Category Archives: Senior leadership

The Eagle Has Landed-a shared vision of values

Inset day this September will be an extra special one this year. I began teaching at Meols Cop in September 1980 and have sat through or delivered many inset sessions since then but this will be the first time [and hopefully not the last!] that I will actually stand up and speak as Headteacher of our great little school! How this has happened is a long story and I don’t wish to open up ageist discussions neither but know that there is a fascination with possibly being the oldest new head around. Every time I venture into town, I’m congratulated by either one of many thousands of ex-students or parents who often begin, “I thought you would have retired by now” and then ask “are you looking forward to September”, “are you worried about the challenge ahead”, “you’ve got big boots to fill”, “it’s changed so much since I was there, can you keep it doing so well” and often, “it’s really hard to get our kids in, can you fix it for us!”

The truth, as I will explain to colleagues [and others in our community can read here] is that I’m absolutely looking forward to a new challenge and am determined to enjoy it. I don’t have a young family to consider and am able to immerse myself totally in school life and many years of experience tells me that this is the right time for me to take on a role that I may not have been ready for or suited to in my younger more temperamental days! I’ve hugely enjoyed my learning and teaching roles for many years and, of course, the duller aspects of leadership [for me] which I’ve managed to naughtily avoid, will now take up more of my time. I have gathered a brilliant new team of senior leaders around me to cover my areas of less knowledge [and attend meetings for me!] and have explained now at different forums that the main reason for me staying and agreeing to accept the offer to be Head are the staff and students. Who wouldn’t wish to work with, and lead them? I’m a lucky man and am going to enjoy this once in a lifetime opportunity!

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to be bouncing around with a permanent false grin, shouting “good morning” to all and sundry and, although I do say thank you about a hundred times every day, like Dweck, I do believe that for both students and staff, praise should be given for effective hard work and resilient responses to challenging situations. The need to feel ‘valued’ by school leaders is made easier to respond to when leaders make it clear what they actually value and these are my views shared with colleagues this week. Even though most of the staff who were present probably thought that they knew exactly what my vision and strongly held beliefs are [I do try to always be a living model for my views-but being human I may fail!], I do believe that they are worth sharing at the start of the year and hope that they are already the shared values for many of my colleagues.

The slides are accompanied by the general gist of what I had to say [ish!] The image of me taking a breather after legging up an Austrian mountain was one I was going to put on my twitter account, only be told by my daughter that I looked too miserable. I thought that I looked rather happy!

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More than anything else I value the time and commitment in planning and teaching great lessons, in giving up time for extra-curricular activities and in digging in when the classes or individuals get tough or another government [or SLT!] initiative seems likely to tip colleagues over when they are tired. Teaching, like learning for the students, can be fun and enjoyable but for much of the time, it is hard relentless work and the best teachers, supported by understanding leaders, will take on what is asked with a resilience based on experience and collaborative support and will get there in the end, developing never to be forgotten key skills along the way.

Nothing makes me happier than seeing students or colleagues who have struggled, who have taken risks with their learning/teaching, sought out advice/research and used it or who have worked incredibly hard succeeding. The penny dropping learning moments; perhaps created by great teaching, superb coaching, caring mentoring, individual drive and determination- when what seemed impossible becomes possible, move me immensely. I refuse to give the papers the names of students who have achieved 10 A*’s as though they are more important to our school than students who have worked their best to achieve their own set of grades. Each student works hard to achieve their personal best, with our support and their effort should be celebrated and nobody should be singled out due to raw data. Similarly, I will not single out individual subjects or teachers today for their exam results. This is a staff where everybody tries to achieve the best possible results for their students-nobody deliberately teaches badly and the exam playing field is notoriously uneven. We are professionals capable of evaluating and analysing our own results to the nth degree and I trust your ability to decide whether or not your results were good enough for your professional pride and your students. If you are pleased-ask how can you do better and if you are unhappy-seek help and support and together we can provide a learning plan to move forward. I’ve had years where my results weren’t as good as I wanted and I’ve worked out how to improve my teaching and been delighted to see the smiles on the faces of successful students the year after-there is no better feeling as a teacher!

As soon as a student, or teacher walks into our school their development over 5 years or longer is my [and our] responsibility. For a student, they should be shaped and helped to form great learning habits from year 7 onwards [year 11 intervention as some seem to favour is too late!] The lessons learned from year 11 exams, moderator’s reports and constant intervention and monitoring should be filtered a.s.a.p. through to key stage 3. For staff joining us, we should be immediately seeking to tease out their potential [even if they don’t necessarily see it for themselves] and help them to develop professionally, even if it means losing them! Should any students or colleague struggle or have to leave-I fail! That will make me even more miserable-make me happy by sharing success stories and Magic Moments when your actions have made a vital difference to someone else.

Perhaps it’s tempting sometimes to ignore trouble or struggling students or colleagues. The thought of extra work or mither when we are under our own pressure may elicit negative thoughts but that can’t be our way and it isn’t the right way. I’ve seen recent examples of colleagues who when they have known a teacher is struggling; invite them to their own classes to observe, sit with them, plan with them and most of all find time for them. There will always be times when each and every one of us will find times difficult-even me after all of these years! Don’t walk by-reach out and if you can’t help after listening, tell me-there are few issues in teaching that I haven’t made a mess of myself or worried about and I will listen and help. Please help to ‘Make a Difference’ to the learning and teaching of others.

The development of lesson study, professional portfolios, student learning walks and learning conversations after observations rather than grades over the last couple of years has allowed me to see the most insightful dialogue about teaching than I’ve ever seen before. Keep it up please! It is the way forward and I get very excited after these experiences, which usually ends up with a blog to share the ideas with you all! Do keep constantly thinking about your own practice and what is working well but even better if you think about what isn’t working and use that as an area to work on for your professional development. ‘Make a Difference’ to your own practice!

There was a time when faculties didn’t share ideas with each other, happily gone now and there was also a feeling of ‘us and them’ at times. This was usually aimed at SLT [often seen on twitter!] by teachers who felt that SLT had forgotten what teaching a full day was like etc.! I’ve only heard a couple of comments recently [not by teachers] and have to admit they sounded like a 70’s sitcom in their stereotypical use of old union style language. I would hope that we have moved on now to having a shared purpose and from my many years here, I would hope that nobody would doubt that I always have the best interests of the school at heart in any decision I make, sometimes to the detriment of my own views and interests. If mistakes are made or performances slip, look at ‘the man in the mirror’ and not somebody else. If a decision is made that you don’t agree with, try to see if from the other person’s point of view and think why they have made the decision. One of the best ways to prepare for leadership is to try and ‘see it’ as a middle or senior leader would. Everyone has the potential to be a great leader here and our PD NAML offer to all staff is aimed at developing and sustaining that crucial capacity. This leader doesn’t believe in the gun slinging heroic cult of personality leadership-the space marked head teacher in the car park will be left vacant!

I implicitly trust colleagues to make decisions and will try constantly to give responsibility-take it and the accountability that goes with it. That doesn’t mean that you will be left to flounder; support and advice is available at all times and I will be incredibly happy to see you try new ideas, pluck up courage to offer your lessons for informal observations, admit you are struggling and want to see someone else in action and join in all of the professional development opportunities that are now available. Please look for the Magic Moments in others, be happy for them, tell others about them and let me know-guaranteed to make me smile and make the Bird Woman of Denton proud!

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Many schools seem to be very quick to proclaim that all in their school are learners! I do wonder whether or not the tolerance and mind-set qualities granted to students is always extended to teachers and other staff. Mistakes made and learned from, critical advice sought and used, thoughtful feedback and feedforward given and followed up, and aspirations nurtured and celebrated….mmmm! I’ve written a fair amount on mind-set and professional development and am convinced that staff must be supported in the development of their mind-set, just as the students need to be. Senior leaders and myself, need to be seen to exhibit a positive mind-set ourselves for all to see. I do believe that we should teach or at least be in the classrooms as much as we can be. I will teach because I want to and I want to teach some of our least able students because I feel that my experience can help them with basic learning needs. This isn’t to say that I can then tell colleagues that I’m a head that teaches and understand their teaching needs! The reality is that I haven’t taught a full day of lessons for 15 years-I try my best to recall what that feels like and try not to overload but I’m sure that our staff now want to see me as someone who leads them well, rather than someone who teaches a few classes well. My leadership team may well be teaching their own exam classes, coaching, sitting in lessons to offer BFL support and advice, covering or taking over long term gaps and so on BUT great leaders are like gold-dust and I employ them predominantly for their leadership qualities. [Although everyone knows that I’d be furious if they weren’t great teachers who could control their classes, achieve high exam scores and modelled best practice!]

I probably smile most when I’m still teaching and smile least when I have to attend meetings and leave my class with someone else. Unfortunately that is the biggest issue with having me teach a class and if it becomes too unfair on the students at any point, I need to be told!

The growth of our staff involved in a whole variety of micro to macro research projects does make me smile. The evolving national projects, learning hubs and lesson studies offer the chances to engage with the latest best practice, visit other schools and try out a host of new ideas before evaluating the impact on the learning of our students. We can only grow stronger as individual teachers and as a school by our involvement and this naturally delights me HOWEVER, please don’t just accept the validity of new ideas/research because an ‘expert’ tells you they have worked in schools elsewhere. Question what you have been told, adapt it, try it but then tell me if it actually works for you and your students. Much of what we have been told is good practice over the last 20 years, has now been debunked-if you think growth mind-set or peer critique is a waste of time-have the courage [and evidence] to say so and use what works best for you. [And have the data ready to convince me!] Do please use student and parent surveys and evidence to support any impact or data that you wish to share.

As a teaching staff, you have agreed, without my interference, what you want ‘Great Teaching’ to look like here and have the additional guidance from teacher standards to guide your appraisal and professional portfolios. There are 100 of you and only 1 of me so although I gather and try to assimilate as much of your professional development responses and priorities as I can, you do need to keep helping me. The one financial aspect of school I mentally ring fence is PD cash-it is crucially important that we provide the best possible PD opportunities BUT you need to tell me what you want, based on your self-appraisal and own professional needs. Of course you will spend the rest of the day discussing your priorities and how they can fit in with faculty and school ones and I will read them all and try to respond. Use today’s faculty discussions and your own evaluation of your exam data to firm up what you asked for in your professional portfolios and ensure that what you want is in your appraisal documents and can be reviewed throughout the year. If you feel, at any point, that you aren’t successfully working towards your agreed PD targets-tell your line-manager or come to see me straightaway.

Similarly if for whatever reason things are becoming difficult and work is getting on top of you-please, please, speak out and seek help. It is a sign of strength not weakness to know when to ask for help early enough to prevent you becoming overwhelmed with issues that can often be easily resolved. I have tried to cut out excess work/administration and am forever trying to come up with time-saving and more effective methods but again, I do need your help to share our best practice that might just be the answer to an issue another colleague’s problem.

A happy staff who clearly understand and have ownership of the school’s destination and vision, who want to come into work to make a difference and know that their hard work will be valued and appreciated and who are prepared to offer so much more than their basic role would mean so much to me and will sustain the school’s future for all in the community. Many say that the students are the most important people in a school but without a committed and dedicated staff, who’s needs also need nurturing and supporting, you haven’t got a school that can ever achieve long term success for its students.

I’ll repeat again that I do not teach 20 lessons a week anymore-tell me if what has been asked is unreasonable and provide me with an alternative. I love brilliant ideas I can claim as my own!

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When I spoke to the new year 7 parents and their children and in every assembly I will visit on Thursday, I will mention my simple vision and ask for everyone in the school to think about and act on during the coming school year. How can you, and will you, ‘Make a Difference’ that will improve your learning and how can you support others to do the same? It sums up everything that I have said so far and it reflects what we have worked so hard to achieve in MCHS over the last few years. For students and staff to constantly self-evaluate and take responsibility for their own progress and development within a truly supportive environment matters more than anything else to me. Seeking to create opportunities in every aspect of school life for us all to have the opportunities to achieve excellence should be a right not an aspiration. To borrow Bournemouth FC’s mantra as they tackle the challenge of Premiership soccer, ‘together anything is possible’

Meols Cop High School will be successful regardless of who the head is! You are already working collaboratively with the aim of making MCHS a great school and I know that will continue. Benfica FC, the Eagles of Lisbon are the biggest supporter owned sporting club in the world. They have over a quarter of a million members and many different sports catered for and have the wonderful motto of ‘Out of Many One’ I wish I had thought of that to explain our school’s strength and to share with others how highly I value your many qualities and individual contributions which together make one-Meols Cop High. A bald eagle has landed in Southport and together we can move our school forward again and again and again!

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How do you solve a problem like…..accountability?

I have to admit that in my 35th year of teaching, I actually am becoming far more excited about the discussions and changes constantly occurring in the world of education than in the previous 34. Granted, before my colleagues point it out, that I can’t recall much of what actually use to happen and tend to forget about defining moments in education as easily as I forget the names of colleagues in our morning briefings! I do recall that although I have always read my own subject literature and listened to education programmes on the wireless; I could for many years never find anyone to talk to about them. I foolishly mentioned such a programme that I had listened to on a Sunday evening in a staff briefing some 20 years ago-there was general derision and hooting of abuse! I’m braver now of course but still don’t mention the fact that I enjoy #sltchat on Sunday evenings at 8.00pm-done it!

There is a lot more discussion and interest shown now about pedagogy and leadership and some of the articles, conferences, blogs and tweets attract reasonably sized amounts of followers and participants, heated debates and sadly at times descend into acrimony. Most don’t though and the free flow of shared ideas provides a vibrant community of professionals eager to learn from each other and contribute to the larger debate about the future of teaching. However, the overall numbers of our profession who become involved is small-the overwhelming majority don’t for whatever reason and the different conferences and teachmeets around the country often have the same voices-interesting and insightful as they are-and I guess that it’s human nature to tend to listen to, and follow, those you agree with more than those you don’t. This doesn’t necessarily help us to move on as individual teachers or schools and too often the same scenario of a minority of contributory colleagues is repeated in the school situation.

I really enjoy and approve of the discussions and calls for schools to make all of their staff accountable, to have ‘bottom up’ CPD [or better still lateral CPD-coaching model espoused by Michael Fullan] and to have open collaboration, no graded lesson observations, no NC levels and so on so that teachers can reclaim their profession from Ofsted, the government, SLT and whoever else has claimed it from them! One of the problems is that quite a few of the people who call loudly for these things to happen have never actually made it happen themselves-plenty of advice as to what should happen but not much on the ‘how’ bit or a ‘how’ that will actually work in a real school situation. Some schools do openly share how they are trying to develop this necessary reclamation but often the stumbling block are the teachers themselves who don’t seem to want to be afforded the freedoms of choice that are now on offer.

There are few of us around still teaching who existed quite happily before the straightjacket of the national curriculum, levels, Ofsted and government dictat-my colleagues are so use to following prescribed routes that they sometimes become less confident of themselves and their abilities to think when asked to devise assessment schemes without levels, to observe lessons and comment on them [without referring to grades], to evaluate their own CPD needs, to ask for help and realise that it isn’t a sign of weakness that will be held against them or to air an opinion that is contrary to current school policy. It will take time, patience and supportive, decisive leadership from all levels within our school system to reverse a 20 year trend. I’m convinced the quality is there to make this so; so that teachers aren’t ‘done to’ or ‘at’ but encouraged to be accountable for themselves with a helping hand available at any stage of the transitional road to re-claiming their profession.

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How can leaders use their skills to create an in-school environment where this becomes second nature. One of my favourite ‘leadership’ books is Mike Brearley’s ‘The Art of Captaincy’ [Brearley was a successful captain of England’s cricket team but probably their weakest batsman and selected for his captaincy skills] where he makes the point that “a good leader or manager is interested in what makes people tick, particularly when they seem to be difficult or withdrawn or under-achieving” Trying to draw everybody into the conversations about the quality of their teaching, trying to encourage them to take the responsibility to self-evaluate and plan CPD to support their perceived areas of weakness is difficult and needs grit and determination from the likes of myself. I absolutely believe that we will all become better teachers or leaders if this happens in our school. “It is up to the captain, and coach, to help players with self-defeating attitudes that arise individually or collectively as a result of their anxieties. It is also up to them to create an atmosphere in which players feel safe enough to offer their own diagnosis or point of view” Think teachers and not players and think teaching not cricket.

I hope that colleagues feel that we have tried to create an atmosphere where this can happen-we have tried to share so many ideas and opinions over the last couple of years and change so many established practices-BUT is it enough? For visitors to the blog, my email to all teaching staff from the 21st of October may explain a bit of the ‘how’ The background very simply is that I’m trying to encourage individual teachers and faculties to tell me [not the other way round] what they think great teaching should look like in their subject, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own individual and collective teaching and to tell me what specific CPD they need-all very bottom-up and supported laterally by the advice, modelling and challenge of others. This approach has been explained in lots of other blogs and I obviously want to react pro-actively to their needs and concerns and provide time for them to talk about ‘the main thing’

Apologies for the long message but I need to make a few points so I’m open about what my thinking is!

 The 11th November Tuesday meeting is down as a FOCAL and I was going to have you sharing ideas/thoughts with colleagues from different faculties re the BSG assessment changes/fast feedback kind of stuff BUT we can give this a bit more time and I just wanted to give faculties more time [albeit only an hour] to talk learning and teaching without any interruptions re Open Eve/Reward’s Eve etc.

Without doubt, most schools [and many still] used lesson observation grades to inform their senior leaders about the quality of teaching and where interventions should occur to support any weak areas. Our portfolio and lesson studies etc. have moved a long way from this but we still need to be able to inform ourselves and anyone else about how we evaluate our teaching, how we share strengths and how we collaboratively support any weaknesses. My belief is that you should all be trusted as professionals to be able to self-evaluate you own performance and take responsibility for your own accountability as a teacher or leader here [and to support and provide opportunities for these analytical skills to be developed in others]. Of course that doesn’t mean that all of this will happen without supportive structures and systems in place, should you want advice, coaching, mentoring and so on. Being honest and self-critical isn’t easy and certainly tricky if you are a NQT 6 weeks into a new career!

There might be better ways to develop teaching and leadership-if you think that there are and have examples from books, blogs, research, other schools or your own ideas-don’t sit on them-let me have them!

I’ve got a wealth of information about the current state of play regarding teaching here-your portfolios, lesson studies, observation notes, exam residuals, learning hubs, surveys, your shared blog stuff, book monitoring-data of all sorts spinning round in my head. Your recent appraisals will have helped you to consider your CPD needs based on a couple of targets but there may be more-go back to the first inset day and your faculty discussions-are you, are your faculty, is the school not reacting quickly enough to individual or group needs. Half-term is here already-please talk again!

I will need responses to these questions from each faculty after the meetings so I can gain an overall view. However the main purpose of the questions is to allow each colleague to share their honest self/faculty/school opinions. If you prefer to talk quietly as an individual, have an idea but want to talk about it before-hand etc. please tell me or anyone who you feel listens best.

Refresh your minds re the subject specific knowledge and skills that you agreed last year should be the criteria for great teaching in your faculty-is there anything you need to change before the round of observations begins? Bear in mind any subject specific information coming from exam boards, your own summer exam evaluation, whole school foci, your lesson study foci etc.

What are individuals [and the faculty] really teaching well at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose!  What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.

How have the faculty been working together well over the first half-term? Any great examples of collaboration, support for each other, and barriers to great learning/teaching removed already happened or planned for?

What are individuals [and the faculty] finding a difficult aspect of learning and teaching at the moment? Could be aspects of knowledge, certain skills, different cohorts-you choose!  What is your evidence-impact data is always gratefully received but so are professional judgements and feelings! Asking the kids is always nice too!! Please include marking/feedback.

How can help be best offered and given? Quickly is best-you might consider internal support-lesson study, observing faculty colleague [or other subject], coach/colleague to observe area of concern and support, research, external training/visits.

The hardest bit! Don’t be shy or embarrassed [the faculty leader can fill this in privately if they wish!]-quick summary of where I would look and find great practice to share with other colleagues/visiting schools and teaching concerns/and your suggested solutions so I can be pro-active in suggesting support.

Great teaching practice-general area Just a sentence to justify your choice
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 

Great marking/feedback-type of example What’s effective about it?
   
   
   
   
   

 

Help needed! Specific areas, teachers, cohorts etc. Evidence? Faculty solutions-tell me what I can do NOW!
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

 Thank you

There is a faculty meeting again the week after this one [18th] so the discussion can be continued. We will need to use time to moderate, initially within faculties, your new BSG assessments so that you are in early agreement about the standards. I will direct meeting time after Xmas to do this, although English, maths and science may wish to begin the process at this meeting. Foundation subjects with less lesson time may need to gather more evidence yet. By Easter, I should be able to use FOCALS to cross moderate subjects-and raise key questions-is a Gold for low ability students in year 8 English, similar in challenge to Gold for low ability students in year 8 maths-for example. Get your boxing gloves ready for round 2 of Boxing to Argue folks!

One day I would hope that all of this would just happen without my intervention or direction. Like many leaders I fear that I say too much, that I spoon feed ideas and research, that I guide and coach too specifically and that I mention Ofsted too many times! Every school is in a different approach and sometimes leadership has to intervene and guide far more frequently and forcefully. Our pleasant Ofsted has given us a breathing space, which many schools unfortunately don’t have, to experiment, to trial ideas, to teach without fear and to decide amongst ourselves what is best in learning and teaching for us. However, if all colleagues don’t buy into the responsibilities that such freedom brings and our leaders don’t create the environment where it almost becomes impossible for that not to happen; we will fail to fulfil the promise that we make to students and parents when they choose our school above others. I don’t believe that will happen and trust the professionalism and integrity of my colleagues to ensure it doesn’t.

Andy Buck in ‘What Makes a Great School’ [another book on leadership I heartily recommend-short and sweet-the book not Andy!] shared his findings on the success of London Challenge schools. He writes of a ‘sharing of purpose’ and of the most successful London schools that “these schools had an organic sense of self-improvement fuelled by the genuine and self-motivational desire of all of the individuals to make things better” Whatever grade Ofsted gave us or whatever colours our FFT data shows we are, we have to believe that we can still be better and we have to encourage risk taking, innovation and strong subject knowledge to constantly push our teaching forward. This doesn’t mean that we have to jump on every educational band-wagon going and much of our current sharing of ideas is focused firmly on ‘smarter not harder’ to sustain and improve good teaching.

How do I solve a problem like accountability? I go with Fullan’s notion of creating a school where the staff [teachers, TAs, mentors, support staff-everyone] has a “sense of ownership of learning” Buck found that schools with “self-disciplined staff who want to improve for the sake of learning itself and the institution as a whole; improve faster” Are we such a school and are the right opportunities for this to happen being afforded to you?

What keeps this senior leader awake at night?

When I sent out questions that teachers might ask of the students to provide themselves with important evidence that would help to constantly re-evaluate their own teaching performance, I mentioned on internal emails that I am very self-critical and am always thinking about how I can improve my own performance as a leader. You might have thought that after all of these years I might have cracked what being a great teacher or leader should entail-not so! I still make mistakes, not everything that I do comes up smelling of roses and I’m still a ‘work in progress’, albeit an ageing antiquity!

There are so many words of wisdom and advice written about leadership in books, in blogs and on twitter, in the TES and Guardian and spoken about it every staffroom across the world. It’s a contentious issue, to say the least! What do great leaders look like and behave like? What skills do they possess and require? If teaching takes 10,000 hours to achieve some form of mastery; how long does leadership take to master? Can you ever ‘master’ leadership? Are teachers ready for middle leadership, are middle leaders ready for senior leadership, and are senior leaders ready for headship? Bizarrely, many of the people who add their views to the discussions have never been in the position of school leadership-advice given from the side-lines or behind the trenches may have merit, may be based on very sound research and evidence but being in the position day in and day out does provide a very different perspective. Although we should be open to any ideas, some of the ‘style of leadership’ and ‘Ofsted doesn’t matter’ rhetoric goes out of the window sometimes in the heat of the reality of running a school. We deal with people and situations that are often unpredictable and have to respond as quickly and as appropriately as possible-yes we get paid more and this isn’t a request for sympathy just an honest old pro trying to say it as it is!

I can’t even speak for every leader in our school never mind school leaders in general BUT these are my personal reflections and they represent what I worry about every day. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy my job-I’m still as enthusiastic and messianic as ever-my emails of ideas that excite me never cease and the great teaching and sharing of ideas I constantly see still moves me immensely, especially when I see its impact on our students. However, as I ask my colleagues to never stop being reflective practitioners and to be the best that they can-I should do the same. These are the questions that I ask of ME when I look in the mirror of honest self-appraisal. [no particular order of priority]

Am I asking too much-am I bombarding with too many ideas and initiatives?

Am I overloading with things that don’t matter?

Am I drip-feeding what is needed-it might be unpopular but I know that it needs doing for the benefit of our school and students?

Am I making sure that when I begin something worth doing-I finish it? I might have to chase relentlessly and spend hours on it.

Am I really making a difference to the school community-Is my leadership having a positive impact-can I prove it?

Am I developing others and not forgetting to develop myself? Am I constantly thinking about how I can improve my own practice and creating opportunities for staff and learners to do the same?

Am I ‘making the weather’ as positively as I can do? Am I a ray of permanent sunshine!

Am I always looking for the best in everything-am I looking for success around school [doesn’t mean being blind to or ignoring anything that isn’t good!]

Am I FISHy, working on my own marginal gains and exhibiting a growth mind-set? Do I give specific informative advice when needed [never hide from an awkward truth], do I work on my weaknesses and not avoid them, do I celebrate the success of others, do I accept honest criticism of myself, do I praise effort and encourage risk-taking-I can’t tell the students and colleagues to do this and not do it myself.

Am I always a physical presence around school, am I there to call upon when needed by anybody-when I appear do I keep calm, keep my temper, consider the safety of others before myself [I wouldn’t expect this of colleagues and would try to do what was right]

Am I listening to those who have a different opinion? Am I encouraging discussion even though I may not agree or like what is said!

Am I hearing, listening or both. Am I not being dismissive to ideas I don’t agree with?

Am I only doing some things for Ofsted! Am I using the word Ofsted to get what I want or am I always thinking do what is best for us-I’m not stupid enough to say that Ofsted doesn’t matter, that would be grossly insulting to those who find themselves on the wrong side of an inspection as a whole school or individual-it does matter but our school and the needs of our students matter most.

Am I true to what I believe is best for our school and education in general even though others may not agree-no grade observations, Super Teachers, sharing our ideas openly, welcoming other schools in?

Am I not pushing my own political and personal beliefs-I try very hard and must think what is best for our school-this is very hard for me!

Am I as humble as I can be-I must never use rank or be condescending with colleagues or other schools or anyone! This school and the support from everyone here made me not the other way round

Am I basing much of what I say and do on hard research and evidence? Am I as open to ideas as I ask everyone else to be? Am I not beginning too many sentences with “research shows that…”

Am I using my time to keep up to date with national and international best practice and bringing it to colleagues in digestible forms?

Am I tackling under-performance and providing necessary support-I must never avoid tough decisions-the students deserve the best BUT I must create a developmental not judgemental way of developing colleagues and students here as much as is humanly possible. Relentless rigour with heart!

Am I role model in everything that I do for young teachers, experienced teachers, students, parents, visitors, anyone at all who comes into contact with me in a professional or personal capacity-I represent Meols Cop to anyone who knows that I am a senior leader here!

Am I always able to practise what I preach? Do I take every opportunity in lesson visits/feedback to model and coach-never observing passively-always trying out ideas or demonstrating and sometimes failing in front of colleagues.

Am I preparing colleagues for their future even though I know we might lose a great teacher and potential leader-any CPD benefits our students whilst a teacher/support colleague is here?

Am I always trying to think what it was like when I was a classroom teacher/middle leader with all the pressures they face-have I got it right with the demands I’m making-fine line between what is necessary and pushing someone over an edge-am I aware of colleagues who need extra support or are finding things difficult for some reason-one of the hardest bits of my role is to challenge appropriately for the individual. Differentiation applies to staff as well as the students.

Am I poker faced and tight-lipped when I really am seething and ready to explode with something that has been said or done!

Am I living by our no excuses code-If mistakes are made by teachers, if books aren’t marked, if teaching isn’t good enough, if exam results slip, of anything to do with learning and teaching has slipped-it’s ultimately my fault and my responsibility to have monitored better-when we do well –it is the result of great learning and teaching-the students and teachers should take the credit.

Am I always the adult when dealing with students and am I the leader when dealing with adults!

Am I ever guilty of not promoting equality of opportunities in everything that I ask-no pushing of favourites-do I try to engage those who lack the self-esteem to put themselves forward? It’s easy to use the same people who volunteer and I’m eternally grateful for their support but I must develop everyone even if they resist!

Am I as respectful, nice and polite to everyone as a miserable Manc can be-do I hold the doors open for the students! Manners maketh the man!

Am I measuring the impact of everything that I do-everyone else has to -am I open to the same scrutiny as everyone else?

Am I trying to develop both students and staff as life-long learners? Am I encouraging them all to discover their own meaning of learning and develop their own methods, tactics and style?

Am I always able to see the person behind any data-am I aware of the difficulties and time it takes to gather data about intervention-do I use data well? Am I encouraging others to use the data to serve the students and not the other way round?

Am I able to do the things that I don’t like doing with good grace?

Am I always sure that I haven’t avoided a tough decision-the easy option is NO option.

Am I patient and tolerant enough-I’m passionate, excitable and pushy when I get the bit between my teeth over some initiatives/ideas –am I giving time for thorough reflection, have I forgotten that you have a stack of exams to mark or it’s the end of term and you are knackered!

Am I supportive of all activities not just the ones that interest me-am I there at all events and welcoming to parents even though I’m actually quite shy!

Am I justifying and explaining the reasons behind decisions and selling the vision-colleagues may not agree but they need consulting-have I forgotten that bit in my haste?

Am I using appropriate language with different people so that they can clearly understand and be part of the decisions or discussions-this isn’t being condescending or patronising. All opinions are valued but some of our jargon inhibits. This is true for teachers too-they don’t always have time to read some of the quite wordy tomes which arrives our way-have I told them important ideas in a way they can see to using practically. BUT do I encourage those who want to extend their knowledge outside of their subject teaching-follow blogs, twitter, and check out current practical and theoretical books.

Am I adding value-they pay me handsomely-am I worth it?

Am I using the word ‘outstanding’ as little as possible! Ofsted went well but it is history now and not to be dwelled upon-we have to move forward and look to the future. Be nice to people on the way up-you meet them again on the way down. Be the humble school that we were –we aint achieved nothing yet! We need to change the web-page a.s.a.p.!

Am I modelling respect even when it isn’t always reciprocated?

Am I trying to give the teachers every opportunity to teach-am I supporting them with resources, ideas, time, planning and reflection time, organising collaboration and so on?

Am I remembering never to talk about my own work in terms of time or difficulty-totally irrelevant-no expectation of how others should use their time out of school/should encourage them to have a life out of school

Am I sure that I haven’t missed an opportunity to say thanks or well done?

Am I certain that in my haste I haven’t made any mistakes in messages, any contradictions-sadly some people do look for mistakes and unclear messages-I can’t be open to it [but still make ‘em!]

Am I always aware that whatever I do or say is open to the eyes of the school-I have to uphold policy everywhere-“Mr Jones didn’t tell him to put his blazer on!”

Am I always on time and do I meet deadlines-can’t expect others to do this if I don’t [I try not to be too obsessed with time!]

Am I able to recognise when I am struggling and need help or other opinions? I’m not infallible, I make mistakes.

Am I always aware of the power my position gives and use it responsibly, kindly, supportively, generously and positively? Do I find time for everybody when they are talking to me? My words hopefully mean something-do I always use them wisely?

Am I gracious when praise is given to me?

Am I always giving of my best-is it good enough?

Am I able to apologise of I’m wrong?

Am I not using too many sporting analogies!

Am I coping with change well enough-not just technology and Gove-everything!

Am I able to delegate and develop others even if they might make a mistake and make even more work! Got to trust and develop and usually they do it better than me anyway!

Am I able to achieve anything else-is it time to step aside or move on-is there a time limit for all leaders of how long they need to make a positive impact and how long they can keep having an impact?

Am I still able to get up in the morning and come into school thinking; “I’m the luckiest man on the world to have this job at this school?”

I’ll try to sleep well tonight!

It’s a family affair

I was late reading the TES this week, having decided that it would look a tad SLT geeky to be reading it on the plane to Berlin with our G.C.S.E. historians and waited until I returned to scour for useful articles to provide food for our ‘Learning Thoughts.’ Misty Adonious’s article, “Leaving because they care too much” raised some important issues for senior leaders to consider in her native Australia and in the UK where she reckoned that up to 30% of NQTs may leave our profession in the first 3 years and many more had considered leaving teaching. Some, of course, will leave because they decide that it isn’t for them for whatever reason but her concern was that people who decide on teaching as a career tend to be the high achieving, idealistic young people that we want as teachers-what are we doing to them? One teacher made a plea; “Don’t let me forget the teacher I wanted to be.” Do we ignore their innovations, creativity and stymie their ideas, pushing them into the ready-made slots in our ‘system’?

Our Berlin team was an interesting mix of 2 old ‘pros’ with 65 years teaching experience and 4 younger colleagues and middle leaders with our subject leader for maths [in her 4th year], subject leader for PE [4th year], progress manager [3rd year] and the tour ‘boss’ and history subject leader [4th year]. I did a quick sum and realised that of our 20 ish subject leaders, 2nds in faculty and progress managers only 4 didn’t begin Meols Cop as an NQT. The progress manager who didn’t, did her ITT with us and the new English leader’s [after Easter] mum taught with us! It’ a family affair!

I’m not suggesting that the only way to keep talented NQTs is to promote them and pay them more! BUT seeing their potential straightaway and trusting them, even after a year, to be given leadership responsibilities may tell you something about the personalised CPD and philosophy of a school. Our NQTs will be expected to take their turn in chairing our FOCALS and are asked to lead our hubs if they have an innovation to share. We talk about developing our students from year 7 onwards with year 11 in mind and will no doubt use the demise of NC levels to create a ‘mastery’ approach of skills and knowledge to culminate in exam success-how many schools actually have a similar plan in mind for their teacher development, mapping out a teaching journey with relevant support and signposts of success along the way? If it takes 8 years or 10,000 hours to develop reasonably as a teacher; are we thinking in such long term ways when we appoint teachers and plan their future CPD?

The real change brought about by inspections especially for colleagues in schools in categories almost demands an instant development of a teacher-there is no time to develop skills when HMI visits loom and unannounced graded observations put all staff under intense scrutiny and pressure. NQTs and developing teachers [the most vulnerable perhaps] face an uncertain future and the demand for formulaic un-imaginative teaching to get the school out of trouble. Institutionalised teaching by numbers may bring short term gains, but what does it do to the careers of our creative and visionary youngsters? I know that I open myself up to criticism here-“your school had a nice Ofsted-you would react the same if it had gone badly” The truth is that it isn’t just schools who are under HMI pressure that treat staff development like this [and many with 3s and 4s try alternative routes too and are led by incredible leaders]-it’s just wrong wherever it occurs! Look at last week’s Secret Teacher-going from a 1 to a 4 in six weeks-no wonder newcomers leave if this is the way some of them are treated.

All teachers need to have a vision of their own future, know they are part of future plans, be told that they have a future and role to play and be given the opportunity to develop ‘their way’ as much as is humanly possible. I was talking yesterday to a friend working in a school where their newcomers are under weekly scrutiny and must fear for their jobs-it isn’t easy but she tells them to try to see the situation as an opportunity to use all the advice and support given [far more than usual and perhaps we should all ensure that this kind of support is available regardless of a dodgy Ofsted for our NQTs] in a short period, as a learning experience that will make a real difference to their potential as a new teacher. With good leadership and a shared vision for the future, the darkest times can turn into something inherently positive and better.

We would always hope that for any externally advertised post, one of our teachers [or support staff] would be able to compete for it-anyone coming for interview from outside would have to be pretty damn good to beat our staff-but if they are-we want them! It isn’t easy with financial constraints to always provide the CPD that all need albeit within the collaborative internal developmental approach that we have tried to create. Colleagues have to be ‘up for CPD’ and drive their own development-there is no need or room for ruthless fast-tracked ambition but the personal goal must always be to be the best teacher that we can-how you get there and what skills you need to develop are for you to choose with consultation and support from line managers and SLT. Senior leaders MUST create the time and space for this reflective practice-is there anything more important?

I have usually found that CPD is sometimes similar to the attainment/attitude dip that researchers use to find between students in year 6 and 7 [didn’t it then jump to a drop between year 7 and 8?] in that NQTs have a host of induction activities then not much in terms of distinctive ‘developing’ teacher CPD in their 2nd year and beyond. We have tried different activities for 2nd year teachers [some have been promoted go leadership by then!] and you can see in our proposed CPD evaluative structure that we have tried to add a distinctive approach that may be more relevant to different lengths of experience and post. This is explained briefly in a previous blog [middle section]

http://blog.meolscophighschool.co.uk/?p=269

We do want creative and intelligent teachers; we do want to give them opportunities to lead learning and teaching, to use theory and research appropriately to develop their own teaching to support the ‘kind of teaching that they want to do’, to lead school trips and develop areas of teaching that best fits their personal skills and interests and to lead our schools in the future. I have to admit that on a couple of occasions, older colleagues have approached me to politely remind me that whilst they appreciate the need to praise and encourage young staff; don’t forget our older staff needs, expertise and contribution too! How right they are! It would be pointless having two disparate groups of young and experienced teachers who didn’t mix or support each other. My young Berlin colleagues welcomed both Anne and myself on the trip that they had planned and organised-we felt loved!!

Hargreaves and Fullan talked about the different stages of teaching and in an earlier piece, Hargreaves resonated with my view that as leaders we should, “bring together the culture of youth and experience harnessing the energy new teachers bring without marginalising the perspectives and wisdom of teachers whose knowledge and experiences have developed roots in the past” I tell our NQTs that the more experienced staff will want to suck the ideas out of their brains-they want to know what is current and value youthful energy and passion [they wish they still had some!] but in turn, NQTs need to feel that they can turn to, and should value the experience and teaching wisdom others may have. We are a team, we are Meols Cop United in our desire to provide the very best learning for our students and for each other. Professional Practice in action is for all staff and relies on all to buy into the ethos and surely if schools can achieve this, the drain for potentially great teachers to leave our profession will be blocked for good.

The Long Walk

The Long Walk

I’ve been at the SSAT conference in Manchester for the last two days and it provides an opportunity to listen to a variety of speakers from other schools and some well established academics from universities. The conference attracts hundreds of schools from the UK and from other countries and it enables us to bring back to Meols Cop some of the current best practice and research ideas. This is absolutely vital in helping us to provide the best learning and teaching for our students and the blog today would normally just go to colleagues at school to tell them about some of the ideas I think either we could use for the first time or that we are already using and could be enhanced. I thought that some of our parents/carers who follow the blog may also be interested to hear what ‘The New Professionalism’, as the conference was called, may look like in action for your sons and daughters. Some of the themes will be well known to regular blog readers [I hope] and that in its self should show that we have been selective in our choice of innovation and CPD discussions-please judge for yourselves!

The sad passing of Nelson Mandela last night was naturally and rightly the headlines news on the Metro I was reading on the train this morning. An extract from Mandela’s ‘Long Walk’ speech caught my attention. He was talking about his walk along the long road to freedom but there was a parallel, I felt, to be drawn with our school situation [and life in general] when he said, ‘I have discovered the secret that, after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment….’ So it is with Meols Cop….we are in quite a nice place at the moment but we must keep walking, seeking greater hills of learning to climb to provide exceptional learning for our students and exceptional CPD for our staff. Mandela went on to say that ‘for with freedom [for us education of your children] comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended’ …neither must ours.

The conference began by trying to define the new professionalism and Michael Fullan and Andy
Hargreaves, the authors of ‘Professional Capital’ explained some of their views. Teaching staff may know the key parts of their argument as I circulated extracts when the book was first published and I’ll be honest and tell you that I did find the arguments and evidence in the book compelling and since reading it have tried to model the staff developmental theme with both teachers and support staff. Both authors are not high school teachers and are well known professors working mainly in the USA, Canada and here. They try to use the good practice they see to turn into theory, rather than the other way round-a methodology which is more likely to engage with teachers. Hargreaves described how he was concerned that excessive accountability often forced teachers to ‘squirrel their talents’ and hide away, rather than sharing, their best practice. School should push their teachers to be successful but in a supportive developmental way and hopefully this will resonate with colleagues and blog readers who will know how we collaborate and share. Why do this, because the social capital of collaboration will raise the human capital [individual teachers] to higher performance. Data is important in helping us to measure progress and learning and teaching quality but there are many other elements to cover and we should value aspects that can’t always be measured [our Super Teacher idea perhaps] Interestingly he talked about ‘systemness’ and the need to consider contributions greater than individual ones and the notion of ‘our students’ rather than my students.

Bay House school very kindly provided some handouts that summarised the ‘Professional Capital’ book and I’ll give the full versions out at school to remind colleagues but just a brief summary of some of the salient points.
Teaching like a pro-It takes a good 10,000 hours [8 years] to learn teaching skills and become a pro BUT it isn’t just about the hours but more about what you do with those hours e.g. teaching like a pro means connecting with the latest research, inquiring into your own practice, with other colleagues in Meols Cop, other schools and across the world [To me..to you…, hubs etc.]
Start with yourself-Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” You must start with yourself and examine your own experience-are you teaching like a pro?
Be a mindful teacher-We can become very rushed; deadlines, emails, instant results-immediacy! Consider your own and other colleagues development so that the students benefit.
Build your human capital through social capital-Do you appraise yourself frequently analysing your strengths and areas for development-do you work with colleagues to achieve this-co-planning, peer observations, coaching, mentoring?
Push and pull your peers-Are you brave in initiating a conversation about teaching like a pro? Do you draw people in and nudge them along with your relentless commitment to being better and doing better for your students?
Connect everything back to your students-Do you relate all your professional learning to the impact on your students? The purpose of teaching like a pro is to improve what you can do for your students. This needs to be kept at front and centre all of the time.

What do parents and carers think? Is this a model of teacher development that you would value and want for teachers of your children? I hope so and I hope that you can begin to see something of the Meols Cop philosophy here.

Cramlington school have received 4 Ofsted outstanding inspections and they are a school who we must look to for inspiration-we want to be the best and we have to find out what the very best are doing that makes them such wonderful places for both staff and students. They are also part of the NTEN group, I explained about in a previous blog, and they are the only secondary school to receive gold for their CPD inspection. What are they doing that is so special and how can we learn from them? They began with a quote, “Imagine a school in which you taught better simply by being virtue of being in that school. What would such a school be like” [Judith Warren Little] Cramlington, I guess! But wouldn’t it be an achievement for our learning community if that was Meols Cop-why shouldn’t it be!

Their deputy explained that their NQTs did come to them for the reasons mentioned in the quote and mentioned that an NQT had said of their NQT experience that they had been “CPD’d to within an inch of their life!” Training and developing so effectively that it leads to consistently great pedagogy is an ideal for us too. Interestingly, he made a great deal of their use of videoing lessons to enable deep discussions on learning [expensive but we are seeking a deal!] and asked the question, “Is CPD done with staff or to the staff?” I’ll explain our bottom up approach with learning hubs next week. Of equal interest, considering our moves into the NTEN and other research led teaching, he said that the staff was expected to measure the effect size of any of their enquiries [what impact trialled ideas have] and this was the hardest part for them. This is the same for us and an area where Edge Hill may be able to help.

Before CPD begins they expect the teachers to ask, “What will be the effect on the learning outcomes for the students?” and, “what behaviours [learning skills] do teachers need to have?” These are similar to what we have been asking in our autumn research discussions and our NTEN lessons and they wanted to develop an evidence based profession that critically questions the research behind theories which prompt changes we are expected to do. Lesson planning asks from day 1-“how will you evaluate the impact of your planning and teaching on student learning?” Great, to hear all of this from this top school – am I right to think that we are well on our way and committed to considering our learning and teaching in a similar way?

The national curriculum is changing, levels are going and a conversation has begun in every school to consider what next and what is important for our students to study. Different opinions were given and we will begin to design our response when we have sufficient evidence. Mixtures of content and skills and at some point a more detailed discussion with parents? Guy Claxton asked, “What do we want an educated 16 year old to be like?” What do you think? Bits of knowledge, skills, attitudes, values-not just grades but valuable life skills or is resilience the key? Dealing with the pressures of modern life and being kind, honest and possessing the qualities of humility and moral courage-should this be part of our curriculum? Is how we teach more important than what we teach? I did enjoy Landau Forte College’s session on their ‘turbo’ charged curriculum which was based around developing flexible growth mind-sets and beginning learning blocks with enquiry questions to get the students thinking and collaborating. They wanted their students in lessons to ask questions, notice details, listen actively, image possibilities in their heads and to plan their ideas first and I liked their mention of a common language for their students to use when talking about their learning and their lesson dual objectives of, “what are we going to learn?” and “how are you going to learn?” Not dissimilar to our way but well worth finding out more from the Derby school.

Finally, I really enjoyed the guests from Vancouver who shared their 7 Gs vision that many of the schools in British Columbia follow. Many are familiar to our staff and blog readers-but perhaps with slightly Canadianised names!
1] Growth mind-set-there again!
2] Goals for students, teachers and schools
H Heartfelt>
A Animated [real life]
R Required
D Difficult [challenging]
3] Grit-resilience, effort and perseverance
4] Grounded-evidence informed and not data driven-learning at the centre of everything
5] Grind and group-a grinder is the mad person in ice hockey who puts their body on the line diving into the rink corners to get the puck out! Total commitment.
6] Generating inquiry frameworks-what’s going on for our learners, how do we know, why does this matter?
7] Generosity-“you increase your influence by what you give away” We have helped over 40 other schools since our Ofsted and within school all colleagues have been generous with their ideas and resources-thank you to them all.

Nelson Mandela’s long walk finally reached its end, ours goes on. His walk followed the road for freedom for his people, ours is to continually ensure that our students always come first in everything that we do, to provide equitable opportunities for all and to never forget our moral purpose.

Same price-different values

Before I write the blog I cycle around the prom and sea-front, thinking and linking ideas, jot notes down when I get back, sleep on it, wake up and get writing. The thinking and linking bit seems to get harder with age so I hope the blogs are making sense and achieving an extra form of communication with parents and carers and helping you to make more sense of our learning, teaching and professional development. Data shows a pleasing number of readers-please do raise questions in the comments section if you wish to and if you want me to explain or share ideas on anything in particular to do with school-add a comment or email me at school [jones-da@meolscophighschool.co.uk]

I’ve got 3 very different articles on my mind this week. The first article to share news of with you, is that over half-term our article on ‘Making the most of our TAs’ appeared in a national teacher’s magazine and we have shared the ideas with schools nationally via the NTEN organisation of schools I mentioned last week and with other people we work with. If mums, dads or carers would like to read the article, especially if your child is supported by one of our marvellous TAs; get in touch with me. Sadly the article didn’t include one of our photos and had the usual model reading to a child on her knee! I had sent different pictures of TAs [far more glamorous than their model!!] face painting and charity raising deliberately to show that TAs and support staff play a far wider social and emotional role and develop a far deeper professional relationship with the students than listening to them read.

I read the TES every week to look for research and resources that may benefit our school-it isn’t always the most thrilling read for a Friday night but a couple of articles interested me this week. A teacher from a grammar school wrote “competition is good, but free market thinking damages schools’ ability to cooperate.” He used a lovely quote from a Russian anarchist Kropotkin who on observing different species on earth considered; “Who are the fittest? Those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another? We at once see that the animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest” I’m not sure on the science here [I thought adaptability was crucial] but I can see the parallels with schools. Working within our own school, collaboration and sharing of ideas and the inclusion of all staff, not just teachers, does begin to have an impact on student learning [especially if the students and their parents are included in the collaboration and vision] but some of the blogs have explained that we feel that we should look beyond our own gates-as teachers should our responsibility be to the education of our own students or should we altruistically consider our role as educators to all children [in every nation] and be prepared to support all schools?

The pressure of league tables and continual articles in papers and on television naming top achieving schools or naming and shaming others does make local cooperation very difficult, although Mr Gove expects it. Can you really keep using the words competition and cooperation in the same breath-I am waiting for the day when a politician currently sitting in a safe seat, goes to their opposition party HQ and shares all of their wonderful ideas with their opponents-so much so that they take all of his ideas, win the next election and they and their own part workers are out of a job! It won’t happen but it is expected of schools and guess what; some schools do rise above the notion of competition and you can fully understand why others are reluctant to work with the school next door who they ‘compete’ with for children and ultimately local recognition as the school to send your children to [jobs depend on this] How many people do you know who when buying a house consider the school catchment area the house is in-lots! If schools are encouraged to become part of ‘free market thinking’ can you imagine them employing agencies to plan advertising campaigns for them to woo potential students and their parents [thus leaving some schools without students], could you see schools being prepared to ruthlessly select only students who would bring them examination success in the league tables and avoid taking others on roll [perhaps special needs students or EAL students who may find examinations difficult], do you wonder if schools will adapt industry tactics of headhunting another school’s teachers and seducing them with offers of more money-thus leaving the other school’s students without a teacher, is it possible in the free market that the government will give huge grants to its favoured schools whilst ignoring the needs of others? Rhetorical questions all! All of these things are happening now and whilst nobody could deny that schools should all aim for the best quality possible teaching and support for their students, should education follow ‘free market thinking’ and its competition-will this produce the best educational system for our future generations? Let me know what you think-how should Meols Cop respond to the changing aggressive tactics employed and encouraged by league tables, inspection pressure, government diktat and competition for students? Do great and outstanding schools behave in a different way to others-what is it that sets them apart? Do they and should they show a higher moral purpose? Where do the needs of the most vulnerable children with parents who care little about schooling come in ‘free market thinking’? What actually is the purpose of education?

As we have been developing as a school over the last few years, it would be lovely to think that we have been appreciative of the support we have received and that we have been equally supportive of others. The old saying of ‘be nice to people on the way up, because you meet the same people on the way down’ rings true for me-have we been nice enough as adults, students, governors and parents-do we all represent our school in the true spirit of [‘doing to others as you would like to be done to’-my Water Babies memory might have slightly misquoted!] Before I took my Dad to watch the football yesterday, I was reading his paper and saw a Sainsbury’s advert-‘Same price-different values’-where they were comparing the same product with the Tesco equivalent e.g. tea and pointing out that although the price was the same the free-trade nature of their tea gave it different values and left a very different taste in the mouth. Perhaps schools are becoming the same-should we begin to think ‘Same type of school-different values’? What do our parents and carers think? What taste should we leave friends of our community, other schools and all in the world of education with?

The second article which I felt would interest readers of the blog, ‘Teaching Kids to be Kind’, was explaining how many schools feel that it is their duty to teach children how to be kind to each other. Although kindness may be innate to all children some children find it difficult to empathise with others if they lack the skills because their parents themselves lack them. Children who are abusive, may have been abused themselves and then grow to become possibly abusive adults. If at home children are use to anti-social behaviour and aggression, they will react aggressively to others-nothing new in these ideas but it leads to an interesting discussion for schools to consider their responsibility in this key life-skill. If you read the school bulletin this week, you will see a whole host of nominations for student and adult heroes and the display of names on our corridors and lunch-time singing, dancing and performing of student heroes has caught the imagination of many of our community. I’m not going to choose my favourite ones-they are all equally meritorious and moving but many choices are based on acts of kindness and the random acts of kindness that the staff have been sharing with each other [notes and chocolates saying thank you to adult individuals] this week show the power of being kind, empathising with others and displaying altruism. Values, as I mentioned above, do and should matter. ‘Can you teach kids to be kind’, the TES asked. Where do poor parenting skills and the need for school intervention begin and end? What is the moral purpose of Meols Cop? You know what I think-what do others think?

We hosted a school leadership training event this week and welcomed teaching colleagues from the Wirral to West Lancashire. They were all middle leaders in their own schools and interested in becoming senior leaders. There is a shortage of teachers wishing to make the move to headship [I wonder why!] and the move into senior leadership is a route that some, but not all want to consider. It wasn’t a move that I made [for personal reasons] until after 20 years of classroom teaching and I will admit that until recently I made a clear distinction in my head of my wonderful vocational time as a ‘teacher’ and regarded my leadership days as a job, that I certainly didn’t always enjoy and don’t consider myself much good at-I think I was an alright teacher!. It’s a very necessary job but vocational; and enjoyable-mmm! I always try to be truthful when I’m asked about leadership and you can discuss as many of the skills needed and the inspirational leaders you have met, but the reality is that it can be a lonely and trying place to be. You are under intense pressure from external agencies and every action and word you say, is scrutinised and dissected by colleagues at school. Conversations can stop when you enter the staff-room and it is difficult to be socially interactive with colleagues [you can’t afford to ever be seen to have favourites] and you have to develop a very thick skin whilst at the same time supposedly being sensitive and approachable-a friendly alligator! It must be the same for anyone in a leadership/management role. Does the extra money make it worthwhile!

Interesting questions were raised-‘is it harder work being a senior leader than a middle leader [or teacher]?’ Physically not always; I don’t have the stack of marking and lesson planning that I use to take home every weekend and holiday but I have to think much more and about bigger issues. Is thinking hard work? It is when the answer and decision made will affect 100 staff and 720 students. We agonise as a senior team over crucial decisions and as a subject leader for humanities the decisions I had to make didn’t cause sleepless nights. Sometimes the paper work is heavy and demanding-bids etc but the growing demands on teachers re better marking, use of data, reflecting and reviewing asks for a far more intellectual approach than when I began teaching.

‘Should leaders be outstanding teachers?’ Senior leaders constantly get a bad press in national blogs and comments-I’ve given up trying to defend them and saying that school leaders can be good. The usual complaint is based around they don’t teach, they have forgotten the pressures of teaching etc I know them all because I used to say them when I pontificated in the staff-room to whoever would listen. I’ve come to realise a few different points though;
1] Good leaders are like gold dust-without them schools can fail [or businesses/NHS, banks etc.], fall into special measures, lose children, lose jobs, and lose the trust of their local community. Leaders are paid to lead and not to teach!
2] Not all great teachers make great leaders [or footballers, managers etc.] The skills and demands expected of middle leaders and senior leaders isn’t always an easy transition for everyone. It would be great to reward and develop each teacher in a way that made the most of their skills-e.g. keep outstanding teachers in the classroom and pay them well for their skills and develop those with leadership skills and aptitudes [I’m not convinced the skills difference between teaching and leaders is a difference!] Schools need both but the often imposed pay structure makes it difficult at times to not see leaders [financial reward] move away from classroom teaching. ASTs, lead practitioners, coaches, lead learners etc. are all attempts to bridge the financial gap and say that teaching well should be rewarded-have we gone as far as we should and do teachers themselves recognise the different skills that their colleagues may have [not necessarily being the best teacher or best disciplinarian]

The participants worried that they would meet opposition or awkward colleagues far more when dealing with the whole staff than with a small number of department or year colleagues. Every job must have the characters who sit at the back moaning and remembering back to the halcyon days [which probably exist only in their own minds] and refusing to change-‘it’s working ok for me’ It is difficult when you know that you have to persuade the staff to change things, often driven by external requirements e.g. Ofsted, when you personally don’t agree. It is equally difficult to see colleagues whom your school has developed, leaving to join another school and leaving us with a huge gap to fill. Professionally we should develop all of our staff to be ready to make the next step in their career [hopefully with us] and we do have to think of the values and needs of education as a whole. We are a small school and a selling one-we are proud to have developed teachers that have gone on to be senior leaders at other schools and we will continue to develop our staff to be ready for the challenge of leadership.

Leadership does bring its rewards on a personal and school level. I have begun to think that like teaching perhaps leadership is a vocation too. I can think of so many times when I have felt so proud to be associated with Meols Cop and hope that during both my teaching days and leadership time I have been able to contribute just a little bit of learning magic to the lives of staff and students. The participants asked if they could be taken on a tour of the school and when I was explaining that we have lots of requests as we toured around, one colleague asked if the students and teachers didn’t get fed up with the intrusion. Why would they? They are proud of our openness and sharing-the notion of ‘same school-different values’ permeates everything that we do and everything that I hope and believe that our teachers, support staff, students, governors and parents want us to proudly announce to the world-this is a school with a moral purpose, we might not get it right every time, none of us are saints but we must always strive to ‘do the right thing.’ It matters.