‘You’re going to reap just what you sow’
Perfect Day Lou Reed
Today is one of those weird days. A member of my staff has gone for an interview for a promotion. It’s the first time it’s happened since I’ve been a head. There is secretly a bit of me that is gutted by this. There is a bit of me that is thinking ‘Well why don’t they want to stay here?’ ‘What’s wrong with here?’
I have to ignore those bits.
Over the last three years I have seen this teacher develop. I have seen them challenge themselves, I’ve seen them make mistakes I’ve watched them fall over a few times. At points I’ve picked them up and set them off again, increasingly now they do it for themselves. They dust themselves down, climb back on that horse and trot on. Whether they get this job or the next at some point if I’m doing my job properly they will rightly move on and go on to impact on more schools and more children.
The moment has just made me stop and think about my job. Fundamentally what is the role of a headteacher.
A member of my governing body and I sat chatting about this just last week and he talked about his time in the police and his analogy really struck. He talked about being a gardener and growing people, they often start as seeds and we if we do our job properly we turn them into beautiful blooms and that is when they get picked by others and we get a load more seeds.
I have regularly talked about the need to help teachers to be great. Creating a reflective, supportive culture which challenges our teachers to try to be excellent everyday. It is more than that however. We need to clearly understand their aims and what they really want. It’s really important that the growth is bespoke to the individual. In schools there is often a treadmill towards leadership, the fact is that it’s not the right path everyone.
We have a habit in this country of promoting people to the point of incompetency. Could we not looks at things in a different way.
Why not let people be really good at the thing they do, use that to its greatest impact and reward appropriately. I had lots of headteachers who did just that for me.
I have been very lucky I have had a range of experiences that have ultimately led me to this point. My journey has been a round the houses route to headship that took 23 years to reach its destination. I had my first five years in the lovely sounding Marton Grove in Middlesbrough working with a wonderful head called Chris Gent. He gave me space to develop and improve. He helped me improve my teaching. He also had the most effective “I’m disappointed” routine I have ever seen. I definitely stole that from him.
He pushed me to just get better at the teaching then he when he thought I was good enough he pushed me forward as a lead-teacher.
I was then seconded to Archibald a school that was at that point in special measures. I was there for an absolutely brilliant eight years. The head Pat Irving was fantastic at building the team and recognising the skills the staff she had and using them to the best effect for the school. It was a joyous time. More than anything in my school I aspire to the team ethic that was instilled in us. I have never laughed more than I did there, I have never sworn more than I did there. The staff room was a place of laughter and support.
The trust and faith that Pat showed in me has had profound effects on how I try to lead my school. She both challenged and supported me to be the best I could be, at this point being a head wasn’t even on my radar. She helped me become a good teacher, and let my passion for English impact on the whole school. She also took no prisoners and was always the crap umbrella that let us get on with doing our job. In 2006 that hard work led to an ‘Outstanding’ judgement in Ofsted. I don’t think I have ever been in a school or met a staff that deserved it more.
I then took a sideways move and had a shocking couple of years. I was according to my wife unbearable to live with. The lurch from Archibald to Pennyman was almost too much for me to take. When you’re sat in the middle of something that is ripping you apart in the most destructive way, when you can’t see the wood for the trees, when you lie awake at night because the of it, it can be really hard to see the positives. Pennyman was all that for me. I struggled daily to even go into the place. It was unrelenting. It made me need to get out of schools for a while. Looking back however I learnt so much about leadership there. Mainly that I don’t ever want to be that kind of leader. I was micro-managed to the n-th degree. and there was no trust. Think being a head is in a bit of revenge on this person who had no faith in me.
At that point I left the classroom. I was lucky I got a job as a literacy advisor in Hartlepool, working with “The Debbies.” This restored my belief in my ability, but also was the point I realised how great a job being a headteacher was. I was inspired by these people managing complex organisations and people. I also for the first time realised I got the bigger picture.
I then moved to Saltburn as a deputy-head teacher and began really to develop the skills of leading. The key bit for me was and still is the understanding of the people you work with. It was a tough but great four years, we got an RI judgement almost straight after I arrived. The head Janet never once blamed the staff. She took it on her shoulders and worked tirelessly to move the school forward. She built us back up, she stuck to the vision of what she believed and carried us on that journey.
Which 23 years later leads me to where I am now.
So how can we grow our own staff. I think it’s important, that to develop people, the opportunities are there and it’s the culture that gives authentic experiences. Building capacity is best thought of as both a process as well as a solution for schools seeking to grow. If schools want to get better they must look to make the individual parts better.
- Create common goals – (Do you all believe in where you’re going?)
- Get to know your staff – (aspirations, ambitions, strengths, challenges and be the person who allows them to be great.)
- Look for common links between personal aspiration and school goals. How can enhancing one benefit the other. (Improving you improves us)
- All of the learning must be embedded in a trusting environment , in which relationships form a safety net of support and challenge. Make the growth authentic. (Let them have a real impact)
- Be aware that in the beginning, however, people are taking risks, and no matter how valuable things may be, in practice barriers may go up when new things are suggested. (be the net under the tight-rope walker)
- Let them lead. Don’t micro-manage. (STEP AWAY)
- Value that there are different ways for staff to impact on your school. Not everyone wants to be a leader, be creative in how you build your school capacity. (Understand how to grow your different plants, make sure the soil is right and they get enough water)
…building capacity an ongoing process by which individuals, groups, organizations and societies enhance their ability to identify and meet development challenges in a sustainable way…
Keep growing them seeds.