As we reach the last couple of days of the summer term, my mind is already on the challenges of the role of principal, a role I will take up at a new school during the next academic year.
I have learnt so much over the last fifteen years as a deputy headteacher and vice principal about effective leadership and which strategies are successful (and not successful!) in effecting change and development of a school.
There are certain principles that I have held on to since I started teaching and these have informed not only my classroom practice, but my approach to management:
- an ethos of kindness
- high expectations
- a celebration of learning
- distributed leadership
ETHOS OF KINDNESS
Virtually every assembly I have presented to students has somehow been linked to the same central theme – that we, in the inimitable words of J B Priestley “..don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” It is the reason I first went into the education profession and why I continue to believe in its force for good, no matter what pressures and disruption we face from both within and without. Whether I have spoken about the six degrees of separation, the role of the school in the community, our responsibilities as citizens or the opportunity to volunteer, there is a focus on the individual’s responsibility for others. The pressure of league tables leading to a focus on individual academic outcomes needs to be complemented by this belief, so that education retains its fundamentally social and responsible role, rather than becoming a shopping mall of “performance” outcomes for socially inept individuals.
It is the ethos of kindness that also serves as a driving force for me in combatting under-performance. As teachers we have a duty of care for students and where that has been found wanting, I have found that it is this ethos that drives me in not compromising the expectations of what we provide for students.
I have worked for a number of years now with students where we have had to raise their expectations to meet the challenge of GCSE and A Levels. The excitement of being able to develop a KS3 curriculum which thoroughly prepared students for these rigours has been a project occupying me for the last three years. Now that we have it in place and have seen through a year seven cohort of our own for the first time, it has again reinforced the conviction that low expectations continue to be the scourge of education. We have been able to undertake work with our current year seven that has shown how far we can stretch our students. When I meet year ten students, who have recently joined our school and who struggle with those same ideas, I wonder what has happened in their key stage three experience that has knocked so much of the excitement and enthusiasm from them. The key stage three SATs and the narrow focus on these as an achievement measure is clearly a significant part of the story, but I am relishing the opportunity to develop a curriculum in my new school that allows students to develop, stretch and explore their knowledge and skills in the world around them.
CELEBRATION OF LEARNING
The tipping point for any school into outstanding is where learning is treasured by all involved. It is vital that the whole school sees learning in this way. In my past, the most depressing conversations are with teaching staff who are content to rehash the same ideas year after year, with little recognition that new groups contain combinations of students who might approach learning facts, skills and concepts in new ways. The approaches of flipped learning, curriculum compacting and curriculum co-construction, approaches that we have explored and developed in my current school are evidence of a thirst for continued curriculum and pedagogical development and I have been really delighted with the way that many teachers have developed these approaches. In addition, it is an extremely useful thermometer for departments, to see where approaches are developed, celebrated and shared. Where there is little that can be found to be celebrated, it is time to act.
The new approach to lesson observations, with no individual gradings is a really helpful development, allowing teachers and schools to reflect on what really does demonstrate effective learning. It means that the celebration of learning is based upon evidence that has more depth and coherence.
There are staff who are wonderfully capable and must be given every encouragement possible. These members of staff bring a school alive and it is our role as managers to keep them buoyant. In my current role I have been delighted to discover staff like this, though more often than not, they do not need discovering, but bounce in with enthusiasm. At the other end are leaders who enjoy the trappings of leadership without the energy and drive. From my early career as a drama teacher, the value of distributing the leading of learning to others has been an integral part of my approach to education. It has led to greater student responsibility, opportunities for development for students and staff and ideas which can truly be identified as emerging from within, rather than imposed from above. There are still cases where some teachers believe they must wait to be told, but the freedoms we have enjoyed in planning our own curriculum and of empowering teachers again with the development of learning activities are golden and I can not allow them to be lost.