There is a very unusual type of statistic kept in professional Australian Rules Football called a ‘one-percenter‘. A one-percenter is a statistic that recognises an action by a player that entails just a little more effort or courage than normal.
An example of a one-percenter is when a player chases the ball-carrying opposition player over an extended distance. Even if the player is unable to catch or tackle the ball-carrier, the added pressure applied because of the chase is deemed valuable. These one-percenters, in themselves, often have very little apparent impact on the game, in fact they can easily go unnoticed, but collectively they can change the result.
The best educators tend to make an artform of one-percenters. The next chance you have to see an outstanding teacher in action, try to see beyond their content expertise and refined pedagogy and you might observe things like:
- their ability to subtly shift the energy in the room;
- an almost imperceptible nod of gratitude to a child who has again helped another student;
- a well-timed, self-deprecating joke to defuse anxiety;
- an extraordinary level of organisation, readiness, adaptability and withitness;
- an enhanced ability to ‘think like a student’, to empathise, and to inspire;
- an absolute present-mindedness, the sense that there is nothing more important than this lesson, this child, this moment.
In football and in teaching, it’s true that, sometimes, it’s the ‘big’ moments that matter – the great goals, the amazing lesson. But ultimately, the most respected and valued footballers and teachers are the ones who turn up authentically again and again, and really commit to the one-percenters.
The people in our lives, educators or otherwise, who really stand out, who we most admire, tend to be those who are especially courageous or brave in some way. They are friends who tell us the truth. They are family who hug us even when we’ve hurt them. They are students who fall and get back up again and again. They are colleagues who say what we are afraid to say. They are leaders who say ‘no’ when it’s just easier and safer to say ‘yes’.
But bravery is a character strength that we all have and that can be cultivated.
Dr Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, suggests a question that we can ask ourselves as we try to live as authentically and bravely as possible:
Today, when I had the opportunity, did I choose courage over comfort?
If you had to distill and identify just two, simple guiding principles that underpin the most successful school corporate cultures, it may well be these:
- Continuously expect the highest standards of integrity, authenticity and professionalism from yourself and your colleagues.
- Be compassionate. Behind the face of every one of your colleagues, is a personal struggle that you will never fully understand. The struggles of some are bigger than others’, but we all have them. Whilst we aim to be at our best at all times, because we are human, we cannot be.
Successful cultures don’t rely on us being at our best – all the time. They rely on us turning up and doing our best – all the time – despite our struggles.
‘Authenticity’ is such a buzz word in education. But it’s a concept that is sometimes misunderstood. Being ‘authentic’ isn’t about always speaking what’s on your mind, doing whatever ‘feels right’ in the moment, or compulsively ‘going with your gut’.
Authenticity is about consistency; knowing your values, and allowing them to set an expectation for your behaviour; a kind of ‘behavioural contract’. If kindness, honesty and fairness are what you value, then let people expect that behaviour from you.
As educators, authenticity is about ‘turning up’ for our students and colleagues – even when it’s the last thing we feel like doing. Authenticity is about being absolutely present in that early-evening parent-teacher interview – even when you’d rather be at home with your own family. It’s about standing out in the rain, in the middle of winter, cold, and still giving your all as you coach your middle-school soccer team.
We are professionals. Our students and colleagues expect us to behave professionally. When you turn up, true to your values, time and time again, then you earn the right to be called authentic.