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2020-2021 - Late New Year Reflections

I almost didn’t write a review post this year but prompted my @MartynReah and #teacher5aday I think it is important to pause and notice our own mental states, to reflect and plan ahead. I drafted this the weekend before term started but... well, you know the rest.

Small Print

On top of the usual challenges of being a middle leader (5 subjects now!) and senior examiner, add in a pandemic and several big personal challenges: the decision to put my father into care as his dementia was now beyond us, our daughter caught in the A level chaos and then heading off to university, my wife and father both getting Covid in December - thankfully mild.

I suspect I was too busy to process most of these things at the time so this, together with the cumulative effect of 10 exhausting months, meant that the Christmas holiday was almost like a re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. It was lovely but I slept a lot and felt quite flat. It was 3 days after Christmas that I finally got some energy and added a thousand words or so to the novel I had begun to write in lockdown 1. (It may get finished at some point but that’s another story)

The lessons of 2020

As I look ahead to the year ahead, it is probably worth noting the positives in amongst the storms and weeds that made up 2020. There has been more family time, there has been lots of learning - I am now proficient in at least 5 different types of video conferencing. There have been two bigger lessons

  1. Pivoting and resilience - As teachers we have coped with everything that the year has thrown at us at ridiculously short notice. One thinker online referred to the ability to pivot as being the vital skill of the year. We may well need more of this going forward but I think we have learned a lot about our resilience. We are stronger and more resilient than we realise (even if our emotions tell us otherwise some days.)

  2. One day at a time and one thing at a time - The importance of taking one day at a time has been the main lesson of the year. No matter what the demands are, breathe, and work out what needs doing at that moment. This is often all that matters. The wellbeing of the staff and students as well as TLA are the true priorities. If I can get to other things it is a bonus. No matter how many dogs are barking you can only feed one at a time. (I think I just invented a proverb!)

Some aims for 2021

Health wise the need to focus more on the physical is a big one. The Perthes in my hip is worse both when I overdo it but also when I am inactive so a balance is needed. And physical exercise helps the mind too, so it is a win-win. Whilst I am on the physical I hope to do a reverse Jesus this year by drinking more water and less wine. So better habits all round are needed. I also have a couple of Apps to helpful with my prayer/mindfulness and I am already feeling the benefit of starting each day with stillness

I suspect my main thoughts for 2021 are actually around attitudes and patterns of thinking rather than specific actions. I have got myself into some bad habits of thought and I need to get out of them.

  1. Being braver: According to the famous prayer - we should accept what we cannot change and should only focus on things we can change. One of the difficulties of Covid has been that a lot of things have been out of our control and taking a day at a time (see above) has been the watchword. When so many things can’t be changed, passivity understandably becomes our default. Yet there are almost always more things that we can change than we realise. And as far off as it seems now, the present situation will pass. I am able to make more changes and more of a difference than I think. I need to be braver.

  2. Perspective: We are in challenging times but one word that keeps coming to me is perspective. I am relatively blessed, safe, secure and viewed against life as a whole this season is grim but it will pass. This is perhaps just that part of the film where things get a bit tense for the main characters before the sun comes up again. So trying to see the bigger picture, and not just the present moment. Perspective also involves trying to look forward rather than getting bogged down in the here and now. I need to keep all manner of things in their right perspective

  3. Get in SHAPE - in ‘the Elephant in the Staffroom’ I borrowed Rick Warren’s acronym and suggested that we have a teacher SHAPE - Setting, Heart, Abilities, Personality, Experience. In 2020 we have had to play out of position and have developed new skills. As we begin to emerge from the pandemic - and as far as depends on me - I am keen to do more of the things that are part of my natural SHAPE both in and out of the workplace - so more writing I think. Otherwise I'm not totally clear what this will mean but I think the idea of SHAPE might inform whether I say 'yes' or 'no' to some of the invites or requests that tend to come my way.

So rather than concrete and specific pledges, a commitment to learn to think in certain ways as thought and attitude are the roots of behaviour and action. Sometimes progress is about knowing what sort of directions you are heading in even if the initial steps are smaller than we would like.

I hope my reflections and ramblings have stimulated some thought. Best wishes as we go forward into what is already an interesting year.

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