I had decided with absolute certainty that I was leaving teaching and education all together. I was tired, deflated, done. Overburdened by the struggles with the system, the structures, the administration, trying to do everything with nothing, and the politics. Just done. I have been contemplating this for a while, but the idea was cemented in the past 6 months. However, this last week was a revelation. I found a purpose again. I'm writing this for the many teachers that I have spoken to that are tired, that are thinking of leaving the profession, that have had enough. Hold on.
The last few years have seen all of us pushed to the absolute edge of what we can achieve, of what we are willing to put up with, how much criticism we can take in the media, or how much support we can provide for our students (which is gladly given, but can sometimes be hard). Teachers are taking huge numbers of extra lessons to keep schools running. While this is amazing that they are willing to do this, each extra that a teacher takes results in further fatigue. Executive staff have spent all their energy trying to keep their schools safe and operational. On top of this, the general population has found this period difficult - managing acute health issues with stretched services, supporting friends and extended family through COVID, and for those in rural areas - floods, fires and plagues. Literally biblical stuff. The cumulative burden of managing the last few years has seen huge numbers of teachers leave the profession, and morale at an all time low.
Finding your purpose
This week I attended an event with teachers across the state that was really inspiring, helped me to reset my thinking and find my purpose again. So much of my energy and thinking has been stuck in the day-to-day - the activities, the admin, the operational stuff. Drudgery. There really is so much of it that it can be hard to step away and maintain a view on the bigger picture - to see the forest for the trees - the purpose. And without purpose it can be hard to maintain momentum.
Your purpose can't be just anything. Have a look at your system strategic goals, (for DoE teachers it can be found here - DoE Strategic Plan) and your school plan as a starting point. If you're lucky there might be something that immediately jumps out at you.
Think about the things that matter to you - what do you care about? What do you most value? Is there any relationship between this and what is already happening in your school or region? Or is there a link between this and the school plan?
What are your strengths and weaknesses? You can make a personal goal about improving yourself, but for actually finding a purpose, a reason for getting out of bed in the morning, it is probably easier to centre it around something you are already good at. Your purpose should involve applying what you are good at to bring about positive change for students and/or teachers.
I'm a pretty changeable person and for me I will usually have a purpose for a few years, achieve what I wanted and then do a reset. A purpose can be something long-term that will shape your career over a long period, or it can be something that is guiding you for a few years. If it is a short term goal, it might be better using this as a PDP goal for a year.
In short, find a reason to love your job. We spend a lot of time at work. If you don't love it, or at least something about it, you won't be able to continually meet the demands and keep your head above water.
Finding your purpose in Education
The next thing is finding time to fulfil your purpose...
Getting out of the weeds
We are all leaders - whether you lead a faculty, a subject, an extra-curricular activity or a school. One conversation I had this week stuck with me regarding the idea of getting out of the weeds. I love a good garden metaphor, but I am always very sceptical of "business speak" and some elements of leadership theory making its way onto the educational landscape. However, this has some merit. My philosophy of leadership has always incorporated a strong element of service - not in the customer service sense, but rather in the sense of service to others - helping, supporting, and meeting responsibilities. Of course, I'm a believer in having a vision and driving things forward. I also understand that I need to know the staff and read their cues, and know when to ease on the brakes for a while - pulling the work back to keep people in the game long-term. The risk of pulling work back off people is that the workload becomes overwhelming and sometimes I end up with jobs that should be delegated.
Getting out of the weeds basically means maintaining focus on the parts of the job that add value, reducing micromanaging, maintaining staff energy, and trusting and leveraging existing leadership in the faculty, team, school, etc.
How can you do this as a teacher, faculty head teacher or team leader?
- prioritise big-picture thinking to drive decisions
- hold working meetings. Meetings where everyone sits around and listens to one person talk, or even where everyone is talking are often not productive at all. Set an agenda, and use meeting times to actually get something done. A quick meeting is a good meeting.
- Lock in time on your calendar to do tasks. Prioritise the important items at the beginning of the week and leave the to do list for brain-dead time at the end of the week
- Find something that inspires you and your team to keep the momentum going.
- Find your tribe - surround yourself with people with a similar vision or purpose.
5 strategies leaders can use to stay out of the weeds
Get out of the Weeds
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the new Geoactive book series.