What Does Good School Leadership Look Like?
A fellow teacher I met at a union conference once told me that he and his colleagues used this term to describe their leadership team, when they decided that a Mocksted inspection was still necessary, after a good Ofsted inspection. Some staff indulged the term further by Whatsapping each other at 2am with pretend movie titles like: ‘An SMT Christmas Carol’, and ‘Leadership Team Take Manhattan’.
Some things you just have to laugh at. If you’re newish to the profession, know that clinging to your sense of your humour is probably better for you (and the kids) in the long run than clinging to whatever the latest educational research tells you you should be doing in the classroom.
We hear about bad school leadership all too often and it seems to be human nature to share the bad more than the good. Throughout my career I have experienced, and known of others who have experienced, many examples of good leadership. Lest we all become negative Nancy’s, and new staff become prematurely bitter, this blog will focus on the positives. Please note however, that good is known only through bad; I have included the latter so that you may appreciate the good wholeheartedly. Here goes:
A few years ago, my lesson was wrongly graded as ‘requiring improvement’. The belligerent oaf who observed me most likely had some kind of an axe to grind for one reason or other. After a failed attempt to argue my case, I went to the Head whose exact words were: ‘We know you’re doing a phenomenal job. Sometimes RI and Good lessons are only subtly different and the wrong judgment can be made; it’s really no big deal.’ See how she defended the oaf and still addressed my concerns? That’s good leadership! I actually ended up requesting a re-ob myself with no pressure from anyone. (I later dealt with the oaf the way Walter and Jessie dealt with Emilio. Really J).
A teacher was once the subject of a parental complaint due to him phoning home about the behaviour of a pupil whose mom (mom, not mum- Brummy-speak) decided to twist and turn the whole phone conversation around. A Deputy Head came to see the teacher and asked for his version of events so he could deal with the complaint. He told the teacher that the mom had demanded to see him –most probably so she could scream and swear at him- but he would not allow it. When the teacher asked why, he replied: ‘Well that’s why I get paid the extra 20 grand.’ You may think this is normal and take it for granted, but there are Head teachers who are like Kim Jong Un to their staff, but Bruce Forsyth to unreasonable parents.
Fortunately, there are many school leaders who have this cracked. I can recall being observed by a Deputy Head many years ago who, at the end of a lesson, fed back to me with ‘If you were my son’s chemistry teacher, I’d be overjoyed.’ No 45 minute discussion filled with pretentious, monopolised words like ‘outstanding’; just pure, natural feedback- personal in nature. This particular leader had a way of giving everyone his full attention, support and he knew that the best way to get staff on board with his ideas was through relationship building. He would always ask about and remember details of your life, interests, hobbies etc. He innately knew that people desire to follow people- not titles. As an NQT I actually recall feeling guilty during briefing when he announced (in his humorous, charismatic and personable way) that while satisfactory is satisfactory, he wanted all staff to practice good teaching. At the time I felt like I’d let him down.
Caring for teachers’ well-being
An Assistant Head noticed a tired and post-teary NQT on the way to her car on a late Friday evening carrying two stacks of exercise books. He asked her how she was doing to which she replied with a lifeless, ‘Fine.’ Noticing her stress levels, he took the books off her, carried them back to her room and told her to enjoy her weekend. The teacher was naturally overjoyed and she came back the next week happy and invigorated. Some school leaders would have given their NQTs some shit about how they should show more emotional resilience and then watched them leave the profession in 2 years’ time.
At another school, a Head of Department went off with stress. The Headteacher showed up at her house the next day with a pot of stew that she made herself and said: ‘Take as long as you need. Come back when you’re ready to come back.’ After a series of menacing (sorry. . . ‘supportive’) phone calls, some school leaders would have come over a week later and passive-aggressively encouraged her to drop her TLR.
Praise and recognition
Book scrutinies, learning walks, and observations are viewed by teachers mostly as head-banging exercises born from professional distrust. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself which phrase you hear more often: ‘I can’t wait until my next ob. I really want to know my areas for improvement’, or ‘Why the fuck are we being observed again?! We just got observed last term!’ It really is self-explanatory. Good school leaders will actively seek, recognise and praise good practice, as well as identify and resolve bad practice. In the not-so-distant, distant past, I found myself one of these (below) in my pigeonhole post learning walk. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it did do wonders for my morale during a tough half-term. Some school leaders only focus on the negatives. I know of a teacher at another school whose observer fed back to him with: ‘We haven’t got enough time to discuss the positives, so we’ll just do the areas for development.’ Wow.
In short, good school leadership is very much alive. If you are not receiving the kind of leadership you feel is necessary for your well-being and development, work either to change it or instead grace another school with your presence.
By Omar Akbar
For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you at training college. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99