Notes from ‘Leading from the Edge: A School Leader’s Guide to Recognising and Overcoming Stress’

Stress is something that is prevalent in everyday life, and impacts all school leaders in one way or another. Not only is it important that leaders recognise stress themselves, but also in their colleagues and team members. This book is written by a former headteacher and shares personal anecdotes, information from interviews and structured advice. A quick read that has has a large range of practical tips and advice for all working in schools.

The author starts by stating “the pressures have been building for a while. Most people have higher imposed targets than ever before, yet fewer people to help them achieve them. The result is that most people are working harder for longer. There is an increasing sense of disenfranchisement, with school leaders experiencing a far higher degree of accountability set against a background of a decreasing sense of empowerment”. He states that pressure is part of work. It helps to keep us motivated and can improve our performance. However, excessive or unrelenting pressure can lead to stress and have a negative effect on performance. Stress is therefore a response to pressure. It can be costly to employers, but more importantly, it can make people ill. A good understanding of the nature of stress is central to maintaining our own personal resilience and to leading others effectively.

One headteacher interviewed stated his ability to cope with the role was linked to his ability to be able to unwind relatively easily; the techniques he listed were personal to him, but provide potential ideas for other leaders, these are:

  • Avoiding educational programmes on TV;
  • Taking his dog for long walks;
  • Listening to music, watching films and , increasingly reading stories;
  • Foreign travel.

One of the most important pieces of advice that this interviewee gave was ‘have the confidence to know that there are some things that you can ignore’

People tend to become stressed when they feel out of control in a situation. There is much in education which is unpredictable; so it pays to take control whenever you can, ‘control the controllable.’ Some tips for time management are listed below:

  • Preparation is key, so start well in advance with whatever task you are planning.
  • Build in quick wins, however small, into large projects allowing everyone to feel progress is being made towards the goal.
  • Plan long term so that everyone knows the key priorities for each half term and where the ‘pinch points’ will be be in terms of key tasks and deadlines.
  • Set yourself clear deadlines. We are usually more focused and productive when time is limited. Don’t let tasks drift on.
  • Have a master to do list and then daily ones broken down into ‘must’, ‘should’, and ‘could’.
  • Start each day by reviewing your list and by completing a short task that will allow you to get back into the work zone and give you an early sense of achievement.
  • Keep lists of what you have done as well as what you plan to do.
  • Be realistic about what you are likely to achieve each day. Work on the basis of five hours of ‘planned’ work. In education there will always be enough ‘unplanned work’ such as phone call or visits from parents to fill the rest of the day. Over-scheduling your day can leave you feeling frustrated and reduce your sense of control.
  • Give yourself short five-minute breaks during the day.
  • Getting things done is often better in the long run than achieving perfection. Sometimes ‘OK’ has to be enough.
  • Set yourself one or two nights a week to stay later and get through tasks with fewer distractions. Some people schedule that for Friday, so they can take less work home over the weekend.
  • Plan a regular no work evening at home, e.g. ‘No work Wednesdays’ to give  yourself a proper break in the week to socialise, spend time with the family, or to pursue outside interests. Do not compromise on this.
  • Try to reserve some time with no interruptions.
  • Don’t dwell on what happened yesterday, it won’t change it. Concentrate instead on today and tomorrow.

This quote gives the importance of maintaining positive behaviours “repeated ingrained behaviours, or habits, are generally accepted as the way in which your perosnality is demonstrated, so behaviours are often worth changing if they are unhelpful”.

Another key take away was this list of early indicators of stress in staff:

  1. Increased absence from work.
  2. Poor timekeeping.
  3. Failure to complete tasks on time.
  4. Rushing everywhere.
  5. Unwillingness to accept feedback or advice.
  6. Resistance to change.
  7. Inability to reach decisions or delegate tasks.
  8. Becoming withdrawn,
  9. Tearfulness.
  10. Irritability with pupils or colleagues.

The final quote from this book that is worth concluding with is:

“Positive thinking in itself will not change the world, it has to be combined with decisions and action. however, in itself it is a massive start and it has been proven that positive thoughts actually enhance our health – not surprising really, given that stressful ones clearly do not help us” – David Taylor – The Naked Leader

Art in the Age of Black Power

Photo of the gallery guide for 'Soul of a Nation' Art in the Age of Black Power

 

Today I visited the Tate Modern and among other things saw ‘Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power’. This is a temporary exhibit that is running until 22nd October. This was interesting, but of particular interest, as until recently, I taught US politics as part of A Level Government and Politics.

This links to the Black Nationalism section of the ‘old’ Edexcel course in Unit 3C – Racial and Ethnic politics, of which the last students will start studying this September, it is also a theme in the area of nationalist thinkers in the new Edexcel course (and I would expect with other exam boards as well). Had I be teaching this in September I would definitely point my students in the direction of the exhibit; if not taking them on a trip.

The exhibit focuses on the work of Black artists working in America in the two decades after 1963. As well as showing strong communities the exhibit reveals artistic differences in what it meant to be a Black artist at this time. “In 1963, when the exhibition begins, the American Civil Rights movement was at its height. At the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed his children would live in a ‘nation where they would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. Others rejected the idea of an integrated America, and began to speak of a separate, autonomous Black Nation.”  (the text in this paragraph is paraphrased, or in the case of the chunk in quotes – copied – from the gallery guide written by the curators, Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley).

Below are some of the works that I found most interesting.

America the Beautiful  (1960) – Norman Lewis  – the gallery label points out that the title suggests the difference between the way America views itself and the reality.

Fred Hampton’s Door 2 (1975) – Dana Chandler – This was created by the artist in response to the original, an oil painting being stolen. The work is a statement against the Chicago Police who murdered a young black panther, Fred Hampton.

Did the Bear Sit Under the Tree (1969) – Benny Andrews – the artist said about this work “it is a Black person who is shaking his fist at the very thing that is supposed to be protecting him and that he’s operating under.

This exhibit is free to Tate members or £15.00 otherwise.

As you leave the gallery there is a sign encouraging you to hear the curator’s playlist of tracks on Spotify inspired by the exhibition. This is the first time I have seen this at an art gallery – and of course, I immediately listed to this on Spotify – and this playlist would also be useful for teachers of Politics.

The final takeaway from the exhibition was this book in the gift shop “Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. This looks like a timely well-authored read, it should be noted that this book is written by a London based author (so not directly linked to Black Nationalism in the 1960s), and I have not yet read the book. You can see an excerpt in the Guardians’ website here.

How school leaders can optimise behaviour.

In March the report ‘Creating a Culture: How School Leaders can optimise behaviour’, was published by Tom Bennett, commissioned by the Department for Education. This is a really interesting document and should be read by all school leaders. The full report can be found here or here (alternative link).

The report begins by summarising the impact of improved behaviour:

  • Students achieve more academically and socially
  • Time is reclaimed for better and more learning
  • Staff Satisfaction improves, retention is higher, recruitment is less problematic.

The are a number of illustrations used throughout the report – the one below is used to illustrate the commonly found features of the most successful schools.

Features of Effective Schools

The report describes what good behaviour is: “Good behaviour is not simply the absence of ‘bad behaviour’ (swearing, fighting, or retreating from classroom tasks). Good behaviour includes aiming towards students’ flourishing as scholars and human beings. So, while good behaviour does include the absence of, for example, vandalism, rudeness and insolence (which we can describe as negative good behaviour), it also describes behaviour that is more broadly desirable. This could mean helping students to learn good habits of study, or reasoning, or interacting with adults, coping with adversity, or intellectual challenges (positive good beavhour). School leadership needs to create circumstances for both forms of good behaviour.”

The report talks about the importance of clarity of instructions from leadership and gives an example: “Don’t only say, ‘Assemblies should encourage good behaviour’. Say, ‘For example, in every assembly, I want to see merits given out to the best students for [behaviour x]’. This should be at the end of the assembly, and the pupils should be asked to go on stage to collect their certificates.”

As well as clarity of instruction the report talks about the importance of routine. “The school must have well-established and universally known and understood systems of behaviour, fo example, student removal, consequences, and sanctions, corridor and classroom expectations, behaviour on trips, arrival, transition and departure behaviour and so on. Any area of general behaviour that can be sensibly translated into a routine should be done so explicitly. This removes uncertainty about school expectations from mundane areas of school life, which reduces anxiety, creates a framework of social norms, and reduces the need for reflection and reinvention of what is and is not acceptable conduct. This, in turn, saves time and effort that would otherwise be expected in repetitive instruction. These routines should be seen as the aspirations of all members of the school community whenever possible.”

On sanctions, the report quotes Bill Rogers saying their “certainty is more important than their severity”.

This is linked to the need for students to meet expectations “All students need to meet the expectations set of them. Anyone not meeting the expected standard must expect an intervention of some form, a reaction from the staff body. Any member of staff not maintaining these boundaries and expectations must be challenged, retrained or otherwise engaged to aim more closely to the standards expected”.

The final aspect of the report that is worth repeating is the list of obstacles to developing a culture of good behaviour:

  • lack of  clarity of vision
  • poor communication of that vision to staff or students
  • demonstrating values or routines contrary to the stated ones
  • lack of perspective, considering low standards to be high
  • inadequate orientation for new staff or students
  • staff overburdened by workload, unable to plan for effective behaviour
  • unsuitably skilled staff in charge of pivotal formal roles
  • remote, unavailable, or occupied leadership
  • inconsistency between staff and departments
  • unfair consequence systems that punish industry or reward poor conduct
  • staff unable or unwilling to promote the school routines
  • lack of support for staff to promote the school routines.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from ‘Braveheads’

The book ‘Braveheads’ by Dave Harris is one headteacher’s guide to leadership. Although it is written to guide headteachers there is much that can be applied to any leadership position in a school. The guiding principal is that leadership requires bravery, “the good leader, indeed the great leader is marked out by the way in which his other internal roller-coaster of self-doubt, negativity and sheer desperation is rendered invisible to the outside world.”

The book begins with the motivations for leadership “The money is good and it serves as some form of compensation, but if you do the job for the salary you will soon realise that it will never be compensation enough for all that you go through. Nor will it compete with the feeling you get on those occasions when it all goes right and you see those young people – and their teachers – really shine in ways that you know you have helped make happen. Rather than simply serving as a boost to their bank balance, their pension or their ego, most of the heads I have met are in the job because they feel that they can make a genuine difference where it is needed.”

Although fear in some degrees is health Harris states that  FEAR can stand for ‘False Expectations Appear Real’ and at least half of the things that you fear are never going to happen.

He talks about the importance of school leaders protecting and nurturing the staff in their teams. “As a leader, your job isn’t to do what is asked of you at the expense of the people in your care. Your job is to do whatever you need to for the people in your care, and that includes often resisting doing what you are supposed to do. And that’s why people need you to be brave”. He talks further about leading staff stating “everybody wants to do a good job, and more often than not simply needs the right support from the top in order to achieve this.”. He goes on to state “good leadership, like good teaching, is all about relationships”.

Harris sums up his four rules for brave school leadership as:

  1. Be Yourself
  2. Be Yourself
  3. Be Yourself
  4. There are no rules. Be Yourself.

In conclusion, he states “Changing a school is tremendously demanding but recognizing the immensity of the task – and that there are no short cuts – is the first step. The only way to make real change is through determination and hard work and lots of passion.”

Small Things Matter … Impact of Leadership

The pointy-haired boss – the frustrating manager featured in Scott Adam’s Dilbert Cartoons.

A few weeks ago I was reading Andy Buck’s ‘Leadership Matters’, and there is a section in which he talks about the impact that the way leader’s conduct themselves have on their colleagues.

Buck has produced a list of frustrating behaviours  that leaders can exhibit:

  1. Don’t reply to a letter or e-mail within a day of it being sent;
  2. Regularly turn up late to teach or to meetings because they have been dealing with ‘more important’ matters;
  3. Leave colleagues out of the loop regarding a particular issue or event;
  4. Forget to do things that they say they would do or even do something differently from which had been previously agreed;
  5. Ask for feedback at the end of an event, and then fail to act about it or even acknowledge the feedback the next time the event is organised;
  6. Don’t meet deadlines that all staff are expected to meet;
  7. Make (often poor) decisions ‘on the hoof’ because they have failed to plan ahead effectively.

This is an important list, poor organisation as a leader limits the performance of the team. In addict as Buck states ‘their ability to inspire and motivate is diminished; they don’t have the same level of credibility with colleagues and morale is inevitably lower’.

On a personal level, I try to always respond to all emails within 24 hours, keep colleagues in the loop (though this is a potential minefield as we all suffer from information, often via email overload). Furthermore, I attempt to ensure that I have good timekeeping and remember what I have promised through the use of a to-do list and calendering everything!

This post was based on ideas in:

Leadership Matters: How Leaders at All Levels Create Great Schools

Notes from “Taking People with You”

This book centres around the idea that “You’ll never accomplish anything big if you try to do it alone.”

In order to help other people  you need to be yourself; some ideas to be yourself are:

  • Have convictions.
  • Know your stuff.
  • Know your environment.
  • Build Self-Awareness.
  • Be open and honest about what you don’t know.
  • Use positive self-talk and positive thought.
  • Get out of your comfort zone.

Help others be themselves by:

  • Believe in All People.
  • Provide individual development plans.
  • Create a Safe Haven.
  • Openly seek knowledge and perspective from others.

“I believe leadership is a privilege. I also believe deep down in my bones that all people, when given a choice, have an inherent desire to do the right thing, to contribute, and to make a positive difference through the work that they do.l And I’m absolutely convinced that it’s crucial to have this mind-set in order to get the most of people you work with. As a matter of fact, I believe that there is potential in very person, and as the leader, it’s my job to unleash it.”

Model for Developing a Plan

model plan

Tool: From-To

IMG

Three Steps Toward Gaining Alignment

  1. Share the reality…help people understand why.
  2. Ask for input..show that you’ve listened.
  3. No involvement equals no commitment.

The Mood Elevator

IMG_0001

(click for larger image)

  1. Where would I place myself on the mood elevator at the moment?
  2. Where do I think others would place me?
  3. The last time I had a struggle with someone on my team, where do I think I was on the mood elevator? How might this have affected my interactions with him/her?
  4. What are some quick things I can do to raise my mood when I catch it sinking?
  5. What are some long-term things I need to think about or work on to improve my own mood?

What to do when they say “It can’t be done”

  1. Listen and understand why.
  2. Incorporate valid objections into your plans.
  3. Listen, then lead.
  4. Do the right thing, and the right thing will happen.

“Anything can be done. The issue is never that you can’t do it. It’s how much does it cost, how long is it going to talk, and what are the resources? It’s what do you have to stop to get it done? I mean, you can do anything.” – Tom Ryan

Oxford Ed Kerboodle Tree

In the month of December Oxford Education gave away 24 free resources. This was one a day as an advent calendar with gifts under the Kerboodle Tree. I have collated the tweets here primarily for my own reference.

1st December


2nd December


3rd December


4th December


5th December


6th December


7th December


8th December


9th December


10th December


11th December


12th December


13th December


14th December


15th December


16th December


17th December


18th December


19th December


20th December


21st December


22nd December


23rd December


24th December

ChallenGEO – Week 1 – Close to home… #ChallenGEO1

Alan Parkinson on his Living Geography blog has launched a ChallenGeo; read more on his blog here (and if you are a geography teacher you should be reading his blog anyway!).

The first week’s task is to find a location within five minutes walk from home and take a picture that represents or captures its essence.

This was a difficult one – as the tendency would be to take a picture that is beautiful. However I don’t live somewhere that is particularly beautiful. It is a great location – but primarily because of how it is connected to other places.

I choose the view looking down the Whitechapel road; not because of its beauty but because of how it represents the place – the buildings of the financial district with the road heading in that direction; the Boris Bikes and the cycle superhighway to the left; the cars dominating the landscape.

 

Thinking about 2017 #teacher5aday

As 2016 comes to a close I am reflecting on what goals to set for 2017. This Guardian article puts new year’s resolutions in perspective:

“If you want to know what matters to people most, you need look no further than surveys of New Year resolutions. These are the top five according to the most recent YouGov poll: 1. Lose weight. 2. Get fitter 3. Eat more healthily. 4. Take more care of my appearance. 5. See more of friends and family.

So I think that puts us straight on where friends and family sit in our collective priorities. Also notably non-prioritised are resolutions to be kinder, to try to help the poor, read more and better books or stop watching junk TV. What we truly resolved to care about, it turns out, is quite simple – ourselves.” – Tim Lott “My New Year resolution is not to do better, but to do what I can”

2016 was a year of change. I got a new job, got an allotment, and gave up the allotment and moved from commuting to London to living in London. I also finished my seemingly never ending Masters degree in educational leadership. I also have began a process of simplifying my life – looking for small ways to remove complexity; for example storing all digital documents in one cloud service rather than four. 

I have decided to structure my goals for the year linked to Martyn Reah’s teacher five a day pledge (more details here). I have however changed some of the headings to meet my own aims for the year.

#simplify

To continue to keep it simple. Consider whether possessions are needed; following the principle of Marie Kondo’s Tidy. Does it bring pleasure? In addition living in a one bedroom flat – space is a premium.

Target: For every new thing responsibly get rid of an old thing. One in one out!

#exercise

Get more serious about exercising – specifically do more. I am going to continue running but be more specific. Over the course of the year I would like to attempt to run 1000km. This works out at about 2.7km a day.

Target: Run 1,000km in 2017

#notice

I am lucky enough to live in one of the great world cities, London, less than a mile from the Tower of London. This is an opportunity that might not last forever and I should ensure we make the most of it. My wife and I have joined Tate so plan as part of this to see the majority of the exhibits in both the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.

Target: Walk once a week in the city – take a photograph or two – write a paragraph about it.

#learn

This is the area that I am being more specific about and want to split into three different categories. Continuing to read regularly, I have read 100 books a year for the last five years and plan to do so again this year. I use the website Goodreads to track books read and my progress, see here. This has been more challenging since September when I don’t have an hour on a train; however as I don’t have a TV anymore it is still achievable. Secondly, for the first time in a while I am not completing any formal academic study; however I want to stay in touch with academic research. I am aiming to split this between Geography research and Education / Leadership research. I think an achievable goal is one article per week; with two weeks off! I am also vaguely interested in starting a PhD – so want to spend some time researching the feasibility as well as writing a proposal.

Targets:

  • Read 100 books in 2017
  • Read 50 academic journal articles (split between Geography and Education)
  • Complete a PhD research proposal (even if I don’t do a PhD go through the exercise of writing a research proposal.

#volunteer

As I am still settling into a new home and a new job I think it will be difficult to commit to a regular volunteering position. However I miss having an allotment so want to work with my wife to transform some of the garden space where we live.

Target: Create a garden where we live – develop a way to work with the other residents.

#balance

Ensure a meaningful work life balance. This is the last; as it is the most difficult; however I think it is important, in many ways the most important. As a teacher and senior leader the work is always never ending – but there needs to be a limit placed on work. 

Target: I don’t have a specific measurable target – I will revisit this later in the year.

It is now time to celebrate the changing of the year, but I will try and come back and reflect on the progress made at regular points throughout 2017.

 

Inspiration from ‘It’s a Don’s Life’

I am a regular reader of Mary Beard’s blog – ‘A Don’s Life’, and have read the two books that have been published with excerpts from the book. The ‘It’s a Don’s Life’. If you don’t read the blog I recommend you do: http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/

“I kicked off the very first lecture by handing round a skeletal map of the Mediterranean – and asked them to mark several key places (including Athens, Sparta, Troy, Crete, Rome and Pompeii). The results are collected in for scrutiny, but entirely anonymously. No names are required.

The ideas is to demonstrate to the freshers that hey really need to get an atlas out before they start sounding off about the Peloponnesian War, or whatever… The don … have enjoyed shaking their heads at the very ideas that a student with straight As at A level still doesn’t know where Sparta is”*

As a geography teacher this idea is important – how much locational knowledge do our pupils know. This is the underlying grammar of our subject – and if pupils don’t know the underlying locational knowledge they will struggle to see the big picture. Ways to teach locational knowledge is possibly an idea for a future post!

*Page 55 – Beard, M. (2009). It’s a Don’s Life. London, Profile Books Ltd.