This week our management team at Little Forest Folk attended a lecture by Simon Sinek called ‘The Infinite Game’. Simon Sinek is an organisational consultant who gives inspiring and motivational talks on a subject dear to our hearts – leadership.
Attending the lecture was a useful reminder of how fortunate we are at Little Forest Folk. We heard numerous questions from an audience where clearly a large number of people were frustrated and unhappy in their jobs, aching for a change to a more inspirational and purposeful career but not able to make it happen.
One of the core elements Simon Sinek reported as essential for an organisation who endeavour to produce great leaders was having ‘just cause’. More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside that compels you to do what you do. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and empowers you to persevere when you feel like giving up. This event reminded me that we have started taking for granted that everyone knows our just cause. We recently celebrated the fourth birthday of our very first nursery and so we almost expect now that everyone knows what we stand for as they are living our vision with us every day
I began to wonder if we should share our grand dreams a little more, rather than expecting that people innately know what we want to achieve? Our just cause, our dreams, aren’t to open an infinite amount of nurseries, to win awards or achieve full occupancy and extensive waiting lists. They aren’t to start aiming for accurate financial forecasting, our real dreams are more the almost completely unattainable type of dreams. But they are the dreams that we spend every single day striving towards.
Our style of operation has always been a slightly unique, let’s try and chase our dream model, rather than a rational forecasting of how we will proceed. We often don’t know how we are going to get somewhere, but we start moving as we know where we want to get to and we refuse to stagnate. We are constantly striving towards our utopian dream.
So where are we trying to get to? What’s our dream? Our dream is to live in a world where children are recognised as being the incredible, astonishing little people they are. Where they are respected and are encouraged to learn about the important skills in life, such as empathy, compassion, kindness, resilience, self-regulation and much more. A world where rather than attempt to mould children to fit school, we mould education to fit individual children. Where children are developed not according to a rigid curriculum designed in the Industrial Era, but towards becoming the best they can be and becoming the children the most likely to succeed in the world. Where children’s well-being, both physically and mentally are as highly prized as literacy. A world where my children can be happy, fully engaged in their learning and education, full of the boundless curiosity and enthusiasm for learning that they were born with……without my having to build a school in order for this to happen.
I dream of a world where our style of learning is the norm, rather than being seen as alternative. A world where every single child spends hours every day running, laughing, climbing, immersed in the joy, fascination, awe and wonder that is the natural world. A world where from a very young age children are taught environmental stewardship to ensure our entire society is ready and equipped to be the next generation of custodians of the planet. A world where we prize the natural world around us as one of the most precious resources we have.
A world where teachers are valued as one of the most important and skilled members of society. Where I can pay my educators what they are worth rather than what I can afford. A world where teachers are admired, respected and where their incredibly dedicated nature is celebrated, their professionalism respected. A world where teachers don’t take work home with them, or spend hours after the children go home completing unnecessary paperwork. A world where teachers don’t need to do anything that doesn’t have purpose. And that purpose and dedication fits into a working week that allows for high quality work and life balance. Just because you are utterly committed to your career it doesn’t mean it should take over your life. Some of the best ideas we have come from the time we have to let our minds wander, exactly the same as our children. I’d like a world where my teachers have time to wonder. A world where my educators feel empowered, trusted and are able to direct their talents towards meeting the needs of individual children, rather than box ticking. A world where educators never lose sight for a minute of the importance of what they do, and never cease to feel our gratitude for it. A world where all of my teams, from my educators, to my bus drivers, from my admin and organisational wizards to my COO, where all of them feel proud to do what they do and get up every day excited for the change they can drive in the world that day.
More than anything, I want this world of exemplary education, passionate, highly valued teachers, joy, awe and wonder to be available to every child. I wish this world wasn’t only available to families who can afford to pay for it. We do what we can with our social enterprise places at Little Forest Folk, using the model that 87.5% of our families pay, with our using these funds to provide 12.5% of our places free of charge to families from deprived backgrounds. This isn’t enough for me. It is all we can afford to do at the moment, unless we find a generous benefactor willing to help us fund more places, as my educators deserve and need every penny of their wages. The angle we are trying to work on to make this happen is research. We want to work on and assist those working on research within education. We want to demonstrate unarguably the incredible impact our style of learning and childhood is having on our children. We want more people to learn the value and importance what we do, and try to emulate it themselves, or contribute ideas to make it even better. There are children who need this childhood, who need this style of education, who need to be helped to develop into the best and strongest they can be, more than others. It’s those children we want to double our efforts to try and reach. The unattainable dream, the dream we will forever chase.
We do fail at one of Simon Sinek’s key requirements for exemplary leadership, but it’s a personal failing rather than an organisational one. Simon Sinek believes all leaders have to strongly desire leadership. James and I never wanted or planned to be leaders. We didn’t plan to operate nurseries. We didn’t plan to create and operate a school. But what we passionately desire is the world we’ve described above. Our dream childhood for our own children and for the rest of our society. And that dream is what drives us to continue to battle relentlessly in the face of frequent adversity. To never give up. How could we? This is our children’s future. Luckily for us, we seem, in a way we don’t quite understand, to have created this beautiful organisation which through our incredible people has taken on a life of its own. The fact that we aren’t natural true leaders doesn’t matter because we’ve got this living, breathing, passionate organisation which is full of inspiring people who are all committed to the exact same outcome and who take on the mantle of leadership with us.
Little Forest Folk isn’t just a job. Nobody would work this hard for a job. Little Forest Folk is a vocation. It’s a community full of the most incredible educators, organisers and leaders who have all dedicated themselves to chasing our dream of making the world a better place for children. If we follow Simon Sinek’s theories, it’s clear to see that we are absolutely playing the infinite game. It will never end. We will never achieve our dream. But we will continue to dedicate almost every spare waking moment of our lives to chasing our vision as we can almost, just almost see it as a reality. We are incredibly grateful to every employee and every family who form our community and work together with us to try and make our dreams come true.
Little Forest Folk