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?
- 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!
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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!
- 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…
- 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
- The Art of Possibility
- Talent is not enough
- Every child deserves education
- Creating the conditions for success
- Inspiring leadership