Tag Archive | Leadership

Leadership Reflections

leadership reflections

I have been led by others and I have led others. I have studied leadership and I have experienced good and poor leadership. I have worked for leaders and worked with leaders.  As a leader I have made mistakes and learnt from them and I have learnt from the mistakes made by other leaders. This article is about what I have discovered about leadership (in a nutshell).

Google leadership and you get definitions, styles, skills, theories, books & courses.  There are probably T shirts and I know Edward de Bono came up with a set of coloured hats.  What can I hope to add to what has already been written? Well this is a more a practical reflection on leadership, experiences of leadership if you like triggered by a #SLTchat session on leadership. It is also specific to education.  You may not think education leadership is any different to any other form of leadership but I believe it is. Yes there are similarities but the process of becoming a leader and of being a leader is somewhat different.  So instead of an article about being a leader or leadership, of which Google suggests there are millions, this is more about working with leaders, being led by good and poor leaders, true leaders and simulacrums.

Firstly all teachers are leaders, they lead the learning of their pupils. This relationship is no different to the relationship between any leader and those they lead.  The maxim of “lead by example” is often forgotten by teachers, they forget what it is like to be a learner. This makes them poor leaders and poor teachers.  Poor leaders because leaders should never stop learning from those they lead. Poor teachers because forgetting the anxiety of learning, the need to belong, of having to face choices and needing a voice will limit your ability to build learning relationships.

Secondly the route to school leadership is based on teaching less. Doing less of the things you love doing, things that brought you into teaching in the first place. An ex head teacher shared what drove her to be a school leader; it was “the sphere of influence” factor. The more responsible the position the greater the sphere of influence you have. There is certainly passion and belief attached to this drive but perhaps also ego and they make for difficult things to balance in leadership roles.

As a teacher you have influence on the pupils you teach, as head of department this extends to the teachers in your department and as a leader of a school the pupils and teachers in your school. Some would argue you have an influence in the community too.  Others are driven by other motives, those of ambition, status, responsibility, notoriety. It often strikes me as strange though that we draw these people from a pool of talent that came to teaching to teach and many may be poorly suited to school leadership although they pursue such ambitions. Perhaps that is one reason for so many leadership books, courses, and even qualifications. There is more about suitability for leadership in my next observation.

The third observation I will make concerning leadership in teaching is about the nature of teachers and I know there are exceptions but bear with me. I have a theory that we explore careers that reflect the environments we favour, that we feel comfortable in, have the talent for, or are thrilled by. Fate may decide that is not where we end up but that is another story. If we take the case of teaching then I would argue that those who are successful in school, and who enjoy school and benefit from the rewards of being compliant (a requirement for success as a pupil in school) will tend towards seeking out careers with a similar environment. Teaching is one such career. The result is, since teachers were compliant students, a compliant teaching workforce. This has its benefits but when we consider many of the leaders we hold in high regard, those who have been successful, are mavericks, non-conformists, even rebels it begs the question about the suitability of compliant leaders when it comes to doing what is right rather than what is required. There is certainly a case for “horses for courses” and at times any organisation requires different styles or types of leadership however this is another example of how leadership differs in schools.

Education is exposed to political will, ideas and pressures.  Schools are not autonomous and be it a board of governors, an academy chain, local authority or any other body that is responsible for the school they ultimately set policy.  Where that influence extends to inspection, standards, and regulation (as in the Government) a particular set of powers are employed to direct what happens in schools. Many leaders in schools (at all levels) may disagree with policy but few will be obstreperous. A few will find creative ways around the direction and quietly do what is right other than what is required. Ultimately though, unless successful, there is no reward for challenging policy or being anything other than compliant. This creates its own set of problems for leaders in schools, how to operate a sphere of influence in line with their own experience, philosophy, and ideology when it is in conflict with a government directed policy. It is also responsible for setting up a certain style of leadership, one that is to do more with “enforcing and regulating” than engaging and enabling.

My final observation is possibly less specific to education and it is that there are two types of leaders. I am not talking about styles of leadership, anyone can adopt a style or at least try. I am suggesting that there are those for whom leadership comes naturally and those who aspire to leadership but who lack the understanding and drive to truly understand what leadership is about.  Knowing which one you are working with is essential for your own wellbeing. I believe you can tell which one you have by observing and noting certain behaviours.  The first type of leader is the true leader and the second is a simulacrum, an imitation that looks like the true leader but gives themselves away in the following manner. I have tried to layout in the table below what their approach is and what happens to individuals and teams when being led by each type of leader.

True leader

Simulacrum Leader

Engages and consults before making a decision. Narrow and selected consultation before making a decision. Often vulnerable to pressure from individuals.
Makes decisions in a timely manner and describes rational. Decisions are often delayed and changed without providing a rational.
Carries out actions with minimum delay but ensures resources are available with acknowledgement of consequences. Actions are instigated without considering incidental consequences. A lack of planning or co-ordination evident.
Accepts when an error is made and willing to re visit decisions openly and without seeking to blame. Evaluation of events provides useful insights that are acted upon. May blame others and events when things go wrong. Reluctant to re visit decision more likely to adopt another course of action without evaluation.
Views evidence objectively and without ego Tends towards subjectivity with possible bias based on self.
What you see is what you get. Although diplomatic also open and honest. You are never sure of the reaction you will get.
They build trust fostering the ethic of working with or for them. Those being led tend towards being sceptical, they begin wondering what is behind the actions or decisions.

A poster I designed to emphasise these points under “Good” and “Poor” leadership actions, something to print or pin on your wall, is available from me for you to print. The links are at the bottom of this article.

If you have the option to work for a leader then look for the signs of a simulacrum before you decide. If you have no option but to work with or for a leader then “forewarned is forearmed”!

So there you have it, a practical look at leadership in education.  As for my own approach to leadership, it is best summed up by the way of a poster I designed based on the mnemonic “ENABLE”. I see this as the most appropriate verb to describe the actions of a successful leader.

What each letter of ENABLE stands for:

  • E is for Engage – with those they are leading
  • N is for Nurture – both the team and future leaders
  • A is for Articulate – a vision, the challenges and the way forward clearly and convincingly
  • B is for Bridge – the gap between people, ideas and strategies in order to move forward
  • L is for listen and lead with empathy and understanding
  • E is for Encourage – all to participate, to challenge and to take risks

My thanks to @lenabellina for giving me the idea of turning my thoughts into posters. Each one is now available to download and print as high resolution. Just send an e-mail to kevin@ace-d.co.uk with Leaders Enable in the subject and I will do the rest. 

leadership posters


If you like what I have to say in this article you may like my book. It is written as a learning journal for all those in teaching and includes personal reflections on the challenges faced as well as many reflective tasks and ideas.  There is even a section on the responsibility of leadership in schools. It is a CPD course in a book!   Online reviews and comments by teachers on the book as well as links to podcast interviews and published extracts are available if you are interested (use the same e-mail link but put Book in the subject and I will forward them to you).

book-cover-promoBelonging reflective task

The Return to School

Teacher and class traditional

The original post below was written THREE  FOUR years ago now. Has anything changed?

It’s not exactly easy re-reading an article you wrote some time ago and finding that it’s still so relevant to education in the UK.  Hope appears to takes a bit of a bashing when this is the case.  So here is my hope once again and what I see as the responsibility of school leadership to make it happen.

The leadership mantra

If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.

If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.”

The original article, see how many things have changed since 2014

  “All Change – or is it?”

Here in the UK a new term is about to begin and we have new direction from Ofsted in the form of revised guidance and a new Secretary of State for Education.  Some teachers will be joining new schools and many will be facing the challenges of getting to know and teach new classes. Some teachers may even be taking on new challenges in the way of responsibilities or even the subjects and syllabi they will be teaching.  The school may be facing new challenges or targets and there may even be new leadership intent on bringing about improvements. A new timetable always brings with it a certain level of stress too as teachers and students try to remember where they should be and when and with what. A timetable can have a significant impact on the quality of teaching and learning and when the “tail wags the dog” instead of enabling as the timetable can sometimes do many pay the price during the year.  You would be forgiven for being overwhelmed even before you sit and listen to the Head setting out the challenges and goals for the year ahead.

The principles on which teaching is based

Luckily there are the routines and traditions that can form the refuge for the bewildered and confused and these can be found in the classrooms, corridors, and playgrounds of the many schools facing the new term.  There will be a desk and seat, a teacher, a focal point, a register to call, rules to follow, expectations and things to learn. These are the everyday realities of teaching and even with interactive whiteboards, improved planning rubrics, simpler assessment systems, computers and tablets, 3-D spaces and the odd new pencil case, little if anything really changes when it comes to the actual job of teaching.

It’s not all about resources

I have seen some of the best teaching with the most basic of resources and simplest of systems and some of the poorest teaching with the most sophisticated of resources and most intricate of systems. I have also seen some of the best teaching with the least motivated of learners and some of the poorest teaching with those learners so eager to conform and please.

If you are now expecting me to call for a back to basics approach or to ignore change because we have all seen it before and no doubt it will come around again then I must disappoint you.

Neither am I advocating that you jump in with both feet and take on board whatever change you face with as much enthusiasm you can muster. What I am reminding you of is the importance of building the firm foundations that will allow you to teach and then I am asking you to consider everything else in light of this one responsibility and this is it:

If whatever change comes along supports or enhances the relationship you have with your students and will improve your teaching and their learning then make it your own.

If on the other hand it will erode or fracture your relationships with the students you teach and thereby make teaching and learning harder than it is then find ways to either deflect the change or modify it in a way that causes no harm.

In my view it is the role of the leadership team to ensure that the learning environment and the relationships between teacher and learner are protected at all times and from all directions.

Leadership responsibilities and change, reform and new ideas

Below is a diagrammatic representation of what I see as the principle role of leadership in this respect.  There is a lot to take in in one go but focus on the learning responsibility ratio (the rectangle shaded blue at the bottom) which, if protected, should naturally over time move from an emphasis on the teacher to prepare, plan, motivate, engage and encourage to the learner taking more responsibility for managing the learning environment to meet their own needs. This transition has a great deal to do with “Learning Intelligence” and “Learning Needs”* (not learning styles).  Although I have not shown what happens when the leadership fails to protect this relationship in effect the responsibility reverts to the teacher and we end up with a “saw tooth” rather than a straight line transfer.  In extreme cases the learner may abdicate all responsibility for learning since any immediate consequences fall on the teacher and not the student.

Responsibility diagram upadated

If you would like to explore the Teacher Learner Relationship then please see this article.

learning responsibility diagram ideal

If we accept that it is the teacher’s responsibility to manage the learning environment then here are my four foundation stones for teaching.

Learning Needs

There are “Learning Needs” and we all have them. When planning lessons make sure you include these four headings.  The 4 learning needs are based on 35 years of teaching experience but the headings come from William Glasser [i] Its an easy set to remember – just Please Be Child Friendly in your approach and planning!

1) Power – how will I give my students a voice and show them that I am listening to their concerns and needs?

2) Belonging – what can I do to build a sense of belonging as I develop my relationships with my students in a way that builds trust and loyalty?

3) Choicewhat choices will I allow and how will I link these to consequences? How can I show them that they can have some control over their learning environment and that in doing so they can make learning easier?

4) Fun – how will I build the link between fun and achievement and how will I ensure we celebrate success to make learning fun?


* Want to know how you can develop this model in your organisation or find out more about  how LQ can improve the performance of your students?

* For more on the school learning environment see an earlier articleThe First LQ Topic Review – LQ and the School Environment

I can be contacted by phone at 01604 891229 or 07519743941

By e-mail at kevin@ace-d.co.uk

Through Skype: ace-d.co.uk

* For an alternative way to explore planning through what I call “Learning  Intelligence” then see the article “Learning Intelligence (LQ) and Lesson Planning” at: http://wp.me/p2LphS-a6

For an introduction to Learning Intelligence then see: http://wp.me/p2LphS-3p and a graphic covering the skills, attitudes, attributes and behaviours at: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/2297869-learning-intelligence

For a detailed exploration of learning needs I have published an e-book “Understanding Learning Needs” available for download at: http://www.ace-d.co.uk/id10.html  Priced at £4.95. This book has been recognised by experienced professionals as an excellent reminder of the important things in teaching and learning and by those mentoring and guiding new teachers as sound advice and guidance for a successful career.

[i] William Glasser (2001) Choice Theory in the Classroom, Harper

The secret of time management – Part 4

Part 4 – The questions to ask yourself.

This is the final part of the secret of time management and is the solution to the NET problem.

I have explained we all have the same number of hours in a day and that to do more you have to make a few decisions.  Here is what I said in the first part of the secret to time management:

1) Find more hours. This is working hours we are talking about.

2) Multi task, do more than one thing at once.

3) Stop doing something.

4) Work quicker. Be more efficient in what you do and how you do it.

Then we had the NET equation in which it was clear the person, that is you, can affect all aspects of the NET equation. The point I was making is that if you change behaviours you have every chance of solving the NET equation, the solution is in your hands and had been all along

Here is that revised equation again.

NET = Task and engagement  x Person x Resources and training time

NET = Tt x P x Rt

This brings us back to the questions you have to ask yourself and the decisions you have to make.

 NET Balancing Questions.

 1) Do I have to do this task?

2) Am I the best person to do this task?

3) Should I delegate this task?

4) Is this a task I am qualified in doing?

5) Will I be fully engaged in accomplishing this task?

6) Have I the resources at my disposal to accomplish this task?

7) Could anyone else accomplish this task better than I could?

8) What am I avoiding doing by attempting this task?

9) What percentage of my working time will this task require and is it proportionally acceptable given the returns expected? This is a ROI question.

10) What should I stop doing in order to accommodate the new task?

11) Is it time to ask for help?

12) Do others really know how much I have on at the moment?

13) Is this a realistic expectation?

14) Are there any resources available to me that could save time and help accomplish the task sooner to the expected standard?

15) Do my expectations exceed the expected standards or outcomes?

16) Does this task need to be done now or at all?

17) What tasks will soon come to completion and what time will this release?

18) Is this a task I am suited to?

19) How much time will I allocate to the task?

20) How will I monitor or record the time spent on the task?

21) Where is this task in my hierarchy  of urgent/important?

You may develop a simple flow chart to help you to ask the questions most relevant to you in a suitable order.  For example you may not be able to delegate tasks and so asking this question is irrelevant.  In such a case it may be more appropriate to ask “Do others really know how much I have on at the moment?”, we always assume they do and often they do not.  This may lead to the question ” What should I stop doing in order to accommodate the new task?”

Balancing the NET equation is important for more than one reason. Firstly we work best when we are not under stress or in a conflict situation.  Borrowing time from family can cause conflict and borrowing it from social or leisure time can cause stress and anxiety.  Secondly being at our best means we work more objectively and make better decisions which ultimately leads to improved efficiency and a better outcome all round. Finally a measure of how well you are doing at balancing the NET equation is your degree of happiness, not necessarily the rolling around the floor laughing type of happiness but the type which is reflected in how content you are. You are meeting some of your basic needs.

These working needs are described as:

  • Fun – engaged, positive relationships, objectivity, balance, able to hold a perspective.
  • Freedom – being able to have some control over your work life balance.
  • Belonging – sense of purpose, part of a team, trusted, given responsibility, acknowledged
  • Power – able to make decisions about things which affect you. Where, when and how.

If you do find the NET equation and the questions useful please let others know.

I would also be glad to hear about any observations you have or comments you have to make about the secret of time management..

The secret of time management: Part 2

I left part one asking ‘Is there a solution to not having enough time and if so what is it?’

 Forgive me for not telling you straight away at the start of this post. After all if it were as easy as being told what to do and then doing it you would have done it by now. If you knew what to do, and how to do it, and yet still did not do it, despite the personal cost you would have to challenge your own sanity surely.

The question is how can we move from knowing what we should be doing to doing it? Many people who seek this answer turn to life coaches or look outside of themselves for the answer. Many have such a profound experience that it changes them forever and others just do it, just make the change as if it were as easy as flicking on a switch. There is a realisation that must occur in us for there to be the will, the motivation or energy to change.

I think we would all agree that if we do not have enough time then we should stop doing something, plan better or share the task in order to save time. This leads me into another question, Is ‘not enough time’ a universal standard? By that I mean is your ‘not enough time’ the same as mine, or anyone else’s. I know people who take all day to do something that others can do in half that time yet they complain of not having enough time, surely they are wasting time! I would suggest ‘not enough time’ is a variable, it depends on the task, the person doing the task and the resources at hand. Well, although I have asked two more questions before answering the first, we are getting close to the answer of the question we started with.

Let’s briefly explore the variable of ‘not enough time’ (NET). I have said it depends on three things (a sort of equation):

1) the task

2) the person and

3) the resources at hand.

Say I had to prepare, plant and harvest an acre of land.

1) The task is fixed, there are no obvious short cuts or saving to be made here. The more land the more time that will be needed. I cannot plant until I have prepared and cannot harvest until the crop has reached maturity. This should be a fixed aspect of the equation (I am focusing on the task and not how long each aspect takes). If however the task includes unnecessary activities then saving can be made. If it has not been decided what crop will be planted before starting the task then time can indeed be wasted and you can have a NET situation.

2) The person who will undertake this task is most certainly a variable and can affect the NET situation. We know people who are more diligent, more creative or more industrious than others. Getting the right person for the job is essential if you are going to balance the NET equation. We know people who are content work better and so looking after the person who is carrying out the task is important in the NET equation. We also know that we can fool ourselves into thinking we are working on the task when in fact we are not. Taking work home that remains in the car, or in a bag and never makes it out is nothing more than a comfort blanket with scratchy bits.

3) The resources at hand once again is a variable in the NET equation. However it is a double variable because it also depends on the person carrying out the task. Once person may need something another does not. Consider having a tractor to prepare the land, plant and harvest the crop, we would agree this would save time. A tractor would be an excellent resource to have to help in the NET equation. What if the person who you have asked to carry out the task cannot drive a tractor? Now the resource is no longer of such value.

By now I hope you are forming the solution to the NET equation in your own mind. It looks as though I am going to need a part 3 to give you my solution. I hope you have begun to realise though NET is not just affected by the person. You are not entirely responsible for NET!

 Part 3 – My solution to the NET equation. Coming soon! 

Well now it is here!

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