Ellie Lister portrait

Written by Ellie Lister

Ellie leads the Big Leadership Adventure programme at Big Education. A multi-academy trust and social enterprise whose mission is to rethink and reshape education.

We have spent the weekend working with our 2020 Big Leadership Adventure group. It is always an energising and uplifting experience – as we learn together as part of their journey as leaders who believe in a ‘big’ education that can change the system. The commitment, passion and dedication of this group of 30 leaders can not be overstated. We salute you all!

 

The overall theme of the two days was Design Thinking – how can we re-imagine practices by using a range of tools which get us to understand problems differently and then go about solving them in new ways? Inspired by the work of Ideo, this powerful methodology has much to offer us in the sector. 

 

As pupils return from lockdown, many more schools are looking to do things differently. Our leaders are all working on Innovation Projects that harness the learnings from lockdown, to help us to rethink and reshape education. 

 

We know that we cannot achieve ‘a big education’ unless our system values and embodies diversity, equity and inclusion. Having some of the sector-leading experts and trainers as part of the cohort gave an incredible opportunity to draw on their expertise and really explore how this is explicitly linked to our work on the programme. We explored the themes of user-centred design, really actually listening to what those with protected characteristics are saying, and creating the spaces where those conversations can happen. 

 

Adrian McLean and Hannah Wilson skillfully created a safe space for participants to learn, challenge and understand. It was so powerful to start with checking our knowledge of the equalities act – what are the 9 protected characteristics and how many can you name? Between the group we got there – but I for one would not have managed to get all 9 on my own. 

 

We were challenged to think about which of these are visible in our organisations. Where are there explicit practices in our organisation in supporting or addressing these protected characteristics? It was clear that for so many of us, there is not an equal balance of focus on each of those within our organisations. There were some fascinating reflections on the ‘emotional tax’ associated with some of the invisible characteristics, for example disabilities that are non visible.  Some areas of practice are much stronger than others, and it was powerful and, at times, very uncomfortable to delve into why this is the case. It was also fascinating to reflect on the difference between what is written in policies and what is actually happening which again can expose some uncomfortable truths. Adrian and Hanah recognised this and urged us to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” These reflections and conversations need to happen. 

 

A large focus was on encouraging us to look inwards first. “Doing the inner work, to do the outer work.” This means we need to look personally inwards and consider our own perspectives, privilege and biases before we can meaningfully bring that conversation into our wider organisations. We used the Wheel of Power and Privilege as a tool to consider our own identity and experience and as a way to consider what might be going on for others.

 

We made an interesting link with our concept of ‘making entry’ – the idea that an essential prerequisite of meaningful work together in a trusting relationship, and that this is achieved only through self disclosure and sharing information about ourselves. It raises many questions about what we choose to disclose – how much, about what and to whom. What is clear is that if we do not tell our own story, others will make one up for us.  Some of that story is based on what they can see – the visible characteristics – and some about assumptions they make. Whether we choose to inform them further is our choice.

 

What is also clear, however, is how powerful it is when people are open about aspects of themselves. We heard stories of the impact of staff sharing their sexual orientation with students and the transformation in attitudes this can enable, as well as safe spaces where students were empowered to be openly vulnerable and really challenge a culture of toxic masculinity.  

 

The group all made pledges for actions to undertake and we will hold ourselves accountable for these commitments.

 

Day 2 shifted us into some practical action in developing our leadership skills – what we call developing ourselves as a ‘leadership artefact’. We passionately believe that being able to clearly and effectively deliver a ‘stump’ speech is a tool in the changemaker’s tool kit. The ability to convince others, create a compelling narrative and inspire action is essential. Our leaders revisited their stump speech they had delivered as part of the application process, redrafted it in light of the philosophy of education module they have completed, and delivered it to colleagues in small groups. 

 

It was an incredible experience, for both those speaking and those listening and feeding back. Drawing on the 4 oracy strands as a framework for listening and observing, each leader then received detailed feedback about the impact their speech had had on others in the group. We were all reminded again of the power of feedback – such an important part of developing our self awareness and understanding the effect our behaviour has on others. We referenced the ever useful Johari’s window model as a framework where we consider what is known and unknown to self and others.

 

The energy, commitment and positivity from this group of school leaders, after the first week back at school, was quite a joy to experience. The power of the cohort and drawing on expertise and support from the group could not have been stronger. It is a pleasure to work with this group of leaders and the future feels a little brighter in their presence.

Are you passionate about the need for a holistic education for young people? Applications are open for the Big Leadership Adventure – closing at midnight on the 3rd of May: https://bigeducation.org/bla/

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