Principal’s Round-up – 7th May 2021
Most of us are adept at seeing the big picture, but not always the detail. Caught up in the hectic pace of life, we often feel compelled to immediately distinguish what is important from what is not. The assessment is an easy one to make when we are mired in the daily grind – everything relating to task-oriented success seems significant, and everything else seems comparatively trivial. But some of what is most precious in this life cannot be measured in data, charts and formal evaluations. The truly noteworthy and influential events in our lives are often marred by hurried actions in the haste to achieve. One of those is finding time for people. To focus on the big picture alone gives permission for the cries of the wounded to be minimised, silenced and missed.
The importance of people as human beings should never be forgotten and it only takes some small action to remember. Most importantly in this is the consideration that we are all only parts of a whole, not a significant individual with influence. So, I would like to express my thanks to Hazel, Jonathan, Caleb, Kelli, Linda, Sue, Angela, Lynda, Tracey and Clare and her team for the efforts they made to assist with the preparation for the Trust wide leadership conference this week. While I was busy organising the content, they quietly just got on with making it look, feel and sound special for us. The pride in their school was evident and their work demonstrated just how great a team we are. It was humbling. I was reminded as ever that while we might think we are so capable, we can achieve so much more together than trying to act alone.
This attitude of course has its roots in the Co-operative Movement. A much more satisfying and edifying world to inhabit than the competitive and market-driven approach where to win is everything, and to serve is considered weak. That was the theme of the opening of the first day of the four day Trust conference. In my brief address, before we called upon the collective wisdom of the cooperative schools network, I reflected upon my belief
that to enact and energise cooperation effectively we need to consider three things in depth :
How to manage change – with a focus on outstanding communication and feedback. Every voice matters in a cooperative.
Understanding people – with a need to actively remove barriers in order to unleash creativity and confidence.
Recognising capacity building as an essential skill – investing in people who liberate and develop others, rather than in those who exist to measure, rank, oppress and punish
By focusing in these areas we can develop talents from any part in the Trust to realise the dividend that we have defined. We will also be actively future proofing our schools by enacting the vision of the International Co-operative Alliance and building upon the values and principles that will guide our decision making. Educational understanding is getting too concentrated, is being abused; is threatening democracy; is preserving a pattern of power and privilege that serves the needs of those who enjoy it but is not good for others. This is real, it is brutal and it is wrong. The power rests in this organisation with the collective – the people- not lone voices. We act, as Tony Benn proposed, as a sign-post for outstanding achievement. We do not behave as a weather-vane, changing direction at the whim of every DfE announcement and ‘expert’ opinion. We will develop our own destiny, and not wait to be instructed.
Of course this means that we have to be courageous to go our own way for a bit. It will be hard, but it is essential that we undertake the good work, not the bad work, to allow everyone in the organisation to flourish. By enacting the value of solidarity we never have to feel lost in the challenges ahead. The courage will be found in the power of ‘us’ It is in our gift and we can start today.
Principal’s Round-up – 23rd April 2021
In sorting out my office last week to give Tristan more room, I came across a feedback summary from a conference I ran for the Schools Co-operative Society some 10 years ago. Here are some of the comments from participants:
“I feel transformed by the cooperative network we formed”
“The passion of all the contributions has inspired me to make better use of the cooperative values”
“Now I feel our school is ‘here’, not ‘out there’”
“I lost my separate identity and felt being part of the very large energy of people”
“I feel that I have come back to life—like a second chance”
“I imbibed the philosophy of cooperation, and am better for it”
I could have written each of these statements myself today. They describe my feelings after successfully reconnecting ourselves within the family of cooperative schools and Trusts across the country. It has been an absolute delight to meet with like-minded colleagues who are inspired by the cooperative movement and understand its transformative effect in education. It is what cooperation can do to all of us if we fully embrace its possibilities and challenges.
A misconception often perpetuated by those who really do not understand, is that cooperation is inextricably linked to low standards and ‘woolly’ thinking. This often makes my blood pressure rise, because nothing could be further from the truth. Cooperation is sharp, requires effort and is values driven. Committing to live up to these values requires the highest of standards with a recognition that we work for the benefit of all. Cooperation laces us with liberty: the values allow us to be better versions of ourselves and free us from the constraints of oppressive, neoliberal assumptions about schools and schooling. However, embracing the values comes with an expectation of participation, not mere compliance. It is up to each one of us to decide whether we wish to be part of a powerful collective cooperative conscience or not. And just like when we choose what to eat, who to keep company with, and whether to turn right or left when we leave our home everyday, choosing to say yes to this is a decision that can only be realised when you take action to make that choice a reality.
In our staff rooms we have many competent colleagues who do a damned good job and who have accepted the professional obligation to improve their practice through cooperative processes. But there are times when momentum can be lost. Occasionally in our lives it seems our bodies are running on empty. We are not sick, nor are we necessarily pushing ourselves to the limit. Rather, the energy we typically enjoy has mysteriously dissipated, leaving only fatigue. Many people grow accustomed to feeling this way because they do not feel as included as they should be. We have put great effort into ensuring that those we serve are included and understand diversity. I do not believe we do enough to ensure those that serve feel that same degree of inclusion. Both Wendy and Nick are starting to undertake focussed research into improving this situation. We need to do better.
This acceptance that we are always trying to improve our culture is important. Dr Sam Sims, research advisor at the Teacher Development Trust suggests that it is a culture of improvement that plays a major part in developing and retaining great staff. He explains that one aspect of school culture that gets a lot of attention in the education press is workload. This is not surprising given that teachers in England work around one day per week longer than the OECD average. But he has identified a puzzle. Some research finds that workload is related to job satisfaction, stress and retention. While other research does not. A leading theory of workplace motivation and burnout suggest that the type of workload really matters. Hours spent on tasks seen as a distraction from teaching and learning (‘job demands’) have a negative effect. Hours spent on tasks that help teachers improve (‘job resources’) have a positive impact. Consistent with findings from qualitative research, marking, planning and admin all show a clear negative association with work-related stress and wellbeing. If anything, marking comes out worst.
What about tasks that might be considered ‘job resources’? The research shows the relationship is flipped entirely. Holding other workload constant, extra hours spent on professional development or collaborative working are associated with an improvement in work-related stress and wellbeing. This research will direct some decision making around pedagogy and methods to further transform our professional development model. Phil will provide some guidance on this over the next few weeks. We will be looking at replacing ‘bad work’ with ‘good work’.
The ideas I have written about above will be the focus for the next staff voice meeting. Working together is so much better than working apart and provides us with joy and energy in our work. It is one of the many things that make me proud of Tavistock College.
Principal’s Round-up – 26th March 2021
Imagine what a different world we would live in if we all worked together towards a common good. With all that takes place in our professional lives, it can be easy to overlook the fact that we are part of something bigger – a collective. Sometimes, when we are confused, resisting inevitable change or just tired, we naturally focus on short term tangible gains for ourselves without worrying about consequences. Other times, we may discard the planned change because it seems like “hard work”. If that is how you are feeling, I would encourage you to look again at our values, especially solidarity. When you know you are serving a greater cause, there is little room for fear and doubt. And we are serving a greater cause. No one should be left behind.
With this in mind, I was delighted to be able to share the details with you about our future within Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust. It feels that we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to embrace all that is good for young people, our staff and community to move forward together. It is an exciting time and one we should all feel privileged to be part of. Our new ways of working, and the new roles we have established, are already enabling a positive impact to be made. As a connected and cooperative Trust we can support young people by working together in everyone’s interest; we are less isolated, have a wealth of career and professional development opportunities …and more than that, we have now created that sense of togetherness that we aimed for the first time round, and missed the mark. Our parents now have a potential network to take the lead in their children’s educational experiences; our teachers, through Learning and Teaching Co-operatives and communities of practice can take control of their own pedagogical constructions; our support staff have a greater role in the running of our schools; and we have leaders who can really embed the values that are so challenging but important to us. Tavistock College is already benefiting greatly in exciting, essential, and multi-dimensional ways and the chances seem endless. So, to enable me to work across the Trust along with other talented colleagues, Tristan is stepping into a new Associate Principal role. I know you will support him, trust him and be guided by him over the next few weeks to work with him in the same way you work with me.
During the time that our asymptomatic testing tent was in operation, I was rightly proud of the work we were undertaking and of everyone involved. Whilst it is certainly helpful to have the hardcourts back in action, there is a strange sense of loss now it has been removed. As I watched it being taken away I felt a little sad. It took me a while to realise why .Over the last 12 weeks the tent operation has presented an interesting leadership study on the cooperative values in practice. All of these values were, on a daily basis, exemplified and met by those who worked, cleaned, reported, organised and undertook voluntary tasks. There is much that can be transferred into our work. In the tent, we saw no shirking of responsibility, complaint or complacency. Instead we saw a great deal of support, understanding and compassion, and of course, outstanding leadership from Nick.
The progress made this term especially with the relational policy must now emulate the same behaviours we saw in the tent. As we reflect upon our actions, seeing through the eyes of each other is critically important . Children are not there for our convenience to be taught: they are in our school for everyone, no matter what your role, to become good versions of themselves. For that they need outstanding role models. The very best leaders and teachers in Tavistock College understand this and make good choices every day. The best teachers understand their role in motivating and engaging young people, and maintain the highest expectations. The very best do not lose these approaches in a desire to simply turn up expecting all children to behave in the same way to their subject offer. If we accept our role in shaping learning, we must constantly explore our students’ thinking to interpret their behaviours. This does not mean at all that low standards are acceptable. Our job, collectively and incrementally, day by day, is to make sure they succeed by actively teaching and modelling our values and investing in building relationships.
As we are in the 125th year of ICA I continue to be inspired and strengthened by the movement and the possibilities it affords us in schools. I was privileged to link back into the Cooperative Schools Network this week and look forward to drawing upon this as we take our cooperative identity forward. Much of the influence of the cooperative movement affects the choices we make and the behaviours we choose. Influence by Cooperative Group published employee behaviours, I have included below some guidance and expectation for our work together.