Recently, I received a letter from my son’s school. He is sixteen and in the midst of exam season. The school wrote to parents of every child in Year 11, asking them to write and return to the school a letter to their son or daughter, that would be read out to them on the day of their first exam.
Our letters were to simply tell our children, that no matter the outcome of their exams, we would always love and care for them. My son doesn’t know I have written this letter. His first exam is today! I hope that when it is read out to him, he will appreciate not only how much I care about him, but also how much his school does as well.
I hope it will reinforce for him the compassion, care and concern that are at the heart of the way in which his school works with young people. It is my hope too, that one day this same level of compassion, care and concern will be reflected in the way in which our school leaders are treated.
For those of us who work in education we have seen the way in which education has increasingly become a data driven enterprise. The ‘achievements’ of our children and school leaders only meaning something if they have a number or a score attached to them. We have seen the way in which a constant need to weigh and measure and to succeed at all costs has near enough affected the mental health and emotional wellbeing of every pupil, teacher and school leader across the country!
It deeply saddens me that because of this so many talented people have left the profession. The stories abound in staff rooms, across the net and in the press of children, teachers and school leaders whose lives have been blighted as a result of increasing levels of stress and pressure within the system. This isn’t what education should be about. I want my son to have happy memories of school and I want his teachers and senior leaders in his school to have happy memories too.
In today’s current climate this might seem like a big ask, particularly for senior school leaders but I am going to ask it anyway. I am going to ask it because it is my belief that when school leaders are supported to make the weight of school leadership that much easier to bear, then things change for the better for our teachers and ultimately for our children.
How can the weight of school leadership be made lighter to bear?
Currently there are a plethora of initiatives being trialled and examined to address this. Many are focused on minimising the external pressures of school leadership, such as ways to reduce workload etc. To my mind, they are like putting a sticking plaster on wound when something more substantial and curative is needed.
It is my belief that true healing can begin when we start to listen deeply to school leaders and support them to engage in conversations that connect them back to their original passion, purpose and sense of vocation. Conversations that help them understand how to best take care of the person in the role. When we do so, we set in motion a whole chain of physiological, mental and emotional responses. These responses help the mind and body to recalibrate and find a place of inner equilibrium.
As a result, when engaged in these types of conversations school leaders can begin to regain:
– Their sense of agency and purpose
– Hope and belief
– Their sense of vocational vitality
Ultimately, they begin to discover for themselves how to make their particular leadership load that much easier to bear.
Engaging in new and empowering conversations about Leadership
We believe the profession is in need of new conversations to embolden and inspire school leaders and to keep them connected to what matters most. The current narratives of lack, competitiveness and isolation have done little too bolster the well-being of our nation’s school leaders.
Yet, we understand and know that if you are a school leader, you need to be strengthened and it is our belief that you have to be supported to find the strength to do so from within: from within your own school: from within your own communities: from within yourself.
That’s why on 18th October 2018, we hosted our 2nd Education for the Soul Conference around the theme of “Creating New Narratives for the School Leader’s Journey” as when stories (our own and others) are used to help explore the leader’s journey and what it means to be a school leader today, we know individuals can be supported to:
1. Deepen their sense of professional identity: Shaping new personal leadership narratives can enable individuals to let go of limiting scripts and create new more empowering ones
2. Create a new story for themselves and the communities they serve: Each and every school will have its own unique story. Every school leader plays a pivotal role in shaping this story and how it is received by members of the school community. A greater awareness of the role the leader’s own narrative plays in shaping this story, can help them develop the tools necessary for ensuring everyone understands the role they play in shaping their school’s narrative.
3. Develop personal frameworks for thriving in the school leadership role: Exploration of story and narrative can help leaders collectively and individually move away from stereotyped notions of school leadership towards models that are more holistic and authentic.
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 the conference, I’m delighted to say that in October 2019, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.
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 the role coaching can play in helping those in education in create alignment with their deepest values.
Above all, “Education for the Soul” Conference 2019 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Gain a better understanding of coaching (theory, processes, neuroscience etc.) and how it enables others to work in deep alignment with their true values
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and adult development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others