Coaching & Leadership Development
Keeping school leaders
hope alive today, for
our children’s hope of a
better tomorrow.
“Two decades as a Headteacher took its toll”

“Two decades as a Headteacher took its toll”

I applied for a place on the Integrity Coaching Headteacher programme, funded by the NEU, in 2018 at a time when I was struggling to manage the various pressures and demands of my role. I became a Headteacher in 1999, and there had inevitably been numerous occasions over the previous two decades when my job had been challenging, stressful and all consuming; but this felt different. I was three years into my third headship, running a successful school with a fantastic staff team and a very supportive school community. My life outside of teaching was also good, a happy marriage, gorgeous family and living in a beautiful part of the country.

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3 Gifts School Leaders Need this Christmas

3 Gifts School Leaders Need this Christmas

Although it’s a long time ago now, I remember vividly what it felt like being a school leader at this time of year, after the longest term, when the days are shortest and the summer sun seems so far off. As well as fatigue, which affected everyone, I suffered from a kind of ‘over-immersion’, as if I’d been under water for too long and was starved of oxygen. In this ‘glazed’ and unreal state, I would decide to put off such things as difficult conversations and creative challenges, if I could do so safely, until I was clearer in the New Year Like being caught in a thicket, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. If I encountered negativity, I would find myself more likely to react negatively and compound the problem. Then it felt as if everyone around me was getting agitated.

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The Importance of Authentic Leadership

The Importance of Authentic Leadership

The most common frustration vexed by schools I hear is “…if only we could…” Faced with increased pressure to demonstrate progress through pupil outcomes, primary schools have developed learned behaviours, sometimes losing sight of our need to do right by students and communities. We have retro-fitted school improvement to accountability frameworks; the measurement of learning has become the proxy for success. In blunt terms, we teach pupils to read nonsense phonics words because that is what we test. The impact has normalised the view that school improvement can only be measured through outcomes, rather than interactions. It is a misguided ideal, and as we are slowly learning, it hasn’t worked. An obsession with accountability has created an environment where unethical practice has become accepted—we view students as objects and over emphasise the importance of measurement as our proxy for success, a reverse engineering which retro-fits curriculum to fit an assessment framework. Earlier this year, I was asked by a leading school improvement organisation to deliver a presentation to a group of executive leaders. Having carefully planned a session around learning-focused ethical leadership, which was warmly received by delegates, I was more than surprised to open an email from the event team, questioning the focus of my session, admonishing me for over-emphasising the leadership of teaching and learning. They wanted to know whether future sessions could possibly concentrate on the more technical aspects of school improvement, including delivery of sustainable business strategy, processes and accountability frameworks. My response was unequivocal. I asked about the messages are we giving the teaching profession if the narrative of authentic school leadership concentrates on dashboards, compliance checks and frameworks instead of the real substance of education—improving the life chances of the children within our communities?

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The Evolving Role of an Executive Headteacher

The Evolving Role of an Executive Headteacher

What is an executive headteacher? Unlike the term “headteacher”, which is defined under section 35 and 36 of the Education Act 2002, there is currently no legal definition of what an “executive headteacher” (EHT) is or what they should do. To understand better this emerging role at NFER, we looked at the application packs of leadership jobs advertised in the national press, as well as 12 in-depth case studies. Using this qualitative data we were able to investigate the duties and skills that distinguish the Executive Headteacher. A Department for Education (DfE) definition considers that the “post of executive headteacher should be used for a headteacher who directly leads two or more schools in a federation or other partnership arrangement” (DfE, 2015). Our research largely supports this though we found that it does not wholly reflect the picture on the ground.

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How to Overcome the Isolation of School Leadership

How to Overcome the Isolation of School Leadership

You will know, more than most, that sometimes headship can feel like the loneliest job in the world! There will be times, even when you are surrounded by a school full of children and colleagues who share the day to day tasks of leading and managing your school, when you feel as though there is absolutely no one that you can turn to. These are the times perhaps, when as a headteacher, you feel most vulnerable.

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The Conversations Every New School Leader Needs

The Conversations Every New School Leader Needs

Perhaps one of the most unenviable aspects of becoming a school leader is the fact that from day one, almost everything you either say or do comes under intense public scrutiny. The challenge of being under constant scrutiny for much of your working day is tough! It means that it becomes near impossible for you to find a quiet space where you can still your thoughts and make sense of whatever the day has thrown at you. In the hurly-burly of school life, when faced with challenging circumstances (which often arise on a daily or some-times even minute by minute basis!) you very quickly become adept at responding to events 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 your life as a school leader.

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Imposter Syndrome – How to Silence your Inner Critic

Imposter Syndrome – How to Silence your Inner Critic

The term “imposter syndrome” was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, to describe those who live with the fear of being found out and exposed as a fraud. This common phenomenon is said to have affected some of the highest achievers in the world: supposedly Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou and even Meryl Streep have experienced it. I’d wager that those feelings of self-doubt sound familiar to a large number of educators, myself included. A little anxiety and passing insecurity is natural, beneficial. Imposter syndrome is not. It’s more than that. It’s a persistent, nagging feeling that you’re somehow lacking or undeserving of the position that you find yourself in.

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An Open Letter to Boris Johnson

An Open Letter to Boris Johnson

Dear Boris Johnson, I am writing to you with a plea at a time when your mind may well be on other matters but my plea is quite simple; please begin to listen to those in education who are on the front line. Our head teachers and school leaders who every day give their all as they seek to create better futures for our children. I write this letter to you as a former head teacher, who has been in the profession for over twenty five years. Although I left headship over thirteen years ago, I am now in schools nearly every day, providing coaching support for passionate school leaders.

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How to Build a Culture of Trust in your School

How to Build a Culture of Trust in your School

“Without respect, love is lost. Without caring, love is boring. Without honesty, love is unhappy. Without trust, love is unstable.” The quotation is powerful for a number of reasons. Not least because we instinctively know it to be true. However, for schools it works just as well if you replace ‘love’ with ‘leadership’ (in fact, some would argue that great leadership is like love anyway – selfless, empowering, sustaining, unconditional – but that’s for another blog). Great leadership in schools is underpinned by the ability to form great relationships with colleagues, families and children: without healthy relationships, we’re at a significant disadvantage. And, more importantly, the young people and adults with whom we work won’t get the experiences or the opportunities they need to thrive. At the heart of any healthy relationship sits trust: and without trust, leadership is unstable, unhappy and lost. A number of far more articulate and knowledgeable people than I have written about the power of trust: from Jim Collins to Stephen Covey to Patrick Lencioni, so there is plenty material to get hold of and reflect upon.

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The Art of Relationships-Led Leadership

The Art of Relationships-Led Leadership

My first headship, at Bannockburn Primary School in Plumstead in 2003, saw me make more mistakes than I care to mention. It was also the period of my steepest growth and most valuable learning—starting with the headship interview. As part of the process, I was asked to lead an assembly and attempted to deliver the ‘long spoons’ story—Google it if you haven’t used it before, it’s a good one—just don’t do what I did! On this occasion, it resulted in 250 pupils scrambling for sweets across the hall, all health and safety protocols abandoned as governors watched in shock, clip-boards to hand. Remarkably, they still appointed me—something which I will be forever grateful! The first two years in post were a bit of a mess, to be honest, but they set me up to understand the power of relational leadership. Having taught through the introduction of the literacy and maths hours, I was obsessed with national strategy implementation—the flat-pack-furniture-approach to school improvement. This involved measuring anything that moved and lessons were timed to the minute. Teachers were judged and graded, depending on how slickly they could manipulate a counting stick or wave number fans around. Staff meetings were instructional—the milkman delivery method of training, rather than a design model. As for recruitment, I appointed teachers like football managers sign new players: SLEs, advanced skills teachers and expert professionals were all on my shopping list. Star signings were unveiled to parents, staff and governors with great fanfare. To my cost, I learned this doesn’t always make a cohesive team. I had unwittingly created a school culture crammed with Galácticos who didn’t want to play together! These were expert teachers who preferred to teach with doors closed and who had a similar mindset towards learning. It taught me that it is better to have a school full of open-to-learning novices than closed-to-learning gurus!

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What I discovered at “Education for the Soul” 2019

What I discovered at “Education for the Soul” 2019

On 17th October 2019, we hosted our third ‘Education for the Soul’ conference. As I shared with delegates on the day; in 2016, when we hosted our very first conference, I was somewhat fearful and unsure. Not just because it was the first time, we had hosted a conference, but because I was fearful of the use of the word ‘Soul’ and how it would be perceived by others. As much as I knew that one-to-one with our coachees, there was/is a place for soul work; for conversations that go deep and beyond the surface of things, I was unsure of the degree to which this could be achieved collectively. Could we genuinely create an environment in which Heads and school leaders could safely let go of their leadership masks?

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My Heartfelt Letter to Every School Leader

My Heartfelt 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.”

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