Planning for Balance

So I was doing the dishes and thoughts started to drift into my consciousness, forcing me to look at them. As I have said before, I lacked balance during 2014. I want balance back. The last couple of days have inspired the idea that I need to work out which areas of my life I want to focus on during 2015 to get the balance. My spiritual practice as a witch is right up there and I started to put out the energy to call my teacher to me; I feel that it is time. I am in the process of booking a reading for myself. I have enquired about meditation classes. I am bored by television (a positive sign because lord knows it zaps any motivation/inspiration to actually live your life). And I am reading at the rate of knots. I have planted some herbs and flowers, and am tending to their growth. So I am on the path.

And I got to thinking, what stops this from happening when I am at work. Obviously the answer is me. More specifically my choices and underlying limitations. Last year was a huge year for me professionally; I really came in to my own as a teacher, a mentor and a leader. It was important for me to achieve this level of professional growth so that I could carry the achievement with me into my personal growth. I was focused and committed last year. I knew what I had to achieve and I achieved it. I don’t think I necessarily set tangible goals but I had a constant to do list. And as a result, I did.

I am setting a similar type of to do list for my personal growth this year; the things that I want to have ticked off by the end of 2015. Spiritual growth, healing work, time in nature, all right up there with learning ukulele (a community college course in March should see this one ticked off) and writing my bestseller (yep, all the help in the world needed with this one).

I have been researching courses all afternoon. Trying to find the one thing that ties all of my loose ribbons together, and I can’t find it. I think it is because it all already lies within me. I am a trained educator. I am a trained teacher of meditation. I am a holistic counsellor. I am a Reiki Master. I have dabbled in mediumship and can read the cards (to varying levels of success). I have gained my Master of Arts in Writing. I have the skills and the paperwork to support all of my strands. What I lack is the venture that draws them together. And I lack the vision or the trust or the vehicle to enable me to see my next steps.

But I also fear that when work starts back, I will lose my ability to give myself permission to live my life. The demands on me are significant (mostly in my own head lol). Saying ‘no’ has never been a strength for me; and yes, that is connected to my sense of value (I know I am valuable but for some reason, I still struggle to say no to others). I want to continue to succeed at work but I think I need to draw the line between ensuring my success and enabling the success of others. Mentoring is important to me, I feel that being in service to others is vital for social connection and communal success. However, I need to draw and reinforce the line that I am just one part of the cog and not the entire cog. I need to reestablish myself professionally by empowering others to be confident in their own practice and forging their own paths. Maybe a simple reminder to myself each day will achieve this.

I also need to set work hours. And I need to adhere to them. Rigidly. I think a weekly timetable could ensure the success of this; physically timetabling specific work tasks and personal tasks, and publishing my timetable. This would allow others to see that whilst they are important to me, I have parameters with which to live my own life and they are just one component. I started an appointment system last year. It worked whilst I enforced it. I think that the scheduling of time is important and something I need to focus on. The person in my appointment time will have me completely present during that time, and after that time, I can be present for myself. This should support me to find energy to complete my own personal to do list too.

Funnily, even as I write this, with absolute gusto I assure you, there is that niggling voice in the back of my head telling me that I am being selfish. And whilst I grin as I write this, and admonish that niggling voice, I realise that my sense of self-worth is really the core issue here. I need to wholly accept that I am valuable enough to say no. That I do not live just for the sake of others. That my life and my development is important too.

And I think affirmations can help me with this.

Interesting …

Leadership

It has been an interesting year this year. I have learned a great deal about leadership. Especially in education.

As a teacher I have always subscribed to a quote by Haim Ginott:

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Mr Ginott died in 1973 yet so much of his writing on Education is so so relevant. For me, this quote has gained deeper significance in my role as a leader this year. It is as relevant for leadership as it is for teaching, possibly more so.

I have fulfilled two significant roles in leadership this year: as Head Teacher of a new Creative and Performing Arts faculty and as a Literacy Co-ordinator under Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnerships (ILNNP). I have worked with many staff and as a result I have learned a great deal. About myself, about the importance of leadership, and the importance of offering compassion and stability. It isn’t always easy but it is necessary for success. And at the crux of success in leadership is the development and maintenance of strong, professional relationships.

As a human, I am not always perfect in my role, but I aspire to be without sacrificing my humanity. I feel like I have attained some success in this in recent days. And I think it stemmed from a conversation I had with a student in a shop eight weeks ago.

Eight weeks ago I had failed in my final IVF cycle. And I needed bread. After tears from watching a movie that triggered emotion, I decided to throw on my nearest clothes, without makeup and without even brushing my teeth or putting my hair up or putting my glasses on, I left the house to buy bread from a local supermarket (not my local bakery because some people I know work there and I didn’t want to run into anyone I knew).

And then I did. Run into people. A Year 11 student and we chatted nicely, me dismissing my appearance self-consciously, before heading to the cash register. And there she was. The catalyst for a moment that would yield change in my performance at work; not that either of us realised its significance at the time.

Her: Hi Miss.

Me: Hi C-L. How are you?

Her: Good thanks.

Idle chit chat.

Her: You are really nice outside of school.

Me: I’m always nice.

Her: No. At school you aren’t very nice.

Me: [surprise; hurt; ego driven emotion]

To be fair, this was a student who had disrespected one of my staff members and I had fought for her suspension as a result.

Obviously I went home considering what she had said. I do not feel the need to be a friend to my students but I do feel the need to be friendly, approachable, caring. So I was shocked. I had always been known as a caring teacher, strict but fair. And then I realised that kids used to speak to me for support and that they didn’t really approach me anymore. Year 7 are scared of me and regard me as a B word. And in the process of unpacking all of this I realised that my change in role from teacher to leader had created this, sometimes but not always necessary, divide.

And I didn’t like it.

And so acknowledging this inspired me to change the way I was interacting with the kids. And I started with my Year 9 class.

I walked in, I sat down, and I told them about my interaction with one of their peers during the weekend. And so I stayed nice for the whole period until the last five minutes. I was exceptionally polite, caring, no firm tone, and they did very little work. They talked over the top of me. They talked to each other. I requested silence several [hundred] times, to no avail. And then it happened. It was inevitable. I shrieked,

“I’ve had an epiphany! The reason I am not nice to you people is because you don’t work when I’m nice. In fact, you achieve nothing. You are creating the teacher you have in front of you. You choose her by your behaviour. And your behaviour when I’m nice is unproductive. Aaarghhhhhhhhhhhh!”

And so I acknowledged the need for balance and for flexibility, and the need to acknowledge context. And I remembered Mr Ginott’s quote, which sits on my desk as a constant reminder. And I softened, just a little, and remembered that I became a high school teacher to help the broken heal, to inspire change in their lives, and to install hope. And by so doing, I remembered my love and passion for teaching, and my desire to change the world. And so, I think this became a catalyst for me recalling a higher purpose.

And maybe that’s why I’m not pregnant.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t take the fertility path earlier.

Maybe this is my answer.

As a leader, it is really hard to meet the demands that come from everywhere: kids, parents, staff, deputy principals, principal, outside agencies, employer, community. Really hard. And it is easy to forget our core principles.

But it is hard to forget that in our roles we are regarded as non-people. Yet expected to steer the ship whilst providing calm seas and support when the tide is high, and the ocean turbulent. It is a lonely place, leadership. Be it in the classroom, in the staffroom, in the school, in the community, in the world.

But it is a vital role. And one that I am happily learning.

Success is gradual; every day a work in progress. But last week, some Year 7 girls came up to the staffroom to chat. And Year 9 have been perfect in the last week and have spent, every period, writing quality responses.

Small steps, but indicators that Haim was right. We all need to listen and remember and respond.

And together the children will heal, and society will grow, and humanity will flourish.