Learning to Lead

Last night I, along with colleagues of mine from the Academy were invited to Wellington College for a talk on leadership.  The timing for this was super.  Year 11 finished their time with us yesterday which put a really neat end to the hardest year of my professional career during which I have been unable to do anything but manage – manage the situation, manage staff and manage the students.  As this time has been drawing to a close, I have done a lot of quiet reflection about where we are as a faculty and where I want to be as well as the move from managing a faculty to leading the team. Prior to the talk we were asked to reflect upon ourselves as leaders with Dr Seldon explaining that we only become better leaders through thorough reflection and a willingness to learn.  This is something I think I am really good at.  We were asked about our vision – as a new faculty, this was one of the first things I did with my team and we established the following vision for us and the students in our care:

‘We challenge students to be the best that they can be, inspiring a curiosity and passion for our language.  Our students will be equipped with the tools to understand, to question and to communicate effectively for a brighter future.  Working together, we will change lives.’

Listening to Dr Seldon and Katie, the most enthusiastic presenter I have ever come across, I suddenly realised that whilst we had defined our vision (one of the four leadership roles), we haven’t actually communicated our vision as successfully as we should.  I haven’t necessarily been the embodiment of our vision this year.  And whilst we have challenged our students to be the best that they can be and I am confident that we have changed the lives of our year 11 students this year, I am not confident that we have inspired a curiosity and passion for our language and we have not equipped them with the tools to question.  Therefore, for me we are at that second stage of leadership – where in the next academic year, we really have to communicate our vision to other staff, the students and our parents.

A number of reflective activities about our ability to lead / managed reinforced to me that over the past year whilst I have been a good manager – especially in tackling year 11 underachievement – the focus on this has meant that I haven’t led and as a consequence this means that I have been a poor leader.  In addition, I have been high in task but low on people.  I have got lots of jobs done but haven’t been on top of my staff – haven’t developed teaching and learning, haven’t been rigorous in moderation processes and haven’t tackled or challenged underperformance as well as I should have.  In order for me to develop, I now need to take the lead and have the confidence to focus on the development of staff and of the teaching and learning within my faculty to ensure that students get the best possible experience in our subject.

And whilst, I realise that my leadership needs developing, I am also mindful that I do possess many of the attributes that Dr Seldon wants to see in his Middle Leaders:

1) To be organic – need soul and vision – Yes

2) To use their hearts as well as their heads – Definitely

3) To be authentic – Yes

4) To be magical – Developing

5) To be leaders, not just managers – Initiating

6) To make a difference – YES with year 11 (to be transformative in post – some work to be done there)

7) To look the part – hmmmm

8) To present solutions not problems – Yes

9) To be energy givers – Most of the time

10) To make the weather – Mostly, yes.

11) To be actors, not reactors – Developing.

I absolutely loved the moment when Dr Seldon articulated that you are not a true leader unless you have cried, shouted in frustration etc etc at which point my line manager turned round to look at me, having been the one to deal with my tears and tantrums across this year, BUT if Dr Seldon says it needs to happen, then so be it!

Secondly i was reminded that it doesn’t matter how many qualifications you have or what titles you possess as neither will necessarily help you become a great teacher or a great leader.  An ex-colleague of mine once stated that it was not his job to be outstanding in the classroom, it was his job to ensure the rest of his faculty were.  This is a philosophy I totally buy into and a philosophy I know will help me push forward when thinking about my staff next year.

Finally, when I applied for the position at the academy, I stated in my interview that it would take 5 years to ‘transform’ the faculty so I was delighted when Dr Seldon reinforced the notion that people need to stay in their roles for a significant time in order to do well – 5 years for a middle leader and 9 for a senior leader.  I won’t be leaving the academy any time soon. 🙂

So what else did I learn / have reinforced?

1) Decisiveness – I put this down as one of my weaknesses.  There have been moments lately where I have found that members of my team have approached me wanting answers to the questions they have straight away which doesn’t naturally suit the leader I am.  I am a thinker.  I need time to think about the path taking us forward and when they ask me for an answer, I have felt an enormous pressure to give them an answer to a question quickly.  As a result, I have felt that my decision making processes has been a weakness because when asked to make an immediate response, it isn’t the best response to give or the most well-thought out.  BUT, listening to Dr Seldon last night reinforced to me that the best leaders are ‘actors not reactors’ and that they take the time to think.  Therefore I will have the confidence to afford myself the time to think things through carefully to ensure I make the best choice for the students in my care.

2) One of the most common weaknesses leaders exposed in themselves was the lack of confidence in challenging under performance.  It was reassuring to hear that I am not the only one who find this daunting.  However, what lies at the heart of what we do are the students and whilst tackling standards is hard, seeing students underperform as a consequence is not something we can allow to happen.

Thanks to the college for inviting us over.

I look forward to where this takes us next.

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