Reflecting on vision, leadership, and how lucky I am
Sometimes it's important to think about the next steps and how we are going to get there. Today was one of those days for me. I was privileged to be given a day out of the classroom for the first session of a two-part course for new and aspiring science leaders, and the day was all about reflection.
It started well as I had a relaxing train journey to Bracknell and was able to get a good two chapters into my new book. So passed two pleasant hours...
The course was intimate. There were five teachers and our 'facilitator'. This meant for plenty of discussions, feedback and space for reflection. All things which teachers forget to do for each other in the rush to do it for students. This was also the first time I had been on a course with teachers from the maintained sector, with myself working at one of the most privileged school environments in the country, this provided a very different dynamic around the table.
Conversation was rich and it soon became clear that we all had very different visions for our departments depending on the current challenges we are facing. I am very fortunate to teach in a very strong science team at Bedales, and as a result my vision is very aspirational: I know my colleagues can achieve it. Others are not so fortunate; if you cannot retain staff, finance a vision for the future, then such levels of aspiration are out of reach. We made a wall to showcase our visions and started thinking about how to get there.
In order to aim for an aspirational vision, the department needs to be working as a coherent unit. The 'team' needs to be composed of different types of personalities which compliment each other and allow everyone to put forward their best effort for the collective goals. We looked at Belbin's different team roles and reflected on whether or not we had a good combination within our departments. Having not been at Bedales for very long, I found it difficult to slot the all of my colleagues into the various categories. However, as we moved around the room discussing the make-up of our teams, I felt like I was, once again, in a privileged position: where most people reported that they lacked a 'plant' (an innovator, creator, and complex problem-solver) there are definitely plenty of innovators, creators, investigators in my department. This is why we are not afraid to push the limits of what can be done in a classroom, why we were not afraid to take the plunge into mixed attainment teaching in September.
The Laozi Leader
Leadership vs management is a classic exercise for leadership courses. However, it was well executed, allowing us to reflect on the qualities of great leaders (as well as characteristics of ineffective ones). And we got to play with post-it notes. Once again, I felt extremely privileged. I work in an environment my leaders respect teacher autonomy to a very high level. This is a factor linked to intrinsic motivation to succeed in teachers (well modelled by Finnish education). However, this was not the case for any of my erstwhile colleagues: all of them reported that they were continually falling victim to new 'innovations' which they were expected to embed into their teaching and assessed on how they were using these ideas by their senior teams. This makes motivation extrinsic, a carrot and stick (generally more stick than carrot) approach. This has been shown to reduce intrinsic motivation in teachers, resulting in less job satisfaction and lower levels of mental well-being.
As well as not being micro-managed, I have a management team who are incredibly approachable: there is a culture of outspokenness at Bedales, and leadership are responsive to the thoughts of middle managers. They are flexible Laozi leaders. They steer me while respecting my professional opinion, persuading me to follow their vision rather than by enforcing their will upon me. As a result, my vision for the science department is in line with the school's ethos and values, because I have internalised these values through good leadership. Now I need to work out how to turn myself into an 'Old Master'.
My school environment respects my ideas and opinions.
I am able to work with a high level of autonomy as I am trusted by my leadership team.
My team has plenty of creative 'innovators' so we can experiment and make radical changes when we wish to.
My leadership are flexible and approachable.
I went on an excellent course and had a fantastic (vegan) lunch.
I had a chance to get halfway through my next book (another book review next Thursday)!
It was fantastic to have a day out just to think and reflect on the changes I want to make in 2017, and the steps I need to take to achieve these goals. The feedback on our ideas and discussions was excellent, and gave me plenty of food for thought. We were given a homework task to reflect on our own practice in teaching and learning and get some student feedback, before we go back for part two next month. I am really looking forward to checking back in with the team and continuing to reflect on how to be the best Head of Science I can be in September. And by the end of March I will probably need another reality check about the enormous privileges I have in my job so that I can appreciate what I do have, instead of stressing about reports, and deadlines, and late nights, and assemblies, and..., and... .