Three Things I would do differently if I started again?

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After 40 years, deeply embedded in schooling as a Class Teacher, Head of Department and School Principal I often look back and wonder what I would do differently if I was to have the experience again.  Hindsight is so powerful, but we only have access to it once we have lived the moments.

The Three Things that I would do differently if I started again are:

Idea 1: Enjoy the precious moments with kids and keep them in focus

Because our brains have such a powerful tendency to focus on the negative, we rapidly forget the incredible moments.  Those moments fade rapidly in our memories as we deal with the next drama.  When I retired, each class was given an opportunity to write notes that were put together in an amazing book.  I often page through those notes and wonder why I spent so much time fretting about the small things instead of focusing on my primary task – raising children to be confident, capable adults of character, able to collaborate, communicate, think critically and be creative.  

Keep a photo memory of the good times during your sojourn in this job – kids laughing, playing and having fun.  Record the moments of the staff enjoying events and playing games.  These moments are so important.  

Instead, the toxic 2% leave their image embedded in our memory.  It was quite some time into my career that I learnt the 80/20 principle.  At any given time, 80% of the parents at your school are happy with what you are doing for their children.  20% are unhappy. All of us fall into the 20% some time in our lives.  From  time to time we are unhappy with the service in a restaurant or at a store.  

It is normal to be unhappy from time to time.  But, of those 20%, 2% are toxic and will literally poison your love for teaching.  They are the most dangerous people in schools and shouldn’t be given any of your time.  

Instead of lying awake at night pondering how to make the 20% happy, accept the reality of the 80/20 principle.  If we don’t, we start giving the unhappy 20% group, 80% of our time and those that are benefitting from the current environment only receive 20% of our attention.  The toxic 2% drive us into deep anxiety which cripples our passion and drive.

One big idea that I would apply if I were to have my career over would be to saturate myself in the joy of the job and embed the positive in my mind.

Idea 2: Spend more time finding the right person for the job.

Human capital is the most precious resource in schools.  Too often, in the fast paced world of school leadership, I resorted to filling the post instead of finding the right candidate.  The pressure of the job meant that the TO DO list was so long.  There were never enough hours to do everything.  

I learnt that teachers can write amazing testimonials and current employers will speak glowingly about the candidate in order to get them out of their schools.  They interview with the passion of a saint, but once in the job, their true colours emerge and they eat away at the synergy on the team like a rampant cancer cell.  The energy required to heal the impact they have on the staff outweighs the time one could have spent making sure that the applicant is indeed the right fit.  

Idea 3: Recognise that it is just a job

Educators make this fundamental mistake.  We actually believe that we are an indispensable part of the school’s life.  We may play a vital role and bring about incredible change, but we forget it is only…a job.  

This will be my motto

Spending endless hours at school does not make you a better teacher.  Being the first car in the carpark in the morning and the last to leave in the evening may actually fall into the psychotic behaviour zone.  

We literally lose contact with reality.  The reality is that I am firstly a partner, then a father, a community member and lastly a passionate teacher.  The moment we get these in the wrong order, we fall apart emotionally and physically.  The job is only possible if we spend enough time looking after those that we love – including ourselves.  It is not healthy to eat, sleep and live “school!”  It is a job that we go to each day and deliver excellence.  The moment the job takes control of our life, we become bogged down by the enormity of the task before us.

I have loved my sojourn  as a teacher and education leader.  But, being in the social entrepreneurial world for the last four years as a consultant, has opened my eyes to the pain and struggles of school leaders and teachers.  We are worth so much, but the system is designed to devour us and spit out the broken pieces.  

From day one, take control of your own destiny by carefully structuring your life in such a way that you enjoy the job and it provides the necessary support to achieve your goals as a human being,  Limit your working hours and look after your health.  Avoid working every night of the week, especially when weekends are used for sporting events.  The body cannot work for ten to twelve weeks without a break and remain physically and emotionally healthy.  Take time to look after your own wellbeing.  If you don’t, you will end up getting sick and losing your original passion and enthusiasm.


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