see and I won’t leave it sitting in the Google Drive hoping someone will remember it’s there.
HOW we do things, obviously is key. Of course we could probably spend all year adding little bits and pieces to this thought. I mean isn’t WHO and WHEN also important. Well, yes, but arguably they’re linked to your HOW.
However, one word that sits a little to the left though, (or right dependent on which way you’re facing!) is WHY.
WHY it has to happen is something again, especially WHY does it have to be you?
As principals and leaders we find ourselves doing a whole heap of stuff that simply isn’t our core business. We don’t ask often enough, WHY is this my job? WHY is this my rodeo?
In particular I’m thinking of those times when colleagues and staff members decide that a problem they have is a problem that you need to solve. So, maybe, after the What, there’s a brief period of time when we should pause and reflect WHY.
Why is this your problem?
Why is this your issue to sort out?
Why is this something that needs your attention straight away?
Why is this your monkey?
For a lot of the time we are duped into doing something by our own mind. Dr. Libby Weaver affectionately calls this “The Invisible Load”. We do things because we perceive that it is expected of us, or we are guilt tripped into it, or that others will think badly of us if we don’t do it the way they want it to be done. Our Invisible Load stops us from asking the WHY question completely.
Of course once the WHY is all sorted, you can jump into the HOW, feet first.
In my situation it really was my problem. I am the leader of the school, and so I needed to front up and say whoops I got this wrong and it won’t happen this way next time. Next time my WHY will be simple, not my issue to sort out, because everyone will have the plan in front of them and everyone will already be prepared.
Around the turn of the new year, every new year, there seems to be an inordinate amount of self help lists published. Invariably the number of things on the lists tend to correspond to the amount of years in the new year. For example in 2007 there seemed to be lots of lists that had 7 recipes to change your life, and 7 types of people to avoid. In 2010 the lists centred on 10.
2021 was no different … there were lists of 21 things to do everywhere! Twenty-one! What the heck!
The problem with such lists is that somewhere along the line you have to be accountable to them – like New Year’s resolutions – and this often just ends up in tears and a gloomy sense of failure.
This year I thought I’d give the list a bit of the old Forty Hour Principal work over. Intentionally though, I’ve given the heading a bit of an out. I’m encouraging myself to give these a “decent crack”, in the knowledge that life has an annoying habit of coming along and bowling even the best plans out of the park.
So here we go:
Give – taken straight out of the Mental Health Foundation’s Five ways to Wellbeing. Giving is the thing that tends to fall away when you’re tired, stressed and swamped. There is an amazing amount of energy that one can receive from giving, in times of struggle. And the best thing to give is time.
Be Active – also from the Mental Health Foundation’s Five ways to Wellbeing. Being Active isn’t just about getting out for a run. Being active is also about getting involved and getting out of the office. The school is full of opportunities to do this daily.
Connect -take time to connect with fellow humans on all sorts of different levels. Get into the playground and find out what’s going on.
Take Notice – and be appreciative of the great stuff going on.
Keep Learning – this year I’m going to focus my learning on Te Reo. I’m tired of feeling embarrassed at my inadequate attempt to engage in the wonderful indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Do 10,000 steps a day bare minimum – yes it is related to Being Active, that’s for sure. But this one is here to keep me honest. And if I can’t do 10,000 steps daily, then I’ll average 10,000 steps daily over a week. Keep moving!
Rearrange my office – I’ve done this already. I moved my desk, and I’m amazed. Suddenly I have an entirely different view of many things. Instead of looking at a wall for years, I can now look out a window. Why didn’t I do this sooner! Give it a go!
Let go – or at the very least, strive to let go of crap sooner than I have been. I tend to carry on with things, ruminating and worrying way beyond their use by date. 2021 I’m going to actively let go of this baggage way earlier than in the past! I’ll let you know how I get on.
Take on a personal project outside of school and really commit to it. Really get passionate about it. – I was inspired by a Principal in the US recently who took on a second job stacking shelves at night. The money he earnt he donated back to those in need in the community. I’m not going anywhere near doing this! But I am going to find a passion that is just for me, and I’m going to invest time into making it come alive.
Have daily “Principal Office Door is closed” time
Follow Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice religiously; “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense ….”
Follow Ernie my cat’s advice religiously; “Cherish today as today. Not as the today after yesterday or as the day before tomorrow.”
Hongihongi te wheiwheia – Face with courage those unseen things that can create worry, anxiety and fear. Have all difficult decisions and difficult conversations completed by Thursday afternoon. Don’t put off things that need sorting, get it done early and leave Friday for good stuff.
Find something every day at school that I love doing at school – and do it.
Language – use language that is appropriate to the situation when things aren’t going so well. Things are seldom “a disaster”, “terrible”, “the worst thing to happen”. In fact nothing ever is.
Keep my desk tidy – at time of writing I’ve done four days of a tidy, organised desk. This comes after 31 years of a untidy, bombastic like organised desk.
Seek refuge in this thought by blogger David Cain– “As hard as life is, the only refuge you need, or ever have, is your own will to do what you can within your own sphere. That’s all you need to attend to, all you need to think about, all you need to get good at”
Bite size – take on challenges in bite sized bits. No one eats a Big Mac burger in one bite. Apply this thinking to challenges. Break it down.
Enjoy the little things – not all that glitters is gold. Most of the stuff that glitters is right in front of you and you don’t have to look far. Schools are full of glitter – both metaphorically and literally!
Leave it at the gate – give myself permission to leave school matters at the gate when I go home. Home is for home stuff, it is for family and the rest of your life. If I need to do school stuff at home then I’ll do it on my own terms, and in my own time. School will always be there tomorrow.
And an extra for experts –
ENJOY part two – we’re in a role that is a privilege and an honour. We daily make differences in people’s lives. That’s an amazing thing to wake up to each day. It can be a burden, but it doesn’t have to be. Get amongst it!
When I worked in the Hanmer Springs State Forest in the late 80’s I knew at the end of the day where I had been and what I had done. I could look back at a row of pines and see a line of freshly pruned trees. It was that simple.
It was the same when I had a job mowing lawns. I could see exactly where I had been at the end of the day and how good my lawn cutting had been.
When you’re a leader it’s not always so easy to see the success in your day especially during these crazy times of Madvember!
So how do we know if anything we do actually makes a difference? How do we know if we’ve been successful?
. . .
Success of course comes in all sorts of different ways and means different things for different people.
Take just one child for instance. He or she might be one of those challenging kids that we all seem to have.
From this child’s perspective success might be being asked to play in a game with someone else at playtime or lunchtime.
From a learning assistant’s perspective with this same child, success might be getting that same child to find his reading book in the bottom of his bag and then getting him to read to the second page.
From a teacher’s perspective it might be seeing that same child get through the day without distracting four others, or biting a fifth.
From the Learning Team Leader’s perspective it might be not hearing about that particular child’s outbursts and having to deal with a frustrated and stressed out teacher.
From the principal’s perspective it might be not having to contact the Board Chairperson and letting them know that you’ve stood down that child for the umpteenth time.
Or maybe it might simply be sticking a principal award sticker on a piece of smudged work, proudly presented by the same child.
And from the Board perspective it might be being told, “thank you, but we don’t need any extra monetary support” for this child in the playground at intervals and lunchtimes.
Chances are that it’s that first perspective of success, the one of the child’s, and the one that appears the most simple, that has the most impact. Get that measure of success right and you’ll inevitably see a whole heap of other successes ripple from it. It’ll be then that you’ll know that you’ve made a difference.
I wonder if, after all the dust has settled, and we take a look back at 2020, that we’ll look back on the year as one of fantastic personal growth. No doubt it’s been a crap year. We’ve all been pushed to the ends of our collective tethers. There have been times when we’ve felt exhausted and beyond capable of getting through another day let alone another week or term. But yet, we have.
We have gotten beyond it. And we’ve done some pretty inspirational things, often off the hoof, with the words “it is what it is” whispering in our ears.
Chances are we’ll look back, (maybe not tomorrow, or even after new years) sometime in the future and think – wow! well done! What an extraordinary thing we have all done during this year of craziness and uncertainty.
As you do in times of craziness, when you’re looking for that long lost favourite pen, or a rogue lolly in the bottom drawer of your desk, you come across something long forgotten. I needed a sugar fix and I knew that there was a toffee somewhere in the bottom of my desk when I came across a piece of work I’d started about three years ago.
At the time I’d spent a while reading and researching a number of Learning Models and Growth Stages in the hope of finding something inspirational to use in my school to get my teachers thinking. There are literally thousands of such models in the world. At the same time I’d found myself reading Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham to a bunch of five year olds. They’d never heard this classic before. They loved it!
I began to wonder what a learning model might look like if it was based on Dr Seuss. I worked on the idea for quite a while, and then it sat quietly in the bottom of my drawer waiting for it’s time. Stuck to the edge of this paper was a toffee, and so on that fateful afternoon, looking for that sugar fix, I found not only a toffee but also this … My Learning Model.
As I mentioned before, 2020 has been pretty crazy. As I read through my Dr Seuss inspired Learning Model I could see many parallels to the journey that we’ve all been on this year.
I won’t be writing again until the new year, so take your time with this one. As you’re reading this, think about your own journey in 2020 both professionally and personally. Find a quiet time to consider how you might use your own amazing growth to leap into 2021.
My Learning Model is inspired by the works of Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman
Where to begin
“Oh, the places you’ll go” is the last book that Dr. Seuss wrote before he died in 1990. Although it’s his last book, it’s the first part of my learning model. Because education is all about acronyms, let’s use MyLM for my learning model from now on.
“Oh the places you’ll go” is the perfect umbrella for MyLM. It over-arches the rest of the components in rich, thick strokes of positivism and hope. That’s what learning should be. Anything else and we might as well stay in bed.
“You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.”
You’re on your own, And you know what you know.
AND YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go”
What an invitation! What a challenge! That’s what our learning should be.
But there are warnings too:
However that’s what learning should be all about too. There is room to fail; room for false starts and u-turns. Ultimately the whole experience is a journey.
MyLM has an umbrella, or backdrop, of positivism.
It yells out for everyone to hear “KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”
And although the word kid suggests that this is a child like proposition, it doesn’t need to be at all. MyLM outlines stages of learning or growth that can equally be attributed to children or adults.
Learning, of course, has never really been a linear thing. It’s never been a straight line where you get to start at A and end at Z.
We all come into things, (even new things) with prior learnings, so it’s hard to find an A for start.
And then the journey from here to there is fraught with successes, mis-steps, backward flips and challenges. All in all it’s an opportunity, and a great one at that.
However, if I was pressed to simplify this into some sort of progression, then I’d do it this way, so stick with me and read on.
And I’d call them Growth Stages, and I’d suggest there are four simple ones to describe.
Ultimately progress through these stages is like a curly ball of string. It’s never just a line, and you constantly find yourself flicking back and forward through these curls and twirls. Sometimes this happens as part of a natural progression, and sometimes this happens out of necessity.
Often it’s messy and always, it is what it is.
Growth Stage One
ARE YOU MY MOTHER
The first stage of MyLM is what I like to call the “Are You My Mother?” stage.
It’s the only stage that is not actually written by Dr. Seuss, instead by P.D. Eastman one of Dr. Seuss’s contemporaries. Originally the book came out in 1960. I certainly remember having it on my bookcase when I was growing up.
Are You My Mother tells the story of a little baby chick who hatches while her mother is out looking for food. She then spends most of the story going from place to place, animal to animal in search of her mother.
This is the whole point of this learning stage. During learning we spend a whole heap of our time in this mode. It’s not necessarily because we stay at this point for long periods, but more because we find ourselves heading back to this point many times during our learning journeys.
It’s a stage where you find yourself looking for constant support. It’s that time when you as the learner may actually hope that someone will do the learning for you. It’s a time when safety is paramount, and finding a supportive teacher/mentor/mother-father figure to work through the new, strange, frankly scary aspects of whatever is ahead of you is vital. Basically you’re simply searching for your mother!
Think of learning to work with MSExcel for the first time. Or learning to drive a car; or when you are working on a new task for the first time in a new job. Frustrations abound, patience erodes and there are times when you just pray that someone will simply do the job for you.
Does this sound familiar? It’s just like the book really.
You spend your time trying to learn a new skill, but your patience is pushed. You find yourself questioning the purpose of this new skill. Is it all worth it you ask?
It’s possible that you will spend a whole heap of time actually looking. Procrastination may raise its ugly head and if it does then this leads to extended times in the Are you my mother stage.
Questions about your ability to actually succeed nag away at you.
Finally a sense of perseverance develops and things start to move forward.
We all go through this stage at some point. For younger children this might not be a place that they stay at for long. But as we grow older and we’re feeling the pressure of change hanging over us, we find ourselves re-visiting our “Are you my mother” stage quite frequently, if only for a short time during periods of stress!
It’s not a stage that is worth hanging around in for long, and so my advice to you is to stop looking for your mother and get on with it!
So what are some of the key features of this learning stage?
This stage is all about the process of finding support. The baby bird is looking constantly for her mother. This is the only support they need and that they want. It’s a stage where the learner just really wants their mother to do the learning for them.
Finding your way
Are you my mother is a tricky Learning Stage to be in. Although it’s a time where the learner is essentially finding their way, it’s also often a stage where it’s time to take stock. For some it may be easier just to wait for Mother than to take the risk of moving on, and for others waiting for Mother might just be the resting time that they need. Either way, reality dictates that Mother is not always there to make things easier for you, so don’t wait here for long!
Learning to learn
Are you my Mother can also be the time when a learner is looking for someone to help them up to the “Green Eggs and Ham” stage. It’s not unreasonable to believe that some older learners take time to find their mentors. It only gets unreasonable when the role of mentor really is just an extension of Mother.
Growth Stage Two
GREEN EGGS AND HAM
There is a lot in common with Stage 1 and Stage 2. Much of the time in Stage 2 you will find yourself just wishing that someone would come along and do the learning for you. There are times when you think, “Nope I don’t like this”.
You find yourself flipping back to the Are You My Mother stage, hoping that this learning thing will simply go away. But the perseverance you developed in Stage 1 encourages you to stick with the task just a little longer.
You keep at it, grinding away, looking to have your green eggs and ham in such a way that is actually palatable.
Learning at this stage is very much a practicing sort of thing.
The more you work, or practice, on a particular skill the easier it actually becomes.
At the risk of sounding ageist I do wonder if this stage is very much an older learners type of stage.
Younger learners may spend a little bit of time here. But when you are younger, learning something new isn’t necessarily a chore, or isn’t coloured in any negative fashion by prior learning experiences.
Furthermore for most young learners learning isn’t even considered an option. Instead it’s just the natural by-product of everyday life. You don’t see a lot of “Do you want to try my iPhone 11?”, “NO I don’t, not in a box, not with a fox, not with a goat….”
Therefore you’ll find the Green Eggs and Ham stage more often in older learners who have a choice … or at least think they have a choice, about acquiring new skills or ideas. For those of us with a slightly stubborn temperament, Green Eggs and Ham might be a stage we spend a lot of our learning time in!
For those of us who suffer from the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome, you’ll spend much of your time flitting between Are you my Mother? and Green Eggs and Ham stages.
International blogger David Cain (firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.raptitude.com/) writes of our past experiences and how they can affect our learning in a very Green Eggs and Ham like manner.
Cain suggests that “we tend to think the person we are is the person we’ve been so far. The person you used to be still tells you what to do”.
We unconsciously decide if we like or dislike something based on our experiences. Some of these experiences can be decades old, and yet still play significant roles in how we see the current world that we live in.
“This happens a lot. Much of what you do today (or don’t) was decided by the person you were years ago, a person with less life experience and less insight into your values. Your identity – as in who you are to yourself, and who you are to others – changes throughout your life, and the person most qualified to be deciding how you spend your time now is always going to be who you are today.
But we often don’t work like that. We work from conclusions made years ago, usually with no idea of when we made them, or why. Most of our standing impressions are probably based on a single experience – one instance of unpleasantness or disappointment that turned you off of entire categories of recreational activities, lifestyles and creative pursuits, forever.
A conclusion is not the point at which you find the truth, it’s only the point at which the exploring stops. We do it quickly and unconsciously and the effects are long-lasting. In no time you’re left with a standing belief, a sort of surrogate “fact” in your head, left over from a time when you didn’t know any better. “
These particular standing beliefs have more of a profound effect on our experienced older learners than our younger ones. Maybe this is because older learners spend their new learning time stating;
“I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I -am.”
So how do we counter the Green Eggs and Ham stage? How do we move forward if we are still tied to experiences from the past?
Cain suggests, “Let the phrases “not my thing” or “not for me” become red flags to you whenever you hear yourself say them. How old was the person who decided that? Was it even a decision, or just an emotional reaction? How much do you really know about it?
Ask, or otherwise know that your lifestyle is still being directed by a younger and less experienced version of you who, frankly, doesn’t know you at all.”
He’s got a point. But it’s not easy. Be open to your new learning, give it all a go! Find your inner four or five year old if need be!
If you can get past this stage, then you’re about to embark into the magical world of the Cat in the Hat Comes back stage. Now that’s worth purrrrrsevering with.
So what are some of the key features of this growth stage?
The Green Eggs and Ham Learning Stage is all about guided learning. It’s about someone, whether it’s a mentor/coach, or a teacher, or a colleague or a friend, working alongside you and helping you along a path. They guide you in a direction that may initially be foreign to you. Or distasteful!
The key is that although you are being directed in your learning, ultimately you are building understandings that will allow you to take control in the future.
Sam in Green Eggs and Ham needs a medal for his perseverance. He just never gives up. As a mentor Sam has a role to persevere with the learner, asking questions and opening the learner up to new understandings and learning.
It’s so much easier just to give up and to throw any perseverance under a bus. But imagine if that had happened in the book – well it just wouldn’t have made a great story!
In the book Sam helps guide the questioning. He scaffolds the learning for the learner by asking key questions. By doing this he also models all sorts of possibilities. He’s opening up idea streams into the learners mind!
Resilience is very much a tool needed to be practiced by the learner. Essentially it plays hand in glove to perseverance. As a learner when you’re at this stage if you’re not resilient, and you’re not prepared to persevere then you may as well just stay in the “Are you my mother” stage.
Lighting the Fire
Sam sets the scene for the next learning stage here. By the end of the story he has well and truly lit the fire of learning when he hears; “I do so like Green Eggs and Ham, Thank-you! Thank-you! Sam-I-am”
Growth Stage Three
THE CAT IN THE HAT COMES BACK
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back was first published in 1958. In anyone’s language that is certainly a while ago now.
Its’ message today is still as bright, colourful, filled with possibilities and mischievousness as it was when it first arrived in our bookstores all those years ago.
Imagine learning as being bright, colourful, filled with possibilities and mischievousness. It sounds like a perfect cocktail for exploring and understanding the world all around us. It’s certainly intoxicating.
Stage Three in My Learning Model, is The Cat in the Hat Comes Back stage. This is the stage where anything can happen, and it most probably will.
The boundaries of learning are at times difficult to see; but it’s a stage of possibilities and wonderment, of experimentation and passion.
Helpfully, the story starts almost where Stage Two, Green Eggs and Ham finishes. In The Green Eggs and Ham stage we’ve come accustomed to the idea that learning can actually be tasteful, and that we have some choice about it. However there is still work to be done and sometimes our learning takes us back to the Are You My Mother Stage.
But don’t be fooled, this Learning Stage is about to get wild.
Think of your learning at this stage as the Cat in the Hat. You’re brimming with confidence, you’re full of ideas, you’re able to brainstorm some of the most absurd solutions and, most importantly, you’re willing to give it a go. And just like that, the world opens up for you!
Your imagination is encouraged to go anywhere and everywhere, and just for a moment you too can have your cake and eat it!
But beware there are caveats.
This is the learning stage of trial and error with no shame in failure. But it’s not the real world.
The Cat in The Hat Comes Back stage is a time of safety nets, scaffolding and oxygen tanks! Yes you can get excited about an outpouring of creative tendencies, but at the end of the day it’s all within the safety of the lab.
It’s where you can leave the anxieties about your failings or learnings, and mis-understandings at the pool edge. It’s where you can dive into the pool of possibilities without worry of lack of skills.
And although it’s not essential, it can be even better if there’s more than one of you in the process.
In many ways this is the growth stage that we most often find ourselves at the Forty Hour Principal Project. David and I get to fling ideas around, test them in our blog weekly, and then head back to the “reality” of our schools!
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back learning stage is perfect for working alongside others. Ideas build on ideas that build on ideas.
Learning happens not only as a result of study, but also in trial and error and experimentation. Growth comes as a result of sharing problems, ideas, prior knowledge and solutions, with those around you.
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back stage revels in the collaboration of many minds. Your idea may not be the one that is the final solution, but it will play an important part in the process that will add greatly to your learning.
Call it your own VOOM! moment if you will.
So what are some of the key features of this growth stage?
Curiosity is the thing that gets us interested. It’s the spark that ignites and then fuels our learning.
We don’t spend enough time playing during learning. This stage encourages more play. The Cat in the Hat certainly doesn’t appear to be particularly time constrained, and although reality has it we are all time poor, this Learning Stage says loud and clear “Make the time to Play”.
The Cat in The Hat Stage is all about being creative. Essentially it’s giving the learner a sense of freedom to give things a go without the restraints of feeling like a failure. Once you get that feeling out of your system you can start to be as creative as you want. In the book, The Cat in the Hat certainly wasn’t constrained by lack of ideas. He was very creative in solving the problem.
Collaboration helps make big problems feel small. This Learning Stage allows people to look for solutions together without a sense of hierarchy. Remember the old addage, Together Everyone Achieves More (T.E.A.M)
Using old skills for new things
People come into new situations with a host of prior experiences and knowledge. All of this is useful in new learning. The only time when this isn’t useful is if the learner is blinkered to historical solutions or attitudes. Attitudes are crucial here. If you’re still stuck in “Are you my Mother” ways then nothing will come easily. Loosen up, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!
Using new skills for old things
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back encourages new eyes for old problems. Science is finding new ways of doing things all the time and often helps us understand old problems or issues in a new light.
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back encourages the learner to look at their learning as a journey. During the story the Cat in the Hat tried many solutions in a personal journey of inquiry.
Team Inquiry allowed the Cat in the Hat to work with a number of other cats (26 in total! but don’t let that stop you!) to find a solution.
This growth stage isn’t reality though. This is where we ask questions, experiment, play, consider, debate and test our understandings all within a safe environment, or as safe as possible. It’s where you can get a grazed knee, or a bloody nose and still come back and score a goal.
We live in a time where we all take ourselves incredibly seriously. We’re open to judgement on all sorts of levels from multiple directions. The Cat in the Hat solves the problem of the rings in the bath with little worry about judgement. We don’t see him posting on Facebook or Instagram and gauging his success on the number of likes he has received. The only worry that he has is the problem of the rings in the bath. He worries about one thing at a time and ultimately triumphs! VOOM!
Growth Stage Three – IF I RAN THE ZOO
Stage Four of this Growth Model is based on Dr. Seuss’ 1950 picture book,
“If I Ran The Zoo”.
This stage is the ultimate learning stage. It’s what we all aspire to. It’s the stage where our learning is finally put into real use. It’s where we can take our new found skills and ideas and let our imagination do the rest in what’s affectionately known as “The Real World.”
“If I ran the zoo, ” said young Gerald McGrew,
I’d make a few changes. That’s just what I’d do …”
I’m picking that Dr. Seuss called his hero Gerald McGrew on purpose. McGrew is a great name for someone in this growth stage who just grows and grows and grows.
In many ways this can be seen as a generational learning stage e.g the older you get, the more experiences you have, and the more you know how to deal with these new things.
However this doesn’t have to have anything to do with age. Any age can learn the new tricks and ideas in the Cat in the Hat Comes Back stage, and any age can put those learnings into some form of reality like “If I ran the zoo”.
If I Ran the Zoo is the stage of turning possibilities into something a bit more concrete. It’s at this stage where we take our play and give it some new function – in a real world.
And although it’s a stage of lots of potential for the learner, and lots of potential to help many people, it has also the potential for a few doubters and criticisms.
The real world is full of people with opinions. It’s jam packed with people who are also trying to run their own zoos. It’s full of people who are certain that the way they run their zoo is the only way to run a zoo. There’s plenty of potential for conflict.
But keep positive. This is the “keep it moving forward” learning stage. It’s about letting your learning help you find a niche in your world. The key words here are YOUR WORLD.
Your world is your zoo and your zoo is your world.
So what are some of the key features of this growth stage?
This growth stage is reality. It’s out of the sandpit and into the real world. There are steps forward and steps backwards, and any decision made has a consequence.
The reality is that this is your personal context. It’s your challenge and therefore your opportunity. You get to reap what you sow. There will be those who are keen to knock you. And there will be those scary times when you find yourself comparing your own reality with the highlight reels of others. However the reality is that their context is not the same as yours. And most importantly your own highlight reel is as kick arse as anyone else’s!
You share your world with 9 billion other people who also live in this world. It’s a bit hard to get away from this important point. And so whatever you do, whatever your particular zoo looks like, it needs to run in harmony with those of others. Learn to give, learn to connect, learn to take notice and your world will be even more richer.
The If I ran the zoo stage goes hand in hand with the Cat in the Hat stage. It’s called Life Long Learning, and the sooner you get to enjoy flipping from each stage the better.
Suffice to say 2020 has been a year right out of the box. It’s certainly been full of challenges, frustrations, false dawns and even a bit of heartache. In New Zealand we find ourselves in a position that life is pretty much back to normal, but there’s always an uncanny shadow that lurks in the background.
For the rest of the world, lives have been upended and life as we once knew it, with the freedoms that we once had, has been severely altered.
People are stressed, tired, aggrieved and over it. With all this uncertainty comes a change in the way people behave. People are anxious and their patience levels and stress points are all skewed.
Earlier this year we described a normal school term like a race. With weeks 7-9 being akin to “the wall” in a half marathon. At that point injuries manifest themselves, doubts arise and take over, and our patience for anything other than the plan goes out the window. I’m beginning to wonder if “the wall” has come early this term and that this is a direct result of the uncertainties of our new world. All the crap is with us already! And that “the wall” is likely to be with us for weeks to come.
The places in our lives where we used to find gold to get us through this time aren’t always attainable.
But it’s not all grim. Not all that glitters is gold. It’s important to see this as a positive. There is a lot that can be found in our lives (both professionally and personally) which although isn’t gold, still glitters. That’s a great thing to keep hold of.
I was reminded of this the other day when I watched one of my Year 7 and 8 classes perform a play. Out the front of the stage performed the gold class students; words carefully learnt, movements choreographed to the finest, perfect detail. At the back of the stage was a group of children, equally important, looking slightly awkward, but nonetheless as authentic as the “stars” in front. I couldn’t help but watch them throughout the whole show. They might not be gold, but heck in their own way, they were pretty close – maybe even diamond like! They glittered in their awkwardness, and they yelled (quietly) “we’re here too, and hear us roar!”. The loudest of my applause was for those kids. Their awkwardness was beautiful, but the fact that they were up there giving it their all was the stunning glitter.
A few months ago I found myself wailing at my perceived injustice of the appraisal process I had walked into. A small number of staff enjoyed the anonymity of a 360 review to let me know of my shortcomings. Their written words stung. There were some savage comments. It took me a couple of weeks to get my head around the fact that this feeling wasn’t shared by everyone, and certainly not the vast majority. However my confidence was hit, and so I had to find a way back.
I didn’t do this intentionally to begin with, but I found myself stopping and looking at things. First it seemed like a mechanism just to get my breath. But I began to see things in my school that I hadn’t really appreciated before; a couple of five year olds holding hands in friendship, a kid picking up a piece of rubbish that wasn’t his, a thirteen year old helping a six year old with a grazed a knee, the laughter of a group of friends, the insistent crackle of communication from one our ASD kids.
These weren’t the “gold glitter” things that we are forced to look for in strategic plans. They weren’t the accelerated learnings or surplus budgets or even a mythical wish that everyone would support me in a 360 review. Nope, these were every day glitter that comes and goes. And they are simply beautiful.
Our lives are full of glitter that isn’t gold. Don’t let the uncertainties of our time, whatever that looks like, get you down. The secret is to take time to look for the other glitter. This involves getting up and getting out. Get away from your screens and go looking. It’s everywhere if you take a chance and open your eyes.
Post note …. If you like your inspiration via music listen to this!
There’s something about writing a blog about principalship, and leadership in particular, that gives a certain air of “worldliness” about the writer. It appears that the writer somehow flies above all the crap and has a view of life that soars a number of clicks above the insane level that those who don’t write, live in. Their reality appears so much clearer, and simpler than the muddied waters of this place we affectionately call “ the real world”.
David and I live and work in the real world. What we write about comes from the proverbial chalk face. It comes from a place of infinite muddiness. And often from places that are written just a slip under the surface of the reed pool that we call stress.
In essence whatever we write is advice. It’s heartfelt for sure. It’s dripping in experiences. But essentially it’s just opinion.
And that’s a good thing.
We aren’t gurus, we’re just provocateurs. We want you to come to your own party with your own thoughts and solutions.
Apparently, legend has it, King Solomon was also known for his advice. He was wise and respected. But none of his advice to others was good enough to save himself from making disastrous choices that led to his own kingdom’s demise. Psychological scientist Igor Grossmann dubbed this phenomenon the “Solomon’s Paradox.”
Grossmann discovered within his research that, “people reason more wisely about other people’s social problems than about their own.”
He found that across three experiments, participants displayed wiser reasoning (i.e., recognizing the limits of their knowledge and the importance of compromise and future change, considering other people’s perspectives) about another person’s problems compared with their own.
He found that instructing individuals to “self-distance (rather than self-immerse) eliminated this asymmetry”. Interestingly he also found no age differences in wise reasoning about personal conflicts, and that the effects of self-distancing generalize across ages. So it’s not always true that we get wiser as we get older!
Most of the problems that we face in our schools are of social persuasion. Anything to do with people inevitably has a social element. It’s that social component that arguably makes any decisions we make as leaders difficult. Because of it, nothing really is ever black and white, or cut and dried. There’s always something to mull over, to consider, and to iron out.
Plenty of it has a personal impact. We are only human.
So what’s the advice around Solomon’s Paradox during our difficult times? (And, just as importantly, will I take this advice next time I find myself in the proverbial).
In dealing with any issues, clarity is the key. And to get better than 20/20 powered clarity it’s important to give yourself some distance (or self-distance) from the situation.
For all of us, it’s hard to judge a problem clearly when we’re immersed in it.
It requires distance to judge things more reasonably.
There are a number of key ways of getting distance.
Consider the following:
Give yourself some physical distance from the situation – get up and move. Go somewhere else. It might even be off site. But get away.
Give yourself some time. Time is a great way of distancing yourself from the conflict. But don’t give yourself too much of it either. Set yourself a time limit.
Imagine, like Solomon, that you’re advising a friend or professional who is in the same predicament – what would you tell them to?
Talk to yourself in the third person. Instead of asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” or “What can I do?” ask yourself, “Why is s/he doing that?” “What can s/he do?”
Accept the wisdom you come to:
This isn’t always easy, but nothing really ever is in these situations. Accept that the advice you’ve given yourself might cause some grief. That decision to cut your Learning Assistant’s hours back because the budget doesn’t quite make it that far – well, that will come with some grief.
Don’t short change or doubt your own wisdom. Would you doubt it if you were offering it to someone else? If you would, then maybe you haven’t found the right answer just yet. And if you think your advice is spot on – then go with it.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Just do it. Follow through and get it done. Move on promptly.
And one final tip. If you’re still not sure about what to do, or how to deal with a situation then try the “flip of a coin” method.
Nail yourself down to two choices. Heads you do one, Tails you do the other.
Flip the coin.
Watch it fly and turn in the air.
Let it land.
Heads or Tails?
There, in front of you lies your answer in the flip of a coin.
And this is where your gut instinct will suddenly kick in. With the answer of the coin lying in front of you, you’ll suddenly be well aware of the choice that you needed to make, and it might not be what the coin says.
Go with it. Get it done.
Of course, if the problem is too big then you need to be assured that you are not alone. Although there are times when we will feel isolated, we all “stand on the shoulders of giants” in our role. We just need to have the confidence and faith to put up our hands and ask for help.
Your ability to deal with issues and survive successfully in ways that enable you to get up and do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, with an energy and passion that this job deserves, is crucial.
There are certain times of the day when just about anything can happen, and it most likely will. I call this ‘Alice in Wonderland’ time. These are times when you can easily find yourself figuratively following some furry creature down a rabbit warren with no idea where you’re going or what’s going to happen.
The key Alice in Wonderland time is usually between 8:30am and 9:00am. Students are streaming into the school, teachers are finalising their classes, and people need things. It’s the time when the photocopier is most likely to die, when someone has forgotten to buy the milk for teachers’ coffee, when your five-year-olds arrive for the very first time, and when parents storm the ramparts with their complaints and insistences.
It’s an exciting time.
It can also be an anxious time.
If you are going to assume anything, then assume that this period of time will be like no other in your day, and then throw away any plans you have for it. Instead, look at it as a key relationship building opportunity. This is crucial tone-setting time for a principal.
Get out of your office and get visible. Keep moving around the school. Greet, meet, and be cheerful. Don’t fill this half-hour with phone calls or pre-arranged meetings. If people do turn up randomly, then of course, see them.
Talk to everyone and anyone but keep moving. The fresh air and movement are as good for you as it is good for everyone else to see you out and about. If you’ve got kids doing jobs such as road patrol or putting out equipment, make sure you get to them and let them know in a fun way that you value their roles: ‘Oh, Keli, I see you’re out here on road patrol, saving lives again! Good on ya!’
Being visible gives the impression (quite rightly) that you’re available and approachable. Some parents want to say things but will never go anywhere near your office, so them getting the chance to wiggle your ear at the sandpit is beneficial.
It’s also good for your staff to see you out and about, although your office administrator is probably wishing you weren’t so hard to track down! You’ll be back in your box by 9:00am, so no-one really needs to be worried. Alice in Wonderland time doesn’t have to be an anxious time if you go down the rabbit warren with a sense of adventure and inquiry.
This is ultimately all about relationship building. As someone once said, schools are 80 percent about relationships and 20 percent about more relationships. Using your Alice in Wonderland time is the key to setting up relationships for the day ahead in a very positive way.
This term I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about communicating. In particular about how I communicate with my school staff of around forty adults. The most recent staff appraisal of me suggested that communication wasn’t always my strength. A little bit inside me yelled back sarcastically – “give me strength!”
Communication of course though, is the thing that makes any of our relationships connect. Terrible communication and you’re likely to make terrible connections. Super communication and you’re likely to meet with super results. Every now and again you can communicate terribly, and still get great results, but it won’t be consistently positive. It’s just a matter of time before things start sinking. So great communication is key.
Communication is something that all animals, and in fact all living beings do. It’s not something that is uniquely human.
I enjoy watching my puppy dog, Daisy, communicating with any other dog that she comes across on our walks. Some she immediately barks at, and some she simply saunters up for a sniff. Both are forms of communication. Daisy thinks that this is a very effective way of communicating.
At school I do a little bit more than barking or sniffing. (Although, dependent on what’s going on at the time, sometimes I might be just as well to stick with just those two options!)
I am very lucky to have a great group of people to work with – however communication isn’t always easy.
Much of the problem is the vacuum of time when there is no communication. During these vacuums people tend to make up their own stories or lines of interpretation to fill in the void.
A classic example of this was when the Ministry of Education chose to release the Staffing Entitlement notices on a Saturday. Why they chose a Saturday no-one really knows. They probably let us all know the reason at some point in time, but this was lost. Instead, it was replaced by other stories and lines of interpretation. These were along the lines of; “What is the Ministry hiding?”, “It’s going to be bad news and that’s why it’s released on a Saturday”, “Doesn’t the Ministry care about principal well-being? If they did then they wouldn’t be releasing this during the weekend”.
People filled the vacuum with all sorts of erroneous stuff. Was any of it true? Well, possibly, but none of it was done on purpose.
At a micro level, communication is also an issue. When was the last time you sent a text or a message to a friend and you waited for a reply. The longer the wait for a reply, the more your mind starts filling in the gaps. Did you send the message to the right person? Why haven’t they replied? Are they ok? Did they read your message wrongly and they think you’re damn rude?
You get the picture – communicating with humans is fraught.
In your schools it is no different. Some understand the way that you communicate, and some hope for something quite different. Some demand information at the drop of a hat, and some are more than happy to wait.
And some get confused between equality and equity of communication expecting to know everything all of the time.
As leaders this makes communication our hardest role. And our most important. It’s also one of the things that can give us incredible satisfaction, and just a little bit of heartache.
Taking on the old adage, treat the people the way you would like to be treated, and applying it to the way that you communicate with people, doesn’t always cut the mustard either. We are all different beasts and we all respond in different ways. It’s a bit like Daisy my dog – some will appreciate her bark of warning, and others will appreciate her sniff.
The gold standard of communication though is found at the next level up. It’s not about communicating with someone the way you like to be communicated with – no, it’s communicating with someone the way that they like to be communicated with.
This is a subtle but life changing difference.
The Ministry of Education struggles with this because they have to communicate with 2,500 different schools in New Zealand and 2,500 different Principals. They haven’t got time to find out how each individual wants to be communicated with. So essentially they don’t care when the information is communicated as long as it is all distributed fairly at the same time. People can then do what they want with it. If it’s a Saturday, then as long as everyone gets it, then that’s what matters. Not their problem. Of course this has the potential to cause a certain disconnect between the Ministry and the sector.
At a school level we have the ability to make communication choices that are more in line with how people want to be communicated with. This takes some serious relationship building though, and some serious understanding of the people that you’re working with.
Some communication can remain at the sniff and bark level, but unlike the Ministry of Education, you have to work with these people (these humans) day in and day out, and sniff and bark isn’t always the brightest move.
Maybe you have someone on your Team who really needs at least three to four days’ notice of any big “idea” announcement … ideally longer. She doesn’t like any surprises, but also enjoys having some sort of control, and understanding of the issue before it’s announced. She needs time to think. If I continue with my Daisy analogy – this is a sniff for a very long time approach. This is full-on sniffing!
And maybe there’s another member on your team who enjoys running with ideas as soon as they’re told about them. She’s an ideas person, she doesn’t need any run in time to consider and process, she wants to run and create on the fly. With Daisy this is a bark and sniff approach. Bark, and then I’ll go away and do my own sniffing.
And yet another member who just wants to be told what to do. Just tell me what you want boss – and I’ll get it done. No questions, just get on with it type mentality. If this is Daisy my dog then this is a simple Bark and get on with it.
And finally possibly you have another member of the team who it doesn’t really seem to matter how you communicate with them, their interpretation will be quite different to the reality of the message – maybe it’s because they appreciate multiple communication attempts? They will reply in their own time, with their own interpretation. Using Daisy my dog this is a, sometimes a bark will do it, but often it’s a sniff, sometimes the bark will be thought of as damn rude, and sometimes the sniff is damn intrusive! Quite likely either a bark or a sniff will be wrong.
All of this is frustrating, particularly as you’ll have your own style of wanting to be communicated with. In this regards the Ministry of Education takes the easiest route – just bark.
At school level you’ve got choices depending on the size of your school.
If your school is a big school then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever find the sweet spot for communication with every single person in the school. It’s simply too hard.
In situations like this, as leader you need to carefully outline how you’ll communicate and you need to consistently do it that way. This message will often need to be repeated throughout the year.
Principal’s in larger schools can use the power of their Senior Leadership Teams though. These teams are likely to be smaller, and so you can take time to get to know how each member likes to be communicated with. This is a win/win for you – chances are they’ll start to communicate with you in the way that you want to be communicated with as well.
They can then use this strategy for their own teams or syndicates and they can pass back to you what they’ve found out about in regards to communication needs. They get to do the homework for you!
In smaller schools it is slightly easier. There aren’t so many people to communicate with, or to learn communication preferences. This doesn’t make it any easier though. Any communication is fraught with misunderstandings, confusion, interpretation issues and even just plain annoying people!
I find using the Five Ways to Wellbeing strategies work just as well in terms of communication:
TAKE NOTICE: Take notice of individuals and how they communicate with others. This will often give you a lead into what their preferences are.
GIVE: Give your time, your words and presence to build an understanding of the individuals on your team.
BE ACTIVE: People change all the time … be active in getting around and noticing things. Take time to enjoy getting to know your people better.
CONNECT: This is what it’s all about. Great communication is about great connection. Great leaders should be fantastic at connecting with all sorts of diverse people around them.
KEEP LEARNING: Don’t be surprised that people like to be communicated in a variety of ways. It depends a lot on the context. But get to know your people and appreciate that your particular learning about them is always a work in progress.
Of course sometimes everyone may need a good solid barking at. Daisy seems to have this innate super human (dog) way of knowing who needs this. Everything is context based. But these barking times should never be your go to.
You might wonder how this all relates to the Forty Hour Principal. Surely a good old fashioned barking will get you home a lot sooner. Getting to know your team takes time, that is true, but it’s time well invested. You get to know them better and they get to know you better. Communication becomes much clearer and forgiving, and when it’s like that, the key to unlocking your 40 hour week just needs to be turned.
Just like a song, every blog article needs a great line to pull you in right from the start. Something that’ll catch the imagination, and won’t let go.
I’m trying to find something that’ll make the term “psychological detachment” sound enticing and thrilling. Something that’ll get your attention and not let you go until you’ve read the whole piece.
Mmmm, how about this?
A study published in the May issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry found that people who became depressed late in life had a 70% increased risk of dementia, and those who’d been depressed since middle age were at 80% greater risk.
Too negative? Too depressing? Mmmm maybe.
. . .
I don’t want this post to be one of those gloom and doom types. No, this post should be read as a beacon of hope. Maybe my starter line to grab you all in should be;
This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!
Last year we did a brief survey of around 150 New Zealand principals in a quest to find the answer to “what strategies do principals use to effectively and quickly recover from stressful events”. It seems that some principals are able to bounce back a lot quicker than others. How do they do this?
We found that the “bounce-a-backer-ers” did four things really well.
Firstly they found time to exercise regularly.
Secondly they found time to talk to their people (confidants, people they trusted) about the crap they were going through.
Thirdly they found time for Me Time! … that time that was just for them, and only for them. Time to do something they loved, without interruptions.
And fourthly … they had a wonderful ability to rationalise the stressors that they were going through. They appreciated that bad times never last, and nor do good times. That the things that worry us are often miniscule in the big picture of things, and that ultimately they weren’t alone in dealing with these issues. Powerful stuff.
Great, perfect! Sorted!
Now all we need to do is appreciate these things and put them into place and we’ll all be as resilient and “broad shouldered” as these successful principals!
But nothing is really that simple is it.
All of these things take practice, and need to be turned into habits … both physically and mentally. And all of these have a time element. You need to prioritise time for them to be beneficial.
And it turns out that there are a couple more key elements that also help. They’re both important for recovery, and to put it not too finely, they both need to happen daily.
Dailyrecovery is vital for giving us the ability to bounce back. Proper recovery allows you to take on the next day with the “vim and vigour” that your school (and you) deserve.
The alternative is known as burn out, which easily turns into depression, which in turn leads to that jaw dropping dementia statistic that grabbed you into this article!
So what are these two elements?
Internal Recovery – this is about giving yourself some respite and relief from stressful situations whilst at school/work. Switch tasks, go for a walk around the playground, take time out for yourself. These don’t have to be long times, but it’s important that you give yourself a break. In olden times this was also known as a lunch break, or morning tea!
In many work places outside of schools these breaks can even be taken off site – imagine that! The key of course is to give yourself a break regularly. Mix it up, and don’t forget to do it. Got a spare minute or two before a meeting – don’t check your emails, instead just take some time. Pause, chill, stop. For a minute or two or three.
External Recovery – this is what we do outside of our work hours. The real key here is to develop this thing called psychological detachment. Often we think that we’re well onto the road to recovery by doing things such as reading, catching up with social media or socialising. These are all good things to do. But the big key is to do these things that detach you from your work.
If you’re catching up on some reading, but it’s work related then your recovery isn’t going to be as useful. If you’re socialising with friends, but you spend the whole time talking about work – again, although initially useful to unload, over time it doesn’t have the same recovery effect. And have you ever found that watching TV full of bad news and gruesome shows doesn’t work like it used to – well, maybe it’s time to actually switch that box off so that you can detach yourself from many realities that you simply have no control over.
Psychological detachment isn’t easy though. Recently, I spent some wonderful time at Lake Tekapo in the South Island of New Zealand, but instead of just enjoying the place for what it is, I spent most of the time ruminating on a school issue. It takes some serious practice just to be in one place, and to enjoy being in that one place, without the stressors of school or your work place creeping in.
Many who are particularly good at psychological detachment find that “attaching” themselves to other things can be useful.
In a nutshell – get a hobby.
And be passionate about it. Put your “vim and vigour” into that. In the past I’ve played sport, and at present I’m in a band. It’s very hard to do a competent job of doing a lead guitar solo that runs across the fret board, if you’re still “fretting” about school or work. The key, as I’ve said many times, is to find something that takes you daily away from being attached to workplace thoughts and concerns.
Taking time to master your recovery, every day, so that you can face the next day with the energy and enthusiasm it deserves is at the heart of beating burnout. It’s also at the heart of living for today, and not about “just getting yourself to the weekend, or just getting yourself to the next holiday break”.
This is what you can do today to help you with your tomorrow!
You take a look at the bedside clock. It’s glowing 3:00am and, truth be told, you’ve probably been awake for an hour already. There are nigglings, plans, and plain old emotions in the form of concerns rushing around your head.
Your mind is alive with thoughts. Many are worries. You lie there knowing that this could go on for a couple more hours, only subsiding into a deep sleep, ten minutes before it’s time to get up.
Emotions play a huge part in our principal roles. A school is a highly emotive place. There are highs and lows all the time. We live for these highs, and in a simple paradox, it is the lows that often make the highs so enjoyable. Like yin and yang, you need both.
The lows can have the power to swamp us, though. Especially if they’re coming at speed, one after another. It can be difficult to keep your head above water. This can result in routinely waking up in the middle of the night for many. Sadly, this is the reality of the job – it is volatile. This is not likely to change any time soon, so what can we do to limit the negative effects of these lows when we find ourselves awake far too early in the morning?
Switch off notifications: Turning off notifications on your phone or device has a significant positive impact on your thought processes. By doing this, you’re essentially putting up the closed sign at the front of the shop. If you do this on your phone each day, it’s a bit like telling your brain that you’re closed for business. Of course, many of you tech-savvy people will have some setting to automatically do this. Whatever works, just shut off those notifications and train your mind to recognise this as shutting up shop for the day.
Consider your brain as being half-open: Science tells us that the human brain is divided into two sides.
There’s a logical side and there’s a creative/imaginative side. At 3am, it really could be possible that only one half of your brain is open for business. If that is true, then it’s likely to be the imaginative side. You know what imaginative types are like – they come up with all sorts of left-field (left-brain) creative ideas. At 3am, your creative mind has suddenly woken up and it’s going to town with all sorts of thoughts. They are feeding your inner worries like wildfire.
Meanwhile, on the other side of your brain, the logical part is still fast asleep. There is nothing available to logically look at what your creative side is doing. There is nothing open to take a breath and say, ‘Hold on, that’s a little bit crazy’. This is why, when you wake up in the morning, you’ll think you’ve solved an issue in the middle of the night, only to find that in the light of day, the solution is actually pretty naff.
3am diversion therapy: It sounds like a great name for a rock band, but it’s a little strategy that we’ve given a name. Basically, there are many ways to divert your thinking from 3am worries. If your mind is open to thinking, then you might as well get it thinking about some worry-less material, not worry-more. This strategy is a bit like counting sheep and, with practice, it is useful. So instead of counting sheep try doing this:
Remember all the living rooms that you have lived in throughout your life. Including those dirty flats! If there aren’t many, work on remembering where the couch was, or where the TV was, in each room. Don’t focus on the ‘exciting’ memories/emotions that each room may give. You want your brain to be as taxed as possible on the details of those rooms, not on any emotions.
If living rooms isn’t doing it, try bathrooms, or kitchens, or backyards.
Anything slightly boring and just a little taxing will work. Every time you find your mind wandering back to the big worry topic, stop yourself and re-start your diversion, and each time, make your brain start again from the beginning.
Give in and get up: If you’re really struggling, get up. Make a cup of very sweet Milo and write down your thoughts. Get them all down. Let your mind go wild. Don’t worry about whether anything is wrong or right. The only person who will be judging this outpouring is you. So, you might as well go for it.
Before you go to bed, give in: Crank open your laptop. Don’t check your emails!! Instead, make a list of everything on your mind. Fingers crossed that the list isn’t too long! Write a quick thumbnail sketch like a paragraph about what has to happen with each item on the list. Don’t go into it in detail. If you wake up at 3am, let yourself know that you’ve already got this sorted! This gives your logical side power over your creative side, without even having to wake that part of your brain up!
There are plenty of ways of dealing with 3am worries. You certainly aren’t alone. Your sleep is vital, so finding something that works without reverting to copious amounts of alcohol has got to be a good. Be creative, but don’t let your mind move on to what’s worrying you. That’ll just keep you up all night.
To be honest I wondered if my topic for this week’s article, reflection, was still appropriate now that New Zealand is being re-visited by the COVID-19 virus and parts of our country are in lockdown.
I was going to start off by painting a beautiful picture. You see in South Westland, just near the township of Fox Glacier, is the beautiful Lake Matheson. It’s renowned worldwide for its stunning reflections. On any given day, when the conditions are just right the reflections are so perfect that it’s near on impossible to know what’s up and what’s down. Aoraki Mt Cook soars above you, and also at your feet.
I felt that this was the perfect metaphor for reflecting on our professional roles. When the conditions are near on perfect, then so is the reflection. It’s finding those perfect conditions that is the key to getting the thought processes moving.
A friend of mine, Richard Spackman, has recently stepped away from his hectic life running a thriving photocopy and print business, to travel the world with his family. COVID-19 has put paid to this and his tour of the world has become a world tour of New Zealand. During this time he has found time to self-reflect. He’s even written about it. The advantage that Richard has is that the conditions for his reflection are perfect. There is no noise or angst, no pressing timelines, no insidious conflicts or unrelenting perceptions or expectations. He has time. He has time to think.
And that reminded me again about how important it is to find the right conditions to get the most out of your reflections. Then the latest round of COVID-19 hit and I began to wonder whether this actually was the best time to talk about finding the optimal time in your professional lives to go away and think.
I mean, as we all head back into various forms of lockdown and restriction, with it’s angst and uncertainty, the whole world seems to change once more, and the need isn’t to slow down and reflect, but instead it is to speed up and be ultra visible. As leaders in times like this we are expected to marshal the troops, know the answers to those questions that haven’t even been asked yet, and to always, always be one step ahead of the mob … or the virus … or that parent who thinks this is some sort of crazy conspiracy.
This isn’t time to slip away and find time for reflection. Or is it?
When I first thought about writing this piece I imagined that I’d be encouraging leaders to actively make time, and large chunks of it, to get away and do some solid reflection.
However there is still a need for reflection in these busy COVID times. We just aren’t in a time rich environment.
Is this therefore the time for micro reflections? Instead of a half day here, or a whole day there, I’m thinking ten minutes here, or fifteen minutes over there.
And during these times your reflections aren’t going to be long flowing inquiry based examinations of your reason for being. Instead they’ll be succinct, targeted, and to the point.
How do these steps sound for a micro reflection during these crazy times?
Reconnect with your purpose and what you’re trying to achieve
Reflect on how you’ve got to this point and how you’ll know when you’ve got to your destination
Refract on how this might look with another lens, and a consider if there is another way/s
Commit to the thoughts that you have – if you’re making a change, commit to it. If you’re not, commit to that. But give yourself some flexibility. When new information arises be flexible enough to know that your commitment may change.
Take time to breathe and let yourself know that you’ve got this
And finally; read this quote by Maya Angelou.
“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then, when you know better, DO better.”
Now go back to your busy role knowing you’ve got this.
So where can you do this? Schools are notoriously busy.
A ten minute walk around the grounds of the school straight after interval when the grounds are empty …
A fifteen minute “alternate” route on your way to school in the car ….
A twelve minute escape to a room in the school that is seldom used….
You’ll know the places to look. Your office isn’t always the best place for this.The ideal is to find a place that is quiet. You just need some peace to get your micro reflection going.
Even Lake Matheson has days when the reflection is ruined by the weather. So don’t be hard on yourself if your own micro reflection gets messed up by the “constant noise” of school life around you. There’s always tomorrow. But see if you can make it a habit, and see if it makes a difference.