All Teachers as Leaders……..

This afternoon we had another headteacher’s leadership session.  Today’s topic was about developing leadership within our team.  It is an interesting thing to begin thinking about. We looked at different models of leadership, from the more hierarchical to the more distributed leadership.

The paper that our group read, by John West-Burnham, discussed a subsidiarity model. This is where there is an interdependence between all members of the team.  Therefore, it dispels the idea of having a top-heavy leadership team that then manages and leads all beneath it, but rather a team that shares the leadership responsibilities.  In fact, the diagram of the model looked like a planet in the middle of about eight other revolving planets.  This article then went on to discuss how a culture of learning needed to permeate the entire school.  Through building  trust, providing time for reflection and coaching, a school can begin developing its leadership capacity – or so John West-Burnham asserts.

Discussing this today, we agreed that this model could be effective and we thought about how we might be able to recreate such a model within our own schools.  Talk turned to what leadership looks like and if everyone had leadership capabilities.  At this point, after mostly listening to the discussions taking place, I chimed in with the fact that I actually believed everyone was a leader in some capacity or another.  Teachers are ‘leaders of learning.’  They are leading the learning in their classrooms and modeling what they expect of their pupils.  It was as if this was a new concept…..teachers as leaders.  Of course this is what they are…..perhaps we as leaders need to raise our expectations and make it more explicit that we believe our teachers to be leaders and perhaps in turn they will begin demonstrating these qualities more overtly.  Making people feel as if they have ‘leadership capabilities’ could promote them to act accordingly.  Like my husband says, “If you treat a person with trust and respect, they will, in most cases, inevitably end up being a highly trusted and respected member of the team.”

Our conversation then turned to how we promoted learning within our schools.  I explained that I had set up a model where teachers share a piece of research/good practice, etc, every two weeks during our staff meetings.  Therefore, teachers are expected to undertake their own professional development by ‘seeking’ out something to share amongst their colleagues. Therefore, they are being asked, very simply, to lead learning in our team.

So, yes, all teachers are leaders and they should be treated as such….

See what happens when all teachers begin believing they really are ‘leaders of learning’ as well……

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A ‘time’ for reflection……

I’m sitting here with my daughter on a quilting weekend. Sewing is definitely not my thing, but my daughter absolutely loves it. She has been doing textiles at school, so for Christmas she received a sewing machine. This weekend she has been on a quilting course which I have had to attend because she is only 12. She is by far the youngest here but keeping up just the same. I’m actually in awe by what she is creating! I’ll have to post the final masterpiece!

I’ve had quite a few days of reflection, as on Friday I came back from the Oxfordshire Headteacher’s conference. It really was an excellent way to network with like-minded professionals and just have time to think. Time is not often on our side as we are always wishing for more just to catch up. Having ‘time’ to be able to listen to inspiring talks and discuss current affairs and ideas has allowed us to clear our heads so that we can go back into school fresh and with a cleared perspective.

Speakers included Tim Rylands, Sarah Neilds, Tait Coles, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Camilla Batmanghelidjh, David Blunkett and Richard Gerver. Lots of ideas…..some truly inspiring things to think about!

I’m so glad that I decided to go and know that next year will be just as informative. I was so enthralled by listening to Tim Rylands speaking that I ran up to him at the end to book him for our staff INSET next year. He was so engaging and I know that staff would be inspired and motivated by him -additionally they would come away with loads of ideas to help them use ICT to enhance the teaching of writing.

On Thursday I attended a Tait Coles workshop about Punk Learning…..again a few ideas I could take away with me.

I was very surprised by David Blunkett’s speech…I think many were. He spoke real sense. He made us realise why our jobs mattered and how we made a real difference to ‘generations’ of children.

The event ended with a closing speech by Richard Gerver. Again, motivational in helping us remember how important we were……we need to begin looking at ‘the gaps between the buildings.’ He also highlighted (what I had been talking about just the day before) how we need to be more ‘American’ in our attitude of building others up rather than constantly cutting people down. I completely concur with this and for one of the first times since living in Britain, was proud of having such an unmistakeable American accent and definitely the American attitude!

Thank you to all the organisers of the headteacher’s conference and to all the heads who were there to network!!

See you next year!!

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It is up to YOU…….

It puzzles me as to how much interest my work-life balance blog entries have gained.  It is almost as if people are suddenly realising the importance of having such a balance in their lives – or that it actually is a possibility.  It is definitely the ‘buzz word’ of the moment, especially with the DFE stressing its importance.  However, as I’ve said before, it is up to YOU to make the change.  No matter whether you are part of the senior management team, a middle leader or an NQT – only YOU can gain your own personal balance between home and work.

When I was a facilitator for the NCSL’s Middle Leadership Development Programme, I told the teachers on the course exactly what I told my staff at the beginning of my first year of headship.  I told them to make the effort to leave at least twice a week by 4:30.  Some of these teachers had a look of terror in their eyes.  They told me that they would be looked down upon if they were to leave earlier than the other teachers in their school – they told me their stories (like we all have) of leaving school with a huge box of marking in their hands to make it appear as though they were going home to do hours more work.  It was clear then, as it is still evident now, that these schools were making them feel pressure to stay until a certain time in the evening and to take stacks of work home.

What I told these middle leaders was that they had to break the mould.  They had to demonstrate their own leadership by modeling what they expected those in their team to follow.  Going against the grain, they needed to walk out the door and leave work behind them…..only two times a week!  You would have thought that I had told them to do the unthinkable!  But, months later, some of these teachers came back to me to tell me that making these changes had actually changed their life.  Such small changes but with such a major impact.

You may not be able to wait for your leadership team to give you the ‘go ahead’ to walk out the door by a certain time.  In fact, you may be faced with quite the opposite.  So, it is up to you and only you.  You need to decide to make the changes required.  It is up to you to gain your life back outside of work… one else can do it.

If you are a part of the leadership team, how can you model an effective and healthy work-life balance?

What things can you change at your place of work?

I’ll repeat it again…..making a few minor adjustments to your working week can truly  a change your life…….you’ll enjoy your work and your ‘life’ a whole lot more…….

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Work-Life Balance – An Update – A Year and a Half In…….

In an earlier post that I wrote in January 2014, I talked about work-life balance.  As a new head (I had taken up post in the September of 2013), I was determined to ensure that all staff at my school maintained some sort of balance between work and life.  In this earlier post, I wrote about how I insisted on teachers leaving at least twice a week by 4:30 with no work in their hands.  This was a big change as teachers had been used to working late and had felt the pressure to do so.

It is now a year and a half in.  I have kept to my word.  Twice a week I leave before 4 to be sure I am home when my children get through the door.  It has been a challenge, I have had my governors comment specifically on this fact.  But, doing so has allowed me to keep perspective throughout the week, stay fresh and full of enthusiasm while I’m at work. Distance does wonders and without it a leader can quickly be so entrenched in things that they lose their effectiveness.

I’ve had many people ask for an update, so here it is.  Our KS2 SATS results at the end of the summer term were excellent -in fact, we were listed in the league tables in the top twenty schools for our county.  We achieved 100% pass rate in our phonics test and our EYFS results were above local and national.  So, if results are what you are after, there you have it.

However, the biggest impact has been on staff morale.  We are all working so well as a team.  There is a ‘buzz’ in the school which you can literally feel.  Staff have said how enthused they are and how different things feel with the changes that have been implemented.  On the staff survey at the end of the year 100% of staff said that they enjoyed their jobs.  Further, in the staff health and well-being survey that was carried out in November 2014, the results were outstanding.  Teachers not only enjoyed their jobs but felt they were well supported in their roles and indicated that they had a good balance between work and their home-life.  Areas that were highlighted green showed the highest ratings but there were some areas that weren’t all green, therefore this is what I have now put into an action plan to ensure these areas are tackled.

Further, during the debrief of our results with the external advisor who carried out the survey, she noted how impressed she was with the policy I had initiated in school and with our overall results, that she is now using our school as a case study.

As a headteacher, I have to model what I expect of my staff.  If we as leaders haven’t worked out how to balance our own working lives, then how can we expect it of our teachers?

Since I have implemented this policy teachers now leave twice a week by 4:30.  All teachers now leave school everyday by 6:00 at the latest (unless there are evening events which require them to stay).  PPA can be taken in or out of school as I trust my teachers to use their time wisely.  Our motto is “Working smarter, not harder.”

To help with the workload, I also give my teachers additional time every small term outside of the classroom to complete their subject leader requirements. Especially when teachers may not remunerated for taking on this responsibility, time is an important resource that helps to ensure that these responsibilities are carried out with the highest quality.

What many people don’t realise, until they try the profession themselves, is how tiring teaching actually is.  It is a job that you can never really ‘walk away from.’  Teachers are always thinking about their classroom – on holiday, thinking about the postcards they could send their class, or the seashells they should collect for that topic they will be teaching next term – or worrying about little Suzy Q, who is struggling at home.  Teachers never really get a rest.  At school, I expect 110% from my teachers all the time.  Teaching in front of the class is a full time acting role.  The only difference is that you don’t get a break until everyone goes home.  You are always on the stage – keeping the children excited, engaged and entertained.  No matter what you have going on at home or in your personal life, everything gets put aside when you walk through the school doors.  At the end of the day when you finally get to sit down, you are exhausted!  Then there is always planning and marking to do…..the job never ends.

So yes, work-life balance is a priority as a headteacher.  I will do whatever it takes to have staff who come into work full of life and enthusiasm so that our children learn from passionate teachers full of energy.  Enthusiasm is contagious and children will always soak up so much more ‘learning’ when they are in a classroom that stimulates and excites them.

Work-life balance is a key discussion point at the moment.  But this is all it will be until leaders take action.  The DFE will continue to impose changes – there will always be assessment, testing, Ofsted, etc, etc.  There is nothing that we can do to change this… the moment.  So, it is up to leaders to do something about it in their own schools.  Leaders should deal with change in a way that doesn’t completely wreak havoc on their staff – they must initiate the external change in a way that suits their school and the people within it.  Together and as a team they should deal with all and any changes that are initiated.  Further, it is up to the management team to help support staff and to model an effective work-life balance.

Blame cannot always be put on the external pressures – it is time for leaders to take action and to finally support their staff in gaining their work-life balance back.  There will always be stress, time constraints and change, but it is up to us as leaders to cushion our staff from as much of it as we can.

What changes can you make in your school to help support staff to achieve this?   What changes will you make yourself?

I guarantee that you will notice the change………

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Something a bit different……a poem

(Just for something a bit different….here is a poem I wrote recently…..)

No One Knows Her Name

Dazzling emerald eyes, linger,
a little too long, pleading,
a flicker of expectation.
Eyes that have seen war, torment, rage, relentless revenge,
her mother stoned by veiled sinners casting their fears.

A girl forgotten, shunned but not invisible.
Porcelain skin stripped of emotion,
ravaged bare, raided of decency,
a voice pillaged, forced into humility, solitude and silence.

A maroon sackcloth harshly shadows her beauty,
austere and uninviting, a purposeful deterrent.

She steals away to clandestine meetings in a schoolroom for the brave,
huddled in hushed whisperings of secrecy,
martyrs for knowledge.

Education is power,
the key to escape,
but so elusive.

Fear of being caught, fear of being found out, fear of being seen,
to be discovered would surely mean a beating, torture or death.
Her arms deeply scarred by self-inflicted lines, tangible reminders for every lashing.
She longs for love,
not the rancid stench of arrogance – haughty and unyielding,
the caress of tenderness a foreign notion.
Envious of those Western girls in magazines,
so much colour, frivolity and gaiety,
where tomorrow is not a gift but an expectation.

In her world, it is adverse to be a girl, a misfortune,
covetous to dream,
forbidden to aspire.

She knows what is possible – that is the problem.
For her, opportunity lurks from every shadow,
clutching at the stark, empty corners,
buried beneath the heavy burdens,
but still in forgotten places, too far removed.
The sounds of nightmares – shouts, cries, cursing, screams, terror – her reality.

We avert our gaze, closing our ears, pretending not to know.

No one can touch her soul,
where a small spark of hope and the promise of freedom lingers.

But what is freedom worth,
when you can never really have her?

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Moving on in our learning journey………,

We had Diana Pardoe in again today.  I cannot tell you how fantastic it was to have her all day, just for our school.  I contemplated letting our partnership know so they could send their teachers, but today I wanted it just to be about us – to focus on what we were doing well and where we needed to go next.  It was just what we needed.

This morning was spent doing a learning walk, looking at the classroom environment, and talking to the children.  The children tell the truth about what is going on, they are the real litmus test…….

After the whole walk around, she then fed-back to many of the teachers (who could get away for half an hour before lunch with shuffling around of staff).  Through an open and honest conversation of what she had seen that was good practice, she then talked us through where she thought we needed to be going next.

The staff are amazing.  We are constantly talking about ‘what next’ and they don’t even flinch anymore.  They know we are always developing, which means we will always be refining and changing our practice.  They know it is about seeking to improve every aspect and that with this ethos comes the understanding that we can always get better therefore, we will always be ‘tweaking’ things.

It was powerful having most of the teachers in on the conversation so that they could all hear about what we were doing well as a school and then hear what it was that we could do to further embed the good practice that is currently going on.

Di also did an assembly for KS1 and for KS2 both focused on learning and matched perfectly for where the children’s understanding is.

The day ended with a parent’s presentation.  There were just over twenty parents in attendance (about 10%) – considering most of our parents work, this was a good turnout for the time that we were able to offer this.

Truly a day full of learning and thinking about the future.  It is so exciting to be able to clearly see where we are heading and what type of children we are trying to help develop.  With parent’s support, there is no reason why we shouldn’t reach our goal.  Even more positive is the fact that all the teachers are on board, they understand the importance Di’s philosophy and the theories and research behind it.

We are all clear about where we are going and it is ‘thrilling’ to work towards it as a community…..together we will get there more completely and quickly….

Thank you, Di!

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Practice makes Batman….


This is our new front entrance display. We have been talking a lot about Batman and how he has to practice and put in a great deal of effort
to be who he is.

Since this morning it has already created a stir of conversation with the children……just what it was meant to do!

Mindset……it is all about your attitude…

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