Teaching: Leading Learning at #TLT16

I have always been interested in leadership, probably even before I started teaching. I’ve always been an organiser, and I’ve enjoyed getting people involved in a project and seeing it through to realisation. As a teacher, I was quick to take on extra: I took on my first responsibility after two years; I was second in English after three; I was Head of English after five. I truth, that last jump was probably two years too soon, but I learned an awful lot from my mistakes in those two years!

I started this blog in December 2012 to share my experiences of senior leadership as a Deputy Head. I called it Teaching: Leading Learning without hesitation. The name of the blog stems from the long held belief that teaching is itself a leadership role, and that if you teach well you already have the skillset of an effective leader. In my session at #TLT16 I set out to explore how my experience as a teacher has prepared me for Headship, and the lessons my experience as a new Headteacher has for teachers.

Leadership behaviours in teaching


Going through the now defunct Leading From the Middle, several home-grown leadership development courses and, more recently, NPQH, I’ve read a lot about different leadership styles and behaviours. It’s interesting to look beyond education and think about business models of leadership, and whether they have relevance to us in the public sector. Hence my plundering of Zenger Folkman’s generous free-to-access resource library, where I found the “Top 9 Leadership Behaviours That Drive Employee Commitment.” They are:

  1. Inspire and motivate others
  2. Drive for results
  3. Strategic perspective
  4. Collaboration
  5. Walk the talk
  6. Trust
  7. Develops and supports others
  8. Building relationships
  9. Courage

These are qualities that have relevance to educational leadership but also, clearly, to classroom teaching.

Inspire and motivate others

This is clearly the role of the leader: to bring people with you on the journey. And it is the role of the classroom teacher too. To spark the interest of your learners, to get the best out of them, and to do your best to make sure that they want to do their best too.

Drive for results

We’re in an outcomes business, and there’s no point pretending otherwise. Results bring choice, raise aspiration and open doors. It’s the role of the school leader to evaluate every initiative, intervention and idea in terms of its impact on results, stopping the things that don’t help and doing the things that do. It’s the same for the classroom teacher. We must ask ourselves: what can I do that will make the biggest difference to the students’ outcomes?

Strategic perspective


Why do you do what you do? (source)

The leader’s role is to hold and share the vision, based on core values, and align everything in the organisation towards achieving that vision. The teacher’s role is the same: to know how this activity fits into this lesson, which fits into this week, which fits into this scheme of learning, which fits into the long term plan, which contributes to this young person’s experience of this subject across their schooling, which shapes the adult they will become. Where does what you are doing today fit into the bigger picture? Think about how this ten-minute activity contributes to the cathedral that you are building.



Leadership lessons from geese (source)

A leader doesn’t fly solo. The leader is part of a team. We achieve what we achieve together. And we recognise that we can’t know and do it all, so we call in help, advice and support when we need it. The teacher is no different. The class must work together – the culture must be right. And, when it’s needed, it is a sign of strength in the teacher to seek help, advice and support.

Walk the talk

We all know of inauthentic leaders who don’t walk the talk. Words are hollow and empty when leaders are dishonest or do not act with integrity. Classrooms work the same way. When you say you’ll read their work, you have to read it. The students’ faith in you comes from you modelling the behaviours that you expect.


This comes from walking the talk. Trust is built over time by leaders who look, listen and learn, leading to an understanding of the issues facing those you lead. Then, it comes from actions rooted in integrity, with a clear and transparent rationale consistent with the vision and values you espouse. The same with the classroom teacher. If you say something is going to happen, it happens. You don’t let your students down. You are consistent, constant, reliable. You win their trust.

Develop and support others


The National standards of excellence for headteachers, Domain Two, standard 5, says that excellent headteachers will:

Identify emerging talents, coaching current and aspiring leaders in a climate where excellence is the standard, leading to clear succession planning.

This is a vital part of any leader’s role, but the process of developing and supporting others is what a teacher does. It is the job.

Building relationships

Relationships lead to trust. This is how things get done – not by ordering people around, but by building relationships with colleagues which bring about commitment to the shared enterprise. Am I talking about leadership? Or teaching? Or both?




Mark Twain: always good for a quote

Joanna Postlethwaite put me on to this quotation in her “Head in Heels” session at #WomenEd. It’s a different take on the “do the hard things first” I’ve used before, and it’s about not shying away from the most difficult tasks. If challenging situations aren’t grasped and resolved, they will fester. If you don’t eat that frog now, it’ll grow – and then you’ll never be able to stomach it. The same in your classroom – whatever you tolerate, that’s where your expectations sit. If there’s a problem, tackle it. Don’t let things go, or you’ll struggle to get them back.

Spheres of influence


In leadership, and in teaching, it pays to focus your attention where you will have the most influence. In both cases, this is the inner two circles in the diagram above: the areas where you have complete control, and the area where you have direct influence. You can’t control everything. But what you will find is that, if you are outward facing and focused on outcomes, the energy you are expending on the inner two circles will have an influence on the third. And the third, on the fourth. What you’re doing with your students in your classroom matters. What you’re doing with your team in your department matters. What I’m doing with my school matters. We all influence one another. We all matter.

 Download the slides from my #TLT16 session here (Dropbox link)


Women into Leadership at #WomenEd

On Saturday 8th October my colleagues Jo Gill (@JoanneSGill, Assistant Headteacher Teaching & Learning) and Sue Strachan (@SusanSEnglish, Head of KS4 English) headed for Microsoft’s HQ in Reading for #WomenEd’s Second Unconference. We were co-presenting the approach we’ve taken at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form to promoting gender equality, with a particular emphasis on women into leadership. Here are my remarks. You can see the Prezi, along with the sections presented by Jo and Sue, here.

#HeForShe Headteacher



The field when I interviewed for the Headship at Churchill was 50/50 male/female. I got the job. I feel therefore that I am already on the back foot when discussing the issue of promoting women into leadership roles. The numbers are clear:

  • 63% of secondary school teachers are female
  • 50% of secondary school senior leaders are female
  • 37% of secondary school headteachers are female


There are, however, signs that things might be improving. When Kate Chhatwal was writing in the New Statesman in 2014 about The Invisible Prejudice Holding Women Teachers Back,  she was faced with a choice to take her proposals forward:

Now, which of our great education or political leaders should I pitch the idea to? The man at No 10 or the man in charge of education?

There have been significant steps forward in gender representation at the top of education, although opinion is currently quite mixed on whether this represents progress for education generally.

What to do?

As a HeForShe advocate, I am committed to improving gender equality wherever I can exert any influence at all. In doing so, I need to avoid stereotyping, patronising or “mansplaining”.


I find explanations which focus on the generic qualities of “women leaders” as though that is a homogenous group unhelpful. However, Lean In provides I think useful advice in tips for managers and how to be a workplace ally. As a Head I try to ensure that I:


1. Make sure women’s ideas are heard

The chair of SLT rotates. We haven’t ever used the Are Men Talking Too Much? counter but perhaps it’s not a bad idea…

2. Challenge the likeability penalty

This is about challenging perceptions of male and female success. Lean In asks:

When a man is successful, his peers often like him more; when a woman is successful, both men and women often like her less. Who are you more likely to support and promote, the man with high marks across the board or the woman who has equally high marks but is just not as well liked?

At every point, it’s important to challenge the likeability penalty, asking colleagues (and myself) “Would you have the same reaction if a man did the same thing?”

3. Support mentorship and coaching

We are strategic partners in the North Somerset Teaching Alliance which runs a Women into Leadership programme. Both Jo and Sue have undertaken this course and continue to promote it to other women. I have encouraged female SLT to sign up to the National College’s Women Leading in Education coaching programme, as coaches and as coachees.

4. Celebrate women’s accomplishments


It should go without saying that it’s the role of the Headteacher to celebrate accomplishments and positively reinforce success. However, as a strategy to encourage women into leadership, it’s vital. As Michelle Obama’s visits to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School show, highlighting high-profile successful women’s accomplishments can have a transformative impact: the “I did this; you could too” effect.

5. Encourage women to go for it


I don’t know whether the statistic quoted on Lean In, that men apply for jobs when they meet 60% of the criteria while women wait for 100%, is accurate – or even if such a generalisation is helpful. I do know that, if we are to improve gender equality, it’s my role as Headteacher to spot potential, develop it, and maximise it. My school will benefit from it and, if and when those leaders eventually leave, the wider system will benefit too.

As the Assistant Headteacher at Churchill, Jo Gill, said: 

 In order to move on in your career it is all about taking opportunities when they present themselves to you, but also to seek out those opportunities that you are looking for to enhance your career prospects. Ensuring that you have a mentor – or mentors – that you can trust and that you value their opinion and their advice. Having confidence in yourself about the experiences that you have gained along the way that shape the kind of leader that you want to be and demonstrate these skills and experience in job applications and when you achieve that promotion.


The first staff briefing of the new school year

We had two Inset days on Thursday and Friday, then the weekend before the children started today. I’m a big fan of two-day-weeks anyway, and my Head of Music requested that I consider ensuring we have two days off after every two days of work in future. I’m looking into it.

Anyway, I began the first Inset day with a reminder of why we do our job in the first place: a photo slideshow of lovely moments from the previous year. Photos of our kids learning, enjoying, competing, trying, caring, succeeding, laughing, inspiring, travelling, performing, smiling, embracing, celebrating, achieving. It was such a pleasure to put together, going back through the photo archive and seeing all the wonderful opportunities that our school provides for young people, and the way in which they seize those opportunities with both hands. I soundtracked the slideshow with two tracks from our gospel choir’s new CD: “September” (topical) and “True Colours” (emotional). I wanted to begin the year with a celebration of the children – because that’s why we do it.

The first inset day was focused on performance development, our replacement for “appraisal” or “performance management” inspired (as usual) by John Tomsett’s work. It’s our first run through this year – I’ll blog about it when we’ve got it properly up and running and let you know how it’s gone!

The second day began with a focus on teaching and learning. We are launching teacher-led research and development groups working alongside a leadership strand in scheduled meeting time over the course of the year. My colleagues and I will be presenting about this at #WomenEd’s Unconference later in the year – again, blog to follow!

The point of all this preamble is that I’d already had two opportunities to speak to the whole staff. Briefing on Monday was going to be factual – key information about the new Year 7 to be checked, arrangements for lunch and catching the buses etc. But I wanted to set the tone for the year and make sure that I gave out key messages about our approach and direction. So here’s what I went for.

  1. Love the kids.
  2. Pace yourself.
  3. Start the learning straight away.
  4. Enjoy it.

Have a great year everyone!

What is leadership?

When I started this blog, I called it “Teaching: Leading Learning” because I believe the role of classroom teacher and school leader are closely connected. In both cases, you have a group of people and you want to take them from one situation to another. You have to enact change. There are several ways you can accomplish this:

  • Authoritarian: 
    • Classroom situation: I am the teacher. I am in charge. This is what we’re doing now, whether you like it or not.
    • Leadership situation: I am the boss. I am in charge. This is what we’re doing now, whether you like it or not.
  • Apologist: 
    • Classroom situation: I know this is boring. I don’t really like it either. But it’s on the exam specification so we have to do it; let’s just make the best of it.
    • Leadership situation: I know this is ridiculous. I don’t really like it either. But the DfE have said we have to have PRP so let’s try to make the best of it.
  • Values driven: 
    • Classroom situation: this is brilliant. This is why I got into teaching in the first place. Let’s have a look at it together…
    • Leadership situation: this is brilliant. This will improve all of us, make us more effective and help the kids. Let’s have a look at it together…

Last week I ran a twilight session for aspiring leaders in school, exploring the question “what is leadership?” I used the connection of teaching and leadership to help try to understand different models of leadership, and how they might apply in school contexts.

Model #1: The Bus, or “who before where” (Jim Collins)

Jim Collins advises leaders to start with

Jim Collins advises leaders to start with “who” not “where” (source)

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

(Jim Collins: Good to Great)

My NPQH was full of this stuff (see my blog here) – it seemed like every other resource I read was about how to initiate competency proceedings to get “the wrong people off the bus”. Fortunately, the metaphor has been comprehensively annihilated by Kev Bartle in BUS-ted: The Great Leadership Myth and more recently by Dawn Cox in Are you on the bus? The destructive education metaphor. To summarise my main objections:

  • A bus only has one driver; everyone else is a passenger, no matter which seat they’re in. This is not how teams work.
  • It assumes people are fixed commodities – either “right” or “wrong” – with no capacity to change, develop or grow. Dweck would have a field day.

There are many other ways in which this is an insecure approach – one of which is that the “where” matters too.

Model #2: The Jungle Road, or “where before what” (Stephen Covey)

Can you see the wood for the trees? (source)

Can you see the wood for the trees? (source)

A group of workers and their leaders are set a task of clearing a road through a dense jungle on a remote island. Their task is to get to the coast where an estuary provides a perfect site for a port. The leaders organise the labour into efficient units and monitor the distribution and use of capital assets – progress is excellent. The leaders continue to monitor and evaluate progress, making adjustments along the way to ensure the progress is maintained and efficiency increased wherever possible. Then, one day amidst all the hustle and bustle and activity, one worker climbs up a nearby tree. The worker surveys the scene from the top of the tree and shouts down to the assembled group below….“Wrong Way!”

From Stephen Covey (2004): The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This is a great story to remind us of the difference between leadership and management. As Bennis and Drucker summarise: “the manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.” Skilful management is very important to ensure schools run efficiently and effectively, but leadership is about setting the direction. If the leader in Collins’ bus metaphor is wrong about the direction, the whole vehicle could be heading for a low bridge or a wall – and then all the people, right or wrong, in whichever seat, are in for a shock.

Model #3: Geese

Leadership lessons from geese (source)

Leadership lessons from geese (source)

I’ve always loved this idea, which I initially came across on Tom Sherrington’s blog Leadership Lessons from GeeseTom summarises the lessons we can learn from the super-efficient V-formation used by migrating geese:

  1. Geese: the V-formation gives geese 71% extra power; they fly 71% further compared to flying alone. People: we are more effective when working together towards common goals
  2. Geese: a bird leaving the formation quickly returns. People: it’s tougher to go it alone. Playing part in a group is safer/more secure.
  3. Geese: the lead goose rotates. Each goose takes a turn. People: we need to share leadership. We all need to shoulder responsibility and do our turn on the front.
  4. Geese: the geese in the V honk from behind to encourage the leader to keep up their speed. People: we should encourage those that lead us by challenging them to do their best and cheering them on.
  5. Geese: a wounded or sick goose will be followed down by two other geese to protect it until it’s ready to rejoin the flock. People: we need to stand by each other in difficult times.

This is great, humane way to think about leadership as a team exercise. It reminds me of team pursuit…

Model #4: Team Pursuit

Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell in full flow

Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell in full flow (source)

I remember the Team GB women smashing their own record three times in one day at London 2012, including in the gold medal ride. They recently caught and overtook the Russian team at the European track championships to take gold by a lap. It’s a testament to the marginal gains approach, where every member of Team GB’s cycling programme trains every aspect of their performance to perfection. Zoe Elder has made the most of this metaphor on her excellent Marginal Learning Gains blog – more of which later! – and I think Doug Lemov‘s Teach Like A Champion comes from a similar angle. Team pursuit is the closest humans come to geese flying in a V – and it has valuable lessons for us too. As with the geese, the lead rotates to that all members of the team share the workload. The lead rider shields the others who sit in the slipstream behind; all members of the team are working in complete harmony towards the same goal, with and for each other.

The team work together to minimise drag (source)

The team work together to minimise drag (source)

What’s particularly great about the team pursuit is that the time for the team is taken from the last rider over the line: the team is only as good as its slowest member. This is why development and training is important. We must support and improve all members of our team to do their best, not rely on individual superstars. We need to ensure the way we teach in our classroom sends them off to the next lesson in the right frame of mind, with the right attitude – minimising drag for our colleagues. And the culture we set in our schools should be one of continual improvement, training each aspect of our performance to perfection, whether we are staff or students, in order to achieve excellence.

Model #5: The 3As (Alan McLean)

The 3 As as cycling metaphors depicted on Marginal Learning Gains

The 3 As as cycling metaphors depicted on Marginal Learning Gains

The wonderful Zoe Elder, of the aforementioned Marginal Learning Gains blog, introduced me to Alan McLean’s 3As of motivation:

The first one is Affiliation, which is basically a sense of belonging, a sense of being valued, connected, and the opposite of that is alienation.The second one is Agency, which is basically self-belief, a sense of competence, a sense of self-efficacy, a sense of control. I know how to do this job…The opposite of Agency is apathy. And the third one, which is the centrepiece of them all – the most complex one – is Autonomy. I keep mentioning Autonomy because it’s gold dust. Autonomy is self-determination. How much scope or trust do I have? How much scope do I have for self-determination in my job or in my classroom? And the more self-determination, the more autonomy you have the more motivated you will be. The opposite of Autonomy is anxiety, where you’re overwhelmed, you’re so pressurised or you’re discouraged.

Alan McLean: The three As of motivation

Both Zoe Elder and Alan McLean apply the three As to classroom situations, but as I indicated at the start, in my view they apply equally to leadership positions. The development of affiliation, agency and autonomy in teams is key to their success – and this has to stem from the leadership. All three are needed; without one, the others cannot flourish.

Model #6: Start With Why (Simon Sinek)

Simon Sinek's Golden Circle (source)

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle (source)

I really like Simon Sinek‘s take on humane leadership. He’s done a couple of great TED talks on the topic: why good leaders make you feel safe and how great leaders inspire actionIt’s in the latter talk that he describes the “golden circle” and explains how the norm for leadership is to communicate from the outside in, starting with what you do then how you do it before expecting a change in behaviour. In teaching this may be “I teach French (the what) by using target language techniques and interleaving reading, writing, speaking and listening practice in curriculum planning (the how).”

More influential, argues Sinek, is values-driven leadership which communicates and is driven from the inside out, starting with why: “I teach French because I fundamentally believe that learning languages is the key to inter-cultural understanding and will help produce more tolerant global citizens. To do this I ensure that I interleave reading, writing, speaking and listening practice in the target language so the students feel immersed in the language and the culture of French-speaking nations.” All teachers have their own “why” – it drives them to put up with the pressures and tribulations of the job and keeps them going. For me, it’s about social justice and creating a fairer society. You can read about that here.  If you can articulate your “why” then it gives you the core values that will allow you to lead effectively – lead a class of kids, a team, or a school.

Model #7: the Cathedral masons, or having a sense of purpose

Why do you do what you do? (source)

Why do you do what you do? (source)

HT to Bodil Isaksen for putting me on the trail of this story:

“A man came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite from large blocks. The first seemed unhappy at his job, chipping away and frequently looking at his watch. When the man asked what it was that he was doing, the first mason responded, rather curtly, “I’m hammering this stupid rock, and I can’t wait ’til 5 when I can go home.”

”A second mason, seemingly more interested in his work, was hammering diligently and when asked what it was that he was doing, answered, “Well, I’m molding this block of rock so that it can be used with others to construct a wall. It’s not bad work, but I’ll sure be glad when it’s done.”

”A third mason was hammering at his block fervently, taking time to stand back and admire his work. He chipped off small pieces until he was satisfied that it was the best he could do. When he was questioned about his work he stopped, gazed skyward and proudly proclaimed, “I…am building a cathedral!”

via Bill von Achen (source)

Bodil’s tweet perfectly sums up the application of this story to education:

It’s up to leaders and teachers to provide that sense of purpose in the endeavour of schooling, so that the knackered teacher last lesson on Thursday knows that chipping away at comprehension skills with Year 9 is worth it. It’s another block in the foundations of the cathedral. And it is worth it, as Sarah Findlater’s wonderful blogpost Building beautiful cathedrals shows:

As teachers, we work hard crafting the small part of our students’ life that we share, but more often than not we will never see the end result, who they will become. We have faith that the cause we are working for is a great one so we continue our crafting and our job is done. On with life.

Sarah Findlater (source)

Each of the models of leadership has something to offer. As with all things, we take a little from one model, a little from another. We adopt and adapt until we make them our own. And we go on teaching: leading learning.

#TLT15: Getting attitudes right

We’ve been working for a while on getting our attitudes right. We didn’t need excellent blogs like these from Heather Fearn and Tom Sherrington to know that effort and hard work are the key to success. I’ve blogged before about our pilot programme, attitude determines altitude, which ran with Year 11 last year. We tracked attitudes at each monitoring point and worked with students on improving their dispositions in the classroom. In evaluating that programme, we came up against one key question that needed resolving:

How do you accurately assess a student’s attitude?

The question was put pertinently by Sue Cowley back in March:


As a parent with children in our school, I know Sue follows our work very closely. Whether or not her tweet was a direct reaction to our work, or something more general, I don’t know, but it gave us pause for thought. Were we grading attitudes accurately and meaningfully? Could we?

In our pilot programme, we were using the existing set of attitude descriptors which had been used at the school since 2010. Students were awarded grades VGSU (Very Good, Good, Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory) for their Behaviour, Classwork, Homework and Organisation. You can read the descriptors here.

We had a few nagging doubts about our work in this area.  There wasn’t a separate grade for “effort”, which seemed out-of-step with our development of a growth mindset. There was inconsistency in their application, and it seemed that passive compliance was enough to gain a raft of “V” grades. They needed a revamp. So, from January, we set about a research project to try and establish what our new attitude grades should look like.

Research part 1: what does an excellent attitude look like?

Our first step was to ask neighbouring schools what they did. We got some excellent models that way, including from Gordano School, whose “effort profile” was among the reasons they won a DfE “character award” in February 2015.  One of our teaching and learning leaders also paid a visit to Rebecca Tushingham at Hanham Woods Academy, who shared with us her draft “Engagement Ladder”.

We also scoured the web for inspiration, and our Head of Science found CharacterLab, which explores attitude dimensions such as curiosity, gratitude, grit, optimism and zest with some handy resources and links to further research.

CharacterLab's attitude dimensions

CharacterLab’s attitude dimensions

We didn’t forget the olden days either, revisiting the personal learning and thinking skills which have survived the bonfire of the strategies on the national web archive:

 Of course there was also Angela Duckworth’s work on grit,  and helpful school-based models shared freely online by John Tomsett and applied by Pete Jones.

Here's what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Here’s what student attitudes are made up of. Now, which to choose?

Research part 2: how do you describe attitudes?

Once we’d gathered all of these different ways of breaking down student attitudes, we set about selecting, synthesising and collating to create the rubric that we wanted for our school, and working out which language we should use to describe it – replacements for VGSU where “satisfactory” was not really satisfactory at all. In this quest, our head of computing (@morewebber) conducted extensive research into US effort rubrics, uncovering examples including:

  • Exceptional, Accomplished, Developing, Beginning
  • Attempted, Acceptable, Admirable, Awesome
  • Master, Veteran, Apprentice, Novice
  • Excellent, Good, Fair, Weak
  • Exemplary, Proficient, Marginal, Unacceptable

Fortunately, John Tomsett was wrestling with the same dilemma and published his post “this much I know about accurate terminology to describe students’ effort” in June, hitting the ball sweetly down the fairway and giving us a model to emulate. By which I mean copy.

Following a joint meeting of pastoral and curriculum middle leaders to agree the framework, it fell to the teaching and learning leaders to knock the final document into shape, and here’s the result:

Behaviour for learning 2.0

Behaviour for learning 2.0

We came up with additional guidance for SEND students which can be seen here: Attitude report guidelines.

What next? 

Of course there was the mechanics of switching aspects in SIMS to record the new attitude grades, and adjustment of policies to match. But the advantage of the system is that it can still provide an attitude percentage score at each monitoring point by assigning values to each of the attitudes in a SIMS marksheet: three points for each Excellent, two for each Good, one for each Insufficient and zero for a Poor. Insert a formula to add the total and divide by the total possible to create the percentage score. This figure appears on reports, in seating plans via MintClass, and on teacher marksheets in SIMS as a KPI. It allows simple tracking of improvement or decline in attitude over time, which can then trigger praise and reward or intervention and discussion. But because it’s split down into four areas, tutors and teachers can see specifically where changes in attitudes have occurred – an improvement in response to feedback for example.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was explicit teaching of the attitude expectations to students. We used an off-timetable session for this, so the whole school worked on the new attitude grades together. Students self-assessed against the criteria and set targets for improvement, alongside a discussion about exactly what it would look like in the classroom to display the attitudes in the “excellent” column.

Thirdly, teachers have been working hard to create opportunities in lessons to make the attitudes they expect to see completely explicit to the students. Setting up tasks in the classroom with specific reference to the new attitude grid is a great way of ensuring students see the application of the attitudes in a subject-specific context.

Finally, information for parents and families has been provided through letters, re-written keys on the reports, and face-to-face information evenings. It’s vital that families understand why we’ve changed, and why attitudes to learning matter so much, so they can support us in developing the best approaches to study possible.

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

Your attitude has more bearing on your outcomes than your ability

 There is a lot more work to do on this – more blogs to follow!

Here are the slides from my #TLT15 presentation:

The Prospect of Headship

A month ago at Wellington College, Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked about Deputy Heads who did not want to step up to Headship as the pressure was not worth the salary increase. His response: “Have some courage, don’t be so feeble about it, have some guts.”

I am a Deputy stepping up to Headship. In his response, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector acknowledges one thing I agree with: stepping up to Headship needs courage.

At every stage in my career so far, there has been someone above me who holds ultimate responsibility. From January, that person will be me. It will be me the Leadership Team turns to for the final word, me the staff look to for a decision, me the Governors hold to account for the performance of the school. If the school is found to be coasting, I’ll be sacked. The buck will stop with me.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

I remember how I felt when my children were born. I remember holding their fragile bodies in the crook of one forearm, and feeling the incredible weight of responsibility pressing down on me. As a Headteacher, I will be responsible for over a thousand children every day, every single one of whom has parents who felt like I did, and they will be putting their trust in me. The safety and well being of the most important thing in nearly three thousand parents’ lives will be on my watch.

“Have some guts.”

The education of those young minds is my responsibility. The curriculum they study, the way it is delivered, the manner in which it is assessed, the way success is celebrated – in the end, I will set the tone for all of this.

“Have some courage.”

The school’s standing in the community is my responsibility too. The Headteacher of the local secondary school is an important community figure and the success or otherwise of the school has an impact on all around it. Regardless of the wisdom of it, there’s a link on every RightMove property to the local schools’ Ofsted reports – the value of people’s houses depends on my effectiveness. I will be a community leader. One wrong move and the Daily Mail is poised to pounce.

“Don’t be so feeble.”

The careers, well being and development of close to two hundred staff will be my responsibility too. As Vic Goddard was told, “you make the weather.” I will make the weather for all those professionals. There are teachers leaving the profession in droves, crushed under bureaucracy and workload, frustrated by the perverse incentives of performance pay. Will I be able to stem the tide? Can I lead a school where teachers feel like they’re making a difference? Where it’s all worth it?

“Have some guts.”

The next five years will see a real terms budget reduction of 7% in school funding. I will be responsible for delivering the highest quality of education on less money per pupil. I will face the toughest of tough decisions – cut posts or cut resources? Slim the curriculum or expand class sizes? Cut corners or do a proper job? I will have to fundraise, bid for every grant going, recruit, and economise, lobby and pressurise to ensure a fair deal for the young people in my care, and hope that someone will listen.

But I will have courage. I will have guts. I will not be feeble.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Because I will have a team around me to advise and help, a wise and experienced Governing body to help set the direction, and a local and national network of Headteachers to consult and support me. Of course, managing that shrinking budget will be hard, but there is comfort in knowing that I will not be alone.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I will be leading a group of teachers. Teachers – the most committed, good-humoured, and dedicated profession, packed with graduates who decided that they wanted to make a difference, to pass on the love of their subject, to give their time, energy and dedication to help the next generation be better. I will make the weather for those selfless, generous professionals – and I will dedicate myself to making sure they know it’s worth it.

Because Headship is a privilege.

It’s right that the school takes its place at the centre of the local community; I want the community to be proud of the school – no matter what Ofsted say – and I will be proud to lead it. I want the community to talk warmly about the quality of education it provides and it will be my leadership that ensures that this will happen.

Because Headship is a privilege.

I got in to teaching to make a difference too. In my classroom I hope I made a difference to the thirty children I had for that year. As a Head of Department, I made a difference to more children, on a larger scale. As a Headteacher, I have the opportunity to make a difference on the largest scale, to set the tone for thousands of children in every decision I take.

Because Headship is a privilege.

Parents treasure their children, thrill in their successes, worry themselves sick about them. The sleepless nights don’t stop when they’re weaned. Those parents place their trust in teachers every day to care about their children just as much as they do themselves. Can there be any greater honour?

Because Headship is a privilege.

The weight of responsibility is not one I shoulder lightly. I am stepping into the role with my eyes wide open, with guts and courage, yes, but also with determination, with confidence. Because, despite the fear, it is a privilege to be a Headteacher. And I am looking forward to it.

Thank you.

This blog was the text of my presentation delivered at #SLTeachmeet for #BELMAS2015. 

Leadership lessons with Linda Cliatt-Wayman

Thanks to Carl Hendrick for sharing this talk from TEDWomen 2015. In it, Linda Cliatt-Wayman sets out her approach to fixing a broken school. She talks about her work at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia, once branded “the most dangerous school in America.” She illustrates three slogans which, as Carl Hendrick said, set the standard for school leadership.

Slogan 1: If you’re going to lead, LEAD. 

The strength of will to keep going, to set the example, to believe in the vision, is what brings about change. “Leaders make the impossible possible,” she says. She describes sweating the small stuff – the displays, the lightbulbs, the environment, the lockers – and tackling the big stuff. Budget. Behaviour. Scheduling. Support.

Slogan 2: So what? Now what? 

Cliatt-Wayman lists the intimidating odds she and her staff were up against – attendance at 68%, 1% parental engagement, 38% SEN – and uses her mantra “So what? Now what?” This really struck home to me. Here is a problem, or an issue – and that is what it is. A problem. An issue. It is not an excuse. What can we do about it? It reminded me forcefully of Ros McMullen’s wonderful blog on addressing inequality, and her attack on what she calls “cuddle and muddle” culture: “these kids have got problems, therefore we should expect less from and for them.” This isn’t good enough McMullen and Cliatt-Wayman, and it shouldn’t be good enough for any of us.

It strikes me also that “So what? Now what?” is an equally useful mantra for times of success. You get your best ever GCSE results, or a shiny outstanding from Ofsted. So what? Now what? For Cliatt-Wayman, being removed from the “persistently dangerous” list after five straight years was her triumph. Her “now what?” was professional development for her teachers, and an “intense focus on teaching and learning” in order to eliminate excuses for underachievement. The result? A 171% rise in algebra scores and a 107% rise in literature scores.

Slogan 3: If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.

At this point, I don’t mind admitting, I had tears in my eyes. John Tomsett talks about “love over fear” and this final slogan puts humanity at the centre of leadership. I know that Tom Starkey has discredited passion, but when you see the passion here, I think even he’ll agree it’s inspiring. She talks about her moral purpose with such heart that you can see her eyes glisten, hear her voice crack. She talks about eating lunch with the students, to talk to them and know them as people, to build the relationships that are the cornerstone of effective teaching. And she talks about the rewards of the job:

My reward, my reward for being non-negotiable in my rules and consequences is their earned respect. I insist on it, and because of this, we can accomplish things together. They are clear about my expectations for them, and I repeat those expectations every day over the P.A. system. I remind them of those core values of focus, tradition, excellence, integrity and perseverance,and I remind them every day how education can truly change their lives. And I end every announcement the same: “If nobody told you they loved you today, you remember I do, and I always will.”

There’s been a lot of excellent focus on women in leadership recently, thanks to #WomenEd and others, and here is a fantastic role model not just for women, but for all school leaders. Behaviour. Teaching and Learning. Love. Now that’s getting your priorities right.

Doing NPQH as a member of SLT

With thanks and apologies to Kev Bartle for the title!

News from the NCTL

News from the NCTL

I received notification yesterday that I have passed the NPQH. It’s no longer mandatory to have the qualification to be a Headteacher, but I’ve spent sixteen months on the course. This blog is really for anyone weighing up the prospect of taking it on. I’ll run through my experiences, and try to answer the question…is it worth it?

Getting on the course

This is really, really tough. I can’t actually blog about what happens in the selection process, as we were sworn to secrecy so as not to prejudice or advantage future cohorts. Suffice to say, when our cohort got together for the first time we bonded over the incredibly rigorous, taxing tasks you have to do just to get a place on the course – really, really tough! The idea is that, if you pass the selection process, you’re definitely capable of passing the course; it reduces the likelihood of anyone getting on it, spending a year and a half, and then failing. Sensible investment I suppose, and a good test!

After successfully passing the selection process, there’s a useful 360° exercise where you self-assess your competencies and your colleagues do the same. You get a report of the results and I found this a great starting point to pinpoint strengths, areas for development and discrepancies between my self-assessment and my colleagues’ views. A really useful process.

My chosen licensee

My chosen licensee

Finally, you have to choose a licensee. NPQH is not delivered direct by the NCTL any more, but by regional licensees. I did mine with CPD Southwest and I was very happy with my choice – efficient administration, knowledgeable and helpful trainers, and a functional online resource bank. I went to an information session before I chose my licensee and this was definitely useful in helping make my mind up. I’d recommend doing a bit of research first! Although much of the material is common across NPQH courses, and the assessment is standard, it’s worth bearing in mind that my experience is with one particular licensee and they’re not all the same!

The Leadership Capacity Matrix. I took the red pill.

The Leadership Capacity Matrix. I took the red pill.

Face to face sessions

There were nine of these in total, covering the core modules: Leading and Improving Teaching, Succeeding in Headship, and Leading an Effective School. There were also sessions on Advanced Coaching Skills and a Viewpoints on Style self-assessment day. On the whole, these were useful days! Here are some of the plus points:

  • “Talking Heads” sessions: most days, a serving Headteacher came in to talk to us about aspects of their practice and their route to Headship. These were, without exception, really inspiring and useful. There was a huge range, including Heads from large secondaries and tiny primaries, special schools, new heads, experienced system leaders…and all dedicated, positive, uplifting speakers with lots to offer. I was scribbling furiously during these, cribbing tips and ideas aplenty!
  • Cross-phase working: the NPQH was a great opportunity for me to work alongside school leaders from primary and special school sector. Most of the CPD events I go to are secondary-focused, so it was really refreshing to get a different perspective and work with colleagues from across a range of schools. My cohort were brilliant – really supportive of one another and thoughtful, caring leaders.
  • Time to reflect: there is rarely enough time in school to step back and think properly about what you’re doing. Taking nine days out across ten terms is a considerable investment of time but the opportunity it provides to reflect is invaluable. It felt, at times, like a retreat – and a treat.
  • Coaching: this was my single biggest take-away from NPQH. I’d done coaching training before but it hadn’t really been embedded in my practice; now I use it daily in interactions with staff but also with students. It’s worth a blog post on its own! I know Vic Goddard swears by it and I can see why. I was lucky to have Judith Tolhurst running our session, whose book is well worth a read.
  • Finance: we were all worried about this aspect of Headship, and there was a really useful session on running the budget of a school. This was a real confidence booster – it turned out I knew a lot more than I thought I did!

Of course, it wasn’t all brilliant. This happened on one of the days:

And then there was this:

I suppose you can’t get through nine days of CPD without being asked to draw yourself a spirit animal! But aside from these points the days were really valuable and the opportunity to take time out from the daily whirlwind was incredible helpful.

Hitting the books...well, the pdfs.

Hitting the books…well, the pdfs.

Online learning

Aside from the three core modules, NPQH involves two elective modules. I did mine on Leading Change for Improvement and School Improvement for Effective Partnerships. At the start of my course, all of the material was hosted on the NCTL’s own rather convoluted website, but halfway through that was shut down and the material moved over to licensees. Either way, there is a lot of reading! At the start, I tried to read everything and I did a pretty good job, filing it away and keeping a running record of key points in Evernote. We discussed the reading often on our face to face days – mainly how hard it was to read it all! – and we soon worked out that you could be selective in your choices. However, I would recommend looking at as much of the resource as possible, because there are some gems in there. Case studies, research papers, policy documents, official guidance, legal frameworks – all useful, some essential. I didn’t agree with all that I read, but then as an avid reader of edublogs I’m used to that – and reading stuff you don’t agree with is often more valuable than reading in an echo chamber as it helps you define what it is that you do really believe that little bit more clearly.


NPQH involves two separate projects: one in your “home” school, and a second in a “Placement” school. My home school project was to implement Teaching and Learning Leaders, and my placement project was an examination of literacy across the curriculum at another secondary academy. This was fantastic – spending five days in another school, seeing what’s the same and what’s different, was an invaluable opportunity. I’ve forged long-lasting links with the SLT there: they came out to visit Chew Valley to have a look at how we’d implemented growth mindset, and I’ve been back there to work on assessment without levels. NPQH forces this kind of system partnership and there’s no doubt this is a real strength of the programme.


The assessment part of the NPQH was time-consuming and difficult. It’s necessary, and in all honesty I couldn’t see a way of making it simpler without reducing the quality. It’s supposed to be challenging! Each of the five modules required a reflective “impact evaluation form” – a summary of what you’d learned and the impact it had had on your leadership. Again, the process here forces reflection, which is important for the process of self-improvement the course is trying to implement. But they are time-consuming to fill in!

Towards the end of the course you have to submit write-ups of your two projects. There are very strict guidelines around pages and word counts here, which were difficult to stick to, and the process of writing up took several days for each project. There was plenty of guidance from the NCTL and my licensee, so I knew what I had to do, but doing it within the word-count was tough!

Finally, if the projects pass, there is a face-to-face assessment. I went to mine already having secured a Headship following a three-day interview, and then having a two-day Ofsted inspection the week before the final assessment. It couldn’t be anything like as tough as those experiences…could it? Simple answer – yes. A panel of three properly grilled me for over an hour following a fifteen-minute presentation. It was every bit as rigorous, thorough and searching as my Headship interview and Ofsted had been. And quite right too; although I did things a bit back-to-front, securing a Headship before completing NPQH, there is no doubt that the final assessment interview would be a good preparation for anyone going on to Headship interviews after completing the course.


Was it worth it?

In a word – yes. The longer answer: I know I don’t need NPQH to be a Headteacher. But sixteen months working on the course has forced me to be more reflective about my leadership, to think about why, how and what I do in my job, in a way that I wouldn’t have done in the normal run of things. The online learning, whilst onerous, was useful. The opportunity to meet and work with colleagues outside my school, beyond my phase, with different experiences and approaches, was invaluable and enriching. And the fact that the assessment, both at the start and end of the course, was so rigorous, gives me faith that the standards of leadership expected of Headteachers are reassuringly high. I have gained NPQH and secured a Headship; now I have to ensure that I live up to those standards in the future.

Getting revision right

This year we have taken a strategic approach to revision with Year 11. We have been trying to make the most of everything we have learned over the past few years about the learning process, memory, recall and deliberate practice to deliver a consistent message to all students. This has involved borrowing many ideas from colleagues up and down the country – and beyond! Here’s what we’ve been up to.

How to revise – students

We borrowed from Shaun Allison’s excellent blog Supporting Learning Through Effective Revision Techniques to reformulate our “How to revise” session for Year 11 students this year. Based on the research conducted by Dunlosky, Willingham et al we advise that highlighting, reading through your notes, and summarising were not the most effective revision techniques. For revision to be effective it must involve thought – students have to process the information to stand the best chance of retaining it. We advised:

  • Chunking and interleaving revision
  • Self-testing
  • Distributed practice
  • Interrogation – asking “why?”
  • Self-Explanation (the PQRST technique)
  • Transforming information

In order to deliver the message we took advantage of an off-timetable slot to split the year into smaller groups, bringing in as many SLT, pastoral leaders co-tutors, and additional staff to reduce class sizes. Students were issued with individual revision packs containing calendars, planners, a pack of flashcards, and copies of the revision advice session slides, before rotating through three workshops. You can find all of the materials from our workshops below:

How to revise – families

We borrowed this idea from Andy Day’s Relating to a revision plan – it’s a family affairHis idea of bringing in families to help them understand effective revision certainly chimed with our experience, which was of parents who were telling us “we want to help, but we don’t know how.” We ran a morning session for families of Year 11 on 14th March:

The event was really well attended and the feedback from families was glowing: “a great investment of our time and a credit to the school’s investment in learning” said one evaluation. We also adapted Stuart Lock’s Revision Advice for Parents  post into a handout for all families in Year 11:

It was vital for us to close the loop between home and school, so that the advice students were getting from their families reinforced the messages they were getting from school. Clarifying expectations and sharing best practice was a really helpful process.

Covering the curriculum angle

This year we are keeping our students with us in school for longer. Students will still have study leave, but we want to maximise the contact time we have with them to ensure that they are revising effectively. This is always a tricky balance, but we think we’ve got it right this year. We’ve also put on our traditional Easter Study Camp, a week of taught and supervised revision over the Easter break to make the most of the time over the holidays. We’ve collated the extra-curricular revision sessions on offer into a single timetable so students know what’s on offer. I issued Andy Day‘s subject revision checklist to curriculum leaders to ensure that everyone had all the angles covered. And finally, we updated our online Revision Centre with all the resources available, including an subject-specific collection of past papers, mark schemes and revision resources for Study Camp collated by our excellent Head of Computing @morewebber.

Covering the pastoral angle

We have been running our Attitude Determines Altitude programme with Year 11 all year, and this has positively impacted on student approaches. Head of Year Phil Edwards and I have been master planning the interventions and messages for Year 11 since September through assemblies (including the key message Don’t Settle), tutor activities and interventions, all with a view to getting the attitude right – it’s all about the effort. One glance through Phil’s twitter feed will show you how consistent that message is! However, we’ve also been mindful of the need to relax and take time out, and we’ve put on a stress-management group to help those who may be feeling the pressure.

Motivation – the Fix Up Team

Ever since I saw Action Jackson lift the room at #TMNSL last year, I knew I had to get the Fix Up Team into school. This year it happened, and the brilliant Caspian (#KingCas) came in to do an hour’s assembly with Year 11.

The haven’t stopped talking (and singing) about it since. Having an external speaker in – especially one as engaging and powerful as this – makes all the difference. They’ve heard it from us a thousand times, but hearing it from a “real” person somehow brings it home!

Motivation – Proud Letters

Further to reinforce the connection between home and school, and to send the students off to Easter with a positive attitude, we ran our Proud Letters programme for the second year. This great initiative sees families write a letter in secret to their young people, explaining how proud they are of them and what their hopes and expectations are over the coming months and years. We delivered them on the last day before Easter to boost the students into the break. Again, it helps to show that home and school are working together in partnership to deliver a consistent, positive message about success.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The aim has been to align all of the resources we have available to help the students make the most of these crucial final months. I think this image, printed on all of the individual revision packs, sums up our approach perfectly:

Don’t be upset by the results you didn’t get with the work you didn’t do

Growth Mindset Launch

Back in March I blogged about becoming a growth mindset school following our staff launch event.  Since that time we have been very busy preparing to roll out the ethos to the whole school. Here’s what we’ve been up to, and what we’re planning for September…

Re-branding the school

Our old school motto was “Developing Potential to the Full” – a noble idea full of good intentions. However, as John Tomsett pointed out on Twitter, how do you know what anyone’s potential is, even your own? For this reason we have rewritten our school aims and changed our motto to “Learn, Grow, Achieve” to encapsulate our growth mindset ethos.

Graphic of our new school sign

Graphic of our new school sign

The external signs and website have all been “refreshed” with the new motto. Unfortunately our paper prospectus was printed in bulk so re-branding that will have to wait until next year!

Inside the school, we have put up over ninety “inspiration signs.” These all feature quotations which encapsulate aspects of the Growth Mindset crowdsourced from the school staff (and a good trawl of Twitter and Google!), made up into A3 sized plastic signs. You can see the whole collection here. One of the activities we will be running with young people is an “Inspiration Treasure Hunt” where the students have to find all the different signs and research the sources of the quotations. There will be prizes for the most detailed research as well as the first to find them all!

Finally, there are two displays in school explaining the idea of Growth Mindset – one outside my office, and another due to go up in main reception. The latter will also include an excellence wall to celebrate student work after the model of Pete Jones and Shaun Allison.

We felt that it was important that the students arrived in September to see something visibly different about the school, and we also felt it important to wear our hearts on our sleeves. The ethos should be visible from the front gate through every corridor and into every classroom in the school.

First days back with staff – INSET

Staff have already had the launch presentation, so the presentation below will serve as a reminder of the principles and set out our strategy for launching the new ethos.

The presentation boils down the growth mindset approach to three key mindset traits, and lays out the importance of praising effort not intelligence. I have also prepared a handout on the use of growth mindset language in the classroom and in written feedback (GM Language) adapted from various sources including the Grow Mindsets blog from Huntington School. From this session, teachers will move into their inaugural Teaching and Learning Team sessions to work on improving their own teaching practice. This is a cornerstone of the growth mindset approach, as teachers as well as students will be working hard to develop a growth mindset for themselves. You can read about our Teaching and Learning Leaders approach here.

Launching Growth Mindset With Students

1. Growth Mindset Questionnaires

With tutors on the first morning, students will complete a Student GM Questionnaire. This has also been borrowed from Huntington School via John Tomsett and their excellent Grow Mindsets blog.  The idea behind this is to get the students thinking about the ideas of intelligence and mindset, and reflecting as they start the school year on their own mindsets. We will also be collecting the data to evaluate whether our interventions have had an impact on student mindsets over the first year.

2. Launch Assembly

Secondly, I will be delivering a Growth Mindset launch assembly, using the Prezi below. If you can’t see the embed, please click this link.

This assembly is a refined and condensed version of the presentation delivered to staff and governors in March. I didn’t want to over-complicate it, so I began by thinking about the most important information that students needed to know. I came up with:

  1. The difference between growth and fixed mindset
  2. The basic neuroscience of how the brain learns
  3. How this neuroscience can be used to understand the benefits of a growth mindset
  4. How to use a growth mindset voice in learning situations

Growth Mindset Infographic

I based sections 1 and 3 on a simplified version of the well-known mindset infographic by Nigel Holmes, and used this Robert Winston video from The Human Body for the neuroscience:

The key part of the assembly is emphasising why the growth mindset attributes – embracing challenges, seeing effort as the path to mastery, learning from critique and the success of others – help develop intelligence by growing and developing neural pathways. Struggle is essential for learning. I will also make sure that the students know that all teachers will also be working hard to develop a growth mindset in their Teaching and Learning Teams to ensure that the quality of teaching young people receive continues to be excellent and improving. It’s important that students understand that learning, growth and achievement are critical for every member of the school community.

3. Tutorial session

The week after the assembly, all students have a session with their tutors to reinforce growth mindset ideas and apply them. Click here for the lesson plan: GM Enrichment Lesson 230914 . This session uses “The Learning Brain” video to revisit the link between neuroscience and mindset from the assembly:

Tutors then have a choice of three activities to help embed the ideas of a growth mindset, including Elizabeth’s Story.

Learning Reflection Journals

The final part of the tutorial session involves the launch of our Learning Journal for reflection (click here for a copy). Each student has a journal and they will use it to define their goals at the start of the year. It serves as a “getting to know you” exercise for new tutors, as well as being something to refer back to during the year to remind students of the big picture. There are also sections in the journal for more detailed reflection at monitoring points when reports are shared with parents (three times a year). The bulk of it, however, is taken up with weekly sheets to review learning in the previous week and set goals for the week ahead:

Weekly reflection from an original by @abbie_tucker adapted by @Ashley_Loynton and @chrishildrew

Weekly reflection from an original #5minplan by @abbie_tucker adapted by @Ashley_Loynton and @chrishildrew

The aim of this is to promote consistent reflection on learning and enable regular dialogue between tutors and students about mindsets and approaches to the learning process.

Next steps

We have already put family information sessions into the school calendar. I have pushed hard for these and they represent a substantial investment in terms of staff time out of normal school hours. However, it is essential that families understand what we are trying to achieve in school so that they can reinforce the message and provide consistent feedback at home. I will publish a separate post about these in due course!

Finally, it’s about getting on with it and ensuring that all of this planning actually makes a difference. That means enacting and developing a growth mindset in every interaction, every lesson, and every communication in every classroom, corridor and playground, not just for now but for the long haul – until it becomes the norm. Through the aggregation of these marginal gains, I hope we can achieve a true ethic of excellence.

Napoleon Hill with pic