Working with SEAL we try to value people for who they are, not what they’ve done. That means we need to focus on internal validation, not just on external achievements says Julie Leoni

I did some supervision recently to look back over the last two terms in my new roles. Because I work one day a week as SEAL coordinator for Shropshire: another day in school on SEAL and yet another training on SEAL, I have three different bosses. I was bemoaning how this meant that no one saw the totality of what I do so that they could really say, ‘Well done.’ So my supervisor asked what I liked about my work.

‘Well, I have pretty much complete autonomy and freedom.’

She laughed! ‘Do you know how many jobs in education give autonomy and freedom?’

And she was right. ‘It’s parallel process stuff going on,’ she went on to explain.

‘What?’ I replied.

External focus
In reply, she talked about the fact that education is largely about achieving various forms of external recognition: good grades, exam passes, medals, merit marks, and book tokens for the students; pay and promotion for the teachers.

As we work with SEAL, we are trying to create a climate in which people are recognised and valued for themselves, their ability to relate to others, their self-awareness and their uniqueness.
The reason this work can be so difficult is because we are challenging the whole premise of external validation, and trying to work with internal validation instead.

‘In your family’, my supervisor asked me, ‘did you get recognition for what you did or for who you were?’ And as I answered, without hesitation, that it was all about what I did, either in terms of school achievement or helping others, or being busy, I felt the sick feeling of recognition that what I give most attention to with my own kids is their ‘doing’ rather than their ‘being’.

Ignoring recognition
So, given that my family noticed what I did, that education notices achievement and that society rewards achievement with money and status, no wonder I was feeling un-appreciated. But, as always, the feeling was my stuff.

The truth is that I get loads of recognition; I just don’t notice it. I manage my time and people trust me. I set things going and people support them. People ask for me by name to do work with them. I like what I do, I like the teams that I work with, and feel like I belong and I am liked. Oh, and I work close to home and part-time on a permanent contract.

What I haven’t been allowing myself to do is to feel the value of all this recognition.

Not allowing myself
All through the session, my supervisor kept telling me to slow down, to take my time, to take a breath. Part of the way I don’t let allow myself to get recognition just for being me is by being busy, by rushing off, by hurrying. And of course, in work, being efficient and getting lots done are seen as ‘good’ things; so I’ve always been praised for that behaviour. In order to get recognition for who I am, I need to hang out more, to give my kids recognition for who they are, rather than feeling I continuously need to stimulate them and entertain them.

I need to notice that people do things for me, and the intention behind what they do is to show me they like, respect and even love me. So when Madge comes to my aid at the photocopier, I need to notice that she stopped her own work, put mine first and wanted to get it just right for me. I need to notice that my bosses give me so much space and freedom. I need to see people’s intentions and appreciate the time and permissions they give me.

Personal journeyAll the feelings I experience derive from my ‘script’, or ‘the way things were in my family’ – the way I heard the constant messages to ‘hurry up’ or ‘be busy’. My own personal journey is towards noticing and appreciating what people give to me that isn’t based on money and status. I need to slow down, and notice the significance and intention of people’s behaviours.

The parallel process part of this is that schools on the emotional literacy journey are also struggling with the challenge of how to value people over and above what they ‘do’, and how to make people feel appreciated for what they are.

So I started my summer holidays asking myself:

  • How can schools recognise and appreciate children and young people for who they are, not just for what they do?
  • How can we encourage a culture which looks to understand people’s intentions and motivations rather than just their actions?
  • How can we spend time with each other, in order to build relationships and to show that we value each other for who we are, when school life is so busy?

Answers on a postcard please, addressed to the ‘human doing’ who would like to be a ‘human being’.

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