I first came across the beach ball metaphor at a local TeachMeet back in the noughties. I’ve regularly revisited it since, with students, colleagues and coachees… and this month, I’d like to bounce it your way.
Just as you can't see all the colours on a beach ball from a single position, you can't fully understand a complex issue by looking at it from only one angle. In the context of communication, problem-solving, or decision-making, the metaphor reminds us that there are often multiple perspectives to consider if we are to gain a comprehensive and well-rounded understanding; indeed, we benefit from actively seeking out diverse perspectives.
“Lead by listening – to be a great leader you have to be a great listener” – Richard Branson
The beach ball came back into my thinking in relation to the DfE’s National Behaviour Survey published earlier this year, which found discrepancies between leaders’, teachers’ and pupils’ view on disruptive behaviour: while 90 per cent of school leaders said their school had been calm or orderly either “every day” or “most days” in the past week, only 64 per cent of teachers agreed, and only 47 per cent of pupils.
I’ve also seen this ‘leader-classroom disconnect’come through social media anecdotes and in coaching sessions: teachers complaining that their SLT is denying there’s a problem with classroom behaviour, and as a result, feeling their perspective is being under-valued or even ignored. A school in Wales has teachers striking with Patrick Roach (NASUWT General Secretary) accusing leadership of “failing in its basic commitment to support teachers to teach”.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Barack Obama
As members of diverse and passionate school communities, most colleagues know the importance of empathy and active listening when interacting with others who may have different viewpoints. But in times of heightened pressure, we may all benefit from a friendly reminder to spin the beach ball.
So as the days get shorter, and perhaps our patience also, we invite you to take a few minutes to consider a current challenge you are facing and ask yourself:
If I spin the beach ball around, what does it look like from there?
How could I actively seek and listen to different perspectives?
What benefits could emerge from showing empathy to opposing viewpoints?
As the challenges in our schools continue, let’s do all we can to stay connected with each other, show respect to each other’s perspectives and genuinely listen to understand. Despite the different views we may have of the beach ball, we are, ultimately, all on the same side.