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How to be adaptable in the workplace

Posted by Paul Boyd on Saturday, 3 August 2019
Paul Boyd
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Here's a question for you to think seriously about: How adaptable are you?

‘Sink or swim’ can often describe the daily experience of a supply teacher. Or maybe ‘being thrown in at the deep end’. Sometimes we’re ‘all at sea’ depending on how the day goes. However, to quote Bruce Lee, it can help to ‘be water’ if one is to get the most out of the day as a supply teacher and flow with things as best you can. (I’m finished with the metaphorical water now, I promise…)

If we hold on too rigidly to what we think we must have to start the day or teach a lesson or fulfil our version of being ‘prepared’, we can sometimes get in our own way, making life more stressful for ourselves. A few tricks in adaptability can help us out of most difficulties.

I recently observed an exchange with a supply teacher colleague who had about ten minutes to get briefed for their entire morning. Instead of making sure they knew the various lessons and what the rough expectations were, they obsessed over the school’s registration system, as it was unfamiliar, despite having a TA in the room who was able to assist them with it.

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Consequently, they started their day knowing almost nothing about what had to be done, which lead to several miscommunications and unnecessary pressures for them and the team whom they were supporting. If they had been able to shift their focus a look at the larger priorities, it would have made for a much smoother morning.

Oftentimes supply teachers are worried about behaviour management – and justifiably so. However, again, if you stick too rigidly to how you think children should be behaving and allow yourself to get dragged into some sort of power play where you try to dominate your classroom, things can quickly escalate to a difficult position. A little emotional intelligence would serve well in these situations.

Allowing a difficult child a little extra space or allowing an unnecessary comment to go unacknowledged, may go a long way to the effective running of a lesson.

And finally, if like me, you’re so used to a clever IWB that the sight of a regular projector fills you with terror, you could be tempted to throw an internal hissy fit if your school for the day has less-than-expected resources. You then spend the day grumping about how difficult your situation is and generally giving off a bad impression of yourself.


This is where your creativity comes into play. Don’t have a working computer? Don’t have the textbooks you were promised? Dealing with a rowdy class who see you like a free ticket? How can your imagination serve you to turn the situation around win the day?

So the next time your day is interrupted with an unexpected challenge, check whether or not you can shift your focus¸ rely on your emotional intelligence or your creativity. Then you’ll be truly adaptable and be able to get on board with whatever the day holds.


About our Community Expert


Paul BPaul Boyd
Community Expert

Paul is an actor and English teacher from Northern Ireland. Alongside his acting career working in theatre, film and television across the UK, he also teaches in primary and secondary schools throughout London.

Paul provides performance coaching to both individual clients and businesses.


Topics: Supply teaching


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