Recently a colleague shared with me, that when the Masai Warriors of Kenya greet each other they ask, “How are the children?”
They ask this, because for everyone, even those without children, the response that they are seeking is, “All the children are well.” As according to their social script, things can’t be fully good for one individual or the community unless all the children are thriving.
Mac Macartney speaks of something similar when he recounts the symbolic lighting of the “Children’s Fire” amongst the indigenous people of North America. Mac says:
“I was introduced to the Children’s Fire one night as we sat outdoors by a blazing fire. Since that time, it has become the cornerstone of my thinking about leadership. Many hundreds of years ago, wise women and men, elders of a people who had been enquiring into profound questions concerning leadership, asked the question: “How shall we govern our people?”
One of the great challenges which these elders explored was the complex relationship between the short and long term. It was understood that actions which yield short-term benefits may not always serve the interests of the tribe in the long-term.
Further understanding that the children represented the tribe’s capacity to survive into the future. They understood the necessity of ensuring that the leaders always sought to secure a safe future for the children by testing every major decision against the future wellbeing of the children.
Knowing the power of symbolism, the chiefs ordered that a small fire be kindled in the centre of their council circle. This small fire was called the Children’s Fire and each chief was required to take the pledge of the Children’s Fire before she or he took their seat. The Children’s Fire existed to remind the chiefs of the first law:
No law, no decision, no action, nothing of any kind will be agreed by this council that will harm the children, now or ever. “
With both of these traditions, there is an explicit acknowledgment that every action taken by an adult has a direct impact, for better or worse on our children’s future. And it is therefore a responsibility of every adult, particularly those who hold leadership positions to exhibit caution, care and wisdom in the execution of their duties.
Reflecting on Mac’s words, I can’t help but think how refreshing it would be if in education today, our policy and decision makers took a similar view. How different it would be if they realised in relation to school improvement and current debates around mental health and well-being that:
– Rarely is short term gain a precursor for long-term success
– The health and well-being of our children is a measure of the health of our society as a whole and how the most vulnerable in our society are taken care of
– Many of their decisions have caused harm and radical change is needed to create a future in which all, young and old alike, can thrive.
If we accept that our schools play such an important role in our society, then I believe we have to pay serious consideration as to how we attend to the needs of our school leaders; not just the day-to-day operational and strategic needs, but more importantly the needs of the person in the role.
For too long their needs have been neglected and so we’ve seen School Leaders continue to leave the profession in growing numbers due to the rising challenges and emotional toll of the role. This has led to a growing Headteacher recruitment and retention crisis which looks set to continue, with reports suggesting that English Schools may face a shortage of up to 19,000 Heads by 2022.
As always, if these predictions do prove correct, those most affected will be the pupils.
Nonetheless, I still have hope that this crisis can be averted – but only if trustees, governors and policy makers ensure that School Leader well-being is made a key priority sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, for their part, our leaders themselves must also recognise that if they are to maintain the high levels of personal performance required of them – they must be aware of the need and rigorously encouraged to, devote the care, time and resource into nurturing and supporting themselves.
To help leaders to do just this, on Thursday 17th October, we will light our own Children’s Fire through the hosting of our 3rd Education for the Soul Conference (at which Mac will be one of our key note speakers).
The conference will provide an opportunity for school leaders to come together and renew their pledges for ensuring that every individual and every collective decision, safeguards the future wellbeing and happiness of our children.
The theme for the day will be “Inspiring Authentic School Leadership” and has been designed to extend the conversation around school leadership, well-being and standards in our schools.
It will explore how leaders can successfully manage and respond to the growing complexities and emotional demands of School Leadership, and look to find sustainable ways of leading that can support School Leaders in their complex and challenging roles.
Moreover, through the keynotes, panel discussions, workshops and talks we will explore how individuals can:
– Challenge the many damaging expectations and narratives that surround school leadership and help leaders mitigate their often-corrosive impact
– Develop stronger self-awareness and a deeper understanding of their own emotions and those of others
– Nurture a deeper self-acceptance of themselves, both their strengths and their limitations
– Strengthen individuals’ confidence and belief in their own leadership approach, so that they can lead in ways that are aligned to who they are and what they stand for
– Build the courage to stay true to their values, vision and purpose