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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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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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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How to Develop a Reflective Practice as a Headteacher

How to Develop a Reflective Practice as a Headteacher

As a Headteacher at an inner-city primary school, my to-do list is ever lengthening, so having enough time for strategic thinking and reflection can be rare. Each week I try to plan time in but if a child protection issue or something urgent crops up, it can’t just be ignored. External demands – such as the pressure to meet targets, changes in the curriculum, league tables etc – can also leave you feeling pulled in too many directions. That’s why I think one of the most significant things the training I’ve undertaken in my career is the importance of strategic thinking and reflective thinking. In secondary schools, a headteacher or principal will have a much bigger support network in their senior leadership team, allowing them to take a more strategic view. Meanwhile, at primary level, school leaders are much more involved in the day-to-day running of the school. However, whether you are primary or secondary Head, I believe a reflective practice should be the norm for school leaders. Here’s why…

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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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Race Equality: “Why we need Uncomfortable Conversations”

Race Equality: “Why we need Uncomfortable Conversations”

This is a national picture that has remained unchanged for generations of children of Black Caribbean descent. Over the years there have been numerous enquiries followed by legislation and policy and yet… very little has changed. If you were to look back on education initiatives designed to address racial inequality you might find a clue as to why our education system persistently fails to effectively challenge racial inequality in our schools. Looking back (and I can say this with confidence, because over the past 30 years, I have been involved in various local and national race equality initiatives) you won’t find any work that specifically addresses conversations about white identity and white privilege. An unwillingness to have these conversations has meant that generations of black families have been let down by our education system. The real, the uncomfortable and yet potentially transformational conversations have not been had. Addressing racism is not just a cognitive exercise. Addressing racism is not just a cognitive exercise. Past initiatives have treated it as such. Avoiding the uncomfortable white identity conversation. Instead there has been a heavy emphasis on analysing data, sharing the figures, delivering training and writing anti-racist policies. All important actions in themselves, but the sad truth is these actions have had minimal impact. We have to be courageous enough to not only ask “Why?” but “What needs to be done differently?”

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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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My Guardian Article – Tips for Headteachers to help prevent Burnout

My Guardian Article – Tips for Headteachers to help prevent Burnout

The stress that headteachers are under continues to be reported – with the numbers leaving the profession a growing concern. For many, headship is a role that’s beginning to feel untenable. This echoes what I often hear from headteachers in my role as school leadership coach. The headteachers I speak to feel overwhelmed by shrinking budgets, the teacher recruitment crisis and the high-pressure inspection system. So what steps can they take to prevent burnout?

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Why Education Needs Values & Integrity

Why Education Needs Values & Integrity

With many other people I am deeply concerned about the global turmoil that is destabilising our world. As someone I met recently in the US put it, ‘It seems as though human kind is going mad!” We seem to be acting like lemmings about to rush over a cliff to our deaths. At a political, cultural and social level distress is clearly identifiable as the good of humanity and the world is set aside.

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