On Confidence.

Listening to speakers today at the Wellington/Marlborough Prep Heads Conference on building the reputation of schools, leads to reflections on both the value of independent education and how we can instill confidence in our communities and beyond. As a sector we offer the “flavour of the cocktail of life” and possess the power to be of enormous influence in what that flavour is. This from Geordie Greig, Editor of the Mail on Sunday. With that power comes the responsibility to ensure that there is a positivity to the experiences of the pupils, parents and staff. Confidence in a school comes from confidence of the school itself. And that falls to the leaders.

Steve Munby, formerly of NCSL now CEO of CfBT, who I have heard speak passionately and eloquently before, was given a platform at Wellington to share research that has been carried out over many years on the qualities of good heads. He points to 5 key factors:

Authenticity: “pull on the mantle of leadership with confidence…but not with the crown as well.” It is the combination of confidence and humility that defines the best leaders.
Indomitability and compassion: “Keep on noticing what needs changing.” The best leaders carry on setting high standards.
Hold courageous conversations: “Don’t fail to hold people to account.” All children deserve to have the very best learning experience possible at schools and the challenge and support for teachers is essential.
Great Heads are Learners: The oft quoted figure of 10,000 hours (first postulated by Anders Ericsson and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell) is what is required “to assimilate all one needs to know to achieve mastery.” – Daniel Levitin
Great Heads Build confidence and tell the story: the staff team looks to a head for guidance and support. The right words, at the right time, spoken in the right way provide solace, motivation and a sense of well-being.

Steve concluded by sharing the work of Viviane Robinson on Student Centred Leadership on what good heads do to make a difference. There are, again, 5 qualities and they are, in order of impact:

Leading teacher learning & development (twice as important as all the others): turn commitment into a habit not by going on a course but by supporting and coaching
Establishing goals and expectations
Ensure quality teaching
Resourcing strategically
Ensuring a safe and orderly environment

So there is the challenge to our sector and Anthony Seldon was candid in emphasising the need for our schools to professionalise more effectively. The encouraging thing is that, for me, there seems to be a wave of energy and enthusiasm for headship as described by Steve Munby and we are looking at an exciting and creative time for leadership in Independent Schools.

A Perfect Example of Followership

“Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”

— Barbara Kellerman

A meeting District 1N Heads of IAPS took place last night at Mill Hill School. Afterwards, walking across the campus, we encountered VW Beetle, well off the beaten track overhanging a set of steps. A rather embarrassed parent was engulfed by a dozen quizzical Prep School Heads. What happened next was both very funny and hugely enlightening.

Funny: well, can you imagine 6 men dressed in suits, of a wide variety of shapes and sizes (and ages), setting their shoulders to the front end of Beetle, recalling their salad days in the tight 5 of their college Rugby Team. And by the way, it was a New Beetle which does have the engine in the front before you ask…

And enlightening? As school leaders, we try to do just that: inspire, motivate, cajole, coax, enable…but there was a moment, a palpable, collective and unspoken agreement that, despite the fine dinner awaiting us, we would assist. Putting all thoughts of ruined suits and dry cleaning aside, we did the decent thing. It wasn’t about leading. It was about following and I am mightily impressed with my colleagues for demonstrating it.

A Google search for the term “Followership” will provide a plethora of advice, examples and definitions. And it is clear that leaders are nothing without followers. Therefore the development of the skills in followership are essential if an organisation is to be successful. Here, from the Holden Leadership Centre at the University of Oregon,  are 7 key behaviours identified in effective followership:

  • Volunteering to handle tasks or help accomplish goals
  • Willingly accepting assignments
  • Exhibiting loyalty to the group
  • Voicing differences of opinions, but supporting the group’s decisions
  • Offering suggestions
  • Maintaining a positive attitude, even in confusing or trying times
  • Working effectively as a team member

Accepting and actively encouraging these traits in a staff team will only strengthen the whole. Furthermore, encouraging Senior Leaders to themselves encourage these behaviours amongst the staff, will further extend the opportunity for those with a voice to feel enabled and participate effectively.

In the 3 minutes it took us to heave the VW up the stairs, all 7 of those traits were on show.

I just wish I had a photo!

It did happen, honest.

Social Responsibility: Peace Education

Fighting Islamophobia in schools | Education | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

A key point raised in this article from UNESCO is that:

since wars begin in the minds of women and men, it is there that defences of peace must be built.

The incorporation of an international dimension into school curriculums has long been championed.  However this has to be seen as a means of joining people together in shared value and not, as is often the case, a fact finding mission about similarities and differences.

It takes courage to address issues surrounding peace education.  Courage from leadership & management;  courage from teachers in the classroom to have challenging conversations with children about race & religion.  Courage to encourage tolerance.

Recognising the universality of Human Rights and the need for tolerance and understanding are challenging concepts but aligned clearly with all that schools should stand for.  The question is, though, just how far does a school go in promoting this philosophy?  How do you educate for peace and tolerance when there are diverse views & opinions at the school gate?