“There is not love of life without despair about life.” Albert Camus, L’Étranger.
This blog is based on the book – The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck which has changed my life recently.
I cannot count the number of times in my career where I have been on my own with a parent whose emotional state had totally crumbled away. People who have stabbed, punched, run over family members (or their pets), attempted to take their life, hurt their child (or someone else’s child), hurt themselves, lost a loved one, are alcoholics, desperate, about to be sectioned or hate me because of a rule… the list is very long. My first recollection of an interaction with a parent was as an NQT on a South Bristol estate in which the parent (A bouncer) stormed into my classroom, pointed his finger at me and calmly said, “I am going to break both your fucking arms.” We eventually developed a great teacher/parent relationship. It took many months and I was often scared.
It would be so easy for me to attribute the blame onto a number of issues, poverty, and society in general, bad parenting, bad schooling… Evil, and the devil’s work.
But I am not going to.
The reason I am not going to attribute blame is because these are my problems. I need to accept responsibility for them as they are presented to me. Don’t get me wrong. I am not to blame for them. I could say that these problems are caused by other people or social issues that I cannot have any influence over and therefore it is up to others better placed to do something. But, they are my problems. They will not just magic away. By not accepting them I tell myself ‘a little white lie’ and nothing changes. As head teacher of a very big school I am in the position to make choices that I believe will make a problem better. I may not solve them but I must try. As I have written in previous blogs – it is about brave leadership.
But here is the problem. By accepting these issues as leader of a school I have to get all the other stakeholders to accept them as well. The organisation can only be successful if we do it as one. I read a tweet via #SLTchat recently from someone I usually really agree with. I can’t quote it directly but basically it said SLT’s let down teachers because they don’t remove disruptive children from lessons. It should have said SLT’s let down teachers because they don’t prepare teachers to understand and have capacity to support the most disruptive pupils. I know (before you all shout at me!) this is not easy. This is from a head who did a PEx recently because he could see no other solution. But by passing problems on, by not accepting these problems as OUR problem we just make the situation worse. Anyone can criticise, condemn and complain (Dale Carnegie) but it takes real character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. I believe that knowing and understanding are very different and this has been much of my recent reflection. We all know that understanding something is far better than knowing something (Something overlooked in education I feel). But by knowing something you need to have a deeper understanding of the situation. This is the challenge because I do not live the circumstances of many of the people I interact with.
I was driving to work last week when it hit me that being an atheist may just be the reason I believe so much in love and understanding. As a teenager I thought that being an atheist was in line with being a nihilist. How very wrong I was. This is a discipline that is testing me but it IS a discipline and one that I believe is helping my evolution spiritually and therefore as a leader in a school. I am calling for a truly ethical education that is not driven by economic expediency, political story telling or religion but by a real commitment to peace and social justice. I believe that it is because of my atheism that I want this. I am not saying that a religious person could not also want this but the difference is I have less barriers.
So, how am I going to achieve this? By being honest to myself (and therefore those around me) and turning up my ‘little white lie’ detector. Though my argument is flawed – I am not speaking falsely. I acknowledge my short comings – but I am trying to do the right things. I am not running away from the issues. I will not pass judgement on others and I will no longer sneak around in the shadows. This will be hard and I will make many mistakes. But I have the greater good firmly in my focus. I look at so many SLT’s and I do despair. They have grown up in an era in which the business of schools is tough, no compromises, no failure, no weakness, hard and fast… they are fed this by people who rarely have to sit with broken and wrecked lives. I feel for these SLT’s because one day their decisions will change lives and if only they could come at the problem with love and understanding. Still might be tough but at least they can walk away knowing that they have added to the world rather than done what is perceived as ‘best’ in a moment, fad or under perceived pressures out of their control. It is our capacity to be human that I am interested in and I believe it is utterly central to leadership.
So, you do have a problem…
What are you going to do about it?