Learning from the experiences of others

I’ve been proof reading a book for a friend of mine. He is a Headteacher and has been offering me support in my first headship.

His school leadership experience, spanning over fifteen years, means that in my mind he has seen it, been it, done it; I feel fortunate to be learning from his knowledge and experiences.

This is his first book, the final draft recently completed and sent to his Editor, and he kindly shared it with me to see what I thought.

The book opens with reflections on his upbringing. He was from a working class background, his mother and father worked hard to provide for their family. They made sacrifices, as many parents do, to ensure that their children didn’t go without, and had every opportunity that they could afford.

Each chapter of the book is introduced with a recollection of his formative years, the experiences he had and the lessons he learnt. The book is very reflective, something I believe you achieve most easily when you look back, with an open mind, to occurrences and the subsequent effects.

The lessons he draws from his experiences are very valuable in the context of school leadership, but equally in the bigger picture of life. One such chapter looks at the time he has devoted to his work and the things he missed out on as a result. This will resonate with many people who commit themselves to their jobs, working long hours to develop their careers.

The sacrifices made at home with family and friends can have long lasting effects, and it is often only when things start to go wrong that we stop and notice the position we have got ourselves into.

There are so many opportunities to learn from past experiences, yet it amazes me how little we truly learn. Clearly we do learn from some of our experiences, but we don’t always act differently in the future, and we seem to learn so little from our elders and their experiences.

I look back on my childhood and teenage years, phases I went through and experiences I had, and share those with my own step-children; Yet they too will have similar experiences and make similar mistakes in similar ways, not really learning from the knowledge I passed down.

Equally, as I watch my mother and father and see the things they have gone through in life, I’m not convinced that I am genuinely learning from them. We always think that we will do things differently or better. But do we?

History goes on repeating itself. Wars begin and end, are replaced by new conflicts and parallel experiences. So many things come back into ‘fashion’, almost on a merry-go-round; whether it be music or clothing, dance moves or food fads.

Much as education has gone round in circles over the last fifty years, as the politicians vie for our votes I wonder if things will actually change for the better. Change possibly, but for the better, I’m not so sure.

We each have a different perspective of what is better, good, the right way of doing things. My view on education will differ to that of other people, as does my sense of fashion!

We see party leaders out to impress on the campaign trail; sharing policies, stating their viewpoint, debating on television, engaging with local communities, even cuddling babies.

Politics is a complex matter, and not one that sits comfortably with me given my lack of knowledge and the level of pointless arguing that goes on. But I do know that it isn’t the charisma of these leaders, their ability to perform well on camera and recall umpteen facts about numerous policies that really matters.

It is their ability to speak honestly and truthfully, to take the best advice from the right people at the right time, put the people of this country at the heart of what they do and make sound, transparent and considered decisions. They certainly won’t get it right – someone will always disagree with the ultimate decision made – but charisma won’t make them do it any better.

As a Head now myself, trying to learn from a more experienced colleague to avoid the obvious pitfalls and mistakes, I find myself in a similar position. Perhaps not canvassing for votes, but certainly striving to attract students and their parents, local businesses and new staff to join our great team.

I wonder how I am viewed; One who cuddles babies or someone of integrity and passion? I hope not the former. I hope that the difficult decisions I make will be appreciated, and where I make mistakes they will be forgiven, as my parents forgave me so often), not because they should, but because by learning from them I will do better and those around me will benefit too.

As my husband would say, “touch one student’s soul and you save your own, touch more than one and you might just save the world”.

As the chocolate stockpiles reduce – my mother always did say that if you ate too much chocolate you would feel sick – I’ll continue to watch the journeys of these political parties with interest.

Also, as my parents move into their new home, from 3 hours away to 12 minutes down the road, I know one of my priorities is to spend more time with them. After all, all work and no play really isn’t healthy and there is so much I can learn from them and enjoy with them.