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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.