A week ago I travelled down to London to #SLTeachmeet. Expertly hosted by Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit) and Stephen Lockyer (@mrlockyer) the event was exactly the “rocket-fuelled CPD” I’d been promised. Tweeting through the event forced me to crystallise my thinking about the presentations, and I took advantage of the train journey home to put the highlights into Evernote. As part of each CPD event I go on I have to feed back what I have learned to relevant staff. This is the first time I have done this in a blog, and I have only included a small selection, but here goes…
Leadership is letting go
Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) and James Heale (@Heale2011) both expressed this key idea. In his “Plantation vs Rainforest Thinking” opener, Tom Sherrington outlined the benefits from thinking about schools as the latter, rather than the former. The temptation to make everything uniform, have a standard set planning format, a standard set teaching and learning strategy, and a standard set technology package, is clearly overwhelming for school leaders. Instead, Tom argued, school leaders should set the standard and expectations and have the confidence in their middle leaders and teachers to find their own way, holding them to account for the outcomes but allowing the autonomy to plan their own methods. This method of fostering innovative practice and “taking the lid off learning” was really engaging and was underlined by James Heale in his reflections on his first year (so far) in Headship when he said “tighten up to become good; loosen up to become outstanding.” That’s so good, it should be on a poster.
It’s your job to catch people doing the right thing
In his presentation on Situational Leadership Sapuran Gill (@ssgill76) made this really important point. In the current climate more than ever, where school leaders are urged to challenge under-performance, raise aspirations, and be the friends of promise, it is our responsibility to catch those we lead doing the right thing, recognise it, and celebrate it. It struck me that this is true as much in the classroom as the staffroom. I’m getting badges made.
Don’t think about what they can’t do – think about what they can do
Judith Enright (@judeenright) was passionate and moving in her presentation about SEN. She reminded me of the importance of inclusion not as an after thought, but as something at the very core of what education and leadership is about. Her acronym “LeNS IF” (Leadership, Needs, Staffing, Impact, Finance) is a tool I am already applying not just to SEN but to all school development priorities. Jude also provided a helpful and timely reminder about the changing national and local context for SEN which, in the midst of all the other seismic educational changes, must not get lost.
Digital Learning – it’s the future! (and the present…)
I was really looking forward to meeting Sarah Findlater (@MsFindlater) as a fan of her blog and on-the-money #SLTchat contributions over the weeks. She didn’t disappoint, with an engaging presentation on the power of digital learning. Sarah outlined her own journey from digital novice to edublogging royalty (she was quite modest about it!) and ran out of time to talk about the many tools and sites she is experimenting with, but helpfully tweeted them out afterwards:
— Sarah Findlater (@MsFindlater) May 14, 2013
I have a similar list at the back of my school’s “Teacher’s Toolkit” and it’s great to be reminded of the resources that are out there to transform learning, and the need to continue to explore, experiment with and evaluate new digital resources. I still hanker after trying Edutronic‘s bold “replace exercise books with blogs” strategy, which is working to an extent with A-Level Media Studies. One day!
Education for social responsibility
Given my anti-independent school tirades in the past (see The Past Feeds the Present and The Universal Panacea) I was very pleasantly surprised to hear Neil Jones (@neiljones) speaking about Education for Social Responsibility. Anyone speaking on behalf of the Independent Association of Prep Schools was going to have a hard time winning me over, but win me over he did with a compelling vision for the overarching purpose of education. This, coupled with John Tomsett’s thought-provoking blog on bridging the independent and state sector divide and the role some independent schools are playing as academy sponsors is continuing to provide me with much food for thought on a subject which is very close to my heart.
Engaging with parents – a letter of hope
The biggest “lump in the throat” moment came from James Heale (again!) as he explained a strategy he’d introduced in his first year as a Headteacher to help raise aspirations and focus his Year 11 on the task ahead. He asked all parents to write a hand written letter to their son or daughter explaining their hopes and aspirations for them over the coming year. So simple. So incredibly powerful I got choked up just thinking about the potential emotional and motivational content of the experience. I went straight back to school and told my Head about it! Of course I also thought about the drawbacks – what about those students whose parents don’t write them a letter? Is there a danger of aggravating strained relationships and causing damage by intruding into the family unit? I think the good it could do is immense and I’ll certainly be exploring it further.
It’s the best job in the world
One thing became absolutely clear through the evening. I heard from James Heale in his first year in Headship and Kenny Frederick (@kennygfrederick) about to retire after seventeen eventful years in post. I heard from deputies, assistants and serving Headteachers. I spoke to primary and secondary colleagues from the West Midlands, East Anglia and across the South of the country. There was an unwavering certainty in every person I spoke to that we can make a difference. At a time when there are more reasons that ever to be downhearted, glum or pessimistic about education in Britain, this was a room full of school leaders who weren’t moaning or complaining, but looking forwards and upwards with positivity and enthusiasm about what could be achieved, not what the barriers were. As the event programme stated, the attendees at #SLTeachmeet work with over 40,000 students and over 2,800 teachers. I walked back to the station through the rainy London streets feeling reassured, hopeful and optimistic for the profession that I love.