Habits, happiness

Performance management – but not as we know it

I love sport. I always have. Watching it, talking about it, taking part in it and writing about it. My particular favourite sport is football (cliché I know). I could go on about how it is known as the beautiful game and become all poetic and flowery. But for me, I believe it is the ultimate performance sport.

Take the very best players who play for the very best teams in the world. Their performance has to peak week in, week out, all year long. If a player isn’t quite feeling it or isn’t on top of their game, then they won’t play. This is different to so many other sports.

Take athletics. The very best athletes do train all year long but they are building towards a specific event. For somebody like Usain Bolt, the fastest sprinter of all time, he would train all year round in order to peak around every two years, usually when the World Championships or Olympics were being staged. It almost didn’t matter outside of these championships if he was performing at the peak of his powers or not.

It is the same for marathon running. The greatest marathon runner of all time is arguably the Kenyan athlete, Eluid Kipchoge. He is changing everything we know about marathon running and leaving the competition in his wake. He will probably never run more than 20 marathons in his career, and he averages around two races a year.

Everything that athletes like Bolt and Kipchoge do is geared towards peaking at a specific time of the year. They take a gradual journey towards a particular moment in time when they are required to perform at their best.

To put this into teaching terms, it would be like building towards delivering your best lessons in a specific week at the end of the summer term. Whilst every lesson that came before was to build up to that particular moment of peak performance. With the agenda in schools very firmly fixed to believing ‘every minute counts’, this just wouldn’t be possible or effective.

The way football teams approach their sport is geared towards ensuring their players perform at their very best in every game, week after week. Take any team in any division in England and you will see by their league position that two or three wins in a row could be the difference between breaking into the promotion spaces or falling into the relegation zone.

Like in teaching, every lesson counts, in football, every match counts. Football teams would not make anywhere near the progress they make if they forced their players to push themselves to their limits every single day. They would end up suffering burnout. This is why rest and recuperation has become such an important aspect of modern football. Transferring this into teaching, we can see that if leaders push their teachers every single day without any focus on recuperation, then our teachers will ultimately fall foul of burnout.

We should think of ourselves like footballers. Teachers are elite athletes in a regular high performance sport.

You will never be able to get any more time. Time runs out. The sun will rise and fall with the same regularity every day. So wishing for more of it will not help at all. However, we can get more energy. The amazing thing about energy is that it is clean, green and renewable.

When your energy levels are low there are small steps you can take to replenish it. And they’re relatively simple steps.

Take your holidays. You have a half term every seven weeks for a reason. To renew and replenish yourself. It is too easy to spend your whole half term working and being in and around the school mentality. It doesn’t mean you should spend all half term lying down. But it is great to be able to do something different that can take your mind off of your school commitments.

Take your lunch. How many times in the last month have you actually entered the staff room and taken the time to have your lunch? I know what it is like in schools and how the lunch hour can vanish in the blink of an eye. But challenge yourself to take 20 minutes in your lunch break to simply sit, eat and enjoy your food whilst being away from your computer or phone.

Get some sunlight. I remember as both a class teacher and a senior leader that there were days when everything came and hit me at once. Because of this it meant I never left the boundary of my classroom or office. Once I even had an office that didn’t have any windows! Being outside in the sunlight and fresh air has excellent renewable qualities that should not be ignored by teachers (or anyone for that matter!).

Get a hobby. What a brilliant way to turn off than to dedicate yourself to something else. You can set goals, collaborate with others, make a personal change, and really support yourself in switching off.

Delete the email app. I remember one Saturday morning where I checked my work emails on my phone because it was just too easy having the app right there. I read an email and it spoilt my entire weekend with my family because I just couldn’t get it out of my head. The world is busy enough without us contributing to it by making ourselves available 24/7. Delete your email app now. You’ll thank me for it in a week.

Rest and recuperation should be as important to teachers as it is to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. If you are tired, exhausted and unenthusiastic – what chance do the children in your class have?

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