Starting something special in Suffolk

A Big Team Adventure!

Executive Leadership Coach

Yesterday marked the start of something special. I shadowed and supported Peter Hyman, Co-Director of Big Education delivering the first session of The Big Team Adventure with two Suffolk schools. Below are my reflections.

Who are you?

Session one of this programme began by asking all the senior leaders of a school to go deep and answer the question ‘Who am I?’ – this is both simple and challenging. I found it intriguing to consider why it was powerful and landed on four key points:

  1. Meaningful work of any kind cannot be carried out in isolation – it needs collaboration and for that effective teams which must be built on trust. Trust includes making ourselves vulnerable with our colleagues
  2. Deepening connections  between individuals leads to compassion and away from comparison and competition
  3. Sharing who we are and being accepted for who we are gives us strength and a profound sense of common purpose.
  4. This gets people talking and listening in ways they don’t usually.

There were tears, laughs and mind-blowing reflections – Peter and I also shared our stories with the teams. This is group coaching at its best. It struck me that we achieve this in other contexts, but not often enough (a great book group or sports team for example) and made me wonder how we could bring this to developing collaborative teams more in schools.

We reflected on the Barret Leadership model, which outlines the seven areas of human motivation – starting with ‘surviving’ right through to having a ‘living purpose’ (and everything in between). We dared to explore the hero and martyr culture in schools. This led to an understanding that maybe leaders need to think more and ‘do’ less. It challenged the status quo, transforming teams before my eyes.

Suffolk meets Big Education

I moved to Suffolk 8 years ago to lead a school which was having a tough time. Through that I’ve learnt so much about rural and coastal challenges versus London privilege. While I had some success, I am now convinced sending individual heroes to the coast from London is not the answer, exhausting the  individuals whilst the  changes  they make to schools last only  as long as they do. What Big Education offer is  an understanding about the limits of what we can achieve as individuals and belief and an insight into collaborative alternatives. Suffolk schools suffer from being constantly judged, from trying to explain the issues which make Suffolk unique and waiting  hopelessly for policy makers  to understand that it’s hugely complex and needs new and different approaches. 

While I feel overwhelmed at what Big Education schools have achieved compared to many of my colleagues in Suffolk and Norfolk, Peter and Liz also make me feel their special glitter might have a chance of helping schools to break through the current cycles of failure and disappointment. Their hearts speak to me about  how they want the best for ALL schools. Three things that have me hooked:

  1. The Big Education believe in people (with all their limitations as well as their capabilities) rather than formulaic approaches
  2. Peter and Liz believe and understand our challenges in the East of England
  3. Peter and Liz want to dig below the surface and really understand the context, it’s specific challenges and think bigger and more widely about  developing solutions and alternative approaches (collective approaches rather than isolated single school efforts ) along with us

I am struck again and again about the extent of the still present trauma of the schools in Suffolk. This meeting was the first time I experienced leaders being honest about what the brutal and sudden upheaval from middle schools to the current system did to them as a community. I have no doubt this programme will create space for closure about some of Suffolk’s recent education history whilst at the same time learning from what happened. Peter showed compassion and curiosity and I felt safe to let him in to exchange opinions and feelings with my fellow Suffolk leaders.

The Big Team Adventure is designed to support senior teams to take stock of where they are in relation to creating a ‘big’ education and to build their capabilities and vision. I believe them and am ignited with hope and energy to be part of this programme.

I am currently recruiting the next cohort of Suffolk Norfolk schools.

“It is an absolute privilege to be invited to work with a school on the Big Team Adventure. Through building trusting relationships, the adventure gives a unique way into working holistically with the senior team and creating a space for exploring deeply where the school is at and what might come next.”

Liz Robinson

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