Coaching & Leadership Development
Keeping school leaders
hope alive today, for
our children’s hope of a
better tomorrow.
How to Overcome the Stress of School Re-Openings

How to Overcome the Stress of School Re-Openings

This week, whilst it remains open to question as to whether the five tests for easing lockdown have been met, schools have begun to re-admit pupils for certain year groups. Understandably, against this backdrop there is a high degree of stress and anxiety. Pupils, parents and teachers alike will carry their own set of fears and worries about what a return to school might look like. Pupils might worry about who they can play with and why it is that they can no-longer proudly carry pieces of work home to show their parents; parents in turn might worry about how well their children will adjust to the changes and teachers may worry about the limitations of social distancing on the child/teacher relationship. And… there will be many, many more worries that will surface over the coming weeks and months.

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Coronavirus – How to Protect your Mental Health in a Crisis

Coronavirus – How to Protect your Mental Health in a Crisis

After a week of self-isolating and not getting any better, this was very much the case for me. When it was confirmed over the phone, by my doctor that I had contracted Covid-19. The diagnosis didn’t surprise me. For a week I’d felt awful; sore throat, persistent cough, aching limbs, no energy and loss of appetite. By the time my family made the decision to call the doctor, those symptoms had intensified, along with stinging headaches, that seemed to go on for hours and Paracetamol had little effect. Self-isolating in my bedroom and with no energy to even read a book or watch TV, the only thing I could do was face my own interior world of thoughts and feelings. My family were worried, particularly my 93 year old mum (who struggled to understand why she couldn’t come over and take care of me) and my eldest son, who despite his best efforts, found it difficult to mask his anxiety and worry. As I slowly came back to full health ( a process that took slightly over three weeks) I realised that the sense of connectedness that I had with myself and others was a key factor in protecting my mental health. It helped me to retain a sense of hope as my body sought to recover.

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BLM – Why School Leaders must take the Lead

BLM – Why School Leaders must take the Lead

When I trained as a teacher over thirty years ago, I was introduced to the work of Bernard Coard and his book on “How the West-Indian Child is made educationally sub-normal in the British School Education System.” Ideally, it is a book that I would have wanted to be introduced to privately. As although it was not the lecturer’s intention, as the only Black student in my year, I felt a deep shame and discomfort when she read excerpts from his book that matched so closely with my own experiences of the British Education system. For the majority of the white trainee teachers Coard’s work was simply an academic treatise. For me it was personal. I come from a Black, working class family. Social and economic deprivation and racial inequality were the backdrop for my childhood years. Not a single person in the lecture hall shared a similar story to my own. So when the lecturer read how the structure and design of the British education system had led to many Black children underachieving and living with a hidden, yet deep sense of inferiority, it felt as though she was shining a light on my own hurt, bruised and conflicted inner world for all to see. I wanted to get up and leave the lecture hall. Of course I didn’t, but I spent the whole four years at Teacher Training college wanting to escape: tiring of being in the minority; tiring of being on the outside; tiring of fearing that I could never truly achieve in a system that had only ever seen Black children as a problem.

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Why is Change so difficult in Schools?

Why is Change so difficult in Schools?

There is an ancient Persian tale about a householder who notices a bump in a rug. Whenever he tries to smooth the rug the bump reappears again, and again, and again. Finally, in frustration, he lifts the rug and out slides an angry snake. Of course, the point is that this is how we tend to try to change things in our organisations; dealing only with the symptoms and not the underlying cause – the snake under the surface. This is understandable, for we live in a rational age when we’re taught to believe only what we can see and to value only that which we can know. And so it goes for our professional development as leaders and managers, which trains us to view our colleagues as nothing more than rational actors, moving about on a surface in ways we might try to predict, and motivate with carrots and sticks. This perspective is so pervasive that we rarely question it.

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What is a Coaching Relationship really like?

What is a Coaching Relationship really like?

Senior school leaders are in positions where their behaviours, words, actions and relationships are on constant public display. As a result, their lives are under constant public scrutiny. This in itself brings a unique set of pressures. School leaders have to learn how to manage both their private and public personas; in a manner that ensures they are able to maintain high levels of authenticity and a deep connection with their core values and what they stand for. When faced with challenging circumstances (which often arise on a daily basis) school leaders normally respond automatically to these situations with perceived expertise and aplomb. Responding to stress, responding to crisis, small and large that are not a part of the planned daily routine, soon become an accepted part of a school leader’s daily life. However, left unchecked, and without time to reflect on causes, impact and consequences of actions taken, these automatic behaviours can result in leaders becoming disconnected from themselves and in extreme cases, disconnected at various levels from those they lead and manage.

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How to Live with Uncertainty as a School Leader

How to Live with Uncertainty as a School Leader

It has now been almost two months since the country went into lockdown and now, very tentatively we are seeking to ease our way out. The future is still uncertain and there remains a huge array of unknowns. As a result, most of us are now in what I’d consider to be a “liminal space”. To clarify, if you’re not familiar with the language, liminal means threshold, it is the period of time between two concrete senses of who we are. For example, adolescence is a liminal period of time as we are no longer a child and we are also not yet an adult. It is often referred to as a “between place” and during this time, I’ve seen so many people have been commenting on how peculiar this between and betwixt place they currently feel they are in feels. This is partly because one of the important things about this liminal time is that it inevitably involves disintegration. After all, there is no way in which it is possible to be a child, undergo adolescence and be a child at the end of it. It’s just not possible! We can have a pseudo liminal process in which we think we have had a heck of a time, but we haven’t really experienced this sense of disintegration. We usually know that is happening because of a number of things: we feel the disintegration bodily, in our minds and we find that what used to make sense, no longer makes sense. Therefore, there is a real feeling of disorientation.

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Re-Opening Schools – Why Heads Must be Trusted

Re-Opening Schools – Why Heads Must be Trusted

Teachers and school leaders have been on the frontline since the very start of this pandemic. Over the past few days, the way in which they have been vilified by some politicians and certain sections of the media, has served no one, least of all our children. Amidst the high degrees of change and uncertainty brought about by this global crisis, it is both mis-leading and mis-guided to characterise those who work in our schools as either “too lazy” or difficult”, when they have expressed valid concerns about the re-opening of schools. The disparaging way in which their concerns have been presented has not been helpful. By belittling the very legitimate concerns held by unions, school leaders, teachers and parents alike, the discourse around school re-openings has sadly become divisive. At a time, when a spirit of unity has to be at the centre of all efforts to move the country out of lockdown. As an accusatory finger is being pointed at teachers and school leaders, what is patently being ignored is the fact that teachers and school leaders do care! The vast majority care passionately about the profession they have chosen to be a part of. They care passionately about the communities they serve. We need only look back over the past couple of months to see ample evidence of this: from hand-delivering food packages to their most deprived families, facilitating community initiatives (with everything from virtual choirs to helping create masks for the NHS), to of course, providing a range of online learning.

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When Schools Return – How to Make Wellbeing A Priority

When Schools Return – How to Make Wellbeing A Priority

Much is being talked about currently of the need to make staff wellbeing a priority as schools extend their doors to more pupils – and rightly so. COVID-19 has impacted on colleagues’ emotional and psychological health significantly. No one person’s experience has been the same – ‘we are in the same storm, but we are in different boats’. Nonetheless, every colleague will have been impacted in some shape or form and either need and/or benefit from being supported. To consider how best to tend to staff wellbeing, I’d like to introduce you to a model called the Cycles of Development. This offers a perspective on how the trauma of COVID might impact upon individuals from a developmental perspective. Crucially, the suggestions that arise out of this model a) do not require you to be a psychologist or psychotherapist, yet is informed from sound psychological theory and b) can be framed as supporting post-traumatic growth, rather than a medical, and perhaps more deficit based, approach. The central premise behind the Cycles theory is that as humans we move through distinct stages of development, each stage having its own set of developmental tasks or growing up jobs that need attending to. Having visited each stage at specific chronological points in our childhood and adolescence, we then revisit these at various points in our adult lives. In particular, times of change, including traumatic events, trigger certain developmental needs within us that connected with these stages.

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I Can’t Breathe – Implications for Schools

I Can’t Breathe – Implications for Schools

In 1997, I was appointed Headteacher of St Andrew’s Primary School in South London. My school was situated just between Brixton and Stockwell. Its location bordering one of the roads that had been a flash point for the Brixton riots a decade or so before. A time, when just as we have seen in recent weeks, black people protested against the level of police brutality exhibited towards them. As a young black woman growing up in the70’s and 80’s, I never expected to be a Headteacher. Incidents of racism where peppered throughout my school career. At 15, I was told by my career’s teacher, that my aspiration of becoming a Nursery Nurse was too high and instead, I should consider becoming a cashier in the local supermarket. When I first joined St Andrew’s in 1992, I was a section 11 teacher. Back then, Section 11 funding was used in part, to deploy advisory teachers in schools. Our remit was to devise and implement strategies for raising the achievement of underperforming pupils; particularly Black Caribbean boys. There were many times in my first few years at St Andrew’s, when I felt that I too couldn’t breathe, and why? Because of the colour of my skin. At the very beginning, there were times when black children would speak down to me. Why? Because the only other black staff were cleaners and daily, pupils witnessed the derogatory ways their white teachers spoke to them (and to me). It seemed inconceivable that I could be there to teach them.

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An Open Invitation to Every School Leader

An Open Invitation to Every School Leader

I think it is fair to say that as a result of the current COVID-19 crisis, the challenge and complexity of the Headteacher role has grown exponentially. Every school leader in the country has faced an enormous amount of change; personally and professionally. These are unprecedented times, for which there are no rule or guide-books. Everything has changed! Relationships with families, pupils and staff have changed. The speed of change has been swift, with little or no time for school leaders to make sense of both the here and now and also what the ‘new order’ might bring. Whilst many Heads are doing their best in an impossible situation, many are struggling to navigate the uncertainty that has accompanied this global pandemic. The old norms have been stripped away and this can lead to feelings of discomfort, disorientation and an understandable anxiety about the current situation in which we all find ourselves. On top of this, feelings of overwhelm, isolation and stress that Heads often report have also been further intensified. All we do know with any degree of certainty during these times – is that for now, this is our new normal and it will require huge amounts of resilience, courage and flexibility to navigate these perilous times. Therefore, this is a time when we need to be deliberate in pressing the pause button and finding time to reflect. This is a time, when different types of conversation and leadership support are needed.

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“Sustaining a Vital Profession” – Research Report

“Sustaining a Vital Profession” – Research Report

There is growing evidence of the deterioration of wellbeing amongst teachers and school leaders and a growing recruitment and retention crisis facing the profession. As recently as November 2019, Education Support published its Teacher Wellbeing Survey. In this survey, over 84% of senior leader respondents admitted to experiencing high-levels of stress from the role, with over 66% of senior leaders have considered leaving. The survey also highlighted the culture of overworking in the profession; 59% of senior leaders who completed the survey indicated they typically worked more than 51 hours per week. Meanwhile, 28% of senior leaders worked more than 61 hours per week and 11% working more than 70 hours per week. This situation further highlights the dire situation that faces the profession, which comes after the NFER report in 2017 found that headteacher retention rates have significantly fallen since 2012.

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