The Potential Fate of School Leaders Everywhere by @TeacherToolkit

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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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This is a blog post for all senior teachers across the UK.

I write this to propose leadership resolutions for every school leader at the beginning of 2015. This blog is not political, nor is it written to damage great leadership already present in schools. This is a simple blog to serve as a reminder to myself in the first instance, but for other school leaders to contemplate, to ensure we all avoid the Potential Fate of becoming a ‘bad-egg’.

Egg Spoon

Image: Di’s Eyes

In @MaryMyatt‘s fabulous blogpost, The 7 Things Top Leaders Do, she said the following:

  1. Top leaders notice everything. The small details and the bigger picture.
  2. Top leaders know everyone’s name. They never forget that they are dealing with human beings first.
  3. Top leaders don’t accept excuses. Particularly for themselves. Working to the principles of ‘high challenge, low threat’!
  4. Top leaders have high levels of energy. They laugh often. They don’t take themselves too seriously.
  5. Top leaders are no-nonsense. They spot waffle and cut through it.
  6. Top leaders know every aspect of their school. They don’t run their schools for Ofsted but for their students.
  7. Oh, and they teach … The top, top leaders do their share of working with the awkward squad.

Keeping the above as something we aspire towards, @OldAndrewUK‘s blog on How to Be A Bad SMT serves as a pertinent reminder for the worst of school leaders. For the year ahead and with these two blogs in mind, I’d like to propose a leadership pledge for 2015.

The Potential Fate of School Leaders:

I use the word ‘fate’ to advocate quite the opposite. I’d like to propose that the following part of my blog is as an aide-memoir for all (including potential) school leaders, working with teachers and support staff in their school. In an earlier blog, 50 Forward-Planning Questions, I provided my readers with 10 questions, to ask every teacher, middle leader and senior leader. I have re-blogged the 10 questions to ask every senior teacher below as a reference and as a suggestive New Year resolution for 2015.

These questions are focused specifically on CPD and teaching and learning for senior leaders:

  1. When last did you visit every classroom in the school?
  2. Which teachers across the school, need support? And what specifically? By when? Is this costed/communicated?
  3. Which teachers are keen to share with others? Do they have a forum to do this? How is this disseminated to all?
  4. What CPD needs to be put in place for this term? And for the start of the academic year?
  5. What CPD pathways need to be refined? Teacher-training? Lesson study? NPQML? Masters? Action-research groups?
  6. Have you recently read the Investors In People designation process to achieve the kite-mark? It is very useful for self-review.
  7. Have you contacted new staff regarding dates for school induction? Teaching and learning expectations / systems etc.
  8. Is your school moving towards ‘no-gradings’ for lesson observations? Yes/No? What needs to happen this term? If you are keeping gradings? Has this been communicated and have staff been part of the process?
  9. What T&L/CPD evidence will be used for appraisal from September 2014 and towards the end of the year? Are your policies up to date?
  10. What can you put in place to facilitate teachers having more time together, to talk about teaching?

Improving The System for All:

In @LearningSpy‘s blogpost shared today, he provided some worthwhile suggestions for school leaders.

*Before you add something new to teachers’ workload, consider what you will take away. Just adding more leads to stress, under-performance and burnout.

*Never do anything because you think it’s what Ofsted want. Try asking, What would happen if we didn’t do this? What difference would not doing something really make?

*Try assuming that teachers are doing the best they are able for the students they teach. If a teacher is struggling, consider what could you do to actually make their life easier instead of more onerous.

*Expecting teachers to sacrifice their home lives to manage their work load is not only unreasonable, it’ll have a negative impact on their productivity. What could you do to model a healthy home/work balance?

*Never send an email when a polite conversation might do the trick.

Read his New Year Resolutions.

Leadership Manifesto:

So, with all 4 blogposts above in mind, here is my leadership pledge for myself, that all school leaders may consider for the year ahead. In turn, this may alleviate any potential fate as a school leader (and any potential for becoming a ‘bad-egg’).

  1. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must cut it in the classroom. You must teach and teach very well. There is nothing worse than senior leaders that teach, who are not up to scratch. In fact there is, school leaders who do not teach. Of course, many headteachers choose not to and this is entirely reasonable, but what I am referring to here, are leaders in leadership teams who are far-removed from the chalkface. Always aim to stay in the classroom.
  2. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must cut it in the corridors. Be out and about at every lesson changeover. Walk the site if needed, even when the corridors and playground are quiet. Do not opt to sit in your office between non-contact lessons. Have your door open. As leaders, we are always ‘on-duty’, so a 5-minute walk is not only good for removing potential lateness, it can make the difference between quelling any hot-spots, to supporting colleagues and students across the school. Use the opportunity to speak with staff. Face-to-face conversations are always the go-to choice for top leaders, rather than by email.
  3. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must cut it in assemblies. All school leaders should be able to deliver a strong and purposeful assembly. Be prepared. Don’t dig out the resources that you’ve used for the past 5 years or so; plan any assembly with passion. After all, this is the place where the school vision and ethos is set and maintained. This is your opportunity to celebrate the life of the school, whilst sharing your own leadership values.
  4. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must have an open door. Face the facts quickly; your own time is before and after school. During the rest of the day, leaders should be available to support colleagues and students all of the time; deal with issues, support and encourage. Do this with a visible presence, yet keep your own work-wellbeing in mind.
  5. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must be supportive. If you disagree with a decision made at senior leadership, do not go out and about school, bad-mouthing decisions made by those you work with. You are working for the school and your students, not yourself. Top leaders always stick together and keep required information private.
  6. To avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must avoid promises that you may fail to keep. If can’t do something, say so and explain why. Do all that you can to find an alternative and communicate this at all times. Ask for help if needed.
  7. and finally, to avoid any Potential Fate as a School Leader, you must listen. In offices, avoid sitting behind a PC screen. In classrooms, find somewhere quiet to listen carefully. In meetings, give staff ample time to ask and questions publicly and privately. Do not be a bully and push your own agenda.

Of course, this may also be applied for support staff who are also leaders in schools. I hope this is food for thought for every school leader throughout the coming year. Don’t become a bad egg, eh? You may end up a laughing-stock!

Happy New Year and all the best to you and your schools.


People Laughing Pointing finger

Image: Jordipuente-Coaching

11 thoughts on “The Potential Fate of School Leaders Everywhere by @TeacherToolkit

  1. A well written article that clearly defines the “learning” role and responsibilities of school leadership. I especially like the “listen” aspect. Here is my take on the role of leadership in the form of a “Responsibility” diagram. I would welcome any comments anyone wishes to make, getting leadership right is so important for the learning relationship in schools.

  2. Thanks for this, Ross – always good to have a positive, constructive, practical post about successful senior leadership!

    Re: teaching and headship, I’ve known excellent heads who do teach, and excellent heads who don’t, but I do think one of my better decisions as a head was to teach each Year 7 class every week. I was paired with their ‘real’ English teacher, so if I HAD to be out of school when I should have been teaching, the pupils didn’t miss out. If I was in school I would never schedule anything to clash with a lesson. The great advantage was that I got to know the students – all their names by October half term (we had four or five form entry, s0 not as big as some schools, I appreciate) and something of each one as a person, which affected my relationship with them throughout their time at the school. And they got to know me and to start to build a relationship with me, as head.

    As with any idea, it was an idea I pinched from someone else, but it was a very good move. I remember when I’d been there for seven years, looking round the sports hall full senior school assembly (about 700 students) and thinking to myself, “I could tell you the name of every individual here….”

  3. A very interesting read that has given me food for thought. Think I may now forward the 10 questions to other slt members, we all need to reflect and remember why we are in this role and hopefully the answer to that will be ‘because we care’.

  4. What a great post and perfect for the beginning of a ‘new year’ when many of us are in reflection and resolution mode – you’ve certainly made me take a good look at my own practices. Thank you.

  5. Hello

    I,m a private teacher from Spain, and i would like to thank you for all the material that is available to us in this blog.
    There is a lot of good stuff here to read, and tons of things to learn.

    Regards from Spain!

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