noun. the state of being close to another person or other people.
After writing so much last year and finding it really cathartic, I fell off of the writing bus in the Autumn as my life began to get busier, I am constantly thinking about (normally when in the shower or in the car) all of the things I want to write about, but I need to intentionally return to the writing habit to make this happen.
I also wonder if this theme has been a particularly hard one to sit with, following the sense of isolation of the last 12 months.
I am a sociable person, I have a large friendship group and an even larger professional network. I am often referred to as a social butterfly. I am used to having a busy social life, have lots in my diary to look forwards to and lots of ways to connect with different people, in person. I know that I have a skill in bringing people together, in creating a sense of belonging and togetherness for others.
As a teacher, I have always felt the sense of “we are in this together” as a team. After a bad lesson, a difficult meeting, a tricky phone call there is always someone to have a chat to, a cuppa with or a rant to. I always strived to create an inclusive classroom where we felt like a team, there was a sense of unity and my learners knew they belonged. I tried to make all of my students feel both seen and heard.
As a leader, I never felt alone, as I have built circles of support around me. I have surrounded myself with people who I trust and respect. They have my back and I have theirs. Both in school, in trusts and in the grassroots spaces I have occupied I have created strong relationships, many of which have become friendships and have outlasted the roles I have held.
As a Headteacher, I built a dynamic team around me, a start up school journey is a bonding experience, we all had to be team players and be committed to the sense of togetherness to make it a success. Even when I was dragged through the tabloids for our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, it gave us a sense of togetherness and made some of these bonds stronger. We had a shared vision, a unified purpose, and a collective determination.
I perhaps took lots of this for granted.
Relocating for a new role, I had perhaps not considered the full extent of the emotional labour of leaving my vast support network in London and starting over. For a while my social life was solely through my professional network, and it took a while to reestablish myself. I didn’t have time, that is I didn’t make time, to have hobbies and interests to meet new people outside of my work circle. My social life moved from evenings to weekends, my friendships moved from little and often to a weekend every once in a while. Over time this has changed, I have a greater sense of belonging and togetherness in my new area, aided by buying a house and anchoring myself. I have created a new support network around me.
Leaving the school system, spending a short period in a university role, made me appreciate how institutionalised I am in how I like to work. Being part of a team, having a sense of camaraderie, has always been part of my professional identity and journey. I don’t mind working hard when I can play hard too, when there is a spirit of generosity and an atmosphere of positive team work. Loyalty is an important value for me, as is respect and I left the role quickly as the sense of togetherness was fractured and not being nurtured, and I felt disempowered that I could not fix it.
Going independent, working solo for the first time in my 42 years of existence has been a steep learning curve on togetherness. As a connector, a collaborator and a network builder, I have created the circles of support, the extended team, the critical friends and the collective spaces that I need around me. I get reached out to regularly by fellow consultants and coaches who feel adrift at sea who are looking to connect, who are looking to find a safe harbour to put their anchor down.
Working alone, working at home, working virtually means that you need to forge a sense of togetherness in a different way. You can’t pop in for a chat, you don’t bump into people at events, you don’t meet the clients and coachees you spend hours with so the togetherness very much exists in the virtual world. I have an image in my head of some of the people I now work very closely with who I have never met!
The global pandemic has also challenged our sense of togetherness. Not seeing our friends, families and loved ones for a protracted time has meant that relationships have evolved. I have reconnected with lots of people from my past, and I have lost contact with lots of people in my present.
As we emerge from the darkness of the last year, I hope that we can all reestablish a sense of togetherness. At times during the pandemic there has been a strong sense of community, of belonging, of bonds through shared passions and commitments, at other times there has been a sense of isolation.
One of my mantras is collaboration over competition, and I wholeheartedly believe that there is an abundance of opportunities out there that we can embrace together. Connecting with others, coming together purposefully as a community to collaborate on shared passions is what I am looking forward to.
After all, as the African Proverb states: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.