The Journey in Sheffield Continues…

When I set out on my latest journey, it was destination: Sheffield. But most journeys are not quite as simple as all that and I soon discovered that I was to be making a greater journey than I realised, destination: unknown.

These are the steps I expected to be making on my journey:
– Forming brand new working relationships
– Developing my staff so that we become a team
– Developing myself as a ‘leader’
– Figuring out what L&D might look like in this brand new context
– Continuing to figure out what a role in L&D actually looks and feels like!

Laying the Foundations

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Image available from here

So what have these steps actually looked like for the last 4 months? (much of it consists of laying the foundations for the future):

  • Our Hub page has been updated so that it’s a lot more user-friendly and directs staff towards comprehensive and engaging content. 
  • A staff development flyer is shared with all staff on a monthly basis containing key updates, success stories and inspiring content to support development.
  • A Development Catalogue has been created so that staff can easily locate development opportunities that might suit them- external events, online courses and more informal learning such as Twitter chats, blogs and books.

These three things will all help us to promote development activities and opportunities in their wider sense to staff. We have ensured, as much as possible, that opportunities and content is shared that addresses the potential needs of delivery staff, leaders, LSAs and business support staff alike.

  • A Google Site has been created for our Teaching and Learning content. This doubles as a great way of showcasing to colleagues what Google Apps are capable of and our data dashboard (as well as far more reliable staff development data that has been an incredibly laborious and rather tedious job for Chris and Helen) should help line managers to see where their staff are at without us having to produce a ton of reports each month.
  • A pilot teaching and learning project has been put into place for the coming term. Perhaps the most exciting part of this project has been that I feel part of the wider team and at the college: all of us working together towards being #onecollege… And in doing so, it’s already beginning to feel like one- at least it is from where I’m sitting.
  • A new onboarding process for new staff is well underway to accompany the refreshed staff induction and handbook. Once again, this is a project which, working alongside HR, is certainly making me feel an integral part of the college.
  • Two #FLTeachSTEM MOOC groups have been meeting to share learning and practice.

Only time will tell the tangible differences these actions will make to the college’s culture and practice…

Personal Successes

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  • I’ve kept up with writing my 5 achievements every day. It was really great to read over these on my week off last week. Part of me suggested they weren’t enough and I could have done more- I listened to that part of me and chose to ignore it. Writing these has very much been helped by writing them in the same document as someone else. I had been advised to do this activity before but it never stuck- whenever I felt like I’d had a bad day then I could easily just skip it. With someone else watching, I had to write them no matter how bad I felt my day had been.
  • I have left work before 7pm every day so far. I may have slipped up just the once… Most days, it’s been before 5.30pm. Yeah Frank, it’s true and it’s really me! Frank used to forcibly remove me from the building closer to 9pm during my first couple of years at Reading- although we could have a good natter about books whilst he did it. I’m yet to make the most of my wonderfully long evenings- getting used to them is enough for now. Although some baking, painting, reading and watching of movies has already occurred.
  • My jaw hit the floor when I paid for my first monthly season ticket this week- and not in the way it used to. Approximately 20% of what I used to pay… what will I do with all my spare money? Well, the next ‘success’ should probably take care of that!
  • Two weeks ago, we finally moved into our first home and the work has begun to make it ours. I was thrilled after finishing my first coat of paint on what will be our office. Not quite as thrilled after finishing the third though…

Learning

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Over the last 4 months, the steps I’ve taken (however tentative) have lead to a great deal of learning:

Being part of a team

Teamwork as any adult (and certainly teacher) knows, is no walk in the park. This is especially the case when you’ve not been accustomed to it. Being accountable just to yourself is one kind of pressure. Being accountable to your own staff as well as staff and managers elsewhere is quite another. At times, I haven’t dealt with this at all well- failing to communicate effectively, connect properly with others and contribute positively to projects due to a belief that the team would be far better off if they were progressing without me. These stresses are something I will (must) get used to because working as part of a team; with its connectedness, challenge, feedback, support and multiple perspectives, is far preferable to being asked to go it alone. 

Delegation

I’ve discovered that delegation works far more effectively if I’ve broken the task down, included deadlines and shared it in a way that suits the person I’m working with. That’s becoming easier as I get to know my direct reports better but when it’s people I don’t know, this is a greater challenge and one I’m yet to figure out. The ‘delegation’ I’d previously known was pulling in favours from my friends when I had reached the limit of what I could do on my own or waiting for colleagues (@s_moakes) to read my mind- as they invariably did.  There’s still a great deal for me to learn on this front.

I’m a bit (a lot) of a diva

One of the reasons I first went into teaching was because I could be incredibly autonomous about the way in which I worked. Being unyielding about how, when and whether I did things was a trait I noticed in myself upon leaving university. My partner quickly learned that ‘compromise’ was not exactly in my vocabulary- but then we soon realised it wasn’t in his either so we’ve both been incredibly happy over the years; pleasing ourselves about what we each choose to do.

Until I made a close group of friends in Reading, I (perhaps rather naively) assumed that no-one else would ever see these tendencies in me. It turns out that I was being a diva without realising it: apparently, if I wasn’t doing it then WE weren’t doing it. I’ve never been one for doing something if I don’t want to do it and over the years there have been just an incredibly small handful of exceptions to this. I’m always saying ‘NO’ to things and I’d never realised that everyone else was just going along with what I wanted to do because otherwise, they’d realised that we’d never do anything together at all. Their observations about these diva tendencies has made me more aware that my tendency to be unyielding may be more visible to others than I’d thought. 

In my role at Sheffield, I have begun to recognise that the way I work is not necessarily the way others want to work and I should become a little more flexible in that regard. Changing the habits of a lifetime will be difficult- especially when those close to me have more than indulged my natural disposition… and I’ve only just realised it’s the case. A steep and difficult learning curve lies ahead… but I’ve been informed that until you know me very well, I just come across as a person who knows exactly what they want so… I’ll probably just continue to do as I please. I know- very unyielding and not very growth mindset of me at all!

Leadership

Leadership has always, as I’ve reflected before, been a notion that has sat incredibly uncomfortably for me. Who put me in charge? Of anything? The reality of having a team that I’m responsible for as well as all the things I’m expected to have impact on is just as hard, if not harder than I expected. 

Every single hour of every single day, there are things I could have said and done differently and better… There are so many, in some cases absolutely vital, aspects of my role that I’ve barely scratched the surface of yet and the guilt of that weighs heavily on my mind. It feels almost as exhausting as the first couple of years of teaching. I’ve reflected recently on the leadership of others and just because I’m the officially designated ‘leader’ does not mean that I have to lead on everything; I need to trust and rely upon, far more, the leadership qualities and capabilities of those around me. What lies ahead of my leadership journey will be long, difficult, and patience will be required. 

Emotional Resilience

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Image available from here

One of my closest friends has said that she has always viewed my resilience as one of my greatest strengths. I would argue that it wouldn’t have to be if everything didn’t affect me so much in the first place. Finally building my emotional resilience has become my main focus as the last four months have been so heavily affected by my lack of it.

Since the inception of #teacher5aday, my awareness of wellbeing has been significantly heightened. This resulted in me:

  • Sharing regular wellbeing tips with staff when I was at Reading
  • Suggesting the incorporation of #teacher5aday as part of a Reading’s Take 5 wellbeing campaign for staff
  • Asking @MartynReah to do a wellbeing walk as part of #ReadTL15

These were all great things for other people but the actions to have impact on myself were fleeting and mainly consisted of occasional posts on Twitter. These posts often came about as I noticed that what I was doing happened to be quite good for my wellbeing too. Few of these actions were intentional and despite all of my focus on wellbeing, I’ve reached the realisation that I’ve never truly made a commitment to the hard work and actions involved in addressing my emotional resilience.

Things I’ll be (and have already begun) implementing because it MUST be about deed rather than mere thought:

  • Short walks around the block in the middle of the day (15-20 minutes). I’m trying out listening to podcasts, meditation, music or nothing but the noises around me whilst I do this. The purpose of this is to have an escape from work and my desk for a little while: in order to extract myself from any situations I’m struggling to cope with as other work demands are vying for my attention.
  • Calling friends during the day or at the end of the day to catch-up and chat. The purpose of this is to distract me from the stresses of the day and give me something to be happy about.
  • Meditating before bed on an evening. The purpose of this is to let all the troubles of the day melt away; making space for a restful sleep and a refreshed self in the morning. It puts a stop to any late night negativity and regret for all that could have been that day.
  • Spending more time outside. The purpose of this is because I like being outdoors and it generally serves to put a stop to negative thought processes.

Whilst at work, I’m mindful of when I’m heading down a path of being cruel to myself for all the things I’m failing to do and achieve and I’m allowing myself a time out- whether that’s a walk out, a snack outside of the office or a moment to phone a friend. I’ll be seeking other small strategies I can implement that may well make a big difference.

Just after Christmas I read @EducationAlex‘s MA dissertation about succession planing for senior leadership positions in Further Education organisations. One of the key themes that had emerged from his interviews with these leaders was around the concept of ‘self care’ and how they just weren’t dedicating themselves to it. They had a college, with all its staff and students, to look after – there simply wasn’t enough space for them to look after themselves. Yet, we must all make space and time for self-care because, as I’ve certainly learned over the last few months, if the last thing we look after is ourselves then we’re the first to crumble under pressure.

I’ll be tweeting this month, in a very intentional way, about the daily actions I’m taking to reduce my stress levels and build my emotional resilience as part of #stressawarenessmonth 

I blog tomorrow about a work project that I hope will lead to months of positive next steps ahead.

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