In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.
If there was ever a time when Hoffer’s famous quote was most apt, it is surely now. Coronavirus has wreaked a raging storm on our communities and schools in the last few months. It has presented schools with huge operational challenges, along with mountains of heated debate on social media and in the press.
It is in these stormy seas, that school leaders need their teams to work as one. When leaders get this right, their team will be up on the deck in the face of the gale working as together.
So how can we support ourselves and others in these stormy times?
Here are five practical strategies that can help in times of uncertainty,
Focus on what you can control, and accept what you can’t
Thinking stoically can liberate individuals within a team from suffering from excess stress. A key aspect of stoical thinking is to focus solely on what can be controlled and what can be influenced. Anything that lies outside these two zones is, according to stoicism, a waste of precious energy.
Ask yourself, ‘is this something I can control or influence?’ If not then it is better to concentrate on those things that I can…
For many, this approach can be hugely liberating. Especially for those who realise how much of their time and energy is wasted on problems or others’ behaviours that lie outside their control and influence.
By taking on this approach as a team, it can really support individuals’ resilience. For example, by agreeing protocols about framing dialogue only to discuss issues within the control/influence of the team. This can be a difficult habit for some to change, however it is so worthwhile to do so.
Fundamental to feeling valued, is being listened to. It is certainly something that can get lost when rapid action is imperative and processing load high.
This is where the power of active listening can really strengthen individuals’ feeling of well-being. By doing this, individuals are demonstrating that those who speak, are valued because they are listened to. Few things demonstrate greater personal regard, than making time to listen to the questions and concerns of others. Its’ power is magnified where it is adopted as a norm by all in a team.
Active listening can take many forms: from paraphrasing what has been heard to check for understanding, to asking questions and taking notes. In times of stress, active listening ensures that both the speaker and listener are clear on whether the intention of what has been said, has been understood in the same way.
Poor listening can also hamper operational effectiveness too. It can damage the impact of feedback, as the listener may take a different message than was intended. Similarly, achieving shared clarity is far more difficult.
In times of stress and uncertainty, there is a greater risk that individuals incorrectly infer meaning from emails or throwaway remarks in meetings. A wonderfully simple strategy to counter this, and to remove worry, is straight-talking.
Straight talking requires being completely transparent about your internal thinking and any concerns to those you are communicating. One inspirational leader demonstrated this, when he commented, ‘I have a concern that we are not defining clearly our next steps from this meeting. I’m worried this this will mean we have to meet up again over the same issue.’ His habit of speaking out loud his thinking, swept away his colleagues fear that there were any hidden agendas or concerns about what he was thinking.
Creating a culture of straight talking within a team, removes stress and fear of hidden agendas. It enables all to talk openly, sharing their feedback and concerns. In these uncertain times, this can be hugely liberating and valuable to the school community.
Straight talking helps learning within teams as it encourages more diverse thinking through honesty and the tabling of alternative perspectives.
Be a deciding being
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.Viktor Frankl
When faced with choices, we have two basic responses, to events. Our response may be to do something, or it may be to do nothing. However, both come with consequences, and we need to be aware of the consequences of choosing to do nothing.
If we do choose action, then our response should be informed by working backwards from the outcome we’d prefer. By focussing on the ideal outcome, individuals and teams can choose the most appropriate response that best helps this outcome to be achieved.
This ‘slow’ thinking approach, challenges individuals to evaluate their decision-making. This may include asking:
- Am I seeing all there is to see in this situation?
- What other options are open to me?
- How might others perceive this situation differently?
- What is their preferred outcome?
- How will others respond to this decision?
- What are the potential risks of the choice I’ve made?
Perception is a choice too
That perception is a choice is brought home to me each day, when I call my 87 year old Aunty. She has complex health conditions and has been isolating alone in a second floor flat, since the lockdown was announced.
How we see the world around us, how we interpret what happens to us, is a choice. She has chosen to hold a positive outlook and see opportunity for learning and growth. Consequently each day she enthusiastically tells me about the way the gardens around her flats are growing and which flowers are out in bloom. She’ll also update me on the latest developments in the book she is reading.
Her choice to look for possibilities in this period, rather than problems, is helping her hugely. Not only that, regardless of how stressful and busy my working day has been, the warmth and energy that comes down the phone line is infectious. She certainly brings light to my world.
Given how this period has reinforced the finite nature of life, valuing each moment and experience is so important. Choosing to bring light to a room, or a team, by our outlook can change our own and others’ perceptions too.