Education has and always will be my ‘first love’. Although I didn’t have the best experience of school growing up, l fell in love with education when I became a teacher and witnessed first-hand the difference my passion and commitment made to the children in my class. I loved it then and I still love it now. Even though, three decades on, so much has changed.
Yet, I know there are many in the profession, particularly school leaders, who struggle to keep the connection to their original passion and commitment. It is not their fault. Over the years, with a succession of educational directives, teachers and school leaders have found themselves caught in the middle of a political battlefield; where humanity has been sacrificed for the sake of political ideology.
If our teachers and school leaders are to re-claim their commitment, passion and sense of vocation, then our education system has to start really engaging with those on the ground. They must be listened to. Trust has to be re-built and ways have to be found to re-humanise the way in which our school leaders are supported to raise and maintain high standards across our schools.
Change won’t happen overnight, but the creation of more humane education system could be facilitated if politicians, policy advisors and others who work alongside our school leaders did these seven key things.
1. Stop using statistics as a sole measure of success
Teachers and school leaders understand and know how to use assessments. They know how to measure progress. They also know that numbers and statistics are only one measure of success. They know that a child’s achievement cannot be measured by numbers alone. Yet, our systems undue emphasis on league tables, SAT’s and GCSE results has in some quarters skewed approaches to teaching and learning. The curriculum has narrowed, and teachers are finding more and more, that they are having to operate in a system where there is less and less alignment with their own values and reasons for entering the profession.
2. Stop asking schools to deliver more with less
School budgets are in a desperate state. School leaders are finding themselves having to do re-structure, after restructure, just to make ends meet. Their vision hasn’t weakened, but their ability to fulfil it has. Heads want the very best for every single child in their school, but increasingly many are finding that it’s impossible to deliver their best on a shoe string.
Something has to give and more often than not it is the mental health and well-being of our teachers and school leaders, as they valiantly seek to fill the gaps left by the funding crisis. This is not humane and neither is it sustainable. Teachers and school leaders deserve to be treated better.
3. Stop comparing schools to businesses
The values that drive the vast majority of teachers and school leaders are those which are to do quite rightly, with putting children first. They are not driven by money, profit or competition. Yet, sadly over the past few years, values which are more akin to the business world have seeped into the new models of schooling.
A poor set of test results or a falling school roll are all that is needed for Heads to ‘disappear’. No consideration is given to the damage that is done to individuals, pupils and whole school communities when such an approach is taken. It isn’t just one school that suffers. The whole system does. As increasingly teachers and school leaders become de-sensitised to the brutality of the system and simply accept that it’s just the way things are.
4. Stop holding up stereotyped models of success
We would all agree that schools need good leaders; individuals who are visionary, inspirational and challenge everyone to be their best. Every head teacher is different and unique. Every Head teacher has their own style and personality and that’s what makes them special. Yet, the system still has a long way to go in recognising this.
The models of successful leadership that are held up by government and policy leaders, still tends to be those which are autocratic and were results are won hard and fast. Many of us know that these styles of leadership are not sustainable and do little to raise morale and keep teachers in the profession for the long haul.
5. Include conversations that connect with vocation and purpose
Many who work alongside our school leaders seem to think that a continual bombardment of questions and conversations around data, performance and tests are all that is needed to keep Heads ‘on task’ and connected to their purpose. It is not! We only need look at the high attrition rates, to know that something is wrong with the way in which the system ‘supports’ our school leaders. These types of conversations simply keep our Heads in a perpetual state of either fight or flight. Their nervous systems take a constant daily battering, until many say ‘Enough’ and leave.
Engage Heads and school leaders with regular conversations that connect them back to their values and purpose, then they are properly supported to do the ‘inner work’ that will bring congruence, strength and authenticity to the outer work of being a school leader.
6. Adopt a more holistic approach to the workload crisis
The workload crisis is big on the education agenda at present; cut down paperwork, reduce marking, smarter lesson planning etc. As good as these strategies are, they do not go far enough. There are deeper needs that teachers and school leaders must have met if they are to remain in profession.
They must be listened to, valued and respected. They must know that they are far more than a set of results and that their worth as human beings is not dependent on a set of data. Just as our children are nurtured to fulfil their potential, the same must be done for our teachers and school leaders. The workload crisis will not be resolved if human development /growth needs are ignored.
7. Demonstrate that teachers and school leaders really matter!
Bill Gates is quoted as having said;
“Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist in into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let’s focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers to improve”
If we can get this right, if we can focus on the development of a personnel system that is able to integrate the personal with the professional, then we may see the development of a more humane education system. I live in hope!
Supporting our School Leaders with Humanity
Our School Leaders play a key role in society. They are the guardians of our children’s futures. To succeed in their roles, it is imperative that they are given the emotional and mental support that they need thrive. When schools are led by grounded, confident, emotionally healthy individuals, they create the environments in which there is a joy and love of learning and children thrive too.
For those involved in supporting School Leaders, this should be our ultimate goal. Yet heartbreakingly, school leaders remain endemically under-supported and, as a result, we’ve seen growing numbers of great Headteachers leaving the profession or being signed off due to stress, anxiety and depression.
This can’t continue. Active steps must be taken. Our profession needs to change and show that it knows how to best support our school leaders so that they can not only survive, but also thrive in their attempts to deliver the best outcomes for our children.
They need support so that when the going gets tough (as it always does), our leaders can get back up again and, with renewed focus and energy, carry on towards their dream. This involves affording our leaders opportunities to reflect, gain clarity and find solutions with someone who is impartial and understands the challenges they’re experiencing.
That’s why I am now offering free “Coaching for The Soul” support calls for school leaders to ensure that no School Leader would have to struggle to find the support they need.
This Free 30-minute call with me will provide you with a confidential, safe space where you can:
– Talk through the challenges you’re facing
– Get support in locating next steps and finding solutions
– Reflect on recent events and the impact that these have had on you as a leader and as a person
– Gain clarity around your thoughts
If you feel like you’d benefit from a call like this or perhaps know someone who would, please follow the link above!