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What does leadership look like in your school?

A really good question for teachers to ask of their learners is, 'what does it look like when you are learning?' If you give this question to pupils and ask them to draw or write about themselves learning, you will often get a picture of a pupil, on their own, perhaps at a desk, and with a pencil or pen, jotter and books. They might include a computer screen and, if you are lucky, the child in the picture may be smiling. Not so in the example below.

If you have not carried out this exercise, try it. You may be surprised at the results. What you get is the child's construct of what learning is, and what it looks and feels like. If you get results like the one above, you can explore this more with the learner and it can give you some remarkable insights into how leaning is perceived by the learners in your class. It can also be a stimulus for some soul-searching and reflection on your own part. I suspect if you were asked to draw learning taking place in your classroom, or elsewhere, it would look a lot different. So, what's happening between what you think is going on and the learners think is going on?

When you begin to consider this further, you may start to explore and shift your own practice, as well as your learner's understanding of what learning is and how it may look. Yes, there will be times when learning is an individual pursuit, involving reading and writing activities, but more often it is a collaborative endeavour, shaped by others you are learning with. Learning can take place everywhere, not just at school and in a classroom. Some of the most significant learning we experience happens outside of school and when our senses and emotions are fully engaged and employed. When learners begin to recognise and understand this, you are more likely to get pictures with more people in them, not just the individual and the odd teacher. You may get them sitting on the floor with friends and classmates, and you may get them pictured outside in some other environment. You may even have pictures of them playing!

All of this is genuine feedback around their understanding of what learning is, and looks like. The more sophisticated their understanding of learning as a creative, social and cognitive process, the more this will be reflected in their compositions. When learners keep depicting learning as an individual activity, sat at a desk, in a classroom, we have evidence of the model or schema of learning we have created, or imposed on them, and this should make us all think about our practice.

Lets now consider what school leadership looks like as a school leader, through the adoption of a similar approach. If you asked staff, all staff, in the school to draw or write about what leadership looks and feels like, what would you expect to see? Would they show a hierarchy, with the headteacher or principal at the top and cleaners at the bottom, or would they show something else?

This could well be another insightful activity for school leaders to try out with staff. You may need to do this in an anonymised way, in order to get true feedback, and I suppose it may be a difficult activity for a lot of school leaders to undertake. But, I think if you genuinely want to know what 'leadership' feels and looks like to staff in a school, this may be an effective way of capturing that, which is less threatening, and more honest, than some other tools commonly use for such purposes.

You would have some pretty powerful insights into perceptions around leadership amongst all staff. You may ask staff to include job-titles to help you analyse the results across the school. In my view,  it would be great if the illustrations you receive show collaboration and co-operation happening, along with flattened hierarchies, as well as individuals demonstrating 'leadership' roles and activities. But even if this is not the case, you still have some very useful feedback for you as a school leader to reflect on. Perhaps there are still too many deluded headteachers, and senior managers, out there who's perception of how they are as leaders is completely different to how this is seen by the people they are supposed to be leading. Before anything can be done about this, a school leader has to become aware, and this suggestion might be a useful strategy to help you with that awareness raising first step.


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