I've had the honour of working for and serving so many colleagues who have contributed to my personal development. Over the years, I have accumulated words of wisdom and advice from outstanding leaders across the country, who have used their vast knowledge and experience to support the leaders of the future.
The opportunities that I’ve been privileged to undertake were as a result of being trusted by outstanding leaders. I’m indebted to them: without their encouragement I would have left teaching after my third year. The series of blog posts are my way of documenting my thoughts and learning. They will be written in no particular order.
Conflict within teams
Reflections from my first year managing a department.
Staff had become unsettled, some disillusioned and demotivated, following three changes in leadership in as many years. The team was experienced, professional and conscientious. I’d work hard to set out my vision, lead and teach by example. Everything was to go to my plan. Any new initiative was immediately accepted. It was a dream role. For someone new to management, having heard negative stories about having to deal with awkward staff, my role was a dream come true.
In fact, it wasn’t and it took me a few years to know why. I’d heard of meetings in which conflict occurred but had not experienced it myself, until my first senior role. Surely every leader’s nightmare: colleagues going head to head in heated debate not being able to agree on a way forward with the odd comment which is directed negatively. This was certainly unsettling for me. During the meeting I sat quietly, fearful of offering my pennies worth, afraid l I’d be stamped down, staring into my cup of tea.
After the meeting I discussed the proceedings with one of my colleagues. For them, meetings need to have an element of conflict, because we are making important decisions about the future of our students and therefore the impact of our decisions affects the work of our staff.
If everyone is in agreement all of the time, how are we challenged? Who’s seeing the issue from another perspective? It was then that I thought back to my own leadership of my department. Did I provide opportunity for input, reflection, a different perspective? Had I been the lone ranger in a quest to prove how good I was as a leader, looking to improve GCSE results and left any other perspectives aside? Had the policies and key procedures that I imposed moved from establishing structure to imposing shackles. Leading to a lack of input, risk taking and creativity?
Had I been a victim of Patrick Lencioni’s ‘temptations of a leader’? Whilst the work of Lencioni is not set in an educational context, I have enjoyed reading his books. He proposed that there are five temptations of a leader, which I’ve adapted to four.
Our role as teachers is to equip all of our students so that they can be as well prepared as possible for the challenges ahead in life. This will vary for each student. It’s not about us or our egos.
As a new head of department, my ego overshadowed a focus on results. After a year of poor performance and a stern word from the deputy, I quickly adjusted my focus to ensure that the achievement of my students came first, however, I was still chasing A*-C pass rates in my subject to prove that I was a good leader (status). Admittedly, this was to the detriment of some students.
I’d imagine there was a huge sigh of relief up and down the country following the recent announcement made by the Dfe to move towards an average point score (APS) system rather than the crude A*-C measure. This will truly ensure that every grade counts.
Temptation 2 – Choosing popularity over accountability
Question: “Are you more concerned with making friends or with ensuring that staff are held accountable?”.
Wanting to be liked is understandable, and is an easy pitfall for a new leader. It’s a balance that needs to be considered.
Temptation 3 – Choosing to avoid conflict
It’s fine to have conflict within the confines of the four walls of a leadership, pastoral or department meeting, provided colleagues can stand shoulder to shoulder outside of the meeting, even if they are not in agreement. This isn’t an easy process and needs agreeing upon at the outset. If there isn’t trust, these teams will have issues and this needs to be addressed. Conflict also needs be managed - we don’t want it leading to personal attacks, which is detrimental.
Question: Has your team established a code of conduct?
Temptation 4 – Choosing certainty over risk-taking
Change is daunting for colleagues as it means working in a different way. I’d imagine we’ve all come across colleagues who have expressed concern about change because they’ve always done things the same way. It takes a leader with conviction and courage to take a risk. A lot has been written about change, I would recommend reading the work of Kotter for anyone wanting to learn about change management.
Establishing the climate
Tom Sherrington captures key factors in generating and sustaining team dynamics, which include: investing time in agreeing common goals, rotating the chair, inviting associate team members each term and celebrating success. It’s well worth a read.
A colleague of mine used a clip from the film '12 Angry Men' and showed it to his team to unpick the way the group managed their conflict and lessons that could be learnt. Watch it yourself. Could form an interesting training session.
Inequalities. These exist in our schools and are outlined well in the book, “The Tail” by Paul Marshall. The last 15 years have seen rises in attainment, but not the attainment of those at the bottom. As leaders, we must work to reduce the inequalities that exist within our schools so that we meet the complex needs of all our students. The success of schools in Tower Hamlets has been well documented recently. This highlights that improvement is not only possible, but achievable.
Is your team working in the same direction towards a common goal? How do you know they are?
If they are not, what are you doing about this?
I’d be interested in your views.
Part 4: ‘Group work within lessons’ to follow. #LeadershipLessons
Part 2 link here
Part 1 link here