Photo by Vladislav Babienko
I have a growing feeling that the next few weeks are going to be huge. There’s a weird sort of vibe in the wider cosmos and I have a suspicion that winter needs to make way for something better – quickly.
I don’t know how things are looking in your particular school, but from my experience this week there are a lot of people operating well short of their best. I’m talking children, parents, and teachers. Now, it may simply be my own slightly jaded perspective driving this thought.
I confess I broke a long-standing rule of mine to not even consider getting sick in Term breaks. Being sick sucks and that’s why I normally don’t do it. But for some unknown reason I didn’t follow the usual plan and with that lapse came consequences – being a bit behind with the work, a heap of wasted fun time, and a definite sense of starting the new Term tired.
So maybe it’s just me.
But . . . the emails, phone conversations, and various meetings this week make me think there’s something bigger up.
An example has come with the recent call from Head Office to “strongly encourage” mask wearing, but without that final step of mandating it. Each school is to make their own decision on what “strongly encourage” looks like in their setting, and of course, this means schools are all doing different things. This is a lot of fun for the news organisations and provides rich opportunity for social media to do its thing. All of which stirs the winter pot a little more and tests those of us who have to make these interpretations. Add it to the list.
It’s challenging to be a ‘leader of learning’ when so much of your time and energy is being used to meet the needs of people who are projecting their own worries and fears both personally and through their children – it’s easy to be distracted by the urgent and possibly lose sight of the important.
As a possible answer to this conundrum, I’m going to quote one of my favourite thinkers, Seth Godin –
“find the value and you will find the job”.
While Seth wrote this from a business perspective, I think it is very applicable to the situation we school leaders find ourselves in right now. There is so much extraneous ‘stuff’ going on that being clear about what is important becomes critical.
And let’s be honest, if we don’t keep our focus clear, under the current conditions we run the very real risk of getting into a spiral of busy because there is so much that could be done.
. . .
To illustrate the point, here’s a common wee scenario that’s all too real for many of us. Depending on the size of your school it’ll go something like this –
It’s 6:45am, raining, and you just finished sorting your mental to do list for the day and were reaching for the car keys.
Beep goes your phone.
“Hi, I’m not coming in today. I’ve been up all night coughing.”
“Oh no, sorry to hear that. Any chance we’ve got a reliever?”
“No, I messaged Kate (Team Leader) and she hasn’t replied.”
“OK, leave it with me. You take it easy and rest.”
Things speed up now. You message the Team Leader yourself and pull up the reliever schedule to see who is possibly available. You know it’s going to be very unlikely that anyone is. Two other teachers are already out and another has a planned PLD day which has been deferred twice.
As you jump in the car (later than you wanted to be now) the possible options for covering the class roll around in your head. Miracle – you find a reliever, or split the class (that’ll be hard on everyone on this wet day), or ask the teacher on PLD release to cough up their reliever, or . . . you teach them.
. . .
This very common little scenario is like one of those ‘pick a path’ books. Each choice comes with consequences and each has the potential to impact on other people, not least the kids involved.
So how to choose?
This is where Seth’s quote comes in – where is the most value?
Every situation will be different, but some principals I’ve talked to say they feel ‘guilty’ if they don’t volunteer to step in. They want to help and don’t want to create more load for others, but behind these positive thoughts is also a nagging feeling that it is somehow ‘bad’ not to offer. Self-imposed guilt.
And then there’s the flip side. An aspect that principals often seem to push to the back of this decision process is the value of what they were going to achieve that day. By jumping in, all the work that they would have done that day stops. And some (much!) of it was important. This work still needs to be completed and tomorrow’s schedule is already full . . . a spiral of catch-up is born.
There are other factors too. The probability (tragic as it may be to your ego) is that you are not as good as you once were as a teacher . . . unless you are a teaching principal, your core work is no longer in front of a class. Your ‘rusty’ skills and no opportunity to prepare, combine to mean the value of the teaching you will do is almost certainly limited.
Where the balance lies between what you will achieve by teaching versus what you will achieve by working on your core job is the question. But if you take this ‘maximum value’ approach to making the decision, things may be clearer.
There will be plenty of other scenarios coming up in the next few weeks that will ensure competition for your finite time and energy, but by pausing for a moment, ignoring any negative self-talk, and looking for best value when making your choice, you increase the chances of arriving at the next Term break in good shape. I’m off to try and follow my own advice!