Doing the difficult stuff…It may not be easy but try to make sure its right.

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“It’s not hard to do the right thing; in fact it’s easy. What’s hard is knowing what the right thing to do is. Once you know that, and believe it, doing the right thing is easy.”

Ben Kingsley in the Confession

Stephen Covey described “personality-based leaders,” who were preoccupied with “looking good” (in hopes of being liked) instead of “doing good.” These true leaders, he described as “principle-based leaders.” These leaders struggled to “know the right thing to do,” but then had the courage and integrity to “do the right thing”—even if it was unpopular at the time.
“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” -Ralph Nader
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Leaders face this dilemma frequently, because in the imperfect real world, there are a lot of not-so-good choices, and few really good, clear and right ones. But leaders must decide. That is their job. Leaders don’t always get it right. Leadership seems to be on all  of our minds at the moment. The Election and current political situation seems to have heightened this.

True leaders will not do the “wrong thing” just to be liked. Leaders must make the best available, “right” decision. Flip/flopping for approval is not leadership sticking by your principles and holding fast is. Being able to admit you got it wrong is leadership,  blaming others when things go wrong is not.

Having listened to the rather wonderful @DavidMcQueen at Northern Rocks I was emboldened again to do the right thing. He was spot on the need for bravery in Leadership and also I’m a sucker for a cracking acronym

Bold

Resilient

Authentic

Visionary

Empowering

Leadership should be B.R.A.V.E. Great leadership advice.

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As for everyone else, they have a decision about which kind of leader they want to follow, to vote for and elect, to support. Do you want the vain-glorious leader who always looks good, but cleverly avoids the tough decisions, (or make the wrong ones)? Or would you rather have a leader who struggles mightily evaluating what the “right thing to do” is, and then does it, no matter how difficult, how painful or how unpopular it might be.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” –John C. Maxwell

 

I’ve seen and worked with and for both kinds. I can pick them out to this day—good and bad. I know which kind I want to follow and be. How about you?

Ref
“Principle-centered leadership” by Stephen Covey published 1989

 

 

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We are Dreamers and Fools.

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“You say I’m a dreamer, we’re two of a kind
Both of us searching for some perfect world we know we’ll never find”

Hold Me Now

The Thompson Twins

 

I constantly try to believe the best in people. I believe the best in children. I believe that children actually want to do the right thing most of the time and that if we teach them and guide them then actually in most cases they will choose to do the right thing without us forcing them. Most of the children in our school make the right choices most of the time. They are kind, compassionate and thoughtful. They look after and support each other, they choose to do the right things.  I’ve been called ‘naive’ for this view by a high-profile tweeter. Actually I am anything but naive, 23 years teaching and working in inner-city schools makes you anything but. What I am however I’ll admit is a bit of a dreamer, I’m an optimist, I genuinely believe that we can make the world a better place. I believe that education can change the world, I also believe that education is about much more that passing some exams. The purpose of our education system must be about giving our young people the opportunities to dream. Creating Literate and Numerate pupils is vital but to truly motivate our pupils the vision has to be bigger.

To be honest being based in the North-East I sadly see education as not really being the doorway it should be for our young people. As the father of a 17 year old battling for jobs, dreaming of a career in a field where sadly privilege does often make a difference, where who you know is often more important than what you know I find my optimism dented. Never once however does it stop him, he works even harder to push for that dream. He is an inspiration. After getting nine GCSE’s (including maths and three sciences because he was given no choice)  he is doing Musical Theatre. Nobody at any point spoke to him about his dreams, his aspirations and even if they had there were no options for him in what he was offered. His one career talk essentially did two things it talked about earning lots of money and about being an engineer. We seem to be driving to an increasingly narrow view of education, one where our school data is more important than actually supporting pupils in achieving their dreams and aspirations.

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As education seems to narrow so too has politics with little between the offers of the parties. This general election for the first time in a long time seemed to offer options, real choices. Since the general election, on twitter,  I have seen and read a number of tweets criticising young people for the voting choice they made they too were being called ‘naive’.  How many of those tweeters have actually spoken to those young people and asked why they voted the way they did.

Having carried out an election in school it was fascinating to listen to children’s reasons for voting.

In our School (119 pupils voted) the Results were as follows

Labour 34%

Green 35%

Lib/dem 21%

Conservative 7%

UKIP 3%

The children spoke a language of tolerance, of a caring supportive society where no one was left behind. That’s what they wanted to see.

Equally sat ear-wigging to my son talking to his friends (most of whom could vote) discussing a vision of a better Britain without the cynicism that age brings was refreshing. To be fair they knew a lot more about the parties policies than I did. To hear them fired up by politics was equally fantastic. For many their vote wasn’t about them, it was about a creating a fairer society, the exact society we try to create in our school.  They weren’t just concerned about them it was bigger than that.

Now they may have been idealistic when they voted, but tell me is that really a bad thing? Or is it worse that we actually have lost that ability to believe in a better world.

So here’s to the dreamers…

“You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us & the world will be as one”

Imagine

                                John Lennon

 

Chelsea Flower Show is not the only place where blooms need to be nurtured.

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‘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.

-TANGENT-

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.

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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.

Archibald Leavers Video 2005

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.

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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.

  1. Create common goals – (Do you all believe in where you’re going?)
  2. Get to know your staff – (aspirations, ambitions, strengths, challenges and be the person who allows them to be great.)
  3. Look for common links between personal aspiration and school goals. How can enhancing one benefit the other. (Improving you improves us)
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. Let them lead. Don’t micro-manage. (STEP AWAY)
  7. 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.

 

Evidence is important but great teaching is still art…TES article arhive #4

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Here is link to TES article about the science and magic of teaching…

“In the rush to promote research-based teaching, we must not forget the artistry that builds relationships and gives the profession magic, writes Simon Smith

Teachers are working in interesting times: we are certainly becoming an evidence-based profession. I am, however, more convinced than ever that there is more to teaching than that.

“In the rush to make teaching a science we mustn’t forget the artistry and craft of the job. Watching a great teacher is a wonderful thing.”

My recent, somewhat small pearl of wisdom on Twitter received a flutter of replies, but sometimes 140 characters is not enough. So what exactly was I getting at?

Time for some clarification. First things first, I believe in teaching: more importantly, I believe in great teaching. Being a great teacher isn’t easy. It’s a complex job. WC Fields famously said, “never work with animals or children.” But as well as providing the greatest challenge, the greatest joy we have within teaching is that we are working with young people…”

Evidence is important but great teaching is still art

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Books are dangerous, powerful and beautiful. They should also be used with caution…Making careful judgements about class books.

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Why do we have the urge to rush children away from being…er…children.

As I stand in the queue to watch Guardians of The Galaxy Vol2( I have two teenage boys) I’m struck by the number of tiny children here. A quarter of the audience must be under the age of eight. The film is a 12A that means it’s judged suitable for people 12 years and older. If the parents in the queue have deemed this day-glo superhero sci-fi fest as being suitable then who am I to disagree, I don’t know their children. The guidance is however there for a purpose to support us in the choices we make for our children.

The same goes for computer games. I’m pretty sure most of us have seen parents picking up a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty regardless of the rating so that little Johnny can play it because all of his friends have it. Many parents often don’t even question it and it’s certified 18 rating.

Actually I feel the same about books and maybe even more so. The best books are way more affecting than games or TV or Films. I have laughed, cried, been horrified and felt despair more with books than any other medium. The best books are windows to human emotion, glimpses into the human experience. Books are dangerous, powerful and beautiful. They should also be used with caution.

 

 

I’m pretty sure anybody who has ever reread a book from their youth will have found the experience to be very different. I was read Animal Farm at the age of 9 by my Year 5 teacher at that point to me it was some fantastical fairy-tale about talking animals. On reading it now it is a truly different beast that holds universal messages of the dangers of  power, corruption and greed. I loved it at the age of 9. I truly adore it at the age of 46.

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Last week I was involved in a really interesting discussion on twitter. The crux of it was about suitability of texts for various year groups. I have to say I think I came out on the prudish end of the scale. It started with discussion about The Lie Tree, but also pulled in A Monster Calls and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas as well as others. Personally these are books I wouldn’t use in Key Stage 2. For 11 year-olds I think personally that some of the subject matter or the themes are unsuitable. The books require a level of emotional understanding beyond some of the children.

My big concern really is twofold. Firstly that we are pushing books at children that whilst they are able to read them they cannot really access their true beauty and depth because they are not really emotionally ready for them. Much of Shakespeare fits that for me. Romeo and Juliet is wonderful, but why not read around 13/14 and they have some idea of that flush of emotion. My second concern linked to that is that why are we doing it and who are we doing it for. Is it really for the children or for ourselves. I previously worked with a Year 6 teacher who when ‘Twilight’ was all the rage, pushed this onto her Year 6 girls. I won’t get into the relative merits of Twilight but I will say that the book was and in my opinion still  is wholly inappropriate for 10 year olds. Is it a badge of honour for us? The use of the book was an attempt to look cool with the kids and was a bit of an ego-trip for her.

I understand that there is however  huge challenge for primary teachers currently. The need driven by our assessment calls for children to be accessing challenging texts to stretch them. I’m completely on-board with this,  my worry is that this  potentially makes us use things which may not really be suitable.

Of course every class is different. I have read books to one class that I wouldn’t contemplate reading to another. I would also say even with classes I knew really well I still didn’t have enough insight into their lives to understand the potential impact of some of the things we might choose to read.  As a teacher we have to make a judgement call. To be able to do this you need to know and understand the book really well.

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In my head I tend to rate books as  you would rate a film. I know it isn’t the same but there should always be a question of thresholds. It is vital that staff know the book and understand the themes of the book. My measure is always my own children. I am the Dad whose kids watch a fifteen rated film when they are…fifteen. My kids don’t play 18 rated computer games however much their mates are. I know this may not be the best measure but it’s the one I know the best. I judge my book choice on whether I as a parent would have been happy for my child to be exposed to that book, whether my child was emotionally ready for the content and the themes of a book. I know it’s not particularly scientific but it makes me approach books with caution and a healthy respect.

Remember the best books open doors to understanding. They are dangerous and wonderful. Please read with caution.

 

Getting rid of staff isn’t the answer…TES article archive #3

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Here is link to my article on improving schools without someone going overboard…
“New leaders of underperforming schools can feel under pressure to change personnel, but headteacher Simon Smith says his experience proves that this approach is misguided

On the day I had my first look at the school I would later come to lead, it had just received its second “requires improvement” judgement from Ofsted. The head had retired and left a leadership vacuum that the deputy at that point was bravely trying to fill. Staff morale was low.

Then, just after I started, we received a review visit from the local authority, which slammed the school.

Clearly, there were significant problems. As the new head, it was my job to find a way to fix them.

The common narrative for turning around a school in these circumstances almost always involves staff leaving. Changing trajectory, goes the thinking, requires a new head to freshen up the team; it involves a root and branch purge of the dead wood.”

Getting rid of staff isn’t the answer. TES article

Here are links to other related Leadership blogs…

The easy guide to improving schools…Invest in the important stuff.

Missing the positives… The need for #optimisticed

Be More Alfred! (Let Batman be Batman)

The Ministry of Fun

TRUST ME… You gotta believe.

Reflections…Priorities…still not getting it right.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE … In your office no one can hear you scream!

The Fight to be an Inclusive School… TES article archive #2

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Here is link to TES inclusion article…

“For headteacher Simon Smith, the system seems rigged to prevent his school from getting the funding it needs to teach children with special educational needs and disability, but he won’t be put off
I in our town, we have a reputation for being the school that deals with special educational needs and disability. We are a one-form entry primary school with 10 high-needs pupils below the age of seven. We have 14 high-needs pupils in school altogether. A significant number of these children come from outside our school catchment.

When a parent comes to our door and asks whether we can accommodate a pupil’s needs, we bend over backwards to do so. And parents knock on our door a lot. The nearest specialist provisions are an hour’s drive away.”

Fight to be an inclusive school article

and other mildly related links to blogposts

Bigger…Broader…Wider…

Jack of all trades…Master of none. (Doing the jobs I don’t have the skills to do)

Rebels, Robots, Respect and Responsibility. (What is good Behaviour?)

Why Picturebooks are Important…TES article archive #1

Here is a link to the first article I wrote for the TES…
“This primary headteacher and self-confessed picture book obsessive offers some tips on using them in the classroom

I love picture books. I would go as far as to say I am obsessed by them. And because of that – because I use them all the time in my teaching and rave about them in our school – I know something that those schools less keen on picture books do not: they are an absolutely essential tool for boosting literacy. 

But let’s clarify what I mean by picture books. I’m talking about books where the art and the words work together to create meaning so that, without either, the story is nonsensical.”

Why primary schools need to embrace picturebooks to boost Literacy.

Also linked in any reading related blogs…

Reading…(The importance of knowing books)

A Reading Adventure…All adventures come to an end.

Books, glorious books.(#favechildrenslit)

Picture This… Why I Love Picture Books.

#BestBookOpenings-downloadable

#BestBookOpenings-downloadable

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Last week inspired by @mazst who had enthused about The Nowhere Emporium and how great the start was.

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I posted my favourite book opening along with the hashtag #bestbookopening.

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It was fab that so many shared their favourite opening and really lit up quite a dull Tuesday. (It was raining and cold where I live). There are now a load more books I want to go and explore. Both children’s and adult’s books were shared I have however  focussed on the children’ s books first

So this  isn’t really a blogpost. It is instead just a place to share #bestbookopening pdf I have currently done the first 50 openings. They are A4 pages and look a bit like this…

So here is a PDF version,

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and here is a word version if you want to edit or add your own.

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I will add more over the next few days…

 

Here are another 20.

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More to follow…

 

Hope people find them useful…I’m putting a set up around school.

 

 

The easy guide to improving schools…Invest in the important stuff.

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What is the thing that truly makes a difference in a school? The thing that ultimately impacts on the life chances of all the children that pass through your door. What is the magic ingredient?

The answer is simple…Teachers…good teachers. If the teaching is right then the other stuff follows. Sounds really simple doesn’t it. Well that’s because in theory it is. The reality is slightly more challenging.

Truth is we need to invest in our teachers. Great teachers make the difference.  We need our teachers to be reflective practitioners, we need to create in our schools communities of learners open to exploring and developing their practice.

If we can’t admit when something isn’t working then we can’t possibly get it right. Performance Management has been in my opinion one of the most mis-used devices in schools. It has essentially been used as a stick to beat people with. It should be something that helps, supports, encourages  and rewards staff. It has more often than not been the tool to knock and threaten staff. Creating a climate where staff can develop their practice and sometimes get it wrong is the best way to getting it right.

 

SO-WHAT

SLT’s need to create the systems that allow their teachers to be great.   Our most important question in all that we do is “So what?” If it’s not making a difference then why the hell are we doing it. Focusing on the stuff that directly impacts on learning and getting rid of the other stuff is an important first step.

I have written before on the concept of Servant Leadership

The main problem with all this is that to get great teachers costs time and money. Investment is the key word. Valuing the professional development of  staff as an investment both in them but also as an investment in our school made me place a higher priority on it when in came to budget meetings. Regardless of the financial challenges we face we still need to invest.  If we want to look at effective models in other countries one of the big common factors is the time staff are given to develop their practice. If the DfE truly want to make a difference maybe that is something they should look at.

The other thing we need to be aware of is that sometimes life gets in the way. We can’t all be great all the time. Whether we like it or not it is just a job. OK it’s the most important job in the world IMO but it is just a job. There are points and times when you are not “ON IT.” As a head being aware and putting the right support (Support is another dirty word in schools as it has been regularly used as a word in the first step towards a capability) at those times can equally pay dividends.  For that to happen there has to be trust. Blogged about that too.

TRUST ME… You gotta believe.

In my school we’ve made a commitment to strive for #everydayexcellence. We are not bothered by the term Outstanding we just try to be the best we can everyday.  That to me is more than enough.

I will continue to invest in my staff even if that means that if we do it right they go onto be great elsewhere. That is good leadership.