I have been ill. Deathly ill. Light a candle for me ill. It happens to all educators eventually, including educational leaders. It shouldn’t be a surprise, schools are a hotbed of filth and disgust. Even the loveliest of students will joyfully cough and splutter their agents of biological warfare all across their favourite teacher.
The work will continue to pile up in my absence. Urgent time sensitive tasks may or may not be completed while I’m on my deathbed. For those curious, a sinus infection became a bronchial infection, ear infection, and in a new twist for me, a tear duct infection. Thank goodness for antibiotics!
So what does any of this have to do with leadership? Well, if you’re an Australian education leader, the AITSL standards have a section called “Developing self and others” and one of the elaborations sticks out just a little in this situation:
“They model the importance of health and wellbeing, watch for signs of stress in self and others and take action to address it.”
For the most part, no one does this. Seriously, I’ve seen school leaders half dead come in and teach and catch up on urgent administration through nothing less than sheer will power.
“It’s because I love learning, and the children!” will be their last words, one imagines, as the TB, childhood bubonic plague, and juvenile tinnitus claims them from the world of the living. Teachers don’t look after themselves and frankly, we need to do more than model self care, we need to preach it. Sick staff infect other staff, no one needs or wants that, it’s an easy sell. We all know how hard it is though to prepare work for a class when you’re going to be away. Or there’s a thing that needs to be done and it’s just easier to do it yourself if you just go…
Schools often fly by the seats of their pants in terms of organisation. Constant departmental demands with a two day turn arounds, the P&C suddenly wants to do something for childhood bubonic plague awareness day, it’s a rainy day and half the buildings are unavailable. Some surprises are genuine, but others could be avoided with rigorous planning. Curriculum tight enough that a teacher could be hit by a bus on Monday afternoon, and their replacement could take their classes Tuesday morning until the end of term; that’s a start. School processes clear enough that people are redundant to those processes working, that’s nice too.
Both of these suggestions assume two things:
- You can get a decent relief teacher for the time you need them. (Easier said than done!)
- Your processes have been put together in a way that ensures that the job gets done, rather than protecting the empire of a single person.
I think point #2 is the hardest. Everyone wants to feel essential, important and needed. It takes a secure ego to say “I’d love nothing more than to step away and have everything continue without me”. This requires processes be designed, documented, and if you can, stress tested. Trust me though, when you’ve got a spittoon of green phlegm and you can hear dead relatives calling your name through a tunnel of light, you’ll be glad of your resilient processes. Now if I may be excused, I have spittoon to empty.