“You never had a rope around your neck. Well, I’m going to tell you something crazy. When that rope starts to pull tight, you can feel the Devil bite…” Tuco
I will recall something that happened in my distant past. A situation now long gone.
Some time ago I was on Facebook and saw the front page of the local paper. I thought I recognised the face. I quickly messaged a colleague I had worked with at the time and said, “Is this who I think it is?”
She replied, “OMG it definitely is!”
I then got a little emotional…
You see I remember that day. The weeks of concern building up to two teachers asking me if they could go where they thought a parent lived because yet again a child was not in school. I remember thinking at the time – ‘Is this the right decision?’
45 Minutes later I remember my shock as they walked into school with the child and told me what they had done.
They could not get into the house but their concern for the child was such that they persisted. They then put themselves at great risk to take a child out of a place where no child should ever have to be. They just picked the child up and came in to school. I will never forget my conversation with Social Services and the Police that day. In my career I had never known a moment like this. It was a first. I remember how proud I was of the teacher’s actions but also how concerned I was that they had needed to do this and my uncertainty of the consequences of their actions.
So, to the paper…
The front page showed a badly lit mug shot of an old lady with the title, “Modern Day Slave Trader – women jailed for keeping victims in squalor and exploiting them for cheap labour”
It had lots of coverage inside but this sentence was key for me,
“The school reported concerns to social services, who then informed the police sparking the investigation.”
Nothing about the bravery and sheer determination of those two teachers – I don’t think I ever thanked them both properly… Because another issue popped up and off they went. Will they ever get the credit they deserve? I know what they did and I genuinely feel that this is the type of service that rarely gets mentioned because the issue is usually so complex. It is not in their job description to put their physical and emotional well-being on to the line of duty… but they did. I also know they would do it again.
The differentiation between bravery and stupidity has been likened to:
jumping in the sea to save a life
jumping in the sea to save a life when you can’t swim.
I remember doing a short speech at a heads conference some years ago and @theprimaryhead tweeting: “Did he just say stupidity is a strategy?’ I did…. and I meant it. It is the strategy I use to work out how badly my next move could fail. An example being, I was asked to support a school this week. If I could count the number of times that the person asking me started with the line, “It is in the most deprived area of X!” It seems that every town, every city has the most deprived area in the UK. I said no. Not because I did not want to do it. I said no because it would have been stupid for me to say yes at this time. I used to feel terrible when I felt I was letting someone down. I used to say YES to lots of things. I now know that I am being ‘Professionally brave’ (I very nearly called this Informed bravery or Safe bravery) when I make these decisions. I am weighing up the calculated risks as best I can and making an informed judgement. Sometimes this takes me into very uncharted waters.. But knowing that I am a professional has helped me to navigate these waters. This is what I do:
I am honest about the challenges and my limitations. I need to acknowledge the potential failures and the consequences of them. As I have got more experienced I have learnt more limitations.
I share the risk with other professionals.
I ask myself will I be making a difference… or will I be adding to the burden?
I ask… if I do nothing what will happen?
If any of these come up as a nagging concern I explore them much deeper. Eventually I make the bravest decision I think I can. I have made that decision writing this blog. When I write about the deeper and darker areas of the role we do I am always fearful that I have stepped too far. But, more and more, I believe that our education community is a better one for sharing experiences and learning from each other. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The story I told is true and in many ways it illustrates the crisis that there is in many areas of our country in schools. The school I was asked to support this week had the exact same issues… Too many social issues that left staff unable to have the capacity to do what they needed to do with learning because they were stretched in other vital areas. I KNOW that this can be solved but you HAVE to be brave to do it. You HAVE to change the system to enable the capacity within. The stupid thing so often is keeping quiet, keeping our heads down and hoping no one notices us…