Coaching & Leadership Development
Teaching and Leading from your Heart and Soul

Teaching and Leading from your Heart and Soul

  Now I am keenly aware that the term ‘soul’ has its connotations and I ought to clarify from the outset how it is being used in this piece. Soul is one way of referring to a sense of ‘core self’, which might be a more palatable and psychologically derived term. It refers to what’s at the heart of who we are. For the purposes of this piece, I am using the term as an elaborated sense of core self which has a spiritual and psychological character.   “Heart and soul” rhetoric can be regarded as passé, or worse, by some critics in our post-modernist world.  Far from being socially and politically regressive, “heart and soul” language, rightly understood, is one of the most radical rhetorics we have. Despite our cultural bias that all power resides in the outward, visible world, history offers ample evidence that the inward and invisible powers of the human spirit can have at least equal impact changing our individual and collective lives.¹   If you are interested in the theme of soul and educational leadership you inevitably have to encounter Parker Palmer and his Courage to Teach. I first came across a copy early in my career and its wisdom passed me by; I was preoccupied with the technicalities of getting kids to shut up and sit down to work. How I wish I had stayed with the book, forced myself to look beyond accomplishing glorified babysitting and engaged with the kind of professional vocation that can sustain an entire teaching career.   Palmer’s work is full of insights, questions and dilemmas which will...
How to Survive as a School Leader

How to Survive as a School Leader

This blog comes from CEO of the Archway Learning Trust, Sian Hampton   Over the last few years I have moved from being the head of a single school, albeit on two sites, to CEO of a Multi Academy Trust serving over 4,000 students and employing about 700 staff.    I love my job and the fantastic staff and students I get to work with every day, but the pressures of this changed role and the ever increasing demand for more have taken their toll.   This year has probably been one of the hardest – and most rewarding – of my career.  From a place of still figuring things out, there are five key observations I would like to make about how to survive as a leader and what my strategies will be going forwards.   1. Recognise the symptoms   Despite the chest pains, constant headaches and sleepless nights, I ignored all the physical symptoms of anxiety and kept going.  All leaders are high functioning so it is perfectly possible to soldier on without due regard for ourselves and our well-being no matter what our bodies are telling us.  Understanding that we are struggling, recognising the signs of stress and anxiety are part of the solution to managing them.   Stress can be positive as a means of motivation and energy helping us to perform more effectively, but we are in dangerous territory when that stress becomes physically limiting and instead of dealing with it, we compartmentalise and ignore it.   2. Collaborate don’t compete   There is a building narrative around the growth of Multi Academy Trust...
Why Heads must NOT see fellow Leaders as Competitors

Why Heads must NOT see fellow Leaders as Competitors

    Over the last few years, it’s fair to say that many changes have taken place in our education system that have transformed relationships between Headteachers.    I remember back when I was a Headteacher in a local authority (LA), whilst it was by no means a perfect institution – they understood the importance of creating structures that fostered a strong sense of collegiality and camaraderie amongst its Head teachers.   Yet sadly over the last few years, now many (if not most) LA’s have been dismantled. The increased emphasis on results and league tables has meant that Heads are now encouraged at every stage to compare and compete with local schools, in much the same way as businesses would.   Unsurprisingly, this has led to decreased levels of trust between Heads. The continuing academisation of our schools and the battle for funding has only served to compound the situation. If our school leaders continue to see and treat each other as rivals, it is unlikely that there will be any real winners in this battle. As in reality, we all lose when ego and grandiose expressions of success are put ahead of the humanitarian needs of all who work in our schools.   Relationships Matter   The truth is, in the context of the ever-increasing challenges and the ever-decreasing support afforded to school leaders, relationships with fellow Heads are vital.   Headship is a lonely job and the role brings with it the type of power that often isolates: positional power. The higher up you are in an organisation, the more your positional power means that you not only...
3 Steps to Improving School Communication

3 Steps to Improving School Communication

This blog comes from Justin Robbins and Karen Dempster, co-authors of ‘How to Build Communication Success in Your School’ and workshop facilitators at our upcoming “Education for the Soul” Conference. According to research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology “85% of our success is due to our ability to communicate”. This puts effective two-way communication at the heart of a successful school.   In our previous post, How to Develop your Own Personal Vision we talked about how important a personal vision is to a leader. Similarly, a school’s vision and how it is lived is what sets it apart.   A school leader can create or evolve a vision that inspires their teachers. This best happens through genuine two-way communication and listening.  When lived fully through all that a school does, the vision sets the tone for the right culture, supporting wellbeing, innovation, creativity and enabling teachers to collaborate.  Ultimately, improving the education experience for children.   But, what about when the communication doesn’t reflect your vision or values? For example, a school value is to be ‘considerate’ but parents are literally bombarded with school emails on a Friday afternoon. Or the school vision is to ‘excel’ and yet spelling mistakes are common in staff memos.   Here are three simple steps that your school can take now to ensure your vision and values are reflected in how you communicate…   Step 1 – Listen   Our school communication philosophy is based on starting with good listening habits. One-way messaging, whether to the school team or parents, is just passing on information, a bit like reading a newspaper. A...
An Open Letter to Every School Leader

An Open Letter to Every School Leader

  It is our belief that over the last few years, our education system has lost sight of one of its strongest and most important assets – its humanity.   Values more akin to the business world have seeped into the system with schools encouraged to see children as data, other school leaders as competitors and results as the ultimate goal of education. We have seen  too many school leaders  ‘disappear’ with many being forced out, sometimes on the back of just one disappointing set of results.   Consequently, we’ve noticed a growing culture of fear within in our education system. Increased levels of public scrutiny and personal accountability have only served to intensify this.  As have new structures and roles which have added unnecessary layers of complexity and ambiguity. Many heads now feel they are in a constant battle to prove they know what is being asked of them in this new era and prove that they are “good enough.”   To make matters worse, leaders are now expected to “do more with less” and improve their schools with depleting school budgets.  They are expected to fill the gaps that social workers and family support systems can no-longer provide (again due to budget cuts). Amidst all these challenges, it appears very little consideration has been given to the impact that these additional expectations and pressures have had upon the mental health and well-being of those who lead our schools.   Therefore, it is no surprise that so many Headteachers struggling with the heavy emotional cost of leading and find themselves feeling isolated, stressed, exhausted, out of control and plagued with...