Confident leadership and its impact on teaching

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to speak at #TLCWorcs18 on Saturday – many thanks to Rachel Stevens and Andrea Taylor for inviting me, and for making such efficient arrangements.  I very much enjoyed contributing, and learning from the other presenters.

‘TLC’ in this particular context stands for Teaching, Leadership, Confidence, so I spoke at the start of the day about ‘Confident leadership and its impact on teaching’.  I covered five different points in the half hour slot:

  1. Every teacher is a leader of learning within their own classroom.

It seems to me that we all use leadership skills and strategies within the classroom, for example we organise, inspire, coach, cajole, motivate and direct as we attempt to help each learner be their best.  If we move into a formal leadership role, we continue to build these skills as we begin to focus on getting the best from our colleagues, in addition to our pupils.  By working with and through other staff we are able to make a positive difference to the school experience of more pupils, which is a privilege and a thrill.  But leadership isn’t just about those at the top or at the front; as Senge (1996) said: “Leaders are the people who ‘walk ahead’…and they come from many places within their organisations”.

  1. Those with formal leadership roles/titles/badges need to support and constructively challenge the colleagues they lead.

If we do move into a formal leadership role, then we need to achieve an appropriate balance of support and challenge with those whose personal and professional development we are now assuming some responsibility for –  a balance we will, ideally, have struck with our pupils.  Supporting may be easier than challenging and holding to account – there is something comfortable about being our team’s advocate, protector and defender.  However, confident and courageous leadership also requires us sometimes to negotiate more challenging conversations as we support our teams to set and meet high expectations.  The right balance of support and challenge will enable us to ensure that those we lead grow through the development of new knowledge, ideas and practice. See this Guardian Teacher Network piece for more on this:   https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/apr/17/support-vs-challenge-how-school-leaders-can-strike-the-right-balance

  1. Build on strengths rather than just fixating on ‘what is broken’.

Being committed to ‘catching them doing something right’ works with staff as well as with pupils.  Rather than simply allowing ourselves to become frustrated with those things we feel still aren’t good enough, it may take us further if we identify the ‘bright spots’, asking ourselves what is working and how can we do more of it.  I am a fan of Appreciative Enquiry, a ‘credit’ model of improvement which is ably explored in Chip and Dan Heath’s book ‘Switch: How to change things when change is hard’ (2011).  I also recommended the piece by Nick Rose in the TES on Friday 26th January, however: ‘Finding the success in failure’, which suggests we need to be careful not simply to focus on the superficial signs of success and to attempt to replicate them without sufficient thought and attention to context.  But leaders can profitably ask themselves, when they consider the pupils they teach and the colleagues they lead: Where are they strong? Are we making the most of their strengths? Do they see that I see and value these strengths?

  1. Confident leaders show they are not infallible, but they are honest.

The American politician, Corey Booker, suggests: ‘Leadership is not a position or a title.  It is action and example.’  To a degree, being a leader is about both who we are and what we do.  I am fond of quoting John Dunford, when he was General Secretary of the union ASCL, who said that leaders at all levels need four Hs: Hope, Humanity, Humility and Humour.  A degree of self-doubt can make you a stronger leader, rather than a weaker one.  It takes confidence and courage sometimes to admit you were wrong, to apologise and show that you have learnt something which means you will not make the same mistake over and over again.

  1. Leadership at all levels is about enabling teachers to be their professional best in the classroom.  

Finally, and pulling all this together, remember that your job is to help those you lead do their job as well as they possibly can.  Ask yourself:

Am I striking the right balance of support and challenge with the pupils I teach, and the colleagues I lead?  How do I know?  (Ask them?)

Do I fully appreciate and make the most of the strengths of each individual (including my own), and is this a team which benefits from the complementary skills of all contributors?  Do we work AS a team, and not simply IN a team, as Dylan Wiliam suggests?  And do the pupils and my colleagues SEE that I see what they are good at, and value it?

Do I model openness and honesty, confidence with humility, positivity and hope?

 

I hope that, perhaps, as a result of their reflections during the keynote, those who were there felt able to commit to doing just ONE thing differently, in order to become even more confident in their leadership (both of learning and of their colleagues) so that teaching and learning within their classroom and their schools become the best they can possibly be.

Thank you for reading!

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