Posts by Kristian Still

More hamster wheel than spinning plates

What does it say about my leadership that following the start of the new headship post, it has taken me three weeks before I’ve been out to set aside time to write my first post? (That is not to say that I have not been looking ahead to January, next April, next year.)

Thinking and reflection time, self-coaching is important and I have made excellent use of my modest commute (45 minutes). I have re-found time for podcasts and having joyed listening to Curious Minds and the TES podcasts. I have used my cars bluetooth to make calls to the governors (Trustees) and one or two trusted colleagues and too often to apologise for “being late home again.” Though I have not been able to justify writing time. It has been a whirlwind, more “hamster wheel” that “spinning plates” despite considerable planning and forethought – Of Mice and Men springs to mind.

One rightly expected that starting my first role as head, it was going to be challenging. That there would be plenty to observe and take in, plenty to do and that mistakes would be made, and then adjusted for. I had spoken to recently new heads and experienced heads, and I had read “The first 100 days of headship.” Every school and therefore by default every headship is going to be unique (the maturity of the school and staff body, the climate, culture and established practices), and in my case, adding to the conundrum was the fact that the school was going through a significant building refurbishment that summer and that we were expecting a significantly number of new staff (including me).

I had a relatively clear appreciation of what I should be doing. I had planned and consulted on the INSET programme, made clear in my own mind what I wanted to convey to the staff and I had spent time considering what it would be like to be a new member of staff. I had set aside non-directed time to cope with the “unknown-unknowns” and set aside a pre-school leadership meeting to go over our roles and responsibilities and booked meetings with Trustees.

I charted the development of the significant building plans through the summer and by mid August it became apparent that the school was not going to be in a ready state to open on time. My first act as a head was to delay the start of term. I was disappointed, I felt guilty almost, though what I did not anticipate was the significant opportunities this unscheduled delay would have.

Our inexperienced and new form leadership team needed more time than I had originally scheduled. The two-day closure helped us immensely and should I ever get the opportunity to lead another school, I would move to at least a two-day pre-school meeting, possibly three-day. To start next year, I will stay with two day pre-meeting not one. More importantly, for the first time in the schools history we scheduled academic one-to-one mentoring conversations with all year 11s into 12, and all year 12’s into 13. These overlapped the final INSET day and first day return. These have been significant and sent out a very clear message that we cared about our students.


Staffroom 25-09-2016

INSET was almost a wash out. The best laid plans… my introduction to the school was certainly not a reflection of how I envisaged it. We soldiered on neck high in crates and boxes, without staffroom furniture, with contractors on site, failing IT and for good measure an unscheduled fire alarm in a drizzly morning in early September. I am only writing this to show that out of adversity can sometimes come something special. Something you can not create by design. “It will be great” as become our mantra as the calamitous day became almost laughable. “Control the controllables” rang in my thoughts and the unshakeable resolve of Mandy Hickson our guest speaker, my deputy and leadership team kept me going (if truth be known, I was heart-broken on the inside). If I were to write a recommendation for Mandy, it would be something like this.

In the midst of buildings work and rooms changes, IT failure and even an unscheduled fire alarm, Mandy was unshakeable. It is one thing to talk about resilience and grit, another to demonstrate it and evidence it. For many staff, Mandy’s talk and session was the highlight of their two one-day in-service training.

Staff pulled together in the most supportive of ways, supportive of one another and of the INSET event itself. The feedback from day 1 was poignant and I cancelled day two (despite all the preparation).

Adversity reveals character and more than a handful of staff stepped up to the plate. Some three weeks into term a handful of blue crates remain (these haunt me), through continued buildings work and contractors, I fully understand that this rather fraught start continues to damage the school although the sense of togetherness and teamwork it generated will last for longer. It will become the fable of yester year.

We were keen to get the school up and running and still not ready by the third day we offered a staggered start with just year 3 and year 7 returning. The consequence of the unplanned staggered start was that these younger students really felt they got to know the school (and playgrounds) and year seven were able to test run their timetables within the relative calm an relatively empty school. Staff had time to reassure parents and I was able to commit time to these years groups. It was an unplanned outcome that will become part of our operational plans moving forward.

I’m sure that all headteachers are expecting to have to work hard at the start of term though I can safely say that the leadership team that we appointed in the summer have met me every step of the way. The internal appointments bringing a knowledge and understanding of the school culture and new the leaders appropriate challenge. It has been a valuable mix of old and new. The Trustees have always been ready and willing to return my calls and kept the level of scrutiny appropriate, if demanding.

Lastly safeguarding.

Safeguarding and child protection should be the golden thread sewn through everything we do in our schools.

I am sure you know this. Now not only responsible, but accountable, I wish I had made assigned more time on this aspect of headship before starting school. I would advise my to really get to grips with this aspect of school leadership; the Policy and Procedures, the Single Central Record, meeting and discussing issues with the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Trustee. Finding out and contacting the Local Authority Designated Officer and introducing myself to the Multi-agency safeguarding hub.

I am now off to learn more about the origins of World War I. I have lessons to prepare. Undoubtedly, teaching has been the most welcomed rest bite from leading the school. Even then, I can not help but extrapolate from the classroom, evidence for our development plan and Teaching and Learning priorities.

Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want. I guess I am more experienced now and next September our students will benefit from our unexpected learning, possible students at other school in the Trust as well as a consequence of sharing these tribulations.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer‘s view in any way.

SEF checker

Four weeks into the 2016 academic year and the leadership team were finalising amendments to the Self-evaluation framework (SEF). Various senior colleagues had written their leadership contributions with the final draft being knitted together. At the time, I wrote these notes and saved them in draft with the intention of revisiting and post them. Five months after Ofsted judged the school to be a “Good” school, I  in draft.

Effectiveness of Leadership/Management

  • The difference between last inspection leadership grade and our self-assessment grade.
  • The impact of leadership on achievement?
  • How far does leadership reaches down through the organisation. How is leadership distributed and developed.
  • As important, the leadership within Governance.
  • How effective are governors in challenging and supporting the headteacher (and senior staff where partnerships are facilitated)?
  • Performance management – structures, impact and remuneration.
  • Safe-guarding – including confirmation that safe-guarding arrangements meet statutory requirements.
  • How successfully is the school promoting fundamental British values?
  • Schools Financial Values Standards compliance.

Clearly outline what leaders are doing to promote an ambitious vision and high expectations for what learners can achieve. Explain how leaders monitor, evaluate and support teaching through rigorous performance management (Note any on-going disciplinary/capability issues?) Explain how curriculum design provides breadth, depth and relevance and how it meets the needs of learners.

Personal Development, Behaviour and Welfare

Headlines (approximately 200-400 words)
  • Explain any difference between last inspection grade in this area and the self-assessment grade.
  • What is behaviour like in lessons including within school variations (classes/key stages/groups of learners) and how it impacts on learning.
  • What is behaviour like around the school and outside the school?
  • Attendance and punctuality.
  • Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development.
  • How the school values are promoted and pupil character developed.
  • How is bullying viewed, managed and discouraged.
Actions (approximately  500 words)
  • Explain what the school is doing to promote and sustain positive behaviour and any notable adaptations / improvements.
  • Explain what the school is doing to address attendance and punctuality issues.
  • Explain how pupils know about safety and learn to keep themselves safe.
  • Explain how pupils know about healthy lifestyles and how to keep themselves healthy through exercise and healthy eating.
  • Explain how school values and the development of pupils character.
  • Explain how SMSC is promoted.
  • Explain what the school is doing to prevent radicalisation.

Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Headlines (approximately 200-400 words)
  • Explain any difference between last inspection grade in this category and the self-assessment.
  • Quality of teaching overall.
  • Effectiveness of pupils approach to learning.
  • Assessment procedures
  • Explain any variation in teaching within school variations (departments/classes/key stages/groups of learners).
Actions (approximately  500 words)
  • Explain how professional development has improved teaching (including developing teachers’ subject knowledge). Keep the remit clear and focused. Teaching, Learning and Assessment AFIs should also be recognised within performance management.
  • Explain how under-performance is being addressed?
  • Link between teaching and progress.
  • Link between teaching and performance management.
  • Explain how assessment information is used to plan the next steps in learners’ development.
  • Explain how assessment information is used to support pupils who are falling behind and those who are exceeding expectations.

Outcomes for Children and Learners

Headlines (approximately 200-400 words)
  • Explain any difference between last inspection outcomes grade and the self-assessment grade.
  • Don’t redraft RAISE; highlight the key achievements and headlines – focus the inspection remit.
  • Explain any anomalies – you may wish to present a new set of data with anomalies discounted.
  • Provide clear, simple in-year reports.
  • Explain variations in vulnerable groups.
  • Outline opportunities for personal development and learning beyond the curriculum.
Actions (approximately  500 words)
  • Explain what the school is doing to improve outcomes; work through the key groups ending which a summative description. The SSAT Educational Outcomes data summary tool and FFT reports are useful here.
    Vulnerable groups; Pupil Premium; High-attaining pupils.
  • In-year/term-by-term progress of each year and groups within years

Some of the key statements we wrote in our SEF where “tested” by inspectors. Where these statements were substantiated, they often appeared in our report. This inspection framework and inspection team felt more supportive and collegiate.

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Influence more powerful than authority

Influence is not authority. Authority is not leadership. Leadership does not guarantee influence. Though we often use these terms interchangeably, I am confident they are separate entities. These reflections were prompted by three unrelated, serendipitous “nudges” this week and knowledge of that Obama cleaner-fist-bump photograph.

A social media post that demonstrated the strength of influence over authority as well as the shrewd thinking on the part of one interviewee.

I was in a job interview today when the manager handed me his laptop and said “I want you to try and sell this to me.”

So I put it under my arm, walked out of the building and went home. Eventually he called my mobile and said, “Bring it back here right now!”

I said, “$200 and it’s yours.”

The second, another excellent post of Leadership Freak which highlights that “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels is the #1 contributor to job satisfaction.” Compensation, trust, and relationships matter, but respect tops the list.

The third, not too dissimilar to the first, the “sell me this pen,” scene from Wolf on Wall Street (includes profanity), again demonstrating influence trumps authority. Sitting in a local diner, Mr. Belfort demands that one of his co-diners Brad “Sells him this pen.” [handing over his pen].

Brad takes the pen and tells Mr. Belfort to “Write me your name on this napkin.” Mr. Belfort replies that he can’t. “I don’t have a pen.” “There you go, it’s a matter of supply and demand.”

Of course, then there was the presidential fist bump. With leadership and influence there may be no need for authority.

These unrelated nudges were hard to shift and led me to conclude that you can influence without being a leader (interviewee and Brad).You can lead without influencing, but you can’t be an effective leader without influencing. That authority is not always beneficial. That where authority and leadership are often proscribed, being influenced is discretionary, born out or a relationships connections. At this point, I can not offer any empirical evidence. What I can say is that I have worked for one or two strong school leaders and yet for every stand-out-in-front-leader that has made an impression, I have been influenced by many, many, more brilliant colleagues. (Of course, statistically, there will always be far more teachers than leaders to be influenced by.)  In fact, more recently I have sought out experiences to watch or work with less experienced leaders and teachers, after listening to an interview with Liz Wiseman – Why Learning Beats Knowing.

Even with these reflections, it was clear I knew too little about influence, to be influential.


Aspiring leaders would do well to stop focusing on control and figure out how to expand their influence. – Michael Hyatt

The past few days, my thinking has been stuck on influence. So I dedicated some time to influence. At least I am now have a working understanding of what influence is in a leadership context.

Influence is, the power and ability to personally affect others’ actions, decisions, opinions or thinking across multiple constituencies and across boundaries. In schools, departments, houses, teams and so forth. Influence can be achieved logically, appealing to reason and intellect. Emotionally, connecting your message, goal or project with the individuals or groups. Lastly, cooperative, a shared or mutual aim, which it turns out is an extremely effective approach as it involves collaboration, consultation and building alliances.

As with almost all leadership enquiry, the starting point is yourself. What’s your dominant style? Unsurprisingly, there are gender, age, role, industry and cultural bias (Global Influence Trends).  Are you predisposed to approach situations logically, emotionally or cooperatively? Do you assert, convince (rationalise), negotiate, bridge or inspire?* This skill is knowing which approach to use, with whom and foresee the potential outcomes of each, for the given situation. Knowing and being are skilful leader are far from the same thing.

I thought I would conclude with this important point from Julie Battilana, of HBS, and Tiziana Casciaro, of the Rotman School of Management.

What matters most, isn’t where someone ranks within a company’s formal hierarchy but how well that person understands and mobilizes the informal networks needed to effect change.

Universally, the influence style with the strongest and most consistent preference is bridging, followed by rationalizing. people prefer asserting and negotiating the least.*

Summer read #1

Distributed Leadership in Schools – A Practical Guide for Learning and Improvement – John A. DeFlaminis, Mustafa Abdul-Jabbar and Eric Yoak was the first summer read.

Billed as a guide to the best practices and lessons learned in designing and implementing distributed leadership to effectively address challenges in schools. It was an interesting mix of evidenced theory and reflection from a four year repeated programme with two separate Philadelphia school communities, both successful under difficult district conditions (Written and directed by Dr. John DeFlaminis, Executive Director of thePenn Center for Educational Leadership). The DL model was a direct effort to address in the inherent limitations of the hero-leader / hierarchial model of school leadership that lead to “the substantial talents of teachers largely untapped, ” what Fullan (2003) refers to as the individualistic fallacy.

As important was the focused effort to scale and sustain improvement; the propostion that, whether it is in a school or a school system, building a broad base of capacity is not possible if control is limited to a few individuals. Thereafter the solution, is the broader distribution of leadership.

The authors discuss a range of leadership-building strategies including professional learning communities and coaching to support staff aiming to improve, first and foremost, the quality of teaching and student outcomes. Moving schools from a traditional hierarchical “chain of command model” (Level 1), through to “shared decision-making and authority” (level 3) to “highly distributed leadership” (Level 6) the project leaders reported that distributed leadership built confidence, efficacy, encouraged energetic leadership and accelerated change.

What will be less easy to adapt or adopt will be the significant (110 hours) investment in high quality professional development and coaching for teacher leaders and principals, delivered by national experts. This pofessional development then also had 3 PENN State credits ($10,000) and also all principals and teachers on the teams received a stipend for participation in the summer training and all project activities, (only for the authors to warn of the dangers financial incentives).

Two pages were dog-eared and bookmarked for review. The section on “Teacher Leaders” p.93 highlighted for me that one of the core adaptations for success was a change is perspective. A change of perspective for both principals and teachers. Just as principals described how teacher leadership challenged their notion of principals as the ones “in charge,” teacher leaders in the project encountered their own conflict between the new expectations of this role and their old thoughts or habits. Stepping into teacher-leadership roles forced teachers to confront a boundary between these past practices and the new leadership responsibilities and opportunities that persisted beyond their classroom walls.

The second bookmark p.132 was far simpler but no less important.

People support what they help to create.

The book is certainly worth reading especially if you are responsible for school improvement or identifying and developing talent. The Philadelphia Distributed Leadership Initiative: Logic Model is a crystalised of the programme aims, and their theory of change model (at the school level) both interesting reads and can be found in the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting slides – “The Design and Structure of theBuilding Distributed Leadership in the Philadelphia School District Project.

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