A couple of weeks ago I read a fab blogpost by @thatboycanteach, he was encouraging teachers to be more Batman. Whilst I wholeheartedly agreed with the concept, one flaw struck me: For Batman to be Batman there is a key ingredient that we cannot miss, for teachers to be more Batman we need SLT to be more Alfred.
Every good Batman needs an Alfred that will empower them, support them, counsel them and when necessary come to the rescue with just the right gadget.
For a school to be great it has to have great teaching – ergo great teachers. For that to happen it has to have a leadership team that supports its teachers to be great. The ultimate role of any SLT is to create a climate that allows its teachers to be the best.
‘Servant leadership’ is a timeless concept. The phrase was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in ‘The Servant as Leader’, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
This for many SLTs is a scary concept, it requires a reorganization of how they work and in some cases what they perceive as their role. This is obviously a challenge requiring trust and support.
Unlike leadership approaches with a top-down hierarchical style, servant leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. At heart the individual is a servant first, making the conscious decision to lead in order to better serve others, not to increase their own power.
Kent Keith, author of The Case for Servant Leadership, states that servant leadership is ethical, practical, and meaningful.
He identifies seven key practices of servant leaders:
- Changing the pyramid
- Developing your colleagues
- Coaching not controlling
- Unleashing the energy and intelligence of others
As the head of a school that was ‘RI’ and is now ‘Good’, I have seen the role of the SLT change. It has been tricky to adapt and let teachers run free. The biggest shift has been challenging teachers’ ingrained ideas that monitoring, observation, and scrutiny (hate that word) are there to knock. For the school to move forwards these strategies need to be viewed as support for developing practice.
It has been tricky for teachers to take those steps, they have needed reassurance, metaphorical stroking, encouragement and also clarity of expectation.
An essential ingredient in this process is high quality PD, matched to individual development needs. Equally the chance to see great teaching cannot be undersestimated. As a small school in and isolated coastal town this can be a tricky.
For truly great teachers to emerge a culture of trust and support must exist. SLTs must get the systems and structures right so that teachers can do their job. By empowering our teachers to be great we are empowering our pupils to be great.
We as a school are not there yet, but we have made the decision to be excellent. It’s going to be an interesting few years, full of challenges. For us to truly create Batmen or Batwomen we definitely need to be more Alfred… At the moment I think you can call us Al…
Greenleaf, R. K. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.
Keith, K, M (2008) The case for Servant Leadership. Indianapolis, IN: Robert K. Greenleaf Center.