Step back. step up. step in

The International School of Yangon is the first school I have worked in that has a performance culture in which everyone is focused on getting better than they are now

Given that I have only ever worked in good schools, that statement might rub a few ex-colleagues up the wrong way. But the reality is that for everyone to be focused on getting better than they are now, everyone needs to accept that they have a performance gap. 

If there is one thing that the 2020-2021 school year has given (and will continue to give) all of us, it is a performance gap. This is a gift that we all have received by virtue of being asked to perform in ways we have never been asked to perform before. We all have different performance gaps but we are connected by the circumstances that have caused them. 

It is the gift of performance gaps that have created a performance culture that I have never experienced before and I do not think we will ever experience again unless we can replicate the pressure that we are facing now. I’m not sure that we want to do that anytime soon so I think we should go into the second half of this year accepting that we will still be under pressure but trusting that our performance will continue to improve. But we will only continue to improve if we do not get overwhelmed by our peformance gaps and that is very hard to avoid when you are under pressure. 

‘Fight or Flight’ is a common phrase used to describe a person’s options when overwhelmed by pressure. People either become aggressive or just walk away. Now, given that teachers will generally do anything to avoid conflict and their sense of responsibility to their students will not let them walk away, we need another option – ‘Freeze.’

People that have frozen do not fight and they still turn up but they cannot contribute and perform as they usually would. Rather than being an active member of a team, pressure makes them passive. They might go through the motions in a way that suggests contribution and performance but really they are just trying to get by without drawing attention to themselves. 

We have all had our moments but we have all handled the pressure of the last few months exceptionally well and this is what our performance culture is based on. I am just wary of the fact that the end of 2020 does not mean that the pressure is off. It might even increase in 2021. So I have been reading up on how to handle pressure and would like to share a mental movement that I picked up from the book referenced below. It is called Step Back. Step Up. Step In.

Step Back: Gain Emotional Control

When faced with a challenging situation that has the potential to cause you to Fight, Fly, or Freeze, step back to think about your own state of mind. This has direct links to an Adaptive Schools’ Norm of Collaboration: Pay attention to yourself (and others). Thinking about your state of mind activates your powerful metacognition function (thinking about thinking) and is the first step in pushing through the urge to Fight, Fly, or Freeze. You are now ready to think about how you are going to face the challenge.

Step Up: Look for Better Options

Every challenge you face provides you with a performance gap. Challenges are challenging because you need to improve your level of performance to overcome them. And before you set out to improve your performance, you need to figure out what your options are to do that. Adaptive Schools’ would suggest that you take a ‘Balcony View’ of the challenge. By stepping up onto the balcony and looking down on the challenge without you in it, you will be able to see the challenge from multiple perspectives and determine a more objective best option to improve your performance.

Step In: Take the Initiative

Once you have established your best option to improve your performance to meet a challenge, you need to take the initiative to do whatever it takes to implement that option. Importantly, that does not mean you need to improve your performance alone. Taking the initiative in this sense might be as simple as asking for help or sharing an idea with a colleague. 

Asking for help and sharing ideas has defined our year so far and created a performance culture that will get us through the rest of it. As long as we do not let the pressure overwhelm us, we will meet every challenge that comes our way. I am sure that there will be plenty! 

EVANS, CERI. PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE: Change the Way You Feel, Think and Act under Pressure. THORSONS, 2019.

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