It’s been a busy week. Busy at school, busy at home.
The ‘to do’ list has kept growing and it has felt like every time I crossed something off at the top of the list, another four things have appeared on the bottom.
Most people I meet seem to be the same. Hurried ‘good mornings’ with colleagues in the corridor at work as they race from one lesson to the next and hurried catch-ups with friends as children are bustled from one after school activity to another.
Why do we do this? Why are we living our lives at such a break-neck speed?
I feel like I spend my life rushing through tasks, head down, keeping going, with the constant knowledge that to let one of those tasks slide would be to admit a fatal weakness; I’d be a bad mum, a bad teacher. ‘If you were just better organised’ I chastise myself whilst folding the kids’ washing at 6am. ‘If you’d worked through lunch today you could have got that done by now’ I mutter to myself while marking jotters at bedtime.
The impact of all this busyness and negative self-talk is stress. Oppressive, shove-you-to-the-ground-and-sit-on-you stress. That breathless, panicky feeling like someone’s hand is round your throat, even when you are asleep.
I am a big believer in authentic teaching and learning- to get the best out of my learners, I know I need to be the best version of myself. I need to be in the room, present and ready to create the conditions that will allow my learners to flourish. That means not thinking about the homework my own kids still need to finish before tomorrow morning or the emails I haven’t replied to.
Stress + Busyness = Poor Quality Teaching
Having a teacher that is constantly in motion is like trying to learn long division from a whirling dervish; it simply does not work. I have come to realise that, instead of deserving an award for keeping on top of everything, instead I am short-changing my learners by trying to do too much.
My busyness has become toxic. And what’s worse, it’s highly infectious. Rushing my learners through one lesson after another, trying to pack everything in, infects them with my stress. The message they get from my hurried glances at the clock and reassurances they’ll be time for questions later, is that learning is linear and speed is king. Do it right, do it once, do it fast.
How awful to reduce the magnificent, sprawling, gloriously creative mess of learning to a sad little straight line, from A to B.
Twitter (via @FifeEduTeam) led me to a quote this week:
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been–it may even be greater–for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.”― Margaret Wise Brown
Margaret Wise Brown wrote children’s books. She died in 1952. I can only imagine what she would have made of how as a society we have continued to worship at the altar of activity (with increasing devotion) in the sixty years since her death.
The idea that quietness is an essential part of learning is often overlooked. It does not sit well beside Government benchmarks for progress in learning or tracking attainment. It is jostled out of the way by a curriculum bursting at the seams. School leaders are nervous about teachers embracing quietness. ‘What’s the point of this?’ they’ll ask crossly when they see a class reading for pleasure or taking a walk down the corridor after a Maths lesson. ‘Where’s the learning here?’ ‘What is this achieving?’ Such school leaders cannot see the invisible, subtle importance of weaving quiet space into the busy tapestry of teaching and learning and this is a fatal mistake. The downtime to process learning is fundamental to the learning process- it needs to be built in and respected. It is not a skive if, as a result of twenty minutes of quiet reading, learners and teacher are refreshed and ready to move on to new and greater heights.
So, my plan this week is to start from quiet. I am going to carve out spaces for quiet in my professional and personal life and I am going to infect my learners with this instead of my toxic busyness. I am going to breathe in deeply and avert my eyes from that hateful ‘to do’ list and just start doing. And I am going to break up the doing with quietness. I am going to say:
That’s an interesting idea, let’s explore it.
How would you like to tackle this problem?
Let’s take time out now to let that sink in.
And best of all: