'Delve into your memories and try to remember what you used to find fun'
As the pressures on heads and other school managers grow, they must find moments of 'flow and joy', says Tom Rogerson from Cottesmore School
“But are you having fun?” asked my boss.
This question was put to a group of heads who were gathered at Cottesmore School to discuss mindnumbingly tedious issues that were also petrifying enough to keep most of us awake. These meetings used to be almost like a test to see if you were made of the right mettle to stay in the job.
The school’s chairman was visiting on different business and happened to come across our sorrowful-looking group huddled around a coffee trolley on a break. Apparently we came across as more than a little grey and worn at the edges.
The resounding answer was to meet the question with a quizzical, thoughtful pause as if we didn’t understand the question. A bit like an Equatorial Guinean tribesman being asked to describe snow. We were, after all, at one of our “we’re-all-immediately-doomed-if-we-don’t-do-this-particularly-complicated-and long-winded-administrational-task” heads meetings. We were feeling battered and bruised by the varied and numerous higher-order diktats that had come into being that week.
The same problem befalls bursars and admissions/ HR teams: All work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull people (apparently this phrase is found as far back as 1659). This is not a new problem.
"I see bright-eyed heads starting with hope in their eyes and with hair of their god-given colour."
I love Cottesmore. I love the children and the staff, the building, the parents, the teaching and the learning. I love the sport, the building of dens and the Cottesmore Farm Club (newly acquired pigs included). I love the fizz, the buzz, the excitement of every day school life. The golf, the science, the chess, the acting, the painting, the robotics club. I love the horse-riding, the debating, the hockey, the maths competitions. I love the breakfasts, lunches and suppers. Surely there is enough for us to be getting on with in that list?
I do not love other things like the 17 different inspections we have every year (the ISI don’t have the monopoly on inspections). I do not love being forced to make the children stare into screens all day at the emphatic request of the policy makers. I certainly do not love being burdened with existential threat by the shadow cabinet or being forced into a corner with the TPS, or being made to plan for post-Brexit Britain, or stomach the steep rise in the cost of food, salaries and basic amenities. None of us like the coronavirus but at least we’re all in that together, globally.
I see bright-eyed and bushy-tailed heads starting with hope in their eyes and with hair of their god-given colour. So often I see them four years later at an IAPS conference looking grey-haired, drawn and brow-beaten.
"If we are going to give our lives to the institution, we need ring-fenced moments of flow and joy."
So what is going on? I would not like to say - certainly not in a public article for Independent School Management Plus. But I sure know what we all need.
We need more fun.
I don’t mean the children. They are fine. I mean us, the leaders of these magnificent institutions which chew up heads and spit them out.
In retirement the water closes up over heads’ heads quicker than you can say “Long live the Queen/ King.” We must enjoy our positions more; we must be encouraged to have more fun. If we are going to give our lives to the institution, we must build in our own ring-fenced moments of flow and joy.
Fun. Hmm. I remember that. But what type of fun should we have? Who knows? Make it up yourself. You ask, “surely we should be seen as terribly serious figures of authority?”
Yes, but remember that you can be more than one thing. Like the multi-faceted children of Cottesmore School, we should build textured characters, we should model diversity and display our ability to be renaissance human beings with multiple interests and communication styles.
"Go and jump into the lake fully clothed, run the cross country dressed as Piers Morgan."
Go and sit in a pub on your own and delve into the recesses of your memories - remember what you used to find fun - that would be a good start. Your tastes may have changed since you last actively planned some fun into your life. You may like different things now. Find some fun stuff and make sure that you plug it into your week - even into your everyday life.
Go and jump into a lake fully clothed, run the school cross-country dressed as Piers Morgan, record a rock song with the sixth formers - it doesn’t matter, just please go and have some kind-hearted, old-fashioned fun.
So. Are you having fun? You very well should be.
Tom Rogerson is headmaster of Cottesmore School, which has been named as Tatler Prep School of the Year 2020.
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