ZIP is you at your best.
When you have ZIP, others around you catch on as well. You become a life force and a life giver. Through ZIP you are able to breathe life into others. It leaks out of you and into them, lighting others up and helping them reach the dizzying heights of life. This is also your job as a teacher. Some people describe it as a calling. The simplest job description for teacher is to have ZIP and spread ZIP.
You don’t just want children to come into your class and ‘do’ their work. There is a massive difference between learning and doing. The latter is passive and the former is magical. The conditions for effective learning can be described with all your favourite buzzwords. Passion, engagement, motivation, purpose, relevance – we could go on. ZIP boils it down into the only three words you’ll ever need.
Zeal, Inspiration and Positivity.
Zeal isn’t just yours and the children’s enthusiasm for learning. It’s the enthusiasm and energy for life. As a teacher your job is to make sure every possible door of opportunity stays open to as many children as possible. A good attitude is the key to this. Anyone van have all the credentials and qualifications for any job – but if their attitude stinks, their application goes straight in the bin.
Inspiration doesn’t mean you do whatever you can to light the fire in the bellies of others. You need the light the fire in your own belly first. If you’re not raging with inspiration then how can you expect your children, colleagues, friends and family to catch on? You need to seek out what inspires you, sets your fire alight and ignites your passion. If you can hit that sweet spot, you’ll magically inspire others around you.
Positivity is the key to unlocking not just a successful teaching career, but a successful life as well. In short, the world will never be changed by people who only want to complain about it.
It is in your interests to develop ZIP. People with ZIP are happier and have higher levels of wellbeing. Research tells us people with ZIP have more energy, optimism and motivation. They collaborate with others more effectively, are more creative, and learn faster. They also have higher levels of physical health and become unwell less frequently. When they do become unwell, people with ZIP bounce back more quickly.
If you have ever worked in a toxic school culture, and sadly they do exist. Just the swap word ‘more’ for ‘less’ in the above paragraph. There are too many teachers working in too many schools where negativity, mindless autonomy, box ticking, illness, pessimism, and the endless grunt of a dying horse pervades the culture they enter every day. Schools are at breaking point. Underfunded, underappreciated, overworked, and over-scrutinised. Teachers are constantly looking for a way out of the career they first entered with sparkling enthusiasm. They feel as though they teach because they have to, not because they want to. Sometimes this is blamed on the senior leadership team. But here’s something most people don’t realise: it can be just the same for leaders.
The external pressure from governors, the local authority, the government, and Ofsted is never ending for those at the top. Trying to manage the top down pressures, whilst maintaining the smooth running of a school, and trying to keep every member of the school community happy is Everest-sized task. I was a headteacher for a number of years – and the long hours, discontent from some corners, the pressure and accountability can at times feel entirely overwhelming. Is it any surprise that so many senior leaders are also looking to leave for a different career path?
Sadly, this results in teachers and support staff within schools creating a tally chart at the top of the staff noticeboard and chalking off the days one at a time as a countdown to the next half term. The Education Support Partnership conducts an annual teacher wellbeing index survey. In 2019 their findings from surveying over 3,000 education professionals cemented the harsh reality of what it feels like to work in a school. 72 percent of all educational professionals, and 84 percent of senior leaders, described themselves as stressed.[i] The sad case in many schools means that often you could either be off with stress – and if you’re not, you’re picking up the pieces of someone else in your team who is.
Some schools have gone ahead with so-called wellbeing initiatives without actually understanding what wellbeing is. Wellbeing is not duvet days, PPA at home, drinks at the pub on a Friday, yoga during lunchtimes, exotic fruit in the staff room, delicious soap in the toilets, and a mug filled chocolate treats and a note saying “I love you” anonymously left on people’s desks. These things all have a name. They are called being nice. I am not saying don’t do them or that they are not good for showing staff you care about them. All I am saying is they are not wellbeing. They are often plasters being placed over the grazes on the skin of the organisation.
Wellbeing has become a word people use to label nice things. In some schools I have visited and worked with I have started to see a growing expectation of staff wanting their senior leaders to ‘give them’ wellbeing. They believe their wellbeing is someone else’s responsibility. They don’t believe it is their own personal responsibility. The real truth is: you are the only person who can take responsibility for your own wellbeing. The headteacher of the school has a responsibility to create an environment where teachers are able to flourish and be their best selves – but not to go inside the minds of staff and be responsible for their wellbeing.
So, what is wellbeing? The Oxford Dictionary definition of wellbeing is: our general health and happiness.[ii] I find that to be a little bit fluffy and not deep enough to be really sure what it truly means. Inspired by the work of The Mind Architect, Peter Crone, I like to add in two words to enable a deeper understanding: freedom and ease. Freedom from suffering. Freedom from our worries, stress, anxieties and illnesses. Being at ease with ourselves, who we are, our feeling of self-worth and self-esteem, and also at ease with how the world is. Then if we reverse engineer this to truly define what wellbeing is not – we arrive at the following: the absence of ease. More commonly known as dis-ease. Finally, if we reverse engineer this definition we arrive at the true meaning of wellbeing: the absence of dis-ease. [iii]
As educators or school leaders we need to look at how we are shaping the school culture and environment to enable staff to be at ease with the physical, emotional, social and economic challenges they face within their roles. For children we need to ensure we support them to be at ease with who they are, their place in the world, and the trajectory they are on.
Your sense of ease with who you are, what you stand for, what you stand against, and the decisions you make within the world can only ever come from you. You are the only one who can identify and take control of areas in your life where you are experiencing dis-ease. Are you a product of your circumstantial situation, or are you a product of all the choices and actions you have made within your circumstances? The world out there, outside of your head and mind, is as it is. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t fair, and there are some injustices. You cannot control every aspect of what is out there. But you can control what goes on inside your own head. When you do it will change the way you look at your job and life, help you notice and understand your impact, and give you more energy.
It isn’t easy, it takes practice. It isn’t instant, but it can be done.
[iii] Chatterjee, R. (2019). How to create the life you were born to live with Peter Crone (Episode 82). Feel Better, Live More Podcast. Available at https://youtu.be/hiKrZprvjUM [Accessed 5 June 2020]