Educational leadership & learning

“LIMINAL LEADERSHIP” by Stephen Tierney

Building bridges across the chaos…because we are standing on the edge.”

“External pressures and forces may restrict you but they do not define you. You are defined by your “why” and the integrity with which you pursue it.”

Stephen has 30 years of experience working in education: as a Teacher, Subject Leader, Deputy Headteacher, Headteacher and now Executive Headteacher of an all through multi-academy trust. He is Chair of the Headteachers’ RoundTable Group and is part of the SSAT’s (Schools Students and Teachers Network) Vision 2040 Group. He shares his thoughts and learning regularly via his blog (www.leadinglearner.me) and on Twitter as @LeadingLearner.

I have collated some quotes / ideas from his book to share with different groups within our own school, namely: Senior Leaders, Governors, Middle Leaders and Teachers. The content below is what I have shared with them.

All of the points below are directly from Stephen’s book. They may not fully make sense in the way I have summarise them, which is why I would highly recommend you read his book.

 

Leadership

  • If you’re going to focus on something in a school, teaching assessment and learning seem a pretty good bet.
  • Creating a truly great school takes patience. Ultimately, truly great schools don’t just suddenly exist. You grow great teachers first, who in turn, grow a truly great school. A truly great school grows like an oak tree over years.
  • Being prepared to live with the uncertainty of a far from perfect judgment is part of developing a new, more informed perspective. Judgments become framed more within the context of lines of enquiry coming out of data, observations, book scrutinies and discussions.
  • When you own the changes you make, it is surprising how quickly they are implemented. Teachers want to get better; they also want to have a say in what getting better is for them.
  • Part of the liminal world created for leaders by being more informed is managing the tension that uncertainty brings.
  • Testing is an imperfect way of judging the knowledge of a child, capability of a teacher or value added by a school…What does the evidence look like over time and from multiple sources?

 

  • Authentic leadership is rooted in a complex merging of awareness and knowledge of self, values and beliefs.
  • The ability to deal with complexity, see the bigger picture and manage the tensions between different competing demands is important for leaders…making connections between disparate parts and weaving them into a coherent picture.
  • It is a challenge to manage the tensions and expectations of early headship: how do you prove you are a capable leader whilst not falling into the trap of doing everything yourself.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.

 

  • Invest time in coaching. Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • People are more likely to follow when we do with rather than do to.
  • Highly emotionally intelligent, literate and resilient…taking their team with them through challenging times.
  • Explaining and emphasising the vision and goals.
  • Reservoir of hope and optimism, maintaining high morale, positive relationships and a sense of togetherness.
  • Engine room of school improvement. Their induction, ongoing education and authentic opportunities to lead will play a large part in whether a school is successful.
  • Appointing staff is one of the most critical roles you have as a headteacher.
  • Authority – Capacity – Accountability – Responsible – Consult – Inform.

 

  • A job is something you do for money. But a career is something you do because you’re inspired to do it. Chase your passion not your pension.
  • Too much time on the edge leads to exhaustion.
  • Rebalance education, with a greater emphasis on drawing out the person…the whole person is the whole point.
  • Communities function on reciprocity and forgiveness. Schools only work because staff, often and generously, go the extra mile…Relationships are built on the numerous small emotional deposits made over many years.

 

Middle leaders

  • It’s getting everyone working in the same direction which makes the biggest difference.
  • Act as a pivotal point, ensuring vision and goals are implemented day by day.
  • Powerhouse of innovation and organisation and act as standard bearers…think creatively, open to radical ideas and enjoy solving problems.
  • Right attitudes plus high aptitude are multipliers; their impact is the product rather than the sum of their parts.
  • Time spent on high quality professional development is never wasted.
  • One of the biggest challenges for leaders is how to connect people to the bigger picture so they can make sense of the job they do, how it relates to others’ work and the vision of the school.
  • ·Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.
  • To develop a culture you need the early adopters and champions, but cultures only embed when there is mass participation.

 

Teachers

  • Education is an act of love; it is an act of giving to each and every child.
  • Never lose your passion for what happens in the classroom; learning, pedagogy, assessment and curriculum will continue to fascinate you.
  • Coaching is about building trust; it’s a longer term commitment to helping a person be the best self they can be.
  • Great professional development improves teaching in order to impact positively on pupil outcomes.
  • We need to know what each teacher is good at and what they need and wish to improve.
  • We can all fall into the danger of deciding “this is good teaching because I am a good teacher and this is what I do”

 

  • See lessons as part of a phase of learning: sequencing and structuring the learning.
  • Clarity of focus on Learning Objective.
  • More focus on ensuring gains in learning and less focus on activities and completing tasks.
  • Adapting lessons based on prior assessment.
  • Collaborative planning and discussing teaching assessment and learning.
  • Don’t plan lessons, plan learning.
  • Find out what the pupils know and don’t know and teach accordingly.
  • Life after levels is primarily a curriculum issue not a data one.
  • Less assessment for leaders, more assessment for learners.

 

  • Professional capital assumes good teaching: – requires high levels of education and long training – involves wise judgment informed by evidence and experience – maximises, mediates and moderates online learning
  • Social capital is about connecting people. Great people working together and increasing their skills and knowledge is fantastic but it is how we put all this capital together for the benefit of the pupils that puts the final piece in the jigsaw.

 

  • “Classroom teaching is perhaps the most complex, most challenging and most demanding, subtle and nuanced activity our species has ever invented” (Shulman).

 

 

Governement

  • As politicians become more and more frustrated by the lack of impact of their efforts, external accountability is ramped up.
  • There is a place for accountability but it needs to be far less pernicious and much more focused on supporting schools struggling to help pupils progress.
  • The data leviathan has to be tamed.
  • Over the past two decades, externally driven accountability has been one of the biggest drivers of leaders’ and teachers’ behaviours…often brings the fright, fight or flight response to the fore.
  • A few one hour tests in Year 6 cannot hope to tell you everything about a child’s education during seven years of primary education. Cue the narrowing of the curriculum. In terms of accountability, primary school assessment is now in such a mess that it could be almost a decade before a coherent system could be established.

 

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