Educational leadership & learning

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



“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!

#New2Me TeachMeet

What a fabulous evening of learning, networking, food and laughter!

When you can get people with the passion, expertise and willingness to share, like: @penfoldno1 @francescaprett2 @baggiepr @sarahmu14 @tamgoddard @taniaf77 @grahamandre @braunteaches @IRIS_Connect, all in the same room, volunteering their time to inspire other colleagues, you know you have a special event.

#New2Me Primary TeachMeet, is the first we have run @cornerstonecofe in Hampshire, but hopefully it won’t be the last. Plans are already being draw up for #New2Me2 in 2017!


Key ideas shared by the presenters included.

Henry Penfold

The power of Skype in removing barriers in the classroom, through virtual fieldtrips and conversations with guest speakers. It is relatively easy to set up and arrange links, all you need is: a Skype ID, a webcam, a microphone and a Microsoft account. Microsoft have also created a whole series of Skype lesson to help teachers and pupils uncover the power of connecting face to face online.


Fran Pretty

Fran has done some fantastic work at Cornerstone developing her and our school’s use of Learning Walls. She explained that thery are not about looking like neat displays, and they are quick and easy to put up and add to. Often it is examples of the pupils’ ideas and work that is added as a useful reference for them in their learning. Also due to this it makes the learning journey sequence visual for the pupils and the staff. Fran shared some photos of Learning Walls from her classroom.


Phil Bagge

Phil explained (remotely via YouTube) a range of his favourite coding activities using Scratch Junior. These included “Programming a Dance”, “Build your won clock” and “Can you get the Cat to count?”

All of these activities and many more can be found at Phil’s excellent website:

The link to his YouTube video is:


Sarah Ahmed

Sarah and her school (Crescent Primary in Eastleigh) have done a lot of development work on embedding a mastery approach to their teaching and learning. A key mantra is “Don’t assume: assess”. She explained how they have used SOLO Taxonomy (Structure of Observable Learning Outcomes) to develop a common understanding and language of learning amongst staff and pupils. She also discussed how this supported pre-assessments and the pupils’ self-assessments.


Tamara Goddard

Tamara shared how she is structuring learning over a maths Unit with her Y5 pupils. She discussed how she is developing their fluency, reasoning and problem solving in a range of practical ways, with examples from the pupils books. This included a variety of activities and a range of different questions types to develop their thinking and understanding.


Graham Andre

Graham spoke about the power of Genius Hour which offers pupils a regular time each week to tackle projects that reflect their personal interests and passions. It develops key skills:

  • Creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking

Graham shared examples of projects ranging from costume design to blogging to Minecraft, which promoted deep thinking, engaged pupils and the internal motivation and drive for more learning.


Tania Harding

In Science we would like pupils to work as scientists as much as possible. A model of planning to investigate a question was shared which draws out variables allowing pupils to truly understand fair testing and at the same time produce a results table. This was all done via a flipchart model with audience participation. Contact @taniaf77 to find out more.


Laura Braun

Laura discussed ideas linked to a strategy of “Maths Flash”. This included sharing a range of activities and questions she has used with her class to good effect. Enthusiasm, pace, practice & getting the children enjoying talking about maths were all key elements.


Tim Clarke

Yes me. I felt I couldn’t ask others to present without doing so myself.

I shared the work we have done on developing Learning Journey Prompts. The aim of these questions is to encourage pupils to think and about their thinking and reflect on their learning (metacognition). There are a series of questions from which teachers or pupils can choose 1 or 2 to ask at:

  • the start of a lesson / series of lessons (Packing for the Learning Journey)
  • at points during the lesson / series of lessons (Going on a Learning Journey)
  • at the end of a lesson / series of lessons (Unpacking from a Learning Journey)

Copies of the questions can be downloaded for use / adaption here: learning-journey-prompts-prism


You can see the Collected Presentations from the speakers at the TeachMeet below.



Dare to be different

Inspire, Ignite, Imagine.

Will Ryan ( led an entertaining and enlightening session on creative teaching and learning and how leaders can inspire by daring being to be different.

“Failure is never so frightening as regret”

“Never doubt the capacity of a small group of people to change the world.”

Given a choice between changing and proving that the change is not necessary, most people get busy with the proof.

This needs a leader: someone to inspire.


Ofsted Inspector: why might “Different Dufus school” (Dr Seuss) be outstanding?

  • creativity and enthusiasm of teachers makes learning memorable and standards are high
  • balance of pedagogy: discovery and direct instruction
  • headteacher had a vision and was brave and allowed innovative practice and trusted teachers to give them freedom
  • generating new innovative ideas provides an interesting and inspiring curriculum
  • strong relationships so the pupils feel proud of their school and have a sense of belonging
  • positive attitude and expectations
  • Celebrates individuality
  • It stands out, it has something special

How does a leader walk?

  • determined and purposeful
  • with a wobble but never quite falling over
  • in circles
  • the extra mile for others
  • with a creative unique bounce in their step
  • forwards, not always quickly, but always forwards
  • being only you
  • at the front, at the middle, at the back (at different times)

The more they dare to be different the more moments of self-doubt a leader will have.

The 3 generational lesson: children can’t wait to tell their parents when they get home, as parents later in life they will recall the lesson with their own children.

  • Generating visual images
  • Generating language that brings the lesson to life

Think of the best thing that has happened in your classroom that week before you walk out at the end of the week. Record it in a lovely book, a diary of why I am a special teacher.

School leadership

Too many schools have been managed not led.

External frameworks have been forced upon schools. (Outside – in model).

Never set off on a journey without an idea of where you aim to be going.

Leaders need to take time to pause the clock and think.

Leaders cannot do it on their own: they need to deploy others.

Good leaders are almost always great simplifiers. Make every word count.

Constantly communicate what you believe. Inspiring people with your vision. (Invisible leadership).

Communicating the Dream: The Art of Invisible Leadership

Empathetic, Perceptive, Inclusive, Inspirational, Purposeful, Integrity, Forgiveness, Moral purpose.



This book about Primary Headship by Bill Laar (2014) made a fascinating read for me at the start of my third year of headship, and still being early on in my professional learning and development journey. I found it particularly interesting to read the number of case studies of successful heads, who had thrived in their complex roles: journeys that were inspiring, strategic, driven and innovative. Whilst there were differences in context, size of school, leadership style and approaches to the schools’ development, there were also a clear number of common threads. I have summarised some of the main points / messages from the book in the sections below.


“Recent educational reforms have called for a radically different type of leadership: visionary and innovative, intellectually rigorous and enquiring, analytical and evaluative, competent in the management of the complex business of institutions, creative in the professional development of personnel, outward-looking and active in the making of professional networks”


Characteristics of exceptional Primary Leaders

  • Forward-looking and an inspirational vision of schools with the potential to instil in the children a positive concept of themselves and a belief in their ability to flourish in the world
  • Effective management of teaching and learning which enriches and transforms learners
  • Creative professional development of staff which improves teaching and learning
  • Innovative curricular design and provision
  • Strong partnerships with parents and the wider community
  • Courage, self-belief, determination and tenacity
  • Sharply aware of the growing complexity and demanding diversity of the role
  • Highly intelligent, sharply analytical, with the capacity to evaluate and understand the significance of information and data
  • Effectively distribute school leadership
  • Motivate staff, maintain moral, exploit capacity and provide high quality working conditions
  • Independent thinkers, wary of official dictat, open-minded, flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances
  • Self-aware, self-critical, rigorous, thoughtful, reflective and introspective
  • Ready to investigate and study innovation and development elsewhere
  • Remaining dedicated teachers at heart, emphasising the centrality of teaching and learning
  • Driven people with a consuming belief in the value and importance of their role and school
  • Humanity, optimism, compassion and belief in others


Headship and Leadership

  • Committed to developing children into assured, accomplished and positive social beings, constantly learning and achieving
  • Create, articulate and engage others in a guiding vision which ahs been profoundly considered, wisely informed and gives an inspirational view of the purpose and mission of the school
  • Be inventive, at the cutting edge of things, leading a team to search for, evaluate and try out the new
  • Binding staff together in a shared purpose, and regard their calling and work as a form of sacred trust
  • Transformational leaders: moving a school forward to be the best it can be, fully serving the interests of the pupils, through the shared endeavours of individuals
  • Welcoming and encouraging professional debate, constructive criticism and evaluation: creates a climate of reflection, celebration of achievements and treats setbacks as momentum for fresh endeavours
  • Calls for a firm sense of purpose, dedication, self-awareness, and a readiness to seek out advice and to learn from others’ practice
  • Importance of positive leadership. Working alongside people, identifying their skills and capabilities and building on them.
  • High expectations and refusal to accept anything less than the best
  • Putting together a strong team, committed to the success of the school, rich in potential, eager to learn and advance their professional development
  • The role and genius of the effective head lies in their ability to draw together staff in the creative enterprise of providing effective education
  • “The leader and staff of a new school must create their own history, culture, climate and vibe, and this is extremely hard and challenging work. There is no place for the faint-hearted”
  • “You are not paid to run a commentary on the disasters and tribulations visited on your school. You are paid to change it”
  • “Leadership is about identifying what it is you need to get done, identifying the best people to get it done, putting in the resources that will help them get all the systems in place to enable them to achieve the targets, empowering them to get on and do it, but coming back to make sure they are still on focus.”
  • “Leaders must have the conviction and determination to do what has to be done, based on hard, strenuous, mature reflection and judgement, for the good of the school and the betterment of the children.”
  • “We must be constantly about self-improvement. That must be the purpose that drives us – that inspires us”
  • “There are times, when in the face of hostile opposition, your convictions can waver…but that cannot be the way of Headship. You must remain true to your vision and beliefs, even if that may be personally bruising at times”
  • “Mastering leadership only comes over time, from reflection and response to practical experience, from a readiness to learn from mistakes and setbacks, from a commitment to collaborative professional endeavour, and from a learning disposition in a school that is a thinking organisation”
  • “I am a great and unremitting enthusiast for the school”
  • “A major part of headship is facilitating expertise and creating the circumstances, conditions and support so that highly skilled professional teachers can exercise their craft to the very best of their ability”
  • “The truly hard part is recognising destructive dissent, negative behaviour, unprofessional conduct and then dealing with it. This aspect can make headship an isolated and lonely occupation”
  • “One of the most critical challenges to leadership is persuading staff to embrace your vision, especially where there is a need for substantial change or where staff are resolutely resistant or ill-equipped to manage new directions”


Teaching and Learning

  • Having gifted teachers in an enriched school context, providing memorable learning experiences, is more likely to produce enduring and worthwhile consequences than having excessive testing, unremitting evaluation, and a narrowly focused curriculum
  • Schools are committed to ensuring that every pupil reaches and maintains the highest academic attainment possible
  • Help children to become reflective, self-aware, resourceful people, at peace with themselves; able to communicate with, relate to and get on with others
  • Imbuing children with a passion for learning and life
  • High quality teaching without exception
  • High expectations that provide worthwhile, appropriate and differentiated challenge for learners
  • An emphasis on meta-learning, which enables pupils to make sense of their experience of learning and to take increasing control over its planning, monitoring and regulation
  • A climate and systems conducive to learning
  • Want teachers who are flexible, adaptable, creative in their thinking, passionate and enthusiastic in all that they do
  • “Teaching has become more complex and challenging and only practitioners of the highest quality will serve”
  • “Charismatic, hard-working, organised and intelligent people can inspire children to enjoy learning and achievement”
  • “Meta-cognition – the capacity to examine one’s own learning, to identify what makes it effective, to master the strategies that underpin it – is absolutely essential to the effective learner


Continuing Professional Development

  • They see the school as a place of learning for all, with teachers permanently involved in the learning process themselves
  • The importance of ensuring all staff have a profound understanding of primary education
  • Learning and instruction-centred leadership can provide powerful structures to support, develop and enhance professional capacity
  • Teachers need to be perennial learners, continually trying things out and reflecting on what they are doing and its outcomes for the children’s learning
  • Empowering staff to feel capable of taking on new challenges and to benefit professionally from every experience so that they are constantly learning, growing and developing
  • Coaching in classrooms encourages a sense of partnership and mutual evaluation
  • Actively nurture the leadership capacity of staff
  • People only learn leadership by actually leading, by seeing duties, tasks and enterprises through to successful conclusions
  • Performance Management is rigorous, robust and linked to learning
  • A culture of shared learning and team commitment
  • A highly informed understanding of what makes for effective learning, derived from constant observation, analysis and classroom based research
  • Heads should spend a major part of their time in classrooms, mentoring and supporting the teaching and learning
  • The development, support and advancement of staff needs to be a priority in a ‘training’ school
  • “The development and training of teachers is inescapably one of the most important functions of headship”


Assessment, Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Assessment is at the heart of good teaching and successful learning
  • If teachers are to provide effectively for continuing progress and achievement they have to be minutely informed about the stages of pupils’ learning. Data from systematic tracking and assessment is essential, as it provides critical feedback and commentary, for both teachers and pupils
  • Formative assessment is central to the teaching and the children’s learning
  • An understanding of how to establish, maintain and learn from reliable and rigorous systems of evaluation
  • A precise knowledge of how each child is doing and what each child needs. A high value is placed on intelligence about the child’s performance, aptitudes, strengths and learning needs
  • Committed to the effective management of rigorous assessment and evaluation
  • The capacity to access, analyse and interpret relevant and important data and use it for the benefit of the school as a learning institution
  • Evaluation systems focus on the quality and effectiveness of teaching and its impact on the work and outcomes of learners
  • “It’s about peer assessment, self-assessment, defining clear success criteria, understanding the purpose of what you are teaching, teaching the children to be assessors and evaluators of their work, attainment and progress.”


Curriculum and Environment

  • The quality of the curriculum is one of the major determinants of a school’s worth
  • Offer the children a rich, highly relevant and up-to-date curriculum, a stimulating and enticing environment, and diverse opportunities for learning
  • The school environment should be an irresistible stimulus to curiosity, exploration, experimentation and constant learning
  • “A significant part of learning is dependent upon experience…a broad, enriching and inspiring curriculum is more likely to help pupils attain and achieve, particularly in those core areas”
  • We have a curriculum designed to stimulate the children’s imagination and curiosity by engaging them in programmes of practical, relevant and challenging activities…we pay equal attention to getting the basic curriculum right and ensuring its relevance and value to the need of learners of all abilities”


Partnerships with parents and the community

  • Relations with parents are crucial to the successful education of their children
  • “School must have a social conscience, and be organisations that are able and ready to contribute to the wider community”



  • Policy is formulated and implemented, so that accountability is expressed in a formal and methodical way
  • Being wholly transparent and open to governors’ evaluation


“Primary Heads. Exceptional Leadership in the Primary School” by Bill Laar is published by Crown House Publishing Limited (2014)

Maths Learn Its

In seeking a balance between quick recall and more in depth understanding we are developing a range of Maths ‘Learn Its’ posters. The aim is that each week within class one is focused on during a 5-10 minute slot or two during registration. It is also that they are shared with parents each term or half-term as ongoing practical maths Home Learning (that don’t require work coming in to teachers to be marked, but give parents guidance on how they might encourage their children to think and talk about maths in the world around them).

We are completing the ‘Learn Its’ for each term for Y1-Y4 as we go through this academic year, and are very happy for other schools to use, adapt, improve or ignore them. If any colleagues have any suggestions, improvements, or similar sheets / posters we would very much appreciate having a look at them.



YR Summer Learn Its





Y1 Spring 2 Learn Its

Y1 Summer 1 Learn Its





Y2 Summer Learn Its




Y3 Summer Learn Its




Y4 Summer Learn Its





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