Agents Assemble #2 – The School for Change Agents Podcast
Each week during The School for Change Agents, we make a podcast with behind-the-scenes discussion from the team who create School.
Episode 2 was released on Friday 30th April 2021. The contributors were Leigh Kendall, Olly Benson and Zoe Lord. We talked about resourcefulness, being more gazelle, and the importance of comments as an aid to learning. A full transcript is available below.
This transcript has been edited for clarity:
Olly Benson: [00:00:07] Welcome to Episode 2 of Agents Assemble, the School for Change Agents podcast. The good news is we haven’t been taken off air yet. The bad news is that if you were here for the dulcet Coventry tones of Kerry, for some inexplicable reason, her manager has agreed for her to have a week on leave this week. So instead, I’m Olly Benson in the host chair, and this week I’m joined by two of my esteemed Horizons colleagues. We have Leigh and special guest Zoe. Because it’s episode two, let’s reintroduce each of us, so Leigh to tell us all about your role in Horizons and particularly around School.
Leigh Kendall: [00:00:44] Thanks, Olly. Hi again, everybody. Hello, my name is Leigh Kendall. I am the programme leader for social influence at Horizons, so I do all things comms. So I look after the School for Change agents Twitter account and Facebook account. So I’m the one who chats with you on the socials, so it’s great to see you.
Olly Benson: [00:01:02] We’ve also got Zoe this week. So Zoe, do want to tell us a bit about yourself.
Zoe Lord: [00:01:07] Yeah, sure. So hello, my name is Zoe Lord. I’m deputy director in the Horizons team, and you may have seen me in Session 1 where I shared my story of my great Uncle Ted. What I did want to say is thank you to everybody who posted a comment. I’ve read them all and I was absolutely delighted to hear that so many people were inspired by that to do their own story. So they’re going to be sharing their own stories. I was absolutely thrilled that people felt that they could go and do that now. And, Olly, we’ve got session four about that? We’ve got a little bit more information on your story and creating your own narrative. So if you did like that, then please join for session four.
Leigh Kendall: [00:01:53] Your story about Ted was so poignant. It’s brilliant. And he shared it and it’s fantastic. They have such a good response. So thank you for sharing such a personal story with us.
Olly Benson: [00:02:03] Definitely. I totally agree with that. It was a really nice story and I think really summed up both what you’re about, but also showed how the power of public narrative.
[00:02:15] And just for completion, I’m Olly and I’ve been with Horizons since 2014 and been working on School since 2016. So I’ve seen school develop from little acorn it was, through to the grand tree is now.
[00:02:31] So we’re into week two and it’s been all about resourcefulness in the face of a quite extraordinary year. How do you continue to keep creating positive change in a time of crisis? We deliberately picked resourcefulness as a title and I think we’ll come to those words in a bit Leigh, but I wanted to start with something that I think you highlighted: the idea around NHS staff being heroes.
Leigh Kendall: [00:02:55] Yeah, that’s right. Olly thanks. I was reflecting on the narrative that’s been over the last year or so with the pandemic that NHS staff are heroes. NHS staff, absolutely amazing, of course, especially the staff that provides direct patient care. And we should definitely celebrate their achievements and their work. But the hero narrative is unhelpful, I think, because we need to remember that NHS staff are human just like everybody else. You know, they get tired, frustrated and angry, just like everybody. And so they need tools to look after their physical and mental health.
Olly Benson: [00:03:28] Yeah, I completely agree. I think it’s such an important thing. And I think that’s one of the key takeaways we wanted from week two was around recognising in yourself the limitations, I guess, and not trying to do everything and then looking at some positive ways to respond to that. And I think the one that certainly stood out for you, Zoe, was around the coaching work that Melissa was doing with Dani.
Zoe Lord: [00:03:54] Yeah. So what I loved about that clip with Melissa and Dani was you got to hear that behind the scenes story about what does it coach do and why do they do that? And I’ve got a coach, I’ve got a very fantastic coach. I always wonder what is she up to? So it was really good to hear about what Melissa was doing and what she was noticing. And I liked the point she said that when you were drawn in, she as a coach was drawn into the emotion, that was a point for her to notice that she needed to step back because she wasn’t being as resourceful as she normally is when she’s in a calmer state. So when I have conversations with people, sometimes I do feel myself getting drawn into that emotion, whether it is excited nurse and quite like I look at and excited to be honest! So I get whipped up. And so that’s all we could do this; we could do this. So, all of that problem solving and the solution. We’re in health and care. We are fixers, aren’t we? We’re here to make it better. And I’d seen that quite a lot in the comments actually; when somebody comes with a problem, what they try to do is fix the problem. And I also found this in my sort of leadership career as well, people came to me and I fixed the problem and they just kept people can come back and back and back whereas I thought I was doing the right thing because I was helping them fix their problems and they would go away happy. However, I wasn’t helping them to help themselves. So I learnt loads from Melisa’s and Dani’s little stories
Olly Benson: [00:05:42] Building on that. I think similarly, it was fascinating to see Melissa talk around what she was doing. But for me, it was also really nice to see Dani in there. So Dani is a long-standing friend of school. I ran a physical school session, when we were allowed, up in Boston in about 2016 – so probably nearly five years ago or so. And Dani came along to that and presented as part of that. And she’s always been so enthusiastic about school and just seeing her develop her career expand and her using the skills that she’s gained through school. And I think it was really nice to then see her making use of coaching and having that experience to help her with thinking about the things that she’s now having to think about in her professional development. A real positive both to see sort of Melissa’s take on it. But also Danny is a participant of School developing and where she’s going to.
Leigh Kendall: [00:06:40] If you’ve seen the school flyers as a comment from Dani saying School is going to help you achieve the incredible. So it just shows how high Dani is flying.
Olly Benson: [00:06:51] I guess the other things that were really interesting were around Rachel and Esther’s contributions, and I think both really useful ways of looking at how you as an individual react to your environment. But then also what happens when your environment is not a great place. And I know and there’s been lots of comments on that. I don’t know Leigh if you’ve noticed any particular comments you were interested in.
Leigh Kendall: [00:07:16] Rachel and Esther have done some brilliant videos with some really practical down-to-earth tips about how you can help others without falling over yourself. There’s a brilliant phrase about putting your own oxygen mask, or your own life-jacket on first to look after yourself, before you look after others. And as Zoe was saying earlier in the NHS, we join it because we want to care for people. So we’re very much fixers. We need to make sure we look after ourselves first. And I’ve seen in the comments on FutureLearn that people are really recognising that they do need to take time out. There’s a comment I read today from somebody who says they are so used to not taking their annual leave because they just want to keep going. They want to keep achieving and caring for people, caring their colleagues, caring for their patients. But they’ve had to recognise that actually taking a day to refresh themselves – to recharge – means that they can do their job even better when they come back refreshed and recharged. So it’s really important to remember that, I think by looking after yourself.
Olly Benson: [00:08:15] Did you see similar Zoe? Because I know you’ve spent quite a lot of time reading the comments and things.
Zoe Lord: [00:08:19] Yeah. With my work with the wellbeing programme as well, we saw a lot of what Leigh was just talking about: People knowing that they needed to put their own life jacket on, people knowing that they needed to put their own oxygen mask on. However, we weren’t doing it. For example, I knew I needed to take annual leave, but I was too busy to take annual leave. So it’s just that vicious circle, isn’t it? I’m really thinking about how we can help others more by looking after ourselves. So I think with Rachel’s presentations and the comments under there and the same with Esther, there was absolutely loads of things that people were commenting on. They really liked the practical aspects. So one that came up time and time again was wanting to be more Gazelle. Now, I hadn’t heard before. You had this before?
Leigh Kendall: [00:09:13] I hadn’t. No, no. It’s really interesting. Tell us more.
Zoe Lord: [00:09:16] People are saying that they want to be more Gazelle. So this in essence was all about letting things go, forgetting about things, letting it ride. And lots of people were talking about stress and anxiety when things run riot and go quickly in their minds.
Olly Benson: [00:09:34] So the idea about the Gazelle is that they’re constantly looking out for predators such as lions. The lion comes and tries to attack them, they’re obviously run away and deal with that. But as soon as they stopped they’ll just go back and start eating the grass again as if nothing’s happened. And I think what Rachel was really trying to say was, yes, there will be times in your life where you have to deal with something and there is that fight, flight or freeze moment. But actually what tends to happen with humans, we just tend to kind of dwell on those things, whereas a gazelle will just go: “That happened, I’m going back to eating grass again”. And that’s what we need to be more like, is accepting those things happen. But then not spending hours and days and weeks dwelling on that.
Leigh Kendall: [00:10:15] That’s a really good point.
Zoe Lord: [00:10:17] There were loads and loads of comments in the chat about that and people saying “I just wish I could let things go a little bit more”. And people were asking in the chat about how can I become more gazelle, because this is this is what I want to be. And I just sort of responded to a few of those just saying, well, maybe just having that imagery, knowing that there’s somebody who is like a gazelle and how could I be more like them can take you in that direction of being more gazalle. Another thing that I’ve seen out of Rachel’s session was about the inner chimp and that we all have an inner chimp. And it’s just about how do you manage it? And it’ll always be there and how do you manage it. So there’s lots and lots of comments about that as well, about how can I manage my chimp a little bit more. And Rachel gave some really practical tips and people are agreeing with those and had tried some of those that talked about in the chat. So things like not responding quickly, giving things a little bit of a break, walking away and coming back. So they were really interesting comments that I’d seen in the chat.
Olly Benson: [00:11:26] I think it was really nice for me is just seeing how the whole point of School is it’s, as we say with a unconference, the expertise is not necessarily on the stage, it’s in the room. And the idea of School is very similar to that. We will get people who bring their particular specialism in and start that conversation, but then it’s the comments that you see how people respond to that, where you just draw on so much expertise and so much knowledge and insight. And spending the time reading the comments is as valuable, if not more valuable than, watching the videos.
Zoe Lord: [00:11:57] I definitely find that. I’ve been watching the videos and reading the text, and I’ve actually done this much work twice – not to show off there. The first one was I listen to the videos and just on my phone and just when I was having either putting the washing out or, you know, just doing the housey things. So I’ve done that. And then I gone back through the School and looked at all the comments. I learnt a lot the first time I went through, but the second time reading all those comments and there were like loads of comments aren’t there? So reading through the comments, just getting those different perspectives on what people were saying about what they’d heard. And there was lots of things in there that I was thinking, ‘I didn’t think that’. It really sort of helped my thinking about the topic. And some of the things I thought exactly the same and it really resonated with me. And then other times it came a little bit left-field, and I’d ponder on it for a little while and I did a little of extra reading up. And yeah, my depth of knowledge has really developed from reading all the comments. So please do keep commenting on everything because I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Leigh Kendall: [00:13:16] I think that’s a beautiful thing about it, isn’t it, Zoe, on FutureLearn. It’s not one of those courses where you’ve got a group of experts who know the answer. It’s everybody has their own interpretation of things for their own experiences. And it’s beautiful seeing the comments on FutureLearn saying I had this issue and people ask about it or they’ll prompt another reflection and things. So people are in this massive, amazing global community, are helping each other learn and reflect and build their own knowledge.
Olly Benson: [00:13:48] Last week we were talking about the concept of New Power and how people were discussing whether sort of the terms New Power Old Power were still relevant. And this week’s controversial word, I guess, is resilience. We’ve actively tried to avoid using it in the course content. But Leigh, I know you’ve seen comments and people’s reactions to the word resilience within the comments.
Leigh Kendall: [00:14:08] I’m a comms person and a word geek so I love thinking about words and their meanings. I’ve always been happy and comfortable with the word resilience, because to me it means knowing things will happen in your life. You will have challenges, but knowing you can bounce back. But I’ve seen lots of resistance to the word resilience, and I understand why, because the resistance to the word is more about ‘it’s a fault with you, that you’re not strong enough, you need to suck it up or something’ when actually the issue is with the situation, people having too much to do or feeling too stressed and burnt out and overwhelmed. So we understand why people don’t like that word. And so we’ve chosen the word resourcefulness instead. So that’s the title of session two. And the comments that people have been adding to FutureLearn are really interesting because a lot of them focus on the big changes that we had in March, April 2020 when the pandemic struck and people were working at home doing their jobs differently and looking at the challenges, as well as the opportunities, they faced in working differently and how they had to use their own resourcefulness to look at how they work differently. It might not have be their preference. For example, there was someone talking about the tech challenges that they had, but they took a step back, looked at it differently, took a breath and asked colleagues for help. So it showed the challenges and opportunities of it changing the way we work as a result of the pandemic and people’s resourcefulness, not only your own resourcefulness, but the opportunities of working together with your colleagues to address an issue together.
Olly Benson: [00:15:44] It’s so fascinating when you get those kind of conversations. And I know that on social media, there’s still quite a lot of discussion about week one and how people are making use of New Power. What have you seen specifically, Leigh?
Leigh Kendall: [00:15:56] Yeah, so I look after our Twitter account, so it’s @sch4change and there are brilliant tweets reflecting specifically on the first session mostly. And what’s really lovely as people are sharing the Old Power New Power model and the graphic. And you can see their minds are blown when the light bulb goes on and they’re realising what is Old Power, what is New Power, how the two combine. And I can make change happen using those. And it’s really lovely to see how people are applying it to things that are happening in the world at the moment. So a big example of that is the Super League, the football league, or rather its demise due to people power. So they’re seeing how New Power can help make change happen.
Olly Benson: [00:16:39] I love it when we end up talking about football because it just sums up the whole amazingness of School from healthcare all the way around to football. I think that’s a great place to finish our conversation this week. Thank you very much to both Leigh and Zoe for having a really interesting discussion. Do respond and tell us how much you’ve enjoyed, or if you’ve enjoyed it at all, or if you haven’t on our Socials.
Zoe Lord: [00:17:05] Before we go Olly, what’s next week? Could you tell us about the next session?
Olly Benson: [00:17:10] I can indeed. Next week we’re diving deeper into power. So this week we were talking about being more gazelle, next week we’re talking about being more pirate. So if you think piracy and the NHS don’t mix, then join us next week on week three and find out all about how, as a change agent, you can effectively use the power that you maybe don’t realise you have, but you actually do.
Leigh Kendall: [00:17:36] Can I just add Olly, and I’m really looking forward to next week, but also just to add that School is a really flexible learning opportunity, so if not started yet, it’s absolutely not a problem. So you can study at your own pace. If you’ve not started yet, you’re not missing out, you can catch up: It’s not a problem at all. We look forward to seeing you.
Olly Benson: [00:17:53] It’s open. And we welcome you and all your friends and colleagues and even people you don’t know, bring them all along and let’s get as many people through School as we can. Thanks very much for listening. As I said, any feedback would be gratefully received, drop it on our Twitter feed or on Instagram or Facebook, and we will read them with delight. And we will see you next week. Bye.