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Dear Michael

Dear Michael,
I am writing in response to your speech to teachers at the Hackney Learning Trust regarding your vision for future school leaders. Whilst I actually agree with some of the content of this speech, I am afraid I have to disagree and express concerns about many of the key messages you were giving to your audience.

As a Headteacher myself, I must say your description of  many school staff rooms was not one I recognised. This could be because I am a Headteacher in Scotland, or that such staff rooms are not as common as you seem to think. Perhaps the ones you experienced in your role as a Headteacher  have clouded your view of what staff rooms are like? The staff rooms I experience are usually full of committed, professional staff who are working hard to improve everything they do, and outcomes for the learners in their charge. They are doing this in the face of diminishing resources due to the current financial difficulties, and the almost constant attacks on them by Government, media and, dare I say, yourself and the organisation you lead. This is a measure of their commitment and professionalism., and never ceases to amaze me.

You also seem to think that teachers need to understand and accept that schools are predicated on hierarchical structures of command, with some of us more important than others. I accept that this might well have been the norm in the not too distant past, and may well still exist in some establishments today. But, as has been pointed out by many, including Michael Fullan, this type of hierarchy is very inefficient and is unlikely to promote meaningful development and a shared understanding and commitment from all staff. Not the best structure to promote collective and collaborative approaches to improving teaching and learning. As Fullan has pointed out we need to collaborate more and deprivatise classrooms and teaching.

Headteachers should not be worried about taking their staff along with them, you state. Headteachers need to lead and take their staff where they want them to go. Don't worry if they don't understand why, or if they disagree with you. You say this is a throwback to the 70s and 80s and the development attitudes of mistrust and questioning instead of the necessary subservience you seem to seek. I think you are wrong. In my experience, true, meaningful and embedded change can only happen when all staff understand and can see what they need to do to improve and get better. This is called learning. A leader cannot lead on their own, and if no-one  is following them, or with them, who are they leading? Just themselves!

Whilst you also see the teachers who question Headteacher suggestions and decisions as another weakness of the current system, I see this as a strength. I want staff who ask hard questions of me and of themselves and their practice. How else are we to identify those latest trends and fads that may be based on no research or evidence? I want to be challenged, just as I want to challenge my own staff. I have high expectations of learners and all staff. But I see it as crucial that I am there to support, encourage and guide them on their professional journey of discovery and improved practice. I want to be thoroughly involved and included in all school development activities as this is the only way I will understand the demands and their impact in classrooms.

Finally, Michael, I would like to thank you for acknowledging the key leadership role that we Headteachers have, and the influence we provide in our schools. It is just that it seems we will have to agree to disagree over how we should use our leadership and influence to help shape our schools. Whilst you seem to prefer Sinatra and 'My Way', I think the singers and song that best represents my style are The Beatles and We Can Work It Out.

Yours in learning


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