I haven’t always agreed with Sir Michael Wilshaw.
But I have to say a lot of what he had to say here recently resonated with me. His speech at the TES Leadership conference suggests to me that there is at least a recognition that maintaining the status quo in schools will not bring about transformation.
He contends that ‘we are charged with…improving the lives of our youngest citizens, especially the poorest’. Agreed. He also argues that ‘the wise teacher and head adopts a persona that is tethered in some way to his or her personality’.
Agreed. But Wilshaw insists on describing teachers that want to make a difference, who possess a fierce moral conviction that young people deserve the best education as ‘mavericks’.
Mavericks? You mean like Dr Nick, the inept quack physician from the Simpsons? I agree with the Sir Wilshaw’s assessment of the qualities we need within the education system from the classroom through to senior leadership, but I disagree with the designation of this being maverick for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, it suggests that there are only a handful of educational professionals who share a moral imperative to provide an education that is befitting our young people. It seems to me like a move back towards the idea of a solo leadership model rather than a model that utilises the capacity of all staff and cultivates leaderful teams.
Instead of a team playing Joga Bonita, you get that single right back that makes darting runs forward, but leaves his teammates exposed. Prizing extraordinary individuals over the synergy of getting ordinary folks working together has been shown to be a flawed strategy. Just ask Enron.
Secondly, I think to call for more mavericks obscures what Sir Wilshaw is actually describing and advocating. It is my view that the description of a maverick, able to be ‘part Rocky, part Henry and part Mrs Doubtfire’, is actually a description of emotional intelligence.
Wilshaw posits that these ‘mavericks’ cannily adapt a ‘persona to suit a particular student or a school need…great teachers and heads weigh up their students and schools very quickly and adapt their teaching and leadership style to suit’. This could very easily be a description of how people with high levels of emotional intelligence are able to respond appropriately to a range of situations, events and people.
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, writes, ‘managing relationships skillfully boils down to handling other people’s emotions. This, in turn, demands that leaders be aware of their own emotions and attuned with empathy to the people they lead’. If what Sir Michael Wilshaw meant to say was that we need more emotionally intelligent teachers and leaders in our schools, professionals driven by a moral imperative, who embrace the charge to improve the lives of young people through education, then I agree.
I agree wholeheartedly.
The question is, how are we currently recruiting, developing and cultivating the current and emerging teachers and school leaders to grow in emotional intelligence? How high is it on the CPD agenda in your local school? Yet, it will play a critical role in effectively bringing about transformation in our schools.
Both the adoption of, and resistance to change use the same blood stream of relationships. School leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence seem best able to negotiate the network of relationships that comprise our local and wider school communities.
If Sir Michael Wilshaw is calling for the ordinary teachers and school leaders of our schools to work together to do extraordinary things, for and with our young people, on that, we are agreed!
 pg 64. The New Leaders, 2002