A colleague asked, the other day, if you had a word, just one word, to describe your intentions and hopes for the year ahead, what would it be? There were some splendid examples. Fire. Belief. Determination. The question lingered for a few days before, through a series of events, I came up with balance.
I’ve looked on at all the well-being and work-life balance blogs, and the wonderful #5aday initiative with a mixture of admiration and something that slightly resembles bashfulness. People share these with me – I’m the expert, remember? I’ve been researching the subject for three years – promoting it, listening to others (and in particular, parent-teachers), blogging, writing articles, listening some more, and writing some more. Before I stopped. Or paused. And with a kind of stunned sense of hypocrisy, realised just how thoroughly exhausted I’d become. Just how absent I’d been – if not physically, then at least mentally – from close friends, family… and as for the state of the house. I stopped even caring.
Indulgent readers and old supporters, please excuse the mixture of metaphors implied by the title, and to be further exploited as I write. I’ll blame my addled brain, whilst knowing it’s not really an excuse.
Change is hard. The bleedin’ obvious, yes? Well, of course it is. But a half-decent track-record, determination, knowledge and an infinite supply of support, it can’t be THAT hard, can it? After all, I’ve been adored nurtured and believed in – at work and at home – a way for which I’ll always count myself very lucky. As far as moving schools goes, this transition, for all the challenge that surrounded it, couldn’t really have been more affirming. People understood why I was leaving and were sad-but-proud to see me go. New colleagues were genuinely delighted to have me on board. How hard could it possibly be?
The thing is, dear reader, that the truisms of the wise owls on the Twittersphere really do have legs. Changing schools, changing roles, establishing yourself, trying to remain true to what you see as your professional identity – whilst at the same time adapting to a new context has been more challenging than I could have imagined. Impact, identity, relationships, influence, priorities… I thought I understood exactly what all of these meant. I’d nod vigorously at blogs that confirmed what I knew I already knew with something I now suspect approached smugness.
I’ve made many mistakes in this job, through forgetfulness, disorganisation, rashness or ill-judgement. I’ve prided myself in taking them all on the chin and building on my growing professional resilience. I aim to always be honest – always reflective – always proactive. But I missed something. The words are simplistic, but inescapable: I suspect I thought I already knew it all.
‘To assume is to make an ass out of u and me’ – this comes from the novel I’m currently reading; Us, by David Nicholls, though I suspect its provenance goes back a bit. Or, as my never-to-dwell-in-grey-areas husband puts it, ‘Assumption is the mother of all f**k-ups’. If I track back through the mistakes, assumption is at the root of them all. But I assumed it would get done. I assumed I understood. I assumed you knew what I meant. I assumed you wouldn’t agree. I assumed you wouldn’t mind if I was late home again.
The last couple of days have been a watershed. Or a shedding of skins. Or some kind of shed. Change is difficult. It means a change of journey, a change of context, new systems, new names. But above all, it means a huge re-evaluation of the things you already knew. Impact, identity, relationships, influence, priorities. And it’s also rather painful. The temptation can be to resist, or conform completely, or rebel, or sulk.
But really, the only answer is to be patient. To stop. To think. To listen. To balance – the old with the new, the fundamental beliefs with the new knowledge, authority with approachability. And yes, black with white. Because if we thought education was about black and white and right and wrong, we wouldn’t be here. It’s thorny, complex, difficult to negotiate. There’s a comprehensive school-in-the-sky which is free to put in and make effective the methods it needs to embrace, include, develop and nurture everybody – adult and child. But I think I’ve just realised that it doesn’t exist. And, quite probably, it never really did.
Instead, we have a whole range of massively diverse schools, with massively diverse issues, strengths, needs and priorities. There’s no ‘ideal school’ waiting for each of us to arrive and slot into. So it’s our job to shed our skins, adapt, review, think, change, listen… and speak up when we believe something is right – and to never, ever assume we had the answer all along.
Oh, and keep talking. Be honest. Speak for what matters, but think about the words you use and the way you use them. Think first. Assume only one thing: the children do – and must always come first. Our offspring AND our students. After all, it’s all about balance…. And when people say, ‘I don’t know how you do it!’ please understand that I don’t do it very well all of the time. Not at all. But I’m doing my best. And learning to be a little more patient and a little less hard on myself, and a little more assertive, but in the best possible way.
Is moving to leadership in a brand new context with priorities at home hard? Like hell it is. Harder that you’ll ever imagine – and in numerous different ways. Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY.
I’ve left lots of details ambiguous, for reasons that are valid and authentic. There are lots of people to thank. They all know who they are. I’m especially grateful for finding a voice – and being heard – today.