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!