It’s time to get that monkey off your back

As we approach the festive break, we should consider offering goodwill to our colleagues and remind ourselves that last minute burdens from well-meaning peers are best left at the school gates.

Way back in the day, when I first became a head teacher, I learnt to dread the end of the school week. Previously, as a teacher with limited responsibilities I had always looked forward to this particular time, the journey home and savouring the thought of a relaxing drink with my family.  However, that quickly changed.   

It was at this time, when most of the students and staff had left the site and tranquility descended, with just enough energy to make it home, my bags packed and about to open my car door when one of my staff would appear from nowhere and say: “Headteacher, I just thought I should let you know that …” and proceed to launch into a  description of an actual or more often potential disaster they felt I really needed to know about.  

Because the school was closed for the weekend, I was usually unable to do anything about this information until Monday. However, I felt it my duty to hear them out.  I did, after all, want to be helpful and supportive.  

Slowly these untimely encounters took their toll on me.  I did not have the experience or skills to avert the situation nor the ability to put the matter out of my mind until the following Monday.  In particular I did not have Professor Steve Peters to explain to me how I could turn their monkey into a chimp and place it in a box. Instead their monkey bounced around my head to varying degrees all weekend, ambushing me at the most inopportune moments.  “You seem a bit detached.  Are you alright?family and friends would comment upon noticing my glazed expression. “I’m fine. It’s nothing to worry about,”  I would reply, trying to reassure myself as much as them. Meanwhile, my colleague’s induced anxiety swung from one part of my cranium to another. 

After the first term and with burgeoning paranoia, I began to see a pattern in this behaviour and as much as I tried to resist, it became quite personal.  So much so that I tried to head it off by meeting the potential bearers of sad tidings more regularly during the week, thus giving them the opportunity to get their monkey off their back then. But to no avail.  If anything, the issues raised became potentially more concerning and my state of anxiety responded accordingly. 

In the end, as I could not handle it any more, self reservation prevailed.  I devised what you might call an avoidance strategy with my secretary. Using a range of hand signals I would wait for the coast to be clear and make a dash for it.  After several successful attempts this ritual declined completely. I have to admit to a degree of satisfaction at seeing the member of staff silhouetted against the school hall as they glared down the drive at my fast disappearing car.

With hindsight I do not think they realised the impact they were having upon me and I could perhaps have resolved the issue in a more open way. 

I only mention this as a preliminary to wish you a happy holiday whilst hoping that, as you set out for home at the end of what for many of you is the longest term of the year, you are not carrying on your back too many of your colleagues’ monkeys and that you in turn have not passed yours on to your colleagues.  After all, it is the period of goodwill to all people. If unfortunately you do happen to be setting off for home with part of a zoo in tow, I hope that as you get to your front door they are firmly locked away until the New Year.  

Have a good break and take care.