2014 has been an extremely busy year both professionally and personally. I have taken on more responsibility and challenge at school as part of an extended leadership team, focusing on teaching and learning. Me and my wife are expecting our first child in April 2015, which means things are changing (in a good way!). It has been almost two years since I set up this blog and it has enabled me to reflect much more deeply on my own learning in teaching and leadership.
Here’s a few things (in no particular order) I have learnt / achieved in 2014.
1. Never underestimate the power of positive relationships in school. I learnt very quickly in my new leadership position the power of listening to concerns and more importantly acting upon them. The minute you don’t, trust is lost and it’s incredibly difficult to ever get it back. Some advice from Stephen Covey that I have been able to practice (a lot!) is “Seek first to understand before being understood.”
2. Prioritise the main thing. What one thing could you do more of that will have the biggest effect in school? This was a question posed by the Principal at one of our SLT meetings. Quite often the urgent takes the place of the important. there’s always an email that needs replying to or some marking to be done, but in my leadership whats the one thing that would make a bigger difference across the school? Getting into classrooms. The last 2 weeks of term I managed to walk classrooms every other day for about 45 minutes. This enabled me to talk to students about their learning, talk to staff, champion great practice and give live feedback with no grades. In discussion with other members of SLT I believe we have learnt more about the typicality of teaching then planned learning walks or observations.
3. TeachMeet #NeverStopLearning. In hindsight it was probably a bit ambitious trying to get teachers to attend an evening event the day before term 1 came to end, but that did not deter just over 100 teachers making the effort. The event was a great success with David Didau providing a very thought provoking keynote. There were some excellent workshops from Nina Jackson, Lucy Crehan, Crista Hazell, Zofia Higlet, Amber Bracey, Alex Heath, Chris Baker and Rory Gallagher. The evening was wrapped up in style with a plenary from Mark Anderson. These evenings are always inspirational to the people that attend and give people an opportunity to look outward from their school to seek new ideas.
4. Time. Since starting my new leadership position i have found the most useful resource I can offer colleagues is time. Whether it’s a colleague unloading after a bad day or seeking support in a lesson or just a chat. No matter how busy I am I will always offer time and enthusiasm for my colleagues.
5. Reading. I’ve read a number of teaching and leadership books this year (see my reading list). Continually building my knowledge and exploring new ideas is something I hope to continue to do for the rest of my life. It’s something I genuinely enjoy and thrive on. I want to be continuously challenged – it’s something that help keeps me to keep pushing the limits of my own capability.
6. Colleagues. I am fortunate enough to work with some remarkable colleagues that inspire and challenge me on a daily basis. Seeing colleagues thrive in school and enabling them to pursue ideas and try things out has been one of the most pleasing aspects of my work in 2014. I had the absolute pleasure of working with a fairly large cohort of NQTs these past two terms and it has been one of the highlights of my career so far watching them grow and develop, meeting challenges head on and coming up with creative solutions. A real inspiration.
7. Students. They are truly wonderful (each in their own way). Whenever I am involved in strategic decisions I always try to come back to the students and how it will help improve their outcomes. Keeping the main thing the main thing. Everything thing I do in school is focused around the students. One of my main duties in my leadership role is organising CPD for teachers, a role I don’t take lightly and one that I will work tirelessly to ensure teachers value CPD and feel suitably challenged by it. Great CPD enables teachers to thrive which helps children to succeed.
8. Running. I managed to complete my first 100km race in 2014 in addition to several other ultra marathons and marathons. This is not something that happened over night and is the accumulation of a few years of training, patiently building up the distance. Running is now part of my life. It clears my mind and puts things into perspective.
9. NPQML. I successfully completed the NPQML course in 2014 which opened up a number of doors. My project aimed to raise the profile of effective, challenging CPD across the school to help drive up student outcomes. As a result of my project I was able to work with a team of great teachers to organise to run a number of CPD sessions, INSET workshops and deliver a teachmeet in March (the second quickly followed in October). As a result of my project I was given the opportunity to deliver my first keynote speech at a National Education Trust event at a school in Bracknall sharing a bill with Roy Blatchford and Lucy Crehen. I was able to (briefly) discuss my project with Sir Michael Wilshaw after being observed by him during a visit to my school. I was asked back to speak to a new cohort of teachers starting the NPQML course which i really enjoyed – it’s always inspiring speaking to teachers who have a genuine desire to have a positive influence whole school.
Next steps (in no particular order) – what does 2015 have in store?
1. Increase leadership capacity. The best way to learn is to do. In 2015 I hope to take on further line management responsibilities as this will give me an opportunity to work with more teachers and help them thrive whilst learning from them at the same time. I see accountability as helping colleagues to achieve their goals. This may lead to some difficult conversations but if it’ll help more individuals thrive then its a conversation worth having.
2. Secure an Assistant Principal post. About 18 months ago I decided that I wanted to become a headteacher and my next step is to secure an Assistant Principal post – a challenge I am ready for. I have learnt so much in the last 4 months working alongside a remarkable leadership team. I’ve finally had the opportunity to put into practice a lot of what I have read. I’m learning everyday from every meeting, conversation, call out duty, break/lunch duty, lesson observation, NQT session and I want to pursue leadership to the highest level so that I can help as many students and staff as possible. I feel a real allegiance to public service and I want to dedicate my career to it.
3. Reading. Continue to read as much as possible in order to develop my ideas around effective teaching & learning whilst also developing my ideas around leadership. The more I read the more I question. The more I question the closer I get to understanding. Some books currently in a pile waiting to be read include: ‘Formative assessment’ by Dylan Wiliam, ‘Visible learning for teachers’ by John Hattie, ‘Built to last’ by Jim Collins and ‘Leading change’ by John P Kotter.
4. Keep my moral purpose at the centre of decision making. This is really important to me and something that I try to keep at the forefront of my mind. As I progress in my career I am exposed to more of the day to day activities that make a school run which could start to cloud ones vision. Yes these processes are important but never forget why you do what you do. Schools are a people place that thrive on great relationships – students, staff, parents/carers and the wider community.
5. Make my business getting into classrooms. As part of my leadership role I want to help develop an ‘open door culture’ which doesn’t currently exist in my school. In order to do this I need to re-prioritise my work. It’s far to easy to get sucked into your office and a never-ending flow of emails. As part of a leadership team that is truly seeking to help teachers thrive and students achieve the best thing we can do is be more of a present around the school and get into classrooms, build more trust with teachers so that it’s completely normal for SLT to be in and out of classrooms supporting and learning.
6. Running. With a baby on the way and a demanding job I have to be realistic. I want to keep running on a weekly basis and i’m hoping to compete in a 50km in February, but I expect ultra running will take a back seat in 2015 until iI can afford the time to train properly for it. 2016 will hopefully see a return to the 100km distance and my first attempt at a 100 mile race.
7. Family matters. I look forward to wrestle with the work/life balance monster in 2015 and I hope to tip the balance in my favour by working smarter. I am lucky to have an amazing wife and a remarkable family and I need to ensure I make the most of both. This is a non-negotiable.
8. #NeverStopLearning. This is the phrase I have adopted to promote continual professional development although I apply it to all aspects of my life. I don’t want to ever settle for OK. I am devoted to meaningful work that produces remarkable outcomes. To achieve this I need to continue to listen, learn and grow.
Finally, a big thank you to all the people I have interacted with via Twitter (and in real life!). The discussions that I have been involved in and observed have broadened my thinking and made me question things more. The number of thought provoking blogs currently circulating is phenomenal and I wish I had more time in the day to read them all! It was these posts that initially inspired me to start a blog. 2 years on, 36 blog posts later and over 28,000 views has not only empowered me to reflect to a deeper level but it has also enabled me to encourage more teachers to get involved, get connected and deepen their understanding.
Here’s to a great year in 2015 | Keep making a difference.
Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
Seth Godin – Linchpins.
I recently submitted my evidence for the NPQML qualification and thought it may be useful to share my experience. The qualification is a middle leaders qualification which looks at the challenges of being a middle leader from a variety of perspectives.
The qualification requires participants to undertake a school based project. I was already involved in a number of whole school projects so decided to use something that I was already doing and felt passionately about. My project looked at creating more opportunities for staff to engage with effective, meaningful CPD across the school. For me I don’t see this as work but as something I really enjoy doing – finding innovative and creative ways to engage staff with CPD with intent of improving experiences for students beyond just those that I teach. This is my art.
My project had a clear trajectory.
- Assemble a group of great teachers.
- Plan and deliver a 50 minute CPD marketplace session.
- Plan and deliver a school INSET day (each member of the team would deliver a workshop).
- Plan and deliver a TeachMeet.
I collected evidence as I went along with some of the highlights below:
The one key element that made the project worthwhile were the people. The group of teachers I managed to get together and work with were (and still are) truly remarkable people – doing everything in their power to help young people. It was a real inspiration for me to work with this group and made me want to work even harder and take on more challenges. The people I met at the away days during the course were also a great source of inspiration and challenge. One of the best parts of the course was meeting people outside of my school and talking about teaching, learning and the challenges of middle leadership. Teachers talking about teaching.
My advice to people interested in enrolling on the course – find something you are truly passionate about that will make a positive change and then make it happen. If you can’t get on the course do it anyway. Don’t do the course for the sake of getting a certificate – do it because you want to make a difference. Find you art and make it happen.
About 18 months ago I had a moment of clarity and made a decision that I wanted to become a head teacher. Why wouldn’t I? It makes sense to me. I want to make a positive difference to as many young people that I can and allow as many colleagues to flourish as possible. I thrive on challenge both professionally and as a hobby.
Since making that decision I have been busy learning and taking action. I decided not to wait for permission to lead but to start leading. Leading with a clear moral purpose. Leading by example. Leading with a sense of urgency but also on the side of caution. Leading to improve.
Fully support by the SLT, I decided to set up a group of ‘Pedagogy leaders’ (original idea from Kev Bartle) with the aim of improving awareness of great teaching and learning. This led to delivering a number of CPD sessions, teacher briefings, workshops on INSET days and a teachmeet under the guise of #NeverStopLearning. Inspired by Seth Godin’s idea of the ‘Linchpin’ I sort out other opportunities like coaching and helping to set up a link with a school in China. I joined teams working on whole school initiatives like IT refresh and improving provision of CPD. All whilst teaching a (nearly) full time table and maintaining excellent standards in the classroom. Teaching is the guide rails I will cling to as I move towards headship. As John Tomsett (I think?!) put it, “The headteacher should be the head teacher.”
It has been an extremely busy 18 months but equally rewarding. As a result I will join my schools leadership team in an extended leadership role responsible for teaching and learning CPD from September. I owe a lot to the inspiring colleagues I have the honour of working with but also to the extensive list of leadership books that I have ploughed through. They have given me lots of ideas to think about in terms of leading teams and implementing change. Increasing my knowledge through reading has also allowed me to spot ideas from books in a school context (usually school improvement) and give me a deeper understanding of how ideas from books can be implemented in a school setting.
Following on from my post on Reading for CPD, the following is a list of books to get you started on (or to add to) your leadership journey. The list is by no means comprehensive (and is in no particular order). It is a mixture of my own reading list and contributions from people on Twitter. Please add more titles in the comments section at the end of the post.
More to explore – thank you Twitter!
“We don’t need to spend much time on that, we all know the moral purpose.” The moral purpose of schools is obvious isn’t it?
Last week during an NPQML session we were tasked to articulate our school’s moral purpose and describe the last time we’d heard it. A few heads turned. People began to think. It wasn’t as straightforward as first thought. Something came to light in the discussions that followed. Is the moral purpose of your school to do everything in your power to provide the best possible education and outcomes for the young people in your care? Or is the moral purpose of your school to be an ‘outstanding’ or ‘great’ school? Are these two things one in the same? The latter could end up focusing more heavily on the WHAT and HOW rather than focusing on the WHY.
School’s can be very complex places to manage and lead with so many variables to contend with. The best schools (I think) seek to simplify processes and procedures to ensure time is not needlessly taken away from teaching and learning. But what role does the moral purpose play in making strategic and tactical decisions? It should be part of the DNA of these decisions and well articulated to all staff consistently on a regular basis.
Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden circle’ model sums it up quite nicely for me. The WHY (cause, purpose, belief) should be the driving the force behind WHAT you do as a school and HOW you do it.
What is your school’s purpose, cause or belief? Here’s my attempt at articulating a moral purpose for schools –
We believe that every student has the opportunity to succeed given the right school environment. As a school its our purpose to ensure teachers can teach so that students can learn. We aim to grow amazing young people with great outcomes that unlocking better futures.
How often should we revisit and articulate our moral purpose? The more complex it becomes the less impact it will have, which is why I really like KIPP’s tagline – ‘Work hard. Be nice.’ The moral purpose should be at the heart of everything we do in schools and should not be skipped over because it is ‘obvious.’ Schools are extremely busy places and we need make an effort from time to time to ensure the moral purpose remains at the heart of what we do.
At this extremely busy and intensely pressured time of year for teachers, its worth taking a bit of time out to revisit WHY you do what you do. Every interaction you have with young people in school is an opportunity to positively influence and inspire. That’s why we signed up.
Keep making a difference.
In my short time as a teacher my formal leadership opportunities have been limited but that has not stopped me from leading. Leadership for me is not about a formal title but about building positive habits, inspiring others and leading by example. Leadership is about doing simple things that enrich people and organisations.
I try to make a positive contribution everyday I am in school, but for the purpose of this blog I will look at a recent example – coaching teachers. Working with colleagues and leading them through change to improve their practice can be daunting. Using the Heath brothers ‘Switch’ framework I was able to motivate colleagues by returning to our moral purpose, the students. Remembering that everything we do as teachers should be geared towards improving student outcomes. I was also able to set clear goals ‘not below a 2’ and then support colleagues to achieve that goal. To do this I shrank the change. If a colleague was struggling with several aspects of their lesson, reminding the, of that would not help. So we started by focusing on just the structure of a lesson. Letting the men-tee feel success and mastery of just one aspect before moving onto the next area of improvement. This extends the coaching cycle but makes for a greater chance of success.
I also used Seth Godin’s ‘purple cow’ analogy of trying to do remarkable things. Once a colleague had satisfied the ‘2’ criteria during a lesson observation I would encourage them to to take risks and be remarkable. Safe is risky. ‘Very good’ is bad. We must be remarkable! To help colleagues achieve this I invited them to observe my lessons and we would jointly observe other outstanding teachers in the school To get experience of what outstanding lessons look and feel like. Leading by example is a key element of leadership.
To to summarise I believe leadership is not a title or pay grade but a habit. My most positive contributions have come from influencing others through striving to be remarkable in everything I do.