Energy During a Crisis
We are all seeking change, yet require the energy to action it.
This pandemic has hit us in phases and as a result each phase has demanded a different energy from the whole education sector. Unlike typical change, the pandemic has seen the number of phases continue to mount, some expected overnight, some slowly burning our resources almost unconsciously.
Two years ago, it was very much crisis. I sat at my desk as a head teacher in denial.
Surely the news was exaggerated? Surely the talk of lockdown was the media gaining clicks? What was coming wasn’t going to truly close the country and our school down?
As the guidance came in (and then changed), it felt like a scene out of a movie. Concern swept across the face of every learner and teacher.
Doubt. Fear. Anxiety over whether they should be in school, protecting themselves or their loved ones. A war cabinet was drawn up and battle plans made to execute orders in order to navigate safety and survival for our community and global pandemic.
Tough decisions were made, and looking back now you can pick which ones saw an emotional overload take over the control panel.
A Downward Spiral
We were in the survival stage. This demanded us to lead and try to remain stable in a context of stress, anxiety and panic.
Much like a sprinter it demanded adrenaline and produced much cortisol but instead of a short journey, this has become a marathon of sprints, almost normalised, and as a result burnout is evident.
For many, this has led to a negative cycle that still has many leaders running it in a state of fight, flight or freeze.
I coached a client last week who had refused to book in a session since December, simply because they were too concerned with their staff to take an hour for themselves and this is after the restrictions have lifted.
Such an imbalanced physiological and psychological state has kept our parasympathetic nervous system switched on constantly, meaning that with no recovery, a less active immune and digestive system, stress has become anxiety and anxiety is leading to depression and disconnection.
Without the awareness, literacy, or management to shift out of this state, professionals have resorted to different coping mechanisms.
Flight from the profession has clearly be seen with the great resignation, as has the freeze when it comes to the national shortage of those seeking to step into leadership and guide their communities for the storm (53% of deputy heads do not want to take the step).
In many conversations and reports, the top layer of education is crumbling and further exposing their communities to the same suffering when they need stability.
Wellbeing initiatives are not the solution as the majority are extrinsic and temporary glimmers of positivity.
To develop our capacity and wisdom to evolve with change must be intrinsic. It has to be the body and mind making the decision together and to choose to unite with others if rejection is going to be prevented.
The only consistent wellbeing that is present is our emotional state and this must remain positive to move forward.
Moving up the Spiral
To address this negative spiral of ourselves and our communities requires us to recognise that all we can control during a time of sensory overload, is our own physiological and psychological state.
This is not about chunks of time, but instead regenerating energy. Space to allow for an awareness of where our energy levels are and how we are using it for optimal recovery and then performance. The same to reconnect with those around us are and the climate surrounding us (in multiple forms).
Is the internal and external energy gain and spend where we want it to be? Is there balance? Only with awareness and a common language can we apply the tools to navigate our state.
Our schools are our boats. The captain has to know where they are going, how to pace the journey subject to conditions so it is sustainable for the crew, our engine.
I was fortunate enough to integrate self-management tools into my own practice and the school’s culture before the pandemic having been coached by a group called Complete, who focus on vertical development (upgrading the processor, not adding more apps). By no means did this mean plain sailing, but it did allow our team to seek balance in the eye of the storm, gain a greater capacity to adapt and therefore be there to guide others.
What we looked to provide was the awareness of our human bodies attention to homeostasis (balance).
The space to understand this allows us to take the first step to understanding why it is we are having such reactions to change, such outbursts that flare up in resistance or shutdowns and denial. Our bodies pH, oxygen levels, blood sugars (the list goes on) is so acute that the body goes to extremes to maintain it. The same can be said with the biological lab that is our body.
What we are seeking is to counter what lies behind most forms of coping; fear of losing balance. Why is this not more obvious? When we are in a negative state, our mind does not alert us to this in order to ensure we can run through pain barriers in order to survive.
When not using our pre-frontal lobes (our smart thinking) we still believe we are making rational decisions.
To address stress and anxiety build up, we can foster our DHEA production- the performance hormone and an antidote to cortisol.
Our coaching programme often starts with polyvagal exercises that inform our brains that all is OK and in a safe state to switch our parasympathetic nervous system on and allow rest and recovery mode. This allows us to move into positive emotional states and our pre-frontal lobe to switch on once more.
The key question to ask yourself is do you know when you are making erratic decisions and if you do, can you self-manage yourself out of this state? Do our learners not need the same? Imagine. We can no longer seek the conditions to do this as the conditions are in constant flux. We need to step back, enquire, gain awareness, and only then can we set a wiser course.
Whilst much has been rightly made of education reform, we must be able to consciously be in a balanced state if we are going to reduce the resistance and increase the quality and therefore coherence of the direction we are to take. So before reform, we feel you need to overcome the resistance and prepare for the journey. To begin this we require:
External and Inner Space
Often with coaching leaders or their teams, it is the simplicity of stepping out of their typical routines and providing them with a safe space to reconnect with their essence, examine their own personal and professional journey and resulting state from multiple angles held most value.
Having facilitated in various forms with hundreds of leaders over the pandemic, this is the most consistent pattern.
It is not that they need expertise or training of processes, but the space and map to look beneath their own surface and in doing so discovering their own state at multiple levels, their own purpose, and aligning these to function at peak performance.
The simplicity of such space and the common frameworks of adult development to guide the next steps have increased leaders’ capacity despite a global crisis.
When they experience the payback for themselves, they begin the same exploration within their teams, and it spreads to their learners. This allows them to maintain their captaincy, ship and align their course, ensuring others are still on board, have agency and remain for the journey despite the waves of constant flux we will continue to navigate.
As each lockdown receded and restrictions eased, we felt the need to rebalance and realign as we began to reconnect in physical form.
The appreciation for connection left us in a positive emotional state that allowed us to see hope again.
Whilst digital platforms provided an invaluable bridge, they serve only two senses.
Let us not forget how valuable those spaces to connect with each other and ourselves are.
Change is constant but so is growth.
To get you through to the end of term and start next year as a new chapter, Pathways Development is delivering a virtual masterclass on energy management.
Click here to book your ticket: https://www.pathways-ed.org/pathways-development-events.
We cover the 5 E’s of Energy:
- Eating and Exercise
Dr Matt Silver is the CEO of Pathways Education and the Vice Chair of NAPCE. He is a system designer that implements deep learning and expansive development in a meaningful digital hybrid for leaders and learners alike whilst creating outstanding provisions.
Pathways group of schools, colleges and leadership programmes live their mission by facilitating the individual and collective journey we are each on, driving learners to enhance their capacity, becoming self-determined and self-authoring so that they can dynamically connect with change.
To create equitable communities, Pathways is building a flourishing co-operative that provides seed funding and incubation of social enterprises created by a network of the least served members in society, those with additional needs. This is supported by the profits generated by their international coaching and consultancy development offer. They created this during the pandemic.