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What do we need to succeed this year?

The weekend before we start a new school year seems a good time to consider what we need in schools to help us succeed. I am looking at the year ahead and thinking what do I need to do, as a school leader, to give my teachers and my learners the best opportunity to grow and succeed? 

To consider this, as with most things I deal with, I start with the learners and the conditions, opportunities and support each of them will need to be able to move on with their learning and to keep developing as individuals? They need learning situations they can trust and understand. They need to know themselves as learners and understand the next steps in their learning. They need systems, structures and, most importantly, people to support them with that learning. They need to be excited and stimulated by their learning and understand their active participation in this process. They need to feel safe and they need people round about them who see, and understand, them as the unique individuals they are. They need teachers who are constantly enquiring into their practice and who are committed to getting better at what they do, and they need support staff who are committed to their wellbeing and growth. They, their parents and guardians need to know that over the course of the year they are going to make progress with their learning and their holistic development, and they will be able to identify what this looks like. By the end of the school year, they will be different and will have learnt lots about themselves and others. Most of all, they need time and space to deepen their learning and to understand that each person learns and grows at a different rate.

For this to happen I need to continue to develop a culture and ethos that mirrors what we seek for our learners. I need to support, trust and understand all my staff, but particularly the teachers. I want to create the conditions that allow them to grow and develop their understandings and their practice. I need them to develop agency and adaptive expertise to understand what they need to do in order to meet the learners needs. I want them all to be leaders, not just in their own classrooms, but also across the school and system. I have to develop our structures and systems to support them in creating the optimal learning conditions for our learners. I will promote, and expect, innovation and managed change, and I will be there to support and help them make sense of their failures and successes as they grow their practice. I will support and create time for professional collaboration, and be an active participant in this myself. They will be supported and helped to create exciting and stimulating learning spaces and experiences. I will provide structures and systems that support learning and teaching, which are not overly beureacratic, and which help them to know our learners well, and how to move them on in their learning. I want them to be reflective and committed to personal and professional growth, and I need to create the conditions, and display the emotional intelligence and awareness, for this to become part of our professional dispositions and identity. I need staff who know themselves, and their colleagues really well, and who understand the importance of personal and collective well-being. They need healthy attitudes to their work, and to know how to maintain a sustainable work/life balance, and when they might need to cut themselves, and colleagues, a little bit of slack because of changing circumstances. They too need time. Time to think, talk, read and grow, and I need to make sure I create, and protect, that time.

To enable us to achieve all this, and to maintain our focus on the development of learning and teaching for all our learners, we need support from others too. We firstly need collaboration and support from colleagues in other schools within our learning cluster. We see this as a two way process of mutual support and challenge. We need policies and strategies from our local authority that recognise our commitment and professionalism to deliver for all our pupils. We need them to establish structures that promote collaboration and which recognise the complexity of what we do, but which reflect the importance of context and the differing points on each school's development journey. We understand their 'support and challenge' role and hope that they place an emphasis on the former, and do not spend all their time focusing on the latter. We need them to trust us and have confidence in what we are trying to do and how we are working to achieve the best for all our learners. We need them also to provide high quality leadership development and support processes that can be tailored to meet individual needs. We don't want them to try and micromanage everything we do or to be too directive. They should acknowledge our professional expertise and commitment for that is why they appointed us, leaders and teachers. We need them to protect us from distractions, from wherever these arise, that put at risk what we are all trying to achieve and which might impact negatively on our learners. We need the time to implement and embed sustainable change, and we want our managers to give us this and the resources to really make a difference. We need them to work with other agencies and organisations so that they too know how they can support us and our learners to be the best we can. We need them to work with government and national organisations to argue the case for education and what we are trying to do in schools, and how our practices are based on sound research and professional judgements.

From governments and national organisations we equally need time, space and trust to enable us to deliver what we all desire. We need policies and strategy that are informed by sound and respected research. We need acces to research and practice that will inform and support what we are trying to do. We need advice rather than more direction. We need guidance rather than prescription and we need the recognisation that one size does not fit all. We need them to listen to what we have to say and to not be seeking quick fixes and short term solutions. We need them to commit to long-term actions and policy and show that they recognise the complexity of what we are engaged in. Perhaps most of all, we need policy makers and strategists at national level to keep asking two really important questions, which we in school ask all the time. What will be the impact of this change on/for our learners? What will this look and feel like for a teacher working each day, face to face with learners, and will it help them? Hopefully national policy and strategy are aimed at, and will improve, not only attainment and achievement but also the physical, emotional and mental well-being  of all our learners. Such policy should also be deliverable by teachers with no detriment to their professional values, professional agency or their own well-being. It should also promote collaboration across the system and recognise that schools and teachers are the only ones who can deliver what we are seeking to achieve, and that everyone else's role is to support them to do this. Change and improvement cannot be micromanaged or imposed. We all need to work on creating the culture, ethos and conditions, that allow our teachers to deliver, for the benefit of all. 

There we are then. Some thoughts on what we need to do this year and beyond in order to keep developing and improving what we do. We all desire the same things. An ever developing system and improved outcomes for our learners and our education system, and the closing of gaps produced by inequality. Thousands of dedicated people are working each day directly with our learners to try and deliver those very outcomes. They are committed, knowledgeable and deserve the support of all of us who work in the system and are charged with its management or having formal leadership roles. It's conditions and culture that will really help us deliver what we desire. Remember, the conditions that teachers work under are also the conditions our learners learn under. Stressed, overworked, feeling distrusted, data driven and micromanaged are conditions that can only impact negatively on teachers and then learners, then prevent us from achieving teacher, school, local and national aims. 

I know where my focus will be this year. People and relationships.


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