Photo by Jess Bailey

 

Simon Sinek, in his 2017 video clip called “Empathy“, makes an important point (among a host of other great thinking) that should resonate with many principals.

Firstly; “You’re not in charge, you’re responsible for those who are in your charge.” He likes this point so much that he says it again; “Great leaders aren’t responsible for the job, they’re responsible for the people responsible for the job.”

 

As a principal, the easiest way to look after the children in our charge (especially if you have a large school with a huge roll), is to look after the teachers responsible for the face to face mahi at the chalk face. One important way to achieve this is to have a very clear understanding of what our teachers are going through. It’s vital to be empathetic about their role.

Primary School Teacher and Kahui Collaborator, Sarah Spittal, wrote a great piece for us called Work Smarter Not Harder – a teacher’s perspective way back in October 2019. So we thought it a good idea to catch up with her and hear how things have been going in her classroom.

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“More than six months on from my previous guest post, and it’s time to take a look at how time has affected the ways that I work and live. But more than just the passing of time really, the affect Covid-19 and a forced break away from the classroom has made for me.

You may remember that I was aiming to work smarter, not harder. I was achieving this through maximising the use of time, not taking work home with me in the evenings, and most importantly, rejecting the mindset that working longer and harder, ticking off every single thing, every single day made me a better teacher.

While lockdown was undoubtedly physically restful, mentally and emotionally it was exhausting. In my case, caring for and home-schooling my own 4 children, while reaching out to and responding to my class was quite the juggle! The line between work life and home life was well and truly blurred to the point of being invisible. This I found hard.

However, there was definitely extra time available to me. I was determined to use this gift of time to grow my skills in Digital Technology. I thought of ways I could make things easier and more enriching in the classroom and created a heap of resources to suit. I’ll admit, I was a bit obsessed and spent long hours on this, but it was OK – because I was excited and passionate about it. I think if you’re lucky enough to feel passionate about your work, it really doesn’t seem like work!

Then came the announcement that we were all heading back to school.  It was actually quite exciting at first! Without a doubt, it was awesome to see my friendly colleagues again and connect face-to-face. We teachers are certainly social creatures! Spirits were high and nobody seemed stressed – He Waka Eke Noa! 

I feel happy at work. Paperwork feels manageable and I feel blessed with the wonderful children I teach. Our principal decided that not only would we not have to back-track and provide written reports for the time spent in lockdown, but we wouldn’t write reports for the whole of Term 2. I think this has made a huge difference to the workload and pressures of us all and I am grateful for this. The well-being of staff and students has been prioritised and as far as I can tell, student learning won’t suffer as a result.

For the most part I’ve upheld my goal of leaving work at work on weekdays. I’ve re-started my sport (roller derby!) and believe the measure of when I’m doing well is when my life feels balanced and I feel happy. Sleep has been well and truly prioritised and I get lots of early nights – the difference to how I feel in the morning is undeniable, as are my energy levels as the week goes on. 

But it’s Week 10 now and I feel like things are beginning to get a little harder. Twelve weeks in a Term is very long – even if 5 of them were spent teaching from home. People are starting to look a bit weary and we are heading into the ‘getting through’ stage of the Term, where we may need to be more careful that we look after ourselves and one another just the little bit more. 

I really hope that the lessons learned in lockdown don’t fade away. That we continue prioritising our health and well-being. That the parts of our job that don’t contribute to or improve student learning are identified and weeded out. And that we remember that no matter how much we enjoy teaching, it is but one part of who we are.  

The biggest take-away for me is to treat every single day as a gift – even Mondays! With the unpredictability of life, I think every day spent earth-side is a good day! And I will endeavour to remember this when I feel myself getting stressed over things that really don’t matter.”

 

Sarah

 

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This week we’d like to introduce  another perspective. The following piece is written by a teacher, Sarah Spittal. Sarah is one of those amazing teachers who appear to have super woman like capabilities. You’ll know the ones I mean; relentlessly passionate about their teaching career, a fabulous asset to your school both in and out of the classroom and at the same time balancing a home life of four kids (one who is still a pre-schooler) and a dedicated husband on shift work. Somewhere in between she fits in her own well-being … somewhere. People look up to Sarah as an inspiration! Hell – I look up to her as an inspiration! But I did wonder how this was all sustainable for her.

So it was with great surprise (and relief) to hear from Sarah when I returned from my sabbatical, that she had decided to make some changes. I came back to school with a whole heap of new thinking as to how I was going to make my job more sustainable. Sarah had been doing her thinking as well, and so I asked her to write down her journey to share with you. Her journey is well worth sharing because her words are relevant to teachers and principals alike.

Steve

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“I’ve been a teacher for many years, and fully understand the demands of the non-contact side of the job – admin, paperwork, student profiles and assessments by the truckload! On the daily! Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, so thank goodness for the late hours, when the kids are all in bed. The only thing THAT impinges upon is sleep – and 6 hours is the same as 8, right? I also work in an amazing school where everyone is as hard-working as me. Everyone takes up extra responsibilities to provide opportunities for the children we teach, everyone goes the extra mile. So great!

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard from a couple of hard-working colleagues that they …..DON’T TAKE WORK HOME. But how?…..seriously, HOW?? With all that needs done?! I’m embarrassed to admit that I wondered whether they were doing everything they should, to the high standard required in a hard-working school such as ours. 

I decided to question them about this further and my only revelation was that they had some sort of separation between home-life and work-life, and the latter was not (to the best of their ability) to infiltrate the former. 

So very idealistic, but achievable? I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that for me, the latter was very definitely infiltrating, invading, affecting and intruding on the former. And I needed to change this, for my own mental health and well-being. I had officially been diagnosed with ‘anxiety’ and I did not wonder why.

I needed to give it a go. With no tools, just an ideal.  I made a few key decisions. 1) I would try, to the best of my ability, not to bring work home after school, 2) It would be OK and I’d still be a good teacher, 3) I would still do all my work to a high standard 4 ) I needed an out – I could go back to the way I was doing things if it didn’t work out. 

I started at the beginning of Term 2. I didn’t bring my usual teacher basket home on the first day. I had a lovely evening with my family and slept well…but knew it was only day one. Then I was three days in, and the basket stayed behind my desk for the night. Before I knew it, I was a week in and wondering how long I could keep it up. All the paperwork was done and the meetings attended. And I was leaving work feeling free each day, rather than wondering when I was going to squeeze in my work between the demands of my 4 kids and the domestic stuff. I even picked up a sport! Something that would tick another box in the well-being department, and something I would never have thought I could possibly have time for previously. 

So what did I change? Small things really – I work through a big chunk of my lunchbreaks, stay focused before and after school, use CRT’s more efficiently, prioritise work etc. I still work for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to help me focus and direct the week. I believe I work smarter, not harder…

But the biggest thing, the ‘secret’ to maintaining this, for me, was to shift my mindset – from believing that longer hours mean I’m hard-working, that bringing work home daily means I’m hard-working, that telling my colleagues how hard I worked the night before is hard-working.  That in fact, the only thing about hard-working by that definition, is that it’s HARD. And I seriously wondered how long I could keep it up, and whether it was worth it!

It is now part-way through Term 3, and I’m keeping it up! I’m proud of myself and would happily challenge anyone who thinks I’m not doing my job well. It’s taken the test of time to be sure. With teachers chucking in the job regularly, due to workload and stress, I am hopeful that the ‘hard-working’ culture shifts soon, that more people make that separation and get their lives and mental health back.”

Sarah Spittal

 

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