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School Leadership:To Infinity and Beyond!

In my last post, 'Smiley, Happy People', I wrote about some of the qualities I look for in excellent teachers. In this post I now want to turn my attention to Headteachers and school leaders. I start with the same question as in my previous post, 'what qualities should we look for in excellent Headteachers and school leaders?'

Firstly, as I am presuming all Headteachers and school leaders have come into post via teacher training and excellent classroom practice, I would expect them to have all the qualities identified in my previous post for teachers, and more. Thus, they should like children, they should still be intellectually curious, they should really understand learning and teaching, they should have deep subject knowledge and curricular understanding, they should be emotionally intelligent, they should be flexible and able to manage change, they should be committed to working collaboratively and they  should demonstrate work-life balance and perspective. I really don't think we can lead schools and committed professionals if we are unable to demonstrate the qualities in our own practice that we are looking to develop and promote in other's.

Headteachers and leaders need to have credibility. They have to model the behaviours they are looking to see in others. I am constantly talking about leaders walking the walk, not just talking the talk. Poor leadership is exhibited by those who say one thing, but do something else. I believe, and it has been noted by many others, that you are what you do, not what you say you'll do! You are judged by your actions, not by your words. Actually the people you lead may start judging and forming views on you by your words, but what validates these are your actions. Credibility goes down the pan as soon as there is a mismatch between what you say and what you do. Say what you mean, and mean what you say is not a bad maxim.

Leaders in schools need to be principled people, who are clear about their personal values and their commitment to making a difference in young people's lives. They should be able to articulate their values and their principles and they should measure all their actions against these. These values and principles should be reviewed regularly and they should be reflected in the ethos and culture of the schools they lead. They will help shape the values and principles of the schools in which they work but, more iortantly, they will shape the thinking and actions of the leaders every day, and in all circumstances

School leaders have to understand learning, not only pupil learning but professional learning as well. They have to set teaching and learning as core business for themselves and all teachers in their establishments. They need to know how to deconstruct learning in order to develop and improve understanding. They need to have a clear understanding of what good learning looks like and how to develop and promote this in their colleagues.They need to recognise that this comes in many forms, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to good practice and learning, but that there are key characteristics.

They should be good at managing change, and recognise the necessity for change in what we do. This is not change for change sake, but change based on firm principles and evidence to support its implementation. This is change that builds on previous good work and practice and is part of a continuous process of improvement and development. Excellent leaders do not take a tick-box approach to development but recognise that deep and meaningful development takes time to embed in practice and understanding. They recognise that such development is never linear but is something more complex and messy, and which will involve error, changes of direction and new learning by everyone.

They will understand that meaningful development can not happen with a 'top down' approach. They will see that collaboration across their own school, and with other schools and their leaders is essential to informed development in practice. They will promote professional dialogue and a culture of trust and support. Where staff are encouraged to innovate, where it is recognised that such innovation will lead to errors, but where this is expected and supported in anon-judgemental way. They will model behaviours by admitting what they don't know themselves and by acknowledging their own mistakes, instead of trying to hide them.

They have to see themselves as constantly learning and developing. Just because you have reached Headship or leadership positions it most certainly does not mean you have nothing to learn. That is why we need to keep collaborating with colleagues to promote that development of our own paractice, thinking and understanding. Headteachers must keep reading. Nothing stands still and this includes our understanding of how learning takes place, and about practice that can promote this better. We can only be aware of this by keeping critically abreast of latest research and thinking around learning. I am not just talking about reading books, but research papers, blogs, Twitter, websites and a whole whost of other ways we can extend and improve our development as thinking practitioners.

Excellent school leaders need good memories. They need to remember and not forget what it is like to be in a classroom trying it implement change that is going to make a difference, whilst at the same time delivering on all the other agendas necessary to meet the needs of the learners. Remember how difficult and frustrating that can be? They need to remember what it was like when they were a pupil dealing with all the new learning, different teachers, different methods, tests, exams and so on, all whilst as growing and developing as individuals. If necessary, they need to remember, or at least show understanding, of what it is like to be a parent with children going through schools. If they can hold on to these memories it is far more likely that they will deal sympathetically and from a position of understanding with all the things that can get in the way of what they are trying to achieve in moving their schools forward.  Things do get in the way at times, but most are very important and need to be recognised and acknowledged.

Finally, they need perspective. They need perspective about their own roles and performance and they need to display the same perspective with the people they lead. The demands and expectations they have of themselves and their staff need perspective. They should not be unreasonable on themselves or on the staff they lead. I am sure they and their colleagues are committed and driven to do the best for all their learners, but this should not lead to unreasonable demands and behaviours that can be detrimental to all, and therefore the schools they lead. The work life balance conundrum needs to be addressed by all leaders, and they should ensure the same for all the colleagues they lead and work with. If you haven't got a sense of humour, develop one. This can be the safety valve for you and staff as you deal with the pressurised arena of school and professional development. The ability to not take yourself too seriously cannot be underestimated.

Anyone who is a Headteacher or senior leader in a school knows the complexities and challenges we face on a day to day basis. However, I still think its a privilege we all share. Each day is different and presents us with a heady mix of challenges and opportunities. We should embrace these and learn from them all. The journey continues.........



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