Since shifting out of the classroom full-time in the last month I seem to have had some greater clarity around one critical thing I didn’t do enough of as a classroom teacher: saying no.
I should clarify. I certainly didn’t have any issues within class around saying no, redirecting and guiding students back on task or managing situations within the classroom.
Or, when speaking with families making uncharacteristic or not well thought through suggestions, I was more than happy to explain that those things would not be possible.
It was in the other areas of teaching I didn’t throw no around enough. Presenting at meetings, volunteering at out of hours activities, taking on a request from a fellow leadership or level team member, making lunchtime meetings, covering that morning yard duty, running lunchtime activities – the usual things teachers get caught up in.
Over the last few years I’ve realised just how important it is learning how to say no… and knowing it’s okay to say no!
No. Wait. Yes? It is okay to say no!
Now, I’m not a jerk who just says no to everything now. I know every situation is different.
While we may think that every situation feels important and we have to say yes, I can’t help but wonder how doing a couple of simple things can help us protect ourselves by keeping some energy just for us… because if we are burnt out and can’t look after ourselves, we can’t look after anyone else.
Here’s the two things I’ve been trying out for the last couple of years that has made a big impact.
Thing #1: Give yourself 3 seconds.
Taking a few seconds to ask yourself how important or urgent a request actually is really does matter.
This sounds fairly obvious, but it’s so easy to quickly respond with, “Yeah, of course – no worries!” before you’ve really considered what you are committing to (or can actually do). Giving yourself those few seconds to consider how important the request is can make all the difference.
I get you think leaving your class for a coffee is important right now, but….
Case in point: I used to get a colleague often asking me to do their before school duty on a Thursday or Friday. Now, if it was a once off, that was absolutely fine. But as this started to become more regular, it started meaning I would have to come to work even earlier to get my morning admin done so I could do someone else’s duties most weeks (which I’m sure these people would definitely not to occur).
So, what can you actually do? For me, this is when I started making a point to let them know I couldn’t help them out this time (which still kept further times to help there) or I would get back to them after checking my other commitments (and, FYI you do actually have to get back to them to either way).
Thing #2: Sometimes we let people down.
We need to get ready to be okay with letting people down.
As an eternal optimist and people person, I used to think I had to always try and assist people. If I couldn’t help them, how would they ever continue to get by?!
Then I realised I’m not that important. The world still goes on without my help (albeit maybe without as many terrible dad jokes or enthusiastic and optimistic energy).
But, how will they ever get by without me?
If someone comes to me and really needs help – if it’s both important and urgent – and nothing is preventing me from helping in some way, I will. But, if it isn’t actually an important or urgent thing, I’m okay with telling them that at this point in time I can’t help them out.
It’s important to note here, you also need to be okay with the next 3-10 seconds where their face changes, and their shoulders shift as they realise what you’ve said.
Just let it happen and know it actually doesn’t have anything to with you. Sometimes to help people, we have to let them help themselves.
Like all learning in our classrooms, these two things take a bit of practice, but every time you do them, you get better at using them.
When was the first time you tried saying no? Or is it something you still are working on as a teacher, leader, mum, dad or legendary person in general?
(Actually, I need to add a third thing – look after yourself and listen to this awesome podcast episode by Dear Sugars with Oprah. Yep, that’s right. Even Oprah practises how to say no. Short on time? Head to the 17:30 mark)
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