You would not have reached where you are today if you didn’t know how to harness the power of hope to help you overcome the stresses of school leadership.
We know that hope can be incredibly elusive. When external demands and pressures mount and crisis follows crisis, the light at the end of the tunnel can appear to be very faint and distant glimmer. In such times, hope is just as essential for your own well-being, as rain is for flowers in the desert.
As you seek to move forward in your endeavour to create brighter futures for our young people, here are five tips for keeping hope alive and reducing feelings of stress when the challenges arise…
Tip 1: Learn to keep one eye backward and another eye forward
In order to live more fully and to make progress in our lives, it is helpful to have a process in place that enables us to develop a greater understanding of our own personal/professional journeys. Such a process enables us to develop a greater understanding of where we have come from and where we are heading and to hopefully move forward with deeper levels of insight and wisdom.
When this becomes a regular pattern of behaviour, it becomes much harder for you to be knocked off course by the challenges of school life – you have a wider perspective for viewing events and understanding how they relate to the bigger picture, both personally and professionally.
Tip 2: Stay Connected
School leadership does not happen in a vacuum. Leaders need people, not only to follow them, but also to help them on their journey. The connections that you make as you move forward will have a great impact on the degree to which you are able to deal successfully with the challenges of school leadership.
Paying attention to the relationships that you invest in and develop outside of school is just as important for your health and mental well-being, as is the amount of time you spend developing relationships in school. Be wise in your affiliations; relationships that drain your energy (although sometimes, if not often, this is unavoidable in a professional context) take great care in your personal relationships, to ensure there is a balance and that you have relationships that give back to you and do not leave you emotionally depleted.
Tip 3: Learn the art of Selfless Leadership
Nelson Mandela’s Biographer, Richard Stengel wrote, “We become our best selves through unselfish interaction with others”. In stating this he was referring to “the African model of leadership, which is better expressed as Ubuntu, the idea that people are empowered by other people.” Quite clearly this can only happen when Ego is put to one side.
The Selfless Leader is one who has outgrown the needs of the Ego for constant external praise and affirmation. The Selfless leader is one who understands that constant seeking of the approval of others only leads to greater stress and an increased distancing from one’s true identity. The Selfless leader understands that when all such things are put to one side, hope prevails, stress is reduced and greater bonds are formed with those you lead.
Tip 4: Bend, do not break
You may be familiar with the phrase ‘bend’ do not break, which some say has its origins in either one of Aesop’s fables, The Olive Tree and the Reed, or an old Chinese proverb that relates to the capacity of the bamboo to bend (and not break) even in the severest of storms. For too many school leaders resilience has meant putting on a brave face while becoming detached from all feeling and emotion, they have become so ‘brittle’, that when the storms come, they have forgotten what it means to ‘bend’.
If you want to be able to withstand the storms of school leadership, you have to be able to bend. You have to be able to allow yourself to feel and in so feeling, to be receptive to what your mind and your body are telling you – and take action that shows you are have understood the message!
Tip 5: Know you have a choice
During everything that the life of a school leader throws at you, it is important to remember that you have a choice as to how you respond. When we understand this, we put our conscious selves back into the driving seat of our lives. We stay in control of ourselves, as opposed to life’s events taking control of us. It is not always easy.
It takes discipline and conscious effort to choose how we respond to life’s calamities. However, when we master the art and become better at taking control of our lives, we experience the peace that comes in no longer letting others unduly influence our experience of school leadership. We also promote hope in ourselves and promote it in those who are close to us.
Taking Back Control of School Leadership
It is our belief that over the last few years, our education system has lost sight of one of its strongest and most important assets – its humanity.
Values more akin to the business world have seeped into the system with schools encouraged to see children as data, other school leaders as competitors and results as the ultimate goal of education. We have seen too many school leaders ‘disappear’ with many being forced out, sometimes on the back of just one disappointing set of results.
Consequently, we’ve noticed a growing culture of fear within in our education system. Increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have only served to intensify this. As have new structures and roles which have added unnecessary layers of complexity and ambiguity. Many heads now feel they are in a constant battle to prove they know what is being asked of them in this new era and prove that they are “good enough.”
That’s why on the 18th October 2018, we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for our “Education for the Soul” 2018 Conference designed to help leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to themselves and their hope for their schools.
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 “Education for the Soul” 2018 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