It’s beautiful in its simplicity – but deceptively simple. That’s because the injunction to ‘let go’ presumes knowledge of the thing that was picked up, and how sticky, or heavy it’s since become. Of what, specifically, am I letting go? And how do I, specifically, put it down (and then not pick it up again when no-one’s looking)?
We humans are skilled at mentally revisiting issues about which we care, yet over which we have no direct control. Think about the future or the past or the news. Just three small examples for you there.
At least my friend’s poster provides a valuable sorting opportunity. But what kind of battles, here in early December 2021, can we choose?
20 months into a pandemic, as a new variant pops up its vastly mutated head, schools are being invited to keep calm and to carry on, regardless of exhaustion, uncertainty and day-to-day volatility. Energy is low, patience is thin, tempers are on hair triggers. Is there a battle worth picking? I’d argue, yes, there is always a battle worth picking, but make it the best one. Here are four:
Battle One – Others
The battle that trumps all battles is the safeguarding and wellbeing of our children. I’ve seen some incredible fights over the years as teachers, leaders and other professionals battle to save children from harm and give them a future they would otherwise be denied.
Battle Two – Authority
And then there’s Ofsted. A headteacher in one of my coaching groups (and the inspiration for this article) wisely recommends this approach: don’t try to control it all during an inspection (or in the transparent pantomime debrief). Pick one theme and fight for it relentlessly. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you’ll loose – you’re talking to the book regardless, but at least you’ll have demonstrated focus, passion, and commitment – rather than presenting as ‘against’ everything (even if you are).
Battle Three – Position
Leaders often battle on behalf of others or for a value or principle. It’s what makes them leaders. Leaders step forward when others don’t; they speak out when others can’t; they act when others won’t. Leaders take a position and they defend it. Others see the stand they’ve taken and may join or attack. There’s a difference between being outspoken and speaking out. Positions of value are worth defending, worth battling for.
Battle Four – Self
Or maybe for you, the battle is about showing up each day and giving what you can. Teachers affect eternity – even when they’re exhausted. They rarely see the value they’ve added to the world but that value is added non the less. Maybe your one battle is to hang on, to face the world again and to make someone’s future just a touch brighter.
Many more battles are available. Choose one that’s within your control to fight, and one that is worth winning.
Holding too tight, it slips through fingers; bearing too much, it breaks.
You know me, I’m tough, I’m resilient. There’s nothing rocks me. Ever. But see this tear here on my cheek. That’s new. Headteacher
15 pages of vacancies on the website. There’s usually 1 this time of year. Headteacher
I am a coach, a trainer, a mediator. I’m trusted in confidence to listen without judgement; to question with purpose and to challenge with integrity. Therefore I hear the unfiltered, the unmitigated, the hard facts and raw emotion of how it is in schools right now.
In 30 years I’ve never seen an educational landscape quite like this one. The ‘official’ pretense of normality and denial of reality within schools is damaging our greatest asset: our teachers and school leaders.
This is what I see; this is what I hear:
Schools deserving medals for their ingenious approaches to COVID catch up. Yet receiving only pressure to broaden the curriculum once more.
Leaders navigating the daily volatility of staffing and case numbers; being creative, committed, quick thinking. Yet treated as if nothing is amiss; as if we are back to normality.
Teachers remaining dedicated, skilled, caring, resilient; applying their craft to the diverse needs of nearly two years of learning disruption. Yet facing the uncertainty of workplace safety (COVID/no COVID).
Headteachers standing by their values in the midst of overwhelm and an onslaught of unnecessary pressure. Yet fearing inspection; anxious that they are not good enough.
This is what I see; this is what I hear.
Schools deserve inspiration not inspection.
Schools are worthy of empathy not unrealistic expectations.
Schools need kindness not criticism.
Therefore those who hold schools to account, at any level, should think first; think hard before any request, any demand, any policy and judgement. Test plans against four criteria:
Will this protect and preserve the wellbeing, capacity and expertise of educators and educational leaders?
Will this preserve and enhance the efficacy of a school?
Will this enhance and empower educators to prepare children for 2030, 2040 and beyond?
Is this inspirational? Is this empathetic? Is this kind?
Only act with four clear yeses. If you cannot act with four yeses, then do not act.
Loosen your grip, reduce the burden. Help schools be proud of what they have done; help them emerge from pandemic to the inevitable endemic with praise and with heads held high. And make your thank-yous for this, genuine, authentic and unconditional.
The NHS continues to save the present. Empower teachers to save the future. If we do not, that future will slip through our fingers; that future will break.
My name is Elijah. I am 3 years and 7 twelfths of a year old. I will be 4 years old very soon. You can come to my party if you like. There will be crisps. But I might get to eat them all myself. And all the biscuits. And cake. If you’re not allowed to come it’ll be coz there might be another lockdown for COVID. So, I’ll get all the food for me if there is another lockdown. And the pizza. That’s good but it’s bad as well. I’ll have no one to play with. Again. And I’ve started school I have.
I’m a bit annoyed you know, in my life I’ve missed approximately 28 birthday parties, 75 park visits, 36 playdays and a holiday to Mallorca. And I’m only 3 years and 7 twelfths of a year old. That COVID. What a pain. Nearly half my life has been, “can’t go out, won’t be meeting up, shouldn’t visit them”. I mean how am I supposed to work out how other people tick when I don’t get to see them?
And, I’m also supposed to be all ready for school but I’m not. Even though I’ve already started. By now I think I should be getting over myself, just a little bit, by my age. You know, beginning to realise there’s other people in the world too, apart from me?, and that they maybe deserve a turn on the iPad too? Or with the Lego.
I wanted to have a go at sharing or turn-taking ready for school but I didn’t really have the opportunity to practise. I really wanted to nail that. Mummy and Karl have been very busy on their laptops so they’re no help. Sometimes when they finish a Zoom call I hear a swear come out. Although my vocabulary is not as developed as I’d want it to be by my age, I do have a reasonable command of workplace banter, and corporate profanity.That might come in handy.
And fights. And arguments. I really really wanted to have a go at those before school, so I’d be top of my game in the playground and at my social skills. But there simply hasn’t been the opportunity due to pandemic restrictions on travel and socialisation.
What I really wanted to do was that thing where you have a tantrum but you moderate it a bit so it’s not full on. Not full on like if you’re in public, say in Sainsburys where you go all red-faced shouty and stiff and then maybe roll about in the cheese aisle while mummy tries to get you to stop, without drawing attention to herself and having to use firm if acceptable force on you.
And I only wanted a Lego dragon. And some Haribo.
That kind of tantrum, but, but in a more refined way now I’m nearly 4 and practising for school. I wanted to try that with a friend, to get ready for the proper real disagreements in school. I wanted my friend to take my toy – then I go all ‘that’s mine I’m having it back‘ Sainsburys style but toned down coz I’m nearly 4, but still impressive. And I wanted to see what happened next and how we’d work it out and both of us get a mini Magnum from mummy at the end for calming down and not putting her in an awkward situation. In the cheese aisle. But I didn’t have a chance to do that before I went to school.
And talking. Oh my word. I’d expect to be much further on by now. You see my problem is this: I’ve not had much talk to listen to (see above) and anyway the adults have had their mouths covered since April 2020. How on earth am I supposed to get my mouth doing all those sounds if I can’t see what it looks like. I’ve got good at reading eyes and eyebrows though. I know what ‘really?’ looks like and also I know ‘I’m rather annoyed with you for embarrassing me in Sainsburys no you’re not having a dragon. or Haribo.‘ and ‘I hate Zoom as much as I hate my boss‘. I know what eyes and eyebrows do for those things. I just wish I’d been able to see the mouth shapes that go with them.
And now I’m at nursery school. My teacher is doing a right grand job but some of the other kids here are giving her the runaround they really are. I mean I’m a bit behind I know but I can’t imagine what it’s been like for Kyra or Ollie. I swear they’ve not said a single word since they started with me a few weeks ago. And they get really arsy in the morning when their daddies try to leave for work. They cling on and do that ‘poor me how dare you do this to me call yourself my parent‘ routine.
Miss tries hard. I’m only guessing at this (she being an experienced nursery practitioner and me just a nearly 4 year old) but I think she’s prioritising our well-being which is exactly how I’d approach things. She’s gone and baselined us all and I think I did alright. I suppose I’ll be able to revisit her targets for me at my next appraisal. Kyra and Ollie ran off when she tried to talk to them.
But even though she’s jolly she is a bit jumpy. Like someone’s watching over her shoulder whispering that she should be moving us on faster when all she wants to do is give us a good start at a speed that doesn’t turn us off learning. Or make us go all Sainsburys.
I think I saw her crying in her car in the car park yesterday and talking on her phone. I hope she’s alright. She is very nice but she was very sad. I knew she was sad. I could see it in her eyes and her eyebrows but I really wanted to know what words the shapes in her mouth were making…
Finally. Finally I am back working face to face. Training, teaching, coaching, mentoring. The school landscape has changed over 16 months. Or rather, what’s underneath the landscape has changed. People are tired; tired in ways they’ve not known and in ways they struggle to describe or understand. I do my best to help them.
Here’s a thought to make sense of it:
March 2020. Chaos. The unknown, the unexpected, the overwhelming. The wicked. I wrote about that, here. We rallied, pulled on our reserves, created, adapted, struggled and (kind of) got there.
When I realised what COVID-19 actually meant to my work and my livelihood, I did three things:
Contacted my mentors
Went against my style
I did. We did. The loss, the stress, the uncertainty. It didn’t fix anything but it released something.
I’m lucky to have (and, professionally, insist on having) a mentor, a supervisor and two go-to colleagues. I’m lucky. 4 people who have my professional back. They didn’t fix anything but helped me to see something different.
Hello. My name’s Mike and I’m an introvert. Don’t confuse the person you see in the training room, or at Zoom School, or in the conference hall or classroom with the one who needs to be alone at the end of the day.
Extrovert or introvert is about where you get your energy, not whether you like parties. I love being with people but I recharge alone. Extroverts refuel with others. We are not limited to one style but gravitate to our preference for rest and recovery.
So COVID came and what did I do? Hide away? Disappear? Go inside myself? ‘Introvert’ myself? No. The opposite. I reached out, made new contacts, started Zoom School, rekindled old connections. I went 100% extrovert. I went ‘outside my style’.
Why did I do this? Survival. The psyche goes, ‘You’ve got introvert covered off my friend. It’s your thing. You can do that. Extrovert? Needs work. Not your speciality. And this is a threatening time. All bases need covering, so address the imbalance. Get out there and extrovert!’
And I did. I loved it. But it was exhausting. Staying too long out of style without returning in style for nourishment had a cost, to health, to wellbeing and to my ability to do what I do best.
Maybe, right now, by accident or design, you’ve been ‘out of style’ for too long? Maybe your environment demands this of you. Maybe just knowing why you might feel like you feel – a new variant of tiredness – will go some way to helping.
New things need naming. Do you have, ‘out of style tiredness’?
The good news is you’re probably already at stage 4. Here are the five:
And here’s what they look like:
Remember stability, clarity, security? Early 2020? Feels like decades ago don’t you think? The curriculum was known and effective. Things were generally clear. We knew what to do, how to do it and (if we had the time to think about it), why we bothered. Concerns were: Ofsted, Year 9 (or Year 6), and keeping the staff room cup-washing rota viable.
March 2020. We fell off a cliff. Chaos. Completely unknown territory. We had no idea at all what to do. The curriculum became erratic or non-existent. We couldn’t get to it because of two barriers:
Technical: How do we/they get online and what do we press when we get there?
Pedagogical: How do we do what we did so well in class when all we have is a tiny rectangle in which to do it?
OK. So it wasn’t good, but after the shock we took a peek at the new landscape and began to play around with our new tools: Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom, Jamboard, Mentimeter, Desmos. We crossed into the curriculum by using the barriers within our lesson design – a bit of technical skill, a bit of remote pedagogy, a bit of the literacy. The new gold standard was not wall-to-wall live teaching but creative learning design.
And here we are now, February 2021, about to return to school. We’ve worked hard, we’re exhausted, but we’ve learned so much about learning – because we’ve had to. The barriers are significantly thinner. Well done you.
But how will we preserve our learning back in school? How will we use this opportunity we’ve had to grow personally and professionally?
So here’s my hope for the future. A richer curriculum. See the grey rings? That’s a legacy of the barriers. A reminder that struggle teaches, failure strengthens and frustration breeds success. The curriculum can be enriched because of this lengthy, uninvited and exhausting training course on which we’ve all been delegates: COVID-19
How well do these stages match your own experience? Did you miss any? Squeeze others in between? Linger too long? I hope we don’t ever go back to stage 1, but at least if we do, this time there’s a roadmap.
I didn’t choose them; I heard them at a Gallup webinar last spring: Trust, Compassion, Stability and Hope. The Gallup folks suggested businesses use each one to guide a pandemic response. Thinking Classroom had just lost 90% of its income and its biggest client (out of the blue; not related to COVID) and didn’t qualify for any government support. The advice was timely and meaningful.
Those four words saved the business; enabled it/me/us to look outwards instead of in, to look beyond close family, beyond extended family, past neighborhood, city, nation and out to our irrevocably connected world. Work shifted online, Zoom School started and food could be placed on the table.
May I humbly pass on these four words to you as guidance for the end of 2020 and support for the challenges and changes of 2021.
Choose who you trust and explore your trust in them. The politician, the scientist, the journalist; the mathematician, the social commentator, the influencer; the friend, the family member, the child. Pause and think before you judge; before you form and crystallize an opinion. And then consider yourself; your integrity, your intent, your actions. Find the trustworthiness there. If you see it, others will too.
The pandemic has laid bare our values, beliefs and personalities. It’s accelerated and amplified what was already present. Maybe you’ve been shocked by behaviours of friends and family? By their interpretation of social rules and its difference to your own understanding? Maybe you’ve been empowered by extreme acts of love and care, seen first hand or in the media. Maybe you need to cut someone a little slack, or have it cut for you. Maybe walking a mile in someone else’s moccasins might not be such a bad idea right now.
When everything changes what remains? What is left, left for you? An object? A memory? A person? Where is your anchor? Seek out the music, the poetry, the film and TV, the books the photographs, the recollections and the words which, for you, are timeless. Build your own stability from this raw material then help others to do the same.
This will pass. Maybe not when or how you want it to, but it will pass. Hope is not about wishing for this to end or about demanding a return to normal. Hope is a quiet, almost silent confidence that’s heard once the noise fades. Hope is a state of being, a way of believing in the present just as much as in the future.
Trust, compassion, stability, hope. Please pass them on.