Love and fear in the land of learning….why leadership styles have to change in schools

By December 12, 2014Uncategorized

Coaching has been at the heart of my working life now for over a decade. It seems these days though I spend as much time talking with teachers and leaders about well-being as I do about coaching and performance.

This morning, Sir Michael Wilshaw was on the radio again, lambasting the third of schools that are not making progress. My heart sinks when I hear such reports, which wipe out in a headline, the true extent of the hard work of thousands of teachers across the country.

Where are the reports of the successes and the support for the incredible dedication of teachers and leaders across the UK? Of course he is right on some levels, there are leadership breakdowns, and a lack of quality planning and joined-up thinking in some schools.

My views here are very personal ones, they are not drawn from my clients, but from more widely gathered intelligence. The UK government and Ofsted, is driving fear into the hearts of leaders in schools. It has been for some time. Fear is an impoverished and dangerous emotion to lead from. It stimulates division and knee-jerk response, and it ricochets through an organization like a bullet from a rifle causing collateral damage.

Love is a word the British tend to recoil from in some sort of Victorian awkwardness. But love is what many of our children in schools do not get from their families.

Let’s change the language and talk about compassion, empathy and rapport. Without these qualities in our schools children do not engage. The fundamental unit of human change in schools I would argue, comes from the relationship between adults and children. Great relationships in classrooms and around school lead to great learning outcomes.

With strong rapport, compassion and empathy, a teacher can take children to levels of challenge and achievement that would not otherwise be possible. What I see in the very best schools I visit is just this level of love. High challenge, high support and mountains are moved. However, I believe schools are like sticks of rock.

If you want genuine progress, born of relationship so that high challenge and high support can exist and impact happen, schools must behave congruently throughout their leadership structures and systems. In other words high challenge and high support for adults too.

calmAll too often, the challenge is there but without the support. This is a recipe for broken people. In this season of goodwill to all (humans), I urge leaders in school to take a step back and celebrate their achievements this year, and to go deeper and consider this simple question: in what ways do you operate from fear and in what ways do you operate from love?

Operating from fear triggers the release of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones. It takes us into less cognoscent responses and more visceral and primitive reactions. This isn’t a great place to lead from. How long will it be before the treatment of adults in schools triggers a recruitment and retention crisis? Perhaps, its already happening…this morning’s news from Ofsted themselves…recruitment crisis looming. Ironic that this report should be from Ofsted, when arguably their approach has a bearing on the climate of fear.

This can all be quite depressing, until you focus on what can you do. Ghandi is often quoted as saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. What ever the prevailing styles of leadership around you, you can always choose how you respond. If you choose to operate from compassion, empathy and rapportfulness, rather than fear and scarcity in your life and your work, you pass that on to the people around you.

Being more conscious of your emotions and your thoughts is one way to choose a love rather than fear projection towards the people around you.

4 things you can do to come from love not fear:

1. Make a time each day to sit quietly and make a mental scan through your body noticing areas of tension. As you notice these tensions, ask yourself what you need to do in order to release this tension. Notice the responses that come to mind, differentiating between harsh and dismissive responses and those that will allow you to release that tension

2. Wear a smile. Research shows that changing your physiology to be more like that you experience when you feel loving and compassionate, triggers the circuits in your brain that stimulate the chemistry in your body that occurs when you feel loving and compassionate

3. Get more sleep. Whether you increase the hours you sleep each night or add to nighttime sleep with short “eye-rest” naps of even a few minutes increases your feeling of well being, lowers cortisol and adrenaline levels and gives you a new lease of energy. Medical research now shows that proper sleep not only improves the quality of your life and reduces feelings of helplessness, and overwhelm, it also increases your life expectancy.

4. Challenge gently where your values are crossed.

Much of what we are outlining here is part of the practice of mindfulness. For more information on mindfulness contact us or follow this link to a previous article in Vision on the topic.