How to define 2015? There were such highs and lows.
It began on a promising note. I was in the final phase of my coaching accreditation with GCI education and looking forward to taking on a coaching client, being coached myself and gaining my credential.
At school, I was trialling a model of learning support which focused on coaching, goal setting and building teachers’ capacity to work with students with specific learning needs. I was anticipating push back from colleagues who might not welcome this new way of working, and wasn’t sure if it would succeed, but the early signs were promising. Students were making strong progress right from the start, and teacher feedback at the end of Term 1 was very positive.
But all of a sudden everything changed. A news report reminded me of a time when I survived a violent assault and whether I lived or died was in someone else’s hands. The memory was like one of those tiny chips you get in car windscreens that cause fractures to spread across the glass.
For two or three weeks after hearing that news, the fractures spread across my psyche. And then one day I fell completely apart, as if I had been shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. I couldn’t function for weeks. I was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic-stress disorder, and needed a term off work to put myself back together.
I spent weeks in almost complete isolation. Aside from my partner, the only people I saw regularly were my psychologist and doctor. I was re-living trauma on a daily basis. For quite some time, I was afraid to leave the house, open email or even answer the telephone.
When I finally returned to work in Term 3 I’d lost confidence, not in my ability to do my job, but in my ability to manage everyday life. The PTSD had been so disabling. I’d been forced to face the fact that I was vulnerable. I felt breakable.
But, moment by moment, one step at a time, I picked up the threads of the what I’d been doing before my breakdown and continued on. Now that there’s time to reflect, I realise how much I was able to learn and to achieve.
In spite of several weeks’ interruption, I achieved my coaching accreditation. I’m grateful to my supervising coach and to my client for bearing with me and being patient and understanding when our coaching cycles were put on hold for several weeks.
The model of learning support I began in Term One continued in my absence. I’m grateful to my colleagues who so willingly embraced what was a significant change and worked in that manner throughout the year, even when I wasn’t there. We have more to do to refine the model, but our 2015 evaluation has shown that it is making a real difference for our students.
Other plans I’d been working on also started to come to fruition. My principal and I began the year aiming to develop our teachers’ understanding and use of formative assessment, but this was put on the backburner. However, we were able to send a team to train with Dylan Wiliam in Term 4, and are ready to run a whole staff professional development program in 2016.
Another question that had been rattling around in my mind throughout the year was how to develop a coaching culture at my school. Fortuitously, this coincided with the introduction of a new performance and development framework for NSW teachers which requires us all to participate in peer observation. This provided the impetus for my principal to approve training for our entire staff in Peer Coaching from Term 1 2016.
And, in the final week of school, of my professional life suddenly changed. After putting in an expression of interest, I was offered the role of relieving principal of Arndell for Term 1 2016. Arndell is a K-4 for students with emotional and behavioural needs.
So, in spite of setbacks, the year ended well. I’m moving forward with my professional goals and my school is heading towards greater things. 2016 is going to be an exciting time of growth and development.
The fact I’m running towards challenges, not away from the risks, shows me I’m finally healed, the breakdown is behind me, that I’m able to move ahead with my life. I heard from a few sources that a colleague said of my breakdown “Well, she’s blown her chance of ever being principal.” I’m happy to be proving her wrong. And that’s the thing about mental illness – It doesn’t have to define us.
I’m indebted to the many people who supported me through a difficult and confronting time:
- My principal who supported me both personally and professionally in allowing me the time I needed to recover before returning to work.
- My colleagues from school who sent messages of support, and then welcomed me back so warmly when I returned from leave.
- My colleagues from Twitter who looked out for me when I needed it most and continue to check in on me frequently. You know who you are.
- My friends who met me for lunches and coffees, and who were forgiving when I’d refuse invitations because it was all too overwhelming.
- And most importantly, my partner Michael, who was so accepting, patient and supportive. He carried me through much of this year.
I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have so many wonderful people in my life. Thank you all. I wish you the very best for 2016.