The novelist EM Forster exhorted us to “only connect”, and the poet John Donne observed that “no man is an island”. How can leaders at all levels in education make the most of the community around them, and use the power of collaboration to strengthen their leadership capacity? Whether you are a middle leader, a senior leader, a head, an executive head or a chair of governors, you can develop as a leader by working with and learning from others.
Working with individuals
Throughout your career, there will have been influential role models who have inspired and encouraged you. They may have been leaders or, perhaps, peers for whose professional practice you had admiration and respect. They may have been particularly significant as you developed your self-belief and recognised your own potential. Good mentors and coaches, for example, who could see nascent strengths in you before you even fully recognised those strengths yourself. Have you ever been ‘tapped on the shoulder’ by someone who has offered you the opportunity to take on something which has given you the chance to learn and grow? Perhaps you were initially hesitant or unsure of your ability to embrace the challenge but, with the support of these key individuals, you stepped up and saw it through, building your expertise and your confidence in the process.
And can you now do this for others? Are there colleagues you recognise have untapped potential and the capacity to go on to even greater achievements, within the classroom and perhaps beyond it? Are you able to spot and nurture their developing talents? You need to support them so that they can demonstrate their ability, rather than simply telling them they have that ability.
Working within and across teams
Consider the current teams within which you work. What is your specific contribution to each team? What do you bring that adds value, and how do your skills and strengths complement what others have to offer? How can you learn from those around you, and what can you contribute which enables others to build their leadership capacity so that the team becomes even more effective – the whole greater than the sum of its parts? It is perhaps too easy to see our specific areas of responsibility as the key focus of our professional activity, and not to take advantage of the opportunity to extend those parameters so that we widen our sphere of influence and develop new skills and areas of expertise.
Certainly if you are a middle or senior leader who anticipates moving to headship in due course, any opportunity to extend your knowledge of new aspects of how schools operate should be embraced – as a head, and the same is true of chairs of governors, you need the breadth of knowledge to take on the strategic responsibility for all elements of the school, to know what questions to ask and to understand the answers, while trusting others to manage the operational detail. That trust must be built on a confident grasp of the Big Picture. What can you learn from those within your current teams which will prepare you for this? And how can you encourage and facilitate the learning of others?
Learning from the wider educational community
Finally, do you look beyond your current school and identify opportunities to learn from members of the wider community? If you engage with educational Twitter, read (and perhaps comment on, and write) blogs, keep up with current education research and development through reading books and articles (organisations like The Chartered College are a good source of such publications, and offer helpful reviews to guide your reading), you should be well on your way to extending your learning by engagement with others from whom you can gain and to whose own professional development you can contribute.
By attending conferences and enrolling on programmes such as a Masters’ course, or one of the National Professional suite of qualifications, you secure for yourself entry into a community of educators, perhaps at a similar stage of their leadership journey, which can be energising and productive. As an aspiring or serving woman leader, have you considered what #WomenEd might offer in terms of support (practical and emotional), and could exploring #BAMEed, #DisabilityEd and/or #LGBTed widen your horizons?
So consider where you are in your career, where you might be heading and how you can get there, and what being part of a community of educators can offer both in terms of how you might benefit, and how you can contribute to the development and learning of others.
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It’s June 2018, and we’re due a teaching and learning observation week. Gauging the temperature in the staff room, after a hectic year, I felt that another round of observations from senior and middle leaders would have finished our teachers off! I wanted to boost morale, to create a feelgood factor in our last month. I wanted to encourage all to take risks in the classroom, to observe one-another, and come away with something tangible to use in our lessons the next day. This is how the BDB Dollar Challenge came about here at Bishop David Brown School.
Staff needed to feel empowered. In discussions with Darren Gould, my deputy head of school, we developed the notion of a low-threat, rewards-based system: Staff highlight an area they want to showcase, develop resources, plan the lesson and advertise their activities. In a staff briefing, everyone was given the opportunity to sign up to attend each other’s lesson. If cover was required, a member of SLT would cover for them.
The week arrived and we all visited one-anothers’ lessons, armed with our BDB dollars (pictured top). It was up to each individual to determine how many dollars they would pay in response to the lesson they had seen. Staff observed the delivery, looked at resources, and questioned students about the activity. The impact was palpable across the school, with 75% of students questioned highlighting that they felt lessons were more engaging. Additionally, many students responded to a survey stating they enjoyed the fact that other classroom teachers were showing an interest in their lessons.
#BDBDollarChallenge underway... active and collaborative learning with yr8s. Post it’s, info gathering, independent practical work with differentiated support, it’s all go today! @BDBSchool #ProudOfBDB pic.twitter.com/EXIHbvE8J2— BDB Science (@BDB_Science) June 21, 2018
“The Dollar Challenge helped me to focus on and showcase the strengths of my teaching. For me, it was an opportunity to display elements that I believe are fundamental to the foundations of 'outstanding' teaching, and share that vision with my colleagues. As a viewer of others, I saw it as a chance to witness lessons that are completely different to English, like Food Tech, and 'steal' ideas from the more practical subjects. I'm actually looking forward to doing it again!” - Jamie Foster, head of English
When we reflected on the week we knew we had made the right decision to change our practice. The whole school was really feeling the effect of a busy year, and that was not my aim in September. The Dollar Challenge created a buzz in the staff room, one which carried us right through to the end of term and made everyone excited for what was ahead. I was proud and hugely impressed by the level of creativity displayed, and the feedback from students and staff alike was great.
So what have we learnt? The key lesson, for 2018/19 and beyond, is that we need to do more to empower staff to visit each other’s lessons, encourage them to take risks, and give them the confidence to know that if it fails, no judgments will be made.
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As a school leader, I find myself wondering how to best utilise the resources we have: time and money. What should I focus on? How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms? Which technologies should we invest in? Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on? There are so many choices and limited resources.
In June, I travelled to the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference in Chicago. Along with nearly 17,000 other eager participants, I spent three days in workshops, lectures, visiting the expo, networking with teachers from around the world and reflecting on how all of this new knowledge could empower the students in my organisation.
ISTE is so much more than a technology conference. It is a pedagogy conference. It was like a giant discussion of what works best when and where and how to implement best practices. Information, skills and experiences were shared in every direction. Check out #ISTE18 to see examples of what I mean. Or even better, check out #NOTatISTE18 to see what you missed.
During my visit, some trends became very obvious:
The idea of students of all ages learning how to code and program was being discussed at every level. The idea of computational thinking extends well beyond the Maths classroom. A whole body of activities aimed at teaching students how to think in a logic way to solve problems were introduced, discussed and tested.
Further read: Students build coding skills block by block.
2. Professional development
Everyone was asking “how can we train our teaching force to be ‘ready’?” I noticed that in many settings, teachers were referred to as “learners”, and that professional development was no longer about workshops and lectures. It was more about professional learning where teachers had embedded training often administered in a need-to-know, personalised way. I could hear from many of the participants that “technology coaches” had now been replaced with “learning coaches”.
Further read: Great example of “shifting” to professional learning.
Very trendy in the gadget world, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are now becoming accessible and “buildable” by teachers and students. Finally, the price is right and the possibilities are endless.
Further read: Check out Google Tour Builder.
This body of research is now leading the choices we make in Instructional Design. How students take in information, remember and connect important ideas, spacing, chunking, looping - all technical terms for how we can more effectively organise learning in our classrooms.
Further reading: The Learning Scientists blog.
5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The thought of robots in the classroom scared many people a few years ago. Today, teachers and administrators are starting to embrace the idea of an assistant. Many schools were talking about how they were piloting Alexa and Echo in the classrooms to answer routine questions. In addition, there were multiple examples of how AI when integrated with our digital teaching material could help tailor the learning path for just that student.
Further read: 7 Roles for AI in Education.
6. Design Thinking
Another trend evident throughout the conference was the idea of creating, designing and making ideas grow. Entrepreneurial thinking, idea-to-action and design lessons and activities were evident in many workshops. On a district-wide and state level, the discussions were focused on how to shift this exciting trend and problem-based way of working from electives and one time projects to a more systematic and integrated part of every classroom at every level.
Further investigation: My favourite speaker at ISTE was @thetechrabbi. Follow him on Twitter for great inspiration.
No longer is it about being careful who you connect with; the trends were much more about how to make your connections work for you.
“The focus is moving away from warning students about online risks or trying to curtail their activities and toward helping them leverage the power of digital media to work toward creation, social justice and equity. The new digital citizenship, also reflected in the ISTE Standards for Students, is about being in community with others and creating digital citizenship curricula that shows students possibilities over problems, opportunities over risks and community successes over personal gain.” - from Julie Randles
Further Read: Check out Be Internet Awesome with Google.
8. Personalised, student-driven, blended, instructional design
Many different words all baked into one idea... empowering the student to take charge of their own learning. How teachers design the learning activities, build the (face-to-face and online) environment, and manage the learning time determine the when, where and how our students will learn. No longer is it a pie-in-the-sky dream to personalise and tailor for each kid. With the right methods and tools, this is finally becoming a reality.
So, back to my original questions:
How can we use our staff time in the best way possible so that our teachers can be best prepared to lead learning-filled classrooms?
Model best learning practices - personalised, embedded, just-in-time learning
Which technologies should we invest in?
Across our organisation, our major investment is a powerful LMS. This is sort of our epicentre for learning. Other than that, tools that my teachers request and believe in. If they have a plan for how it will help their students learn more, I want to hear about it and try to make it happen.
Which areas of learning research and development should we focus on?
Brain-based science and motivational psychology … and, yes, edtech tools that can help us implement best practices.
These are the trends I am thinking about. What are you focused on?
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Which preposition: just leading, or leading to, leading with, leading through or leading for? I do love a question that involves a grammatical concept, and this is one that I have been asking for some time.
The challenges of being a school leader are massive now. Our expectations of leaders are huge. I think that we have now reached a point where the rhetoric of leadership is becoming intimidating rather than encouraging. Writing about the matter has become a cottage industry. Indeed, if one read all the books aimed at school leaders, one would never actually have the time to do any leading at all. We are struggling to recruit school heads in many areas. Even during the period when I was a director of Children’s Services, we were having to re-advertise posts, sometimes combine schools, and go forward with very limited leads - I honestly believe that things have become more difficult since.
The demands on leaders are greater than ever. Young people are more complex, society more diverse and, at times, more fragmented. Other agencies and institutions are in decline through funding cuts and/or social changes. Increasingly, schools are more isolated, yet face even greater demands to make a difference. They are seen, more and more, as the engines of social mobility, regardless of your view on that (you can read mine in The Working Class edited by Ian Gilbert). Many colleagues argue that they have never felt more accountable, while also feeling less supported. I could go on, but I suspect that if you have read this far, you are already well aware of the pressures on school leaders.
The question, inevitably, is how anyone copes with the challenges.
The worst way to cope is to avoid the preposition. There are still examples of people who harbour ambition for its own sake. They want to be at the top of whatever pole they embarked on climbing and want to be successful for themselves. These sort of leaders tend to display the same patterns of involvement. They don’t stay anywhere long. Sometimes they have a dramatic impact in the time that they do stay and even appear to achieve striking successes during their brief tenure. In general, my experience of these sorts of leaders is that they are disruptive rather than constructive. The changes that they bring rarely turn out to be transformative and the successes are inclined to be short-lived.
Reluctant as I am to enter into political controversy, there is a strong argument that policy over Brexit has been bedevilled by leaders prioritising the preservation of power over making genuine progress. School leaders concerned with their own reputation and not driven by a clear sense of purpose are likely to fail over the longer term.
My argument would be that those who choose a preposition for leadership are far more likely to bring substantive improvement for young people. I love field marshall Montgomery’s quote:
“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”
He is clearly a “leading to” person. Purpose is all and, interestingly, that purpose has to be “common” so clearly he would entertain ‘with’ as another of his leadership prepositions.
There might be an argument that “leading to” could be seen as far too focussed on outcomes and data, or in achieving targets set for a school. If that was the interpretation one took, it would be a preposition to avoid. Real change comes from the drive to achieve ambitions, and the more dearly held the better, rather than to meet someone else’s expectations. That may be where “for” comes into its own. It relates so well to the idea of leadership as service, that one leads for the benefit of others and never for self-aggrandisement. Nelson Mandela was such a wonderful example of that:
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”.
That concept of appreciating leadership is another which seems alien when we focus as strongly as we do on the idea of leadership being rooted in drive and challenge. That model is far removed from the idea of leading through.
We should lead through vision. That is implicit in the Montgomery quote; it is writ large in Max DePree’s comment:
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
It is a quote that captures so many elements of this discussion. The “reality” of which he speaks aligns with the idea of vision, of creating a way of seeing the context that you are in. That then creates the “for”. It certainly captures the sense of “leading with” and “through”. For me, the idea of thinking about the prepositions of leadership is neither indulgent or obscure. It is just another way of taking us into the fundamental questions about how we should lead. I tend to go with Fuchan Yang, when he says:
“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.”
We need to be doing more than just leading. The self-satisfaction of that will only sustain the most narcissistic. For any of us who have a shred of self-doubt and, more importantly, an ambition to add value to the lives of young people and their communities, it will never offer enough. Adding a preposition just might.
The ambition of every leader in education is to meaningfully improve our students’ outcomes. This is particularly important at a time when school budgets are under increasing pressure, meaning we often have to support teaching and learning using the resources we already have.
However, the answer is deceptively simple - and most school leaders are aware of it, but may not know how to harness its power. While extra funding is always welcome, the solution to improving teaching and learning may well lie in a change of attitude... and a dose of extra creativity.
By developing students’ learning habits and thinking skills, school leaders can essentially help them think better. This establishes a foundation for better learning and helps deliver improved outcomes in the long term.
Metacognition, or ‘thinking about thinking’, has been shown to be a key factor in increasing a student’s potential.
At the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT), we believe that the best way to transform life chances is to actively shape the minds, attitudes and habits of young people using a framework of cognitive education.
Some of the ideas underlying this framework date back thousands of years - Aristotle once said that “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But the application to multi-academy trusts is new. Our approach enables students to consciously recognise their own habits, strengths, and areas for development, and actively seek to improve themselves - thereby creating transformational change.
One of the key ways in which we foster this is by encouraging close collaboration between Primary and Secondary schools.
A recent successful example was when Year 10 students from The Victory Academy and Year 5 students from Cedar Children’s Academy worked together to create a storybook called The 6 Seeds of Cedar.
Inspired by Dr Seuss, with original characters brought to life in beautiful illustrations, the book is a resource designed to promote student engagement and critical thinking across all TSAT schools. It unites creativity with cognitive techniques, to instil positive habits of mind.
The “6 Seeds” represent six key critical thinking skills: persisting, managing impulsivity, listening with understanding and empathy, questioning and posing problems, applying past knowledge to new situations, and taking responsible risks.
For two hours each week, the Year 5 students were introduced to the more advanced learning habits of the Year 10s - or, as they refer to them, “Victory Virtues”. Having older role models in these lessons was inspirational for the Cedar students, who could learn from those who are further along their thinking skills journey.
The younger pupils were not the only ones to grow and benefit from the experience, as the Year 10 students were able to further their understanding of the Victory Virtues by taking on the responsibility of sharing knowledge with a younger audience. Both groups of students emerged proud of and empowered by the finished book.
This collaboration between students of different ages has offered a brilliant opportunity for improving students’ critical thinking skills, using a more creative approach to making the most of the resources we already have.
It has also demonstrated the growing understanding of the cognitive processes involved in learning, and the value of applying neuroscience to our approaches to teaching and learning.
The challenge for school leaders has always been how to make metacognition and neuroscience work consistently at a whole-school level, to generate the impact we know it can have. The 6 Seeds project has done just that.
The book will now be part of the framework for future curricula at Cedar, and its authors will impart their knowledge of the 6 Seeds to their fellow pupils. These 6 Seeds will be planted in Reception, and through lessons tailored to different ages throughout students’ academic careers, pupils will head to Secondary school reflective about their own habits of mind and prepared for what is to come.
Our 2018/19 Lead LIVE roadshow kicked off in Wigan, with educators sharing a wealth of ideas to address excess workload in schools. The roadshow features talks from innovative school leaders on tackling teacher's timesinks, a prize draw, and a 'speed dating' session with ten of the best edtech providers in the country. The roadshow is now heading to Wellingborough, Peterborough, Liverpool, Bradford, Hertfordshire and Hove, and these happy school leaders explain what you can expect...
‘Innovation’ is an interesting word to me; not just because I’m ‘innovation lead’ at Aureus School, but because I think it is a word which (in education) seems to carry many preconceived images. If I say to you “Oh they’re an innovative teacher”, all too often the perception seems to be of a teacher who’s at home using the latest technology, whose classroom is awash with the latest teaching trends, and who leads CPD on “how to use your interactive whiteboard more effectively”.
This article on innovation covers none of that! I’m not dismissing edtech nor the associated innovations therein, but I am going to talk about the innovator's mindset.
The innovator's mindset is the true way every teacher can innovate in any setting! As I see it, said mindset comprises of four component parts:
If you can adopt the innovator’s mindset (and truly anyone can) you can make this academic year, and in fact every academic year, one in which you innovate in a meaningful way!
This is about you the teacher, the subject specialist, and the pedagogical perfectionist. Take a moment or two to review your last academic year or even the last few. I suggest reviewing on two fronts:
Your subject. The content you’ve taught, the way it was received, and the impact it had. Make note of what went well, and what you think you could improve.
Your pedagogy. Review the way you taught your subject. Did you deliver content in a variety of ways? Did you adapt work for learners who were struggling? How good was your differentiation? Did you really stretch and challenge all your students? As part of this review, take to the internet and the educational bookstores, choose something on which you’d like to read up and refresh your knowledge. For example, spend an hour or so reading up on stretch and challenge ideas, and make some notes on things you could try to freshen up content you deliver in the new term.
Teach. Get into your class and teach your stuff using the ideas you have read about. Adapt your technique based on both what worked last year and what could have been done better. Invite others into your class to watch you! Ask others if you can observe them teaching too.
This time, don’t wait til the end of the academic year to review what is working in your class and what can be refined. My suggestion to support your most innovative year is that you make time in the first weekend of every half term break to pause and review what is going well, what can be done better, and choose a topic to brush up on. Look again at your subject and your pedagogy. Think about what you did in your classroom, what discussions you had with those who have observed you and what you’ve seen in others.
If you read up on stretch and challenge six weeks ago, then choose questioning this time and spend an hour reading up on ideas to better question in your classroom. Use these to develop new strategies that will help you deliver your content in the next term.
Get back into your classroom with refined focus, content ready to be taught using techniques you have reviewed yourself and with colleagues, and perspective on your pedagogy you’ve refreshed.
It really is as easy as those four steps to keep your mindset innovative throughout an academic year!
...and 5! Sharing what you do to keep you on the innovative path
One extra tip to keep yourself innovating: Share! Sharing what you are doing with others is a great way to keep your mindset innovative! Consider creating your own blog, or even a shared blog with colleagues who agree to share your innovator's mindset this year. At the end of each half term, take it in turns to post about your term, what has gone well, what you’re considering changing, and what areas of your pedagogy you are reading up on. Innovation does not happen inside a bubble. Real innovation happens when you look outside yourself, your organisation, and even your sector to draw in inspiration for afar. To do this well you have to be sharing what you do.
‘Outstanding’? ‘Good’? ‘Less than ideal, but we’ll muddle along for another year’? How does your timetable fare? Asked to give their new school timetable an Ofsted rating, over 25% of teachers told us that they would place it in the ‘requires improvement’ category. Moreover, almost all described their timetable as less than ‘outstanding’, offering a real opportunity for SLT to make meaningful improvements before it’s too late.
If the summer term is a time of reflection, then the autumn term represents fresh starts. Improvements. New ways of working. Changes that make sense for the school. And what better place to start than the timetable? After all, it’s the most important document in the school, and key to success on every level.
With this in mind, we asked experienced headteacher and Edval consultant, Paul Phillips, how a school can improve its timetables at this stage of the year - with minimal disruption. Here’s what he said:
1. Improve your staffing
“For accountability reasons, it is vital that teachers and school leaders can maintain ownership of pupil outcomes. However, it’s equally important for students to build meaningful learning relationships with their teachers. Too many teachers resulting from split classes mean that students feel that they are not known by their teachers. They also demonstrate stress behaviours when the delivery consistency does not go smoothly.
“Teachers also rightly want planning time with their co-teacher, where split classes are a regular feature on their timetable. Without this, curriculum delivery, homework and marking can be a major issue, for teachers and students alike.”
2. Improve your lesson spreads
“With a far greater emphasis on maximising pupil progress, it is essential that the timetable supports effective learning and teaching practice. The ability to offer short but regular language lessons, double sessions for Science and Technology lessons, and avoiding two lessons on a day, allows teachers to better manage learning, marking, homework and time for reflection.
“Control of this area has for many schools been an ad-hoc affair. The power to reduce occurrences of inappropriate spreads, but also the ability to improve teacher spreads, and class spreads, means I can give teachers and students a better timetable experience.”
3. Improve your rooming
“Rooming can be a real headache in schools, and is often an afterthought in many schools’ timetables. But if you ask a part timer, or member of SLT, who has to navigate through corridors and up and down staircases with trolley and boxes of books, equipment and materials, then you will get a very blunt response to this aspect of the timetable!
“Schools with split sites, complex buildings across a campus, buildings with multiple and narrow staircases, need to put much more care into their rooming requirements. Having the tools on hand to maximise rooming quality can dramatically reduce staff and student movement across the timetable.”
4. Improve your option blocks
“Optimising option blocks is essential for all kinds of reasons. Giving students their options ensures greater satisfaction in offers, and enables students to progress more rapidly in subjects that they have chosen, and want to excel in. By focusing on optimising student preferences, I can have far greater control and understanding of student requests.
“For schools in a ‘deficit funding-led curriculum’ cycle, optimising option blocks allows for lean timetabling, the opportunity to drop classes and maintain high student satisfaction. It’s a vital tool in reducing staff costs, and it’s not too late to improve them.”
The year ahead
So why not take this opportunity to tweak your timetable with minimal disruption to the school community? Edval Improve services give SLT the opportunity to supercharge more than just the timetable, positively influencing staff morale, student learning and budget bottom lines in the process.
Challenge our experienced Edval consultants to work on your chosen timetable improvement area and refuse to settle for anything less than the best. Interested in finding out more? Say firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.edval.education for more information.
The usual school grading system rewards and highlights academic success, but as educators, we have a responsibility to prepare our pupils to be responsible, active members of the community, with a moral and social responsibility to improve the world they live in and to fight discrimination and reduce inequality. As teachers, we know that theory is one thing, but to embed a thought behaviour, or an action, one must practise it regularly in a hands-on manner. So how best to go about this in 2018/19?