Are you Sinking, Swimming, or Surfing?

Learning to surf on the rough waves of education by Flo Berry

When completing my National Professional Qualification for Senior Leaders (NPQSL) year I had to really reflect on what it was like to be a senior leader, including how effective I was in managing my own time, stress and sanity! I learnt very quickly that it is rare to have clear sailing, but by sitting back and reflecting on the times that were more challenging, I was able to analyze myself and learn to take action before things got out of hand.

I was able to identify when I was SINKING, (drowning in every emotion possible and just about surviving), SWIMMING (coping but disconnected) and SURFING (well connected able to think clearly but staying alive!)

I think educators often beat themselves up over their job roles, but actually taking the time to step back and reflect on the hard times is quite refreshing.

Having visited Australia in 2014 and learned how to surf (and not to surf!), I feel this analogy has links to the challenges and celebrations we face as senior leaders and educators.

When I first started on the surf board I was doing a lot of sinking, this reflects my experience when I first started my leadership role. To begin with I was in the sinking stage and made myself “invincible” thinking that if I carried on what I was doing things would somehow improve of their own accord. I didn’t want others to see that I was “failing” with the new demands of a senior lead role as well as class teacher responsibilities (and the rest!). Becoming more self aware has allowed me to dip into the “swimming” stage by asking for help and recognizing that this isn’t a sign of a weakness or a cry for help, but a way forward to support my own professional development.

On the surf board, I practiced riding with the waves and felt I was coming to grips with the challenges. Although not standing up right yet, I was happy that I was “swimming” while attached to the board. This can be related back to a time when I gained experience in how to analyze data through the Closing the Gap module. I was processing large amounts of new information which was great, however I still had to do all the other tasks included for a senior leader, not just focusing on the data. I was part-way there.

On the board, as I got used to handling the small waves and adjusting my technique to the ebbs and flows, I gradually built up to standing. The feeling that overcame me was one of excitement and accomplishment. I can relate this back to receiving a report that mentioned how the teams I led were consistent across our two sites and the outstanding grade we achieved for Early Years. It felt like all the hard work had paid off; all the new learning that had taken place to get us to that point was worth it.

I found that working as a team was vital to being able to “Surf.” Sharing experiences, concerns, ideas, and maintaining visions allowed not just me to surf, but others too. Recognizing the contributions of others is important to ensure that they don’t fall into the sinking stage. This also has an instant impact of how you are feeling and which stage you may be in. The appreciation of others supports their swimming and may lead to shared visions/initiatives which allow you to swim and surf the journey with each other.

Nobody can surf all the time. I still have my sinking moments every now and then, but these are quickly reflected upon and I change my behavior accordingly. Talking to people helps me put things into perspective and move forwards into the swimming and then the surfing stage. What are you? A sinker? A swimmer? A surfer? Only YOU can decide. It is never too late to start reflecting, talking to others, and starting to swim…or even surf!

Flo Berry is a primary school teacher, part of the senior leadership team at her school, and the creator of the page ‘Train, Teach, Live,’ a live platform for educators who want to share tips and tricks. Please feel free to visit the page and offer your own advice or sit back and relax and read the many ideas that come through! Train Teach Live provides some relief to all of us who work extremely hard to make a difference to the lives of the children in our care and gives us the opportunity to really have that ultimate aim of work-life balance.