Educational leadership & learning

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Defining & developing ‘Inspirational’

As a school we have been determined and confident in developing our practice over the past few years, building on a secure judgement of Good from Ofsted in 2015.

Part of this development has been exploring, researching and debating what ‘better than Good’ means for us, our pupils and our school. We have read and taken into account the Ofsted criteria, but have not wanted to be bound to their framework.

As staff and pupils we defined our aim to grow as an ‘Inspirational Learning Community’ as:

  • Together, igniting a love of learning
  • Encouraging and empowering partnerships
  • Nurturing a Growth Mindset

This year as staff we have defined what we think ‘Inspirational Teaching and Learning’ is:

  • Irresistible, challenging and promotes choice
  • Empowers all to be the best they can be
  • Collaborative, encourages curiosity and self-discovery, and transforms lives

We have now moved a step further and have drafted definitions for what we as a school think defines Inspirational:

  • Leadership
  • Curriculum & Assessment
  • Behaviours
  • Outcomes

Inspirational Cornerstone

Over the coming terms, as we continue to develop as a school and grow professionally, our plan is to agree, review and refine these definitions, whilst also evaluating our practice for evidence.


Three heads are better than one

Part One.

I was fortunate and privileged to be able to spend a day in professional dialogue and reflection with two passionate, dedicated and inspiring headteachers: Jon Le Fevre (@advens_learning) and Matt Hickey (@headhighwood).

We have all taken on headships at our current schools in the last 3-4 years (although it is Jon’s second headship) and each of our schools is a growing school. What I think really unites us though is the desire and determination to make learning and the curriculum meaningful, real and engaging for our learners, and to support staff to grow professionally in a trusting and empowering school culture.

We are visiting each other’s schools over the course of this academic year, to analyse how these visions are developing in practice. For me our first day was a mixture of ‘magpie-ing’ resources / ideas, raising questions / thoughts for me to discuss with colleagues at my school, and evaluating the evidence in practice seen on a range of classroom drop ins.

We shared different formats for Strategic Development Plans and Self Evaluations.

  • Matt’s made me consider whether we should add Ofsted criteria for Outstanding and Good (RAG rated) to the top of each section. Should our SDP focus more directly than currently on gaps in the Outstanding criteria?
  • Jon’s SDP was on the same format as his whole school vision map (based on Simon Sineck’s Golden Circle). It made it clear how each element of school improvement was strongly personalised to the school context.
  • It also made me question our SEF. Previously we had a one page summary and then a separate evidence document. Currently we now have a combined document which provides our grades, rationale for these, evidence and next steps. However I was reminded of the power and usefulness of having all the key info on a one page document. This is definitely something I want to re-consider
  • We discussed setting data targets for staff, including as part of their PM. It reminded me of a conversation I had last year about setting a range (from minimum expected to more aspirational).


We discussed the structure and focus of SLT and Subject Leader monitoring activities, and how this provides accurate information but also helps drive school improvement.

  • I want to consider whether as we grow as a school (both in size and number of years since we opened) we would benefit from a more centrally agreed and tight focus for monitoring.
  • Do we have the right balance of leadership and management tasks / time in our SLT, or do we need to ring-fence more regular strategic work?

Matt is very passionate about developing and embedding ‘Learning Behaviours’ with his staff. Jon is currently developing a ‘Learning Adventures’ pedagogy with his team, but plans to develop a similar approach re. learning behaviours as he did at his previous school.

  • At our school we agreed with our Pupil Voice Groups 5 ‘Learning Powers’ last year (to our power up our learning journey). These are: Communication, Teamwork, Resilience, Independence and Positivity. We have launched new posters and ‘Learning Powers’ vehicles with our learners this term.
  • Questions I want to consider include, how we might develop ideas / expectations about how these might be evident during an English or Maths unit of learning? Or how they might be evident during a Learning Quest?
  • Should we consider creating with our learners social stories for each of the Learning Powers?

We all valued a long term approach and investment in culture and staff development at our schools. This is something that at our school I think we generally do well, and has been commented on positively by many visitors and the staff themselves.

  • How effective though is our coaching model and practice?
  • How often should we be encouraging teachers to self-evaluate in a more formal way? They currently do against elements of our Teaching for Learning policy and the ‘Teacher Standards’, but what impact does this have? Could it have more?
  • Could we use technology to make more use of photographing and filming learners during drop-ins and learning walks, and this being part of the following professional dialogue?

We discussed the importance of the balance between the core subjects and wider broader curriculum experience. That standards in one are not mutually exclusive, and that a broad balanced and empowering learning experience was what we are all striving for, for our learners.

If we ensure learning is always the focus, the results should take care of themselves.

We discussed the overview of English & Maths in each year group.

  • This made me want to come back and review again with staff the range of documents / systems they are using
  • How do these fit with our Learning Quests and Curriculum Maps, which staff develop in additional release time with our Curriculum Leader?

Jon explained in more detail the ‘Learning Adventures’ approach to their curriculum. These included the elements: destination, flexible map, great guides, learning skills, up for it attitude. He was keen to find out if we could identify these elements when we dropped into classes and how the learners would articulate their learning.

There was agreement between us that learning and lessons should always aim to have a real purpose, but without ‘crowbars’ being employed to force all learning into the same contexts. Learning should be exciting and fun but with rigour and clear Learning Aims underneath.

I reflected on our school’s Values of Love, Forgiveness and Hope and our Vision to ‘Grow an Inspirational Learning Community’ amongst staff and pupils.

  • I want to return again to look at how these fit in with our Cornerstone Rules, Learning Powers and Learning Quests?
  • Do I regularly enough and authentically enough live out our Values and Vision?
  • Do I regularly enough engage in conversations with staff and learners about Values, Vision and learning?
  • Do these conversations have as much positive impact as they could / should?
  • Am I being effective enough as a ‘Great Guide’ (in Jon’s ‘Learning Adventures’ vocab)? Are other staff with their learners? Do we spend sufficient time observing and listening before considering the most appropriate actions?

What I really valued was the time to reflect and the expertise / collegiate approach Jon and Matt selflessly provided. It certainly proved that ‘Three Heads are better than One!’

I look forward to developing some of my thinking in practice before ‘Part 2’ of the trilogy, when I will be hosting in the Spring term.

Subject Leadership

I’m leading a Staff Development Meeting next week on the role of Subject Leadership. My plan is to make this mainly a collaborative and professional conversation around some key questions.



What is the impact we want to have as subject leaders?

What is the positive difference we want to make?



What are the specific actions we should undertake?

What processes do we need to put in place?

How can we collate these ideas into a Role Profile so we have a shared understanding?

How can we make sure that every subject contributes to a broad and balanced curriculum?



What will be the outcome?

What will we all have achieved together?


Subject Leadership

Subject Leader role profile


I have included some quotes from Andy Buck’s (@Andy_Buck) excellent book: Leadership Matters to encourage us to think together about the type of leaders we want to be, and what being a leader means.


If you have any thoughts or suggestions I would be very happy to hear them.








Better than Good?

In July 2017 we reached the end of our 4th year as a school (@cornerstonecofe).

Myself and our Senior Leader (Clare) feel fairly confident that most aspects of our work are at a ‘Good’ standard of a regular basis and pupil outcomes have improved over the past two years.

We spent some time discussing how we wanted to continue our development: by aiming for the Outstanding criteria from Ofsted, or by trying to create our own definitions and practice of being better than Good. We choose the latter.

With staff last term we began to unpick what we might think defines Inspirational teaching and learning. What it might look like? how it might feel? What we might see and hear from the pupils? The impact it might have on them? We also discussed teachers we remember both as children and from a career that we thought were inspiring and what made them so.

For me, a lot of the ideas can come down to:

  • How we do what we do
  • The impact on the learners

This week Clare asked us to consider the following two questions in pairs:

  1. My teacher is inspirational when / because…
  2. Inspirational teaching and learning at Cornerstone is…

Our aim is to define Inspirational teaching and learning and then consider, share and develop examples of this in our practice across the school. Below are some of our thoughts this week. The plan is to try to pick the 3-5 that most resonate with us from each list. Which 3-5 would you choose?


My teacher is inspirational when / because…

  1. Enthusiastic, animated, energetic and curious
  2. Nurture high aspirations
  3. We are reflective and responsive
  4. Recognise effort and improvement
  5. We use the language of learning not doing
  6. Giving real choice
  7. Growth Mindset
  8. Encourage and share genuine moments of awe
  9. Environment of positive assurance
  10. Share something we have learnt and be open when we don’t know
  11. Courageously try, even when it’s difficult
  12. Feed forward
  13. Show genuine interest
  14. Give children many chances to speak
  15. We are happy and smiling
  16. We model learning (WAGOLLS) and make mistakes
  17. Invest time in them, will go ‘off piste’ to value their contributions
  18. Build resilience
  19. We reflect their interests in the learning
  20. Have high expectations
  21. Using positive and reinforcing language
  22. No sense of failure
  23. Use visual cues to explain
  24. Use IT to make it real and exciting

Inspirational teaching and learning at Cornerstone is…

  1. Challenging
  2. Children find out/ discover for themselves
  3. Empowering
  4. Irresistible
  5. Following children’s interests
  6. Builds self-esteem
  7. Self-motivating
  8. Seen when children are in the flow
  9. Practical
  10. Courageous and risk taking
  11. Stimulating
  12. Well-chosen concrete resources
  13. Unrestricted
  14. Ambitious
  15. Fun
  16. Promoting emotional intelligence
  17. Varied
  18. Accessible
  19. New experiences
  20. Achievement
  21. Engaging for all
  22. Building confidence
  23. Comprehensive subject knowledge
  24. Collaborative
  25. Valuing

We would be very interested in hearing other teachers thoughts and opinions.

Many thanks.

Key Values

Below are the Values that define me as a person in my role as a headteacher:


I shared more about how these have been developed over time and with colleagues in our school at Pedagoo Hamphire 16. The presentation can be viewed at:

Pedagoo Hampshire 16



Thoughts on “Liminal Leadership”

“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 ( 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.



  • 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.



  • 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).




  • 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.


Finding the lessons

I spent an interesting and reflective half-morning ‘Finding the lessons’ with the Real David Cameron (@realdcameron) and Tim Brighouse in the company of our expert and experienced Senior Leader Clare Ross, thank to the generosity of Hays Education. Their aim was to share some thoughts, ask some questions and engage a room of school leaders in conversation and thinking about their leadership and it’s impact. This required some well needed slowing of pace and quality time for clarity of thinking.

Inside the head of a school leader…


The key ideas that Clare and I took from the session that are pertinent within our context were:

  • Progress, development focui, workload…have to be manageable and sustainable, otherwise they will not become embedded, effective or have long term sustained impact (this reminded me a little of a previous blog of mine: Succinct Understand Apply Embed wp_20161201_20_09_15_pro
  • The evaluation of all that we do should be on the impact it has on the learners (both the children and adults in our schools). The key question is “so what?” (the question I keep on a post-it on my computer screen)
  • The importance of adapting new ideas into current practice (assimilating) rather than adopting them wholescale with no cohesion between current practice and new ‘potential silver bullet’
  • How as leaders we should ask more questions than provide answers. We want our staff to continue to grow as empowered, independent thinking,  reflective professionals. For us at Cornerstone I think this is encapsulated in our definition of ‘Growing an Inspirational Learning Community’ilc
  • That as leaders we need to identify and analyse those actions that require low effort but result in high impact
  • Finally that we need to consider in the busyness of the role of senior leader, and indeed school staff generally, what are the key plates to keep spinning and which can be allowed to slow or dropped


Other points that David and Tim made that resonated were that genuine change can only come from within (whether personally or as an organisation). That as Leaders we create the climate within schools through every word, action and interaction.

That in the education system we are working in a period of constant change, with time often being taken up dealing with structural change. There has been a decentralisation of blame and an overemphasis on leadership.

“We’re caught in a trap…when you don’t believe a word I say…we can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”

Suspicious minds

What we really need in schools is energetic and enthusiastic staff, who are well supported and nurtured, and are passionate about and committed to learning and improvement.




Challenge accepted David and Tim!

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