Carnegie Education

Let's talk about better leadership and culture

Education leadership is often talked about in hushed terms, there are so called hero-heads, there are numerous personal published narratives on leading schools, and we borrow and build theories of educational leadership.

academics images in hexagons with their names

Leadership courses proliferate and money changes hands, the numbers of school leaders in many organisations expands, and new job titles are constructed. Leadership is an opportunity to build organisational cultures, to work to engage and support others and to make a real difference to the lives of pupils, students and their families. Inevitably, despite these opportunities educational leadership comes with its own dilemmas and challenges in both becoming and being a leader.

As we look beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic we hope to host a CollectivED / GCI Knowledge Exchange Conference ‘Better Conversations, enhancing education one discussion at a time’ in the next academic year. This blogpost was originally written based on a theme for the conference planned for June. In addition to our main stage speakers we have a number of subthemes which will be explored through roundtable discussions. Prior to our rescheduled conference we anticipate hosting ‘Let’s talk about…’ webinars. Please follow @CollectivED1 on twitter for more information.

In our ‘better leadership and culture’ theme we have four roundtable discussions. Narinder Gill will use coaching questions to enable deep reflection and discussion related to the question, ‘How can coaching be used as a core leadership intervention to maximise potential, influence the ethical climate and optimise well-being and resilience?’ Narinder, who tweets at @NarinderGill01, is a school improvement adviser and professional coach, and has led three schools as a head teacher. The discussions will reflect the fact that in a time of rapid change and increased pressures, leaders are challenged to have the right skills, values and behaviours to ensure the best possible outcomes. Participants will share and explore practical examples from Narinder’s co-authored book ‘Creating change in Urban settings’ based on work carried out in an inner city school in Leeds working with the whole community to lead positive sustained change.

In our complex educational landscape, it is not always those at the top of organisational hierarchies who are responsible for leadership in education. Chris Dale, who tweets at @cjdale2010, is a Senior Regional Lead, National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM), and with his colleagues is part of a CollectivED co-enquiry group. One of their main roles is to work with the Leadership and Management of Maths Hubs and to provide the strategic support and challenge function. While they are held to account over the quality of the Maths Hub programme, they have no formal line management responsibility for the leadership of the hub. The question they are concerned with will be the focus of Chris’ roundtable discussion and is ‘How do we influence and lead across boundaries without formal authority?’. In addressing this dilemma the NCETM colleagues are beginning to look at the Bradford-Cohen model as a framework for influencing without authority. In his roundtable discussion Chris will provide an overview of the model and how he and his colleagues are adapting it to their context. There will be an invitation to share experiences of leadership through influence, and chance to action plan at a personal level.

A critical role for leaders is to build educational cultures that support wellbeing, and important questions are now being asked about tensions in doing so in performative cultures. In her roundtable discussion Margaret Barr will ask participants to focus on ‘How can we build a feedback culture through professional conversations that promote wellbeing alongside improved performance?’. Margaret, who tweets at @MargaretBarr1 is the Lead Associate (Scotland) for CollectivED partners Growth Coaching UK, and is a former secondary headteacher in Glasgow. Her roundtable discussion will explore how staff wellbeing is supported if professional conversations around feedback are invited, respectful and honest. Her proposition is that feedback that is “heard” and accepted can lead to the receiver identifying a goal on which they can be coached. The session will give participants the opportunity to explore and share the features of effective feedback (based on their own experiences) – both giving and receiving. It will include a tool – the Feedback Bridge – which is a respectful yet effective structure for the conversation, ensuring that the receiver’s views are heard, and the receiver has ownership over the changes to be made.

The final roundtable in this theme of leadership and culture will be hosted by Bethan Hindley. Bethan, who tweets at @bethanhindley, is the Training Programme Lead at the Teacher Development Trust, and a member of the CollectivED Advisory Board. Bethan’s roundtable discussion will address the question ‘How can school leaders create conditions for better professional conversations to take place?’. The focus will be supporting leaders to think about what they can do to create a culture in their school or organisation where better professional conversations can take place. Participants will be asked to reflect on what opportunities for professional conversations currently exist and how leaders can create more of these, ensuring colleagues have the skills and confidence to engage in these conversations. The discussion will be based round three main questions. What systems and processes can schools create to allow for powerful professional conversations to take place? What expertise can school leaders engage with to support colleagues to have better conversations? What barriers to holding effective professional conversations currently exist in schools and how can we overcome these?

There are lots of reasons to talk to colleagues and amongst them are the opportunities to develop and sustain leadership practices which support cultures of wellbeing as well as improvement. At times these conversations need to enter difficult territory and we need to be prepared to challenge and be challenged.

By Rachel Lofthouse, Narinder Gill, Bethan Hindley, Margaret Barr and Chris Dale

You can also read about the roundtable discussions around the themes in our earlier blogposts.

Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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