Leading Like A Dolphin

Dolphins are well-known for being real brain-boxes but they might just be too clever, instinctive and kind for their own good sometimes.

A bit like your SLT.

There are some dolphin brains in senior positions and they do a cracking job of supporting their staff. But sometimes they get it wrong. They don’t mean to of course but they do because they are not perfect. Unlike Mr Butterscotch in Y6 – he thinks he never makes mistakes.

But ‘senior’ doesn’t imply that school leaders have all the answers and they know what they are doing. Sometimes they think they are helping when really they are encouraging us to drown.

It’s what Carol Travis and Elliot Aronson (2016) refer to in their book Mistakes were made as ‘the problem of the benevolent dolphin’. They relate the times when we might hear on the news that someone who is on the verge of drowning after being shipwrecked are rescued by dolphins. These amazing creatures gently nudge the casualty to the shore and to safety.

But then there are the dolphins who don’t think like humans because they spend all their time in the sea. We don’t swim as they do. Some dolphins do the opposite and see the sea as a place of safety, not land. So what do they do? Their instinct is to push the stricken sailors and troubled tourists further out to sea – they think that this will do them good.

And that’s the thing. You might be feeling shipwrecked in your job as a teacher and you might very well be flapping about in the Workload Ocean gasping for breath. Perhaps your line manager feels that the best thing to do would be to push you back to shore. But some might decide to push you the other way and you drown. They totally misread the situation and give you more to do and push you not just out of your comfort zone but into the depths.

You might not even be all at sea in your teaching world and swimming along quite nicely thank you. That’s until someone thinks you could and should be more challenged. A benevolent dolphin  might then push you to go further away from land and you might be persuaded. As you get further out you soon realise you are out of your depth and despite the best intentions of benevolent dolphin manager, they’ve pushed you too far.

Your boss might say that wellbeing and mental health are top of the agenda but they’ve got to know you as a person and not just a teacher. Super-smart dolphins get it wrong so beware of the benevolent ones because they might be pushing you in the wrong direction.

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