How to rescue a rubbish day

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by events. At times like this, acknowledging the good in others can help (365 words)

A couple of months ago, I went for an interview for a job. I didn’t get it. I was hugely disappointed. I’d like to tell you that I thought, ‘Oh well, their loss,’ but I didn’t. Temporarily, I descended into a pit of despair and thought about how I’d never be able to get to where knew I could be. I disappeared to bed and wallowed.

After an hour or so, I got over myself. For over a year now, before I go to bed, I’ve been writing down three things every day that I’m grateful for in any aspect of my life. It’s quite illuminating and it’s amazing how much doing that can change your perspective.

So I decided to stop concentrating on my disappointment and say thank you to a few people in my life. I had a couple of cards that I had bought for specific friends which I’d not yet sent, so I wrote those and sent them. Then I sent an entirely cheesy text to my cousin telling him how proud I was of him for a few things that he’s done recently and how much he inspired me. This was an unusual act, we usually talk about the stock market, business and creativity. Interestingly, within about 10 mins I got a lovely and entirely unexpected text back from him thanking me and saying how proud he was of me for a few specific things too.

After about an hour, I felt much better. Job? What job? They didn’t deserve me. I had great people in my life and there would be other opportunities.

At work, I keep a pack of ‘Thank You’ cards in my drawer. I hand write them occasionally and randomly to let colleagues, know I’ve noticed them and valued a specific thing that they have done. It’s 2 mins well spent and always turns around a bad day.

So next time you are having a bad day, register it, acknowledge it and move on. Then focus on other people for a bit and see what happens.

How do you get experience? By doing the damned thing.

I honestly think that ‘You don’t have enough experience,’ is generally a cop out answer for feedback as to why a person didn’t get a leadership role. Especially if it’s the only reason given. (326 words)

  1. That’s usually pretty obvious from their CV or application form so why waste their time interviewing?
  2. I honestly believe that any competent person can be trained to do the operational bits of most jobs if they have the right training, support and overall ethos or attitude.
  3. I’ve seen people with no experience be given jobs over those who have several times in my career

Anybody remember the TV series, ‘Faking It’? People were given a month to master a new skill, with the help of an expert mentor.  Most went from nothing to doing a pretty competent job. Also Strictly (used to) have people who had never really danced properly and got many up to a decent standard with intensive support from a professional.

I educate young people. None of them were born knowing how to factorise a quadratic equation but with careful teaching, mentoring and support from somebody who knows what they are doing, they learn.

I also develop staff and leaders. I once hired somebody whose boss indicated ‘No leadership potential’ on their reference because I saw something in him. He then went on to have a massive impact in his department and across the school because I and others believed in him and he took and created opportunities.

I’ve also been given roles where I had no direct experience but I learned on the job, I made mistakes and then I got better.

How does somebody get experience? By doing the damed thing. Being supported, given space to learn, reviewing stuff then trying again.

Maybe,  ‘You don’t have enough experience’ really means ‘I’m not willing to or don’t have the capacity to develop you at this time,’ or ‘Your ethos doesn’t fit with ours.’ That would be more honest.

 

 

Small acts of creation

“Your job cannot contain the sum total of who you are and what you want to make”

We have three children; in August they will be five, two and two. We were so smug in our evening routine that got them off to bed fairly early and gave us space to spend time together – that is, until the clocks went forward. The lighter nights decimated our cosy routine. I’ve not had a night of uninterrupted sleep for several weeks and, until last week, the kids were taking well over an hour to get to sleep. This, coupled with waking with the birds, meant the sleep deprivation of the newborn months had returned.

I need regular creativity in my life to stay happy. Creativity beyond my work. Suddenly, the time I’d carved out most evenings for creating or reading had disappeared. We were falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm.

At Easter I listened to a podcast about the power of morning routines and realised that could be the key for me. One problem, though – I already got up at 0530, and wasn’t sure I could face much earlier. Then I reflected that most mornings I actually woke up at 0500 then just lay around waiting for my alarm to go off. How about just getting up when I opened my eyes?

After some early teething problems, fast forward two months.

Routine:

Wake up around 0500-0510 with no alarm

Get up immediately

Go downstairs

Make a mint tea

Read a non-fiction book

Write up to one A4 page (longhand) in response to this

0530 go upstairs

Shower, get dressed

0600 family get up and the circus starts

What’s been the effect? The evenings are still crazy but my day starts with calm and an act of creation every day. The result? A much happier and more contented me. Make time to create – you’ll be better for it.

No advantages?

I attended a conference event recently which had the most diverse range of speakers of any event that I can remember attending.  What made it especially interesting was that it was aimed at a mainstream audience and was not specifically marketed for a particular minority or gender. It was also located outside of the obvious cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester etc where you’d naturally expect (but not always get) a diverse lineup. I noticed the gender, age and racial mix of the speakers whilst I was there as it was so unusual but it was only after I got home that I realised that it was the first event/conference that I’d ever been to where there was a speaker who was obviously disabled.

This after living in London for the first 25 years of my life, after attending a variety of educational conferences for the past 11 years of my working life and attending events that were keen to promote diversity in other ways.

It certainly gave me pause for thought. Sometimes our advantages in life are so ingrained and part of the status quo that we don’t even know what advantages we have.

Whatever I think I am, that’s what I’m not*

Perception is an interesting thing.  Some time ago I undertook a 360 degree diagnostic as part of a course that I’m on.  I assessed myself against the criteria and asked a variety of my colleagues to do the same, anonymously and online.  I received feedback from people I line managed, others more senior than me, people I worked closely along side and others who had interacted with me in a wider sense.

 

As can happen in schools, time passed quickly and I only got around to looking at the results today.  I downloaded them with detached curiosity and discovered something interesting – My colleagues perceive me to be a much better leader than I see myself. This is true of people who work closely with me as well as those who have more intermittent contact. On almost all of the 20ish competencies (apologies for the management speak)  my initial self assessment was lower than the average (mean to be precise- I’m a maths teacher) given by my colleagues.  The one notable exception, somewhat ironically I thought, was self awareness.  On that measure I graded myself on the highest rating but everybody else disagreed, so I clearly don’t know my bum from my elbow.

 

 This afternoon I got wondering about this disparity. For the record, I’m not a person given to false modesty and my respondents didn’t see my self assessment scores anyway.  Also, I deliberately choose a variety of people who I knew would tell the truth as they saw it, rather than being overly nice for fear of hurting my feelings. I deliberately included direct reports who have disagreed with me and my decisions in the past.  In my mind, I know that there are things that I am good at but I’m also aware that I’m only really at the start of my leadership journey and have lots more to learn. I’ve made mistakes and I’m sure I’ll make more, hopefully different ones,  in the future.  My immediate thought was that this diagnostic is not a measure of my actual effectiveness. It’s something subtly different, other’s perception of my effectiveness and leadership skills.  I could actually talk complete rubbish but perhaps if I do it confidently enough my colleagues may believe that I’m better than I am. Who knows?

 

Its always nice to know that you are respected but actually in the (not too distant) past I’ve had feedback from colleagues  that wasn’t quite as glowing. When I first managed a department some of my staff told me that I was dismissive and I was mortified. I realized that it was something to do with my fairly brief/terse/direct email style and decided to communicate more in person to counteract it.  I’ve also been told that I can come across as being too relaxed in certain situations so it appears that I am not taking them seriously enough.  This is almost the direct opposite of what is actually happening inside, in such situations, I’m often so nervous that I have terrible stomach cramps and I’ve been unable to eat breakfast and  but I must overcompensate without realising. 

 

In conclusion, perception is an important part of leadership and our own idea of who we are may not be entirely what others see or experience, for all sorts of reasons.  I think that 360 reviews or less formal ways of finding out what others in our organisation think of us, our vision, values and impact are a useful and essential way to bridge that gap . It’s important for those we work with and lead to know that we actually value their opinions and that if there is anything that is a major issue, that we will act upon it. It’s also useful to see whether what we see as our core values are actually apparent to everybody else.  If they are not then perhaps they aren’t quite as core as we think?   Interestingly, although the actual scores differed two things that are key for me as a leader  and that I hope permeate my daily practice and this blog were also identifies as my strong areas by my colleagues- learning focus and developing others- so maybe I can tell my bum and my elbow apart after all.

 

* The title for this post was probably influenced by Rachael Stevens’ excellent blog post about differentiation but I’m also an Arctic Monkey’s fan so maybe it was influenced by them.

 

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Random things I’ve learnt recently about school leadership

I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in schools over than my own over the past few weeks and have been treated generously by Heads and other SLT members who have given me part of their time. I’m still reflecting on specifics that relate to the particular context of my school and responsibilities but below are some general things that I have picked up and may be of use to others.

When applying for an SLT position, choose your head teacher . It’s easy to fixate on getting a particular role or the promotion but its better to choose a head teacher whose ethos you respect and who you think you can work with. You’ll be working closely with this person for sereveral years and need to be able to reflect their views and vision in the wider school. This relationship with the head is less important in other roles but more important the more senior you are in the school.

Nobody truly knows what they are doing in their first leadership position, especially in the early days and months. The more I talk to people I respect in senior positions the more I realise this is true, via their own admission. They just give the impression of knowing and ask a lot of people so that they can learn really quickly.

What is needed to get a school to become good is different to what is needed to make it become outstanding or even great and different schools are on different positions on that journey.

Sometimes you can be a good candidate but not right for a particular position. Head teachers need to consider the whole picture, how do you fit in with the leadership team? Is your thinking in line with where the school is right now? You are just one piece of a larger jigsaw that they have in their mind.

Build and maintain networks from early in your career. They are invaluable sources of advice, resources and information.

Effective heads spot and nurture talent. It’s not always about money or creating substantive roles. It could be CPD opportunities, secondments or fixed term contracts focussed on particular whole school projects related to the School Improvement plan. These not only develop staff and distribute leadership but they also create extra capacity, which is essential.

Great heads have a clear ethos which permeates every pore of the school and can be summed up or embodied by anybody in any position in their organisation.

My 2012 (Nurture 1213)

There has been a hashtag going around among education professionals on Twitter called #nurture1213.

The idea is a reflection of 2012 via 12 positive points and plans for 2013 via 13 points that you wish to work on.

Like all fashionable people, I’m slightly late to the party but my reflections re 2012 are below.

1. Photography

I took up photography  as a way to unwind after a particularly difficult 2011.  What started as an excuse to relax and have something just for myself not allied to work, or my personal relationships, has grown into a serious hobby and passion. It has given me a new way to look at the world and enabled me to connect with people who I would not other wise have met.  It is not an exaggeration to say that photography has kept me sane.

2. Kindness of strangers ( social networking)

I was initially underwhelmed by Twitter after being introduced to it via my  real life friend @Dewbien. However, I now believe that, used effectively, it is an unrivalled resource for connecting with people who share similar interests. My account mostly links to educational professionals and photography enthusiasts.  I have been the recipient of the most generous hospitality from ppl all around the world some of whom I have been lucky enough to physically as well as virtually.

As a result of social networking sites (mainly Twitter but to a lesser extent Facebook and Instagram) I have been taken to lunch and invited into people’s homes. I have been offered advice and expertise personally and professionally.  I have been given free software and plugins to help me with my photography.  I have been given insider’s tours of New York, Hong Kong and Sydney – all out of people’s good will.

3. Travel
I have always been excited by travel and been lucky enough to go to some interesting places but 2012 has been a definite highlight for me.  Having never been especially bothered about visiting  Australia, I spent 2 weeks there ( one in Melbourne and the other in Sydney) staying with my best friend who had decided to live and work there for a year after being made redundant.  Since I was travelling alone and I didn’t know that  I’d be visiting that part of the world again I decided to do a stop off in Hong Kong for a few days where I was looked after by the wonderful Nevin @gxgarnerings.  Who I’d been virtually introduced to by  a fellow photography blogger that I knew from London. Nevin, prevented me from being ripped off, introduced me to the most amazing fishballs and let me play with his Leica! For no reason other than that he is a great guy.

Part way through the year. I changed a planned solo trip to Peru  ( which I decided I was doing for the wrong reasons) into a combined anniversary present and first ever  foreign family holiday to New York with M and our (then 1 year old) boy, Little  G. It was brilliant and the feeling that I got watching Little G count and point to every single yellow taxi going by our hotel window over looking Central Park is something that I can’t quite describe.

As if that wasn’t enough I also went to Bruges ( or Brugge)  for a few days during the summer. I’d try to outline the reasons why here but I don’t know. It really was done completely on a whim. Something to do with a Twitter #ff that I idly checked out where I came across @phototourbrugge read the website  decided to go after  I realised that Eurostar went there for not very much and the journey was pretty quick.  What can I say? I’m sometimes a bit impulsive but M is used to it and very understanding.

4. Trying new things. Not being held back by fear.
I’m usually open to new experiences but I’ve accelerated that a fair amount in 2012. I remember  having a conversation with M where I told her that I didn’t want to be held back from doing things because of fear.  You’ll notice from above that I did some of my travelling solo. That is a new thing for me. I’ve been abroad alone before but usually to stay with somebody I already know as I did in Australia. This year was the first time that I’ve gone abroad and stayed alone. It was scary but I’m glad I did it. I learnt that I could and had fun but I also learnt that I love my family and have a limit beyond which I start to miss them terribly – which has ramifications for other things that we have discussed for the future.

However I also eliminated fear in small things. I have good friends and family but I also have very eclectic taste in music and sometimes nobody else wants to come with me. In the past M usually joined me but changes in our personal circumstances mean we don’t go out as a couple as often as we used to. So I decided that rather than miss out, I’d still go if it was something I wanted to see enough. I’m glad that I did.

5. Parenthood

I have now been a parent for just over 2 years. I’m going to be honest here and say that I found it incredibly difficult for the first year and  although I have always loved Little G,  there are a variety of reasons that I initially  didn’t cope very well with the impact of become a parent on my/our life, especially compared to M or other people we know.  That all changed in 2012. I now love being a mum.   There are so many more positives than negatives and I am enjoying helping Little G grow up into a happy, caring and joyous young person (I could do without the tantrums of the terrible 2s though). I hope that by our actions as parents wegive him the gift of happiness and resilience in 2013 and beyond.

6. Work life balance

As mentioned in point 1, I had a pretty crappy 2011 and at the end of it I decided to make quite a few changes to my life and personal relationships. One change was securing  a new job which I started in Jan 2012. When I started that job I decided that nothing would come before my family and personal well being. I decided that I would restrict my working hours to particular times and not work in the weekends. I have broadly stuck to this to no detriment to my productivity at work. In some ways I am more effective than I have ever been.

7. Happy at work
I work at a place where I feel valued and respected, I have thrived and achieved great things individually and via my team because I am trusted and given the space to use my professional opinion to do a good job.  I can be myself but have also been challenged and supported to become a better leader too. I originally joined in a sideways move but promoted to  a year long secondment to SLT this September, in which I am learning a great deal.  I could easily write a nurture 1213 post solely concentrated on work but won’t due to point 6.

8. Life with M
M and I have been together for over a decade. We have had lots of fun together  and some more trying times too.  2012 was the year that we have started to honestly negotiate and conquer what it means to be a couple who also happen to be parents. Our number one duty is to be there for our boy but we have also ( after a few false starts) found a way to remember and nourish  each other too as well as  ourselves individually. There has been much laughter in our house this year and writing this post is making me reflect on just how much I have to be greatful for.

9. Strong friendships
I feel that the modern world places too much emphasis on romantic love and that we expect too much from our  spouses.  The weight of expectation is a massive strain to place on one person. I came to the realisation a while ago that I actually have 2 soul mates, one is M and the other is my best friend, G,  and they fulfil different but complementary functions.  When  G went on a working visa to Australia, I was happy for him and didn’t give it much thought as a year goes pretty quickly. I was unprepared for what came next. I felt as if my arm had been cut off. I was bereft . Here was a person that I communicated with on an almost daily basis for several years and he was now gone. To make matters worse he originally didn’t have a permanent address or mobile phone, this added to the time delay, meant communication during the early months was extremely sporadic.  We managed to make things work and as mentioned in point 3 I visited him during his stay. He is back now but has decided to return permanently as he loved he quality if life ( I can’t blame him). We still have an enduring love for each other but I don’t feel that gut-wrenching dread now because I know that we will be just fine.

10. Honesty
I’m a fairly straight forward person who tries to be honest with people and values those who are honest with me.  I some areas that is easy but it can be difficult to be honest with your self especially if it involves perceived vulnerability or weakness.  I’ve been better at that this in 2012, I have many strengths but acknowledging my limits and knowing when I need to access support or advice has been liberating and improved my relationships and general well being.

11. Live sport
I have a list of things that I haven’t done but would like to try before I die. Some are big but others are small. I’m indifferent towards football but decided that it was kind of sad to be English but never have been to see our national game.  Luckily I have a few football mad close friends so it was not hard to remedy the situation  ( M would rather pull her eyes out). My first ever football match was  England v  Holland. Little did I know that it would be the start of a year of live sport for me and that I would actually like it!

Highlights have been a rugby final, baseball game, world cycling championships, Aussie rules football game, and the Olympics and Paralympics which I  was lucky enough to attend courtesy of a sports- mad and extremely generous friend.

I’m still underwhelmed by almost everything other than athletics on TV but live sport is a completely different experience and I’m planning to see  more in 2013.

12. Puckishness
I can be extremely driven and focused, I turn this on and off and have found it useful in achieving and exceeding my  personal and professional goals. However, deep down inside I’m just a mischievous imp. My life so far and those around me has taught me that life is what you make it. It’s too short to waste being unhappy, regretful , guilty or making others miserable, it is  to be enjoyed – for me this involves regularly  unleashing my ( sometimes close to the knuckle) sense of humour.

2012 has had it’s tough times but overall it has  been successful in many ways as well as being a year of wit, sarcasm, innuendo, harmless flirting and lots of fun at home, work and in between.