“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”
Building Resilience as a School Leader…
How can School Leaders build the resilience necessary to sustain themselves for the Long-Haul?
On the 19th October 2017, we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for a new type of School Leadership conference; an “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to help leaders answer this question and tackle some of the other biggest issues facing Headteachers and senior leaders today.
By doing so, we provided an opportunity for school leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to who they are, their goals, their vision and above all, don’t require them to sacrifice their own well-being.
It is fair to say, the day was a very special one indeed, and for me personally, it was deeply humbling to see so many school leaders and education professionals 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
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.
As a result, the conference became a place where discussions about the relationship between well-being and school leadership could be discussed openly and candidly, and real solutions could be found.
Above all, the day confirmed to me three vital key lessons that I’ve learnt from my time working with School Leaders….