We’ve all seen it or perhaps even experienced it first hand; the charismatic Headteacher who turns around an underperforming school, only to see all this work unravel within months of the inevitable successive promotion to another educational setting. Now, I’m not condemning the aspiration of colleagues like this, but I do feel that sustainability has to be at the forefront of any leader’s thinking, as ultimately students and staff lose out if this is not the case. From the first day of their appointment it’s essential for leaders to think hard about how they might implement deep, broad, and long-lasting strategies that will sustain progress and one of the most fundamental is succession planning and future proofing.
As I approach my sixth year as a school leader, I have begun to contemplate my career progression, but more importantly look to continually revisit my moral purpose to help me keep my focus. I have been ‘grown’ as a leader by our current Headteacher (@HelenSalmon2) and have learnt so much under her guidance, which I feel has equipped me well for my leadership journey. Over time I have grown to realise that the ‘hero’ leader has a very short shelf life and that sustainability is most certainly the key to creating a legacy that lives on beyond any leader or to put it quite bluntly; what would happen if they were hit by a bus tomorrow? and this can be answered by developing capacity and growing leaders at all levels from the talent pool within. As a lover of all things sport, football/soccer in particular, I often look to those at the top of the game and the impact they have had and find myself asking why? For me one person in particular stands out from the rest; Sir Alex Ferguson. In my opinion the moment that defined his leadership philosophy of nurturing your own players was the Class of ’92 (click link to read more) and this principle of ‘growing your own’ can so easily be applied to an educational context.
In 2010 I became a senior leader in a school that had just been placed into special measures, a new headteacher arrived and recruited me to her team from my current middle leadership role as Head of Technology. Looking back, I would say that this was a risk she had taken, as I was unproven at whole school leadership level, especially going into a period of uncertainty and constant scrutiny from various outside organisations, including OFSTED, but her mantra of developing future leaders was clearly at the forefront of her thinking. Of course, the support, encouragement, recognition of my efforts and being held to account for my work motivated me intrinsically and drove me to want to succeed. But most of all I felt empowered, not micro managed, for me this characterises outstanding leadership and it makes you feel great! This culture slowly saturated the staff and student body; in two years we became a ‘Good’ school. We are now firmly on the road to Outstanding.
The qualities of the nurturing leader
I would consider myself to be a reflective person and I spend valuable time critically reviewing my own practice. I also like to explore the styles and moral purpose of my colleagues, looking to learn in the hope of one day becoming an effective and dynamic ‘servant’ leader, not the complete leader, as I personally don’t believe anyone can become the ‘complete’ as we all have aspects of our skill set we would like to improve further. Below I have tried to capture the key qualities that I personally feel are essential in leading high performing teams and contribute significantly to the ‘grow your own’ culture:
I have been fortunate to work as part of a leadership team (and with leaders at all levels) where an open, honest and supportive culture underpinned by high expectations of/for each other thrives. As I move forward in my career, placing integrity and honesty at the heart of everything I do, I’m now in a position to craft opportunities for others to progress through my role leading CPD. It hurts me to see colleagues in other schools who ‘hang on in there’ in the hope of that long-awaited and sometimes promised promotion, which never comes. I can understand why Headteachers want to hold onto their best staff and no matter how difficult it may be, from a moral point of view leaders mustn’t stand in the way of colleagues who are ready to further their career, even if it does mean losing them. Instead look to coach and support them so they can progress too. If the ‘grow your own’ culture is embedded succession will happen. After all, isn’t the sign of a true leader measured by how many other leaders they create?
I believe developing and nurturing talent starts from day one, whether that is an NQT or experienced member of staff joining us, or an established member currently within the staff body, making the induction process a crucial one. Significantly, schools are in control of their own destiny with regards to developing others and cost shouldn’t be a used as factor against it. Besides the abundance of external leadership courses (NPQML, NPQSL, Aspirant Heads etc…) let me offer just a few examples of ‘in house’ opportunities that can be created to provide experience at all levels for aspirant leaders;
- Attached middle and senior leadership shadowing and ‘hot seating’
- School improvement team (or equivilent) leads
- CPD window facilitators
- MAT/Learning trust leadership programmes
- Action research feeding into whole school development
Advice for aspiring leaders at all levels
I can only speak from personal experience and reading excessively around various leadership practices, and I would like to offer this advice to colleagues:
- Be relentless in your pursuit of seeking experience, and at a whole school wide level if possible
- Don’t just rely on external courses/qualifications to bolster your CV
- Don’t look for promotion simply to secure financial remuneration
- Define your moral purpose and stick to it
- Don’t promise what you can’t deliver or put yourself in a situation where you’ll burn out