Find a place to say what you want

I thought that I couldn’t write about leadership because I’m not in a leadership position anymore. But people still ask me things. I still notice things and I’m still interested in how leaders can affect organisations to create lasting positive change.

I realised I can write about what I want.

So can you.

Yesterday I attended the book launch for The Good Immigrant. It’s the kind of book that mainstream publishers may have shied away from because it tackles issues of immigration and race. So the people involved decided that they’d write it anyway and crowd fund it. They found people who would support them and were interested in what they were saying and then made it happen.

My takeaway this week? If you don’t like the conversation being had then change it. If you feel you can’t change it where you are. Find somewhere that you can.

It may be in a different room.

It may be in a different building.

Perhaps it’s with different people.

But there will be a place for it.

Change the conversation. Or start a new one.

Advertisements

Does it matter that the new Ofsted Chief has never taught?

Does the Ofsted chief inspector lose credibility if they have never been a teacher? 292 words

Amanda Speilman was announced as the next Ofsted chief this week. She has never taught.  Is this a problem?

To be honest, I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the outgoing chief inspector, had extensive experience as a teacher and head teacher  (40 + and 20+ respectively) but he wasn’t exactly the teachers’ champion.

Teachers tend to think about how Ofsted impacts schools but sometimes we forget that Ofsted is responsible for much more than that. Ofsted, or the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills to give it’s full name, has a larger inspection remit than schools:

  • Early years
  • Children’s social care services
  • Schools
  • Childcare, adoption and fostering agencies and initial teacher training

Why should schools take precedence?

Do we complain if a Chief inspector has

  • Never run an early years setting?
  • Never been a social worker?

The Ofsted page on gov.uk states that

“We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial.”

Can a head of Ofsted ever be entirely impartial and independent?  It could be argued that their ability to remain in the role and get things done smoothly relies on their relationship with the Education Secretary of the time. That helps if they share a common ideology. Even if impartiality in post is achieved, I feel it would be naive to pretend that initial appointments aren’t made through a political lens.

Amanda Spielman had an early career in accountancy and corporate finance but she  later became one of the early team at Ark, cited as one of the most successful multi-academy trust of its type in England. She may not have taught but she has been extensively involved in education for many years so let’s wait and see.

 

 

Cages of the mind

How many situations that we find ourselves in and feel trapped by are actually the cages that we imagine? (253 words)

Because we live in a household with twin two year olds we still have a child gate (actually a former dog gate) at the entrance to our lounge. A few months ago  I noted that their older brother had opened the gate and forgotten to close it. I watched as S toddled over to the gate and fully expected to see her waddle off to freedom. Instead, I was very surprised (and a little sad) to note that she went over to the gate and closed it.

I was reminded of that incident again today when talking to a friend who keeps considering becoming a self- employed contractor but regularly (by his own admission) talks himself back into the safety and security of what he already knows even though he suspects he can do better.

Fast forward a few months and S and E now actively try to climb over the gate and use all of the tools at their disposal to do so. Steps. Coffee tables. Duplo boxes. Soon they’ll work out how to open the gate themselves, just as their brother did and it will become obsolete.

How often do our own expectations and fears hem us in and narrow our horizons?

How often do we pass up the opportunity that would lead us to freedom or at least something different?

How can we gain a different perspective or look at the tools around us to change our situations?

 

Why representation matters

This will be a post explicitly about race and why representation at senior management level matters. If that will offend you- perhaps look at some of my other posts about other topics. (362 words)

I don’t often choose to explicitly write about race. Just because it’s the kind of thing that people always want me to comment on, as a Black person in a senior position in a school, and I’ve got a lot of views about lots of different subjects. Also I don’t speak for all Black people in the world, or even in education in the UK. I’m just me and representing only my views doesn’t mean you can tick your diversity box for 2016.

But here I am writing about race because of something I read from a student.

Recently, a colleague asked me to help judge some Thank You letters for a competition. Students had to write a letter to anybody of their choice thanking them for affecting their life in some way. It was an exercise in gratitude.

There were many wonderful examples but one specifically stuck with me. A young girl, who I know to be Mixed Race, wrote a letter to President Obama, thanking him for being the president of the United States. In the letter, she detailed her experiences of racism throughout her life but how having such a high profile person like him gave her inspiration that she could achieve great things despite what people may say.

That is why representation matters.

But representation isn’t just for Black and Mixed Race kids.

Seeing Black people in positions of authority is important for non-Black people too. Schools are very hierarchical places.  In 11 years of compulsory schooling, if the only Black people that non-Black people see in schools are people perceived to be those with low status then what subconscious messages are they picking up re the place of Black people in society?

I see many debates on social media re lack of diverse representation at key educational conferences but I also see these issues raised indifferent contexts from people I follow outside of education via hashtags such as

#britssowhite

#oscarssowhite

#gaymediasowhite

As a Black member of the senior team in a predominantly non-Black school, my presence matters even if I’d really rather that it didn’t. It’s noticed even if it is not overtly commented on.  For a private person like me that’s difficult but it is what it is and right now it’s important. For people from minority groups sometimes our existence and very presence is political- even when we don’t want it to be.

 

 

Why thinking is as important as doing

Schools need to stop worshipping at the alter of busy. Here are tips to carve out time for reflection. (521 words)

Life in schools is fast paced

There is always something to do. We can also worship a little at the cult of busy.

‘I’ve got so much to do.’

‘I have to plan for x.’

‘I have to meet y.’

Some school leaders can see it as a mark of importance and effectiveness that they are always busy breaking up fights or never in their office or always on patrol.

These things are important and presence helps staff morale- it is right that senior managers are visible but sometimes busy gets in the way of real work. We aren’t paid just to be corridor security or similar. That would make us very overpaid.

Busy can stop reflection and reflection is where the real learning, planning and improvement takes place. I’ve found this at each stage of my career so far, as a new teacher, as a head of department and as a senior manager.

If you are always ‘doing’ where is the space for review? For evaluation? To plan for the future?

Recently, I had a really useful planning session with an team in an area I’m responsible for They led it but I sat in and took notes, while asking questions they’d not considered. I suggested we move to another room -away from kids- and we got 1.5 hrs of planning done which has helped them consider their course for the next 1-2 years.

Previously, when I mentioned reports that I’d been reading or studies I’d come across,  I used to have a colleague who would say,’I don’t have time to read that.’ The implication being (even if subtle) that they were busier than me and that wider reading was a luxury.

I’d say if we are serious about improvement we don’t have time not to be aware of the wider world beyond our organisations. Busy is not effective. Busy is just busy. Sometimes it’s possible to be busy for weeks on end and realise you haven’t really moved forward with anything. I had that sensation a few months ago and didn’t like it so changed a few things.

Here are some tips for blocking out time to think.

  1. Block out 1-2hrs of time on a regular basis. Weekly, fortnightly, monthly, half termly. It doesn’t matter as long as you just stick to it.
  2. Put it in your diary. Let colleagues know you will be unavailable at that time. If you use Outlook, or similar, schedule it as a meeting with yourself.
  3. Work somewhere other that your usual place. That will ensure you don’t get distracted.  The world can do without you for 90 mins. As a class teacher I used to go to the back or a colleague’s room with my headphones in- nobody minded.
  4. Have a clear purpose for your session – 1 major thing you want to achieve by the end of it. This will make it focused.

So the next time you find yourself rushed off you feet consider are you running to move forward of just jogging on a treadmill?

 

 

4 ways for education companies to make better connections with school leaders on social media

As an Assistant Headteacher I often get company representatives contact me via LinkedIn and Twitter  trying to interest me in their professional services. Some get it right, others not so much. Here are 4 tips for companies selling educational services or products when trying to get new business from school leaders via social media. (757 words)

  1. Understand the platform

I’m fairly active on Twitter in a personal and professional capacity. The beauty of Twitter is that it can be used to listen to people and interact in a variety of conversations. People don’t mind you jumping in.  Too many educational companies get this wrong.  Some just tweet out what they can do or retweet praise for their product. That’s boring. I never follow any accounts where it’s clear there is no real interaction with and they are using it as a loudspeaker.  Twitter is a two way conversation often in real time. Interact with you audience. Tweet interesting stuff that is relevant to your audience. Build a relationship. We will buy from companies and people we trust or have built a relationship with.

Work out when educationalists are on and listen to what they are saying. Follow the #ukedchat hashtags for wider educational debate and the #SLTchat hashtag if you want to see what school leaders (those with the budget and power to buy your services) are thinking or worried about. Maybe later in the week tweet out a news story or quote or something else that relates to topics that a few people mentioned. Tag those people in. Show us you care.

If you make yourself valuable and interesting. We’ll start to look at your product ourselves and ask more.

2. Don’t try and sell on first contact

I’m still fairly new to Linkedin and still trying to work it out but I can say what puts me off of some interactions straight away… Business representatives who send a message that is essentially ‘Hi, My name is X. I work for Y. We sell Z. Fancy a call?’

Well, no I don’t. Budgets are tight in education right now and everybody else is doing that too. It’s too generic. You send that to everybody and you clearly just want to sell.

Maybe make a first contact that is bit less high pressured. Make an insightful comment on a post that somebody has written. Share good content from people on your profile to add value to your customers. If you do this consistently and genuinely- people will look at your profile and ask more questions about your services. They’ll get to know you and therefore your product.

3. Get personal and add value

School leaders talk to other school leaders and we’ll investigate services recommended  by word of mouth from colleagues we trust or if it’s clear that they serve a specific need.

You know who I’d make an appointment or call to see? Somebody who had clearly done their homework about my organisation. Want to get into a school? Read their Ofsted report. Look at specific problems they have that you can solve. Contact them with a few tips or useful insights or solutions without expecting anything.  A bit like I’m doing here.

They may not invite you in straight away but you’ll put yourself ahead of other companies and stay on their radar because it hardly ever happens. Ever. I’m serious.

4. Act like a human being not a business

If you are going to do social media do it well. Yes you may be representing a brand but make your brand/company have a human voice. That pushy person who butts in when two other people are talking in the staff room to go on about their good or service? Nobody wants that guy at their party. Nobody.

Who gets this right?

I had a delightful exchange with somebody from Show My Homework  recently on Twitter that definitely followed tips 1 and 2 above. We aren’t in the market for their services at my school right now but in the future- maybe we will be and I’ll remember. In the meantime, I’ve recommended them to colleagues at other schools.

In recent years, employees from The Key , especially Penny  Rabiger (@Penny_Ten) had a great presence on social media and were very helpful and knowledgeable in general interactions, which made me recommend their service at a previous school.

The above is not an exhaustive list but if you try some and other similar strategies with your own twist then it will automatically put you above the competition and I and people like me are more likely to be receptive.

What does the Prevent strategy actually prevent?

The ‘Prevent‘ strategy is meant to stop people be drawn into terrorism. It’s quite high profile in schools at the moment. Recently I thought about the possible effects in adults’ interactions with young people in schools. (67 words)

 

What does Prevent actually prevent?

Terrorism?

Freedom of speech?

People being killed?

Opportunity to express dissent?

Vulnerable young people being exploited?

Ability to question?

Dangerous talk?

Open discussion?

Extremism?

Trust?

 

 

 

 

A message for my fellow idealists

‘You’re too idealistic, Iesha. That’s not how things really work. It’s not possible.’ Is something I’ve heard many times personally and professionally. Idealism is seen as a nice luxury but for me it’s essential. (145 words)

Being an idealist is frustrating sometimes but what other way is there to live?

 

To be any other way is to accept a substitute for the greatness that could be- a poor proxy- and to settle for the rippling reflection in the water rather than attempting to swim to the other side for the real thing.
We may not always succeed but we must try. Each time gathering at least one other who believes.  With time we will a get closer. We give hope to those who wish they were brave enough to try. Ultimately, we and those around us are better for it – wether we are acknowledged or not.

Hierarchies

At my most idealistic, I feel that education can be a great way to challenge the status quo.

That’s what I truly believe and part of why I have stayed. As a class teacher I challenge my students to question things – even things that I have taught them.  As a school leader, I routinely ask those I work with in all capacities “Why?”

This blog is a space for me to ask questions as well as a space to explore answers. Sadly, I it feels to me that debate in public spaces, including schools, is increasingly seen as a dangerous thing unless confined to safe topics.

Yesterday there was a Europe-wide 1 minute silence as a sign of solidarity for the victims of the Paris bombings.  During the time I and my and my Year 9 students were contemplating the (undoubtedly terrible) events I thought about a number of things. The following questions popped into my head in precisely this order

  1. Why do some victims elicit our sympathy?
  2. Why do others receive pity rather than empathy?
  3. Why do some barely register at all?

Then finally I spent the day with the, for me, haunting question… are there hierarchies of grief and in schools do we unwittingly perpetuate them?

 

 

Small acts of creation

“Your job cannot contain the sum total of who you are and what you want to make”

We have three children; in August they will be five, two and two. We were so smug in our evening routine that got them off to bed fairly early and gave us space to spend time together – that is, until the clocks went forward. The lighter nights decimated our cosy routine. I’ve not had a night of uninterrupted sleep for several weeks and, until last week, the kids were taking well over an hour to get to sleep. This, coupled with waking with the birds, meant the sleep deprivation of the newborn months had returned.

I need regular creativity in my life to stay happy. Creativity beyond my work. Suddenly, the time I’d carved out most evenings for creating or reading had disappeared. We were falling asleep on the sofa at 9pm.

At Easter I listened to a podcast about the power of morning routines and realised that could be the key for me. One problem, though – I already got up at 0530, and wasn’t sure I could face much earlier. Then I reflected that most mornings I actually woke up at 0500 then just lay around waiting for my alarm to go off. How about just getting up when I opened my eyes?

After some early teething problems, fast forward two months.

Routine:

Wake up around 0500-0510 with no alarm

Get up immediately

Go downstairs

Make a mint tea

Read a non-fiction book

Write up to one A4 page (longhand) in response to this

0530 go upstairs

Shower, get dressed

0600 family get up and the circus starts

What’s been the effect? The evenings are still crazy but my day starts with calm and an act of creation every day. The result? A much happier and more contented me. Make time to create – you’ll be better for it.