“To cease to know what we feel is to cease to experience what things mean to us.”
[Branden, 1994: 218]
You may be familiar with the phrase, ‘bend do not break’, which some say has its origins either in one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The Olive Tree and the Reed’, or from an old Chinese proverb that relates to the capacity of the bamboo to bend and not break, even in the severest of storms.
I would be lying (and indeed if you have been a school leader for long enough, you know that I would be lying) if I said you will never face any storms.
The storms will come. Sometimes they will be a full force nine gale leaving a trail of human and emotional destruction in their wake; other times they will pass as quickly as they arrive, leaving only a few ruffled feathers.
To survive, you need to be not only anchored to your values; you also need to know what resilience looks like for you.
Is Resilience putting on a brave face?
For too many school leaders resilience has meant putting on a brave face, while becoming detached from all feeling and emotion. They have become ‘brittle’ meaning that when the storms come, they have forgotten what it means to ‘bend’.
They have no way of knowing how to respond to or listen to what their inner self, or indeed what others, might be saying to help them survive the storm. They stand tall and rigid, only to be uprooted or broken.
And why does this happen?
When feelings and emotions are blocked and repressed, the process of implementation is physical; Breathing is restricted and muscles contracted. When this happens repeatedly, the blocks become part of the body structure –‘The body armour’… Breathing may be so habitually shallow and muscles so little contracted that the flow of feeling is obstructed and consciousness is diminished accordingly.
[Branden, 1994: 82]
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 feeling, be receptive to what your mind and your body are telling you – and take action that shows you have understood the message!
Assessing your Emotional Resilience
To begin with why not take a look at the six statements below and give yourself a grade from 1 [low] – 10 [high]. Your scores will give you an indication of your emotional health and actions that you might possibly need to take to allow yourself to ‘bend and not break’.
– “I understand how my own experience of school leadership has shaped my own emotional responses to change.”
– “I am aware of how my emotions impact on my thoughts and subsequent behaviours.”
– “I am able to control my negative emotions and prevent them impacting adversely on my relationships with others.”
– “I understand what it means to be emotionally resilient.”
– “I don’t bottle my emotions up, I allow myself to both laugh and cry.”
– “I am able to manage the degree to which other people’s negative emotions impact on my own ability to lead”
The Challenges of Headship
From managing excessive workloads, the impact of budget cuts and high levels of personal accountability and public scrutiny – over the years, the role of Headship has always been fraught with challenges and pressures.
And it is now perhaps no surprise that many school leaders who are reporting feeling battle weary, beleaguered and burnt out. As a result, an NAHT poll back in November 2020 found that almost half of headteachers plan to leave prematurely – and 70% say job satisfaction has fallen in the past year.
However, I know from my own experience as a Headteacher and now as an Executive coach that personalised support is vital, if leaders are to keep their hope alive and stay connected to their vision, passion and purpose.
That’s why I’m now offering free 1:1 Coaching calls to give senior leaders a chance to:
– Talk through and get support with the challenges they’re currently facing
– Reflect on events and the impact they’re having
– Gain clarity about their current situation and plan a way forward
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!