#Imagine … All the Teachers

The normal thought provoking reflections from @leadinglearner – a really interesting read and reflection.


I had the privilege and benefit of attending the Inspiring Leadership In Challenging Times organised by the brilliant Chris Holmwood (@LTCSBE).  One of the exceptional speakers Carl Jarvis (@carljarvis_eos ) had asked four hundred school leaders the simple question, What is your biggest priority?  You may have thought this would elicit a wide range of answers but, after a minute’s reflection time, 347 school leaders answered Ofsted and 0 answered their staff.  We’ve got problems.

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Creating the conditions for success…

I have talked and written before about how it is up to anyone as a leader to help “set the weather” by what we say and do each and every day. At the recent Inspiring Success conference this was reinforced by a fantastic session led by Andy Buck who is best known for his work with ULT and now has setup Leadership Matters.

I will try and capture some of the themes of the talk and share a few reflections on it’s impact. I have included the themes of the presentation and used examples to bring to life some of the ideas that were discussed.

Leadership for performance – how all leaders can create the conditions for success – Andy Buck – Leadership Matters / ULT

How do we create climate and culture that has an impact for children?
How do we create the culture for learning for students and staff?


Create the culture – what we do
Create the climate – how it feels
Discretionary effort and engagement – are people doing anything over and above what would get them sacked. It’s about going the extra mile. The key thing is people need to be working on the right things…


What has the biggest impact on discretionary effort?

  • Pay 2%
  • Benefits 10%
  • Personal development 12%
  • Work characteristics 17%
  • Senior team characteristics 17%
  • Induction 20%
  • Organisational culture 21%
  • Direct manger characteristics 25%

Recruitment and expectation

  • The bus – we all need to be “on the bus” and in the “right seats on the bus”. If you want some more on this look at the infamous Jim Collins book “Good to Great
  • High quality – only recruit the best people and don’t compromise
  • Appoint in haste repent at leisure – don’t be tempted to just “fill the spot”
  • Risk two if you have “the best” – if you have two great teachers and can afford to appoint them get them it will pay off
  • Support – look to nurture, develop and support
  • Accountability – are you backing or are we sacking? If you don’t believe in someone who have a duty to do something about it. You may have to “eat a live frog” occasionally as you will see later!

Developing staff

  • Every day – look to ensure staff grow and learn every day not just in training or INSET
  • Long term – look at the long terms aims and goals. Make it simple! We’ve had only two themes for learning and teaching all year and I think it has made the world of difference with a clear, consistent message
  • JPD – find time for joint practice development, peer observation, co-planning and team teaching. You can do this between schools and this is something we need to look to nurture through Inspire Teaching School Alliance which we lead.
  • Mistakes – spotting them and encouraging risk. We need to look to create an environment where we actively encourage staff to take risks (in the right areas!) knowing that it is safe to do so. This helps us learn and grow by challenging us to be evaluative, reflective but also to try new things in the classroom.

Developing students

  • Aspiration – it’s all about how we can set the right culture of aspiration. If we accept excuses for why “you can’t do it around here” we are failing the students to fulfil the potential of the students in our care.
  • Motivation –  we need to look to reward students for hard work. It’s all about catching people doing the right thing. Providing effective role models will help engage and motivate students.
  • Independence – it’s not good enough to just get the exam result on the piece of paper. We need to ensure that we haven’t failed to prepare students to develop as independent learners, if we achieve this we can empower them to thane the independence to thrive and survived in the modern world.
  • Voice – how can we find meaningful opportunities to empower students voice? Get them speaking about learning, observing lessons and having an impact. We have introduced students Governors who serve on the Learning and Ethos committee over the last 3 years which has been a big success.
  • Leadership – find opportunities to get students to lead not just at the top of the school but across every year group – we have introduced peer student mentors in key subjects, have “Guardian Angels” who welcome and support Year 7 and have a vibrant student council. All interviews include student feedback who are spot on in their reflections, often using the phrases or themes I have written in my notes! After all they are in up to 1140 lessons each year so have a pretty clear idea of what makes outstanding learning and teaching.


  • Vision – make your vision based on “ruthless simplicity” so people can understand and engage in the message. A drip feed approach has the biggest effect. Mention the common themes at every opportunity so people remember what you all stand for (and in contrast won’t stand for!)
  • Pedagogy – be passionate about learning and teaching. Every leader needs to have something relevant to offer. It is important to keep up to date and engaged in current approaches to pedagogy.
  • Behaviour – model the leadership behaviours you want. I will never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t be willing to do… you need to live out the principles you stand for.
  • Bedrock – build the basics and foundation that will make the school great – this allows you to gain the freedoms to take risks and experiment.
  • Simplicity – if you can’t summarise the vision in less than 5 bullet points it’s too complicated and people won’t engage in it. Our improvement plan has only 5 themes and 25 strategic objectives (CLASS – Community, Learning, Achievement, Students, Staff)
  • Expectations – have high expectations and don’t be willing to compromise on them


  • Ofsted wordle – most frequent word was consistency in schools that were graded as “outstanding”. Much of the recent research on school improvement identifies “within school variation” as the most significant factor that causes underachievement.
  • Buy-in – get people to understand why it matters. If every person in the school buys into the vision and knows what their unique role is then you will be onto a winner. This is equally relevant for teaching and support staff.
  • Simple – did I mention simplicity matters? The more overcomplicated or complex it is to express what you are doing the less likely people will engage with it.
  • Monitor and challenge as leaders – be self-evaluatives as leaders will to ask challenging questions of one another.
  • Change – be willing to learn and change. As Headteacher you should be the lead learner… If I feel I have stopped learning I should go and do something else. I am confident there are enough people around me who would do this if and when this time comes!

What’s the most important for you? 

  • Recruitment and expectations
  • Developing people
  • Developing pupils
  • Clarity
  • Consistency

I know what my answer would be… what would you choose?

What we do..

  • Set strategic direction
  • Build and sustain relationships
  • Deliver results and get things done
  • Plan and organise
  • Create teams
  • Create alignment

Leadership communication

  • Honest
  • Find every opportunity to catch people doing the right thing
  • Open
  • Simple
  • Walk the talk
  • Listening – it’s all about getting the message across, heard and understood. Communication is the response you get!

Leadership performance

  • Actual performance vs Natural predisposition
  • Natural strengths – work with
  • Potential strength – work on
  • Fragile strength – work in
  • Resistant limitations – work around


  • North Pole – would you follow them on a journey into the unknown?
  • Integrity – do they care about me?
  • Competence – can they do it?
  • Delegation – what level of delegation and trust do we show? You may achieve this in the leadership team but can you spread distributed leadership beyond this?


  • Different scales – link people and departments up within schools and between schools. We have enjoyed doing this through our work as a Teaching School but could do more to embed this work.
  • JPD – joint practice development can challenge us to see that teaching is not a solitary vocation. The more we open ourselves to working together the more we can build capacity, confidence and professional learning.
  • Win-Win – remember the benefits for both sides and be ready to articulate “what works and why”

The right priorities

  • Write it if it’s good – if someone has done something great write to them and let them know. If it’s by email copy in their Head of Department or Line Manager. Even better send them a card home to arrive on the first day of the holidays telling them they’ve done a great job. This one small gesture will be remembered for a long time.
  • Speak to people if it’s bad – see them quickly and face to face. Don’t hide behind an email or write something in haste that may be misinterpreted or you may regret. Don’t challenge them publicly and be clear about the message.
  • Confidences – trust people around you and offer a trusting relationship to them.
  • Keep promises – if you say you will do something make sure it happens, however insignificant you think it might be. This builds up trust and respect.
  • Best use of time – Importance vs Urgency (Covey). Evaluate how you prioritise. Do you comfort work (like comfort eating!) starting with all the interesting jobs and avoiding the ones you don’t fancy or enjoy?
  • Do the one thing that you dread most first – however difficult it may be! (Eat that Frog!!) If you put if off it will dominate your thinking and drain your energy.

What leadership practices make difference for students ?

Vivianne Robinson – relationships and trust

  • Do the right thing
  • Take calculated risk
  • Admit when your wrong
  • Have a core inner strength and purpose
  • Managing others and get the balance right between support and challenge

Actual performance vs behaviours and values

  • Stars – more recognition
  • Sloths – remove or neutralise
  • Saints – coach and support. Committed to values but don’t deliver
  • Sinners – feedback. coach and then sanction. Deliver but don’t toe the line



  • Level 5 leaders, as presented in Good to Great by Jim Collins, will show humility and belief in others around them.
  • Credit for the organisation not personally – it is important to set your ego aside. Remember to avoid talking about “my school, my deputy, my department”. It is “our school” after all and ultimately belongs to the students it serves. Share the wins and sometimes take the pressure when things don’t go to plan.
  • Authentic – be yourself and be comfortable in your skin. Sometimes we can be tempted in an eagerness to please to present to people the image that we think people expect of us.
  • Self-aware – be self-ware and willing to get feedback. 360 reviews are an ideal way to do this. Simply ask what you do well and what you could do differently or better, this is best led as a face to face discuss. Get another senior leader or Headteacher to do this for you and feedback word for word what a broad range of people said and discuss themes and future responses or improvements.

Who we are?

  • Operator – take the problem
  • Manager – give the advice
  • Leader – ask the right questions

We need to challenge ourselves to go beyond operating and managing if we are going to influence change over a longer period of time and have an impact. Pace-setting and coercive leadership may have a short-lived impact but visionary and affiliative leadership will have a longer lasting impact on improvement.

As leaders we can have a direct effect on the climate of the school we lead. Andy Buck gave a great practical talk which prompted thought, reflection and enthusiasm. I hope I have done it some justice – follow him on twitter @andy__buck

And finally…

We are challenged to think about whether we we light up our schools or cast a shadow? So what can you do to make sure you light the fire…

My top 5 final thoughts would be…

  1. Make the message simple so everyone can engage in the vision – consistency is the key
  2. Never compromise on recruiting the right people
  3. Face your toughest problem first everyday – if it’s a difficult conversation do it face to face
  4. Catch people doing the right thing – say thank you often and send them a card to make their day
  5. Trust, empower and believe in the people around you


Inspired to Lead



So… I have just come back from the Inspiring Leadership Conference in Birmingham, an annual event for school leaders. It actually takes time to read through the notes you’ve made to analyse and articulate what you have been doing, maybe not dissimilar to the intensity of our students experience every day in school. I have written three responses in blogs to the sessions I attended and know that there are at least three more to come so it must have been a worthwhile experience where I was challenged to think and learn, in essence I came away inspired. So what were the headlines for me or the “take-away” at the end of two and a half days?

  1. Make it personal – to be compelling in our leadership we must be doing something that engages and inspires us. Perhaps we have all worked with people who seem to be going through the motions or as perhaps have “retired and not told you yet”. We will have so much more success and happiness in our lives if we can find the right match in what we are doing and what we believe. The most inspirational people we heard at the conference, and I know personally, have achieved this and it shows where their passion, commitment and vitality oozes from their every pore. So next time you walk into school how can you show this in the way you live and breath? People will spot how you feel and watch your every move, reading what you say and do. As I have written about before it is you that “sets the weather” and climate of the community you lead so make sure it is full of light and hope!
  2. Be a sponge not a rock – look to understand it is knowledge that is the key. If we can become communities that have a willingness to embrace change and learning then this will help us to continually grow and develop individually and collectively. Talent is part of the equation but practice and improvement is what makes the difference. We need to model our willingness to learn and grow in our behaviours as leaders by welcoming feedback, reading, being analytical and taking time to express our own personal and professional learning in our own schools and beyond.
  3. Write your book for success with the “winning moves” – it is important to be able to distill the vision we have for our schools in a compelling well. What is it we do? How do we do it? How will we continue to get better? By engaging the broadest range of people in this we can develop a shared sense of ownership and engagement. If we are surrounded by people who need to be led and told what direction to go in we will put a cap on the success that we can achieve. Perhaps this is a direct parallel to the classroom where we strive to develop independent learners and leadership skills, it is no surprise that professionally this has the same rich benefits. I believe it is the weakest leaders who are obsessed with control and show no trust in those around them, if you are really going to achieve something you need to trust, empower, engage and support others all around you. Your job is to create the environment for it all to happen and ensure you have the right people “on the team”.
  4. Be analytical and use data to start the conversation – sometimes in schools you meet people who rapidly glaze over at any mention of data saying “I don’t do data”, I doubt you would hear anyway say “I’m not interested in thinking and evaluating” but in essence it is saying the same thing. We need to be data rich and analytical if we are to be given the language to articulate “what works and why” as well as being able to challenge ourselves to develop and move on. We need to be able to spot what the key drivers for change are and how we can achieve them. Perhaps like being a parent, we can end up picturing our school how it once was and in fact it has grown up and changed without us spotting what it needs most in the next chapter. Have a true picture of the hear and now!
  5. Look at engaging hearts and minds –  the idea of “discretionary effort” is something I find fascinating. How do you create the environment that enables people to engage in our “shared endeavour” more deeply than their job description? This is something that we all talk about as going “above and beyond”. In the summer we measure our exam progress by whether we get a McDonald’s breakfast, in August this year McDonald’s were using the strap-line “going that extra mile” which encapsulates what we look for to achieve our shared vision as a school. One key thing challenge becomes creating a critical mass of people pulling in the same direction. I was secretly very proud when a parent once said to me “how do you get such great teachers at St. Paul’s”? I talked about the importance of finding the right people to be in the school, my litmus test (soon to be tested!) is would I want my own children in that classroom? They went on to say that they had a neighbour who was a teacher who said she could never work at the school because all the teachers were “outstanding, young and worked really hard”! I am not sure which part of the three counted her out…
  6. Choose your peer group to challenge and inspire – perhaps the most compelling part of the experience is always to spend time with other school leaders who you love and respect. It is they who challenge you to be better not just for two and half days a year but each and every day. I feel blessed by the friendships I have in that the three most common themes for discussion are leadership, learning and sport (in no particular order) and they lead schools that I admire, respect and are definitely keeping us on our toes in their thinking and achievement. Everyone needs this support and peer group but I would choose carefully as without a doubt this can define your view, sense of direction and moral compass in leadership.

So have I come away inspired? You bet! I can’t wait to get back to school to get on with the job at hand.

Key links to sessions from Inspiring Leadership


Every child in the world deserves an education – what can you do?

The third part of feedback from the Inspiring Leadership Conference an input from Sir Michael Barber who talked passionately about the work he was undertaking in Pakistan in looking to deliver on the millennium development goals of education for all by 2015.

Michael Barber – Getting every child into school and learning – why wait?

An inspiring opportunity to hear about a deep level of commitment to supporting education and development in the Punjab province in Pakistan. He had visited 39 times in the last 4 years and identified there was a deep rooted need for change due to some key factors;

  • Water crisis
  • Energy crisis
  • Security crisis – it has more nuclear weapons than the UK and is currently a fragile democracy

Michael Barber said it can be transformed if we have a dream for what society it can become, “I want my grandson to honeymoon in the beauty of Punjab” as a changed society. The key focus of his work was looking to get every child into school – a report from UNESCO suggested it would take 70 years. This is not acceptable and all must be committed to ensure we have no time to wait.

Punjab has a population of 100 million people with 25 million children, it is a society nearly twice the size of the UK. The challenge was to create a Punjab education reform roadmap, set the plan and check the implementation. What was needed was to ensure it happens in every school across the system. How could this be achieved?

  • Data and targets – student attendance, teacher attendance – every month data on key indicators
  • District administration – merit committee setup so they were not political appointments but based on ability and merit
  • Developed planning and consistency
  • Public – private partnerships – how do ensure all schools benefit and are held to account
  • Supporting programmes – fixing facilities and the quality of schools

They improved all areas identified within the measures but also the quality of child’s learning.  An effective stock take happened every two months so that any problems could be solved in real time. The Chief Minister saying they were “backing those doing a great job and sacking those who were dead wood”.

Next steps included;

  • A further focus and drive on teacher quality and had looked to focus on developing teacher coaches
  • Get better still at enrolment drives to get children into school
  • Expand the voucher programme for the poorest families to pay for education
  • There was an ambition to get as close to Malaysia as possible and get the children the education that they deserve
  • 37% of children in school and actually learning something. It was not enough to just enrol children!

What will it take to get every child into school?

  • Quality – strong management and accountability, good basic facilities, excellent materials, teachers appointed on merit, coaching for every teacher, time on task.
  • Enrolment – targets at every level, daily monitoring, go door-to-door, involve teachers and children, involve the community, independent verification. Influences are the Imam, the nurses and the barber who cuts the beard – engage them as advocates of education.
  • Public and private – 60:40, the message, targeting places and families, competition. Delivery and leadership from the top. Consistent priority, data, the delivery chain, routines, shared learning, check and check.
  • System and community
  • Ground campaign and air campaign – what happens on the ground and the vision, leadership and direction.
  • Risk of doing nothing is often much greater…
  • To get the turnaround you need to get the routines right… otherwise you go from crisis to crisis

They are now doing the same in health in Punjab. Infant mortality is 88 in 1000 in the UK and it is 3. In India Punjab it is 37 – why is it so different? Minister said to health leaders “how can you sleep at night?” – with this commitment you knew there could be change. There was two underlying feelings that I was left with from this discussion.

We have a broader commitment to ensuring all children, irrelevant of where they are born in the world, are given the opportunities to live, learn and grow. This would transform the world we live in. It challenged me to think of the inspiring work of Hands for Hope Uganda, a small charity that transforms the community it serves through getting children to school. It is clear how education transforms the opportunities for not just the children but their whole families. The charity was founded by a friend of mine, Joe, who went to Uganda for 5 days and has now been there doing this work in a dedicated, passionate and selfless way for the last 9 years. If you want to make a difference look at how you can support this wonderful work and get every child into education.

I had heard Sir Michael Barber speak before on education and leadership. He always spoke well but this time there was a difference. There was fire in his heart, this was something he believed in deep within and he had made a commitment to see it through and have an impact. Perhaps this is what we need to feel in anything we do. If we see why it matters, not just on a professional level, we can have this fire and passion too – let’s all make what we do in our leadership personal!

Talent is not enough


The second instalment from the Inspiring Leadership conference…

Clive Woodward – Talent alone is not enough

World renowned as the architect of England’s Rugby World Cup win of 2003 it was worth the wait to hear his views on leadership, winning and success. He was the first professional England ruby coach and led the team for 8 years with much success. He then went on to become Team GB Director of Sport at London 2012.

Without a doubt a man that can be credited with gifting me a life-long sporting memory. Most commonly remembered for the mantra TCUP (Thinking Correctly Under Pressure) I expected it to be on similar lines. So what can we take from what he said?

1. Talent alone is not enough

All have the talent but you need to make the most of it. There was a recognition that world-wide comparisons challenge us. England had to be compared to New Zealand and South Africa (the best in the world), some of whom they had never beaten before so therefore they had to be willing to learn, develop and make the most of talent.

It was knowledge that would be the key.

All coaches in the England setup were qualified teachers, with a passion to support, develop and nurture this learning – Woodward didn’t realise this common experience until after the success they experienced. He went on to give the example of the world-calss talent of Christiano Ronaldo. When Ronaldo first came to the Premier League pundits said his success was “because he was Portugese” and had skills “you can’t coach”. Michael Clegg, a coach at Manchester United said, he was “a natural talent… but the difference was his understanding and knowledge of how to be the best in the world.”

A dominant view in recent years has been the focus on the magic number of 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. Have a look at the brilliant book “Oultliers” by Malcolm Gladwell but there is no point to practice the wrong technique again and again, it is in fact the willingness to learn or be developed. This is a powerful message for all in our schools.

Woodward described how he called in Matt Dawson, a confident and talented young player, and asked himself to rank himself as a scrum-half. He said he thought he was the best. Woodward went on to reveal his list of the top 10 English scrum-halfs and had him ranked currently at number 1, much to Matt Dawson’s satisfaction. He then turned the page to the international list which had Dawson ranked number 9 and went on to point out he was lucky to be English!

The challenge is to understand how to make the most of the talent you have, a shared experience to our lives in schools.

2. You have to be a sponge and not a rock

You have to have a thirst for knowledge, understanding and learning and this defined the people who would be in the team.  This made you coachable, willing to improve and respond. Woodward gave all the players laptops when less than 10% had used them before, he wanted to see their ability and willingness to learn.

He met Arsène Wenger to hear about new software called Prozone which picked up the individual features of players as they ran onto the field and could analyse their performance and create data in real time. This would change the whole approach to the way they would analyse performance. After every game a CD was given to the players and they were given 24 hours to produce a report with three areas;

  • An analysis of their own individual performance
  • An analysis of the how the team played
  • An analysis of how their opposite number and team played

Maybe we could do this as a school every summer? It could lead to some interesting and engaging conversations and a deeper sense of ownership.

The aim was to get the players to engage and speak first and develop their own skills, knowledge, understanding and analysis – perhaps this is the challenge we all face by looking to create independent learners but we could echo this in our work with staff professionally. This focus created great leadership capacity because they were all able to understand and analyse the game after being given the skills to know what to do.

We all need to end up with a team full of sponges! Woodward talked about how he would not pick anyone in the team who needed to be led but looked for those who were ready to learn and challenge themselves in to improve – this created a team of leaders with responsibility and a commitment to improving themselves.

3. Write your book and the chapters for success to express what you do

Look to capture our understanding and knowledge on world-class performance. He broke this down into 7 key areas…

  • Defence
  • Basics
  • Pressure
  • Attack
  • Tactics
  • Self-Control
  • Leadership

What would yours be? How would we express what is most important for our schools? To be successful you need to break down the chapters so you can look to organise and deliver the outcomes you want.

4. The power of information

The challenge is to capture and organise information and develop the way we respond to the messages this tells us.  This could be done in three ways.

  • Winning moves – identify the keys to success. What are the things we must do?
  • Practices – applying your knowledge and understanding. How do we do it better?
  • Evaluate – evaluate your performance and engage all in learning.

We could all take up this challenge and get staff and students to analyse their own success –  he said if you don’t use the IT it won’t work, especially with young people, and has developed an analytical approach to coaching called “Capture“.

He talked about how he was working with Noni Stephen who had only played for 3 years but could be go on to develop to be the best golfer in the world. She was now better than her coach, a true sign of great coaching, and had previously been an international hockey and squash player. She was using technology to analyse, understand and challenge her performance. This is a culture of learning we need to inspire in all involved in education.

The number 1 thing is to get absolute engagement from the people in your team – create the environment to allow them to deliver.

Maybe this is simply what we are called to do in preparing to lead and inspire success so we can all be world class. So what are you waiting for?!

To lead is to learn

beautiful lake

It is important in any leadership role to be able to step back and press “pause” for a moment to stop, think and be willing to learn and grow. For me an important way to do this is by our annual trip to Birmingham for what was the NCTL conference called “Seizing Success”. Over the last few years it had gradually become more mixed in the quality of speakers and also less likely to offer any independent thought as the NCTL became an executive arm of the DfE, of course we all know you have to evolve to survive! This year it was led and organised by CfBT, ASCL and NAHT and what a breath of fresh air it was as we had the theme “Inspiring Leadership“. The five essential steps for me are easy to define…

  1. Ensure a broad range of independent thinking and challenging speakers to talk about leadership, motivation and learning
  2. Surround yourself with like-minded leaders, some of whom you “know and love”
  3. Stir it all up for 2 1/2 days
  4. Allow to marinate and take time to think it all over
  5. Serve hot and ensure you share the experience as broadly as possible

So what did I take from the experience this year? I will try and share some highlights and a glimpse of the experience of what it was like in three short instalments starting with Benjamin Zander.

Benjamin Zander – The Art of Possibility

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and entered the stage like the Doctor from “Back to the Future”. He was booked to speak for an hour but we were transfixed for nearly two by his whirlwind talk on classical music, leadership and inspiration. The crescendo included getting 1500 school leaders to sing Happy Birthday to a colleague and then finally Ode to Joy in German – far from what anyone expected to do in Birmingham.

1. The traditional role of leadership as the conductor is dead

As conductor you have complete control which was top down, hierarchical and male. You were not even allowed to speak directly to the conductor but only ask a question. The new leader is someone who is masterful at creating and holding infinite possibilities. Like all human endeavour there is always more than just the person you see on stage, we are the sum of our previous experiences and the team around us.

9 dots2. When facing a problem create a new framework

Can you join the 9 dots with only 4 lines? Our job is to remind the “players” the rhythm of transformation. If we pull together what is it that we can really achieve? We are constantly comparing and measuring between each other. We are simply called to be the best we can be.  As a teacher he awarded all his class an “A” much to their surprise. He told them to write a letter to themselves beginning I have achieved an “A” this year because… the challenge beyond this was to fall passionately in love with this person so that it became a reality.

It is only when you give an “A” to someone  that you can be truthful with them as you believe and support them unconditionally. It was a simple vote of confidence in the possibility that they have. When we are teaching we are looking to see this hidden potential, Michelangelo described this as “getting rid of the stone to reveal the statue”.

3. How fascinating!

When things go wrong we need to learn from it… rather than getting frustrated and angry just think or shout out “how fascinating” – I have already tried this and found it so liberating. If we have a vision we should stick to it without compromise. Nelson Mandela was offered the chance of freedom after 15 years if he abandoned his vision for a new South Africa, instead he endured the 27 years in prison to gain true freedom.

4. Don’t be trapped by downward spiral thinking, stick to the possibilities

Downward spiral thinking is consumed with the reasons that we can’t achieve our goal. It is immersed in blame, threat, negativity and doubt. A conductor realises that if you can awaken the possibility of the orchestra you can achieve greatness. Benjamin Zander gave all those in his orchestra a blank sheet of paper to make comments and express their ideas, far from the traditional role of conductor. He asked “what would help you to play more beautifully?”

5. Remember rule 6 – do not to take yourself too seriously!

As a leader we need to radiate possibilities and this is where we can live out this vision. It is impossible to live a full life under the shadow of bitterness. If a vision is to become reality it needs to be shared by everyone. The challenge is to spend the rest of your life in realms of possibility and see what we can truly achieve. He described a cellist who was preparing for an audition and played very well but in a controlled way. Zander challenged him to push himself and let go and he played as a man inspired. He went to the audition and didn’t get it having played the first way. However he later went on to audition for lead cellist an orchestra in Madrid and thought “fuck it” I will play the second way. He said tells all his students and  the schools he talks to know the importance of playing “beyond the fuck it”, in fact one Catholic Headteacher, a nun in America, had said that BTFI had become their school motto!

So we must all remember when things get tough that possibility is only one sentence away – we as leaders have to inspire people around us to see this too. The challenge we need to take from this is this how to inspire the confidence to conduct learning and progress in our schools. We can show an unrelenting belief in the ability of others, if we can do this we can achieve the potential of all in the schools we serve.


Filled with fire and faith


flames background

Fire and flames may have some very different meanings for each of us… maybe we think about them as destructive or a threat in some way, alternatively we may initially think of light and warmth.

Two memories from my childhood stood out to me relating to fire. One was when we experienced what was, comparatively, a small fire in our home. I remember sitting in the garden with my four siblings huddled in our duvets as we watched my Dad try and put out the fire in the kitchen. I remember the smell of the burnt rooms and the sound of the fire engines coming followed by the equally rapid arrival of other families in the village, who had been in the pub and heard the sound of “a bit of drama” in our normally quiet Sussex village. They were equally quick to offer help, food, support and even a caravan…

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