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 every year we run our “Developing Headspace” Programme to provide regular reflective spaces for leaders to renew perspective, think strategically and refresh the vitality of their core purpose.
The programme is designed to develop leaders’ capacity for authentic, inspiring and sustainable leadership, as well as provide on-going care, support and encouragement for Heads across the school year.
Spread across three school terms, our Developing Headspace programme includes a range of activities designed to support school leaders in 5 key areas…
Vision: The programme uses processes and activities to help individuals stay anchored to their vision and purpose for leading in education.
Values: Participants are supported to identify ways of leading and managing themselves can that increase alignment with who they are and their key values.
Resilience: The programme aims to help participants to build a greater understanding of how they respond to stress. Individuals are supported to develop greater emotional, psychological and vocational resilience.
Relationships: The programme design facilitates the development of supportive and collaborative relationships with like-minded colleagues.
Confidence: The programme helps individuals grow their self-awareness and an appreciation of their core strengths and unique gifts.
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…