Do we educate for conformity?

Is education too often about making children conform? Is so, is that a problem? 157 words

I was listening to a podcast recently when the interviewer said

‘In a world that is trying to get you to be vanilla, nobody that I know who is successful took the normal path’ – Chase Jarvis, CEO Creative Live

It got me thinking.

  • what do we teach young people that success is? Are we right?
  • who decides what normal is?
  • how do we decide which deviations from normal are good and which are bad?

Schools can be wonderful places where education is transformative and life long learning begins. Schools can also be uninspiring places where we teach students (and staff) that the way to have a quiet life is to do what everybody else does and conform. Sure, we’ll allow questions as long as we already know the answers and it doesn’t shake things up too much.

People who end up changing things and being great didn’t always follow the rules.


Enjoy your Wednesday.





Introverted leaders: brief notes from my Telegraph Festival of Education 2016 Talk

Last Friday I delivered a talk at the Telegraph Festival of Education about the benefits that introverts can bring to school leadership. Here are some brief notes.

I don’t tend to do powerpoint for these kinds of talks and they are designed to be experienced rather than read but here are some notes and resources that may be of use.

In Jung’s view, introverts and extroverts compliment each other and can help broaden their outlook and use new perspectives. He saw both types and their traits as important and valuable – Sylvia Loehken, Quiet Impact, page 9

Five typically introverted traits which can be used as strengths that were explored during the talk were:

  1. Listening
  2. Quiet passion
  3. Caution/reserved nature
  4. Observation and ability to notice what others may miss
  5. Independence/ self sufficiency

The books that I quoted, in the order that they were featured in the talk, were

  • Quiet Impact, Sylvia Loehken
  • Do/purpose/Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more, David Hieatt
  • High Challenge, Low Threat, Mary Myatt
  • Quiet; The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, Susan Cain

Quotes from school leaders that I read were from interviews that I have conducted for a book that I’m writing. The working title is ‘The Unexpected Leader’ featuring successful school leaders who don’t feel they fit the traditional mould. It will be published by Crown House in 2017 but I have to finish writing it first.

A resource which I forgot to mention, which is especially useful for creating space and quiet for reflection is meditation. Personally, I’d recommend the Headspace  app which provides daily guided meditations of 10mins so can fit into a busy day.

The most important thing for leaders of all types is to be really clear about our purpose and aims

I think you have to centre whatever you are passionate about. You have to really, really interrogate what you think. It makes you sure that what you are passionate about matters and you will find the confidence to defend it. – CN, School Leader that I have interviewed.

Enjoy your Sunday fellow introverts, make sure you create some time and space to recharge. Remember that our contributions are valid and if you are somewhere where they aren’t, there are other places where they will be.

Enjoyed reading this blog post? You can subscribe for future ones  you’ll also get a free copy of my ‘9 Lessons for unexpected leaders’ pdf.





What do our fathers teach us about leadership?

In the UK it’s Fathers’ day today. For many of us, our fathers are the first model of leadership that we have – what do we learn from them subconsciously? (630 words) 

Today is Fathers’ day.  My Dad’s birthday is in the same week and some years ago we decided that we wouldn’t officially celebrate Fathers’ day. He doesn’t expect a separate card or presents from me but it’s always a time to reflect and I usually give him a ring.

It occurred to me this morning that, for me and many other people, my Dad is possibly the first real model of leadership that I ever experienced, even if it was subconscious.

My Dad was and an excellent Dad to a young child. From him I learnt dependability and stability. I remember him once being made redundant and taking a job that he was massively over qualified for in order to ensure that his family were provided for, I never once heard him complain about it. He knew his responsibilities as a husband and father and did what had to be done. He was and is a man of his word if he said he would be somewhere or do something then he always followed through.  He was a fair, calm and considered presence throughout my childhood. Even as an adult I ask him for measured and objective advice about particular things as I value his opinion despite our different perspectives on life.

I have always been a Daddy’s girl but as an older teenager and young adult in my 20s our relationship shifted. My Dad is a product of his generation and upbringing. He is quiet and stoic like his father before him and like many men aged 55+ of Caribbean heritage. Actions are his thing. Feelings, or the expression of them, not so much. The mood swings and exploding hormones of a teenage girl and my earlier difficulties as a young adult were something beyond his sphere of reference and increasingly I learnt that factual things were best to talk about with him but feelings not so much.

I wonder how many other of us have subconsciously taken on the leadership model of our parents?  For many years I considered feelings to be a private thing and the expression of them to be a weakness. Not from others so much- I didn’t really mind that- but from myself. My general approach in life and at work was just to get on with things and if things weren’t going so well to keep on getting on with things and not admit to vulnerability. This worked for a time and it’s not always appropriate to express or share everything in a professional context but actually there is a danger with this approach. Eventually, with some very big life events, I realised that I could’t always keep things to my self.

Now, I have learnt that a healthier model for me is to express feelings (to appropriate people) as well as more factual things. In leadership and life I have found that people appreciate my intellect and analysing of the facts but actually it’s my passion about things that really draws them and and persuades them. In recent years, quite surprisingly to me, my honesty and vulnerability about mistakes and professional and personal conflicts that I have experienced has also been an asset- leading to new and deeper relationships and interesting professional opportunities.

But what about my Dad? Well, this week I had quite possibly the most surprising conversation with him of recent years. What started off as a quick birthday call ended up as a wide ranging discussion about trust, intimacy and our own quirks and mistakes in relationships with our spouses. This was all interpersed with the general laughter and mickey-taking that is a constant feature of our relationship.   It seems that sometimes opening ourselves up allows others to do the same.



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 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.



‘That’s not me’ – leadership lessons from Skepta

What insights can leaders get from music – specifically Skepta’s grime anthem ‘That’s not me’ ? (547 words)

It’s half term for teachers right now so I’ve been in holiday mood. This holiday has been one of recharging and relaxation especially heightened by the fact that this time last year I was attempting to write our school timetable and most of the holiday was spent in my office at work.

Part of my relaxation has been to catch up with some recently released albums and dance around the kitchen to them with our kids. Namely, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Skepta’s Konnichiwa and Radiohead’s  A Moon shaped Pool. Much to the amusement of my colleagues and classes I am a big Grime fan and have been since it started in the early 2000s. Since I’m a big fan of authenticity, Skepta’s That’s not me (which made it onto Konniciwa but has actually been around for a while) really resonated. I’m not fully back into work mode so I thought I’d have a play with getting some leadership insights from it.

‘Act like a waste man, that’s not me.’

A waste man is a slang term for an idiot. Leader’s shouldn’t act like idiots. It’s a bad look. I recently interviewed an Assistant Head for book I’m writing. He said that one of his drivers for treating staff well was ‘I just didn’t want to be a dickhead’ – not sure if I’ll put that directly in or not but I do agree with him.

‘Yeah, I used to wear Gucci. Put it all in the bin cos that’s not me’

There was a time when I was younger when it was fashionable to wear really bright and ostentatious designer clothes, Gucci, Moschino, Versace.  We all looked a mess. Equally as a leader there are some things that everybody seems to do. We all do it because we don’t know any better and everybody has to start somewhere. There comes a point when we have to reevaluate things and decide whether they really fit with our ethos. I did that once when I decided that individual targets weren’t helpful for my specific context so I only set a group one which everybody had to contribute to. We got the best results that year.

‘I ain’t coming to fight like Jet Li’

Direct confrontation doesn’t (always) work. Not in terms of actually winning people over to an idea. It’s good to keep in mind the overall goal – to get the most out of people and achieve the best results- rather than to win a fight/argument.   Dale Carnegie echoes this in his book How to Win Friends and Influence people- “Let the other person save face. Nothing diminishes the dignity of a man quite like an insult to his pride. If we don’t condemn our employees in front of others and allow them to save face, they will be motivated to do better in the future and confident that they can.”

‘True, I used to look like you but dressing like a mess, nah that’s not me.’

Leaders are allowed to make mistakes and change their minds.  It’s not a big deal to acknowledge who you used to be and how you’ve changed. The key is to be aware of who you are now. Know your values and how they guide you professionally and be aware that leadership (and life in general) is a journey.



Management of Change

Why are people so scared of change? How can we experience and implement it in a more positive way? (464 words)

There is a lot of change happening in schools right now. New curricula, new external and internal assessment, reduced budgets leading to redundancies and other large changes. Today, 31st May, is the last official day when most teaching staff can hand in their notice ready to start a job at a new school ready for the next academic year. I’ll be starting a couple of new roles myself so it got me thinking.

Why do most of us fear change so much?

In recent times the phrase ‘Management of Change’ has become a euphemism for redundancies. I strongly dislike that. For me, it plays into the idea held by many that change is always bad.

For me, and what I’ve observed of other people, worry about change is about two main things

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear regarding lack of autonomy and being unable to control the eventual outcome

In my professional life I’m generally fine with change. In fact, compared to others, I appear to welcome it. In my career so far, I’ve tended to have a new role every two to three years but that’s change that I’ve welcomed and initiated myself so I have had a degree of control. In my personal life, I prefer things much more stable, perhaps the reliability and stability away from work gives me the confidence to try new things professionally, who knows?

One thing that managers sometimes forget is that we tend to know what change is coming and be kept in the loop for some time. It’s not generally a surprise for us in the way that it is for our our teams.

How can those of us managing change make it more bearable?

Give those experiencing the change as much information and control as is possible (without compromising key things). The outcome may not be their ideal but some control over the process and clear communication definitely does help.

How can those of us experiencing change become less worried about it?

Ask yourself… what opportunities does this change/experience make possible?

A colleague of mine who recently stepped down and went part time told me how much more it has made him enjoy his teaching and his joy at being able to get out more on the golf course. I’m relishing the more flexible working that one of my new roles will give me which will mean that I can build in time to drop my son off at school once a week or build in a regular hike which isn’t possible with my current schedule.

Change doesn’t have to be bad. Change is just different and the difference is all mostly down to perception.


How can managers get the best out of employees with mental health issues?

Tips for employers to support staff with mental health issues so they can do their best work. This post is in support of mental health awareness week. (680 words)

Create a workplace ethos of safety

I have had major periods of depression since I was in my late teens. Generally, when considered over medium to long term it hasn’t affected my overall academic achievement or outcomes at work. I didn’t feel safe disclosing my depression at work until I was in my 30s. Working in an environment where I could tell that staff were valued made all the difference.  My boss was open minded and non-judgmental and we had built a good rapport. I knew she respected my work and didn’t expect things to be perfect. Mistakes were acknowledged but not excessively penalised as the had been in other places I’d worked. This created a place of safety where I felt able to mention – at a time when I was feeling fine- that I sometimes had major depressive episodes but would be able to continue working through them and most people wouldn’t notice.

Listen to what they tell you- not what you think they need

If somebody feels comfortable enough to tell you about their mental health, just listen. Don’t come with any pre conceived notions of what you feel may be useful to them. They are adults and they will tell you. Everybody is different and what works for some people may not work for others.

Ask what they need to be able to do the job to the best of their ability when not 100%

For some people it could be ensuring that a colleague popping in just to say hello during a difficult classes. For others it might be communicating via email for a few days rather than face to face. For others it could just be having the space to mention to a boss or somebody on their team that they having a bad period.

Alongside this – some colleagues may feel overwhelmed during periods of mental ill health. Help them by making it clear which  1 or 2 aspects of their role that they need to focus on at that particular time. Reassure them that the other aspects can wait until they  are closer to their best.

Ask if there are any preventative measures that can be implemented

For me having an office with a window makes a huge difference. I also have a special light that I use during the winter. This helps immensely.

Don’t assume everything is a result of their mental health issue

Sometimes people are just quiet. Sometimes people are tired. Sometimes people are just sad.  Not everything is a result of somebodies anxiety or depression. It can be annoying if people assume that .

Treat them like everybody else

People with mental health issues can do their jobs as effectively as everybody else when they are self a

ware, well prepared and adequately supported (personally and professionally). Aside from some of the hints above, managers need to be aware of the genral motivations and strengths and interests of all their staff.

Be honest about your own vulnerabilities

Maybe you secretly don’t understand how to use a spreadsheet. Perhaps you’ve always found it hard teaching Year 9 history at the end of the day. Appropriately letting staff know that you aren’t infallible will make them feel better about discussing something that is intensely personal and still attracts stigma.

And finally

This goes without saying, but alongside any other personal issues related to staff of sensitive nature- confidentiality if important. Nobody wants to bare their soul then have it repeated back to them by Rob at the photocopier by lunchtime. If you need to tell other people for organisational reasons, let the staff member know beforehand.

Schools are fast moving and pressurised environments. Lets support our staff and make sure they feel safe enough to have a conversation about mental health.

What about if you are a manager or leader with mental health issues? Should you keep it to yourself? That will be the subject of my next blog post.






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?


The importance of hope

Why hope is important? How can we foster hope in others and ourselves?(89 words)

Hope is essential to the human spirit. Hope can turn a bad day into a good one. It doesn’t need to be much,

A small seed.

A kernel.

A dot on the horizon.

Hope is the belief that change is possible.

That now isn’t forever.

That there is a chance that the future will be different. Better.

Hope gives a reason to get up in the morning. To live. To work. To love. To try again. To wait.

Hope gives meaning. Hope is life.


The importance of line management meetings

Line management meetings are often the first thing to be cut in busy school environments but senior managers underestimate their importance at their peril. (376 words)

What are the top three day- to- day roles of a senior manager?

I won’t list mine here but it’s worth a think. I wonder how many of us have put line management meetings on the list?

Over time I have learnt that line management meetings are an essential and often overlooked part of being a manager of others. It’s also an area that we get no training in- despite their importance.

Poor line management meetings are very top down. ‘Do this.’ ‘Do That.’ ‘Have you done what I asked you to do since last meeting?’

The best line management meetings are an exchange of ideas and a sources of ongoing CPD.

I’ve experienced  both kinds from the point of view of the manager and the member of staff.

Line management meetings are where the real relationships are made. Where you find out the vision of the person you are line managing (and vice versa) and help them to shape it and help their teams to achieve it. As a manager, it’s easy to cancel or move line management meetings because other things feel more pressing. In general, they aren’t, especially long term. We wouldn’t cancel a lesson to write a report or similar and line management meetings are as important. They aren’t an extra. They are an entitlement.

For those of us who line manage middle mangers, we need to remember it’s a difficult job but one where the key work of the school is done and how our strategic vision becomes reality via smaller teams. Middle leaders deserve space to think and play with ideas in a non judgmental way as well as somewhere they can discuss any issues  (personal and professional) that they are bothering them. Line management can provide this as well as necessary constructive challenge.

Senior leaders need good line management too and I’d suggest anything less than once a fortnight on a regular basis is probably inadequate.

A chat in the corridor is good for day to day discussions but it should be an extra to a real sit down. Let’s make those we manage feel valued.