This is my first ever blog post. I’ve seen many and been inspired by them so have taken the plunge. This blog is about learning leadership. I am in the third phase of my headship journey and have made adjustments to my style along the way. Let’s start with some context
I became a headteacher in September 2015 following five years as a deputy head. My headteacher there was an inspiration. She knew how to support and develop people and was relentless in her pursuit for the very best for the children in her school. When I was offered the opportunity to lead a school of my own, I felt comforted knowing that I had such an amazing mentor.
My school was RI. It had been RI or satisfactory for a decade. The children were positive and wanted to learn and the teachers were enthusiastic and wanted the best for the school. The leadership team were relatively new into post, but united in their ambition for the school. Ofsted were due in 18mths to 2 years and we, quite simply, had to be good.
Working with the support of the leadership team, we went about continuing the improvement on teaching and learning that had begun the previous year. We did this in the only way we knew how at the time – with expectations set for what ‘good teaching’ looked like and fairly regular and relentless monitoring. We ensured that we ran CPD sessions to support things like questioning, lesson structure and assessment and did a lot first hand.
We spent time with staff, ensuring they knew why we were doing things and we did make adjustments to our expectations over the first year. The best example of this was massively reviewing our marking policy and getting rid of any ‘deep marking’ or ‘lots of pink and green that needs responding too’. This was a positive step, and seen as such by the staff, but there was still the concern that Ofsted were looking, and so accountability remained high.
Two things happened before Ofsted came which I look back at now as being a blessing. The first was that they didn’t come when we were expecting them. This meant that, once the ‘due date’ has passed, staff were more relaxed. Second was that we had two staff we needed to cover long term. This meant that our focus moved very much into what the children in those two classes needed and away from doing things for Ofsted.
Ofsted came in the penultimate week of the summer term. It was ridiculously hot and the end of a very long term. The teachers were amazing and we got the result we were hoping for, although due to the summer holidays I couldn’t say anything about it until the report was published mid September. That signalled the end to phase 1 of my headship journey.
All of the things we were doing to get our result had never sat completely comfortable with me. I had done them because I thought it was what was needed and had been guided that way through support from outside. However, we now had an opportunity to move forward in a different way. I told the staff this alongside the result. We were going to ‘loosen up’. I wanted the staff to take more control of their own classrooms and do what was best for their children. I thought I had sold this in a really positive way. I had explained my vision going forwards and how I saw the changes being positive. The message was well received, but, down the line, it was hard to identify significant changes. This wasn’t a bad thing, as teaching was good, it was just no better than before. Why was this? Had my message not been clear?
These formed many of the discussions we had as a leadership team. They were in agreement that what we had said was clear and that it was an improvement on what we had. There were pockets of change, but also pockets where things would only show small steps of change. Try as I might, at the time, I could not see why things had not gone as I had hoped. I knew what I wanted, I had shared it and received feedback to say that the message was delivered clearly. We had made a jump away from the micro managed system and rigid timetable that we had previously, but the impact was not there in the way I had thought.
At the end of the summer term in 2019, I was lucky to see Rob Carpenter speak. He was inspirational and gave me so much to think about. Much of what he said linked to my own values, with the exception that he had seen these done about in his schools whereas I had not found the best way of getting it over the line. I didn’t realise at the time, but this was the end of the second phase of my headship. I had moved towards a model of headship that I felt more comfortable with, but it still wasn’t quite right. But why?
The third phase of my headship journey was sparked, like many I would imagine, from reading about Three Bridges Primary and Jeremy Hannay. I read his blog with interest and found many parallels with what I had learnt from listening to Rob Carpenter. It was then that the penny dropped. Despite wanting to ‘loosen up’ and telling the staff to be more autonomous, I hadn’t done enough to address the climate! We still were observing lessons, completing book looks away from the staff and feeding back in a non personal way. How could I expect staff to ‘loosen up’ and say that I trusted them with so much of the old accountability in place.
At the end of the summer term last year, I told staff that we were moving dramatically away from the high stakes accountability that we had all been used to throughout our careers. Gone were appraisals with focused targets, top down observations and book looks. They were replaced with project based professional development, chosen by the teacher themselves on an area of interest, observations undertaken by the teacher, both in and out of school, and peer to peer reviews of learning in a supportive and non-judgemental way.
At this stage, I knew that I wanted to move away from the previous phases of my leadership. It was not to say that these were bad or wrong – they were simply the best I knew at the time. This have been due to a number (or combination of things); my focus on addressing the present without thinking enough of the future; the experience I had gained and seen; or my lack of wider reading and understanding of leadership. I had the start of an idea. I believed in it and knew that, after four years of headship, I wanted to stop playing by the rules of someone else’s game.