• AOCS

Time for reflection – is it impossible?

In almost every profession, there are huge demands on leaders’ time and a great pressure to be busy every moment of the day. Where more so, you may think, than education?

I remember a colleague once commenting to me disapprovingly at the end of the school day that the Head had left already for a game of squash. “It’s all right for him” he said “we just have to work”. The pressure to be seen to be busy is invidious – and potentially undermining to the good of the school, staff and young people.

It seems to me that it’s really important that everyone in a visible leadership position should be seen to take time out to think, reflect and recharge. Not only does reflection help us to create better strategic plans, it also prevents us rushing into knee-jerk decisions that we might later regret and have to repair. Space in the head helps us be more fully present with other people, with more sensitive antennae to what might really be going on for them, leading to their feeling valued and issues being resolved more effectively. And recharging helps keep us alive!

There are of course, lots of internal saboteurs, which prevent us from stopping for a while and doing nothing. People tell themselves they can’t afford the time to slow down; they’re paid to keep going all the time, the work with young people is too important to indulge themselves. However, the opposite is true. The work is too important not to slow down and give the mind a break.

Recent research has shown that there is a part of the brain that gets really active in the moment before a really creative answer to a problem comes to us.  Neurons that were not previously closely connected come together to create new pathways and we think “eureka”!

What seems to facilitate these light bulb moments is following a really intense period of concentration on a problem by letting go completely. Mental relaxation and allowing the mind to drift after thinking hard about an issue seems to set up the conditions that allow neurons to regroup and new ideas to come. So going for a walk or a swim, sleeping on it, chilling out with a Sudoku, doing yoga or lying on a palm fringed beach may all be useful tools in our problem solving toolkit and totally appropriate things to block out time in the diary for.

And when leaders are seen to be recharging both physically and mentally, they tacitly give permission to others to do so too.

So – go for a walk and allow inspiration to flow in!