Everybody having fun ?

Building resilient staff teams in times of uncertain futures

“So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun.   Look to the future now it’s only just begun.”

Slade, 1973

I heard this in a store at the beginning of November and the grumpy old man in me sayeth, “I don’t believe it!”  Then I thought, actually I have missed you my old friend, I did not hear you last year and yet you have been a consistent part of my annual cycle of life for most of my life (since the age of 2 to be exact).  It rang in my ears  when I rehearsed the Nativity in my first year of teaching in North London in the early 90s and it was there that year as a Head teacher I had to endure dressing up as a Spice Girl (Thank you very much staff from a certain town on the south coast, you know who you are!)  

And so here I am today having lived through what is probably the most challenging start to a school year in my whole career.  Anyone had a full complement of staff in school yet ?  Let’s hope Christmas brings us the joy and peace we so yearn for.  Take a moment to think about what joy and peace will feel/ look like for you.

As a leader I hope for an opportunity to bring connection to my staff, a rebuilding of that sense of belonging to a community.  Or maybe I am thinking, let’s just make it through and hope for the best.  So, here is my Christmas gift, a challenge to all leaders out there.   I say let’s be real, let’s face the elephant in the room with more than another 2 hour wellbeing slot in the staff meeting schedule.

Let’s talk about building resilience in my staff team, right now, this term.  “Cole, you’ve got to be joking!” I hear you scream back at me, whilst covering staff absence, dealing with poor staff mental health and your own rapidly reducing capacity to stay sane.   Well, I acknowledge where you are at and believe me I understand having spent time allowing leaders to (literally) cry on my shoulder and scream down the phone and WhatsApp their emotional rants on almost a daily basis.  

Pause, breath, have a moment with me and bear with my blog.  

Start here (watch this video) … Amygdala Hijack

Search for other video clips describing the concept of the amygdala hijack, often discussed in the business world, but very relevant to help educationists understand their own emotional self-awareness.   This is a concept that I have found very useful in opening up meaningful discussion in staff meetings that perhaps could have more substance than discussing the setup of a well-being twilight.  

Here is how I would approach it:

  1. Watch the video
  2. Lead by example in telling a true story of an amygdala hijack you have experienced in work life at some point in your career.  Ensure you complete the story with a clear example of what resilience tools you have learnt to apply as a result of this incident.  
  3. In groups of 3 or 4 map out the potential root causes of emotional threat that have been evident in our work lives over the past 2 years
  4. Ask the staff groups to come up with and/or research on the internet any tools / strategies they have that help them.  
  5. Ask each group to share their top 3 tips for helping us regain or even avoid the onset of a hijack when they can sense it coming on.
  6. Work together as a staff team in creating a ‘Resilience Wall’ of tools/strategies to help in times of emotional hijack.
  7. Touch base with staff at regular intervals in keeping the dialogue open about being self-aware, taking control and/or helping one another when feeling overwhelmed
  8. Celebrate successes and be kind to oneself in times of success or otherwise
  9. Share what you have learnt in leading this process and pass on the key messages from this exercise to other members of our key teams and colleagues across your local area.  Remember #TMOS (True Measures of Success in leading ourselves and our teams to thrive)
  10. Teach the pupils to learn from your example increased emotional self-awareness

So here is my key point in this challenge.  Find a way (perhaps with this exercise) to open up the dialogue and create a common language, non-threatening but evidence-based model for discussing issues around our mental health.   This shared vocabulary and openness can help also find the solutions, many of which already exist within ourselves or those around us.  We are in this together, in the good times and the bad.   There is no greater gift we can give to ourselves, and our staff teams this year than to face the fact that life can be hard, but we are in it together.

There is no greater joy than to find peace in any and every situation, in good times and bad.   Let’s begin opening this gift and commit to building each other up with tools to help us regulate our emotions in healthy ways.  This is the most powerful intervention we could consider. 

Final thoughts ….

When teachers thrive, pupils thrive. 

When pupils thrive, their progress accelerates.  

Do you agree?  #TMOS (what have been your true measures of success in building resilient staff teams this year?)  Share and let’s face the future with renewed confidence and a renewed hope that we can look to the future together.

Merry Christmas one and all