The Reflection Pool

Living in the Tension

Ambiguity. Uncertainty. Not knowing.

Image courtesy of Pakorn at
Image courtesy of Pakorn at

All these arrive in times of transition. Whether we await the appointment of a new leader, or we wonder what a major decision and its effect will be on our day to day work, we feel that tension as we are suspended between what was and what will be.

Sometimes these feelings arise when we wonder about next steps or what our personal or work lives will look like in a week, a month or in a year.

Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Living in that tension can be very difficult for some.  In an effort to feel better, individual leaders can push more strongly for action – any action – or move to a fixed problem solving orientation. While there might not seem to be an issue with that on the surface, quick action or decision making can lead to unintended precedents which may cause damage in the long run.

An effective leader is comfortable with uncertainty. She reacts calmly and carefully because she knows that it is part of life. Such leaders can continue to focus on what’s important and necessary while not knowing all the answers or how things may turn out.  Instead of focussing on what we don’t know, we focus on what we do know. Our certainty as school and classroom leaders can be found in what we value and believe.

What and who do you value as a school leader? What is important to preserve in these times of tension? Let that be your certainty.

7 thoughts on “Living in the Tension

  1. This post is perfectly timed as I’m currently “living in the tension” of having proposed a model for teaching and waiting for approval. The proposal was delivered a good month ago, and all the work that involves transition sits in the waiting room as I wait for a decision to be made. I like your focus on what we value and what is important to preserve. For me, as I wait, the first value is children-first, so I’ll focus my attention on the children. The next value is quality learning so I’ll focus attention on the current learning focus, and the final value I’ll focus on is joy as I work with delightful young children and I want the end of the year to be one of joy. Thank you so much for your wisdom and inspiration, Sue.

    1. Waiting can be so hard, and a month is a long time. Let me know when you hear via Twitter. I love the emphasis on joy. We often forget to find it. You’ve made me think of another blog post…

  2. Your post really has me thinking, Sue! For me, I value a large number of school and system leaders that all show in their words and actions how they put students first. It’s the kids that matter the most to me. And at this time of the year, when stress levels can be high and the staffing process often leads to lots of uncertainties, thinking about the kids — focusing on the kids — seems to make things better. I’d be very curious to hear what others have to say.


      1. I take the time to really enjoy my time with the students. I have fun with them, learn with them, listen and laugh with them. I look back at the photographs and videos from the day, and celebrate the growth. As Maureen mentioned, joy certainly comes into play here.


  3. As a system principal who has the opportunity to work alongside of the educators within the Language Portfolio, uncertainty has become a new reality for us ~ not only in light of the current labour situation, but also in light of the Provincial and Board emphasis on mathematics. At the present time, our work, which is to support educator learning, is on “hold” as a result of current labour conditions. And although the team is certainly maintaining a strong sense of work ethic and professionalism, I can tell that their hearts are not as invested as they usually are. When one is passionate about learning and sharing that learning, little else can take its place. As we reflect on this past year and begin to plan for the fall, there is a great sense of uncertainty as to whether or not we will be able to move forward or not. But I’m proud of them, as we plan with the best scenario in mind, knowing that our flexibility will be called into greater demand if the labour situation is not resolved.
    Aside from the current labour situation is the new reality of the spotlight on mathematics. School teams, who once were required to have a literacy goal, are now shifting their focus and hence their selection of professional learning opportunities to mathematics. In a few short years, we have gone from a greater demand for our services than we could provide to a world where we now need to market ourselves. Again, I’m so very proud of the team for evolving their thinking in terms of professional learning in order to meet the needs of our “new” educators ~ those who are juggling the demands of new ways of supporting students in the area of mathematics along with the knowledge that if our students can’t read or write, they will never be able to effectively communicate their learning (new or otherwise) in the area of mathematics ~ or science or social studies or……..
    And just as you stated, in times of uncertainty, the objective is to hold fast to your values and beliefs.

    1. Sue, thank you for taking the time to comment. I understand your frustration with uncertainty and it sounds like you are working with a wonderful team! I wonder if your team could support NTIP or new administrators through their mentoring program?

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