Lessons from the (virtual) classroom

Ellie Herriot




Like many parents I am juggling homeschooling and work at the moment and in awe of the amazing teachers who are creating inspiring online lessons. In amongst the pathetic fallacies, alliteration and similes my children have had some lessons we could all do with taking. So following the instructions of the 'rule of three', here are three lessons we should all learn in our working lives.

1. PSHE (personal social and health education for the uninitiated) - Who do you admire? In this lesson my daughter had to think about who she admired and why. One friend was identified because she is always there for her, another because she always looks on the bright side of life and a third because he was kind. The aim of the lesson was to think about what is important in life and how you behave and it’s a lesson many adults could consider applying in the workplace.

At the moment leaders need to dig deep, wells of resilience developed over long careers can feel dried up and creative solutions can feel hard to come by. So stop for a moment and think. Think about who you admire, what is it you admire about them and try to reflect the characteristics you admire. When we think about who we admire, just like for a child, it is often the soft stuff that comes to the fore. Admiration reflects our values. I admire my father because he is always calm under pressure and never runs out of grace. I admire my mother for her sheer determination and hard work. I admire the thoughtfulness of my colleagues, the kind words, the offer to help out in difficult times. None of these require an MBA or a PhD but they do require thoughtfulness and kindness. Those are the traits we really look for and those are the behaviours we will remember when this third and hopefully final lockdown is confined to the history books. For many companies they a traits described in their values and the leaders who come out of these challenging times with successful engaged teams will be leaders who pivot to and live those values.

2. History - King John unlucky or evil ? King John is the pantomime villain of the English monarchy, a punchbag for all the disasters of that time. Yes he had his failings but he has become a caricature of who he was. Do you have someone like that in your team – the person who it is easy to blame when things go wrong. I have recently seen the person or people on furlough become the pantomime villain or villains of a few teams. If something is going wrong, if things are dropping through the cracks in these challenging times that is understandable but it needs fixing not by finger pointing but by leadership. Leaders help themselves and others to do the right thing not to create a scape goat.

3. Physics – every physics lesson seems to involve running. Up and down the stairs to test the speed of a spinner with various weights, up and down the garden to measure the distance a toy car goes- its as if this physics teacher (who also happens to be in charge of lots of sporting activities) knows the value of getting his class moving. We all know that sitting in front of a screen all day – especially if this is positioned only a few steps from our bed- is not good for our physical or mental wellbeing. It is important as a leader that you demonstrate that you genuinely value the importance of taking time away from the screen as well as say it. If you are going for a walk or run at lunchtime tell your team. It gets dark well before the end of the working day so going for a walk or run in the evening is unappealing for many. If you want a high performing team you need to encourage those who can to get some fresh air during the day and the best way to do this is to do it yourself and tell your team you are doing so. It doesn’t need to be a 20 km run – a walk round the block can suffice

And finally a quick tip from form time. Picture your usual virtual team meeting- someone is late, someone is not on mute in a noisy setting, someone is on mute who is trying to speak. Then imagine the joy for a teacher of 30 eight or nine year olds on a zoom. They all speak at once apart from the one child you want to speak, they regularly turn their faces into bunny rabbits or aliens and quite frequently fall off their chair, talk to their puppy or just disappear. What do you do? Well, one ingenious form teacher asked each child to come to the meeting with a toy and then made them spend the lesson balancing the toy on their head. I can picture a few zoom calls where I would like to do the same!