How Brave Are Our School Leaders?


I’ve recently  re-read Roger von Oech’s book ‘A Kick In The Seat Of The Pants’. An easy read with some great ideas. I was struck by these thoughts that come at the end of the book.

Just as a rock in a stream is molded by the current that flows around it or a cliff-dwelling tree is shaped by freezing rain and thin air, we too are shaped by our environment; the language we speak, the economic system of which we are a part, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the media that bombards us. All of these influence the way we think and who we are.

But unlike stream smooth rocks or Alpine trees, we are free to choose some of the processes in which we immerse ourselves. If you choose to be involved in projects that stretch you creatively, that force you to explore, manipulate, evaluate and act in challenging ways, then ultimately you will be the beneficiary.

As school leaders in the 21st Century what processes are you choosing to immerse yourself in? What processes are you choosing to immerse the children in your school in?

As a Headteacher I was always concerned about the testing, stressful, target driven climate that prevails in many of our schools and the impact this was having on both staff and children.

I could see teachers being worn down by wave after wave of  externally generated initiatives. The brave leaders are the ones who challenge the status quo and lead their schools into situations that will mold their staff and children in a way that lets them develop creatively.

Many Headteachers will argue they have to compromise. They have to ‘play the game’ – trying to get a balance between achieving appropriate SAT results and ensuring children learn the skills that they need for the 21st Century.

This ‘game’ is forced on schools by central government, LA’s and, of course, Ofsted – who all have this strange belief that the only way to measure success is through a regime of testing.

At some stage someone has to break this cycle. Someone has to argue that such compromise is in fact detrimental to our children.

The secret of leadership is simple. Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.   (Seth Godin – ‘Tribes’)


Our Education System Is Stuck & We Don’t Know How To Free It


Here we are, the first decade of the 21st Century well and truly behind us and what can we safely say about our schools? They are stuck! Schools are basically a 19th Century invention trying to cope in the 21st Century.

We need to remember that the children who recently started school have a long educational journey ahead of them. They will probably not start work until 2028 or later.

That same child could still be in the labour force in 2070 or beyond. The chances are that he/she will be working with technologies that have not yet been invented and in organisations that have yet to be created.

Change is with us all the time, we need to embrace it, take control of it and enjoy it. “The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.” (John H. Schaar)

Fifteen years or so of, so-called,  ‘improvements’ have got us where we are today – in a system where:
a) teacher’s feel fatigued because of too many initiatives
b) we have  an over reliance on test results within an escalating testing regime
c) there is an obsession with teaching and little understanding of learning
d) accountability systems  scare schools from being brave and adventurous
e) schools are not preparing children for the future because they are stuck in the past.

This has led us to valuing those things in education that we can measure, rather than trying to find ways of measuring those things in education that we value. We are ready to transform our schools but are we willing or brave enough to do it?

Sir Ken Robinson once said, “Reform is not enough. Reform is just trying to improve a broken model. We need a revolution in education.”

Educational Fleas.

Sometimes you come across a headline that just sucks you in. I found this one in this issue of the TES‘Plagued by an army of ‘fleas’ that won’t get off our backs is it any wonder teachers descend into mediocrity?’

The article was written by Dr. Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers. She was complaining, as many of us have done in the past, about the number of different people who seem to think they need to be forever watching and judging our teachers:

There can be no profession which is more watched over, more regulated and more directed, than teaching.

There is a saying – big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them. The teaching profession is flea ridden – bitten by armies of ‘others’ who watch over teachers and attempt to direct their every move.

This is so true. If you work in a school ask yourself, “Whose back am I on and who is on my back?” If we are to rid ourselves of this flea infestation then the best place to start is with yourself. Who can you stop watching and directing?

The article goes on to say that if we are to change then we need to re-examine our schools, how they are led and how our staff develop professionally.

We need to remake our schools as learning communities, for staff as well as pupils.

Once again this takes us back to the role of school leaders, in particular Headteachers. Many have so many ‘fleas’ on their back, sucking them dry, that the best that they can hope for is to manage their schools and keep the ‘watchers’ at bay.

This might be a good and sometimes necessary survival tactic, but does it help children’s learning?

We need to reform our schools and the rest of our archaic education system.

This is not going to be done by politicians and their ‘White Papers’ but by giving schools and their leaders the freedom to innovate. Not only do we need to recognise the mavericks in our midst but also  encourage and support them. As Seth Godin in his great book ‘Tribes’ said,

We live in a world where we have the leverage to make things happen, the desire to do the work we believe in and an opportunity for us to be remarkable – but we still get stuck. Stuck following archaic rules; stuck in a system that avoids change; stuck in fear of what ‘our bosses’ will say: stuck acting like managers instead of leaders.

Or we could argue that we are stuck with the fleas, unless we make a concerted effort to get rid of them.

Information Overload?

We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips. If you have a question – ask Google. What did we do before Google?

For me, as a child in the 1950’s and 60’s, my teacher was my ‘Google’. It was the teacher who had the knowledge and we went to school to learn from them. My access to knowledge at home was limited to a very cheap children’s encyclopaedia, which soon became out of date.

The role of the teacher today needs to change – they are no longer the ‘wise guardians of knowledge’. Information today is easily accessible through a myriad of technological devices.

Teachers today have to be guides, showing children where the information they want can be found, but more importantly how they can navigate their way through the wealth of information out there to ensure relevance and accuracy.

It is time to rethink the role of the teacher in the classroom and this will inevitably make us re-think the role of learning.

Have a look at this free e-book on critical thinking. The following is taken from the introduction:

In 1605, Sir Francis Bacon, the father of scientific thinking, outlined the habits of minds skilled in research:

  • Nimble & versatile to see relationships among things, in addition to subtle distinctions between them.
  • Inquisitive.
  • Patient enough to doubt and ask questions.
  • Fond of reflecting.
  • Slow to assert and ready to consider multiple points of view.
  • Careful to support their points of view and to formulate an argument with reasons and evidence.
  • A slave neither to passing trends nor to established traditions but capable of judging  the credibility of sources and making independent judgements about information.
  • Alert to all deception.

These ‘habits of mind’ are as essential now as they were in 1605.