The right kind of 10% braver?

I’ve realised that for a long time, I was doing 10% braver all wrong. I’m writing this in case some of you are doing it wrong too, whether you’ve realised it yet or not.

Following the WomenEd hashtag on Twitter and listening to those I respected around me made me feel as though I was only being a strong and courageous woman if I was being 10% braver often. I could only change the world by doing the kind of 10% braver that left me exhausted. Everyone else seemed to be spinning so many plates and contributing so much of themselves to others that I felt I needed to keep up. This says a great deal more about my outlook at the time than it does the community that is WomenEd but there was an aspect of 10% braver that I didn’t hear anyone talking about.

There were good kinds and bad kinds of 10% braver.

There was the kind of 10% braver that others expected of me so I did it without questioning whether it aligned with my own values and moral purpose.

There was the kind of 10% braver that filled me with fear and dread to the very soles of my feet so that I could barely think, act, sleep or function. It was the kind of fear that I told myself I should expect if I was being brave.

There was the kind of 10% braver that left me utterly exhausted at the end of the day, week, month and year as I put in more and more work hours to make up for perceived deficits that I thought only things I was scared of could rescue me from.

There was the kind of 10% braver that made me give all of myself to others, leaving none of it left for my life.

It’s only with time and perspective that I’ve been able to notice this. At the time, I thought I was progressing my career, grasping for my potential that felt ever out of reach, and moving beyond myself and all my perceived areas of weakness; rising above. I proclaimed to everyone that I was being 10% braver and received well wishes and congratulations with women championing me from all corners. I thought that this was feminism. This was belonging. This was progress. This was success.

Was it?

I hid all of the shame, the stress, the not living up to my ‘potential’, and always striving for better when ‘better’ meant taking me further from myself.

In a previous role, I was asked to ‘coach’ a number of colleagues after their ‘developmental’ observations had been deemed inadequate. When I worked with one colleague in particular, she was initially excited about the opportunity and I enjoyed being in her lessons. I practised my self-taught instructional coaching as best I could. She left the organisation. For a long time I owned this as my own failure to coach and to develop another person and so I continued to dig deep and do the job that was asked for me with other colleagues. I perceived this as me being 10% braver at the time; stepping outside of my comfort zone and developing areas I saw as my own weaknesses to make progress and achieve success. It was an even longer time before I realised the reality. Here was a system that was anything but living up to it’s ‘developmental’ label. The coaching stemmed not from a desire for a teacher to improve with the help of a colleague but from a breakdown of communication and a lack of a respectful relationship between the teacher and their manager. The involvement of HR added an obtuse angle of capability that aligned neither with my role nor my soul. It is also obvious now that I look back how many of these teachers were BAME. I was so focused on myself and my own perceived lack of skills and knowledge that I failed to recognise that my 10% braver was facing in entirely the wrong direction. Instead of challenging the system and choosing another path, I was harming both myself and others by stepping so far out of my comfort zone that I was no longer in sight of myself.

I use this example as one of many I could have chosen to share with you. I use it not just as a means of excising some ghosts but also to demonstrate the kind of compromising 10% braver we can persuade ourselves into in the name of anything but a joyful life lived with values and purpose.

I can’t say that I’ll never say yes to something in the name of 10% braver that I really should have said no to but I’m far more aware of the nature of bravery that nourishes me rather than damages me. Let’s take a look at this healthier kind of 10% braver.

A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to running a bookshop in Scotland and living out my dreams.

A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to sit and shake my head on the side of a jetty as my partner leaps into the warm holiday sea before taking a moment, a deep breath, plunging in and doing things in my own way without being unnecessarily reliant on the encouragement and support of others.

A healthy 10% braver leads me to applying for a job I know I will love in an organisation I know I will feel proud to work for even though it means jumping clean off the ladder everyone else set up for me to climb so that I can return to myself.

A healthy 10% braver leads me to suggesting that we shout at the full moon whilst flying along in an open topped car beneath the starry night sky to experience the kind of joy I want to feel more often (would highly recommend by the way!)

A healthy 10% braver leads me to running a workshop at work about diversity because I think it’s a conversation that should take place. I set aside the fear I feel because this is insignificant in the face of the challenging conversation that needs to be had.

It’s also the kind of 10% braver that allows me to take my lunch break, to finish work on time, to focus on one job at a time, to not feel the need to respond to colleagues immediately, to take a walk if my head needs clearing, to set aside thinking time, and to make the right decisions in my working day for my health.

None of these are easy, especially that last one, but I don’t feel the same discomfort I felt when I was living out others’ values and expectations of me. I don’t feel the same sense of unease at departing so far from who I am instead of drawing on my strengths.

Take care not to be fooled into thinking that something that makes you feel good more than it does fearful is not filled with bravery and therefore isn’t worthy of your time or celebration. It takes courage to live your life on purpose and to be true to your values. Far more courage in fact than is needed to live someone else’s life and diminish your own value in the process.

A healthy 10% braver never expects perfection from you. You can demand as much or as little of yourself as you feel capable of at the time. Sometimes the bravest decision is to stop.

A healthy 10% braver may still be accompanied by a voice that says you can’t do this but your values can guide you to a decision that sets aside imposter syndrome and your inner gremlin.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t sap you of your strength. It makes you stronger.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t make you feel as though you’re living someone else’s life. You’re living your life on purpose.

A healthy 10% braver doesn’t feel you with crippling dread. It’ll lead to joy.

Anything that doesn’t is mere imitation. Leave it be. It doesn’t serve you.

#WomenEd Unconference 4

Today’s WomenEd Unconference was to be an event unlike others I’d attended previously. It wouldn’t be my first, I wouldn’t be presenting, I wouldn’t be attending from the perspective of a middle leader in a college. My resulting pledges and response to the day would be very different from previous events.

The start of the day went much as a typical WomenEd event might. I had a smile on my face and felt the warmth of women sharing their ‘so what?’; being open about how they’d learned and grown from their involvement with WomenEd. Their simple yet powerful messages were filled with a new-found sense of belonging, sisterhood, a life they could decide for themselves, brave choices, and permission to accept 98% as enough.

Next was the chance for me to hear from Alison Kriel for the first time. Her keynote did not disappoint as she reflected on her experiences as a black female CEO; sharing experiences with both men and women that had been filled with the kind of prejudice that will have been familiar to many in the audience but that when spoken aloud were enough to elicit shock. She added words from Maya Angelou to messages of her own and transformed them to become messages of collaboration for the day ahead. As someone who makes full use of crying to release emotions, my tear-filled eyes may have just spilled over a tiny little bit. This is known as stage one (?) on the Carly Waterman cryometer scale, I believe.

At previous WomenEd events, I’d had very clear reasons for being there and attended workshops based on that purpose. This time, I arrived late and picked as the session started, changing my mind frequently before finally plumping for a room and dashing in at the last possible moment. My only hope for this year’s event was to surround myself with the honest stories and voices of a diverse range of women and on that count, the day most definitely delivered.

Instead of summarising my learning from each separate workshop, I have chosen to share some of the things I’m left thinking about as a result of all conversations on the day.

Choosing yourself

There were a number of moments throughout the day that addressed the concept of self, values, and what it would mean to choose ourselves. One really useful exercise was included in Jas Dosanjh’s workshop. She asked us to write down all of the roles we played in our lives and place them in order of importance to our sense of self and therefore also how much of ourselves we might be willing to sacrifice to maintain each. For instance, you might have parent at the top, writer second, teacher third, wife/girlfriend fourth, sister, daughter, citizen, neighbour, friend, volunteer and so on. I wrote my list and then had to start over several times. I like to think about these things carefully and will enjoy revisiting my own list as it grows.

As I wrote my list, I really just wanted to place ‘woman’ at the top but saw that no-one else was thinking this way and assumed I must be wrong. If I did my list now, I’d really like to do that. It’s the one role I have in my life where I have no obligation to anyone other than myself and the relationship I have with myself is the one I’ve learned to prioritise as the most important above all other roles I have.

A couple of attendees vocalised that ‘women shouldn’t’ put wife/girlfriend/partner near to the top of the list, instead investing their energies in other places as men come and go (problematically assuming there that we all have male partners). Whilst I would never reject someone else’s reality, we need to take greater caution over our use of language. I believe there to be enough expectations placed on women by society, by the media, by colleagues, by themselves that we don’t need to impose any further shoulds and shouldn’ts on one another. Our own reality, however similar, is never someone else’s and remaining mindful of that will enable us to push for progress as a collective.

I can say, like someone else in the room, that my role as partner is very high on my list. My relationship is a strong source of energy and love. We each have our own lives and identities but have endless reserves of support for one another’s endeavours and therefore it’s a role worth investing my self in. I recognise this will be different for other people; we each have our own set of values and circumstances.

Prioritising the small things

Further in Jas’s workshop, we were asked to state two things that we’d like to achieve before we die – for ourselves – and then consider what was stopping us. I reached my first one pretty quickly but then, having just achieved a long-held ambition to visit Florence, I couldn’t think of a second. Janice, sat on my table, spoke passionately about a walk of a lifetime to Santiago de Compostela she’d wanted to do. I think this kind of adventure needs some serious exploring and it occurred to me that such a journey might make a perfect WomenEd holiday. Ladies?!

In another workshop, conversations around wellbeing and quality of life emerged. I’ve recognised in recent months that it’s actually not the great lifetime achievements and successes that bring me joy. Much of what I’ve been led to believe in the past is that climbing the ladder of leadership, achieving big success, and grand experiences were the path I should be on. I could only be a good woman and feminist if I ‘had it all’, if I ‘did it all’, and if I could speak at conferences about how I had ‘worked hard to achieve it all’.

Today confronted me with this truth I’d been led to believe. In the last 12 months, I’ve been gradually dismantling that truth as I stepped out of a life that was draining me of myself and into a non-leadership position where I’m well on the way to finding me.

  • I’ve learned strategies to counteract my inner gremlin telling me I’m not good enough.
  • I’ve adjusted the distant boundaries I had that meant I was saying yes to everything and everyone above saying yes to me
  • I’ve given myself permission to engage in self-care that tops up my energy and allows me to experience and notice the present

I’ve decided I’ll write in full about self-care soon but I will share that the start of this journey was to recognise the positive knock-on effect self-care had on me. This enabled me to notice when it wasn’t happening and choose differently. I recently started to get into a bad habit with breakfast. I was eating it before work whilst checking emails. I’d fooled myself into thinking that at least I was having breakfast and it allowed me to ease into work but all it did was allow work to encroach on the time that should have been mine and made my day longer than it should have been. I’ve started to make sure I eat my breakfast elsewhere with a book. It seems like an incredibly small thing but it means I’m starting every day by choosing me. I’m now holding myself to account with breaks, lunch and finish time in similar ways.

The days when things don’t quite go to plan are the days when I’m practising forgiveness. The other days this inevitably goes out of the window are the days when I’m in the office; it’s so much harder to maintain a habit I know is good for me if my colleagues aren’t doing the same. My next challenge will be to continue these habits when I’m in the office.

Flexible working options benefit everyone

In conversations that emerged about flexible working throughout the day, I began to recognise the benefits that exist for everyone if a school can wholly embrace flexible working. It opens up the realm of the ‘possible’. My current workplace is supportive of working patterns and approaches that suit the individual as well as the organisation whether that be in hours, location, days of the week, or contract. I appreciate the lucky position that allows me to be in but some of the experiences shared by attendees today indicate that schools are well on the journey to doing and being better. There’s clearly a long way left to go before parents of any gender have all the options they might need in order to find the right balance for them and their families yet it was encouraging to hear from women who had successfully found a way to manage motherhood and work in a way that suited them in workplaces that support them.

The only part of these conversations that are niggling still is the the route of ‘having it all’. This phrase remains a dangerous one for women and society. Dr Mary Berry’s adage, ‘If you want it’ remains a useful one that adds context and whilst I’m far from a expert in this area, I still find it a problematic concept for multiple reasons. Instead of having the life they want, ‘having it all’ insinuates that a woman must have the full-time job (and do it successfully), that she must bring up the children and take on the lion’s share of care and organisation in this area. Perhaps it is the only reality women will ever get to experience and I recognise it as the reality for many women I know but I refuse to believe that we can’t fight for more than that through flexible working that adequately recognises and encourages a man’s role as a parent too. I also recognise that for some women, there is no choice as to whether or not they have it all. They’re forced to choose one or another because of money, or personal circumstances… and what of those women who choose to solely parent? We should support that choice as much as anyone else’s. Fighting for equality means fighting for choice. Fighting for women to decide the way their life looks as much as physically possible.

Today was my first conference attendance in quite some time. Sunday will be a day of rest to energise ahead of the challenges of the coming week. I’m looking forward to watching the recordings of some of the sessions I missed at some point and catching up on other people’s experience of the day. In the meantime, I’ll be making some pledges that prioritise me as a human first so that I can bring the very best of myself to all parts of my life.

My pledges – the two to continue

Continue with the journey my friends affectionately refer to as my retirement (albeit a rather productive and frenetic one right now). It’s allowing me to connect with my values, my truth, and my self; enjoying the moment, the small things and finding joy.

Continue to support #BAMEed by being part of their steering group. I’ll be blogging about the importance of this work soon.

My pledges – the new one to think about

Attending conferences always comes with nerves as I attempt to overcome my natural introversion and the fact that I don’t actually know anyone that well, beyond the odd tweet now and again. I heard an attendee ask another why they were so quiet and shy; suggesting confidence coaching. I don’t see shyness, introversion, or a quiet and reflective quality as a deficit to be fixed.

I’d like to explore ways in which we could support one another ahead of these events. For instance, meeting up at the start of the day, perhaps messaging in advance to get to know each other so we have some faces to at least say hello and a few words to. Finding introvert-friendly gaps so that we can escape the switched-on-ness of the day and find space to recharge. In the spirit of today, if anyone would like to collaborate on generating some ideas and making it happen then I’d absolutely love to work with you on it.

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Crush Your Gremlin #WomenEd

A few months ago, I’d seen the advert online for WomenEd looking for workshop facilitators. I flagged the form for that evening, resolving that I would register and move from TeachMeets to a workshop attended by hopefully more than four people (as my first national conference delivering on ‘making the most of meetings’ had been). It would be a test for me and the 10% braver I needed.

A day from hell ensued and by the time I sat down to the form in the evening, there was no way I could do this. Who was I kidding? What would I have to share with anyone?

By the end of the week and after a session of coaching (arranged through WomenEd), I submitted my form a little after the deadline and this would be my topic. I did have something to share – I would share my journey towards taming my critical inner voice.

But there were months to go yet. My inner voice told me that no-one else shared my journey. They all had this mastered and what did I really have to share? I hadn’t totally conquered it and there were occasions when it was most definitely still getting the better of me.

But here I was because when you make a pledge to 10% braver, you can’t go back on it. Especially as my name was now in black and white on the programme.

Fear lead me to several weeks of me promising to write my presentation and failing to do so; leaving it all until last minute and then changing it all again 48 hours before because I’d had some better ideas, inspired by Naomi Ward.

My workshop began with participants filling out their sticky note of what had made them proud that day and eating a sweet. I wanted to begin the workshop in a positive way. I also allowed time for them to share why they wanted to be at the workshop. I had planned to preface this with a hope that they hadn’t ended up in mine as a last resort because none of their favoured options had spaces left but as mine was one of the full workshops, I knew this wouldn’t have been the case. Hurrah!

I then shared what participants could expect from the workshop and here’s what you can expect from this blog – lots of ideas, not all the answers. Elements of experimentation and I would be sharing my journey. I had heard other women during the day apologising for sharing the personal journeys, stories and perspectives. But how can we share anything else? I’d find it pretty hard to share someone else’s journey and whilst this presentation didn’t share much research or data for people to grapple with, it did share my truth.

In exploring issues around what holds women back, it’s important that we don’t neglect to consider the important part we may be playing in our own sabotage.

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Click here to read the full speech containing the above quote from Meryl Streep.

I then asked all participants to sketch an object that would sum up who they were. We’d be returning to it later. I shared that mine had emerged as a sunshine over time and I had turned it into a motif I could use to give me strength when I needed it the most.

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I began to share how my journey into leadership had progressed. This gif seemed to sum it up perfectly…

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Early on in my leadership journey, I had read this in an ‘Insights’ report about myself –

‘She may underestimate herself and either takes anything she does well for granted, or regards it as no great achievement at all.’

This statement had resonated with me. It felt true and I recognised where it had appeared in my life until this point. The issue was that I took it so to heart that I became fixed mindset about it and saw it as unchangeable aspect of my own personality. I soon learned this wouldn’t be the way to view my critical inner voice but in the meantime, I did the following things-

Ignored the problem and hoped it might go away of its own accord-

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Berated myself; believing that I was the only one experiencing this problem-

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And that’s where part of the issue lies. We all wander around believing that we’re the only ones who experience a negative inner voice… but more of that later.

I then shared three of the approaches my old manager, Graeme Hathaway had been able to share with me.

Recognising Impact

Part of the battle in the shift from teaching to leadership is that your impact is not quite as visible and immediate and I was struggling with this. One approach is to consider an action you’ve made and begin to observe it as a ripple moving out from that moment and the sphere of influence it has led to.

Daily Affirmations

There’s a great deal to be learned from this little lady about how to start a day right. Daily affirmations work by helping to remind you every day of your strengths. Your values. The things you will prioritise. Shape your own 3-4 statements to begin with and see how you get on with these.

Celebrating Successes

At the end of every day, I would write down 5 successes, however small. Graeme would write his down too to establish the habit, there was some accountability there. There are plenty of journals and diaries out there that can prompt you to do just this. The advantage is to seek the positive in every day, no matter how bad it has felt.

My favourites are these Inner Truth journals (available on Amazon).

After sharing these 3 strategies, I also shared how WomenEd #10%braver had helped me to take those small steps to be bold, brave and see how my confidence was positively affected. When it went well, my critical inner voice was nowhere to be found. When it didn’t, well… my gremlin was to be found everywhere.

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I knew that I needed to tackle this at a deeper level and that’s where my coach, Naomi Ward, comes in. From a recent session with her, I was able to form 3 guiding principles of gremlins to share at this workshop-

  1. Your gremlin’s voice is not yours. It’s not even a part of yours.
  2. Your true voice is of value and deserves to be heard.
  3. Imagine what you could achieve if your gremlin’s voice could no longer be heard?

A Twitter poll I shared in the days leading up to the conference made it clear that it wasn’t just me who was tempted to listen to my critical inner voice. Whilst not everyone who answered the 1st question answered the second, it gives some indication of how frequently we might be giving our gremlin more airtime than it deserves-

One other aspect of women holding themselves back, is frequently referenced by members of the WomenEd community – Imposter Syndrome. I shared my belief that this is driven very much by our gremlins as it is by other social constructs that exists for us. Our gremlins often mean we put other people on a pedestal; we believe them to possess all of the skills, knowledge and qualities we don’t.

The School of Life’s book, On Confidence, has a chapter dedicated to Imposter Syndrome and this is a quote from it-

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Once the room agreed they were ready to move into crushing their gremlin, I revealed the first part of my workshop title by playing a clip from Bridget Jones and asking a couple of questions –

What does Bridget reveal about her inner voice? and How does it affect her relationship with Mr D’Arcy?

The room concluded that she deflected the compliments and it was clear she had built up some defences based on her perception of herself, or at least the one informed by her gremlin. One participant made a great contribution in that it’s actually rude for us to behave in a way that deflects other people’s compliments or praise of us. Are we suggesting that people we like and respect are incorrect? Are we so arrogant that we really know better than everyone else?

We then worked through stages of a reflective activity that involved individual reflection and paired discussions at points-

  • Visualise a recent time when your gremlin was present and prevented you from doing something you wanted to do.
  • What things does your gremlin say to you?
  • What did the gremlin look like?
  • Where was the gremlin positioned?
  • How did the gremlin make you feel?
  • What did your gremlin stop you from doing?
  • What evidence do you have that the gremlin’s voice was accurate?
  • What was your own voice saying to the gremlin?
  • How would it have felt to do what you wanted to do instead of giving in to your gremlin?

Now was the point at which we returned to our image created at the start of the session. We fleshed it out a little more; noting down how it embodies our voice and values. I then asked participants to consider-

  • What would your object do to crush your gremlin?

I was then about to take a risk and hope that the room was with me. I had forgotten the tape I was going to bring to make a line on the floor so instead we used the doorway.

I stepped through the door and told them what awaited. Their values. Their true voice. Freedom from their gremlin. When they were ready, they were to join me on the other side of the door, which I promised was a totally awesome space. Luckily, everyone came through and I could sense the smiles on some of the faces around me as they stepped into this space.

I shared how since being introduced to this strategy by Naomi on Thursday, I had searched for lines I could cross during my day. I now already look forward to stepping over the top step at the train station I use every day, walking into my office and other rooms in my workplace. It’s a way of me noticing how my gremlin is speaking to me and allows me to press reset. Before my workshop, I had a wander around to find suitable lines I could cross over to feel free of my gremlin as I knew I’d need this to counter the nerves that inevitably accompany the facilitation of a workshop for the first time.

Then came the challenge of encouraging the group to go back into the space where we’d just left our gremlins…

Once we were back, we explored how actually having a greater awareness of other people’s struggle with their gremlins might help us with our own. WomenEd is an incredibly inclusive community of people that allows everyone to share their stories with one another but I still felt we could do more to share the truth of success and the gremlins involved.


I challenged everyone in the room to go away and write a letter to me that I could share more widely via my blog. A letter because the art of letter writing is lost, and it would be a letter that could-

Remove the gremlin’s power for women everywhere.

Click here for the letter template

Send to: Hannah Tyreman, The Sheffield College, Granville Road, Sheffield, S2 2RL

The workshop ended with Billy Joel’s lyrics, some of which have helped me to accept my strengths and myself just the way I am. In the world of education, eternally driven by what’s next and what else is going to be improved of developed, it’s not easy to achieve.

As we listened to the song, participants shared pledges and I handed out their workbooks and letter headers to take away. You can find all links to resources used in the workshop and those for further exploration here. I will also be adding those recommended by workshop participants too –

https://www.smore.com/432rc

Was my gremlin heard during the workshop? Absolutely! Did I step over a line to escape the voice numerous times during the workshop? Absolutely! Was it rather loud a few hours ago once the workshop had ended about what I could and should have changed about the workshop? Absolutely! I chose nice food and a Lush bath bomb instead. A future day will allow me to consider with logic and perspective what could have made my workshop better should I choose to run one again in the future but for now I would celebrate –

  • I had managed to get the workshop together after leaving it until last minute.
  • I had been 10% braver.
  • I had facilitated a packed workshop to 29 participants, many of whom have now made year long pledges to tackle their inner gremlin as part of the closing call to action for the day.
  • Other participants spoke to me afterwards and tweeted out what they had gained.
  • I am immensely proud of myself for being bold for both myself and others.

I hope that I receive some letters so that I can begin to share stories of conquering our gremlins. I hope that all participants commit to their pledge and we can stop allowing our inner gremlin to hold us back from smashing ceilings and being our authentic selves.

Teacher Wellbeing – Day 2

After Day 1 of this wellbeing CPD, offered by The Chartered College, I was really excited to meet up with everyone again, spend a day talking about wellbeing and hearing how everyone’s interventions had gone. On day 1, we explored what we meant by wellbeing a little, spoke about stress and anxiety before we ventured into exploring what our wellbeing intervention back in our own contexts might be. If you missed it, you can read about day 1 here.

We were introduced to a great deal on day 1 so I knew that day 2 was likely to provide some all important space for us to reflect (one of many things that’s invariably missing from a busy educator’s week and indeed, most CPD programmes).

Data as Truth

After a short introduction from Tim (@Doctob) and Dennis, we set about considering the importance of being more critical about data we’re presented with. What does it actually mean? Has it been manipulated? What are we really looking at? Does it really say what others have concluded it has? I believe that Tom Bennett (@TomBennett71) and the ResearchEd (@ResearchEd1) crowd would have been pleased at teacher CPD containing this call for a more discerning look at ‘evidence’.

The figures that sparked the discussion were these ‘measures of national well-being‘ that indicate an increase in ‘trust in government’ for instance (?!) and a decrease in ‘difficulty managing financially’ (?!).

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https://www.ons.gov.uk/visualisations/dvc364/dashboard/index.html

A couple of questions we might ask of this data was:

  • How representative is the sample? Who was asked and what are their contexts?
  • The data indicates the % of people who think their wellbeing is better but this is surely relative? We recognise that wellbeing is not clearly defined nor shared across groups of people – it’s an incredibly personal concept so wouldn’t you think it better if one year you were dealing with a serious personal trauma and the following year, things improved? How could this be reasonably compared to someone moving from one job to a more stressful one?

These questions and their answers wouldn’t necessarily mean that we dismiss the findings of this research altogether; but we were encouraged to be more wary of any research that presents itself as THE truth. It’s merely A truth and perhaps not an especially reliable one at that.

This discussion lead to one about measures we use in our own roles and how helpful these are. We may often present parents and students with THE truth- you’re working at level 4. ‘Actually, no. I don’t really know what that means and I don’t really know how to explain it to you but it’s a judgement I’ve been required to make.’ In an education system with grades holding such weight, students will always be working at or towards something. As teachers, it’s demanded of us that we keep pace with ever-changing measures, criteria, expectations – we then have to apply these measures to students with little clarity about what we’re measuring. I was left wondering how detrimental this lack of clarity and compromise of our values might be to our wellbeing over time…

Is teacher wellbeing really unique?

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Image available from here

After Tim and Dennis left this grenade of ‘using data as truth’ and ‘measures as truth’ for us to contemplate further, they set off another one-

Assuming teachers’ wellbeing is different to that in other professions, what is it that makes it distinct?

Well, that generated some discussion! Whilst we had touched upon this on Day 1, it was here that we explored it in greater depth.

Amidst my recovery from the morning’s travel sickness, I somehow managed to scribble down an entire A4 sheet of possibilities and thoughts that captured the majority of discussion had in the room-

  • The extent of comparison and benchmarking and the level of competition this creates
  • Ongoing scrutiny and hyper-accountability
  • Low levels of trust
  • The complexity of and speed with which information is having to be dealt with during a small space of lesson (during a lesson specifically)
  • Heavy responsibility- for the moral, social, emotional, cultural, spiritual, physical and cognitive development of a child…. Or up to 200 children at any one time.
  • Continual proving of our impact
  • A lack of shared responsibility amongst colleagues
  • There’s a requirement for us to be highly resilient due to the nature of the job.
  • The emotional labour involved in the job- there is a need for us to self-regulate our emotions
  • We’re rarely adequately equipped (internal and external resources) for the job we’re expected to do but we still have to carry on doing it regardless
  • Our sense of agency has been reduced over time, we’ve lost ‘control’
  • We suffer from decision-making fatigue
  • The number of initiatives and directives has resulted in a generation of teachers who are unable to think for themselves
  • An attack on professionalism
  • We’re never allowed to be in a state of ‘not knowing’

We considered the extent to which other professionals might experience these things and we recognised, as expected, a number of commonalities with other professions for each of the things on the list. Not least of all the high levels of stress likely within health professions. Just the fact this research exists into how the helping professions can develop their emotional resilience indicates there may be something in common where wellbeing is concerned – CLICK HERE to read.

Nurses having to cover several wards with numerous patients, all presenting with different needs. Their job is to meet these needs whilst also competing against the pressures of reduced funding and fewer staff and the heavy demand on the service and beds.

Paramedics having to respond to situations and take on board lots of information quickly, adapting to the individual(s) and context they have suddenly found themselves in. Having gone through high levels of stress, they would then drop them off in the hospital often with little satisfaction and a feeling of, ‘Did my work have any impact on that person?’

Whilst there were obvious correlations in what causes teachers’ stress with health professionals, there are other professions where stress would be high-

Architects having to please all of the stakeholders’ ever-changing expectations and needs in a fluctuating budget. Having to deal with sensitive conversations and egos whilst also finding space for their own creativity and expertise so that their own values weren’t being continually compromised. Often never getting to view the finished ‘product’, perhaps only ever getting to see the unfinished shell before the project is classed as ‘completed’ (Based on a random conversation I had a couple of years ago with an architect whilst we were delayed on a train between Didcot and Reading one morning).

It’s clear to me that any job at all has the potential to have a negative influence on our wellbeing but stress does seem to be high in the teaching profession so do we all just lack the internal resources and resilience to deal with the negative influences on our wellbeing or is it more than this?

After further discussion, I reached the conclusion that, if the wellbeing of teachers was to be seen as unique then it would perhaps be the ‘fuster-cluck’ (@LeadingLearner) of a whole host of factors affecting wellbeing negatively convening in one place . Whilst each of the following factors can apply to other professionals, the collective influence of all of these factors may set teaching out as unique (although I’m not left entirely convinced that it is)-

  • Generosity Burnout – educators give a great deal of themselves to others- parents, students and colleagues without topping themselves up sufficiently in between.
  • Our desire for job satisfaction is high (a number of us had discovered this through our research) but the job is never done and there are always things to develop further.
  • The pace of new initiatives thrown our way (without consultation) that we then become accountable for, yet are given little support and time to adapt to.
  • Absolutely everyone has an opinion about education and what ‘good’ looks like and so we experience continual criticism from all angles.
  • The job involves a high level of planning– we don’t just have to ‘do‘ our job but we have to plan for it, reflect on it and continue to plan. Many other professions get to just ‘do’.

One additional thought I’ve considered as I write is the negative impact the holidays might have on teachers’ wellbeing. Hear me out here…

Teachers know that they get to have a ‘break’ in 6 or 7 weeks time. It’s a milestone for them to work towards, plan for and enjoy. It does mean, though, that they may ‘save up’ all of their relaxation, down time, time with friends and family, hobbies, and exercise for these moments. They work so relentlessly hard in the weeks leading up to it and the pace of workload is so high that the holiday becomes more recovery time than the restorative break it should be. Perhaps leaders in schools and Colleges could be doing more to ease the pressure and workload so that terms don’t feel like such a relentless slog and a countdown to the holidays.

So all of these factors can make the profession one of high stress and many of them link to workload and external pressures but I believe we still hold part of the solution too. What potential for change is created by us questioning more of the work sent our way? What potential is there to ease the pressures in initiatives that seek to find the joy in our work? Yes, there’s a decrease in the sense of agency we feel in the profession at present but I don’t think a search for better wellbeing is a hopeless one.

The flip side of wellbeing

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Image available from here

Whilst there is so much focus placed on how being in the teaching profession can negatively impact our wellbeing, I feel that there is a need to recognise that, at the same time as all of these stressors, the job of teaching (in the right circumstances) has the potential to offer the perfect combination of factors to positively affect wellbeing too-

  • The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues
  • Ongoing learning opportunities
  • A supportive community
  • The strong satisfaction and meaning added to our life when our students go on a journey…

So whilst our wellbeing may be affected uniquely in a negative way, it may also be just as unique in how it is positively affected.

 

Resilience

Tim spoke of espoused values. Many of us can articulate to others what our values for. What we stand for,. What’s important.

But… How are these lived out? What do they look like day-to-day?

If our lived out experiences are undermining our espoused values then there’s a mis-alignment that can greatly damage our resilience. I’ve found this a useful free tool to explore the alignment of my values-

https://www.mapwellbeing.com/

Our ability to bounce back when our values are undermined or when we experience setbacks has become a part of the modern conscience. Whilst ‘resilience’ is bandied about freely, is it truly understood?

Sometimes you’re up. Sometimes you’re down. Get your head in the right place, look around… 

The Happiness Hypothesis was shared as a reading recommendation for us with an interesting chapter about adversity and resilience. We can only become properly resilient when we experience adversity for ourselves. We think we’ve experienced it and then we finally do. We may not be able to bounce back immediately, but we may have developed all the inner resources needed to bounce back longer term.

As if these two days of CPD, with research in between, hadn’t been god enough already, Tim went and read us a story. And Dr Seuss no less.

This is nowhere near as good but as none of us filmed our reading, this will have to do…

Resilience is an acceptance that things don’t work out all the time but that we have responsibility for how we respond and relentless optimism is possible. People who lack resilience can get stuck in behaviours for some time and as Dr Seuss tells us, ‘Unslumping yourself is not easily done‘. 

When we are struck with adversity, we should ask- ‘If it was different, what would it be like?’ Well, It can be different. Different is possible. Our wellbeing is within our control.

Wellbeing Interventions

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Image available from here

Throughout the day, we were all able to share our wellbeing interventions and how they had gone. I have chosen to write a longer piece about mine that will be shared soon. What follows are my reflections on what colleagues shared. Full summaries of the research will be officially published by The Chartered College (@CharteredColl) in September.


Could CPD hold the answer?

A number of colleagues shared interventions, such as lesson study, that seemed to affect wellbeing positively. Participants in on intervention (Alison) shared that they had felt greater motivation, confidence, feeling valued and job satisfaction. They appreciated the time to fully engage with CPD, felt a greater confidence to experiment, and crucially they felt less isolated in their practice. Within the groups and teams where there was already a higher level of trust and staff felt comfortable with one another, there was a greater impact on colleagues’ autonomy and risk taking. It was clear that group dynamics and team ethos is a vital platform from which to build effective CPD. This clearly aligns with what we know about what makes a good professional learning culture – CLICK HERE to read a write-up of a workshop about professional learning from Bridget Clay.

Other participants reflected on how making time for CPD was vital; protected time, without fear of other activities encroaching on their learning. This kind of investment lead to feelings of feeling valued that are difficult to rival in any other way.


Should we focus our efforts on reducing workload?

A number of interventions were shared that sought to reduce workload. Wendy had involved colleagues in this approach at her school; asking them to consider what they were spending their time on and what the impact was of each activity, whether low, medium or high. Moves were made to question approaches to homework feedback and involvement in extra-curricular activities. Positive solutions were found and I was impressed with the collaboration and speed with which these changes were achieved. Even the smallest of changes can have an incremental effect.


Is it about explicit permission?

A number of the interventions shared were designed to encourage staff to engage in exercises of self-care and commit to activities that would positively impact their wellbeing. Whilst many of us know that we need to engage in things outside of work, it’s difficult to commit when there are competing pressures of marking, planning, and meeting students’ needs. Many educators speak of the guilt experienced when they’re not on top of their workload. What I learned from colleagues sharing their interventions was that an ‘explicit permission’ to put themselves first, often granted by members of the leadership team, could make all the difference. From staff selecting their own, personalised activity, to time off to start late or leave early, the main part is that leaders created an ethos void of guilt. 


What’s at the heart of these initiatives?

In addition to the above, other participants shared Cake Monday, Music Friday and Cycle Saturday, reducing emails, a weekly focus on the positives, and non-threatening conversations about challenging learners with staff and trained professionals- How are you managing the child and how do you feel?– generating a supportive culture of powerful listening.

One thing all of the initiatives shared have in common is the clear message they communicate- ‘We care about your wellbeing.‘ All participants seemed not to be motivated by exploring wellbeing because it might help each school or college to achieve better outcomes for students, but because they came from a place of genuine compassion for colleagues.

 

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This two day programme was one of the most valuable pieces of CPD I’ve engaged in since beginning my teaching career 8 years ago. You’ll be able to read more about its impact when I share how my intervention went.

  • The programme was facilitated by experts and not one but two complimentary voices that provided different perspectives.
  • We were encouraged to explore evidence and research to inform our practice but to approach it with a critical eye.
  • We engaged in our own research too meaning that some level of impact was achieved and so the investment of time was worth something more than a ‘pleasant day out’.
  • Reflection was prioritised so that all of the attendees (primary, secondary, grammar, independent, further education, SEND and alternative provision) each had multiple opportunities to make learning meaningful and relevant for their own contexts.
  • We were continually exposed to a variety of different avenues to explore further and I can certainly say that this CPD has left me curious to learn more. I
  • t’s great to know that our explorations will all be shared with others via The Chartered College too.

Each of us left knowing that our journey in wellbeing had only just begun and should you get the opportunity to attend this programme for yourself in the future (I believe there are plans to run it again) then I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

Meetings Kits

Earlier on this year, as I sat twiddling my thumbs and checking my emails in yet another meeting, I began to wonder if there was another way. The problems with meetings are variable and for me, can be summed up with a few Dilbert cartoons:

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Once I entered management, I soon realised the way in which meetings would rule my life; forcing to the edges the ‘spare’ time I had to act on whatever emerged from a meeting. Ahead of my recent #ukfechat conference workshop, I ran a poll on Twitter to see how many hours education leaders spent in meetings- I soon realised that the upper limit of 150+ was a little low, with a number of College principals citing a number closer to 700 hours each academic year:

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Although I’d love for the answer to this ‘epidemic’ just to be: ‘reduce the number of meetings!’, I recognise the reality is more complex than that. With many of us, especially in FE colleges, now working in larger organisations spread across a number of campuses and in some cases spread across counties, there is a clear need for meetings to take place. So if their number can’t reasonably reduce then they must add more value than they currently do. If their sole purpose and focus remains to share key messages and information or check on progress then that’s not value enough in my book. Before any meeting, we must ask,

‘How will our time together today lead directly to impact on the organisation AND reduce rather than add to colleagues’ workloads?’

My three biggest frustrations with meetings emerged as:

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  1. Why don’t meetings enable me to share my ideas? Why aren’t they a soundboard for me to see what colleagues think- in a safe, honest and supportive environment? Working in the way I do, I could really do with their input but I don’t want to be adding yet another meeting to their already busy weeks.
  2. Why don’t meetings connect me to others? Why aren’t I learning from others’ expertise? Why am I having to grab a few words with each of them as I enter or leave a meeting? As a new leader, I could really do with having stronger connections.
  3. Why don’t meetings help me to get work done? Why do they always generate more work and make me feel like I’ve lost time that I’ll never get back? A cancelled meeting = sheer relief.

I began to gather lots of ideas together from my own meetings, from teaching practice, from other leaders, from other organisations and from what I felt would work. This resulted in the epic making the most of meetings post. I then worked with a couple of Deputy Heads of Learning who were working to put more Teaching & Learning into their meetings. I left them with a small basket of goodies and a list of suggestions about how the work we had started could continue into their future meetings. I then realised I might actually be onto something and so a trip to Wilkinsons and Poundland took place (other cheap stores will work just as well…). The meetings kit was born:

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Each of the objects had been labelled with some ideas for their use and a set of instructions was printed:

Welcome to your ‘Making the Most of Meetings’ kit!

Why have you been sent this kit? In a world where meetings are a commonplace occurrence, it makes sense that we make the most of the time we have with colleagues.

  • Why are you having a meeting?
  • What do you want the output to be?
  • What might be the best way to achieve that, whilst also hopefully boosting staff morale and confidence?

This kit may challenge how you currently run your meetings or it may complement what you already do. Whichever one applies to you, the hope is that this kit can inject a little bit of fun, engagement, creativity, collaboration and productivity into your meetings because I believe that time together in a meeting is far too precious to waste on fixed agendas, presentations and the giving of information.

Your mission is to use (at least) one object/ idea contained inside this box in your next meeting. That meeting could be a 1-1, a team meeting, or a meeting with a selection of colleagues.

Each of these items has a label attached with some ideas for how you might choose to use it. Once you’ve ‘completed’ your challenge, you must do each of the following:

  • Complete the meetings log
  • Add to the labels if you’ve used items in different ways to those suggested
  • Replace any of the items you’ve used if necessary
  • Add any additional ideas/items to the box as you wish

Your final task is to decide which of your colleagues will be the next recipient. Seal the box well, ensure there’s a warning about ‘handling with care’ visible, and add the next recipient’s name to the address label, before dropping the box off at your College campus post room!

It was placed in our College post room and addressed to the first recipient. For the new academic year (17-18), teams can book the kit for use with their team and today saw me receive the first request for the box.

The objects selected were as follows, although you don’t necessarily have to select the same things. Most are prompts for running a meeting in a way that maximises impact on attendees rather than things I expect managers to be waving around (mainly because I know they’re not all quite like me!)

 

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My hope is that the meetings kit will bring the good stuff within reach and will meet each of my ‘successful six’ for meetings:

1- Challenging the 1 hour meeting paradigm– just because your calendar defaults to 1 hour slots doesn’t mean that you have to follow it. How about setting the length of a meeting based on the activities- if they will only take 20 minutes, 45 minutes or 56 minutes then set your meeting for that amount of time?

2- Challenging collective decision making as well as ‘silence is agreement’– If you wait until 100% of those involved have reached a consensus about the next step to take then you’ll be in meetings until the thing you’re attempting to fix has either blown up in your face or is no longer an issue. How about making like Google and Ideo and embracing small-scale experiments and iteration instead?

The opposite side of this is assuming that because everyone in the room is silent, they agree with your suggestion and you can push on with it: this will lead to a meetings culture where people will stop contributing altogether because they recognise their input isn’t of value. How about creating a climate of trust that values the input, and perhaps more importantly- feedback- of others- every time?

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3- Challenging the favouring of extroversion- Meetings are set-up with extroverts in mind: agendas are shared with only hours to spare and the loudest voices are given the longest air time. How about arranging time for reflection prior to meetings and activities during the meeting that will allow everyone to contribute as they see fit?

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4- Challenging knavish behaviour (saving face)– It wasn’t long before I felt I’d over-shared in a meeting; been a little too honest about how things were going. I soon realised that meetings were spaces for people to share what was going well and what actions they were taking-they weren’t to be productive or confidence-boosting for me. How about creating space for sharing challenges being faced and crowd-sourcing solutions instead?

5- Challenging the race to action– Meetings are all about the minutes and the resulting actions. A meeting is seen as a waste of time if it doesn’t generate actions; something for everyone to go off and do. How about a meeting where the actions are accomplished then and there and the action record is merely a record of problems solved and actions taken collectively during the meeting?

6- Challenging information transmission– Meetings generally consist of people sharing updates with one another- they become an overload of information, handouts and actions with very little time for reflection, let alone implementation. How about a meeting where information is shared prior to the meeting (or during it) but there are a variety of discussion and assessment activities set-up so that everyone leaves being on board and feeling clear about their role in the initiative.

Although there are objects in the box that will serve as reminders to you and meetings participants that you’re choosing to do things differently, the following ideas might help, in more practical ways-

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In case you haven’t quite got it yet…

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Making the Most of Meetings

Ever had that broken record feeling to life’s conversations? Colleagues (often the same ones) tell me, ‘I’ve just wasted half my day in meetings.’ ‘I’ve been in back-to-back meetings.’ ‘Well, that meeting was a complete waste of time.’ If you work in a ‘leadership’ role in education, especially of the further variety, then I’m certain this scenario will be far from unfamiliar to you. The worst meeting can feel like an insult:

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1 Year in…reflections

It’s almost 1 year into my leadership journey and I feel that calls for a reflective blog. Or perhaps the real reasons are that I had an end of transformational leaders programme presentation to prepare for last Friday and final reflections with my coach tomorrow?

I was incredibly nervous about my presentation to fellow leaders. I have always struggled to see the positive in what I do. This is something I am becoming better at and it’s difficult to know who to blame; it almost certainly can be attributed to the complete lack of belief in my abilities displayed by many of my school teachers but  ultimately, there’s only me who can change it now. I did manage to get through the whole presentation without tears and I’m pretty proud of that!

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Paul Grainger- Leading in Volatile Times

Uplifting messages

In times like these, it’s very easy to feel angry or despondent or both all at once along with a dash of murderous intent. A recent talk at College as part of our transformational leaders programme served to counteract these feelings somewhat. The work of Paul Grainger, from the Institute of Education, went a great deal of the way towards injecting some well-needed positivity.

We are a sector that, if you know us at all, do things because they’re right and not because they’re profitable. This is made more challenging when faced with cuts to funding year after year. Doing more for less leads to surviving rather than thriving. The pressure to make money does not sit comfortably with improving the lives of learners and providing opportunities where all other doors have been closed.

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Easter Reflections

On return to work tomorrow, I’ll be asking my learners to complete some short reflections on their Easter revision. We’ll discuss the other things they got up to but we need to evaluate our next steps in the weeks leading to their exams.

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My Management Journey Begins Here

I remember my first year in teaching very well indeed; it was filled with mistakes brought about by fear. I was a very worried fish out of water.

After my first term in a new role at College, those nervous gasps for air and flailing of my fins are once more, all too familiar for me.

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Who am I? Am I who I think I am?

These were the questions I scrawled on a ‘what do you want to learn from today’s CPD session’ starter activity. Fairly philosophical questions, as questions go. I think if any of my students stated these as questions for any one of my lessons… I’d probably have to admit defeat! Fortunately, this particular CPD session would be helping me to address this question and I didn’t get full answers but, in short, if you don’t want to read on- complex and yes…I think!

Continue reading “Who am I? Am I who I think I am?”