Address given by the Bishop of Edmonton at the 2018 LDBS Headteachers’ conference.
Q: How many New Age gurus does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: none—change must come from within.
Q: How many Anglo Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, they use candles
Q: How many Evangelicals does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Where is the scriptural authority for a light bulb?
Q: How many Liberal Church members does it take to change a light bulb?
A: How dare you be so intolerant! So what if the light bulb HAS chosen an alternative light style?
Q: How many Charismatic church members does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Just one, he already has his hands in the air.
Q: How many Roman Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?
Q: How many Christian therapists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One, but the light bulb has really got to want to change.
Q: How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb?
Change is difficult, change is painful but change is inevitable. The educational landscape is changing- rapidly changing. Each of our schools are changing- they never stay the same as teachers and Governors come and go and as policies change. Most importantly, we are in the business of change- changing children and young people, helping them to become fully functioning and fully flourishing members of society. We are in the process of helping children and young people change, knowing what it is to love and be loved.
Thank you. Thank you for your work, thank you for your navigating constant change, and thank you for your resilience in the midst of shifting sands. Thank you. Indeed, I would take my hat off to you- if I were wearing it, and invite me to your school and I shall!
So, what is the clue to effective change management? What is the key to navigating change well? Well, I’m sure that heart of change, the heart of creative leadership and indeed the heart of facing challenges is the ability to listen, listen and listen and then decisively act. But who are we listening to? Who do we allow to influence our opinions? Who do we trust that we give them time to speak and be heard? It is to this that I would like to make some suggestions:
- God in prayer.
Well, I would argue that prayer is at that heart- a praying heart can create the most wonderful community.
Example from America- describe to me your prayer life? Paoli, Church of the Good Samaritan. The Rector in the 1980’s. Fr Dan Sullivan, Fr Dan to his closest people. He transformed the church of the Good Samaritan from a small sleepy church, to a vibrant 800+ congregation. He was unusual in the Episcopal Church- passionate, loving, fun, and thoughtful. He preached good biblical sermons, and was ruthless and orthodox in a Catholic understanding of sacramental theology. He was, by any other counts a missional catholic.
The Rector of a nearby church once asked him… How come your church has grown enormously, through leaps and bounds, and mine just plods along? Fr Dan thought for a moment, and finally asked this rather jaded and tired priest- describe your prayer life?
Describe your prayer life is a wonderful way to begin a conversation surrounding leadership. Describe your prayer life- a prayer life which enables the spirit of God within to cry “abba father”. A prayer life, where the Spirit of God lifts us into the place where the Father and the Son are in constant generous communication- heavenly father… through Jesus Christ our Lord… The Spirit of God who enables us to listen clearly and carefully to what the Spirit might be saying to us, lifting our spirit, merging our spirit and enabling us to be co-heirs with Jesus Christ- such is God’s great love for us- upon the cross.
We are change agents in the power of the spirit, in union with Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
If Jesus came that we might have life in all its fullness, then surely, listening to God in Jesus Christ, in our scriptures is not a bolt on, but a foundation to our work together. I’m sure that many of us delegate all sorts of responsibilities, but the one responsibility that I think a senior leader cannot delegate is our listening to God in prayer.
- Each Other
Collaboration and sharing skills and gifts is a key task. You cannot do everything. Even when staffing budgets and staff numbers are so stretched, you need to rely on a team. You know the mantra- there’s no I in team, and together everyone achieves more! How we, the clergy, have so much to learn with this one! I’ve often reflected on the idea that, as a senior leader, it is always wise to appoint people better than you are, and not be threatened by that. But, picking the right team, and also working in our Borough clusters is key for our flourishing together. You all have amazing skills and gifts that together make up your character. There are also all sorts of creative and helpful tools to help us discern how we might use them and work together- Myers Briggs, Gilmore Frayleigh, Enneagram are all suggestions. But, what is important is that we need a team around us to thrive, and we choose our teams well.
Ephesians 4 is also a helpful place for us. I wonder where your skills might fit in:
St Paul writes: ‘The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’.
As Heads, you are required to exercise all sorts of skills, but a close team that can be trusted, which includes the gifts mentioned by Paul- yes we even need the prophet who always takes the depressing angle- indeed, our schools need the apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers and prophets, and these skills need to be employed wisely, as a team needs these different elements to thrive- collaboration in being creative leaders and facing challenge.
- The Experts
By experts, or so-called experts can include all sorts of people. We have our school advisors, improvement partners, Local Authorities, LDBS, local clergy, Grow education partners, pedagogical theorists, educational academics- you name it, and the list is endless. Some we will agree with, and others we will think are talking complete nonsense. But we all choose whose voices we listen to, and whose voices we think will help you navigate creative leadership and change management. I wonder who feeds you?
One of the experts that I have been listening to recently is the American Theologian James Smith. In his rather wonderful book, you are what you love, he challenges much of the educational patterns of the church, and I would imagine that the same could be said for schools too. Smith suggests that in educational terms, we get much wrong. We have relied too much on an understanding of educating people from the philosophy of people like Descartes- you remember, I think therefore I am. Indeed in much of our social media-driven culture, what we think- in 280 characters, can say much about our character. Therefore, to get flourishing people, you cram them full of knowledge because if we think well, we thrive. It is about thinking the right things, being taught the right things, learning the right things. The way in which we flourish is through our being crammed with information- absorbing ever more of the right things.
But, Smith argues, what if this was wrong? He argues that, as Christians, we are not what we think, but we are what we love. That God is interested in our whole lives. God redeems our lives- mind, body, spirit by love and not by knowledge. It’s a combination of head, heart and gut stuff. Not just head. Smith argues that faith development is not just learned in a classroom or umpteen Bible study classes. Faith education is wrapped up in developing good habits which are rooted in love- we become what we love by doing not just through didactic knowledge.
He adds, in the dynamic relationship between love and knowledge, head and heart, the scriptures paint a holistic picture of the human person. It’s not only our minds that God redeems, but the whole person: head, heart, hands. Christ takes captive our minds but also our cardia- the bit where all of our food hits the stomach. It is what St Paul calls our splagchna, our inner parts, guts, bowels- the very seat of our emotions.
Smith continues that contemporary science is starting to catch up with this ancient Biblical wisdom about the human person. Scholars in the States have been conducting experiments that are shedding light on our gut feelings. Their studies point to the way microbes in our stomachs affect the neural activity in the brain. Your brain is not just another organ they report- It is affected by what goes on in the rest of the body. In fact, Scientific American reports that there is an often overlooked network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it, our second brain. No wonder Jesus invites us to follow him by eating and drinking (John 6). Discipleship and learning doesn’t just touch your head or even just your heart, but it reaches deep into your gut, your affections, and your splagchna.
So, for me, listening to the experts, what might our creative leadership look like when education is built on developing habits and character of love and not knowledge- deep-rooted and of the gut? Can you imagine what criteria the league tables, or a curriculum for GCSEs or SATS might look like if Maths and History were to make way for a GCSE in the habits of loving and being loved (that’s beyond a few lessons of sex and relationships).
So, I wonder, how good a lover are you?
I read many SIAMS inspection reports. Indeed, as directed by Joshua Watson following the initial bust-up with the Dept. of Education in the early 1820s, all inspection reports are sent to the Bishop. I love reading these, as they are so full of good news, and I love writing to my Edmonton Heads too in response. I am immensely proud of you all.
Clearly, these make it clear that there are many great examples of listing to the wider communities. You help out with so many wonderful initiatives through food, visiting, singing- the list is endless. This listening is important, because only when we hear the heartbeat of the wider community that we know how best to be creative in our leadership- when we know whom we are serving.
I remember hearing the stories from a SLT in one of our schools where, in order to make sure that the children turned up one year for exams, the SLT went to their houses and banged on front doors. This is in the same way that Reception teachers will go and do home visits. Well, these SLT people came back from visiting in a particularly deprived part of London, and became determined to teach slightly differently, having listened to the community- visited children’s homes and seen their living conditions. It was when they saw the contexts for themselves that they were able to rework their pedagogy.
One of the most moving aspects following the tragedy of Grenfell has been the listening to the community as a result. A listening which has gone on particularly in our schools, our churches and other faith communities. Listening to their anger, pain and frustration, in a world, in a community where poverty is usually silenced or airbrushed.
We know from the Bible- the sermon on the Plain and beyond, that Jesus had a preference for the poor. This, of course is encapsulated in our schools, through the original name of the National Society- in 1811 it was the National Society for the education of the poor in the principles of the Established Church. Therefore, part of our role as church schools is about the poor, listening to, learning from and living with. I’m so grateful for those of you who serve the urban poor of London- you are a lifeline, a stability, a place of peace and a place of hope. Thank you.
Being Diocese of London schools is a wonderful opportunity for this. We have many school and parish links across the world- particularly across Mozambique and Angola. Their experience of education and schools is very different to ours, and both have much to learn. As the lead Bishop for ALMA, a name which means Soul in Portuguese, I visited many schools in Lebombo and Niassa recently, and we are opening a brand new school in Angola this month, paid for through a parish link.
It reminds me of the extraordinary reality that the average Anglican is black, female, under 30, lives on 2 dollars a day, and we can share these stories- the impact of global poverty, a thirst and hunger for education, the reality of climate change, the differences in home and family life- it is all there.
This is part of our listening to the local community- local and global- glocal as some have termed it. This is unique to the Church, particular to London, a world city, and it helps us in our understanding of what it means to be a member of the human race.
You will know better than I, there is key listening with our children. Understanding our children is vital in their own development and education.
We will all have used the words ‘suffer little children’– as Matthew puts it in a contemporary translation- ‘Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way’.
Of course, in Jesus day, children were viewed differently than they are today. They were economic necessities for later life- pension plans. They sat in the market places getting into all sorts of mischief, they were not doted upon, there were certainly no hello kitty duvet sets in bedrooms, and they had to get to work as soon as possible. They were outcasts, and no one wanted them around. But Jesus was teaching us differently- they were to be listened to, taken seriously and loved.
But, again Joshua Watson’s vision of 5 days a week education was radical, against the Evangelical vision of developing bible based Sunday schools. His vision was to build up character and good habit through regular worship, prayer and an understanding of the Anglican catechesis. The centrality of children’s education for their flourishing, and the flourishing of the economy, and it was this, in the early 19th century, that prevented an English equivalent of the Russian or French revolution, which politically were completely on the cards.
Another reason to listen to children- our research in Edmonton alone says that over 50% of all those exploring a vocation to the priesthood (and no doubt vocations to other things too like teaching) first discerned this sense of calling before the age of ten- interesting reading for clergy and their role in our primary schools. You know the sort of thing- I want to be like him/her when I grow up. Can you please keep a look out for the boys and girls who are expressing such vocations?
I’m so grateful also for the way in which you, as Head Teachers, share all sorts of fabulous stories of what the children have told you in school- because you have shown how you love them by listening. We know how children are when they feel that they have not been listened to- and how that not being listened to can reverberate throughout life- as we have seen so vividly with the Church’s sad past concerning the treatment of and justice for victims and survivors of abuse becomes ever more public. We listen and act, and not brush under any carpets.
Finally, I do ask that you listen to yourselves. It is lonely at the top isn’t it? I wonder if you are anything like me, where you battle deep within the imposter syndrome. That’s not me, I’m not really the Bishop. Someday someone will find me out.
I was alarmed, as I am sure that you were, following the recent research undertaken on the mental health of teachers last year carried out by YOUGOV.
This concluded that three quarters (75%) of school and college staff and leaders surveyed said they had experienced psychological, physical or behavioural symptoms because of work, significantly higher than the UK working population overall (62%) and of this group, workload and work-life balance were cited as the top work-related reasons.
At the same time, just over half (53%) said they have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their health. This appears to reflect the findings of a National Audit Office report published last week which revealed that in 2016 alone, 35,000 teachers left their jobs for reasons other than retirement.
Many appear to be experiencing higher levels of stress than the wider workforce with 29% saying they had felt stressed ‘most’ or ‘all of the time recently whilst 18% report these levels of stress outside of the sector. 45% felt they don’t achieve the right balance between their home and work lives.
Within the education profession, many have experienced a variety of symptoms in the last two years;
- Almost one in five (19%) said they had experienced panic attacks
- Over half (56%) had suffered from insomnia and difficulties sleeping
- Over a third (41%) had experienced difficulty concentrating
- Half (49%) of those who said they had experienced psychological, physical or behavioral problems because of work said that their work performance had consequently suffered. Symptoms and issues suffered appearing similar across roles and levels of seniority.
- Nearly half (47%) said their personal relationships had suffered
- Over a quarter (28%) said they had been forced to take time off work
- Of these, half (52%) had been off for more than a month during the academic year
Yet despite individual examples of good support, the proportion of staff and school leaders who said they don’t feel confident disclosing such problems to employers was also revealed to be significantly higher than among the workforce as a whole (64% of educational professionals as opposed to 44% overall).
These figures remind us all that you, your leadership and your listening matters. In fact, you really do matter, your well-being matters, your mental health matters, your relationships matter, your spending time with family and friends matters, and you’re taking adequate time off matters. You matter, and just to remind you again, you are wonderful, you are brilliant, you are loved and you are loveable.
Friends, there are many challenges facing our schools and our education in England right now. At the heart of creative leadership and the ability to face challenge, grasp nettles and oversee change management well, we need to be able to listen. In the same way Bishops need to listen, we as a Diocese also need to listen to you, our head teachers, and give thanks for your work and support you in your work.
To flourish, we all need to listen to a variety of voices, God’s voice, peers, each other and our staff, experts, wider communities, children and indeed ourselves. This is a tough yet so very rewarding task that we undertake together. I certainly know that the Bishops and Archdeacons in London love to visit our schools, so please invite us! I also know that you are prayed for so regularly by our clergy, our churches, our Bishops and our Cathedral.
My prayer for you on this conference- that you will chillax and flourish together. I pray also that each day here, and back home, you are given God’s strength and compassion to listen. That you might also thrive in your vocations to be head teachers, change managers, team inspirers, creative leaders and indeed be supreme lovers! Thank you!