On marginal losses and mobile phones

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Earlier this week at work I had to go a day without email. It’s not until you experience an ‘internet outage moment’ that you realise how reliant you’ve become on technology.

When I first became a headteacher in 1998, email had only just begun to dribble into schools. Fax machines were all the rage and were understandably reluctant to be barged aside by the newcomer. As exciting as it was to receive your mail electronically, you couldn’t beat the thrill of teasing apart an envelope just itching to be opened. (In those days people seldom wrote to me.)

‘Email’ was clearly never going to catch on. It was clunky, could only be downloaded once a day and originated entirely from the LA. As a result, most of it was rubbish.

A few years later – at the turn of the millennium – a certain Nokia 3310 hit the scene, and like most young heads at the time, I had to have one. I considered myself to be an IT guru as I was the only headteacher out of 150 or so in the LA that had made the move to an electronic diary. I’d long since ditched the Letts, instead choosing to cart around a Filofax that was the size of a carry-on suitcase.

So when I had the opportunity to buy a digital Acer PDA, complete with stylus and touch screen, I jumped at the chance. It was a nightmare though because it wasn’t synced to the school so the secretary never had a clue what I was doing or where I was meant to be. Neither did I for that matter, but I looked cool.

You can imagine how excited I was when I heard the news of the re-emergence of the iconic 3310 as a dumbphone for a new (or old) smart generation of mobile technology users. In a sea of sameness, the current crop of phones fail to excite me like they once did. I no longer care about what the new iPhone may look like.

What was once fresh and exciting has now become conventional (which makes me all the more determined to ditch it). Eager to be reinvigorated, I visited the BETT show a few years ago but found the whole thing bitterly distasteful; aisle after aisle of seemingly over-prevaricating dotcom hipsters fresh out of college trying to convince me that everything I once knew about education was wrong. They’d clearly never set foot in a classroom. I won’t be going back.

What the whole Nokia thing has done though has made me yearn for certain things in life that are stripped back and simple. To be able to open a device and simply make a call appeals to me immensely. Only last month I was getting mildly manic as the stupid touch screen key pad on my phone failed to operate. It was only when I noticed that I was using the calculator app that I realised I’d crossed a line.

All of us need to reboot at times and whilst I could never go back to a paper diary or dial-up, there are a number of things going on around me in schools that could do with being Nokia’d.

With Lent underway, now might be as good a time as any to think about what we need to give up in schools. Too often we get swept away by the rhetoric and find ourselves doing things without actually knowing why. We become institutionalised and set in our ways.

Or, more dangerously, we find ourselves doing things for other people beyond the school without thinking why. Ofsted, the DfE, local authority are all case in points.

To be fair though to the DfE and Ofsted, a lot has been done recently to demystify the myths surrounding expectations. But still, too many schools don’t want to strip back and are nervous about letting go. When I visit schools that are in the process of being brokered for sponsorship – schools that are in special measures – the one thing that stands out a mile off is that they are simply trying to do too much.

They need to de-clutter and recalibrate so that they focus only on the main thing. Forget marginal gains. From now on, I’m going for marginal losses and I urge you to do the same.

So what would be your 3310? If you could choose to rip out all the guff and go back to basics, without compromising on quality and efficiency, what would it be? I’d suggest the photocopier would be a good place to start. How I harp back to the days when I could just pop next door and press a green button and out pops a copy.

Instead, I now have to carry around with me in my briefcase the launch codes and encrypted authentication sequences required for every photocopier for every school in the trust. And that’s before we even move on to the Wi-Fi settings and door entry codes.

Maybe your 3310 would be your interactive whiteboard, stuffed so full of tech that all you do is use it as a screen to show the date? Perhaps it’s your dog-eared teacher record book or multi-tabbed electronic assessment tracking system?

Take a look at your displays. Do you quake with fear when you’ve been told that you’ve got to cram in every single child’s piece of triple-mounted work regardless of how it helps with learning?

What about assemblies? As a young headteacher I always way overcooked the goose as I thought that the show was all about me. Nowadays of course, you can’t beat a good old-fashioned story (no slides, animations or audio, just a chair), all very appropriate for World Book Day.

You’ve got me started. There are more: policies, target-setting, governing bodies, report writing, risk assessments, data analysis, homework, websites, lesson planning, school development plans, marking. I’m sure you could come up with plenty more in your school.

We could all do with taking a leaf out of Nokia’s book. Not as a commercial gimmick or publicity stunt, but as an act of real authenticity and purpose. Just as with our mobile phones, we know that we need certain things in our schools and that without them we couldn’t get by. But every now and again, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all go a bit retro?

 

The Art of Standing Out is available now on Amazon, published by John Catt Educational.

The ultimate oxymoron

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There is no such thing as rapid improvement. The two words simply don’t belong together. Rapid alterations, yes. I can live with that. Rapid change, possibly. But rapid improvement? Absolutely not.

Part of the problem is knowing what we mean by ‘rapid’. It was a phrase that was used many a time by HMI whilst doing our level best to move along a school that was stuck. No matter how hard we tried, no matter how impressive the changes, it was never rapid enough. So as a head I gave up bothering because I soon learnt that if I played the game and gave them ‘rapid’, they left me alone. But it was never going to stick. No sooner had I moved on to the next matter in hand, rapid turned into vapid. There was nothing there, it was meaningless, bland.

I raise this because we are fast approaching day 75 of sponsoring a new academy (working days only). In another 25, we reach the mythical 100-day milestone and by then research tells us that we should have made a difference. In reality this is just over half a school year, so whether it’s reasonable or not to see rapid improvement – with real demonstrable impact – is debatable.

We’ve hardly been pulling up trees during the first one hundred days at school. This mustn’t be mistaken for complacency or lethargy. On the contrary; we’ve been fervent in all that we do. But what we have been doing is watching, observing, listening and talking. This ensures that we lay firm foundations for long term systemic change. In turn the hope is that this will secure the deep-rooted improvements that we yearn.

Having found myself in this position a number of times in different schools throughout my career, what I’ve learnt is this: Horizontalism is the key. This means that leaders see the process of change not as a vertical upward trajectory akin to launching a rocket, but as a sideways segue, perhaps more like the meandering of a submersible as it probes beneath the surface.

The first one hundred days are indeed vital, so use them wisely. Don’t be rushed or hurried. Embrace the fact that rapid improvement is very much a slowburner and can only take off once you’ve been through three distinct phases:

ONE | Stabilise: This is where you need to show that as a leader things are simply not as bad as people may think (even if they are). You need to slow things down, calm things down. It’s crucial during this period that you are able to assess the situation critically and dispassionately and not get drawn into the politics or hubris of a school in crisis. Unless the seas are calm, turbulence prevails and meaningful change simply won’t happen. Creating such an illusion begins and ends with you.

TWO | Prioritise: Once you have turned the illusion into reality and established a sense of calm and stability, it becomes a lot easier to decide what your first important priorities are. With a steady ship you are able to recalibrate the compass. As a team, it is time to create a plan of action in the short, medium and long term. Together, you need to have a strong sense of OST, being clear of your new destination (Objective), how you are going to get there (Strategy) and who does what on the way (Tactics).

THREE | Visualise: This is the most powerful phase. In your mind’s eye, you need to be able to see the school that you want to create. You need to bring the OST to life by giving it a sense of mission, so that all stakeholders know not only where you want to go, but most importantly, why. To visualise therefore is to rationalise. This is where your vision and values come in to play, and by now, staff should know these inside out. Once you’ve achieved this, you are all set to take off and really make a meaningful difference in a way that will stick.

There could potentially be a fourth phase. If this were so, it would be this: Minimise. This is actually quite crucial as it reminds us that less is more. It really ought to operate alongside each of the phases above, which is why I’m inclined not to include it separately.

Minimising is about being clear of what the main thing is and sticking to it relentlessly. The best leaders ask the question, ‘what is it that we need to do less of?’ This ensures that our OST remains to the point, is purposeful and at the same time being both specific and realistic. Leaders that understand this have a strong sense of USP. They know what their school’s unique selling point is and how this relates to the community that they serve. Above all, they keep things simple.

 

You can read more about some of these ideas in The Art of Standing Out: School Transformation, to Greatness and Beyond published by John Catt in 2016 and available on Amazon.

On rigour and vigour

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As we settle down to a new term and get to that point when we finally remember how the job’s meant to be done, it all comes down to two things: Rigour and Vigour.

We must never forget how important these two are and make an extra effort to sharpen our saw. As with a new teacher getting to grips with a new class, if we as leaders fail to invest time in these two right at the start, then before we know it, it’s too late. We must be rigorous and vigorous in all that we do, so that we make clear to the people around us what our expectations are and how we want them to behave.

The most thoughtful leaders embrace the need to be rigorous. Rigour is simply the quality of being extremely thorough and careful. It’s about being meticulous in all that you do, paying  great attention to detail. Rigorous leaders are diligent and precise and in order to be so know that they need to sit back and watch and reflect on what they are seeing.

In our multi academy trust, we are currently supporting a new school that we are bringing in to the fold. The school has  been floundering somewhat and finds itself on the wrong side of Ofsted. It was once an outstanding school and the staff are understandably jaded and lost at sea. Shock, denial and frustration have all taken their toll over the past few years. They need to regroup – we need to regroup – so that together we can  take stock and recalibrate. The staff  were heading in the wrong direction, but with rigour at the helm, it won’t take us long to change course. We’ve already got two other schools in the MAT that were once in measures and are now standingout, so we are well-placed to inject the necessary rigour in a way that is as careful as it is recklessly cautious.

To the staff in this new school, we have told them to lead us. We will watch and follow and nudge and cajole. But we shall do so with high levels of rigour by tapping into the energies that resonate throughout the school and those of the other academies across the trust.

This is where the vigour comes in. They may not know it yet, but every member of staff has been given the permission to be vigorous. Whilst as leaders, it is our job to all become the CEOs – chief energy officers – I want us to draw as much strength from their energies as they do from ours. It then becomes infectious and all-consuming as we bounce ideas off each other in a culture where everyone has the permission to fail and to fail often.

I’ve told all the staff that I have no intention of making any changes for at least a term. They have all been told that they are all standout teachers, they just don’t know it yet. They need the time and space to fall back in love with teaching. They need to reclaim their mojo – their va va voom – or whatever else you might call it. They need to delve deep inside themselves – their chambers and their valves – and rekindle their values and beliefs. It’s got nothing to do with pedagogy or targets or tests. Not at this stage, that will come later. For now, it’s all about vigour and the 3 Es: Effort, Energy and Enthusiasm.

Get this right and you’ve cracked it. Andy Buck, for example, talks of the importance of discretionary effort. Known also as ‘going the extra mile’, Andy reminds us that it’s not all about leadership from the top that gets results. Instead, it comes from deeper down within the organisation, most probably a line manager or phase leader. It’s about meticulous attention to detail and showing that you care. Staff appreciate rigour because it shows that you are prepared to really invest time in them by not being superficial or shallow. As a headteacher, I myself appreciate rigour from those that hold me to account because I know it means that we are not just scratching away on the surface but really getting to the heart of the matter.

So if you are a new Headteacher in a school, or stepping up as deputy or senior leader, put away your spreadsheets and trackers and templates. Please don’t start talking about SATs and SIPs and the need to tighten up. Again, that will come later. Instead, have the courage to stand back and climb high. It’s only when you are up there that you can really and truly appreciate how good your school is. And when you’ve done that, climb back down and dive deep. But don’t make the mistake of diving in, however tempting it may be. Two-footed tackles get you nowhere. Instead, jog on behind and try and occasionally knick the ball off them. And when you do, dribble alongside a bit and then carefully pass it back before peeling off and running beside someone else.

Your staff will thank you for it. The children will thank you for it. And you will sleep well at night knowing that thank heavens, you did the right thing.

 

The Power of Love

Have you ever experienced what it feels like when you get several hundred like-minded people together and lock them in a room for the day to see where the magic can take you? And that during that day you get to dream about ‘what if…?’ and get to ask really powerful questions like ‘why can’t our schools be like Disneyland?’

We did. On the last Friday of the half term, we closed all the schools within the trust and got them together at a lovely venue and held our inaugural ‘Standing Out’ conference. Everybody was there, including support staff, governors, trustees, directors and teachers. We didn’t literally lock them all in, but we certainly closed the doors, battened down the hatches and spent the day re-calibrating our moral compasses.

As it was the start of the Valentine’s weekend we wanted to launch the conference by inviting each and every one of us to fall in love. Or more to the point, to fall back in love with what called us to the profession in the first place.

Having enjoyed an uplifting opening choral performance from one of our schools, I had the pleasure of kicking off the event by exploring the concept of ‘The Art of Standing Out’. We reaffirmed our core purpose, which is ‘to make people become the best they can be’. We then explored three key themes of what makes for a standout school: Great culture, great teaching and great experiences.

Great culture: We explored our beliefs, in particular dispelling any fears we may have around our limiting beliefs. With our empowering beliefs established, we then looked at our values and launched ‘Trust Us: Making Our Values Happen’. This document was written by our cross-party changemaker team that unpacked each of our five values, providing examples of what these might look like in practice. We then celebrated and affirmed FIDES (Latin for ‘to trust’) so that we can Focus on family, Insist on excellence, Do good as we go, Embrace innovation, and Seize success. As our core values, these ensure that our organisational culture is always conducive to wholesome growth.


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Great teaching: We asked ourselves the Disneyland question and how we can ensure that we let RIP in our lessons so that learning is Real, Immersive and Purposeful. We explored what 21st century learning looks like and how we can ensure that children are taught to be confident independent learners, with a strong focus on meta-learning. Moreover, we want our children to always have JOBS and to experience the Joy Of Being Stuck in their lessons. Most importantly, we acknowledged that as teachers, quite often what we want to say is different to what the children are interested in, and so we must find a way to merge the two so that learning is relevant.

Great experiences: We want our children to experience a challenge-based curriculum that is inspiring and engaging, so that pupils run to school each day buzzing with excitement at the thought of another day of mouthwatering thrills-based learning. We re-affirmed our commitment to the pursuit of the creation of a curriculum that guarantees a continual stream of learning opportunities that will tantalise and inspire in pupils a desire to dream, imagine and thrive.

To bring all this to life, we ran a series of workshops throughout the day to awaken the creativity within, be it through the arts, social enterprise, technology or good old-fashioned maths mastery. We then wrapped the whole thing up with a thought-provoking keynote from Andy Buck, from Leadership Matters. We are eternally grateful to @RobArtsConnect (Arts Connect and MAT trustee), @JonathanClith79 (Real Ideas Organisation) and the team from Apple (@krcs_education) for giving up their time to host the workshops, in addition to our very own @matt_wynne1.

We even managed to get all of the heads up on stage to do a bit of pecha kutcha. Meaning chit-chat in Japanese, each head had four minutes to present four slides on ‘what makes my school standout’. Slides weren’t allowed to contain text and were timed so that after one minute they automatically moved on. Ranging from car engines, to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, space ships to Anton du Becke, the heads took the challenge by the scruff of the neck, showing why they themselves in particular stand out. We all know how much heads love talking about their schools, so this was no mean feat to restrict them to only two hundred and forty seconds.

At the end of the day, we asked each delegate to make a pledge. They wrote these down and we intend to send them to them at the end of the summer term. I am confident that they will make the change they want to see. Examples of pledges include:

  • I will always consider the real meaning behind the lesson – the ‘so what?’
  • Always try and praise the children’s efforts and not intelligence (a growth mindset).
  • To be the teacher that the children want to be with.
  • Stop limiting my beliefs and empower them!

We didn’t quite manage to get #StandingOut16 trending, but we certainly made a lot of noise on Twitter. At one point, @Andy__Buck tweeted, ‘One could be forgiven for thinking that every member of staff at @VicParkAcademy is on Twitter #eagertolearn’.

You don’t need to be in a trust to experience the power of synergy. Any group of like-minded schools can get together and make it happen, be it a local cluster, federation, collaboration, teaching school alliance or whatever. What’s essential though is that you invite absolutely everyone, provide a lovely venue (such as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens) and feed them well. The rest looks after itself.

The evaluations are now in and we are delighted with how positive they are. The words ‘inspiring’ and ‘inspirational’ crop up a number of times, as does ‘you ran out of chips’. As a multi-academy trust we can offer many things, such as sticky toffee pudding to die for, but when it comes to fried potatoes of the chipped variety, I’m afraid even we’ll have to pass.

 

Andrew’s book, ‘The Art of Standing Out’ will be available soon. Published by John Catt as #thestandoutbook.

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A formula for success?

Last week I had the pleasure of working with a group of leaders from Schools of Tomorrow. It was the first morning of their inaugural year-long Leadership for Tomorrow development programme. If you’ve never come across the Schools of Tomorrow network then you really should. Established several years ago – originally as the Beauchamp Group – SoTo has since evolved into an influential network of like-minded schools who all share a common mission: to transform schools so that they are beyond outstanding. I have written articles about this previously about the creation of ‘stand-out’ schools, but SoTo goes beyond this by acknowledging that we cannot simply continue to improve schools by incrementally doing so. You can read more about this in the book that was published at SoTo’s launch event last Autumn at the RSA by Professor John-West Burnham. It’s free and can be downloaded here from i-books.

The theme for Day 1 of the LfT programme was simply called ‘Imagine’. Part of my remit was to explore the notion of change and the forces that influence it. The management of change has always fascinated me, so much so that it was the focus of my M.Ed back in the mid-1990s. My research was around how the organisational culture of a school can influence change, concluding that it is one of the key drivers of effective school improvement. Organisational culture is a tricky concept to define but can perhaps best be described as ‘that which keeps the herd heading west’ or even more simply as ‘the way we do things around here’. At its most basic, it’s the sum total of how people behave in any organisation.

For this reason, the dominant values and beliefs of an organisation are what determine the culture, ethos or climate of a school and ultimately its success: ‘When a school seeks to become powerfully effective it does so by creating a climate or culture in which the range of shared values is high and commitment to those values translates into motivation.’ (Murgatroyd, 1993).

The difficulty of course (and I wrote about this in a previous blog) is that it is almost impossible to change the culture of a school, particularly when the stakes are high and Ofsted are breathing down your neck. The ability to compromise is therefore essential and for this reason I’m with Peter Drucker on this: “Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try instead to work with what you’ve got.”

So this is where we find ourselves with our sponsored school in special measures, although fortunately we have a team of staff who are committed, have the desire and share the vision and values. Rather than trying to impose a culture onto the school, one of our priorities this term has been to try and fuse together what is there already along with our own beliefs. It’s what Tim Brighouse refers to as ‘winning hearts and minds’. I think we’ve made a reasonable start and can see that at least the ‘herd is now heading east’.

Spending time getting to know the culture of a school is therefore an essential pre-requisite before embarking on significant change (or any change for that matter). This was at the crux of my session with the SoTo leaders as I attempted to unpack the main features of the change process. There are a number of excellent books available on the management of change. A particular favourite of mine is Michael Fullen’s ‘Leading in a Culture of Change’ in which he sets out the context for the change management process by identifying the different styles of leadership that are necessary to develop an effective organisational culture. The most effective organisational cultures are those where leaders can ‘style-flex’ between, for example, coercive and authoritative or democratic and affiliative styles of leadership.

I take a far more simplistic approach though by using the following formula:

C = v2+s+d+r+2p

where c = Change, v = Vision, s = Skills, d = Desire, r = Resources and p = Plan

For effective change to occur, all five factors need to be evident for shift to happen. Vision is so important here as it’s inextricably linked to values and organisational culture. It needs therefore to be squared up. Likewise with strategic planning: However well you think you’ve planned, double it and plan again. (I am always reminded of the SAS maxim that proper planning and preparation prevent p—- poor performance.)

As with any formula, it simply won’t add up if a factor is missing from the equation. For example, take away the Resources and you end up not with change but with Frustration (a situation we find ourselves in at the SM school with a large budget deficit). Put the Resources back in but take out the Skills (i.e. the ability to teach) and you have Anxiety. Leading a school without Vision will surely only lead to Confusion. Likewise, if the staff have no Desire, motivation or commitment then you are likely to find Resistance. Finally, it matters not one jot how effective the v2+s+d+r is if the 2p is missing and there is no strategic Plan. In this scenario, everyone will feel as if they are on a never-ending treadmill because leaders have failed to define the milestones or success criteria. As a result, staff will never know how well they are doing or whether they have achieved the goal.

I’m sure there are a number of other factors that could be included in the formula for change. For example, Time (t) surely plays a key role when leading effective change. However, it could be argued that this element is wrapped up in the Planning (p), especially if SMART targets are deployed. The rate of Learning (l) is also crucial, as this must always exceed the rate of change, so perhaps this needs to be factored in somewhere.

Let’s face it, nobody likes change. We don’t want to  admit it out loud, so our default position tends to be “Yes, of course I like change, but you go first…’ Over the years though, these 5 elements have served me well, especially when a leap of faith is required. I’m always conscious that I try to have them all in place when embarking on change. I’m generally a fan of the ‘lining-up-all-your-ducks’ school of leadership. Whether these ducks are enough to create the schools of tomorrow remain to be seen. Why not join SoTo and try for yourself?

Have belief in your vision

One thing I’ve learnt during my time as a headteacher is that compromise is king. Back in the day as a new headteacher I naively always saw compromise as a weakness – that staff would see me as being a lame and indecisive leader if I didn’t insist on doing things my way. I felt it was incumbent on me for example, to show my authority by laying down a vision – a road map – that would lead staff unto the Promised Land. It was always the one thing that every headship interview panel looked for and that as a prospective new head, you sensed that you would either live or die by your vision. It became the Holy Grail.

In fact, it wasn’t even worth applying for headteacher posts unless you had a ready-made vision to trot out. Unfortunately, when I took up my first headship we didn’t have Google so I really had to make one up. I remember coming across a story from an American Principal bemoaning the agonies of trying to come up with a vision: ‘Years ago, if I declared I had a vision I would have been locked up. Nowadays I can’t get a job without one’.

All of us have a vision of what we believe education stands for. We may not know it, but we do, and we do for one very simple reason: That we all possess a set of values and beliefs that make us who we are. These values and beliefs provide us with our goals and moral purpose that drives us day in, day out. We were born with these and it’s often very difficult to change them as they were shaped by our formative years. So strong are these values that without knowing it we try to create emotional conditions that enable us to be in the right mood or state of mind that allow such beliefs to flourish. Our beliefs are usually located at a deep sub-conscious level serving primarily to determine how we behave. It’s this behaviour of course that then determines our results and if we want to change the results, then we need to change the way we behave.

All of this leads us back to our beliefs and that if we want to change the way we behave then we need to change our beliefs. This is not easy, although it can be done especially when we consider that most of our beliefs are ones we hold about ourselves. As individuals we hold the key. Gandhi once said that ‘If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have had it at the beginning…’  The challenge for leaders therefore appears to be to try and convince staff to change their beliefs – their own self-perception of what they are good at – so that vision and goals become a reality. It all sounds rather Machiavellian but at its core it’s about developing in staff a growth mindset.

This is where compromise comes in, as the above task can be rather like an immovable force colliding with an unmovable object – something’s got to give. It is the real art of leadership to be able to manage this process in order to assimilate the values and beliefs of an entire staff into a vision that meets the needs of a diverse and dynamic organisation. This has always been a bit of a conundrum for heads taking up new posts. What happens if your shiny brand new vision doesn’t fit in with the values and beliefs of the staff? Do you change your vision or do you change their beliefs? I’m certainly not going to change my vision, so this is where I’ve learnt to compromise.

Teachers and educators are very passionate and principled people. We all have deep-seated beliefs about what education stands for and quite rightly so. You only have to take a look at Twitter to see for yourself. Entire timelines and blogs are devoted to extolling the virtues of humanism, cognitivism, constructivism and any other –ism you can think of. By and large each and every one of these has a place in school as they are well-established, tried-and-tested versions of learning theory. It’s quite likely that in any one school, most of these bases are covered by members of staff whose beliefs and values are firmly planted in a particular camp, myself included.

So how is it possible to assert a vision that accommodates such a wide spectrum of beliefs? How in a school would we ever agree on what good learning and teaching looks like? How for example would we gain consensus on how best to teach creativity, meta-cognition, emotional awareness and critical thinking if the head’s vision was built around the acquisition of core knowledge? As a young teacher I believed strongly that my job was to teach knowledge – to instruct pupils on the content of a prescribed programme of study. I started teaching at the same time the new national curriculum was introduced so you can imagine how pleased I was. As far as I was concerned, any attempt at teaching the soft skills that allowed children to become critical thinkers denigrated the true purpose of education. I wanted to teach, to impart knowledge, to be the sage on the stage.

As an NQT I was influenced – among others – by the work of Jerome Bruner whom I liked very much and who wrote a book in 1960 called ‘The Process of Education’ (long before I trained as a teacher, I might add). Bruner said that ‘you can teach anything to anyone in an intellectually honest manner by translating it courteously for them.’  In other words, no matter how complex or difficult the content being taught, providing it was skilfully differentiated, the children would be able learn it regardless of age or ability. I was very clear on how instruction worked in my lessons and how each lesson built on the knowledge acquired previously.

I no longer have this belief. It has evolved over the years and even more so since Gove began imposing his own beliefs on the national curriculum. In many ways this reminded me even more of the need to compromise, which brings me back to the purpose of this post. Namely, that the real art of leadership is to know which bits are worth keeping and to then blend them into some kind of approach that works in your school.  It really is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts – a bit like trying to get a tune out of a room full of random instruments that when performed together sound like a musical masterpiece.

So why am I writing about this? Because I’m sitting in my office thinking about how I will get my own beliefs, values and vision to resonate with the staff of the school that we are about to sponsor in a few weeks time. The school is in special measures and we have a training day organised for the first day back and I am trying to capture my vision and values all in one or two slides. I’m even going as far as trying to see if I can capture my vision in 140 characters or less. (#Tweetyourvision. No mean feat let me tell you.) We are also going to come up with a teaching and learning policy, complete with 10 non-negotiables. I have no idea what these might look like as I want them to come from the staff. But with the right vision in place, and with a set of beliefs that are aligned, or at least in the process of being aligned, the art of compromise should be so much easier.

Whether we ever agree in September on how best to teach anything to anyone remains to be seen. With there likely to be as many different values and beliefs among the staff as there are musicians in a full symphony orchestra, the odds of getting a tune out of us all at first may appear remote. However, the likelihood of success is increased significantly if we can ensure that we all have the same piece of music in front of us. Having this played out as the soundtrack to your vision is music to anyone’s ears and perhaps something we shouldn’t compromise on after all.