Taking stock of what's important

We are now officially in Autumn. A good time to reflect on what the rest of the year will bring and prepare for winter. Autumn is not perhaps the ‘traditional’ time to think about taking stock of our lives, we seem to want to do this in the new year, but the fact of the matter is it’s always a good time to stop, reflect and take stock of our lives. After all, if we want to change why put off a new beginning?

So there I was sitting on the steps, enjoying another sunny day in late September, outside the SECC, Glasgow taking some time out from the excellent Scottish Learning Festival Conference and Exhibition. This was my first time at this conference and I found it to be an engaging and inspiring experience watching and listening to so many individuals talk so passionately about educating Scotland’s young people and developing our young workforce. I saw great enthusiasm for the various initiatives underpinning the government strategy. 

I also heard a lot about the increasing workload on teachers -even that teacher development had to be ’squeezed’ into twilight hours because "my head teacher won’t release me for personal development". I certainly understand the bureaucracy and administrative burdens which seem to be increasing for our educators, and I hear the same story when talking to business people and those working in charitable organisations. The issue of workload is prevalent this week following news reports which shows that we are increasingly failing to take a proper lunch break, or are simply just eating quickly at our desks. This is despite all the evidence that tells us that not only is this unhealthy for us, it actually makes us less productive. Presumably that must be counter intuitive to us or why would we not take the break? Is it because we actually believe we are being more productive,  or is it peer pressure, organisational pressure, or just simply poor behaviour and practices on our part? Let me come back to this question.

So, here I was enjoying my lunch break in the sunshine and reflecting on this issue of workload, pressure, stress, productivity etc. And I recalled a previous boss of mine frequently asking the question, “so who is doing this to us?”  Good question. If we buy into the notion that we are possessed of free will (with slavery being illegal) why do we insist on working practices that are poor for our health, wellbeing, life balance, and our relationships. Are we simply self-perpetuating our own poor behaviours?

The focus for us all is about understanding our purpose in life – John Swinney, as Education Secretary, spoke eloquently of his purpose and using this to define how he expends his energies. Regardless of political persuasion the message is valid is for us all. To live a life in balance is to first define our purpose in life and then each day ask of ourselves “how is what I am doing serving my purpose”?  It’s a great sense check on keeping us focused on value added activity rather than, simply following the routine or following due process. And I know it is easier said than done. And it can be done. We all need some help sometimes to find the confidence and energy to make the changes we need to make to live life on purpose and to be healthy, happy and whole.

So going back to my earlier point, if we know that taking breaks, eating nutritious meals regularly is healthier for us and more productive for us– why don’t we do it? Well there are many reasons. Some of it’s personal style in that we are susceptible to workaholic tendencies, some of us simply enjoy working this way, and some of us wear it like a badge of honour, “I work 80 hours a week every week.” Some of it is about social norms, the particular organisational culture in our workplaces, and some of it is simply put in the too difficult to change box. 

If you are working like this and are feeling balanced and healthy that's great. However, I know from the conversations I am having that many are not feeling balanced and healthy. They are feeling stressed, unfit, overweight, overloaded and fairly miserable neglecting their family, friends and themselves in the process. Personally, I am conscious of being a role model to my children and I am clear that I do not want my legacy to them the message that to be successful and happy you have to neglect yourself.

Whether we are teachers, parents, carers, managers, leaders, colleagues, we all have responsibility to our selves. And responsibility to our young people. If we wish for them to be successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and successful contributors to society surely we need to be their role models now.

My wee lunch break – an hour sitting on the steps at SECC, watching the world go by - freed my brain to resolve an issue I had been wrestling with and released my creativity to come up with the solution. Now that’s what I call a productive hour.

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Victoria Grozier