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The Three Rs of School Leadership

I was thinking this morning about the word 'relentless' that Michael Fullan had used up in Edinburgh a few weeks ago. He was talking about Headship and school development, and I really liked the use of the word to describe the attitude and desire to improve what we do and produce better outcomes for learners. That's what set me off on this post. Actually, there are more than three Rs in this, but if I took notice of that it would spoil the title!

So, I start with relentless. We need to be relentless in our pursuit of school improvement and development. This desire to improve is not something we can take a break from in fulfilling our roles and delivering on our responsibilities. (There you go! Another  two Rs there straight away.) I like the principle that this is a continuous, career long demand and expectation of ourselves, our schools and of those we lead. Each year we should be able to look back and identify how we have moved on individually and collectively. Relentless to me implies that this is something that we won't or can't be deflected from. Fads and trends may come and go but we will remain relentless in our quest to keep moving forward, with teaching and learning at the heart of our our development activities. Also key is that our actions are backed by research and evidence, and I believe the most important such evidence comes from close scrutiny of what each of us does, and our impact on learning.

However, being relentless can be a double-edged sword. The danger is when we are relentless in our pursuit of improvement at the expense of staff, parents, pupils and partners. I have already noted in previous posts the importance I place on relationships in schools and their development, so my second R is reality. We need to keep things real and make sure we are monitoring the impacts of our development work and processes on those who will actually deliver them. There is a danger that school leaders can be so focused on what they want to achieve they fail to pick up the signs when things start to go awry. Or if they do, they are too quick to apportion blame without recourse to remembering what it is like for a teacher, or others, to deliver on a change agenda, whilst still ensuring that effective teaching and learning is going on in their classrooms and for their pupils. We
either need to provide a good dose of reality to ourselves, or have others around us who can help to keep our actions grounded in realism.

My third R is reactive. As school leaders our actions and plans should not be set in stone, remaining unchanged till actions have been completed, or results delivered. We need the ability to see the complexity of what we do, and what we ask others to do, and recognise plans and actions will sometimes need to change and be adapted as we progress. The ability to react to changing conditions and behaviours is a key skill of the adaptive school leader. That is not to say we are going to be deflected from what we are trying to do, we are relentless about that, but it does mean we are not so egotistical to think we always get it right from the outset of any planned actions. This is not the reactivity that comes from the constant looking at what others are doing or saying, but the ability to alter and change approaches and strategies, according to circumstances, in order to give them the best
chance to succeed.

There we are then, the three Rs of school leadership. Relentless, reality and reactive. But let's not forget roles, responsibilities, research, relationships and so on for the sake of a title.

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