You Are Not Alone

by Matt Wilks

Now, don’t get me wrong – working at home is great. The benefits are many: I sidestep the dreaded ‘you were out when we called’ note by being here to accept deliveries, the teetering washing pile is partially tamed and the dog has some company. I’m here to walk my youngest to school, or if his older brother forgets his key, to remind them about homework and to curb the more excessive eating. Working at home is flexible, it costs less, and I don’t have to wear uncomfortable trousers. It’s great, no really it’s great … except that it isn’t. Not always.

There is a big downside to working in isolation and it’s, well, the isolation.

Sure, I realise that modern technology allows me to communicate with colleagues all over the country and, if it were necessary, the world. The problem is I’ve never been a huge fan of the phone and the way it diminishes an entire conversation and all its various nuances until it fits into my earhole, and the ways in which I can misconstrue the meaning of an innocent email are virtually limitless.

By only communicating when it is a practical necessity and in these restrictive ways something is missed and that something is all those little gap-fillers – the quick questions in passing that dispel the doubt and the reassuring facial expressions that say ‘I feel that way too’, the laughs and camaraderie that signal ‘we’re all in this together’.

Without these little things the gaps are filled with other stuff. For me this stuff can often be over-thinking, paranoia and catastrophising. Left to ferment, this heady mixture develops into self-doubt, lack of sleep and a host of unhealthy thoughts that do not have the good grace to dissipate at the end of the working day.

However much I enjoy working alone (and I do in many situations) I find that the support of others, of a community, is essential.

At MiSP this community is made up of the little team that I see once a week in a hut in Tonbridge. We discuss strategy, new projects, the day-to-day business of running a charity, our hopes and fears, our kids and our pets. Not only does this often dispel my worries, it also puts some order around the endless lists I create and some sense to the emails in my inbox. Above all, it is a chance to re-affirm that we are a team, a community, and the reassurance that we are all pulling in the same direction.

It often occurs to me that this is a microcosm of what happens in schools across the country.

I am sure that, at times, it can feel as though you are the only one doing what you do, facing the inevitable challenges and experiencing the highs and lows that teaching brings.

This is why we at MiSP are trying to develop our teacher network into a supportive and engaging community, a place for sharing the many thoughts and ideas that our members generate. To this end we have added a Community Group Page to our Facebook Page, this ‘closed’ group (which simply means you have to ask to join) is a place for teacher practitioners to share their experiences and techniques in a more private forum. We see it as a ‘staff room’ rather than the usual Facebook ‘notice board’.

We’ve also tried out a MiSP Community sit with our Schools Sit Together event back in February. This was a great success with approximately 6,000 teachers and students taking part across the UK and further afield.

Then there’s the Hub Newsletter that we send out to our list of trained teachers every month. This gives us (and them) a chance to shout about what’s new, what’s coming up and what we’ve done recently.

Finally, and by no means least, there’s the Conference. Anyone who came to it last year, which was my first, or this year will know what a great feeling is generated and shared by close to a thousand like-minded people in one room. Hopefully next year’s Conference will engender that same feeling of togetherness and wellbeing amongst all who are able to attend.

However you join in with our growing community – and you really should – the benefits are many and varied, but the most important to me, and to many, is that you are not alone.