I WAS talking to a head teacher in the north of England. She had
done a remarkable job turning her school around, and you could see
how. She used the word "urgent" a great deal; this was a school
where things got done.
I remembered a management course I attended as a curate, where
we learned of the distinction between "urgent" and "important".
"'Urgent' needs to be attended to," the speaker said, "but it isn't
why you're here; you're here for the important."
But in this school, "urgent" was a virtue, which explained the
next revelation, as the head explained how proud she was of the
absentee record among the staff. "It's very low," she said.
"They're all ill in the first week of the holidays, which I regard
as a triumph."
Why am I sitting in the head's office? I am here on behalf of
the Mind Clinic (themindclinic.org), which takes the principles of
talk therapy - safe space and insightful listening - into
businesses. It is proving popular: whatever the business, the
sessions are always overbooked.
Employees leave their work desks to talk about their issues -
most of them have never done this before. A school is also a
business, and this head teacher is aware of the pressures on her
But, under the surface, she has concerns with the idea of
therapy: "Does it demotivate people?" She is worried that if you
allow people to speak their story and reflect on it, then they will
suddenly lose interest in their job and "go and open a donkey
refuge in Venezuela".
I said that the more likely result would be that they would
continue to do what they did, but with more awareness, more
resilience, an extra layer of intelligence - and more hope.
She was a good woman, open and engaged with our conversation,
and, perhaps most impressive of all, not defensive. She was very
open about the fact that those who were meant to be providing
psychological support for the staff were not; and that the school
needed something like this. But would a listened-to soul be less
goal-orientated, less driven?
This was a problem, because her parents wanted staff who pushed
their children to the limits. Might her parents actually want the
"urgent" above the "important" for their offspring?
Exam-centred education is all urgent. But can there be anything
else? I raised the question how healthy it was that the staff all
got ill in the first week of the holidays. I wondered what that
modelled for the children - a guiding principle such as: "Life is
getting the job done at whatever the cost to yourself"? Is that
The head wants to continue the conversation. What a brave and
impressive soul she is.