Beware the barrenness of a busy life. ~ Socrates
Epiphanies and moments of clarity can be simple and, on reflection, obvious. The following list of ‘5 things I learned in 2015’ may seem like statements of the bleeding obvious. They are nothing new, and yet this year I’ve seen new refractions from, and noticed more minute details of, these simple truths. They have been affirmed for me this year through my experiences of being and becoming. Of teaching, leading, parenting, coaching, being coached, researching and writing.1. Doing many things at once can work, but it’s also important to take breaks.
In the last few years I’ve been working 0.8 of a teaching and leadership job at a school, parenting two pre-schoolers and working on my PhD (now submitted – woot!). While I always had a sense that this was working for me in its strange busy way, it wasn’t until my first writing retreat this year that I understood how much. On my retreat, I found it difficult to stay on my one task – editing the PhD thesis draft – for a full weekend. I realised that my routine of intense short bursts of PhD, in among the other many things in my life, worked for me. These short, regular, time-constrained bursts of energetic PhD work were intensive and focused. They felt like an indulgence, some intellectual ‘me-time’ in which I could luxuriate, a brain-bending haven from my other responsibilities. It helped me to love my PhD, while also appreciating the specialness of my teaching, leading and parenting roles.
Yet, as I discovered, relentless busyness is not sustainable. Breaks are required. Real, curl-your-toes-in-the-sand, unplug, breathe deeply and love abundantly kind of breaks. Nourishment for wellbeing. Care for self and others. Time to breathe.
2. Welcome resistance & engage in respectful disagreement.
On my blog, which is now 16 months old, as in Twitter and in my professional life, I have been becoming more comfortable with, and encouraging of, disagreement, although I prefer dissent to be served in a respectful, articulate and reasoned manner. And I prefer disruption which emerges from deep purpose, rather than trendy buzzwordification. Last year I completed the Adaptive Schools Foundation course, which champions graceful disagreement as a key element of high-performing groups. I’ve written a few blog posts which err on the side of controversial. I’ve engaged in Twitter debate. I’ve experienced my first peer review comments from academic journals, and attempted to take critique as an opportunity to strengthen my work. And in my role leading and implementing a school coaching initiative for teachers, I have welcomed the contributions of those who are resistant to the change.
I’ve found those individuals who might be dismissed as ‘resistors’ or negative voices, to be important ones worthy of close listening. I find myself asking those who disagree to take the time to explain their view to me. I listen intently, wondering, ‘What can I learn here? How might this help me to make what we’re doing better, stronger, and meaningful for a wider range of people?’
I am reminded of this line of Richard Bach’s from his novella Illusions:
There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.
It is often in engaging with those who disagree with us, that we are taken to new places in our own thinking, helped to consider alternate perspectives, or are able to find solutions which we may otherwise not have reached.
3. Trust individuals. Believe in their capacity. Choose empowerment.
Punitive accountability measures which promote fear and compliance can only undermine teachers’ and school leaders’ professions, identities and practices. Through my experiences of coaching, my PhD research into school leadership and organisational change, and my observations of systems of teacher evaluation around the world, I have become increasingly convinced of the need to focus on empowerment and growth, through support and trust. It’s the belief upon which my school’s coaching model is based.
4. Connections with others are powerful.
We know that connecting with others is powerful. One of my ‘three words’ for 2015 was ‘sharing’ and another was ‘presence’, both words which speak of connecting with others and being present in relationships.
This year, not only have my personal and face-to-face professional relationships been impactful, but so have connections I have made online. For the first time this year, I began to meet ‘in real life’ individuals I’ve connected with on Twitter and through my blog. Catching up over drinks, breakfast or the conference room had been a seamless transition from tweet, blog post or Voxer message, to in-person banter, support and inspiration. I’ve engaged in wonderful blogging conversations. I’ve become bewitched with the potential of our interconnectedness and the ways in which technology might help us grow support networks and knowledge webs.
5. Teeny regular steps add up to a long journey.
My PhD was the thing that brought home this truth to me. Over three years I plugged away with little step after little step, finding stolen moments of doctoral time in the cracks in my days and nights. Regular, persistent effort. Sometimes forward; sometimes back; but maintaining forward momentum. And then I looked back along the path I’d walked and found that it added up to a thesis. So my big lesson was, just put one foot in front of the other. Keep going!