Spreading the Love (happiness!)

It’s been a little while since my last foray into the world of blogging and being aware of half term on the horizon I thought it was a good opportunity to take stock and reflect on my journey over the last half term (that and being on a delayed 6 hour train journey to Leeds for my NLE induction – terrifying!).

The title of this blog is inspired by 2 speakers that I was fortunate to hear at the Devon Association of Primary Heads annual conference last week. Andy Cope (artofbrilliance.co.uk) and Shonette Bason-Wood (spreadthehappiness.co.uk). Thank you for a truly brilliant few days!

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

A quote from favourite author at University highlights why it is so important as Leaders that we focus not just on our actions and words but fundamentally how we make people feel.

At a time in education, and indeed society, when Wellbeing is, as it rightly should be, at the forefront in the minds of all leaders  it was an opportunity to listen, be inspired, laugh until I cried, wave a magic wand, dance to Superman, and value the ‘tribe’ that I am fortunate to have around me at the LAP (Learning Academy Partnership, South West)

What follows is my personal reflection on why ‘flourishing and infectious happiness are crucial in our role as leaders.’

‘Your happiness is your gift to the world’  – a defining moment of realisation for me that not only is being happy imperative to our own wellbeing it is actually imperative for those who work alongside us and our pupils.  We often talk in our organisation about setting the weather and this is something that I have been hugely mindful in my leadership journey and particularly in Executive Leadership. Any interactions with people have the awesome power to fill a bucket, empower, inspire, motivate or the exact opposite! Sometimes those interactions may be very brief, a walk across the carpark, checking in with the team in the mornings, a goodbye in the evening or longer and more structured but all have far-reaching and enormous impact. Looking back over the last term I can honestly say I have cut my emails by more than half and have found face to face conversations to be far more productive, rewarding and warm.

The definition of ‘happiness’ is a hard one to pin down as in many ways it is considered to be an ‘elusive state’ indeed philosophers, theologians, psychologists, even economists, have long sought to define it. In fact, since the 1990s, many psychologists have been trying to pin it down and promote it. More than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction. But what does this actually look like, feel like for individuals?

Research shows that happiness is not the result of bouncing from one joy to the next; in fact quite the opposite is true as achieving happiness  often involves times of considerable discomfort.  As you would expect, the following all contribute towards happiness to a certain extent: Money (but only up to a point), genetic makeup, life circumstances, achievements, marital status, social relationship all influence how happy we are or can be.

Interestingly,  researchers estimate that much of happiness is under personal control. Regularly indulging in small pleasures (such as warm baths! Hygge – as Andy Cope shared – engendering a feeling of contentment/wellbeing), getting absorbed in challenging activities, setting and meeting g, having close friends, and finding purpose beyond oneself are all actions that increase life satisfaction.

This got me thinking about how I achieve a state of ‘happiness’ both professionally and personally. For the purpose of this blog I am going to focus on what this looks like for me professionally although, actually, many of them overlap.

As both Andy and Shonette were delivering their key notes to delegates last week it did make look around and consider who I was with, ‘my work colleagues’ and how working alongside them made me feel and the genuine answer to that is simple: happy!  I derive enormous happiness from being part of team, a collective, from feeling valued and appreciated. Being part of an organisation where it is ok to get something wrong, where High Challenge, Low Threat (to use the lovely Mary Myatt whose book was inspirational in building my new teams in Executive Headship) is the culture and an organisation where we are truly in it together. I thrive on competition and challenge and being the best I can be but I also need to exist in a place where thinking outside of the box is valued, innovation is nurtured. If I feel this as a Leader my team feel this too.

I make a conscious decision to see life as a bucket half full rather than half empty and this stems from my childhood and the early influences of my parents who, looking back, did not put pressure on me unduly, an enormous sense of pride if I achieved but a saying that ‘no matter whether succeed or not the sun will rise tomorrow and that is a brilliant thing.’ As an aside, we have been talking about ‘Excellence’ in our Trust and what that looks like for us as individuals and I am clear that my definition of ‘Excellence’ comes from childhood from having a go, giving your all and being the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.  

If we, as leaders, have crucial role in spreading happiness we must feel that deep sense of contentment and wellbeing. The old adage ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ seems useful here to illustrate the point that if we don’t genuinely feel it we can’t fake it! Now don’t get me wrong there are the occasional days where, as Shonette Bason-Wood suggests, we may feel more like ‘Brenda’, the lemon sucker, than a happy, bouncing Tigger (and then we fake, fake, fake it!) but generally in order to sustain the positivity we have to nurture and nourish ourselves as Leaders not only for our own well being but crucially for the teams that we lead and the impact that we have on all of our children.

At our Trust I am clear that a fundamental part of my role is growing the next generation of Leaders – who will want to step up if I spend every day moaning and unhappy? I feel fortunate that I genuinely don’t count the days until half term (well not until right at the very end when tiredness takes over!) and that I love my job and derive an enormous sense of satisfaction, pride and happiness from seeing our pupils succeed, changing life chances and growing new leaders who will be better leaders than I could ever be. This gives me a sense of wellbeing, a sense of purpose and fulfilment.

But alongside this, I am fortunate to work within a hardwired Trust that takes time to nourish me. That understands that we are stronger together than we would be alone and I derive an enormous sense of belonging and shared accountability due, entirely, to the way that we work. The conference was a great opportunity to reaffirm those bonds, to laugh, to run along the sand with my arms outstretched, to return from a beach walk with enormous hair, to remember who we are a human beings and a brilliant opportunity to network with other Leaders but crucially for our teams really understand and embrace the fact that in order for our organisations to flourish and grow we must realise that in order to be the best version of ourselves.

Those who work with me know that I love a quote (and I haven’t indulged for a while!) and these people sum it up much better than me but leaving with these thoughts – I tend to avoid negativity around the teaching profession and feel incredibly sad when I read about people leaving the best profession in world within 5 years that makes me incredibly sad – teachers shape the next generation and within our hands lies the responsibility to change the world, change the future – why not make that future centred around happiness?

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