Fight or flight: the choices for educators

I’ve been doing quite a lot of flying recently. Mostly for work, pretty much always for pleasure. There’s just one tiny niggle that comes with old age. The older I get, the more nervous a flyer I am.

Shorter flights are good as they spare the indignity of having to push someone’s dozing head off your shoulder while you look out over the clouds. Never mind how fascinating their story was while they were awake, you don’t really want their snory dribble down your collar on long-haul.

However, shorter flights usually mean smaller planes and steep, frighteningly low flying angles. I swear I spotted a friend on the street below when flying over London recently.

For me, the worst bit about flying, now that I am no longer young and carefree is the take-off. The phrase ‘fight or flight’ usually comes to mind and as we hurtle along the runway and the wheels are about to lift off the tarmac in a miracle of modern science that, for me, still defies logic. It’s at this precise moment that I have to supress an overwhelming urge to rip off my seatbelt and scream to be let off.

You could argue that working in education sometimes brings with it that same overwhelming urge. At the time of writing we are about a week or so away from a general election in the UK. You will all have your own opinions about its outcome and that outcome will certainly be known by the time you read this. Whatever your thoughts they will surely include those of the implications of election results for education. Funding, grammar schools, class sizes, pupil wellbeing and staff recruitment and retention all featured in the pre-election debates. Perhaps not prominently enough for many of us most deeply affected. You may well have seen our own manifesto for teacher wellbeing.

However, voting is the one true chance we all get as educators to express our opinion and to follow our conscience and our beliefs, with or without compromise. Often in our working lives, stress can occur whilst we follow directives that we don’t wholeheartedly believe in or that compromise our core beliefs. Regular readers of these blogs will have heard me before describe the difference between passionate determination and mild to crippling stress as a matter of conviction. Who notices how hard they are working when it's something they believe in? Who has a little bit of their soul lost when working hard on something they don’t?

You may remember the story that made the news a few weeks ago of a husband and wife head and deputy from the same Outstanding school in Hampshire, who in a moment of deep conscience decided that their own beliefs had become so compromised by government policy that their positions had become untenable and for the sake of their own moral integrity had no choice but to resign their posts and leave the profession.

When it came to fight or flight, they’d made their decision and wrote a very eloquent open resignation letter to their school community expressing why.

As educators yourselves, you will have your own opinion on their actions. Either applauding their integrity to take flight, or perhaps appalled, or even a tiny bit jealous, at the thought of them not staying with you to fight for their beliefs within education. There’s a popular saying often used during times such as these. It says its better to be inside the tent passing out, than outside passing in. Or a phonetically similar phrase.

Here at Education Support Partnership, there is a lot we can do to help you if you feel caught in that struggle between career and conscience, or between realistic pragmatism and deep felt values.  

We work to support educators at both an individual and at an organisational level.

Individually, educators are able to visit our website or call our free 24/7 helpline to access support for their own wellbeing, professional alignment, life challenges or just their ability to do their job well and without feeling compromised or overwhelmed.

Schools and other education organisations can also talk to us about the range of support we are able to offer at that organisational level. We can offer positive workplace surveys with follow up continuous professional development (CPD) bespoke ‘vision and values’ facilitation for school, college and other organisation leaders. We can also offer solution-focused, future-focused leadership coaching to help better align personal and professional goals.

We get really great feedback from the educators we work with, telling us that we help them through the most challenging of times and help them navigate difficult decisions and ‘fight or flight’ moments.

In short, we are able to sit alongside you on the journey in times of turbulence. Maybe even to remind you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.

But if you do happen to find yourself next to me on a flight, I promise not to scream, if you promise not to nod off and dribble.

Alex Bell is the National Associate Coordinator at Education Support Partnership, fellow of Royal Society of the Arts, experienced leadership coach, mentor and speaker and a former primary school headteacher.