You may well think that I have an adversion to writing anything on this blog having posted so irregularly over the years. To reassure you I have been blogging each week on our school blog @stpaulscatholic.
So this week I had the chance to have some time to take the ‘long view’ by attending the ‘Inspiring Leadership’ conference in Birmingham for Headteachers and school leaders.
Time out of school is too precious to not take the time to reflect on the experience and share the story of what you heard. I did dispair slightly at a few people I sat next to who spent the time responding to social media posts and texts rather than engaging in the sessions. So in attempt to show I didn’t succumb to this temptation I feel compelled to share the message.
1. Use technology to enhance not control
Currently until very recent history we still work like Victorians. Work is a place we go rather than a description of what we do. Perhaps the pandemic experience has change some of this in our culture.
So many people now have the option to work remotely which may be presented as modern approach and great for well-being or modern working. In reality is there a risk that people have become more disconnected and isolated working from home? Will we face a crisis in communication where people have forgotten the value of the workplace interactions and small-talk?
I feel blessed to be part of a community and have a strong sense of belonging and identity that sustained us through the challenges of a global pandemic.
What has changed is how comfortable we feel with using technology – all of us have had the joy of a good zoom quiz or family catch-up. Schools have embraced using Teams or collaborative learning or a different way of working including on-line parents’ evenings allowing parents to join from home or work. I know that for important or sensitive conversations the power of seeing how the ‘message lands’ is actually really important. Most experts suggest that between 70% and 93% of communication is through body language and video calls can give us a glimpse of this to help our engagement with one another.
We have to accept that the world we live in has changed. No longer do we need to remember facts and knowledge when we simply can ‘Google it’ or ask our friend Siri or Alexa for an instant answer. The challenge for us is to reflect on how we can teach young people to be critical consumers and evlautive of what the algorithm provides as the rapid response.
Has our educational system caught up with this and adapted to the fact that teachers can no longer be ‘the sage from the stage’ and impart knowledge only for it to be regurgitated in the final terminal exams?
Do we need more radical reform of assessment to encourage and develop young people as researchers and critical consumers of all they can access online?
Artificial intelligence is not a threat to our humanity and needs to be used as a tool to enhance it and to enhance how we live and work, we need to reflect on where this can add value and when to disconnect.
We need the ability to break free and reconnect with our human connections with real ‘FaceTime’ rather than the screen in front of us. Simply watch the interaction of millennials of generation Z people and you will see that things have rapidly changed in how we communicate. It is estimated that by 2035 over half of couples will have met online and it will be the new normal. We need to remember to stop to smell the roses and drink in the rich experiences around us and reconnect with our humanity.
We need to learn skills not teach tools. We are not creating students preparing for a linear career plan or job for life. We need to provide the rich range of experiences to prepare them to adapt to new and unexpected opportunities, perhaps not even dreamed of yet. Our humanity provides unique skills that remain irreplaceable by machines and AI. We have the joy of creativity, empathy and being able to able to make ethical decisions literally of ‘life and death’.
So instead of fearing the rise of machines let’s commit to and explore and technology can enhance our humanity and achieve even greater things. If we are serious about this then education will need to adapt to meet this rapidly changing need.
2. Accept your imperfections
In leadership it is tempting to see that we have to portray an image of perfection. In reality perfection ‘drowns us’ and definitely makes leadership look unattractive or unobtainable to others. In reality it is only human to accept our imperfections and to recognise however hard we work we will make mistakes. Asking for feedback and help is in fact a strength rather than a weakness and demonstrates confidence in our leadership. Saying sorry can sometimes build our status rather than demean it – as leaders we need to remember to ‘set the weather’ and be responsible for our ‘emotional wake’. As a great Headteacher I once worked with used to say to us ‘communication is the response you get’.
It doesn’t take long in any leadership role to recognise that we need ‘the team’ around us. We need to be able to recruit well, not just in our own image but to find diverse personalities and views that will challenge, engage and move on the work we do. Allowing equal voices, robust debate and discussion is healthy and develops deeper thinking. In essence we are better leaders making better decisions within a team, although alluring at times flying solo is never going to be the answer.
As leaders we simply need to commit to thinking how we can live out our humanity showing kindness, love and empathy not only in what we say but in what we do. People don’t always listen to what you say but definitely will always watch what you do.
3. It is healthy to have some sense of ‘imposter syndrome‘
Some ‘fear of failure’ is a good thing. It keeps us grounded, working hard and ‘eyes wide open’ to how we can improve ourselves and what we are doing each day. All of us at times may have faced the feeling that the challenges we face seem overwhelming. We need to be simultaneously courageous and terrified.
This is where we need to simply remember the power of leading a team and trusting in others. We also need to surround ourselves with positive role models, coaches, mentors and friends to keep us in check. So next time you look in the mirror and ask yourself “am I up to this?” then the answer is yes, with the team around me! The challenge too is to spot the next ‘imperfect leader’ and empower them to take their next steps too… who can you tap on the shoulder and show this belief in?
Recognise your imperfections not as a weakness but as at the heart of your humanity and leadership.
4. Mental toughness and the 4Cs
We at times need a toolkit to develop our resilience and toughness and here are a few tips to keep us heading in the right direction.
- CONTROL – work harder, be more resilient and develop emotional control
- CHALLENGE – in every challenge look to find the hidden opportunity. Look to see things differently… there are two challenges to do this below.
- COMMITMENT – understand what drives you… in reality this commitment is all or nothing. You can’t be partly committed to success, your job or a relationship even it is 99%!
- CONFIDENCE – it’s all based on trust, a belief your ability and the way you communicate this to others.
5. Build the team
When we think about what makes a team tick we can think of it as a contrast. What is the difference between high performing teams and dysfunctional teams? It is worth thinking of teams that we have worked with that fit these categories to bring this to life.
Without the foundation of trust you can see things will never work. Everything else will fall into place through establishing that trust, respect and forming the relationship. This is all worth investing in each and every day and can never be taken for granted.
6. Respond to change
Reflect on how you respond to change. By definition we are hard-wired through evolution to not run towards danger and uncertainty.
- How do you adapt and evolve?
- Are you a bystander or up-stander?
- Commitment is all or nothing. What drives you to succeed or improve?
- How do you unlock the potential of those around you?
- How can you remember that perfectionism is a massive barrier to success? Simply give it a go…
- We need to allow people to fail and learn from the experience – which areas can we do this in?
7. Be ready for a new chapter
- We can gain strength through adversity.
- When we face losing everything we can get a sense of perspective and value what we have really got.
- In facing new challenges we are forced to fail and learn from the experience to get better.
- Be ready and open to taking on fresh challenges in our lives that may be very different from the original aims and aspirations.
- Define your own mission statement and purpose.
8. Remember the power of education
- Never reward or accept failure.
- How do we give cultural capital and experiences to light the fire?
- How can we show the value of education and make it culturally acceptable to celebrate and praise greatness and success in learning?
- Recognise our current system incentivises the wrong things and leads to adverse for behaviours – those not achieving are at risk of exclusion simply to boost the league table performances.
- Have the same expectations for all our students that you have for your own children
As we journey headlong towards the end of the academic year it always feel like ‘ground rush’ for me which is experienced in skydiving as you approach the ground as it appears to be coming towards you quicker and quicker. The Inspiring Leadership conference is the parachute that allows you to see the wider view and value a new perspective. The challenge ‘on landing’ and returning to school is to communicate and share this in a way that shares this glimpse with others too.
I hope that I always will have a thirst to learn and improve as a leader and also try to remember to keep my feet on the ground rooted in a commitment to trying to be embrace servant leadership, build great teams, trust others and not take my self too seriously.
If we do all of this I don’t believe we can go too far wrong!