Having searched the twittersphere, I came across Tom Sherrington’s blog post and the discussion thread (below) confirmed my initial thoughts, outlining why I was struggling to articulate the vision, because as Kevin Moody stated, it ‘must be based on some sort of empirical analysis of the situation you find as a new head’. Therefore it’s context specific?!
Ros McCullen defines culture in her blog post, stating :
culture is how we do things here, but climate is how it feels to work here. We keep a careful eye on this, because routines and policies and procedures are all entirely subject to the quality of relationships!
Tom states in his blog post:
I’ve always believed that the ethos at every level in a school is a major contributor to educational success. It is also a key factor in recruiting and retaining staff. The messages that you give as a leader are one of the main drivers of the values system that you wish to promote; but it is the actions you take that really underpin it.
Vision building is an essential aspect to get right if you’re going to get the entire school community behind you. I still remember how the head at my previous school took time to listen, see and get a feel for the school. Then he worked over an entire term to lead a session to jointly develop the vision for the school. It included meeting with as many staff as possible, in small groups - i.e. heads of department, heads of year, senior leaders, governors, students, support staff and parents - to seek their views, and then undertaking a whole-school survey of staff and parents.
I was expecting the big sell on his first day in September to listen to what he wanted. Instead, at that first meeting, we listened to what he stood for and the importance of high expectations and rightly he waited a term to set out the shared vision, from which the ethos and culture fell into place.
Regardless of your leadership role within the school, you should have a vision for your area. As a head of department, I learnt valuable lessons from my mistakes: by not developing a shared vision, I felt I was the lone ranger, and then I set about unpicking this and moving forward, ensuring that I took time to listen, see, feel and think what ‘we’ needed to do as a department. You may find this tool, devised by the NCSL, useful in developing your shared vision.
In his book ‘Thinking Allowed’, Mick Walters describes the unfortunate impact of the Ofsted regime in many schools. When he asks heads ‘What is your school like?’, the typical response is ‘it’s good’ … ‘it’s good with outstanding features.’ The ethos and culture have been eroded away. Try asking the question at your own school. I hope you get a non-Ofsted response.
Stuart Lock @StuartLock wrote a fabulous, heartfelt blog outlining his manifesto for headship. Similarly to my thoughts, he adds:
My vision for my future school, if I am afforded the privilege of serving that community as Headteacher, will be context specific. It depends on the school, the community, the students and the place. This means that I will have to listen and observe in order to create a vision that can be distributed. I have in the past withdrawn from Headship interviews because the Governors have had a vision that I cannot sign up to and cannot align with my own values. So I recognise that my vision for the school I lead is not wholly transferable. Nonetheless, if a school appoints me, it will be appointing me in part because I have outlined my vision and they will feel it aligns with theirs. I will have explored the school and know that I can make a difference there. I will have chosen them and they will have chosen me.
In summarising, I think I have a personal vision and one for the school that I’m currently at. This has changed to support the context of each of the schools that I’ve worked at. The vision has been developed, reviewed and refined not in isolation but by listening, watching and discussing this with the school community (I don’t like using the word ‘stakeholders’). The vision can’t sit parked nicely bound on the mantle piece and must be reviewed to ensure that we are protecting the education of our youngsters. Without vision, there would be confusion; however, too much vision and not enough management can also present issues.
It is from vision that the ethos and culture emerge. At my current school, the vision statement is ‘Committed to Excellence’: simple, but still requires reinforcing to ensure that we model this in all of our work, and we still need to stress the importance of ‘why’.
The context of my previous school was very different. The school was situated in a very deprived ward with over 50% of students in receipt of free school meals. Via the extensive vision consultation exercise undertaken by my previous headteacher, it was felt that ‘Working Together to Achieve’ was the most appropriate motto for the school. It truly does encapsulate the thought that it takes an entire village to raise a child and this school was a wonderful place to work.
It great to see colleagues such as Stephen Tierney and Tom Sherrington reviewing their current vision statements to ensure that their schools are continually seeking to provide the best possible education for their students and their communities.
I hope I will be able to get my viewpoint across when answering this question when I am afforded the opportunity to interview for headship in the future.