Why it’s ok to fail sometimes…

In the past few years I have been thinking a lot about education and how it compares to the corporate world. In particular I’ve been interested in entrepreneurs and how often the most successful ones seem to have come through periods of real struggle and often downright failure in their professional lives only to bounce back stronger. A couple of months ago I was reading about the founder of Shutterstock, Jon Oringer, and he was describing how he had made Shutterstock such a success (the first company in Silicon Alley, NYC,  to be valued at a billion dollars). When he was questioned as to how he’d achieved it he said, ‘I had failed ten times before and I was willing to fail for the eleventh time.’  Clearly here was a man who did not take failure personally but built upon it each time, kept moving forward and learnt from errors made. I love his mindset and the ability to come back stronger and it made me think: do we do that enough in education?

In education it’s personal…

I know that when an entrepreneur fails it can mean that they let lot of people and other businesses down but there is something altogether more personal in education when failure occurs. If a school leader fails then is it ok? After all if they get it wrong then it leads to children being let down and I think that’s where education becomes intensely personal because who wants to let children down and fail them? We went into education to make a positive difference not a negative one! It is for this precise reason that it is simply deemed unacceptable to fail as a school leader and for the most part I agree with this however, I think that as a profession we are becoming so risk averse and afraid of failing (particularly with OFSTED) that it is inhibiting many leaders from making big calls that could push the learning forward for children in a huge way. If you fail in education as a leader then there is an element of being consigned to the scrap heap and being seen as ‘soiled goods’ particularly if an OFSTED judgement goes against you. We seem to often miss the point that a lot of entrepreneurs inherently get and that is: it’s ok to fail as long you learn from it and the failure isn’t a catastrophic one. Really there are two types of failure. The first type of failure comes from apathy – a leader who has rested on their laurels and become complacent. The second type of failure happens when a risk or innovation has occurred and for some reason, whatever that may be, it hasn’t worked out. By the very definition, entrepreneurs (for the most part) fall into the latter category when failing because they are innovative leaders who are go getters and therefore less likely to become complacent but possibly a little more likely to over extend themselves. They key is that unless you take risks, are prepared to fail and learn from it then are you ever really going to achieve excellence?

A changing mindset…

CC @thinkingIP

CC @thinkingIP

I love this image which was created by @thinkingIP. It sends out a great message and in particular to education. We should set our goals (make them ambitious) and work towards them with the realisation that things rarely go as we perceive they will and along the way we are going to hit many stumbling blocks that we need to overcome. It also shows that sometimes, just when you are about to succeed, you’ll often face your biggest test. It’s important that when we set out to achieve anything we are prepared to fail, learn from it and bounce back. In education that’s a really fine line because we are dealing in children’s lives but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take risks, fail, learn from it and then come back stronger. We just have to build in safety measures to ensure that when we do fail it is in a way that can be salvaged and turned around.

image

Finally…

Personally I can accept that I may fail through taking risks and attempting to innovate but what I cannot tolerate for myself is failure through apathy and complacency. That sort is failure really is unacceptable when dealing with children’s lives because it sends out a strong message that you as a leader hold yourself above the good of the children. No one should ever want to fail in that way!

If you’re interested in reading up more on how failure is a key contributor to success then I fully recommend that you read  the book below by Tim Harford. It’s an easy read and really thought provoking!

ADAPT (Book)

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Reasons to be a headteacher

This post comes about as a result of @gazneedle highlighting that in previous posts there is mention of the ‘positives’ of going into headship without actually alluding to what they are. He said that he’d love to have it sold to him. Well here goes…

This might seem strange but I’m going to begin with a perceived negative and try and flip it on it’s head. By far the biggest reason that I hear of teachers not wanting to aim for headship is the responsibility that goes with it – the fact that the buck stops with you. Well I guess the short answer to that is ‘yes it does’ but there is another point to be made. As a headteacher the buck does stop with you and yes that is daunting (at times) but life is about taking risks, stepping outside of your comfort zone, pushing yourself into unchartered territory and putting your head above the pit. It’s one thing to think headship isn’t for you because you enjoy the role of day to day class teaching too much (although as a HT you can still be heavily involved in learning with the children) but don’t be put off by headship because of responsibility. When you eventually depart the Earth no one will judge you for being a good or bad headteacher – they will judge you on your strength of character and attitude to life. With that in mind here are the positives of being a headteacher so, if you are a teacher or senior leader, then take them onboard and start aiming for what is a great and fulfilling role.

#1 Implementing your vision

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

There is no feeling like steering a school in the direction that you totally and utterly believe. It is a great feeling to know that you have the ability to draw out everything you believe in education and implement this into a school. I’ve worked for some great HTs who had exciting visions but nothing beats guiding a school in the direction you believe.

#2 Empowering the children – showing you care

When I first started as HT two years ago I set myself the challenge  of getting to know the name of every child in the school (360 of them) within a month. I managed it and now, when I stand on the gate in the morning, I welcome them all in personally. I also know what interests they have (this takes longer to acquire this information and then remember it!) and it’s a great feeling to see their face light up when you welcome them onto the playrgound by using their name and referencing an interest. Children know when an adult is genuinely interested in them and it matters to them that the person in charge of the school values them as an individual.  We’ve all worked in schools where the HT locks themselves away and is rarely seen – to know that standing on a gate, smiling and welcoming children into school makes a difference is a great feeling especially when the child who is often quiet and shy starts to come out of their skin and shine. As a class teacher that’s a great feeling with a class of 30, imagine what it’s like with 360. Magic!

#3 Developing people

Photo Credit:  CC Marfis75

Photo Credit: CC Marfis75

It is a real privilege knowing that you have the ability to positively influence a person’s career – this is the real moral compass of headship. So many leaders had a positive influence on me and if one of them hadn’t shown interest and faith in my ability the journey to get here would have taken longer. To know that I now have the responsibility of similarly developing people is a real honour and, when a staff member who you have invested so much time in, takes a step forward in their career it a very rewarding experience. It might sound a bit twee but I love the quote: ‘All the flowers of tomorrow are in the seeds of today.’ That quote not only rings true for the children but also for all staff under your stewardship.

#4 Leading change

I know a lot of people dislike change but that is an element of the job I love. I really enjoy looking at the school with a clarity and objectivity to see what we have done well that’s worked and what else we can do to improve. The process of focusing on an area that needs improving, implementing change and then assessing the impact is rewarding and you get lots of feedback (quickly) about whether the strategies you are implementing work.

#5 Validation

This one is totally selfish but I think it is very important. Headship is a wonderful experience but also stressful at times, particularly in your first one. The amount of times I doubted myself, worried that I wasn’t up to the mark (see the post on coaching for how to deal with this) and generally felt daunted was quite a lot in the first year in particular. There were only two things I didn’t waver on and they were the direction I was taking the school and the vision – I may have doubted everything else but I never doubted these two things. So, when you get your first OFSTED inspection, it’s a big thing. If it goes well then you are validated – no one can ever take that away from you. I was fortunate that mine went well (OFSTED REPORT 2014) and instantly, for the first time in my mind, I had credibility. It’s hard to describe that feeling – it’s (and this is rather sad) one of the best feelings I’ve had. To know that you have led a school through a period of change and come out the other end with your methods vaildated is a hugely motivating feeling. I’m not sure that I’ll ever replicate that feeling and I may spend a lot of my working life chasing it. It is a unique and highly personal thing to experience.

Education needs YOU!

It’s a well known fact there is a real shortage of headteachers – that’s because it’s a pressured job and a lot of people can be very negative about it. Don’t let them put you off. If you are a good to outstanding teacher or senior leader and are reading this then you need to be seriously considering aiming for headship and what’s more schools need you. We need talented, inspirational leaders who are willing to give it a go.Of course you’ll worry about whether you’re ready. Of course you’ll doubt yourself. That’s natural but don’t let these barriers get in the way. Aim for headship!

If you would like a a free copy of my guide to aiming for headship then click here Securing and Surviving the First Year of Headship. If you are thinking about taking the first steps towards headship or are about to step into the role then get in touch with me via staylor@ht1education.co.uk or on twitter @tambotaylor and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. It is a genuine offer so take me up on it!

 

 

The Influence of Others

I’m often fascinated to hear about other people’s career journeys – how did they end up where they are? Who influenced them? What factors of that journey made them who they are today? How did the journey influence their vision and practice? What have they learnt from others along the way?

I find the whole topic really interesting and in particular how much experiencing other leaders helps to shape us in the leadership role ourselves. Does a leader who has worked under a limited number of leaders in their journey have a disadvantage compared to someone who has worked under a variety of leaders? There is no hard and fast rule but I can’t help feeling that it can only be a positive to have worked under a variety of leaders as you have a first hand experience of the strengths and weaknesses of different leadership styles and approaches used.

Below are the leadership styles that I have encountered in my career and the impact they have had:

In the first two years of my teaching career I worked for a truly outstanding headteacher. He was one of those leaders who instantly makes it known that they have complete faith in your ability. The way he led the school made me want to be a headteacher from day one.

In the first two years of my teaching career I worked for a truly outstanding headteacher. He was one of those leaders who instantly makes it known that they have complete faith in your ability. The way he led the school made me want to be a headteacher from day one. Some teachers see moving to a headship as a sell out – I have never felt this way because he helped me to see the big picture and the difference a great leader could make to a whole community. He had a democratic style of leadership that enabled him to get the best from the team whilst also setting out high standards and expectations.

 

The second headteacher I worked under was a complete contrast to the first. He had a laissez faire attitude to leadership. I know some staff loved working for him but personally I felt that he offered to school no leadership or direction. I found this a challenging place to work because ultimately the standards were low and there were no consistent expectations. At the time I disliked being there immensely but when I think back now I can appreciate that as a leader it was where I gained my most valuable learning experiences. When your beliefs and principles are tested to the maximum it is excellent for helping develop your vision and how  you plan to lead in the future.

The second headteacher I worked under was a complete contrast to the first. He had a laissez faire approach to leadership. I know some staff loved working for him but personally I felt that he offered the school no leadership or direction. I found this to be a challenging place to work because ultimately the standards were low and there were no consistent expectations. At the time I disliked being there immensely but when I think back now I can appreciate that as a leader it was where I gained my most valuable learning experiences. When your beliefs and principles are tested to the maximum it is excellent for helping develop your vision and how you plan to lead in the future. I like to think of this head as ‘The Challenge’ because he really pushed on my thinking in education all be it inadvertently.

 

The third headteacher I worked under had a very direct style of leadership and was ultimately  quite authoritarian in his approach whilst also deploying a paternalistic approach with some members of staff. Whilst I found that this leader provided a high level of challenge, I enjoyed working for him enormously. He played a central role in two key decisions that would lead to me becoming a headteacher. Firstly, he provided the way out of the second school and believed that I had potential. The second key moment was where I had applied for internal prom top and made a real mess of it. I had to be re-interviewed and, due to the pressure, I decided I was going to pull out. This headteacher approached me at lunch time and told me to follow him. I believed we were going to his office but he led me to his car. He then drove us to a remote pub, bought me a drink (non alcoholic) and said that I had earnt the right to gain the promotion and that I just had to hold my nerve. When I look back this was a real turning point in my career because I believe that if I had shunned taking the first steps into leadership there I'm not sure that I would ever have made the move. What he did for me was a real act of leadership and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The third headteacher I worked under had a very direct style of leadership and was ultimately quite authoritarian in his approach whilst also deploying a paternalistic approach with some members of staff. Whilst I found that this leader provided a high level of challenge, I enjoyed working for him enormously. He played a central role in two key decisions that would lead to me becoming a headteacher. Firstly, he provided the way out of the second school and believed that I had potential. The second key moment was where I had applied for internal promotion to the SLT and made a real mess of it. Rather embarrassingly I had to be re-interviewed and, due to the pressure, I decided I was going to pull out. This headteacher approached me at lunch time and told me to follow him. I believed we were going to his office but he led me to his car. He then drove us to a remote pub, bought me a drink (non alcoholic) and said that I had earnt the right to gain the promotion and that I just had to hold my nerve. When I look back this was a real turning point in my career because I believe that if I had shunned taking the first steps into leadership there I’m not sure that I would ever have made the move. What he did for me was a real act of leadership and will stay with me for the rest of my life. I like to think of him as ‘The Wisdom’ because he always offered direct, yet sound career advice.

 

In the fourth school I worked at (I was deputy) I was fortunate to work with a headteacher who was happy to show me the ropes of headship and hand me an awful lot of responsibility. I like to think of him as 'The Guide' because, although we were polar opposites, we worked closely and he was happy to give me opportunities to develop and progress quickly.

In the fourth school I worked at (I was deputy) I was fortunate to work with a headteacher who was happy to show me the ropes of headship and hand me an awful lot of responsibility. I like to think of him as ‘The Guide’ because, although we were polar opposites, we worked closely and he was happy to give me opportunities to develop and progress quickly. He ultimately taught me the power of distributed leadership.

 

The final person to play a significant impact upon my development as a leader was the headteacher of the school where I did my NPQH placement. I like to think of him as 'The Trust' because it was whilst on my placement that he made it clear to me that I was ready to be a headteacher. It is one thing thinking you are ready but another having it verified by another leader. It gave me the confidence to start applying for headships. This headteacher is the most complete leader I have come across. He has been a head in three different schools, worked for a global company and is not an executive head of four schools. He is an incredible leader with an aura and presence. I aspire to be a leader as effective as him.

The final person to have a significant impact upon my development as a leader was the headteacher of the school where I did my NPQH placement. I like to think of him as ‘The Trust’ because it was whilst on my placement that he made it clear to me that I was ready to be a headteacher. It is one thing thinking you are ready but another having it verified by another leader. It gave me the confidence to start applying for headships. This headteacher is the most complete leader I have come across. He has been a head in three different schools, worked for a global company and is now an executive head of four schools. He is an incredible leader with an aura and presence that makes all in his company feel at ease and empowered. He really demonstrates headship at a moral level because he believes a key function of his job is to develop future leaders and he gives up a lot of personal time in ensuring this happens. I aspire to be a leader as effective as him and with as strong a moral compass.

 

Undoubtedly there will be highly effective leaders out there who have only worked under one previous headteacher and, like I said before, there is no right and wrong approach – it’s what works for you. My advice, however, is that if you want to go on to become a headteacher or leader then the more experience you get of different styles the better because it is ultimately our past experiences that define us as the leaders we go on to become. If you would like to read about different leadership styles in-depth then click here.

Why getting a coach is important

When I think back to my first year of headship I look on it with a real sense of pride because whilst it was a fantastic experience taking charge of a school for the first time it was also a challenging one. Headship is a great job. No doubt about it. It is also a very lonely one at times and, if you are anything like me, you are able to all too easily see what you are not doing in the role rather than what you are. Of course, this depends on the day and the picture below sums it up well.

up and down

Personally, the challenges for me were the isolation the role can create. If you want you can blame yourself for anything. On a day with self doubt I’d turn it all on me and whilst this inevitably means that you set high standards and don’t rest on your laurels it also means that mentally you can really knock yourself. If a teacher was RI I’d blame me. If a message hadn’t been communicated from a teacher to a parent – that would be my fault due to poor systems. If morale was low I’d blame me. Anything and everything was my fault because I was in charge. It can be quite a dark place if you let it.

I particularly felt this in the first year because ultimately I had very few outlets for allaying my worst fears when I was in a doubting phase (I can testify that this does get a lot easier the further into headship you progress). Obviously I could speak to a solid network of HTs that I had built around me but, to be honest, I was all too aware that they have their own jobs to do and whilst a ten minute chat was never a problem or the odd half day here and there, I always felt that to take more would be to impose myself on them and I respect them too much to do this. I also spoke to my wife, she’s great at listening but when I am being overly reflective then there is only so much that I can air. The same can be said for my family – my Dad wants to solve the issues for me and make it right and, I end up worrying him and my Mum because I am the only person who can resolve them. Finally, and I can see this paragraph is a bit depressing, I couldn’t really turn to anyone in school because who wants to know that the leader of the school is doubting whether or not he cuts the mustard.

The reality is that in the role of headteacher you are judged by all and quite rightly so. Children, parents, grandparents, staff, LA reps…you name it. They ALL judge you. It’s called accountability and goes with the job. This also means that again there are few people to turn to when the doubting sets in!

The Solution

It took me a while to come up with a solution and having a strong group of HTs that I could turn to certainly helped but as I have said was not the complete answer. Ultimately I decided that I wanted and needed someone who wasn’t going to judge me, wasn’t going to worry about me and was purely going to listen. The answer – a coach. The real beauty of a coach is that you pay them not to judge you, they don’t know you on a personal level and so won’t worry about you and they listen without prejudice and with complete objectivity.

I was really fortunate that I had worked with a coach as part of NPQH and contacted her via email. She charges a really reasonable price for a two and a half hour slot and believe me it is money well spent (I class this as my CPD). To be able to sit there and unload my worst fears about how I am performing in my role is hugely liberating and has allowed me to avoid the ‘doubting dips’ that plagued me in my first year. My coach doesn’t judge but she does provide objectivity and often helps me to appreciate that my responses are out of context and disproportionate to what is really occurring. Don’t get me wrong, I still doubt myself  and hit the odd dip but the key is to book your coach in when you know you will be approaching your most vulnerable periods – for me this is the penultimate week before the end of a half term. I have come to learn this about myself. We approach the half term and I start to see everything that I am not doing and fail to recognise any successes – this then spirals and can leave me feeling quite isolated and unable to think strategically or with clarity. Meeting with coach pre-empts these feelings and since I have been working with her I have noticed a marked improvement in my mental resilience.

Fears

A new generation of leader

There are many senior leaders and headteachers who will decide that having a coach is not for them and is a sign of weakness. I couldn’t feel more strongly in the opposite direction. I think having a coach shows that you know your own mind and are open, as leader, to your fallibilities. The key is being self aware. Having a coach does not mean that I don’t know how to be a headteacher or a leader, it just means that I acknowledge that at times I need a structure to clarify my thoughts. I think the really good thing is that there’s a new generation of leader coming through that is self aware in this department and not afraid to say that at times they would benefit from resolving issues with someone objective. My advice to anyone stepping in to a leadership role is to consider a coach because it empowers you and will ensure longevity in your role which ultimately the school community wants and needs.

How to Create a Vision

One area that causes new and aspiring leaders looking to make the move into Assistant Headship, Deputy Headship and Headship the most challenge and angst is that of vision. I’m often asked by these aspiring leaders the following questions:

  • How do I know what my vision is?
  • What actually is a vision?
  • How do I develop a vision?
  • How do I articulate my vision?

Vision is one of those things that is difficult to quantify and hard to put your finger on – especially if yours isn’t yet clear. In fact, when starting out in pursuit of leadership roles, it can become an almost mythical quest where people get really hung up on not having a vision or knowing what there’s is. I suppose it’s like anything in life, the more pressure you put on yourself to come up with an answer the harder it is to find the solution. To help aspiring leaders develop a vision I have created the following principles.

Developing the vision – THE GOOD

The first part of creating a vision is to think about what you passionately believe in education. Try to come up with some key drivers that you think will help you achieve outstanding outcomes in your school e.g. collaborative learning, promoting independence, building global links etc. Once you have done this the next step is to think of any inspirational schools you have worked in with leaders who have really sold a vision – try to unpick what made you buy into their vision. I first started teaching at a great school in Uppermill, Saddleworth where there was a truly outstanding Headteacher – his vision was so clear and the way he sold it really motivated me. I have spent many hours unpicking what he did and how he did it – once I did this I built elements of this into my own vision.

If you can, and you have an understanding boss, then try and get out and visit other great schools. Whenever I meet a leader who inspires me I always take the time to pick their brains on what they believe in education, how they have achieved it in their school, the barriers they overcame and (not linked necessarily to vision) their career path (I’m always intrigued by how people have got to where they are). The more great things you see in education the clearer your vision will begin to become.

Developing the vision – THE BAD

Without a doubt the most powerful tool for developing my vision was when I spent a year working at a school that tested all of my core beliefs and principles. I had relocated from Uppermill and took the first job I was offered. When I started at the school I quickly realised it wasn’t what I thought and the vision the school had was a million miles from my own. The longer I spent at the school the more I disliked it and everything it stood for – in my opinion (and it is only my opinion) the school was not child centred – it was staff centred. Expectations of the children were low, behaviour dealt with inconsistently and there was little desire from anyone to innovate or change. I HATED it there. At the time is was an incredibly tough year and when I found promotion after one year I was only too glad to leave. What I couldn’t appreciate at the time was that it was the most powerful learning experience I could ever have had and was as useful and possibly even more useful than working under an outstanding Headteacher. You see, you only really start to know what you believe in and your vision for education when you see the complete opposite. When your beliefs are questioned and challenged. When you see poor practice. It all promotes a powerful response and made me think: ‘When I’m a Headteacher I will never do it like that’.  So my advice to you is that if you have ever had the misfortune (or as it will turn out, fortune) to work in a school that tests these principles then harness them and use them towards your vision. My vision and who I am is hugely influenced by that negative experience. If you have never worked at a school that tested out your principles then again my advice is to get out to a range of schools – not just good – and see if there are things in them that help mould your vision.

Developing the vision – THE UGLY

Aspiring and new leaders who lift someone else’s vision and regurgitate are doing themselves no favours. After all, we can all see through a leader who doesn’t have conviction in what they are saying. The easy option when you don’t have a vision is to merely repeat someone else’s but in my experience this is a short term solution. The better option is to look at a range of visions and modfiy them, merge them, add bits and create something you truly believe in. At least this way, when you are challenged on your vision (which you will be at some point), you can speak with passion, belief and conviction for what you feel about education and the direction to move in. Innovating and modifying a vision is different from directly regurgitating one.

The Vision Model

Developing a Vision

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

Articulating Your Vision

So, you are at the point where you have created your vision and are feeling more confident about it. The next step is articulating it to staff, parents, peers and governors – this is not always easy and where people fall down is when they over complicate a process. I have seen leaders create a vision that was summarised in one side of A4. To be frank, I switched off after the first paragraph – there was just too much information. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that to get your vision across it needs to be complicated or overtly wordy. My advice to you is to keep it simple and ensure that you live and breathe it. I have often felt that a simple picture or diagram helps – below is my vision for Park Hill and what I used when I applied for the job. I believe it says all it needs to.

 

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

Copyright: ht1education.co.uk All rights reserved.

And finally…

Be prepared to fight tooth and nail for your vision. Education needs strong leaders who will stand up for what they believe in. You will have doubters – everyone does but make sure you stick to your principles. After all, the children deserve to be in a school that knows where it’s heading!

The Waiting Game

In many ways the most difficult time after you have secured your first headship is the period in between accepting the job and taking up the post. This is often the time when it becomes increasingly difficult to focus on your role as deputy head due to the exciting and daunting realisation that you are about to become the ultimate leader of the school. You will increasingly find yourself strategizing about the job and thinking about what you will do, how you will go about things – this can become draining and below are practical tips you can act on before starting.

The Waiting Game

If you would like to see an example of the 1:1 staff meeting questions then please visit this blog over the next few days as this will be added.

Final thought…when you share with other colleagues and associates you know that you are set to become a headteacher you will inevitably find that some people like to point out the negatives in the job e.g. it’s a lot of pressure, why would you do that? Are you really ready? The pay is poor, the hours are long, you’re selling out by not staying as a teacher…the list could go on. I personally ask that you do one thing – fight your corner and be passionate about why you are going in to the job – to make a difference, to develop leaders, to improve the outcomes for pupils, to unite a community. There are just too many people who are negative about headship, make sure you’re not one of them. Yes it’s tough at times and can be a real roller coaster but ultimately it is the best job going and a massive honour. Never lose site of that!

Picking the right school for headship

Choosing the Right School

When applying for headships, candidates usually come in to one of two categories: those that are motivated to be a headteacher and want to climb the career ladder and those who want to increase their income. Both are valid reasons for going for that first post and when deciding which school to apply for consider the following factors below.

Image

All of the above factors should form part of your decision making process because changing one of these variables within a position can make a huge difference. A good example of this is how long the previous HT has been in post; if they have been there for a long time e.g. +10 years then it will probably mean that changing the mindset of the school will take longer to happen than following on from someone who has been there three years because they may have begun to initiate change. Both have their pluses and minuses but following on from a long established HT can provide a stern test in the first year. Only you can know which factors are more important than others but the key advice is to make sure you choose the right school that you will feel comfortable working at.