What you see is what you get. Or is it?
I’m sure if we think about it, there are many instances when this is not the case. An iceberg. For every part we can see, there are 7/8ths of it underwater. A swan gracefully gliding across the water whilst paddling furiously beneath the surface. The athlete who wins the gold medal making it look effortless, but who has spent months training hard.
The visible can often mask, hide or deceive the real picture. So it’s important that we are mindful of this in all our interactions and realise that the visible, isn’t always the reality.
And within education, I’m glad that there seems to be a growing understanding that the behaviours which both pupils and staff visibly present, aren’t always an accurate reflection of the struggles, challenges and difficulties they are perhaps facing. Visibility is one thing, but seeking out that which is sometimes invisible, is just as important.
For many years I believed that as soon as I entered my school building, I put on a special cloak which made me forget the troubles and issues of life outside school. I got on with my job, I presented that I was holding it together and I tried exceptionally hard to leave my worries and personal life at home. I didn’t want my personal life to affect my career. Those who didn’t know me, may not have suspected I was facing difficulty, what they saw was probably someone with a heart of stone who was extremely driven and very much consumed by her job.
Thinking of the most difficult times in my personal life, I’m not quite sure how I managed it. But somehow when inside the walls of school, something enabled me to put on the performance and get through it. And to a certain extent that is necessary with 20 young people in front of you, needing you to ‘turn up’ for them. There’s no denying that teaching can be all-consuming and it often gets to 3pm in the blink of an eye without ever having had a chance to catch your breath let alone think about anything other than the young people in front of you. But looking back I sometimes wonder how often I slipped up. The times I cried in the cupboard, the occasions my patience dwindled or my mind became distracted. Because these parts of life aren’t invisible, they are there below the surface.
With time, maturity and a few more turbulent life experiences under my belt, I think I’ve learned that it’s not always helpful or necessary to hide these feelings. Sometimes the connection and trust which it builds by sharing these vulnerabilities is hugely powerful. I’ve learned a lot about empathy which I hope is more apparent in my own interactions with colleagues.
And it has made me think about how others may well also be experiencing things we can’t necessarily see. Both adults and young people. I think it’s therefore important to remember that ‘everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Be kind always!’ Sometimes the behaviours we see, are communicating something else. A cry for help, a need for attention or maybe an indication that someone feels completely broken but can’t express it in words. I can think of several instances when pupil behaviour could be misinterpreted as defiance, non-compliance or down-right being a pain in the neck. I’m not denying that there are some occasions when a pupil will choose to misbehave. But often seeing it through this lense infuriates us. It makes the behaviour a personal attack on us as teachers. And fuels so much negative energy. It becomes about something else.
However being mindful that often there is a reason for these poor choices, can be a game-changer in de-escalating situations. Instead, encouraging the young person to open up rather than put their guard up. And it’s true for staff too. Re-focussing the visible can help us to deal with situations more compassionately, and in a way which understands each colleague’s own situation. It’s not about being a soft touch, but seeing the invisible and sometimes reading between the lines in order that colleagues feel understood, supported and able to do their best. I believe that’s when staff are more likely to be able to do their job well.
For me it’s also important that these values are visible, even when no one is watching or can see. Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. Being true to yourself and your values. Not to impress others, show off or make yourself look better.
For all its good in connection and sharing, I do sometimes worry that social media plays a big part in fuelling a very visible life, which often omits the less than picture-perfect moments. It’s important to remember that what we see is not always the true reality. There are the parts we don’t see. Comparison is the thief of joy. Live your life. For you.
Remember what you can see, but don’t forget what you can’t see. Sometimes the visible is only part of the story.