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Relationships Are Key

"The secret of my success is a two word answer: Know people!" Harry S Firestone

"Our staff is our most important resource." How often have you heard this trotted out by senior managers at meetings, in newsletters, in briefings and in policies? I believe it to be true, but too many people who say this are then betrayed by their actions, not their words. Talking the talk, but failing to walk the walk.

Schools, and their workings, are complex because they are centred on people. In case you hadn't noticed, people are complex and complicated. Schools succeed or fail according to the strengths and capabilities of the individuals within them and, more importantly, the success and strength of their collaborations and relationships.

Deep and successful learning is a social and collaborative activity. Yes, there are times when we need to learn and think alone, but we deepen that learning and understanding through collaboration and exploration with others. This way we can share learning and help shape each other's thinking and understanding.

Just as teachers develop relationships with their pupils to facilitate their learning and development, so too have headteachers and managers to seek to develop a whole host of different relationships to ensure schools are providing the best developmental and learning opportunities they can for all pupils. This is not easy but when we get it right the results are positive and tangible. Get this wrong and the success of the school is  hamstrung as is its ability to develop and support pupils.

People, young and old, are all unique individuals. Each is a product of genetics and social interactions with others. Such interactions are complicated and are shaped by experiences and attitudes. We are responding positively and negatively to people consciously and subconsciously all the time. Our reactions change over time and according to context. So, building working and sustainable relationships is difficult and fraught with challenge.

School leaders often lament their inability to appoint and work with the people who they believe would best meet the needs of the schools they lead. Getting the staff and understandings you wish takes time, in the meantime we need to do as Dylan Wiliam advises and "love the one you're with." We have to build relationships in order to help all our staff grow and develop their practice and understanding.

We can have no say over the pupils and their parents that we have to work with. You will have no say over the host of other people and agencies that you need to work with, and at all levels. Therefore you will need to dedicate time to developing all these relationships to better meet the needs of your learners, part of our core business. It really is the people who make a school, not buildings, policies or systems. Any school is a reflection of the quality of the staff and the ethos and culture that they create  and give it identity. Going into schools during holiday periods, whilst not recommended, does show how it is the people who really make the school what it is. Devoid of people, a school is just an empty shell of a building.

Headteachers need to take time to understand and develop all the relationships necessary to shape and improve their schools.This process has to start with all colleagues and should demonstrate your respect and how you value them all as professionals. They should also see themselves as key components of school development and therefore improved outcomes for all pupils. Hierarchies in structure and thinking should be discouraged to help ensure all members of staff feel equally valued and part of the school team. Headteachers and senior leaders cannot deliver school culture and ethos on their own, this has to be done collectively.

Emotional intelligence and awareness is a key attribute of all school leaders. They need to understand themselves and factors that impact on their own performance. They need balance in their own lives, and need to model this to others. Again, too much lip-service is given to issues around work-life balance. School leaders need to get some equilibrium in their own lives and to promote the same in the rest of their colleagues. We can model the behaviours we seek in others overtly or subconsciously by what we do. Staff are watching and pick up those messages.

Success at any level comes out of hard work and a determination to work collaboratively to build on previous good work. It needs a culture that promotes openness and creativity, and which develops trust. Organisations that are successful keep reflecting and reinventing themselves. They encourage innovation and the development of new understandings. They keep moving forward. All of this can only be achieved on the back of strong and successful relationships.

Schools need to embrace a more open culture of sharing. Fullan talks about the 'deprivatisation of teaching.' No longer should school development consist of decisions taken by headteachers or senior managers and then passed down the chain of command. Meaningful change comes from a collective recognition of what needs to be done, and through collaboration with others.

Every school needs to develop a culture of mutual trust and respect, where all are valued and included in evaluations and decisions about how to improve. Where good ideas and sound research are the currency of school improvement. Where no one person is seen to have a monopoly on these and where everyone is concerned for the development and well-being of not just themselves, but of their colleagues also. Where mistakes are seen as as acceptable and expected, because how else will 
we ever improve? Where innovation is not only encouraged, it is expected.

To achieve all of this, the currency and importance of relationships needs to be recognised and developed. We need to see relationships as the glue in school development. The thing that binds such developments together. We need to recognise that no one person has all the answers but that we are more likely to take the right steps together, collectively. Therefore we need to focus on all the relationships that are imperative to the success of our schools.

Relationships, the key to unlock individual and school development.

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