From education to employment

What we’ve learned about Radical Rest

Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.

Whose responsibility is it to practice rest as a lever for systems and culture change? Lou Mycroft checks back in with the progress on the #RadicalRest campaign so far. The answer: well it’s personal and it’s organisational too!

Back in December, FEConstellations launched the #RadicalRest Campaign with an FE News article and social media poll. OK, I can’t claim that it was totally scientific, but at the time in the academic year where typically we are most exhausted, I wanted to get a feel for the potential of radical rest as a lever for systems and culture change.

We’d settled on ‘radical rest’ rather than ‘wellbeing’ or, more specifically ‘sleep’ as the focus of the campaign because we’d encountered the work of three black thinkers: Shawn Ginwright, Tricia Hersey and Karen Walrond. They helped us to understand that rest is political. That the people who have little (resource or privilege) in society often labour the hardest and rest the least.

Tricia Hersey – ‘The Nap Bishop’ – draws explicitly on histories of her enslaved ancestors and how rest has historically been a practice of resistance, for her grandmother in particular. At the same time, my good friend Vicki Beevers, CEO of The Sleep Charity, was launching a #SleepPoverty campaign which recognised that many families don’t have the physical necessities for a good night’s sleep. As I wrote in my previous article, telling someone how to improve their sleep hygiene will only get us all so far.

There’s self-regulation in Radical Rest, of course there is. And there are also barriers that cut across intersections of race/gender/class/poverty/disability/sexuality/profession/lifecyle/parenting and all the rest. At the most exhausting time of the academic year, I half expected that nearly everyone would tell us the priority for radical rest work was the exhausted workforce. In fact, around half (50+ people) said that radical rest as a lever for change was the priority.

People are ready. It’s time to change things.

Ginwright, Hersey, Walrond and many others make the point that good intentions are not enough and neither is it enough to buy ‘wellbeing’ into an organisation (where it becomes just another thing to do). Fundamentally, systems have to change, by aligning people (and planet) alongside profit in a tripartite business plan, which will allow workplace culture to change and stay changed. But how do we make this happen?

It’s important to let it sink into our bones that there will be no magic bullet. I know of an FE College where a well-meaning focus on wellbeing has led to more than 60+ mental health initiatives/magic bullets being implemented. Take up is not great because everyone’s overwhelmed (and the workload as burdensome as ever). Coherence and patience are what we need now.

At FEConstellations we’re working on a Radical Rest programme (of coherence and patience), folding in the poll results, responses from FE News articles and all subsequent discussions, including the AoC’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme, which inspired Stuart Rimmer’s wholehearted blog. We’ll launch in April, but the work has started. Here’s our latest thinking:

There’s no denying we have to take responsibility for our own bodies.

There’s a competitive overwork culture in FE; despite all we know about how much it’s killing us, people still spend a lot of time telling me (and Twitter) how busy they are. It’s a dangerous mix of capitalism (work harder!) and vocation (be selfless!). Yet some people still manage to say no and mean it (admittedly sometimes with a knock-on effect for their careers). It’s a chicken-and-egg situation but I promise you by the time the system is fixed it will be too late for some. You don’t need me to tell you what’s good for you, you just need to do it. It’s both as simple – and as complicated – as that.

The initial intervention point is obvious.

When it comes to systems change within organisations (and across the service as a whole) we already know what we need to do, to lighten workloads and make time for radical rest. We need to fix the meetings system. And that means facing up to how we use our time to communicate with one another, to flex our power, to make decisions, to do everything other than be radically candid.

Culture change will follow.

Taking radical self-responsibility and being able to trust in changing the meetings system…well that’s not easy but as Christina Donovan teaches us, trust begins with transformation. It’s a powerful pincer movement if we can get it right. Little eddies of culture change will help along the way…making changes to how we do meetings, at the same time as we’re questioning whether we need them at all.

It’s tough work. It takes consistency and patience and yes – ironically – graft. Using radical rest as a lever to change systems at the same time as we’re dong the work on ourselves. It won’t happen overnight (while we’re hopefully sleeping). But if we don’t at least try, it won’t happen at all.

Dr Lou Mycroft is a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.
By Dr Lou Mycroft, a nomadic educator, writer, and Thinking Environment facilitator.

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