This blog comes from the Headteacher of Randal Cremer Primary School, Jo Riley
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 I’ve learnt from 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…
1) It helps you to stay connected to their values and purpose
Since I’ve been trying to improve my reflective practice, I’ve revisited my values as an educator – why I’m doing this and what I want to achieve for the children. You need to be transparent about why you do what you do, and what you need from the school community.
Teachers and senior leadership teams work extremely hard, and working on something you don’t believe in will leave you burnt out or caught out.
However, staying true to your values and working in a school that echoes these helps to serve as a constant reminder as to why you became a teacher and how your influence will affect the children you serve.
2) It supports your decision-making
To develop and successfully lead a school, you need to take time to pull together evidence and ideas, and evaluate these. This also prevents complacency during the easy times and ensures that viable alternatives are sought quickly when initiatives aren’t having the desired impact.
Without proper reflection, reactions can be knee-jerk and often lead to a quick fix that is not sustainable or could even lower staff morale. For example, if a group of children or a class isn’t progressing as they should, the instinctive reaction is to blame the teacher.
Instead, through reflection, you can look at the story behind the data. It could be down to teacher competency or it could be due to a whole host of other issues impacting on student performance.
3) It helps keep you on top of new ideas and research
Another reason for having proper reflection time is the need to read and research the latest issues facing schools on a local and political level so that you understand these well.
It will also give you chance to better understand the pedagogical principles behind life in the classroom. After all, education theory does not stand still and so building a reflective practice helps you to keep abreast of the latest insights so you can grow and develop your school community.
5 Tips for Developing a Reflective Practice
From my own experience of improving my reflective practice in leadership, here are some top tips:
– Reflection does not have to be solitary. But it does need to be focused on school improvement, whether that’s on raising standards, improving the wellbeing of staff or other areas you may wish to develop.
– Remove yourself from day-to-day events. This ensures that you can really focus on what you’re trying to do. Some of the best times for reflection are when you go to a different location with your senior and middle leaders, even if it’s within the school. It helps if the location is a pleasant one and can be enhanced if you bring in someone from outside school to facilitate. Either way, ensure that everyone is clear about the task in hand at the outset and build in time for people to think either individually or in small groups.
– Learn to say no. In order to set aside time for reflection, it is likely you’ll have to be able to say no to some other tasks or priorities. This probably comes with confidence, but it also comes from knowing your school and its environment really well.
– If you’re unsure when is appropriate to reflect because of other priorities, use the urgent/not urgent and the important/not important Carroll Diagram. This helps to plot timelines, deadlines, unexpected events and those that you can put aside, for now. If you have put an activity in the not important/not urgent quadrant you shouldn’t think about it any further.
– Take time either early in the morning or late at night. Why not carry a notebook so you can always jot down ideas, questions or thoughts as you go.
In the frenetic life of a school leader time and space are increasingly rare commodities. With a constant flow of meetings to be held, problems to solve and fires to put out – it can be very hard for leaders to find the time and space to be still and think.
However, without this chance to stop and consider what’s working and what isn’t – many leaders find themselves repeatedly making the same mistakes or simply leading on “autopilot”.This lack of space also means many have very few avenues for exploring and talking through the emotional aspects of the role, the challenges it poses and the impact is having upon them, mentally, emotionally and physically.
In turn, this can (without doubt) increase the risk of emotional ‘burn out’. When this begins to happen, not only do we experience extreme levels of mental and emotional exhaustion that can be debilitating to our ability to lead others, our health and our overall well-being. Having been a Head myself, I know all too well what this feels like but equally what must be done to prevent it!
That’s why we’re now are offering a “Developing Headspace” Programme, consisting of a 2 Day “Transforming Leadership” Residential in Suffolk, Group Nurture Meals, coaching calls and a half day “Review and a Reflect” session, all designed to support and enhance Headteachers’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership.
The programme hopes to offer a space for reflection and active, informed listening, for Heads to renew perspective, think strategically, build lasting networks of support and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
Spread across three school terms, the programme includes a range of activities designed to provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Above all, it is our aim to ensure that the programme supports school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: Central to all aspects of the programme are processes and ways of working individually and collectively that keep individuals anchored to their vision.
Values: Heads are supported to identify ways of being that increase alignment with themselves and their key values.
Resilience: As Heads develop a deeper understanding of how they respond to the stresses of the role, individuals are supported to develop greater degrees of emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
A Values Network: The programme design facilitates the development of new supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded peers.
Confidence: As individuals experience a growth in self-awareness and appreciation of their core strengths, they also experience a growth in personal conviction and increased confidence in their own abilities.
If you’d like to find out more about the programme, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…