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Imagine if you could catch a breath?

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Leading Teams With a Long Term View

I often sit with educators and engage dialogue about their daily work.  I lead change and pedagogical thinking through the many conversations I am privileged to be invited into. But something that has caught my attention in recent times is the frequency I notice educators and teachers taking a big breath.  I’ve been pondering on this big breath and what it means?  I’ve also been wondering why have I become attuned to this big breath and what is it trying to tell me.  


Earlier this year I ran a half marathon and I became aware of that big breath.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve tuned into it? 

That big breath happened to me at the 9km mark.

It was hotter than I had thought it would be,

and it was the time I started to think,

‘I'm not going to make it’.

  • Doubt had entered into that breath.

It happened again at the 12km mark

I was trying to catch my breath with every step

It was persistent 

But I knew I was too

I kept going



One foot in front of the other

I was going to doing this!

  • Determination had entered that breath

I knew at the 16km mark

I was under prepared

With my nutrition especially

But here I found myself

Running this half marathon

Only 5km to go and the finish in sight!

  • Hope entered into that breath

At the 21km finish line

I cried, I did it, I made it!

I was genuinely surprised by myself

I lay on that cold grass

Looking up at the sky

Appreciating that I could now breath

Even though I found it very difficult to get back up!

  • Gratefulness had entered that breath

I spent this whole run trying to catch my breath.

I also wonder if that's the same feeling people on our teams get when I see them take that big breath?  Do some of our educators and teachers spend their year trying to catch their breath?

I wonder if there are some lessons I can take from this as a leader who leads teams?

I’ve been thinking about the contradictions in the messages we send our educators and teachers and I can see it can cause them to continuously work at a pace which at times requires taking that big breath. It sometimes sounds like this:

  • We want authentic documentation yet we continue with lists, rules and templates that bind our people to one way of seeing and doing things.

  • We want critical thinkers yet have no time to bring our people together.

  • We want depth in practice yet we do not engage in pedagogical learning.

  • We want to live and breathe our philosophy yet we never ‘check in’ with it.

Perhaps there are possibilities here for leading teams to 'breathe' differently?

To catch our breath, we, the leaders or influencers, must take the long-term view and listen intently to how our organisation is breathing.  We don’t want our teams to endure their work with feelings of perseverance and struggle but to have all the systems in place to support them to confidently ‘breathe’. It's important to be able to not just run the race, but to run it well, right? 

I think as leaders we need to listen in ways brave enough to hear what is not spoken. What is not being said?  How is my team breathing?

So how do we create spaces where we engage with the long term view?  Honestly, I don’t have the answer but my intuition tells me this:

  • It’s ok to pause

  • It’s ok to slow the pace

  • It’s ok to be still and hear the silence

  • It’s ok to ‘not know’ and yet put one foot in front of the other

  • It’s ok to do it differently than others or than before

  • Its ok to run your own race in your own way.

I wasn’t prepared for my half marathon. I still did it, and yes it was an achievement. I am left wondering if doubt, determination, hope and gratefulness can allow me to catch my breath differently next time.  I love these qualities and want to harness them in new ways next time.  I know this means I need to prepare differently than before. 

It’s OK to lead differently, do differently, and find a pace in a way that allows you and your team to breathe.  The type of breath that has a coordinated stride showing the pedagogical wellbeing of our teams is kept at the forefront.

For me, leading pedagogical practice and designing systems that support a culture of thinking and learning is like driving a car in the dark. You can only see as far as your headlights. Let’s remember you can make your whole trip that way.

Adapted from Lamott, A.. (1994). Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life.. New York: Anchor Books.

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