An Educator’s New Groove

In May 2013 I watched a production I directed at Davenham Theatre with great pride at the work my team had done, it was a wonderful success and encapsulated everything community, theatre and Shakespeare should be about.  I had no idea at the time that it would be my last major theatre project for more than three years! Something I could not have contemplated at the time. I would have suggested that I wouldn’t be able to function if I went that long without creating work. I would have been adamant that my identity would be lost after three years in the working wilderness. I may have been rebelliously dismissive of my ability to cope day to day without having that release.

Well three years have passed and my life has brought it’s full arsenal to blow through my sails & send me crashing onto rocks, floating down strange rivers and stranded on far off islands.  Having been washed ashore on the other side were my fears and assumptions justified?  How have I fared?

On the one hand it has been an incredible period of my life. Becoming a husband and a father. Looking after, leading, supporting, teaching and learning from hundreds of children and young people from all over the world. Building experiences and skills which have strengthened my confidence, resilience & adaptability both at home and at work. Making new and loving old friends and family.

And then there is the other hand… I have seen a lot. I have battled, fought and lost, many times. I have climbed, been praised & trusted and then been knocked, fallen and then beaten. I have seen, heard & felt things I never imagined before. I have been hardened and broken down. There have been beautiful people and bullies. Oh the bullies! They love to try and how they must be baffled. I have been stretched beyond what I knew before and more tired than thought possible, whilst still being alive.
While I’ve been alongside many friends of the new generation I have also seen others drift, as is normal with a busy life, but it always acts as a reminder of how life moves and shifts.

I have spent three years working for companies and institutions. Council run education, social care and ‘Academy’ run education. Each has had it’s ups and downs and issues which are universal in the workplace. But there are also trends which are a concern and maybe an indicator of the long term affects of the current times we live in. And why we must continue to find ways to fight for things we believe in. Each time my CV and personality were observed and it was deduced that ‘people like me’ are just what the job/sector/industry need. So after this exciting call to arms the hard work begins: learning systems & procedures, building strong positive relationships with your team using your wealth of experience and skills to bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. And then? Then opportunities are gradually either stopped or passed over to others. Having been treated with respect and intrigue you are now questioned more about how you are doing things but listened to far less. One minute you are taken to one side and told that “You need to be less sensitive” and then the same manager chastises you and your team for “being mean” and tells you to “have more empathy”. Your rights are squeezed or ignored & your position ‘looked at’. There is no money/time/space/priority for thinking or working creatively, patiently or compassionately. And then having chopped your way through, here comes the final round to finish you off: “I just think you need to work somewhere else for a year and gain some more experience”, “If you don’t like it then go and work somewhere else” or “That’s just the way the job is”.

I hear people question what difference politics makes or the different political parties. Their rhetoric is of huge importance. Whether or not we like to admit it, organisations and their individuals often have to answer to a chain of command and that chain has to adhere to the patterns and ideals of the relevant government department. So we currently see a seemingly mocking positivity during meetings about people losing their jobs & then a follow up meeting about not talking about it or “there will be consequences”. Rather than being honest, “This is a horrible situation but this is why and I’m sorry”, and then being open with the whole team or organisation so people can carry on at least feeling that someone cares enough to acknowledge their plight. But this isn’t how our politicians handle situations and so it filters down and becomes the norm. We see these traits all the time from out of touch politicians who justify cruel and unnecessary decisions with untruths or vague, weak so called ‘facts’ that are just announced in a convincing or protected way. Or do they just have such a thick air of stubbornness that everyone quickly realises that this person doesn’t have the capacity to listen, analyse and make an informed decision about anything, so what’s the point in engaging with them?

So I pick myself up from the recent shipwreck caused by another manager pretending to be a nice and competent human being. I look down & my feet are still strong, ready to move to the beat of the nearest drum and still able to recover quickly. I recently dipped into Sir Alex Ferguson’s book on leadership and couldn’t put it down. The very first thing he talks about is using our eyes and ears to learn from those around you, no matter what situation you are in. Something else that is synonymous with his career is the ability & desire to keep coming back, wave after wave. Also being able to step back, look at the bigger picture and appreciate your accomplishments, in order to then keep trusting in your work and yourself. Well this has been a big test of these skills. The kids I work with often openly look forward to it, if I have to take their lesson they are visibly excited and some have come to me, unprompted, and expressed a desire to do better next time. They inspire me to keep going and to keep learning. Also some of the creative work I have been involved with in the past still burns brightly and people have been asking for more, commenting on it and doing wonderful things in the communities we have worked with. It feels like we are being called back somehow. Maybe it is a calling, planets aligning or maybe it is a testament to the efforts that a group of people put in over many years that there is a legacy of good feelings and ideas to go back to. Maybe it is all of those things. I see the idea of ‘a plan’ or ‘fate’ as a two way conversation, you have to make the time and put in the effort yourself before things can ‘fall into place’.

Here endeth the sabbatical. Time to get creative and get back in to the networks and communities I know and don’t know yet. I have been working as a facilitator, a director, writer and performer but all in disguise as a carer or teacher or teaching assistant. Now it’s time to go to where people openly want to accept and invest in those skills, rather than looking upon them as a novelty.

While there is frustration at the school and as mentioned before, the part of the care system I leave behind, there is a lot of relief that it is time to go back to people I can give more to and who can give more in return. I feel ready, inspired and excited to be at home more with my young family, to be working more creatively and to wherever that takes me.

If in doubt, create.

Creative Practitioner for hire.

Published by Tom Barry

Story Artist, Writer and Teller. Part of Story Stitchers Based at The Old School in Warrington, Cheshire

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