One of my many dilemmas has been how to manage the work/life balance to try and ensure some sense of perspective and promote my own health and #wellbeing.
I have tried to ensure that I run from school to various stations on my commute home, depending on how far I wanted to run. A short but quick 2.5km across Clapham Common to Clapham Junction, or a slightly longer 4km or 5km to Earlsfield or a longer 7km to Wimbledon. This was equally an issue when cycling in and out of school!
The problem, up until now has always been the logistical planning to make this happen, transferring suits and multiple shirts & tie combinations (pre picked by my wife to avoid horrendous clashes - as I struggle with colour blindness!) in and out of school, whilst remembering which items of clothing I have left where. The net effect hasn't been one of wellbeing but rather increased stress trying to work it all out.
That is, until I discovered the Henty Wingman Backpack, which has been a complete game changer. I naturally did some extensive research and following some great advice from Melissa the UK distributor, I made a purchase; it isn't cheap at £155 but then what is? but then running back packs aren't and I wanted to carry a suit etc (Melissa kindly offered a discount on the basis that I would review honestly and share on the Relentless Optimism blog - Melissa has extended the 15% discount for anyone using the code RO15 at the checkout until the 31st October).
The concept is simple. The Wingman is essentially a reinforced, light weight suit carrier that rolls around a waterproof inner tube insert, to keep suits, shirts & dresses crease free in transit. The origins of the design come from a cycling heritage but the back pack works with my runs now into and home from school.
This has been a revelation for me! I am now able to transport, daily, suit, shirt and tie in the carrier bit, my shoes, towel, wash stuff etc in the inner tube bag, as well as my reading book, keys etc in the backpack laptop pocket and know that when I take it out at school everything is completely crease free!
When running, the bag is comfortable (certainly as comfortable as any running backpack is) and I personally didn't find it too heavy. The shoulder straps and waist strap are completely adjustable and offer a secure anchoring. There isn't a great deal of bounce when running and everything stayed where is was supposed to. The velcro outer taps and clips keep the bag secure and it is weather proof - I used it on its first outing in a horrendous downpour and everything remained dry! In other reviews, reviewers noted that it was warm running with the Wingman but I didn't find it any warmer than other back packs.
You do need to pack the inner tube carefully, I tended to follow the advice in the video below and ensure that the tube was tightly secured by the wrap around bag and 2 securing clips - on my second outing with the Wingman the inner tube slipped down, I had to readjust and then off I went again. I do agree with the Road CC review that the more you put in the Wingman inner tube the better - not only from a comfort point of view but also in the crease reduction! My only 'Even Better If' comment is that it would be nice to have some kind of pocket on the waist belt for mobile phone and travel card - otherwise it's perfect!
I really enjoyed the HBR CfHP research article on How the Best School Leaders Create Enduring Change https://hbr.org/2017/09/research-how-the-best-school-leaders-create-enduring-change and also reading Andy Buck's response 'Rome wasn't built in a day!' and like many readers got me thinking.
Having reflected, on the both Andy's and the HBR CfHP research team articles, here are my thoughts! I am not totally convinced about the whole 'architect leader' as I believe leadership and change is fundamentally about people, noticing and engaging in the journey.
It is clear that system leadership is key in the long journey of transformation but you also need to ensure a focus on the people element as well as the performance metrics. In schools, there is an abundance of data/information for leaders and Governing Bodies to focus on and judge improvements by, but very little on the qualitative data on the 'climate' aspect of the organisation.
The CfHP team highlighted for 9 'building blocks' in turning around failing schools, 3 resonated for me more than others;
2) engaging its community
3) improving teaching
The article suggests that if you can nail 6 of the 9 you'll move your school forward - but it will take time and that no one measure was found to be more important than any other.
Here I disagree. For me, the most critical aspects relate to climate and culture, which are notoriously hard to shift and change and this is where I will focus this response.
This is where the challenge and engage aspects come into their own. Challenge the existing 'status quo' and using this as a powerful lever to engage all members of the community. Easy... if only!
The CfHP research team identified when new Headteachers committed to the school and it's community, improvements were seen. This is a total and relentless desire to pursue one of our mantras 'how can we do it better?' and links directly with our 'running through walls' approach.
They focused on engaging and invovling their communities - within the school and the communities that they served, challenging them to be 'better'. The CfHP research team suggested this took on average 5 years, if you focus on climate and feel of the organisation then this could be quicker - the challenge for leaders is that this is one of the hardest things to change and can take the longest!
If we can get the people aspect of the organisation right, then the performance side can start to grow - the problem is being allowed the time to do it when we face a high stakes accountability culture. If we look at the OFSTED framework at Inadequate rating and its sub categories, the key difference between Serious Weaknesses and Special Measures is recognising the 'capacity in leadership'. However, for our 'architect' leader - time is not something that is recognised and that capacity is often not allowed time to fruition, hence jittery Governing Bodies and strong arm academisation..
Surely, an opportunity to reflect on the people aspects of improvement would be useful here?
How does it feel to work in a school that is on an improvement journey? How engaged are all members of the schools community in securing the change and improvement? If these are both positive, then there will be improvements in learning and teaching and ultimately exam performance output.
The is no argument, Qualifications and results are essential for the life chances of our young people but we also have a duty to enrich and develop 'better people' who feel valued and part of their communities and these are simply things that aren't measurable in the current performance climate.
I am not sure how we will ensure the immense challenge in changing schools is meaningfully measured but I do feel we need to allow all leaders, 'architect' and otherwise time to change the feel of their organisations. I have previously reflected on the 'better people make better All Blacks' approach and maybe this is part of the reason I have yet to secure the Headship I desire, where there is a focus by Governing Bodies in turning around and improving results fast, often at the expense of the Headteacher, the climate and what it feels like. You can do both, the problem is that one isn't as easily measurable as the other!
The school I want to lead will be built upon this:
Too much in education and school operates under the tyranny of the results and high stakes accountability structures. The core principle at the school I want to lead, is that we strive to gather talented people together, with the same core values and passion for our young people and we treat them unbelievably well. In return, they will try unbelievably hard to be exceptional in everything they do. That is it! Everything else, OFSTED, exam results, governmental change are secondary. They are not our primary aim. We exist to have a positive impact, nurturing and releasing the potential in as many young people and colleagues as possible.
I do believe that you can create people centred, high performing organisations without solely focussing on exam results.... if given time!
I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Opera House in July and despite being blown away by the opera, (which if you haven’t ever been to, I urge you to go!); the delight in seeing a photo of a former student completing her set design apprenticeship; I noticed the work of the conductor and the orchestra.
They were totally mesmerising and got me thinking about how we can ‘orchestrate and conduct’ in our leadership.
The significance became more apparent after reading one of Dr Tim O’Brien's (@doctob) pieces in #MarkPlanTeach by Ross Morrison-McGill (@teachertoolkit) as well as reflecting on some of the great tweets and conversations that happened at #ResearchEd this weekend.
As you watch the orchestra, the stand out person is the conductor – arms moving, flicking the baton, highly expressive and animated from the front, adding their own interpretation on the piece of music being played. The natural leader! I wonder how many conductors we have seen in leadership! This might be all we see. The orchestra playing in complete unison and consistent to produce an auditory sensation. Each musician and section knowing their roles, the value of their contributions and where they fit in.
Organisations run like that! A conductor at center stage leading the team into daily battle, in a consistent, scripted approach…or not!
Now, I must say that I am not a musician, absolutely don’t get ‘rhythm’ as my wife and children will support, so these are just my thoughts! As the performance continued,
I became particularly fascinated by the string section.
Have a watch below.
I began watching the individual nuances and differences in technique, grip, size of stroke (if that is a thing) and yet within the different techniques the overall sound was stunning! I began thinking about the whole consistency issue in school and organisations and the often relentless pursuit of it.
The string section showed that you can produce brilliant music but still be individualistic in how you use the instrument. In fact the orchestra as whole is the embodiment of this! Could the same be said in school and organisation? I believe the answer is ‘yes’ and it has nothing to do with consistency but more an understanding of coherence.
Philippa Cordingley explored the issue of consistency and coherence in her blog: Putting the pedal to the metal; Gaining momentum in accelerating pupil progress. Philippa identified that the very systems and effort that are put in place are often barriers to further progress. She noted that with reference to behaviour, "a strong focus on consistency in behaviour management, which had been essential to establishing order, sometimes obscure the moment when the majority of the pupil community had internalised behavioural expectations and were ready to move on to focus on behaviour for learning'.
So, in pursuing consistency, could we lose coherence? Philippa suggests "coherence that derives from clarity of purpose and developing systems that create and them remove scaffolding for teachers and pupils". Once systems are in place, so if we go back to our string section, the piece of music has been learnt, we can create an environment to harmonize, yet still be coherent.
The challenge for leaders is to allow the flex in the system, without feeling like it is a loss of consistency, enabling a coherent flow through the organisation, underpinned simply by not just 'doing the right things' but by ensuring that "everyone understands the purpose and principles well enough to use them to remove the complex obstacles to learning for vulnerable learners".
Dr Tim O'Brien likened inclusion to an orchestra, (see above) where we perceive the orchestra to be both diverse and inclusive but coming together in a coherent community, "where difference is celebrated, collaboration critical and everyone's contribution is valued'. making fantastic music!
So I guess the challenge for leaders is to reflect on how much we are striving for consistency without over looking the importance of coherence.
Does the desire for consistency mean we miss the opportunity to develop coherent communities, built upon values and shared contributions, even if we do it with slightly nuanced ways?
I shall leave you with the finale of Beethoven's 9th, with Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and ask are they consistent or coherent!
Beethoven 9 - Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Riccardo Muti The full piece can be watched here!
From the outset, I have to make it absolutely clear, that I have always held the work of Sir David Brailsford and the ‘marginal gains’ approach to improvement in the highest esteem. To be quite honest, I still do, which is why I am baffled and disappointed at the current state of affairs regarding the way that the ‘package’ and TUE’s situation has been handled from such a strong and easily identifiable leader.
As I began my deeper leadership journey, I followed the progress of Team GB Cycling and Team Sky, pausing the TV during an interview with SDB (Sir David Brailsford) to take a picture of the leadership books on his shelf, ensuring that they went on my own reading list. I was mesmerised, as I am sure we all were, with the attention to detail, meticulous strategy, marginal gain approach and the embodiment of leadership perfection resulting in stunning outcomes.
I am not confused about the TUE. If it was meant to be there, then in all likelihood, understanding the meticulous attention to detail involved with how Team Sky works, SDB would have known about it. A risk was taken and it back fired. What confuses me, is that by anyone’s standard, SDB’s ability to demonstrate the true characteristics of a leader were completely missing at a time when they were needed most.
The handling of the whole situation by SDB is a lesson for us all to heed. When a leader loses credibility, doubt spreads within the team and it is almost impossible to regain. Credibility and integrity are easy words to bandy about as a leader but very easy to lose. The more publicly this happens then greater the reputational damage to the leader. Trust errodes very quickly and team allignment shifts as doubt creeps in.
It was no surprise to read that Chris Froome, despite the employment by Team Sky of a media advisor, was not prepared to openly back SDB during a press conference, casting further doubts on SDB’s credibility as a leader. Why would Froome risk his own credibility and integrity when he clearly has his own doubts around those of SDB.
How differently this could have panned out. ‘Hindsight’ is a wonderful lens to reflect through but as a leader we must be prepared to recognise our own fallibility and be willing to embrace our mistakes and be prepared to put our hands up and say ‘I got it wrong’ or ‘I could have done it better’. Had SDB done this at the start of this incident, we may well have been applauding at the way he had managed it and the smooth way he navigated his way through it.
Let this be a ‘heads up’ to leaders at all levels, be quick to recongise when and where it hasn’t gone well and take responsibility quickly. Embrace and admit the mistake and then look at how to put it right. If we do this, then there is a chance that we can limit the loss of credibility and reputational damage and ensure that our own most valued assets (team members and those we lead) do not lose faith and trust in what we do. Once they have, as we see in Froome, it becomes almost impossible to support as you are left compromising your own values and credibility.
Ashley Meriman wrote in the Washington Post of ‘How leaders are more powerful when they’re humble’ and suggested that humility is: ‘when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the center of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognizing his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognizing his flaws, he asks how he can grow.'
Full article can be found here:
A humble leader would have would have recognised the mistake, taken stock, sought advice and fronted it out, putting up his or her hands, taking responsibility for it. They would not have tried to fudge the issue or mislead and would be driven by their own integrity and credibility and relied on it to shine through.
Leaders are only human after all.
Miistakes are an essential part of the leadership learning process.
Credibility is gained by recognising our mistakes and learning from them, not marginally diluting them in an attempt to deceive.