Authenticity is not just a challenge, it’s a problem. The problem with authenticity is you can’t fake it. There is a natural alignment between what you feel & think, what the organisation you work for values & does and the system’s orientation & drivers.
I bring who I am to leadership. I can only pretend for so longer and never to myself.
“For a system to feel authentic then my story, our story and the story must be aligned. If you believe that education should create life enhancing opportunities for young people and the staff who work in it (the story), then performance related pay, competition between schools with its winners and losers and the current aggressive Ofsted machine (our story) don’t fit and this all leads to a lack of authenticity. It is time for a system built on greater co-operation and capital sharing where every child and every teacher in every school matters. Greater equity and higher achievement is part of becoming great – it is a system thing.”
The Power of What is Possible Together
If asked who first ran the four minute mile most people would say Roger Bannister. Some would argue it was actually Chris Brasher, Chris Chataway and Roger Bannister who ran the first sub four minute mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. I’m in the latter of the two camps.
The race was carefully planned and he was aided by two pacemakers … Brasher took the lead as the first pacemaker, Bannister slotted in behind, with Chataway in third place … When Brasher began to feel the strain, Bannister signalled for Chataway to take over … Just over 200 yards from the finish, Bannister took the lead with a final burst of energy. He sprinted to the line in record time and fell exhausted into the arms of a friend, the Rev Nicholas Stacey.
Our Four Minute Mile Leadership Challenge
Apparently we are going to have a school-led system by 2016 (and by the way I’m the Queen of Sheba). Evolution like this is messy, hugely dynamic at times and then sedentary at others. Most of all it is very unpredictable. It won’t run to time scale nor will it run to plan. Whilst some schools and leaders may get more plaudits than others, are we prepared to genuinely and profoundly work together to break through seemingly impossible barriers? Our four minute mile challenge is ensuring every child, irrespective of his or her background or the school s/he attends, gets a great education.
The Current System
The current education system has an Accountability Culture which is on steroids, taken to an extreme and rocket fuelled. This is especially pronounced in schools in challenging circumstances. I’m not an “excuses” merchant, I never have been, I want the best for every child, but I’m increasingly dissatisfied and dismayed with how we are seeking to achieve it. My leadership problem is the need to be authentic, I need to be truly myself, this means looking after people whilst challenging and expecting the best of them. A system built on accountability, due to a collective mistrust of the profession, feels wrong because it is wrong.
From Accountability Driven to Responsibility Led
We’ve replaced responsibility with accountability. When things go wrong, they do and will on occasion, no system will beat me up more than I beat myself up. I’m not alone in this and many teachers are their own fiercest critics.
Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan say, “Accountability starts where responsibility ends.” Responsibility is ending far too quickly these days as a learnt helplessness, driven by Ofsted that far too many leaders are complicit in perpetuating, has taken control. I’m not being critical of other leaders here as I’m as guilty as the next. This lack of agency is not authentic to me.
Responsibility builds quality and excellence into the system. It is this self-accountability and peer accountability that we need to bring back into greater balance. External accountability operates too late in the process, it’s after the event. It’s time for a re-think, imagine a system built on trust where collective responsibility for all children’s success was the key driver and external accountability of much lesser prominence.
Your Success Is My Success
This could be read different ways but the sense I want to convey is that I cannot feel successful as a school leader until you are also being successful. I have a responsibility for all children within the system. I may not be held accountable for them but I am responsible for them. The decisions I make matter.
At a System Level – Competition is powerful when it challenges you to do your best, to go beyond the limits of what you have currently achieved, it helped break the four minute mile. However, competition that creates winners and losers within the education system is destructive and unacceptable. For children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds education is sometimes their one and only chance to break out of a cycle of poverty. It is always the poor and most disadvantaged that lose out as schools compete. No politician ever proposes more secondary moderns schools, which would be seen as losers by many, the rallying cry is for more grammar schools, the winners’ schools of choice. This lack of quality for all children is not authentic to me.
At a School Level – Will you take hurt with me? Will you take pain for me? This is not impossible in the current system but neither is it aligned. School based league tables, protecting reputation, beating other schools in the same area all create a lack of authenticity for those leaders and teachers who seek a genuine collaboration between schools. The pinch point is often around managing the most difficult and challenging children. The system doesn’t thank you for keeping a child off the street or out of prison unless they also get 5+A*-CEM by the age of sixteen. For some children their ticket out of poverty may take a little bit longer to achieve. These students aren’t equally distributed in our schools. This lack of equity is not authentic to me.
We are seeing the development of multi-academy trusts, federations and teaching school alliances as part of the systemic change. They are taking different forms but the key issue is the core relationship in these clusters of schools. Do they have Helpless, Ego-Filled or Helpful relationships taking them forward?
The strong taking over weak sponsor academy model can be based on the belief a school is helpless. The strong with strong teaching school model can become ego-filled. However, both these models, if the terms weak and strong are seen as irrelevant, can become helpful relationships where the professional capacity of all schools is enhanced. All schools have something to offer and something to learn. This build greater agency within the system, school and for the individuals involved. When you are my brother or sister what I do is borne out of love and respect for you as an individual. I will share your pain and your joy – Families Matter.
Authentic Leaders Need Aligned Systems
“There are two types of laws those that are just and those that are unjust. A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.… Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”
We could say the same about drivers and behaviours within a system, there are those that are just and those that are unjust. As we design the School-led System let’s move high agency, high equity and high quality to centre stage. My story, our story and the story must become aligned within our education system. I can be authentically me as a leader but not in the system as it currently stands. Roger Bannister may have received the lion share of the recognition but the Authentic Four Minute (3:59.4) Leader knows it is a collective effort that brings success, it is a collective effort which helps us reach new heights. This realisation is at the core of every decision s/he makes.