Sunday has a metronomic quality about it. Skype family on the other side of the World, walk to Mass and back, share coffee and time with Cath and a bit of gardening, weather permitting. By Sunday afternoon I’m working; it has always been thus.
Gardening is one of my few hobbies; there is something about planting seeds or young plants, tending them and watching them grow that really appeals. Above is the garden in our new house and I can’t wait to really get to grips with it. That will probably be next year as the house needs some attention first. This morning was mowing and winning the fight with a conifer stump that I wanted to uproot and replace; the fight was a close and bloody affair.
“I’m Calling Bull$h1t”
I can’t remember the exact tweet that @missmcinerney was quoting but her phrase (above) was spot on. It may have been an outrageous claim by a politician in front of the Education Select Committee.
The past few months have seen far too many exaggerated claims by Remain and Leave politicians about what would happen if we stayed in or opted out of Europe. Whichever side lost the referendum would be rightly able to call Bull$h1t. The past few days has seen a physical void appear in political leadership; before the physical void was a void of integrity and the trust that is born out of it.
It’s all too easy to throw stones; in education we have some hard questions to ask ourselves. If pupils really do matter and they are our number one focus, why do eight thousand disappear off the roles of secondary schools in the two terms before numbers are confirmed for accountability purposes? It is the unethical and frightened leaders who are moving pupils on; this won’t sit well with their personal or professional value systems nor build trust with pupils and parents generally.
I wonder what is happening in Years 5 & 6 in primary schools and the impact on special schools and alternative provision. The Headteachers’ Roundtable will be discussing this in detail on Friday and there is still time to join us; you can book here.
The retention and recruitment of teachers is looking from less than promising to bleak. If everything in the garden was rosy why can’t we recruit and keep teachers in good as well as bad economic times; in large enough numbers even when the demographics are against us. The problem of toxic cultures created by internal and external accountability, poor leadership and excessive workload; we reap what we sow.
Is paying someone £30,000 tax free to train, they don’t have to ever take up teaching, or spending £10 million pounds getting a few troops to be teachers or attempting to establish a National Teaching Service good policy. What would be the impact of increasing the starting pay of young teachers or paying off 10% of their student fees for each year they teach in a school? This could be 20% for those working in the most disadvantaged areas. What changes must we make in the education system if we are to improve the culture in our schools? Again should be a great discussion at Headteachers’ Roundtable Think Tank in Sheffield on Friday.
Leadership Lessons from the Garden
Whilst I like the new garden there is work to do; creating a great garden is a bit like leading a school.
Get the garden structure right first; the hard landscape and the large trees and bushes. Like the culture in a school these are going to be around for a long time and need to be established. They’re your non-negotiables. If you say pupils and staff matter how will you show this day in and day out? Breathing a values system through a school needs integrity; say what you mean and mean what you say. If great teaching, assessment and learning alongside strong pastoral care, support and guidance are all important what are you doing to establish it? What will you do if you find an absence of it? The human interactions in any organisation establish the culture; working with integrity, compassion and a clear moral purpose are the corner stones of success.
Now is the time to get the perennials in; the plants that come back year after years. Building the structures, systems and processes into a school creates the working climate. Over time I’ve learnt that these are negotiables; I may have the best idea for how things should work, I may not. What is most important is that they do work and this requires the commitment of all staff. It is people’s level of commitment that brings the consistency of operation we need, as leaders, to keep things running smoothly. I’m now much happier to find compromises and ways of working that staff can commit to; there are loads of great perennials out there so don’t have a narrow view. It can take a bit of effort but changing the perennials – structures, systems and processes – isn’t as hard as you think. If it ain’t working change it or shift it.
The annuals are shorted lived bursts of energy and colour. They don’t last for ever and represent the decisions you make in response to short term issues. For the leader they provide the opportunity to be agile; cakes today because staff are shattered or have gone above and beyond or because there are 24 hours in a day. Shifting a deadline, giving people time off for personal or family reasons and the positive, caring or kind word all give people a lift. I may throw in a few annuals this year to lift the garden and my spirits knowing that once the garden has been re-planned I can add new, more or the same annual plants in.
Life isn’t always a bed of roses but it is a leader’s job to ensure the garden develops, grows and flourishes; it’s why we lead, it’s the essence of leadership. Thinking about your behaviours as a leader can be a challenge but if you don’t someone may just call Bull$h1t and then you are well and truly in it.
Sowing the seeds in gardening is very similar to teaching. You sow the seeds in children then watch the seeds grow and flourish. It must also give the same immense satisfaction as your labours in the garden when you see the plants bloom. Charles
Thanks for the sober and straight to the point nature of your contributions. I really am re-assured that many pupils and teachers are in good hands when such simple and wise contributors re-emphasise such basic issues as ‘Trust and Integrity’. Without these we are just lost souls meandering in a mist and open to the subtle persuaders of fad and compromise and, ultimately, to becoming those who are mere agents of a ‘system’ rather than its challenging leaders. David
Thanks for the comment, David