Sitting in the warm sun outside a café in North Parade in Oxford on Friday afternoon last week, sipping tea with a friend and colleague in education, and reflecting on how we had both come to be where we were, we ruminated upon the imperative that exists to ensure that leaders in education have their own coaches. School Principals and senior leaders are having such a hard time at the moment, from exams to inspections, and from the wellbeing crisis, to the increasingly impossible tasks thrust upon them by society, and I find it a privilege to support (and challenge …) a selection of senior leaders across the world. My companion then uttered some wise words … “Helen”, she said, “I’d like to speculate that you wouldn’t be such a good coach if everything had always gone right for you”.
And she was absolutely right! I definitely did not find everything easy or straightforward in school leadership, nor has it always been easy or straightforward since I moved from school leadership into my portfolio career, in which I balance coaching, advising, non-executive roles and all the other amazing challenges which life presents. All of the challenges I have faced, however, have given me greater insights and understanding, and developed in me a greater humility, empathy and determination. Bumps and bruises are very effective teachers; we need to be knocked down at times so that we can experience what it is to get back up again. Muscles grow because we tear them; scars are beautiful signs of experience, not imperfections.
Bill Clinton once said “If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit.” This is an astute observation, and sound advice for all educators, because in education, we are driven by ensuring that the next generation is brim-full of better people; we know that when we lead by example, we have an impact as leaders, and we need to model how to handle adversity. Never quitting, picking ourselves up, bouncing back with dignity … ah, what a lesson for us to take on board!
Wise words on an Oxford afternoon … now, bring on the week and month ahead!