Carnegie Education

Creating alternative narratives in professional development in education; re-imagining learning for leadership

Educational leadership could be considered big business – there is an industry of publication, leadership development programmes, research and professional communities supporting the work of educational leaders. Leadership is part of the narrative of educational improvement and potential promotions to leadership roles are offered as incentives to stay in the profession.  Leadership jargon can be either obscuring or can help clarify. Leaders are offered coaching, mentoring and supervision. Educational leaders can gain notoriety or respect (even guru-status).  In some institutions there is a constant churn in leadership in others there is stability, in others there can be a hiatus.

Paper boats led by a lead boat

In the English school system there are frequently many leadership layers, from those (sometimes unrewarded) teachers who take on responsibility for a curriculum area in primary schools, through the TLR (Teaching and Leaning Responsibility) paid roles, to middle and senior leaders right up to Executive Headteachers and CEOs in academy chains.  A plethora of new government certified national professional qualifications for leaders at different levels and with different foci have been rolled out this school year.

In Further and Higher Education job titles indicate programme, course leadership and department leadership with a host of other titles associated with key initiatives and both internal and external facing responsibilities.  In some national jurisdictions there is less focus on the hierarchy of school leadership and more on collective professional responsibility with the intention of emergent and fluid leadership capacity serving educational organisations.

The next CollectivED Hub event is an opportunity to re-imagine professional learning for educational leadership.  You are welcome to join us online for an evening of lively discussion in which our expert contributors participate in a chain reaction conversation to explore the theme of creating alternative narratives in professional development in education. The evening will conclude with an opportunity for attendees to be part of an open discussion.

The evening will allow six contributors to share their practice and experience to shine a light on how we can support and develop leaders and leadership.

Anne Turnbull, Associate Supervisor - National Hub for Supervision in Education - Leeds Beckett University @AnneTurnbullCST

In supervision Anne facilitates peer supervision groups for headteachers of special schools. These groups started during Covid and have proven to be invaluable in supporting headteachers during unprecedented times. As facilitator Anne has a helicopter view of all the issues raised in supervision and to identify and highlight themes emerging from the group. Learning in this context also comes from headteachers sharing best practice and mentoring less experienced colleagues in the group. A key focus of the reflective supervision sessions is self-care and how we need to take care of our own well-being in order to continue providing the best learning environment for children and young people.

James Pope, Director of Inspireducate and founder of HeadsUp4HTs @Popejames and @headsup4hts

James believes that it is increasingly evident for a number of years that leadership professional development has increasingly focussed on the technical skills/aspects of leadership the 'what' of leadership.  The 'What' itself has become increasingly tailored to suit the perception of education as being solely concerned with outcomes.  He suggests that the consequences are an unfortunate/unintended narrowing of the professional development for leaders with little time to focus on educational thinking, vision setting, change leadership and emotional intelligences - the "Why" and the "How"... and subsequently many leaders recruited into significant leadership positions finding themselves with an uneasy sense of displacement between the leader that they would like to be and the leader that the system demands that they be. James established HeadsUp4HTs which holds a broader definition of both the role of leaders in their communities and the skills required of and the support provided to leaders in education.

Narinder Gill, School Improvement Director, Elevate Multi-academy Trust @narindergill01

At the trust where Narinder is based all headteachers were part of a certified coaching programme with the intention of developing a coaching culture before the pandemic.  Currently they are engaged with the Collective Ed Coaching award, complementing this with further professional development for senior leaders.  This deliberate planned approach has already seen a shift in the quality of conversations across a range of stakeholders – with children, between staff and with parents and an authentic openness to the challenges they face as leaders.  Narinder believes that if we want to retain our headteachers and recruit for the next generation of leaders, we have to develop leaders who are open and honest about their perceived challenges, who communicate with optimism about these and confidently create space for reflective conversations which ultimately create the right conditions for growth.

Kristy Docherty, Business Lecturer, Research interests: Leadership, collaboration, complexity, Queen Margaret University @kristy_docherty

Kristy makes the point that the concept of ‘Leadership’ is a contested term. Opinions and perspectives differ about what it means and what is required, this can cause tensions particularly when thinking about leadership attached to a formal role compared with the practice or doing of leadership. Kristy’s work context allows her to explore (with others) how to build capacity for effective collaboration across the public service system, ‘leadership’ can often become a bit of a red herring and a distraction, mainly because of the different ways to view it.  Collective leadership theories (moving away from the heroic, leader centric concepts) are closely linked to the navigation of complexity in order to determine a shared path forward, so helpful for the collaborative work required to address 'wicked' issues such as e.g. poverty, obesity, attainment gaps etc...  In practice ‘collective leadership’ requires working with others in an emergent, relational, inquiring and systems focused way, this is hard and messy work which rubs up against hierarchical leadership, structures and silos, however the opportunities for - a more connected system, better outcomes, personal growth and stronger relationships may be realised.

Deb Outhwaite, Director: Developing Teachers, Schools, and Academies (DTSA) @deb_outhwaite

As a Teacher Educator with more than twenty-five years' experience, Deb’s work is increasingly about trying to provide a listening ear for more experienced leaders, whilst trying to educate and support those who still want to become teachers. She runs the BELMAS Research Interest Group in Leadership Preparation and Development drawing on international research and taking time to explore the antecedents of where we find ourselves now in the English system in comparison with colleagues from other parts of the globe, most recently having worked with colleagues in Sweden and Russia. Deb is interested in how we try and learn from our own past and other national systems to support those who still want to educate despite the worst excesses of performativity inside our own system; how our leaders survive what is currently being asked of them - where their ‘red lines’ are; and how we prepare and develop new leaders who know nothing other than this reductive system.

Pete Hall Jones – Coach, International Leadership and National Curriculum Consultant (British Council) @PeteHJ

Part of Pete’s current work is to bring leaders from across sectors (not just education) together to discuss and share their ‘unique solutions to common challenges’ through the programme ‘How Others Lead’. One headteacher described the impact of these facilitated peer coaching seminars as – ‘guilt free learning’ going on to say that learning from others outside her own specific domain made it ‘easier to be open, less competitive in her learning… “If I don’t agree I can say – they’re running a departments store (JLP) not a school. If it’s a headteacher or education blogger/ author I just feel inadequate, wrong or a bit useless”. Pete also draws on his work as a coach and seeks to develops leaders and create efficacious cultures using a personal efficacy mindset change programme ‘So Its Up To Me’ – through pictures and stories of everyday life to explain how and why we think the way we do and how to think and achieve differently to achieve using future memory.

If you would like to join our CollectivED event to hear more from these contributors with an option of contributing to the discussion please book your free place: CollectivED Hub Events 2021-2022 Booking Form (

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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