Principal’s Round-up – 21st May 2021
Everything seems up in the air at the moment with so much change, uncertainty and increased workload especially in respect of the TAG process. But we are getting there. How we deal with professional challenges is, I think, really a mindset issue. The scary feeling of being a bit lost is the same thing that makes us feel reflective. We must look within ourselves to find a way to continue.
When we are lost, we typically look at a map to figure out where we are, and how to get to our chosen destination. This works well assuming there is a map of the territory in which we find ourselves and we know our destination. If we have no map, we must go on instinct, relying on our inner compass to show us which way to go. This can be worrying because so much seems to be riding on it. We fear we might go too far in the wrong direction or become paralysed and make no progress at all. Yet, this is the very thing we need to develop our ability to trust ourselves. I used the quote from John Maxwell at our recent Trust-wide leadership conference to exemplify how we might think about this. He said ‘the values you hold in regular times will hold you in difficult times’, and it is true. Solidarity is about eliminating fear, building confidence and ensuring we all arrive at our considered destination safe and sound. We can then re-group and start to move forward together again.
Practising and learning about our values is quite hard, but vital when we encounter inappropriate behaviour in our schools. Everyone knows that it is not acceptable to make derogatory remarks about anyone’s gender identity, the colour of their skin or culture. It is a shame, therefore, that our values are sometimes subject to subversion by use of ‘banter’ that is really not appropriate. Any kind of disrespectful remark that imposes on our sense of identity is no laughing matter. Remarks made against women should be called out on a more regular basis. It is not, for example, acceptable to belittle a woman as ‘moody’ or ‘mental’ when she is clearly experiencing symptoms of the menopause. There are 13 million women coping with the frequently severe impact of the medically recognised condition caused by hormone imbalance. The symptoms include increased and frequent temperature fluctuations, headaches, migraines, water retention, dry and unbearably itchy skin, memory loss, increased joint pain…..and so on. According to research by Channel 4 more than one in four women are encouraged to give up their job because of the chemically induced ‘brain fog’ caused by the menopause. This is not good enough, and we should be actively addressing all of those who indulge in discriminatory behaviour against women. Together we are so much better than that. Whilst we are all human and zig instead of zag occasionally, we should always seek to learn and understand before we blame anyone for a medical condition that will eventually become part of the everyday struggle of 50% of the population.
Maybe thinking before we speak might be a good start.
It’s always a pleasure to hear of the successes of former students. So to hear the news that former head boy Cyrus Larcombe-Moore and Daisy Trewartha-Wyatt have had a book of poetry and illustrations published was a great pleasure. It shows that the foundations that we are providing for the young people of our community are enabling them to go on to have creative and academic successes. As an aging sportsman the muscles and joints need a little more care and attention than they used to, so it was also great to see another ex student, Gemma Arundel in her working environment as a qualified sports therapist this last week. The success we have had with these and many more students reminds me of the impact that we have on young people every single day, and that impact will only increase with our relational practice work. I often find when the work is as stressful as it is at the moment, it’s important to look back on student successes as it validates the importance of what we do on a daily basis. As we tentatively come out of lockdown, it has been great to see our students (and staff) taking part in their beloved extra curricular activities again, it will not surprise you that I have a strong belief in the benefits of extracurricular activities both inside and outside of school, so to see our students on the courts, fields and the track this past week has been brilliant to watch. We also heard this week that we are able to start thinking about trips and visits again, however, with everything with this virus and specifically on the arrival of the Indian variant locally and nationally, we need to monitor any plans that we may want to make. With curricular and experience day trips, as well as UK residentials back on the cards. I am aware that there will be a group of staff who have not had the opportunity to experience these sorts of opportunities for our students, if it is something you would like to get involved with please come and see me. I hope that during the approaching half term break you find the time to refresh, relax and reconnect with some people that you haven’t had the opportunity to do so in a while.
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.