There comes a point when a leader is so busy rushing around that s/he actually loses focus on the important aspects of their role. This is as true for middle and senior leaders as it is for head teachers.
Please don’t tell anyone but it’s taken the best part of twelve months to really get my head around the very different role I now have. The transition from headship has been a bit of a strange one but I’m now pretty convinced that I am a CEO – Chief Executive Officer. At least I would be if there were any other Executive Officers but the post of OEO, Only Executive Officer, I don’t think actually exists. The key to me developing this greater understanding is the realisation that I didn’t retain any “powers” which are ascribed to head teachers. The Trust’s Academies’ head teachers have these and so I see my role as operating across the Trust to: clear the way for head teachers to do their jobs really well; grow current & future leaders; find new & develop current teachers particularly with respect to cross phase working; connect with individuals and organisations beyond the Trust who can help us become great and scan the system for new opportunities. Whilst I’ve done a lot of these things this year I want to be ready to hit the ground running in September so now is a great time to put some plans in place.
This post has actually been on the drawing board for a couple of months (originally titled “Built a School Now to Build a Culture”) but it was Tom Sherrington’s (@headguruteacher) brilliant post last week, about his plans to improve his teaching in the next academic year, which led to a format rethink. I first used the term DERT (Dedicated Evaluation & Reflection Time), an adaptation of DIRT (Dedicated or Directed Improvement & Reflection Time), in a post last November of Growth Mindset. It was associated with developing teaching but equally applies to improving your leadership.
Make Time to Save Time
It’s all too easy to excuse yourself the luxury of stepping back and evaluating how you are doing. People in schools are busy but time for evaluation and reflection is a necessity not a luxury. In the end you will save considerably more time than it takes to get yourself refocused.
Some simple questions but possibly not with such simple answers:
What are the greatest priorities for your school, department or phase over the next twelve months? How do you know?
What could you do to impact on these priorities? Which of these approaches will have biggest impact?
Of these high impact approaches which are you best suited to lead on? Who else in your team could better lead on other high impact approaches?
Evaluate Using Hard & Soft Data
It’s important that your evaluation on the current state of play in the school, department or phase isn’t too idiosyncratic. It is about informed decision making rather than purely data driven or mechanistic responses. Quantitative data will play a part as will more qualitative data including conversations and perspectives from other people, who may have shared things with you during the year. Confirmation bias is just about impossible to eradicate so don’t overly worry about this just be aware of it. Try to justify your priorities, to yourself, through finding repeating messages across a number of different sources. Think about the big areas: students’ learning & outcomes; curriculum, teaching & professional development; safeguarding, pastoral care, attendance & behaviour and ethos. The danger here is having too much to do so the challenge is actually determining priorities; what’s important now and what will have to wait. No matter how much you feel you can personally do as a leader you need to have an eye to and an understanding of how fast and far the team can move. A leader stood in splendid isolation is not much of a leader at all.
Reflections on the Year Nearly Gone and the One Ahead
I’ve spent quite a lot of time coaching various leaders across the academies. They seem to have found the time spent together useful but I don’t really know what impact it is having. This is a difficult area but it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t attempt to discern what impact the coaching has had and how I could further improve it.
Our development of leaders is pretty effective but I know we can do even better. This might simply be to co-ordinate our offer to staff so it feels more coherent or possibly developing new opportunities, for example, bespoke improvement projects for an individual to lead and learn from. There is a lot I can contribute here alongside the academies’ head teachers.
The development of much better KS2-3 transition in Mathematics has been a real highlight of the year. This is largely due to the Assistant Headteacher leading it and support from colleagues within the Trust. I need to make sure I facilitate something similar for English & Literacy in the coming year. There is a need to implement a single approach to phonics teaching across the Trust so we can benefit from greater collaboration between the academies. The issue of progression in writing also needs to be on the agenda.
This year has seen a lot of time on developing systems to introduce data and feedback informed teaching across the Trust’s academies and many discussions with head teachers. The systems are still very new and need to be evaluated. We are about to move into the next phase which will integrate the systems to a much greater extent and make explicit to staff, through significant professional development, how the various elements can work together to help further improve teaching and learning.
Retention and recruitment has been pretty strong across all the Trust’s academies this year. They are all fully staffed and we need to keep it that way in what will be more challenging years ahead. We asked staff in each academy what we could do to reduce workload this year and implemented a number of their suggestions with more plans for the new academic year. I need to keep an eye on the impact of any new policies on staff workload to ensure we retain teachers. With respect to recruiting teachers our work with two Teaching Schools, as strategic partners, and local universities will continue. What impact does time on twitter and blogging have on attracting people to come and work with us?
Issues of mental health and disadvantage can often go hand in hand. Blackpool are about to make a bid to try to secure Phase 3 funding for their Headstart initiative which would have a big impact on our Healthy Minds, Healthy Mindset objective.
I’ve worked with the SSAT(UK) for years and have recently become a member of the HeadsRoundTable Core Group. Both of these offer opportunities to connect with interesting people and organisations beyond Blackpool. I need to think about how these fantastic networks can have a greater impact back at the ranch.
Turning to the most significant impact I can make as a leader these are my priorities for next year.
The list is still quite tentative at the moment as the SATs & GCSE outcomes, this summer, might identify other priorities for me to focus on.
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