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!