In the first few weeks of a new term, it is unsurprising to get a feeling of déjà vu. Yet another group of new students enrolling at colleges, welcome speeches from principals, and queues outside student support service offices as learners try and ensure their bursaries are in place.
Regardless of all the good intentions and enthusiasm of that first day back, anyone would be forgiven for feeling slightly deflated. It is by no means unique to teaching.
Breaking out of that mindset is something we all are responsible for ourselves. While it is the job of colleges – and schools, for that matter – to ensure all staff, from management to support and teaching staff, are working in a safe environment with the resources they need and in a culture where they are free and able to try new things, shaking off the dust and testing our boundaries is something we need to do ourselves.
That is difficult. I for one believe my comfort zone is called that for a reason. I like it there. It is, as the name suggests, comfortable, safe and functions reasonably well as a living environment.
'Pushing the envelope'
But I know that to develop as a human, it is important to push that envelope. For me, this year that has mainly involved trying new sports. In January, I did my first ever laps in the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow. I don’t mind saying I spent the entire time screaming silently.
After a rather long time on the waiting list, I also joined a local rowing club – which has been a very steep learning curve, to say the least. Not only am I constantly covered in bruises, there also seems to be an entirely different language to be learned while trying to not fall into the cold, dark water. But I have found it to be hugely rewarding to learn something new from great teachers and challenge myself in the fresh, if reasonably damp, Sunday morning air.
We all need to find things to get our teeth into and inspire us. The options are endless – and can even help gain a new perspective on the day job. Last week, new arrivals in the enrolment queue at Edinburgh College were joined by an unlikely new student: principal Annette Bruton, who, as someone passionate about art and textiles, has signed up for a creative textiles: surface pattern evening course at her college.
It must be a rare thing for a college leader to also be a proud owner of a student card at their own institution, but maybe it is something more FE leaders should consider.
Seeing how the college functions from a student perspective, how well the processes work and how the learning experience compares to how it is perceived by management will be useful for Ms Bruton, no doubt.
But having chosen a subject she has a true interest in, it may also serve as that necessary distraction and inspiration we all need more of. So as we all settle into the new term, maybe it is time we spend a bit more time setting ourselves a new challenge.
Maybe, just maybe, FE principals and heads across the country should think about following Ms Bruton’s lead. We should all be able to find space for more learning.