Talking to yourself really helps

As an ultra marathon runner, I’m used to speaking to myself.  Self talk is really important in teaching and leadership.  Quite often, I wish that I was less observant so that student with their coat on wasn’t visible to me etc. However, I’ve seen too many leaders look the other way. Here are some techniques I use based on no research whatsoever, just what I do.

1. How should I react?

The first bit of self-talk concerns what to do about something.  Everything that happens can be classified into the two areas above.  I save myself energy by focusing on the stuff that I can change including having a strong routine at the start of the lesson, whether my running daps are well fitting.  I can’t do anything about the weather outside, I can just make the decision of what equipment to wear. Unlike the weather outside, I can influence the climate in school. I see Government interventions and Ofsted as the weather (don’t like the current raft of initiatives? Ignore them for a year as they will soon change), like storms sweeping through the corridors. However, they don’t need to affect the climate, that is to say the average feel of the school, unless we let them.  Setting whole school targets to please Ofsted will create a climate of fear.  Aspiring for a culture and ethos of ‘business as usual, no matter what’ creates confidence and stability.

A department may not be able to change the marking policy (although one would hope that they have some sort of say), but they can create their own culture around feedback that subverts.

2. Overcome the fear

We’ve all been there. Indeed, I’m there pretty much every day. ‘Oh there’s kid x with their coat on, if I challenge them they will kick off. I really fancy a coffee and to get my data done so if I turn away…’

This self talk happens in my head all the time – but I choose to override it.  This is important as a leader.  Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to achieve. It’s important to challenge, whether building for that conversation around improving practice or popping in to support a lesson.

It doesn’t always work but try ‘David, could you sort your school uniform please? Thank you David.’

Using their name helps although in a large secondary this can be difficult.  Mention what you’d like changed and then say thank you and their name again.  It’s not a discussion after all and schools are not democracies.

3. Mantras

Simple mantras are so important. Ofsted isn’t in my classroom. Could be one. Mantras help get through the day and are very powerful when repeated to yourself. In the ultra running world repeating ‘One step closer’ during some tricky times really helps.

In 2016, I plan to run 100 miles in one go, over and around the Lake District.  That’s impossible to achieve without splitting into smaller steps and training.  The mind also needs training.  The school year is very much like an endurance sport.

Sometimes I worry about using a certain teaching method or technique. I worry what others would think.  But then I remember that nobody can tell me how to teach (indeed, many that argue for one narrow way of teaching above others have a mistrust of teachers).  With running, it doesn’t matter how you run, as long as you run.  It’s the reason to run – onward progress, one step at a time.  This is like teaching – any method that results in progress by students is fine by me, even if it disagrees with my own philosophy.  The mantra? Will this leading to better progress over time? Stick with the classroom routine and they will soon make better choices.

4. Visualising

What exactly will life look like if I did nothing?  What if I walked by that difficult child? What if I ignored their challenges and barriers to learning when dealing with them? In school, I visualise the students opening those examination results. That’s what I’m there for.

If you’re familiar with broken window theory, then doing the small things really matters.  For example, allowing that student to walk into your classroom with earphones on display sends ripples.

Negative visualisation is pants though and too many arguments are created out of fear or hate. What is the worse that can happen if we try to be positive?

This may all sound a lot of hocus pocus and smoke and mirrors. I’d urge you to reconsider if that’s your view.  As an old RAF instructor loved to chant during training: ‘It’s all in the mind.’

These techniques mean that well being is more than just a gimmick as it becomes an embedded part of every day routine.

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