Complexity in school leadership #2

I had learnt my lesson. This session, I was prepared and ready to make notes.

Session input came from Dr Kevin Flinn, Head of Leadership and Organisational Development.

Kevin made a very conscientious effort to personally meet and connect with each member of the group before we convened and he shared his background, current leadership inquiries and interests. Below are the notes that I recorded – poignant comments or responses.

Remember, you are in charge, but not in control. You can influence, but you are not in control. – Kevin Flinn

There was a fair amount of language and metaphor around the “game” of organisational development. The big and little P of working life. Off stage, back-stage, side door, front door.  What are the rules of the game? Do you want to play? If you do, how do you influence the game?

Non-participation is a form of participation. – Kevin Flinn

On more than one occasion, Kevin asked participants the extent to which their organisation (school) allowed or permit or encouraged decent. As if this was almost a measure of organisational health? A reference that connected with Chris Moyles’ heartbeat reference.

Be aware of the operational realities of any given suggestion or plan, knowing that you will rarely be aware of the true implications. Kevin Flinn

Who are you working with? Can you observe the layers of the organisation.

Kevin also introduced us to Chris Rodgers model – (I could not find the model on CR Ltd).

We listened to a short conference talk from Professor Patricia Shaw who shared her thoughts on leadership.

Leadership – the art of convening conversations that might not happen  otherwise. – Patricia Shaw

Micro Practices

  • Opening spaces for reflective inquiry
  • Taking action, visibly
  • Taking up a voice, speaking out, saying and doing things, when the consequences of which, will ripple out in ways beyond that we know
  • Engage in, open up and shift, the conversational life of an organisation
    • Having the courage and skill to invite and sustain conversation
    • Invent and improvise in conversation
    • Work with conversation as an art
    • Learn to link the strategic to the actual events
    • When to use written and when to use aural communication
    • Develop our reflective, descriptive abilities to outline what and how circumstances (critical incidents) happen or change
    • Evoke and notice vivid moments of experience – which acts as a moment of common reference that you can point to and explore “together.”
    • Less action plan, and paying more attention to what is opening up in front of you

In the second session, we listened to two participants, who were unravelling their own “knotty problem.” Hearing about the ebb and flow of other participants “knotty problem” assigned us all to a very privileged position.  Contributions across leadership layers most certainly enhanced the conversation, form my perspective.

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one. Voltaire

With heightened self and group awareness, the group has become aware of the big and little P, or our own group. See-saw. Saw-see.

More than one attendee talked about the benefit of “light in the mornings.” – Reflection, schools are influence by cycle. Weather, examinations, terms, weeks.

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Complexity in school leadership #1

I am cautiously, heading back down the rabbit hole. I was invited to take part in an experimental leadership course, hosted by Canon Park Teaching Alliance, in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire Business School.


Six participants come together to engage with ‘Encountering Complexity in School Leadership.’

Sessions are stimulated by a 45 minute presentation from a leading thinker in organisational complexity, leaving time for 45 minutes of discussion about the issues in a school leadership context.

In the second session colleague participants will take turns in sharing with the group a reflective narrative about an ongoing ‘wicked problem’. Following this all participants will wrestle with the complexity of the situation in light of the theories discussed in the first session.

The programme is an experiential opportunity for more practised managers and leaders to reflect on their daily practice of trying to get things done with other people. It does not involve learning more ‘tools and techniques’ of leadership and management.

I gratefully accepted.

# Day 1

The first of six meetings was led by Professor Chris Mowles. Chris outlined a challenge to commonly held views of leadership. Preferring a narrative of “iterated communicative interaction between people in which there emerge patterns of power relations and ideology that no one can plan, intend or control.” That we would be better off “exploring day to day interactions between people in the work place as a way of inquiring into management practice.”

I remember numerous common sense challenges, to commonly held management conventions. For example, many organisations emphasise teamwork, yet managed, developed and assessed employees as autonomous individuals. Most organisation promote alignment, avoiding conversations on topics conflict and power struggles are to be avoided or ignored. Chris noted that the only time your heart beats in perfect rhythm, is the moments leading up to a heart attack.

These are not my exact recollections. Regrettably, I did not write up my experiences or distil my reflections from Day 1. Swiftly the hubbub of working and personal life took precedent and I lost most of that first session other than I had planned to make more effort to “notice” the interplay of professional relationships around me and that I remembered interpreting what I thought that Chris was proposing. That we needed to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Rather refreshed memories with content from his blog.

The second session was discursive. I remember thinking it benefitted from leaders from middle-headteacher and from expert facilitation.  If I am honest, I could not remember the detail.

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Dr Bradberry – Great leaders

Leading Err

I regularly find myself connecting information dots. This time, on the theme of err. The dots; the Chancellor, Teresa May and Microsoft’s CEO. Unfortunately, just thinking about it, creates more disconnected questions. The point here, I’ve attended many different training sessions, attended numerous leadership sessions, read numerous leadership books, and the position statement has always been, one of anticipated success? How? When? Do we approach or lead in times of err?

The Chancellor’s is reported as reflecting on his fundamental error.

It is clear that compliance with the ‘legislative’ test of the Manifesto commitment is not adequate.

That as it is, it is May’ actions as Leader that caught my attention. Responsibility for the mistake could not have been the single responsibility of Hammond. I can not think of a school policy that was not reviewed and checked by at least one other member of SLT?

Compare this to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella response in support of staff following a very public failure. Just under a year ago, Microsft launched a Twitter bot with AI. Things took a vicious turn when this bot was exploited and started spewing racist and profane comments. The bot was quickly shut down.

If you worked on the project, you probably thought the worst. That’s what makes the follow-up email from Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, so remarkable.

Keep pushing, and know that I am with you … (The) key is to keep learning and improving.

Quite different from May. Nadella went on to explain the reasoning behind his encouraging tone:

It’s so critical for leaders not to freak people out, but to give them air cover to solve the real problem. If people are doing things out of fear, it’s hard or impossible to actually drive any innovation.

I like to think that teachers are in the business of innovation. If not innovative, teaching is anything but predictable.

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