Reconnected

I have always thought that the career of a full time PE Teacher has a sell by date. The energy required to be the catalyst for movement in children is physically draining, especially in a constrained environment like a secondary school. Fulltime teaching PE into my 60s is not something I can see happening. One of the obvious ways to ensure I could stay in teaching would be a move into SLT, so I sought out those positions. However there seemed to be an invisible ceiling preventing me from going higher. I wanted a place in senior leadership, but was constantly knocked backed. The strengths I have were lauded, but they were not the strengths that were wanted, needed or what others had when promoted ahead of me. Perhaps I have reached as far as I am meant to go within education? However not one one to lie down and accept set backs I tried to rectify some of what I was told were the issues. One of those ways was doing an MA in Leadership.

From the moment I started studying for my MA I slowly became aware of a disconnect between what I read and what I experienced with regards to leadership within schools. The values that both the research literature and leadership books that I read and then discussed with the lecturers and colleagues on my course are not the same that I see in school. Authenticity, trust, integrity, service, courage, loyalty, respect and love. How leaders ought to be and how if you uphold those key values then you will be a great leader. Nothing is impossible with the right behaviours as a leader. With them, if you lead, others will follow. These ideas were supported by TED talks and books by leadership gurus. I loved them. How could you not be inspired by their stories of great leaders and great leadership? Of servant leaders and those willing to put themselves last. They were the type of leader I wanted to be. They were the type of leader I wanted to work with and with that thought I turned my attention to what was actually happening in schools.

I started to watch very carefully the leaders within my school. I spoke to my partner about this. We both discussed the previous schools we had worked in and leaders we had worked with. I spoke to the leaders in my friends schools. I went to the schools of my fellow MA students and spoke to them about the leadership they experienced. I hoped for the inspiration and uplifting behaviours I had read about, talked about and wrote about. In reality what I saw and heard had very little that matched what was being promoted. Ought to happen it seems is not the same as what does happen though. Truth is darker than fiction. Narcissism, hypocrisy, lies, power games and self interest seem to inhabit school leadership. Those that self-promote are the ones that seem to get what they want. Those that back stab and cheat tend to succeed. Perhaps I write this out of pure bitterness of being overlooked? There may be some truth in that, but the stories I have collected of selfish leaders far outweigh those of selfless leaders. The power of these indviduals to do harm to the wellbeing of those in their care is catastrophic. Yet the consequences for those behaviours are more success and responsibility.

That disconnection has grown. Grown till I felt lost and empty. I was studying a subject where the rhetoric was far removed from the actual reality. I swung from desire of leadership, to repulsion of it. Unsure of what path I wanted to walk. Then last week I listened to the wonderful Iesha Small speak at the Wellington College Festival of Education about the power of introverted leaders. It has resonated with me ever since. 

Iesha, with humour and deep personal insight, put forward the benefits that an introvert could bring to school leadership. Listening – making people feel valued and gaining their trust. Using those listening skills to develop people through coaching and dealing with sensitive issues. A quiet passion – both the brain and heart working in together. Tapping into the things that you are passionate about, acting on them, connecting others with them and bringing people together. A cautious and considered nature – where it may seem we are indecisive but that is due to asking questions, reflecting and analysing what might be important. The calming influence we have can be used when dealing with conflicts. Observation – noticing things and spotting details and patterns. Having quiet conversations with indviduals, showing that you both see and act on what you notice. Making sense of the the organisation and the people within it. Finally independence and self sufficiency – meaning you can remove your ego from the situation, not seeking external approval for your action, therefore making decisions that serve the interests of the organisation. Focusing on making others better.

Has Iesha’s speech inspired and put me back on the path to leadership? Far from it. However as someone with an introverted nature, the strengths she talks about are skills that have real use in any position within a school and ones that I can work on developing. These are not inspiring but empty sentiments like authenticity, these are behaviours that can be practiced and improved upon. Not for the sake of gaining a leadership position, but allowing me to continue to negotiate the complex organisational landscape that is a school the best I can, even if that means being a PE teacher till I retire. Ensuring that I can do the best I can for both my colleagues and the children that I have in my care.

The speech resonated with me. It is that resonance that has help to reconnect me to the path I want to take.

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11 thoughts on “Reconnected

  1. Hi,

    Love this story. Not the part of you being excluded from leadership. The values that you expressed that belong to an introverted leader. I believe that if you treat the children with love and respect, and provide encouragement and guidance, you will be providing something very special.

    I am a 62 year old who works as an architect by day, and an ice hockey coach on nights and weekends. With 30 years of experience, I have gotten better at finding that balance in working with young players. I try to be relentlessly positive and develop a relationship with every player. Really love coaching and hope to continue as long as I can. The rewards are in the young people and being a positive influence in their lives.

    Thanks for all of your work in providing these posts. I’ve learned a lot from studying them and thinking about the ideas expressed.

    Best regards,

    Karl Norton South Glastonbury, CT USA

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Hi Karl. Sorry for the delay in responding to you. Thank you for your comment and kind words. You sound like a very positive influence on the young athletes you have responsibility for. The fact that you love coaching speaks volumes, Its often something that isn’t mentioned or discussed. As you say the rewards are in the child, not in the stroking of our egos. Good luck to you and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Thank you for the link to Iesha’s notes. This is a wonderful talk – what she says is so valuable. I think these skills are just as valuable to good leadership as the bluster and posturing that we are unfortunately seeing on both sides of the Atlantic right now…

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  3. How often our thought paths seem to cross! How to say it? I’ve been down this road or this sounds like the road I’m on. I also had an eye on moving into leadership. And like you, I added a degree in school leadership to my qualifications. I found, too, that the literature on leadership only infrequently matched up with my direct experience with leaders in practice. I went on a job hunt but didn’t last long. A re-evaluation of the circumstances led me to take a year off, pursue other interests (life coaching, writing), to then return to teaching PE with different eyes.
    What shifted in that process was my perspective on how I will choose to lead – emphasis on “choose.” I’m a fiercely independent person and now that I have a clearer vision of how I want to lead and influence others, I have found it much easier to acknowledge my work both outside and inside my school community. The key was realizing that I needn’t limit myself to exercising influence within the walls of my school. As a result I take multiple opportunities to learn from folks like you, to engage actively in community practice, and fuel my own growth. A nice by-product is that my school benefits. I also represent my school when I am invited to speak or participate in a conference. My leadership has become one of action and example and that feels right for me. I am getting better at being who I want and need to be with my students, colleagues, parents and friends. In doing so I can cultivate the kinds of relationships, professional, personal and overlapping, which foster trust, collaboration, and mutual support. That’s the kind of leadership I’m here for and it took me some time to realize it. Your post helped me make sense of my own journey this far. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Sherri. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me. They are most useful in helping to reframe my direction within teaching. I’m beginning to think the role of the teacher should be be privileged over any other role. If we do it well, we can have the biggest impact on the children in front of us and the colleagues we work along side. It has taken me a few years to realise that I don’t need to judge myself on the position I hold within the school I work at, but if my actions meet my words. Just doing that on a consistent basis can have a positive influence on those that I work with and for. I look forward to the day we might be able to discuss our journeys over a drink, but until then I wish you well and thank you for your constant support and interaction.

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  4. I’ve only heard of a few PE teachers working their way up to SLT, meaning it is difficult but not impossible. I enjoy reading your deep thought processes and that inspires me to think of other elements of my teaching goals. Therefore, you are showing leadership by showing people the different paths to consider.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Thomas. Perhaps it is anecdotal, but I have often found in my experience that a member of the SLT team had a background in PE? I don’t know if this is because in the UK we are oversubscribed with PE Teachers, that staying a full time PE is just not possible in modern education or that we bring a number of attractive strengths (organisation, discipline, relationships) that would benefit a balanced SLT. However more and more I am becoming convinced that the role of the teacher should be privileged over other roles in education and therefore this makes me question how i can remain a good PE Teacher for the rest of my teaching career and have the impact on students and colleagues that I would like. Best of luck on your journey.

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