Umbrellas and Books!

We need teachers, schools and an education system that can adapt to and more importantly enhance new ideas, new strategies and new thinking. As a teacher I know education is an ever changing world with new ideas filtering down from government or senior leadership on what can seem like a never ending stream of change. Stress can have a profound effect on a schools ability to take on that change and excel within it, which is why stress should be high on the agenda for all change makers be it deputy heads, headteachers, ministers or education enthusiasts.

As teachers we have all sat through meetings being shown the future, a new idea, a better way and like many, I am sure, I have mentally groaned at the idea of yet another thing to do, to learn, to try, to be judged upon. I have sat through meetings when audible groans have been heard and some were mine. So does that mean I was scared of change, or stuck in my ways? Does it mean I was a trouble makers or pessimist? I am lucky enough to work at a school where ideas do not only trickle down from senior leadership but more often than not trickle sideways from teacher to teacher, so I have also been on the other side of that scenario. I have been the one espousing the virtues of new ideas, trying to gain support and use of everything from augmented reality to iBooks in class. I have shared what I felt were umbrella ideas, ideas no-one could fail but to see the benefit in and most have been met with enthusiasm and support but, and there is a but, they have failed to be adopted widely. These ideas were sure fire winners in my mind, as clearly of benefit as is an umbrella in a rain storm but they did not catch on. Was I a victim of others pessimism? Were others scared of change, stuck in their ways? Was karma simply paying me back for my lack of enthusiasm in historical initiatives? Quite simply no. It is no more other staffs fault that my ideas were not adopted than it was my fault I felt so lumbered by others ideas in the past.

Throughout teaching we have stresses to carry, like books. These books vary in sizes, some large but lacking content like Ofsted and others small and heavy like Value Added. We carry many of them, Pupil Premium, Extra Curriculum, More Able, Differentiation, Marking, Child Protection, Reporting, National Curriculum, Subject, Form, Performance Reviews, the list is seemingly endless and each of these books slowly fills our arms until we are burdened by the weight. This is what stress does to us and while some may stroll through life with nothing more than a notebook in hand, for others huge libraries are acquired and carried on a daily basis. Now ask that person standing in the rain with arms full of books if they want an umbrella. No-one in their right mind would turn down the offer of an umbrella but when your arms are full even an umbrella in a rainstorm can seem like a burden too far. Stress reduces our ability to adopt new ideas. When struggling to carry those stresses we are familiar with, new ideas no matter how good, no matter how fail safe, no matter how beneficial become impossible to lift. They become a burden we are too scared to attempt to carry. The answer for change makers is not to force those changes on us but to first ask how to take away some of those burdens. Teachers with empty arms have more capacity for new things and we need teachers happy and willing to grab that umbrella and run out into the storm. We need teachers willing to get soaked through in the pursuit of trying new things, of experimenting and that will only happen when stress is higher on the agenda for headteachers, deputies, education ministers and all of us.

Stress, Teaching and Life!

Teaching is a stressful job!………..Let’s get that statement out there from the beginning. Teaching is a stressful job.

Despite the media rhetoric of long holidays and short days spent drinking tea while sat at a desk, it is a strange and stressful job. It is not the only job I have had. I have had jobs that involved very tight deadlines, large amounts of money, international flights to deal with non-english speaking factories, international trade shows, magazines scrutinising every product I designed and at times very long working weeks but of all these things I have done teaching has proved to be the most unrelentingly stress ridden job I have had. Do not take this as an anti-teaching article, for I love teaching. I really do love it and I hope to do nothing else but it, but from bitter experience I have seen what stress can do to the career I love so much. In 2012 I had a nervous breakdown which changed my outlook on life and also on my profession and the stresses which it brings. Prior to the day it happened I had always had a mental image of a nervous or mental breakdown as being someone sat in a darkened room crying because life had become too much for them. I guess like many, wrongly, I had seen it as something that happens to weak people. I am not weak! If you knew me you would know that to be the case. In my life I have been very active, I have written motorcycles off in crashes, nearly drowned down a cave, been a thousand feet up a cliff with no ropes, been coughing blood after a fall climbing, had hypothermia, been hospitalised for dehydration, run cross country marathons and been involved in mountain rescues and of all the things that have happened to me, or I have inflicted upon myself rarely have any even slowed me down. I don’t mention those things to boast or big myself up and many of the people who know me will not know much of what I just mentioned but I say it here to illustrate the large void between how I thought breakdowns happened and who I was. In 2012 however I got first hand experience of a breakdown and it involved no crying and no sitting in a darkened room, it was far more physical than I could have imagined.

What happened next set me on a path, knocked me on my back and propelled me back up. It also led to research, awareness and some personal truths about teaching and stress. To read more and to see my research project and the end of the story read my new iBook for free now.

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