Hi everyone, there are some of you who will be aware of this, and some of you who won’t, but after 28 years of principalship, I’m having a break. While no longer in the role as a principal, I feel as though I still have plenty to add. So I’m really happy to continue writing the Forty Hour Principal blog with my great friend David. I’ll be writing once a fortnight as normal, but I guess the perspective I bring will be  different than in the past. David of course will continue to write from the most important perspective … that of a principal. Steve




Mind the gap – finding common ground to play in

Chances are that the thing that stresses you out the most are the relationships you have with other people. (Usually this stress is found solely in our heads, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Think of a single stress element of your job and I’m sure you can identify those stress points as coming from a part of a relationship.

For example, you find yourself stressed out over an up-coming staff meeting. Maybe you feel you have to prove yourself in front of your team or you feel that you don’t want to waste anyone’s time or you’re worried your damn presentation won’t link to the internet and this will fluster you, and as a result you’ll look disorganised in front of the group. 

These are all to do with how you perceive your relationship with the people in front of you. And there are times when you are justified in feeling stressed over these. There are people in that crowd who will judge you negatively for sure.

Or you find yourself stressed about a lack of finances in a property upgrade. It’s not the lack of finances that is the real stressor here, it’s how you see yourself relating to others around you. How do you convey a cut back here and there to the team when you had promised a flash new dream classroom.

If you look, and it’s worth looking, you’ll see that it’s the relationships you have with everyone involved in whatever project or event in your life that causes the stress.

That newsletter to you’re writing about upcoming strike action. It’s not the physical action of writing the words on the paper that is stressing you out, it’s the worry about how the strike action might be seen and the ripples across the community that is really worrying you. And if it isn’t worrying you, then it isn’t stressing you. 

Of course bigger relationship conflicts have wide ranging consequences that in turn provide many new stressors. The biggest, end in physical fights or even worse, wars such as we see in the Ukraine. 

If we look closer at the causes of these stresses we can see they occur when there is a difference of opinion or a gap in the understanding of what the differences are and why they’re important to the other side.

I’m sure if you look, that you’ll see this everywhere. Two opposing sides and a huge gap between them.

Bridging that gap in itself is a stressful endeavour. It means a lot of work to not only listen to the other side, but also build some sort of understanding. Not to mention energy, time, and dare I say it, love for the other person.

For many the easiest thing to do is to build some sort of metaphorical fence in that place where the gap is. It says loud and clear that this is a boundary and it is there to protect you from them and them from you. 

Some schools are rife with metaphorical fences. You can see them in the staffroom; you can see them between learning teams; you can see them between staff and students. All of these fences also stop people from gaining a better understanding of the life they are living. It’s way easier just to hide behind the fence, and occasionally lop crap over to the other side just to remind them that you, and they, still have a difference. No one is actually making a difference in these situations.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a compelling tale that highlights these fences. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, see it if you can. It’s about a beautiful friendship between two boys who have no idea, or even a care, about the terrible relationships raging around them. They find a way to be together and to play. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t turn out well. But this isn’t a reflection on the relationship between the two boys; it’s a telling and damning reflection on the relationship gap between others. There is a lot to learn. Are the gaps in the relationships you have in your school affect others?

I like to look at the gap as being a beautiful unused field in between two strong stands of trees. In the field is the problem and the solution. What do we do with this gap? Do we build a large fence to keep the two stands of trees apart, napalming the field so there is nothing left to grow? Or do we build a garden in the field so that there’s a place for the animals of the forest to come and play?

Building fences adds to the stress in your institution, it doesn’t eliminate it. There are gaps everywhere. But what would these gaps look like from a stress point if they were places for people to come and play in?



2 thoughts on “Mind the Gap

  1. Anonymous says:

    Love the analogies Steve – building a garden although sometimes hard sound much nicer than a napalmed field – take care Sandi

    • Anonymous says:

      But that’s what we do don’t we …. we see the gap between us and we either build a fence or napalm it so that nothing can grow there!

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