Coaching & Leadership Development
Keeping school leaders
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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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Overcoming Stress as a Headteacher

Overcoming Stress as a Headteacher

It is my belief that more Headteachers would remain in the profession if, on appointment, it was made explicit to them the link between school improvement and their own personal development. Unfortunately, however, in today’s world of high public scrutiny and personal accountability, they are not and as a result far too many Heads become victims of stress and burn out, unable to cope with the intense psychological and emotional demands of the role.

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How do School Leaders Benefit from Coaching?

How do School Leaders Benefit from Coaching?

As you may have seen, recently I shared how the NUT (alongside Integrity Coaching) will be running a wonderful scheme to offer heavily subsidised coaching to all of its Headteacher members – the deadline of which is the end of April. This generous offer from the NUT has already attracted a spectrum of amazing Heads from different backgrounds and at various different stages of their headship journey.

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Dear New Headteachers – 7 Things You Should Know

Dear New Headteachers – 7 Things You Should Know

Dear New Headteachers, It seems a daunting task to be responsible for a large school of perhaps 1,000-plus young people, 100-plus staff, not to mention being accountable to the local authority, families, communities and inspectors – but it doesn’t have to feel that way. Here’s my advice to you. Create this vision for your school – know it, live it – and make everything you do be a step towards it. Every decision must be aligned with it. The full school community will be watching when you make a decision, therefore consistency is crucial.

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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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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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“Education for the Soul” 2017  – Conference Report

“Education for the Soul” 2017 – Conference Report

On the 19th October 2017, Head teachers & School Leaders from across the country joined us for our Inaugural “Education for the Soul” Conference. Our purpose was to provide a different type of school leadership conference; one that would provide a space for school leaders to explore new and sustainable ways of leading that would enable them to overcome the stresses of their roles and maintain their ability to lead and inspire others. Unlike other School Leadership conferences, the day aimed to provide a unique opportunity and space for… Reflection – Where leaders could be themselves and reflect with like-minded colleagues on the aspects of school leadership that mattered most to them. Learning – Where leaders could deepen their personal knowledge and gain a better understanding of how wellbeing contributes to personal performance and school outcomes. Creativity – Where leaders could explore solutions, practical ideas and suggestions for bringing their visions to life. Collegiality – Where leaders could laugh, share and have time to talk with others about how to achieve the very best for themselves and those they lead and manage

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The 3 Key Lessons of “Education for the Soul” 2017

The 3 Key Lessons of “Education for the Soul” 2017

As a coach, I trust myself to be able to create the type of 1:1 spaces where it is safe for the soul to be seen.
Spaces where School Leaders can come out from behind their leadership masks and explore what it means to live lives of authenticity and integrity, amidst the challenges and complexities of day to day school life. However, in hosting the ‘Education for the Soul’ Conference, I faced a new challenge.

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