“I would be a whole lot more effective in my job without Ofsted looming.” – anonymous (obviously) words from a wonderful headteacher I work alongside. Sometimes the observer negatively affects the quality of the very system they hope to improve, simply by observing it. Or threatening to, at 24 hrs notice.
However, this post is not an Ofsted critique. Plenty of time for that later, believe me, it’s coming. No, this is about a single word for managing the stress and anxiety which, for many of the professionals I know, is embodied in the anticipation of inspection; is compounded by impotence in the face of external judgement; and is amplified by 18 months of pandemic disruption.
But things are what they are. Let’s not use our precious energy pushing back against systems that won’t budge and histories that will never change. Let’s put the uncontrollables aside and choose to focus on our valuable selves.
Compassion starts in the mirror.
Well-being only needs a glance. A Glance. G-L-A-N-C-E = a memorable summary of six actions to protect mental health and well-being (NEF, 2008). You’ve most likely heard this before; maybe tried it, forgotten, tried again, moved on to something else. But it’s the one I return to; a different aspect helping each time; a gift that keeps on giving.
A simple theme connects the six ideas. I’ll share that later and tell you about a good friend of mine who combined them all, to save herself, to pull herself out of a dark pit she’d been pushed into.
Give authentically and the gift you receive back is relief from your own struggles. When attention rests on another’s needs, yours pause. You face outwards rather than in; absorbed in someone else, not yourself.
I learnt this as a heart-broken, navel-gazing under grad. A week-5 break up and my following mega-sulk was transformed by a friend, J, who invited me to volunteer with her. Riding for the Disabled (RDA) taught me humility and generosity, and prompted regular work with MENCAP and Gateway for the rest of my university days.
Give a smile when someone needs it; a word of praise or support or kindness; an unexpected visit; give time, a minute of full attention, ten, fifteen, whatever, it’s not the quantity but the intent.
We know how learning works. It’s our business. But do we recall the joy of discovery, of finding out, of mastery? When did you last feel good about learning?
When I first went freelance – leaving safe and secure employment behind – I had a bit of time on my hands. A lot of time on my hands. I taught myself to juggle. It took 14 days. But the feeling, the feeling when the third ball stayed up with the first two, and stayed up over and over and over again, round and round. I still remember that 20 years later. Excitement, empowerment, joy; I could think of nothing else but that achievement. That’s what learning feels like and, surely, it’s what we wish for our pupils.
And for you? What will you learn? Where will you find that joy?
A. Be Active
If you laid out, end to end, all the research papers citing the health benefits of being outdoors, then walked their length, it would be a good thing.
I’m so grateful to live near trees, near nature, near ancient tracks and woodland and paths that lead for miles across chalk downs. And when I’m working in cities, I choose to walk. Even in the crowds, fizzing and surging with power and noise, there is peace in the rhythm of walking.
Advice abounds for exercise. How active are you? What might you gain by being more active?
N. Notice the moment
The past is gone and usually mis-remembered; the future is not here yet, and often skewed by expectation and bias. There is absolutely nothing to worry about in this moment now. Hold up your hand. Notice nothing else. Look at the detail, the skin, the finger prints, the nails, scars, marks, jewelry. Notice only your hands in only this moment. Give the same kind of attention to cooking, walking, eating. Be mindful of only your moment.
Anxiety is fear of a future that has not happened; regret is pain for a past long gone. I’ve been saddened to work with people who desperately want their past to be different, struggle to let it go. It’s a privilege to work with them as they begin to release their hurt, and start ‘living in the moment’. Catch yourself noticing a moment, maybe just before the lesson starts, or when it ends, as the room falls silent and your valuable work is done.
In my last post, traits of the introvert and extrovert were noted. Both need other people but in different ways. Relationships offer connection, esteem and networks to keep loneliness at bay. ‘Aloneness’ can be frightening and debilitating and we have varying tolerances to it.
We’ve missed other people. As we begin to re-connect, feel the power they give to you and know that you are giving back just as much. The mental and cognitive boosts we get from others are fuel to an engine, wind to a sail, sun to a flower.
Give, learn, be active, notice, connect. Mix them up, edit them as you wish. Experiment with one or more as time and energy allow. You are the one in charge of your well-being. It is one thing that you can control.
My good friend NK has recently reached the end of a devastating, complex and costly divorce. For 4 years she navigated hell in courts and counselling rooms, with friends, family and later, out of necessity, online. It’s settled now. There’s resolution and stability again. By accident rather than design, NK found herself taking strolls in nature with her daughter who was struggling at work. Giving her time, coaching her, walking with silence and tears, noticing the moment, reconnecting. She learned that the relationship with her beautiful girl could completely transform. NK herself found peace once more. She stumbled on well-being.
Glances seize the moment. They place you and the people around you into a now that transcends anxiety, overlooks fear and weakens the power of painful pasts and worrying futures.