This is a question I have pondered for a long time. For myself. My students. The school I teach in. All of it. It’s fair to say it has often sent me into a stream of internal thought that gets cut short by real life. But I wanted to unpick this on this blog, because over the past week I’ve spoken to several colleagues who are asking themselves this very Q.
I’ve spoken to Senior Leaders who think they want to go back into teaching, another has reached his idea of success at a fairly young age and isn’t sure where he goes from here. I’ve spoken to students who have been gearing up for A- Level success and are struggling to imagine themselves beyond that point, even though UCAS deadlines and the reality of life is asking them to think further.
I believe many of them are speaking to me about this because just under two years ago I walked away from what I thought was my own ideas of success (becoming a headteacher) in pursuit of goals much riskier (starting my own business and writing and publishing a book). I dealt with many puzzled faces when making this decision at a time when I was pretty confused myself. But I knew at that time headship was not success for me. Not to say it never would be, just not right then.
My realisation is that for a long time I’d been asking myself the wrong question. For a long time, like many people in the profession I had asked myself ‘What does success LOOK like?’ What this means is I had focused on the external tick lists of achievement. Working my way up the career ladder first in Marketing and Sales and later in Education. This left me hollow inside. The better question I believe is ‘What does a successful life require me to be and do each day?’
‘What does a successful life require me to be and do each day?’A better question
This gave me a completely different set of answers. Not ones that were tied to salary or job title but ones tied to where I was putting my time, what I was learning and what I was sharing. My experiences became more important.
It’s some of the most valuable advice I can give to my students or colleagues when picking a career or deciding whether to change roles. How do you want to spend your day? Where do you want to exert your time and energy? What problem do you want to solve? In a bid to ensure they really think about where they are heading.
A colleague of mine spoke about how when they looked at their to do list it didn’t have one item that they were excited about, so either they needed to change that or change their role. To feel success on the inside rather than the outside.
Similarly for whole schools, success can mean so many things. I know we are all held to account by OFSTED but we do need to take into account our successes on how the school functions on a daily basis. A previous Head that I worked for would always walked the corridors during the last period on a Friday. Because she’d realised that her real measure of success was walking around and seeing students learning no matter how many emails sat in her inbox or whatever external measures of success were being put on her.
So I ask you as you start the week this week.
What does a successful week require you to do and be this week?
I don’t think success is a list of meetings but the person you are when you are at them. Or a pile of books marked but the teacher you become after you have an understanding of where your students are at having looked at their books.
It’s scary to have alternative measures of success when the world can put the common achievements expected regularly in front of you and ask you to race towards them. But ignoring other people’s measures of success, isn’t that a beautiful thing.