DISPLAYING ITEMS BY TAG: LEADERSHIP

International Friendship Day need not be reserved for a special time slot in the calendar. Internationalism - with all of its diversity, cultural richness and opportunities for vibrant community and world connections - is intrinsically linked to our everyday existence. It is the thread which creates potential for a dynamic tapestry of multi-disciplinary learning across schools and communities. It combines our own uniqueness with an interconnection of beautiful perspectives on what it is to be human in an outward looking, forward-thinking, inclusive world.

When we help our learners to become global citizens - to see themselves as players in a universal team that plays for the world, where everybody matters, where diversity is celebrated and where there is cultural respect and understanding - we open doors to real everyday international friendship. Here, we support the development of many important skills, including empathy, curiosity, courage, confidence, tolerance and creativity, skills which are key to unlocking and unleashing present and future potential for a peaceful, unified planet. In fact, these skills were manifest in abundance during the recent Thailand cave rescues, where a whole host of people came together from across the world with a common purpose; to share expertise in order to rescue the boys and their coach who were trapped. Hope and trust led to a very successful internationally cooperative operation in which any differences were irrelevant to the combined humanity of the group.

The following ideas are not exhaustive and are merely suggestions. They may well have occurred in your school already - if so, you can no doubt supplement them to support reflection and dialogue about your school’s internationality and interculturality. I am also making mention of UNESCO’s Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Good here, as it is a very insightful read and certainly gave me as a teacher, learner and citizen of the world much to think about.

We need not look far to unearth international gold in our schools and communities. There will always be young people, colleagues and families with direct or indirect connections to different countries, diverse nationalities, languages and invaluable cultural stories. By embracing these naturally occurring opportunities, learners can gain international perspectives in their own local contexts and see that their worlds are interconnected. They can also learn to celebrate and embrace diversity and differences.

  • From clubs, assemblies, classroom research and local visits, to designing and sustaining cultural school gardens, sharing recipes from people in the local community, trying new foods, celebrating festivals, learning new languages and making school / community books in which cultural stories and poems are told and illustrated, there is a plethora of learning and sharing which can be facilitated across the curriculum.
  • Business, community and college and university links are also excellent. Could you host a group of visiting international teachers doing a course, or develop your learners’ entrepreneurial skills by setting up social events, such as a culture cafe, for diverse members of your local community? Could you obtain support to construct a small cultural garden, or learn about international tourism and business through local hospitality links and business brunches, where there are opportunities for your learners to meet people who can talk about international links and their own journey in intercultural understanding?
  • The British Council is a fantastic support for all things international, both for teachers and for learners. eTwinning, Connecting Classrooms, Erasmus+ and their very own International School Award are all wonderful for establishing and sustaining links, building international friendships, sharing projects and celebrating achievements. Their school and teacher resources platform is open to all teachers, and their classes and must not be perceived as the domain of the languages faculty or language teachers. There are opportunities in abundance for STEM, developing learners’ skills in literacy, numeracy, digital learning, creativity and competencies for life in an international world. There are dedicated British Council ambassadors who can come to your school to deliver professional learning and to help you to get started in your own context if you need support.

 

  • Developing your own class blog is a productive way for learners to share international learning with the wider school, with parents and carers, and with the world beyond school. Similarly, following a blog of an ex-student who is taking a gap year to work with Project Trust, or who is studying or travelling abroad, is a wonderful way to forge direct, real and relevant links. Scotland’s National Centre for Languages has a good website with examples of ‘Language Linking, Global Thinking’ and ‘Business Link’ case studies.

  • You could establish your own international school ambassadors or language & culture mentors to work with younger learners or community groups. This helps support the development of leadership skills and confidence, allows for positive peer interaction and role-modelling, and may create opportunities for your learners to achieve wider achievement awards. Either way, you can set up your own working group, as well as providing school certificates and awards.
  • Language assistants are an excellent means of bringing real-life international learning into school. They can provide cultural experiences, games and linguistic support in classrooms, small groups and clubs. Assistants can be shared between schools locally. There may also be a possibility of tapping into the community if assistants are not possible. Is there a parent who would like to volunteer with the school to enhance international learning?
  • The Sustainable Development Goals are high on the international agenda, and can be incorporated across the curriculum in different ways and at different levels. Not only does this unite learners and teachers in a common international endeavour; it also provides many enriching and valuable learning experiences in school, for both outdoor learning and for community / international links and projects.

  • Finally, Twitter is an excellent tool for international learning. @UNICEF, @UNESCO, @voicesofyouth and @TeachSDGs (to name but a few accounts) provide interesting ideas and very real insights into the lives of people around the world. There are many more!

While historically or traditionally, international education was perhaps more associated with cultural study trips abroad, exchanges, or with the languages department, today’s international is not abroad or confined to one particular curricular area. International is here, and there, and you, and me, and them. Our world is composed of a series of international experiences we may not recognise at first. They are in our food, where it comes from and how it arrives, they are in our shops, our art, our music, our words, our films, our books and our everyday exchanges and our friends. We are all international, but to develop an international mindset and outlook in our learners, we as teachers can contribute in our own contexts every day and everywhere. We can help our society towards a more equitable, tolerant, kind and accepting world by actively supporting our learners to develop into and to see themselves as dedicated global citizens.

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Which preposition: just leading, or leading to, leading with, leading through or leading for? I do love a question that involves a grammatical concept, and this is one that I have been asking for some time.

The challenges of being a school leader are massive now. Our expectations of leaders are huge. I think that we have now reached a point where the rhetoric of leadership is becoming intimidating rather than encouraging. Writing about the matter has become a cottage industry. Indeed, if one read all the books aimed at school leaders, one would never actually have the time to do any leading at all. We are struggling to recruit school heads in many areas. Even during the period when I was a director of Children’s Services, we were having to re-advertise posts, sometimes combine schools, and go forward with very limited leads - I honestly believe that things have become more difficult since.

The demands on leaders are greater than ever. Young people are more complex, society more diverse and, at times, more fragmented. Other agencies and institutions are in decline through funding cuts and/or social changes. Increasingly, schools are more isolated, yet face even greater demands to make a difference. They are seen, more and more, as the engines of social mobility, regardless of your view on that (you can read mine in The Working Class edited by Ian Gilbert). Many colleagues argue that they have never felt more accountable, while also feeling less supported. I could go on, but I suspect that if you have read this far, you are already well aware of the pressures on school leaders.

The question, inevitably, is how anyone copes with the challenges.

The worst way to cope is to avoid the preposition. There are still examples of people who harbour ambition for its own sake. They want to be at the top of whatever pole they embarked on climbing and want to be successful for themselves. These sort of leaders tend to display the same patterns of involvement. They don’t stay anywhere long. Sometimes they have a dramatic impact in the time that they do stay and even appear to achieve striking successes during their brief tenure. In general, my experience of these sorts of leaders is that they are disruptive rather than constructive. The changes that they bring rarely turn out to be transformative and the successes are inclined to be short-lived.

Reluctant as I am to enter into political controversy, there is a strong argument that policy over Brexit has been bedevilled by leaders prioritising the preservation of power over making genuine progress. School leaders concerned with their own reputation and not driven by a clear sense of purpose are likely to fail over the longer term.

My argument would be that those who choose a preposition for leadership are far more likely to bring substantive improvement for young people. I love field marshall Montgomery’s quote:

“My own definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

He is clearly a “leading to” person. Purpose is all and, interestingly, that purpose has to be “common” so clearly he would entertain ‘with’ as another of his leadership prepositions.

There might be an argument that “leading to” could be seen as far too focussed on outcomes and data, or in achieving targets set for a school. If that was the interpretation one took, it would be a preposition to avoid. Real change comes from the drive to achieve ambitions, and the more dearly held the better, rather than to meet someone else’s expectations. That may be where “for” comes into its own. It relates so well to the idea of leadership as service, that one leads for the benefit of others and never for self-aggrandisement. Nelson Mandela was such a wonderful example of that:

“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership”.

That concept of appreciating leadership is another which seems alien when we focus as strongly as we do on the idea of leadership being rooted in drive and challenge. That model is far removed from the idea of leading through.

We should lead through vision. That is implicit in the Montgomery quote; it is writ large in Max DePree’s comment:

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

It is a quote that captures so many elements of this discussion. The “reality” of which he speaks aligns with the idea of vision, of creating a way of seeing the context that you are in. That then creates the “for”. It certainly captures the sense of “leading with” and “through”. For me, the idea of thinking about the prepositions of leadership is neither indulgent or obscure. It is just another way of taking us into the fundamental questions about how we should lead. I tend to go with Fuchan Yang, when he says:

“There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage.”

We need to be doing more than just leading. The self-satisfaction of that will only sustain the most narcissistic. For any of us who have a shred of self-doubt and, more importantly, an ambition to add value to the lives of young people and their communities, it will never offer enough. Adding a preposition just might.

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There were two turning points for me that I distinctly remember. The first was in September 2014 on our INSET day. We’d just hit 85% 5A*CEM in the summer, been awarded Outstanding in every category in July, a far cry from Special Measures and 28% three years previously. Behaviour had been described regularly as ‘feral’ but was now brilliant. I announced as much to my staff, then followed with the line that would change our strategic direction:

“But is anyone having any fun?”

I didn’t regret the sledgehammer approach we’d had to take with the school to turn around engrained and endemic inadequacy, but I knew things had to change. Regional Harris director Dr Chris Tomlinson once told me that a head’s job is to make themselves redundant and this principle resonated strongly. If I got hit by the proverbial bus, the school would be stuffed. It was therefore not sustainable.

My question, and challenge, to staff was to begin our journey to create a school that the staff truly wanted to work in, where we could feel the buzz of burning ambition and professional success, the warm glow of helping the most vulnerable in our society change their lives, the pride of being part of a story that is changing our part of South East London. But with no burnout. Ever.

We started by collating all the reasons why staff wanted to work here, in our school, rather than anywhere else. I’m a big believer in your internal brand matching your external brand - by this I mean what you SAY you do, you ACTUALLY do. Staff can sniff out spin a mile off and it truly stinks, breeding cynicism and resistance throughout the organisation.

To avoid this we spent lots of time making sure our ‘20 reasons to work here’ was actually real for staff. I asked them to rate the three reasons that were most resonant and the three that felt furthest away. I then gulped, and shared it with all the staff; one of my mantras being “no elephants in the room”. We then openly discussed the issues and what to do about them. Only when we were completely sure about them did I have them branded for our recruitment strategy.

I regularly review these 20 reasons to make sure the school has not drifted away from what we say we do. We place huge value on integrity and ensure it runs through every decision, every conversation. Holding ourselves and each other to account does not have to involve being needlessly brutal - when you do it with integrity and honesty suddenly, it is much more powerful and does not corrode trust.

Three years later the school was in a great place. Staff morale was high. We were ‘bringing ourselves to work’, another of our mantras; great banter and belly-laughter was encouraged; the hierarchy was flatter.

And this leads me to the second turning point, shortly before we broke up for summer holidays last year. Speaking to my coach, I realised something else was missing.

Life.

I was talking to her about how I hadn’t seen my kids for four days as I kept missing their bedtime, and that I was going to leave early that night at 5.30pm so I could see them for half an hour. But I was filled with anxiety about how I could make that happen and what example that set - would the staff think I was lazy and not earning my salary? My coach asked what time I'd arrived that morning: 7.30am. She asked me if I’d had a break: of course not, I’m SLT. Then she asked the killer question:

“At what point did working ten hours a day stop being enough?”

The penny dropped. And this might be controversial. You see, while I am indignant at successive governmental failures to recruit enough teachers, I do believe that too many schools have not done enough to ensure that teaching remains a fun and highly rewarding profession. Often, we’ve allowed ourselves to be bullied, to become scared of Ofsted and the DfE and bad press. It’s therefore totally understandable that, on occasion, we’ve wielded the sledgehammer approach for too long, too hard, too often, too carelessly.

Don’t get me wrong. Headteachers should hold people to account. Those who are completely incompetent should be drummed out of our proud profession by all of us. We should drive high standards for ourselves. We should expect the best for our children. They deserve the best. But we don’t have to run cultures of fear and we don’t have to break our staff.

It so happened that John Tomsett, a headteacher I very much admire, was getting some well-deserved attention for the great work his school was doing on addressing workload. I took his list of ways to reduce workload to my SLT and we realised that we were doing nearly everything on there, and more. Just not consistently or mindfully enough. So again, like we did with the ‘20 Reasons’, I now took the ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ to the staff to ensure they were resonant. I also set them the challenge for this year: “If you’re still here after 5.30pm, something in your own system, your department’s system or the school system has failed. Then let’s fix that.

By being open and honest about the challenges we face, getting the systems right, being efficient and streamlined in our approach, we’ve been successful in changing the culture: the vast majority of staff in a recent survey said they had a healthy work/life balance.

So what needs to change across the school system to make our working lives more productive, more meaningful, less frustrating and less exhausting? Read our ‘40 ways we reduce workload’ and let me know what you think. Share your ideas to make them even better. We’re really trying to make it happen at Harris Academy Greenwich and I don’t believe our results will suffer.

It has been an eight year journey to lead the school to this point where the systems are tight, the staff are slick and well-trained, the school purrs. We have fun, we laugh, and we don’t break. Ever.

I love teaching. I love life. It’s possible to have both.

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Q: What’s going to enable students to make smart choices as they prepare for their journeys after school - and aspire to become leaders of tomorrow?

A: Great, creative schools that cultivate a culture of leadership and smart, outward-looking teachers who instil passion in all their students.

This is my favourite question from friend, FELTAG collaborator and member of the Ministerial Education Technology Action Group (ETAG), Professor Diana Laurillard from UCL. It is always a useful starting point for any conversation or decision about the use of technology for teaching, learning or assessment.

An experienced Drama teacher, Drew Morris will soon become assistant head Aureus School in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Here, he discusses self-doubt, leadership tactics, celebrating your colleagues’ successes, and the Way of the Beaver...

Society as a whole now understands the importance of a more rounded approach to education, focusing on a child’s personal development rather than just academic achievements. Therefore, developing and fostering a more child-centric culture is an integral part of early childhood education.

Around this time of year, my commitment to my professional resolutions begin to wane. Deadlines, demands and life in general clouds my path to the professional improvement I seek. While my desire and intent are strong, my actions (or behaviors) often fall short or don’t even get off the ground. I find this is most often the case when try to do it all by ourselves, which is the case for many educators. Some colleagues have described it as feeling like they are working in a “silo” - ISOLATED!

When training to be a teacher 10 years ago, I was told emphatically that I should not tell students that I’m gay because it would give them “more ammunition”. Comments like this grossly underestimate our young people who, in my experience, are more open-minded and accepting than their parents and many of my former colleagues. Comments like this force teachers and school leaders to let down some of our most vulnerable students by not being a visible role model they can identify with. I believe teachers should lead by example and that’s why, as part of LGBT History Month in February 2017, I finally came out to over 1,000 students in assembly.

We are all different; whatever you are thinking will not be the same as others. In an academic environment where teachers work as a team, not as individuals, there needs to be consistent mindfulness and consideration to others. We will all have those bad days. Your day or mood does not belong to anybody else. We are here to serve young people. Professionalism is imperative in setting high and positive standards. In this article, I will share three examples of how this can be developed.

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