I was asked to contribute to the Talking Heads Blog by Hannah Wilson @TheHopefulHT earlier this month. I plan to share my reflections with our Leap into Leadership cohort 3. A good news story and testament to the power of a collective way of working through system leadership but also acknowledging the immense power of developing, coaching, modelling and working alongside in Leadership development.
Why did you become a leader?
I became a leader because I wanted to empower and grow others in order to make a difference to more children. At the heart of this lies a fundamental belief that every child should be taught by a great teacher and that ‘education is the most powerful weapon through which to change the world’ (Nelson Mandela). Having been in stand alone school I wanted to work in system leadership (the reason why I joined a MAT). I have always been interested in impact outside my classroom and beyond my own school and that core belief that good practice should be shouted about and shared more widely than just in one school.
I had the courage to step up and try because I met someone who believed in me, saw a diamond in the rough and invested time and energy in my journey and continues to do so (my now CEO Mrs Lynn Atkinson). Her inspirational leadership of our Trust and her role as my Exec Head, when I began, have strongly influenced my growth and desire to develop others and impact across a system. As my guide on the side, she developed my leadership and this coupled with the guidance of our MAT Director of Education, Tracey Cleverly opened my eyes to growing new leaders and the power of system leadership to develop others.
As my own leadership journey has evolved the bit that I love most is harnessing the power of coaching, supporting and challenging new and existing leaders to become the best that they can be for the good of all children. For every child to be taught by a great teacher is my aim and consistency of provision, my goal.
Why did your role/ school appeal to you?
Working in the MAT that I work in, The Learning Academy Partnership, South West, appealed to me as I knew that I wouldn’t be working in isolation but could draw on the support, challenge and expertise of others in a truly collective way. I became a Head at 34 and an Exec Head at 38 after being an Assistant Head in a previous school for less than 6 months and I know that this rapid and sustained growth has only been possible due to the way in which we work. Stronger together to collectively empower excellence is our mission and everyday I feel that support and challenge through the way in which we work. We all get out of bed in the morning to make a difference for all children across out Trust not just our schools and have full collective accountability for all children in each of our 8 schools. The highest quality bespoke professional development is central to what we do and one of our 6 principles and through a culture of coaching and an emphasis on wellbeing we have secured outstanding outcomes for all of our children.
How do you celebrate the teaching profession?
Personally I celebrate the teaching profession through every conversation, every interaction (whether that be face to face or via social media). I fully believe it is the best job in the world and see my job as a privilege. Every blog I have written is about the amazing opportunities, the enormous privilege to shape the next generation. I live and breathe it and set the weather across our schools in this way. What an awesome and deeply humbling responsibility!
We have worked very hard on the culture of wellbeing across our MAT through: email curfews, limiting emails in preference of face to face conversations, bespoke CPD, encouraging ownership of CPD, investing in career pathways for all staff, quality time given to appraisals (a triangulated approach centred around learning evaluation conversations), engaging in quality interactions, investing in a coaching culture, Professional development days, meetings always running to time and fundamentally a huge investment in time and research into marking! Moving forwards our MAT has also invested in an external company to come in and run wellbeing surveys with all staff so that we can move forwards even further. Fundamentally, it is about how we, as leaders, set the weather in our schools, take time, notice and value and developing a culture where staff do this too through simple means such as staff shout out board means that we notice and value each other.
What are the values that your shape you as a leader?
Honesty, integrity, moral purpose – a desire to make a difference to all children and all staff so that the sky is the limit and that everyone achieves their full potential regardless of background.
What myths would you like to debunk about being a Headteacher?
That it is an impossible job and one that isn’t enjoyed because it is ‘too stressful.’
It is a role with pressures certainly but one that is an incredible honour and privilege and it concerns me that negativity in the media around the sustainability of being head will put people off wanting my job! I love nurturing new leaders and watching them grow and am looking for the person who wants my job and will do it better, as a result of coaching, support and challenge than I did. I fully embrace growth!
To listen. To listen to not only what is truly being said but also what is not being said! Don’t listen to give answers listen to understand. I followed the first 90 days in my last headship role and really took the time to assess the state of the nation from all angles and this really paid dividends most notably in building a team. I took time to foster relationships and invest in people rather than looking for immediate solutions. I have touched upon this in my blog ‘Festina lente’ the art of hurrying slowly but it was time well spent.
I always have a number of leadership books on the go – some purely for my own journey and some to inform the leadership journey of my Assistant Heads and others to support the Leap into Leadership programme I facilitate for our MAT for aspiring Leads. I also use all of the work by Simon Sinek through TedX to shape the leadership conversations that I have with our aspiring leaders and would highly recommend. I pull upon a wide variety of people both through reading, twitter, TedX and real life! Kenneth Branagh’s speech as Col Tim Collins during the Iraq war (his eve of battle speech) is something I return to time and again as is David Breashears (American Mountaineer). For me is is about recognising why people will feel empowered by you, as a leader, why they put their trust in you and why they will then go the extra mile for our children.
This much I know – has been my bible! John Thomsett
Legacy – Jim Kerr (The All Blacks story)
Black Box Thinking – Matthew Syed
John Thomsett, particularly has supported my work in building my team and work on wellbeing. Most notably on creating the weather (the culture) in our schools and how we are the buffer between policy and what needs to happen in our schools. The most important role we have in leadership is to grow new leaders and great teachers and much of his work has shaped my thinking about this as well as causing me to reflect on my own wellbeing. I have 2 young children myself (I became a Head when my youngest was 2 years old and my eldest 5) – it is possible to do both and do both well I dont’ think that that comes across strongly enough and I fully believe that I have a responsibility to model to all that you can do both.
‘A leader is a dealer in hope’
‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader’
John Quincy Adams
‘Leadership is action, not position’