Recently, I have increasingly found myself reflecting on what it takes for school leaders today to be courageous. In a system that has increasingly become dominated by a culture of bullying and fear. I have come to the conclusion that two of the most courageous things head teachers and school leaders can say are:
“I am human and I have needs that need to be met, the same as everyone else”.
“Yes, I have a dream, a vision that I want to see fulfilled for the children in my school, but sometimes the path towards the fulfilment of the dream is laboured and sometimes it hurts.”
When head teachers and school leaders are honest about ‘the pain’ of school leadership they allow themselves to see that school development is as much to do with emotional development [theirs and others] as it is to do with the strategic and operational aspects of leading a school.
Recognising your own vulnerability
It is about recognising one’s own vulnerability and in the words of best-selling author Brene Brown it is recognising that.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they are never weaknesses”
One head teacher that I work with accurately summed up the meaning of Brown’s quote for her as a school leader when she said to me:
“ Viv this job is tough. Every day I have to make courageous decisions. But in order to strengthen my ability to makes those decisions. I have to face my fears, my own vulnerabilities with you first. As it’s when I do that, that I learn how to overcome my fears and discover what courage really looks like for me.”
The mistake I see many school leaders make is thinking that if they face their fears they will be seen as weak. Little realising that it is often their own unexamined coping strategies that render them weak in the eyes of others.
Unsurprisingly it takes courage to learn to be vulnerable. We all fear emotional exposure and our ‘perceived’ limitations and weaknesses being used to judge us. But in this current climate, if you are to succeed as a school leader, learning to be vulnerable is essential, as it is the other side of what it take to be courageous.
Here are three key tips on learning how to be vulnerable…
1. Recognise that as a school leader you have a front and a back stage.
The front stage is your public persona. It is where you demonstrate courage, resilience and self belief. However, to keep up your front stage performances, you must remember to pay attention to your back stage, your private self.
Your back stage should be the space where you talk through your performances, talk about your defeats and triumphs. It should be the space where you are vulnerable and come to understand what courage means for you.
2. Build 1:1 relationships built on mutual trust and respect.
Trust is the glue of all human relationships. When we trust someone and equally we are trusted by them, we know that we can be ourselves. No judgements are made. We are accepted for who we are warts and all.
Such professional relationships in the life of school leader can be immensely liberating. As again, they allow school leaders to be vulnerable and to be seen as human, with emotional needs that need to be met the same as everyone else.
3. Learn how to be in tune with your emotions.
When as a school leader you are running on autopilot all of the time, ‘tuning out’ from what you are really feeling can seem like a pretty plausible coping strategy. This may work for a while, but too often, ‘tuning out’ and not in can lead to disastrous consequences both personally and professionally. We feel hurt, pain, anger, sorrow, joy etc for a reason!
We are human beings not robots. Our emotions [however deeply they are felt] remind us that as human beings we have a deep need for connection and when that connection is lost, through overwork, neglect etc, we lessen our ability to lead and inspire others. We lessen our ability to be courageous in all aspects of life.
Are You Ready to be Vulnerable and Ask for Help….?
When I look back on my years as a Head Teacher and now with the work that I do with school leaders, I realise just how easy it is for school leaders to accept tiredness, emotional overload and irritability as the norm.
For me, the realisation came about, after a particularly challenging encounter with a parent. I had become so used to numbing out my emotions and wearing my ‘super-head’ cloak, that when my emotions did finally catch up with me, I was at a loss as to what to do. All I could do was sit in my car and cry and cry and cry! It was only when this happened and after some deep soul searching, that I realised why I had got to this place and what had been missing from my life as a Head teacher … Support!
I’m not talking about the type of support Head teachers get from school advisors, governors or fellow colleagues. It was a different type of support that I realised had been missing.
I needed support that was confidential and non-judgemental. I needed a space where just for a while, I could take off my cloak and be me. A space where I could show my vulnerabilities and be supported to make sense of my own emotions in relation to the demands of the role.
Sadly, some 15 years later, there is still a woeful lack of ‘proper’ support for those who are at the helm. As a result, there are many Heads for whom emotional overload is a still hallmark of the role.
It’s for this reason, why I now offer FREE “Coaching for the Soul” Calls to provide school leaders with a safe, non-judgemental space to talk through the challenges of the role.
This call offers a confidential space where leaders can:
– Talk through the challenges they’re facing and find solutions
– Receive support and encouragement in their current situation
– Reflect on recent events and the impact they are having
– Gain clarity around their thoughts 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!