Since taking on a head of department role four years ago I have had the same flashback every time I sit down at my desk on the first morning back. I was up on the bleak wilds of Dartmoor in October with the daylight fading and rain coming down fast and furious. I wasn’t sure where I was or where I was going. Panic rose in my throat. I was lost.
I wasn’t always going to be a teacher. In 1988, I was at Jesus College, Oxford researching the iconography of landscape in British film. In the late eighties, it was a topic right on the edge of Geography. My thesis supervisor was the razor sharp Professor David Harvey; probably the most famous geographer in the world at that time. But a postcard note in my college pigeonhole changed the direction of my life. A colleague in the School of Geography had obtained a lectureship and asked me to take over his part time teaching job at St Edward's School in Summertown, an Independent School just north of Oxford. I accepted the job. I thought it would be an interesting change from the Upper Reading Rooms and the cramped viewing booths of the British Film Institute, plus a much needed boost to my scholarship stipend.
If you’re a subject leader, you have to make friends in school strategically. If you’re the head of English like me, you firstly need to befriend whoever guards the gate to reprographics needs the bounciest, sunniest, most dribblingly sycophantic version of you that you can muster. We’re talking bottle of wine at Christmas, chocolate egg at Easter, flowers on their birthday. Because they can do something that you could never do since the highest qualification you’re likely hold is in English Literature (or the one pertaining to your subject), a degree that required you to pontificate on postmodernism for 2 hours a week – they can fix the photocopier, a machine so psychopathic, so actively engaged in the utter destruction of your soul, that it makes HAL 9000 seem like a Care Bear. “I’m sorry James, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” you imagine it says as it mangles your Year 10 mock exams in its hot, metal, inky gob.
I don’t believe any educator or administrator wishes to start a cult, but far too often our leadership approach mirrors this kind of approach. Without knowing it, we can create a school or classroom that depends on us; one that revolves around our personality, our authority and depends on our presence to run smoothly.
The line up of high-profile industry pioneers at Bett Academies (16th-17th March 2017, NEC, Birmingham) has grown to offer inspiration for senior leaders in academies, MATs and schools exploring academisation. Running alongside The Education Show at the NEC Birmingham, Bett Academies is free to attend and offers visitors the highest quality continuing professional development (CPD), advice and guidance. Innovate My School will be at Stand D8, so be sure to come by and say hello.
At this year’s Education Show (NEC Birmingham, 16th-18th March), attendees will see the launch of Bett Academies (16th-17th March), an event designed to meet the needs of the increasing number of schools with, or that are converting to, academy status. Innovate My School (Stand D8) is partnering with the Bett Academies team here, with the event set to be the national centre of excellence dedicated to providing the very best advice, guidance and inspiration to academies, MATs and schools exploring academisation.
I truly believe that poor, ruthlessly judgemental leadership of teaching and learning will damage morale, unnecessarily increase workload and therefore create avoidable anxieties that inevitably damage teacher wellbeing. On the flip side, and what I feel this article is all about, is how we can enhance wellbeing through effective leadership of teaching and learning throughout our schools.
Do you feel powerful?
Because the modern, effective school middle leader is powerful, an incredibly powerful member of the school community. Not powerful like Darth Vader is powerful. I’m not suggesting you wave your hand to magically make minions do your evil bidding. I’m talking about being the powerful agent for change that the role of middle leader has become. In your hands, you have the power to design a creative, rich curriculum; the power to motivate and inspire a team of teachers and support staff; the power to drive advances in pedagogy; the power to make decisions that will change children’s lives.