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Life is Too Short for This Level of Pressure (We Can Change It)

This Easter was spent visiting family in Australia.  On our first day, after a coffee at the Corner Shop in Yarraville, Melbourne, we visited the Sun Bookshop.  Browsing around I picked up a book by Bronnie Ware, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.  Possibly not the most cheery title but I’m in reflective mood these days; more reflective than usual.

The book came out of a blog, written by Bronnie Ware, about her experience as a Palliative Care nurse and people’s most common top 5 regrets at the end of life:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

Roll forward a week or so and the words of the Easter morning sermon took me back to the Sun Bookshop.  The priest used the phrase, “resurrection not resuscitation”; my mind wandered.

The past thirty plus years has seen our education system built around an underpinning school effectiveness philosophy.  We want to find out what might make schools more or less effective (perfectly reasonable); identify, often judging on some arbitrary scale, how effective each school is (not at all easy; in fact really, really difficult) and then we decided to assess teacher effectiveness on an annual basis (absolutely bonkers).  Effectiveness became accountability and with it the roots of the current, increasingly flawed, English school system moved towards hitting the buffers.  Beating the accountability system rather than focusing on improving education has become the name of the game for some; it impacts on us all.  Workload, stress and anxiety and job insecurity continue to take their toll.

As a consequence too many teachers and school leaders have decided to build a new life outside of teaching; it is the only place they can find a reasonable home/work balance that gives them time for family, friends and themselves.  They’ve come to the eulogy moment; what will people talk about when I’ve gone?  How many of the five most common regrets will define my life?  It is a staggering loss of human resource, experience and potential when we already have far too little.  For too many of those who have remained, attempting to breathe new life, into a professional existence that is beyond repair, is futile.

It’s time for a paradigm shift; without it schools will become less and less effective as fewer and fewer of the teachers we need, of the calibre required, are prepared to work in out hyper accountable, manic system.  Rather than trying to resuscitate the current system we need a resurrection mentality; our education system needs new life not more of the same.

In the time from first thinking about this blog to actually writing it Vic Goddard (here) and Tom Sherrington (here) have already said what needs to be said.  I agree with Vic and Tom; now we need to move from thought to action.



4 thoughts on “Life is Too Short for This Level of Pressure (We Can Change It)

  1. The English school system is in a hell of a mess!
    Parents have absolved their responsibilities in teaching their children respect, manners and courtesy and the consequences of this is horrific, with teachers not being able to effectively teach, being sworn at, spat at, assaulted and students refusing to do as they are told – and then getting their parents involved and blaming the teacher for daring to discipline their child.
    Senior Leadership help….?
    In many schools SLT have a very light timetable (if any) and if they do any teaching it is usually with the upper age ranges where behaviours are not so severe. They prefer to be very active in the blame game culture and blaming teaching staff for poor classroom management!
    As a result many staff look for opportunities at another school, only to find a very similar culture.
    I have seen very enthusiastic NQT’s start at a school in September only to start looking for alternative employment by the October half term!
    Employers are also questioning what is happening in schools as school leavers are largely not fit for work, suffering from major attitude problems (thanks parents!), expect everything to be done for them and no basic understanding of work skills.
    How come these issues are not so problematical in international schools? I have been to a number of International schools outside of Europe, where classes are taught in English, and following a British curriculum and achieving far better % pass rates at gcse and A levels than the UK!
    Another factor to consider – is the school curriculum relevant to the 21st century? Times have changed, new skills required and yet we have academic snobbery in some schools refusing vocational courses into the curriculum as these are only for “low ability students”.
    Unfortunately education decision makers at government level seem to be out of touch with (or ignoring) reality. Employers need a skills base to be effective and competitive, so relevant functional qualifications are needed and promoted in schools. This needs regular dialogue between education and industry, and for Awarding Bodies to provide industry recognised qualifications developed with a full understanding of education and industry stakeholder needs.

    Posted by Alan Sampson | April 28, 2019, 3:07 pm
  2. Thank you for this blog.
    I absolutely agree re the paradigm shift
    These are my own personal comments in relation to English.
    The SATs grammar test has been formed with a 1950s golden days lens over it. It does add stress to pupils. Pupils need to learn some grammar but the high testing stakes should be rethought.

    I have 3 children, Year 7 and Year 5 and they are caught up within this. I have professional knowledge to support them but I am sad about the degree of stress each one endures with the Year 6 pressure. It is unnecessary. We want all pupils to feel inspired to learn, and the pendulum has swung too far in the last 20 years. The effects are on Teachers massively too as they prepare children for this. Reading for pleasure needs to become central so that children discover more within their own learning spaces.

    Posted by Anna Harrison | April 28, 2019, 5:11 pm
  3. Thanks for this post – as an ex-primary head it really resonated with me. I left headship on a very positive note, searching for a new challenge and still wanting to change the world of education but this time in HE working with the next generation of trainee teachers. What this gave me was some thinking time to make sense of the things I did as a headteacher intuitively, instinctively and sometimes for the sake of expediency and this opportunity to reflect has been invaluable.
    One of the things I came to realise was that our ‘less is more’ instinct in school when planning learning activities for pupils was right and by creating space for them to develop their own ideas we were on the right track too. There’s so much more to this than I might write here in response to your post but what it did lead me to was a joint paper that I wrote with Jori Leskela, a university colleague in Finland and we both wrote and presented a paper and workshop at the Learning Teacher Network Conference in Tallinn a couple of years ago, entitled ‘Where is the White Space?’.
    The question was in reference to White Space for Learning and I followed up with a presentation at the ILETC Transitions Research Conference in September 2017, a copy of which can be found at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1b-dZQdQKEwxKI4I_XT5HP1hy5xWqOIBO and is titled Where is the White Space for Learning – 03-09-17 – ILETC Transitions edit.docx
    The reason for me sending you this is because I believe that what Jori and I expressed in terms of White Space is relevant to the issue that sits behind the focus of your blogpost. We all need White Space and in the right amount, if we are going to be able to manage our hectic lives and to maximise the conditions for us to be creative, innovative and imaginative as leaders and as learners.
    I’ll leave an open invite for you or any of your followers to engage in a dialogue about this issue and about White Space as a concept. I’m also happy for the paper to be shared with others in case it might be of interest.
    If you want to get in touch my e-mail is stevehall1874@yahoo.co.uk (home & personal) or s.j.hall@staffs.ac.uk (work) and my Twitter username is @aboutlearning
    Looking forward to hearing from you and thanks for the blog and Twitter feed. Kind regards, Steve Hall

    Posted by aboutlearning | May 5, 2019, 5:24 pm


  1. Pingback: 50 Not Out – Bald Headteacher - May 3, 2019

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