It was Tuesday; around 12.15pm. I was on duty in the dinner hall. I’d had a reasonably stressful morning. Nothing out of the ordinary but I could feel my shoulders were a couple of inches higher than usual – a sure sign. I was tired: a significant trigger of stress for me. I was hungry: my other main trigger. I was doing what I’d done ever since my very first playground duty…looking for the warning signs of ‘trouble’.
Being able to pre-empt issues is something I take pride in being good at. I am extremely vigilant and I’ve always ‘walked towards the noise’. As I stood there I noticed some children standing up, so I went to ask them to sit down: the shoulders went higher. A couple of children shouting to each other: higher. (Let’s be clear, our children are beautifully behaved so this is the level of what needs to be dealt with in a lunchtime!)
I could feel my outer calm persona beginning to crumble. I knew that unless I did something, I was going to erupt – and then regret it. At that point, I remembered what we’d been discussing in staff meeting the previous evening. We’d spent Autumn Term looking at our children who are currently working towards. On Monday we’d been discussing looking at them in different ways, using the six lenses set out in James Gilmore’s ‘Look’. One of them was ‘rose-tinted glasses’ – looking at just the positives.
I stopped looking for where things were going wrong and started looking for where it was going right. The children sat beautifully eating their food: lower. The member of staff interacting with her children during their lunch hour: lower. Our lunchtime leaders helping the younger children with their water: lower. The child asking for help opening their crackers, with impeccable manners and not needing to be reminded: lower. It was a beautiful experience and it was truly transformational. In a couple of minutes I’d gone from simmering to relaxed. I could physically and mentally feel the difference.
We are often programmed to look for the ‘bad’. What’s going wrong? Where do we need to improve? This is the case for teachers as much as school leaders. We spend a disproportionate amount of time on those children who aren’t getting it. Often we feel a lesson was a ‘disaster’ based on one or two children who didn’t grasp the concept. Our AfL is skewed by the one child who didn’t rather than the 29 that did.
When I was teaching regularly, I often directed a question at the child I didn’t think had got it – that was good assessment, right? However, when they verified my hypothesis, I allowed it to cloud my judgement: none of them have understood; something is going wrong; disaster! As a school leader I’ve been guilty of the same. Only seeing the child who isn’t focused on their learning. Finding the one piece of work that isn’t marked. Spotting the one display board that hasn’t been updated.
There are good reasons for this. Our jobs are based on making improvements. We need to make sure we know who hasn’t understood so that we can help them. We need to have a realistic self assessment of teaching and learning so that we can focus our time, energy and support on those who need it. However, sometimes this can be a) all consuming and b) counter-productive.
Whatever your role I would strongly recommend that you spend some time wearing your rose-tinted glasses. Whether in your classroom or your school so much of what is happening is amazing. Children are learning, behaving beautifully, and generally being incredible human beings. Equally, on a school level, so many of your team are performing above and beyond. So much is happening that would make you incredibly proud. The challenge is to take the time to really see it. I implore you to regularly spend a day, an hour, or even just 5 minutes, looking at the world from a different perspective. It will make you feel better, give you true perspective and help reduce your stress.