A journey with the experienced other - coaching and leadership development

Dwight Weir portrait

Written by Dwight Weir

Dwight is a Deputy Headteacher and Life Coach. He is also an inspector for British Schools Overseas. Dwight has a passion for coaching and leadership development.

Coaching is the process used to enable the coachee to reach their goals or achieve clarity about their life, whether it’s about leadership development, career change, family, personal development or just managing work-life balance. This blog will focus on coaching as a vehicle for leadership development.  

Leadership development training encourages the use of hands-on practical training (Woyach and Cox 1997). The training is more effective if it is context specific (Creasy and Cotton 2004; Barnett 2001 and Kouzes and Posner’s 1995) and engages the use of a mentor or coach (Paterson and West-Burnham 2005) and is personalised (Owen 2007 and Patterson and West-Burnham 2005). 

Coaching has played a significant role in my own leadership development journey. As a not so recent participant in one of the UK’s flagship leadership development programmes, we were grouped according to where we lived or worked for group coaching. We participated in many leadership development tasks which involved role playing, presentations, discussions and a variety of simulation activities. Even after almost 10 years since the training, this has been the most effective CPD I have ever had, for a number of reasons but more so due to the dynamic coaching relationship I had with an experienced Headteacher – the experienced other. 

Even though I have studied, researched and written about leadership and leadership development, I haven’t had the time to exclusively link coaching theory to coaching practice. Being part of a coaching group propelled me further towards developing my own leadership due to expertise of the experienced other. Having been on this journey, coaching relationships can be likened to a journey with ‘three-selves’; self-discovery, self-realisation and self-actualisation.  

At the time of my training, coaching was only a theory for me, group coaching was an even more distant concept. The experience gained as part of the group coaching enabled us to collaborate professionally at an authentic level due to the conventions of group coaching which became apparent throughout the coaching experience. Learnings from the group coaching appears to be performance focus (McGurk 2012) as there was a focus on development orientation, effective feedback, performance orientation and planning/goal setting. From this experience it was evident that the growth expected in group coaching is collective as the outcome will be achieved as a result of the collective sum. Whilst participating in group coaching a number of variables became evident during the process:

  • Collective Growth – the collective process we used as a coaching group to develop our ‘virtual school’ (a project within the training) was dependent on a combined effort. This might not be the same for all coaching groups but can be expected when group coaching participants are working towards an agreed outcome, knowing that the progress of the group is dependent on the progress of all. 
  • Cooperative Reflection – as we developed our virtual school we regularly reflected on our progress and the impact we were having as a team. We always evaluated our efforts with the intention to improve. This was, reflection with a purpose.
  • Collective Honesty and Openness – we benefited from this process as we knew that collectively only honesty and openness truly informed each of us on our individual and collective process. The idea that feedback is a gift kept us open to feedback knowing that gifts can be returned or embraced. The relationships that we developed meant that as we fed-back to each other we respected the feedback given, knowing it was honest. 

In addition to group coaching we also had one to one coaching sessions. These were particularly helpful as I focused on my own development outside the group and the impact it had within the group. This approach was more intense as the focus was more on the individual and our areas for development. This level of coaching involved powerful questioning, Using ideas, shared decision- making and encouraging problem-solving. 

Coaching as part of leadership development is most effective when you are on a journey with an experienced other. Genuine experience in the field helps the experienced other to relate, ask thoughtful, reflective and relevant questions linked to the context in which the coachee works and is developing their leadership. 

Effective coaching during leadership development fosters and unearths the ‘three-selves’; self-discovery, self-realisation and self-actualisation.


The Pen and The Community: What a football cage taught me about community

Mohamed Abdallah portrait

Written by Mohamed Abdallah

With almost two decades of experience, Mohamed started his journey in youth work and pupil referral units before spearheading groundbreaking inclusive practices and systems as a leader in an 'Outstanding' all-through mainstream school. Driven by a relentless commitment to positive change, Mohamed now dedicates his efforts to collaborating with school leaders across the nation as the Head of the Inclusive Leadership Course at The Difference.

“We are meaningful as individuals only through our interconnections”

Alexander and Conrad (2022)

The “success” I experienced as a youth worker, a practitioner in a Pupil Referral Unit, and as a senior leader in mainstream schools has at times been credited to me or my leadership, and that often makes me feel uneasy.

Partly because I experience imposter syndrome on a regular basis. But mostly because everything that “I have achieved” only happened through collective efforts.

It was only achievable because a community of people pooled together their desire, commitment, skills and knowledge to make a difference to the lives of children.

And this is why I don’t believe in individual heroes or saviours.

It sounds like I’m being a little contrary, but I hope that when you get to the end of this post it will be clear that what I am proposing instead is so much more liberating, freeing us from the idea that success is a purely individualistic journey. I think the opposite is true, that the collective efforts are more empowering than the individual endeavours of one.

KEY INGREDIENTS

Most of my childhood and teenage years were spent on Studley Estate in Stockwell. And to this day, that time remains one of the most significant chapters of my life. And it is the sense of community I experienced there which has become an integral part of my identity. It influenced how I grew, how I socialise, how I make decisions, and where I feel a true sense of belonging. It is also where I worked out what my skills and qualities are and helped me develop a wealth of knowledge about my community.

Throughout my life, whether as a child on Studley Estate, a youth worker in the community, or as a senior leader within schools, there are three key ingredients that formed an active and healthy community which stood out for me. These three ingredients are: DISCOVERY, COLLABORATION and ACTIVITY

Let me share their significance using a personal example from my childhood.

THE PEN

The Pen, the football cage right in the heart of our estate.

Discovery

As a child, I discovered a community of children who played regularly in the Pen and shared the same passion for football. It became our meeting point after school and on weekends, it fulfilled our need for play and socialisation through football. The discovery of the Pen and our shared love for football became our major connection.

Within our little community of talented footballers, we recognised and celebrated our differences. Some of us supported different teams (I’m a lifelong Liverpool fan), but our shared passion for football forged a bond that transcended those differences. We had an instant connection, rooted in our passion and knowledge of football and our ability to play the game.

Each of us brought something unique to the table. I play as a defender, and that was a valuable asset in a team full of players who wanted to play in attack. We recognised the unique skills and qualities that every player brought which in turn helped us create a space where everyone felt safe, where a shared passion and a common purpose thrived. We discovered our purpose, to have fun through the medium of football.

Collaboration

Looking back, reflecting on us as young children, it was incredible how well we collaborated with one another. We organised ourselves into teams, we agreed on how long a game should be, and we always accepted the result of a game without any adult involvement.

The centre of the Pen became our arena for collaboration, where we waited until everyone who wanted to play had arrived before selecting teams. It was a joint effort, facilitated by everyone present in The Pen at that moment. We recognised that each person who joined us was not only a football player but also an active agent in creating the ideal space for play.

We understood, even at a young age, that leadership could emerge from anyone, regardless of age, background, or footballing ability. We acknowledged the leadership potential within us all.

Activity

And then, we played, we mobilised our assets into collective activity.

We acted collectively in our game, where there was fairness, equity and trust. And though the game was always competitive, we always prioritised fun. Without the intervention of adults, we treated each other with mutual respect, accepting the game’s outcome and naturally resolving any conflicts that arose.

This collective activity involved every single one of us, as we recognised that to play a game of football it required the collective participation of all of us.  

We discovered each other and our assets, collaborated in shaping teams, what type of game we would play, and engaged in the activity of the game in a way that was organic and purposeful. 

COMMUNITY 

These key ingredients can work for any community, including school communities.  

Discovery is at the heart of every strong community.  

It means discovering how and where people may have a sense of belonging, forming friendships, and feeling supported in their growth and development, discovering their own assets and capabilities. It’s about discovering spaces where people can come together, share their experiences, and provide a nurturing environment for children.  

Opportunities to discover spiritual connection, helping people to collectively share values, wisdom, their gifts and connect to much needed resources, services, and opportunities for personal and community development.  

When we foster genuine discovery which lead to connections among different groups, we create a tapestry of relationships that weaves us closer together. 

Collaboration is essential for community growth and progress.  

It means working together on projects, initiatives, and events that have a positive impact on people’s lives. Sharing skills, knowledge, and experiences, and creating a collective pool of wisdom and expertise. Collaborating contributes to the support of one another, exchanging ideas that work toward common goals addressing social issues to promote inclusivity, and create a sense of unity.   

When we collaborate, we tap into the diverse strengths of our community and achieve outcomes that are greater than what any individual or group could accomplish alone. 

Activity is about taking collective action and empowering every individual within the community to contribute to its well-being and success. It means staff, children and families being active participants in decision-making processes, having their voices heard, and realising their potential as change-makers. 

They can collectively act by engaging in volunteerism, advocacy, and community-building activities alongside the local community. Acting together can foster a culture of empathy, respect, and social responsibility within school communities. And in turn promoting social justice and supporting those in need by empowering them through their assets. Most importantly a school and local community taking ownership of their community’s future.  

When we act collectively, we create a sense of agency and shared responsibility, leading to a stronger, more resilient community. 

BY THE COMMUNITY

To be a community member is to care, to take responsibility, to acknowledge your collective power.  

To be a community member is to cultivate meaningful connection to the numerous relationships and institutions on our doorstep. 

So, I want to return to where I started.  

Our communities are shaped by our interactions, our relationships, and the wisdom we share with one another. When we achieve something, it is because we have worked with others, supported one another, shared resources and acted together.  

And this is why I don’t believe in individual heroes, whether they are people or institutions. Because it is the collective efforts of many that is heroic. It is our collective power that creates sustainable change.  

Not a single person.

It requires collective risk taking to effect change. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, but it is sustainable. It is designed by the community; it is done by the community, and it is sustained by the community.   

If you are curious to learn more about Drawbridge and how we can help schools foster meaningful community engagement? Feel free to reach out to me at mohamed@drawbridge.org.uk.


Bye bye Birmingham – a personal reflection on EDI work

Gemma Hargraves portrait

Written by Gemma Hargraves

Gemma Hargraves is a Deputy Headteacher responsible for Safeguarding, Inclusion and Wellbeing.

After seven years teaching at a wonderful school in Birmingham, I’m moving on. This felt like an opportune moment to reflect on what I’ve learnt from leading on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the youngest city in Europe. I was asked to take this on in Spring 2020, (whilst on maternity leave) and I hope I have done the role justice (although I know there is so much more to do). I have also visited dozens of primary schools as part of my responsibility to oversee transition, and whilst my experience has perhaps been limited due to the nature of my school (independent, selective) I have some sense of what makes Birmingham such a fantastic place to teach and learn today. 

It has to be acknowledged that EDI work is challenging – it can be incredibly rewarding, frustrating and demanding in equal measure. Conversations about race, gender, sexuality and class are not universally welcomed, and some colleagues are sensitive, defensive or disinterested when inclusive language is discussed. Here I would add a Maya Angelou quote that guides me and helps me appreciates even small gains (because she says it better than I ever could) – Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know betterdo better.

A challenge and opportunity of a Birmingham school, especially a selective one, is the range of family backgrounds. Some have same sex parents, whilst some have strong beliefs that this is not acceptable. Some embrace SEND support, others shun it. Some welcome conversations around identity, others shut this out. As Josiah Isles mentioned in his April blog  here We need to step into the shoes of a Muslim student who attends school five times a week, an Islamic school on Saturdays and their local mosque every evening. This quote is more meaningful to me as Josiah’s school is actually where I went to school 11-16. For me, to see that my old school is undergoing this important work as I myself am reflecting as a senior leader in education means a great deal.

Reading recently The Birmingham Book: lessons in urban leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse Affair really made me appreciate the wider landscape I’d walked in to when I started at a Birmingham school. Initially, I hadn’t fully appreciated the context and impact of all the publicity on schools not far away. The book, edited by Colin Diamond, professor of Education at Birmingham University (just across the road from my school), is a collection of essays from people who “have lived and breathed Birmingham education for many years”. The accounts opened my eyes to a challenging period in recent educational history, but also to positives to have come out of it – relationships between school and communities, a greater understanding of the impact of deprivation and a celebration of the potential of Birmingham. This is reiterated in the aforementioned blog by Isles where he says A school is, after all, the heart of the community. The leadership takeaways at the end of chapters are useful reminders – about values, integrity, culture and understanding community dynamics, I plan to take this forward to my next school. I’ve also discovered some great YA fiction from Birmingham authors such as If Your Read This by Kereen Getten who we are lucky enough to have visiting our school to talk to pupils soon. 

Birmingham Commonwealth Games showcased the city and featured volunteers from our staff and student body (and countless other local schools). To see the city receive this positive attention was heart-warming and well deserved. The beauty of the Commonwealth Games coverage was in the showcasing the heritage and identity of modern Birmingham and this is where future EDI work must focus, in any area – an appreciation of the history and heritage but also a celebration of modern identities. As a History teacher, it is also clear that we can critique previously accepted interpretations of the past, and view the past anew through lenses of today.  This is how we can promote an authentic sense of belonging.

I am incredibly grateful to have worked at my school, which is playing a leading role within the King Edward VI Foundation in the city. The Foundation values state that The schools … should be rooted in the communities that they serve and be responsive to the nature of those communities. In particular, all of the schools are committed to making themselves as accessible as possible to all pupils, whatever their background or circumstances. I have to believe that this is achievable and that my school, with an excellent and developing Assisted Places programme, will be an appealing option for academically able students from across the region regardless of socioeconomic status. Personally, it may be indulgent but I have to acknowledge here how much I value the incredible pupils I’ve taught along the way; many of whom have driven EDI and helped maintain momentum at times of conflicting priorities. And of course, the staff – those who lead tirelessly, those who teach incredible lessons and support pupils every day, and those who support the workings of a school in subtle but vital ways. 

Over the past three years of leading on EDI I’ve realised that we need to shout about the work – raise the profile. Avoiding performative activism on social media, but celebrating progress (whilst acknowledging that the work goes on).  I’ve nominated colleagues for Rising Star Awards and National Diversity Awards and have nominated pupils for National Diversity Awards, NASEN Young Advocate of the Year and West Midlands Young Active Citizens Awards. I hope this helps people feel valued but also shows the whole school community that EDI work is valued and recognised. I would encourage more schools to recognise their staff and pupils in this way, alongside small daily acts of gratitude and recognition that mean so much to colleagues and pupils.

We are now three years on from when many schools stumbled or strengthened their EDI efforts following publicity around the Black Lives Matter movement and then Everyone’s Invited. There is more to do but I have faith that the schools of Birmingham, especially the King Edwards Foundation can lead the way.


Stargazing: a Data Story

Matthew Savage portrait

Written by Matthew Savage

Former international school Principal, proud father of two transgender adult children, Associate Consultant with LSC Education, and founder of #themonalisaeffect.

“If you wanna do data science, learn how it is a technical, cultural, economic, and social discipline that has the ability to consolidate and rearrange societal power structures.” 

(Hugo Bowne-Anderson, Data Science Anthropologist)

“…saying so to some

Means nothing; others it leaves

Nothing to be said.”

(‘Nothing to be Said’ by Philip Larkin)

When my friends and family ask me what I do, and I say that I help schools worldwide use data more effectively, their response reminds me of Larkin’s poem. Because data is cold and remote, right? And a world away from the purpose of education. In fact, many an educator fears data, and rightly so, as the stick with which they have been, or might be, beaten, in the name of accountability.

However, for me, data, and assessment, are a moral and a revolutionary act. Data and assessment are, if you like, the Great Leveller.

Since being introduced to the worlds of ‘warm’ and ‘street’ data, the sometimes messy tangle of my thoughts about assessment have been woven together as an ensign for equity and justice.

As school leaders, if do not ask ourselves, as Norah Bateson would do, “But what is the warm data on this”, if we allow ourselves to take any piece of data out of context, to pluck it, cold, from the ecosystem on which it depends, and which depends on it, we are compounding “already wicked problems”.

And if we do not “pound the pavement”, and intentionally seek the authentic stories of those students, and groups, currently residing on the margins of successful learning and positive wellbeing in our community then, again, as Freire would say, this is a violence which “dehumanizes the oppressed”. 

However, if we take all the jigsaw pieces of data at our disposal, and we carefully put them together, something amazing, and revolutionary can happen. A wise ‘data storyteller’ with whom I have the privilege to work explained to me that, for her, data in our schools is a galaxy. We need to seek out even the faintest stars, and join them together into constellations; each constellation will help us read the story of the marginalised students in our care, and render our schools more equitable and just as a result.

So the next time I am asked what I do, I will say that I am a stargazer. And that will be enough.

References:

  1. Warm Data Lab. Available at: https://warmdatalab.net/warm-data (Accessed: January 2, 2023).
  2. Safir, S. and Dugan, J. Street Data: A next generation model for equity, pedagogy, and school transformation. Corwin, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2021
  3. Freire, Paolo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed: 30th Anniversary Edition, Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014


Opportunities

Lindsay Patience portrait

Written by Lindsay Patience

Lindsay Patience is the co-founder of Flexible Teacher Talent. She is a Teach First Ambassador, a School Leader and a mother.

Opportunities are usually so exciting and positive, but they can also be a cause of frustration and worry.

Sometimes when an opportunity comes along we ask ourselves: Can I do this? Should I do this? Is this the right thing for me at this time? Are the risks too great? Is this what I want?

I’m usually very much of the mindset that opportunities should be grasped with both hands, we should be 10% braver as #WomenEd say. I think it’s important to take opportunities when they arise to develop myself, to show others it can be done, to make progress, to drive change. Sometimes I feel privileged to have access to opportunities and sometimes I feel I’ve worked really hard to get to them, sometimes I have both of these feelings concurrently. I feel a certain sense of duty to embrace opportunities for myself, for others women, for my children. To show that I can do it, they can do it, we can do it.

I’ve recently been faced with a situation where I have a huge professional opportunity, it is everything I could have hoped for, almost unbelievably so. But it has come at a really bad time for me. I’ve just had my third child, a much hoped for and loved rainbow baby after a sad loss the year before. How I work in the next year or two may need to be substantially different and I’m just not sure I have the capacity to take on the new opportunity that I’ve worked hard to secure. What a waste! What frustrating timing! If it was all just six months or a year later! But it isn’t – it’s now.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that saying no to opportunities can be brave too. It can show others healthy boundary setting and set a good example as a role model. I’m prioritising different things at the moment. It wasn’t the right time but I can make an impact in other ways, there are other paths that I can take later on when I’m ready, when the timing is better. It feels hard to make that decision, it seems both selfish and self destructive in a very confusing way.

I think we often say no to opportunities because of imposter syndrome or to comply with gender norms or because the system prevents us from making genuine choices. Because of this there is a guilt and a fear of saying no to opportunities. We must push ourselves, feel grateful for the opportunity, be a role model and a trail blazer. But sometimes the best thing for you, your personal choice in your unique set of circumstances is to say no to the opportunity. Not to grasp it but to let it pass, maybe delay it, maybe give it up forever. Sometimes that is the best thing to do and the right thing to do. But this can feel wasteful, ungrateful, shrouded in guilt and potential regret. It can lead to resentment and anger where the decision is forced by circumstances. There’s also an undercurrent here of unfairness – I’m in this position because I’m a mother, are fathers facing these same missed opportunities? That pressure and guilt I feel about the opportunity, is that largely because of my position as a woman and a mother? As with so many things, when intersectionality is considered there is likely even more pressure to “be what you can’t see”, to take the opportunities because they may not come again, to want to get the rewards you’ve worked so hard for.

Sometimes it’s ok to let an opportunity pass. They say when one door closes, another one opens – even if you are the one to close the door yourself this is still the case. I will have to be brave enough to trust that there will be other opportunities at the right time for me.

But what do we need to change so that people can truly make choices about opportunities that present themselves? Greater flexibility in how we work? Greater flexibility on timing for starting jobs/projects? Better childcare options? Changes to societal norms and pressure? More opportunities for those with protected characteristics? If we want the best people for the job then we need to think differently about the opportunities people have and how to support them in taking them.


How Well Do You Know Your Governance Professionals?

The Key logo

Written by The Key

The Key is the leading provider of whole-school support for schools and trusts.

On International Women’s Day (8 March) 2023, GovernorHub, part of The Key Group, released a research report delving into the salaries and working patterns of 1,298 governance professionals working in schools and trusts. 

It sheds light on the often-hidden roles of governance professionals, who this research reveals are indeed predominantly female, and explores how their salaries fare against those in comparable roles in other sectors. 

See the key findings of the report below, and some recommended actions to help overcome pay disparities to support the recruitment and retention of talent in these important roles.

Key findings

The survey of 1,055 clerks, 100 governance co-ordinators and 143 governance leads found that:

  • Around 90% of governance professional roles in schools and trusts are filled by women, making this one of the most female-dominated careers in the education sector and beyond
  • The majority (85%) of clerks surveyed reported working part time – for governance co-ordinators it’s 49%, and for governance leads it’s 37% – which is far higher than the government’s national employment data at 23% of working-age people working part time in 2021
  • Almost a third (30%) of all female governance professionals surveyed reported having taken a career break due to caring responsibilities, compared to 4% of male respondents
  • Clerking roles in schools and trusts appear to have the largest salary discrepancies, with a median salary of £25,000 pro-rata, which is substantially lower than the median salary for equivalent roles in the local government (£33,782), public services (£33,636), and not-for-profit (£31,620) sectors
  • Over half (54%) of clerks surveyed reported feeling ‘underpaid’ or ‘extremely underpaid’; comments from some respondents suggest this is often caused by needing to work more hours than are allocated to each task or meeting 
  • A lack of visibility and understanding of clerking roles, combined with their increasing complexity, might be contributing to the stagnation of pay felt by many clerks surveyed

A quote from one part time clerk respondent illustrates a lack of awareness, in some cases, of this role:

“Having worked for 10 years with the school, I had to ask for my salary to be reviewed a couple of years ago and the rate was upped. I checked my letter of appointment and it said my salary would be reviewed every year – I pointed this out, but it isn’t reviewed every year. I think my role falls through the cracks. As a part time employee, I don’t know if I am missing out on any other work benefits, pension etc., and whether I’m entitled to equipment to help me to do my job.”

Recommendations

To help improve working conditions for governance professionals and, in doing so, help recruit and retain valuable talent for the sector:

  • Employers – should use annual appraisal meetings as an opportunity to review and benchmark pay, and follow government guidance on reducing your organisation’s gender pay gap 
  • Self-employed individuals – should negotiate hourly rates in line with benchmarked salaries, as well as hours assigned to each task
  • Everyone working in governance professional roles – should set and share a working-time schedule to help improve work/life balance, and join a union, to help give them a voice and professional advice

Conclusion

GovernorHub’s research report gives governance professionals in schools and trusts the evidence to show what they’re worth, and to look to align their pay with equivalent roles in other sectors. 

The report recommends that employers and individuals take action to overcome the pay disparities, and ensure that governance professionals are recognised and rewarded appropriately. 

By taking these actions, the education sector can strengthen its workforce of governance professionals who play such a vital role in supporting our schools and trusts. Championing these key roles will only serve to support the best possible educational outcomes for our children and young people. 


Diversity Doesn’t Begin at School

Josiah Isles portrait

Written by Josiah Isles

Josiah Isles is an Assistant Headteacher and science teacher at Ladybridge High School in Bolton. He is passionate about improving the life chances of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As a member of the Diverse Educators community, I am clearly preaching to the converted when I talk about the importance of diversity in our educational settings. Instead, I want to discuss how you build positive relationships within a diverse school and the wider community. It’s a journey my school has embarked upon, full of unexpected twists and turns.

Listen to your student body

As a school, we lead by example, championing the values that are important to us. We want students to understand and see who they are, how their views fit in and how to develop their opinions. By pursuing that path, the school demonstrates behaviours that students can replicate in their lives.

But we have found that there are issues more important to the students that we wouldn’t even think of. For example, our Year 11 students recently highlighted the issue of colourism within the Asian community during a whole school presentation. We have also had to learn more about what our students call ‘pretty privilege’, a term associated with those deemed ‘conventionally pretty’. By listening to our student body, we can understand more and be better prepared when issues and challenges arise. 

Immerse yourself into the community

We need to create an environment whereby students don’t have to switch codes or behaviour to accommodate school life. We should allow students to proudly display their cultural identity, which they can embrace as they transition into adulthood. 

To do this successfully, we need to reach out enthusiastically to our local community. At Ladybridge High, we have a lot of Muslim students and have actively developed a relationship with our local mosque. Imams have been invited into the school to meet senior leaders. When an issue arises, we look at it from the student’s point of view. We need to step into the shoes of a Muslim student who attends school five times a week, an Islamic school on Saturdays and their local mosque every evening. 

We need to remember that being a diverse school can have a huge impact on the wider community. A school is, after all, the heart of the community. Start by organising small events that will bring the community into the school. Low attendance doesn’t mean you are failing; staging regular events will send a powerful message to residents.

Ladybridge High recently held a Warm Hub event for our local community. We had people able to answer any questions visitors had about Universal Credit or food banks. They could purchase pre-loved school uniform. We even had NHS nurses offering smear tests. Attendance wasn’t great, but we will persist by staging further events. Why? We want people to see us as part of the community and an accessible resource.

Training, training, training

Yes, staff training is important when developing relationships within your school and local community. But remember to take your time. Change won’t happen overnight. Think about how you will embark on the journey. Identify areas where there are issues such as unconscious bias.

Ladybridge High has a zero tolerance to any student that uses racist or misogynistic language. The severity with which we challenge such behaviour sets an important tone for the school. Of course, there can be a wariness on the part of teachers about approaching the concepts of diversity. Individuals are rightly concerned about causing offence. Training should help teachers be comfortable with using the right words – especially when explaining offensive language. The BBC Teach website, for example, has articles written by teachers sharing their views and experience of diversity. Many more of us need to pore over its contents to take ideas that we can implement in our schools. 

Let me be clear, building positive relationships within a diverse school and the wider community is not easy. It’s not something that can be completed in a term or even a school year. And you need to persist – even when you face insurmountable problems. 

Josiah Isles is an Assistant Headteacher and science teacher at Ladybridge High School. For more information about BBC Teach, please visit www.bbc.co.uk/teach


How do we teach children about the World without scaring them?

Rob Ford portrait

Written by Rob Ford

Rob is an educator for nearly 30 years, a history and politics teacher, a school leader in various schools in the UK and was principal of Wyedean School in the UK, before being appointed as Director of Heritage International School group.

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”.  Frederick Douglass

One of the toughest challenges I have ever faced in my career is right now. How, as educators, do we present the World to our students without scaring them and conveying the impression that a grim dystopia awaits? It is not enough to simply “present the World” and its issues. The role of education is to allow the development of critical understanding and to impart our shared societal values. 

Allowing students to voice their fears, to understand the World as it is in the 2020s with complex existential issues such as climate change, pandemics, nihilistic wars, deep inequalities and injustices, all around the globe, these are issues that adults find hard enough to comprehend in this tumultuous decade. But this is a challenge we cannot be scared of or vacate the arena as educators to the populists and the extremists in our midst. Educators cannot be scared of education. 

Our role in education is to show it doesn’t have to be this way and the World could and should be a better place. Education isn’t a passive process or outcome.  We are not on the sidelines learning abstractly. We need to ensure that our students, as the next generation, have some degree of hope that there are solutions and resolutions to create a more sustainable, equally, just and peaceful way in a realistic, non Panglossian way. And don’t forget to also teach them the beautiful human stories that exist and happen globally daily. 

“At  present  the  ways  we  organize  education  across  the  world  do  not  do  enough  to  ensure  just and peaceful societies, a healthy planet, and shared progress that benefits all. In fact, some of our difficulties stem from how we educate. A new social contract for education needs to allow us to think differently about learning and the relationships between students, teachers, knowledge, and the world”. UNESCO Reimagining our futures together: a new social contract for education (1)

The perceived politicisation of education over the last decade in countries such as the US and UK, in an arena created with artificial and lazy constructs in terms and words such as “cancel culture” or “woke” has actually scared many educators from even attempting to explain global events, often sticking to a “teach them the facts only” without any values attached to this approach or critical thinking and understanding to unpack complex issues or historical and political events. 

In the USA, this has been associated with America’s complex and difficult history around slavery, segregation, diversity and equality.  The political issue of Black Lives Matter and high profile deaths of black people, coupled with the populism and nationalism of the Trumpian era, not only scares teachers in how they proceed but it scares students about the future full stop. There are extreme cases of states banning books and “critical race theory” has become a very thorny legal issue for many school boards and individual parents. US teachers and school leaders will end up leaving the system as these ‘culture wars’ continue (2). It seems odd that as Black History Month celebrations are an established feature of my schools in Moldova, more and more US schools are worried to even have such an important part of the school calendar.

In post Brexit Britain, the UK Prime Minister’s January 2023 announcement that students in England would study math up to 18, seemed to endorse the move away from schools “educating” students about the World and a policy approach in line with basic skills being the purpose of schools. At some point, these false binary dichotomies prevalent in education for too long be it “skills v knowledge” or “trad v prog” will disappear but it seems we have some way to go yet in the UK at least. 

I have experienced these challenges all my career as a history and politics teacher, and as a school leader responsible for the moral, social and cultural values on the development of all the students in my care into well rounded, educated, intelligent, civic minded citizens and global citizens of the future. Teaching history in the city of Bristol, with its slavery legacy, was never an issue and we had brilliant engagement from community groups, local museums, the universities, the city council, in how we presented and taught local history. Standing by the empty plinth of Edward Colston this summer with my own children, talking about their city’s history, is part of that approach of educating not scaring.

As a former Head of 6th Form, the UK government would be wiser ensuring that all 16-19 year olds not only had career and work skills but also the ability to develop critical thinking, debating, dialogue in safe spaces and media literacy.  The excuse of the ‘crowded curriculum’ often only on 3 A Levels doesn’t wash here when compared to the study programmes of 16-19 year olds around the globe. To hear good voices, informed ideas and views, through lectures and talks, different opinions, but all within the framework of accepted democratic society. This is the open mind set we want all students to develop. As the Head of Wyedean School, the highlight of my week was the 6th form critical thinking class in my room on a Thursday morning. 

A much derided but set of guidelines that is worthy of a more detailed look are the UK’s guidelines on political impartiality in schools from 2022 that are actually very useful for all schools in helping shape the way they approach contentious and difficult topics or stories in the news. I have used some of these in the way I have adapted a workable approach and policy for my schools in Moldova when it comes to approaching tough issues, events and not to scare children. (3). The guidelines are a practical approach which is more useful than educators avoiding talking about the World for fear of scaring students.  That is not the approach needed here either.  Educators need much more support and training here as well. I managed to teach Thatcherism for A Level Politics for years without once bringing my own personal views of my father being a trade union leader and striking coal miner. 

Moldova presented itself to me as a challenge as far as history and politics were concerned as a post-Soviet state, with a legacy of the Holocaust on its Jewish people, the immediate experience of many Moldovans to the Soviet deportations, as well as the troubled and complex recent history with near neighbours Russia, Ukraine and Romania. I lectured a group of trainee history teachers in Tomsk State University a few years ago and remember the booing and cat calls I got then in Siberia from future teachers who didn’t like the way UK schools taught the USSR and Stalin. I have never forgotten just how deep this shared cultural context & contested history goes for some in this part of the world. 

I am proud of the way we have developed at Heritage, our inclusion, our approach to diversity, celebrating all our humanity in our international schools of over 25 nationalities. Doing nothing in Moldova is not an option. Education banishes fear and ignorance. I am very proud of the way we have developed and taught critical thinking (4) and debating skills, approached issues in a practical, age appropriate way such as climate change (5) and sustainable development, and brought the World into all classrooms daily with speakers in our Founders’ Lecture series (6) and partnerships with many countries. Our students take part in international COBIS debating tournaments, are active members of GSA international student councils and have worked in supporting the many refugees in the country from Ukraine. In 2023 we all still fear Russia’s war.

This was particularly needed in the last year as we dealt with the war on Ukraine and the impact on many in our community who had Ukrainian and Russian families.  When we mourned the victims of Bucha in May 2022, following the national day of mourning in Moldova, our teachers and students found this much more useful & reflective than randomly having young children’s faces in blue and yellow.  Teaching students badly, in a moral relative approach or just randomly about complex issues isn’t the right approach here either. Often more damage is done this way and students either get scared or de-sensitised to complex events and issues. An example here is the way history departments in many schools don’t want the Holocaust taught as a historical event through the reading of the ‘The boy in the striped pajamas’. This is about deeper learning.

The aim of education is knowledge, not of facts, but of values”. William S Burroughs. 

The mission of the Heritage international school’s founders is to prepare students confidently for the challenges of the future, not to hide them away from it or to make them scared and despondent of the World. This is my lodestar as a school leader as I continue to navigate through the uncharted and difficult waters of the 2020s ensuring all our students face the future not fearful but educated, confident and prepared for their World and how to change it for the better.  In 2023, we need strong children more than ever and fewer broken adults. 

 

References:

  1. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379707
  2. https://www.npr.org/2022/12/01/1139685828/schools-democracy-misinformation-purple-state
  3. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/political-impartiality-in-schools/political-impartiality-in-schools
  4. https://www.educatorstechnology.com/2016/05/top-ted-ed-lessons-on-critical-thinking.html
  5. https://www.heritage.md/en/news/millions-of-teachers-and-students-worldwide-take-climate-action-together
  6. https://www.heritage.md/en/news/captivating-topics-and-remarkable-speakers-in-the-founders-lecture-series-2021-2022


Belonging on Purpose

Andrew Morrish portrait

Written by Andrew Morrish

Andrew is a former headteacher and founder trust CEO. He has also been an NLE, inspector, LA adviser, chair of governors, and trustee, so he has seen it from all angles. Andrew is now Director of Makana Leadership Ltd, a consultancy he founded in 2020, and author of The Art of Standing Out (John Catt). Andrew also co-founded Headrest during the pandemic, a free wellbeing support service for headteachers.

One of the greatest challenges during my two decades as a headteacher was trying to build a culture of belonging. 

For many schools, this becomes the holy grail. It’s easy to understand why. Research tells us that if staff feel isolated and vulnerable at work – that they feel as if they don’t belong – they are more likely to lack engagement, motivation, and commitment. As a result, productivity declines, and we see this often in the lowest performing schools. On the flip side, where there is a strong culture of relational trust for example, the likelihood of this impacting positively on student outcomes is significantly higher.

Leading change must always lead to impact (in this case a culture of belonging). Just because you think you are going about your business of leading, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are changing anything. Leadership without impact is not leadership at all. It’s just you being busy. 

So in order for change to lead to meaningful impact, it needs to be done on purpose. It also needs to be done from purpose. The two are very different. Let’s see how.

When we lead from purpose, we do so authentically from a position of strength. The main source of that strength comes from within; our core values and beliefs – the stuff that drives and motivates us. These are the things that we choose to do, not because we have to, but because we want to.  These beliefs also determine whether staff are more likely to feel as if they identify with you and the team, department, phase (or school even) that you lead. 

In order to lead successfully you need to know that everything starts and ends with you. Who you are, what you believe in, and why you do the things you do. This is at the heart of what it means to lead from purpose.

When we lead on purpose, we do so deliberately, with accuracy, and care. We’ll take both of these in turn in a moment. First though, we need to appreciate that leadership – authentic and purposeful leadership in particular – is too important to lead to chance. It doesn’t just happen. We need to plan for it and to think deeply about when, where, and how it happens. 

It’s a bit like going shopping. You have to know what it is you need to buy (make a list), and then when you’ve bought it you then need to know how best to combine them in order to turn the items into something meaningful (i.e. meals). This is the whole point of doing the weekly shop –  to keep yourself and others sufficiently nourished. Leading is no different. 

The process of shopping (as with leading) is merely a means to an end. It needs to lead to something. And if we just left it to chance, who knows what we’ll up with. We most likely won’t starve, but it will hardly be enriching and enticing. 

When planning to lead well, leaders need to take care when thinking about their actions and behaviours. Careful leaders are ethical leaders, and – as would be expected – care passionately about the things they believe in. More importantly, they care passionately about the beliefs of others in a diverse workplace. 

If we do this all of the time, consistently, constantly, and convincingly (my three habits of authentic leaders) chances are these behaviours will become normalised. They become habits. Habits help us ensure that we do things automatically and precisely. They are done right each time, without thinking, such as driving to work, talking to a parent, or giving feedback to a pupil. 

Precision is essential but only if it’s accurate, for it is this that ensures we are being precise about the right things. It’s accuracy over precision every time. 

You can be as precise as you want about sticking meticulously to the speed limit or the ingredients in your recipe. But if you are heading in the wrong direction, or adding salt instead of sugar, then you won’t achieve much. 

Accurate leaders do the right things on purpose, and from purpose. 

Authentic leaders are accurate leaders because it is done with care. They know that people rarely succeed unless there is purpose behind their actions. It is this sense of purpose – and associated success – that is the bedrock to belonging.

Success is the residue of belonging. It’s what’s left behind long after everyone has gone home. It sticks and lingers and is what makes people keep coming back for more. Success is permanent. 

And by success, I don’t mean Ofsted banners outside the school gates, or fancy logos on headed paper. I mean a true sense of deep accomplishment and belonging where self meets the world, the interface of which we call the workplace. 

It is of course the place where young people to go to learn, but it’s also the place where we, as adults work. It’s where we spend most of our waking moments, so it makes sense to at least feel as if we belong there. 

As poet and philosopher David Whyte says (quoting Blake’s words), “To have a firm persuasion in our work – to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the exact same time – is one of the great triumphs of human existence.”  

It is also one of the greatest challenges of school leadership. Known strategies such as allyship, empowerment and mentorship all make for great starts. In my new book, The Authentic Leader, I tell the inspiring true story of Dikgang Moseneke, a man who knew all about the value of these. But as Dikgang reminds us, unless all of these things are done through ‘collective agency’, on and from purpose, we may end up falling short when it comes to providing one of the most fundamental human needs: belonging.


The issue with “high expectations”

IncludED Diagnositcs logo

Written by IncludEd Diagnostics

IncludED Diagnostics support local authorities, academy trusts, and individual schools with their work to increase inclusion, reduce suspensions and reduce exclusions. More information is available at www.includeddiagnostics.co.uk

If you are sanctioned for failing to meet an “expectation”, it is, in fact, a “condition”.

For a long time I have been interested in why deprivation and poverty are associated not just with academic outcomes, but with behavioural outcomes, and on my journey to understand this I came across a researcher called Sendhil Mullainathan and his work on the concept of scarcity. In his view, scarcity is a much more wide-ranging concept than poverty (an arbitrary threshold of income), i.e. we can have a scarcity of time, health, family support, relationships, cultural input, etc. – all of which can impact our outcomes. In describing the impact of scarcity he uses the analogy of packing into a smaller suitcase, and inspired by the #IncludEd2023 conference today, I’d like to start with this.

Two pupils are going away for a week, one packing into a large suitcase and one into a smaller suitcase. The suitcases can be seen as strict metaphors for disposable income (family income in this example), or in a broader way as availability of lots of different resources… but they both articulate a difference in experience.

The pupil with a smaller suitcase (i.e. scarcer resources) has a smaller capacity for items, therefore…

  • They are forced to operate with more conditions

Their items have to be folded smaller and packed away better than the pupil with a large suitcase. They have to make more “either/or” decisions on what to pack, whereas the pupil with the larger suitcase can pack more with less efficiency.

Could you list all the conditions / expectations children must meet to engage fully in your school? When we put pressure on parents/carers to immediately provide a new pair of school shoes, do we consider the scarcity that so many are living with? Less time because of childcare or multiple jobs, the cost and time of travel to get the shoes, the cost of the shoes, and what is the “or”? What isn’t being bought, what isn’t time being invested into? 

  • Decisions have to be better!

Not only does the pupil packing into the smaller suitcase have to make better, not equal but better, decisions because there are more conditions, but any errors they make will cost more. If both forget their phone chargers, one may buy a new charger with relative ease, one may not. If packing is done badly and an item gets damaged, the same applies.

Living in scarcity means a “lack of slack” for mistakes – we all make mistakes but they don’t cost us or impact us all equally. There is very little flexibility for this within most school behaviour systems as the consequences appear superficially the same – the same detention time is given. The actual impact – socially, emotionally, educationally – may vary widely.

  • Triggering reminders of scarcity means we have less “bandwidth” for the process [not our inherent intelligence / cognitive capacity but how much of it is temporarily available]

There is research to support this – using food-related words in word-searches prompted dieters to be significantly slower in finding the following words – and the implications are profound. The implications are that the concentration, focus, and attention needed to actually pack the suitcase is more limited for those affected by scarcity when that has been consciously triggered (i.e. I wish I had a bigger suitcase like other people!) Wouldn’t that make this pupil more likely to make mistakes? Ones which cost more?

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What prompted me to write about this today was hearing from two speakers who have experienced the care system. Consider the conditions we place on children in school, then consider the size of the suitcase a child in care is packing, i.e. the multiple levels of scarcity they may be experiencing. We have conditions on appearance and equipment – coat, black socks, bag, colour of pen, PE kit, pencil-case, etc. We have conditions on behaviour – a consistent requirement to accept adult authority and direction, regulate level of activity, attention, and emotional response. Even peers come with conditions for integration – they could be clothing, games consoles, cultural references, a similar capacity to spend time together outside of school. Some of these may feel impossible for a young person to achieve… Lemn Sissay OBE described it so viscerally today when he recalled “the smell of people with families”. 

The speaker before Lemn was Jade Barnett, which is a name you will come across again in the future. Her educational journey travelled via two managed moves, a pupil referral unit, a move into care then a move into a care home at the opposite end of the country. Jade is a model of the most positive outcomes – today she held five hundred minds in her hand purely because she speaks with such intelligence, articulacy and power. But, as a child, she was forced into a situation where she was packing into a small suitcase. And the schooling system places yet more conditions on her, and others like her. Nowhere in her speech did she imply that those conditions were helpful; where many, such as Lemn, feel like they don’t belong already, the consequences of failure to meet these “expectations”/conditions must only reinforce that perception. At their least useful, they make engagement and access to education harder for some of the most vulnerable.  

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To return to more typical language of schooling, high expectations can no longer be a cover for just describing a very large number of conditions. And we need to stop painting such conditions as supportive to young people by their mere presence. That is to confuse equality of expectations/conditions with equity, but that isn’t equity at all. In reality, we may be both ignoring the smaller suitcase and expecting more of the child who is packing it. 

High expectations of academic progress are crucial to all children fulfilling their potential, and these are genuinely “expectations” because they come without sanction. Without them children may not be taught to their full potential. Alongside that, adult understanding of the difficulties that some children face is a critical factor in making sure children belong and can thrive. For school and education leaders, it is worth considering what is within your control and sphere of influence to mitigate the impact of scarcity. Is the pupil premium grant being used to best effect? Also, please do consider when thinking about the rewards and sanctions in your school how do you make things fair for those living with scarcity?