I became a Head in 2015 after 5 years of being a deputy head. I was reasonably young but was fortunate to have worked under an amazing Head who knew how to support and develop people and was relentless in her pursuit for the very best for the children in her school.
The school I inherited was RI and had been for a decade. I approached leadership in the only way I knew 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.
However, with Ofsted still looming, and not knowing any better, accountability was still high. Once they had been and gone (with the school getting the ‘good’ they deserved), I wanted to change as many of the things we were doing to get our result had never sat completely comfortably with me. I wanted to change, so 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?
After reflecting, reading and widening my own view, 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! The missing piece was trust. From even before I started at the school, the teachers had not really been trusted. They had been instructed, monitored, told – managed. They had never really been led. I had talked about trust, and tried to implement it through the building of relationships, but 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.
So we embarked on real trust. We got rid of all forms of accountability and replaced them with autonomous structures that the teachers had control over. We allowed the teachers to be teachers. We didn’t disappear, rather stepped back, ready to be called upon when asked. This was the biggest difference. Instead of pushing – always giving feedback, advice, tips – we allowed staff to come to us. Because there was trust, teachers were far more forthcoming than I had anticipated. They were keen to learn, take on responsibilities and develop themselves. Over the year, the trust has continued to build. I recently blogged about the value of a great team. In this blog, I cited three reasons that I was lucky to have a great team:
Number 1. When I’m not there, people pull together to pick up the slack.
When my wife had our second child a month or so ago, I was able to enjoy parenthood without the worries of what was going on at school. The whole staff, lead ably by the leadership team made sure that they dealt with everything that came their way. And we all know what it’s like in schools – never a dull moment.
Number 2. All staff know that they can challenge anyone if it gets the best for the children.
I’m no expert. I make as many mistakes as the next person (probably more!) but I always try to do what I think is right. What I love about my staff is that they are not afraid to ask the question ‘why’. It’s always done in a professional way, and it allows discussions to be opened up and for decisions to be made collaboratively that move the school on. Being challenged makes me think. It prompts me to think about why we do things in a certain way. Sometimes we make changes, sometimes we don’t, but we always work towards creating more clarity.
Number 3. They are not afraid to have a laugh – often at my expense!
At least once in one part of the day or another, I can guarantee that someone will make me laugh and lift my mood. Sometimes it’s a random passing comment and sometimes it’s something bigger.
These things make my job easier, but they only come if there is trust. I had to learn and grow as a leader to see and understand this, but the power of trust is not to be underestimated. Get it right, and watch how the people around you grow in ways you couldn’t imagine.