This Blog comes from an ex-secondary Headteacher, trainee therapist and Integrity Coaching Associate, Tim Small.
When I started teaching in the 1970s, the job of school leadership seemed mostly concerned with preserving stability. Headship was about ‘running a tight ship’ and keeping people happy and harmonious in their jobs.
The language of ‘innovation’, ‘progress targets’ and even ‘professional development’ was regarded with suspicion by many of my colleagues, who resisted encroachment into the small world of education by what they called ‘management speak’.
That was before the profile was raised by the ‘Great Education Debate’ and subsequent politicisation, leading to the Education Reform Act of 1988. At a stroke, market principles were introduced into the schools system and power was shifted away from local authorities in favour of schools and central government, giving the Secretary of State the powers to specify attainment targets for each subject in the new curriculum.
From that time onwards, the job of school leadership became focussed on managing change for continuous improvement. No one could stand still any more.
Nearly thirty years on, the pace of change has accelerated and, with it, the danger of ‘treadmill vertigo’: a mixture of blind panic and fear of stepping off. Extraordinary progress has been accomplished but no one has time to enjoy it or even account for it properly and it has become harder to sustain.
But how do you survive in this education system which operates at such a high pace of change? Well, I believe there are five key attributes of wise leadership that can help you do this…
1. Good balance
Equilibrium is balance. Great leaders have a feel for it; their critical intuitive judgements are all about holding opposing ideas in creative tension: for example, the value of striving and hard work, balanced by the restorative power of rest, sleep, relaxation and renewal; the importance of rules and boundaries balanced by the beauty of creativity, flexibility and surprise. Knowing like a jockey when to tighten and loosen the reins is based on this feel.
2. Knowing what to hold on to and what to let go of
Professor Helen Haste (2001) of the University of Bath, proposed, as a key ‘meta-competency’ of the 21st Century, the ability to ‘manage the tension between innovation and continuity’. Wise leaders know how to look after the ‘essence’ of their school culture, preserving the rites and rituals, roles and policies which energise and express the school’s values and those of its community.
At the same time, they know how to remove impediments to progress, let go of worn out customs and lift the burden of repetitive and familiar activity whose purpose has expired. That creates space for innovations, rather than imposing it on a congested and exhausted system.
3. Commitment to resilient agency
Resilient agency is about the energy to learn and self-improve. It is made up of eight dimensions of ‘learning power’, including creativity, curiosity, sense-making, openness to learning and collaboration.
Developing it in learners throughout a school brings ‘bottom-up energy’, empowering every individual to take responsibility for their own improvement drive. Resilient agency helps us to convert doubts into enquiries, problems into solutions and stress into positive outcomes.
4. The capacity to involve and include
The antidote to stress is autonomy. Leaders who involve people, in the design as well as the implementation of innovations, whose participation will be critical to their success, reduce the sense of a treadmill. We love what we own.
Inviting people to co-create and co-invest in change programmes makes change more likely to happen and success more likely to be sustained.
5. The power to inspire responsibility
Inviting involvement only works when people bring their own energy and commitment to the task. Compliant responses may help to get an innovation started, but they are dependent on the energy of the leader and often quickly exhausted.
Innovative leaders develop the resilient agency of their teams; they have an infectious and articulate passion for values that unite people; and they model the commitment they seek to inspire. They know that inspiration is not a technique or skill; it is a deeply personal sense of connection with a shared vision.
“Education for the Soul” Conference 2017
On the 19th October 2017, Tim Small joined us as we hosted Headteachers & School Leaders from across the country for a new type of School Leadership conference; an “Education for the Soul” Conference designed to help leaders to explore and discuss what matters most to them (their values, hopes and passion) and locate ways of leading that are aligned to themselves and their hope for their schools.
It is fair to say, the day was a very special one indeed, and for me personally, it was deeply humbling to see so many school leaders and education professionals who were prepared to:
– Take a risk
– Ask of themselves challenging questions
– Think about school leadership differently
– Go on a deeper learning journey with themselves and others
It was so wonderful to watch these individuals drop their leadership masks and come together, in service of one another and in service of shared hopes, dreams and ambitions for our children and our schools.
As a result, the conference became a place where discussions about the relationship between well-being and school leadership could be discussed openly and candidly, and real solutions could be found.
Above all, the day confirmed to me three vital key lessons that I’ve learnt from my time working with School Leaders….