Leadership Journeys- What’s your USP?

This leadership gues piece is from Dr Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell.

So, today someone asked me a question, ‘What’s your USP?’

It stopped me in my tracks, I’ve often thought that I could be described as unique, or at least unusual but this question really made me think.

My unique selling points, perhaps there isn’t only one! I have a doctorate which predates my primary teaching career, it focussed on school bullying and also gave me cause to learn and teach (UG and PG) about typical and atypical development. My experience from the end of my degree to the start of my teacher training set me up to understand and support those children with whom I have an affinity and an ability to relate and connect. These days I read about ACEs  (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and being trauma informed and I find myself surprised at responses I read.

Today I took the space to wonder why people dismiss the idea of the effect of traumatic experiences on children, why people wonder if there is such a ‘thing’ as childhood trauma at all. Trauma Informed is something of a trending phrase, one which I’m sure some people hope will disappear along with Deep Dive, Warm Strict, Knowledge vs Skills and other things which people could describe as EduFads. I came to the conclusion that there are a couple of potential contributors.

What have I done?

If I accept the idea of Adverse Childhood Experiences having a lasting negative effect on how children present, how they relate and attach, how they learn and ultimately how they interface with the world then I have to accept that I may have done harm. I may have done harm to my own child, I may also have done harm to a child in my care who needed me to do something outside of the usual pattern (or not do something that was part of my script.) Perhaps the whole school behaviour policy wasn’t fit for purpose for this particular individual (I don’t have a specific child in mind) and I wasn’t brave enough to make that stand.

I simply can’t.

The statistics are deeply distressing. The responsibility that comes with teaching is already immense. If we add another layer of knowledge and understanding, then the weight of our potential to do harm as well as good increases. We are all people, people with homes, families, bills, responsibilities. There has to be time outside of our work to relax, to recharge, to decompress. We do this in many ways, speaking from my own experiences, some of these are more healthy than others. Some are more effective than others. What I feel confident to say is that, as we perceive our responsibility deepens we can become less able to step away, forget and be our non-teacher selves for a little while.

So because it’s challenging, some people don’t want to accept it.

I may be wrong. I am probably right for at least some of us. Some people may have entirely different reasons for disbelieving the trauma narrative (please tell me, I’m always ready to learn.)

Hear these words, what we are able to give is finite. Teachers cannot fix everything that has gone before in the lives of our children. Teachers cannot make up for the negative experiences that children have outside of our classrooms and schools and we cannot shore up those children and young people whom we teach in order to enable them to continue through life’s battlegrounds unscathed. We will try, give our best and a bit more no doubt. Lose sleep, lose peace.

To all who try, we stand together, we strive for the best for those pupils we teach. I stand on the shoulders of many as I write this. People who have believed in me, trusted me, challenged me. I hope I can play those roles for others.

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