Do not ever underestimate the impact we have on young people’s lives as teachers.
We really are the ‘glue’ that holds it all together and leading up to the summer holidays uncertainty, loss of routine and fear can set in for our most vulnerable students.
As a parent, I know only too well the need of structure in children’s lives and for our most vulnerable students, the summer holidays and loss of the structure and support, that every member of the school community provides can create turbulence.
The fact that colleagues like myself, shout up and down the road about lateness and encourage students to run in, moan about uniform, jewellery, shoes, bags etc. Smile and laugh with, at or near students – before they have even set foot into amazing and learning fuelled classrooms provides and satiates needs that aren’t met in our most vulnerable homes.
This is what I mean about being the ‘glue’. This routine, the fact that I have spent most of the school year, like many colleagues in the profession, picking up the same students, about the same things, tells me that they need me to do it and shows them that I care.
As an early riser, I get to school and have my ‘specials’ sat outside my office reading. The look on their faces every morning when I say ‘Hi’ by name and watch their faces light up (yes he knows our names!) may well be the first positive interaction with an adult of the day.
More ‘glue’ holding it all together.
I am inspired by @jazampaw-farr story, watched her video and read her blog. We have a huge responsibility to ‘smile more, engage before educating, and go the extra mile to humanise students. Reassure them that the community of school will be here when they aren't’. The ‘glue’ in their lives disappears for 6 weeks and instability and fear can set in.
So, I am asking us to remember that we are the ‘glue’ and with that comes and responsibility – say ‘hi’, make jokes, smile a lot, ask about plans over the holiday, be warmer and more engaging, because for six weeks the ‘glue’ isn’t there! As adults, we can change our dysfunctional lives and do something about it (or try to at least!).
Our vulnerable students don’t have the luxury or the agency to do this and are stuck, relying on us and an over stretched care system to satisfy their basic needs, to provide love and care, which goes on holiday for the summer!
So please, make the last few days magic for your students!
Reading @imsporticus’s blog inspired me to write about something that has become increasingly apparent in discussions with colleagues this year and is a potential issue in school leadership and links to the Adidas Standard 9 about being open-minded and look forward toward the future.
Like @imsporticus, I have read and studied a great deal on the topic of leadership, both in school contexts and professional sport. I am an absolute believer in the 'aggregation of marginal gains' approach of David Brailsford and Team Sky and the constant need to reflect and ask 'how can we do it better?' I constantly test the theory and the practice in what I see and am driven by the question of how can we/I do it better for the young people we serve?
I first became consciously aware of the term 'cognitive dissonance' when it was discussed in Matthew Syed's Black Box Thinking. He describes cognitive dissonance as: 'where we spin the evidence to fit our beliefs rather than adapting our beliefs to fit the evidence'. So does this happen in school leadership? Do we, with the best of intentions, damage the very things we are trying to build at the expense of making an evidence base fit our own beliefs? Do we risk un-inspiring and demotivating leaders of the future by being cognitively dissonant, bending evidence to match our beliefs?
@imsporticus describes disillusionment when he recognised the disconnect between the rhetoric and the day to day leadership behaviours of leaders he had observed. Integrity, authenticity, trust, courage, are all admirable qualities of leaders and very easy to recite at interview but are much harder to embody, day in and day out. These differences can become chasms and very obvious when they are missing. They are very damaging for aspirant leaders, especially those that read widely or follow leaders on the twittersphere!
The danger is that when you are leading, everyone is watching.
So unless your behaviours match, there is a disconnect or dissonance. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that leaders don't make mistakes, far from it. Good leaders, acknowledge, celebrate and reflect on them and move on, secure in the knowledge that their 'why', their values and moral compass will see them through. When there is dissonance, it can be very hard to have a leadership voice, which in the case of @Ieshasmall's introverted leaders becomes even more of a challenge.
So, I am suggesting that there is a need to reflect and test the leadership you observe in others against the theory or the evidence. These become important reflections that will help shape and define the leader you want to be, Much is learnt from observing 'how not to' as well as observing 'how to'. These become key components in building the leader you wish to be and can be tested against the theory that you read. I have lived a career by the phrase, ‘you are only as good as you last conversation’ – especially with your Headteacher but as leaders you are only as good as your last actions. If these uphold the values and are rooted in your ‘why’ then there will be a match and no dissonance or disconnect.
@imsporticus noted, the catastrophic damage done by dissonant, narcissistic, selfish leaders to those in their care. This, sandwiched with a desire to ‘bend facts to beliefs dissonantly’ damages the raw potential and desire to lead that we see in our aspirant leaders. Dialogue and opportunity are lost due to the change in culture; openness and challenge shrivel until we become fearful and just nod in agreement. Aspirant leaders will take their cues from the leadership behaviours of others and we then stagnate.
Leadership rhetoric is very easy but others will find you out if your values and behaviours don't match.
So, all leaders need to be open minded and look forward to the future, ensuring their rhetoric, values and behaviours match. Evidence is evidence and is a powerful tool. Failure is rich in opportunities to learn, which can be harnessed to do some good. Don’t bend it to suit your beliefs as there is a risk that the small bits, the nuances that make up working in a school are lost.
More importantly, the trust and belief of those who aspire to be like you, who are watching your every move, testing you against great leaders in their minds compared to the theory they are reading are lost or damaged.
My message for @imsporticus, keep ensuring that you ‘do the best you can for your colleagues and the children in your care’ - that is the 'why we do it'; keep questioning ‘how can you do it better?’ because at the end of the day, that is all that matters!
I wanted to reflect on @ieshasmall Introverted Leader talk at the Telegraph Festival of Education, after being left speechless by @jazampawfarr story above. I have combined these with my own views on what we do as leaders and what it means to be Relentlessly Optimistic for our young people.
@jazampawfarr asks us to consider which type of teacher we are going to be and I suggest that this can be asked as which type of leader we are going to be? Do you remember ‘why’ you went into teaching and then leadership? Do you care and advocate beyond the job because it is more important than performance tables and accountability measures? We manage the hope and aspirations of some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cannot afford to hinder the life chances of any students and these students in particular.
Now, from the What it means to be Relentlessly Optimistic video, you get a sense of my own feelings on this and the breaking down and running through walls analogy, whilst motivating and inspiring for some, isn’t necessarily how we all manifest our own leadership. Or can it be but in different forms?
The values may well be the same but how we make that happen can be hugely different and equally important.
@ieshasmall spoke about the benefits that the introverted leader can bring to school leadership, especially when complimented with extroverts. @ieshasmall noted five typically introverted traits and can be used as strengths. The link to @ieshasmall’s blog is below but I wanted to dwell on two of the traits identified, as I feel these connect the most with ‘why’ we do it.
‘Observation and the ability to notice what others may miss’ are essential if we are not to miss the current day @jazampawfarr’s of this world. This is something that could be missed if leadership is dominated by gregarious and extroverted leaders. We need leaders to notice all things but especially the small things!
‘Quiet passion’ – that burns and niggles is another of the traits identified in introverted leaders. Again, essential if we are not to miss any young people and ties in with my contention that actually, that fire and passion is the same as our extroverted wall-breakers but expressed and channelled through a different lens.
Ideally, leadership will be a blend of extroverts and introverts. The danger is the quiet voice of the introvert can be drowned out by the extroverts. There is a saying about being wary of the quiet person in the fight, as they sit back and watch trouble unfold and know that when trouble comes, they can take care of it. The same can be applied to leadership contexts, so extroverts need to know themselves and enable our introverts to shine through and have a voice. Extroverts need introverts spotting and noticing the small things, otherwise they will be missed.
@ieshasmall commented that ‘the most important thing for leaders of all types is to be really clear about our purpose and aims’; I feel it goes even deeper than that and that we have to connect with ‘why’ we are leading in schools. We have to lead to make a difference on everyone within the organisation. As @jazampawfarr puts it, we need to be ‘agents of transformation’ . We can do this as extroverts running through walls or as introverts, with a steely, considered determination to do whatever is needed for our young people!
As long as our values and ‘why’ are the same, the walls will come tumbling down!