Showing posts with label OptimisticEd. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OptimisticEd. Show all posts

Sunday, 26 March 2017

People Can't Be Radiators If Their Leaders Drain Them And Give Them Nothing To Radiate


I'm not really sure where it came from but the idea of an organisation being made up either of radiators or drains is fairly well known - it's even made its way into the vernacular of school leaders.

If you've not come across it, it's very simple: radiators radiate positive energy and such like, whereas drains drain said energy. It's not a bad analogy really - we can all identify certain teachers we know within the two categories. Most teachers, in reality, will probably flit between being a radiator and a drain depending on the circumstances(I know I do). And there probably is some sort of middle ground too - it just doesn't have a straightforward parallel in the world of plumbing.

So, a reflection as a leader who hopes that his team will all be, for want of a better phrase, radiators: I can't expect people to be 'radiators' instead of 'drains' if I'm draining them and giving them very little to radiate.

It's funny what leads to these ruminations: a couple of mishaps with removing radiators during some redecorating got me thinking about how radiators work.

Radiators do not create their own heat. They only radiate heat which is generated in the boiler. Middle leaders are often referred to as the 'engine room' of an organisation. For the purposes of this analogy they are actually the 'boiler room' of a school. And not just middle leaders, senior leaders too. It is leaders who must be generating the heat, or the positive energy, for their staff to be radiating.

Leaders must set the climate - whatever they themselves radiate will be what their teams radiate. If a leader is a drain then their teams will feel drained and will have nothing to radiate - just like a radiator which has just fallen off its bracket and has spurted putrid water all over the newly-fitted carpet.

There are many ways that, as a leader, I might drain my staff. I might have unrealistic expectations of how they plan, mark, prepare or teach. I might fail to support them enough to enable them to cope with changes. I might not provide the necessary emotional support or foster the kind of relationships that are conducive to good teamwork and good teaching. There are a million and one ways I might drain my staff - every choice I make will have a knock-on effect, either positive or negative. As a leader I have to constantly evaluate how my actions will impact on my team, and whether they will drain them of energy or energise them.

Valuing having a team of radiators means that as well as avoiding draining them, I also must give them something to radiate. In order for me to have that positive energy (a loose term, I know) I must ensure that my boiler is fully-serviced and running efficiently. In short, I have to take care of myself in order to set the climate. The balance is a fine one though: I shouldn't ensure my own wellbeing to the detriment of the wellbeing of my team members. For example, when delegating a job I shouldn't just offload it to someone else if it means my load is lightened and theirs is made heavier. All the same, I see good levels of my own wellbeing as an essential part of enabling my team to be radiators.

It is my hope that my enthusiasm for the privileged and exciting role we hold in shaping children's futures will be conducted to the teachers who work with me. But there is no such thing as wireless plumbing, or osmosis, in a heating system - it takes some careful and deliberate pipe work to connect each teacher to the boiler. It will take a great deal of my thoughtfulness to enable each member of my team to radiate the positive energy that makes education possible.

The brilliant thing about creating a heating system like this is that (and here's where the analogy totally falls apart) anyone can then be the boiler creating that positive energy. The energy is generated exponentially as each team member begins to contribute, enabled by the initial example of their leader.

Even if this whole analogy leaves you cold (sorry), there is merit in its basis: leaders can either be radiators or drains, and whichever one they are, their team will most likely follow suit. Turn up the thermostat, keep that pilot light burning and bring the heat to your classrooms this week!



Monday, 13 February 2017

Education Has Reached its Lowest; it's Time to Love it More


"When do you think it's time to love something the most, child?
When it's successful? And has made everything easy for us, huh?
That ain't the time at all.
It's when it's reached its lowest and you don't believe in it anymore.
And the world done kicked it in its tail enough that it's lost itself!
Yes, that's when: when nobody cares."

That's Jill Scott's introduction to De La Soul's latest album 'And The Anonymous Nobody'. Words, which when applied to education, should cause one to stop and think.

When we're talking about education we're not just talking about pedagogy and assessment. We don't just mean lessons and homework. It's not about behaviour management strategies or whether or not we set or stream or teach in mixed ability groups. Education isn't only about the distinction between early years, primary, secondary, higher or further. It's not about any of the arguments that rage on social media or the issues debated by academics. It's not even solely about the teachers, lecturers, classroom assistants or school leaders. You know what's coming: it's about the learners, be they children, teenagers, young adults or 'mature' students. 

And when education is on it's knees, crippled by lack of funding, ever-changing curricula, recruitment and retention crises and workload problems the ones who suffer are the learners, most of whom are children. The children suffer. Education needs some love right now - these children need some love right now. Now is the time for education to be loved the most - it has reached its lowest and so many don't believe in it any more. The world has kicked education in its tail and it has lost itself.

The love revolution must come from those who are closest to education. The vows need to be renewed by those already involved in education. If anyone knows what there is to love about education then it is us - the teachers, the school leaders, the classroom assistants, the lecturers, the lunchtime supervisors and everyone else who gets into work everyday and does so much more than 'a job'. Educator, you are in the best position to show education the love it needs.

We must not allow our profession to be dragged through the mud - we wouldn't allow it to be done to our partners. We must stand up and speak out for it. We must show others that education is worth caring about - we must sing its praises. We must love it. Until we do, those outside of education won't. 

Even when it seems that education doesn't love us back. Even when the relationship is rocky. Like anything, it's not always going to be easy. There are times when the loving takes more effort. But could it be that with a little bit of love, a spark will be reignited? With a little bit of proactivity and creative thinking, could the flame be rekindled? Could it be made to work? Is it just the particular school that's not working out rather than education as a whole?

It's not even that education demands a hopelessly devoted to you type of love - it doesn't demand infatuation or obsession. It just needs love, respect, nurture. And it needs all these for the good of the learners and their future.

It might seem like nobody cares - the government, the media, the general public, even your SLT -  and that is precisely why you, educator, need to care. You know what to care about and why caring about it is worth it. Educators, education needs our love most during these precarious times - can you give it the love it needs despite everything?

Two excellent responses to this blog post:




Monday, 9 January 2017

Book Review: 'Hopeful Schools' by Mary Myatt

Recently I've been wondering how all of my educational ideologies hang together. I often experience the discomfort of feeling like some of them are at odds with each other. I'm the sort that likes to have all my ducks in a row; I like to to understand my own thoughts with great clarity but rarely is the bubbling surface of the witch's brew calm enough for me to divine the meaning of the concocted ingredients.

Mary Myatt's latest book 'Hopeful Schools' has joined the dots between many of my pre-held education-related beliefs and ideas thus forming a far clearer picture in my head of how I think schools (and those who work in them) should operate. 'Hopeful Schools' has shown me that I am a hopeful teacher and leader working in a hopeful school and that most, if not all, of the ways I operate are precisely because of that - Mary makes it clear that my ideologies do hang together well. The book also provided me with further food for thought: areas of practice that would hang together well with my current philosophies.

Reading through, my highlighter went into overdrive as I found phrase after phrase which spoke words of affirmation to me (I had to refrain several times from just writing 'YES!' in the margin). But these same words, to someone less hopeful, are words which have the potential to transform thinking and promote positive action: the chapter on scarcity and abundance is particularly helpful when it comes to shifting mindset. And despite writing that 'hope cannot be forced on others' Mary Myatt makes such a clear argument for why educators should be hopeful that she is sure to win many sceptics over.

Part of the winsomeness of the book is that it acknowledges that negative feelings and thoughts should be taken into consideration and that being hopeful doesn't equate to blind optimism. It also takes into account the fact that many of our base human instincts might initially lead us to focus on 'sad, bad things' but the book then gently pushes the reader on to consider how these instincts might be overcome. 

There are recurring themes and ideas throughout the book, often looked at from slightly different angles in different chapters, but which sometimes feel a little repetitious. The short chapters are great for dipping into but to get a sense of how all the aspects of a truly hopeful school work together to create an environment of hope I'd really recommend that the book is read through as a whole in a short time frame. Reading it in this manner will leave the reader with a melting pot of simmering ideas allowing the brain to refine the showcased ideas into clear, actionable points that are relevant for their setting.

A highly recommended read.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

At The Portal: Optimism and Positivity for a New Year

As we stand at the portal of an opening year we are wont to reflect and prepare; like Janus we look both backwards and forwards as we assess what has been and what is to come. With a panoramic view of past and future we experience myriad emotions, our minds an ever-changing sky of sunshine, rain, storm clouds, rainbows, bright stars and dark nights.

2016 has been characterised (and in some ways victimised) as another annus horribilis (politics, education and celebrity deaths spring immediately to mind) but the practice of ruminating on a year just gone is least effective when looking at it in a negative way. Conversely, identifying the positive aspects of the previous 12 months and remembering the events and people one is grateful for allows for more optimistic forecasting.

Scientific studies show the many benefits of practicing gratitude: more and better relationships, improved empathy and self-esteem, reduced aggression, higher quality sleep and increased mental strength. And it stands to reason that if someone can look back on a difficult year and still find the positives that they will also be able to look optimistically through the gateway into the unknown of another year.

Winston Churchill said that 'an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty' but it's not necessary to wait for difficulties to arise in order to be optimistic. In fact it's easier to generate optimistic thoughts and feelings in less challenging circumstances which will stand one in good stead when one comes up against the inevitable struggles that life (and teaching) present: the workload, the work/life balance, the behaviour of the kids, the new GCSEs and their results, improving on last year's dire SATs scores - your personal list will no doubt go on.

But 2017 is year for optimism, hope and positivity. How do I know this? Because it is inevitable that it is a year that will bring many stresses, strains and worries, as any new year has the potential to bring. But why does that mean it's a year for optimism, hope and positivity? Well, because, really, it's the only feasible option for coping with what's to come. Dealing with difficulties negatively usually leads to a downward spiral in which further difficult situations arise. So when tough times do occur, a positive viewpoint and an optimistic response is all that will give one hope for the future; it's all that will allow one to continue when travelling the road ahead seems impossible. Without optimism there is no resilience, there is no willingness to continue, there is very little point to the future. Without optimism what's to come can only be met either negatively or neutrally, neither of which really allow for a response which will make the best of each and every situation.

I'm not encouraging an uber-macho taking of the year by the proverbial horns, nor a passive acceptance of come-what-may, but a measured, calm and determined approach to where life's road will take you this year. I'm not saying it'll all be hunky-dory either - realistically all of us will experience stormy times in 2017: some will just be caught in a shower, for others it'll be a relentless deluge. But no matter the scale, an optimism which acknowledges and embraces hard times, which seeks practical ways to overcome them, and which recalls and is thankful for the brighter times, will see any of us through the darkness.

As Big Ben chimes in the new year allow that first step across the threshold to be hope-filled. Set your sights on making the best of every opportunity you are given. Open your eyes to the possibility that positive things may be happening all around you, indeed some of them may be happening because of you. In 2017, as you continue on the undulating paths of life with its vicissitudinal weather, allow positivity and optimism to direct you. 


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Leading With Optimism and Positivity

C.S. Lewis once wrote a reply to a letter from a girl named Joan Lancaster. In it he offered her some valuable writing tips. One piece of advice he gave has always stuck with me:

'In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."'

This week a member of my teaching team messaged me saying 'thank you for... keeping me feeling so optimistic and positive this year'. Receiving feedback like that is reassuring; I often worry my online persona does not align with how I am in real life. Upon reflection, I can probably count on one hand the number of times in the last two years that I've actually spoken the words 'positive' or 'optimistic' to them.

My colleague hasn't had the easiest of times this year and has come to me as phase leader for help many times. Had I have responded with something amounting to 'just be positive' or 'try to be optimistic' I don't think I'd have been much use - it would have seemed like I was fobbing them off with empty platitudes.

My reflection of my meagre two years in leadership is that I have somehow, despite all the challenges I myself have faced, managed to lead in a way that has made others say 'positive' and feel optimistic without my having to use those words. After spending time under my leadership my colleagues have themselves labeled my leadership style as optimistic and positive; if I'd have labeled myself as such they'd always have been looking out for when I didn't live up to my own standards. Using the words, as Lewis pointed out, would be lazy and unhelpful but acting with optimism and positivity as core principles has made my ethos clear without putting people's backs up; the very real danger of telling struggling people to be optimistic or positive is that they immediately write off the advisor as unrealistic and, quite frankly, a bit naive and stupid. As a leader you have to show that something works, in this case: positivity and optimism.

At this point another blogger would write a handy 10 step guide entitled 'How to lead with positivity and optimism' but I can't even figure out what I've done to ensure that I have been a positive and optimistic leader. I'm not even sure that those qualities are ones that can be gained in a self-improvement system - perhaps I am only positive and optimistic because I am naturally like that. I'm not even suggesting that everyone should try to lead optimistically and positively but if they do, it's not about what is said explicitly but what is implied by what is said done.

'Where there's a will, there's a way.' That is my motto, not that I ever really say it out loud, or try to force it on others. But having deep-seated convictions like this are the only thing I can identify as reasons for how and why I lead with optimism. In another recent affirming moment my wife reminded me that when we met, it was my optimism that ensured that 10 years later we are very happily married: I told her 'I think it will be really good' when she expressed concerns over conducting a long-distance relationship with a guy everyone thought wasn't intellectual enough for her. She obviously bought into my natural positivity then and mostly she still does! Acting and speaking with implicit optimism is key, especially when anticipating someone else's pessimism.

You see, optimism is for life, not just for clich├ęd quotes pasted over a photoshopped sunset. You have live it to be it - you can't just say it.

Which leaves me in a quandary. Is there actually any point in my blogging and tweeting about optimism and positivity in light of my musings here? Isn't writing about optimism and positivity akin to flippantly telling someone to look at the brightside? If my day-to-day actions can't be seen by my readers then do I stand a chance of them ever being able to truly say 'thank you for... keeping me feeling so optimistic and positive this year'? Perhaps I just have to heed Lewis' advice and become a better writer, ensuring that I don't simply write about optimism and positivity but write with optimism and positivity, avoiding the words completely. Now there's a challenge.

PostScript: I am aware that this blog post probably comes across as self-congratulatory but it's not supposed to. I often worry that my actions don't match my words here on my blog so, if anything, this is just a record of my relief at the fact that others do recognise that I practice what I preach (even though they don't know that I preach it here on the internet!). It has been quite personal, which I admit I don't always do (I usually try to write in order to help others), but I still hope it might help someone in some way. I would love to hear the reflections of other leaders who consider positivity or optimism as a core value of leadership.