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
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.