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Getting the Balance Right in Leadership

If this week’s statistics are to be believed I should be feeling pretty unhappy.  As a male approaching 52.9 years of age in full time employment the happiness scales tends towards the negative.  Sometimes you’ve got to count life’s blessings; unhappy in full time work?  Try being unemployed; it is much worse.

2014-06-09 16.55.55

Whilst the rain has been horizontal at times this week, brought in by the Atlantic gales, the storm clouds seem to be slowly disappearing from over Blackpool.  Let’s not kid ourselves, if this year’s results aren’t an improvement then they will gather again.  This much I know about school improvement in challenging areas … too many people come in from outside having no idea of the challenges they will face and falter.  However, towns like Blackpool struggle when left to their own devices; you need support from outside to improve.  A balance of local knowledge allied with external perspectives and resources is the powerful blend required.  It may actually be the same in all areas; I simply don’t have the experience to comment with any certainty.

Staying In Control

Thanks to Right to Succeed I had the pleasure of listening to Doug Strycharczyk (@DStrycharczyk) talking to a small group of Blackpool Head teachers about trialling some questionnaires for primary aged children around mental toughness.  Christ the King Catholic Academy is keen to get involved and support the work of AQR International.  In return they will get an analysis of the mental toughness of their pupils from Y1-6.

We asked Doug the “So What?” question; there are a number of different ways we can support our children whose mental toughness is low in one or more areas.  For example, when taking control you’ve got to really believe you can do it, you can influence your own life.  A simple suggestion from Doug was to think of and write down three positive things that happen or achievements each day.  It stops you focussing on the negative bits of life which, if you are not careful can become the defining narrative of your week and grow out of all proportion to reality.  Here are a few positives from my week:

  • Doug Lemov giving up his time to answer our questions on Teach Like a Champion.  With Doug’s permission his answers are on the blog and can be found here.
  • Meeting Doug S and engaging with the Primary School Metal Toughness Questionnaire trial.
  • Neil Carmichael’s Office (Chair of the Education Select Committee) arranging to meet with HeadTeachers’ Roundtable.
  • Having ITV visit and film St. Mary’s Catholic Academy because we are a good school in Blackpool; the students and staff are fantastic (other people’s negativity won’t distort this reality).
  • Setting up a meeting with six Year 12 high attaining students who I’m going to work with over the next twelve months.
  • Visiting the Canons Park Teaching School Alliance Conference led by Kev Bartle and listening to how they will evolve their Teaching School.
  • Sharing dinner with my son in London on Friday night.

It’s rather an eclectic mix.  You might want to try writing down your positives each day; it’s rather refreshing.  The writing down bit is important.

Obtaining Balance

Whilst being in control is a start, mental toughness also requires commitment, rising to the challenge and confidence that you’ll get the job done.  It links to our performance as individuals but also to our wellbeing.  I don’t know for sure but there may well be a reciprocal relationship between wellbeing and mental toughness.  It’s not just important for individuals but also for organisations.  Developing organisational wellbeing, as leaders, sits in the tensions between competing priorities.

Photo Credit: Bob~Barley Time via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Bob~Barley Time via Flickr cc

The balanced scorecard developed by Dr Robert Kaplan and Dr David Norton, though its roots go further back, looked to align competing performance priorities within an organisation.  It has grown and developed over the decades and a quick Google search provides some frighteningly complex systems.  Its purpose is to move people away from an obsession about the bottom line, in many businesses the financial profit/loss figures, to areas that have a major influence on the bottom line.

Obsessing about test or examination results, schools’ bottom line, doesn’t automatically improve things, however, having the right number and quality of staff, providing professional development and time for teachers to develop teaching and learning and refining processes to eliminate “wasted time” will.  Worrying about next summer’s results seems to be the first line in many leaders’ job descriptions these days.  We need to develop a more balanced approach focussed on the things that matter to ensuring pupils’ life chances are enhanced.  What would your balanced score card look like; what should you focus be to make sure the bottom line looks after itself?  Staying close to the original balanced scorecard I might go for:

Get retention (note it’s primacy) and recruitment right (People)

Great professional development is one way to retain staff; “great” professional development, not just some run of the mill standard fayre you find in all schools.  What sets your professional development apart?

This week I’ve pulled together a one page draft of other people’s ideas on further developing a Masters programme for staff.  We currently pay half the fees for people on Masters but could we afford, over a five year period: to pay half the fees, give some days off for writing up, arrange a study visit to other schools in the UK or beyond and once completed give a one year TLR or additional non-contact time for the person to take forward her/his work within the Academy or Trust?  Can we afford not to?

Get rid of things that don’t add enough value to our work (Processes)

No organisation is totally efficient.  All schools are doing things that have either never really added value to their work or made sense at one time but are now just a historical low impact activity that distracts staff.  What could you stop doing or do more efficiently?

This week I’ve been putting together my report for Directors (Governors) including asking for permission to overhaul the appraisal policy for teachers.  There’s arguably too much time spent on devising, recording and reviewing objectives for teachers; many struggle to remember what objectives they actually agreed.  Objectives basically boil down to get some decent results, make a contribution to the wider ethos of the school and think about your professional development needs.  Could we simplify this and just set generic objectives for all teachers and use the time released to focus on the professional development bit?

Add to the professional learning of others (Learning)

Picking up the last point about professional development; developing teachers and leaders is a core part of all schools’ work.  Is your professional development programme developing truly great teachers and leaders?

Great teaching and leadership is a tall order so just make a start.  This week I’ve prepped for the leadership development session I’m delivering next week.  This involved giving participants a prompt about their “Making a Difference” school improvement project.  I’ll be reading their summaries next week and providing them with some feedback.  The focus of the session will be leaders’ impact on a school’s climate.  Which lever(s) do we need to pull to improve further the climate of our school?

What would your balanced scorecard consist of?  How’s your week been against the priorities you identify?

Why Would I Work Anywhere Else?

Stepping back from the day to day leadership of a school has helped give me a new perspective.  I’m looking critically at many of the things we are doing, many of which I introduced, and wondering what value they add; worse still, wondering what life they are sucking out of the schools, staff and pupils.  School leaders will need, more than ever, to ensure that their school is the one where teachers and support staff alike want to work; the supply is drying up particularly at a secondary level and will get worse before it gets better.

Whilst I should be heading for the unhappiest phase of my life, statistically anyway, I’m actually feeling rather optimistic.  It’s taken me quite a bit of time but I might be getting the hang of this leadership thing.  Remember the future’s bright; the future’s Blackpool <feel free to replace Blackpool with the city, town or village where you work>.



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