What makes an outstanding senior leader? #360Review (Part 1 of 6)

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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In my final educational composition for 2013, I am offering a reflection on my own school leadership. What makes an outstanding senior leader? Here, I pose a series of questions for the reader and expose my very own #360Review. This is part one of a six-part leadership series to be posted over the holiday period.

You are reading part 1 of 6 articles on ‘What makes an outstanding senior leader?’ #360Review


After being inspired by headteacher, @JohnTomsett and his public self-review of lesson observations: This much I know about…being coached to improve my body language!; I hope that by sharing my own 360 self-review (#360Review) of the NPQH Leadership Standards, I will gain feedback from a myriad of sources. The intention, that a) I develop and b) that I share the expectations of headship in complex detail.

Recently, I have been challenged by appraisal discussions with my current headteacher: The Ugly Truth. These discussions, as you would expect, are supportive; challenging and provocative; and have probed deep into my own consciousness and educational values. Something, I must re-visit.

However, on the flipped side; blogging; tweeting and publishing my first book has opened up so many other doors, that I have recently started to question, whether or not I do want to become a headteacher. The vision to lead my own school, is still very much real for me. But with #Find_TTkit_A_Job on the horizon and future events and publications, I have to constantly re-evaluate my priorities and balance What, When, Why, How and What if? …

If you looked through the lens, what do you see?

What do you see?  Photo Credit: highdynamic87 via Compfight cc
What do you see?
Photo Credit: highdynamic87 via Compfight cc

Firstly, I do not claim to have all the answers, nor claim to live up to this blogpost title day-in, day-out! This would be highly unrealistic and an over-zealous statement to make. But, what I can tell you is; is that I do know what it’s like to work for a great senior leadership team, as well as working for (with) a diabolical leadership team!


In the series, I will make references to ND Strupler, who I discovered online some years ago, who has written countless blogs on leadership in general. However, most, if not all, can be applied to the field of education and is where I take some of my leadership ‘alternatives’ from. Of course, throughout the past 10 years, I have sourced my own leadership skills and values and apply them daily. I hope that by sharing my #360Review, it will become apparent to some, what kind of outstanding senior leader I may become?

Change, by Richard Gerver
Change, by Richard Gerver

Finally, last year, I discovered the wonderful @IanWig and benefited greatly from his coaching. He also was kind enough to introduce me to former headteacher, @RichardGerver, author of ‘Change‘, whose (currently reading) book has inspired me to write this final epitaph for 2013.

“The pace of change is greater than ever. We all face new challenges every day in our jobs and in our personal lives. Those who can handle change are the most fulfilled. Those who fear change will find it hardest to thrive.”

This key quote from Gerver’s book, sums up leadership for me; and what I mean by leadership, doesn’t necessarily mean as a senior leader; I am referring to leadership in your very own classroom.


Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in two school leadership teams and on a third leadership team as an experienced middle-leader. This was a secondment as an SSAT Lead Practitioner and was only a peripheral role. As most of my readers will know, I am currently working as Assistant Vice Principal in a rapidly improving inner-city school in North London. I am responsible for improving the quality of teaching and learning; staff development; appraisal and initial teacher training. Since 2008, working in two academies (one as a National-Challenge), I have had a bit-part contribution to the schools’ best-ever GCSE results as part of both senior leadership teams.

London Boroughs of Barnet; Haringey: Romford; Lewisham and Brent
London Boroughs of Barnet; Haringey: Romford; Lewisham and Brent

So, good results; but working on two, very different types of leadership teams! Can a great/awful leadership team still raise standards? It appears so; and this dichotomy will be saved for another post in the series.

What makes an outstanding senior leader?

I did, I didn’t and I do work in an outstanding school. In all three schools, I would consider my leadership at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted definition. I know this is subjective and relative to my own experiences, so please do forgive me. There are no hard facts here, other than my own, public #360Review.

The last time I discussed working in schools (Ofsted definitions aside), I considered three of the schools I had worked in myself and the recipe required to make a school an outstanding place to work. You can read this overview here. But what I’d like to address now, is taking each of these school leadership teams/schools into more context in order to consider the following question: What makes an outstanding senior leader?

What ethos would you instil on your school corridors?

Photo Credit: Dean Terry via Compfight cc
What ethos would you instil on your school corridors?
Photo Credit: Dean Terry via Compfight cc

Probing questions!

There are a plethora of questions posed for leadership reflection. These fall into two distinct categories and into six key areas.

  • The categories are Knowledge and Professional Qualities.
  • The key areas are Shaping the future; Leading learning and teaching; Developing self and working with others; Managing the organisation; Securing accountability; Strengthening the community.

360 Leadership Analysis:

Like any 360 review, there is a rating scale to help an individual explore the quality of leadership and management, as well as questionnaires to investigate staff perceptions, support self-reflection and evaluation and enable a 360 degree review of your own leadership and management. This is mine.

Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / zaganDesign
Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / zaganDesign

Shaping the Future (Knowledge):

The headteacher should know about: local, national and global trends; ways to build, communicate and implement a shared vision; strategic planning processes; strategies for communication both within and beyond the school; new technologies, their use and impact; leading change, creativity and innovation. (Knowledge)

Here are the key questions to consider, with my own analysis in the photo that follows.

  1. I know about local trends
  2. I know about national trends
  3. I know about global trends
  4. I know about ways to build a shared vision
  5. I know about ways to communicate a shared vision
  6. I know about ways to implement a shared vision
  7. I know about strategic planning processes
  8. I know about strategies for communication within the school
  9. I know about strategies for communication beyond the school
  10. I know about the use of new technologies
  11. I know about the impact of new technologies
  12. I know about leading change
  13. I know about leading creativity
  14. I know about leading innovation

My own evaluation of these questions are below. You can click on the image to enlarge the view.

Shaping the Future
Shaping the Future – click to view

You can see for yourself, that I clearly need to grasp what “I know about global trends”.

Self-comparative analysis:

For the benefit of this blogpost and the software used to generate this #360Review, there is a function that allows you to compare your last reflection. The comparison below, shows August 2010, compared with my most recent reflection in December 2013. I will only offer this snapshot once, throughout the entire series.

Shaping the Future
Shaping the Future – click to view

Shaping the Future (Professional Qualities):

The headteacher should be committed to: a collaborative school vision of excellence and equity that sets high standards for every pupil; the setting and achieving of ambitious, challenging goals and targets; the use of appropriate new technologies; inclusion and the ability and right of all to be the best they can be. The headteacher should be able to: think strategically, build and communicate a coherent vision in a range of compelling ways; inspire, challenge, motivate and empower others to carry the vision forward; model the values and vision of the school. (Professional Qualities)

Here are the key questions to consider, with my own analysis in the photo that follows.

  1. I am committed to a collaborative school vision of excellence and equity that sets high standards for every pupil
  2. I am committed to the setting of ambitious, challenging goals and targets
  3. I am committed to the achieving of ambitious, challenging goals and targets
  4. I am committed to the use of appropriate new technologies
  5. I am committed to inclusion
  6. I am committed to the ability and right of all to be the best they can be
  7. I am able to think strategically
  8. I am able to build a coherent vision in a range of compelling ways
  9. I am able to communicate a coherent vision in a range of compelling ways
  10. I am able to inspire, challenge, motivate and empower others to carry the vision forward
  11. I am able to model the values of the school
  12. I am able to model the vision of the school
Shaping the Future - click to open
Shaping the Future – click to open

Key questions:

In terms of how we are judged (by Ofsted) within leadership and management  (and making explicit references to school evaluation forms); here is my final analysis. Leadership and management at any school, includes all teachers with a leadership responsibility. But, in this case, the final analysis, is about my own current performance.

The verdict:

“I should show that… (with my own summary in red font):

  • The vision for the school is clearly articulated, shared, understood and acted upon effectively by all. I currently see this as the most difficult aspect to achieve. This question recently was posed of me in my own appraisal. I find myself using mantras and philosophies gathered over time; some values blurred by Ofsted and others inspired by headteachers I know or work with. It is now my sole objective to define for 2014.
  • Work within the school community to translate the vision into agreed objectives and operational plans which will promote and sustain school improvement. I am confident this is achieved and sustained.
  • Demonstrate the vision and values in everyday work and practice. I am confident this is achieved and sustained 99% of my working days. Read more here.
  • Motivate and work with others to create a shared culture and positive culture. This is achieved in small pockets of teams within areas of my responsibility. The challenge would be to motivate and share best practice competently and consistently across a school project; and sustain this. I have some examples, but nothing I would consider monumental.
  • Ensure creativity, innovation and the use of appropriate new technologies to achieve excellence. Achieved and sustained.
  • Ensure that strategic planning takes account of the diversity, values and experience of the school and community at large. I am confident this is achieved within areas of my responsibility; some which have impact across the entire school..

Further reading:

Meanwhile, make sure you have read:

  1. Part 1: Shaping the future: What makes an outstanding senior leader? #360Review
  2. Part 2: Leading Learning and Teaching: How would you lead teaching and learning? #360Review
  3. Part 3: Developing self and others: How to develop yourself and work with others? #360Review
  4. Part 4: Managing the organisation: Can you manage the school organisation? #360Review
  5. Part 5: Securing accountability: Securing accountability with leadership actions: #360Review
  6. Part 6: Strengthening the community; Headship: Can you engage with the internal and external school community? #360Review

Other useful reads:

11 thoughts on “What makes an outstanding senior leader? #360Review (Part 1 of 6)

    1. I appreciate your comments, but this is part 1 of 6. There is much more to share about my colleagues opinions; plus this is also public (even though readers do not know me in a professional capacity).

  1. Interesting to read, Ross – and good luck with this.

    I’ve helped several heads and senior leaders with their performance reviews, both when I was a head, and more frequently since I left headship. I agree that it’s important to start with a clear vision of the ‘leader you want to be’ – national standards/NPQH criteria can help with this, but you will also add to that your own sense of vision and values/moral purpose.

    I also agree that you need to start with a thorough self-appraisal – how do you think you currently measure up against this picture of the ‘ideal’ leader, recognising that you’re unlikely ever to be ‘fully formed’ and that you’re learning and developing all the time. (‘Building the bridge as you walk on it’ – Robert Quinn). You have to give yourself full credit for your achievements and successes, as well as adopting a clear-eyed view of those areas where you’re less confident/effective (at the moment – Growth Mindset!) You also have to keep asking yourself the key questions, ‘How do I know?’ and ‘So what?’ (ie how does that impact on the experience/effectiveness of other staff/the students). And as a senior leader, that includes how it impacts on your head – do you give them the best possible support (and occasionally constructive challenge) to enable them to be the best leader they can be?

    And then I think the third stage is to ask for feedback from as many of those you lead/whose lives you impact on as possible, to test out your own assessment and to help you focus on the way forward. I’ve gathered feedback from pupils, leaders, teaching and support staff at all levels, parents, governors and members of the wider community to help the heads and senior leaders I’ve appraised get the clearest possible picture of where they are, where they’re going and how (and within what time frame) they might get there.

    Hope this is helpful. You know I’m always happy to help/talk anything through if you’d find it useful, and I look forward to reading the other posts in the series.

    1. Hi Jill, Thanks so much for your detailed comments. I know you are there for help when I need. I will come knocking. I will be posting all 6 stages over the holidays; then I will get back to you about ‘my vision’ and how I go about forming/sharing this.

  2. How about 5over-arching themes-1] to develop and promote greatness in others-never yourself, 2] to be the living embodiment of the vision you sell to others and to be public image of your school in every aspect of your life-there is no escape of hiding place! 3]to be succinct and cut to the chase and to be able to communicate complex issues to any audience and all in your school community so that they never feel patronised, feel valued and clearly understand and support what you are saying-don’t get too far up your own arse! 4] whatever the situation and issue-take the morale high ground and do the right thing-be nice to people on the way up or meet them again……..You will regret actions taken in haste or temper. 5] never forget your years as a classroom teacher and never be to big to seek help, advice, apologise when you are wrong and to change your views and attitude when it is the right thing for the school [the hardest bit!]

      1. Apologies for the SPAG errors! 6] always wear your reading glasses whilst responding to posts! Have a good break and thank you for sharing ideas/raising issues.

  3. It’s impressive to see this much self reflection – and I remember this part of Npqh with fondness. I start my first Headship next Monday morning so your reflections are helpful.

    For what it is worth, don’t get hung up on the vision thing. Your values are more important and as an educationalist, are probably quite simple- the moral purpose of schools is to provide the best life chances possible for every child in it- Vision is contextual and depends on the school – I’ll lead this school to outstanding, I’ll provide world class Ict, I’ll lead these people out of Special Measures…

    I think values are non negotiable, but vision is crafted from circumstances. You may have a particular interest- mine is inclusion, and sometimes people become Heads in certain schools because of a common passion but vision changes over time…once you’ve achieved outstanding what then?

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