There’s been a great video circulating on social media recently by Tomos Robertson AKA Tom Foolery called The Great Realisation. Maybe you’ve seen it. It really is wonderful and follows a line that David and I have been promoting for a while now. In our current climate of lockdown and isolation it’s come into even more focus. Put simply this is the notion that our old “normal” wasn’t really the wonderful place that we all thought it was, and that we are now in a unique position to re-image a “new normal”. This is what Robertson calls the “Great Realisation”.

If I was going to design a new Tee Shirt it would have the slogan; “Join the Realisation Revolution

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit guilty that I’m not that excited about going back to school. In reality what I’m probably not excited about is going back to an old normal

To be honest, I’m tired. For the rest of this paragraph I’ll use the royal “we” here because I’m sure that you’re just like me. We’ve had over 40 days in lockdown. We’ve moved mountains to make home learning a reality, we’ve sweated a lot of small stuff, and we’ve made plenty of big decisions. We’ve all been asked to act in a manner that none of us was ever trained for. But yet we’ve all stepped up and done it. We’ve told our communities not to panic, and that we’ve got this. We’ve worked hard to create a sense of calm and normality even when we’ve fretted about going from Level 4 into Level 3, and now into Level 2.  Wow. No wonder I’m feeling the way I do.

As a result I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed. 

At times like this I find it’s useful to start giving the logical side of my brain a bit of a work out. 

Invariably this leads to thoughts about how I can best rationalise the situation.

There are a few rationalised points that come to mind instantly:

1. We are all in this together …. I’m not alone. There must be hundreds of thousands of Principals world wide also going through the same situation. Certainly in New Zealand alone that figure has to be at least 3,500. There’s likely to be plenty of Principals feeling the same way. This isn’t a time then to think in an insular manner, quite the opposite – it’s time to connect.

2. Nothing is forever … this is a very powerful thought. In the old days we’d used to say, “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish’n’chip paper”. Largely it’s the same with problems and circumstances. Today’s issue is old hat by tomorrow – or at least by next week. New things will have come and gone. Think about where your thinking was this time 6 months ago, three months ago, or even three days ago. Things change, things move. We’re in a very fluid time of our lives, but it won’t be like this forever. As a result of  this going back to an “old normal” doesn’t have to be the way if I don’t want it to be. There is time to consider a “new normal” and to embrace that on our return. 

3. There is always an upside…. Sometimes it is hard to find the silver lining, but over the last 40 days there have been many examples of “extreme positivism”. From a professional point of view I look at my staff and feel so proud. They have all stepped up in so many ways that six weeks ago I would never have thought possible. Yes there have been some bumpy times and things often haven’t gone to plan, but yet they’ve pulled together and done an amazing job. This will have a huge benefit when it is time to head back to school. As a result our new normal can be quite different to our old normal.

4. Where there are challenges there is room for personal growth … things happen and opportunities arise. The logical side of my mind opens up to all the new learning and growth that I’ve been a part of over the last six weeks. I’ve grown, and not just because I’ve eaten a lot of baking! And quite frankly it’s time to use that growth to consider new ways of doing the same old sh#t!

So as we head into the new uncertainties of COVID-19 Level 2 and we all get our team back together under the same roof, look for those opportunities to connect with your people about what the new normal might look like. I imagine that they too will be feeling like you. 

You could start by using a simple PMI about the experiences that your team had during lockdown from both an educational and personal point of view. Find the commonalities, look for ways to take on board the positive ideas in a school based format. 

One of my favourite bands, R.E.M used to sing a song called, “It’s the end of the world and I feel fine”. Originally  released in 1987 it is now back in the charts throughout the world as people use it as a rallying call for change. We might not change everything, there may be things totally out of our control, but for those things that you and your team can change to improve lives then now is the hour. Join the Realisation Revolution!

Steve

 

Synopsis of this Post

  • The status quo may seem reasonable but in reality is just another bad habit that should be confronted.
  • We often run with our individual thoughts about our role in a fashion that, on the face of it, seems reasonable but it’s actually hurting us and our ability to learn and grow.
  • If we are to change the status quo then often we need to look at ourselves first. 

 


 

Last week David posted an excellent blog on the need to be unreasonable.

 

I’ve got to be honest, I’m struggling with David’s piece…not because I don’t believe in what he has to say but more because I’ve spent 30 years in education being the opposite of what he proposed. I’ve built a career on being reasonable.

 

And also, because reasonableness and unreasonableness, like beauty, are invariably in the eye of the beholder. My reasonableness can easily be seen as unreasonableness by someone else and frequently this is the case. However, someone else’s opinion about whether you are being reasonable or unreasonable often pales in comparison to your own beliefs about whether you are reasonable or unreasonable. The battle where real change will be made begins with how you treat yourself.

 

So therein lies my point. I want to use my unreasonableness to change my world.

 

A few years ago, I found myself on a tramp in the mountains above Lake Ohau in the South Island of New Zealand. The walk into the hut looked very simple, just following a river bed. Unusually for my tramping partner and I, we didn’t have a map. This will seem particularly unreasonable to others, but to us it seemed reasonable. On Google Earth it had looked simple. 

 

Follow the river.

 

And so we did. For a long time. By the time we got to the hut it was well after dark. To be honest we only found the hut by luck as a light was shining outwards through the window.

 

And although this is an example of unreasonably poor planning, it’s not my point. By the time I had made it to the hut I was literally a nervous wreck.

 

I’d spent 6 hours in the wilderness, trudging up a river bed through the snow, doing what I consider as being very reasonable.

 

Deep in thought for 6 hours I ruminated over a problem I was having at school. Just one problem. To be fair, it was a pretty serious problem regarding one of my teachers. If I was thinking logically I would never have started thinking about the problem. I was never ever going to resolve this anywhere but at school, during term time, and with the teacher. But over and over again I attacked the issue. I picked at it like an open sore. The mountains soared around me, but I found new depths in my thinking during those hours. Physically I was spent when I made it to the hut, but it was my mental state that was worse. My whole tramping weekend became darkened by this rumination. For all intents and purposes I might as well have stayed home.

 

I didn’t take in much of the beauty of the mountains. I didn’t stop to enjoy the fresh air or the excitement of the trip. My rumination closed in around me like a dark cape and that’s where it locked itself to me. The school problem, one problem only, doing what I thought was reasonable, gnawed away at me. It became a miserable time that was the straw (albeit a heavy one) that broke the camel’s back. It led to a diagnosis of depression and a period of my life on antidepressant medication.

 

Reasonably, in my eyes, I have sadly continued this pattern. Always on weekends and on holidays, I’ve let school/work problems take roost during idle times. I’ve allowed this. I’ve made this a habit and a pattern and because of this, I’ve secured this thought process in concrete all in the name of reasonableness.

 

My battle then with what is reasonable and what is unreasonable is a battle with myself. It’s not a call to arms against the Ministry of Education or against those children or families who routinely push my buttons and attempt to walk all over me. No, it’s a battle within which I have to beat first.

 

As a principal, school plays a huge part in my life. But it’s not the only thing in my life, and it isn’t the most important thing in my life. It plays a huge part in who I am as a person, but it’s not the most important part of who I am as a person. To make this a concrete part of my being I need to be unreasonable with myself, and that’s where the wins will be. 

 

As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” 

 

My progress, and ultimately the sustainability and longevity of my role as a principal, now depends on me being unreasonable. If I am going to break the status quo then I need to be unreasonable with myself. That means finding ways to avoid thinking about school when I don’t need to. Distraction activities are useful for this, but it takes practice and a determined mind to a:) know when your mind has reverted to a school problem and, b:) guide yourself back to just living (and enjoying) the moment. 

 

So in a quirky sense, to be reasonable in my own individual well-being I actually need to start acting unreasonably!

 

Steve

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Synopsis of the Post

  • Being reasonable maintains the status quo.
  • The status quo is not working.
  • Changing the status quo for principalship will take deliberate action – which may upset some people.

 


 

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

This quote perfectly represents what must happen if we are going to change the way principals and other school leaders work. We are going to have to be unreasonable.

Before anyone panics, let’s just unpack this assertion a little.

I have a growing certainty that change in how we lead schools is needed.  I base this belief on regular discussions with colleagues and the reality of my own personal experience. The job as it currently stands is too big/complex. Even the most skillful, dedicated professionals that I know (and they are amazing), are struggling to keep up, and even more so, they are struggling do it sustainably and healthily. If this applied to just a few people, you could argue that individuals vary in their capacity – some are cut out for the gig and others are not. But it’s not a few individuals – it’s most people.

If you doubt this statement, have a quick read of the aptly named Stress and Burnout – New Zealand Primary School Leaders’ Occupational Health and Well-being Survey – 2018  It’s hard to argue with the data!

Which brings us to the ‘status quo’ – a neat little Latin phrase that is at the heart of the issue that faces us if we want to make change. Translated it means, “the existing state of affairs, particularly with regard to social or political issues”. And right there, at the intersection between the status quo and change, is where both the possibility and the difficulty lie.

As mainstream educationalists, we are part of a “system”. A big, politically designed system that was first built in the late 1800s – compulsory schooling. As an example, in  1877 New Zealand made it compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16 to go to school. And guess what, that rule is still just the same today, 142 years later!

142 years . . . and most of the fundamental “rules” are just as they always were . . . that’s a whole mountain of status quo that anyone considering change is going to have to push against.

. . .

The shape of your current job is part of this. For example, if you are a principal, you are probably the only one in your school in this role. Why is that? The job has become exponentially bigger but there’s still only one person doing it.  That doesn’t make logical sense and is perhaps why those of us who do the work, often operate somewhere between busy and almost breaking.

Just as was the status quo nearly 150 years ago, you are responsible for almost every aspect of the smooth running of your school, but what this looks like today has changed out of sight.

There’s also a building tension between how a school performs its core function of educating students and what these students actually need to successfully navigate their world. The outcomes we are looking for are different, but the structure of how a school works hasn’t changed.

The predictable response to these problems from “the system”, is to ask us to do more of the same, but just do it better. This is a key reason why your job continues to grow in size. Every Government initiative, every new health and safety requirement, every push to better train teachers, every changing nuance in the way ‘modern’ parents expect you to do your job, adds to more. But, you’re still only one person.

Let’s use the analogy of the old London Bridge. 150 years ago, it was made of wood and stone and was adequate for the amount of traffic crossing it each day. Over time, the traffic increased so the bridge was rebuilt – in different ways, with evolving materials. This was done many times and the only thing that remained the same was that it got people from one side of the river to the other. The bridge builders adapted the world (the bridge) to the changing needs.

But what if they hadn’t? What if they had just tried to keep doing the same thing in the same way? The bridge would have become massive, inefficient, and eventually broken with the weight of outdated methods and materials. The stranded commuters on either side would not have accepted this. They would have screamed for change.

Well, the educational world has changed at least as much as any outdated transport system, but the shape of your job is still essentially the same. The status quo remains and how you operate is locked into a shape that was largely created for a different world.

You can try and be the “reasonable man” (or woman!) and adapt yourself to the status quo, but before you do that, have a look at the statistics on school leaders’ health, have an honest discussion with your colleagues, have a look in the mirror and talk to those who love you – is trying to bend yourself to fit the current model really OK?

I say emphatically “no”!

It’s just the opposite, we must deliberately redesign the roles we do in ways that allow us to do them with integrity, health and sustainability – we must adapt the world to us. The system won’t want us to initially; there may be tension, people might not understand, but that’s OK. That’s what real change looks like. If you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing anything.

Now is the time to start being “unreasonable”. Now is the time to do things differently. Are you brave enough to try?

Further thinking . . .

If you answer “yes” to the question above;

  • What does ‘unreasonableness’ look like in the context of your role?
  • Will making this choice lead to a conflict with your own personal morals or values?
  • If you have built a career based on reasonableness, over years – what critical shifts will allow you to change?
  • Who are you going to upset? (Because real change requires this.)

We will try to answer these questions in future posts. If you have others that jump out at you, please take a moment to share them through the comments below. The more collaboration we have, the more momentum we have.

Dave

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