Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Pope Francis on TED: Lessons for Schools

Today the first Papal TED talk was published. Recorded in the Vatican rather than with the instantly recognisable black backdrop, Pope Francis shared his "idea worth spreading". He touched upon ideas of solidarity, hope and tenderness. Some have suggested our world leaders were at the forefront of Francis' thinking when he wrote this, however, I think there is genuinely something for everyone in the talk; my focus is looking at a message for schools and school leaders.

"None of us is an island"

The first point is a reminder of how we all need one another. As someone who has lead teams within schools, it's been made evident that you need to be working together, always. To be a year team, a department, an SLT, you need to stand together. Francis points out, we need to "restore our connections to a healthy state" - connection and interaction makes us happy; this is in our human nature.

I enjoy our short weekly morning briefings as an RE Dept, and as an SLT we meet on the other four mornings. At first it seemed like lots of meetings, yet it drastically cuts down on many emails over smaller matters. It also means we get a catch up, know everything that's going on - and share personal news too... we even have a laugh and share a joke on occasion! It means issues are dealt with quickly.

As a department, it can help with 'buy-in' and ensure a shared experience. I try to speak in person to every member of my department every day, but it doesn't always happen - that's the life of a teacher - it's always busy! However, if I don't talk to them, I won't know if they are happy. And this is important. Anyone who feels like a island in a school is unlikely to be working as the best teacher they could be.


"How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries."

I believe that, in general, schools do have the 'default attitude' of solidarity - we fight for equality and social inclusion on a daily basis. Yet Francis goes on to say that each person is "not a statistic or a number." - and this is something we do need to fight in schools. A culture has been created (Ofsted? DfE?) where we have little choice but to focus of getting students to a 4 - or a 5? It is vital we don't lose sight of the individual human being..."a person to take care of."

Pope Francis then retells the story of the Good Samaritan; familiar but often overlooked despite it's richness. The paths of our students are riddled with suffering - anxiety, bereavement, housing issues, self harm, divorce. As are our colleagues too. School leaders need to ensure they are not like the "respectable" people in the parable; we cannot 'walk on by' ignoring the suffering, we cannot leave anyone on the side of the road. School leaders need to be constantly looking to the 'side of the road' - who is there? Students? Staff?

Thankfully, I think schools are genuinely places where we do we do not let the system "nullify our desire to open up to the good". Schools do show compassion, every day.

This leads to hope:

"Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution."

Schools are places of revolution; it happens every day in classrooms everywhere.

The Revolution of Tenderness

The third and final point from Pope Francis is one of listening. One of the most important things for school leaders to do. Listen: intently, carefully, attentively, relentlessly. 

One group that stuck out to me was, "listen.. to those who are afraid of the future". This is our students - do they need a 4 or a 5? What will it mean having a mixture of grades and numbers? What do universities want? Employers? Will I be able to afford a house? This is also our teachers - what do budget cuts mean? Will there be redundancies? Will I have a heavier workload? These worries are real. 

Francis points out the language of tenderness is one of shared communication. How do we speak to the students? How do we speak to those in our team? How do we explain complex concepts? How do we share difficulties without over burdening? 

This particularly resonated for me, as a relatively new school senior leader, "the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly". There is a real importance to ensure you connect your power with humility and tenderness. Power may seem like an over-exaggerated term within the school context, but in every moment we have the power to make or break a students day, and likewise with colleagues. Francis hints at the model of servant leadership, evident in Jesus' ministry (see more on this in a previous blog post  <here>).

He concludes with more hope: "the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a "you" and themselves as part of an "us."" - this is our job; as teachers, leaders and human beings. 

Read the script in full <here>

Watch the video in full here:

Image courtesy of TED

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