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



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