As a coach, I trust myself to be able to create the type of 1:1 spaces where it is safe for the soul to be seen.
Spaces where School Leaders can come out from behind their leadership masks and explore what it means to live lives of authenticity and integrity, amidst the challenges and complexities of day to day school life.
However, in hosting the ‘Education for the Soul’ Conference, I faced a new challenge.
Could a ‘conference’ setting replicate a place of safety for the deep work of school leadership and soul to come together and be seen? One rogue ego and my hopes for the conference would have failed.
One misplaced word or comment, then people would have retreated into themselves, and found no solace, comfort or acceptance in the presence of others.
But I needn’t have feared. Everyone present had bought into the message. Everyone present was prepared to take a risk.
Individuals let go of their leadership masks and allowed true humanity, companionship and hope to come together; in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.
Personally, it was a deeply humbling experience. To be in the presence of so many wonderful individuals who were prepared to:
– Take a risk
– Ask of themselves challenging questions
– Think about school leadership differently
– Go on a deeper learning journey with themselves and others
And perhaps, most importantly, I witnessed individuals who were prepared to let go of the belief that ‘self-care is a selfish act’ and instead foster a new one;
‘that self-care is simply good stewardship of the only gift that I have, the gift that I was put on earth to offer others.’
Parker J Palmer
As a result, this conference became a place where discussions about the relationship between well-being and school leadership could be discussed openly and candidly. And for me, personally, it confirmed three key lessons that I’ve learnt from my time working with School Leaders.
Lesson # 1: Well-being is about deep connections
Through a range of leadership workshops focusing on resilience, positive-psychology, inter and intra-personal relationships and our values, individuals were supported to let go of the false belief that well-being is optional and only something to be considered when they are in crisis.
They were assisted in seeing that self-care and attention to their inner most needs are integral to being able to thrive as school leaders.
They realised the truth, that well-being is about deep connections – deep connections to:
– Our values
– Questions of meaning and purpose
– Our very reason for being
They saw how a deep connection with our souls/self can provide an anchor in turbulent times. They learnt that just like the best musicians, who allow the music to be created within them first before it flows out through their instrument; soulful, connected, leaders do the same.
They create the spaces that allow for their leadership vision to spring from a source deep inside. A vison that is then given full expression to through their voice and through their own unique leadership song.
Lesson # 2: It is safe to go on a deeper journey
At the Education for the Soul Conference, I saw a second truth confirmed. In discussions, group and paired work, I saw once again that it is safe to go on a deeper journey …. If you surround yourself with the right people!
In today’s educational landscape, it’s easy to understand why it seems as though so many have lost their way and ignored the true call of vocation, the call to go on a deeper journey to find, what many authors have described as True Self.
This is perhaps no surprise, in a system where:
– Success is measured purely in terms of academic outcomes
– Autocratic models of school leadership still dominate the educational landscape
– And although discussions around well-being in our schools are becoming more common place, there is little understanding of how well-being relates to the ‘soul in the role’ and the maintenance of vocational vitality amongst teachers and school leaders
As result, individuals get lost. They put off finding answers to the deeper questions. They believe that school leadership can be done from the ‘head’ alone. The heart is not engaged and so the will to thrive, the will to live a life of deeper significance and meaning is diminished.
School leadership becomes a burden that is just too heavy to carry. It becomes too lonesome and isolating. The body and the spirt give up and for those individuals for whom this has become a reality, an early exit from the profession appears their only option.
But …surround yourself with the right people and you won’t get lost or confused or feel the need to leave before your promise has been fulfilled.
You won’t doubt the direction in which you are heading. Because when you surround yourself with the right people, you support one another to find a way forward that is in alignment with your soul and all that you hope and desire for those you lead and manage.
Lesson # 3: We become our best selves through unselfish interactions with others
When a head teacher ‘dis-appears’, when immoral practices for raising school standards seep into the fabric of our education system we all suffer. There would not be a need for a conference such as ‘Education for the Soul’ if current practices within the education system were not causing harm to the human spirit.
Yet, in spite of this, I saw what I believe to be another fundamental truth confirmed at last week’s conference, that…
“We become our best selves through unselfish interaction with others”
This in essence is what Ubuntu is about. Ubuntu is an African tem for leading oneself and others. Desmond Tutu, best summarises it, when he says:
“It is the essence of being human, it speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion”
If last week’s conference was a triumph, it was because every single person involved came together under one core common purpose, to affirm the humanity of our school leaders and to help them reclaim their identity and integrity of their lives as whole human beings.
How can we support the Flourishing of our School Leaders?
This was one of the central questions we explored at “Education for the Soul” 2017 which sought to extend the conversation around school leadership, well-being and standards in our schools and help leaders exciting new chapters for themselves, their pupils and the communities they serve.
It is fair to say, the day was a very special one and a huge success with so many school leaders and education professionals joining us for this. It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.
Following the success of this conference, every year we now host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.
The next Education for the Soul” Conference will take place in October 2022 and will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how school leaders can look after their own well-being, get the most out of those they lead and deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
The conference will aim to build on the outcomes of our previous “Education for the Soul” conferences and seek to explore how school leaders and teachers can learn to lead with integrity, depth and purpose.
As part of this, we will look into how individuals can stay connected to their “why” and their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2022 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others