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Since I stepped down from headship in 2010 I have done quite a bit of work with serving and aspiring educational leaders at all levels. It has been a privilege to support them, and to help them to prepare for the next level of responsibility, if that is what they choose. And it’s been especially fascinating, over the past twelve months, to see how leaders of all kinds have stepped up to the challenge of navigating the pandemic.

Some of the things we discussed:

Leadership is about building the capacity and confidence of others through a judicious balance of support and constructive challenge, in order to enable them to be their professional best.

Leaders do this through building positive, mutually respectful relationships; committing to the most effective communication; and taking appropriate action, which is based on sound judgement, grounded in our knowledge of people and our understanding of context.  Leaders need to lift us up, not to grind us down, especially in the toughest times.  We do this through preparing them to step up, not just by protecting them.

Leadership isn’t about a badge or a title; it’s about positive influence, seeing the best in others, whether colleagues or pupils, and ensuring they see you see it, and value it, and use it for the good of the team as a whole.  Leaders can come from anywhere in an organisation.  All teachers lead learning in their classrooms.  Support staff use leadership strategies in the fulfilment of their different responsibilities.  Some of those we work with then also choose to take on specific responsibility for leading other staff.  Building the leadership capacity of everyone across the organisation is therefore always going to be a good investment.

So in the light of all this, I ask people to consider:

  1. What have we learnt since March 2020 about interacting remotely, and online Teaching and Learning? Remote pastoral care and support? Leadership at all levels? Collaboration and community, including building relationships with families? Keeping schools safe?
  2. In your opinion and experience, what has the best leadership looked like over the past year? Can you choose one leadership behaviour which has particularly impressed you? Why was it significant, and what can we learn from it?
  3. And what have you learnt about your own professional practice over the last twelve months, and how will that make a difference in the year ahead? Think ‘KISS’. What will you Keep, Improve, Start and Stop, in the light of this learning? (This could be as an individual, as an organisation, or as a group.)
  4. Consider this question – as an individual, and within your team/school: What matters most? And how can your response to that inform your actions in the future?

‘The Human Stuff’

Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of ASCL, in an article in the Guardian in May 2020, said this:

‘My hope is that we will come out of this more strongly demonstrating that it’s the human stuff that matters in education – the relationships, the socialisation of young people, the sense of an older generation preparing the next generation to take their place.’

So think about ‘the human stuff’ – in your relationships with colleagues and learners, and in the contribution your school makes within its community.  How can a commitment to ‘the human stuff’ help you to ensure that your leadership continues to be strong and principled? 

This year, the best leaders I have seen – leading learning and pupil support; leading academic and pastoral teams; senior leaders with whole-school responsibility; heads and principals; those leading groups of schools; and governors – have exhibited some of the following leadership behaviours:

  • The capacity to move quickly and make judgements based on the instinct honed over their time in the profession/working with schools, and taking into account the views of those they trust and respect
  • A willingness to keep asking, listening and responding to what they hear, adjusting and adapting as required.  Making a change in the light of the new information is a strength, not a weakness
  • Empathy and awareness of how those around them are feeling and coping, showing concern and offering support as a priority 
  • The recognition that they need support, too, and an understanding that being prepared to show vulnerability, admit to feelings of self-doubt and ask for help shows courage and, in fact, confidence
  • The ability to keep a sense of perspective, and even a sense of humour, especially in the toughest times  
  • An appreciation of schools’ role within the local and wider community, rather than a tendency only to look inwards
  • A commitment to the importance of ‘the human stuff’, and a strong set of values which ensures they never forget ‘what matters most’. 

Very best wishes as you face your ongoing professional challenges, and take full advantage of the opportunities these challenges present.

Big Leadership Adventure

If you’re interested in developing you and your teams in the ‘human’ side of leadership, to ultimately create a culture of psychological safety and creativity, applications are open for the Big Leadership Adventure. A two year leadership programme, led by Big Education, that explicitly supports passionate change makers in the mindsets, behaviours and confidence required to think and do things differently in education.

Window one applications close at midnight on the 3 May. Apply here.

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