Most teachers go into teaching with good intentions. The desire to teach others and help them to do something useful and productive with their lives which contributes to the world, could be seen as a noble cause. However, teaching and noble causes are somewhat different, yet many schools use this mistaken belief as a way in which they can over-work staff and keep adding roles and responsibilities until they just can’t cope.
Rather than enough people drawing the line and saying this is ridiculous, as the roles and responsibilities pile up, for which a lot of people have no training nor systems in place to do properly, people just put in more and more hours and become less and less effective at everything they do.
I’ve seen this happening with increasing frequency at schools as someone has another idea which will ‘be great for the kids.’ This is a good thing, but instead of taking something away, this ‘good idea’ is just added to everything else that’s being done. Maybe one extra idea is ok, but then another one comes along, and another and another. Before you know it, you’re spending every waking minute of the week trying to get through all the competing responsibilities of teaching, planning, preparation, sports, community service clubs, co-curricular activities and planning and going on trips with students in the holidays. This is truly noble, unsustainable and completely mental.
One of the root problems is the fact that students actually learn more from all of these co-curricular programs and the real experiences they have, than they do in the classroom, but our schools are so ridgéd in their thinking around this, they tack these programs onto everything else that they’re doing, rather than just look at it with some perspective and find natural fits between the academic requirements and the real life experiences of all these ‘add-ons.’
This seems to get worse with non-government schools as their co-curricular programs form part of their marketing materials where everyone’s smiling and looking so happy and everything is wonderful in the world. The problem is … what’s the cost of those photos and those marketing materials?
The cost is that teachers are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work they end up doing, it starts to significantly impact on the rest of their lives. At one school where I was working, this was putting the staff’s health at risk and students’ well-being at risk. Time and time again concerns were raised as things were being missed and overlooked all the time. Not from staff incompetence, but teachers were under so much pressure to ‘perform,’ that the more work that was thrown at us, the lower morale became and the risk of something significant going wrong dramatically increased. The tipping point for us in that organisation was after a four hour staff meeting in which the maintenance man inferred that we were just being lazy and the director said ‘That’s just what teachers do,’ it was clearly time to go.
Yes that’s right, you didn’t mis-read that, the maintenance man was, for whatever reason, sitting in our staff meetings giving advice on teacher and program performance. Thanks for that Grounds Keeper Willy. Insert stare face/rolling eye emoji here 😳😳😳!
Maybe most schools don’t invite their ground keepers to staff meetings, but this highlights in a stark way how people who don’t understand, or don’t seem to understand the realities of the pressures teachers are put under, view the job of a teacher. After all, they get all those holidays! In many teaching roles I’ve worked. I’ve worked back to back 70-90 hour weeks, most of which was actively engaged with teaching, supervision, co-curricular programs, staff engagement and meetings. This was totally unsustainable and whilst you always pushed through with the idea that ‘this will be great for the students,’ the fact is that it’s not. Running a school filled with exhausted demoralised staff is idiotic in the extreme and is something which needs to be addressed in many schools. It’s not just concern for the health of teachers, but it’s about being effective as a teacher.
Some schools however, really understand this and provide opportunities for balancing this workload out. When good leadership within a school can see this and the contribution which teachers make over and beyond what most other sectors require, you end up with a happy sustainable workplace in which staff and students can thrive.
We must avoid being drawn into the trap of overwork and an undervaluing of that work. Where a culture permits or encourages that, it’s time to find somewhere else. The issue of workloads and sustainability comes from the top and the creation of good cultures within schools. However, in the absence of any common sense and leadership in the creation of sustainable and positive cultures within a school, then the tendency is just to use this throw away line of ‘that’s just what teachers do,’ which seems to justify terrible and unsustainable practices.
As teachers, we all want what’s best for students, but at the end of the day, looking after yourself and your team is far more important than any other consideration. When you have a happy team that’s not stressed to the eyeballs all the time, you have the makings of an amazing school for everyone who goes there.
Ok, so if you watch the Simpsons, you would’ve already kinda realised what were about to talk about. If not, why haven’t you been watching the Simpsons?
We face all sorts challenges in life. Some big, some small. Most people are ok with the small stuff. You miss the bus, you can’t find where you left your glasses (they’re actually sitting on your head), you forget to pick up your children from school…, you leave them in the car at the Casino… It’s annoying but manageable and everyone gets over it, eventually.
However, what happens when that small challenge turns into a real crisis? How well equipped are we and those around us to deal with these sorts of situations? For most people, it’s impossible. If something doesn’t go to plan, everything falls apart. However, for those who can keep a calm demeanour, whatever the situation might be, they’re able to see a way through the crisis.
When everything was falling apart for Homer in one episode of the Simpsons, he’s saying how hopeless everything is. However, Lisa jumps in to say that the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity is the same. To which Homer replies, ‘Crisitunity!’
Whilst crises are never a good time, they are what often sparks innovation and prompt us to rethinking what we’ve been doing and make changes to improve the situation. Essentially, we want the crisis to stop and we want to return to normal operations and daily life again. This however, could mean that daily life is not quite the same, but has changed for the better. The only failure in a crisis is to do nothing and learn nothing from it. If that’s the case, you’re doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over again until you’re ultimately rewarded for your efforts with a Darwin Award.
To be able to see the opportunity in a crisis, you do need some lateral thinking skills and have an openness and willingness to adapt. Too many people are so comfortable in the way they’ve always done something, they’re unable to cope with the rapid and fluid thinking needed to bring a crisis back from the brink and turn it into a wonderful opportunity.
Recently, I was running a residential program and we had two crises in two days. Firstly, we ran out of water. I discovered this fact late at night when I went to have a shower and the shower head angrily spat air at me, so I tried the tap, which did the same. “Hmmm, that can’t be good,” I thought at the time, but not much I could do at that hour. The bore from which we’d been getting our water for years ran dry. This was not surprising, given how little rain and residual ground water there had been for the past few years. Luckily, we had a 100,000 litre water tank, so that was an easy fix. Call the water people and get them to deliver lots of water. Done! Crisis averted, back to normal operations. It’s amazing how little appreciation we have for essential services until they’re gone.
The second one however, was a bit more of a challenge. When you’re running a residential program with 60-80 teenagers and adults living on site, you generate a lot of washing. For years we had sent all of our piles of dirty laundry off site and a couple of days later it magically reappeared clean, ironed and folded neatly. However, this year was slightly different. We were all ready and prepared for doing exactly the same thing, but with one problem. The first weekend of the program, the town laundry burnt to the ground. Now we suddenly had a mountain of dirty clothes and no magical fairies to come and take it away. With a nine weeks’ program ahead of us and being in a rural town with no other laundry, this was a major problem…
The first thing was to let everyone know. This is the easy part. The next step, was to think about how we could do something about it. We had 65 people, a commercial kitchen and 4 washing machines and 3 dryers. Whilst this might be ok with adults, with teenagers who have never washed a single item of clothing before in their lives, this becomes a problem. The first step was to get us over the first hurdle. We needed some clean clothes and we needed them quickly. One machine and dryer was out for kitchen use only, leaving us with 3 and 2 respectively to take down Mount Washmore!
Rather than think it was all too hard and try to find another laundry, the clear way forward was to create a laundry roster, show the students how to wash their clothes and let them learn from the experience. We worked with the students on the first day to make sure they had clean essentials (underwear and other inner layers). The outer layers such as jackets, could just weather the storm of daily use for a bit longer. With a few people predicting disastrous visions of 50 disheveled children walking around looking as if they’d been on an epic journey with a band of hobbits, it didn’t turn out that way at all. It wasn’t exactly clean, neatly pressed clothes either, but a happy medium in between.
With a little more time and seeing a few holes in our original plan, we updated and amended our systems and instructions and before too long, the weekly washing became just another normal part of everyone’s week. Students somehow worked out that you can’t put dripping wet clothes in a dryer and others worked out that you don’t put new red and blue clothes in with your whites. However, without the laundry burning down, which forced our hand to adapt quickly, we wouldn’t have changed what we’d been doing for the past 20 years and turn it into a learning opportunity.
If I were to have proposed that we stop sending our laundry to the magic fairies to do and instead said that we should get the students to do it themselves, I’m quietly confident that this would have been rejected and I would have been told that it wouldn’t work. Yet being forced into a situation where we had no other option than to make it work, meant that from this crisis, emerged a great learning opportunity not only for now, but for the whole program into the future.
When you’re next faced with a crisis, what are you going to do? Will you put your head in your hands and cry, “I’m Done! This is not my job!” or are you going to look at the problem laterally and find a way to make the most of the crisitunity at hand?
This year at Christmas, it’s important to stop and reflect on the year that has past. Was it a good year? Was it a great year? Was it a year to forget? Why was it like this? How do you feel about work, family life, friends, sport, hobbies? Is your life happy and fulfilled?
It’s often this time of the year that sparks quite polarised feelings about life that we’re either really happy with, or that worry us intensely. The constant bombardment of media, movies and ads showing happy families at Christmas all getting along well, laughing and enjoying their time together can either bring a sense of joy and happiness, or dread and resentment.
It’s tough that this time of the year can be the hardest for many people. However, if this is the case, then what are you going to do about it? It’s all well and good to feel sorry for ourselves, but rather than focus on what’s wrong, this is a great time to review what’s really important in life and make some positive changes to build on that.
As I’ve written about before, this is not about New Year’s resolutions, which are generally a complete load of crap. Most overweight people who start their new diet are still overweight at this time the next year as there’s not the action to back the change that’s needed. I think it’s more important to think more broadly and look at what will really make a difference in your life.
Fast forward to your 90s, which is a good innings. What does a life with no regrets look like? What would you say if you could have a conversation with your younger self? Ok, so I should qualify this with the fact that I’m not suggesting you take the approach in the Decameron, but instead, what is going to be happy, fulfilling and rewarding for you and your family?
One place to start is to give back to the community with no expectations. The gift we can give someone through actions of kindness, compassion and generosity can make a huge difference in their lives and what better time to start than now. Join a service club. If you’re under 60, you will dramatically lower the average age of those involved.
I have no time I hear you sigh that you have no time. Why is that? What’s the root cause of the lack of time? What can you do to make your time more efficient and effective? For starters, start saying no to lots of things which don’t matter. Our lives can become so consumed by pointless noise. If we filter out that noise and stop doing things which really aren’t that important, then the amount of time we have to do important things which are fulfilling dramatically increases.
What’s important to you? How can you focus on that over the next week, month and year? How can you help others? Most importantly, how can you live a wonderful, meaningful and fulfilling life? At Christmas, forget the noise of marketing, of fads and what the world tells you you should be doing for the new year. Instead spend some time focussing on what’s really important in your life and how you can focus on that to ensure every year, despite its challenges, will be a wonderful and fulfilling one for you and your family.
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all
Before you get too worried about my state of mind, if you haven’t worked out the reference already, you should go and play White Rabbit by Jefferson Aeroplane. One, it’s a cool song and two, it’s suitably trippy for this article! If you don’t get what it all means, that’s ok. It’s basically a drug trip song that’s used in just about every TV and movie drug montage ever with the connection to Alice In Wonderland.
Anyway, before I explain it to death, this week, we’re talking about drugs!!!! Today there’s no shortage of them. Students are on just about everything you can imagine to get them moving and motivated, to slow them down and focus them. To stop them sleeping, to make them sleep. To make them more productive, to make them less destructive. To fight bacteria, to promote bacteria. To balance them out, to unbalance them out! To get them regular, to stop them being too regular!
It’s a wonderful world of pharmaceutical profits in every schoolbag! Doctors seem to give out drugs more often than candy… which they’re no longer allowed to give out, because candy may contain traces of nuts.
Whilst drugging kids up to their eyeballs is entirely up to the parents and their doctors, the problem is that teachers then get lumped with this huge responsibility of administering medications when they take students away on camps. Most teachers in my experience are ill-equipped to do this and lack the confidence to do it properly.
In most cases, giving medications is fairly straight forward. You look at the packet and what it says on the box and you follow the instructions. Generally, it’s usually no more than giving a pill, a puff or a small dose of some sort of liquid. If staff are being asked to provide an injecting service, perhaps mum, dad or the doctor should come on camp instead.
Even though it’s a fairly simple process, it can be overwhelming with everything else that’s going on during camp. I found this to be the case on one camp program where we had a lot of students who required daily medications and a lot of other things happening at the same time. It wasn’t until one teacher forgot a student’s ADHD medications in the morning that the problem became really apparent. If you can imagine Bart Simpson on steroids, that’s pretty much what the student turned into without his meds. It didn’t make for a good day at work. Instead, it was just containment and damage control until bedtime thirteen hours later. It’s not something I ever want to go through again. The problem is that it’s so easy to forget medication in this way as one distraction on camp can lead to another and whilst every teacher is trying their best to manage, sometimes things like this can slip through the cracks.
So, how did I solve this crack problem? Well I built an app to remind teachers when medications were due. It triggered alerts 5mins before the medication was due and then another 5mins afterwards if something was missed. Then it was a simple checkbox that showed the right medication, the right student and once it was administered, it was timestamped. This became a core feature of the Xcursion platform and now one of its most frequently used functions.
So now despite the tidal wave of speed coming your way to slow those manic kids down, you can be assured that you’ll be able to get every pill to every student that needs it, on time, every time. It will leave you comfortably numb and happy in the knowledge that you’ve supplied a stack of controlled drugs to small children and prevented them from go troppo all day.
But if you don’t have a way of tracking this with something like the Xcursion app and instead decide to go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall. The best defence when things go completely wrong is to Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call. Just ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall…
There are two major things with which humans aren’t great. Change and uncertainty. Unfortunately, for those who struggle with both of these things, modern life is becoming increasingly challenging, as they’re now a huge reality of the fast-paced digital world.
I don’t want to delve too much into the impact of change, as it’s a whole thing unto itself. However, what I’ve noticed is that avoidance of uncertainty in teenagers appears to becoming worse and worse and somewhat detrimental to their experience of life. However, I don’t want to blame teens for this. I want to blame their parents as they’re the ones predominantly responsible for bringing them up and providing a world view that either helps or hinders their ability to deal with uncertainty.
I’ve noticed this trend over the past few years on camps and expeditions. The desire for instant answers on everything caused by search engine education and a sense of every moment of the day being carefully scheduled without deviation, presents a massive problem when things don’t go to plan. The problem is that life isn’t always straight forward, nor is it predictable. In fact, quite the opposite is true and life can often be a chaotic mess of which at times, is hard to make sense. Yet, we find ourselves increasingly teaching students who are quite incapable of dealing with uncertainty.
This is a problem on many levels. Gone are the days in which someone could live their life with little to no change or variance in what they did. In times past, people could go to school, leave, get a job and stay in that job until they retired. For many people, leaving their own town or village would have been unheard of and travel wasn’t something that many people did to find work or simply move around. However, this has not only changed, but dramatically shifted to another extreme. Employment is becoming increasingly casualised in many parts of the world, with tech companies saying how wonderful the ‘gig’ economy is, which for the record it’s not! It’s forcing many people into serious underemployment and a constant need to change and re-invent what they’re doing.
Whilst the change of the workforce is a whole massive issue unto itself, it’s just part of the overall continuous change that is happening in our world. Change is constant and change can be taxing on the most dynamic and resilient of us.
What does this mean for students who want to avoid uncertainty? Unfortunately, it means they’re going to seriously struggle in life. Much of the resistance I’m seeing today for students to get involved in something, involves higher-order thinking. Problem solving and adaptability. Whenever they’re forced into taking a longer amount of time to work out an answer, they can’t do it, or more to the point, don’t even try. Instead, they give up because they can’t search for or quickly come to an answer.
It’s therefore important for us to help the avoider face uncertainty. The only way for them to develop the skills needed to cope in the modern world is for them to face uncertainty. In outdoor ed, we can do it by standing back and watching students figure things out for themselves and only step in if there’s a safety issue. This forces action and decision-making processes in students which aren’t being used on a day to day basis. No longer can they have the answer searched for them, nor will every minute of their day be scheduled so they know what’s happening next and at what time.
The spoon-feeding for exams approach that I’ve seen so many schools take, has only reinforced this practice of uncertainty avoidance and for us to adequately prepare students for an ever-changing world, then we need to do more to expose them to uncertainty and give them opportunities to work with that uncertainty, try something new and achieve an outcome that is not scripted in anyway. When we can be doing this for all education, then we might just be able to train the next generation to not only cope with change, but thrive in a very different environment that will continue to change and evolve in 5, 10, 20 and 50 years time. The ability to embrace and deal with uncertainty, is a far greater skill to have than simply knowing the answer to an exam, or where to find it. This is a huge challenge, but one that outdoor and experiential educators are well-equiped to not only meet, but exceed expectations for how well they can do this and ultimately equip students with the right skills for the new digital age.
Recently, our new team went on a bit of a shopping adventure to IKEA and Bunnings. Sadly, there was no sausage sizzle on at that point in time, so no chance to drop onion all over the ground, but it was fun all the same. It’s always great to get the perspective of new staff as they look upon what you’re doing with a set of fresh eyes that haven’t necessarily been tainted by time, repetition and entrenched ways of doing things. As a result, from their input you can discover something new and different without changing much at all.
Back to the shopping trip. The new team had arrived on campus a few days earlier. To say it was a stark expression of 1970s flat roof architecture, would be generous. The campus buildings were tired looking and have been well-loved, but starting to show their age. The rooms of each of the buildings, I’ve spent a lot of time in and had some wonderful moments teaching and socialising in these spaces. This time, however, we’d added in a new wall and converted an old space into a ‘sick bay.’
The room was basic with two beds a cupboard, a filing cabinet and a desk. Nothing special or even remotely interesting about that. In fact, it looked pretty crap and a Stazi hospital may have been slightly more luxurious and aesthetic in comparison. If you were sick, the new room would probably make you feel sicker. For many people, the simple fact that it was a practical room that served a function would be enough. However, thankfully a couple of fresh sets of eyes thought differently. They suggested we go shopping.
A trip to IKEA is not for the faint hearted. It’s enormous and if you want to get your daily steps up, it’s a great place to do that. Although if you eat the ice cream at the end, it kinda defeats the purpose. But anyway, we started wandering through and there’s so much cool stuff, I could get lost in there for days. Despite the risk of going in and never coming out, we wandered around the various sections of the store and I left the new guys to select whatever they needed for the room. I had no idea what they were going to come up with, but excited to find out.
We ended up leaving with a trolly full or stuff and about $1,000 later, I still had no idea how it was going to turn out. I left them to toil away in the room and after a couple of hours it was time for the big revelation! Stepping inside, it couldn’t have been more different. The room was remarkably changed. The horrible cupboard had gone. There was pleasing soft lighting, the doona covers were fresh and attractive and the soft plush puppy dog, made the room feel so much more homely than before. A scented defuser with a soft green glow sat on the desk and finally the peace lily had brought life to a once desolate and uninviting space.
The difference this small transition made in this room was remarkable. The space had changed in its tone and now was a pleasant, calming room in which someone could get some rest if needed, rather than the horrible bed and cupboard of before.
The clever use of space and application of thoughtfulness to something like this is so important for education, home life and business alike. It changes the mood and through this, changes the dynamics of behaviour and attitude. The more thought we put into something such as this, the more respect and use a space will have.
A friend of mine has been doing a similar thing with school playgrounds, taking ‘wasted’ empty or disused spaces and transforming them with low ropes courses, bouldering walls and nature play elements. Play Grounded has explored the outside play area dynamics in the same way that my wonderful team members did inside.
Is there somewhere in your school or campus that’s just a waste dump that even political dissidents would shun in favour of a KGB cell? If so, get thinking creatively and go shopping!
Transforming spaces in a similar way, will have a proud impact on that space and those using it. For us, it has changed the tone and made it such a relaxing and friendly place to visit.
Social media is something that, as we all know, is relatively new. However, we don’t really know the extent to which it will harm and damage our current generation – the children, teens and young adults. With the drive and desire for so many likes and so many followers, this can build people up to a false sense of security and to be perfectly honest, those who need thousands of followers or thousands of likes or that feeling of social rapport with other people that they don’t even know, are most likely going to be vulnerable people anyway. Whilst they exude confidence online in photos and posts and comments, and everything they do looks happy and wonderful, it’s merely a filtered view of the world and a very filtered approach that they’re projecting. Yet what’s behind that?
If you look at some of the classic meltdowns of many of the most successful singers, songwriters and performers as well as actors who are vulnerable, ego driven people, you can find a whole stack of them hanging out in rehab. Many of them form drug habits. Many of them get overweight very quickly and this happens when their fame starts to wane. It happens when people stop liking things. People stop liking their work. People stop following their fan clubs. Whilst this has been going on for years and years in the entertainment industry, it often happened reasonably slowly for many actors as the success of their movies or music faded or the success and people’s interests changed.
However, for many teens and young adults today, the fame or infamy that they gain through social media very quickly with that meteoric rise, will conversely result in a meteoric crash back down to earth. This is a real danger, because this increases people’s risk of mental health problems if vulnerable anyway.
Often people with a stack of followers end up being targeted by marketing companies to then put product placements in their posts to ensure that they’re selling more and more. So, they’re making money out of this now, based upon the fact a lot of people click a post and they like it. But you can be guaranteed that as soon as the numbers start dropping, the money dries up. This will only serve to compound the problem for people like this. So whilst these people seem to have money coming in and think that they’re actually building something that’s going to last, it’s a completely false sense of security, a false hope and a huge problem that’s being driven by social media and marketing companies.
This is a destructive force of which we really haven’t seen the impact yet. It’s only through education, building up strength of character and building up confidence in young people that we can help them avoid what can be a totally destructive experience to their lives. Some people will still grow huge audiences, have thousands or tens of thousands of people following them. But how shallow and pointless is their filtered life? What’s behind the lens is often just a toxic waste dump of sadness, depression and self loathing, with an increasing worry that the next post might not bring in the same number or more likes than the last. How fickle and pointless this is.
Therefore, it’s important when working with students to help them understand that some parts of social media can be fun. Some of it can be a good game but other parts can be dark, destructive and can absolutely destroy their lives. It’s an important message of not complete abstinence or outright banning social media, but being mindful of just how shallow and short lived this kind of experience can and will be. Just as the burnt out lives of child actors of the 80s and 90s are, it’s important to help the next generation to avoid this terrible fate that in moments can turn a successful ‘public figure’ into a forgotten nobody without any rhyme or reason.
Right now, I’m sitting in an airport lounge waiting for a flight to London. Ok! I know when you’re reading this, I probably won’t be still sitting in the airport, unless the flight is massively delayed, which if that’s the case, please come and save me!!!
Regardless of where I am right now, basically as I write this, I’m at the airport having lunch. On a table opposite me, there’s a lady working away on her laptop and her son who is about 5, sitting there eating lunch, with headphones on and stuffing food in his mouth whilst watching something on his iPad. Mum seems oblivious to what he’s up to and he appear transfixed on the screen.
Having worked countless hours in airport lounges, on planes and any random place I can, I understand deadlines and the need to get things done. But why can’t it wait until after lunch? The disturbing picture for me, is that this appears so ‘normal’ to the mother and son, which it shouldn’t be! The dining table, regardless of whether at home or about to travel, shouldn’t be about work. Now you might object and say that I’m working by writing this, but actually I have finished lunch and now I’m having coffee… so yeah…
Anyway, back to the point of all of this. When you look at some of the problems facing education today, this highlights the disconnect between social anchors such as family dinners and the reality of life. The problems this causes years down the track is already being felt as the current generation of school aged students have been “baby sat” by devices, which manipulate behaviours and undermine the ability for them to relate to others and have normal conversations and experiences.
The toxicity of the effect of technology on children is vastly underrated and a new ‘normal’ which increasingly disconnects them from other people, is a massive social and emotional problem just waiting to happen. Next time you’re travelling with the kids, don’t give them an iPad at lunch so they won’t bother you for a bit. Enjoy the moment for what it is. Talk with them. Talk about the trip, what they’re looking forward to and what’s going to be something new, interesting and challenging. Otherwise, the alternative of the babysitting mobile device, is just like Cat Steven’s cats in the cradle on steroids. What you’re gaining in ‘productivity,’ you’re simply losing at the cost of your family and their own well-being.
Now if you’re reading this, you’re probably not in that category at all, but the reality is that we’re teaching students like this every day and understanding the crippling upbringing they’ve had, can help us to understand on what we need to be able to focus and try to help our students recover. At the end of the day, humans desire real relationships with real people and it’s often up to us as educators to show other people how this can be done.
Ok supplemental… I’m still in the lounge. The lady just walked past me with her headphones on and looking down at her phone whilst her son is trying to ask her questions and talk to her. If only they could see the damage they’re doing… very sad indeed.
If you’ve ever worked with someone who lacks or has lost their passion for what they’re doing, it’s often an unpleasant experience to say the least. Now I’m not here to say that long relentless hours equate to passion. In fact, it can be quite the opposite having worked with some people who equated hours at work to the measure of their work. Sadly, no matter how long some of them spent at work, it was never going to add up to anything more than a wasted car space in the car park.
As I’m a strong believer in delivering good, effective programs for students, hours spent don’t always come into this mix. Instead, it’s the ability of staff to engage with students, inspire and be effective that are the most important components of this.
Anyone can sit at a desk or in a classroom and use up lots of hours. It literally takes no talent at all to do this. A former colleague of mine was just amazed at this. He could be at work for 12-16 hours and do nothing. In fact, it was worse than that. Many days, it was less than nothing and that created more problems for everyone else to fix. However, thankfully people like this usually get moved on quickly, or should be.
Tired, exhausted teachers no matter how passionate they might be, can never be truly effective. Therefore, there needs to be that mystical balance that everyone seems to talk about, but like Eldorado and Saadam’s WMDs, nobody can find.
Most people go into careers because they’re passionate about it. However, many work places manage to smash that enthusiasm right out of them, which at the end of the day is a wasted opportunity. I’d rather have passionate staff who keep throwing ideas at me for how we can do things better or how we can build things up, rather than staff who like the status quo and you have to drag them kicking and screaming through any modicum of change.
Consequently, the real challenge is often not the development of passion in staff, but creating an environment in which passion is valued. Too often, I’ve seen passion and enthusiasm destroyed by hopeless organisations that think that doing the same thing over and over again is the only way to do it. The world changes, people change and if you don’t like change, then perhaps education is not the right place for you.
This doesn’t mean you have to take on every crazy new idea that staff come up with, but what it does mean is that developing a culture in which new ideas are welcomed and valued, is a vital basis to build and retain staff who have a great passion for what they do and are motivated by what will produce the best educational outcomes for students. If this means trying something new, then try something new! It’s better to listen to twenty crazy ideas, three of which could be brilliant and the other seventeen pointless, but those three ideas could have a massive and lasting impact on the lives of countless staff and students and flow on to the community and generations to come. However, stamping out ideas has the opposite effect and an organisation can become so stale and ineffective that it loses staff, it loses new fresh ideas and just becomes as standardised factor for processing students.
You don’t want a scenario like this, because trying to deal with unmotivated staff is hard work!! It’s much harder, in my experience, than encouraging new ideas to be shared, trialed and implemented in a process of continuous improvement. In this scenario, it’s the lazy and dispassionate staff that self-select their way out of the organisation to go and do something less challenging or to find another school that’s going nowhere fast.
The only way we can face the rapidly changing world is through embracing new ideas and encouraging those around us to share their passion. Through this, we can build cultures that value how fluid and dynamic education can and should be to ensure we’re producing the best results for everyone.
Everyone seems to be anxious these days and it’s often difficult to understand why this is. The problem is that this is presenting itself in a significant way in education. The number of students who are labelled as ‘suffering from anxiety,’ is increasingly noticeable. Is the world becoming a more dangerous place? Are gangs of kidnappers roaming the streets of our nation, just waiting to find a child out playing on a bike? Or art thou just fatal vision… Drawing parents into a paranoia about child safety and pushing their own failings onto their children?
The problem with anxiety is that it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy. Much like the way in which Macbeth was goaded into murdering a stack of people by three witches, due to a bunch a false prophesies, parents are making their children anxious shut-ins for no reason at all. Now this isn’t to say there aren’t bad people in the world, but there’s more chance that a child will be abused by a family member or close friend of the family, rather than marauding gangs of pedos in trench coats and white vans. Yet this is the way in which many parents are now behaving.
“Don’t do this, don’t do that. You can’t go out and play…” Whilst kids need to build some awareness and defences around stranger danger, shutting them inside with a video game for supervision is certainly not a good alternative to going out, riding a bike, running around building forts and playing with real friends. Sure, they’ll get scratches, bumps and bruises, but at the same time, they develop social skills and the resilience to laugh off those scratches, bumps and bruises and go and find more suitable trouble into which to get themselves. This has been a healthy way to develop for hundreds of millions of children over centuries. The bonus in Western countries now is that most children over 10 don’t have to leave school and go and work in factories fifty hours a week.
Unfortunately, there’s an increased tendency for children to be kept shut in at home or within their parents’ line of sight every moment of the day. How frustratingly boring this must be for everyone involved. It’s not only the fact that this is just weird. It’s also the fact that whenever there’s an opportunity for time to be spent away from the family, it can end up in a situation of separation anxiety. There’s really no winning in this situation as we’re back to the self-fulfilling prophecy in that parents are making their children unnecessarily anxious.
I recently read an article about a pilot program in Queensland, Australia that’s encouraging children to go out exploring and hanging out with friends… Unsupervised!!! The ‘pilot’ was a success, but the organisation is asking for more money so they can expand their program. Wait… what does that mean? The government is spending money to try and get parents to do what they should be doing anyway, which will help develop social skills and reduce obesity… What’s the government even doing funding this in the first place? It should be parents driving this to help ensure their children grow up active, healthy and resilient.
The unfortunate reality is however, that parents are not doing this. They’re disempowering their children and making them feel fearful of anything new, anything different and anything without a clear end result! I would like to blame terrible parenting books and rubbish advice from idiots, who don’t know anything about the reality of life. However, you can only blame stupid authors so much and at the end of the day, parents need to take responsibility for the anxiety they cause their own children.
Let’s face it! Getting covered head to toe in mud never really hurt anyone. Cuts, bruises and bumps are just a part of life and failure is not a four letter word! (It’s actually a seven letter word, but you get the point). The desire to try and create a ‘perfect’ world for their children, has in fact resulted in the exact opposite. For many children who are the ‘world’s most amazing child,’ they face so many additional challenges from this rubbish parenting and they struggle with some of the most basic of tasks when faced with a challenge. The fact that they can’t achieve even the most basic of things without the help and supervision of their parents, then suddenly… they become anxious and once you have an anxiety about something, the prophesy inevitably comes true. Not quite Macbeth true with all those murders, but all the same, true. The child becomes disempowered and crippled by the parents’ neediness and reluctance to let them face the realities of an often challenging and harsh world.
So how do we help students deal with anxiety? By enabling them to try and fail with a sense of a way forward. If something doesn’t work, then try something different. For camps, that seems to create massive anxiety for so many students now, tell them to deal with it. Don’t sugar coat an experience or help them escape it. Help them to face the reality that it could be a challenge, but, they’re capable of fulfilling that challenge. The only way to help address anxiety in anyone is to expose them to the thing they’re anxious about. Now I should put in here that some anxieties are quite real and beyond the remit of schools and outdoor ed programs to help solve. However, for all the other imaginary, self-fulfilling ones, reassure students and help them get involved in the activities. At the end of the day, what’s the worst that will happen?
With so many over the top parents who shut their kids in and try to stop them from ‘failing’ in anyway they can, this poses a massive problem for education, yet at the same time a massive opportunity. So long as the school or organisation is clear in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, then that’s a good start to help save these children from their anxious, paranoid parents. I recently heard that a counsellor is increasingly dealing with the breakdown of parent/child relationships due to this style of over-parenting. This is not something anyone really wants or needs for their lives, so why not prevent it before it happens. It’s good that parents are involved in their children’s lives, but it’s time they also faced the harsh reality that over-involvement can damage and destroy their children’s lives.
There’s no reason why children should be increasingly anxious today. The world is safer, despite what the media may tell you, people are healthier and living longer and a few bumps and scratches running around playing with friends never really hurt anyone. Sadly, it all comes down to poor parenting and the false belief that parents can save their children from the reality of the world. As educators, we need to set a stand, send clear messages about how and why we do things and cut parents off when their involvement is detrimental to the welfare of their children. It may seem harsh, but the alternative of the Scottish Play, is far worse for everyone involved.