Blogging to unwind and untangle.
If you’d asked me ten years ago what my educational values were, I’d probably have looked a bit bemused. To be honest, I wasn’t able to articulate them then. But I know what I stand for now, and it’s well-known to those I’ve worked with and regular readers of my blog, and I won’t re-hash them here.
So, starting a new job in a new role and a new school with a department facing lots of change, I had a clear idea of how to proceed. Relationships are paramount, as we were inspiringly reminded at the Relational Schools’ film launch last Thursday.
Regular face-to-face contact, chances for open dialogue, teaching and learning as the focus of what we’re all passionate about and students at the centre of everything. These were my first priorities. Along with getting my head around dozens of new systems and fifteen different log-ins….
It was always going to be challenging, and we know that assumption is the mother of all… mistakes. I’d planned a pretty long introduction to the department about who I was and why I was there, but on the day, judged that keeping this down to a sentence and getting on with the bread-and-butter work was a priority. In retrospect, this was possibly a mistake. A split-site and my own pretty demanding teaching made daily contact with individuals in a large dept unreliable, so there was room for assumptions to be made and conclusions jumped to.
What I saw as supportive had the capacity to be construed by some as overly invasive. The culture of lesson drop-ins might be associated too closely with a sense of being ‘caught out’ or ‘checked upon’. What I saw as invitations to communicate regularly could be seen as overly zealous. I hadn’t necessarily considered context or history enough. And I’ve never been a fan of workplace politics…
To know so wholeheartedly what we stand for and find that others’ perceptions might just be at odds is actually quite difficult to swallow. In previous roles, my various flaws were always balanced by a persona who was supportive and placed well-being as first priority.
From teachers to students. I gave most in terms of relationships to an early cohort of students in London. Many of them , now in their late twenties, are still in touch, and I regularly act as referee, sounding board and occasionally, author of court references! But I do wonder. They were so utterly and unconditionally supported by me that I fear it created a culture of over-dependence. It may have been the generation, the social context of any number of other factors, but many have failed to flourish as we’d all hoped. I wonder if some more ‘tough love’ might not have been called for. It’s something that occasionally keeps me up at night.
And with staff, with a department we lead, perhaps it’s sometimes the same. Of course support and nurturing are important, but challenge and robust conversations and a reminder that we’re in it, not for our own self-esteem and gain, ultimately, but for that of the students. Is this not worth considering too? To be seen, even momentarily, as an authoritative leader was a nasty shock, but I can’t help wondering if there’s a place for this too, even in talented, high-achieving departments.
In the end, it all comes back to balance. And culture and understanding and patience. And always, always learning.