On Thursday 17th October 2019, we hosted our third ‘Education for the Soul’ conference.
As I shared with delegates on the day; in 2016, when we hosted our very first conference, I was somewhat fearful and unsure.
Not just because it was the first time, we had hosted a conference, but because I was fearful of the use of the word ‘Soul’ and how it would be perceived by others.
As much as I knew that one-to-one with our coachees, there was/is a place for soul work; for conversations that go deep and beyond the surface of things, I was unsure of the degree to which this could be achieved collectively.
Could we genuinely create an environment in which Heads and school leaders could;
– Safely let go of their leadership masks?
– Allow themselves to be nurtured from the inside out?
– Experience a space similar to that which is created in our one-to-one coaching sessions?
– Be shielded from ego politics and competition?
– Step out from behind personal defences and quietly and simply say, ‘I am here to be seen’?
After this third conference, I am no longer afraid. I know that the answer to these questions is a simple ‘Yes’. Some-way, some-how, we have found a way to help school leaders discharge their loyal soldiers and show up more fully as themselves.
Discharging the Loyal Soldier
If you have ever been in a room full of school leaders, you’ll know it doesn’t always feel comfortable. If they are being lectured at and being told about the next curriculum initiative that they need to get ready for, then you will know that they have the collective look of the battle weary. They are tense, tired and frustrated. They’ve fought and been in this battle so many times before. Their loyal soldiers remain on guard, ever ready to fire a question in their defence.
So, there is something that is both quite unique and humbling about being in a room full of school leaders, who have all told their loyal soldier to stand down. The atmosphere changes; individuals come out from behind their shields and they allow themselves to be seen differently.
No-where was this more in evidence at this year’s conference, than when Mac Macartney spoke. Visit Mac’s personal website and it will tell you that he was “ Mentored by indigenous people over many years…”
What it doesn’t tell was that he chose this path because he was on a personal quest, to find the education that his childhood schooling had failed to provide him with.
There was a huge amount of depth and wisdom, within Mac’s talk, which is impossible for me to capture here. (Although you can click on this link for snippet of his talk, if you’d like to get a greater sense of what he spoke about)
However, within the richness of what he shared with us, there were for me, three key points that I think demonstrate why, perhaps now more than ever, the word ‘Soul’ needs to be used more openly when we talk about what it means to be a school leader today.
Before sharing these three points, it might be useful to define what Soul means to me. For me, Soul is the very essence of who you are. It is your True Self. The self than can be seen when we let go of our myriad of defences (which for the majority of the time, we are usually unaware of and blindly accept as being indicative of who we really are!)
Or as Mac would say:
“It’s the stardust that’s implanted within each of us when we are born, which we have to grow, nurture, share and locate within our work”.
I think we understand this, (in some quarters better than others!) when it comes to the young people in our schools. We have an understanding of what it means to nurture their potential and to create the right conditions for them to grow and flourish.
However… I think we still have a very, very, long way to go when it comes to nurturing this essence, this stardust, this soul stuff when working with school leaders. Which is why I think Mac’s words seemed to not only resonate with me, but also with others who heard him speak.
Located within this context, his words as I have indicated above, helped to illuminate for me, three essential points about the nature of school leadership and why we need to embrace and take much more seriously, care of the ‘soul in the role’
1. “Understand that you are still a living, growing human being”
Yes, we age physically and many of us know the tell-tale bodily signs that indicate that we are not as young as we used to be! But maturing is not just a physical process. It is a psychological and emotional process as well.
Yet, we are woefully ignorant as to what this looks like for school leaders. The higher individuals climb, the more the system feels the need to provide CPD on the complexity of system leadership and the bolstering of personal ego projects.
Nothing is offered that addresses the complexity of the changing nature and needs of the person/soul in the role. The needs that leaders must have met if they are to stay connected to their ‘soul’ purpose and enabled to continue to grow and flourish are largely ignored. The needs of the soul (psyche) do not lessen the older we get. If any-thing they become more pronounced. For the system to fulfil its duty of care towards school leaders this must be recognised.
2. “You are much more than you imagine yourself to be”
Too often (and I have also witnessed this in myself) there is an unwillingness amongst school leaders too fully accept the totality of the gifts that they bring to their role and the degree to which they might become ‘more than’ if they accepted this.
As much as it hurts, many appear willing to settle with the mangled feelings of ‘not enough’ rather than do the inner work, that can and does ultimately lead to a greater sense of inner fulfilment. There is a fear that acceptance of their gifts will lead to arrogance and self-aggrandisement. But this only happens when individuals have lost sight of their own moral compass and the needs of those they serve. Admittedly, there are some school leaders in the system, for whom this is true. However, I’d like to believe that they are in the minority.
There are others (and perhaps you are one of those school leaders) who desperately need to accept their gifts and allow their inner ‘stardust’ to shine. As when they do, their presence (indeed, your own presence) will allow others around you to shine as well.
3. “Leadership is a choice”
Leadership is not a passive act and it goes beyond role and title. As Mac said,
“Leadership is a choice. A choice you make when you care enough about something, to do something about it. And in these times, as leaders, we increasingly need to also make the choice to be radicals. I don’t mean radicals in some sort of negative sense. By radicals, I mean people who are determined to be authentic, according to what they love, their gifts and their responsibilities”
This choice, that is at the core of school leadership, requires support to be established for our leaders that enables them to:
– Define themselves as they truly know themselves to be and not by OFSTED or other arbitrary categories
– Find answers to the inner questions that life often asks when people are growing and developing as leaders
– Identify their gifts and use them fully for those they are in service to
In short, it is the needs of the soul that must be addressed and taken care of. It is perhaps the silent plea of so many of the disappeared. Victims of a system that has yet to find a way to articulate, listen to and understand the needs of the soul.
Yet, as Mac said, we have now reached a time where for the sake of our children, all children, we must;
“Speak our truth. Even if it may put at risk how we are assessed. You may decline the invitation, but you are invited to speak up now.”
Join us for Next Year’s Conference
On the 17th October 2019, we hosted our 3rd “Education for the Soul” Conference around the theme of “Inspiring Authentic School Leadership” to extend the conversation around authenticity, resilience, well-being and integrity in our 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 2020, we will once again host Headteachers & School Leaders for this special conference.
“Education for the Soul” 2020 will feature a new selection of expert speakers and workshop hosts, who will be sharing their insights into how school leaders can look after their own well-being, get the most out of those they lead and deliver the best outcomes for their pupils.
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 their deepest values. Above all, “Education for the Soul” 2020 will aim to help school leaders and teachers:
– Foster a deep sense of vocation and purpose amongst all staff
– Increase their understanding of the relationship between school development and personal development
– Keep hope, joy passion, commitment and creativity at the heart of their school and relationships with self and others