Introductions at the first session of the Big Leadership Adventure over, a little time to relax and absorb, I naively thought. I’ve been to leadership training workshops before, so I was expecting to sit through a variety of presentations and personal reflections on what great leadership is, and the steps you take to make it happen. I had my best note-taking pen at the ready. How wrong I was.
‘Who are you?’ was the question we were asked at various points of the day during ‘entry circles’ with other participants. We had three and a half uninterrupted minutes to answer it. Different but do-able I thought. I routinely lead assemblies where I’m speaking for upwards of 20 minutes, this should be fine. It was actually an incredibly challenging task. For many of us, it was a real combination of professional and personal journeys, with a lot of passion thrown in.
“I’m Kiran and I am, and probably have always been, a very angry woman” was my opening line.
On reflection, perhaps not the best way to make entry to a room full of people you have never met before. But it is absolutely true. I’ve spent large parts of my life angry at the status quo. Frustrated that fairness is a concept overused but under-actioned. Maddened that our public services, education in particular, seem not to serve people as well as they should. Fortunately for me, and others around me, I have learnt how to deal with that anger and channel it into something more positive and practical. I’ve found ways to turn that rage into bringing about change.
That’s why the Big Leadership Adventure feels the perfect fit as I navigate my way through the profession. For many teachers and school leaders who work in the current system, it can feel flawed. The day-to-day actions we take, at times, compromise the purpose of education. At system wide level, schools seem slow to develop learners who can think critically and creatively and grow into a workforce capable of tackling the problems our future is sure to present. If leadership behaviours within the sector don’t start to shift, I fear we’ll be preparing students for a society that no longer exists. I am delighted to be part of a movement that seeks to change the narrative and deliver a bigger and bolder vision of what education can be about.
The ‘making entry’ activity described earlier tells me a lot about the adventure ahead. It had been deliberately designed to help us connect with leaders and leadership styles rather than to direct what school leadership ought to be. Connecting helps share experiences and expertise, of course, which in turn will help move schools on. There are plenty of peer review or school-led improvement models already forging these connections. For me, the Big Leadership Adventure does mark something new because participants are not interested in superficial connections. Already, we are being encouraged to think deep – to reconnect with the first principles of education and significantly, re-connect with the communities our schools are a part of. That’s why my gut feeling is this is like no other leadership development out there. And it won’t be for everybody. It is not going to provide the answers in a simple ‘7 steps to headship’ or a ‘checklist of skills needed to be an excellent leader’. Instead, it is filling a space in the current landscape by coaching leaders to ask bigger questions, build heroic teams and to do real work now rather than just training for the future.
The Big Leadership Adventure has already been valuable to me. The nerves and awkwardness were quickly blown away by the talent and hope in the room. Most importantly, it was the first time I’ve ever felt truly at ease to be myself because I was surrounded by people who feel the same way I do – that our young people deserve better than this and we have a duty to make a difference.
There is a growing movement of people in schools up and down the country who are being brave and bold in trying to change the story. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely much needed.
Kiran Mahil, Oaklands School
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